As federal agencies were gathering intelligence on our adversaries and monitoring extremist groups, I was starting the 5th grade and getting to know my new classmates. While the U.S. was gearing up for a potential attack on American citizens, I was playing on the monkey bars at recess.
On the day of the 9/11 attacks, I could feel my teacher abiding by some type of protocol but had no idea what that would mean until minutes later. I lived about 40 minutes from the Pentagon, further down 95 south, and had family friends who worked in the building.
After American Airlines Flight 77 flew into the west wall of the Pentagon’s first floor, my neighbor came to pick up myself, my younger brother and sister from school, as my mother was working her shift at the hospital. As our neighbor explained what had happened, we were all very quiet, trying to comprehend her words. We wouldn’t understand the gravity of all the events that day until we got home and turned on the television, only to find turmoil just before the Pennsylvania crash.
America responded to these events, politics, policy, and our Armed Forces felt a shift. Almost a month later, Operation Enduring Freedom efforts to oust the Taliban regime and break up Osama bin Laden’s terrorist group began.
I believe this was the unconscious beginnings to my beliefs in national security. Fast forward to my first position with an intelligence government contractor as a receptionist. There was a large learning curve with no military background and being a young woman in such a male dominated world. But I began to fall in love with recruiting and learning more about the individuals who would keep America safe by preventing future attacks. Visiting the memorials are a chilling reminder of why these workers today are essential.
A NEW AGENCY IS BORN
By late 1998 or early 1999, Osama Bin Ladin and his advisers agreed on a plan brought to them by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) called the “planes operation.” It would ultimately amount to the attacks on September 11th.
The 9/11 Commission Report States, “The attacks were a shock, but they should not have come as a surprise. Islamist extremists had given plenty of warning that they meant to kill Americans indiscriminately and in large numbers. Although Usama Bin Ladin himself would not emerge as a signal threat until the late 1990s, the threat of Islamist terrorism grew over the decade.”
Failures to heed the warning signs in any relevant intelligence collected before the September 11th attacks and the war in Iraq raised critical questions over how to restructure intelligence agencies, processes, and operations.
The government promptly developed a security framework to protect the U.S. from attacks. A major component of the plan streamlined 22 separate agencies into a single department, incited by the Homeland Security Act of 2002. In 2003, a new agency was born: the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS has an important mission in securing the nation from the many threats we face. Today, there are more than 240,000 employees in jobs that range from aviation, border security, and emergency response.
THE EMERGING WORKFORCE IN NATIONAL SECURITY
Almost the entire millennial generation has entered adulthood and could drive America toward a focus on security, especially in the cyber world we live in today. Like the GI Generation learning from the attack on Pearl Harbor, showing that the U.S. is not immune to danger on our soil, millennials learned that we are not isolated in a world with dangerous villains.
Those born between the early 80s and late 90s (the years are widely debated), millennials have surpassed other generations as the nation’s largest adult group, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As of July 1, 2019, they numbered 72.1 million and that’s a substantial talent pool we should be motivating to get interested in national security.
However, a 2018 Rand study on millennials and their thoughts on U.S. defense found that younger people are more concerned with economic security and less worried about national security. They were also less likely than older Americans to report that living in a democracy was extremely important to them. Lastly, they were less worried about defending against terrorist attacks or preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. There’s a caveat: The Rand study reveals that attitudes toward security tend to correlate with an individual’s age and not the generation they are a part of. Perhaps younger people just aren’t as worried about national security as older people…yet.
It’s important to note that young men and women who make up our military today are volunteers. They are patriots who have made a conscious choice to serve their country and conduct a dangerous job.
Making Room for Millennials: Not Just at the Table, but In the Decision-Making Process
Millennials will soon be solely leading the charge of protecting our nation. We need to motivate and inspire. Not discourage them with the “you’re just too young to get it,” “well back in my day,” “let the men discuss,” and any other patronizing mantras that I have been told throughout my career thus far. I’m sure others have been told the same. Experience is absolutely valid, but when it comes to teaching from your past, a positive attitude and open-mindedness will lead to a much more productive conversation and future for the workforce navigating the defense world.
National security challenges have not been abated in the years since the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan – they only continue to expand. It’s worth mentioning the personal connection millennials have to 9/11 – and how that may guide or govern their pursuit of a national security career. We should be cultivating this group to be the leading force in determining how the nation addresses security challenges, and this happens with a mindset that everyone has something impactful to add. New challenges demand new perspectives. We also need to be open not just to their contributions, but their leadership.
Every generation has a story that has formed their passions and opinions on why they care about national security, diplomacy or politics. This is mine.