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The new greatest generation

High-schoolers on 9/11, they are becoming a generation of redeemers

Issue: "Remembering 9/11," Sept. 10, 2011

Before 9/11 my church prayer bulletin did not have a section devoted to those in the military. Now on a regular basis, it features a dozen or more names to pray over each week-men and women serving our country from Hawaii to Helmand and beyond.

We all know them, the ones who enlisted out of high school or entered college on ROTC scholarships, trained at bases around the country until their units eventually took rotations at places not in our wildest dreams before 9/11-Camp Leatherneck, Wardak Province, Fallujah-and learned a lingo not found in any 2001 lexicon-of taking hits from IEDs and lonely hours stationed at an FOB in a mountain range not named in any social studies textbook.

They saw something other than the horror in the smoking towers: In raw terms they wanted to fight back, but they also saw opportunity to serve and to protect the rest of us, to do something significant in their young lives.

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And they have. Think of Salvatore Giunta, an Army staff sergeant from Iowa who at age 25 became the first living combat soldier from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to win the Medal of Honor. Or Jonathan Raab, who explained in a recent blog post that he's started telling friends he's signed up for another deployment to Afghanistan because "chicks dig the uniform." It's simpler that way, he said: "How do I tell people that I do not want to look back on my generation's legacy and see the wreckage of a self-absorbed Facebook culture? . . . and when we talk about our petty concerns, I feel hollow and angry at myself for not being in the fight?"

Or Jake Cusack, whose father serves on our parent board. Jake was homeschooled before attending Notre Dame on an ROTC scholarship, and as a Marine served two tours of duty in Iraq, where he's credited with tracking the kidnappers of U.S. journalist Jill Carroll, leading to her rescue. As an ex-Marine Jake toured Afghanistan, conducting with former Army officer Eric Malmstrom over 130 interviews with local business owners and from it compiling a briefing paper called "Afghanistan's Willing Entrepreneurs" that's already becoming a roadmap to private sector growth in a post-U.S.-occupied Afghanistan.

These and more already have been called the Latest Greatest Generation. They were in high school when the World Trade Center fell, and on the news that night saw a frightful chasm at what had been the financial hub of the world. They watched the Pentagon burn, and saw a taut, ashen look on the face of our 43rd president, and perhaps in the faces of their own parents. It told them the world had changed, they had to watch out and be ready. Today many of them already have lived remarkable lives; they know what a problem looks like and that they should not wait for someone else to solve it. At a tender age they learned-they saw with their own eyes-that evil exists in the world and eternity may be as close as the next ordinary moment.

For one of the things we learned on 9/11 is that ordinary does not mean insignificant. Aboard United Flight 93, ordinary passengers like Todd Beamer made a decisive choice: Within seconds of realizing they must die, they decided that their deaths should mean something. And as you read about them in "A place forgotten", consider that they saved our nation's Capitol.

In May Beamer's wife Lisa addressed 2011 graduates at Wheaton College, where she and her husband met as students. "A decade ago I was plucked from obscurity to become a temporary public figure," she said, but she told the graduates: "Don't be dismayed to find your lives turn ordinary soon enough." She told them to yearn for lasting significance-not the kind associated with headlines or Google hits, "but the kind that brings individuals to the person of Christ and teaches them to operate according to the values of His kingdom."

"Ask yourself who is becoming whole again on your watch, what is being healed through your influence, how is God redeeming His creation through your life? Your good answers are surely the mark of significance, even in an ordinary life." And will define a generation of redeemers.

Where were you on 9/11? Share remembrances with your fellow WORLD readers and view a slideshow of images from Sept. 11, 2001, featured in WORLD's Remembering 9/11 10th Anniversary Special Issue.

Email Mindy Belz

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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