Joey Mac Dizon: Reminisce and Pay Homage

Nov 9, 2021

Joey’s story is part “Stories of Enduring Service,” a collection of stories from veterans and advocates who were inspired to serve or whose service was impacted by 9/11. Stories of Enduring Service is a story telling element of Operation Enduring Service, a campaign to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and honor those who served in the wake of that day.

I started my first year of high school in September of 2001. The morning of September 11th, I remember my teacher turned on the TV and we started watching the news. But we didn’t understand what we were seeing— we thought it was a movie or something. Just as we realized it was real, the second plane hits. And since we were in New Jersey, we could see the smoke billowing up from Manhattan. Some of the kids had parents who worked in Manhattan or in the Twin Towers. They got called away. There weren’t really any cell phones at the time, and the landlines were completely flooded.  

I always wanted to join the Army. From the time I was a kid, I liked playing soldier, playing with GI Joe figurines, war movies, and studying military history. So I was already inspired to join the military, and 9/11 inspired me more. It wasn’t until later in high school that a friend of mine introduced me to his dad, who was a Marine veteran, and his dad’s Vietnam friends. They talked to me about the Marine Corps and convinced me to become a Marine instead.  

I wanted to be a lifer. Three days after I graduated from high school I went to Parris Island and trained to be an infantryman in the Marine Reserves. After infantry school was over, I went done to Camp Geiger in North Carolina and completed infantry school there. I then checked into my reserve unit and became a student at Norwich University, a private military college. While in college I did annual training in Norway, and also went to Mongolia for a couple weeks, and then deployed to Iraq from 2008-2009.  

I was a proud Marine grunt. This was what I signed up for, this is what I had wanted to do for my whole life. I was stationed at a small FOB of just 120 Marines by two cities near the Syrian border. We were like our own little village. I served for six years. Throughout my service, thinking of the victims of 9/11 helped motivate me to do my job and fight the bad guys, make them pay the price for what they did. 9/11 was why I was deployed. And so every September especially in New Jersey, I remember the people who died on 9/11. I also remember the American flags flying everywhere, and how unified our country felt at that time. I don’t want another 9/11, but I do want people to come together again. 

When I transitioned back to civilian life, I transitioned as a reservist. I knew people in my community who were reservists. I asked people for advice on how to transition well, and so that support helped me a lot. One of my friends from Norwich University was roommates with Jess at The Mission Continues. She posted on Facebook about volunteering with veterans, and I was immediately interested. I got connected with Jess and ended up going to Detroit for Mass Deployment. I was already volunteering through my church, so I threw my name in the hat to spend a week of service in Detroit. And then I did my second Mass Deployment in Atlanta, and then became a platoon leader here in New Jersey.  

The Mission Continues really opened up my eyes to the veteran service community. I enjoyed it tremendously and ended up being involved in other veteran service organizations too. I started my own business three years ago, and we donate 5% every month to a local nonprofit in Newark. I also am a military veteran program coordinator with Hope for Warriors, where I help veterans transition into civilian life.   

For the 20th anniversary of 9/11 I’m planning on going back to Norwich University for the 50th anniversary of our rugby team. We are going to hold a vigil and I’m sure the same emotions are going to arise. We’ll reminisce and pay homage to those who have passed away and think about those who are still being affected today, and honor those who are serving now.