Four years before any of the students at Wilson Middle School were born, terrorists hijacked airplanes, directed them to strike the World Trade Centers in New York City, and plunged the United States into a time of darkness and terror.

At the Steve Geiman Stadium across the street from Wilson Middle Wednesday afternoon, a ceremony was held marking the 18th anniversary of Sept. 11.

After students, veterans and family members said the Pledge of Allegiance at the school’s first Patriot Day Assembly, guest speaker Sgt. C.J. Aiken spoke about service. Aiken has served in Augusta County with the Virginia State Police since 2010, and serves as chaplain for the 55th Special Troops Battalion of the U.S. Army Reserves at Ft. Belvoir.

Aiken, who has three daughters, one of whom attends 7th grade at Wilson Middle, joined the U.S. Army in 2010.

He was deployed to Irag from June 2017 to May 2018 as part of Operation Inherent Resolve.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Aiken said that he was a junior attending Averett University when an event “really rocked our nation to its core.”

He had had an early morning class that day, “and had no idea what had happened in New York City and at the Pentagon in northern Virginia” until he returned to his apartment where he found his three roommates watching on television as the second tower was hit by an airplane. The four young men continued to watch TV as word came that the Pentagon had been hit and another hijacked plane had crashed in Pennsylvania.

“The rest of that day was eerily silent,” said Aiken. Airplanes were restricted from flying above the United States and classes at Averett were cancelled for the rest of the week.

“And it felt like the pause button had been pushed,” he said.

Aiken said he remembers asking himself: “Who was going to protect us? Who was going to stop this from happening?”

He turned to his Christian faith in the days and months that followed.

“I sought God’s wisdom. I sought God’s peace, and I sought God’s love over that time to try to understand the events that unfolded Sept. 11. Evil and hatred attacked our country that day, but they were not successful in what they were trying to do,” Aiken said. However, what happened that day “bounded our country like never before. It brought our nation back to prayer and it definitely brought our nation back to a sense of faith.”

The one place Aiken said that he and his roommates could turn to was God.

“We felt a sincere sense of pride for our country, and nothing else said America and called us to be Americans like our flag,” Aiken said.

One of his roommates had an idea: the four young men would make a flag. Their flag was complete in one month, and, as he promised his roommates, Aiken carried that flag when he deployed to Irag. He also carried the folded flag to Wednesday’s ceremony.

“Through my ventures and travels as a Chaplain, this flag went to all the places in Iraq,” Aiken said.

Aiken said that his speaking Wednesday was not to speak about his service to his country, “but what service looks like.”

He said that “service is about taking action when called upon.”

He told the Wilson Middle students in the bleachers that service can be speaking politely to your teachers and parents every day. Service can be putting down your cell phone and having conversations with others.

“So we can set ourselves up for success when those big moments of service come to our front door.”

Aiken said he looks forward to when Wilson Middle’s students have the opportunity to carry “that torch of service over that next generation.”

Wilson Middle’s band played “America, the Beautiful” while first responders and veterans were asked to stand for recognition.

Then, a ceremony was held to retire Wilson Middle School’s United States flag.

“Our goal is just to expose our students to their rights as citizens, and to help build an appreciation of our nation [with history lesson],” said Wilson Middle Principal Vanessa H. Mundie after Wednesday afternoon’s ceremony.

This was the first year that Wilson Middle held its own Patriot Day ceremony.

“We were excited to see the turnout for the first year,” Mundie said.

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