CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand province -- As the events of September 11, 2001 unfolded, many Americans watched as the attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon brought death and carnage to our nation on a staggering scale. Those with connections with the New York Police Department shared the realization that it was their comrades running toward the danger as others ran away, adding another layer of shock and terror to the situation.
“We were all worried for our N.Y.P.D. friends working in that area,” said David Delarosa, a forensic firearms examiner at Joint Expeditionary Forensic Facility 7, Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province. “I had quite a few friends from N.Y.P.D. who responded to ground zero when the towers fell.”
Delarosa served in the N.Y.P.D. for 20 years, including 13 as a detective with the 75th precinct, Brooklyn, and finishing his career as a forensic technician. At the time of the attack, Delarosa was in Florida for forensic training.
“We were in class when an instructor came in and told us about the first plane crashing in to the tower,” Delarosa said. “Our first impression was it was a small plane, like a Cessna. Then someone else came in and told us a second plane had hit.”
Delarosa and the others in the class were all from the N.Y.P.D. He says the first reaction from him and his classmates was the desire to get back home to help.
“We started making communication with our chain of commands back in N.Y. on how to proceed, and eventually we were able to commandeer rental cars to get back,” Delarosa recalled.
Delarosa arrived Thursday morning. The attack two days prior was still very apparent.
“As we crossed the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, we could see and smell the burning buildings,” Delarosa said.
Delarosa and the forensics division were assigned to ground zero for recovery and policing efforts.
“I was assigned to the temporary morgue for body recovery and evidence processing related to first responders,” explained Delarosa.
Delarosa said he was highly motivated by the efforts of the first responders at ground zero.
“It heightened my awareness to things and people around me,” said Delarosa. “It was a significant contributing factor in my decision to contribute to this mission.”
Now working as a civilian forensic technician for the Department of Defense, Delarosa has served in Iraq and is currently deployed to Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, as a forensic firearms examiner.
“Having a career in law enforcement provided me with the tools to process the investigative knowledge of a situation, into the forensic job that I do today.”
Delarosa was inspired to join the efforts on the frontlines by a friend of his who had previously served. He said he believes very strongly in the efforts the U.S. has undertaken in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I’m very proud to be a part of the mission out here,” said Delarosa. “I believe that taking the fight to their front doorstep has kept them out of our backyard.”
Delarosa, whose family came to America from Cuba when he was six, also said he appreciates the opportunities America has given him.
“I hold my freedom very seriously,” said Delarosa. “I’m a naturalized citizen from Havana, but I always think of myself as an American first. I can think of no better life than to be an American.”
It is important for Americans to remember the events of Sept. 11.
“I lost two very close buddies that day,” said Delarosa. “Being from New York and being involved in the events the way we were involved is something I’ll never forget. We should never forget the events of that day or the lives that were lost.”
Delarosa believes Sept. 11, is still very much a part of America’s conscience today.
“I think it’s still on the mind of every American and that hasn’t gone away. It was a traumatic event for us all,” he said.
Despite the tragedy of that day, Delarosa said he remembers New York for all its vibrance.
“There are many things about New York that I love and miss,” said Delarosa. “The vast cultural differences and exposure that a New Yorker gets on a daily basis. The opportunity to excel professionally, the great sports teams and of course the New York sky line. No matter where I am, I’ll be a New Yorker the rest of my life.”