Queens To Kandahar And Back:
Sept. 11, 2001, Michael Villacres was sitting in a Queensboro Community
College classroom when the Twin Towers were struck by terrorists.
months later, the 21-year old was in uniform and in Afghanistan, a part of
“Operation Enduring Freedom.”
Villacres, a U.S.Army Reserve Specialist who was stationed in Kandahar, recently returned home from the front and back to his classroom.
Last Sept. 11 seemed like any other day for Villacres, a then 20-year-old student at Queensborough Community College in Bayside.
was a normal day. Someone tapped me on the shoulder and said that a plane
crashed into the World Trade Center,” he said.
who lives in Jamaica, said he initially thought the incident was an accident
until a “shaken” friend told him that a second plane hit the Twin Towers
and the Pentagon.
went to a spot at my school where I could see the World Trade Center but I
couldn’t see anything. That was the scariest. It was like the end of time,
the buses were in chaos, the phones were down.”
who joined the U.S. Army Reserves in 2000 reported to training duty on Long
Island about two weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks.
were doing drills. Everyone went on like nothing ever happened.”
Those drills continued in November and December of 2001.
January, Villacres was focused on the new semester of school ahead.
the fall  I had one of my best semesters,” he said.
January, Villacres made the promise to himself, “to put in more effort
into [my grades].
sure enough, the call came.”
call” was from his U.S. Army Reserve unit to report to active duty.
could not believe it,” he said explaining that although he was aware of
the possibility that his unit might be asked to go overseas, he remained
unsure if it would actually happen.
met with his counselors at Queensbourough to withdraw from his spring
semester classes, kept a stiff upper lip and prepared for the unknown.
unit, the New York 306th Engineer Company based out of Amityville, N.Y., was
first sent to Germany.
was scary before we left, we were nervous about going,”
Feb. 14, Villacres’ unit arrived in Kandahar in what was once “the last
stronghold for Al Qaeda.”
had never been out of the United States in my life,” Villacres explained.
“It was like some dream. When I first got there I thought that 72 hours
ago I was safe at home and now Im here.”
Looking around, Villacres thought to himself, “this reminds me of Arizona,” where he once visited realtives who live there. “That helped me keep my sanity.”
At the Kandahar Air Base, “You are in a place with 20 guys. There are no walls and no privacy. It’s hot, anywhere from 95 to 112 degrees, no shade. You’re wearing 40 pounds of gear. You have the fear of being shot or killed and you’re away from your family . . . You could hear shots or explosions at night,” Villacres explained.
impression [in the U.S.] was that things were dying down but when you got
there you realized it wasn’t dying down.”
job was to improve [the base],” Villacres said.
the soldiers at the base, “teamwork,” was important. “We were there
together. Everyone does something.”
to Army public affairs reports, the 306th “made way for 3,000 new incoming
soldiers into Afghanistan to sustain American forces in the region. . . the
soldiers also constructed a range training area for soldiers to prepare for
unit was responsible for the construction of a chapel, laundry facilities, a
mess hall and foundations for tents at the base.
also marked a milestone while stationed in Afghanistan.
turned 21 on May 19, 2002.
was probably the first one they sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to. I was
surprised about the attention,” he said.
celebrated the special day with his fellow soldiers and a birthday cake.
July 19, 2002 the 306th Engineer Company was welcomed home at Fort Dix, New
Jersey and on Sept. 21 Villacres’ unit was honored again at their base in
Amityville, New York.
mother Gladys, father Eduardo and younger brother Jason attended the Long
said they were proud of how Villacres served his country.
are also glad that he is back home, he said.
said the adjustment from life in Afghanistan to that of Queens has been
my room [again],” took some time to get used to, he said.
has been keeping busy trying to “replenish” himself.
has also been spending more time at his church, Assembly of God in Bellerose
and recently attended a Sept. 11 memorial service there.
this September, Villacres was back at Queensborough Community College taking
classes in liberal arts.
said he’s been hitting the books harder than ever and has put in extra
efforts in classes like politics and ancient civilizations.
Although he said he’s not sure what the future holds for him — he said he is interested in serving in the Army full-time or studying criminal justice to fulfill his dream of becoming an NYPD officer. “There is one thing that’s different. I am a vet now. I participated in Operation Enduring Freedom,” he said.
following article was written by Michael Villacres and appeared in the
Kandahar Base newspaper, The Desert Dispatch
New York 306th Engineer company Army reservists, from Amityville, New York
have been as busy as a toll booth during rush hour since their arrival here
Feb.14. For the group of New York natives the memories of home and events of
Sept. 11 never fall far from their thoughts, but provide them with
motivation and a deeper sense of meaning and pride in the work they do.
been a great experience operating in this environment, said Staff Sgt.
Carlos Morales, a squad leader with the 306th. “My soldiers really
surprised themselves with their own capability; I provided the vehicle, and
they had all the elements it needed to run.”
306th works alongside of the 92nd Engineers, from Ft. Stewart, Ga.,
improving the living conditions on base.
David Z. Sotolopez, a carpentry and masonry specialist, saw, heard, and felt
both towers fall.
the second story of 150 Broadway, Sotolopez and other employees of Fleet
Bank knew their lives would never be the same.
was very skeptical about coming here,” said Sotolopez. “Now I really
wish I was an infantryman, fighting to bring justice to my friends and
family who’ve passed.”
share the emotional challenge he feels about Sept. 11 occurring too close to
good to be here, helping out, but for a sad and messed up reason,” said
Spc. Richard Hope, a plumber with the 306th, from Brooklyn, NY.
significant accomplishment was the laying down of concrete slabs for the
dining facility, gym, showers and laundry rooms.
soldiers of the 306th have worked hard toward accomplishing their mission,
which in turn aids in the success of Operation Enduring Freedom.