Mary was contemplating whether to join the Army on Sept. 10, 2001, after recently watching soldiers parachuting while visiting a friend in Fort Bragg, but by Sept. 11, there was no question in her mind.
Although her parents understood her compassion, it wasn’t an easy decision for them to accept from their youngest daughter.
“I told them it was the least I could do,” Mary says. “It killed me to see all those families on TV. Yeah, I was only one person, but they needed people.”
Then-Staff Sgt. Jon Schein was in his battalion commander’s officer where the battalion staff were gathered watching the news unfold.
“My battalion commander looked all of us straight in the eye and said ‘prepare for war,’ ” Jon said.
The battalion prepared for war and a deployment to a location unknown.
“It’s a lot different when something happens in your backyard,” he said. “Someone hit us where we never thought we would be attacked or in jeopardy. It’s a clench in the gut, a sick, sinking feeling, but we had a job to do.”
Since then, Jon, now a first sergeant at Fort Gordon, has been deployed seven times.
“You can speculate as much as you want on what things would have been like, but I would say at least six of my deployments were a result of Sept. 11,” he said. “The Army doesn’t send people just to send them. There’s a job to do.”
It was a deployment to Iraq in 2004 where Jon met a young specialist named Mary. Today they’re expecting their second child and Mary, who retired from the Army after marrying, is experiencing a different side of deployment.
“I don’t watch the news, can’t watch the news,” the wife said of her husband’s deployments. “If something happens I freak out, so I don’t watch it and it’s better that way.”
Deployments were especially hard after a baby was brought into the picture. One deployment took Jon away during her first pregnancy and another took him away when their son was 3 months old.
The new mother insisted her husband make a video before leaving to show to her son in case he never made it home.
“That was the toughest thing I ever did,” Jon said of the day he left his wife and child.
Since their move to Fort Gordon, Jon has been nondeployable, but an upcoming move to Fort Stewart will change that.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do when I actually have to say goodbye (to my son),” Jon said in between running to his 3-year-old every few minutes when he called “Daddy.”
Jon said it isn’t uncommon to see soldiers on their fourth and fifth yearlong rotations to combat zones.
“Sept. 11 affected our nation in a way very similar to the attack on Pearl Harbor,” he said.
Mary admitted she cries every time she sees anything about the families affected by Sept. 11.
“I at least feel like I got to do a little something to help,” she said. “I know there are a lot of people who thought we shouldn’t go, but if I was one of those families, I would want us to go.”
In addition to the nearly 3,000 lives lost in the 9/11 attacks, Jon thinks of the lives he’s seen lost in combat zones since then.
“When you see the folks and the families at the funeral, it’s tough,” he said. “They want to know everything and how it happened.”