A Rare Look Inside New York City's Only U.S. Military Base

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This post is part of the “Tours of Duty” series, which honours America’s military birthdays with in-depth tours of military bases and schools. “Tours Of Duty” is sponsored by USAA. Read more posts in the series »

New York City’s only army base is nestled between the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and the neighbourhood of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn.

Aside from people dressed in fatigues and the occasional military vehicle, visitors may not immediately realise that they’re even in Fort Hamilton, which can feel more like a suburban neighbourhood than an army installation.

Still, Fort Hamilton is steeped in history. It was from this location that an American battery fired cannons at an approaching British naval convoy on July 4, 1776, at the start of the American Revolution. The area also took part in sea defenses during the War of 1812 and Fort Hamilton became the first National Guard training camp in 1839.

Today, Fort Hamilton is a Base Support Installation for the greater New York City area, playing a major role in coordinating disaster relief efforts. It also serves members of the military, their family, and over 70,000 veterans in the New York City Metropolitan Area.

Fort Hamilton is located next to the southern tip of Bay Ridge, a waterfront neighbourhood in Brooklyn. The Fort Hamilton Diner is just outside of the R train's final stop.

The walk towards Fort Hamilton from the subway is picturesque, with stunning views of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in America.

John Paul Jones Park is just outside of Fort Hamilton's gates. It features cast-iron replicas of cannons used during the Revolutionary War.

Located on 101st street in Brooklyn, Fort Hamilton's entrance is on a sleepy residential street typical of Bay Ridge.

Fort Hamilton feels like a self-contained community, connected to but still separate from its Brooklyn surroundings. Here's the fort's front gate.

On base, Fort Hamilton's Sergeant Major and other high ranking officers live on Colonel's Row, under the shadow of one of the Verrazano Bridge's soaring support towers.

Other officers live in suburban-style townhouses.

The lower-ranking enlisted servicemembers in Fort Hamilton can live in garden apartments, though no one is actually required to live on base. Federal employees, military contractors, and civilians can also sign up for a waiting list to live in the apartments.

A small number of personnel from the other branches of the U.S. military also operate out of the fort.

Fort Hamilton maintains positive relations with the larger New York City community. The day we visited, NYPD representatives were on hand for a change of command ceremony.

After Hurricane Sandy devastated large portions of New Jersey and New York, Fort Hamilton became a Base Support Installation, hosting the FBI, FEMA, and other organisations coordinating the relief effort.

Joint Task Force Empire Shield, mobilized after the September 11th attacks to help protect infrastructure throughout New York, is also based out of Fort Hamilton.

Fort Hamilton's original namesake fort was built in 1831 and is still standing today, albeit with some renovations.

Originally, the fort was ringed by cannons for use in harbor defence.

Today, the fort is used as the military Community Club and is open to everyone on base. The club features a dining room ...

... a fully stocked bar ...

... and pool tables.

Just outside the Community Club is the Hamilton Lounge, which features community events such as casino nights.

The base's legal office isn't far from the old fort. The building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places since General Robert E. Lee lived there during his command of Fort Hamilton before the Civil War.

The primary street that leads into Fort Hamilton is still named General Lee Avenue, though Lee became one of the most controversial figures in American history due to his command of Confederate troops.

Elsewhere on base is the commissary, Fort Hamilton's supermarket.

Commissaries sell goods tax-free and at cheaper rates than off-base stores.

Fort Hamilton also has its own on-post exchange, a strip mall-like complex better known as PX.

The exchange sells fast food, electronics, housing items, and clothes at discounted rates and tax-free.

Every military base is open to both current and retired military personnel, allowing servicemembers to receive lifetime discounts from the exchange and the commissary. Fort Hamilton now provides support to over 70,000 retired servicemembers in the New York Metropolitan area.

Near the exchange is Fort Hamilton's non-denominational house of worship, which routinely hosts religious leaders from the wider New York City community.

Fort Hamilton also has a gym with a racquetball court, tennis courts, and a pool.

As a large number of families live on Fort Hamilton, the base tries to accommodate individuals of all ages.

There is even an eight lane bowling alley.

Altogether Fort Hamilton feels like a close-knit and self-contained suburban community, and it's perfectly at home in Brooklyn.

You've seen what Fort Hamilton is like ...

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