Less than two weeks before the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11 — a day that has left unhealed wounds in the hearts of many in the Merricks — members of the Merrick Fire Department gathered for a special screening of the new documentary, “CIA vs. Bin Laden: First In,” which offers an in-depth look at the hunt for Osama bin Laden, leader of Al Qaeda, led by the Central Intelligence Agency.
Merrick firefighter Jon Loew, CEO of Big Media, the company that produced the documentary, organized the screening, which took place on Aug. 31 at Merrick Cinemas.
A majority of the MFD attended, among other special guests, including CIA Senior Paramilitary Officer Phil Reilly and Counter-Terrorism Operator Gary Harrington. Both men spent time in the Middle East fighting the war on terrorism, and Reilly was part of the first team to enter Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 attacks.
“These American heroes traveled all the way here to be with us at a very difficult time,” Loew said before the screening. “They flew here to be with us, and agreed to participate in a Q & A — and I’ll tell you, they’re invited around the world to speak. They’re quiet professionals, and speaking is actually against their ethos.
“We are all part of the same fabric that makes America what it is,” Loew added. “We needed each other on 9/11 — and we continue to need each other. My guess is our country is going to continue to need us more and more, to make it through the obvious challenges that lie ahead.”
The hour-and-a-half-long documentary is the “most revealing documentary ever produced about the 10 year hunt for Osama Bin Laden,” according to Big Media’s promotional site. Beginning with the Sept. 11 attacks, it takes viewers behind the scenes, and shows the quick reaction of the CIA to send teams into Afghanistan.
Reilly, of Baldwin, was the deputy commander of Jawbreaker, the first team that arrived in Afghanistan on Sept. 26, 2001. “The spirit in our country at that time — I’m talking October, November of ’01 — we were one country,” Reilly said during the after-screening Q & A. “There was no division; we were all pulling together. We knew exactly what we needed to do, and it was a fantastic feeling. We were all one team, all doing great work together.”
“It felt so humble to get honored — to be able to be representatives of everybody back here,” added Harrington, a former officer in the Marines who enlisted in Special Forces. “Particularly up here [in New York], with the firemen and police — to be able to try to carry that fight.”
After the screening, guests were invited to Empire Hose Company, on Merrick Avenue, for refreshments and a casual Q & A with Reilly and Harrington.
Loew, a new member of the company who joined the department last year, before turning 50, said he saw the connection between the documentary and the department, whose members were directly impacted by Sept. 11.
“Since joining the department, I’ve met some of the most amazing people — they still make time to volunteer,” Loew said. “I want to highlight these people. Some of them have been here for four decades and have not missed a year of service to this community.”
Loew said that when he extended the invitation for the screening to Reilly and Harrington, “it took no convincing” for them to agree. Because this year is the 20th anniversary, Loew said, “It means a lot” that they were able to attend.
“Everyone is here by choice,” he said of the Fire Department. “[Reilly and Harrington] recognize they are all running towards trouble like they did.
“They’re some of the most sought-after people to talk to,” Loew said of Reilly and Harrington. “This is an American success story, and America could use a good success story.”
“I probably wouldn’t have agreed to do this if it wasn’t an entity like the Fire Department,” Reilly told the Herald. “The guys — firefighters, law enforcement — they deserve this. They do this every day.”
“In my house, I have a cross made from a high beam at the World Trade Center, given to me by the FDNY,” Harrington said. “This has been my whole career — to go to the Middle East, to pay back whoever did this.
“For those of us who went initially [to the Middle East], the connection to the people affected by 9/11 was strong,” he added. “For me, this brings this whole story home. It started up here [in New York]. It was an honor bestowed upon you to right this wrong that had been done to us.
“It’s full circle — we’re all brothers in service, all brothers in putting our lives on the line,” Harrington said. “I was really happy to be here when Jon asked.”
“CIA vs. Bin Laden: First In” premiered last Sunday on Reelz, a digital cable channel and entertainment network.
“The people I’m with at the Merrick Fire Department were part of this from the beginning,” Loew said. “I wanted to bring closure by letting them meet the actual people who went after Bin Laden.”
The Merrick Fire Department will hold its annual memorial service at 6 p.m. on Saturday at Merrick’s Firefighters Memorial, at the corner of Merrick Avenue and Sunrise Highway.