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N.Y. Guard Airmen and Soldiers assist police with security

By Sgt. Andrew Valenza | New York National Guard | Jan. 18, 2019

NEW YORK – New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen went up in the air and down in the ground Jan. 10 and 14 as part of their mission to help law enforcement agencies deter terrorism in New York City.

The Soldiers and Airmen from Joint Task Force-Empire Shield, the New York National Guard's 700-person New York City security augmentation force, aided New York State troopers and other law enforcement officers Jan. 10 in Operation Catch-All, at the Verrazano- Narrows Bridge.

Then, on Jan. 14, they took part in a multi-agency surge, teaming up with the New York City Police Department, Department of Homeland Security, New York State Police and Amtrak Police, underground at Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan.

The Multi-Agency Super Surge, known as a MASS for short, floods critical railroad stations with security personnel as a deterrent. The joint task force service members – who serve in a state active-duty status – participate in these on a regular basis.

The Verrazano bridge mission is conducted regularly with members of the New York State Police based in New York City and the Tri-Borough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA).

According to Army National Guard Col. Peter Riley, the task force commander, nearly 237,000 vehicles cross the bridge every day. This means there is a chance one of those 237,000 cars and trucks could have a bomb on board.

As a counter measure, the State Police check vehicles periodically. They pick the vehicles to examine and the National Guard members provide backup.

"Whenever law enforcement stops a vehicle and inspects it, or if they have a K-9 unit go through, if they have anything suspicious like some explosives, we're there on over watch to support them." Riley said.

Since Sept. 17–19, 2016, when three bombs exploded and injured 31 people across New York City and several unexploded bombs were found, the National Guard task force has worked more closely with the State Police, Riley said. The Verrazano bridge missions are part of this, he said.

The Jan. 10 mission kicked off at 7 a.m. Eight joint task force members, in two teams of four, arrived at the Verrazano Bridge to provide over watch for the operation. The one team member carried an M4 and each Soldier or Airman had their own Glock pistol.

While state troopers and TBTA officers searched suspicious looking cars – ones with tinted windows, graffiti, or tampered license plates – the Guard members kept their eyes open to make sure everyone stayed safe.

Capt. Adam Connolly, the commander of the task force's Delta Company, said he thought that the bond between the Guard members and civilian police officers, has only been improving since their integration in January 2016.

"Ever since then, the cohesion built between [the task force] and state entities down here in the city has only increased and improved," said Connolly.

The MASS on Jan. 14, launched at 3 p.m. when commanders from each security force gathered outside of "Penn Station" to conduct a briefing to kick off the event.

For the next few hours, the 20 to 28 service members patrolled around the station, searching for anything suspicious.

A MASS is conducted at least once a month, or around holidays when the possibility of terrorism is at its highest.

Spc. Sharron Becket, a resident of Jamaica, New York, said he was glad to be a part of operations like these because of the opportunity he has to protect others.

"I do feel like I'm a part of something important." Becket said, "We hear about officers getting hurt all the time, and for me, if I can be a part of helping an officer stay safe, I'm all for it…I'm aware that there may be some danger to it, but I'm fine with that because I can make sure someone goes home to their family."