Andrew Brennan's grandfather pulled him out of school after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, like many parents and grandparents did that day. As soon as his car left the parking lot, Brennan's grandfather, a World War II veteran, turned to him and said words the future Army officer would never forget.
"The war that's going to follow this is going to change your generation. You need to be on the right side of it," he said.
When Brennan turned 17, he tried to drop out of school to join the Marine Corps. His father's response was something akin to "the hell you are," but the young man's resolve was the same. He felt he should be doing something. He felt needed.
The Pennsylvania native eventually attended West Point and served in Afghanistan. But his mission didn't stop there. He lost friends there, as many post-9/11 veterans did. Now he looks to the Vietnam generation for an example of what comes next.
Andrew Brennan, a U.S. Army veteran, in Afghanistan in 2011. (Photo from Andrew Brennan).
While recovering from a hiking injury, Brennan met some bikers who were rolling to the nation's capital as part of Run for the Wall, a Vietnam veterans' tradition where motorcycle enthusiasts drive cross-country to meet at the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
"I bump into these guys, and I'm really taken aback by it," Brennan says. "All these awesome traditions that started around their memorial inspired 30 years' worth of group healing for the Vietnam generation."
The riders continue on in the annual tradition called Rolling Thunder which advocates for full accountability of all prisoners of war and troops missing in action from U.S. wars. Brennan did the math. In the next 10 years, the Vietnam veterans may not be able to make the ride. Vets from the Global War on Terror will soon be the ones making noise for American POW/MIAs.
And Brennan wondered what memorial they'd ride to.
He wondered where 3 million veterans who lost family and friends in the Global War on Terror would grieve. There is no memorial for his war because the 1986 Commemorative Works Act requires groups like Brennan's to wait 10 years after the conflict ends before a memorial can be considered.
It took 60 years to get a World War II memorial built on the Mall and 42 to build a Korean War Memorial. Twenty-five years after Desert Storm, there is still no memorial for that conflict.
Brennan realized he needed to change that law. His continuing mission is to erect a memorial for the post-9/11 generation of veterans. A feat easier said than done.
With the mentorship of Jan Scruggs, whose efforts built the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in 1982, Brennan started his own nonprofit, the Global War On Terror Memorial Foundation.
His memorial idea is written in a broad way so he can be as inclusive as possible. From the likes of Johnny Michael Spann, the first American killed in Afghanistan who worked for the CIA to operators from other "three-letter agencies," Brennan believes the country's longest and most unconventional war should recognize all who fought it — including the unconventional forces.
"I really want to make sure that we're able to honor the folks we've lost and will lose in the future while paying tribute to the service we all provided," Brennan says. "I also want to honor the veterans that aren't wearing the uniform anymore."
(Photo by Katie Lange/ Department of Defense)
Brennan is the real deal. He's met with senators and congressmen and enjoys broad, bipartisan support. Actually getting an amendment introduced is a different feat altogether, but he's willing to play the long game. His initiative is a decade-long development plan, but he needs the veteran community to mobilize to get the law changed and the ball rolling.
Go to the Take Action page of the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation's website to support Brennan and the GWOT Memorial Foundation.