20 Years Since 9/11: Serving With a Sense of Meaning and Purpose

Jul 14, 2021

The Mission Continues is launching “Beyond 9/11: Operation Enduring Service,” a campaign marking the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, and kicking off the next 20 years of a veteran-led service in our country. To learn more about the campaign, visit our webpage.

Rogelio Villa always had an interest in joining the military, but when he became a father at 17 while still in high school, his life unexpectedly changed. It would not be the last time. On September 11, 2001, Rogelio was facilitating ESL classes for adult learners, mostly mothers, who were trying to learn English as a second language. He was driving back to work as he switched on the radio and began hearing the breaking news reports of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center.

“My thoughts were like everybody else’s—just trying to figure out what was going on. I pulled into an alleyway when I heard about the second plane,” said Rogelio. “The next thing I know, I got a call from work saying that they were closing down the building and, wherever I was, to stay put and wait for further notice.”

He felt a wave of emotions. First shock and confusion, which led to anger and concern for his family. After calling his wife to check in and determine that his kids were safe, he then felt sadness.
“That was ultimately the feeling that I had at the end because of all those lives that were lost or missing. 9/11 made us realize that we’re not invincible but it brought in a sense of purpose, community, togetherness, and unity across the nation.”

Nearly a year after that fateful day, Rogelio joined the Army National Guard as an infantryman. He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, not knowing exactly what he was hoping to accomplish but nevertheless driven by a sense of duty, purpose, and desire to give back.

“I was in firefights, contacts, pulled security, was a convoy gunner; I even got to provide security for the schools there. We did humanitarian support missions where we got to meet the locals. It was amazing, I was still feeling like I was doing my part after 9/11.” 

After Rogelio transitioned out of the Army National Guard, he held on to the desire to serve others that attracted him to join the military. While working with the YMCA Urban Warriors in Chicago to connect veterans with at-risk youth, he was introduced to The Mission Continues. He would go on to volunteer, and eventually earn a position as the Chicago Platoon Leader.

“It was awesome because now I feel like I have these tools to help me do my work and I’m still there now. It’s funny because it looks like I keep coming back to that community where I was born and raised, where I found out about The Mission Continues, and where I was when 9/11 happened.”

Rogelio intends to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 by supporting his partners in youth violence intervention and leading the Chicago platoon.

“I hope to get out there to do some good work and continue to serve, but instead of serving with weapons, serving with a sense of meaning and purpose in our hearts and in our hands. 9/11 is a sad chapter in this country’s life. But I think it’s also great to be able to honor those who served and those heroes who never made it back. I think there’s no better way than to continue doing work in my community and to honor them through service. For me, I take great pride and I’m very proud to be able to be part of The Mission Continues in celebrating and honoring the 20th anniversary of 9/11.”

As the legacy of 9/11 transitions from living memory into U.S. history, the stories of those who were inspired to serve, or to continue serving, in the wake of 9/11 must be told. We have launched a storytelling platform on our website to share these inspiring stories of service. All are encouraged to submit their stories through a webform by clicking here or visiting www.missioncontinues.org/shareyourstory.

Serve alongside Rogelio and the Chicago Service Platoon during the Operation Enduring Service Chicago Signature Service Project by clicking here or visiting https://www.missioncontinues.org/event/details/?id=a1l1W000009q9mIQAQ

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