Sergeant First Class Nathan Phelps reenlisted for service in the Combined Joint Task Force in eastern Africa this year, 20 years after the attack on Sept. 11.
New York City sits far away from Djibouti, but the city and the tragedy remain firmly in Phelps’ mind. On Saturday, the U.S. forces at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti on Africa’s east coast commemorated the attack on America that happened 20 years ago.
Phelps, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, was in the 9th grade when he saw on the news that planes had crashed into the Twin Towers. The tragedy became a “call” to serve in the military.
“I still feel that call today,” Phelps said as he reflected on the events of that day.
“I decided to continue serving because I have pride in what I do as a soldier, and I am fortunate to be able to do what I do,” Phelps explained. “My thoughts of 9/11 are remembering the lives lost that day because of the actions of terrorists.”
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“I will never forget the sacrifices made that day or those made since by my fellow Americans who have paid the ultimate cost,” he added.
Phelps was sworn in while aboard an Air Force KC130 as it flew over a solemn 9/11 ceremony attended by the U.S. Ambassador to Djibouti and a number of international partners. The ground ceremony included a joint formation, a multi-aircraft flyover, a presentation of colors and the playing of Taps.
Having grown up in Locke, New York, Phelps’ post at Camp Lemonnier may be especially fitting given the mission’s close tie to the attack on the World Trade Center.
The United States established an expeditionary mission in Djibouti in 2002, transforming a French Foreign Legion base to a U.S. military installation. Camp Lemonnier is the only permanent U.S. military installation in Africa and is a strategically significant location to the U.S. and its allies and partners who work every day to stop violent extremist organizations.
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The expeditionary mission eventually morphed into the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa. The base also serves as an operation point for other U.S. forces: During the Afghanistan evacuation, the base contributed U.S. Marine Corps. planes and assisted with refueling operations to help keep the withdrawal running.
The Sept. 11 attack provided a boost to U.S. military recruitment, with numbers surging for a number of years afterwards, though each branch felt the effects fade by 2010 at the latest.
Col. Timothy MacDonald, who performed the oath ceremony for with Phelps, noted the lasting impact the attack had on troops he has served with.
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“As a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, I personally have felt the impacts of Sept 11th, and I admire every Soldier who chooses to serve and defend our great nation,” MacDonald said.
The base currently supports around 4,000 U.S. joint and allied forces military and civilian personnel and contractors.