Reuben Roque on active duty in U.S. Army on 9/11

By: Breanna Fierro

The unforgettable events of September 11th finally lay to rest as the 20-year-war comes to an end. Reuben Roque is the adjunct director of psychology and program coordinator for STEM veterans at East Los Angeles college, who was on active duty with the United States Army when the attacks of 9/11 took place.

What first started as an opportunity for him to give back to his country for the opportunity bestowed  upon his parents, became something more personal after Afghan terrorists bombed the twin towers and the pentagon.

With parents who migrated from the Philippines, Roque made the decision to enlist in the U.S. Army for active duty in 1997, first landing the position of military police officer in Kosovo. 

During this time there was no major combat so he was sent to a larger army base to continue law enforcement work with the army unit: 101st airborne division, or known as the screaming eagles. 

 “September 10th, 2001 was the last day of Army innocence, and when September 11th happened a whole new army and focus switched from where we were at, to the point where even operations of military police officers there went straight into combat mission, and tasked out to other units “

-Reuben Roque

Roque’s unit was tasked out to help special forces during the month of September in a city named Gillian, that stationed multiple NYPD officers. The tragedy of 9/11 struck during Roque’s shift, leaving soldiers with no radio communication upon realizing the pentagon had also been attacked, before switching to the other frequency for communication. 

The attack towards the pentagon is what causes radio transmitters to be cut off completely. 

The tragedy of 9/11 caused grief and chaos to everyone around or involved. Military responses as well as orders were becoming more harsh and forceful. 

What happened during 9/11 hit home for Roque, as it did for multiple U.S. citizens. “We were attacked here, and seeing it unfold while in combat doing something else, and this happens was shocking, so the main questions were: Who did it? Did we know? When are we going? Where are we going?” he said. 

A shift in focus, tactics, and location took place from focusing on Balkans and Europe, to Afghanistan. It was different moving forward, “Everything that happened after 9/11 was a huge shift” Roque said. The tactics the army became proficient at would work in the forest or mountains of Europe are not going to help one in the desert.

This did not come without difficulty that Roque faced the cultural challenges in Afghanistan, making it challenging because of how tribal it was there.  “As a combat veteran, I feel that many of us experienced Afghanistan in ways that civilians could never understand. Not in a combat aspect, but in other ways, like how we interacted with the people of Afghanistan,” he said. 

Overall, the stance that America took when resolving action in Afghanistan was not a strong one, said Roque. “The stance that the U.S.took hurts as an American, to know that there are still Americans stuck there, and to include two dozen Californian high schoolers,” he said. 

The 20-year war between America and Afghanistan has come to an end, but not without trial, error and major consequences, such as leaving behind innocent American citizens. 

 “I believe we (Afghanistan and combat) veterans leave a piece of ourselves with each deployment, but Afghanistan was different. We went there because our home was attacked. This had a different impetus from other combat deployments. But this deployment was also different because we (Americans) were not the only ones affected by Al Qaeda and the Taliban. We went in to help Afghanistan and its people live their lives free of the extreme views and violence of the Taliban. We (war fighters) did the best we could, with the guidance that was given to us,” said Roque. 

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