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New York City Firefighter, Now Guard Soldier in Kuwait, Remembers 9-11

By Master Sgt. Bob Haskell
Special to American Forces Press Service

CAMP ARIFJAN, KUWAIT, Sept. 11, 2003 – A New York Army National Guard soldier, who is also a New York City firefighter, helped American soldiers engaged in Operation Iraqi Freedom observe the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks against America during a memorial service here today.

Capt. Josef Pruden gave a moving account of how his faith in God sustained him through that terrible day in 2001, forever branded as 9-11, during a "Service of Remembrance and Healing" at this camp south of Kuwait City.

Speakers forged a direct link between the terrorist attacks and the global war against terrorism still going on two years later.

The memorial service marked a rededication of the soldiers' resolve to carry on that war in Iraq so that Americans can live without fear of other such attacks, and so the Iraqi people can enjoy the fruits of freedom.

"I felt God had been preparing me for something," said Pruden, who was on duty at his firehouse in South Jamaica, Queens, when terrorists killed thousands of people by flying three hijacked jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and when a fourth hijacked plane was crashed into a field in western Pennsylvania.

"By midnight that night, I had left my firehouse to join my [National Guard] unit, while establishing perimeter security around Ground Zero," said Pruden, who commanded the headquarters battery for the 1st Battalion, 258th Field Artillery at that time.

That day and the grim weeks that followed intensified his relationship with God and with other people, said Pruden. "Now I take every moment with my family and my friends very seriously," he said.

Pruden is now among 29,000 members of the National Guard on duty in Iraq and Kuwait. They are serving with other U.S. service members and with troops from other coalition countries determined to stamp out terrorism.

Other Guard soldiers in Kuwait said they are taking their part in that war just as seriously, even if it means they may have to remain in the country for 12 months, which is longer than they had originally expected.

"If we've got to stay here, it's our responsibility, because we signed that contract," said Alabama Army Guard Spc. Stephen Davis after singing "America" solo, backed up by a gospel choir, during the service.

"I believe it's important to give people over here the freedom that we have in the states, and to help straighten out a country that was in a bad situation," added Davis, a member of the 226th Area Support Group from Mobile, Ala.

The Army recently announced that tours of duty for National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers serving in the Persian Gulf will be extended to one full year "on the ground."

"We are where we are today because of what took place two years ago," said Brig. Gen. Michael Diamond, commanding general of the 377th Theater Support Command (Forward) and one of the principle speakers during the service.

"Freedom-loving people do not wish to live in a society filled with terror and destruction," Diamond added. "We are (taking) and we must take the fight to the enemy. If not, we will find them invading our country, our families and our loved ones back home."

Coalition forces have lost 259 people during operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and in the Philippines, Diamond pointed out.

"Remember and rededicate yourself to our service, our duty here, so that evil will not triumph, so that a few desperate men will not subvert the peace for millions of citizens who live on this planet," Chaplain (Col.) Matthew Horne encouraged the gathering.

"We fight not just for America and for Americans," added Horne, the 377th's command chaplain. "We fight for these rights for all people, including the people of Iraq."

"Each and every one of you is making a difference by your presence in this theater," said Diamond in praise of his listeners. "We are where we are because we do not want to encounter another incident like 9-11."

(Master Sgt. Bob Haskell is assigned to the National Guard Bureau.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageNew York Army National Guard Capt. Josef Pruden vividly recalls the events of Sept. 11, 2001, during a service in Kuwait commemorating the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States. Photo by Master Sgt. Bob Haskell, National Guard Bureau.  
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