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My 9/11 story: defending liberty

Chap. (Maj.) David Knight, the base chaplain assigned to the 28th Bomb Wing, reads his bible in his office at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., August 31, 2016. During Knight’s 14 years as an Air Force chaplain, he has been deployed four times, provided memorial services for approximately 80 troops killed in action and 1,600 patients who were wounded in action during his Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom deployments, as well as being named the 2005 Edwin Chess Award Winner (Company Grade Officer Chaplain of the Air Force). (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Denise M. Jenson)

Chap. (Maj.) David Knight, the base chaplain assigned to the 28th Bomb Wing, reads his bible in his office at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., August 31, 2016. During Knight’s 14 years as an Air Force chaplain, he has been deployed four times, provided memorial services for approximately 80 troops killed in action and 1,600 patients who were wounded in action during his Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom deployments, as well as being named the 2005 Edwin Chess Award Winner (Company Grade Officer Chaplain of the Air Force). (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Denise M. Jenson)

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. – It was a day just like any other when then Reverend David Knight drove to his Air Force recruiter’s office to drop off an application for active duty chaplaincy.

Knight had begun the application process in March 2001 after learning the age limit for chaplains to enter active duty was 40 – he was 39 at the time. He says he hadn’t been positive he would follow through with commissioning when he made the appointment, but he wanted to make the age cutoff just in case.

That all changed the second he stepped through the door of the recruiter’s office. It was approximately 10:20 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I had no cell phone when I left my home for the recruiter’s office that morning,” said Chap. (Maj.) David Knight, the base chaplain assigned to the 28th Bomb Wing. “When I arrived at the office, the recruiter was frantic as he pointed to the television and the attacks on the World Trade Center had begun. He said to me, ’Reverend Knight, I think we’re going to need you – we are at war.’”

As he watched the second WTC tower fall, Knight remembered a Bible verse – Esther 4:14, “…who knows for such a time as this that you are called to this position,” feeling a surge of passion to serve his country and a “fire in his belly” to be a chaplain. All uncertainty had disappeared.

Prior to attending Commissioned Officer Training School in April of 2002, Knight spent 15 years as a pastor in eastern Tennessee, spending the last four years planting a new church.

“It was a great experience that helped me ’think outside of the box’ when it came to ministry, but after those four years, I was ready for the next challenge.”

Knight was notified in December that he had been accepted into the Chaplain Corps, from which he commissioned on Jan. 5, 2002. In the 15 years since that day, the majority of the chaplain’s career has been directly supporting the combat operations that followed the attacks.

“Since joining the chaplain corps, I have had seven assignments and four deployments [in support of]  Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom,” Knight said. “I spent two deployments at both Kandahar and Bagram in trauma hospitals, as well as supporting combat operational units. Being able to support both wounded and dying warriors during their time of trauma is a privilege and honor that I will always cherish.”

Knight says he continues to serve to this day due to the calling deep in his soul to be an Airman. After seeing the actions of those who would bring oppression into the world, there is a fire in his heart to defend freedom and support those who do so.

“I remember an evening at Kandahar sitting around a fire talking to a group of Para-rescue warriors who were trying to recover from taking care of the killed and wounded in action who were in battle,” Knight said. “I spent hours helping them wrestle with their pain, and six months as their unit chaplain.”

“I am grateful to have this opportunity; even though I didn’t start until I was in my 40s,” he said.  “I feel that my life experiences have made me a better chaplain and a more operationally relevant leader.”

The chaplain well remembers his tie to that day 15 years ago. “Sept. 11 shaped my life’s journey and my priorities; it was as though my life began a new chapter on that day. The tragedy of that day changed me forever and gave me both a passion and purpose to be an Air Force chaplain. I probably wouldn’t be in the Air Force if it wasn’t for 9/11.”