It’s been twelve years since America changed forever. While we as a society have embraced and grown with many of those changes, some of the painful effects of 9/11 continue to linger for many.
On September 11th, 2001, over 3,000 people lost their lives in the most devastating series of terrorist attacks to occur on American soil. The rest of the country was stricken with grief, fear and anger and for once in our somewhat-faction-driven history, we banded together to support the survivors in any way we could from every corner of the country. We grieved as one, collectively, sending silent prayers and positive energy to those first on scene while we clung to our loved ones and witnessed the aftermath via incessant news reports, special features, on-scene testimonials and minute-by-minute updates. We were struck with the knowledge of how fleeting life can be, and with every newly released, deeply haunting picture of the devastation to leave New York and Washington D.C. and find its way to our living rooms, offices and schools, we, as a society, changed more and more.
Post September 11th, 2001 Practical Changes
At this point, very few of us even remember pre-9/11 flying. We’ve adapted to checking in two hours prior to all flights, taking our shoes off, being unable to carry food, drinks, other liquids and anything that may be used as a weapon past the first security checkpoint and the possibility of being pulled aside for “secondary screening,” during which a uniformed and gloved TSA officer more thoroughly examines your carry ons, your clothes and you yourself. No one is allowed past the security checkpoint unless they have a boarding pass or there are extremely unique circumstances, like a person accompanying a severely handicapped individual or a very young child who will be flying alone. Planes themselves are infinitely more secure with beefed-up cockpit doors and more streamlined designs and on almost every flight that begins in American airspace, you’ll undoubtedly find at least one plain-clothes Air Marshal who’s carrying a gun.
For nearly a decade after September 11th, Americans lived with a color-coded threat system (the Homeland Security Advisory System) that no one really understood, but that we all embraced. We didn’t know exactly what the various levels meant or what to do about changes broadcast via the system, but if that’s what it took to prevent another 9/11, then so be it. The color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System was replaced in 2011 with a different, geographical-based system called the National Terrorism Advisory System. Few understand this system either, but until we develop a better plan, it’s the best we have.
If you work in a office, you likely have a security badge or wear ID. Guests have to sign-in to visit, and flowers, gifts and cards are delivered to the front desk instead of being sent back deep into cubicle land before they’ve been examined. Schools began developing evacuation and terrorism response plans, families developed emergency protocol and children were drilled on what to do if they were ever separated during a disaster or terrorist event.
Post September 11, 2001 Psychological Changes
The practical changes are easy to identify, but the changes to the American psyche have been just as profound. Now, today, on September 11th, 2013, you can likely look back at the events of 9/11/2001 with an acknowledgement of how truly awful they were, but not be struck by the sheer weight, pain and grief suffered by the entire nation that fateful day. In contrast, on September 11th, 2001, the helplessness, fear, anger, outrage, devastation, and heartache were almost universally experienced by every American.
Today (September 11th, 2013), we’ve reached the point of having weathered the storm. We may experience a bit of dull ache or lapse into a moment of melancholy silence when viewing footage or seeing pictures, but as a whole, we’ve began the process of moving on. We will always remember precisely where we were the instant we found out about the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the instant, panic-driven scramble to find and secure our loved ones close to us, but for most of us, we’ve healed enough to not re-experience the same degree of crushing horror most of America suffered with for years afterwards.
Lingering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Not everyone is able to leave the horrifying events of September 11th, 2001 in the past. For the families of the 2,977 victims lost in the attacks, life will never, ever be the same. For a significant percentage of the nearly 10,000 first responders (police, firefighters, EMTs, and search and rescue personnel) who worked the post-attack devastation, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a lingering part of their post-9/11 reality. Widespread depression, anxiety, insomnia and grief are common amongst teams who worked Ground Zero and at the Pentagon. For first responders who haven’t been diagnosed with PTSD, the scenes of death, chaos and staggering pain are memories they will carry with them the rest of their lives.
Search and Rescue Handlers
For a specific sub-group of first responders, the K-9 search and rescue (SAR) handlers, this year is going to be the hardest yet. Earlier this summer, Porkchop, the last surviving member of the largest K-9 callout America has ever seen, crossed the rainbow bridge. For the first time since 9/11/2001, the search dog handlers are truly alone. While many of them undoubtedly have new canine partners, nothing will ease the pain, as a group, of moving forward without one of the original four-legged heroes by their side.
The search dogs performed the incalculably valuable job of searching for survivors amongst the rubble, but they also worked to offer emotional support to the plethora of human first-responders who were struggling to process the events while still being professional and doing their jobs. By supporting those who needed it most on-site, they allowed the first responders to work with a more level head and to work for longer periods of time. In all of the post 9/11 write-up, there’s one thing almost everyone has been able to agree on: the canine search dogs deserve to be counted amongst the true heroes of September 11th.
By this point in time, 12 years later, it’s so easy to forget those who were on-site first, who did what thousands of us who were watching, sitting, clinging to our families, were unable to do, who worked tirelessly in the grit, grime, dust and rubble and who sacrificed more than we’ll ever know. It’s easy to forget the chaos, the panic, the fear. It’s easy to forget those who gave everything they had and them some, and for some first responders, their lives, trying to save others. It’s so easy to simply move on, to accept the changes, and to forget the details that matter.
Today, on September 11th, 2013, we here at Anything Pawsable and the United States Service Dog Registry want to implore you to do one thing: remember. Remember those who worked to save lives. Remember those who have made changes since to keep you safe. Remember those who supported you in the aftermath. Remember those whom you reached for first, whom you were desperate to know were safe. Remember your family. Remember your canine partner. Remember those who are still struggling. Remember the K-9 handlers who are grieving especially deeply today, for their partners, their support, their lifelines, are gone. Remember the overwhelming sense of patriotism and unity following post 9/11, and how little anything mattered outside of the fact that we were, and are, Americans. In whatever form it takes for you personally, be that a moment of silence, glancing through the 9/11 Search Dog slideshow below, making a short Facebook post or some other way, simply REMEMBER.
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