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The New York Naval Militia in Operation Sandy

By CDR Art McCormick (ret.)

Super Storm Sandy

On 26 October, 2012, as Super Storm Sandy, the largest tropical storm in area ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean roared up the eastern seaboard of the eastern seaboard of the United States Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in New York.1 Preparations included the 24-hour activation of the state’s emergency operation center (EOC) with major participating components, including the Division of Military and Naval Affairs (DMNA), ready to respond. A Warning Order was issued by Major General Patrick Murphy, the Adjutant General (TAG), to all components of the DMNA which comprises the NY Army National Guard, the NY Air National Guard, the NY State Guard, and the NY Naval Militia (NYNM). A Warning Order for the Naval Militia had been issued by the NYNM Deputy Commander for Operations on 25 October 2012. Three days later Gov. Cuomo ordered the mobilization of NY Military Forces (NYMF). The mobilization included members of the Naval Militia.2

On the same day, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, with the consent of the Governor, authorized the appointment of a Dual Status Commander (DSC) for NY, thereby allowing a pre-certified National Guard officer to command both state and federal forces within the state.3 This command was executed at 1128 on 3 November, 2012. This was the first large-scale unplanned contingency utilizing a DSC since the concept was established in 2009.4

Establishing the NY Naval Militia

Article 1 Section 8 of the United States Constitution authorizes states to establish militias which can be called forth by Congress “to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions.” The states are reserved the right to appoint officers of their militias and authorize training “according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.” Title 10 of the U.S. Code (USC) Sec.311, established by Congress, defines the organized militia as the National Guard and the Naval Militia.5 NY State Military Law Article 1, Sec. 6 “authorizes the Governor in event of invasion, disaster, insurrection, riot, breach of peace, or imminent danger thereof, to order all or part of the organized militia into active service.”6

Article 1 Sec. 8 of the U.S. Constitution also directs the Congress to “provide and maintain a navy.” In the late nineteenth century states began reestablishing Naval Militias, originally created and then disbanded in the early 19th century, to support the mandated federal Navy. In times of national emergencies states provided their naval militias for federal service. New York Governor David Hill signed a bill creating the NY Naval Militia on June 14, 1889.7 The 1st Battalion stood up two years later.8 The Naval Militia Act (NMA) of February 1914 put the State Naval Militias under the supervision of the Secretary of the Navy.9 This preceded the launching of the Naval Reserves by two years.10 With the establishment of the Navy Reserves, and later the Marine Reserves, federal support of naval militias ended and most states abolished their organizations.11

New York is unique in continuously maintaining its federally recognized Naval Militia. Title 10 USC does not include the Naval Militia as a reserve component but does authorize the Secretary of the Navy to set standards that the Naval Militia must meet, including the requirement that 95 percent of unit members be U.S. Navy (USN) or U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) reservists, to qualify for federal material support.12 NY State Military Law also requires 95 percent of Naval Militia members to be federal reservists13 and that the organization parallels that of the Navy and Marine Corps Reserves.14 Additionally, Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) between the NYNM and the USN (1996),15 the USMC (1996)16 and the U.S. Coast Guard (1997) have been signed, reaffirming continued cooperation while also permitting Coast Guard Reservists to join the NYNM.  Federal responsibilities supersede NYNM activation. A January, 2007 Defense Department report, Critical Homeland Infrastructure Protection, discusses the benefits “of the Federal Government providing immediate access to Navy and Marine reservists during State and Local emergencies, at no cost to the DoD.”17

History of NY Naval Militia Disaster Response

The NYNM can trace its disaster response history back to when it was mobilized to “protect steam ship passengers during the 1892 cholera quarantine at Fire Island.”18 120 years later the NYNM would again be at Fire Island performing Defense Support to Civilian Authorities (DSCA) missions. A more recent operation includes the TWA 800 recovery in 1996. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) was the lead agency in the massive recovery operation with significant USN support. Over 30 NYNM members, mostly stevedores from the USN 6th Cargo Handling Battalion, along with Marines, were activated for three to four weeks to load, unload, and drive trucks. 

When the North Country Ice Storm of 1998 struck in January 15 NYNM members were on State Active Duty (SAD) for five weeks assisting primarily with logistics and supplying staff officers. Naval Militia Construction Battalion (SeaBees) members served under the NY National Guard 152nd Engineer Support Company and used National Guard heavy equipment.

The most significant NYNM state activation occurred immediately after the World Trade Center terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. Naval Militia personnel were on site within hours and remained in Lower Manhattan for ten months. A total of 560 personnel were called to SAD. A decade later, nearly 200 NYNM members were mobilized when Hurricane Irene struck in August 2011. Non-disaster activations included assisting with maritime security for the 2004 Republican National Convention when NYNM SAD members served alongside National Guard Title 32 and Title 10 troops.

Joint Task Force Sandy       

As the NY community was still reeling from the ravaging effects of “Sandy,” a Nor’easter (named “Athena” by The Weather Channel) struck the NY metropolitan area on 8 November, delivering 7-13 inches of snow, a four-foot tide surge, high winds, and additional power outages. Although a relatively minor snow storm as far as Nor’easters are concerned, the timing could not have been more demoralizing with snow accumulations breaking records for this early date. At the peak of operations there were over 4000 military personnel under state control with the majority being on SAD, some under Title 32, which allows the governor to retain command and control (C2) while the federal government assumes the financial burden, and nearly 700 Federal Title 10 forces (federal active duty personnel under C2 of the Secretary of Defense/President of the U.S.). Brigadier General Mike Swezey, a pre-designated DSC, was the only individual in both Operation Sandy chains of command: one leading up to the president, who retained C2 of Title 10 forces, and down to the active duty troops serving within NY. The other lead up to the Governor of NY, who retained C2 of Title 32 and SAD troops, and down to the state forces responding.

Orders were accepted by over 200 NY Naval Militia members during the Operation Sandy response with 25 to 85 personnel on SAD at a time. Duration of activations ranged from 1 day to over 30 days from 29 October to 30 November, with the majority serving from five to nine days. Most of the NYNM members were integrated into the state’s military task forces whose missions included security, sheltering displace citizens, food and clothing distribution, and the evacuation of hospitals and nursing homes. Additionally, the NY Naval Militia Military Emergency Boat Service (MEBS) performed safety reconnaissance operations in Jamaica Bay to help identify maritime hazards along with security patrols around Fire Island at the request of local law enforcement agencies until emergency utilities could be restored and access roads made passable. Naval Militia members were also integrated into the DMNA Joint Task Forces Headquarters (JTFHQ) and the Operation Sandy Joint Operations Centers (JOC) respectively.

The NYNM warning order of 25 October 2012 directed the activation of the Personnel Action Team (PAT) to begin identifying and contacting members in preparation of expected activation. Liaison Officers were also advised to be ready to respond to anticipated mobilization execution order (EXORD). General NYNM activation directives require members recalled to DSCA SAD to be self-sufficient for up to 72 hours if necessary. The EXORD was given on 28 October and the JTF Sandy Liason Officer (LNO) team reported the next day. A NYNM LNO would be present at the JTF Sandy JOC from 29 October until 19 November when liaison duties would be handled locally by the senior militiamen in the area of responsibility (AOR). NYNM LNOs would also be manning the JFHQs JOC in Latham, NY. Within a few days the JTF Sandy JOC would include representatives from the NY Army National Guard (NYARNG), the NY Air National Guard (NYANG), the exclusively state NY Guard (NYG) and the NYNM. In addition, representatives from the U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), Army North, the National Guard Bureau, and the USS Wasp Amphibious Battle Group (ABG) would be occupying seats within the JOC. On 3 November, the USS Wasp (LHD-1), accompanied by the USS San Antonio (LPD-17) and the USS Carter Hall (LSD-50), arrived off the coast of New York and New Jersey with embarked Marines and Sailors from the 26th MEU along with detachments from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 366 and Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 467. They operated in support of Hurricane Sandy disaster relief efforts. Title 10 personnel from the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines were among the responders:

  •  Air Force teams completed unwatering operations at Rockaway Wastewater Treatment facility, and East School in Long Beach, N.Y., and provided teams to support fire departments conducting unwatering operations in Breezy Point, N.Y.
  • Army divers repaired the pier system at Caven Point, N.J. Additionally, divers continue to assist the New York City Fire Department unwater the PATH tunnel at the World Trade Center and unwater the Long Beach High School and Recreation Center, N.Y.
  • Marines continued assessments with Army engineers in Far Rockaway, N.Y., and pumped 90,000 gallons of water from apartment buildings there. About 750,000 gallons were pumped from affected homes and parks in Breezy Point, N.Y.
  • Navy dive detachments continue to support the World Trade Center site and Marine Corps pump teams are assisting pumping operations at Breezy Point.

Helicopters from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit were transporting and relocating generators in the area at the direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Navy Seabees and Marine personnel restored the beach at Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook; and supporting debris clearance operations at locations in Bayonne, N.J. and the Battery, N.Y.19

Also, National Guardsmen from Florida, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Massachusetts, Maine, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia arrived in NY through Emergency Management Agreement Compacts. With such a diverse force responding to the disaster, the Governor, with input from the Adjutant General (TAG), and the Secretary of Defense  consented to the activation of a DSC to command Title 10, Title 32, and SAD forces within the state. The DSC was executed on 3 November and the NYNM was a part of this historic event.

Naval Militia members, after reporting to the Joint Reception Staging Onward Movement and Integration (JRSOI) site and being scanned into the system, were then put to work where needed according to their skillsets. Seven members arrived with air transportation provided by the 109AW and then proceeded with the Air Guard command down range to Floyd Bennet Field in Brooklyn which quickly became the main logistical point for supplies and equipment being used and distributed by the various responding agencies. The majority of the mobilized force was sent to the Lexington Avenue Armory where they were integrated into Task Force 69.

According to one Meritorious Commendation citation awarded during the period:

“The NY Naval Militia element of Task Force 69 was responsible for saving numerous lives at Belleview Hospital during Super-storm SANDY. On 30 October 2012, the NY Naval Militia contingent, part of the Task Force, completed a mission at Belleview Hospital to keep critical hospital functions operational. In conjunction with Officers of the New York Police Department, this element kept the hospital’s generators operating overnight. Utilizing a bucket-brigade and 5-gallon buckets they hauled 100 gallons of fuel per hour from a 1400 gallon fuel truck to generators on the 13th floor of the hospital. Additionally, Task Force 69 assisted hospital staff by keeping food and water supplied throughout the hospital. When it was determined that Bellevue Hospital should be evacuated, 4-5 man teams carried patients down multiple flights of stairs to awaiting ambulances.”20

Two young Marine NYNM members that were qualified Humvee drivers spent a month chauffeuring the TAG and DSC throughout the AOR. MEBS-qualified truck and trailer drivers along with boat teams were kept busy early in the operation ensuring the safety of the vessels and equipment from storm damage. Boats needed to be taken out of the water and brought to higher ground where feasible and if not, taken underway to safer anchorages. If not for the conscientious meritorious efforts of the MEBS teams significant damage would have resulted. This would have hampered the security patrols that were to follow.

On 5 November, a request from Suffolk County for maritime security patrols with local law enforcement officers off Fire Island was routed through the JFHQ. It was determined that the NYNM could accomplish this mission and two vessels, trucks, and trailers, along with 15 qualified boat personnel, were soon on their way. They would perform what was quickly labeled “Vampire Patrols” from 1600 until dawn for 14 days commencing on 8 November. Although the first patrol had to be cancelled due to dangerous seas, security patrols from Kismet to Davis Park were completed. This area was without electrical power and the roads were impassable due to the super storm making the homes vulnerable to looters and any remaining civilians without emergency assistance. These patrols greatly reduced the risks. Flexibility was key as fuel and anchorage had to be secured for the vessels along with berthing and messing facilities for the crews. Assistance from the local authorities, including the nearby U.S. Coast Guard station was critical to the mission’s success.

Immediately after the 11 September, 2001 attacks, JTF Empire Shield (JTFES) was stood up and has remained active since. Simultaneously, the NYNM MEBS command was established with resources committed to JTFES mission. At the time of Superstorm Sandy’s arrival, 2 MEBS vessels were assigned to Empire Shield. One vessel, with armed National Guard personnel onboard, assisted with security at the Indian Point nuclear power station just up the Hudson River from NYC. The other boat was utilized for safety and security checks of vessels entering NY Harbor with a U.S. Coast Guard inspection team embarked. This was done through a unique agreement between NY and the Coast Guard. When Sandy struck, both MEBS boats were taken off the Empire Shield mission and given over to JTF Sandy to be used by the DSC as needed. This allowed the boats to be available if conditions permitted while allowing them to be relocated to safer anchorage. Within a few days, when it was determined that sufficient MEBS resources could be mobilized for Operation Sandy, both boats were returned to Empire Shield to continue their normal missions.

The final mission assignment for members of the NYNM involved going door-to-door in the ravaged coastal areas of Rockaway, Brooklyn, and Staten Island to ascertain the well-being of citizens whose lives were devastated by this catastrophic event. This was accomplished through the Thanksgiving Holiday.

The Current Force    

As the federal maritime forces in NY have decreased, so has the NYNM membership. The recent Strength Report dated March 1, 2012, counts total enrollment at 2206, (compared to approximately 4500 on 9/11), with 209 officers, 22 warrants, and 1975 enlisted.21 The majority of members are selected reservists (SELRES) from the USN (1300), followed by USMC SELRES (655), and USCG SELRES (106). Retired reservists under 60 years of age on the Federal Component List (94) and 5-percenters on the State Active List (51) make up the rest of the force. NY State educational assistance entices recruitment.22 Prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks, all training was provided by the federal government through the reserve system.

A new Joint Operations Center (JOC) with direct communications with the U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) was dedicated at DMNA Headquarters in 2008.23 The NYNM, along with the other components of the DMNA JTFHQ, mans a position at the JOC, continuing to stand the watch for not only New York, but all of America.

Arthur McCormick CDR (ret) NY Naval Militia is a US Navy veteran having served on active duty as a Radioman from 1966 to 1970 and then as a reserve Hospital Corpsman from 1987 to 1990. Shortly after 9/11/01 he was recalled to state active duty into the federally recognized NY Naval Militia in support of the World Trade Center disaster response. He served in lower Manhattan. He subsequently accepted a state commission in 2003. CDR McCormick served as Senior Joint Task Force 3 Liaison Officer on the staff of the Dual Status Commander for Hurricane Irene (DSC authorized but not activated) and Superstorm Sandy (DSC activated). CDR McCormick graduated from the US Naval War College with Joint Professional Military Education Phase 1 certification in 2008. CDR McCormick retired from the NY Naval Militia in 2016. On the civilian side Dr. McCormick is a retired veterinarian having graduated from the NY State College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University in 1979. He may be reached at artmccormick@hotmail.com.


[1] Governor Cuomo Declares State of Emergency in New York in Preparation for Potential impact of Hurricane Sandy. http://www.governor.ny.gov/press/10262012-sandystateofemergencecy  Oct 26, 2012.

[2] Governor Cuomo Directs New York Army and Air National Guard to Mobilize for Hurricane Sandy. http://www.governor.ny.gov/press/10282012nationalguardmobilized  Oct 12, 2012

[3] Panetta Appoints ‘Dual’ Commanders for Hurricane Relief. American Forces Press Service. http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=118366 Oct 28, 2012

[4] Hurricane Sandy Puts New National Guard Command Mechanism to Work. National Defense Industrial Association. http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/2012/December/Pages/HurricaneSandyPutsNewNationalGuardCommandMechanismtoWork.aspx December 2012

[5] Title 10 Sec. 311 USC. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/10/311.html

[6] NYS Military Law Art 1 Sec 6. http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/nycode/MIL/1/6

[7] NY Times. June 15, 1889. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=2&res=9404E3DE133AE033A25756C1A9609C94689FD7CF

[8] New York Naval Militia Turns 120 on June 23 2011. http://dmna.ny.gov/news/news.php?id=1308832192

[9] NYNM. http://www.dmna.state.ny.us/nynm/naval.php?id=about  

[10] TNR. MAR 2010. History of the Navy Reserves, p. 18. http://www.navyreserve.navy.mil/Publications/2010/TNRmar10.pdf

[11] National Archives. Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel. 24.6.2 Records of the Division of Naval Militia Affairs. http://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/024.html#24.6.2

[12] Title 10 Sec. 7854.  http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode10/usc_sec_10_00007854—-000-.html

[13] NYS Mil Law. http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/nycode/MIL/2/43

[14] Ibid.

[15] Dept of Defense (DoD). http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=40825


[17] Defense Science Board Task Force, p19. http://www.acq.osd.mil/dsb/reports/2007-01-Critical_Homeland_Infrastructure_Protection.pdf

[18] NYNM. http://www.dmna.state.ny.us/nynm/naval.php?id=about

[19] US DoD News. Pentagon Provides Sandy Response Update. Nov 9, 2012. http://www.defense.gov/News/NewsArticle.aspx?ID=118496

[20] Meritorious Commendation Award citation. EO1 Thomas Gray. For meritorious service during the period 29 October 2012 – 8 November 2012.

[21] NYNM HQ. Latham, NY 12MAR2012.

[22] NYNM Education.  http://www.dmna.state.ny.us/nynm/naval.php?id=education

[23] NYNG Media Advisory. http://www.dmna.state.ny.us/pressroom/presindx.php?id=1203072420

Featured Image: Crews from the Coast Guard Cutter Sturgeon Bay, Coast Guard Marine Safety and Security Team Boston, Coast Guard Station New York, the New Jersey State Police and the New York City Police Department escort the Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) New York as the ship sails into New York Harbor. The nearest patrol boat is  NYNM PB 300 escorting the USS New York (LPD-21) into NY harbor for it’s commissioning ceremony in November 2009.

Asymmetric Maritime Diplomacy: Involving Coastguards, Maritime Militias in China Dealings

By Alex Calvo

Any objective assessment of developments in the South China Sea over the last few years cannot but conclude that Beijing is successfully expanding and achieving its goals, the ultimate being complete mastery over this body of water. Please note that we can no longer talk about “dispute” since this word fails to capture the essence of the conflict. There is also no point in demanding a “clarification” of Beijing’s objectives in a wishful attempt at integrating China into the post-war liberal order. Third, and most crucially, given that China is deploying a combined force made up of the PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy), a number of Coastguard-like agencies, and a maritime militia, military to military contacts involving only the former are not only useless, they are counterproductive. By engaging the PLAN, in a bid to build trust and work toward agreements, such as the much touted Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, maritime democracies are dangerously ignoring China’s playbook. The PLAN does not operate in isolation. Instead, it follows a carefully orchestrated script featuring an internal division of labour, the coastguard agencies, and the maritime militia. Each has its role, and in some situations and missions they act separately, while in others they work as a team. Broadly speaking, most of the “dirty work” is carried out either by militia-crewed (or at least coordinated) “civilian ships” or by their coastguard counterparts, with the PLAN free to play the “good guy” role in a discreet second line.

This division of labour extends to diplomacy and military to military contacts: PLAN officers meet foreign counterparts, coast guard personnel keep a much lower international profile, and the maritime militias remain a domestic affair. This means that the objectives of these contacts are impossible from the start. What is the point of in engaging only the PLAN when it is just one part of the Chinese forces expanding in the South China Sea? How can we dream of integrating the PRC’s naval and maritime forces into some semblance of an international liberal order when the vast majority of their forces do not even take part in the exchanges and activities designed to bring this about?

 Heated altercation between a Chinese Coast Guard Cutter and a Vietnamese vessel in the South China Sea.
Heated altercation between a Chinese Coast Guard Cutter and a Vietnamese vessel in the South China Sea.

One of the eternal principles of war is the need to seize the initiative. For too long maritime nations in the South China Sea have simply been reacting to Chinese moves, playing into Beijing’s script. The solution is not to complain more loudly every time Beijing expands, or to rearm at the conventional level only, the solution involves seizing the initiative, playing by different rules (not China’s), and forcing the PRC to react for once. This has already happened in some instances, most notably the Philippines’ lawsuit under UNCLOS, but must now become the norm, not the exception.

In accordance with this need to seize the initiative, the following changes are necessary in military to military contacts and negotiations:

A) Maritime nations must refuse to take part in any negotiations where China’s Coastguard agencies and maritime militias are not represented. Dealings must take place only with delegations made up of the full range of institutions involved in territorial aggression in the South China Sea.

B) In order to make the above possible (and prevent Beijing from claiming that they are only sending PLAN personnel because they are just meeting naval officers), maritime nations must also include all equivalent agencies in their own delegations.

C) Third, when a maritime democracy does not have a maritime militia, it must be created. This can be accomplished, for example, by resorting to reserve personnel, maritime industries, and yacht owners associations.

Maritime democracies may also need to adopt measures to grow their fishing and merchant fleets in order to acquire the necessary dual-use assets to wage the non-lethal confrontation seen in the seas near China. 

Adopting an integrated approach to military to military contacts with China may require some cultural and institutional changes. It may be understandable for a naval officer to prefer the company of a fellow officer from another country to that of a fisherman. Equally understandable may be an officer’s somewhat detached view of clashes among fishing boats, or landings by civilian “activists,” but the nature of the mixed warfare being waged by China means that superior conventional naval forces cannot simply wait for war to break out in order to defeat the enemy in a conventional battle. A war may be lost while waiting for it to break out. In theory, Chinese expansion could be checked by drawing a line in the sand and employing conventional force if necessary. However, this is politically unrealistic, given that not even economic sanctions have been discussed in Washington and pacific rim capitals. If the United States and her partners are not even ready to make China pay an economic price for aggression, can they be expected to go to war? The answer cannot be any other than a clear and loud no, and the Chinese are fully aware of it. Hence their “salami slicing” strategy.

US Navy Arleigh Burke-class Destroyer and US Coast Guard Hamilton-class High Endurance Cutter at sea.

If we rule out appeasement and surrender, then the only alternative left is to fight. Not to fight the war we would like, a war that is simply not on the menu, but the existing war being waged, and the one, we must regrettably say, which is being lost to date. In this war, the enemy is not simply using conventional forces, but a mixture of naval, non-naval state, and dual-use private assets. It is this complex reality that must be engaged with in attempts at confidence building and agreements negotiations. If it is not just PLAN officers working to conquer the South China Sea, what is the point in just talking to them? Shouldn’t we also be talking to their coast guard and militia counterparts?

This broad approach to military to military contacts is the only realistic approach to the current situation in the South China Sea (and the wider Indo Pacific). If actually resulting in agreements, they will be more likely to be respected, given that they will have been negotiated by the whole range of actors involved. If unsuccessful, then naval and maritime personnel from the nations of these contested waters will have gained a much better understanding of their foes. This will not only give them a clearer picture of the opposition, but will also help them make the necessary but often difficult and even painful cultural transition from leaders used to thinking in terms of conventional sea power to officers equally at ease when facing a trawler or a submarine, a missile fired in anger or a ramming fishing boat. Successful riverine operations in South Vietnam are a good example of a similar cultural and organizational change brought about by the need to fight a dual war, and the resulting transformation is a reminder that this is indeed possible.

Alex Calvo, a guest professor at Nagoya University (Japan), focuses on security and defence policy, international law, and military history, in the Indian-Pacific Ocean Region. He tweets at Alex__Calvo and his work, which includes “China’s Air Defense Identification Zone: Concept, Issues at Stake and Regional Impact”, Naval War College Press Working Papers, No 1, US Naval War College, 23 December 2013, available at http://www.usnwc.edu/Publications/Working-Papers/Documents/WP1-Calvo.aspx, can be found here.