New Commander At Fort Hamilton Looks Forward

September 18, 2012 Helen Klein
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To chat with Colonel Eluyn Gines, who has been commander of Fort Hamilton since the summer, you’d never guess that the Army officer, who was born and brought up in Puerto Rico, never intended to join the U.S. Military and, in fact, didn’t even speak English till the age of 20.

“It was not my plan to join the Army,” Gines confessed, smiling. “I went to school to become an elementary school teacher and specialized in special education. Then I ran out of money, and a friend talked to me about joining the Army and getting the Army college fund. I took the test and passed, but I didn’t pass the English comprehension test.”

Therefore, Gines recalled, he was required to take intensive English study, and was sent to San Antonio, Texas, for that purpose. Putting his mind to learning the language, he supplemented the classes he attended with his own program of study, and passed his English test with flying colors, paving the way for a career that, over 24 years, has been nothing short of remarkable.

“When I determine to do something, I work hard to get it done,” Gines said, adding, “I never saw English as a second language as an obstacle to accomplishing anything.”

Prior to his current assignment, Gines served in numerous countries – from Japan to Germany, Peru to Kuwait. He also served in several states, including Alaska and Hawaii. His career with the Army included a tour in Cuba dealing with internees at Guantanamo Bay, and several tours in Iraq, as part of Operation Desert Shield/Operation Desert Storm.

Given his posting, danger was something that just came along with the job. “Every time I was deployed,” Gines admitted, “I didn’t know if I was going to come back. The experience changed my life forever.”

Nonetheless, said Gines, an incident in 2004 was “the only time I felt lucky to be alive.” As part of his job, Gines recounted, he was responsible to “spend three days with every combat unit to know exactly what they were going through.”

Because of that, he found himself attached to a unit in Baghdad that had just lost two soldiers in the explosion of an IUD. A reporter from one of the soldiers’ hometowns had come to Iraq to photograph the place where the soldier had been killed, so to get him there, “We took off on a convoy. I had the reporter with me. We were about to get to the site when we got ambushed. They hit the first vehicle with an RPG, then they shot an RPG right at my door.”

Gines said he expected to lose, at the least, a limb, but, miraculously, “The rocket hit the door and bounced and didn’t go off.” Even more miraculously, no one in the convoy was killed. “When you see people killed in the same type of convoy, you know how crazy it was.”

His current posting is what brought him to New York City, and Brooklyn, for the first time, despite the fact that his father grew up in the Bronx. He learned about the assignment as far back as April, 2010, when he was “scheduled to be deployed to Kuwait.” Before taking off for the Mideast, however, he paid a quick visit to Fort Hamilton, and was given a tour by the man he has replaced, Colonel Michael Gould, who finished up a three-year tour here this summer, to head to a new posting at the Pentagon.

“I know this is an incredible assignment,” Gines continued. “I’m blessed to be here.”

The fort, Gines stressed, is, “Part of the community.” For that reason, he said, the effort to open it up to area residents will continue. The day that this interview was held in Gines’s spacious office, a senior citizens luncheon was happening elsewhere on the fort, which also opens its gates for a wide range of events, from productions put on by Narrows Community Theater to the Bay Ridge Community Council’s annual picnic.

Looking ahead, Gines said that his intention is to broaden the base’s reach. “My goal is to tell all of New York, not only Brooklyn, that we’re here,” he explained. In particular, Gines said, he wants to “extend Fort Hamilton’s support to all the veterans and family members here in New York.

“I want to reach all these people who have served so honorably,” he said. “I want everyone to know, Fort Hamilton is your Army installation. We’re here for you.”

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