Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Carrick of Aquebogue was honored as grand marshal of the New York City Veterans Day Parade this year. Courtesy photo.

Kevin Carrick of Aquebogue has seen and experienced a lot in his life, from multiple deployments to combat zones in the Middle East to searching for survivors at Ground Zero in the hours and days after the towers collapsed.

But the retired Air Force senior master sergeant, who served more than two decades as a pararescueman with the 106th Rescue Wing, had never seen or experienced anything quite like the day he had yesterday as the grand marshal of New York City’s Veterans Day Parade.

Carrick, 62, said the once-in-a lifetime experience was one he’ll never forget. It was his first time at the NYC parade, since he’s always preferred to attend local Veterans Day ceremonies. It was surreal to be the parade’s grand marshal, giving the order to start the parade up Fifth Avenue and stepping off the red carpet to join his extended family on the Air Force float, he said.

“It was a sight to see — and to be involved in it at that level was exciting,” Carrick said in an interview today. “I never knew the impact of it.” The throngs of people along the parade route, the huge number of participants, being descended on by the NYC media — it was much more than he anticipated.

The parade capped a whirlwind 36 hours for Carrick and his wife Karen. The parade organizers sent a car to pick them up on Wednesday and drive them to a Manhattan hotel near the parade route.

“They really rolled out the red carpet,” he said.

Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Carrick and his wife Karen get ready to board the Air Force float in the 2021 NYC Veterans Day Parade. Courtesy photo.

At 8 a.m. yesterday, after a fitful night’s sleep — “I was working on about 3 1/2 hours sleep,” he said — he was whisked off to a VIP event. When that ended, he was escorted back to the red carpet where the parade would begin.

“My wife was on the stage waiting for me, they’re ready to kick it off, the Air Force float arrives with my family on it and my wife and I are supposed to join them — and I start thinking, I need to go to the bathroom,” he said. The mayor was waiting, but nature called. “She had to go down and whisper in his ear that I was in the men’s room,” Carrick said.

“They couldn’t start without me,” he chuckled.

“Then the mayor turned Fifth Avenue over to me and I yelled, ‘Forward, march!’” to set the massive line-up in motion.

When the Air Force float reached the end of the 25-block parade route, pausing for a wreath-laying ceremony along the way, Carrick and his family were taken by golf carts down to the reviewing stand, where they watched the rest of the parade go by.

Later, after dinner with his family at a restaurant, the Carricks were driven back to their Aquebogue home. “I was completely exhausted,” he said. “What a day.”

Grand Marshal Kevin Carrick, right, with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. at the NYC Veterans Day Parade Nov. 11, 2021. Courtesy photo.

Carrick said he really hadn’t realized what a big deal it was when folks from the 106th told him they’d given his name to the NYC parade organizers who’d called asking if they knew anyone who was involved 9/11 as well as the Global War on Terror and Desert Storm. The Air Force would be the featured branch of service for the 2021 parade.

“It happened to be the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks, the 20th anniversary of the Global War on Terror and the 30th anniversary of Desert Storm,” Carrick said, “and they wanted someone involved in all three.”

About an hour after the air base called, he got a call from United War Veterans Council, which organizes and sponsors the NYC parade. They asked him questions and he chatted with them. “They didn’t really say anything about grand marshal. I almost passed on it because it’s really not my thing,” he said.

In September, they asked to meet him at the air base for interviews. They told him to bring his wife.

“Then, next thing I know, the whole squadron is coming out, standing in formation at attention,” Carrick said. “People from United War Veterans called him up and announced he would be the grand marshal of the NYC Veterans Day Parade, and they give me this sash,” he said. “And it started to settle in — Oh, wow, I am like the focal point.”

Carrick is not used to the spotlight. As a pararescueman, known as a “PJ,” he was accustomed to going in where and when needed to quickly and quietly do an often dangerous job, rescuing downed airmen and other wounded U.S. military personnel or civilians, jumping in to save people who were beyond the reach of other rescue efforts. It’s “an elite but little known part of our nation’s Special Forces — the only one dedicated to saving lives,” the United War Veterans Council said.

Riverhead VFW Post Commander Thomas Najdzion saluted Carrick yesterday during the local Veterans Day ceremony at the War Memorial on West Main Street.

“That’s quite an honor, quite a feat,” Najdzion said in a phone interview today, “especially being from a small town like Riverhead, to be representing, more or less, all of New York.”

Carrick is a quiet guy, Najdzion said. Being the center of so much attention like that doesn’t come naturally for him.

Riverhead’s veterans are very proud of him, the VFW post commander said.

“It’s a pivotal point for us as veterans. That’s like icing on the cake to us. We see him as representing all of us.”

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.