9/11 Anniversary: Two U.S. Teens Come of Age in a Decade of Tumult


Two Teens Come of Age in Decade After 9/11

"In general, the overriding thing most kids were figuring out was, 'What is the purpose of my life, because of such a major disaster at home,'" she said.

That disaster gave some, like Rudder, a purpose in life.

Rudder said he was on a path to join the Army with the Corps of Cadets when he began college in 2001. His father had been drafted and served two tours of duty in Vietnam with the Marines. But after 9/11, his anger turned to "rage."

"I wanted to go into the military but we didn't have a real enemy," he said. "Once we were attacked, we identified the enemy early. It was the rage of the attack and then we had somewhere to direct it.

"It followed me though my training," Rudder said. "If I felt a little weak or too slow, I would think of the rage I felt that day and carried it with me. It opened my eyes. After that day I tried to make myself the best that I could be."

Rudder's first reaction was to drop out of college and enlist immediately to join the October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, when the United States and Britain launched air strikes after the Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden.

But his parents convinced him to stay and become the first in his family to get a bachelor's degree. He got two, one in political science and the other in sociology.

Rudder's initial disdain for the Muslim student in a college chemistry class who said after the terrorist attacks that, "It's nothing compared to what the U.S. has been doing to Arabs for years," has been tempered, he said.

Today, Rudder is a captain in the Army, stationed in Germany, after a seven-month tour of duty in one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan fighting against terrorism to win "hearts and minds."

A platoon leader in the province next to Kandahar, he and 44 soldiers were hit with an improvised explosive device at their command outpost. Six were badly injured as a truck flipped on its roof.

But as Rudder was serving his country, Valerie Szybala was exploring the Middle East. She, too, remembers the effects of of 9/11.

Szybala was reading a Shakespeare assignment on a dorm bunk bed Sept. 11, 2001, when her roommate ran in to say the United States had been "bombed."

"It didn't make sense to me," she said. "This wasn't wartime."

But as she watched the second tower of the World Trade Center go down, she worried about her relatives in New York City. And when the Pentagon was attacked, it hit closer to home. Both her parents were Washington, D.C., lawyers with offices not far from where the third of four hijacked planes hit.

Szybala and others watched the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. "It was hard to be negative and against it after something so tragic happened to my country," she said. But after the United States declared war on Iraq, "it made no sense to me at the time, or now."

As the months passed, Szybala's plan for a future in international affairs suddenly seemed in jeopardy.

"In the aftermath, I saw it as damaging my future, in a way," she said of 9/11 and the political fallout. "Anti-American sentiment was on the rise when [George W.] Bush got aggressive with his foreign policy. People were dancing in the streets on TV. I thought, damn it, this is going to affect my ability to travel. I knew I wanted to work in the Middle East and I knew it would make it harder for me as an American."

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...