Air Force and Army ROTC Hold 9/11 Vigil Amid COVID-19

PROVO, Utah – Nov 07, 2020 – On a bright 11 September morning at the sound of a reveille bugle call, BYU Marriott School of Business Air Force and Army ROTC students solemnly raised the American flag and played a recording of the national anthem. On BYU campus in front of the Abraham O. Smoot Administration Building, the cadets stood firm—masks on, standing six feet apart—while guarding the flag, a symbol that represents America and its ability to stand strong no matter what trial may come.

Even social distancing guidelines did not stop BYU ROTC cadets from joining together to hold a 9/11 vigil honoring the fallen. The cadets successfully adapted the ROTC’s annual event, adhering to the health guidelines while commemorating the nineteenth anniversary of 9/11.

Starting at 8 a.m., cadets took twenty-minute shifts in pairs, standing side by side at attention and respectfully guarding the flag. The cadets placed a wreath of flowers and a sign beside the flagpole. The sign stated their reason for performing the vigil and asked passersby to not disturb the cadets at attention.

Josh McMullan, a senior in the Air Force ROTC program from Meridian, Idaho, helped plan and execute the vigil. To him, the twenty minutes standing guard was a time of reflection about what happened on 9/11. “I stood there thinking that as soon as those first responders entered the World Trade Center, they probably knew they were going to die,” he says. “The fact that the responders went into the building despite the danger, hoping to save even just one person, sends a message that resonates with me.”

ROTC cadets perform this 9/11 vigil annually, in part to teach BYU students important history and respect for those who sacrificed for their country, says McMullan. “We know that history tends to repeat itself. 9/11 initiated a massive chain of events that altered our world forever,” says McMullan. “We as a BYU campus community should never forget what happened that day.”

For Cooper Merrill, Air Force Cadet Wing Commander in the Air Force ROTC program from Nipomo, California, recognizing the sacrifices made on 9/11 is especially important for ROTC cadets. “We as ROTC members have a role in the world to protect the innocent and our freedoms, and that’s why I believe it’s important that we remember 9/11,” says Merrill.

Planning a vigil during the COVID-19 pandemic was a valuable learning experience for McMullan. “In our future military careers, we will have high-intensity situations where unexpected events will happen in the spur of the moment, and we’ll have to figure out what to do,” he says. “This year, we adapted the vigil to the COVID-19 restrictions. Making these adaptations was stressful in the moment, but that is how the career in the military goes, so it was a good learning experience for all of us cadets.”

In order to align with BYU’s COVID-19 guidelines for gatherings and events, the ROTC programs did not perform their usual opening ceremony, gun salute, and other traditions. However, even without the usual big fanfare, BYU ROTC cadets safely honored the fallen this year. “I learned that we can still have meaningful educational experiences while following guidance from BYU and local and state governments,” says Merrill.

By following the health guidelines while still honoring fallen first responders, BYU ROTC cadets demonstrated their concern for the safety of campus and the country. “We want BYU students to know that we strive to make the campus community feel safer and serve them in any way we can,” says McMullan. “The 9/11 vigil is one of the ways we can accomplish those purposes.”

Air Force and Army ROTC honored 9/11 heroes this past September. Photo courtesy of Erin Ricks.
Air Force and Army ROTC honored 9/11 heroes this past September. Photo courtesy of Erin Ricks.
Two ROTC cadets stand at attention guarding the flag. Photo courtesy of Erin Ricks.
Two ROTC cadets stand at attention guarding the flag. Photo courtesy of Erin Ricks.

Media Contact: Chad Little: (801) 422-1512
Writer: Emily Atwood