This is the first post in an indefinite series. Everyone knows that 9/11 was the horrible mechanism that initiated our descent into a war fought by a small subset of Americans. But how well do you know the men and women who have joined the fight? Do you imagine they are wildly different from you? While 9/11 ties veterans together on a thin connective string, many more reasons drove us to join this war, and those are the ones that tie us to you. You can look in the mirror and know that a few sliding doors could have found you leaving home to wander off to the edges of the world with us. And you can see that these reasons are exactly what will help us inform a version of America we’ll all share together. These are stories about why we left to fight, and why you know us better than you think you do.
These are Keith Dow’s Other Reasons.
Everyone has their “where were you?” stories from 9/11, and mine didn’t end at a recruiting office. I was sitting in freshman English class when the first tower was hit; when everyone thought some terrible accident with a single engine Cessna had occurred in New York. By the time the second jet hit I was in the library of my high school watching the news on a large TV secured to a rolling cart with ratchet straps. I watched smoke billowing out of both towers and I felt nothing. I had no ability to process any of it and I had no personal connection to anyone involved yet.
I coasted through high school with little direction and less guidance as many had before me. No one told me what I should be doing to prepare for adulthood so I just took a shot and tried to figure it out for myself. I existed in the New England hardcore music scene as I had prior to the attacks on 9/11. After graduating in 2005 I bounced around the seacoast of New Hampshire to the southern parts to Boston and back. I didn’t pay much attention to the news. I wanted to go to hardcore shows, hang out with my friends, and chase girls. I still had no personal connection to the Global War on Terror.
At the tail end of winter in 2008 I was working two jobs at roughly 60-70 hours a week. I had been at this for a year after growing tired of touring the US and Canada with a friend’s band. Living out of a duffle bag, sleeping with 5 other guys in a van, and starting from scratch financially every couple of months had taken its toll. So I quit touring, bought a car, and went full tilt at the jobs I had maintained a casual status at while traveling. I was working 40 hours a week as a one on one for an autistic child and roughly 30 hours a week at a college bar. It was there that I reconnected with old friends from high school and made new ones, whose time in service had tethered them together and drove me to follow in their footsteps.
Two of them were fraternity brothers and Marine reservists from Southern New Hampshire. Both had a unique skill of resolving conflict peacefully or violently, and years of experience in dealing with environments rich with hot tempers drew us together. Both of them had enlisted in the Marine Corps between High School and University but inevitably pressed pause on their undergrad experience to go to Iraq to “study abroad.” Given the entitled population I welcomed into the bar and often involuntarily escorted out on a nightly basis, I found these two diamonds in the rough that had already committed selfless acts at such a young age.
Two more were classmates from high school. One was a senior when I was a freshman. In the short time since I had last seen him and when we met in the spring of 2007, he had joined the Army, deployed, and been severely injured by an IED in Iraq. He never told me anything about it but he was the lone survivor in the truck that was hit and lost consciousness while rendering aid to his brothers, who perished that day. He had shrapnel embedded in his face, with one bold piece lining the bottom of the bag under his right eye. Knowing that he had only been in country (let alone, the Army) for such a short time before being medically retired in his 20s blew my mind.
Another was a junior when I was a freshman. He had enlisted in the Marine Corps immediately after high school and deployed three times in 4 years of active duty. I had looked up to him in high school and my admiration grew as I imagined what he had accomplished since we had passed each other in those halls. The proportion of his time in service to his amount of time spent in third world countries was astonishing.
As a self-proclaimed outcast, I had very little in common with these guys other than where we worked or how much we drank and occasionally the song selections on the digital jukebox at our bar. What I was drawn to was their shared experience. I was envious of it and I was hungry for it. It began eating at me that I had not done much in the way of a career. I had seen the entire country and put some adventures under my belt, but something was missing. I was making good money at both jobs but I lacked purpose and connection and I was beginning to become aware of it; something needed to be done and I am convinced that I met these men at exactly the right time in my life.
I have compared making the decision to join in on the Global War on Terror to the most basic example. When you’re at a bar and you see your buddy in a fight, you don’t stop to ask bystanders what he did to deserve it. The cause and the methods and the logistics go out the window…you just dive in to support your tribe. I made friends with these guys who had come home after multiple deployments while I was traveling and hanging out in the States. I felt useless and lazy and I felt like I had been missing out. I saw the bond they formed with others immediately upon discovering that each one had served overseas. I was hungry for that brotherhood and that camaraderie. So initially, it all still had very little to do with a couple of assholes flying planes into buildings. It’s not that I didn’t care, but my appreciation for why we set the world ablaze in the wake of 9/11 wouldn’t come until years later.
Some people join the military to find structure and security, but I had both of those before I enlisted. Others wave the flag and join for patriotic reasons, and while I love this country, it wasn’t a national call to arms that sent me packing to the service. For me, with a little dose of the adventure and minimalism I had come to love during my years of touring on the road, I longed for the brotherhood and closeness that the military appeared to harbor and that war appeared to cultivate. While my appreciation for how we served the common good developed over time, my reasons for serving were personal and internal.
Author Keith Dow is a born New Englander, who has been writing ever since he could hold a pen. He is the co-founder of Dead Reckoning Collective, a veteran owned publishing company focused on promoting positive lifestyles and giving post 9/11 veterans a voice. Keith is best known for being the only US Army veteran living in Canada with A-M-E-R-I-C-A-N tattooed across his knuckles.