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Crisis Redefines These New York Guardsmen

By Paul Morando
Special to American Forces Press Service

NEW YORK, Sept. 24, 2001 – By training and temperament, these soldiers are builders. By necessity, they changed overnight into security guards where the World Trade Center towers once stood in the lower Manhattan.

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Sgt. Maj. David Lamouret of the 204th Combat Engineering Battalion, a New York National Guard unit from Binghamton, N.Y., instructs his soldiers at security checkpoint in downtown Manhattan. Photo by Paul Morando.

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The 204th Combat Engineering Battalion from Binghamton, N.Y., in recent years has "normally" set bricks and mortar and hewn lumber to build houses and schools in Central America and other projects around the world. But these citizen-soldiers learned firsthand that being National Guardsmen means taking on many roles.

"We are an engineer battalion, so it is kind of hard not being a part of the cleanup, but we have another assignment and we are very proud to be here and assist the rescue workers," said Sgt. Maj. David Lamouret, who's been with the unit for four years and is a middle school teacher in the civilian world.

With their trucks and cranes left back at Camp Smith near Peekskill, N.Y., the engineers have been at "Ground Zero," the nickname given the trade center site, securing checkpoints along the Trade Center perimeter and establishing gates of security for the rescue workers to continue their job smoothly.

"It's a lot different from the job I was trained to do," said Spc. Rhonda Rumsey, who is a carpenter and mason. "Instead of laying mortar we are checking IDs and securing the area." Rumsey said she's proud to be serving in lower Manhattan. "We have an important job to do out here and New Yorkers have been very supportive."

In addition, soldiers from the 204th escort city residents to and from their buildings, and places of work throughout the damaged area. Soldiers pull 12-hour shifts, battling fatigue and emotional distress from witnessing the disaster area on a daily basis. The surrounding streets have become desolate ghost towns with paper and ash covering cars and storefronts, which have become makeshift relief stations for the rescue workers.

For New York City firefighter Michael Kaner, who came out of retirement to help in the rescue effort, seeing the soldiers at the work site has been reassuring. "The soldiers are doing a great job with traffic control and security. Any time you need anything, they are more than willing to help out," he said. "They make our difficult mission a lot easier, and we are proud they're here."

"I am still trying to soak everything up," said Spc. Patrick Kelley, who is from Freeville, N.Y. "There are times when I become very sad, when the reality of what happened sets in."

Emotions run high as soldiers, firefighters, police officers, and other rescue officials work closely together to maintain a sense of normalcy and ultimately to seek justice.

"It's not easy. This is their fight," said 2nd Lt. Walter Gomez, referring to the city police and fire departments. Discussing the military's involvement, Gomez added, "Our fight is about to begin and we are focused and ready."

(Paul Morando works in the public affairs office at Fort Hamilton, N.Y.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA lone recovery worker inspects the wreckage of the World Trade Center -- "Ground Zero" -- in lower Manhattan. Photo by Paul Morando.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageThe wreckage that once was the World Trade Center in New York City. Photo by Paul Morando.  
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