'Fortified the nation': Dickinson Mayor reflects on anniversary of 9-11

Mayor Scott Decker tells about his experience following 9/11.

Mayor Scott Decker, pictured above, is an infantry veteran for Desert Shield and Desert Storm. At the time of the 9-11 attacks on the United States, Decker was a recruiter for the North Dakota Army National Guard. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

As a decorated member of the U.S. Army and the North Dakota Army National Guard, Scott Decker paused from his daily affairs as Mayor of Dickinson to reflect on the 20th anniversary of the attacks of 9-11, and how a job not finished leaves the United States vulnerable.

When Decker entered the service in 1989 as an infantryman, the collapse of The Berlin Wall and the East German Government was headlines in the news, 'Honey I Shrunk the Kids' was playing in theaters and "Straight Up" by Paula Abdul was on the radio — a different era. Decker was initially stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia, before deploying in 1990 in support of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Following combat operations, Decker returned to the states the next year and served as the Assistant Operations Non-commissioned Officer for the Infantry Basic Course.

Decker separated from the U.S. Army in 1998 and returned to his hometown of Dickinson, where he joined the North Dakota Army National Guard and continued his education at Dickinson State University.

When the news of the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Department of Defense broke on an early Tuesday morning, Decker was in charge of the recruiting station in Dickinson and going about his normal morning routine. He and his coworkers thought to themselves, “What’s next?”

“I remember the morning. I was just shocked that somebody would be so brazen to do that. And then when I saw the response, how the first responders were mustering and rushing into the buildings and helping, it was good to see that Americans weren’t going to be shocked by this attack,” Decker said. “... The ones that actually planned this… were hoping for the shock value that would break a nation. And it wasn’t. It fortified the nation.”


With Decker’s previous combat and wartime operations, he knew that the attacks would lead the United States into war.

"If you want a model on how to set up an operation and crush an army, Desert Storm is (the example). If you want to teach a class on how to do it, (that) is how you do it — in four days, destroy the fourth largest army in the world, and that’s what we did."

- Mayor Scott Decker

“I know we wouldn’t let that go; there would have to be a response,” he said, adding, “I would say I was surprised at how we responded, I thought we’d be a little more forceful.”

Initially, Decker said he had an influx of young Americans signing up to enlist in the National Guard — the patriotism at an all-time high and retribution on the minds of the nation. By February of 2002, Decker said that said patriotism wayned.

Following the response in Afghanistan, many parents who initially supported their children heading off to war were faced with the realities of it on the evening news.

"We report today with sadness, 7 U.S. Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan," Dan Rather with CBS news said.

Soon, as the horrors of a protracted conflict played out on American televisions each night, the fear of their children dying in combat would struck a conundrum with Americans, Decker said.


“About that time, my opinion of most Americans (with) the unity and the patriotism went basically from, ‘How dare they think that they can change the way we live by this attack?’ to as wars grinded on for many years you saw it like Vietnam (and) as they become unpopular. Then there’s questions on 'why are we here,'” he said. “It seems that civilian leadership of the military don't have the intestinal fortitude or the wherewithal to actually finish it. If you’re going into combat, you should have one goal — to win. You shouldn’t go in there and say, ‘Okay, we secured a piece of ground.’ Well, why did you secure a piece of ground? Why did you take over a city? Why did you take over a country? Isn’t it your goal to win? ...We’ve done that in past wars. We’ve ended wars in the most vicious way possible and not had to go back.”

Military strategy and training redirected its philosophy from kinetic warfare and victory to hearts and minds in a protracted conflict, Decker said. Unlike in his previous combat experiences in Desert Storm, Decker saw how the War on Terror would be a different battle.

“If you want a model on how to set up an operation and crush an army, Desert Storm is (the example). If you want to teach a class on how to do it, (that) is how you do it — in four days, destroy the fourth largest army in the world, and that’s what we did,” he noted.

In the following years in 2003 and 2004 as the United States went into Baghdad, the military tried using that Desert Storm strategy. However, the problem after seizing a city is knowing how to secure and hold it, Decker said.

"My friend left three daughters behind and I’m sure they’re sitting there right now too wondering why their dad is not around and for what?"

- Mayor Scott Decker

“... They’re trying to lay blame on the past administration, but you’re in charge now. It’s your game, so you have to plan. And again, if you have certain civilian leadership that’s in charge of the military and certain military leaders that don’t have the intestinal fortitude to stand up and say, ‘No, this is wrong. This is what we need to do.’ (If) they’re more worried about their career or whatever their next step is after a certain career, they’re just going to go along and it’ll cost people their lives. It’s just frustrating. I lost a really good friend in Afghanistan and his death was actually why I decided to retire from the army,” Decker said, reflecting for a few seconds. “I just didn’t see the point of why they kept sending people over there to not win. You’re in combat, you’re at war for one reason and that’s to win. And if you’re not doing that, then what’s your objective besides driving people around and getting them killed.”

Even after the “resounding victory” with Desert Storm, Decker recalled that the job wasn’t finished, leaving a gap for destruction to come trailing back 10 years later. Now, seeing the Taliban take full control of Afghanistan, Decker noted that pulling out the last American troops endangers the lives of the civilians and Americans still left in the country.


“In my opinion, I just think they just want it to be done. They didn’t think this out. They just thought, ‘We’ll pull out and the Afghan forces will be able to hold off the Taliban.’ (But) they have not studied history,” he said, explaining, “If they would have studied that culture, they would have known that it was going to fall. Without American force, they’re not going to fight; it’s just that culture.

“The last few days in Afghanistan and what happened over there is, I think, for a lot of U.S. military members, it’s just frustrating. It’s even hard to put into words because it’s just frustration. Everybody that was in the military probably lost somebody they cared about over in Afghanistan or Iraq, and just to cut and run is very frustrating because you wonder what it was for. My friend left three daughters behind and I’m sure they’re sitting there right now too wondering why their dad is not around and for what? Why was he there?”

Post retirement from the military, Decker worked his way up a new branch of command: city government. Though he’s used to making calculated decisions from 21 years in the military, Decker noted that it’s not always what people are in favor of.

“It is what it is and sometimes people are not going to understand because they don’t know all the information. But you can’t not make a decision because you want to extend your career, or it’ll be beneficial to you as an individual and down the road. You have to make hard decisions to protect people and just do the right thing and I think there’s too many people in positions right now that they don’t want to do that. They’re looking for their next career move or they’re scared of how culture might judge them because they don’t toe a certain line. So they don’t make a decision, but sometimes you have to,” he added.

As the longest war in America’s history comes to an end, Decker encourages Dickinson residents to take a moment on Saturday, Sept. 11, remembering those who died innocently and fought protecting our freedoms to move forward.

“Just remember that we, as a nation, are so strong. In this nation, the world has never seen anything like it — ever. Even though we have our faults, we’re still the best nation there is. We just have to continue to work at correcting those faults and unifying as a nation,” he said. “The divisiveness is not getting us anywhere in this country right now.”

Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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