Thursday--October 3
, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 386
War Heroes Can Be Schoolteachers

Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

       GROUND ZERO, New York City, October 3--Yesterday my six-year-old grandson's school was under siege by a sniper.   No.  I don't live in a third-world country.  I live in New York City.
        For two hours a gunman a block away sprayed bullets from his apartment window.  My grandson and a school full of children remained holed up in the gymnasium waiting for the police to issue an okay for them to leave.

       But the hero of the day wasn't a flack-jacketed police officer--instead, it was a school teacher.
        The teacher, 25-year-old Ayana Reyes, and a co-worker were taking eight children for a walk from their preschool when she was hit in her left shoulder.   
        The wound was superficial, but nevertheless bleeding.  Fortunately, the bullet grazed her shoulder.  Ms. Reyes, and a school aide rushed the two-year-olds back to the Manhattan Kids Club II preschool nearby on East 14th Street.  She then returned to the scene where she tried to help determine the source of the gunfire.
         "The only thing I could think of was getting the kids back safe," she said, adding that she was unsure of what the noise was. "I stayed calm. I didn't want them to feel like there was anything wrong."
          There's a couple of vital elements to the heroism of Ms. Reyes.   One, she took the children's safety and security over her own.   Getting the kids back to school safely, without alarming them, was her first instinct.   She wasn't driven by the "need to survive," but rather by the "need for Vigilance."   The children came first, even though she had been wounded.
          The second element of her heroism is that she returned to the 'war zone' where she was shot in an attempt to locate the sniper.   Her priority was in helping police locate the source of the shooting to prevent others from being shot.     

          We talk a lot about the heroes of Nine Eleven--the firemen and police who rushed into the burning structure to save lives.    While I honor them for their deeds, they were both trained and paid to do their jobs of risking their lives to protect others.    Ms. Reyes' teaching contract didn't include putting herself at mortal risk to spot a sniper after she had been shot.
          In a mad rush to find "heroes" we can place on pedestals, we often overlook the mundane heroes, those in the daily drudgery of life who shift gears from being "average" to people of "uncommon valor."    Ms. Reyes certainly is one of those.
          First, was her concern for the emotional and physical safety of the children.   Vigilance, I believe, is not just about fighting the physical aspects of Terrorism.  It's not all about "killing the enemy," so we might feel "safe."  It's more about "defending the Fear, Intimidation and Complacency" that results from the threat of Terrorism.        

         Few will agree that by killing a Terrorist, or locking him up, or destroying the cells that weave spider-like throughout the world, that Terrorism will disappear.   New Terrorists will rise up from the graves of the old.   Terrorism is the crabgrass of humanity.  It will creep into the finest soil and attempt to choke the innocent sprouts, just as it has in the past.
         An army of police, fireman and all the military might in the world cannot stop Terrorism from trying to suck the marrow out of civilized societies.    It is the cancer of humanity, a virus that lays dormant waiting for the right incubation before it explodes.
          The true defenders of Terrorism are the average citizens of the world, not their governments, intelligence communities, military or SWAT teams.   With the most powerful military sources in the world, America still cannot find Osama bin Laden.   
        Ms Reyes is not a trained "Terrorist Hunter."  But she is Parent Of Vigilance.   In her role as teacher for two-year-olds, she assumes the role of Sentinel of Vigilance.   Her priority is not only their safety, but the safety and security of all the children.    That is why she went back to the scene of her shooting.  That is why she was fearless in her attempt to rid the people and their families of the Terror of the sniper.
        History will probably wash Ms. Reyes actions from the beach of memory.   While we will continue to lionize the police and firefighters who died in the line of duty on Nine Eleven, the teacher who returned to the sniper scene will fade away.   Her commitment to the safety--physical and emotional--of the young children will be forgotten by the vast majority.   Her role as Sentinel of Vigilance, Citizen of Vigilance, Parent of Vigilance, Guardian of Vigilance, will pass as the wind overhead in an annals of "heroism of the day."

        But her acts will not find their way past the Sentinels of Vigilance who hover over Ground Zero, reminding us all that it is every citizen's duty to protect the children from Terrorism's grasp.
        They will not forget Ms. Reyes.

        They will embrace her acts of selfless dedication, and honor her as we still here on this earth cannot.   The sols of those who died on Nine Eleven know this is the Era of Vigilance.   They know it will take people like Ms. Reyes to thwart the Terrorism that has risen from the bowels of the earth and shadows our every step, even those of a teacher walking her children on a beautiful day through a quiet, normally peaceful and serene apartment complex.
        Ms. Reyes knew enough about Vigilance to insure her children were not attacked by Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.   Wounded, she portrayed the counter-elements of Terrorism--Courage, Conviction and took the Right Actions in the face of Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.
        But the goal of Vigilance goes far beyond the role of the "teacher."
        Parents, guardians, grandparents and loved ones of the children must assume the role of Vigilance as Ms. Reyes did yesterday.   Her first goal was the physical safety, and immediately behind that, the "emotional safety" of the children.

        As Parents of Vigilance and Citizens of Vigilance, we have a duty to protect our children from Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.   Terrorism snipes at our children each and every day, in a variety of ways, some so subtle they are often overlooked, or given askance attention.
        When a child awakes, hugging him or her and telling the child you love him or her, starts the day the right way.   If a child awakens without being issued the "love of the day," what defense does he or she have against the Terror of those who might try to instill Fear, Intimidation or Complacency in the child?
         A parent or citizen who rises each morning and reads the Pledge of Vigilance before starting the day is reminded that the world is full of snipers, some who shoot to wound or graze, some who shoot to kill one's self worth, destroy one's dreams, or drive one into a state of Complacency and futility.
        Terrorism needs as many Warriors of Vigilance as possible to ward off assaults.  
        Each of us can become one by taking the Pledge of Vigilance.
        Ms. Reyes did.
        And, she's my hero of the day.


 Oct. 2--Snipers & Grandsons

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