Fort Hamilton should be transformed from a sleepy Army base best known for its private swimming pool into the city’s national security hub, politicians and base officials said this week.
In a preemptive strike against an upcoming round of federal base closures, Army brass and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand demanded that federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security relocate to the 180-year-old Bay Ridge base.
“New York remains the number one target for terrorists around the world,” said Gillibrand, a Democrat who is on the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Fort Hamilton must be in the absolute strongest possible position to withstand any cuts.”
The fort is the only Army post in New York City, and one of two in the whole state — but it hasn’t actually defended the city in decades.
The fort handles tests and physicals for new recruits before sending them off to their first post. It also houses a recruitment office and the Army Corps of Engineers — though the Corps spent much of the year trying to move away from the fort.
“It’s more administrative,” said base spokesman Bruce Hill of the fort’s tenants. Roughly 1,500 people live there, he said, but, “there aren’t a lot of active duty soldiers here.”
As such, locals were confused as to what actually goes at Fort Hamilton and why it needs to be saved.
“They keep troops there? Actually, I have no idea,” said Maria Petsini, 40, of Bay Ridge.
The fort’s commander joined Gillibrand on Wednesday in calling for a new strategy for the base, saying it has potential to become an important hub for national security agencies to meet in case there is an emergency.
The commander, Col. Michael Gould, maintained that Fort Hamilton plays a role in defending the city.
“We certainly provide the federal government the capability to bring resources if asked,” he said.
But no one is asking.
The Army Corps, the fort’s biggest tenant, tried to pull up stakes for Manhattan earlier this year before Rep. Michael Grimm (R–Bay Ridge) put the kibosh on the plan by adding language to an appropriations bill barring it from moving.
Without the Corps, it would have been even harder to justify the fort’s existence, and with the Pentagon looking to shave $400 billion off its budget over the next decade, base closings will likely make up part of the savings.
Fort Ham was on the chopping block when the federal base closing panel last met in 2005, but was ultimately spared — partially because of the presence of the Army Corps of Engineers.
Gillibrand said having anti-terrorist agencies on the base would help justify its role.
“To have Homeland Security here would actively keep New York safe,” said Gillibrand.
Homeland Security — a massive network of 22 separate federal agencies — already has offices across the river. Gillibrand did not explain how a move to far-flung Bay Ridge could keep the city safer. The agency did not respond to requests for comment.
An FBI spokesman confirmed that his agency had discussed moving some national security operations to the fort, but plans were preliminary. If it did move, it would likely only be one department — not the whole headquarters.
“It works for us now, so I’d be a little surprised if we moved a bulk of our operations to Brooklyn,” said spokesman Jim Margolin, adding that his office is already centrally located. “Part of the reason we’re in lower Manhattan is our proximity to federal courthouses.”
— with Alfred Ng