Texas Tech football's home opener on Sept. 11 marked the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and paid tribute to the 13 fallen servicemembers who recently made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan.
On the evening of Sept. 11, a familiar sound signaled the start of Texas Tech University's first home game of the season. As a gunshot fired into the air and the Masked Rider atop Fearless Champion barreled down the field, a special group trailed the horse and its rider.
To memorialize the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a group of ROTC members sprinted out bearing the flags of all six military branches. This was not the only display of remembrance at the game. Looking up from the field, attendees could see 13 American flags folded atop easels on the northeast concourse level of the stadium.
Each folded flag represented a service member who died in the line of duty during recent evacuations from Afghanistan.
Putting the flags on display was the idea of Tyler Cronin, a student assistant in the office of Military & Veterans Programs (MVP) at Texas Tech.
“As a U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Army veteran, watching the events of the past month unfold has brought up a lot of feelings,” Cronin said.
Cronin is not alone. The MVP community on campus has had a lot to process in the past weeks.
“It's a fresh wound for a lot of prior and current service members,” said Jeremy Sedeno, program coordinator for MVP. “When something like this happens, it stirs up a lot of emotions.”
Sedeno served as an Army combat medic from 2000-2006, treating injured service members and civilians on the frontline.
“Two weeks before my tour was scheduled to end, I suffered a career-ending injury,” Sedeno said. “I was out training the incoming medic and we were being transported in a Humvee when an improvised explosive device (IED) went off in front of the vehicle. Our driver swerved to avoid colliding with the explosion but flipped the vehicle into a ditch.”
Sedeno tore every ligament, muscle and tendon in his right knee.
While Cronin did not suffer a career-ending injury, the terror the Taliban inflicted on the people he was helping, is something he will never forget.
“Hearing the stories of what these people suffered through, long before 9/11 even happened, was sobering,” Cronin said. “Living under an oppressive regime for so long takes away the ability to hope, the ability to dream.”
While the conversation continues on the costs of the war, Cronin personally felt it was worth it.
“What convinces me are all of the positive stories we'll never hear,” he said. “In the past 20 years, an entire generation of Afghani people grew up and are now adults. Many of them didn't have to live in fear of their door being broken down and their families being abducted. There are young people who got a glimpse, however small, of a better future.”
“To fight for the world you want, you must imagine the world you want. And it's hard to imagine that world without seeing a glimpse of it first. So, was it all worth it? Yes.”
However, Cronin and Sedeno also are aware of the tangible loss.
“We reached out to the families of the 13 fallen servicemembers,” Cronin said. “As a family here at MVP, we wanted their families to know we were grieving with them.”
Of course, the last 13 were but a few of the lives cut short through the war.
“That's what we wanted to honor,” Cronin said. “The football game was a small, but hopefully powerful way, to honor those who have paid the ultimate price to get us to where we are today.”
A lot has changed since the attacks 20 years ago. The bravery of the U.S. men and women who serve has not.
“Seeing the memorial at the football game this past weekend was amazing,” Sedeno said.
The broad-shouldered, muscular, tattoo-covered man shed tears at the football game when he saw the flags.
“It's our job as Americans to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. “Their sacrifice can never be repaid, but by remembering them, it's a small token of gratitude we can all give. That's exactly what we did in the stadium this past Saturday night.”