A top officer in the Iowa National Guard says the lives of America’s soldiers changed forever five years ago today (Monday) when terrorists struck on American soil. Brigadier General Mark Zirkelbach, Deputy Adjutant General of the Iowa National Guard, is among a group of 10 Iowans Radio Iowa asked to reflect on this fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
“You wear the uniform around and whether you go into a convenience store, or walking through the mall, or walking through the airport, somebody comes up amd they want to talk to you about somebody they’ve got in the military and they’re thinking about them,” Zirkelbach says. “The role and the event and what’s happened to us as a reserve component has just been dramatic.”
Since 9/11, over 9000 Iowa National Guard soldiers have been deployed in all sorts of operations stateside and overseas. Zirkelbach says when he joined the Guard back in 1970, America’s part-time soldiers had up to a year to prepare for deployment. That changed immediately after the 9/11 attacks. “Our first deployments, we had five days to tell the family, to tell the soldier, to get the bags packed, get the equipment loaded and head to the mobilization station and it really hasn’t changed much since then,” Zirkelbach says.
Today, there are nearly 1450 Iowa Army National Guard soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We think about those soldiers every day.” Zirkelbach says Iowans have sent care packages, adopted orphanages, and picked up the slack back at work to support Guardsmen and woman who’ve been called to active duty. “It’s an amazing thing to see and it’s certainly been a privilege to be part of that,” Zirkelbach says.
Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management division director David Miller says things have changed dramatically in his agency since 9/11. “We’ve become much more vigilant. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort doing more preparedness activities…We’ve improved and purchased equipment for our first responders,” Miller says. “We’ve accomplished a lot of things. We’ve done a lot of work. We also have a long ways to go.”
Radio Iowa also talked with some of Iowa’s religious leaders to get their reflections about 9/11. Bishop R. Walker Nickless, bishop of the Sioux City Catholic Diocese, says as he thinks back five years, he recalls the fear and panic. “And if we’ve learned anything, we’ve learned how important every human life is and how precious the gifts that we have from the Lord,” the bishop says. “We have to be greatful for those gifts.”
Reverend Gregory Palmer, bishop of the Iowa Area of the United Methodist Church, says the attacks solidified “perceptions of the worst kind” about people who have different ethnic and religious backgrounds. “And it goes both ways,” Bishop Palmer says. He says the situation, though, creates “magnificent windows of opportunity for people to talk across lines of difference and to understand what they have in common.”
Some of the Iowans Radio Iowa asked to reflect on the 9/11 anniversary talked first about what they were doing the moment they learned of the attacks. Iowa Farm Bureau president Craig Lang has “vivid” memories of that day. “In agriculture, it’s certainly brought us closer to the issue of terrorism, how we fit in that circle of protecting the public and protecting the food supply,” Lang says.
Drake University president David Maxwell says there’s been a lot of discussion on campus over the past few weeks about the long-term impact of 9/11. “Perhaps the biggest impact, the biggest change is that it has reintroduced a climate of fear into our lives which ultimately is the purpose, unfortunately, of terrorim,” Maxwell says.
Iowa State University journalism professor Michael Bugeja sees an America that “mourned briefly” and then moved on. “And then we voted for our favorite emerging star on American Idol and we’re entertained and amused by all sorts of technologies,” Bugeja says. “What has that access brought us besides the entertainment and celebrity news that really does not allow us to participate in this major historical event that we really need to as a society?”
In addition to leaders from government, religion, the military and Iowa universities, Radio Iowa asked leaders in Iowa’s business community to talk about 9/11’s impact. Iowa Business Council president Max Phillips, the president of Qwest Communications in Iowa, says at first he thought of 9/11 as a tragedy, but now in the aftermath he sees the “quality of character” in Americans of all stripes. “I think the world has changed significantly. I think we tend to view more things as a threat and work to make sure that there’s careful plans and careful testing in place to make sure that those threats are minimized and able to be dealt with,” Phillips says. “That’s everything from tighter security to just a general different level of thinking about projects and risks.”
You can hear more from Phillips and the other nine Iowans — including Governor Tom Vilsack — in the story link below.
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Listen to all 10 Iowans reflect on 9/11