It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 20 years to the date since America was turned upside down by a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

I was only 10 years old at the time, and didn’t quite understand the gravity of the situation at hand.

At such a young age, I don’t recall much of the day, but I do remember that I was in Mrs. Powell’s fifth grade class.

I’m not sure if our principal came into the classroom, but I remember Mrs. Powell turning on the television and us watching the news.

All I knew at the time was that something bad had happened.

I remember the fear that followed in the days ahead, and adults talking of the attack.

Days after 9/11, I remember being at a friend’s house talking about what had happened as we tried to gather some understanding of the situation and seeing two planes fly over us as we laid in a pile of leaves. I remember being scared and wondering if it was possible for terrorists to attack anywhere.

Of course, as I grew older, I learned of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, and the war that followed.

The stories, photos and testimonials that surround that day are heartbreaking.

Now with the troops vacated from Afghanistan, it’s as if everything has come full circle.

It became the longest U.S. war, and I am grateful for the men and women who have served in Afghanistan, and all servicemen.

On Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush, told America that night, “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.”

In a reference to the eventual U.S. military response he declared, “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them,” as stated on history.com.

Operation Enduring Freedom officially began on Oct. 7, 2001 with American and British bombing strikes against al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

That combat mission ended in 2014, and a follow-on mission began, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

At that time, President Barack Obama said, “we give thanks to our troops and intelligence personnel who have been relentless against the terrorists responsible for 9/11 - devastating the core al-Qaeda leadership, delivering justice to Osama bin Laden, disrupting terrorist plots and saving countless American lives.

“We are safer, and our nation is more secure, because of their service,” he added. “At the same time, our courageous military and diplomatic personnel in Afghanistan - along with our NATO allies and coalition partners - have helped the Afghan people reclaim their communities, take the lead for their own security, hold historic elections and complete the first democratic transfer of power in their country’s history.”

“I want to express my deep gratitude to all U.S. personnel, both military and civilian, who have served in Afghanistan since 2001, many on multiple deployments,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said. “I also thank the thousands more who were a part of the mission at home and around the world. In fighting America’s longest war, our people and their families have borne a heavy burden, and some paid the ultimate price.”

I also want to say thank you.

This year, President Joe Biden was focused on bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan.

If only the thousands of American troops who had to recently withdraw out of Afghanistan, and all American allies, would have had a better exit plan.

Ashley Hodge is the editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com

Ashley Hodge is the editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com