TSA officers took part in an annual explosives detection exercise at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. This year, the training fell on the 18th anniversary of 9/11.
For Officer George Henges, training that day carried special significance. Henges, a former New York police detective, lost a good friend on 9/11. Henges will never forget Sergio Villanueva and wants to help make sure another tragedy like 9/11 never happens again.
Henges and Villanueva came from the same neighborhood in Queens. They worked together as Bronx cops. “We vacationed together, went out together with fiancées and family, and stayed at each other’s houses. It’s difficult to talk about it,” Henges said.
The weekend before 9/11, they celebrated at Henges’ bachelor party. Villanueva had recently transferred to the fire department. “Sergio said he wanted to come back to the police department and work with us and all be together,” Henges said. “I told him, ‘Stay where you are. It’s safer.’ He died that Tuesday on 9/11.”
Chaos and Confusion
“I was coming from the Bronx, and Sergio was off-duty. He had just finished the overnight shift in Brooklyn. Sergio jumped on to help since it happened in the morning,” Henges recalled.
“What I remember was mad chaos – people running northbound while we struggled to go southbound. We heard the radio transmissions and confusion and calls for help from inside the towers.
“It was hard to swallow. As the buildings went down, there was radio silence. Many never made it out. It was difficult for me. I had many officers I knew that went down there.”
For the first time, a generation young enough not to remember 9/11 has joined the workforce. Henges urges people to remember the lives lost and sacrifices made by first responders.
“I remember Sergio as one who loved life and the NYPD – a New York City kid who always wanted to help people,” Henges said. “He is not to be forgotten.”
“For young officers, I want them to realize that by doing a great job at TSA, we can avoid another 9/11 and the pain it created. I hope none of them ever have to deal with it.”
Henges was motivated to take the explosives training to help prevent another tragedy. “I appreciate the training because to see, touch, feel, hear and live the training is so much better than only reading about it from a book,” he said. “This training will help us all, and being on 9/11, it shows the significance of the training and to have memories of why we do it all, together, as one agency.”
Henges is proud to work for an agency whose mission is to protect the nation's transportation systems and make sure travelers are safe.
“All our efforts are helping the layered security process, and it is working,” Henges said. “TSA has given me the tools and knowledge to do my job correctly and the hands-on opportunity to participate in preventing another 9/11.”
Villanueva was 33 when he died. Henges keeps Villanueva’s photo in his pocket and has brought it to work at TSA for the past 11 years.
“Sergio never made it home, but his spirit lives with us always.”