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The NMU ROTC program relates to 9/11 20 years later

Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 8:10 PM EDT
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - It’s hard to forget a day like 9/11 in America, but 20 years later there’s an entire generation who never lived through the moment.

September 11, 2001, all eyes were glued to the TV screen as Americans watched their country under attack.

At the time, Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Harris was a senior in college in New Jersey and serving in the Army National Guard. It wasn’t until he received a call from his mom later that afternoon that he realized the events that had unfolded.

“My mother wanted to know if I was going to do anything,” Harris said. “And I asked her ‘Why?’ She told me the towers had been hit and had fallen and the pentagon was on fire, which is when I immediately turned on the TV and found out what was going on.”

However, most people in college today have little memory of that day.

Grace Cole, a sophomore at Northern Michigan University, was just one week old. Her knowledge about 9/11 comes from school.

“We would have moments of silence in elementary school,” Cole said. “As we got older in high school, we would have a whole educational day on 9/11.”

She said her most distinct memory is her teacher showing the class a now famous picture of a man falling from the world trade center.

“And I remember feeling absolutely sick to my stomach,” Cole said.

Two decades later, she is a cadet in the NMU ROTC program under the leadership of Harris and Master Sergeant Donald Clemons, who was serving in the U.S. military in Fort Bliss, Texas during 9/11.

“It was a lot of emotions,” Clemons said.

He said a lot of his cadets want to more learn more about that day.

“A lot of the questions they ask is how did it change the world,” Clemons said.

His answer was “travel”.

“Big thing that sticks in my mind being in El Paso at the time was a big airport that was in El Paso and not hearing a plane for days,” Clemons said.

Ironically, the students resonate most with that pivotal time by comparing it to another historical event in America, the pandemic.

“They were like ‘oh wow’,” Clemons said. “They realized with the situation that happened with COVID they said ‘you know what I remember the same thing.’”

After living through that terrifying day, Clemons and Harris are making sure they are sending cadets out ready.

“Why is what we do important? Because we don’t want that to happen again,” Harris said. “We have to be trained and prepared and ready to deter any further attacks like that.”

They are doing so by giving them the tools they need to succeed.

“How to read a compass, how to use a map,” Clemons said. “That’s what we do here is we teach leadership to the young cadets in preparation for being commissioned as officers in the United States Army.”

The goal is be prepared with hope the cadets never have to go through anything like 9/11.

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