By Army Lt. Col. Paul Fanning
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 10, 2008 - Men and women of the New York Army National Guard who served at Ground Zero are commemorating the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in Afghanistan this year. A ceremony is planned tomorrow at this base in the Afghan capital of Kabul, and it will be timed to coincide with the first plane strike at the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. EDT.
More than 1,700 members of New York's 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team are serving here with Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix, part of Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan. Its mission is to mentor and train the Afghan National Army and police, and provide assistance to the government of Afghanistan and its people.
The task force is led by Army Col. Brian K. Balfe, who is also commander of the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which took over command and control responsibility April 26.
The task force is composed of nearly 9,500 servicemen and women from all U.S. branches, coalition partners and civilian professionals serving at nearly 260 forward operating bases throughout Afghanistan.
"The New York National Guard is the only part of America's military team that has literally gone from Ground Zero to the Sunni Triangle [in Iraq] and is now here amid the mountains of Afghanistan," Balfe said. "Soldiers from this brigade were among the very first to respond to the attacks and served at the World Trade Center on 9/11 and for weeks later.
"At least a third of the team that came from New York has also already served in Iraq," he continued. "For those of us who were there, [who] served at Ground Zero, 9/11 is deeply personal."
When the World Trade Center collapsed, hundreds of New York National Guard personnel were on the ground. By evening, 1,500 were there and thousands more were poised at more than 63 armories and five air bases around the state.
For the first 40 hours, Guard personnel were on the debris pile, conducting search-and-rescue missions alongside fire department, rescue, police and other emergency personnel. The New York Guard's Civil Support Team for Weapons of Mass Destruction was the first unit of its kind to respond to a terrorist attack and was quickly mobilized.
On the second day, the civilian incident commander -- the New York City fire chief -- directed the Guard to establish a security perimeter and then sweep the pile to clear all personnel to better organize the search-and-recovery effort.
In the weeks stretching into months that followed, New York National Guard personnel performed a myriad of homeland defense missions in state active duty, federal duty under state control, or Title 10 active duty.
At the mission's peak, when recovery and security operations were running concurrently, more than 5,000 New York troops were on duty in New York City; at 19 commercial airports; at bridges, tunnels and train stations; at nuclear power plants; and at military installations.
Not since World War II had the New York National Guard been deployed in such numbers for such extended time participating in both state homeland defense missions and federal military operations.
(Army Lt. Col. Paul Fanning serves in the Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix Public Affairs Office.)