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It's hard, it's really hard. I mean, we gotta live. We gotta tell our children what happens and why daddy can't be here.

Ft. Drum soldiers, families reflect on the legacy of 9/11

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Military families have carried a heavy burden since 9/11, with many military service members serving multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Ten years after the attacks, Joanna Richards spoke with Fort Drum soldiers and their families about their thoughts on service in the post-9/11 world.

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Joanna Richards
Watertown Correspondent

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      Twenty-one-year-old specialist Eric Draper remembers where he was when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center towers in New York City. 

“Oh let's see, I was in my sixth grade science class and my principal came over the intercom and said two planes crashed into the World Trade Centers, and it was just kind of a scary day. All our teachers kept saying it was history being made but I didn't, I didn't really believe it too much.”

Now Draper, an Army mechanic, is weeks away from his first deployment to Afghanistan. He and private first class Dustin Blevins, a twenty-two-year-old combat medic also preparing to deploy, were having a beer on Wednesday evening at ‘Maggie's on the River’, a popular Watertown nightspot.

“It's pretty intense, I guess, thinking that I'm part of something that was so historic, ten years ago,” said Draper.

Both men talked about preparing for the deployment by training and trying to calm their families' nerves. They're trying to take the risks in stride.

Blevins: "That's the only way we see it to take it."

Draper: "You have to, or else …"

Reporter: "Or else what?"

Draper: "You don't perform. You don't perform as well as you could."

At Salmon Run Mall, Kerstin Williams and a friend were trying to corral three toddlers as they ate lunch in the food court on Wednesday afternoon.

Williams wore a grey Army t-shirt. Both women's husbands are currently serving in Afghanistan. Williams's is on his second deployment. His other tour was in Iraq. 

Williams says she'll be in New York City with her husband's family on September 11:

“We knew people who died there, well, in my husband's family, so yeah, we're probably going to go to the memorial. He still talks about it, and his family too, we talk about it. It's just, especially now with the anniversary coming on, it's just … It helps to talk”

Williams's husband was in the National Guard when the hijacked planes attacked Washington and New York. He rejoined the Army to serve the country after the attacks.

Williams is proud of her husband, but she says his deployments have been tough for the family:

“It's hard, it's really hard. I mean, we gotta live. We gotta tell our children what happens and why daddy can't be here, so I mean we trying to do everything not to stay in the house, to get out, not to think about what could happen.”

That's what she and her friend were doing at the mall today, she says.

Also at the mall is Tyler Morin, 20, a vehicle mechanic in the Army. He expects to deploy to Afghanistan next summer.

Morin said he feels proud of his decision to join the military. He carries himself higher, he says, when he's out in public places in his uniform, like he is today. People thank him for his service.

He says being in the military makes the anniversary of 9/11 more meaningful to him:

“It does, because it's a big reason why we're overseas, why everyone's over there. So it's not just a day to like remember all the lost ones, it's like a day to remember everyone who's overseas, fighting for the lost ones.”

For Alison Fisher, anniversaries like this one aren't so important. Her husband was on active reserve when the 9/11 attacks happened. Like many others, he moved to active duty to serve his country after the attacks. Ten years and five deployments later, Fisher says war is simply a part of their family life. Her husband reads books to his children via Web cam at night; she looks forward to the romance of the honeymoon periods right after he returns home.

“I mean we face war on a day-to-day basis and honestly, for me, dates start not to have significance. Cause you get so used to birthdays, holidays, everything being malleable. And you might celebrate Christmas, like my husband's coming home for R and R this fall sometime, but not at Christmas, and we'll probably have Christmas when he's here. So, because dates are so malleable, I don't think those anniversaries, while I'm sure they have meaning for our troops and they have meaning for some people, pinning that emotion to a specific day, because we're dealing with it on a daily basis, it doesn't – it's an every day kind of thing for us.”

Fisher is president of an organization called the Enlisted Spouses Club of Fort Drum. At her home on Tuesday, she and fellow Army wife Lyndsey Hodkinson try to keep several exuberant youngsters at bay as they talk about living with war as part of family life. 

Fisher says, at first, it was easy for her to feel sorry for herself, especially when she was spending her time mostly around civilian couples. 

“I was home for the deployment. I was engaged and I had so many friends and family that really supported me. But at every function, they were there as a couple. And they would say things like, ‘Isn't this so hard?’” Fisher laughs. “And I'm like, thanks. Thanks for bringing it up. Yeah, it does suck.”

Now, going through her fourth deployment – her husband's fifth – Fisher says she thought she had it down. She was surprised when she had a hard time with his leaving: 

“I had a senior spouse pull me aside and say, honey, it is different every time. Stop beating yourself up for this. She just made me feel like it was OK to still be having a moment even though I was well rehearsed at this.”

Fisher throws herself into volunteer work and helping others when her husband is deployed –even when he's away at trainings when he's stateside. It helps her to put her family's struggles in perspective. There are always those less fortunate who need help. And the work gets her out of her head and keeps her active.

Hodkinson says the community around Fort Drum has been wonderful to her as she raised young children through her husband's deployment to Iraq: 

“My neighbor, he lived in his house for fifty years, and he would do my driveway every day. My other neighbor on the other side would come shovel out my sidewalk, and it's when you have people like that, and the community and the locals are so supportive, then it makes it just a little bit easier.”

Community is a subject that came up again and again as I spoke with soldiers and their families. Whether it's a young soldier's pride in hearing “thank you” when he's in uniform, or an Army wife comforted by the help of a neighbor, the 9/11 anniversary is not only about remembering what happened ten years ago. It's about what's happening now.

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