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Members of Air Cargo 8, a Navy Reserve unit from New Jersey, are helping move cargo to and from aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean Sea from a deployed location. Some of the unit's members helped with the recovery effort at the World Trade Center. Pictured are, from left, Petty Officer 2 Christopher Cintron, Petty Officer 2 Edgar Severe, Petty Officer 3 John Julian and Petty Officer 2 Frankie Alvarez.

Members of Air Cargo 8, a Navy Reserve unit from New Jersey, are helping move cargo to and from aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean Sea from a deployed location. Some of the unit's members helped with the recovery effort at the World Trade Center. Pictured are, from left, Petty Officer 2 Christopher Cintron, Petty Officer 2 Edgar Severe, Petty Officer 3 John Julian and Petty Officer 2 Frankie Alvarez. (Ron Jensen / S&S)

AN AIR BASE IN THE MEDITERRANEAN REGION — For some servicemembers deployed here, the tragic events of Sept. 11 was a local affair.

Members of Air Cargo 8, a detachment with the Navy Reserves in New Jersey, were on the scene at Ground Zero within hours or days to help with the recovery and rescue effort from the wreckage of the World Trade Center.

“A Bruce Willis movie, but 100 times worse,” said Petty Officer 2 Frankie Alvarez in describing the scene confronting the New York City police officer, who arrived hours after the planes struck.

But this was no work of fiction. And the reality of it was severe. Alvarez was put to work trying to find survivors among thousands of tons of rubble.

“By the second or third day, you could smell the dead bodies,” he said.

At this deployed location, which cannot be named because of political sensitivities inside the host nation, the unit established a base to move mail and cargo to and from the carrier groups now floating in the Mediterranean Sea. Both the Harry S. Truman and Theodore Roosevelt are on the scene.

This is not the first deployment the reservists have had in support of the military effort since the tragedy of 9/11. The unit spent from eight to 10 months last year doing the same task in Bahrain to support carriers in the Persian Gulf.

Among the deployed reservists who took part in the rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero, were several from New York City.

“The biggest thing that had an effect on me was how everybody came together,” recalled Petty Officer 2 Edgar Severe. “Everybody respected the New York City police and fire departments.”

Severe, a hospital lab technician, was called up to provide security around the recovery effort, ensuring that only authorized people entered the site. He remembered how all those present would stop and remove their hats whenever the body of one of the police or firemen killed in the tragedy was recovered. “It was real touching,” he said.

“It was definitely a privilege,” he said of his days at the World Trade Center. “Everybody wants to help. So it was a privilege to be called upon. I definitely felt like I was contributing.”

A few blocks from the site, an unused warehouse was turned into a supply depot for the recovery effort. Everything from food and water to gloves and masks was stored there to keep the operation moving.

Petty Officer 2 Christopher Cintron, who once worked in the World Trade Center, and Petty Officer 3 John Julian were called up to work at the warehouse and shuttle needed supplies to the workers.

“It was just amazing. What used to be there was no longer there,” said Julian, who works for the United Parcel Service.

“It makes you feel you were definitely worthwhile,” said Cintron, who works in the finance office of a hospital. “I could have never done what Frankie did. So my effort was to make sure he was OK.”

Alvarez was asked if any of the police officers lost in the center’s collapse were friends.

“Yeah,” he replied. “I lost a few friends.”

One man, John Chipura, had been a Marine at the barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, that was blown up in 1983, killing 243 people. He had survived that and years as a police officer, Alvarez recalled. He died at the World Trade Center making his first call to a major fire as an NYC fireman.

The members of Air Cargo 8 don’t expect this to be their last deployment. They know their lives will continue to revolve around events that day 18 months ago.

“I don’t feel like I’ve been home since Sept. 11,” Alvarez said.

Now, Cintron added, “It’s a part of you.”

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