NEW YORK, N.Y. — As the eleventh anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks begins, many military members throughout the world are taking time out of their day to try and remember the tragedy.
Some bases will be holding official memorial ceremonies, but many others will feature unofficial question and answer sessions throughout the day.
"Is that a new convenience store?" asked 18-year old Army Private Nathan Samuels, confusing the al-Qaeda led terrorist attack on 9/11 with 7/11, a popular convenience store chain that terrorizes customers' intestines with microwaved burritos.
While a large portion of today's military either watched the tragedy on television or were mobilized in response, a growing number of service members simply have no idea what 9/11 signifies.
About 20% of the entire US military is under the age of 21, with the youngest born in 1995, meaning they were anywhere from 6 to 10 years-old on the date of the attacks.
A newly-released Department of Defense poll shows a stark rift in the military: most troops above the age of 25 usually have some recollection of the event, as indicated by their response of "I remember." Below that age, however, the responses varied between "No Idea" and "Wait, there were two identical towers in NYC before?"
"It's really very surprising that we have soldiers who don't know what this date means," said David Mills, an Army historian. "We've had 'Remember The Alamo' and 'Remember Pearl Harbor' become national refrains. Now we have guys confusing 9/11 with an emergency number, or asking me 'why we shot that weird-looking bearded dude in Pakistan'."
"Last year, when we had a September 11th memorial ceremony, I just about lost my damn mind," said Marine Sergeant Paul Stewart. "After the Chaps started talking about what happened that morning in New York and D.C., this Private turns to me confused and says, 'Wait, that was today?'"
"Another one even got pissed off at the Japs for attacking New York City in 2001."
Confusion doesn't just affect younger military members, however. A Duffel Blog reporter spoke with some older troops who witnessed the events.
"Yeah, I watched the attacks on television in my senior year of high school," said Staff Sergeant Nathan Ellis. "I knew right then and there that Saddam Hussein needed to be stopped, and I would do my part to help."
One sailor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, believes that the attacks that day were an "inside job".
"They want you to believe that it was these goat herders in Afghanistan, but I know it was the Mossad. All the Jews in the towers were told to not go to work that day," said the anonymous sailor, a 24-year-old red-headed EM2 who works in the Combat Information Center on the USS Carl Vinson. "And then, at the same time the Israelis were blowing up the buildings in New York, George Bush attacked the Pentagon."
Despite the problems in understanding, many commanders will be using it as an opportunity to educate their troops.
"It's really an important time to reflect back and think about why we're here, fighting the fight, and helping the people of Afghanistan," said Captain Alan Hendricks, a company commander with 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines in Helmand Province.
"The events of September 11th awakened the sleeping giant and we continue to fight those terrorists today."
"But sir," asked Private Franklin Inglee, "where are all these al-Qaeda terrorists we're supposed to be fighting?"
When Captain Hendricks responded 'Pakistan', Private Inglee then asked, "So why are we in Afghanistan?"
After the Captain responded that the US was preventing them from returning to Afghan soil, the Private persisted:
"But couldn't they just do all their operations out of Pakistan now? I mean, why would they bother coming back to this shithole? And how does this involve poppy, Afghan police corruption, girls' schools, or the Taliban?"
"See, that's why you're not an officer," said Hendricks. "You can't see the obvious connection!"
"We were attacked on 9/11 by a group of Saudis, Emiratis, and a Lebanese, led by an Egyptian. Which is why we're at war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen."
In related news, al Qaeda's youngest terrorists released a propaganda video today, praising the 9/11 attacks as "a just revenge against the infidel Americans for their unprovoked invasion of Afghanistan."
Duffel Blog Investigative Reporter G-Had also contributed to this report.