Constable: Ship made of World Trade Center steel 'a constant reminder' for Navy ensign

A kindergartner living in Japan when the United States of America was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, former Grayslake resident Genelle Arandia remembers the phone ringing and people knocking on her family's door during the night.

“Mom was crying. It was upsetting,” says Arandia, whose father was a chief petty officer with the U.S. Navy. “He had to go to work. It really affected my parents. Everything kind of changed.”

Now 22, Arandia is the living embodiment of that change, serving as an auxiliary officer in the engineering department of the USS New York, a 684-foot Navy warship built with 7½ tons of steel reclaimed from the World Trade Center wreckage.

“It's a constant reminder of why we serve and what our ship means. Never forget,” Arandia says, adding that the ship's full motto is “Strength forged through sacrifice. Never forget.” She and the crew will don dress white uniforms for a service Tuesday remembering the nearly 3,000 Sept. 11 victims and honoring the courage and compassion shown that day.

In her post as second in command of the engineering department, Ensign Genelle Arandia, who grew up in Grayslake, says she find extra meaning in serving aboard the USS New York because 7½ tons of reclaimed steel from the World Trade Center were used in building the Navy transport ship. Courtesy of U.S. Navy ENSIGN Eryn Stockdale

Too young to grasp the magnitude and horror of those attacks as they were happening, Arandia learned as a grade-schooler in Grayslake about the hijacked passenger planes that crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon and, after passengers intervened, a Pennsylvania field. She remembers seeing the photographs.

“The one that stood out is the one of the man jumping from a burning building,” she says, recalling the iconic “Falling Man” photo of a man falling headfirst to his death from the North Tower of the World Trade Center. “You realize the gravity of the situation and how much it affected our country.”

At Grayslake Central High School, Arandia played soccer and volleyball and read her compositions during Writer's Week, but she already knew that she wanted to be in the Navy. She went to the University of Illinois at Chicago on an ROTC scholarship, majored in kinesiology with a concentration in exercise, science and health, graduated and was commissioned in May of this year. She was aboard the USS New York by June.

“The Navy took care of my family, and I wanted to give back and serve,” says Arandia, whose parents, Manuel and Gemma Arandia, now work for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Florida. She wanted to serve on a ship with such strong ties to Sept. 11.

“It was definitely a pull for me to be part of this crew.” she says. “Our crew has a lot of pride in what our ship stands for.”

The USS New York delivers Marines to locations where they are needed. The ship is made of metal reclaimed from the World Trade Center in New York after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Courtesy of U.S. Navy

As an ensign and second in command in her division, Arandia oversees 17 sailors, of which only two are women. “There's definitely a lot of pressure for women in leadership roles. There's more to prove,” Arandia says. “We don't only deserve to be here, you should expect us to be here and expect us to do as much or as well as any man in the Navy, whether it's a sailor, a chief or an officer.”

The amphibious transport dock ship, which takes Marines to locations around the world, just came back from the waters off Europe and Africa for the Navy's Sixth Fleet, which is headquartered in Naples, Italy. “I'm in charge of a lot of equipment on board and people depend on me,” says Arandia, who adds that she enjoys the responsibility of leadership but also has moments of fun and laughter. “I just want to be the best for my guys.”

The USS New York, made from 7½ tons of reclaimed steel from the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, passes The World Trade Center and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in Manhattan in 2011. Courtesy U.S. Marine Corps

The reclaimed steel was used to make the bow and stem bar of the ship. “The stem is supposed to be the strongest part of the ship,” Arandia says. “It's like our backbone.”

The memory of Sept. 11 reminds everyone of how a peaceful world can turn to chaos in a moment.

“I don't think about that stuff. I'm here to serve, to do my job,” Arandia says. “I know the risk. But I tend to look forward. What can I do today that keeps us safe at home and my guys safe here?”

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