Protecting and serving: a national guardsman’s story

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It’s 4:00 pm on Saturday at Pennsylvania Station. A buzzing crowd of commuters, tourists, and everyone in between pack the underground hallways of the Long Island Rail Road. Arriving by the hundreds since the early morning, they are seen staring up at the color-coded time tables, sprinting towards the A train, or simply ordering a refreshment from one of the nearby Starbucks. Right above them, yet another crowd of people continues to buzz around the numerous shops, kiosks, and restaurants encircling the Amtrak timetable, ready to leave the bustling streets of Manhattan behind.

Herding these massive crowds are rows of men and women in uniform. Armed and alert, these individuals – representing various security agencies – stand alongside the pathways, carefully scanning who or what is right in front of them.  

Sergeant Xavier Quinones is one of these individuals.

A New York City native, Quinones, 26, commutes to Manhattan on a biweekly basis from his home in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Having joined the National Guard at 20 years old, the soon-to-be father of two began working at Penn Station in 2011, and returned to the station – post-deployment from Afghanistan and with an Associates degree in hand – last year.

Pulse had the pleasure of speaking with the Infantry member on his experience in the National Guard thus far:

Pulse: As part of the National Guard, what exactly is your role?

Quinones: I’m a sergeant now, so I’m responsible for leading lower-enlisted troops. Our  goal overseas, simply put, is to defend. If there’s an event in which we have to act upon, we’re deployed and commit to our duties as troops. But at Penn [Station], our goal is to protect citizens and deter any suspicious activity within the New York metropolitan area.

P: Given as to how we’re quickly approaching the holiday season, are troops on high alert at this time of the year? Do you regularly see other security agencies at this time of year as well?

Q: I mostly see the MTA and New York State police year-round. As for us, we don’t necessarily work longer hours when there’s more traffic, but if something happens, we have to stay until the situation is taken care of.

P: Do you recall any incidents since being at Penn, perhaps during the holiday season?

Q: Not recently. Typically, we break up fights. Perhaps the most memorable incident was a domestic violence-related scenario that happened back in New Year’s Eve, but that was when I was stationed at Port Authority [Bus Terminal].

P: So you work at locations other than Penn Station?

Q: Yes – Port Authority, Grand Central, World Trade Center, any major destination really. I was at Amtrak yesterday for the New York City Marathon, for example.

P: Regarding your duties outside of New York, is there any way you could summarize your time overseas?

Q: Well, it’s definitely been a learning experience seeing how people of other cultures live their lives. But most of all, it’s taught me the value of my own life. I guess that’s what happens when you almost lose it twice.

P: Lastly, if Amauri (Xavier’s son) were to one day show interest in enlisting in the military, what would be your reaction toward his decision?

Q: Of course, situations abroad will be different at that point than how they are today; I don’t know what they’ll be like years from now. I’d let him know as much about my experience as possible.As long as he has an idea of what he’s getting himself into, then I’m okay with him enlisting.

Photo: Natalia Vilela

Photo: Natalia Vilela