After a call from her Californian mother woke Audra Sellers in the early morning hours of September 11, 2001, she turned on the television in her studio to see images of buildings collapsing after being struck by hijacked planes.
The Air National Guard member’s first thought was, “Oh my God. I have to call.
She eventually deployed to an air base in Saudi Arabia with the 292 Combat Communications Squadron in Operation Enduring Freedom.
“You know it’s scary when they tell you, ‘You have to turn off the lights, you don’t want to get shot'” said Sellers, who worked nights in the desert where women were not well received.
While she enjoyed her civilian job as a valet at the Four Seasons Resort, Sellers said after being deployed, “I realized how much I loved being in the military, how much I enjoyed being in the military. love being on duty and how much i loved serving.
“This is actually what brought me to the police department”, said Sellers, who was on active duty before joining the Maui Police Department in 2002 and is now a lieutenant and commander of the community relations section. “That’s why I always remember September 11th.”
For her and other veterans who served overseas in the post-9/11 war on terror, the anniversary is a reminder of how the attack changed the country and the course of their lives.
“Every September 11th happens, we mourn what happened”, said MPD officer Jared Dudoit, an Army reserve sergeant. “We are also preparing for things that could happen.
“It was a sad time, of course. But I also think that it brought Americans together and that we were able to put aside our differences to defend something of value, which is freedom. Once that happened, I know everyone was a bit united, not like we are today.
Dudoit, who worked at the front desk of a Kaanapali hotel on September 11, joined the Army Reserve a few years later.
“I felt like we had to do our part” he said.
After enlisting in 2003, he completed basic training and was deployed to Iraq a month later in March 2004 with the 411th Engineer Battalion as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom II.
When the battalion arrived in Baghdad, “there was still a lot going on, a lot of fighting was going on”, said Dudoit.
“We were tasked with building base camps to support the forces there”, said Dudoit. “We went to all the different base camps, helping them with the construction, their living quarters, the toilets. “
Battalion members put up barriers around polling stations for the country’s first election.
Dudoit’s youngest son was born in November 2004, a few months before his deployment ended in March 2005, and he returned home.
Returning to Maui, he worked for the State Department of Public Safety for two years before joining MPD in 2007.
His career decisions stem from September 11 and “maybe a little to do with a mentality of protector”, said Dudoit. “I am physically and mentally able to do the job. I think that kind of motivated me to leave the hotel and do more to protect the community. “
Now he works as a Kihei Community Police Officer and continues to serve in the Army Reserve as a Staff Sergeant leading a Reserve Platoon of the 871st Engineer Company.
MPD Sergeant. Pius Taiwerpy, who was deployed to Iraq in the same battalion as Dudoit, was attending the University of Hawaii at Hilo and the Army Reserve when a friend and reserve member woke him up with a call this Tuesday morning of 2001.
Looking at the news, Taiwerpy saw police, firefighters, paramedics and other first responders rushing to help people.
“September 11 aroused my interest in the profession of police officer” he said. “I will always remember September 11.
Holder of a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, he joined MPD on November 1, 2002, when he was starting at the police recruit academy. His wife and baby had moved to Maui, only to return to the island of Hawaii when Taiwerpy was deployed to Iraq before completing his field training.
In Baghdad, “we did a lot of convoy operations, security checkpoints, at the same time helping the Iraqis to rebuild military bases”, he said.
Upon completion of his deployment, Taiwerpy completed his recruit training to become a police officer. He left the Army Reserve in 2013. In 2017 he was promoted to Sergeant and now works in the Lahaina Patrol District.
“I like the job” he said. “I like being a police officer, helping people, serving, giving back to the community.”
Walter Sweeney, a resident of Kihei, was 15 years old and lived in Cairo, Egypt when the September 11 terrorist attacks took place.
He and his brother were shopping for their parents, buying produce in a street market, when they noticed blurry images on television of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center before it collapsed.
The brothers called home on a phone booth, speaking to their tearful mother who said: “You have to go home right away. “
“We gave up all the races and ran” the 2 miles home, he said.
“The towers had collapsed as we were running home”, he said. “At the end of the night, the Egyptians were partying in the streets. We didn’t leave the house for two and a half weeks.
Along with his grandfather’s service in the Pacific during World War II, September 11 influenced his decision to join the Marine Corps in 2007. He served in Afghanistan from June 2010 to January 2011 in Marjah, province. of Southern Helmand.
“At the time, it was the most active deployment the Marine Corps had seen in several years,” he said.
While there, he said 17 Marines were killed in action and over 200 Purple Hearts were awarded.
“We inflicted 10 times this number of victims or more”, he said. “Every day was a shootout. It was a lot less glamorous than the movies, but it was the wild Old West.
Sweeney, who teaches scuba diving at Maui Dreams Dive Co. in Kihei after moving here about three months ago, said he did community service on the last 9/11 birthdays.
Today he planned a pau hana with a small group of veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq to “Watch the sunset, have a beer and hang out for a bit.”
Taiwerpy will work at night in Lahaina.
Dudoit will participate in a military exercise.
The sellers will take the time to remember this.
“It certainly makes me reflect on the lives that have been lost and the lives that are unfolding and how important it is to do the best job and help people and tell your family that you love them because you we never know”, she said. “Everything changed that day.
* Lila Fujimoto can be contacted at [email protected]