CORTLANDT, N.Y. – Cortlandt's Camp Smith is home to a week of training exercises by the New York Guard this week. More than 300 members of the all-volunteer state defense force are conducting their annual training in emergency disaster response, tactical command, search and rescue, chemical decontamination, chainsaw excavation, and response to biological or radioactive dirty-bomb attacks.
The New York Guard, one of 26 such forces in the country, is a state-only defense force separate from the New York National Guard. The volunteers of the New York Guard are under the control of the governor and are not subject to federal call-up. They are not paid during their monthly weekend training exercises or their annual weeklong training, but they are paid when they are activated, such as during storm emergencies or after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
This week, the training exercises have to be meticulously scheduled, said Maj. Gen. Fergal Foley, commander of the Guard. Foley is respectfully referred to as "the boss" by his soldiers.
"Everything has to be perfectly in place, because time is so precious," Foley said. Most of the volunteers take the week off from their regular jobs.
"It’s for the soldiers," said Maj. Douglas Creamer, an engineer working to upgrade structures at Camp Smith. "The better facilities they have to train, the less likely they are to get killed."
Camp Smith, on Bear Mountain Bridge Road in Cortlandt, is used for training by a number of state and federal agencies, including the New York State Police and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Members of the New York Guard help maintain the training grounds at Camp Smith.
The New York Guard volunteers include veterans of the armed forces and civilians. Because the force is not subject to federal call-up, it can accept volunteers who are older than federal guidelines allow or who might be excluded from the National Guard for medical reasons.
Bill Spadafora, a helicopter paramedic who flies with the New York State Police out of Newburgh, said the New York Guard provides resources in the form of manpower. Thursday, Spadafora and other state troopers conducted a search and rescue training class with the volunteers of the Guard.
"There are a large number of people available," Spadafora said. For example, New York Guard soldiers could conduct ground search in conjunction with state police aerial assistance in a search and rescue operation.
In addition to search and rescue training, chainsaw training was also conducted, in the event that large numbers of trees are downed during serious storms. The Guard's elite unit, the so-called CERF-P team, is also training. This team is a quick-reaction task force that deploys into chemical, biological or radiological attacks, according to the New York Guard website. The training is focused on decontaminating and treating victims of these specialized types of incidents.
Despite the training, neighbors should not hear major disruptions.
"Very seldom will the neighbors realize there's something going on," Foley said.