John Byrnes: As a 9/11 first responder and Afghan vet, here are my hopes for the future 20 years after attack

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Twenty years have passed, but the memories of that morning are still so clear. I stepped outside for half a minute at about 9 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001. It was a beautiful morning in New York City. It was a sunny, warm late summer day, and primary elections were just getting started.

I had been back in the military only about a year. I was an adult student at Hunter College on the Upper East Side and had joined the National Guard after a break in service from active duty to help pay for tuition. That Tuesday, after a morning swim, I sat down early for a 9 a.m. class. It was just a typical day.

Moments later, fire engines, sirens screaming, charged down Lexington Avenue outside the window. The professor couldn’t make herself heard over what seemed like the entire FDNY. After a few minutes a young woman in the rear of the class looked up from her cellphone and said:

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“An airplane just hit the World Trade Center.” And in that moment, the world changed.

I rushed to

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