9/11, Hurricane Sandy and COVID-19: A National Guard Member’s Story

By Gary Sheftick and 1st Lt. Lauren Warner

Ever since he was 9 years old and a major winter storm hit western New York, Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Maloney has known he wanted to be involved in public service.

Electric power was out in their community for more than a week after the winter storm. So, young Maloney pitched in with his siblings to keep the fireplace going around the clock and helped bail out the flooding basement with the sump pump down.

“We had to stay on top of it 24 hours, bailing water,” he said.

Afterward, he joined other families to help clear tree limbs and debris from the county park down the road. That’s what piqued his interest in public service, he said.

During another winter storm when he was 16, he watched the National Guard help motorists on television and heard how they brought supplies to stranded residents.

“They kind of caught my eye then,” he said, adding that motivated him to join the Guard.

“That was really a big [factor in the] decision on why I joined, to help the citizens of New York state during trying times like this,” he said.

I liked how the Guard had the dual mission of stateside helping out citizens and also overseas serving the country.

He has since helped with recovery operations following three major disasters in New York City, along with several others around the state.

Beginning with 9/11, then Hurricane Sandy and now the COVID-19 pandemic, he has been to New York City with the Guard for every major activation.

Serving in New York City During 9/11

After the twin towers went down, Maloney volunteered to help at ground zero. He and several other members of his unit spent 12-hour night shifts hosing contaminants off debris being trucked from the site to a landfill. They prevented contaminants such as asbestos dust flying off the trucks into the city streets.

Photo credit Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mark C. Olsen

New York Army National Guard soldiers set up a tent on the perimeter at Ground Zero, New York City on Sept. 14, 2001.

“We didn’t have much sleep when we were down there,” he said. They worked a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, then made an hour-long subway commute back to Fort Hamilton. Twenty-two of them slept in an unfurnished two-room apartment at Hamilton.

“There wasn’t much time for rest,” he added, before they had to get on the subway and head back to the site.

“There was a lot of dust everywhere,” he said, adding it smelt of burnt metal and possibly asbestos.

“It was extremely surreal” he said. “It’s a smell you’ll never forget.”

To this day, when he sees a large construction site lit up at night, he immediately remembers the duty at ground zero.

“It will stick with you forever,” he said.

Maloney later deployed to Iraq in 2005 and spent a year at Camp Anaconda near Balad, serving as a wheeled vehicle mechanic with Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment of the 1st Battalion, 142nd Aviation Regiment.

Called to Duty in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy

Following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, his unit was activated. The 642nd Aviation Support Battalion in Rochester convoyed down to Camp Smith to help authorities in Westchester County. He served as a “battle staff non-commissioned officer (NCO)” for about 150 soldiers who provided perimeter security around downed electric lines while utility workers restored power.

Photo credit NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon

Hurricane Sandy approaches the Atlantic coast of the U.S. in the early morning hours of Oct. 29, 2012

A few years later, in 2016, Lake Ontario flooded and his unit served as an initial response force. Teams went out to municipalities to place sandbags along the lake and around the perimeter of properties. In 2019, the lake flooded again and Maloney was one of the volunteers.

Serving During the COVID-19 Pandemic

In April 2020, when New York City needed help again in the face of a global pandemic, Maloney was there. When the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan was stood up as a temporary hospital, he was first tasked to help in-process a number of retired medical officers back into the force. That mission ended up going to a medical unit. But Maloney said, “Wait a minute, we’re here,” so he volunteered for other duties.

A service member writes on a test tube. | Photo credit Senior Airman Xavier Navarro

He became a safety NCO for the hospital center, working mostly on the fourth floor. He helped put together a hazardous communications plan for the facility. He made daily checks of the intensive care unit (ICU) and other wards on the first floor to ensure oxygen lines were working, fire extinguishers were available and everything else was up to safety standards.

He was there for 30 days. During that time, more than 1,000 COVID-19 patients were treated at the Javits Center, he said.

“It was a pretty good joint operation” between the military and civilian teams, he said.

“I give those healthcare workers and everyone down there on that floor a ton of credit,” Maloney said. “I would maybe only spend an hour down there at a time in full PPE [personal protective equipment], but they were down there 12 hours a day in that gear.“

“Everyone was focused and very professional, doing everything they could.”

Maloney worked at the Javits Center until after the last patient left. He said that he would volunteer again in a heartbeat.

-This story originally appeared on army.mil. It originally appeared on USO.org in 2020 and has been updated in 2021. It has been edited for USO.org.

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