Do you remember what you were doing?

Members+of+the+Clinton+High+School+JROTC+Armed+Exhibition+Team+perform+a+tribute+during+the+Patriot+Day+9%2F11+Remembrance+Ceremony+at+the+University+of+Central+Missouri+on+September+11%2C+2015.+%28Photo+by+Samantha+J.+Whitehead%29

Members of the Clinton High School JROTC Armed Exhibition Team perform a tribute during the Patriot Day 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony at the University of Central Missouri on September 11, 2015. (Photo by Samantha J. Whitehead)

Written by Muleskinner Staff

By JEFF HUFFMAN
Guest Columnist

(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) — Most of us have a moment in time which is burned into our memory such that it fundamentally changes how we see the world around us. Too often, this memory is primarily due to a single tragic or traumatic event – which is beyond our control. In some cases, the events can be so dramatic they change this world we all share. For me, and for many from my generation, the events which occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, will never leave – and have changed us forever.

American flags line the quadrangle at the University of Central Missouri before the Patriot Day 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony on September 11, 2015. A flag was placed for every person who lost their lives in the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City. (Photo by Samantha J. Whitehead)
PHOTO BY SAMANTHA WHITEHEAD / PHOTOGRAPHER American flags line the quadrangle at the University of Central Missouri before the Patriot Day 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony on September 11, 2015. A flag was placed for every person who lost their lives in the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City.

I served in the United States Air Force for 11 years, and separated in 1995, during a time when the national focus was to reduce the military. I had been out of the Air Force for just under six years on Sept. 11, 2001. During this period of my life, I was working in a commercial sales job which required me to make several business calls per day. I had developed close relationships with many of my customers, and from time to time, I would make customer service calls designed to help me keep up with my clients’ needs.

The Event: Sept. 11, 2001, began like most days in the sales industry. I created a list of prospects and customers I needed to contact.  In an effort to be the best salesperson I could, I developed a habit of listening to self-help tapes between business calls. This practice was, and is, a great use of drive-time. However, as I also learned, it can hinder your ability to hear critical news as it happens.

I had just completed a number of prospect calls, which is an attempt by a salesperson to “add” to the client list, by making a prospect a customer. I was heading in the direction of another prospect call, when I remembered a client on my list was on the way. I stopped by to say “hello” and check in to see if the client needed anything. To my surprise, I entered the heating and cooling business to find the business owner and the office manager huddling around a tiny 12-inch black and white snowy pictured TV. The funny thing is, most of you – as readers, won’t conceptualize this image. This customer had been a client for several years, so I felt comfortable asking, “Hey, are the Royals winning a game for a change?”, which was my response to seeing them all around the TV. Back in 2001, the Royals didn’t win many games like they do today.

The office manager’s face told a story of fear and horror like I had never seen before. The owner said, “This is not going to be good. Lots of people are still in that building.”

Confused, I quickly ran to the small TV on the other side of the counter to watch a news broadcast replay only to see a commercial passenger jet fly directly in to the World Trade Center Tower. I knew in an instant that all the passengers were dead; and our world would never be the same.

In that moment, I could only think of the families of the victims on the plane and in the towers. Then, just as quickly, my own family came to mind and I called my wife who was frightened beyond belief. Fear gripped my family and the entire nation on that day, and to some degree the terror of that day still sits in the back of my mind.

The terror doesn’t sit in my mind to paralyze me but rather as a steadfast resolve to not let terror ever win.

I choose to honor the memory of those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, by living my life free from the fear of terror and hate. I choose to treat all I encounter with respect and human dignity. I fight terror with a respect of the difference we have, and I believe the difference is what makes us even greater. I choose to teach this principle to my children and my grandchildren. I choose to stand against anyone who would want to bring harm to others because they see them as different.

Sept. 11, 2001, has changed the world in many ways, but we can decide to not allow those events to define us. We can choose to respect each other and to not fear our differences, but rather embrace them.      

Jeff Huffman is the director of UCM’s Military and Veteran Affairs.