Sept. 11 attacks spurred more to enlist in militaryby Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — It's clear the events of Sept. 11, 2001 played a role in many peoples' decisions to join the military. The Minnesota National Guard is still benefiting from a boost in recruitment a decade later.
St. Paul resident Scholastica Baker is one of the thousands of Minnesotans who volunteered for military service since Sept 11, 2001. Baker, 32, was already debating whether to sign a contract with the National Guard when she heard about the attacks. At the time she was a student at the University of Minnesota and working for a New York-based company.
"When I got to class the professor said, 'I'm old enough to remember when Kennedy died, but today is the day for you that will live in infamy,'" Baker recalled. "And he is the one who actually informed me that the towers had fallen and that New York had been attacked."
Baker enlisted in the National Guard just two months after the attacks and has since risen through the ranks to command a unit of more than 200 people, the Rosemount-based B Co HHBN, Intelligence and Sustainment Company, with the 34th Infantry Division.
Capt. Baker has deployed twice with her husband Justin Baker, 35, who joined the Guard in 2000.
"The experiences that I've had being deployed in both Bosnia and Iraq have definitely made me a stronger and better person," said Scholastica Baker.
"Plus, you met me," Justin Baker joked.
"Absolutely, absolutely!" she answered.
The couple recalls living in married quarters while on deployment, and reminisces about their overseas tours. They've even given their family a military nickname: Task Force Baker. But it's clear they take their Guard duty seriously.
These days the Bakers are both in law school at William Mitchell and have a new baby. Despite the difficulties of balancing military and civilian life, Justin Baker says he is proud of the contribution he and his wife have made.
"Both in Bosnia and Iraq, they were really nation-building missions. They were really about securing people who have a long history of strife and war, and I think we left the places better than when we found them. I think we helped," he says.
National Guard officials say a similar sense of wanting to be part of history has partly driven enlistment since September 11.
"2001 was a banner year for us," says Minnesota Army National Guard Col. Kevin Gerdes.
In contrast to the several years before 2001 when the Guard didn't meet its recruiting goals, the last decade has been one of expansion.
As recruitment has risen, today's soldiers are older, better educated and more physically fit and for the first time in at least four decades, the Minnesota Guard is now limiting recruitment because it's at full capacity.
The Guard's recruitment goal for fiscal years 2010 and 2011 was 1,800 enlistees. In fiscal year 2012 that target has been reduced to 1,653.
Gerdes says while it's impossible to trace that growth directly to the terror attacks of 2001, it's clear they had an effect.
"Certainly what changed was a clear understanding on the young men and women that were raising their hands to take an oath, that that oath meant they were going to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan," said Gerdes. "Our recruiters made it very clear to them after 9/11 that it wasn't a matter of if you were going to go. It was a matter of when you were going to go."
The Pentagon is relying heavily on National Guard and reserve troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. That participation has had some serious consequences.
Since 2003, 17 Minnesota Army National Guard soldiers have died in in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A total of 94 soldiers with strong Minnesota ties from all branches of the military have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One of them was Chisago City Navy SEAL Nick Spehar, 24, who was killed when his helicopter went down in Afghanistan last month. His father Pat Spehar says his son also enlisted after the World Trade Center was hit.
"Visually seeing those planes fly through the buildings and realizing that someone would willfully do that to our country, trying to hurt anybody they could, really had a profound effect on us," Spehar said.
The Department of Defense says Nick Spehar's helicopter was flying a combat mission when it was shot down by a Taliban-fired rocket-propelled grenade.
The August 6 attack killed 30 Americans and eight Afghans. It was the deadliest single incident for American forces in the war in Afghanistan. The casualties included 17 members of the Navy SEALs, five Naval Special Warfare personnel who support the SEALs, three Air Force Special Operations personnel and an Army helicopter crew of five.
Also killed in the crash was another Minnesotan, John Faas, 31, of Minneapolis, who graduated from Minnehaha Academy High School.
At his Bloomington home, National Guard Staff Sgt. Christopher Dordal, 26, recalls how the events of Sept. 11 partly motivated him to join the Guard in 2002, right out of high school.
"School ended that day and we just watched the news, and that was very surreal just seeing the attacks on U.S. soil," Dordal recalled.
Soon after completing his training, Dordal deployed to Afghanistan in 2004.
Dordal looks at photos of his old unit on patrol, which show him and a handful of other men in matching camouflage and dark sunglasses, posing at the top of a hill near their vehicle.
"That is what it would look like on a lot of the missions," he says. "Just basically going off into the middle of nowhere to little villages in the mountains."
Today, Dordal is married with a 2-year old daughter and another baby on the way. He and his wife are hoping he won't deploy again too soon but the couple knows it's likely to happen eventually. Mandi Dordal, 26, says deployment demands a lot of resilience from military families.
"I don't want it to happen, but I know it will probably happen and we'll make it. That is just kind of what you do," she said. "I think it would be really, really hard. I'm not going to lie and I would miss him a ton, but that is a possibility so I guess I'm always just kind of prepared for it."
It's unclear what the National Guard's role will be in future conflicts as the U.S. begins pulling troops out of Iraq this year and from Afghanistan soon.
Minnesota National Guard officials say they expect troops will continue to deploy overseas. Earlier this summer, 2,400 Minnesota Red Bulls deployed to Kuwait, where they'll be for a year helping with the U.S. drawdown from Iraq.
- Morning Edition, 09/07/2011, 7:25 a.m.