Nineteen years ago, without warning, our nation was attacked. You probably remember where you were on that horrible day; I know I do.
I had the morning off and was at home with my nearly two-year-old daughter. We didn’t have the TV on, but I quickly received two phone calls. The first was from a neighbor. I grabbed the remote and saw the horrific events unfolding before our eyes.
The second call I received was from my Iowa Army National Guard unit. “Captain Ernst” – I heard my staff non-commissioned officer say on the other line – “we’re doing a one-hundred percent accountability check. We need you to stay by the phone all day, so we know how we can get ahold of you.”
It was an experience many of us had never felt before — the terrifying shock of knowing that the country we love was under attack.
We lost Jim Cleere, an Iowan who never came home from a business trip to the World Trade Center, that day. Since his passing, his wife Jean partnered with the Newton Fire Department to help raise funds for the town’s very own 9/11 memorial, and her license plate even reads: “N-V-R-4-G-T.”
Never forget — it’s a pledge I personally take to heart. It’s why I work so hard to make sure our armed forces have the support they need to defend our nation from threats both here at home and abroad, including our female servicemembers who need proper-fitting body armor and protective equipment. It’s also why I helped permanently reauthorize the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund – keeping our nation’s promise to support the first responders who sacrificed their health and lives in the post-9/11 recovery efforts. It’s the reason I introduced a bipartisan bill, signed into law in 2017, to begin the process of constructing a Global War on Terrorism Memorial — a tribute to my fellow veterans, active duty, reserve and National Guard troops, who have fought in this war. And just this week, I put forward a subsequent bipartisan bill which will move us one step closer to authorizing a location for this memorial on the National Mall.
If we learned anything from the tragic events of 9/11, it’s that we should never take our nation and our freedoms for granted.
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While our adversaries sought to tear us apart with their cowardly acts, they instead brought us together. In these dark moments we also saw some of the best of our nation — the first responders, law enforcement officers, and the everyday Americans who courageously put their lives on the line to save countless others.
We will always honor these heroes and the men and women – moms and dads, grandparents, neighbors, and friends – we lost nearly two decades ago. We will never forget. That is our sacred promise.
Joni Ernst of Red Oak represents Iowa in the U.S. Senate.