September 11th is both a difficult and honorable day. Difficult because eight years ago we were woken to threat of terrorism on our shores as thousands of Americans lost their lives in the attacks. And yet honorable because it is now a day we use to honor those whom we lost not only on that day, but in the years since 2001, fighting abroad to secure our safety. However, this is not about the four hijacked jets of September 11, 2001. This is about my response to them.
I am lucky enough to be a native of the great state of West Virginia a graduate of West Point, and a former Army officer and veteran of the Iraq War. I remember clearly the plane that took me to Iraq as a platoon. That first year in Iraq, many good soldiers gave their lives for the rest of us, including my good friend and former football teammate, Joe Lusk, USMA ’01. Be thou at peace, brother. I wish I had space to list all of those who gave the last full measure, and I honor them here.
The next plane I want to mention is where this story starts to change. My plane was riding lower over the ground, coming into its landing strip. Looking out the window, I could see desolation all around. Truly the Waste Land of the poet T.S. Eliot. But this was not Iraq or some God-forsaken land in Central Asia. This was me flying home to West Virginia, and those wastelands used to be a beautiful stretch of Appalachia, blasted and laid bare by our coal-hungry economy. My thoughts jumped rapidly from those whom I had lost in the war to future generations of Americans, of West Virginians. What will we call the Mountain State when all of the mountains are gone?
Which brings me to my last plane: a short, small flight from grad school in Boston to Washington, DC, where I would join 150 other veterans with Operation Free in order to meet with our senators on the Hill. We would give voice to the national security threat that climate change poses. You see, this isn’t merely about saving our mountains; this is about preserving our way of life, about reasserting our national place as an international leader.
Who will respond when storms of growing frequency and intensity batter the shorelines of the world? Not the Chinese. Not India. We will. The US military. And beyond the count of humanitarian missions that will rise with rising seas, we must not for a moment underestimate the threats that will increase as populations are displaced, as drinking water becomes ever more scarce. Misery and scarcity will spread, creating breeding grounds where terrorists can and will gain a foothold.
And yet there is still time to act. Legislation before the Congress now can give us a chance to avert the worst of climate change, preserve our environment, create new jobs in a clean economy that will last into the next century, and perhaps most importantly, mitigate the threat to our national security posed by unabated climate change. But the time is now. Join Operation Free and call your senators and support strong legislation that will secure our nation for the future.