I was nine years old when we were attacked. Watching the Twin Towers fall, a plane hit the Pentagon, and hearing the harrowing stories of Flight 93 had a profound impact on me. But what impacted me more was how our country rose together in unity. We were proud of our nation, we reveled in our freedoms, and we took care of each other. This profound sense of patriotism was at an all-time high. In a single year following the 9/11 attacks, 181,510 Americans enlisted in the active duty ranks and 72,908 joined the enlisted reserves. That’s more in a 12-month period than any of the 22 years since.
As an impressionable kid, Sept. 11 and the months that followed inspired me to apply to the U.S. Naval Academy. Today, after graduating and now serving in the Naval Reserves, what inspires me most are the people. The United States Armed Forces are second to none because of the people who choose to serve. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the all-volunteer force, an incredible milestone for our country that has been earned by the people who valiantly raise their hands and the families that humbly support them.
But, as we move further away from 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that followed, support of military causes has waned. To preserve the all-volunteer force and avoid a draft, we must change this course. Military families serve at times of peace and war to ensure that we are always ready. These families embody the best our country has to offer – they choose this life for the betterment of their nation. And I choose to support them.
When initially looking for ways to give back to those who serve, I discovered the Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN), a national nonprofit organization leading the way in serving military families in New England and across the nation. You may ask, why a family organization? The answer is simple: supporting military families isn’t just the right thing to do, it is critical for our national security. Growing up in a military family, I know that the future of the all-volunteer force lies in the well-being of not just the service member, but the spouses, children, survivors, and caregivers who are the force behind the force.
Military service is often seen as a family affair. According to the Pew Research Center, 70% of new recruits report a family member in the armed forces. They have seen first-hand the incredible aspects of service, they have thrived, and they know that the challenges are worth it because our country is worth it. They see how benefits like education support change lives; they have experienced different cultures; and they have built a community — a brother and sisterhood — that only military families can truly understand. And while there are challenges, they know that there are people and organizations, like MFAN, who will listen and respond.
As we reflect on 9/11, I encourage all of us to honor the lives lost but also support and celebrate the people and families who stand ready each day. And, while I am honored to be a Patriot, I am even more honored to serve alongside the families who make our military the strongest fighting force the world has ever seen.
To learn more about MFAN and to support military and veteran families, please visit mfan.org.
Joe Cardona is a two-time Super Bowl winner and current long snapper for the New England Patriots. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Cardona is also an officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve where he holds the rank of Lieutenant.