Can you describe the bond between yourself and other recovery workers? How has this community impacted you?
Everyone helping was from a different agency. We weren’t used to working together and we didn’t have the same equipment, and sometimes, we didn’t even speak the same language. It was, "Help where you can.” Each day, new people would show up to help. We all worked together to get the job done.
Do you have any health issues connected to your time at Ground Zero?
I still have lung problems. As part of the military, I’m tuned in with my PTSD and mental health. For a long time, I couldn’t go near construction sites. The smell of the concrete dust and the sound of the jackhammering would bring me right back to Ground Zero. Now, I return to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, often with veteran groups. It has become cathartic.
Why is it important to share your story and stories of others with the next generation?
When I talk to young people, I’m always vocal about 9/11, because it’s touched all of us in some way. Whether it’s traveling at the airport or renewing your driver’s license. I don’t think they realize how many little things in their lives were changed because of 9/11, and by explaining that to them, it helps them understand the timeline and importance of that day.
We always say, "Never Forget." Whenever I give speeches, I always tell people to live their lives like it’s September 12. I should’ve died twice on September 11, but I didn’t. It ties into one of our big sayings at Project Dynamo, which is "Don’t be a spectator." That doesn’t mean you have to run into a burning building, but it means you have to do something. Whether that’s teaching, advocating, donating, anything really.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’ve always run towards people who need help. I did so with many others at the World Trade Center on 9/11 and during the following rescue, recovery, and relief effort. I also did so in the military. That’s why I founded Project Dynamo a few months before the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
I was in my living room, watching the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and it took me right back to 9/11. The Taliban were hunting down my friends. I thought, “What would a fireman do on 9/11?” I called some of my friends and said, “We’re going to Northern Afghanistan and we’re going to help.” I told them I wanted to be back for the 20th anniversary, and we would do the best we could in that time. Since then, we’ve been all over the world helping people.
Project Dynamo has two main operations. Digital Dunkirk locates veterans at risk and transports them to a safe location. These efforts are assisted by Dynamo II, a group of veterans who were contacted to help former Afghanistan interpreters and civilians whose lives were at risk in Afghanistan. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we’ve expanded Dynamo II operations to help evacuate refugees there. These operations are a colossal undertaking, as the work is done by civilians and runs off donations. To read more about the work we do, please visit our website.
Compiled by Caitlyn Best, Government and Community Affairs Coordinator