NEW YORK – On the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, members of the New York National Guard were recognized by Gov. Kathy Hochul for their service during and after that tragic day.
When airplanes struck the twin towers of the World Trade Center the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, New York National Guard members rallied at armories and air bases across New York. They were the first military responders to Ground Zero and in the skies above.
"In my opinion, they never got the recognition they deserved," Hochul told a room full of New York Army National Guard Soldiers at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.
"It's 20 years overdue, but I'm here to set that straight because I have seen what you've done," she said. "And I know what you continue to do."
Hochul presented Maj. Gen. Raymond Shields, adjutant general of New York, with a citation recognizing the thousands of men and women of the state's Army and Air National Guard, its Naval Militia and the New York Guard.
In the months following the attack, they provided security and logistics support to recovery workers and the people of New York City, guarded 19 airports and conducted combat air patrols. Most of the Soldiers and Airmen who were part of those missions also deployed overseas as part of the global war on terrorism, serving in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Twenty years later, the New York National Guard continues its proud tradition of service, both overseas and here at home," Shields said. "Since 9/11, more than 25,000 members of the New York National Guard have deployed to combat zones around the globe, while here at home we have responded to Superstorm Sandy, the COVID pandemic, and the attack on the United States Capitol on Jan. 6th," Shields said.
Hochul also marked the day by announcing the signing of three bills that expand the criteria that define first responders who participated in the World Trade Center rescue, increase accessibility to apply for World Trade Center benefits, and expand the definition of first responders to include communication workers such as public safety dispatchers and emergency operators. She has also proposed legislation to allow National Guard members who responded to Ground Zero to qualify as veterans under New York State Law, entitling them to benefits for serving under state emergency orders but not on federal active duty.
Making the announcement inside the Javits Center held special significance, as it had been a command post for first responders in the aftermath of 9/11. Two decades later, it became home to hundreds of Guardsmen who served in support of the state's COVID-19 response mission – first as a field hospital where 1,095 patients were treated, and later as the largest mass vaccination site in the United States.
Many of those Guardsmen were in the audience, and five shared the stage with Hochul, Shields, and Alan Steel, president and CEO of the Javits Center.
Hochul said she is humbled by the thought of National Guard members who are everyday neighbors in the community.
"But when duty calls, they put on these uniforms, they suit up and are willing to do something that I still find so incredibly powerful," Hochul said. "The act of courage to be able to put themselves out there on the front lines, to do what they're required to do and do it for all of us."