Master Sgt. (Ret) Patrick Glenn Higgins, 53 — San Diego, California

I was driving down I-15 towards Marine Air Station Miramar when I received a phone call from my wife about what happened. I asked her, “What’s the weather like, Ramona?” She told me it was a clear day, and that’s when I knew it was a terrorist attack.

I’d just left CBIRF [the Marine Corps Chemical Biological Incident Response Force] a month prior, so she though that it was just my CBIRF paranoia.
By the time I got to Miramar, the second plane had hit and shortly thereafter, I was on an airframe headed toward Bahrain to evaluate the airfield for strikes on Afghanistan.

I was concerned because several friends of mine are New York City Firefighters. Got on the phone to try and reach them and naturally the cell service was dead. Ray Downey, the man this facility is named after, was one of them.

Ray Downey was an 0311. He joined in the fifties, got out of the Marine Corps after serving his initial tour. The biggest thing about Ray is he took the Marine Corps Ethos that he was taught and took it to the fire department. He was one of the founding fathers of the Urban Search and Rescue program (FEMA). He was no nonsense, knew his job, was an awesome American, a fine Marine, and an exceptional firefighter. He was the type of man who when he walked into a room everybody shut up and listened — like talking to the burning bush.

He was instrumental in helping me and several other individuals here get the technical rescue program at CBIRF off the ground. We were trying to train Marines at this new unit called CBIRF.

Marines go into a building, if the building comes down around them, the civilian populace, firefighters and whatnot are not going to go into a chemically contaminated environment to pull them out, so we want to train Marines to do that.

The facility itself was built in the late fifties, early sixties. I came up here in 2000 and it was abandoned. So we looked into it as a training venue, overtook the perimeter and haven’t left since. It was dedicated October 22nd, 2004 to Ray Downey, the Deputy Chief of Special Operations. We try to keep his memory alive.

The Marines and sailors of CBIRF go through the 14 days of training and then have a very arduous last day of practical application. I explain to them what 9/11 was, and tell them that we don’t have the right to forget. It can happen tomorrow, and it is necessary for us to train and have vigilance today in the event that it does happen.

I have a calling to ensure they remember it. As long as I have a breath in my chest, they will.

Courtesy of DVIDS