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Remembrance and reverence

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- It's hard to believe a decade has passed since the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. At the time I happened to be in a class at Maxwell Air Force Base. My classmates and I sat stunned as we watched the second airliner crash into the World Trade Center.

From the first moments, I saw determination in the faces of my fellow Airmen and Americans, determination that we would seek justice for the victims of this tragedy, but also determination that this would not defeat us. Our country came together after this tragedy. In the days and weeks that followed, I saw the sprit that makes our country great -- our ability to look beyond our differences to meet the challenge head-on.

In the coming days as we commemorate the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, we should all remember its significance. It was said of a previous day in our history, "this is a day that will live in infamy." Sept. 11 was a day just as tragic for our nation. Never in our history have so many innocent and non-combatant Americans met with such a fate at the hands of an enemy.

We must honor our fallen. We must remember the victims in the Twin Towers. We must remember the victims in the Pentagon. We must remember the victims on the aircraft that crashed into the towers, Pentagon and Pennsylvania. We must remember the responders who gave their lives valiantly to save others on that day, 10 years ago.

Since then, many American heroes have given their lives to bring justice for the evil done and to ensure it will never happen again. We must remember their sacrifice.

I have heard a number of suggestions for honoring their memories on this day. They range from a day of prayer to a day devoted to acts of charity and support for our fellow man. All are good suggestions, and I challenge all of us to honor their memory by making our country a better place on this day and the days after. We must honor their memory and sacrifice by ensuring their lives and ultimately their deaths make us a better nation.

In order to make 9/11 a defining event that makes us a better nation, we must use the coming days not only for remembrance - but for reflection. What have we learned from this tragedy that will make us better tomorrow? I can only answer that question for myself.

I learned that when we are faced with the worst we often see our best. We saw our best in the people that responded to the towers and the Pentagon. We saw our best in the people who tried to take back their aircraft and sacrificed their lives in a field in Pennsylvania. We saw our best in the people who gave of themselves after the tragedies to help recover victims. We saw our best in the people who donated and sacrificed to help the families of those left behind. Whether one agrees or not with the wars we've engaged since 9/11, one can't deny that we saw our best in the men and women who sacrificed themselves to defend their nation and pursue justice.

It is my hope as we reflect on our best after 9/11, we look upon recent events with concern. Today's national challenges divide us. We have common interests, but as yet we have not come together to meet the challenge. As a nation, we have chosen to talk about each other instead of to each other. We do not honor our history or the sacrifices of victims and heroes of 9/11.

In the end, we need to get beyond these differences. The issues facing our nation are great, but history teaches us that when we face the worst we are the best. It is my hope in the coming days that our memories of 9/11 make us realize that we can work together. For my part, I will remember, I will pray, I will work to help my fellow man, and I challenge others to do the same. As a leader, I will try to step up to the challenge to work together, and I will challenge my leaders at all levels to do the same.