The U.S. government will not be moving the National Guard Weapons of Mass Destruction Civic Support Team (WMD-CST) from Fort Hamilton any time soon.
The day after five members of the team provided critical support in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, Congressmember Michael Grimm announced that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said he would not cut the team – which had been threatened because of fiscal constraints – during testimony given to the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on April 16.
The team – which specializes in response to weapons of mass destruction and which interfaces with local emergency responders to assess events and develop a plan of action – arrived at Fort Hamilton with great fanfare in 2010. Each state has at least one WMD-CST; New York is one of three states that have two, but there has been an ongoing fight to preserve the second teams in New York and Florida, which the Department of Defense had proposed eliminating to save money.
Asked about the endangered CSTs, Hagel assured members of the subcommittee, “They are important and we have put the funding in,” reiterating, “It does stand for the record,”
when asked by Congressmember Nita Lowey of Westchester, “Does your statement that you will keep them stand for the record?” Finally, Hagel told the subcommittee, “I have reversed the initial decision and that is why we will keep the funding.”
“It’s a little bizarre that we have fought the fight four times,” Grimm told this paper. Previously, upon hearing that DOD was considering eliminating the second teams in New York and Florida, Grimm and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand had successfully gotten language included in a bill that passed Congress that provided funding for the two threatened teams.
Previously – unlike the other teams which were funded through legislation – the second New York and Florida teams had been funded through earmarks.
“We worked really hard to make sure the money was appropriated for this CST as well as the one in Florida,” Grimm recalled. “We felt when we won that fight that we were out of the danger zone, but for some reason, someone at a high level was really hell-bent on getting the team out of Fort Hamilton, so it rose all the way to Secretary Hagel.”
Grimm was at Fort Hamilton on Friday, April 19 to congratulate the team members for their efforts, both in Boston and in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, another instance where the team was deployed.
Their role in the aftermath of the Boston bombing, Grimm said, “In my opinion emphasizes why you gentlemen do what you do. The average citizen forgets that threats are unpredictable. We have to be vigilant, proactive as well as reactive. Your unit,” he told the team members, “represents the best of all that. I thank you for serving, and doing it as well as you do.”
Having the unit remain at Fort Hamilton is critical on a number of levels, Grimm added. “As New York continues to be the number one terrorist target in the nation, it is ready anytime to respond anywhere in the northeast. I think it’s indispensable.”
In addition, he said, keeping the team at Fort Hamilton is important to keeping Fort Hamilton operational in the face of a future federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) that looks to close and consolidate military installations around the country to save money. Fort Hamilton had previously fought off closure through a BRAC, and, since then, local activists and elected officials have taken a proactive stance toward possible future BRACs.
“We can’t allow fort Hamilton to fall victim to the next BRAC,” Grimm emphasized. “Losing a unit like this would make Fort Hamilton vulnerable.”