CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — It's a day many Americans will always remember, vowing to never forget.
Corpus Christi resident Skyler Barker can recall what he was doing on Sept. 11, 2001.
22 years ago, Barker was in the fire academy. The second Tuesday of September seemed like an average day for the cadet until news broke of Al-Qaeda's first attack on the first tower as he was getting ready for school.
"I think everyone had a shared experience. Like it felt like you got sucker punched in the gut." he said. "It was like, just unbelievable. Like, there's no way this was happening."
The attacks launched the United States into the War on Terror, the term used to describe the American-led global counterterrorism campaign launched in response to the terrorist attacks. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since its start in 2001 about 4.5 Million Americans served in the military within a span of 19 years, including Barker.
Prior to enlisting, Barker was a firefighter. During the summer time he was a wildland firefighter. When it wasn't wildfire season, he would combat structure fires.
"After about four years I just had this urge to join the service," he said. "I was in the Marine Corps from 2005 to 2013. I served in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Barker stayed within the same infantry battalion during his time in service, serving in various roles including squad leader, team leader, and platoon sergeant. He also mentioned a unique opportunity to serve as a platoon commander for what he described as a small reaction force.
With a total of eight years of military experience, Barker became too familiar with the cost of war. He's a Purple Heart recipient who carries a burden of remembering those who paid the ultimate price.
The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the president to those wounded or killed while serving, with the U.S. military.
"It's the medal nobody aspires to have. It's the medal that nobody wants. For some of us it's the constant reminder that we made it home and our brother didn't. It's a medal that comes with years of battling emotional and physical scars." he said. "Really what it boils down to is that we carry on the memory of our brothers and sisters that didn't make it home. Ultimately that's what the Purple Heart is.
"It's a way to maintain the memory of those who didn't come home. We are the vessel that carries that with us as we carry on throughout our lives."
Research from The Cost of Warshows about 7,000 U.S. service members have died in the post 9/11 conflicts. Barker believes it's important to honor them and the other countless lives lost since Sept. 11. Despite the negative events and emotions which transpired since, Barker believes the acts of courage displayed on that day still has the ability to inspire positive change.
"In the face of unspeakable tragedy we witnessed extraordinary acts of bravery. Our first responders, law enforcement, firefighters, and even ordinary citizens. They were all running towards chaos and risking their lives to save people they didn't even know, right?" Barker said. "We saw an entire country come together at the face of adversity and just overnight unity. And it shows how capable we are as a nation to come together and make change."
Skyler Barker is currently serving the Coastal Bend community in law enforcement. He's also the commander for the Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 598 (MOPH 598).
On Saturday, Sept. 9, MOPH 598 hosted its secondVeteran Stand Down at Lazy Beach Brewing. All veterans were invited to meet fellow veterans and several vendors which highlighted resources and services.
"It's all about connecting veterans, provides a sense of belonging and allows them to share stories, struggles, triumphs with other veterans who have walked a similar path. And it really just fosters a space for healing, for growth, and for mutual support," Barker said. "It's a time for each of us to play a role in the healing of these veterans. The transition from military to civilian life definitely comes with its set of trials and tribulations, so these veteran stand downs become crucial as it provides a safe place."
Barker expressed gratitude for community members for their support and desire to help veterans. He hopes it will continue and also encourages veterans to participate in groups or community events.