‘Bravery you can’t forget’: Aspen-Snowmass locals pay tribute to 9/11 victims
9/11 REMEMBRANCE EVENTS
Time: 12 p.m.
Location: Aspen Fire Station (420 E. Hopkins Ave.)
Event: The Aspen Fire Honor Guard will lower the department flag to half-mast and several local officials will speak to attendees during a remembrance service. Speakers will include Aspen Fire Chaplain Roy Holloway, Fire Chief Rick Balentine, retired U.S. Marine Corps. Colonel Dick Merritt and Rabbi Itzhak Vardy.
Time: 6 p.m.
Location: Snowmass Town Park to the Village Mall
Event: First responders and law enforcement will lead the 3-mile Axes and Arms 9/11 Climb. Locals are welcome to join the climb anywhere along the route from Town Park to the Village Mall. A BBQ at the Slow Groovin’ restaurant will be hosted by the Roaring Fork Fire Rescue authority after the event.
On Sept. 11, a group of Snowmass first responders, law enforcement and locals will hike 3 miles from Snowmass Town Park to the Top of the Village for the fourth annual Axes and Arms 9/11 climb.
Participants will gain 956 feet in elevation during the hike, which isn’t random. It’s the highest number of feet the New York responders who went into the first World Trade Center tower climbed on Sept. 11, 2001.
“This is us just doing our part. It’s important to remember everywhere,” Jake Andersen, a battalion chief for Roaring Fork Fire Rescue, said of 9/11. “Everyone who went in there knew they might not come out, but they still went in because they knew other people were in there. That’s what they were sworn to do. … In my line of work, that’s what we’re sworn to do.”
Andersen said he sees the annual 9/11 climb as a way to remember the bravery exhibited that morning in New York City 18 years ago, and the ultimate sacrifices first responders made.
Every year, he asks participants to walk the first minute in silence. All responders show up in full uniform, and last year a firefighter who was with the New York Fire Department in 2001 drove to Snowmass from the east side of the state just for the climb, bringing an album full of photos taken at Ground Zero to share with locals after the event, Andersen said.
“It was so powerful looking through those images. … To me it’s that intense bravery you can’t forget about,” Andersen said. “(9/11) was a horrible thing but it’s important to see what good came out of it. People rose to the call to do what they swore to do and that is something that deserves remembering.”
Andersen has been a first responder in Snowmass for about eight years and is an Axes and Arms Foundation board member. The local nonprofit behind the 9/11 climb supports area emergency service providers and their families in critical times of need.
Second to remembering those who gave their lives on 9/11, Andersen hopes the Axes and Arms 9/11 Climb serves as a unifying event for the entire community.
“It’s about getting everyone together and reflecting on this beautiful place we call home and the people who have fought to keep it that way,” Andersen said. “We’re pretty lucky.”
But although the 9/11 attacks were nearly 20 years ago, their effects are still present today. Men and women are still serving with the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq as a result of the Bush administration’s mobilization of the global War on Terror in 2001. And most recently, President Donald Trump declared planned peace negotiations with the Taliban are “dead.”
Many first responders and veterans living today have a direct connection to the 9/11 attacks and their ramifications. In Pitkin County, there are about 700 resident U.S. military veterans, which is about 4% of the county population.
Most area veterans served in the Vietnam War, but some served in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to Brian Littlejohn, veteran services officer for Pitkin County.
Littlejohn isn’t one of those veterans, but he did serve six years with the U.S. Air Force as a civil engineer and was working to dismantle a U.S. military base used during the Gulf War in Saudi Arabia when 9/11 happened.
Littlejohn remembers coming out of a meeting and first learning of the attacks by watching the news, like many other Americans.
“There was a lot of confusion. I felt like we just didn’t know really what was going on or what to make of it,” Littlejohn said. “After (9/11) happened, life where we were living changed, probably like it did in the United States, and it changed pretty radically.”
Littlejohn remembers a more hardline security stance being taken after the attacks, slowing down work dismantling the base in Saudi Arabia because non-U.S. military locals were no longer allowed to help.
But what he remembers most is the shift in the culture, both while in Saudi Arabia and after he returned home.
“The biggest thing we experienced in doing our jobs was heightened uncertainty about what the future held for us and for the homeland,” Littlejohn said. “We thought, ‘Will there be more attacks coming? Are we going to be moved out of here to work some other mission?’ It was just an unsettling time, but it drew us closer.”
When Littlejohn returned after spending about six months in Saudi Arabia, he felt the U.S. was a different place from the one he left, “not in huge ways but in perceptible ways,” he said.
However, although Littlejohn feels America is forever changed and sees 9/11 as a day of remembrance, he also sees the acts of terrorism as reminders to look out for one another moving forward.
“Lots of times Americans have short memories and they’ll forget stuff that’s happened in the recent past,” Littlejohn said. “For myself, (9/11) is a day to reflect on what happened and while it is certainly sad and unfortunate, I see it as a reminder to remain vigilant … not just for America’s military members but for all of its citizens. We’re all responsible for keeping each other safe in that regard.”
This wasn’t my best work. I still stand by my original picks to win each of the snowboard contests at X Games Aspen 2023, but fate chose poorly. The main lesson? Don’t pick against Mark McMorris, Marcus Kleveland or Scotty James, unless you have a very good reason.