Sept. 11, 2001 - The day that changed the United States. A day that will live in the minds and hearts of all those who witnessed, whether in person or on television, an unprecedented attack on the American people and their way of life.
Amy Jarvis with President George Bush
“I was stationed at an airbase in Lemoore, California,” Retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Amy Jarvis said, remembering every vivid detail about that day. “I was on leave and had just arrived back in town in the early morning hours before the first plane hit the towers.”
Jarvis remembers getting a phone call directing her to report back to base even though she had two days of her leave time remaining.
“I turned on the TV and remember my body going numb,” she said, stating that when she had questioned the need to return to base early, she had been told to turn on her television. “Everything was so surreal, and I was filled with an impending sense of dread and uncertainty.
“I had no idea what this meant for the country, the people and families in all three locations, and especially for the immediate futures of myself and my fellow shipmates. To put it simply … it was scary as hell.”
Even now, after having completed 20 years of honorable service and retired from the U.S. Navy, in 2016, the memories of that day, and the days that followed, remain vivid, and the lessons from that day are ones she hopes live on.
“Something I would want today's children to learn from this experience would be to not judge the whole because of the few and to realize that life as you know it can change in an instant, so show love for others as much as possible,” Jarvis said. You never know when you won't get that chance again.”
“I was inside the ship when the breaking news came,” Rabchenia recalled, saying she ran outside and was greeted by the sight of smoke rising across the bay. “My initial reaction was just unbelief.”
Rabchenia said that she, like the rest of the country, started questioning what was happening, looking for other possibilities such as, “How did it happen? Was it an earthquake, a natural disaster, or did planes just accidentally fly into a building?”
Of course, the explanation was worse - America was under attack, and that answer brought memories flooding back for Rabchenia, who had lived in the war-torn country of Bosnia until she was 12. Rabchenia said she came from a country that could not defend itself and was torn apart. She watched her parents not have any answers and realizing the only thing they could do to protect their children was to seek refuge in another country.
“I am so grateful for First Presbyterian Church, in Cookeville, for having a big heart and sponsoring my family to come to the United States,” she said. “Without them, there would be no me today.
Rabchenia said she spent the next few years looking for a way she could show her gratitude to the country that had given her family a second chance at life.
“Joining the military was the ‘least I can do,’” she eventually realized.
And in the days following Sept. 11, 2001, Rabchenia was given the chance to defend the country for which she is so thankful.
“The ship pulled out to sea right away, so we were all thinking we were getting ready to deploy,” she said, remembering the moments following the realization that America was under attack. “After picking up the rest of the crew in New Jersey, we went on a six-month deployment to the Middle East.”
Rabchenia said those days made her realize what she had always known, “No country is immune. I like to use the word ‘operational security,’ no matter where I go, especially with my two little girls. Always, always be aware of your surroundings.”
She said that now she wants her own children, ages 9 and 10, to learn from the past, “Don’t be a victim. Do your part, serve however you can. There is a reason we support our military: they do defend all citizens of the United States.”
Capt. William Rabchenia
“I was a staff member at Expeditionary Group Two as an Amphibious Operations Subject Matter Expert (SME) and also a security and counterterrorism SME,” he said. “The position I was in was due to the USS Cole attack that had happened 11 months prior.
“My initial thoughts contained a lot of cuss words that I’m not going to repeat. The Fleet Forces Command, which is the east coast Navy, did a sortie for all ships capable to get underway. We were to meet at an undisclosed rally point out in the Atlantic.”
Rabchenia doesn’t talk much about what happened over the next weeks and months as his assignments were in national security and counterterrorism expertise, but he hopes today’s children across America will only ever have to read about their country being attacked in their history books.
“You really won’t understand the effects of a catastrophic event like this unless you live it, and I hope you never will,” he said, sending a message to America’s youth, adding that living through history can be ugly. “It’s good to know about history, but that’s only one side of it.”