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NEWS | Sept. 8, 2011

Imagination and the Future of our Nation

By Jack Harrison National Guard Bureau

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this piece are the author's and not necessarily those of the National Guard Bureau or the Department of Defense.

A decade. Ten years. 3,650 days. 520 weeks. It's amazing to me that so much time has passed since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and the entirety of pain and loss inflicted on so many of our fellow citizens.

I'll bet most of us can recall exactly where we were and what we were doing the moment the attacks happened.

So much has happened since then. So much has changed in our country. Today, our great nation faces enormous challenges.

We've been prosecuting two long wars against what has become an all too familiar foe…terrorists.

Our economy has struggled through the worst economic decline and recession since the days following the Great Depression. The recovery has yet to be broad based and seems agonizingly slow. And, the unemployment situation is equally grim.

The 'baby boomer' generation is coming into retirement age and is stressing an unbalanced social security trust fund and the Medicare program, both perhaps moving ever closer to insolvency.

This might be a good place to tell you I'm not a politician, nor am I representing any special interest. In fact, other than the opportunity to express my feelings here, there is nothing in this for me.

That said, the problems we face are great - indeed greater than what I've described here. But, our nation is greater. And, I believe strongly that the only way we will find ourselves on a more solid footing as a nation, and see brighter days, it by using our collective imaginations. It's how we've come through so many challenges before.

Let me explain.

So many times in our history we have experienced difficult transitional periods and navigated through them with great results. As a nation, solving the big issues of our times has always been about the actions undertaken and the pathways to success forged by the whole of our country.

It took all 13 colonies to fight and earn our independence from Great Britain, and hold strongly to that independence for more than 235 years.

When we began to move westward, we did so collectively - creating the roads, bridges and other infrastructure necessary to mature our growing Republic.

The Civil War, horrible as it was, gave proof to the nation we are far better as one nation rather than two...divided against each other.

Henry Ford played a big role in ushering in the industrial age, creating a company and inventing a process of manufacturing cars in large numbers on assembly lines, making transportation quicker and easier than the horse and buggy. This prompted our nation to sprawl out even further across our land.

A few years later, Orville and Wilbur Wright went airborne under power on a fateful day in December 1903, in the beach village of Kill Devil Hills, N.C., near Kitty Hawk.
The whole nation flew with them, first off of that dune, then from city to city and now from continent to continent, demanding innovation and new technology as our appetite for flight seemed, and seems, insatiable.

Through the Great War and the war to end all wars, as a nation we came together and faced tyrannical egos, Hell bent on world domination, and turned them back.

When challenged by a young president, the nation came together and in less than a decade, reinvented space flight and flew three men to the moon on a mission named Apollo and brought them all back safely. We were all captivated, collectively, as a nation.

The fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent fall of the Soviet Empire was, in no small part, due to the will of our citizens to defeat the spread of communism and win the Cold War.

Our country was galvanized as we watched, for the first time, war happening in the Gulf, live, as three reporters described the bombing as it happened, not just to a nation, but to the world.
And, after those terrible attacks ten years ago, we all watched and listened, together as a nation, when our president stood on the rubble at the site where the World Trade Center once stood, telling our adversaries we would take the fight to them and win. I suspect to those very enemies, it must have sounded as though the country was speaking out loud, as one.

Over and over again, throughout our history, we have come together, clearly seen the issues, worked out solutions, gathered our resolve, rolled up our sleeves, and we have taken care of business.

Not one person, not one president, or one congressman, or one senator, or one governor or mayor, or one political party or special interest group ... But, one nation.

The sentiment is written into our Pledge of Allegiance,"... one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

One nation, our nation, is defined by our 325 million citizens. When I think about it, it is wondrous, and heartening, to realize there are 325 million imaginations that can and should be encouraged, tapped into, leveraged, and relied upon to forge solutions to the tough issues and challenges facing our nation today.

I realize I'm short on specifics with respect to what some of the possible solutions might be. But that was not my purpose in writing this piece. I'm really trying to speak to so many who are on the sidelines watching, not in the game. The solutions will come once we come off the sidelines. We've proven that time and time again.

The men and women of our military are in the game - all in. So are our firefighters, police officers, teachers, paramedics, nurses, doctors and others.

But more of us need to get into the game. We need to do this as a nation, today, for this day and time, for our children and grandchildren, for the future of our republic.

I am convinced the ideas for building the pathways to a brighter American future exist within all of us, and are well within reach.

As we cross the threshold of the 10th anniversary of that awful day and the days following Sept. 11, 2001, let's do more than pause and pray for those who were lost, their families, loved ones and friends.

Let's honor the 3,000 people who were killed that day in New York City, at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa., and in the days since, by coming off the sidelines. Not as politicians or lobbyists, not as the wealthy or the destitute, but as citizens.

So, from one citizen to another, let's come together, address our problems in ways that lead to REAL solutions. And, let's use our national imagination together, simply as citizens and neighbors, to lead our nation through this difficult time.