CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Five years after the Sept. 11 attacks, two New York City police officers continue to serve, but not in the uniform one would expect.
Lance Cpl. Farah M. Sainvil and Gunnery Sgt. Nelson T. Hernandez traded their “NYPD blue” for camouflage and combat boots to serve a seven-month tour in Iraq.
Deployed with Headquarters Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 5-2, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), the two Marine reservists live and work out of Camp Fallujah.
“I feel that our being out here is necessary,” said Sainvil, an administration clerk with Headquarters Company. “I’m sure that those people who passed away on 9-11 are looking down on us right now and are grateful.”
Sainvil, a 32-year-old from Staten Island, N.Y., had three jobs prior to her enlistment in May 2001, but working fulltime as a bank teller and two other part-time jobs wasn’t the kind of life she was looking for.
“I was about to swear in to the Air Force when they scooped me up,” she confided. “They” were Marine recruiters who presented Sainvil, then 27, with a challenge she couldn’t resist. “I was at Parris Island within a month.”
She graduated boot camp and went back to South Carolina for Marine Combat Training. The instructors carted a big-screen television into the Marines’ living quarters where she watched the terrorist attacks for the first time on Sept. 11.
“I thought, ‘Oh boy, we’re going to go to war.’” Sainvil added that watching the attacks with other Marines fresh out of boot camp was an experience she’ll always remember. She joined the New York City Police Department shortly after completing her training.
“When I got home I saw the damage firsthand… and being a Marine motivated me to be a part of (the recovery),” she said.
As for her law-enforcement training: “I didn’t know at first whether or not I could handle it, but after boot camp I felt like superwoman,” Sainvil laughed, adding that she hopes to inspire other Marines to one day join the police force.
“When they see that a petite female can do it, they feel that they can do it to,” she said, her soft-spoken confidence adding a few inches to her 5-foot frame. “I might be a bit biased, but I think Marines make the best cops.”
If Sainvil plans to convince every Marine she works with to become a police officer, she doesn’t have to knock on Gunnery Sgt. Hernandez’s door. The 38-year-old from Bronx, N.Y., has served in the NYPD for nearly 14 years. Like Sainvil, he joined the department immediately following boot camp.
“My older brother was a police officer,” explained Hernandez, maintenance chief with Headquarters Company. “He said, ‘Take the test, see what happens’ … I’ve been there ever since.”
He said he enjoys the camaraderie of both the NYPD and the Marine Corps and that their missions have a lot in common.
“Back home my job is to help people out who are in some kind of trouble,” said Hernandez. “The payback comes when you see someone you helped a few years back – and they see you – and remember.
“You might not be able to change the world but if you can help one individual out, it’s worth it,” he added.
The Marine Corps, Hernandez said, does for the big picture what police departments do for the local community. “We are the world’s 9-1-1 force.”
Both Hernandez and Sainvil joined Headquarters Company from 6th Communication Battalion, 4th Marine Logistics Group, a reserve unit out of Brooklyn, N.Y.