At 8:46 a.m. today, Americans will pause to remember those who died on September 11, 2001. We will do the same in Afghanistan. Service members from 48 countries will stop to share in our sorrow and join us in prayer. We will reflect on the meaning of 9/11 — the tragedy of 3,000 innocents lost and the sacrifices our country has endured over the last decade. But we will also consider the renewed sense of purpose that sprang from 9/11.
The day reunited us with our families, friends, and neighbors; we grieved together. The day also brought the United States closer to our friends and allies around the world. The international outpouring of support was reassuring: You are not alone, America. Long-time allies like Australia considered the 9/11 attack as one on its country and joined us in the battlefields of Afghanistan. NATO invoked the mutual defense clause and pledged support to defend the United States.
As we grieved, we discovered the hope that can come from tragedy and the power of the American spirit to provide opportunity for those in need. Since that terrible day, the United States has been leading an effort to give Afghans an opportunity for a better future and give Afghans the tools they need to deny terrorists a base.
Given the impact of decades of war on Afghanistan, the challenges confronting the Afghan people are enormous — denuded forests, destroyed commerce, shuttered schools. Under Taliban rule, Afghanistan was cut off from the world, violence was common, and women were repressed.
While the war in Afghanistan is far from over, the Afghan people are rediscovering hope and are making the most of the opportunities our shared sacrifice brings. At NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, representatives from 33 countries are working hard to help Afghans provide security for Afghanistan.
When I assumed command two years ago, the army and police were underpaid, ill-trained, ill-equipped, ill-led, and illiterate. Today I see promise and hope.
I see hope in the faces of Afghan women who are training to be pilots in the new Afghan Air Force. With the support of their fathers, they are fulfilling what was once an impossible dream for women in Afghanistan.
I see hope in the army and police recruits who are learning to write their names for the first time. For just $30 per recruit, a generation denied education now has the opportunity we know is so important for our families and our society.
And I see hope in Afghan entrepreneurs who are opening factories to produce boots and uniforms for the military and police. That Afghan men and women have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams is positive for both Afghanistan and the world. We know that Afghans will continue to be challenged, but small successes like these are signs of progress and promise for the future of Afghanistan.
For all of us in Afghanistan, we understand too well the costs that this war has. There have been too many missed birthdays, anniversaries alone, and holidays without family. As hard as this is on those of us who are deployed, it is harder on those we leave behind. For many of us, we are here because we love our country and we love our families. We are here today to keep our country safe and strong. We are grateful for our families’ never-ending love and support. And we are grateful for our communities like Columbus that support our families while we are deployed.
Having served in Afghanistan for 22 months, we see a momentum that is building in Afghanistan. There is a growing sense of pride, confidence, and professionalism emerging in the forces we are training. Developing this force to endure will continue to require strategic patience and international commitment, but will reap the return on investment — a capable and professional Afghan National Security Force that endures long after the last coalition combat forces have departed Afghanistan.
This will be a lasting tribute to those who died on 9/11. This is the gift from those who serve every day in Afghanistan.
Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, U.S. Army, has served as the commander of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan since November 2009. His wife, Stephanie, is from Columbus, where his family currently resides.