EAGAN, Minn. — On this somber anniversary of 9/11, it is fitting to remember brave heroism in the line of service, the sorrow of victims' families and the ongoing sacrifices put forth to keep Americans safe from terrorist acts.
Seventeen years after the tragedy, the work remains. Men and women from the 945th FST, a surgical medical support team based at Fort Snelling that is part of the U.S. Army Reserves, are preparing for a deployment to Afghanistan.
The Vikings were proud to host service members from the 945th FST at a closed walk-through session and the annual night practice during Verizon Vikings Training Camp last month.
Running back Latavius Murray was among the Vikings players and coaches who welcomed the group after the walk-through session by signing autographs and posing for photos.
"I wanted to introduce myself and wish you the best of luck over there and thank you," Murray said. "I know how it is and how it could be, at least a little bit."
Murray's fiancée, Shauntay Skanes, is currently in her 10th year of serving in the Navy. The couple celebrated the birth of their first child, a son named Major, last week. They have known each other since Murray was a preteen and have been in a relationship the past two years, during which Murray has learned more about the sacrifices of service members. He also visited troops stationed in Germany and Italy on a USO Tour in April.
"I have that perspective on it, and it's much easier for me now than ever before to connect and understand [what military families experience]," Murray said.
"I think, obviously, with what they're getting ready to do, I'm sure it's mentally tough," Murray said. "You're going to be away from family, away from home, so I think going into it, you need all the support, all the encouragement that you can get."
Maj. Paul Jarett, who was able to bring his wife and three children ages 11, 7 and 4 to the practice, said the 945th FST appreciated the experience.
"It was very nice to have us out here and treat us like we're being treated," said Maj. Jarett, who is approaching his 24th year of active duty or reservist service.
The visit provided respite from the stress of the upcoming deployment, a mission that is months in the making.
"We are trying to do things that really focus on our families, on our job, the mission we're going to have in Afghanistan and just get ready for it however we can, be best prepared," Maj. Jarett said. "It's a little anxiety-provoking, but it's something that we enjoy doing. We go into it with a positive outlook. It's just serving our country, so we're happy to do it.
"There's a portion of us that have been together for several years, that have gone on deployments together, and now we're going on another deployment together," Maj. Jarett added. "We also pick up and drop off certain individuals, but most of the team has been trained for a year prior to this, so we train exactly for what we're hopefully going to be doing over there and get to know each other, work with each other so that we're all on the same page."
Maj. Jeb Kotzian, whose 15-year anniversary of taking the oath had fallen on the day prior to the visit, Maj. Justin Towne and Capt. Colin Ryan said they were concerned about making plans for their family while they are overseas.
"We have four kids, and you're always not around to do the things you want to be able to do," Maj. Kotzian said. "That's always the biggest piece of preparation."
The three said watching football and other American sports helps them feel more connected during deployments.
"I think it was a nice distraction from the austere environment that you were in," Maj. Towne said. "It reminds you of home."
Capt. Ryan also said the 2014 Winter Olympics helped during a deployment.
"That was cool to be there and root for your own country," he said.
Kotzian's Vikings memories date back to helping shovel snow at Met Stadium and watching Ahmad Rashad fly down the field.
He made it a point to mention watching football with colleagues Daniel Shay, Brett Springsted and John Shotten on a previous mission.
"Those guys would splice together paper clips and gum and a cat-5 wire just to be able to watch a game," Maj. Kotzian said. "It was a great morale boost."
Murray said he will be thinking about the brave men and women during their deployment.
"I think when you look at it, from a mental standpoint, they deal with a lot," Murray said. "I think when you're overseas, especially in certain places, you see things and kind of have to get accustomed to a new lifestyle to maybe where when you come back home, it's very hard to adjust to, so I think the mental part of it can be very hard on a lot of our troops.
"I think that's why they need our support, our encouragement," he added. "They need to know that we appreciate them and what they're doing and sacrificing for us."