Remembering 9/11: Afghanistan veterans then and now

Remembering 9/11

(WHTM) — The plot to attack America on 9/11 was hatched in Afghanistan. Soon after the assault, U.S. forces were on the way to that war-torn speck on the globe. I went to the archives and found a few of those early fighters and got their perspective two decades later.

In December 2002 Colonel Bob Hepner made a promise to the soldiers he was about to lead into Afghanistan. “Nobody’s gonna be left behind,” Hepner said.

Two decades later, he’s proud to have kept that promise, “No one got hurt, no one got killed, no IEDs but that’s just luck of the draw,” Hepner said.

And Hepner considered himself lucky to get in the fight. “We’re training and we’re training well. This is the game This is the Superbowl. You’re in the game. You’re on the team,” Hepner said.

CONTINUED COVERAGE: Each day leading up to September 11, we’ll share stories of the impact the event had and continues to have on our lives. Read more.

Also on the team was Sabrina Thomas, just 19-years-old, she believed in the mission. “It’s for good. It’s for a purpose,” Thomas said. She had three months left on her enlistment but was re-upped to go to Afghanistan. The wedding to get her green beret fiancee would have to wait. “He understands. He does this for a living and he understands I guess,” Thomas said.

He did. “We ended up getting married in Las Vegas. A shotgun wedding at Vivia Las Vegas Wedding Chapel,” Thomas said.

Thomas calls Afghanistan an adventure but there were clashes with its male-dominated culture. “There was one time I felt a little uncomfortable. I actually had an elder spit on me,” Thomas said. But Thomas is proud that young Afghan girls were also taking note. “They were amazed to see a woman with a weapon working with men,” Thomas said.

But she still remembers what a local told her when she asked what they thought of Americans. “A lot of them said ‘you’ll be gone. Somebody else will come in.’ That’s the history of that country,” Thomas said.

Now America is all but out. “I think Afghanistan is a better place today than it was 20 years ago. I think we gave them hope, I think we did. What happens to that hope when we leave? I can’t comment on that, I really wouldn’t want to speculate,” Hepner said.

Sabrina hopes she made a difference in Afghanistan. She knows Afghanistan made a difference in her. “I was a woman and I was fearless and I had that opportunity to go and I said yes and I want to instill that in my children and grandchildren,” Thomas said.

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Bob says with pride that America is still the best military in the world but the lesson of 9/11 is that we aren’t invincible, we aren’t untouchable, and that there are people out there that don’t like us.

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