Amendment to defense bill seen as guaranteeing Fort Ham unit’s survival

May 18, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle

BAY RIDGE — The  unanimous approval by both Republicans and Democrats of  Congressman Michael Grimm’s (R-Bay Ridge/Staten Island) amendment to save the anti-terrorism unit at Fort Hamilton — an amendment that is now a part of the House’s FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act — ensures the unit’s survival, say observers.

The Fort Hamilton anti-terror team, which has 22 members, is trained to respond to a terror attack in which biological, chemical, radiological or nuclear weapons of mass destruction are used. In the event of such a catastrophe, team members would work in cooperation with the police and fire departments. The team, whose formal title is the 24th National Guard Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team, is one of 57 such units nationwide.

Carol Danko, spokeswoman for Grimm, said that Defense Department officials, seeking to cut some “low-hanging fruit,” had noticed that New York and Florida both had two such teams (New York’s other anti-terror team is in Albany), and tried to cut one from each of the states for budgetary reasons.

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“It’s vitally important to protect New York City and the harbor,” she said. “The idea of saving a unit in Albany while cutting the one here, in the only military base in the city, is incredible.”

The Bay Ridge community has historically rallied to Fort Hamilton’s defense whenever cuts to the fort are on the agenda. Michael Quaglione, spokesman for state Senator Marty Golden (R-Bay Ridge/Marine Park), said, “Senator Golden congratulates the congressman for his ability to preserve a unit that’s needed to keep Brooklyn and New York safe.”

Michael Long, chairman of the state Conservative Party and a longtime Bay Ridge resident, said, “I think it’s great that the congressman was able to save the unit. The fort is a vital part of the Bay Ridge community.”

And Bob Capano, a former Bay Ridge civic leader who worked extensively with Fort Hamilton, including during his tenures as an aide to former Congressman Vito Fossella and Borough President Marty Markowitz, said, “Congressman Grimm should be applauded for his outstanding work in saving the unit, which is essential to the city of New York.” Capano now serves as district director to Brooklyn-Queens Congressman Bob Turner.

Grimm’s amendment had three bipartisan co-sponsors: Congressman Paul Tonko (D-Albany), Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-Florida) and Kathy Castor (D-Florida).

“At a time when New York City remains the number one terror target in the nation, it is completely nonsensical to cut such an essential asset to our safety and security. The 24th National Guard Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team (WMD-CST) located at Fort Hamilton is highly-trained to respond to high-risk situations and assist the NYPD, first responders, and other agencies in response efforts. Preserving this team is crucial to New York’s security, and I thank my colleagues for lending their support to the passage of my amendment,” Grimm commented in a statement.

As of press time Friday, the House was poised to pass the entire bill, for which a vote was imminent. Within a few weeks, the Senate will take up its version of the bill. New York state’s Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is pushing for approval of Grimm’s amendment in the Senate, added Danko.

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