CAMP PENDLETON, CA, UNITED STATES
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – “It was one of the most terrifying feelings that I’ve ever felt or will probably ever feel,” he said. “I’ve been in combat, but nothing has scared me the way I was scared that day. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Master Sgt. Jason M. Velez, the staff non-commissioned officer in charge of Special Operations Training Group, worked one block east of the World Trade Center as a Marine recruiter in Manhattan. It was just another day of finding qualified candidates to become Marine officers, or so he thought.
“That morning, just like your average New Yorker, you get up and you go to work, and just like that your life changes,” Velez said.
As Velez drove to work he thought he heard a bang, but dismissed it as a possible transformer that blew or construction noise nearby. It wasn’t until he pulled into the parking lot that he realized something worse happened. People were looking in the direction of the towers. When he looked himself he saw smoke billowing from the first tower. When the second plane hit, he knew it was a disaster.
“Immediately I knew it was a terrorist attack.” Velez said, “There was nothing else it could have been.”
Velez helped evacuate the building he worked in and then ran down to the police plaza to offer help.
“It was madness,” he said. “It was something out of a movie.”
He was pulling out police barricades and directing traffic away from ground zero when further disaster struck.
“All of a sudden the ground started shaking, and I heard rumbling,” Velez said. “I looked over my shoulder, and you could see the first tower start to come down. I remember turning and bolting with everyone, then looking back and the cloud just engulfing and consuming everyone.”
The events of Sept. 11, 2001 changed Velez’s life forever. As a native of New York, he took it personally.
“As a New Yorker, it’s a hit in the gut,” Velez said. “That’s your city. They attacked your city.”
This event solidified the reason Velez kept reenlisting. He knew the armed services were going to take the fight to those responsible for the attacks.
“I think that day basically answered any doubt of what I wanted to do with my life,” Velez said. “It refocused me as a Marine.”
There are many reasons people join the military, Velez said. Some joined to be patriotic or for trade skills, travelling or the ability to go to college.
“After 9/11 I don’t think there is doubt in too many people’s minds why they joined and raised their right hand when they could have said ‘not me’,” he said. “I definitely tip my hat to those who decided to answer the call and do something for their country post 9/11.”
Velez, along with every Marine that is now serving, is affected still by the events of 2001. Many of the service members today were still in grade school on this day, while some were still in training.
“It made me realize there are really bad people out there,” said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Chinchilla, a supply chief with I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, who was in Marine Corps recruit training in September 2001. “You have to mentally and physically prepare yourself for the worst. I don’t want anyone thinking they could just come to the United States and do what they did to us Sept. 11.”
Chinchilla and Velez have re-enlisted in the Marine Corps twice since 9/11. All Marines currently serving knowingly enlisted or reenlisted into the Corps during war time.
“At the end of the day, you can look in the mirror and say, ‘I’ve honestly done my part’ and be proud of that, and no one could ever take that away from you,” Velez said.
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This work, NY Marine remembers 9/11, tips hat to other service members, by Sgt Joshua Young, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.