Before 9/11 happened, my family was not all that keen on me joining the military. My grandmother and aunts felt that I had the intelligence to become a doctor or lawyer and wondered why would I want to join the military? My father in particular was not keen on the idea at all and in fact it was not a subject we discussed especially as I got into high school Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. After the events of September 11, 2001, all of that changed...
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I remember sitting in a class at Wilby High School in Waterbury, CT as a sophomore when all of a sudden I was ushered into a math classroom to check out a TV screen depicting first one plane and then a second hitting the World Trade Center towers. It was surreal because just a few years before that before I finished my time at middle school, I had gone on a field trip to visit the World Trade Center. I remember taking a elevator near the top floor which seemed to take forever. Watching the planes hit those towers made me realize I would never see those buildings again and felt the great loss for our country of the many who died that day in that tragic event...
As I walked into the hallway, I was joined by my friends Carlos Ilarazza and Darrel Riley from my Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (MCJROTC) who were besides themselves and talking about how they couldn’t wait to enlist in the Marine Corps after high school. They wanted to be part of what would almost surely be a US military led campaign to deal justice regarding the terror that had been unleashed on our great country. Carlos was saying how he was going to hook up some deal with 1stSgt Violette, USMC (Ret), one of our JROTC instructors, with a recruiter to sign up for the Marines early. 1stSgt Violette, a Vietnam and Gulf War veteran himself, even spoke about the possibility of the military taking him back in. Carlos was a year older than me and he certainly got his wish to join the Marine Corps as an infantry Marine. He went downrange to Iraq twice to include a tour in Fallujah in 2004 in which he participated in the now famous Operation Phantom Fury. During that particular tour he would be shot multiple times and take some shrapnel clearing a house which would effectively end his short lived career in the Marine Corps due to a subsequent medical retirement. His dreams of eventually getting to be part of the elite Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon were crushed in an instant. As a young midshipman at the Naval Academy at the time, I went to visit him at Bethesda Hospital which really broke my heart to see my strong friend suffering so much. Carlos eventually went on to get into the music industry and became successful in other ways which included eventually becoming a dad to quite a few kids and becoming a great family man, something I don't either of us would have seen him becoming back in high school. Darrel was in my same class and was a star football player who played with my brother Ryan who would eventually become a firefighter like the heroes who went to rescue trapped people in the World Trade Center Tower only to lose their lives in the end in the aftermath of the attacks. He was a beast of a man who wasn’t that tall but could really put up some weight in the gym and was one of those guys back in high school who was looked up to a popular athlete. He enlisted in the Marines as well but after seeing combat overseas would unfortunately get shrapnel wounds which eventually caused complications that he died from in a hospital in Massachusetts. I remember Carlos later reaching out to me about it over the phone to discuss it because it was so surreal to see one of our friends die a young death. I guess we thought we were invincible as young warriors...that is though I guess the mentality of young warriors that gets us to do crazy things like charge machine gun nests. Other friends of mine from high school to include Raymond Laraquente, Mark Violette, Aurelie Laraquente, Tai Cabrera, Reggie Campbell for just a few names that I can recall off the top of my head would join around this time as I myself went on to be a student at the US Naval Academy starting in 2003. For us, we didn’t know a military that wasn’t at war which shaped our generation as we progressed through the ranks and went on with life.
Before 9/11 happened, my family was not all that keen on me joining the military. My grandmother and aunts felt that I had the intelligence to become a doctor or lawyer and wondered why would I want to join the military. My dad in particular was not keen on the idea at all and did not hide his feelings on the subject from me. In fact, it was not a subject we discussed especially as I got into high school Marine Corps JROTC. You see my dad had gone to high school at a trade school called Kaynor Tech in Waterbury, CT admist the height of the Vietnam War during the 1970s and saw many of his friends perish either who were drafted or enlisted. He also was eligible for the draft and had to emotionally endure the unknown of not knowing if his number would be called to serve a tour overseas where casualties were high and he may not live to eventually get married and have kids. As it is no secret how unpopular the Vietnam War was in America, the effects were certainly felt on a personal level in households which included my dad's growing up. My grandfather, a WWII Navy veteran and police officer in Waterbury, even suggested to my dad that he should consider becoming a draft dodger. My grandfather told him that he felt that the war wasn’t right although my dad told him he would look to enlist in the Navy given his electrician skills. He felt the more honorable thing to do was carry on the tradition of military service from the WWII and Korean War generation on the Reardon and Cosgriff side of my family (my grandfather and grandmother's line respectively).
My dad's name was never called up during the draft lottery as it would turn out. As a result, my dad got to marry his high school sweetheart, my mom, and eventually would have three triplet sons of which I was the middle child. For my father, he always felt like he was living on borrowed time because he lived when many of his friends never got to get married and have kids. However, my dad from that time on really had a distrust for the government decisions made at that time which many Americans had (and still have) and felt it wasn’t right for one of his children to die before his time especially given poor decisions by government leaders regarding national security issues. Being a father now, I can understand how my dad felt at that time although I didn’t agree with his perspective.
Shortly after 9/11 though, I remember coming home from school and saw my dad doing the bills with his beer besides him, and he looked over at me and said something to the effect of, “you know Chris, I think the military could use smart guys like you. I think if times were different, I would join the military now myself.” After that conversation, I felt more support from my dad towards joining the military and I continued my steps to an eventual nomination and selection to attend the US Naval Academy in 2003 right after the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I can remember watching the news with my brother seeing images of night vision technology showing the war and thinking that soon I would be joining that effort even it would be some time before I made it to the front lines. Given I was 18 by the time I was ready to go to Plebe Summer, I didn’t need parental permission to go. I remember going into my dad’s bedroom to talk to him for awhile and we discussed my upcoming journey to Plebe Summer and he said, “are you sure that you want to do this?” I told him I was sure and he told me that he would support his children in whatever they wanted to do although of course my decision scared him like most parents whose children join the military especially in a time of war. Later on my mom and dad came down for First Class Parent’s weekend which was before we would find out as midshipmen during our senior year what service assignments we would get. I can still remember like yesterday having my friend Tim Conaway tell my dad how he intended to service select Navy SEALS. My dad looked at me and said, “what do you intend to service select Chris?” Almost no surprise to anybody since my time in high school although some wished otherwise, I told him I had service selected Marine Corps Ground Option. My dad just shook his head but didn’t say much else. Later at my graduation as a brand new Second Lieutenant, my father told me that he was proud of me but of course he was scared. Over multiple deployments overseas especially with my first one to Iraq, my parents were always concerned. Today, my parents and the rest of my family are very proud of my military service and they have come to have a new respect for what my friends and I do and have done. They remain some of my biggest fans and I have a new relationship with my dad as we talk about insights he learns from the news or movies and asks my opinions on military or national security issues. To this day other than my Uncle Jack Russman serving in the Army Vietnam and my grandparents’ generation having multiple individuals serve in WWII or Korea, I remain the only family member among both my parents’ sides to serve in the US military.
Over the years I have celebrated quietly or with fellow military friends or veterans what has now become known as Patriot’s Day in honor of the Americans who lost their lives in the twin tower attacks on 9/11/2001 along with the over 1 million service members, many composed of my own Millennial Generation, who would serve overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan following 9/11/2011 such as my friends Carlos and Darrell. One of my friends Damon Friedman, a retired LtCol in the USAF and former Force Recon Marine, in light of the suicide epidemic in the military and veteran community, decided some time ago that he wanted to highlight the stories of military operators who had gone down range in Iraq and Afghanistan to tell their stories for the good, bad, and ugly. He also wanted to share the hope that they found from a faith based perspective (Christian) in finding healing and resolve moving forward from their wartime experiences. To learn, check out the Surrender Movie.
For chaplains and military leaders who are interested in running an event that utilizes the Surrender Movie, go here to get your hands on the “Unit Total Fitness Accelerator” which I put together as a 90 minute video instruction course that has been proven to work in getting your service members to open up and talk about issues pertinent to military life that they either need to find healing from or prepare for what lies ahead.
With that, take time to think about the families impacted by the attacks on the World Trade Center and reflect on the men and women who sacrificed so much to defend the free world. If you are considering how to gt involved with a worthy military or veteran cause, please consider watching this video to learn more about Freedom Fitness America. Also, please consider donating to our cause by clicking here:
Land of the Free Because of the Brave,
Founder/Director Freedom Fitness America
While a sophomore at the US Naval Academy in 2005, Chris struggled to understand the difference between killing and murder in combat along with figuring out influential yet ethical leadership in the profession of arms. Through personal research and mentoring, he resolved these issues and continued on to become an active duty Marine Corps Officer with 13+ years of active service that included three deployments to units ranging from aviation and infantry units to higher headquarters. During this time he pioneered new methods of military life coaching with multiple branches of service through collaboration with chaplains and unit leaders along with civilian business and church leaders which ultimately led to his founding of the fiscally sponsored non-profit organization, Freedom Fitness America which facilitates training for military professionals to be fit for the fight and life; namely physically, mentally, and spiritually prepared for the violence of combat and tackling the obstacles of everyday life.