By Helen Klein
The new commander of Fort Hamilton plans to continue what his predecessor began, building bridges between the garrison and the community in which it sits.
Chief among these, said Col. Michael Gould, who took over from departing Col. Stephen Smith on June 29, is looking for ways to reopen the fort to neighborhood residents, who have been largely shut out because of security concerns since the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
In the halcyon days before 9-11, community groups held picnics on the fort, local theater groups used fort facilities and residents streamed in for such events as the Twilight Tattoo.
“We are going to do everything we can to do those sorts of things again,” Gould said. “We are looking at how we can make the post more open to the community in a way which maintains our security. If we are creative and energetic about it, we can find ways to do many of the things that historically were done here.”
Among Gould’s immediate goals is heading out into the community, to converse with residents, activists and government officials. The goal, he said, is, “To solicit their ideas as to what we can do to improve what is already a good relationship.”
That good relationship, he added, is beneficial both to military families living on the fort, and local businesses and residents. For instance, a coupon book for military families that was put together last year by Community Board 10 was something that not only helped the families living on the base, but aided merchants looking to drum up business.
“Any way we can do things like that, we will definitely look at,” Gould remarked. “We will pursue any opportunities to interact on any level, and aggressively put out information [about the community to residents of the base] so it’s well known.
“There’s no shortage of things families can be involved in, in the local community,” Gould added. “We have got to do the job of getting the word out.”
His outreach effort will not just be limited to military families living on the base and local residents and businesspeople. Rather, Gould said, he wants to “reach out to every family that has a military connection to make them aware of the services we have here.” Such outreach, Gould added, will not be restricted to Brooklyn but will encompass all of New York City.
In addition, said Gould, he wants to use the bully pulpit provided by his position as fort commander “To tell the Army story. I like to say we’re the face of the Army here in New York City. We have great soldiers, and we want Americans to know how proud they can be of their service and what they do every day.”
The fort’s best days are still ahead, Gould added. With a reserve center under construction at Fort Hamilton, the base is “growing,” Gould noted. “I think there is a lot of untapped potential here, to do more, grow more. The Army can certainly benefit more from what we have here, so I think the fort’s trajectory is upward.”
Nonetheless, Gould declined to express an opinion as to whether the fort would be safe from closure the next time a Base Closure Commission is convened by the Department of Defense, as it was in 1995 and 2005.
“I have no idea what’s in the future,” Gould said. “From my perspective, I see Fort Hamilton as thriving and on the cusp of realizing more potential, but those decisions are political in nature, way above my pay grade.”