AL ASAD, Iraq -- Engraved in the minds of many, September 11, 2001 is a date that will forever be remembered as the day the war on terrorism was brought to American soil.
For the vast majority of people populating New York City during the time of the attacks on the World Trade Towers, the tragic sequence events left permanent emotional scars.
Lt. j.g. John E. Antoine, wing environmental health officer, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, is one of the New Yorkers who is still haunted by the memories of the terrorist attacks.
“I worked at the Bureau of Environmental Health Center,” said the 31-year-old. “I was only a block away from the towers when I heard the first plane hit.”
After running for cover, Antoine wasn’t sure right away what he could do to help.
“That’s when I got the call,” he said. “Before (the terrorist attacks) I had never done any real events involving hurt people. I had only worked in health services.”
“(The NYC health department) needed as many people as they could get,” he continued. “There was so much horrible damage. The situation makes you grow up quick.”
Originally born in Haiti, Antoine moved with his parents to New York as a child and became an American citizen. He eventually went to college and discovered what he was truly meant to do.
“I’ve always been good with science. I love biology and working with chemicals,” said Antoine, “so I started to study for a (medical degree).”
Talent and hard work enabled Antoine to rapidly climb the ladder of success, and before he joined the Navy, he was working as a health inspector for the New York City Health Department. During his time with the department, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred.
Following the shocking collapse of the “twin towers,” Antoine helped in the effort to recover bodies and clean up the debris from ground zero for nearly 13 months. Simultaneously, he earned his college degree and felt compelled to join the Navy.
“Joining the Navy was always in the back of my mind,” said Antoine, “but after the attacks it was the only thing on my mind.”
Many Americans were overwhelmed with feelings of patriotism during this time. Antoine was no exception, so when the war on terrorism began, he didn’t hesitate to join the military and deploy overseas to the front lines.
“By the time I joined we were already at war,” said Antoine. “I knew what I was getting into. I was only in (the Navy) for five months before I was sent to Iraq,” he said. “They kind of threw me right into it.”
Even with the speed of his deployment, Antoine was motivated to contribute to the American military effort by lending his expertise to personnel serving in the hostile environment.
“I enjoy my job, and that makes it a lot easier,” he said. “It’s a wonderful career to have.”
Serving in Iraq during wartime can be extremely dangerous and Antoine is always alert and ready for anything.
“Since I’m the health inspector for the entire 3rd MAW, I have to travel a lot,” he said. “Sometimes it gets scary out there, but we need to bring the fight to wherever it’s needed.”
Even though the Haitian officer was born in another country, he still considers himself an American and, more importantly, a hardcore New Yorker.
“I’m glad to have the opportunity to serve my country,” he concluded. “I’ll take the fight to the terrorists Brooklyn-style,” he remarked decisively.