The sun was shining that fateful morning.
Jamaar Nathan recalls waking up at his usual time of around 8:45 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001. He saw a building in New York City on fire as he turned on the television. Confused, he then saw another plane crash into the World Trade Center. He knew then that it was an attack on the United States of America.
Nathan was only 19 years old then, and working as a teacher’s aide while serving as a Marine reservist at the Marine Corps Headquarters and Service 8th Tank Battalion 4th Division in Rochester, New York, a unit with over 180 Marines. The call came immediately for Marines in the unit to volunteer to go to ground zero in Manhattan to help in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. Nathan could not go as it conflicted with his day job, but he knew it was a matter of time before it would be his turn to serve his country.
“I wished I went down to the World Trade Center, but I knew I would be called up,” Nathan said.
The war on terrorism would change the U.S. military forever. It is a war in which reservists and the National Guard were treated as full-time soldiers. The U.S. military was stretched thin in the years after Sept. 11, with deployments common for reservist citizen soldiers.
It was a busy time at the Reserve Center. Nathan, then a lance corporal, drilled on the weekends preparing for his turn. During one weekend, lawyers from the area arrived to draft wills for the Marines. Nathan signed his last will and testament, preparing to die for our country.
Every month, Marines in his unit would be called to duty, mostly to Iraq. Nathan’s time came in 2005 when he was deployed to Djibouti in East Africa. He was 23 years old and had never been out of the country. Though he had been drilling and preparing as a reservist, Nathan was nervous and a bit scared.
For reservists, being called to active duty meant giving up their jobs and other opportunities.
When he arrived at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, Nathan sensed it was short staffed. It was all hands on deck for military service members around the world who rotated locations to fill in where needed. Camp Lemonnier is a United States Naval Expeditionary Base and is the only permanent U.S. military base in Africa.
Nathan's job was to provide security for the region. The Marines were welcomed by the locals, who expressed their gratitude with smiles, he recalled.
“I was proud to be a Marine at that time,” he said. “I felt patriotic being able to help my country.”
Nathan’s tour of duty was for six months, a time he will never forget. Now 41 and a hospital payment representative, he recalls Sept. 11 vividly.
“I still get emotional thinking about that day — pictures of the children who died,” he said.
As it has been 22 years, what happened on that fateful day moves farther to a page in history. Nathan’s message to young people is to study that history. He remembers the spirit of unity after Sept. 11, when America was one, united as Americans.
“I hope people remember it,” Nathan said.
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