NEW YORK - Thanksgiving week is no holiday for the New York National Guard's Joint Task Force Empire Shield, which will have all hands on deck during the busiest travel days of the year.
The task force of 240 New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen helps deter terrorist operations in the New York City Metropolitan Area, by augmenting and assisting civilian police in the city's major transit hubs.
During the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, task force members normally assigned to training and administrative functions will be working security as well, said task force Commander Lt. Col. Peter Riley, a New York Army National Guard officer.
About 200 task force Soldiers, Airmen and Naval Militia members will be conducting roving patrols or manning fixed guard stations in Grand Central Station, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, Penn Station, JFK Airport, LaGuardia Airport, the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Site and the city's waterways, he explained.
The Soldiers and Airman are on State Active Duty under the orders of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The New York National Guard has had a security force assisting police in New York City since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Experience has shown that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year, Riley stressed.
"We're going to be extra vigilant, because it's the busiest day of the year," he said. "Most people are taking public transportation."
Almost 3 million commuters travel in and out of the city on normal business days, Riley said. They expect that amount visitors for the annual Macy's Day Parade alone, he stressed, and the parade itself will have about 8,000 participants.
They plan to have their most robust security presence during the busiest hours — meeting high-travel volume with manpower, Riley said. They'll also be out in full force before, during and after the Macy's Day Parade, said New York Air National Guard Senior Master Sgt. Ed Mondezie, the senior enlisted advisor for the task force.
As always, task force members will be alert for anything suspicious, like unattended baggage, Riley said. They'll also be working closely with city and federal authorities, sharing intelligence and information with the New York Police Department, Port Authority Police Department, Metro Transit Authority Police, Amtrak Police, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, he said.
Their partnerships with these agencies remain strong, he emphasized.
Customer service is also part of the job, and task force members often find themselves giving travelers directions and answering other routine questions, Riley said. This is a key skill for task force members, since it encourages the public to help and come forward with information, he stressed.
"It's very important to have that public interaction," he said. "We always treat the public with courtesy and respect."
Task force Soldiers and Airmen also assisted in distributing turkey dinners to needy families in areas of New York City and the Hudson Valley badly hit by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.
The New York National Guard men and women packed the supplies for 3000 turkey dinners at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. The supplies were delivered to area distribution centers by Empire Shield Soldiers and Airmen and other Guard soldiers from the 53rd Troop Command on Tuesday. Other deliveries are set for Wednesday.