On September 11, 2001, Al-Qaeda operatives hijacked four commercial airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. A fourth plane crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Close to three thousand people died in the attacks. Although Afghanistan was the base for al-Qaeda, none of the nineteen hijackers were Afghan nationals. Mohammed Atta, an Egyptian, led the group, and fifteen of the hijackers originated from Saudi Arabia. In response to the attacks, President George W. Bush vowed to “win the war against terrorism.”

On September 18, 2001, President George W. Bush signed into law a joint resolution authorizing the use of force against those responsible for attacking the United States on 9/11. 

Subsequently, the Bush administration utilized the joint resolution as legal rationale for its decision to take sweeping measures to combat terrorism, from invading Afghanistan to wiretapping U.S. citizens without a court order, to standing up the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Some two decades after U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in what led to the United States’ longest war, the Taliban insurgency persists.

According to the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, more than 800,000 people have been killed by direct war violence in the US post-9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan. The Watson Institute also estimates $6.4 Trillion in U.S. spending on the War on Terrorism, including obligations for veterans' care over the next 40+ years.

2021 marks the 20th Anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. The attacks and the U.S. response to them have had profound consequences for American domestic and foreign policy, as well as for international relations and global security. 

JMU Civic and JMU X-Labs have partnered to gather and share the stories of James Madison University alumni who have served and continue to serve in the military. JMU Civic is also interviewing other experts and individuals on the consequences and impacts. If you have a story to contribute for our 9/11 at 20 series, please email civic @

Further Reading & Resources
Discussion Questions
  • Where were you on September 11, 2001? How did September 11, 2001 impact you or your family?
  • How have the September 11, 2001 attacks and the U.S. response to them impacted foreign policy?
  • How have the September 11, 2001 attacks and the U.S. response to them impacted domestic policy?
  • Should the U.S. be involved in nation-building? Why or why not? (listen especially to Major Benner's interview for a military perspective)
  • A common theme in the interviews is the importance of getting involved in something bigger than yourself. In what ways are you currently contributing and what more will you commit to do to strengthen democracy? 


Military Service Perspectives
Major Michael Benner
Major Michael Benner

MAJ Michael Benner attended James Madison University where he commissioned through ROTC as a branch detailed (Armor) Military Intelligence officer. His first assignment was in the 1-40th Cavalry, 4-25 BCT (ABN), where he served as a reconnaissance Platoon Leader and Troop Executive Officer, at Fort Richardson, AK. MAJ Benner deployed in 2006 in in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

After completing the Military Intelligence Captains Career Course, MAJ Benner served as the Analytical Control Element OIC during I Corps’ deployment to OIF in 2009. MAJ Benner then served two consecutive company commands within the 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade.  During his command of C Company, 109th MI BN, 201st BfSB, MAJ Benner trained and deployed his collection company to Afghanistan, supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

After serving as the S2 for 2-1 Infantry Regiment, 2-2 SBCT, MAJ Benner applied and was accepted into the Army Intelligence Developmental Program for ISR in the spring of 2014.  Upon completing the year long, in-depth study of joint and national collection capabilities and Command and General Staff College at Fort Belvoir, MAJ Benner began his utilization tour with the 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, NY.  Once again, MAJ Benner deployed to OEF in 2016, under 10th MTN DIV, as the Division Collection Manager.

In 2017, MAJ Benner continued his career in the 10th MTN DIV, transitioning to the Division Artillery Brigade (DIVARTY) as the S2 and deploying to Iraq in 2018, to support Operation Inherent Resolve, as special staff in the CJFLCC Initiatives Group to the CJFLCC Commander.  Upon his return from Iraq in the summer of 2018, MAJ Benner was selected work as the G2 for the newly formed Long Range Precision Fires Cross Functional Team, under Army Futures Command at Fort Sill, OK.

His education includes a Bachelor of Science in Public Administration from James Madison University.

Dr. Mark Ehlers

Dr. Ehlers grew up in Colorado Springs, CO, and attended JMU from 2001-2005.  He earned his BA in History in 2004 and his MA in History in 2005. He was commissioned into the Army as a Second Lieutenant in May 2005, and was assigned to the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Riley, Kansas after completing his branch specific officer training. He served as a platoon leader and troop executive officer in this unit from October 2005 to July 2008, and deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom from February 2007 to April 2008. During this deployment he led a cavalry scout platoon responsible for securing and administering a small part of Baghdad's Doura district. In 2009, he was promoted to Captain and assigned to the 1st Combined Arms Battalion at Fort Bliss, TX where his unit helped evaluate new and experimental military equipment. After completing his Ph.D. coursework at Louisiana State University, he was assigned to a teaching position in the History Department at the United States Military Academy at West Point where he taught both survey and upper-level American History courses to cadets from 2013-2016. Upon completion of his Army service obligation in 2016, he completed his Ph.D. and took a history teaching position at Davidson Day School – an independent school north of Charlotte, NC. He will be moving to a new upper school teaching position at Sandy Spring Friends School in Maryland in the fall of this year.


Samantha Huie

Samantha Huie was commissioned through the ROTC at JMU, where she also majored in Kinesiology and Exercise Science. In the Army, Samantha was as a helicopter pilot and served as Brigade Aviation Officer, Company Commander and as an Aviation team Lead. Samantha was responsible for the planning, preparation, and execution of all aviation assets from the national guard and reserve components deploying overseas. She established training to support preparation and assessment of aviation assets, increasing the ability to mass forces overseas quickly. Samantha is now a first officer for PSA airlines and in the MBA program at JMU.



Terry Kessler

Mr. Terry Kessler attended James Madison University where he was commissioned through ROTC as a Medical Service Officer in 2003. He was also a member of the Virginia Army National Guard from 1997 to 2003. His first assignment as an Active Duty Army Officer was with 3ID, 1 BCT, 3BSB, where he served as a Treatment Platoon Leader and Company Executive Officer, at Fort Stewart, GA from 2004 to 2008. Terry completed two tours of duty in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005 and 2007 to 2008.

Upon returning from Iraq in the Spring of 2008, Terry was accepted into the Long-Term Health Training Master of Social Work Program in San Antonio, TX and received his Master of Social Work Degree in 2009.  He was then stationed at Fort Bragg, NC to work on his Master of Social Work Internship with the Department of Social Work.

Terry is now working for the Department of Veteran Affairs at the Martinsburg, WV VAMC with Veterans as a Licensed Certified Social Worker.

His education includes a Bachelor of Social Work Degree from James Madison University and a Master of Social Work Degree from Fayetteville State University.

Gregory Sullivan
Gregory Sullivan

Mr. Gregory Sullivan a graduate of James Madison University and currently works as a management consultant for LMI in Washington, D.C..  Previously, he was a senior branch manager with CVS.  Greg started his career as an Army officer in 2007, which included two combat deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and two years as a diplomat in Bogota, Colombia during the historic war-to-peace time transition.  After roughly 10 years in the service, Greg completed a thru hike of the entire Appalachian Trail.  Some of Greg's achievements include: Eagle Scout, Army Ranger tab, Bronze Star, and the Defense Meritorious Service medal.  In his spare time, you can find him working with Veterans, furthering environmental causes, or in the great outdoors.  He currently lives in Arlington, Virginia. 


Civil Liberties
Steven R. Shapiro, Former Legal Director ACLU

In this episode, we talk with Steven R. Shapiro, the former Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, the nation's oldest and largest civil liberties organization, founded over a century ago in response to the massive suppression of freedom of speech and the press by the government during World War I. Mr. Shapiro shares his legal experiences and expertise regarding the consequences for civil liberties of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States and the government’s response. Mr. Shapiro has appeared as counsel or co-counsel on more than 200 ACLU briefs submitted to the United States Supreme Court.

Links in this episode: 


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