Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

September 12, 2013

'Forever changed'

Student veteran at IUK organizes service to remember Sept. 11 attacks.

By Lindsey Ziliak
Kokomo Tribune

---- — Doug Preece stood Wednesday under an American flag that waved gently in the breeze — a fitting place to reflect on a moment 12 years ago that forever changed the nation and his family.

As the IU Kokomo Student Veterans Organization president, Preece led a service at the campus’s flagpole to remember Sept. 11, 2001.About 30 people, including eight other veterans, circled around the flag with him to think, pray and reflect.“I think reflection is good for the soul,” he said. “It’s important for people to recognize what happened in the past and our nation’s contributions by veterans. That was a significant event in our history. Everyone can remember where they were on 9/11. For those of us who are involved, it resonates a little deeper.”Preece has been a reservist in the military for 26 years.He was at Grissom Air Reserve Base in 2001 when two planes crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City. He and his fellow servicemen and women sat staring at their televisions. They were stunned.“It was very spooky,” he said.There were airborne flights at the base that day that were called back to the ground. There were reservists who were commercial pilots by day. They got calls telling them to secure their cockpits. That’s when they knew something was terribly wrong.“That will be something they never forget,” Preece said. “It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.”Preece remembers predicting he would be deployed within 10 days of the attack. Nine days later, he was gone.Preece was a boom operator for the KC-135 Stratotankers. His job during that first deployment was to provide mid-air refueling for long-range bomber, fighter and cargo aircraft as they prepared to launch an attack on Iraq.“We were more than enthusiastic about it,” he said. “We had guys who couldn’t go who were pretty torn up about it.”Since then, Preece has been deployed to the Middle East at least seven times. He said he’s lucky, though, that his deployments are usually only two months long.It’s still hard on his family, he said. The goodbyes, the worries, the distance, it’s all tough for them, he said.And families across the country are still dealing with the deployments 12 years later.Families who lost someone during the attacks on the Twin Towers are still trying to cope.Those moments 12 years ago affected people across the world from every race and every walk of life, Preece said.“It has forever changed us,” he said.That’s why it’s important to remember this day every year, no matter how many years have passed, Preece said. It’s critical to remind children of what we lost that day and what we sacrificed to get it back, he said. If people don’t talk to kids about it, they’re going to forget.“A new generation is coming up,” he said. “My son was only 1 when it happened.”But he teaches his son often about the attacks and the aftermath. The now-13-year-old grasps the importance of it.“He understands at that young age,” Preece said. “He’s proud.”On Wednesday the child wore a camouflage T-shirt to school with a patch that said “Remember 9/11.” The message on that patch sums up what the short memorial service at IU Kokomo was about.Veterans, students and faculty said the Pledge of Allegiance. A U.S. Marine Corps chaplain said a short prayer.He prayed for those fighting a conflict they didn’t ask for. He prayed for those still recovering from the horrors of war.Interim Chancellor Sue Sciame-Giesecke spoke to those gathered. She had a simple message.She told people to hit the pause buttons on their lives.“We’re asked today to just stop, and to remember and to thank,” she said.

Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune education reporter, can be reached at 765-454-8585 or at lindsey.ziliak@kokomotribune.com.