By Christopher Ward, Point Park News Service:
Pittsburgh native Troy Potter was in the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Knox when the September 11, 2001, attacks happened.
“I saw alpha on my door and that means threat level nuclear war,” Potter said. “That’s the highest threat that you can get, so I knew something serious was going on.”
Potter said that everyone at the base was on guard because no one knew what could happen.
“Everyone was on standby and trying to figure out what we were going to do next,” Potter said. “I was worried about my family. You’re on the base, [so] you can’t just pick up the phone and see how your family is doing.”
Potter said that he didn’t know about the attacks on the World Trade Center until later that night.
“I went to the lounge and saw it on TV for like two seconds,” he said. “But I had to go to work and go down to the gold vault at Fort Knox. The Army had orders that night. Air Force had all the planes down. We were under martial law.”
Potter said that anyone on a military base who was from New York that had lost a loved one from the attacks had the option to be discharged.
“I heard that some did leave because they lost loved ones from the 9/11 attacks,” Potter said. “If your dad died, you have to get a job and help support your family. That was the circumstances that some were under.”
After 9/11, Potter went through a series of transfers, first to Fort Hood in Texas and then to Germany, where he was a part of the First Armored Division. A couple months later, he was deployed to Iraq.
“The battle on the ground started in April. It was over by May,” Potter said. “There were no rules of engagement. We controlled the sea. We controlled the sky. What can you do? You can’t do anything. All the water stations were knocked out. All the power stations were out. How are you going to fight someone that has you outclassed?”
Potter would serve three tours in Iraq between 2003 and 2009. While Potter missed his family, he knew that he had a job that had to be done.
“You say goodbye when you leave and you say hello when you come back,” Potter said. “You’re always going to miss your family, but you have to focus on the task at hand. You have to focus on your mission. That’s your first responsibility.”
In 2009, Potter received the Phoenix Award, which recognizes the best field-level maintenance unit.
“My unit was 100 percent in everything,” Potter said. “If I got that [kind of quality of work] in the civilian world, I would be a millionaire.”
The pain associated with war, both mentally and physically, never goes away from a soldier’s mind.
“Everybody gets affected by what you see in war,” Potter said. “You have people at the end of that line, people that were your friends, people that you cared about, that you don’t get to see anymore.”
Potter is a self-described patriot; serving his country was something that he always wanted to do since he was a kid. He is proud of his three tours of duty during the Iraq War, and in total, 20 years of service in the United States Army.
Potter said that he has no regrets about his military career and would do it all over again if he had to.
“If they called me today, I would go back,” Potter said. “I got in because there’s people in this world that need help.”
This piece is part of a project on Apocalyptic writing. It will be featured in a print magazine that will be presented at the 8th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium on Friday, April 21, 2017 in the Center for Media Innovation on Point Park University’s campus.