Soldiers at Fort Riley reflect on their oath and service on anniversary of 9/11

Tennessee natives say the day redirected their lives

By: - September 11, 2021 9:00 am
From left, Sgt. 1st Class Jason Mitchell, Lt. Col. Nate Brookshire and Sgt. 1st Class Clavon Barney, have between them more than 60 years of service in the military. On the anniversary of 9/11, they are remembering the day that spurred them to join or further their military careers. (Submitted by Fort Riley Public Affairs)

From left, Sgt. 1st Class Jason Mitchell, Lt. Col. Nate Brookshire and Sgt. 1st Class Clavon Barney. Mitchell and Barney are Tennessee natives who redirected their lives after 9/11. (Submitted by Fort Riley Public Affairs)

TOPEKA — Memories of the smoke plumes, the chaos and the intensity of Sept. 11, 2001, still maintain a powerful hold over many soldiers in Kansas.

For some members of the military serving at Fort Riley now, that day changed the trajectory of their lives and gave them a new purpose. Now 20 years from the attack on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, 9/11 remains a day of remembrance for them and a reminder of their role as active-duty military members.

Sgt. 1st Class Jason Mitchell, from Culleoka, Tennessee, said that day redirected his life in ways he didn’t think possible at the time. At the time, Mitchell, whose father served in Vietnam, was driving in his car with the radio turned up, preparing for his first year of college.

He recalled the moment where the voice on the radio suddenly became somber, as they broke the news from New York City. This gave Mitchell a new sense of urgency and made him reconsider his path.

With encouragement from his father, Mitchell enlisted in the Army in 2003.

9/11 “got me focused on serving a bigger purpose than my own agenda,” Mitchell said. “That was really what drew me in. The camaraderie of being a part of something bigger than myself and doing something actually makes a difference not just in the United States but worldwide.”

In the year following the terrorist attacks, 181,510 Americans enlisted in the ranks of active duty service and 72,908 joined the enlisted reserves, according to the USO. The Department of Defense noted an 8% increase in interest in joining the military. 

Two decades later, the American military has now fully withdrawn from Afghanistan. While much has changed in 20 years, soldiers at Fort Riley say the role of the military and their oath to protect the country remains unchanged.

For Mitchell, his service and the value he places in it is defined by those around him — friends, family, fellow military members and civilians.

“We all come from different walks of life. We all have different personalities,” Mitchell said. “If I could do more than 20 years I would, and it’s not for the awards and decorations or anything like that, it’s really for the people to the left and right of me.”

Sgt. 1st Class Clavon Barney was not intent on joining the military at the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Instead, he was headed to a new job in Tennessee to fill out paperwork when he received a call from the HR department that it may be best to postpone his visit out of precaution.

It was then that Barney began to consider changing his path to a career in the military. He said his mother served in the Vietnam War as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division, so military service ran in the family. 

Despite some protest from other close friends and family, Barney enlisted. Now a father and on his final stop along his active-duty tour, which has taken him around the world, he said that decision is the best he has ever made.

Barney said military members must continue to hold themselves to a high standard even in times of relative peace.

“We’re pretty much one of the trusted professions,” Barney said. “I think that’s what the civilian population sees us in uniform, except that we are true professionals. That’s why even now we should hold our standards high.”

Lt. Col Nate Brookshire was already enlisted in the military on 9/11. Brookshire had just completed a training exercise on physical security when he was alerted to the attacks. Within hours, Brookshire and his fellow soldiers were implementing these security measures they had just gone over to lock down the facility.

Brookshire was planning to transition to a civilian security job on Sept. 11, 2002, but after the events of 9/11, Brookshire knew the best place for him was in the Army. What was supposed to be one last year of service turned into 20 with trips to several combat zones.

In the years since, Brookshire co-authored the book “Hidden Wounds: A Soldier’s Burden,” a fictional story following a soldier through WWII, Vietnam and Korea. The story sparked conversation on PTSD, addiction, suicide awareness and forgiveness and inspired an upcoming documentary.

Brookshire also had the opportunity to swear in his daughters, both of whom serve in the National Guard. He said the experience reminded him of the commitment he felt on 9/11 to protect the country.

“It’s a different perspective when you go from raising your hand to actually swearing your children into service and know those words strong enough to commit them to a life of service or even a period of service,” Brookshire said. “The takeaway I get is that military service is definitely about family and that family could be your nuclear family but also the broader family to include those that support the military.”

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories

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