Special to American Forces Press Service
March 27, 2008 - On Sept. 11, 2001, Nicholas Pata was a volunteer firefighter in Rockland County, N.Y., who assisted rescue efforts after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in Manhattan. Pata, 25, no longer fights fires; he now is an Army private first class and fights terrorism as a Multinational Division Baghdad radio-telephone operator assigned to the 25th Infantry Division's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment "Wolfhounds," 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team.
"After 9/11, seeing and losing friends that were firefighters, I felt I owed it to them to jump into the fight," Pata said. "The time I spent at ground zero made up my mind."
Pata joined the Army in January 2007. He completed basic combat training at Fort Benning, Ga., and then was assigned to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. He joined the Wolfhounds in June.
Less than two months later, Pata left Hawaii with his unit to conduct training at the National Training Center, in Fort Irwin, Calif. There, he used his medical skills gained as a fireman and emergency medical technician to save the life of a fellow soldier who was suffering from a severe heat injury. As a result of his actions and performance during the training rotation, he was awarded the Army Achievement Medal.
After completing training in California, Pata took pre-deployment leave to relax before a 15-month deployment to Iraq. His leave was not all relaxation. He suited up and went back to work as a firefighter. Pata answered the last alarm minutes before he had to return from leave.
Greg Tobin, a fellow Rockland County volunteer firefighter, said Pata told his fellow firefighters to keep his bunk warm and to leave his gear alone until he returned. "Ever since he has been gone, his gear is exactly like he left it," Tobin said. "No one (has) dared to touch it -- not out of fear, but rather out of respect for the man who wore it."
When Pata left in October, he had to say goodbye not only to his biological family, but also to his other family, his fellow firefighters, Tobin said.
"His passion as a firefighter to help his community is what Nick lives for," he added. "He is a unique person that has risen to the position of captain in the fire department. He feared no fire; he was always the first into a fire and the last one out, and always making sure he watched over the men he led. He is a brave man, very respected, and very missed by us at home. The community will be safer again when he comes home."
While in Iraq, Pata assists his unit and the Iraqi security forces keep Taji safe. His experience under fire has helped him be a calm presence here.
"Pata always maintains his composure under pressure, regardless of the situation," said Army Maj. Patrick Aspland, a Fort Ann, N.Y., native who is the executive officer for 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, recognized Pata on March 12 for his exemplary performance in Iraq.
"Your great work is bringing new hope for the Iraqi people," Petraeus said during the award ceremony. "Keep up the terrific work."
Army Master Sgt. Timothy Jackson, a native of Dryden, N.Y., who serves as the operations sergeant major for 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, said Pata is one of the best radio-telephone operators he's ever known. "Pata is a great asset to the (battalion)," he said.
Pata has about a year left in Iraq before going back to fight a different kind of fire. Pata said he looks forward to going back to Hawaii and eventually returning to New York to continue to serve the people there.
(Army Staff Sgt. J.B. Jaso III serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 25th Infantry Division's 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team.)