HUDSON: Remembrance and responsibility

Twin beams of light commemorating the fallen twin towers of the World Trade Center are tested Wednesday night, Sept. 7, 2022, in New York City in advance of the 21st annual memorial of the Sept. 11 attacks. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

Sunday marked 21 years since the 9/11 terrorist attack on our homeland. This senseless act of violence struck at the very core of our nation and robbed nearly 3,000 innocent dads, moms, sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters of their lives.

Just over two decades later, the images of 9/11 remain burned into the collective memory of every soul in our nation. I still remember exactly where I was when I first heard the news of what had happened, and the tragic events of that morning played out.

September 11th, 2001, was one of the darkest days in our nation’s history. However, amid the grave evil of that day, we also witnessed some of the most courageous and heroic acts of good. We saw hundreds of first responders rush into smoke and flames in order to save strangers, as well as the brave passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 sacrifice everything in order to prevent further catastrophe. These individuals were, and continue to be, heroes in every sense of the word.

We must never forget the tragedy and heroism of 9/11. It is our responsibility to continue to honor and support all those most affected by what took place that day. This includes the thousands of brave men and women who, in the aftermath of the attack, answered the call to wear our nation’s uniform, defend freedom, and stop events like 9/11 from happening again.

Yet, many have forgotten the lessons of 9/11. And I fear the consequences of President Joe Biden’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan. This rushed and disorganized effort to pull the United States out of the region needlessly threw away years of hard-fought gains and led to the loss of billions of dollars in equipment, the abandonment of thousands of American citizens and Afghan allies, and the needless deaths of 13 brave U.S. servicemembers.

Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal was a major foreign policy and national security failure and, in many ways, a direct affront to all the servicemembers who sacrificed so much to defend freedom at home and in the region. But I will not let this stand. As Fort Bragg’s Congressman, I promise to not rest until we have a thorough review of this deadly withdrawal, get our citizens and allies out of harm’s way, and I will continue to honor the brave Americans who lost their lives serving in Afghanistan.

At the same time, leaders in Washington must also continue to support our troops and veterans with the challenges they may be facing here at home. Among these challenges, mental health is one of the greatest. According to a 2021 study, it is estimated that over 30,000 active-duty personnel and veterans who have served in the military since 9/11 have committed suicide. This is four times higher than the number of deaths resulting from military operations. The psychological and emotional burdens carried by our nation’s active-duty and veteran personnel are immense and must be addressed in a comprehensive way. This is why I have cosponsored legislation like the VA Zero Suicide Demonstration Project Act and Vet CENTERS for Mental Health Act, provisions that will help expand mental health services for veterans across the country.

Unfortunately, the mental health scourge is not the only health crisis affecting our military and country at large. Drug overdose deaths continue to surge across the United States, in large part due to opioids like fentanyl. In North Carolina, there were 3,759 deaths from opioid overdoses last year. However, this crisis is not limited to the civilian population, as reports have shown that our military is also vulnerable to this crisis. This includes our community at Fort Bragg, where accidental overdose is one of the leading causes of death for soldiers, outpacing deaths related to combat operations. It is clear we must take steps to address this crisis, including securing our border to stop drugs like fentanyl from entering our country in the first place. As your Congressman, I will work to make sure this happens.

While these are difficult topics, it is only by having an honest and direct conversation about them they can be properly addressed. I will continue to have frank conversations about the most pressing issues facing our country today and will always work to support those who have sacrificed so much for this nation.

In closing, I ask that you join Renee and me this week in praying for the family and friends of the victims and heroes of 9/11. May we never forget them and all who have served our nation since.

Richard Hudson is serving his fifth term representing North Carolina’s 8th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He currently serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee and in House leadership as the Republican Conference Secretary.