Remembering 9/11 and Afghanistan sacrifices in post-withdrawal America
The month of August is filled with difficult memories for the volunteers, veterans, service members and Gold Star families who experienced massive upheaval during the devastating weeks of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. September 11, the day that spawned almost 20 years of war in Afghanistan, follows too close on the heels of Aug. 30, the ignominious day of our final departure.
For me, those anniversaries have become inextricably intertwined. They hit like a double sucker punch: the heinous end, and its tragic beginning.
In late August, I was en route to Washington, D.C., for an event commemorating the 13 U.S. service members and 170 Afghans killed by an ISIS-K suicide bomber on August 26, 2021. My path took me through Shanksville, Pennsylvania. I had previously visited Ground Zero and the Pentagon Memorial, but never trod the hallowed ground where 40 Americans aboard Flight 93 subverted al-Qaeda terrorists’ plans for spectacular carnage by taking down their own plane over an abandoned field on 9/11.
I arrived at the site intending to remember how our Afghanistan endeavor had started, but I could not decouple that distant past from a more recent one. I felt chills when the wind set off several of the 40 chimes inside the Tower of Voices, symbolically allowing Flight 93’s victims to call out to us into perpetuity. I wondered what those men and women would say if they knew all our service members had given to ensure their sacrifice was not in vain. When I wandered the exterior of a museum that overlooks the crash site, I wanted to ask other visitors if they were also concerned about al-Qaeda’s continued presence in Afghanistan today.
When I walked along the walled path that leads past Flight 93’s debris field and to a wall bearing the names of each victim, I noticed a hollow recess where visitors had left tokens in memory or gratitude. Inside were challenge coins, pieces of currency, police and firefighter badges, and a small bouquet of limp red, white and blue flowers. Then, there was the small item that took my breath away: a metal cuff bracelet.
A bracelet worn in tribute to the fallen stands among the items visitors have left behind at the Flight 93
Memorial. The bracelet bears the names of Sgt. Zachary Daniel Tellier, Sgt. Tyler Austin Juden, and 1 st
Sgt. Russell Ryan Bell, who died in Afghanistan during a nearly five year span between 2007 and 2012. Photo courtesy Beth Bailey.
Too many veterans of the Global War on Terror wear these ubiquitous bands. Usually, they bear the name or names of fallen friends who lost their lives on the field of battle. I also wear one, in acknowledgment of every veteran who left something of themself in Afghanistan. I have never known a veteran to remove their bracelet. In nine years, I have removed my own on fewer than half a dozen occasions.
Like mine, this bracelet’s black exterior had been scratched off from years of wear, but three names and a reference to a unit were still legible. The first inscription was for U.S. Army Sgt. Zachary Daniel Tellier, who died in eastern Afghanistan’s Paktia province on September 29, 2007. The second acknowledged U.S. Army Sgt. Tyler Austin Juden, who died in western Afghanistan’s Herat province on September 12, 2009. Last came the name of U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Russell Ryan Bell, who died in southern Afghanistan’s Kandahar province on August 2, 2012. Tellier, Juden and Bell served across Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division. Presumably, the veteran who left the band did as well.
In the past few weeks, the bracelet’s wearer has not been far from my thoughts. My numerous interviews with veterans in the last two years have demonstrated the depth of struggles many faced post-withdrawal. Some feel their service was in vain, while others are exhausted by efforts to save the lives of the interpreters they could not bring to safety. Too many lost friends to suicide, or have attempted to take their own lives.
I turned to social media to help identify the bracelet’s owner. Without any leads, I am left to form my own conclusions. Perhaps the bracelet’s wearer left their tribute in hopes that those who come to visit the heroes of Flight 93 will remember the lives that were lost to make the world safer than it was on 9/11. Maybe they hoped that someone would connect the events of 9/11 and present day.
I am. I believe we all must.
Beth Bailey ( @BWBailey85 ) is a freelance contributor to Fox News Digital and the co-host of The Afghanistan Project, which takes a deep dive into the tragedy wrought in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.