FORT POLK, La. — I looked down at my watch just as Sept. 10 turned to Sept. 11, and I couldn’t help but reflect on where I was 14 years ago and where I found myself at this moment.
I was 12 when 9/11 happened. Now, at 26, I was in the back of an armored Humvee embedded with soldiers training to fight new conflicts against hybrid threats.
The events of Sept. 11, 2001, led me to this career in journalism and wanting to inform the public about the ways in which our country fights.
Early Friday morning, post-9/11 soldiers from 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division — including 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment — were closing in on an objective at the Joint Readiness Training Center to finally stop the notional enemy from conducting future attacks and providing reinforcements.
They walked for hours through dark woods, high brush and creeks to get to their objective. Once they got to the village and breached its defenses, they had to clear several buildings and fight off a capable defensive attack from the enemy.
After the village was taken by American forces and food and water were distributed to the civilian population there, the soldiers — covered in sweat and battered uniforms — finally relaxed by smoking cigarettes, eating food rations and taking their wet boots off to air their tired feet.
Lt. Col. Scott Shaw, the 3-7 Infantry’s battalion commander, who went with his men on the mission, said his soldiers did an excellent job that night.
“I think every single thing these soldiers do is excellent, and I will tell you the last night was no different,” he said.
Shaw went on to say that even after moving at night with arduous heat, and after 18 days of fighting JRTC’s opposing force, the soldiers didn’t complain at all.
“They’re just amazing. Our soldiers are amazing, and I’m humbled to be around them,” he said.
Friday marked the end of 2nd IBCT’s rotation at the training center, and the soldiers are working hard to come home to Fort Stewart soon.
The men and women soldiers I met at JRTC were tough, adept problem solvers and inspiring as they worked in a very stressful environment. They answered my questions, helped me learn about living in a field environment, and talked to me candidly about what it’s like to be a soldier in today’s Army.
A rotation to the Joint Readiness Training Center is important to improving a unit’s capabilities and making them think about how best to fight and win.
If there’s one we’ve learned after 14 years of conflict, it’s that our soldiers deserve the best because they don’t just fight with weapons and armored vehicles, but with their lives. And they only get one.
So I hope that these men and women of 2nd IBCT walk away from this experience better soldiers and feeling like they’ve accomplished what they came here to do.
I wish them all the best on their trip home, and I look forward to reporting on them in the future.