Justin Craft was going through the usual routine of a school day on Sept. 11, 2001, when the unthinkable happened.
An airplane crashed into the side of one of the World Trade Centers massive towers. Then another.
Though young at the time, Craft had already been thinking of joining a branch of the United States armed forces.
As he stood in the office of West Point Middle School, where he worked one period as an assistant, Craft was witnessing an event on television that would open a long, costly war.
Craft would soon become a front-line participant in the war against terrorism, wearing the uniform of the U.S. Marine Corps.
“I couldn’t believe it was happening. I was working in the office at school and there was a television on and we just all stopped and watched,” Craft said. “By 2006 I graduated from West Point High and was off to the Marine Corps.”
Craft, who just recently left the service, now works as an officer for the Cullman Police Department. Following boot camp with the Marines, he was sent on two deployment, the second to the dangerous war zone in Afghanistan.
As a member of a Marine platoon, before the troop surge, Craft was stationed in a rugged camp in a field. Patrols were frequent. And danger was often lurking nearby.
“The Taliban are smart with their tactics. You had to alert and take your job seriously,” Craft said. “Most of our problems were in the daytime. We were better than them at night because of our equipment, so it wasn’t as much of a problem.”
The Marine base was made of dirt and blocks, not the most comfortable facility. But it was a war zone.
“There were 12 in our company that didn’t come home. You’re on patrol one day with a buddy and then there not with you anymore,” he remembered.
Some days the camp would be hit with sniper fire. There was also a bold attack on a police station, which included a suicide attack with a truck loaded with explosives.
* Read more in the Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, print or e-edition of The Cullman Times.