Roger Wicker

Sen. Roger Wicker

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I drove to a breakfast meeting at the Pentagon hosted by Donald Rumsfeld, our Secretary of Defense. The discussion focused on the emerging threats to our national security, including terrorism.

At one point, Rumsfeld told the gathering that it had been hard to convince the American people that more funding for national defense was needed. He even suggested that it might take a major event to awaken us to the threats we faced.

As I was leaving the Pentagon, I learned of the attack that was unfolding in real time. Two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. A little more than 30 minutes later, the Pentagon itself would be engulfed in flames after being hit by a 757 airliner. Billows of smoke could be seen from across the Potomac — a vivid picture of how close my colleagues and I had come to danger. We later learned that a fourth plane, bound for Washington, D.C., had crashed in Pennsylvania after the passengers mounted resistance against the hijackers. It is a day that will be forever seared into our nation’s memory.

American led with strength after 9/11

These attacks were meant to strike fear into the hearts of Americans, but they instead revealed the best in our nation. Because of the heroic passengers aboard United Flight 93, the terrorists were kept from targeting the U.S. Capitol or the White House. Selfless acts by first responders allowed thousands to escape the burning twin towers before they collapsed. Across the country, Americans launched blood drives and raised money to help the victims. And under President Bush’s leadership, we resolved to bring justice to the perpetrators.

The 9/11 attacks forced America to engage in a new kind of war. In addition to the traditional liberation of territory, we entered a lengthy campaign to uproot terrorist networks and confront governments that protected them. Our intelligence community cultivated deep sources on the ground, which allowed us to find and kill Osama bin Laden in 2011. This sustained campaign sent a clear message that attacks on the United States would be met with unrelenting force.

Our mission against terrorism also saw the rise of a new generation of American warriors. In the first year after 9/11, 181,000 Americans volunteered for the Armed Forces, and more than 38,000 Mississippians would go on to serve in uniform in the War on Terror. I am proud to count my son among the many American military members who served in Afghanistan, and it was my privilege to visit our troops in that country on three occasions. Their service on the battlefield helped to prevent another terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

America is after 20 years later

Our nation is safer today because of the many security overhauls we have implemented. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2002 brought several agencies under one roof, leading to better security coordination. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) brought necessary improvements to airport security, and I am now pushing legislation to conduct a full review of TSA’s work.

I share many Americans’ frustration with the way President Joe Biden has handled our withdrawal from Afghanistan. His ill-advised decision to pull all American troops has given terrorists their greatest morale boost since 9/11. It is likely that Afghanistan could now return to being a breeding ground for terrorism. But Americans can rest assured that our security situation remains much improved from 20 years ago. Our intelligence networks are strong, our military is unmatched, and airport security remains tighter than ever.

As we continue to honor the memory of those who died on 9/11 and in the War on Terror, we must remain vigilant to make sure such an attack can never again occur on U.S. soil.

ROGER WICKER is a U.S. Senator from Mississippi. Readers can contact him at 330 W. Jefferson St., Tupelo, MS 38803 or call (662) 844-5010.

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