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9/11 Memorial Climb - A Walk with Heroes

Senior Airman Eli Kirwan, 27th Special Operations Civil Engineering Squadron firefighter, watches the remaining participants exit the Air Traffic Control tower after a 9/11 memorial climb at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. Each participant ascended and descended nine flights of stairs multiple times, while wearing full emergency and tactical gear and carrying the names of emergency first responders who lost their lives responding to the terrorist attacks on the United States 20 years ago. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)

Senior Airman Eli Kirwan, 27th Special Operations Civil Engineering Squadron firefighter, watches the remaining participants exit the Air Traffic Control tower after a 9/11 memorial climb at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. Each participant ascended and descended nine flights of stairs multiple times, while wearing full emergency and tactical gear and carrying the names of emergency first responders who lost their lives responding to the terrorist attacks on the United States 20 years ago. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)

An American flag, patch, Cannon Air Force Base fire emergency services patch and ceremonial bell form part of a memorial to 9/11 during a ceremony at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. The memorial marked the 20th anniversary since the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001 and included a nine-story stair climb in honor of the first responders who lost their lives responding to the attacks. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)

An American flag, patch, Cannon Air Force Base fire emergency services patch and ceremonial bell form part of a memorial to 9/11 during a ceremony at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. The memorial marked the 20th anniversary since the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001 and included a nine-story stair climb in honor of the first responders who lost their lives responding to the attacks. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)

The 27th Special Operations Security Forces Squadron memorial dedicated to Security Forces Defenders lost in the line of duty stands erect during the 9/11 memorial climb ceremony at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. The memorial marked the 20th anniversary since the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001 and included a nine-story stair climb in honor of the first responders who lost their lives responding to the attacks. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)

The 27th Special Operations Security Forces Squadron memorial dedicated to Security Forces Defenders lost in the line of duty stands erect during the 9/11 memorial climb ceremony at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. The memorial marked the 20th anniversary since the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001 and included a nine-story stair climb in honor of the first responders who lost their lives responding to the attacks. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)

Col. Terence Taylor, 27th Special Operations Wing commander, shares his memories of the terrorist attacks on 9/11 during a memorial ceremony at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. The memorial ceremony marks the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States and serves as a reminder of AFSOC’s everchanging future with the end on the global war on terrorism, and a new focus on great power competition. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)

Col. Terence Taylor, 27th Special Operations Wing commander, shares his memories of the terrorist attacks on 9/11 during a memorial ceremony at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. The memorial ceremony marks the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States and serves as a reminder of AFSOC’s everchanging future with the end on the global war on terrorism, and a new focus on great power competition. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Shawn Aiello, 27th Special Operations Wing command chief master sgt., holds his wife’s hand during a 9/11 memorial speech at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. The memorial celebrated the lives of the first responders who lost their lives during the terrorist attacks on 9/11 by holding a nine-story stair climb, emergency vehicle motorcade and the ringing of a bell. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Shawn Aiello, 27th Special Operations Wing command chief master sgt., holds his wife’s hand during a 9/11 memorial speech at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. The memorial celebrated the lives of the first responders who lost their lives during the terrorist attacks on 9/11 by holding a nine-story stair climb, emergency vehicle motorcade and the ringing of a bell. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)

Members of the 27th Special Operations Civil Engineering Squadron fire emergency services department watch a video dedicated to the terrorist attacks on 9/11 during a memorial ceremony at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. The memorial marked the 20th anniversary since the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001 and included a nine-story stair climb in honor of the first responders who lost their lives responding to the attacks. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)

Members of the 27th Special Operations Civil Engineering Squadron fire emergency services department watch a video dedicated to the terrorist attacks on 9/11 during a memorial ceremony at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. The memorial marked the 20th anniversary since the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001 and included a nine-story stair climb in honor of the first responders who lost their lives responding to the attacks. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)

Members of the 27th Special Operations Security Forces Squadron walk to the Cannon Air Force Base Air Traffic Control tower during a 9/11 memorial ceremony at Cannon AFB, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. The ceremony was dedicated to the first responders who lost their lives responding to the terrorist attacks on the United States 20 years ago. Participants carried names of the deceased up nine flights of stairs, where the names were hung on a dedicated stand. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)

Members of the 27th Special Operations Security Forces Squadron walk to the Cannon Air Force Base Air Traffic Control tower during a 9/11 memorial ceremony at Cannon AFB, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. The ceremony was dedicated to the first responders who lost their lives responding to the terrorist attacks on the United States 20 years ago. Participants carried names of the deceased up nine flights of stairs, where the names were hung on a dedicated stand. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)

Cannon Air Force Base Air Commandos ascend and descend nine flights of stairs in the Air Traffic Control tower during a 9/11 memorial climb at Cannon AFB, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. The memorial climb represented the hard work emergency first responders put in during the terrorist attacks on the United States 20 years ago. Each climber wore full emergency and tactical gear while carrying the name of a deceased first responder to a dedicated board on the ninth floor of the tower. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)

Cannon Air Force Base Air Commandos ascend and descend nine flights of stairs in the Air Traffic Control tower during a 9/11 memorial climb at Cannon AFB, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. The memorial climb represented the hard work emergency first responders put in during the terrorist attacks on the United States 20 years ago. Each climber wore full emergency and tactical gear while carrying the name of a deceased first responder to a dedicated board on the ninth floor of the tower. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)

A bucket containing the names of every firefighter who lost their life responding to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 rests on a table outside the Cannon Air Force Base Air Traffic Control tower during a memorial ceremony at Cannon AFB, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. The names were carried up nine flights of stairs by participants in full emergency gear, representing the stairs first responders had to climb to save lives in the World Trade Center 20 years ago. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)

A bucket containing the names of every firefighter who lost their life responding to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 rests on a table outside the Cannon Air Force Base Air Traffic Control tower during a memorial ceremony at Cannon AFB, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. The names were carried up nine flights of stairs by participants in full emergency gear, representing the stairs first responders had to climb to save lives in the World Trade Center 20 years ago. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)

A 27th Special Operations Civil Engineering Squadron fire emergency services firefighter pulls two names from a bucket during a 9/11 memorial ceremony at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. Each piece of paper had the name of an emergency first responder who lost their life responding to the terrorist attacks on the United States 20 years ago. Ceremony participants carried the names up nine flights of stairs and placed them on a dedicated board. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)
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A 27th Special Operations Civil Engineering Squadron fire emergency services firefighter pulls two names from a bucket during a 9/11 memorial ceremony at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. Each piece of paper had the name of an emergency first responder who lost their life responding to the terrorist attacks on the United States 20 years ago. Ceremony participants carried the names up nine flights of stairs and placed them on a dedicated board. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)

An Airman from the 27th Special Operations Civil Engineering Squadron fire emergency services department hangs the names of emergency first responders who lost their lives responding to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, on a dedicated board at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. The memorial board was located nine floors up in the Cannon AFB Air Traffic Control tower, representing the floors emergency first responders had to climb to save lives during the attacks 20 years ago. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)
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An Airman from the 27th Special Operations Civil Engineering Squadron fire emergency services department hangs the names of emergency first responders who lost their lives responding to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, on a dedicated board at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. The memorial board was located nine floors up in the Cannon AFB Air Traffic Control tower, representing the floors emergency first responders had to climb to save lives during the attacks 20 years ago. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)

Two 27th Special Operations Civil Engineering Squadron fire emergency services firefighters descend the stairs of the Cannon Air Force Base Air Traffic Control tower during a 9/11 memorial ceremony at Cannon AFB, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. Emergency first responders wore full emergency and tactical gear while ascending and descending nine flights of stairs in honor of the first responders who lost their lives responding to the terrorist attacks on the United States 20 years ago. Each participant also carried the name of a deceased first responder and hung the names on a dedicated board at the top of the tower. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)
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Two 27th Special Operations Civil Engineering Squadron fire emergency services firefighters descend the stairs of the Cannon Air Force Base Air Traffic Control tower during a 9/11 memorial ceremony at Cannon AFB, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. Emergency first responders wore full emergency and tactical gear while ascending and descending nine flights of stairs in honor of the first responders who lost their lives responding to the terrorist attacks on the United States 20 years ago. Each participant also carried the name of a deceased first responder and hung the names on a dedicated board at the top of the tower. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)

An American flag flutters at half mast at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. The flag is flown at half mast every September 11 in memoriam of the terrorist attacks on the United States at the World Trade Center in New York City, N.Y., Shanksville, P.A., and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)
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An American flag flutters at half mast at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., Sep. 11, 2021. The flag is flown at half mast every September 11 in memoriam of the terrorist attacks on the United States at the World Trade Center in New York City, N.Y., Shanksville, P.A., and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Storer)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --

The piercing tone of a bell cuts through the still September morning, reverberating through the halls of the Cannon AFB Fire Station 1. A solemn reminder of the toll taken on emergency first responders during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. An audience of law enforcement, medical technicians and fire fighters dip their heads in a moment of silence honoring those for whom the bell tolled.

A collective sigh can be heard once the moment is over as the crowd begins moving towards an emergency vehicle motorcade. Red and blue lights dance on the faces of those who walk to the Cannon AFB Control Tower. Soft conversations filter through the thrums of heavy engines.

Once at the base of the tower, each individual dons full emergency gear and receives a paper slip inscribed with a name. Each name belongs to a first responder who lost their life responding to the attacks on 9/11. The participants take each name up nine flights of stairs and hang the memory of a fallen hero to a stand.

The stairwells echo with ragged breaths, heavy footsteps and subtle voices. Raw determination and responsibility cloud the air, filling the minds and hearts of each stair climber with memories of emotions, confusion and crucial decisions. Decisions to put themselves in harm's way to save the lives of others. Decisions to seek revenge on our nation’s enemies. Decisions to ensure no one life was lost in vain on that dark day or any since.

Decisions to walk with heroes.

Once the somber procession has concluded, smiles can be seen in fulfilled eyes behind concealing masks. An event dedicated to the loss of life sheds its dark aura in celebration of the beauty of lives still left to be lived. That in itself is the beauty of life: Our ability to pay respects to those who came before by carrying their name to the top of a tower. Carrying their memories in our minds to the end of time, honoring their actions by continuing to better the world.

Some scars take longer to heal, some burdens are too great to bear alone, but the pride shared amongst these individuals gathered here today will bleed on forever.