By Army Sgt. Jason Dangel
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 11, 2008 - As the nation and the world observe the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, a Multinational Division Baghda paralegal specialist assigned to the 4th Infantry Division's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Combat Aviation Brigade, not only remembers the attacks of 9/11, but also can explain the state of shock the community endured as the buildings collapsed before their eyes. Army Spc. Damone Abdus Salaam, who joined the Army in 2004 and is serving in support of Operation Iraq Freedom for the second time, views September 2008 as a holy month in his Muslim faith and as a time to remember the loss of innocent life seven years ago. This year's 9/11 anniversary falls during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Abdus said he vividly remembers the effect the attacks had on the city. At the time, he said, he was working a manager of a rental store, and just like any other day, he picked up his friend and embarked on his early morning commute into Brooklyn.
"I was driving east into Brooklyn towards my office, and I saw heavy, black smoke. At the time, we didn't think anything of it," he explained. It wasn't until they stopped to get breakfast at a local deli that they finally found out why thick, black smoke continued to billow over the city.
The fast-paced lifestyle of a New Yorker can rarely be interrupted, and at the time, this concept held true for Abdus, who maintained his morning routine, stopping for a bite to eat.
"We stopped at the deli to get breakfast and looked at the TV and saw that the World Trade Center was hit by an airplane," he said. "When we went up to the counter to pay for our food, still watching the TV, boom, the second airplane hit."
Abdus said he then walk outside to monitor the situation and described what he saw as "chaotic" and something "out of the movies."
"It seemed like everything was moving in slow motion," he said, remembering the day as if had just happened.
"When the towers got hit, especially after the second plane hit, thousands of people were up on their roofs trying to see what was going on," he said. "I think everyone was in a state of disbelief and weren't sure what to think about the whole thing."
Once it was clear that terrorists were to blame, the city became locked down. Main streets were blocked with police cars and fire trucks. News helicopters zipped through the sky. The situation seemed to be apocalyptic in nature, he said.
"All I could think about was what if one of those planes hit the building where my daughters were at."
Abdus explained the months following the attacks as difficult and stressful for the entire population – especially for the people of Arab decent.
Muslims and Arabs alike became overly cautious due to the onslaught of ridicule and slander brought about by the attacks, he said. Stereotypes gained momentum. Abdus, an African-American Muslim, wasn't spared from the harsh words.
"A lot of the Middle Eastern people that worked at gas stations and grocery stores, or whatever -- you could see the nervousness on their faces. It seemed like a lot of them went out of their way to try to make people feel comfortable. It was like they were trying to say 'Hey, I'm from the Middle East, but it wasn't me.' It was really sad," he said.
"I personally believe that the attacks had nothing to do with religion," the Bronx native said. "I think the religion aspect of the whole thing was just something the terrorists used as a shield – a concept they used to hide behind, which truly undermined everything Islamic faith stands for. Strict religious beliefs don't promote violence towards innocent people. A violent mind promotes violence."
Today in Iraq, the 29-year-old father of four observes Ramadan in Iraq with about 20 million other Muslims living in the country. The holiday reminds him of his drive to work seven years ago, he said.
"Specialist Abdus is very dedicated to his service in the Army. He is a very motivated soldier, dedicated to his work and definitely has the New York attitude," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Keith Barkley, brigade legal noncommissioned officer in charge, from Quitland, Ga.
"I can understand how this time of the year affects him, and I commend him for his work here," Barkley said. "Right now, he is probably one of the most valuable people I have working in my office."
An outsider would expect that someone like Abdus, who experienced the terror firsthand, would be solemn in thought during the anniversary of one of the saddest days in America; but for him, 9/11 is a time to remember why terrorism must be destroyed.
"terrorism is like a bad sore, and you pick at it; you keep picking at it, but it keeps coming back," he said. "If you pick at it enough, the sore goes away, but then there is a scar there."
"I fully support the global war on terrorism," Abdus said. If somebody hits you, are you just going to complain about it and do nothing? Or, are you going to hit back? You have to hit back and demand respect. You have to protect your home."
(Army Sgt. Jason Dangel serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 4th Infantry Division's Combat Aviation Brigade.)