At first, Jason Henke thought incompetent pilots or a turbulent wind was to blame for the off-course airplanes.
“I thought it was a Cessna (airplane) or something. Some dumb pilot hit the building ? or the wind blew him in there,” said Henke, who enlisted in the army.
At the time, he was “literally sitting in a (knee-high) swamp with a radio on my back,” training in the army in Fort Polk, La. for his next deployment to Kosovo. Even after the second plane hit, his brigade resumed..
“What the heck is wrong with Cessnas these days?” he jokingly reminisced. “Then they said someone hit the Pentagon.”
Training was halted for two days, and it would be about a week and a half later until Henke, a 27-year-old senior political science major, would finally see the video footage that his roommate recorded from a television.
On the West Coast in Lancaster, Calif., 15-year-old Michael Calegari woke up that morning to his mother surprising him with a new puppy, a half chow, half basset.
“We were just like, ‘Oh wow,'” said the 21-year-old Calegari, a junior history major, when they turned on their television. “It was kind of unreal.”
He wondered if it was a TV show, but “it kept going” and that’s when he knew it was real, Calegari said.
Calegari and Henke are students enrolled in CSUN’s Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program. Though Henke already joined the army in 1999 before the Sept. 11 attacks, Calegari had a different reason. Even before the planes hit, Calegari knew he wanted to join the military.
Born in India, he was adopted and moved to the U.S. when he was three months old.
“I thought I owed something back to the country. It helped me get my citizenship,” Calegari said. The attack on the Twin Towers reinforced his decision to join, he said.
“That’s why we have the military, to protect our country,” Calegari said. “That’s why I signed the dotted line. I knew what I was getting into. It was my choice and here I am.”
Initially, his mother’s side of the family was opposed to him joining the army.
“(My mom) just didn’t want me to get blown up,” Calegari said. Her own father had served in World War II and “came back with a huge hole in his cheek.” Eventually, she saw “how patriotic I was” and supported his decision, he said.
He also knew he wanted to earn his college degree along with joining the army, and “that’s where ROTC came into place for me,” Calegari said.
Alexander Um, a 22-year-old senior psychology major, enlisted in the army in 2005. He was attending Pasadena City College and one day decided to walk into a recruiting office across the street from the school. Even after Sept. 11, Um said the prospect of going to Iraq still didn’t prevent him from enlisting.
“I just went in because I was looking for something to do, college was looking pretty boring,” he said. “When I first joined, I was kind of motivated to do what I thought was right and join and fight for my country.”
A few weeks after he first walked into the doors of the army recruiting office, he boarded an airplane to South Carolina for training, he said. About seven months later, he was deployed to Korea where he worked as an intelligence analyst. He was supposed to go to Afghanistan, but was sent on a tour of Korea instead.
“All of a sudden, I was coming from being lazy and then two weeks later I was having someone scream down my face,” Um remembered. “But now, since I’ve joined, I’ve learned I’m here to fight for the guy next to me so he can come back home.
“That was one important thing I learned about being in the army (?) politics always change, (but) you always have your friends and battle buddies to fight for, they always got your back and you’ll always have theirs,” he said. “That’s kind of what kept me going, kept me trying my hardest in what I do.”
Um decided to enroll in the ROTC program through CSUN after his platoon sergeant told him that it would help him become an officer and lead to better opportunities in the military, he said. After graduation, he plans to continue working his way up in intelligence.
For Henke, joining the army didn’t have the same implications of the post-9/11 world.
“It was a totally different time period,” he said. “There was no war. It was just, ‘Oh, you want to join the army? It will help you pay for college.'”
Henke said he didn’t know what he wanted to do after he graduated and though he had the opportunity to go to college, he chose the military instead.
Described by some of his colleagues as outspoken and talkative, Henke said he was a very different person before.
“I used to be, lo and behold, very quiet,” he said, as Calegari joked, “That’s hard to believe!” as the two talked in the ROTC office on campus.
Before the army, Henke said he “was not outgoing, who did not take initiative to go out and talk to somebody.”
In the military, he learned to assume roles of leadership – he served as a sergeant in Kosovo – and has also traveled to Kuwait, Egypt and Iraq.
The army has “every type of person,” said Henke.
“Look at him!” he said as he pointed to Um, who was wearing a shirt of the band, The Smiths, that bore their album cover, “Meat is Murder” with the photo of a soldier.
“You look at the cadets, you have a very diverse group,” Henke said.
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