Let me begin by commending Faith Miller and the 9/11 Memorial Foundation Board for their tireless efforts to support New Jersey’s 9/11 families and for the construction and maintenance of the Empty Sky Memorial. You honor the memories and lives of all those we lost on that fateful day.
On behalf of our State, I would like to acknowledge and offer sympathies to the families of the 749 New Jersey residents who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. This number represents nearly one-quarter of all those who perished 15 years ago.
15 years. It’s strange to say, in large part because—like you—I recall that terrible day in vivid detail. I remember the horror, the panic, the confusion, the concern about our family and friends, the frantic telephone calls, the news feeds showing thousands of people injured or dead. The fear that follow-on attacks were coming.
To those of you here who lost family members, I cannot begin to imagine the pain you feel every day. The reality is that this pain persists every birthday, every anniversary, every special occasion, and every holiday. What I can say is that our deepest sympathy and uncompromising support are always with you.
What I also want to say is thank you. Thank you for your strength. Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for giving your towns, this State—indeed, this Nation—a model to live up to and emulate.
15 years ago today, I was 24, living in South Bend, Indiana, and attending graduate school at the University of Notre Dame. I was awoken that morning by a phone call from my sister, who told me that a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers and another had struck the Pentagon. I immediately turned on the television and for all of that day, like all Americans, I was glued to the screen. I called friends who worked downtown near the World Trade Center and touched base with family to ensure everyone was ok.
When I came home to New Jersey a week after 9/11 and saw the devastation firsthand, the pain that I had felt began to give way to Hope and Strength. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people rushed to Ground Zero to help look for survivors and deliver aid. Americans from all over our great land—including from right here across the Hudson—sent food, clothing, and supplies to New York City. Our Nation, as if stirred by the patriotic impulses of community and harmony, began to witness neighbors helping neighbors, American flags flying from buildings and homes, and a sense of “What can I do to help?”
We were going through this together. It was a tragedy we all felt, losses we all internalized, and only through hope, through love, were we able to endure as an American family.
These behaviors shifted the course of my life…forever. They showed me that even though our ancestors may come from different countries, even though we may speak different languages, and even though we may pray in different houses of worship, our American hearts beat as one. They instilled in me, as I am sure they did in you, a sense of duty and responsibility to do my part to ensure these heinous acts never happened again.
Like many Americans, and many of you here today, 9/11 propelled me into a life of public service—service to my Country and to my American family. I joined the Central Intelligence Agency, largely because I was committed to rooting out—and bringing to justice—those who perpetrated the attacks and those who continued to threaten our Homeland. I worked alongside my US military brothers and sisters to hunt down and destroy al-Qa’ida’s terror networks throughout the globe, including in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia.
Before I left for a tour in Iraq in 2006, some of my family members and friends asked me why I volunteered to go and why I would put myself in harm’s way.
What I said was…“I want to do my part.” Through my intelligence support to the military, I thought I would be able to help keep American husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, daughters, and sons a little bit safer so they would be able to return home to their loved ones. Because whether we realized it or not, we all made a commitment to each other after 9/11 to protect each other and to keep each other safe.
15 years after 9/11, I would argue these sentiments, these commitments, remain as clear as they have ever been. Our fight is not over and our struggle for security will be long and difficult. It will test our patience, our will, and our fortitude.
Because nowadays, like a cancer, the al-Qa’ida network that attacked us on September 11th has metastasized into a more decentralized and diffuse threat. In response to our swift and devastating actions against al-Qa’ida in the years following 2001, our adversaries adapted. Their followers, some now affiliated with ISIS, have conducted brutal and inhumane attacks here at home in San Bernardino and Orlando. They have imposed horror on free people around the world—in France, in Belgium, and in Canada. Tragically, these types of attacks are becoming commonplace and, in truth, they will continue.
Here in the New York/New Jersey area, with the help of our federal and state law enforcement and homeland security partners, we are trying to keep up. Collectively, we have garnered many operational successes, thwarting plots and attacks planned for right here. The harsh reality, to use a baseball analogy, is that we have to keep throwing strikes while our adversaries only need a base hit to demonstrate success and inspire others.
But here is another reality—we are, all of us, in this fight together. And whatever the threat, whoever the adversary, what history has shown time and time again is that an America united will always overcome and it will always prevail.
In this vein, I often say that homeland security has now become hometown security. And in an environment where our adversaries can strike at any time and in any place, the public—you—are our first line of defense. So, to the citizens of our State who “see something and say something” or who volunteer in their communities, thank you for doing your part. To the street cop or the first responder, whether here in Jersey City, or nearby in Hoboken or Weehawken, these heroes risk their lives to keep us safe, doing their part to keep the peace. We all have a part to play and we all have a responsibility to each other to keep our American family safe and secure.
I use the term “family” deliberately. All of us are united by a common bond, a common vision for the kind of country we want to be and live in. One in which our children—many of whom have, or are, growing up in the shadow of 9/11—can live in a world where they freely and safely enjoy all that life has to offer. We sometimes take for granted that this situation is rare throughout the world, especially in war-torn regions like Syria, Iraq, and Libya. My wife and I have 3 children, who are 7, 5, and 1, and we both pray every night that they will never be forced to experience the horrors we have experienced; that we they will never have to confront the evil we face today; that they, in the final analysis, will live lives devoid of fear and full of endless possibilities.
I’d like to leave you today with a couple final thoughts. There is a sign at CIA Headquarters, where I used to work. It welcomes all those who arrive each and every day in the Agency’s Counterterrorism Center. That sign reads, “Today is September 12, 2001.”
And so, in the shadow of the Freedom Tower, the very symbol of our country’s strength and resilience in the face of great tragedy, let us re-adopt the spirit of this statement.
It is in this spirit that the office I lead, the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness—which is charged with the defense of our State from terrorist acts—presses forward on a day-to-day basis. And it is in this spirit that I leave you today with these words.
May God continue to bless the souls of those we lost; may He continue to imbue family members, friends, and those of us left behind with strength and resilience. And may God bless our cities, our towns, our State, and our Great Nation.
Director Chris Rodriguez