Inspired to contribute to a cause greater than themselves, many young Americans joined the military in the days, weeks, months and even first several years after the 9/11 attacks.
A Pentagon survey showed an 8 percent increase in willingness to enlist among young men immediately following 9/11, with the trend continuing until 2005, according to an American Forces Press Service report.
Two such patriots were Fort Stewart soldiers Spc. John Geiger and Sgt. T.J. Fusek.
Geiger, 29, was living in Boston, Mass., and commuting to school at Bunker Hill Community College in Bunker Hill, Mass., when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred. He currently is assigned to the 4-3 Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.
“I was living in a tiny studio apartment,” he said. “I flipped the TV on and saw one of the towers smoking.”
Geiger said his first thought was about the 1993 World Trade Center bombing when a truck bomb was detonated in the basement of the WTC’s North Tower. Six people died in that terror attack.
“I watched the second plane hit. Then I called my father, who works on Wall Street at the New York Stock Exchange,” he said.
Geiger’s family lived in Monmouth, N.J., a county he says lost a large number of residents in the attack on the World Trade Center.
“Dad was indoors when the towers fell. His office was across the street from the stock exchange. He came out and said it looked like a ticker-tape parade,” Geiger said.
Geiger’s father soon was ushered back into his building.
“Two cops were always in front of the stock exchange and my dad asked what was going on. They told him the World Trade Center was on fire. Dad said (the officers) would have been first on the scene. That has always stayed with him. They then used the lobby of the stock exchange as a triage center,” he said.
Since phone lines were jammed, Geiger said he didn’t learn his father was safe until later that day.
“I went on to class and when I got there, the state police were shutting everything down,” he said.
Geiger said police and swat teams were checking roads and tunnels, even closing down the subway. The soldier said the attacks prompted him to alter his career plans, though it was a few years before he turned to the Army. He initially served the public as a first responder.
“I actually dropped out of school because I wanted to be a police officer in New York City,” Geiger said. “I found a job as an emergency medical technician. The interview process for the NYPD was taking forever. I wanted to help as soon as possible.” He worked as an EMT for Long Branch, N.J., before he enlisted in 2007.
Geiger said his father is the main reason he joined the military.
“I went in with the intent to deploy to Afghanistan,” he said. “It was a revenge thing. I wanted to do my part to put a stop to all this.”
Geiger deployed to Afghanistan in 2008. He said the mission there is not yet complete and the American military should continue to “hold a presence” there.
He said he often thinks about how the world has changed since 9/11.
“I feel the change that has taken place is necessary. But I feel bad for the kids growing up today,” Geiger said. “We didn’t have much to worry about growing up and now these kids are facing some very serious decisions.”
Fusek, 31, didn’t join the military until 2005, but said he was “inspired to join” by the attacks. He currently is assigned to 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 4th IBCT, 3rd ID.
Fusek was at work at a window factory in Milwaukee, Wis., on Sept. 11, 2001.
“We always listened to the radio in the shop and a news alert broke into whatever program we were listening to at the time. Everyone stopped what they were doing and listened to the news cast,” he remembered.
“I had wanted to join the military when I was younger but I got comfortable with my spot in life,” Fusek continued. “But of course, after 9/11, along with everybody else, I watched the war unfold.”
He finally decided to see a recruiter. Fusek said he felt compelled to serve.
The 4th Brigade soldier did not deploy to Iraq with the 3rd ID last year. He previously deployed to Iraq twice with the 25th Infantry out of Hawaii, Fusek said.
“I deployed in 2006-2007 and again in 2008-2009,” he said.
Fusek said he was his company commander’s driver during both deployments.
“We went to many villages where the people hadn’t seen American forces for a long time,” he said. “We handed out school supplies, food and seed; we rebuilt some of the schools in both the city of Kirkuk during my first deployment and again in the city of Samarra during my second deployment.”
Fusek said troops showed the Iraqis they were there to help rebuild the country and ease their return to normal lives free of conflict.