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ND, SMC mark 9/11 anniversary with ceremonies

John Tierney | Wednesday, September 12, 2007

On the sixth anniversary of Sept. 11, the Tri-Military Command’s Patriot’s Day ceremony solemnly honored the victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks Tuesday before the sun rose over the Hesburgh Library reflecting pool.

Men’s basketball coach Mike Brey was chosen as the ceremony’s guest speaker as a result of his work this summer with the USO’s Operation Hardwood, a group of college basketball coaches who voluntarily travel to Kuwait to coach the troops training to deploy to Iraq.

Members of Notre Dame’s ROTC branches and approximately 100 civilians, including both students and faculty members, listened as he recounted his experiences in the Middle East.

While Brey visited the soldiers in Kuwait to teach them, he said he was the one who learned the most.

“I never saw better teamwork than I did in the military,” he said. “As a team-builder, it was inspiring.”

Brey said he noticed a contrast between the way people in the U.S. view the war in Iraq and the way the soldiers approach it.

Here, Brey said, much of the focus rests on the political battle to continue or end American involvement in the conflict, while in Kuwait he “did not once hear soldiers say that we shouldn’t be over there or question why they were there.”

After a week of living with the troops in the barracks and eating in the mess hall, he said he believes America’s handling of the war should shift from a political debate to the soldiers and their safety.

Most importantly, Brey said, Americans must never forget Sept. 11 was an attack, not a tragedy. He said he has heard a lot of people call 9/11 a tragedy, but that his Kuwait trip reminded him “it was really” an attack.

“We must remember it was an attack,” he said.

Like most Americans, Brey said he also remembers exactly where he was the day the airplanes hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

“I was on a recruiting trip,” he said. “We rented the last car at the airport and drove the 14 hours back.”

The ceremony began at 7 a.m. with Warner praying for all the victims of the attacks – which included firefighters, policemen and civilians – and for those who have since died in the war in Iraq.

Brey then addressed the audience and amid his reflections on the current opinions about the war, he also included a light anecdote of his visit to Kuwait.

During his trip, Brey flew inside a Blackhawk helicopter and noticed the pilot was wearing a Notre Dame hat. During the flight, the pilot turned around to ask Brey about the Winthrop loss in the NCAA tournament.

“It’s great to experience the Notre Dame family [outside the University],” Brey said.

Following Brey’s speech, a rendition of Taps was played in honor of those who perished six years ago and who have since died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The ROTC cadets were dismissed and the ceremony concluded with a benediction by Warner.

While the memorial was somber – and some tears did flow – it was clear the country has changed in the last six years. Unlike the University-wide Mass held on Sept. 11, 2001, few students attended the ceremony. Coincidentally, two planes flew over the library during the service, something that couldn’t have occurred six years ago when all civilian aircraft were grounded.