Bringing the Fight to Their Turf E-mail
Written by Lynn Lyons-Wynne   
"When lives are at stake, America's first responders do not hesitate to rush into harm's way. We do our jobs, searching for, rescuing, and aiding victims regardless of what dangers and health hazards await."

This was the recent testimony of 24-year veteran Detective Tom McHale of the New York and New Jersey Port Authority Police Department before a Congressional Subcommittee. Few in law enforcement history can match the bravery and determination of Detective McHale, whose areas of expertise include solving homicides and fighting terrorism both at home and abroad.

Just seven years after joining the Port Authority Police Department, on February 26, 1993, Tom McHale had his first encounter with terrorism when he was critically injured in the first bombing of the World Trade Center. His heroic efforts during the event gained him the World Trade Center Individual Acts of Valor Medal.

Two years later he was assigned to the FBI's elite Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in Newark, NJ.
One of his assignments was the effort to apprehend fugitive and convicted cop killer Joanne Chesimard. Chesimard, a Black Liberation Army (BLA) member (an ultra-violent splinter group of the Black Panthers), escaped from a NJ prison in 1979.

In February 2001, NYPD detectives were investigating an allegation of the sexual molestation of a 12-year-old.
Although detectives found an unregistered handgun in the suspect's apartment, he was extremely cooperative during the interview. He had been steadily employed for the past 18 years and on the surface seemed the model citizen.
But the detectives were sure something was amiss; why would this gentleman begin rattling off names of former members of the BLA?

The detectives did not know that during the early 1970s, this home-grown terrorist organization had been responsible for killing and wounding more than two dozen police officers, including Atlanta Police Officer James Richard Greene.
Officer Greene had been shot and killed execution style on November 3, 1971. According to Atlanta police, the two gunmen wanted to ingratiate themselves to leaders of the BLA by killing a cop. It was suggested that the young detectives connect with McHale, who had previous experience working on BLA cases.

Detective McHale contacted the Atlanta Police Department and the FBI field office, and opened a case that had sat cold for 30 years. Tom spearheaded the team as they interviewed multiple eyewitnesses and found former BLA members who were able to identify the murderers of Officer Greene. Few were surprised that the murder suspect was the same person held in the New York molestation case.

Despite changing his name and starting a new life, thirty years later the BLA member who fathered Joanne Chesimard's daughter, was extradited to Georgia and convicted of Officer Greene's murder.

So respected would Tom become within the law enforcement community that, in May 2001, he was co-assigned to the NYPD Major Case Squad specializing in cold-case homicides of fallen police officers, where he worked on the January 27, 1972 BLA-backed assassination of Officers Gregory Foster and Rocco Laurie of the NYPD's 9th Precinct.

Nine months later, on September 11, 2001, Tom McHale responded to the World Trade Center along with fellow members of the Major Case Squad. While his rescuing efforts were underway, Tom and his team narrowly escaped when the towers collapsed.  He never left the site that day and for the next ten days he was on full time assignment at Ground Zero as part of the Port Authority Rescue and Recovery Team.

Even after he was ordered to return to work with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, Tom returned to the World Trade Center site each evening. As a member of the Ironworkers Union Local 45, he volunteered a full shift to assist his fellow ironworkers and PAPD police officers as they went about their grim recovery and clean-up efforts. He spent countless hours cutting through steel and recovering remains, maintaining the same grueling schedule until the end of January 2002.

That month, Tom and the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force were sent overseas to continue the search for Osama bin Laden and terrorists aligned with the Al-Qaeda network. In roughly three months, Detective McHale and his team accomplished miracles. He was instrumental in locating several Al-Qaeda safe houses, identified a possible suicide bomber, and responded to a bombing at a church that took the lives of several people, including two Americans.
Before returning to the United States, the detective and his team worked side by side with Special Forces units in Afghanistan to discover a biological weapons factory.

Back in New York, Mc-Hale resumed his grueling schedule, working a full shift with the Joint Terrorism Task Force followed by a full shift with the Local #40 team. In late May 2002, the honor of cutting down the last steel beam at the World Trade Center was given to Detective McHale in gratitude of his selfless dedication to the more than 2,975 people murdered on September 11th.

Detective Thomas Mc-Hale is one of the nation's most highly decorated law enforcement officers. In addition to the ‘93 World Trade Center Medal of Valor, he has received the Port Authority P.D.'s Medal of Honor, the Hanratty Medal of Valor, the 9/11 Commendation Medal, 24 Meritorious Police Duty Medals, CIA National Clandestine Service Award, the Federal Law Enforcement Foundation's Investigator of the Year award, Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence Director General's Award, two National Association of Police Organization's (NAPO) TOP COP Awards, the National Council of Investigation and Security Services Duffy Award, NY State Shields Hero of the Month and NYPD Centurion Foundation Centurion of the Month.

Last month the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) announced that Tom will be a recipient of a 2009 NLEOMF Officer of the Month award, a program supported with a generous contribution from The FORCE.
He continues to serve with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey while being assigned to other task forces and crime squads when needed, and is married with four daughters.


Lynn Lyons-Wynne is the senior director of Memorial Programs for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in Washington, D.C.


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