Cover Photo Image

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.

Jim Biddle

Jim Biddle graduated from JMU’s College of Business in 2005. After completing ROTC training and commissioning into the Army, he joined the National Guard so he could select his branch and become a combat arms officer. Jim says he “was fortunate enough to get a slot as an Artilleryman (which is what I wanted) in an Infantry unit (which was not what I wanted).”  Jim deployed twice to Iraq. Over the 11 years in the Guard, he grew to love the Infantry, and was assigned positions that were usually reserved for Infantrymen, including a combat tour as a company Executive Officer, and the command of a specialty platoon. Jim current works in the federal government and is a volunteer firefighter.

Lieutenant Colonel Dan Curran

Lieutenant Colonel Dan Curran is the Battalion Commander for the 450th Civil Affairs Battalion, Airborne. He commissioned into the United States Army through the JMU ROTC Program in May 2005 after graduating with a B.A. in International Affairs.  LTC Curran began his career as an Air Defense Artillery Officer and was first assigned to a PATRIOT Missile Battalion on Gwangju Airbase, South Korea serving as both Battalion Logistics Officer and Launcher Platoon Leader.  He then served in multiple roles in the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command in Colorado Springs.  In 2009 he deployed to the Kurdish region of Iraq as part of a Military Transition Team with a mission to help national police forces secure the borders where Iraq, Iran, and Turkey meet.  Returning from this deployment he was assigned as the Assistant Professor of Military Science for the University of Colorado - Colorado Springs ROTC Program.  In 2013 LTC Curran transitioned from Active Duty service to the Army Reserves as a Civil Affairs Officer.  In 2018, LTC Curran returned to JMU to begin his graduate degree and earned a Master’s Degree in Physician Assistant Studies in 2020.

Links in this episode:


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.


Marilyn Houde

Marilyn Houde graduated from James Madison University in 2009 with a degree in International Affairs. She commissioned through JMU ROTC as a Quartermaster Officer. She subsequently served as a Civil Affairs Officer in the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade in Fort Bragg, North Carolina as a Team Leader and Company Commander. She rose to the rank of Captain. Marilyn is now a Clinical Research Project Manager and received her MBA from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In her free time, Marylin volunteers to help veterans as they transition into the civilian world.


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.



Nicolle Johnson

Nicolle Johnson works as a Program Manager for US Special Operations Command providing acquisition support for Enterprise and Tactical Communications Systems. She previously worked at Program Manager Special Programs where she was responsible for the implementation and management of C5ISR systems.

Nicolle graduated from James Madison University in 2002 with a Bachelor of Science degree and received a commission as a Military Intelligence Officer.  She was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado and Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado.  She obtained a Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in 2010 in Government and Security Studies. Nicolle is married with two children and currently resides in North Carolina.

Major Robert Kennedy

Major Bob Kennedy is a 2007 graduate of James Madison University, majoring in Philosophy. He commissioned into the Army as an Armor 2LT. MAJ Kennedy’s first duty assignment was in 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, TX, where he served as a Scout Platoon Leader and Executive Officer in the Fourth Squadron 9th Cavalry Regiment. While there, he deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, serving as both Platoon Leader and Executive Officer.

After completing the Maneuver Captains Career Course and US Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, GA, he returned to Fort Hood and was assigned to the 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade. MAJ Kennedy deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom as a Brigade Plans Officer. Upon return from Afghanistan, MAJ Kennedy took Command of Apache Troop, 2nd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment. He deployed with his Troop to Kosovo under the NATO KFOR mission. While in Kosovo, he relinquished command of Apache Troop to his JMU classmate, L.H. Ginn, and took command of Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 2nd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment.

Following Command, MAJ Kennedy attended the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned his Master’s of Business Administration, and transitioned to be an Army Operations Research Systems Analyst (ORSA). Upon graduation from the Army command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, KS, MAJ Kennedy was assigned to the Army G-8 where he was responsible for conducting investment analysis of Army equipping programs.

MAJ Kennedy was recently assigned to the Army G-3/5/7, where he assesses Army Readiness.


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.

Lt. Col. Dan Maurer

Lt. Col. Dan Maurer is a Judge Advocate, an Assistant Professor of Law at U.S. Military Academy at Westpoint and a Fellow with the Modern War Institute. Lt. Col. Maurer graduated from James Madison University in 2002 and first served as a platoon leader in the Sunni Triangle north of Baghdad. He went on to receive a law degree from Ohio State University and a Master of Laws degree from the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School. He has served as a JAG officer, Appellate Counsel, as a Strategy Fellow for the Army Chief of Staff’s Strategic Studies Group, as Chief of Military Justice at Fort Sill, OK and as Chief of Operational Law in Italy. Lt. Col. Maurer has written or co-edited three books, and published extensively in various civilian law journals and Army professional journals on military justice and civil-military relations. He also contributes to Lawfare and Just Security.

Shawn Pardee

MAJ (R) Shawn Pardee began his military career in 1995, where he enlisted as an Artillery Crewman and was stationed at Fort Sill, OK. In 2000 he enlisted into the Virginia Army National Guard and attended James Madison University in 2003. At graduation in 2005, Shawn was commissioned into Armor Branch via ROTC. Shawn deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom III and V, operating in Baghdad, Iraq for both deployments. He also deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom to Afghanistan. Download his full bio here.

Ryan Powell

Ryan Powell grew up in the Shenandoah Valley, about 30 minutes north of Harrisonburg. Ryan is from a family with four generations of members who graduated from JMU. In 2007, Ryan received a BS in Sociology from JMU. Ryan commissioned through the ROTC as an Ordnance officer with the 299th Brigade Support Battalion. He was stationed at Fort Riley, KS with the 1st Infantry Division and deployed to Iraq twice (2008 & 2010), both times to Baghdad. In 2018, Ryan received an MBA from Virginia Commonwealth University. He currently works as a Vice President in Business Continuity for City National Bank in Los Angeles, CA.


Dr. Terri Rodzevik

CDR Terri Rodzevik, DNP, FNP-BC, ENP-C graduated from James Madison University in 2004 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and minors in Biology and Military Science. Dr. Rodzevik served in the United States Army Nurse Corps from 2004-2009 with two deployments to Iraq, including to Tikrit and Baghdad.

She currently serves in the United States Public Health Service as a Supervisory Research Nurse Practitioner for the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive, and Kidney Disease in Phoenix, AZ and as a Supervisory Nurse Practitioner for the Indian Health Service at Phoenix Indian Medical Center Emergency Department.

In her spare time, Dr. Rodzevik does triathlons, including the Ironman World Championship and the 70.3 World Championship (three times).

Dr. Rodzevik also received a Master’s of Science in Nursing and Family Nurse Practitioner in 2011 and a doctorate of Nursing Practice, with a focus on policy and leadership in 2017 from George Washington University.

Aaron Shapiro

Aaron Shapiro graduated from James Madison University in 2006 with a degree in business administration. While at JMU, Aaron participated in the Simultaneous Membership Program, which allowed him to enlist in the Virginia National Guard while simultaneously participating in JMU’s ROTC program. Upon graduation, Aaron was commissioned as a Finance Officer in the Army Reserves. Shortly after graduation, he was called to active duty to serve as a Disbursing Officer at Camp Eggers in Kabul, Afghanistan. Aaron currently works as a Senior Financial Analyst at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, where he is responsible for deposit insurance pricing matters related to the nation’s largest banks. In his spare time, Aaron enjoys training for and competing in ultramarathons. To date, he has run two 100 mile races and dozens of races 50 miles and below. Aaron lives in Bethesda, MD with his wife and three kids.

Links in this episode:

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. 


LTC Nick Swayne

Lieutenant Colonel Nick Swayne served in the Army for 26 years, with deployments to Bosnia, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. In 2001, he assumed the role of leading James Madison University’s ROTC program and was a professor of military science.

Currently, Dr. Swayne is the Director of X-Labs at JMU, which has co-sponsored this 9/11 at 20 series. Over the last 25 years, Dr. Swayne has established a record of successful startups and transformations; creating innovative ventures inside large organizations. These have run the gamut from successful multimedia marketing organization in post-conflict Bosnia to a large non-profit organization focused on STEM education, to the current startup, JMU X-Labs. Having developed a team of innovative collaborators, X-Labs now recognized nationally and internationally as a leader in transdisciplinary education and assessment – featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Financial Times of London, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Dr. Swayne is author of multiple peer-reviewed articles on the topic of innovation and innovation ecosystems. He is a board member of the Unmanned Systems Association of Virginia, the faculty mentor to the JMU University Innovation Fellows, co-chair of the JMU Veteran Scholars Task Force, and recently appointed to the Board of Advisors for Virginia Unmanned Systems. He is also a three-time elected member of the Harrisonburg City School Board.

Other Perspectives
Joshua L. Dratel, National Security and Terrorism Legal Defense Expert

How did the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States impact the criminal legal system? What are the challenges of litigating national security and terrorism cases? How did 9/11 and subsequent national security and terrorism cases impact how the legal system treats citizens and non-citizens convicted of terrorism offenses? Is torture justified under any circumstances? How have national security and terrorism legal cases changed over the last two decades?

Leading terrorism and national security legal expert Joshua L. Dratel answers these questions and discusses how the national security state and the war on terrorism have impacted democracy and justice.

Mr. Dratel served as defense counsel in several terrorism and national security prosections, including of Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, who was acquitted in federal court in Idaho in 2004 and Wadih El-Hage, a defendant in United States v. Usama bin Laden, which involved the August 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He also served as lead counsel in high profile cases, including as lead and civilian counsel for David Hicks, an Australian detained at Guantanamo Bay. Mr. Dratel is also co-editor of The Enemy combatant papers: American justice, the courts, and the War on Terror and The Torture Papers: The Road To Abu Ghraib.



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: 


Dr. Philip Zelikow, Executive Director, 9/11 Commission

In this episode, we talk with Dr. Philip Zelikow, who served as the executive director of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, better known as the "9/11 Commission." The Commission's landmark report was published in 2004 and provides an authoritative narrative on the attacks and U.S. response to them. The Commission's work and report provide lessons for making sense of collective mass trauma and reimagining more responsive governing institutions.

Philip Zelikow is the White Burkett Miller Professor of History at the University of Virginia. He has also served at all levels of American government, including as an elected member of a town school board. He began his professional career as a trial and appellate lawyer in Texas, including work for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. After returning to graduate school and then teaching for the Navy, he joined the Foreign Service and served as a career diplomat, posted overseas and in Washington, including service on the NSC staff for President George H.W. Bush.

Dr. Zelikow also directed the 2001 Commission on National Election Reform, chaired by former Presidents Carter and Ford. This work led directly to congressional passage of the bipartisan Help America Vote Act of 2002. He has also been a member of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board both for President Bush (2001-03) and for President Obama (2011-13), one of few individuals to serve on this board in administrations of both parties. Dr. Zelikow was a member of the Defense Policy Board (2015-17). He also advised the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s program in global development (2007-12). He is currently leading the privately-sponsored Covid Commission Planning Group (2021).

Links in this episode:

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