The 120 acre Fort Hamilton Army Installation has long stood guard over the entrance to New York Harbor, appearing as an ever-vigilant symbol of U.S. military strength against hostile foreign navies, smugglers, and saboteurs.
But for the first time in its nearly two hundred year history, Fort Hamilton is being utilized as a staging and support area to combat an entirely different type of enemy: the widespread devastation of mother nature.
In the aftermath of a hurricane billed as Superstorm Sandy, New York City’s only active-duty Army base is serving as “the center for military forces conducting relief operations,” as Staff Sgt. Osvaldo Equite writes on the U.S. Army’s website.
“To my knowledge, this is the first time that Fort Hamilton has actually been designated a base support installation,” Don Bradshaw, deputy to the garrison commander at the fort, is quoted as saying in Equite’s article.
By being designated a base support installation, the post provided Soldiers and civilians with housing, food, showers, laundry, logistical and life support, and working space for those mobilized in support of relief and recovery operations immediately following the storm, explained Bradshaw, a Mechanicsville, Va., native.
Additionally, according to Army regulations, a location designated as a base installation might also need to provide general supply and maintenance, transportation, contracting, communications, personnel and equipment reception and staging, facilities, civil engineering and force protection.
Fort Hamilton, which normally supports about 500 people, more than doubled in size after being selected as the BSI for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, said William Hansel, post director of safety and occupational health.
Despite the significant numbers of base personnel who live in affected areas, the added responsibilities that come with organizing relief efforts continue to be met.
“The sacrifices that employees and residents of Fort Hamilton have endured have been severe in some cases,” said Bradshaw. “Fourteen of those folks, lost their homes either entirely or lost just about everything they own,” he added.
Rocco Mandile, director of emergency services at the base, is a Breezy Point resident. With his home virtually destroyed, Mandile is now living out of a nearby Bay Ridge apartment.
“A surge of ocean — just coming — surging down the block; coming in from every — from the rear of the house, from the front of the house, from the sides of the house, everything in the house was basically destroyed,” Mandile described.
Many point to the unprecedented destruction wrought by Sandy as a sign that man-made global warming is bringing more extreme weather to areas such the Northeastern U.S. – whose densely situated population isn’t accustomed to dealing with such intense tropical storms and hurricanes.
As this latest event has shown, the continued risk of future flooding is compounded by both an aging infrastructure, as well as another emerging symptom of warmer temperatures – rising sea levels.
The Pentagon and the Center for Naval Analyses [CNA] released a report in 2006, which highlighted the increasing threat climate change poses to national security.