Air Guard unit carries fallen wingman's 9/11 memorial service flag into every deployment
(U.S. Air Force photo by Jeffrey Schultze)
SALAH AH DIN, Iraq (9/1/11) - Those who watched their televisions Sept. 11, 2001 and who were there in Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., and New York can never forget what happened that day, but there is a growing population of young service members who do not remember.
As the 10th anniversary approaches, security forces Airmen from the 105th Security Forces Squadron at Stewart Air National Guard Base, N.Y., have made it a priority to spread awareness of 9/11, and particularly the memory of a wingman of theirs who was lost – Staff Sgt. Jerome Dominguez.
The flag from his memorial service acts as a visible reminder of Dominguez's sacrifice.
"We use the flag to bring up 9/11 to the younger kids who do not remember," said Air Force Master Sgt. Daniel Rivera, the 532nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron east entry control point noncommissioned officer in charge and a member of the Stewart ANG.
As a fellow New York Police Department officer of 21 years, Rivera was also friends with Dominguez and still remembers Sept. 11, 2001.
"I had the day off, but after the second plane hit, my wife and I looked at each other," he said. "I got dressed, told her to get the kids out of school, and went to my office."
"Because I was a detective I was told to go work in the morgue to identify bodies, so we went to the biggest morgue, which is on Ellis Island, while the second tower went down," he said. "There weren't any bodies at the morgue so we went back to the site and started digging."
"At that point everyone started calling each other to check in," Rivera said. "I tried calling Jerome who worked at an emergency services unit in Manhattan and was filling in for someone. He usually picked up his phone, but this time he didn't."
While Rivera tried to contact his wingman and searched for bodies in the rubble of the towers, Stewart ANGB was activated and roll call was performed.
"We knew he was missing, so we went back to the last site he was seen and kept digging," he said.
Dominguez's body was never found. He was 36 years old and had been a cop for 15 years. On his following birthday, the Dominguez Family held a ceremony at St. Patrick Church. The U.S. flag that was used at the ceremony has now become a symbol of Dominguez that travels everywhere members from Stewart ANGB defenders go.
Since 9/11, Dominguez's flag has been to Pakistan, Bahrain, U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Saudi Arabia and now Joint Base Balad, Iraq.
The flag has also flown several other missions, including a mission bringing home 12 fallen soldiers back to New York. The flag is planned to be flown on JBB Sept. 11, 2011.
"It feels good to have been able to help with the aftermath of 9/11 and to now contribute to the war efforts here. I know if Jerome was still here, he would be here with us," he said.
Dominguez was known for putting service before self.
"Jerome was always helping people," Rivera said. "When he was in technical school, he rescued a guy at a car accident who was pinned down while the car caught on fire. We all laughed because he is the only guy we knew who earned an Achievement Medal during tech. school."
As the 105th SFS gets bigger and younger, the older members remind the younger ones that Dominguez is one of the reasons why they serve. Many members of the unit have deployed multiple times together.
To continue Dominguez's memory, the 105th SFS has painted a wall on JBB that says, "To us and those like us, so few of us left". When Osama Bin Laden was killed, they added, "You are now avenged, rest in peace, Geronimo-E-KIA" to the wall.
When the unit leaves, Dominguez's flag will accompany them and go back in a designated place in their squadron. The unit also plans on naming their new squadron building in honor of Dominguez.