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Guest Blog: I AM THE SHIELD OF FREEDOM

“To me, on this anniversary of September the 11th, what comes to mind is not that day, but what happened after.”

I AM THE SHIELD OF FREEDOM

By David Daedalus

 

My name is David and I am a veteran of the United States Coast Guard. I was an active duty member from May 30th, 2001 until the same, 2005. As you, my clever reader, have no doubt already surmised, I was serving my country the day of September the 11th, 2001. I served during the formation of the Department of Homeland Security (of which the Coast Guard is now a component), the invasion of both Afghanistan and Iraq, and the implementation of the Patriot Act. In addition to being attached to a cutter (what the Coast Guard calls their ships), I volunteered and was deployed to the middle east as part of USCG PATFORSWA (Patrol Forces Southwest Asia) unit 3950 where I spent time in Bahrain, Kuwait, and the North Arabian Gulf.

 

Today, on the tenth anniversary of the vile act of mass murder and destruction wrought by fucktard fundamentalists, the question I keep hearing is, ‘Where were you when…?” It’s all over the radio, all over the internet, on everyone’s minds. Stories about loved ones lost in the towers, brave first responders exhibiting more courage in that one day than most of us muster in the whole of our lives, and stories about United Flight 93. On the tenth anniversary of this horrific, inexcusable, malicious act of terror, I can’t help but reflect on where I was on September the 11th…2003.

 

Pier 36. Coast Guard base. Seattle, Washington. It is a quarter to midnight and I am relieving the security watch stationed on the pier at which my ship was moored. The moon is a fingernail etched into the sky and there is very little light across the water. Armed with an M16 and a sharp eye, I am tasked with protecting the ship from terrorist attack. For days prior, and with metronomic consistency, the command drilled into us the importance of standing a vigilant watch on the anniversary of 9/11; that we were in danger, and that the terrorists could be anywhere or anyone. The Coast Guard’s newest recruiting slogan rang true in my ear:

 

I AM THE SHIELD OF FREEDOM.

 

Specifically, I am keeping a watchful eye for divers. The thinking is that unless the crew is vigilant, a diver can easily approach the ship, attach an explosive, and slip away. If that were to happen, both my home and my sleeping shipmates would be lost in a vesuvian explosion of blood and fire. To some of you this may seem far fetched, but before you go thinking this is something ridiculous to worry about, remember that this is exactly the sort of attack that nearly sank USS Cole in 2000. Placing aside the fact that the Cole was moored in Yemen at the time and my ship was at home in Seattle, it’s only fair to point out that the command did have some justification for being concerned.

 

After two hours of marching up and down the long cement pier and trying to keep warm, I hear something in the water. Figuring it was either my imagination or something completely innocuous, I shuffle over to the end of the pier and look out into the inky black water. Even with my flashlight, it’s difficult to see too far away. Sleepy and bored, I am just about to turn away when my eye catches the barest hint of movement. I squint and look hard, bringing my flashlight to bear upon the phantom. Just as I shone the light upon it, I see it. A slick black form diving under the water towards the ship.

 

My heart instantly kicks into overdrive and thumps loudly like a kick drum in my ears. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. For a second I forget even to breathe. I couldn’t believe what I’d just seen. I mean, HOLY FUCKING SHIT. THERE’S A TERRORIST DIVER IN THE WATER AND HE’S GOING TO BLOW UP MY SHIPMATES!

 

Adrenalin saturates my chilled body as with hands shaking I grab my radio to alert the quarterdeck watchstander (the person aboard my ship minding the gangway between the pier and the cutter) of the situation. At top speed, and now too scared to be cold, I bolt down the pier to get a better look. Frantic, I scan the water hoping to catch a glimpse of the intruder.

 

Splash.

 

Motion.

 

Again, I spy the black mass. It breaches the security perimeter separating the Puget Sound from the base and has changed course. It makes a beeline right for me, then goes under again.

 

Scared shitless, I draw my rifle. With an audible click, my thumb I disengages the safety, and I place my trembling index finger atop the trigger. I’d never even been in a grade school fist fight and now I was about to kill a human being. Military training barely restrains the instinct to freak out and just start shooting. I’m a sitting duck where I am, atop a pier under a tall floodlight, but there’s no choice. I have to protect my shipmates. I can’t just let this happen.

 

I AM THE SHIELD OF FREEDOM.

 

Nearly a full minute goes by when suddenly, right next to me, it breaches the surface of the water.

 

“U.S. COAST GUARD STOP OR I’LL SHOOT!” is nearly out of my mouth when I realize the terrorist is a baby sea lion. I shit you not, the cutest, wide-eyed, innocent fucking thing I’ve ever laid eyes on had seen me from afar and came over to play. I nearly blew its brains out of the back of its little head.

 

The world pauses for a split second and I see myself in the third person, and I don’t like what I see. I see myself standing there, terrified, pointing a gun at a harmless baby animal. I see that I’d become so afraid of the implausible, the probable never entered into my mind. As I engage the safety and lower my weapon, it hits me: I’m not ‘The Shield of Freedom’,

 

I’m a frightened idiot…with a gun.

 

Shame welling up in my boots, I alert the quarterdeck nothing is wrong and resume my watch. I’m in bed before dawn and with a worried mind and heavy heart I fall into a fitful slumber.

 

I think about that day often; about how swept up I was by the tsunami of hysterical fear, and what I nearly allowed that fear to drive me to do. To me, on this anniversary of September the 11th, what comes to mind is not that day, but what happened after. How we allowed fear to overwhelm us. How we started relating everything to terrorism and that horrible day, even when it made no sense to do so. How we turned on one another and gave up our fundamental freedoms for the illusion of safety. How we literally endeavored to make torture legal and acceptable because we were afraid. How we became a nation of frighted idiots…with guns.

 

9/11 was a horrific day, one for which there is no excuse, no mitigating explanation, and one that could no go unanswered. My aim is not one of a 9/11 apologist, but to point out part of adulthood is making choices, assessing the effectiveness of those choices, and using that information to make future decisions. When I think about that night, about those innocent eyes staring at the muzzle of my M16, I am ashamed of what I almost allowed fear to goad me into doing. While the memory is a painful one, it must be acknowledged and assessed honestly if I am sincere in my endeavor to use the lessons of the past to build a better tomorrow.

 

On September 12th, 2001, we had a choice to make. A gauntlet was thrown down challenging our resolve to uphold our American values of respecting the rule of law, respecting the inalienable rights of the individual to preserve a free society for all, and to act globally as a champion of justice. We had a choice to either fight for those values or abdicate them and simply fight. We chose the latter. On this, the tenth anniversary of that black day, I find myself not thinking about the day of, but what happened after, and how it’s not to late to do better, to be better, to be the America I know we can be:

 

The Shield of Freedom.

 

 

***

 

David Daedalus is a writer, a filmmaker, and a graduate student of Philosophy at San Diego State University.

 

[Photo courtesy of David Daedalus, pictured second from the right.]

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8 Responses to “Guest Blog: I AM THE SHIELD OF FREEDOM”

Author comments are in a darker gray color for you to easily identify the posts author in the comments

  1. Mary says:

    David, I definitely agree with your concern that fear has led us, as a nation and as individuals, to change our lives in ways that are at the least inconvenient and at the most really despicable. I was flying today on the 10th anniversary thinking about how so many people and cultures are basing their social, economic and political decisions on fear. I wish I knew how to counter that… Part of the discomfort of adulthood is thinking that we have some respinsibility in making the world a better place.

  2. Tim says:

    wow, man. That’s some powerful stuff (and great writing).Plus you look totally studly in your coastie uniform.

  3. Luke says:

    This was one of the most well-reasoned and articulate commentaries on 9/11 that I’ve ever encountered. I truly wish a larger portion of the population was able to comprehend the nuance of being able to simultaneously denounce both the terrorist act as well as our reaction to the attack. The recount of your encounter with the baby sea lion is the most apt metaphor for our nation that I’ve ever seen (have you thought about being a writer? 😛 kidding!).

    On my road trips between San Diego and my parent’s house, I often cross through the Coachella Valley, which has an ungodly amount of highway billboards (at least compared to San Diego). There’s one government sponsored billboard that I’ve not seen anywhere else in my travels that really sticks out to me. It reads something like, “Be Afraid. Or Be Ready” along with the Ready.gov web address. While the website is run by FEMA and focused on disaster preparedness, I’ve always felt the marketing appeal used in the sign is wired directly into the fear you mentioned.

    Perhaps I’m lucky, brave, or just naive; but I just don’t have the capacity to live in constant anticipation of the big scary “something” that we should all be prepared to face.

  4. David Daedalus says:

    Thank you for all the wonderful comments!

    Mary – you’re totally right about taking responsibility. it’s something I need to work on. Besides volunteering at “the Center”, I really don’t do much besides exist.

    Tim – you know, I still have that photo of you and ‘Becca at your Marine boot camp graduation. It’s one of my favorite photos of you two

    Luke – you know, it occurs to me that we have never done anything in this country that wasn’t somehow based on fear or going to war against some enemy. the war on drugs, the war on cancer, the cold war, all of our actual wars, the internal cultural wars (civil rights, anti-immigration, etc). I wonder if we are capable of acting together towards a common end without the impetus of fear or war to drive us?

  5. Nicole says:

    Great article David!

  6. Moncler says:

    I agree with this article! Thank you!

  7. Rick Newmyer says:

    You say fucktard fundamentalists, I say fundamentalist fucktards. Potato, potahto.

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