BREEZY POINT, N.Y. – For the past three months, the Fort Tilden Army Reserve Center here has been the hub of Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts for the local community.
Federal, state and local agencies have occupied the center since the super storm devastated Breezy Point and its neighboring communities in late October 2012.
“This has been a great place for the community,” said Maj. Art Nowell, retirement services officer for the Army Reserve’s 99th Regional Support Command and one of the first soldiers to open and occupy the shuttered facility in the wake of the storm.
“People had no place to go and a lot of agencies were looking for real estate,” he continued, explaining how he and his team had to work with local utility companies to reinstate the building’s power, water and heat so that the facility could be of service to the community in the storm’s aftermath.
“There are so many people here and so many moving pieces, ranging from the Office of Emergency Management, to the Fire Department of New York, to the New York Police Department to the United States Navy,” Nowell explained. “We’ve coordinated also with the Small Business Administration, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), and the Breezy Point Cooperative.”
These and other organizations have taken up residence in the center, offering information and services to members of the local communities who have, in many cases, lost everything to the unrelenting power of the 1,000 mile wide storm.
“It’s a terrible experience because of what has happened, but they know that we’re on the ground and we care,” Nowell said.
The Army Reserve has always been a community partner with more than 1,200 Reserve Centers nationwide, including more than 350 facilities located in neighborhoods throughout the 99th RSC’s 13-state region that stretches from Maine to Virginia. This value of this partnership was made tangible as the Fort Tilden Army Reserve Center’s doors opened wide to offer aid to the local citizenry.
“Not only are we here to share with them whatever we can to help out, but we’re sharing the experience,” Nowell said. “You’re with the community, and you’re seeing the actual devastation that’s happened here.”
“This is sort of like a bastion in the middle of the storm that people see,” said Master Sgt. Daniel Roberts, chaplain section non-commissioned officer in charge for the 99th RSC. “This is the perfect building in the middle of a community that’s very devastated, a place where they think, ‘Hey, our government cares, people care, there’s somewhere we can go, there’s something being done positively.’
“When they see soldiers in uniform, you can just see they have this sense of, ‘Okay, maybe things are going to be okay, our soldiers are here,’” Roberts added. “Just our presence makes a difference in how people feel.”
Under the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, the Army Reserve is now allowed to provide disaster relief and emergency management in support of civil authorities, and this response to Hurricane Sandy marks the first time the new authorities of the act have been used.
The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act presents a significant opportunity for the Army Reserve to meet the needs of local communities during a disaster, and facilities like the Fort Tilden Army Reserve Center allow the Army Reserve to use its capabilities to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy to recover and rebuild their communities and lives.
“We’re very excited about what we can potentially do to help a community that’s in need,” Roberts said. “You feel like you’re making a difference in a unique way.”
“We have the opportunity to help out,” Nowell said. “That’s what we say we’re going to do, and it’s good to be able to stand behind that and put your ‘boots on the ground.’”