Lt. Col. Frank Sobchak, commander of the U.S. Army Garrison-Natick, remembers the growing concern he and his classmates at Georgetown University felt on Sept. 11, 2001 when their normally prompt Arabic studies professor did not show. After rumors began circulating about a small plane crash in New York City, the class left and from the campus, Sobchak watched across the Potomac River as the Pentagon burned.
"Right from the get-go, [I knew] my life is going to change," said Sobchak, who was studying for his graduate degree after previously serving as a special forces captain. At the time of the attacks, he was taking classes like Counter-terrorism and Low-Intensity Conflict with prominent professors, such as a member of the National Security Council and the assistant secretary of defense.
But going to graduate school meant that Sobchak would have to "pay back" his time by training troops at West Point to fight in the war overseas, while he stayed behind.
"For me, despite the fact that our nation was attacked and that civilians were purposely targeted and murdered, I knew I was not going to be in the fight right away, which for me was hard because I pretty much trained my entire adult life— and to be honest, even part of my childhood— to protect people and to defend those that can't defend themselves," said Sobchak, who took over as garrison commander in Natick in June.
But with our nation at war, Sobchak's role took on a new importance, knowing that every person he trained would be leading their own platoons of 20 to 40 soldiers less than a year after their graduation.
"Those first years, even though I wasn’t in the fight and it was personally frustrating and it was hard—I really did everything I could and spent extra time training the future second lieutenants so that I would know that those that I touched—when they took people to war— that I'd done everything I could so I would not look and see blood on my hands," said Sobchak.
In 2005, Sobchak was deployed to Iraq, where he served for seven months, before becoming a U.S. legislative liaison for special forces operations command. He worked with members of the U.S. Congress, traveling to countries such as Bangladesh, Chad, Yemen, Kenya, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan. The experience, helping member of Congress understand what the department of defense has been doing to fight against terrorism, is something that he said he never would have predicted doing as a result of 9/11.
Ten years after the attacks, Sobchak is grateful that men and women continue to volunteer for military service.
"When most of us woke up on that September morning and went to work, or in my case, went to grad school, we could never have imagined what could have happened. We never could have imagined that we would be at war...and that we'd be in an extended period of conflict," said Sobchak.
"It makes me very proud that as an army and as a nation, we continue to have people—young men and women, sons and daughters—sign up to join into the military services knowing absolutely without a question that in all likelihood in the next six months, they see a very high probability of being deployed and actually being in combat."
This Sept. 11, the Natick Soldier Systems Center will honor Patriot Day, an annual national day of remembrance declared in 2001, with a ceremony and a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., the time the first plane hit the World Trade Center.