FORT HAMILTON, N.Y. – For more than a century, the present-day Southwest corner of New York City’s borough of Brooklyn was used to protect the entrance of New York’s harbor from intruders during the American Revolution and as a fort during the American Civil War.
Its construction, which began in 1825 on the Eastern side of the narrows, was completed after six years. Today, the 120-acre installation stands besides the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the U.S.
Ultimately named after Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. secretary of treasury, historic U.S. Army Garrison Fort Hamilton, N.Y., strives to provide effective and efficient services, facilities and infrastructure to service members, families and civilians from within the country’s most populated city.
Nonetheless, in spite of the garrison's rich past, Fort Hamilton continues to make history to this day by becoming the center for military forces conducting relief operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
“To my knowledge, this is the first time that Fort Hamilton has actually been designated a base support installation,” said Don Bradshaw, deputy to the garrison commander at the fort.
After Hurricane Sandy devastated many areas along the Northeast coast of the country, military forces needed a site where they could conduct missions coordinated with and supporting civilian organizations providing disaster relief.
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.
“Fort Hamilton is a smaller installation,” said Hansel, a Tampa, Fla., native. And to bring that many troops on post and support them was challenging, he added.
While Fort Hamilton’s proximity to the incident site made it ideal as the BSI, its location also made it susceptible to direct and indirect damage caused by the storm. Many of Fort Hamilton’s employees were truly devastated by Hurricane Sandy.
“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 Mandiel, director of emergency services on post and a Breezy Point, N.Y., resident, was one of the garrison employees directly affected by Hurricane Sandy.
On TV, the news said that in Breezy Point, about 111 homes burned to the ground and about 3,000 homes were flooded, said Mandiel. Overflowing water from Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean near Breezy Point ruined everything in his home.
“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,” he said.
Mandiel, who is also a NYPD veteran of 23 years, was displaced from his home and is currently renting an apartment that’s about a 10-minute walk from post.
“While Fort Hamilton has not suffered a great deal of damage to the installation itself,” said Bradshaw, “the people who make the installation run – who mainly live off post – have had a lot of sacrifices they’ve been dealing with in order to be here, to ensure that the relief efforts to the greater New York City area have been accomplished. And they still Soldiered on; they still came to work here,” he added.
Regardless of the catastrophic weather and overwhelming logistical and support requirements, Fort Hamilton was able to support units conducting civil support operations including water removal from flooded infrastructures; handing out food, water and supplies to those in need; conducting door-to-door health and welfare checks; and assisting in the removal of wreckage in devastated areas.
As one of the most catastrophic hurricanes to hit New York City, Fort Hamilton and those involved in relief operations served a great purpose, said Hansel.
“People come together in tragedies like this,” explained Mandiel.
“I have to tell ya – the garrison staff and the Fort Hamilton community itself have reacted in great form,” said Bradshaw.
Regardless of what the future holds for Fort Hamilton, its people will continue to be the face of the Army in New York City and continually add to its lavish history.
“We have lived in the shadow of the Verrazano, but I don’t think were in that shadow any longer,” said Bradshaw.