JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)
Sept. 11, 2001, is a day that changed America, a day that many won't forget.
Twenty years ago 2,996 people lost their lives in the terrorist attacks that would eventually launch America into its longest war.
In response to the attacks, hundreds of thousands of American's enlisted in the military. For many, it felt like a call to action, a sense of duty to protect America. According to USO, 181,510 Americans enlisted in the military in the year following 9/11.
Missouri National Guard Sgt. Bradley Atchison was one of those who decided to enlist in the military following the attacks.
"I'll never forget. It made me feel personally attacked because that's my nation. That's my country, and I just wanted to serve. I wanted to do something to respond and say we can't let this happen," Atchison said.
Atchison was born and raised in Jefferson City. He lives in the capital city with his wife and four children. He said the thought of enlisting in the military piqued his interest when his brother enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. Atchison said he remembered how much of a "changed man he was, for the better, and wanted that for me."
Atchison was young on Sept. 11, but the images that day stirred powerful emotions.
"I remember that day vividly. As a third-grader, you would think I would be too young to comprehend what was happening but I did. I understood what happened," Atchison said. "People lost their lives, our nation was under attack."
Missouri National Guard Sgt. Maj. Brad Gladbach has been a recruiting officer for nearly two decades. Gladbach said the desire to serve was strong following 9/11.
"After 9/11, the nation as a whole came together and knew that service to the country was very important."
Atchison's military career in the Missouri National Guard started in October 2014. In April of 2017, he was deployed to the middle east. He started in Kuwait, then went to Iraq and eventually ended up in Syria.
"When I was notified I was getting deployed, If you ask my friends they'd say I was stone-faced but if you ask my wife Lisa, she would tell you otherwise," Atchison said. "I had the most anxiety I've ever had my entire life. I could just feel that uncertainty, the fear of the unknown take over my body."
Some of those unknowns that Atchison felt are similar types of conversations Gladbach has with possible new recruits.
"To have those conversations with people who are interested, you know it's not easy," Gladbach said. "Many of them (new recruits) do have concerns, several of them are being away. I think we are able to talk through those and empathize with them and tell them, you know, we've been there, we've been you."
While America's longest war in Afghanistan is over, many who enlisted in the military did so because of the war. Now, those who enlist may have different reasons for joining up. Gladbach said some of the main reasons include, "the training they can receive, the education, the adventure or some like to say the adrenaline, financial, insurance, bonuses, or to just serve the country."
Over the last several decades Gladbach said the number of new enlistees has stayed consistent. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic caused some hurdles in recruitment the desire to serve is still present.
"The propensity to serve, especially in the state of Missouri, has always been there," Gladbach said.
When asked about what advice he has for those on the fence about enlisting in the military, Atchison said, "make the leap. They've already had the thought, the conscious effort to look into it. They should just do it because it's going to benefit them for the better."