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Kandahar, Afghanistan Sept 14, 2013

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul J. LaCamera, Regional Command South and 4th Infantry Division commanding general, shakes the hand of Daniel Rodriguez, who sang at the “Tunnel to Towers” five kilometer run/walk at Kandahar Airfield, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2013. The event benefited the Tunnel to Towers foundation, which raises money to build homes for those most severely injured in service to America.

The deep tenor of former New York police officer Daniel Rodriguez’s voice pierced the Afghan night in a place where the whirr of helicopter rotors and roar of jet engines are the norm.


The words to Nessun Dorma (None Shall Sleep) from the final act of Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot were in Italian but seemed to hold all the emotion that can be expressed by a man who — a block-and-a-half from Ground Zero when the Twin Towers fell — was making his first journey to a different sort of war-zone, half-a-world away.  ~ Stars and Stripes.

Daniel and I spent several days in Kandahar, Afghanistan meeting with US Troops and those assisting in the united efforts in Afghanistan. On base, there were 47 nationalities assisting in the efforts and many of those nationalities participated in the Kandahar Tunnel to Towers Run on September 14th, 2013. It was truly an honor to have had the opportunity to experience this!  ~Chris Kuban, director of Tunnel to Towers media relations.

Dear Friends, I am back from my trip to Kandahar. It was definitely an experience of a lifetime and I will never forget my new found friends, Sgt. Andrews whose bright outlook and outgoing personality, enhanced our stay in Afghanistan. I also want to thank Sgt. Osan, Major Anderson, Col Cok, The Kandahar Fire Brigade and so many more.. They are heroes with honor and humility. 


Our first day, we flew from Dubai and landed in Bagram, on the way to Kandahar. It was an eye opener to know that we have been flying over Iran and were now landing at a base just a stones throw from Pakistan. It was recommended that we not leave the plane, and soon enough we were off again on our way Kandahar. 


We landed at dusk and were escorted single file to the main building on the airstrip called "Talaban's Last Stand" Named for the last stronghold of the Talaban. We were gathered in this concrete building that was riddled with bullet holes and almost immediately given instruction on the procedure for an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) or "Rocket Attack". Informed by our host that they had two such attacks that very day, we knew that we were not in Kansas any more.


Our home for the next two days was surrounded by 15 foot concrete walls as is every building on the massive base. Outside of every building and scattered everywhere are concrete bunkers and sand bag reinforced bunkers as a refuge for rocket attacks. That being said, the thought of attacks is farthest from the minds of our friends. It becomes commonplace and after the alert, its life as usual. 


In our short 2 day stay in Kandahar we were taken on a whirlwind tour of the base and so many of the supporting teams of people that make up this small city in the desert. From the fire brigade to the signal core to the hospitals, USO and stress clinics, it is an amazing team of different nationalities and professionals all working together to do an impossible job in a most hostile place. 


I have come to a new understanding and appreciation of our service men and women, the Afghan people and the radical group of extremists that threaten the balance. Daniel Rodriguez 

It was a milestone day at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, as “Tunnel to Towers,” a nonprofit organization that benefits firefighters and wounded armed forces service members, came to KAF for the first time. Armed forces personnel, firefighters and civilian contractors on KAF had the opportunity to run or walk in a 5K race in remembrance of the victims of Sept. 11, 2001, and the story of Stephen Siller, a firefighter who also lost his life that day.


Following a night shift at Squad 1, Park Slope, Brooklyn, Siller had planned to spend Sept. 11 golfing with his brothers. When his scanner started buzzing with news of the first of the Twin Towers being hit, Siller called his wife and told her he would be late coming home that morning because he had to help those in need. He returned to Squad 1 to get his gear and drove his truck towards the World Trade Center before a traffic jam at the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel stopped him. 


With 60 pounds of gear strapped to his back, he ran through the tunnel, hoping to meet up with his own company. Siller lost his life trying to save others that day and shortly thereafter, the Tunnel to Towers foundation was created. Ever since the Sept. 11 attacks, the foundation sponsors and hosts races around the U.S. to help raise money in partnership with the Gary Sinise Foundation for firefighters, policemen, and members of the armed forces who have been injured during their service.


The money raised goes toward building “smart homes,” which are custom designed and specially adapted houses for catastrophically injured American service members. Depending on the injury of each specific service member, smart homes can include such features as automated doors and lighting, wider doors, special showers to accommodate wheelchairs, and cabinets and counters that are adjustable for reach.


Capt Michael Gielbeda, who took part in the T2T run in NYC several times in past years, suggested and began the process of organization in Kandahar. Sgt. Sharmella Andrews had an instrumental part in bringing the foundation to Afghanistan. Andrews said. “It is a great cause and a great opportunity to raise awareness and help out those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.” 


Andrews coordinated the run and had awards for the winners in both male and female divisions. The categories included the run, walk, run heavy (which included running in full gear), as well as a team-run category, where all members of the team had to finish together in order to complete the race. Two service members ran the race in explosive ordnance disposal suits, which are roughly 80 pounds.


In addition to the race, Daniel Rodriguez, a musical artist who is widely known as “The Singing Policeman,” or “America’s Tenor,” flew in from the U.S. to sing “God Bless America” before the start of the race. Rodriguez is active with the Tunnel to Towers foundation, due in part to his service as a New York City police officer, and watched firsthand the events that transpired Sept. 11, 2001.


He spoke about that day and the difference the Tunnel to Towers foundation is making nationwide. “It was a day that will forever go down in history and tore so many people’s lives apart,” Rodriguez said. “Seeing the Twin Towers fall that day was a moment that still gives me chills, but I always remember that day when I perform. At the end of the day, this whole idea is about giving back to those who serve.” 


Accompanying Rodriguez was Christopher Kuban, who also works with Tunnel to Towers. He spoke about the importance of the foundation and the event held Sept. 14.  “The impact we have had on the injured service members over the last few years has been amazing,” Kubin said. “It’s great that we have been able to give back to those individuals who have given our country so much.” Even though the anniversary of Sept. 11 occurred a few days prior, Andrews said running the race on Sept. 14 was the “right way to do things.  September 11 is for remembering and reflection on the events and those who lost their lives that day,” Andrews said. “Today was about honoring those who are currently serving and the sacrifices they make.”


As the sun rose, the run ended, awards were presented. Winning the race was not the victory on Saturday, however. “We accomplished our goal today, which was raising awareness and celebrating the progress we have made over the last 12 years,” Andrews said. “It was great we had so much support and I am so glad that all these people came out.”

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