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In their own words: James Flowers

Flowers was coach of the Army softball team when the events of 9/11 occurred. He retired from the athletics department in 2009 and witnessed his recruits take on a greater sense of purpose and a greater pride wearing the West Point uniform. Flowers is now a hunting guide at Cook Canyon Ranch in Ranger, Texas. He was once a bodyguard for Princess Diana.

The 2002 team was the best team we ever had. So you got some pretty fine young women – well, they were all fine young women – but the women from that class had a lot of success along with going through that tragedy of 9/11.

Our young people, they were always focused, but once they saw how quick things could turn around in our lives and how quickly one event could do it, they really buckled down. There’s no question that (after 9/11) – and it continues today – our young people are a little more focused on where they’re going and what they want to do.

I don’t know if it had an impact on us playing softball, but the ability to focus on the task at hand, you know, we upped that ante. It did change our lives, tremendously, throughout this country. It wasn’t just at West Point.

Right after 9/11, you looked up at the sky more often. You looked at the planes flying in more often. Our whole lifestyle changed. This event got everyone’s attention, not just those that had an interest in history. This got everyone’s mind on what we’re all about.

Recruiting was not as difficult after that because everyone clearly understood what they were facing and what they were focusing on. We concentrated on that effort and talked about reality, and there was no dreaming of aspirations of anything other than going in and serving this nation. Particularly with the women, I felt very strongly that they had a goal and a focus to serve this nation in some aspect following 9/11. When you would talk to the families and talk with the prospective candidates, there was no question. They knew, clearly, what they needed to do, what they needed to be involved in.

The Cadets that are coming to West Point, they know what they are getting into and they want to be able to serve this country. Athletics is just another way with which they can express their desire to serve and compete with a team member.

We discussed their obligations openly. There were questions that parents asked after 9/11 that they wouldn’t have asked before, but the bottom line is that you were up front and you were as honest as you could be. We told them how we really felt and what our experiences were and what they could anticipate happening to them. It didn’t make any difference if you were going to any of the services because everyone is going to serve this nation and they’re going to serve it with a lot of pride.

That’s what I also noticed. Young people came in with their heads up, shoulders back and were very proud of putting that uniform on – they always were – but more so now than ever.

There was a greater sense of purpose.