Written by: Mike Schoeneck
I recall it like it was yesterday. The date was September 11, 2001 and I was a high school senior at Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse, N.Y. The day started out with first period study hall; my fellow classmates and I were taking on the daily crossword puzzle in the cafeteria while watching SportsCenter on the television. Then in the blink of an eye it happened – our earth science teacher Mr. David Atwood, a U.S. Army Vietnam veteran, came running in and changed the channel to the news and we saw the second plane hit the tower live. As an 18 year-old, you think you have the world figured out; you are finally the big fish in a small pond, but at that moment, we all felt as helpless as infants. Scared, confused, awestruck, we did not know how to process the situation and our innocence was lost.
In the days and weeks that followed, as our country was still trying to digest the events that had occurred on that faithful day, I began to notice a phenomenon that was occurring within our country. The citizens of this nation began to put their individual differences aside and banded together to begin the rebuilding process. Whether it was President Bush throwing out the first pitch of Game 3 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium, the FDNY raising the flag at Ground Zero, or the countless community vigils across the country, I was shown the true resiliency of the American spirit and was filled with a sense of patriotism.
While this was occurring; however, I also began to think about what it meant for our nation. What were the next steps? What did this mean for my family and friends serving in the military? I was at an age where I was able to understand that war is not a foreign concept, it is something that hits home on every level. It was no longer reading the history books about the battles of the Revolutionary War, Civil War or World War II; this would occur during my lifetime and change my life no matter what action was taken. My friends and family would have to fight.
But, I found that wearing a uniform was not the only way to serve. After 9/11 we all came together – police, firefighters, military, medical professionals and individuals volunteering to help with the clean-up or donating blood. Today, as we debate another conflict, deep cracks have emerged in our sense of unity. A combative tone has overtaken the public discourse. It seems like no one talks about “coming together” anymore.
Twelve years later, our country is in a different place, and as our military continues to draw down the numbers of our deployed forces in the Middle East, we have an opportunity to rekindle that sense of unity. Our country can and must band together in an effort to serve those who have served. As 1.2 million service men and women transition out of service over the next four years, it is imperative that we as a nation embrace actions that foster opportunities for these individuals returning to civilian life. These actions not only include educational and employment options, but also include creating a welcoming atmosphere within the communities to which they will be returning.
I now serve as the program manager of Boots to Business, Operation Endure & Grow and VetNet at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (IVMF), as well as the chapter captain for Team Red, White & Blue Syracuse. I have made it my life’s focus to work with veterans, not because it is the “popular” or “cool” thing to do but, instead I do it because I realize that it is our duty as civilians to support those soldiers and their families who have sacrificed so much in an effort to protect the opportunities and freedoms that we as Americans are afforded every day. It is now our time as civilians to step up to the plate and recognize that it’s our turn to serve our nation’s veterans.
Mike Schoeneck is a graduate of the Martin J. Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University. He currently serves as the Program Manager for Boots to Business, Operation Endure & Grow and VetNet at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, as well as the Chapter Captain for Team Red, White & Blue Syracuse.