Rep. Brian Mast: Never forget Sept. 12, 2001 and our response to terrorism of Sept. 11

We rightfully reflect each Sept. 11 on the nearly 3,000 innocent Americans who lost their lives that day in 2001 and the heroes who ran into danger to save lives. I believe, though, that we often overlook what happened Sept. 12.

That morning after the terrorist attacks we all woke up unified as Americans — no matter the color of our skin or where we worshipped, what city we lived in, or how much money we had. Out of the darkness of 9/11 came a bright moment of clarity and unity on 9/12 that we must never forget.

Like many Americans, I still remember where I was and what I was doing when the planes struck the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.

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I had enlisted in the Army the year before, and as I watched the news while running on a treadmill, I knew immediately what this meant for me and my brothers and sisters in arms.

We were going to execute a reckoning on behalf of the fallen and on behalf of all Americans. We were going to publicly, unapologetically identify evil for what it was. And we were going to destroy the enemies who attacked us.

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These memories are important. We say “never forget” because even when we can’t see it, we know there are very real evil forces in this world that would like nothing more than to bring us to our knees. I learned that lesson viscerally in 2010 when a bomb detonated underneath me, leaving both my legs and an index finger buried in Afghanistan.

But if on Sept. 11 we remember the evil that wants to destroy us, on Sept. 12 we must remember there is also so much good in the world. On this day every year, I remember that I am one of the lucky ones, and that there are so many others who sacrificed so much more. Their heroism remains an inspiration to me today.

The police officers and firefighters who ran headlong into harm’s way on Sept. 11 and lost their lives didn’t die because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They died because there was a highly dangerous situation and they went charging forward into it anyway.

Many Americans woke up the day after the terrorist attacks only because these heroes sacrificed their lives for the lives of others they didn’t even know. Many wake up each day still because these same heroes in our police and fire departments continue to protect our families and communities each and every day.

So if on Sept. 11 we remember the heroism so many displayed, on Sept. 12 we should strive to emulate it and rediscover that unity we once knew.

Brave men and women of our military, law enforcement, first responders and countless others gave their lives on 9/11 and in the years after so that all Americans could wake up each morning free from threat. They died so the rest of us could wake up with the opportunity to pursue our dreams and strive to be the best version of ourselves.

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We cannot hope to repay these heroes for what they’ve done. We can only ask: What would those who died ask of us?

Just as we never forget the trial and tragedy that we endured on Sept. 11, let us each day strive to replicate the unity we showed as one country on Sept. 12.

I believe we must do our best to live lives that honor the sacrifices those people made on our behalf. When faced with adversity we can’t curl up into a corner and hide. Just as they ran headlong into danger, so must we confront our challenges with a brave face and courageous heart.

We must meet the challenges that are in front of us directly: assess them, own them and, if necessary, give them a size 10 in the rear. We must be gritty, bust our tails and do it even more so when it’s difficult. The old cliché is a true one: Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.

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Perhaps most importantly, we must remember that we inspire each other with our actions, especially when we work to help each other. We are stronger when we share in this community than when we attack each other for our differences. We are stronger as a nation when we pay it forward, because we can’t pay back all those who have sacrificed so that we may live free.

Just as we never forget the trial and tragedy that we endured on Sept. 11, let us each day strive to replicate the unity we showed as one country on Sept. 12.

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Brian Mast is the Republican U.S. Representative for the 18th District of Florida. He served in the U.S. Army from 2000 to 2011.