By JAY ROCKEFELLER
WASHINGTON -- There are moments in history that define who we are as a nation, and who we can be as a people. They are touchstones, forever defining our history in terms of "before" and "after."
September 11, 2001, was one of those moments.
Every one of us knows exactly where we were when we first heard about the terrorist strikes that day. It is etched upon our memories. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives in that cowardly attack -– first responders, parents, brothers, and sisters. That act of terrorism may have been intended to tear our nation down. Instead, it brought us together.
Out of that devastation came unity -- and perseverance. Our nation's extraordinary response to the 9/11 tragedy highlighted the deep compassion we have as a nation and for one another. We found solace and comfort not only in friends and family, but in strangers. We all understood something at a very deep level. We understood then, perhaps as rarely if ever before, that we are in this together, as Americans.
Within hours of the attacks, flags were everywhere: car windows, T-shirts, front porches. Our grieving country emerged in a post-9/11 world a stronger people and nation. We persevered.
With the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 approaching, we owe it to the victims, the survivors and their families to carry on. We owe it to them to persevere.
One way we can do this is by creating a permanent and positive legacy of reforms that make everyone more safe. The security of our homeland continues to be one of my top priorities in Congress, and we are making great strides for the safety of our fellow Americans.
West Virginians have taken on key roles in public safety through their work at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms' (ATF) National Tracing Center in Martinsburg, the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division in Clarksburg, the U.S. Coast Guard's National Vessel Documentation and Operations Systems Center in the Eastern Panhandle, and at the West Virginia National Guard's Joint Interagency Training and Education Center at Camp Dawson.
We continue to step forward as leaders in public safety and security with the recent opening of the Global Borders College in Harpers Ferry, which will annually train 5,000 frontline Customs officers on everything from firearms usage to language studies.
The Customs and Border Protection personnel are our front line of defense against threats and this college will create new opportunities for jobs and training. That's why I worked hard to make sure the college got the funding support needed to build this facility in West Virginia.
Nationally, we've taken enormous steps forward in making America a safer, more secure nation. In many ways, it starts with our airports and airplanes. Our passenger and baggage screening a decade ago didn't work. Today, every passenger and their luggage receive a thorough check before he gets on a plane.
And we continue to improve our screening methods, with state-of-the-art scanning technology and now new software to protect privacy.
Yet despite these strides, we still have unfinished business.
Today, as you read this, I have a bill before the Congress that would finally give first responders the tools they need to communicate in a crisis. People lost their lives on 9/11 because firefighters, police officers and other rescue personnel couldn't communicate effectively. This is shameful. What's worse, the 9/11 Commission told us we had to address the problem, and now, 10 years later, we still haven't.
Whether for a terrorist attack, a mining disaster, or a major weather event, the new communications network created by this bill will keep first responders safe and allow them to keep the public safe. The bill sets aside airwaves for first responders that will be used to build a nationwide, wireless communications network. It's been endorsed by virtually every public safety group and, what's more, won't cost taxpayers a penny.
Looking abroad, we need to focus on completing our mission in Afghanistan. We have made exceptional progress toward eliminating Al Qa'ida over the past several years -- including the death of Osama bin Laden earlier this year -- and now it's time to bring this war to an end, on our terms. Our troops have done all that we've asked of them in Afghanistan, and we owe it to them to bring home as many as we can. Our men and women in uniform should be honored for the wonderful work they've done.
I've said for some time that I have both strategic and budgetary concerns about our major military obligations around the world. The indefinite expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of troops is neither necessary nor strategically wise.
On the Senate Intelligence Committee and as former Chairman, I continue my work in Congress to make sure that our families, our homeland and our troops are protected and supported – and that together as one nation we are doing everything we can to prevent a tragedy like 9/11 from ever happening again.
The Bible tells us that tribulation brings about perseverance. Perseverance brings about character. And character brings about hope.
As we look back, honoring those who were lost and thanking those who keep us safe, we do so with perseverance, character and, best of all, hope.
Rockefeller, a Democrat, is West Virginia's senior United States Senator.