‘They want to make sure their loved ones are not forgotten:’ Organizers feel urgency to establish Global War on Terrorism Memorial
WASHINGTON — When 13 U.S. service members were killed in a bombing at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan on Aug. 26, Americans across the country found ways to pay tribute.
Veterans and service members gathered at the Iowa Jima Memorial in Arlington., Va., for a candlelight vigil, and hundreds of Americans marched in San Clemente, Calif. San Clemente, a military town, is home to Camp Pendleton, where 10 of the dead troops were based.
Across the Northeast, breweries and restaurants lined up 13 beers, reserving one for each service member who died. Small ceremonies were held in other parts of the United States, from North Carolina to Ohio, Wisconsin and Arizona, in the hometowns of the service members who died and in places they had never been.
The instinct to gather and memorialize is natural, said Marina Jackman. And she argued it’s past time America had a dedicated place to honor veterans and service members of the Global War on Terrorism.
Jackman, an Army veteran and military spouse, is the president of the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation.
With the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks Saturday, the foundation is putting a renewed focus toward establishing a Global War on Terrorism Memorial as a place for veterans to gather and other Americans to learn about conflicts such as Afghanistan and Iraq. However, the foundation has received some pushback from Congress, which must pass legislation in order for the memorial to be placed on the National Mall.
“We inherently turn to each other at times like these, especially in the veteran community,” she said. “I can’t help but think we really don’t have a place to call our own to do that.”
The bombing last month was the deadliest attack against U.S. forces in Afghanistan since Aug. 6, 2011. It occurred while the world was watching U.S. forces rush to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies from Kabul, which had been taken over just days earlier by the Taliban.
The U.S. military officially withdrew from Afghanistan on Aug. 30, marking the end of its 20-year mission in the country. The closing of that chapter, along with the 20th anniversary of 9/11, has led to an urgency among Gold Star families who want to ensure their loved ones are remembered for decades to come.
“I've seen it described as like a scab kind of ripped off all over again,” Jackman said of the past few weeks. “It’s been a very sensitive time for these families, there’s that sense of heightened urgency. They want to make sure their loved ones are not forgotten.”
Jackman and other foundation members are striving to establish the memorial on the National Mall. The effort has been underway since 2015, but it’s recently hit an obstacle.
In 2003, Congress approved a law deeming the National Mall complete and prohibiting any more development in a section described as the “reserve.” The reserve encompasses the central area of the National Mall, from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and from the White House to the Jefferson Memorial, as well as from the Tidal Basin to the Potomac River.
The law was approved because of the concern over a loss of open space on the mall. Between 1980 and 2000, seven new memorials were established there.
In order to create a Global War on Terrorism Memorial, Congress must pass legislation that would exempt it from the 2003 law.
“This is important enough to have it in that sacred space,” Jackman argued. “It sends a message to how we value the service of this generation — the generation of our nation’s longest war.”
Legislation was introduced in the House and Senate last year to exempt the memorial from the 2003 law, but it failed to gain traction in Congress. Jackman is trying again this year.
Reps. Jason Crow, D-Colo., and Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., reintroduced the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Location Act earlier this year. Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., are leading the bill in the Senate.
The Senate subcommittee on national parks, which is part of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, held a hearing on the issue earlier in the summer. Jackman is optimistic the bill will make its way through the Senate. The biggest obstacle, she said, is the House.
Forty family members of deceased service members wrote in June to Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, asking him to hold a hearing about the bill.
“As we pass a significant marker in the Global War on Terrorism with the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, we believe that the time is now right for the GWOT Memorial to be constructed,” the families wrote. “Such a memorial will serve as a touchstone for the nation — as we honor, remember, reflect, and heal. It will help our society turn the page on a long chapter in history, during which so many gave so much.”
Grijalva’s office responded to the letter Tuesday evening. In a letter, he wrote he doesn’t disagree with the merit of the memorial, but he argued the bill might go too far in outlining specific locations where it should be located.
“There are issues we need to resolve to everyone’s satisfaction before finalizing the bill,” Grijalva wrote. “With those issues in mind, it is important that this committee hold hearings of its own to better understand the merits of the proposal and determine the best path forward.”
Grijalva didn’t say when he would hold a hearing, only that his staff would schedule it before the end of the year.
Jackman said Tuesday that she was “disappointed” Grijalva hadn’t yet added a hearing to the calendar.
“We just hope Congress will give us the opportunity to at least have our elected officials have the conversation,” Jackman said. “It's too important not to.”
While the memorial foundation is lobbying Congress for the exemption, the rest of the process to establish the memorial is on hold. The federal process is 24 steps, and site selection involves steps nine through 12.
If Congress does pass an exemption that allows for the memorial to be built on the National Mall, it will likely take at least another four to five years before the memorial is established, Jackman said. Later steps include fundraising and deciding the memorial’s design.
Jackman said the foundation could hold a nationwide competition to select a design. The exact guidelines haven’t been decided, but organizers want the memorial to capture the fact that the Global War on Terrorism has been fought by a diverse group of volunteer service members across multiple generations. They also want the memorial to pay homage to military families and acknowledge the mental health struggles faced by many post-9/11 veterans.
While the memorial could be a place for veterans and service members to gather, Jackman also believes it could serve as an educational tool for Americans who weren’t alive during the 9/11 terrorist attacks or old enough to understand the fallout.
“I’ve heard people refer to it as the Pearl Harbor of our generation, because the younger generation just doesn’t connect with it so viscerally the way we do,” Jackman said. “It’s already been so long that it’s starting to have the effect of the history book chapters on it getting shorter and shorter.”