The Army’s response in Manhattan

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ONE-ON-ONE counseling or simply listening is a key aspect to the Army’s ministry at ground zero. Here, Canadian officer Major Goldie Combden helps John Kirby, Ironworkers Local #40, sort through questions that plague those working in the recovery effort.


Smoke still rises from the rubble at ground zero–acrid and gritty, it permeates clothing, hair, and even the inside of The Salvation Army’s hydration site #2, located no more than 30 feet from the pit.

Here, inside the white tent with the bright red Army shield, volunteers provide coffee, snacks, and compassion for those who work outside, who are searching for victims or clearing the tons of twisted debris.

“We pass out aspirin, alcohol swabs, coffee and much more,” said Wayne Mason, Portland Tabernacle corps youth pastor, who spent two weeks at the site. “We also provide companionship. There are still a lot of sad people at ground zero; some of them will never be the same.”

Some of that companionship is provided when a body is found and Salvation Army workers are asked to accompany the firefighters to the remains and offer prayer. Major Neil Timpson, San Francisco Turk Street corps officer, described what happened when seven bodies were found one afternoon: “The bodies were put onto gurneys and draped with American flags; as many as 50 people saluted and formed a cortege to accompany the bodies to the makeshift morgue. Firefighters, police and Salvation Army chaplains offered prayer, as they do each time this happens.”

It’s been two months since the terrorist attack on the World Trade Towers. In all that time, Salvation Army volunteers have provided assistance 24-hours a day, seven days a week throughout Manhattan to fire fighters, police officers, relief workers…and to families of those who were killed and to those who themselves fell victim to the devastation.

By all accounts, Army assistance will continue as long as needed. Most say that will be at least a year, maybe more. Soon, winterizing operations will start–providing new tents with sides for feeding stations, supplying heaters for tents, and incorporating inside waiting facilities at service centers.


TOM MCSHERRY, territorial emergency disaster services coordinator, speaks with a volunteer at ground zero.

Work in New York City

Salvation Army volunteers serve at Pier 94, located on the Hudson River up near 54th Street; at the medical examiner’s office on 30th Street over by the East River; at 141 Worth Street; at ground zero, and at other sites.

They often work in conjunction with city, state, and federal agencies; at every location they display the familiar red shield and offer “value added service,” says Greater New York Div-isional Commander Lt. Colonel William LaMarr. He explains, “The Salvation Army does disaster relief, but with ‘value added’–it’s a Christian, compassionate, caring response.”

It’s also fiscally responsible relief work. According to La Marr, the Army has spent $2-3 million per month on the relief effort so far.

“We’ve given all kinds of assistance to WTC families and to secondary victims who lost jobs as a result of the disaster. We’ve given rent assistance and made mortgage payments for those who lived in the area.”

He explained that more than 100,000 people were affected within the red zone (the designated area where damage occurred), including ground zero. More than 500,000 meals were provided to rescue workers and others in the first week alone.

Financial accountability is a concern to the team. Major George Polarek, incident commander, states “We will be audited eventually. We want to make sure we follow clear fiscal and auditing procedures. We want to be able to trace what’s happening.”

Command center

The hub of the relief effort is the command center at 120 W. 14th Street. Located in Railton Hall, downstairs at the Empire State Divisional Headquarters, Salvation Army officers and volunteers from across the U.S. process volunteers, coordinate donations, track finances, and perform myriad other functions that keep the work running smoothly.

From September 30 to October 18, Tom McSherry, Western Territory emergency disaster services coordinator, was the incident commander, giving oversight to all operations. “We were strengthening the support system that had been started, to ensure effective and efficient services,” he said. “Now, we’re looking at it for the long term. It’s estimated we’ll be there for a year.” He explains that buildings are still being evaluated for safety and possible demolition.


VICE PRESIDENT Dick Cheney greets a Salvation Army volunteer.
Photographs by Ralph Bukiewicz

He found the Army’s presence played a significant role in the general recovery effort. “I had more firefighters and cops tell me that we were their emotional and social support system.” He spoke with a construction worker at a hydration site whose problems weren’t the relief work, he said, but the stressors at home. He just needed a listening ear, someone to talk to.

Major John Webb, Santa Fe, New Mexico, corps officer, served for three weeks as donations manager at the command center, working to make sure that all Army sites had ample supplies.

“Needed supplies include food, drink, clothing, hard hats, heaters to warm tents and rest areas, and a host of other items,” he said. “Donors and vendors all seemed to understand the urgency to meet the need at the point of need.” Requests range from 3,000 handwarmers to a 4 a.m. call from one feeding site that needed milk–one phone call later and the milk was delivered in time to serve breakfast.

Donations for Army work are sent to a warehouse at John F. Kennedy Airport, where they are sorted. Next, they’re sent to a staging area at Pier 40, where orders are filled for sites around the city.

Pier 92–Office of Emergency Management’s Emergency Operations Center

The Salvation Army assigns a chief liaison officer at Pier 92 to represent the Army to all local, state and federal agencies as well as to all voluntary and non-governmental organizations.

For three weeks, Intermountain Division’s Director of Service Extension and Emergency Disaster Services, Jon Wallace, served in this capacity. His duties included: obtaining resources from the government such as generators, six-wheeled vehicles, thousands of gallons of diesel fuel and gasoline, handling security issues with NYPD, arranging and placing Salvation Army canteens and hydration stations in locations around the WTC site, and submitting statistical reports to local, state and federal government.

He also was responsible for working collaboratively with the American Red Cross in establishing two “respite centers” in the restricted zone, attending long-term recovery meetings representing the Army to position it as a leader in those efforts, and obtaining increased space for The Salvation Army location at the Pier 94 Family Assistance Center.

“My primary duty?” asks Wallace. “To evidence the loving presence of my savior Jesus Christ in a traumatized and deeply hurt city to all those with whom I came in contact.”

Pier 94 and Worth St.–Family Assistance Centers

In addition to providing meals and other physical comforts, the Army has provided grief counseling to nearly 54,000 individuals, and other social services to nearly 20,000. Many of them obtained those services at either Pier 94 or Worth St. establishing two “respite centers” in the restricted zone, attending long-term recovery meetings representing the Army to position it as a leader in those efforts, and obtaining increased space for The Salvation Army location at the Pier 94 Family Assistance Center.

“My primary duty?” asks Wallace. “To evidence the loving presence of my savior Jesus Christ in a traumatized and deeply hurt city to all those with whom I came in contact.”

Pier 94 –Family Assistance Center

In addition to providing meals and other physical comforts, the Army has provided grief counseling to nearly 54,000 individuals, and other social services to nearly 20,000. Many obtained those services at either Pier 94 or at the Worth St. location.

As families of victims enter the immense warehouse at Pier 94, they pass by a wall papered with hundreds of photos of those missing in the September 11 attack–painful reminders of why family members are at this site. Inside, nearly 100 booths are filled with federal, state, and local agencies providing access to assistance for the victim’s families.

The Salvation Army plays a role here as well, providing immediate financial assistance to those with urgent needs, as well as assisting those who do not qualify for aid from other organizations.

Susan Conklin, L.I.C.S.W., drives down from Williamstown, Mass., twice a week–a 3 1/2 hour drive each way–to volunteer as a case worker for the Army. “We pay bills directly; we give no cash,” she says. “We pay rent or mortgages month by month. The number of widows is decreasing, and we’re getting more displaced workers now.”

She tells of her most difficult case: a single mother with a 5-year-old child who worked in one of the Trade Towers. Just before the first plane hit, she had gone for a cup of coffee; in its aftermath, she was knocked to the ground and buried in rubble, breaking three ribs. With the tower destroyed, her job was gone; she lived near the WTC, and lost her housing as well. She came to Pier 94 for financial assistance a number of weeks after the attack because she had been in the hospital.

The Red Cross put her up in a hotel. The Salvation Army then paid for her meals, laundry, and provided a phone card. “She was a real victim,” said Conklin.

Across from the entry to Pier 94 stands a Salvation Army tent and canteen, with volunteers ready to provide snacks and drinks, as well as a hug, a prayer, and a listening ear.

A local resident, Catherine Kiesmann, is helping at the tent with Major Roy Scott. They point out the plate of sandwiches on the table, made by students at Riverdale Country School. The kids drop off the sandwiches along with notes. Today it’s peanut butter and jelly. Last week, it was chicken.

Kiesmann says that mental health workers come to the tent to talk, and to “decompress.” It’s a neutral gathering ground. They like the treats as well. “We’ll often hear them say, ‘Let’s see, what do you have now? What’s here today?'”

People are very appreciative, says Scott. “They want to get out of the building, and get outside. This is a Godsend.”

After the memorial service at ground zero on October 28, attended by 9,000 relatives and friends of the victims of the attack, small wooden urns filled with dirt and ashes from ground zero were given out at Pier 94 to those who attended the ceremony. Salvation Army volunteers assisted in passing out the urns to family members.

Medical Examiner’s Office

At the corner of 30th Street and First Avenue, next to the East River, the Medical Examiner’s Office handles, among other things, the emotionally exhausting task of processing the remains of WTC victims. To date, they have received 8,000 body parts from which they have identified only 300 people.

Here, The Salvation Army provides grief counseling, hot meals, and hope to weary workers and, at times, to family members. A familiar canteen, manned by Salvationists and volunteers from New Jersey, provides hot and cold drinks and snacks. Nearby, a tent shelters volunteers dishing up hot meals ranging from macaroni and cheese, Italian sausage, and veggie burgers to penne pasta with chicken. By all accounts, the Army’s services are more than welcome.

“The Salvation Army is here 24-hours a day,” said Detectives Michael Fabozzi and Richard Sullivan, NYPD special investigators. “We get here at 4 a.m. and The Salvation Army is here working, providing hot food. They serve dinner until 3 a.m., then a new shift starts providing breakfast at 4 a.m.”

The detectives have worked 12 hours a day, with four days off, since September 11. Within their special investigation unit officers deal with the terrorist task force computer investigation squad, missing persons, arson/explosion, and fraud relating to the ID theft of missing persons.

Fabozzi and Sullivan have set up a database to correlate body parts with missing persons. How do they handle the stress of their work? “We repress a lot,” said Sullivan.

They also eat the hot meals provided by The Salvation Army, where they get a break from their daily tasks. Fabozzi says, “I never realized what The Salvation Army does. At Christmas, I would pass by their kettles. I will never do that again.”

California Tent–site #2

In the “California” tent–just steps away from the center of ground zero–fire, police, and construction workers find a respite from the noise and stress of the work outside.

Just inside the door, a table filled with tracts, Christian books, and small silver crosses is available for workers to pick up and take the items with them. Close by, hot drinks and snacks supply warmth and energy, and scores of necessities such as aspirin, foot powder, toothpaste and tooth brushes, help workers with everyday needs.

David Sanabria, NYPD Canine Unit, is at ground zero with his dog, Storm. They are working with FEMA’s search and rescue team and are regulars at the Army’s tent. He explains that Storm, a six-year-old German shepherd, is trained to find cadavers.

“When they find fire fighters’ tools or clothes, or items from citizens, they pinpoint the area and stop the equipment working there. Then Storm goes in. We always find something,” he says.

Sanabria has been there “since day one,” and explains that “I want to be here; I want to see who I can find.” Last week, Storm found the body of one of David’s friends.

He’s often at the California tent, and says with a smile, “If they don’t have coffee and muffins, you might as well shoot me….everything you see in the tent is important. It may look minor to you, but when you need it, you need it.”

He is called away as we are talking. They have found some items, and need Storm to search for a body.

Not long after he leaves, a firefighter enters, asking for duct tape to wrap around his blue jeans at his ankles. His tan overalls are covered with dirt and dust, his boots are muddy, and his blue shirt is smudged. Major Neil Timpson, Turk Street corps officer, grabs a role of tape and wraps some around the bottom of his pant legs.

He stuffs his pants back into his boots, pulls his knee pads back on, jams his hard hat on his head, and starts back for the pit. On the way out, he explains he’s been doing recovery work, “looking for our brothers” and other victims. It’s tedious work sorting through rubble and debris and going through the ashes, looking for bone fragments, tools, clothing, and any other remains.

He’s glad The Salvation Army has a quiet spot to rest and get a bite to eat.

And he’s glad they had that duct tape.

General tours red zone, meets with Giuliani

General tours red zone, meets with Giuliani

GENERAL JOHN GOWANS and Commissioner Joe Noland present the Others Award to New

Volunteers make it happen in New York City

Volunteers make it happen in New York City

Western Territory volunteer workers–officers, soldiers, cadets, advisory

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