Featured News

NYPD cop serves with 3rd CAG after 21 years broken active-duty service

28 Jun 2006 | Master Sgt. John Cordero

New York City Police Department Detective Evan L. Schwerner had nearly 21 years off active duty in the Marine Corps when in the four-year wake of Sept. 11, 2001, he decided he could better serve his family and country in the global war on terror as a Marine in Iraq.

Cpl. Schwerner joined the Marine Corps Reserve in May 2005 as a hazardous material and waste Marine then volunteered to deploy with the 3rd Civil Affairs Group.  He was subsequently assigned to the CAG’s Detachment 4, currently based at the Provincial Civil Military Operations Center and Government Center in Ramadi, Iraq.

Known to other CAG Marines as “Pappy,” the 43-year-old civil affairs noncommissioned officer’s duties as part of the detachment’s force protection team include searching visitors at the entry control point who conduct business at the PCMOC and providing escort security for the detachment commanding officer, Col. Frank Corte.

“It’s our job to ensure the safety of detachment personnel and all Iraqis who visit the PCMOC,” said the Shrub Oak, New York, native. 

By protecting detachment personnel and visitors in the PCMOC, Schwerner and his force protection team allow the detachment to focus on its mission to increase the Al Anbar government’s capability and help it move toward self-reliance. 

Ensuring people are safe is nothing new to Schwerner, who served on active duty from 1981 to 1985 as an aircraft rescue firefighter and who has helped saved lives and capture criminals as an NYPD police officer for the last 19 years.  He spent his first 11 years as a patrol officer and the last eight as a detective and hazardous material technician with the Emergency Service Unit, which is a tactical and rescue team of about 450 men and women who specialize in forcible entries, high-risk search warrants, bridge climbs to talk-down suicidal people, and rescue of people involved in construction and automobile accidents.

“When a citizen needs help, they call the police; when the police need help, they call the ESU,” said Schwerner. 

An experience of helping people that is forever etched in Schwerner’s memory is when his ESU team was called on Sept. 11, 2001. 

“My squad was working that morning and we responded,” said Schwerner about the day of infamy now commonly referred to as 9/11. 

He was part of Team 5, which was assigned to the North Tower and arrived before either of the Twin Towers collapsed.    

“When we were entering the North Tower, the South Tower came down,” said Schwerner.  “My team took cover and, after the dust settled, cleared a path to help about 100 people out of the North Tower.”

According to an official report, after surviving the South Tower’s collapse, Schwerner’s team spread into chain formation and created a path for civilians who exited the North Tower to evacuate the World Trade Center complex by descending the stairs on the north side of World Trade Center Buildings 5 and 6.  The team remained at this position helping people until the North Tower collapsed, yet all team members survived because of training and a little luck, according to Schwerner.

Of the 23 NYPD police officers who died on Sept. 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center, 14 were from the ESU and two were from Schwerner’s squad.

“I’m amazed that my team survived,” he said.  “It’s still hard for me to talk about that day.”

While it is difficult for him to not be overcome by emotions as he talks about 9/11, he is quick to add he is now serving on active duty in honor of the fallen heroes of 9/11, out of love for his country, and for the sake of his family.

“My wife and kids are a big reason why I’m in Iraq,” he said before quoting “The Crisis” by author Thomas Paine.  “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.”

His service in the CAG prior to and during the deployment has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated.

“His law enforcement experience not only helped Detachment 4, but the rest of the CAG as he used his expertise to help train the Marines and sailors,” said Gunnery Sgt. Ben Trevizo, the detachment’s governance team leader for electricity.

“He was instrumental in the training of the CAG in urban warfare, room clearing, and searches and seizures of personnel,” said 39-year-old Trevizo, a native of Surprise, Ariz., who in his civilian job is the service coordinator for Arizona Public Service, Phoenix’s public utility company.

Trevizo said the main thing that sticks out in his mind about Schwerner is he goes the extra mile in everything he does.  Schwerner has proved his mettle by protecting CAG leadership during attacks at the Ramadi Government Center; assisting in the training of law enforcement techniques, tactics and procedures for 83 newly graduated Iraqi policemen assigned to Ramadi; and on one occasion spotting a possible enemy observation post near the PCMOC. 

Schwerner’s superior performance, leadership and conduct in a combat environment resulted in his June nomination for a combat meritorious promotion to sergeant, several days before he found out he was eligible for a regular promotion to sergeant on July 1.

His hard work, however, has not stopped him from constantly thinking about his family.
This deployment is the first time Schwerner has been separated for an extended period of time from his wife of 11 years and three children.

“My kids are taking it kind of hard, but my wife is a strong woman, so she’s holding everything together while I’m gone,” said Schwerner.  “I’m fortunate to have a supportive family.”

“I’m scared, but proud of him and support him 100 percent,” said Susan Schwerner, his wife, during a phone interview.  “The kids understand what he’s doing and why he’s doing it.”

Schwerner also has a supportive community.

“Where I’m from is very patriotic,” he said.  “I’ve gotten support from my family, fellow police officers, and community members since I’ve been deployed.”

He said he regularly receives boxes filled with food and health and comfort items, but that support has even been shown toward his family as co-workers and community members provide assistance with such things as car and home repairs.

During a winter storm in 2005, a fence around his home was damaged.  His whole ESU squad replaced the fence posts and had the fence up in a couple of hours.

“People are constantly calling me to see if I need anything,” said Susan. 

“It humbles me to think of all the support I receive,” Schwerner said. 

He said the support he and his family receive is vital in keeping him focused on his mission with the 3rd CAG.

“I can concentrate on what I have to do here because the support is so amazing and I know things are taken care of,” said Schwerner.

“I’m glad to be able to serve my country in this capacity,” he said.  “Just to be able to make the sacrifice at this point in my life is an honor.  I have a lot to be thankful to my country for, and this is my way to make my contribution and show my thanks.”

As the 3rd CAG nears the end of its seven-month deployment, Schwerner said he is looking forward to reuniting with his family and friends.  His wife has similar feelings.

“I’m excited and anxious about his return” Susan said.

She said she is excited because she misses him so much and she is anxious because she knows it will take time for her husband to adjust to life in the United States after being in Iraq for seven months.  

“He’s the most patriotic person I know.  This is unfinished business for him,” said Susan about her husband’s desire to do his part in the fight against worldwide terror. 

Perhaps it will help bring some closure to the events of 9/11.