Today, my heart aches for the 13 US troops killed in the suicide attack near the Kabul airport and their families, as they helped us end America’s longest war. My heart also still aches almost 20 years later for the 3,000 people we lost on September 11, 2001, and the first responders who sacrificed for all of us. When I grieve for our fallen and their families, I reflect on how best to honor their memory. To show that we will never forget the bravery of our heroes, we must remember the power of service.
As our nation prepares to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we know our military—those young service members who willingly put themselves in harm’s way for their country—will continue to step up, to raise their hands, to serve. And so can you.
America needs service now more than ever. We need people willing to honor our country and our heroes by serving at home, by being heroes to those who need our help. There is a place for everyone one of us in national service, regardless of gender, ethnicity, education, or background. Even if you can only serve for one day, as a volunteer, we need you in our ranks.
From a young age, I was privileged to serve in many capacities—as a leader in JROTC in middle school, as a West Point graduate, as a two-tour Army combat veteran, and now at AmeriCorps helping bridge the gap between military and national service. Serving can mean shouldering a rifle or tutoring a child. Through my service, I hope to share what I have learned and convey how meaningful a life of service can be, personally, and how impactful it is in our communities and country.
I deployed to Iraq twice. Some of my friends were killed supporting the simple right of people in another country to vote, the right to have a democracy like ours. My brothers and sisters lost their lives for an idea of America that goes beyond race or creed. They believed that the concept of America, the idea of a place where we are all treated equally, is worth sacrificing for and committing to service.
That power of service to unite people from differing backgrounds in a common mission is greater than anything I have seen. My fallen brothers and sisters did great things through service, but even if they only served one human being, their sacrifice wasn’t in vain.
Just this past month, we’ve seen service members rocking babies to sleep, helping get interpreters and families out of danger. We’ve seen Americans welcome evacuees into their homes as part of Operation Allies Welcome.
But, you don’t need a military uniform to commit to service. Service can be as personal as helping one person—whether it’s holding a door for your elderly neighbor or donating supplies to a local school.
This September 11, thousands of Americans across the country will be packing meals for those who are food insecure, beautifying community parks, or cleaning the headstones of fallen service members.
9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance lets Americans answer the call to serve here at home. My goal is to see this one-day act of service become an annual tradition for all Americans. It’s a time to reflect—and act—on what our nation can accomplish when people give others their time, their expertise, and their compassion for the common good.
Bringing more people into a national service movement will unite us. It will strengthen our democracy. On this 9/11 Day, I challenge all of you to act. Even the smallest act of service, the simplest act of kindness, honors the American lives lost two decades ago and helps the nation transform a day of tragedy into a day of service.
So, how will you step forward today and honor 9/11?
To learn more about service opportunities through AmeriCorps programs, visit www.americorps.gov.
Mary Tobin is a two-time combat veteran appointed by the Biden Administration to serve AmeriCorps as its senior advisor for veterans, military families, and wounded warriors.