A bit of colored ribbon: Remembering 9/11

Mason Rick is a 2009 graduate of Xavier University and commissionee of the Army ROTC program. Mason served on active duty for four years and did one combat tour to Afghanistan with the 25th Infantry Division. Mason has worked at Xavier since 2013 and is currently the Assistant Bursar. Mason is graduating with his MBA from Xavier in December 2019.

As I prepared to write this article, two things struck me: A majority of the intended audience of this piece were still in diapers on September 11, 2001, and what I was doing on that date was truly unremarkable. For the record, I was in my high school German language class. Today, there will be hundreds if not thousands of articles, tributes and remembrances written about September 11 by news outlets around the world, written by journalists much more talented than I and about individuals with much more compelling stories than mine. With that being the case, I want to take a slightly different approach and discuss a national phenomenon that has taken place over the last 18 years.

This phenomenon is something we have seen repeatedly over the last two and a half centuries: It is the sons and daughters of the nation volunteering to defend our country, our values and our rights. Throughout our history, the government has conscripted the citizenry to take up arms against the enemy and those individuals’ commitment is no less honorable than that of the volunteer. However, it takes a devoted person to volunteer for military service during a time of war. Interestingly, there are nearly two generations of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have been doing just that.

Between August 2, 1990 – November 30, 1995 (Persian Gulf War) and September 11, 2001 – present day (Global War on Terrorism, GWOT for short), men and women who entered the Armed Forces have done so as volunteers and, most importantly, have done so during a time of war. For their selfless service and dedication to duty, they were all given the same thing: “a bit of colored ribbon.” That bit of colored ribbon is called the National Defense Service Medal (NDSM). The NDSM is awarded for honorable active service during a time of war or conflict since the beginning of the Korean War in 1950. To be sure, the NDSM is not as prestigious an award as the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross or Purple Heart. The NDSM has no doubt been awarded millions of times over the past seven decades. The significance, however, is that in the post-9/11 military, earning that award takes a conscious effort, a decision — no, a commitment — to pause your life in order to serve your country.   

Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” Some have interpreted this quote to mean that soldiers are easily manipulated and will do anything for an award they can wear on their chest. The way I see it, soldiers, and all servicemembers for that matter, are not motivated by money, power or influence, but by recognition from their country of a job well done. They have an intrinsic, indescribable force that allows them to look at one another and say, ‘Yeah, I get why you served,’ without ever saying a word. The NDSM is the worldly item a servicemember possesses that shows their commitment to their country. It signifies missed birthdays, anniversaries and holiday dinners. It signifies long days and sleepless nights. It signifies traumatic experiences, unfortunate events and difficult conversations. Moreover, in a post-9/11 world, all of those things were done by choice – for love of country.

 So I leave you with this: The next time you hear someone ask the government to forgive their student loan debt, subsidize their health care or guarantee them a job just for being born in this country, ask them if they would go to war for that same government for “a bit of colored ribbon.”

I would be remiss if I did not mention the two Xavier alumni who paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation during the GWOT. Capt. Matthew C. Mattingly, ‘98, was killed in action on September 13, 2006, in Mosul, Iraq. 1st Lt. Michael L. Runyan, ‘08, was killed in action on July 21, 2010 in Balad, Iraq. When you have the opportunity, visit the Our Lady of Victory and Peace Shrine, which is located on the hillside behind the parking attendant station on University Drive. Spend a few minutes in silent remembrance reflecting on the meaning of this historic day.   ne, which