Veterans reflect on service, 20th anniversary of 9/11 ahead of Memorial Day

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(KX News) — Every year, on Memorial Day, our nation remembers those who have served our country and given the ultimate sacrifice: their lives. This year, however, will also look ahead to a significant anniversary.

For those who saw it happen live on television or later that night on the news, Americans have visions indelibly etched in their minds of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom,” President George W. Bush said, addressing the nation that evening.

Defending freedom is exactly what the United States has done since Oct. 7, 2001, in an operation known as Enduring Freedom. Col. Robert Fugere of the North Dakota National Guard was part of that mission from 2006 to 2007.

“Our main job was to teach the Afghan police and assist them in securing the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan to prevent infiltrators from coming into the country,” Col. Fugere said.

U.S. Army Sgt. Major Tony Hillig (now retired) was also there, but in 2018.

“I was the senior enlisted advisor for the tactical command of southern Afghanistan,” said Sgt. Major Hillig.

Both men spoke with KX News about some of their time in Afghanistan.

“June 6, 2006. We had a small reconnaissance element near Jallabbad and the unit ended up being engaged by the enemy by an IED,” Fugere said. “We lost two soldiers that day and another was wounded. So, yeah, I will never forget that day nor the 23rd of November and the 30th of November of 2006. We lost a soldier each one of those days too,” Fugere said.

“We would have these intense firefights and they were still occurring in 2018, just not as widely publicized possibly, smaller and quicker,” Hillig said. “Then again, we have a lot of resources, you know, as the Iraqi theater came to a conclusion, a lot of those resources could be dedicated to the Afghanistan theater,” Hillig said.

Though this Memorial Day will take on more significance ahead of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Fugere said Americans should always remember what each Memorial Day is all about.

“This is the day that you should take a moment and think about, take pause and think about those young men and women that lost their lives during conflict,” Fugere said.

And with American troops scheduled to be out of Afghanistan this Sept. 11, Hillig believes American forces have done and done well what they have so often.

“Our military, to include our National Guard here in North Dakota, they stand ready to fight and win our nation’s wars,” Hillig said.

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