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Venerable Municipal Club of Brooklyn tours 'endangered' Fort Hamilton

Tyler Gierber, head of marketing and sponsorship at U.S. Army Family and MWR, and Donald E. Bradshaw, deputy to the commander at Fort Hamilton. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Two historic 19th century elements of Brooklyn came together last week.One was historic Fort Hamilton in Bay Ridge, constructed in 1822 overlooking New York Harbor and built to protect the city from a possible second British invasion. The second was the Municipal Club of Brooklyn, founded in 1897. The Municipal Club was formed  to "oversee the best methods of municipal government" and help insure that the soon-to-be-formed merger of the City of Brooklyn into a five county New York would proceed on a sound footing, according to good business management practices.
Both institutions have changed their founding purposes through the generations. But they came together for a tour and dinner last week, so that Municipal Club member Michael King, an attorney and Vietnam Veteran, could warn the world about the possible closing of Fort Hamilton by 2017, for budgetary reasons.

“As soon as I heard that BRAC [Base Realignment and Closure Commission] was coming, I suggested that we, as a club, head over there to check it out,” said King, who is also a member of the Committee to Save Fort Hamilton. “I want to save the fort and keep it because we have to worry about BRAC and this is on that list with other forts that could potentially close in 2017. The more the business community is aware of what's going on the more likely we can work to keep it where it should be.”

Dennis Sullivan, Barry Sweeny, Mary Vail and George Vail.

Fort Hamilton, which was named after Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, was constructed in 1822 after the War of 1812 raised fears of a British naval invasion. Before the fort was built, the same location was used for military purposes as long as July of 1776, when a small battery of cannons fired on British fleets prior to the Battle of Brooklyn.

The cannons were removed in 1948, but the fort still retains its significance. The garrison houses about 600 soldiers from every branch of the military plus coast guardsmen and members of various federal agencies such as FEMA. It is home to the New York City Recruiting Battalion, is the second largest recruitment installation in the country and serves as the Military Entrance Processing Station, the headquarters of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Perhaps most importantly, Fort Hamilton is now the central hub for the military any time there is something major going on in New York City metro area.

“When there was a bomb up at Times Square that became the central rally point,” said King. “During 9/11, all of the reserves were using that as a central point. When the shit hits the fan, we need Fort Hamilton.”

More recently, after Superstorm Sandy hit, Fort Hamilton became the staging point for the National Guard to set up before going out to help people in Brooklyn, Staten Island and parts of New Jersey.

“We played a big part both directly and indirectly after Sandy,” said Don Bradshaw, deputy to the garrison commander at the fort. “We did rescues during and after Sandy, we housed many federal employees, we provided food and fuel and were feeding many people out of this building for months after the storm.”

Sitting in the shadow of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in Bay Ridge, Fort Hamilton is the only active military installation in New York City.

Beyond practical military purposes, the fort plays an active role in the Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights communities, as many troops and their families live in those neighborhoods and send their kids to school in the area. There is also the Veterans Affairs Hospital, which serves more than 200,000 veterans a year and runs after-school programs and summer camps for kids.

“For such a small post, we have a large footprint in New York City,” said Tyler Gierber, head of marketing and sponsorship for the U.S. Army MWR. “People just think, ‘oh that’s just the army,’ but we are a part of this community and our doors are open.

In total, there are about 2,500 people within Fort Hamilton’s fences at any given time and about 600 people living there. It houses soldiers, coast guardsmen, federal employees and retired military commanders. There are also four civilian families living on the base.

“Fort Hamilton has changed a lot and in recent years there have been big changes,” King said. “They have revamped the entire place. They built a brand new reserve center, it's a wonderful facility. It's changed and this was an opportunity for them to display the fort to us.”

May 7, 2014 - 11:00am


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