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TF Duke Soldiers Continue Mission Sparked By 9-11
by Army Staff Sgt. John Zumer - August 20, 2011

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U.S. Army Spc. Jose Vallejo, an infantryman with the Focus Targeting Force of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Task Force Duke, poses outside his BCT headquarters on Forward Operating Base Salerno July 17, 2011. Vallejo, a Queens, N.Y., native cites the attacks of 9/11 and his resulting desire to help fight terrorism as major reasons behind his joining the military. Photo by Army Staff Sgt. Ben Navratil
U.S. Army Spc. Jose Vallejo, an infantryman with the Focus Targeting Force of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Task Force Duke, poses outside his BCT headquarters on Forward Operating Base Salerno July 17, 2011. Vallejo, a Queens, N.Y., native cites the attacks of 9/11 and his resulting desire to help fight terrorism as major reasons behind his joining the military. Photo by Army Staff Sgt. Ben Navratil
 KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan (8/18/2011) – Ten years after the catastrophic events of 9/11, some New Yorkers with close ties to the tragedy now wear a military uniform.

They chose to do their part on the front lines, honor the memory of fallen Americans and fight against terrorism overseas.

U.S. Army Spc. Jose Vallejo, an infantryman with the Focus Targeting Force, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Task Force Duke, grew up in Queens, N.Y. He remembers the September morning 10 years ago when terrorists struck his hometown.

“It was a pretty scary moment, not knowing what to think,” said Vallejo.

“That was one of the greatest influences. I felt we had to do something. It was like the whole city froze. I wanted to have something to do with stopping any more terrorism,” said Vallejo.

Another Queens native, U.S. Army Sgt. Leonel Vazquez, a communications specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT, 1st Inf. Div., TF Duke, worked as a plumber on Long Island when the planes struck the Twin Towers.

“I remember saying what a beautiful day it was,” said Vazquez, noting the stark contrast between the day's weather and the events unfolding mere miles away.

“9/11 was one of the main reasons I joined,” said Vazquez.

After the horrific events of that day, Vazquez spent considerable time with his recruiter about Army options. He also spoke at length with his wife, about how any decision to join would also impact their then 6-year-old daughter.

Ultimately, he decided to answer the call and put on a military uniform.

U.S. Army Spc. Justin Wiggin, an infantryman with 1st Infantry Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Task Force Duke, and a native of Smithtown, N.Y., told a similar story.

Wiggin was in the 5th grade at the time. His school had been dismissed because of the attacks, and when he was picked up by his parents, he heard the news on their car radio.

“I couldn't really understand what was going on,” said Wiggin.

Being so young at the time, he didn't think much about a future in the military. But as he approached the end of high school, thoughts about joining the military became more prevalent. His grandfather served previously, and the tragedy of 9/11 remained in the back of his mind.

“It became more of a viable option, and I wanted to do my part,” said Wiggin.

Like many protective parents, his mother was initially upset that he was leaving.

Once his decision was made, however, there remained little doubt about where she stood on the matter.

“She has supported me 100 percent since then,” Wiggin said.

The mastermind behind those attacks, Osama Bin Laden, was killed last May in a U.S. strike at his compound in Pakistan. His death brought a sense of closure to some of those affected, but their mission here continues.

“We still have to continue what we're doing over here,” said Vazquez, concerned about leaving before the job is done and the Afghan government being fully capable of providing all internal and external security functions.

As for Bin Laden, Vazquez said “he was just a figurehead now, anyway.”

Vallejo said he was also reluctant to gloat or get too excited over the news.

“Had it been earlier it would have had a greater impact on me,” he said. “He's just a symbol now.”

Still, there was one thing to be grateful for now that greatest manhunt finally came to an end.

“I am happy because I know many families who lost loved ones when the towers hit,” said Vallejo.

Wiggin looked upon the news mostly from the perspective of not only being deployed, but how it might affect his fellow squad members.

“I was immediately happy we got him,” said Wiggin. “It was a good morale booster,” he said.

After ten years of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, it might be tempting to think that all service members look upon Bin Laden's death as an early ticket home. That isn't the case. Some feel there's a final chapter to be written.

“Now we just have to go on and finish the fight, and complete the mission,” said Wiggin.

By Army Staff Sgt. John Zumer
Combined Joint Task Force 1 - Afghanistan
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2011

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