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Fort Totten’s troops to be put in Jersey

The 77th Regional Readiness Command, currently headquartered in the Civil War-era fort in the northeastern pocket of Queens, would instead be what was described in military jargon as "disestablished" and transferred to a Maneuver Enhancement Brigade at Fort Dix, N.J. under the department's plan to reshape the way armed forces are distributed around the country."There's a lot of shifting going on all over the Northeast region," said Chet Marcus, spokesman for the 77th.Ongoing city plans for a public park at Fort Totten would not be affected by the proposed changes, Queens officials said."The area for the park is still there," said Jordan Goldes, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside). "The city owns it basically. It just needs to be opened."In place of the 77th, four smaller reserve facilities, including McDonald in Jamaica, Far Rockaway's Fort Tilden, and two other Reserve units in the Bronx and Poughkeepsie, N.Y., would be closed and consolidated at Fort Totten. The department said that these changes, which still have to be approved and voted on by various federal agencies and Congress in the next three years, will "enhance military value, improve homeland security defense capability, greatly improve training and deployment capability" as well as save the military up to $50 billion through shuttering or realigning over 62 major bases.In all, the Defense Dept. estimates that 75 military and 74 civilian jobs at Fort Totten may be shuffled to other locations under the proposal, and a reservist with the 77th said they have been assured that "no one's going to lose their jobs."The 77th Regional Readiness Command was born in 1967 from the 77th "Statue of Liberty" Infantry Division that won fame for its courageous fighting in the two world wars, particularly in the World War II Pacific theater where war correspondent Ernie Pyle, who was closely attached to the division, was killed in Okinawa by a Japanese sniper, military records show.After a structural reorganization, the unit has been stationed at Fort Totten since 1968, and the fort's headquarters were named for Pyle after Congress intervened to allow the use of a civilian name, according to State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose). Reserve units from the 77th have fought in all major recent conflicts as well, including Vietnam and the first Gulf War, and have troops currently stationed in Iraq.Padavan, who served in the Totten base in both active and reservist duty for 30 years, said the unit's legacy in the area is such that a portion of the adjacent Cross Island Parkway was renamed in honor of the 77th."Their history goes way back," Padavan said.While exact figures for the number of units moving in to replace the estimated 8,000 troops based at Fort Totten were not available by press time, Goldes said he does not anticipate overcrowding."It's sad to see the 77th go," Goldes added. "We're certainly proud of them and thank them for their service."Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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