Made of seven and a half tons of steel salvaged from the World Trade Center, the ship is on its maiden voyage.
For 10 short minutes, the petty officer called from the ship for a phone interview as a part of a 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony aboard the ship.
With the United States still at war, the ship’s motto, “Strength forged through sacrifice. Never forget,” is a sacred promise from the troops.
“A different air of pride and work ethos definitely exists for those on board,” Lara said. “We have the steel from the World Trade Center in our bow and everyone wants to be a part of that.”
Like Lara, he said the troops jump on orders to deploy on the USS New York.
“The steel in our bow shows the world that we came back from that tragic day,” Lara said. “We use that steel to protect the country from future disasters.”
The feeling of honor and duty aboard the newly commissioned ship runs high. But, because of its symbolism, the ship may be a target for terrorists.
“We realize that in the training we do,” Lara said. “I’ve never been a part of an organization where every working hour is spent being trained to protect the ship,” he said. “Even the hospital corpsmen are taught protective measures. We have a great staff on board that’s part of that protection team.”
Lara, who is on active duty in the National Guard, is on his third deployment to the area. Despite returning multiple trips to the region, the troops aboard the USS New York enjoy a high morale, due in part to Lara and others in the medical field. As a biomedical equipment technician, Lara also takes charge of the ship’s welfare and recreation programs.
“When we’re out at sea and can’t get to port any time soon, we have activities like steel-beach picnics on the ship,” Lara said. “Movie nights also help the crew.”
Ironically, the petty officer was aboard the USS Philippine CG-58 in the Enterprise Battle Group heading home from deployment when the tragic events of 9-11 occurred.
The battle group was ordered to turn around and to back to the gulf.
“The highlight of my deployed history would definitely be in 2001 when my ship was tasked to go to Afghanistan and fire over eight tomahawk missiles in retaliation for 9/11,” Lara said.
Even before the terrorist attack, Lara knew he wanted to be a career soldier and he’s never regretted his decision.
The petty officer had a message for all the hometown folks:
“We’re going to continue to do our best to keep them and the country safe,” he said. “We’re doing our mission to the best of our abilities As long as we’re out here doing our job, then you don’t have much to worry about.”
The last time Lara was home in Refugio, he bought a few Bobcat T-shirts. A former Bobcat and RHS graduate, he’s been keeping an eye on the team through Facebook contacts.
“Everybody aboard ship keeps asking me where Refugio is,” he laughed.
Tuesday morning, in anticipation of the call from Lara, the commissioners court issued a statement to the corpsman.
“We are so proud of you and your service to our country. We appreciate from the bottom of our hearts that you are serving to protect the freedoms that we enjoy.”
The support from the folks back in Refugio and his family is deeply appreciated, he said. He especially wanted to thank his father, Tony Lara Sr., and sister Susan Heard in Refugio, his twin brother, Juan, and brother Tony, as well as his mother-in-law, Eva Garza in Skidmore.
He sent a special thank you to his wife, Christina Lara, and sons, Paul-Anthony, Nicholas and Nathaniel, who are at home in Portsmouth, Va. Lara’s duty station is Norfolk, Va.
“I’m happy that everyone is behind us. Thanks to everyone who thinks about me and the rest of the people in the Navy and Marine Corps,” he said before the phone went dead and the vessel continued on its mission.