BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — Some of the troops at this sprawling U.S. air base were in their midteens when they watched the planes hit the World Trade Center’s twin towers on television and vowed to join the military.
Eight years later, many of those who enlisted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks are now part of a massive military effort in Afghanistan that some are saying has no clear exit.
Remembrances of the attacks started at dawn Friday, with more than 1,000 service members donning shorts and sneakers to run exactly 9.11 kilometers, or about 5.5 miles, to commemorate the day and remember troops who have died in the fighting since.
At Bagram, some said they worried Americans weren’t making the connection between the Afghanistan war and the 2001 attacks strongly enough.
“I feel that a lot of people have forgotten. I would have them replay the video from that day,” said Air Force Technical Sgt. Shawn Merchant, 33, of Ellsworth, Maine.
Merchant, who helps maintain fighter planes at Bagram, just started his second tour in Afghanistan. He said he sees some changes since 2007: Everything at Bagram is bigger and more permanent.
Army Sgt. Joshua Applegate of Springfield, Miss., was in high school when the planes hit the towers, and enlisted two years later, though he said he had wanted to do it right away.
“I like my country too much not to,” said Applegate, who arrived in Afghanistan in April and now facilitates transport and other logistics at Bagram Airfield, the main U.S. base in the country, located just north of the capital, Kabul.
Many troops called Friday’s anniversary a galvanizing event, and said marking the day reminds them that the U.S. mission here is important.
“It’s still one of the reasons why we’re here. Sept. 11 is part of it. For those of us who see the repercussions of fighting, it’s still there every day,” said Air Force Capt. Christopher Dupuis, 26, of Lacey, Wash.