Editor’s Note — Ted Carter, president of the University of Nebraska system and a retired three-star vice admiral in the U.S. Navy with 38 years of military service, wrote this reflection as the nation observes the 20th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He is also an alumnus and past superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, past president of the U.S. Naval War College and a Bronze Star recipient. At the time of the attacks, Carter was a captain serving on the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman.
On the morning of 9/11, I was a Navy captain assigned as executive officer (second in command) on board the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). The aircraft carrier was our Navy’s newest and had just returned from her maiden deployment. We had just gone pier-side at a shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia, to do our first significant maintenance on the ship. I was in my office watching the news when the first airplane hit the tower. I called the captain to tell him to put on the news to see the unreal footage. As we watched together, the second airplane hit. We realized that we were effectively at war. We immediately went to general quarters with all hands at the battle stations to begin preparations.
The next weeks, months and years changed everything we knew about national security and combat against a new enemy. One thing I’ll never forget is the powerful sense of national unity that emerged in the wake of that awful day. Virtually every American, in his or her own way, felt called to a common purpose greater than any one of us alone. We are so thankful to all those who have stepped up to serve — whether in the military, in public office, in volunteer roles or in some other way — in the years since.
That day defined the next 20 years of my military career. I would go on to command the U.S.S. Carl Vinson (CVN 70), making the ship combat-ready for deployment in 2010. I turned over the command just a year before Osama Bin Laden was captured and killed. He was buried in the North Arabian Sea in May 2011 from the flight deck of the U.S.S. Carl Vinson. There was an odd sense of closure for the sailors and Marines I led, not to mention the American public, knowing it had taken nearly 10 years for our military to complete that part of a very long war.
Twenty years later, 9/11 is still very much with us. Not only in the memories of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, including many of Nebraska’s own, but also in the ways that so many of us live and work. My great hope is that as a nation we will once again feel a call to a common purpose. I am optimistic watching our next generation of leaders who, as I told UNL’s Class of 2021, understand that it’s about ‘we,’ not ‘me.’ This is a time of solemn reflection for all of us, but also hope for our future.