Troops file into their operational area with stoic expressions on their faces. Their boots echo a cadence throughout airport concourses and security checkpoints at bridges, tunnels and nuclear reactors. Loaded assault rifles are slung over their shoulders as they take up positions at each of the security points.
Some people stop and stare. Some people openly express their approval and wave, while others simply avoid the military formations. Not so long ago, this would more likely describe a military coup or an exercise in martial law in another country. But today it happens frequently in the United States.
It has been 60 years since the Guard’s mission has been so relevant, extensive and for many Guardsmen here in N.J., personal. They watched from office windows in Jersey City and Hoboken. One waited for a phone call from a brother-in-law who worked for Cantor-Fitzgerald. Another is a pilot who flew with the crew of the hijacked American Airlines flight. Now the same people stand guard in the name of Homeland Defense. The operations here are the most extensive use of National Guard troops since the Gulf War, totaling, in N.J. alone, 1,600 soldiers, airmen and sailors.
“I never expected to be guarding things in my own state,” stated Spc. Alejandro Corachan of the 112th Field Artillery on duty at the Lincoln Tunnel. “I feel good doing something for my country.”
“By the time the second airplane hit we had activated the emergency system, we started our log and contacted the State Office of Emergency Management run by the State Police,” said Maj. Robert Schofield, Plans, Operations and Military Support Officer. “We sent a representative team within the hour to be the liaison between our office and theirs.” During emergencies the chain of information goes from the governor to the State Police Office of Emergency Management. Then the National Guard liaisons immediately relay the relevant information back to the National Guard Operation Centers. This process may seem time consuming but in reality it takes minutes for the concerned parties to get the information they need.
Three days after the attack, NJNG soldiers, airmen and Naval Militia mobilized for every aspect of the rescue and recovery mission. At the Liberty State Park Command Center in Jersey City, the Guard had set up air, ground and waterway transportation. Liberty State Park iscontinued from page 5 directly across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan. This became a launch point for thousands of support personnel and tons of supplies going to Ground Zero. They also had medical and security units in place.
"Mobile command posts were rolling in from all over the state," said Staff Sgt. Robert Stephenson, New Jersey Counter Drug Task Force based in Jersey City.
Less than five miles from Ground Zero, National Guard members were called into service at the Jersey City Armory. Company D, 2-113th Infantry provided security for the perimeter of the building, a block long edifice overlooking the Manhattan skyline, while E Company soldiers, 50th Main Support Battalion set up a makeshift hospital on the drill floor.
The 1-150th Army Aviation Squadron, based at Trenton-Mercer Airport, provided immediate transportation to and from the site. The 1-150th pilots and their UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters flew more than 100 missions in the first week. They also provided aerial support and transportation to the FBI, FEMA and other federal agencies that were assisting with the emergency.
Within hours of the attack, Naval Militiamen were staffing the Emergency Operations Center along with the Army Guard. Rear Adm. Timothy R. Beard, III, Commander, New Jersey Naval Militia, was one of the first officers in the EOC. 115 of the 140 members in the Militia were activated for this crisis.
Almost immediately, the Militia’s 23-foot Fast Pursuit Boats were patrolling the Hudson. By the next morning these boats were serving as the primary means of access to lower Manhattan for the first two weeks for police, fire, and military personnel. The militia also provided a Disaster Medical Assistance Team to Chelsea Pier and Naval Militia Chaplains worked at every site, from Ground Zero to Fort Steward, N.Y. They provided counseling and pastoral services 24/7 for rescue workers and support personnel. "The intense pressure of this made the unit more cohesive," said Rear Adm. Beard. The militia is still involved in security with the Navy at Earle Weapons Depot as an ocean patrol unit.
Simultaneously, the New Jersey Air National Guard was mobilized. The 177th Fighter Wing had the first F-16 loaded with ordinance and flying within 90 minutes. Since Sept. 11, 177th Fighters have since been flying as part of the North American Aerospace Defense Command air sovereignty mission.
Operation Noble Eagle pilots fly combat-air patrols over the eastern seaboard around the clock. Geographically speaking, Atlantic City is situated almost half way between New York and Washington, D.C. This means that 177th pilots are some of the busiest in the Air Force. "We are currently the 'hours leader' (flying hours) in the entire Air Force for a single squadron," stated Lt. Col. Roger Pharo, Support Group Commander, 177th Fighter Wing.
The 108th Air Refueling Wing stationed at McGuire Air Force Base took on three separate missions. The unit has provided support both on the ground and in the air. Additionally, the 108th also supported the rescue effort at Ground Zero. About a dozen wing members volunteered to operate several massive "Light-Alls" lighting equipment the wing deployed to Ground Zero. Light-Alls are normally used to provide mobile lighting to ground crews during nighttime operations. Once the lighting units were installed, the airmen assisted the rescue workers as they sifted through the debris.
The Fresh Kills Landfill, located in Staten Island, N.Y., was the site for the collection and examination of the wreckage removed from Ground Zero. 100 Guardsmen from the 57th Troop Command, based in Atlantic City, provided food and shelter to the FBI and others who continued the crime scene evidence investigation. More than 250,000 tons were sorted and examined for human remains during the first few weeks.
Within three days of the attack, soldiers from the Troop Command and their commander, Col. Carlo Accardi, were pitching tents and setting up a mobile kitchen to provide hot meals at the very top of the landfill. The tents would provide shelter and to serve as a mess area
Also, the soldiers set up “rest and relaxation areas" where the civilians could gather themselves after picking through the World Trade Center rubble for hours on end.
The mental toll on the Guardsmen, civilians and federal workers was unimaginable. "As a minister, I have performed similar (last rights and blessings) but the enormity of this left me without words," said Chaplain (Col.) William Schadebeck. To aid the healing and recovery, NJNG Chaplains were sent to all the sites. They provided counseling and religious services to the workers day and night.
"We performed service for anyone, for five to 300 people at a time," Col. Schadebeck said. "We went out to the rubble piles to talk to the workers and try to keep them sane." Throughout the tragedy, New Jersey National Guard Chaplains were available to the workers.
Across the Bayonne Bridge at what was once the site of the Military Ocean Terminal in Bayonne, members of the 42nd Infantry Division’s 50th Main Support Battalion (MSB) were busy filling once empty warehouses to the rafters. The warehouse operation was a joint effort between the Salvation Army and the National Guard. Through the following weeks it was filled to overflowing with all kinds of food, water, clothing and household items which were donated from concerned citizens across the country. Some donations were anonymous, while others were accompanied with notes of encouragement and support. A card the size of a mini-van signed by hundreds of citizens of Cleveland stood at the entrance of the warehouse.
"Look inside these gloves," said Captain Tracy Norman, 50th MSB, standing next to a cargo box with thousand of pairs of gloves, “every single one has a note in it.”
The donations reflected what the country perceived was needed based on what they saw on television. When the handlers of the search and rescue dogs asked for dog food, the nation responded with 50 tons of it. In another part of the warehouse hundreds of shovels are stacked next to dozens of wheelbarrows against a wall. Elsewhere, refrigerator sized boxes of T-shirts compete with thousands of stuffed animals for what little floor space remains. An estimated million gallons of bottled water was unloaded, processed, stored and distributed during the operation.
The 50th was there to support the Salvation Army, which was directing the collection of the donations. The Guard provided logistical expertise, forklift operators and other personnel to help unload the seemingly endless number of tractor-trailers which started arriving just one week after the tragedy. "We were getting 40 tractor-trailers a day," said 2nd Lt. Nguyen Tran, 50th MSB. "We were running 24/7."
Airport security became an area of concern in the aftermath of the attack. New Jersey’s three commercial airports were identified as requiring a military presence. Newark International Airport, the origin of the hijacked plane which crashed in Pennsylvania, the Atlantic City International Airport and the Trenton-Mercer County Airport. In total, more than 250 soldiers were required.
The call for volunteers went out to N.J.’s 50th Brigade. More than 500 soldiers immediately responded. During the next three days the volunteers were put through a screening regimen similar to a war mobilization. Soldiers with civilian law enforcement training were chosen first. All the volunteers were given a background investigation and their current medical status checked. They were also given a drug and HIV test and had a new DNA sample taken. Soldiers were then brought to the rifle range to re-qualify with the M- 16A2 Rifle.
The intense screening produced the first 152 soldiers for Operation Vigilant Hawk. They were briefed by the Judge Advocate General, the Public Affairs Officer and given a nine-hour block of instruction by the Federal Aviation Authority. Their mission was to provide a highly visible armed presence to enhance the current security until the FAA could put into effect its new security plan at the nations airports.
The retaliation of the United States on Afghanistan brought an increased threat to New Jersey’s nuclear power facilities. New Jersey was the first state to assign National Guard troops to nuclear power plants. At the Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Facility and the Salem County Hope Creek Power Plant, the New Jersey Army National Guard have integrated with the existing Plant Security. The Guardsmen are providing armed support at the entrance gates and tactical operations around the grounds of the facilities.
"The security guys are more than helpful," stated Pfc. Michael Mahler, D Company, 1-114th Infantry, stationed at Oyster Creek. "We are getting a very positive reaction from the people too, they wave and honk their horns as they drive by."
"The public support and the motivation of the troops has made these missions go smoothly," said Capt. Grant Marks, 5-117th Cavalry Squadron.
Homeland Defense falls not only on the shoulders of Guardsmen but on their employers as well. Traditional Guardsmen have full time civilian jobs and the "no advance notice" call to active duty service has had direct and dramatic effects on their employers.
The Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Committee (ESGR) reports unprecedented cooperation from civilian employers of those called to both state and federal active duty service. Many corporations, small companies, and "mom & pop" operations have gone well beyond the Federal regulations (USC Title 38 & USERRA, or the Uniformed Services Employment Re-employment Rights Act) to take care of their employees and their families during active duty service. State active duty and federal mobilizations are taking some of these soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen away from their civilian jobs for six months or longer. Having a key employee absent for an extended period of time, no matter how noble or worthy the cause, still can put a big dent in production and operational efficiency.
ESGR however, has been active for more than 20 years as an arbitrator between civilian employers and the National Guard members and reservists they employ. "Our State ESGR Committee is comprised of state, county, and municipal levels, civic leaders, members of service organizations, and concerned citizens from each of the 21 counties. Our members have credibility within their business communities and understand the full impact military training have on employers."
Federal Law protects those mobilized for federal military service. Laws regarding "state" active duty service are not as clear. "We rely heavily on the patriotism and sense of community spirit in many cases of conflict involving Guardsmen activated for state emergencies. Although periods of state active duty usually last only a few days following storm, flood, or other natural disasters, the events of Sept. 11 and the unprecedented call-up of Guardsmen for security missions both here and elsewhere are expected to last longer."
The Guard is making today’s headlines that will become tomorrow’s history. By deploying in their home states with state and federal agencies to protect various assets from the threat of terrorism they have made an endnote on the chapter in false security we wrote. A new chapter however is being written. The level of cooperation between agencies has eliminated the barriers and enabled the total commitment of personnel to the defense of our state. The magnitude of the Sept. 11 tragedy forced all the emergency reaction forces to rely heavily on complete cooperation.
"When the sun rises behind the skyline, it’s still the most beautiful city in world," said 2nd Lt. Hashim Bennett while on duty at the Lincoln Tunnel.