At 8:50 a.m. on September 11, 2001, second period began. Four minutes earlier, American Airlines Flight 11 had crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.  At that moment, however, the students and teachers at my suburban Ohio high school remained blissfully unaware.

On that cool, fall morning my gym class went outside to play tennis.  When we came back we heard that an announcement had been made over the loud speakers- two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center, both towers were on fire.  Amongst the students, no one even knew what the World Trade Center was, but we sensed by the reaction of the teachers around us that something was very wrong.  Minutes later flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. We knew what that was. “Terrorists” murmured through the student body like wildfire.

One student neared panic as she remembered her father was on a business trip in New York City.  Without a pause our teacher handed her his phone and she began frantically dialing. Other teachers made half hearted attempts to continue their lessons as a distraction, while parents frantically tried to get in touch with their children.

In scattered classrooms throughout the building CNN and FoxNews were blaring, while in others the televisions remained black as teachers were concerned that the images on would cause panic among the students.  I wouldn’t first see the now infamous images of the planes hitting the towers or their later collapse till I returned home hours later.

I was barely a teenager on 9/11, but these memories will stay with me forever.

For many in my generation, the events of September 11, 2001 shattered our naiveté and changed our perspective of the world.  Coming of age in the War on Terror, we were defined by it.  For me, it defined my career.  Ten years ago, I dreamed of being a doctor or a teacher.  Yet, years later I would find myself instead immersed within the homeland security and counterterrorism issues that first touched the nation that day nearly a decade ago.

The turning point came in 2008, during my internship at The Heritage Foundation. I was again exposed to the issues within homeland security, but for the first time was able to see the implications of good and bad public policy. Today, there is no doubt that America is safer than it was on September 10, 2001, but with at least 40 publically known thwarted terrorist  attacks since 9/11, it is clear that the terrorist threat remains.   Ensuring that the nation never again experiences the tragedy of another 9/11, requires a dedication to smart and effective homeland security policy.