Totten Troop Loss Could Hurt NYC
In a move that some consider a threat to the safety and security of New York City, the Department of Defense is relocating an Army Reserve unit from its 40-year home at Fort Totten in Bayside.
As part of its 2005 Base Realignment and Closure project, the DOD is planning to deactivate the headquarters of the 77th Readiness Regional Command at Fort Totten, downsize it to a sustainment brigade and move the unit 90 miles away to Fort Dix in New Jersey.
Two other units stationed at Fort Totten will be transferred to other states, further putting the metropolitan area in danger in the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster, according to State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), former chief of staff of the 77th Army Reserve Command.
“New York City is the primary terrorist target in the United States – terrorists have launched multiple attacks against our city and undoubtedly continue to plot to bring more destruction to our streets,” Padavan wrote in a letter to U.S. Army Chief of Staff General George Casey, Jr. “Therefore, it is vital to the safety of the people of New York that there be sufficient units stationed in close proximity to potential targets.”
Citing the 77th RRC’s quick and “exceptional” response in the aftermath of Sept. 11, Padavan, who also served as a commanding officer in the Army Corp of Engineers, asked Casey to reconsider the “ill-advised relocation of these essential units from their strategic and historic base at Fort Totten.”
In a BRAC document released in 2005, the DOD justified the $179.2 million Fort Dix relocation plan using guidelines laid out by both BRAC and the 2003 Army Transformation Plan.
It said the move would support readiness processing and home station mobilization, close substandard and undersized facilities and enhance recruiting and retention, among other things.
Col. Louis Sudholz, Jr., president and director of the 77th Infantry Division Reserve Officers Association, which has been at Fort Totten since 1967, begs to differ.
In a letter he wrote to Padavan in April informing him of the relocation plans, he outlined numerous reasons why the move would be damaging to the unit and to the city.
First, he said, access to the metropolitan area by water, which is possible because of Fort Totten’s location on the East River and Little Neck Bay, will be lost at landlocked Fort Dix, effectively eliminating this mode of transportation.
Additionally, the relocation would have adverse effects on recruitment and retention: most troops of the 77th, long considered “New York’s Own,” according to Sudholz, are residents of the metropolitan area and elected to join the unit because of its close location.
The Transformation Plan’s relocation of units to outside the metro area will result in the loss of qualified and fully-trained soldiers due to unrealistic travel requirements, Sudholz said, adding, “The only mass transit to Fort Dix for soldiers residing in NYC is a two-hour bus trip at $16 each way.”
The plan will also affect civilian employees – who Sudholz said provide daily support to the units – as they will lose their employment.
According to the BRAC document, there is a maximum potential reduction of 847 jobs.
Finally, Sudholz expressed concern about the recruits from other parts of the country that will be relocated to Fort Dix.
They “will not be as familiar with the geography, infrastructure and population of New York City,” he said, “and this new unit will not be fully deployable for three to five years, due to the need of training and construction of new facilities at Fort Dix.”
According to 77th Infantry Division ROA spokesman Col. Robert Braverman (Ret.), the DOD has not yet secured the funding needed to relocate the unit or replace the command. The group, with Padavan’s support, is attempting to resolve the matter with the DOD.
On behalf of the 77th Infantry Division ROA, Col. Lawrence Bellman (Ret.) denounced the proposed relocation of the 77th RRC from Fort Totten, and said it would “seriously threaten our homeland security in downstate New York, Long Island and the New York City metropolitan Area.”
By LEE LANDOR