By September 11, 2001, Eric Fretz, a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, had already been in the military for more than 10 years, was two years into earning his Ph.D. and was the father of two young kids. Fretz — who was pursuing his Ph.D. in the University’s Combined Program in Education and Psychology — recalled gathering information at a local middle school for his Ph.D. research project when the attacks on 9/11 occurred.
“I was working in the science classroom, and I just remember the initial reports coming over the speaker … it was just the fact that the buildings were on fire,” Fretz said.
Upon hearing the news that several planes were unaccounted for, Fretz said the children at the school became afraid for their safety, a memory that has since stuck with him. He recalled how he wasn’t concerned that the Detroit area would be a major target.
“I knew they would go for the high-profile government targets,” Fretz said.
In an attempt to process the tragedy, Fretz went to a plot of land where he and his wife were planning on building a house and tried to make sense of the attacks.
“I just went out there and sat in the woods for the rest of the day … I basically just sat there thinking and trying to absorb it,” he said.
Fretz started his military career at the University’s Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps program in the 1980s. After serving his first active duty for the Navy from 1989 to 1996, Fretz returned to the University in 1998 to start his Ph.D. program while still remaining in the Navy Reserve.
It took four years after the attacks before Fretz was deployed first in 2005 to Bahrain and again in 2008 to Iraq, where he served in the U.S. Army. Before he left for Bahrain, he and his wife had their third child, and Fretz was forced to miss monumental milestones of his daughter’s early life.
“She started to walk and figure out the world without me there,” he said.
In addition to his deployment putting stress on his family, Fretz said his Ph.D. studies were put on hold as a result.
“They completely disrupted and delayed my graduate studies and had huge effects on family,” said Fretz, who finally completed his Ph.D. last December.
Despite the difficulties that arose from his deployment in the years following 9/11, Fretz said he was doing the job he signed up for.
“In my mind I don’t blame 9/11 or any political figure or anyone else,” he said.