Boonsboro High School graduate Kevin Hurlbrink was training at Fort Gordon, Ga., when hijacked jetliners tore into the Pentagon and World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
His battalion commander told his unit that America was under attack. At first, they believed the announcement was some kind of "crazy training."
"Initially, we had thought he was joking or blindsiding us with some kind of crazy training," Hurlbrink recently wrote in an email. "He went on to explain that two planes had struck the towers of the World Trade Center."
His comments that follow were made in several emails over about a week, both while he was heading to Afghanistan and after his arrival there.
According to the Associated Press, 2,977 people died as a result of the attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and in the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa. The figures do not include the 19 hijackers aboard the four airplanes involved.
Hurlbrink said the soldiers gathered in front of a television to watch the events unfold.
"These four attacks in one day pretty much shut down all military bases, including ours," Hurlbrink said. "I spent a few hours of that evening rotating on and off guard duty. We were guarding a parking lot, from what I'm not sure, but I guess it kind of speaks to the chaos and uncertainty of the day."
In the following weeks, the training tempo in the Army stepped up to prepare troops for the upcoming war on terrorism.
Hurlbrink, 30, said he was deployed to Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division from August 2003 to April 2004.
"It was definitely a scary time," he said. "... Hands down, the hardest part of being in a battle zone is the danger you potentially face. Probably the worst danger I faced on my deployment in the Army was taking mortar fire, occasional RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) attacks, and I hated going on convoys. Keep in mind my deployment predated the MRAP (mine resistant ambush protected) vehicle. Initially, we didn't even have armored humvees. It was pretty much a roll of the dice every time we went outside the wire on convoys."
Hurlbrink left the Army after serving four years. He joined the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard, and recently deployed with the unit to serve a six-month tour in Afghanistan.
'For our country'
Hurlbrink's wife, Angela, said the two met in 2004 when he returned from his deployment to Iraq. They've been married for six years and have two daughters, 2-year-old Presley and Marley, who is 5.
She said she drove with Kevin to Norfolk, Va., to see him off about two weeks ago.
Now that her "best friend" is gone, Angela Hurlbrink said she has to become both a mother and a father to their daughters.
"Everything's just doubled," she said. "But we're a tough bunch. Marley knows that her daddy is doing his duty for our country. That's his job."
Angela Hurlbrink said that before her husband left, he gave Marley a stuffed bear with a recorded message that said, "I love you, Marley. Be a good girl and listen to your mommy. I'll see you soon."
Kevin Hurlbrink said his current deployment is nothing like the first.
"Then, I was in my early 20s, not very well established and had no family of my own," he said. "Now ... it's much more difficult. I have a small business that I have to burden my wife with who has a job of her own, two little girls who have no understanding of what's going on or why and an overweight chocolate lab that will probably pace the house until I return.
"Nothing has ever been as hard as trying to explain to my 5-year-old, Marley, why Daddy has to go away for so long, and why he won't be home for Christmas and birthdays. It makes the deployment that much more difficult."
The distress on military families also affects the parents of deployed soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen.
Wilma Galliker of Keedysville, whose son, Chief Warrant Officer John Galliker Jr., is serving as an infantry weapons officer with the Marines in Afghanistan, said she still worries even though her son has done two tours of duty in Iraq and two more in Afghanistan since 9/11.
"You just never know what's going to happen to them," she said. "It's hard for the whole family, especially for his wife and children. It doesn't get any easier with each deployment."
She said her son had long wanted to be a Marine and joined in 1988. He also completed a tour of duty during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
"He's very patriotic," Wilma Galliker said. "He doesn't talk about his situation. I think it's hard for all of them to talk about what they've gone through."
Retired Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Dan Smith of Fairplay said he sometimes finds it hard to talk about the job he did during a deployment to Iraq from 2004-05.
His job required assessing damaged vehicles, including some that had been mangled by IEDs (improvised expolsive devices). Fortunately, he said, the vehicles were emptied before they got to him.
He said he retired from the military in 2006, but as a former Reservist, the Army can call up the 49-year-old until he turns 60.
Being away from home was hard for him. Smith said he missed his son Ryan's eighth-grade graduation.
"It was a big step for him, and I wasn't here to see it," Smith said. "I guess it was harder on him than me ... The hardest part was being away from my family, but it was probably more stressful on the families over here than on us over there."
Smith's wife, Shelly, said her husband's deployment was a "long year." She said she sent him care packages to help her cope with their time apart.
"It was constant stress and worry," she said. "My biggest meltdown was on our anniversary."
Although they were able to talk on the phone, Shelly said the communications system wasn't as sophisticated as it is now. As a result, their calls often were disconnected.
"We didn't know if the conversation would last a minute or two minutes," she said. "I always made sure to say, 'I love you,' because I didn't know if we would get cut off."
Shelly Smith said she still gets nervous thinking about Dan returning to duty.
"He's retired, but he can still be called up until he's 60," she said. "I don't want to go through that again. I love him too much. I don't want him to go back over there."