Each Sept. 11, he said, has always felt like mourning during a funeral.
“This one feels different because of how close it is to having the last boot on the ground and how close it is to the anniversary,” Viti said. “But those 13 Americans who were just killed brought it from the rearview mirror and into the windshield for a lot of us.”
He added: “It doesn’t feel quite finished because of the threats domestically and internationally. Some of that closure won’t happen the way we think of a ticker-tape parade for some of our other conflicts.”
Still, with the last troops out of Afghanistan, this year’s seniors are the first in 20 years who will graduate without the expectation that they will be shipped off to war.
That thought surely had to enter the mind of some of the roughly 25 recruits who were lined up along the sideline Saturday watching Army warm up. Jack Latore, a defensive end from Middletown, N.J., who is also considering Rutgers, said he hadn’t given much consideration to the war ending. His father, Dan, who played at Rutgers, said he liked the academics that West Point offered, “whether it’s wartime or not.”
Dan McCarthy, a deputy athletic director, said that in recent years about one in five cadets went to a war zone within five years of graduation, far fewer than when the United States military was knee deep in two countries. Even so, he said, “Every parent of a kid we’re recruiting is going to ask: Is my son or daughter going to Afghanistan and Iraq?”
When Arik Smith, a senior linebacker from Bowie, Md., was a high school senior in 2016, there was a far greater expectation that he would be heading to Afghanistan. Even though his grandfathers had served in Korea and Vietnam, and his father was in the Coast Guard, he said: “There was a little bit of concern. We considered the risk factor. It’s not as much of a risk factor now as it was then. It takes that doubt off the minds of parents and kids alike.”
On Saturday, there were few signs of the dark sides of a 20-year war.
The game marked the culmination of an eventful week. It was branch week at the academy, when different branches — infantry, cyber, air defense or transportation, for example — recruit cadets to their programs. And on Friday, a statue commemorating Buffalo Soldiers was unveiled on a field down the hill from Michie Stadium. Smith, who is Black, said the statue is an important step to recognize “everybody that is part of the foundation of what we’re doing here.”