The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Friday, Dec. 8, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Former UNC graduate student joined U.S. Army after 9/11


Chris Higginbotham doesn’t know the exact reason why he decided to join the U.S. Army in 2003.

“I feel that there was a sense of purpose for joining the Army after 9/11,” he said. “There was that sense of patriotism that people got after 9/11. Two years later it hadn’t worn off for me — it kept lingering.”

Higginbotham, 31, said he got the idea to join the army after spring break during his senior year at Appalachian State University. He said he was having difficulty finding a job and decided to enlist after watching TV reporters embedded with the Army.

“It was a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing that stuck with me,” he said. “I’m sure there were several pools going around to see how long I would last.”

Higginbotham was a junior when the planes struck the twin towers. He said he had just finished a class when he went to the university’s student union and saw people gathered around a TV.

“When I saw the two buildings burning I didn’t know what was going on,” he said.

Two years later as he was preparing to graduate, Higginbotham shocked his family and friends when he told them of his decision to enlist in the army.

His mother, Debby Higginbotham, said her son mentioned enlisting when he was in high school, but she and her husband dissuaded him.

“I didn’t think he would finish college and then join the Army,” she said.

“He had assured us that he was going to work in his field of broadcast — and for that I was proud — but I was scared he would be killed.”

Aaron Klingenschmidt, a friend of Higginbotham’s, said he thought his friend would continue his education after he graduated.

“I didn’t picture Chris being in the Army,” he said. “He is one of those guys that when he makes up his mind, he is going to do it.”

Debby Higginbotham said the Army helped educate her son, but she doesn’t think he achieved all that he had hoped to.

“I don’t think I wound up making the difference like I wanted to,” Chris Higginbotham said. “I wanted to spend all four years in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was bit of a let down.”

He said he wished he could have played a larger part in the war.

Higginbotham spent most of his four-and-a-half years of active duty in Europe, but in 2004 he was deployed to Iraq for four weeks.

“It was my favorite time of the time I spent in the Army,” he said. “I was lucky that I didn’t stay in Iraq where it never got old.”

Higginbotham said he was a military photographer and videographer, taking pictures and video of military missions.

He said viewing 9/11 as motivation to join became “cliche” after basic training.

“We kind of grew out of that I think,” he said. “People looked at it not as a motivation to join, but as how the Army works.”

Higginbotham began graduate school at UNC in 2007 and dropped out briefly the following year when he thought he might be deployed to Baghdad. He was not deployed due to medical clearance and went back to school.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

“I wish a lot of that post-9/11 spirit would come back,” he said. “Unfortunately, it takes a huge tragedy like that to cause it.”

Contact the State & National Editor


Special Print Edition
The Daily Tar Heel's 2023 Year in Review Issue