I was just 12 years old when the World Trade Center was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. The conflicts in Afghanistan, and later Iraq, were a world away from my small hometown in Florida. Nevertheless, the Global War on Terrorism would come to shape my adolescence and define my adult life.
In 2007, I would answer the call to serve my country by attending the U.S. Military Academy. More selfishly, I wanted to serve alongside the men and women who had dedicated their lives to a cause greater than themselves.
Three weeks before my graduation from West Point, Osama bin Laden — the mastermind behind the terrorist attacks — was killed. I naively thought that the war would soon be over and all my preparation would have been for naught.
Yet nearly 12 years after 9/11, I had the privilege of serving in Afghanistan with my brothers and sisters in arms. In those months overseas I learned the meaning of dedication, the cost of commitment, and the true value of sacrifice.
As I prepared to leave the Army and enter graduate school, I was presented with a historic opportunity: to help build a memorial for our veterans and all those who supported them during our nation’s longest war.
This memorial isn’t for me. It’s for the men and women I had the fortune of working with who were on their fourth or fifth trip overseas. It’s for the fathers and mothers away from their families for the third or fourth year, for their sons and daughters whose parents were gone for what seemed like forever. It’s for the husbands and wives separated from their partners during the most difficult times of their lives.
The Global War on Terror Memorial is for a country disconnected from the sacrifices made by the few, for the safety of the many.
Lawmakers on Thursday gave final approval to the idea of a Global War on Terror memorial, clearing the path for what is expected to be a years-long process of designing and building a tribute to the latest generation of veterans.
As the war enters its 16th year with unfortunately no end in sight, the time is now to begin the work of remembering those we lost, honoring those that serve, and recognizing the burden borne by their families. The work of our team in Washington, D.C., and throughout the nation is our small way of giving back to those still in uniform, and those yet to don it.
The Global War on Terrorism Memorial Act was signed into law in August thanks to the leadership of veterans in Congress and support from our numerous partner veteran service organizations. The law authorizes our foundation to establish the National Global War on Terrorism Memorial as a commemorative work in the District of Columbia.
The next phase of our mission will provide the answers to the most commonly asked questions: Where will the memorial be located, and what will it look like?
The foundation has established six themes for the planned design competition:
The “unfinished” theme not only will embody the ongoing war around the globe, but also the continued personal conflicts our veterans wage here at home.
With authorization, we are now able to engage with the National Park Service and architects around the country to create a place of remembrance, healing, and education.
Additionally, as the Memorial will be 100 percent privately funded, we will need to begin to raise the approximately $40 million necessary for construction. With the generosity of a grateful nation, we hope to unveil the newest tribute to our servicemen and women and their families in our nation’s capital by 2024. Every donation, no matter the size, is a meaningful contribution to our efforts.
To donate or to learn more about the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation, visit www.gwotmf.org.
George Chewning is the legislative director of the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation. He is a West Point graduate and former Army infantry officer (2011-2016). He deployed to Afghanistan with 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment. He’s online at www.georgechewning.com.