FORT WADSWORTH, N.Y. –
The New York City Marathon begins in Staten Island, on the west side of the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge. Famously, the 26.2 mile run route winds through all of New York City’s five boroughs, but it starts right here at the Army’s 353rd Civil Affairs Command’s home station of Fort Wadsworth, New York.
This year’s New York City Marathon took place on November 5, 2023. More than 51,400 runners completed the race, making it the country’s largest marathon of the year. Managing an event of that magnitude required the coordination of dozens of entities, including the U.S. Army’s 353rd CACOM.
“This is a perfect event for a civil affairs soldier because they are in a liaison role dealing with civilians and other agencies,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Oles, a 353rd CACOM soldier who participated in the marathon mission. “To me the civil affairs training and mindset is the perfect combination for this type of event.”
Oles’ responsibilities included representing the Army in the Joint Operations Center, which synchronized the combined efforts of the Army, the New York Fire Department, New York Police Department, New York City Department of Sanitation, New York City Parks Department, National Park Service and the Coast Guard. Simultaneously, Maj. Paul Norden, another member of the 353rd CACOM, oversaw the Emergency Operations Center as part of his duties as the Officer in Charge of Force Protection and Coordinator Efforts. The Emergency Operations Center hosted security agencies such as the FBI and Parks Police.
Norden has been in charge of the Army’s support to the marathon for the past decade. A veteran of multiple military deployments and a longtime New York City police officer, Norden is an expert in security.
“We had the first major marathon after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013,” said Norden. “That is when security became that much more paramount.” He described the New York City Marathon security plan as “concentric rings of titanium and steel from a force protection stand point.”
Thirteen of the 353rd CACOM’s soldiers contributed to that security. They arrived at Fort Wadsworth a week prior to the marathon in order to complete training on operational security, advanced anti-terrorism measures, communications and emergency medical care. They also tend to the physical security of the staging point at Fort Wadsworth by patrolling, monitoring the fence lines and conducting security drills.
“They get all this great training the week before then, on the day of the marathon, they get to execute for real,” said Norden.
“Soldiers of the 353rd CACOM enhanced the safety of the staging area and start line for more than 50,000 runners through collaboration with more than 15 joint entities, non-government organizations, city officials, and federal government agencies,” said Maj. Josh James, commander of the 353rd CACOM Headquarters Company. “While assisting its partners during the New York City Marathon, the 353rd CACOM took the opportunity to train on anti-terrorism, force protection and civil military operations, ensuring greater capability and readiness.”
Beyond security, the 353rd CACOM also provided significant logistic support to the staging area and start point such as placing the hundreds of portable toilets necessary for the bladder needs of more than 50,000 anxious runners. And then there are the two 75mm howitzers that serve as the starting guns for the race. Those howitzers are operated by New York’s Veteran Corps of Artillery, but are towed into place by the 353rd CACOM.
In his soldier status, Maj. Juan Diaz is an operations officer for the 353rd CACOM, but in his civilian life he oversees an explosive detection canine unit for the Department of Homeland Security. Diaz applied the skills he acquired in those two professions in support of safety at the marathon. He provided training on active shooter response and identifying explosive devices to the 353rd CACOM soldiers on assignment for the marathon.
Then, November 5, the day of the marathon, Diaz arranged for a bevy of civilian medical providers to be in the staging area to care for the runners injured during warm ups or at the very beginning of the race (including, apparently, trampling). He also organized the color guard for the opening ceremony. Additionally, Diaz brought to the start line 104 Junior ROTC cadets from Fort Hamilton High School (across the narrows) along with 20 of their cadre to form picket lines between the nine waves of runners.
“Our involvement in the New York City Marathon gives confidence to the runners that the Army is here for them,” said Diaz.
The participation of the 353rd CACOM in this year’s New York City Marathon was not limited to security, ceremonial and logistic support. The unit’s command team, Brig. Gen. Dean Thompson and Command Sgt. Major. Clifford Lo, ran the race. It was Thompson’s first marathon, although he has completed many triathlons. It was Lo’s second marathon.
Supporting a complex, multi-agency event such as the New York City Marathon lends itself to the unique qualifications of the Army’s civil affairs soldiers. There are few entities in existence boasting members with the experiential expertise, intellectual capabilities, formal training and physical readiness to undertake such complex coordination.
“It is a symbiotic orchestration of military support for a civilian event,” said Norden. “It is a whole of government operation taking place stateside.”
The 353rd CACOM is principally comprised of senior soldiers and officers with particular expertise in a broad range of skills in civil-military matters used for furthering global stability. For more information, visit https://www.usar.army.mil/USACAPOC/353rdCACOM/.