By Sgt. Andrew Valenza, New York National GuardJanuary 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 Soldier 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 in Operation Catch-All, at the Verrazano- Narrows Bridge, January 10th.
Then, on Jan. 14, they took part in a Multi-Agency Super Surge, teaming up with the New York City Police department, the 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 countermeasure the State Police check vehicles periodically. They pick the vehicles to examine and the National Guard Service Members provide back up.
"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 explained.
Since September 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 Verrezano 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 Service 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 Guardsmen 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 twenty to twenty- eight Service Members patrolled around the station, searching for anything that may be 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 N.Y., said he was glad to be a part of operations like these because of 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.