FORT KNOX, Ky. –
Sept. 11, 2001, began as a normal day of a PCS for Tracy Cutler. The moving company had arrived at his house early that morning to begin to pack his family’s belongings as they prepared to relocate from Southern California to the east coast.
“One of my soldiers called me and said, ‘Turn on the TV,’” Tracy recalled.
As Tracy joined the millions of Americans who watched the two planes crash into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center complex, he says he felt his priorities shift immediately. The death toll across the three different terrorist attack sites reached the thousands, and Tracy knew the nation needed to respond, and quickly.
On Sept. 20, 2001, President George W. Bush announced the war on terrorism. Four months later, Tracy, a master sergeant and Army recruiter, was selected to deploy overseas to assist in the set-up and restructuring of the Afghan National Army and inception of the Afghan Recruiting Command.
His job essentially was to help Afghanistan recruit for the Afghan army, who would go on to fight alongside U.S. soldiers as the war on terrorism continued.
“It was tough, but it was a rewarding job,” Tracy said, “because I really felt like, on a global level, I got to make a difference during that time.”
After an 18-month deployment, he came home and returned to his recruiting role. The events of 9/11 were a call-to-action for many young women and men who were inspired to enlist.
“The want to serve was much, much higher than it is right now,” says Tracy, who currently works as a Department of the Army civilian for U.S. Army Recruiting in Seattle.
He has memories of more than 100 recruits packing the field at Angel Stadium of Anaheim as part of a mass enlistment ceremony he and his fellow recruiters coordinated to happen before a major playoff game. Right by his side at the ceremony was his son, Nathen, who was 7 years old at the time.
Immersed in Army culture from a young age, Nathen enlisted in ROTC at the University of Montana after high school. While a cadet at Missoula’s flagship university, he was also a member of the Montana National Guard.
When it comes to service to country and the motivations therein, the father-son duo’s story reveals an interesting dynamic. Tracy spent years recruiting young people who were motivated to join the Armed Forces because of 9/11, while Nathen, now 24, was too young to recall the events of the day.
Army recruiting now faces what it calls the “most challenging labor market since the inception of the all-volunteer force,” with recruiting shortfalls plaguing the military branches and no significant event like 9/11 spurring recruits to raise their right hand.
Still, there are applicants within the Army’s target market, like Nathen, who are making the choice to serve. What resonates most with him about 9/11 is what his father has shared – that America was under attack and his dad sprang into action. And he attributes his decision to join the Army to the vast “opportunities” he’s seen through his father’s service.
As of May 2023, Nathen is a newly commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in the Army. His mother and father flew to Missoula for the ceremony.
“When we did that first salute, it was like something out of a movie,” says Tracy. “[Nathen] gave me a silver dollar, and I almost lost it. I had to keep telling myself to keep it together, because I was so proud of him.”