STARKVILLE, Miss.--Mississippi State student and wounded combat veteran Aaron Rice said Monday he was inspired to enlist in the military after watching the horrific terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., five years ago.
Rice, who lost a leg in combat in Iraq, was a senior at Oak Grove High School near Hattiesburg on Sept. 11, 2001. He said some of his fellow students expressed doubts about the nation going to war in reaction to the attacks.
"I remember thinking how could we NOT [his emphasis] go to war," he said during a 9/11 commemoration ceremony on MSU's historic Drill Field. "American citizens had just been attacked on American soil. It's the greatest struggle of the 21st Century."
Another Iraq combat veteran, Sgt. James Terry of West Point, a member of the Mississippi Army National Guard's 223rd Combat Heavy Engineering Battalion, spoke during the ceremony.
Also present and recognized during the ceremony was William Brooks, 24, of Southaven, who lost both of his legs above the knee during a 2005 combat mission in Iraq. The former Mississippi Army National Guardsman also is an MSU student.
MSU President Robert H. "Doc" Foglesong addressed another 9-11 observance ceremony earlier in the day at MSU's Mitchell Memorial Library.
After attending MSU as a freshman for one semester, Rice enlisted in the Jackson-based Echo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment. His unit was activated and sent to Iraq in January of 2005.
The 22-year-old Sumrall native was driving a Humvee during a mobile assault in Al Anbar Province on March 18 of that year when his vehicle struck a land mine. The blast mangled the lance corporal's left leg, requiring an amputation below the knee.
Now a junior political science major and attorney general of the MSU Student Association, Rice expressed regret that he was unable to return to duty.
"I was devastated that I had to leave (his unit) so early in my deployment," he told the MSU assemblage. "But God had a plan for me."
He said he learned later that four of his Marine buddies were killed and five wounded in a subsequent enemy ambush of his platoon.
Invited recently to participate in a "Heroes Helping Heroes" event focusing attention on New York City firefighters and other first responders to the 9/11 disaster, Rice said he was awed by the outpouring of support for combat veterans such as himself.
"I was overwhelmed with pride," he said. "The enemy underestimated our resolve.
"We must remember why we are fighting. Freedom is worth fighting for, but it comes at a cost. We will never forget."
The MSU "Patriot Day" event marking the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks was sponsored by the university's Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Members of the MSU Air Force and Army ROTC units also participated in the ceremony.
For more information about Mississippi State University, see http://www.msstate.edu/.