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Tenth Anniversary of 9/11 Has Special Significance for Langley

September 13, 2011

Jim Langley  
Jim Langley, assistant men's soccer
coach, served three tours of duty in
Iraq as a U.S. Marine following the
9/11 terrorist attacks.

Nearly every American remembers where they were on September 11, 2001. The date, images and emotions of the day are ingrained in all of our memories.

Jim Langley, however, remembers the day a bit differently than most. Langley, who is now in his second season as an assistant soccer coach for St. Louis Community College, has vivid memories of the day a decade ago that would alter his life’s direction.

Langley was a senior at Hazelwood Central High School in 2001. His outlook for his future was similar to that of any other 18-year-old: summer break, college, preparing for future employment.

Those plans were drastically altered on that September day. As Langley and his high school classmates watched the scenes unfold on television – from the smoke billowing from both towers of the World Trade Center, to the wreckage at the Pentagon, to the scattered remains of a downed plane in Shanksville, Pa. – he knew what his future now held for him.

Langley quickly turned his attention from searching for college to serving his country. His education would have to wait.

“I was a really good student,” Langley said. “The whole time (in high school) I was thinking about where I was going to college and what I was going to do. But honestly, it all changed then. I realized that I had a unique opportunity. I felt like it was a calling.”

Shortly after graduation in May 2002, Langley enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Answering the Call

Upon joining the Marines, it became apparent that Langley would not be waiting for action long. Less than a year after his enlistment, Langley was deployed to Iraq shortly after the invasion of Baghdad in March 2003. It would be the first of three tours for Langley.

Langley and his battalion began in the country’s southern region, before pushing toward central Iraq, and eventually helped to acquire the al-Anbar province, where he would spend the majority of his time while in Iraq.

“I joked that I knew how to drive around downtown Ramadi better than I knew how to drive around downtown St. Louis,” Langley said. “And at the time, I was 21, 22 years old, that was absolutely true. “

Langley would become a participant in some of the most pivotal events of the Iraq War during his tours, including Operation Phantom Fury, a month-long battle for control of Fallujah in 2004 during his second tour. Despite the long, arduous nature of the conflict, Langley points to the continuous progression of the war as a key reason for his optimism during his time overseas.

“Every time I went there, there was an advancement in what we were doing,” Langley said.  “There was definitely a progression every time I was there. The first time, I went in for the initial invasion. The second time I went, it was to control the biggest outbreak, which was the Fallujah Fury. The third time that I went, we were actually picking up a lot of the gear to be sent back because we were going to be leaving Iraq soon. I really saw the whole thing. That’s the way I feel about it.”

Returning Home

Re-adjusting to life as a typical American citizen wasn’t an easy transition right away for Langley, who received his discharge from the Marines in 2009. Gone were the rigors and structural machinations of the military, which had become all Langley knew for eight years.

As he was looking to resume his education following his return to the states, St. Louis Community College became a natural fit for the Florissant native.

“When I thought about going back to school in the area, I knew STLCC was a good education at an affordable price, and that’s what I needed at my age as an older student,” Langley said.

Mike Mayberry, STLCC’s head men’s soccer coach, can’t recall exactly when he first met Langley at the college, but Langley certainly made an impression, even at the team’s informal offseason kick-arounds.

“Coming out of the Marines, he was the most fit individual I had seen in my life,” Mayberry said. “He served immediately as the role model for how to train. The other guys took him so seriously as an athlete and as an individual. It wasn’t so much assimilation as it was admiration and respect for authority. Even though he didn’t have a position (of authority), he was given that.”

After one year as a player at STLCC, Mayberry was happy to add Langley to his coaching staff during the 2010 season. In that position, Langley has spearheaded the Archers’ strength and conditioning program, both in and out of season. In addition, his position has allowed him to continue to build upon his reputation as a leader of young men, a role he embraces.

“Young guys are always looking for guidance,” Langley said. They’re looking for their direction in life. I feel a lot of times, as a metaphor, they’re a bow and arrow drawn back, waiting to be released, but are aimed at nothing. I really enjoy engaging these athletes and trying to squeeze all the potential that they feel like they’re holding back. There’s going to be obstacles and there’s going to be challenges, and overcoming them is the best feeling you can have.”

As he embraces his life’s current challenges, Langley remains reflective on that day 10 years ago that altered his course, ultimately bringing him to STLCC.

“I can recall it like it was yesterday,” Langley said. “I remember exactly where I was. I remember exactly who I was with. I remember exactly how it happened. It was game changing.”

Or, in Langley’s case, life changing.