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Airmen and Soldiers Work Together for Empire Shield

NEW YORK, NY --  New Yorkers greeting 2015 were protected New York National Guard members--including 20 members of the 106th Rescue Wing-- on duty in train stations and airports as part of Joint Task Force Empire Shield.

Army and Air Guard members have been on duty in New York City since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Today Soldiers and Airmen assigned to Joint Task Force Empire Shield augment law enforcement agencies in Penn Station, the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) train terminal, Grand Central Station, John F. Kennedy International Airport, and LaGuardian Airport.

The task force has about 475 members, including about 50 airmen. A third of those Airmen come from the 106th Rescue Wing, said Master Sgt. Kenneth Hines, a 106th member and the Task Force 1st Sgt.

While the task force runs like an Army National Guard unit, 106th Rescue Wing members are in both junior and senior enlisted positions. Captains Peter Papandrea and Mark Wilborn, both members of the 106th, serve as task force company commanders.

"The 106th Rescue Wing brings a lot of diversity to the Task Force," Wilborn said.

"We bring expertise, and a different way of looking at things. This isn't to say the Army way is wrong, but it's useful to have a  different outlook on how to accomplish the mission," he added.

Making the transition from an Air Force structure to an Army one initially
took some getting used t0, Hines said.

"It was definitely different. The way the Task Force is set up is like an infantry battalion, broken up into companies and platoons and squads. For new airmen coming onto the mission, it can be quite challenging changing over to that kind of a hyper-regimented environment," Hines explained.

But we come from a lot of different backgrounds, from communications to civil engineering, to admin and security forces. It didn't take long for the our Airmen to integrate," he added.

Wilborn, who was himself a soldier before joining the Air Force,
agreed.

"Learning the [Army] culture and language, it's a whole different way
of doing business. For most airmen who haven't worked with the Army before, it
can be challenging," Wilborn said.

In his opinion, though, this isn't a bad thing.

"From an Air Force point of view, I think it's a great opportunity to get new Airmen  out there, experiencing what it's like to work with other services. The
military is definitely going joint in many ways, so this is a great chance to
spend some time interacting with another branch," Wilborn added.

Additional Guard elements often work with Empire Shield for larger events.

The New York National Guard's 24th Civil Support Team, for example, a unit that is specially trained to detect chemical, biological and radiological agents, will had a  on duty in Manhattan to support the New York Police Department on New Years.

The 22-man unit, based at Fort Hamilton, in Brooklyn, has partnered with the New
York Police Department for counter-terrorism support operations since the
unit's formation in 2010.

Task Force members are based out of Fort Hamilton, and operate from facilities
at John F Kennedy Airport.

A typical day includes a morning formation, briefings, and team assignments. From there the various teams are issued their weapons, don their body armor and move out to their assigned locations. During their shift, members conduct roving patrols, interact with the public (often posing for pictures with tourists and locals) and liaise with the New York Police Department.

Not every day is routine.

Recently, Air National Guard Staff Sergeant Elisha Rendal and Senior Airman Carlos Guija saved the life of a New  Yorker with a heart condition who collapsed at Penn Station. Sergeant Rendal and Airman Guija attended to the victim, performing CPR until first responders were able to arrive on scene and take over. Because of their actions, the victim ultimately survived.

"I love it," Airman First Class Lilia Garcia said about the task force assignemnt.

"You get to be out in the public with so many different people.
You get to see how the public appreciates you; people come out of the blue to
say thank you," Garcia said.