By Col. Richard Goldenberg, New York Army National GuardMarch 20, 2013
NEW YORK -- Gen. Frank Grass, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, visited lower Manhattan here March 15 to learn about a growing partnership between the 9/11 Tribute Center and the National Guard.
Touring the 9/11 Tribute Center on Liberty Street, in the shadows of the former World Trade Center site, Grass and New York Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Patrick Murphy discussed the similar ways that both the Guard and Tribute seek to educate the public about the significance of 9/11 on history.
The 9/11 Tribute Center offers visitors to the World Trade Center site a place where they can connect with people from the September 11th community of victims, survivors and responders. Through walking tours, exhibits and programs, the 9/11 Tribute Center offers a "Person to Person History," linking visitors who want to understand these historic events with those who experienced them.
Bringing the two groups together was retired Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Taluto, chairman of the Rainbow Division Veterans Foundation who led a significant part of the New York National Guard's response at the World Trade Center and went on to lead National Guard forces during a combat deployment to Iraq as commander of the 42nd Infantry Division Headquarters. Taluto retired in 2009 as the Adjutant General of New York.
"A lot of our nation's blood and treasure went overseas from right here," Taluto said of the WTC site. "That humanity of hundreds of thousands of Guardsmen who went overseas to fight all started here."
"This is our Lexington and Concord for this period of time, for this generation," Taluto said.
The terror attacks here at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 forever changed the way Americans and the world viewed New York City. The same is true for the National Guard, said Jennifer Adams, Chief Executive Officer of the 9/11 Tribute Center.
"Your story is a very positive and unique one," Adams said. "You helped bring normalcy back to New Yorkers."
"It's our job," Taluto remarked. "That's what the National Guard does. And by the way, we've never left this city since 9/11," describing the standing homeland security task force kept on duty in New York City continually since 2001.
In the years and countless deployments that followed, the National Guard emerged as an operational force for the Army and Air Force, providing Airmen and Soldiers for contingency operations that can be traced back to the Guard's response at ground zero in Manhattan or the skies over the country in the aftermath of 9/11.
"I was the chief of Army National Guard operations on 9/11," Grass said, "and there's so much more to the Guard response than that. From the airports to the border missions, 9/11 changed us in the Guard."
The senior leaders agreed that educating the future generations of National Guard members and the public at large is a priority, especially now as a new generation of Guardsmen and women join the ranks.
"It is a difficult topic," Adams said, "How do you teach 9/11?"
"How can we send off our beautiful men and women off to war and then bring them here and standing next to them are a school group that knows nothing of 9/11?" Ielpi asked. "We are only scratching the surface with this, with the National Guard."
One method is the current 9/11 Era Gallery, a permanent exhibit in the National Guard Memorial Museum, operated by the National Guard Education Foundation in Washington. Like the 9/11 Tribute Center, the gallery highlights the National Guard's transformation since September 11, 2001.
"The Guard is the leading role in this," said Lee Ielpi, Vice President and founder of the 9/11 Tribute Center. "We have to get recognition, sure, but that's not the end of it. We need education, and we have a long way to go."
"Time is passing and telling your story is important," Adams said. "Your role is unique. You continued your response, not just in the Middle East, but here in New York to this very day."
The 9/11 Tribute Center hosts approximately half a million visitors each year, Adams said, while the 9/11 Memorial Site across from Liberty Street sees some five million visitors from across the nation and across the world.
"The National Guard and how you work is something people need to know," she said.
Grass related the discussion with the his counterpart at the New York Joint Force Headquarters as the National Guard tackled the many homeland security missions for Operation Noble Eagle even as New York maintained a large presence on state active duty in and around lower Manhattan.
"This is our state and our city," Grass said was the New York National Guard response to the many missions that evolved after 9/11, "we got it."