WARNER ROBINS -- In the decade since Sept. 11, three million of America’s youth have answered a call to duty.
Much like the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, the Sept. 11 attack sparked a surge in military recruitment. Even as two wars were prosecuted and American casualties mounted, young people continued to join.
Lt. Gen. Charles Stenner, commander of the Air Force Reserve Command at Robins Air Force Base, said all branches of the military have met or exceeded recruiting goals throughout the decade.
“We also have high retention, and that’s important,” Stenner said. “We are retaining them at record pace. They are, in fact, doing what they signed up to do, and that’s being part of the defense of this nation.”
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Robins airmen tell their stories
Among Robins personnel who were inspired to join the Air Force by the Sept. 11 attack are Capt. Jordan Lindeke and Senior Airman Josh McCarty.
When the attack happened, Lindeke was a college student who wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do with her life.
She was in school when she heard of the terrorist attacks. The daughter of an Army colonel, she made up her mind then that she wanted to go into the military.
It would be another four years because she wanted to finish college, including graduate school, and in 2005 she commissioned into the Air Force.
Following in her father’s footsteps, she went into medical administration. As military careers go, it seemed to be a relatively safe one.
Little did she know she would one day hold a Purple Heart and Combat Action Medal.
Today, she serves as medical logistics commander in the 78th Air Base Wing Medical Group. When people spot her Purple Heart license plate, they always assume it’s for her father or husband.
On Dec. 5, 2010, Lindeke was serving at a heavily fortified military base in Afghanistan. She was at a bazaar when a suicide bomber, who had infiltrated as an army recruit, exploded a bomb within 10 feet of her.
She does not remember the blast itself, but afterward her first reaction was to look for her friend. She later realized she was injured and spent two weeks in a hospital, along with her friend. The two have both recovered.
Four were killed and 18 injured in the blast.
Despite the horror of that day, Lindeke wants to go back. She had been mentoring Afghans operating a 60-bed hospital and had also done outreach work in villages, helping children who had never had medical care in their lives.
She found the work deeply rewarding and wants to finish what she started.
“I keep asking every chance I get,” she said. “For me, I just felt like I was doing something bigger. As much as I like being at home station, over there you get to see the impact of the work you do.”
She got the Purple Heart on her hospital bed. When she returned to Robins, she also got a Combat Action Medal in relation to the attack.
Despite what happened to her, she said she didn’t take any special gratification when she learned Osama bin Laden had been killed.
“I never want to see anybody killed or harmed, but you feel it’s something we’ve been working toward, and there’s a lot of lives that have been lost on both sides,” Lindeke said. “To see that come to fruition was nice, not that somebody died, but that we had reached our goal.”
Security forces officer finds reward in work
McCarty was 18 and had just started college Sept. 11. He watched the events unfold with his classmates and immediately wanted to join the military.
His parents, however, wanted him to finish college. He stayed at it for four years, but in 2005 decided he had enough of books and joined the Air Force. He has served his entire time at Robins in the 78th Security Forces.
In 2009, he deployed to Iraq, where he served in a tactical security element mission. He was among troops who went into villages, made contact with residents and tried to collect information.
“It was dangerous but fun,” he said. “It was definitely an eye-opening experience to see how things are there compared to here.”
His expectations for the mission were probably similar to what most people watching from afar would think. He thought he would encounter people who were distrustful, unfriendly and possibly dangerous. Instead, he found the Iraqis he met to be warm and friendly, and he never encountered violence during his deployment.
“We did 45 missions, and we were always greeted with open arms,” he said. “One of the things we handed out was soccer balls, which was like gold to them.”
McCarty helped organize Robins’ 146-mile section of the Ruck March to Remember, a cross-country trek by Security Forces airmen in recognition of the anniversary.
Although he and Lindeke have followed distinctly different career paths, they both share one thing in common: Both are grateful for their experience in the Air Force and have no regrets over their decision to join.
“The only thing I would change is that I wish I had joined sooner,” McCarty said. “With the trust you have to put in someone, it’s like you have an instant brother or sister.”
Lindeke, likewise, said she has not thought of seeking any other career.
“Honestly, I can’t imagine doing anything else in the world,” she said. “If I could go back, I wouldn’t do anything differently.”
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.