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 some of the busiest travel days of the year.
The task force of 240 New York National Guard soldiers and airmen helps to safeguard and aid holiday travelers in the New York City Metropolitan Area by augmenting and assisting civilian police in the city's major transit hubs.
During Thanksgiving, task force members normally assigned to training and administrative functions will be working security as well, said task force commander Army Lt. Col. Peter Riley, a member of the New York National Guard.
About 200 task force soldiers, airmen and naval militia members will be conducting 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, Riley explained.
The soldiers and airmen are called up on state active duty by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The New York National Guard has had a security force assisting police in New York City since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year. "We're going to be extra vigilant. Most people are taking public transportation," Riley said.
Nearly three million commuters travel in and out of New York City on a normal business day, Riley said. Officials expect that amount of visitors for the annual Macy's Day Parade alone, he said, and the parade itself will have about 8,000 participants.
Officials 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 force before, during and after the Parade, said New York Air National Guard Senior Master Sgt. Ed Mondezie, the task force’s senior enlisted advisor.
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.
Customer service is also part of the job and task force members often provide directions and other assistance to holiday travelers, Riley said.
"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.
New York National Guard members packed the supplies for 3,000 turkey dinners at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. The supplies were then delivered to area distribution centers by Empire Shield soldiers and airmen and other Guard members from the 53rd Troop Command on Nov. 25.