BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- Sept. 11 is never too far from the hearts and minds of the 105th Security Forces Squadron deployed here from Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York. Through mementos and each other, they remember one unit member who was killed during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed that day, when three passenger airplanes were hijacked and flown into the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., while a fourth airplane was hijacked and crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pa.
Among those killed at the site of the World Trade Center was Staff Sgt. Jerome Dominguez of the 105th SFS.
When Dominguez wasn't wearing an Air Force uniform for the New York ANG, he wore the uniform of the New York Police Department's elite emergency service unit while he served and protected the people of New York City. He was an initial responder to the World Trade Center attack and was killed while evacuating people from the interior of WTC Tower No. 2 when it collapsed. "I was one of the first responders to ground zero along with about 18 others who went there looking to see if we could rescue him," said Master Sgt. Anthony Kavouras, the 755th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron Reaper 7 NCO in charge of tactical operations center, who knew Dominguez personally.
While 12 years have passed since the attack of Sept. 11, deployed members from the 105th SFS keep the memory of their comrade alive by carrying an encased folded flag with a picture of Dominguez. Security forces members carry the flag with them as they deploy around the world in support of operations to prevent future attacks on America.
"In addition to the flag, the team carries a historical folder documenting this practice through the years and deployment locations," Kavouras said. "We have not forgotten to carry his memory with us everywhere we go."
The quest to carry the mementos is inspirational, considering there were others there from the squadron in harm's way after the buildings had fallen. Members of the 105th SFS also consider serving downrange on the anniversary of Sept. 11 an honor. "The 105th SFS stands strong together and on the war on terrorism due to our member that was lost on 9/11," said Tech. Sgt. Michael Pacenza, a 755th ESFS Reaper 7 squad leader.
Another security forces member who is on his second deployment during the Sept. 11 anniversary remembers his inspiration for serving and said it was bittersweet being here.
Senior Airman Adrian Torres, a 755th ESFS 240 B gunner, joined the Air Force a short time after the attacks.
"Nothing can bring back all that was lost, affected and changed after that day; but being here with the 105th shows everyone the unbreakable resiliency and perseverance we as New Yorkers have acquired after that day," Torres said, who is a police officer for New York State's Metropolitan Transportation Authority. "We never quit and never stay down or depressed no matter what. We are here to win and motivated to do something positive here.
"My father is a fire lieutenant in the New York Fire Department and responded to the attacks while off duty," he said. "His actions later instilled in me a sense of selfless service and inspired me to become a police officer in New York and join the Guard."
Torres said he was a college student at the time of the attacks and saw the towers fall from his block in Queens.
"I knew my father was there before the buildings had collapsed and honestly thought he wasn't coming back home, but thankfully he returned home, covered in debris, later that night."
Through it all, they have never forgotten Dominguez. He was their friend who gave his life doing a job he loved and his legacy remains with them wherever they go; especially with the mementos their unit carries with them to ensure his memory lives on.
(Editor's note: During the writing of this article, the 105th SFS lost another security forces member, Staff Sgt. Todd 'T.J.' Lobraico during an outside the wire mission here Sept. 5, 2013. In keeping with their tradition, the 105th SFS will now carry a flag in his honor.)