. . .They Simply Get Appointed To The New York Guard
Paul Vitello, formerly of Newsday fame, now writing for the New York Times, has uncovered New York's answer to Coxey's Army. The New York Guard.
No, its not the National Guard, or even the rear guard -- and exactly what these folks are guarding (other than their egos and a ton of pork) continues to elude us -- but here they are, the New York Guard, a mock-military unit that has about as much to do with serving to protect as the Harlem Globetrotters have with professional basketball. [Not to take anything away from the Harlem Globetrotters, mind you.]
Yes, what we thought of as "the old guard" -- at least in political circles -- is now donning uniforms and garnering titles like "General" and "Colonel."
We told you before, and we'll tell you again, you just can't make this stuff up.
So, here we stand at attention (when we're not doubled over with laughter), and we salute you -- yes you -- General Mondello.
Hey. Isn't that Admiral Pataki? Over there. In the bathtub. With the rubber Duckie. . .
- - -
For This Troop, No Battles but Plenty of Brass
By Paul Vitello
Joseph N. Mondello, the chairman of New York State’s Republican Party, was a corporal in the United States Army when he was honorably discharged in 1958. But now, in the New York Guard, he is a two-star general.
Bobby Kumar Kalotee, chairman of the Independence Party of Nassau County, never served in the military. Yet his official biography lists Mr. Kalotee as a major in the New York Guard — and he has the uniform with epaulets to prove it.
Ralph Arred, the former Yonkers Democratic Party chairman, also never joined the armed services. But before he was sentenced to prison last year for tax evasion, his lawyer pleaded for leniency based in part on Mr. Arred’s service to his country — as a major in the New York Guard.
Not the New York National Guard. Not the Air National Guard. It is the New York Guard, a little-known volunteer corps dating to World War I, whose 800 members serve at the pleasure of the governor and cannot be sent into combat — or serve beyond the borders of the state.
Ostensibly, the New York Guard provides home-front support to the National Guard when the National Guard is busy elsewhere. Advocates say it has become more useful since 9/11, as nearly 6,000 of New York’s 10,000 Army National Guard soldiers have spent time in Iraq or Afghanistan.
But such support activities have largely amounted to spurts of volunteerism during extraordinary events: New York Guard members managed supplies at ground zero, provided some security at National Guard training camps in the months after 9/11 and have often written wills for soldiers heading to Baghdad.
More common are ceremonial events like parades or memorial services, where members often provide color guards. To be sure, there are many loyal members who have attended emergency-response training and helped out on missions like the rescue of a hiker upstate last year. But critics — including some former members — say that among the organization’s main beneficiaries is a small cadre of politicians who rarely show up for meetings but proudly show off their quasi-military honorifics.
“If you are friendly with the governor and you always wanted to be a general, you ask the governor to make you a general, and poof, you are a brigadier general,” said Pierre David Lax, who served as a major general and commander of the New York Guard for several years until 2006, and owns a manufacturing company on Long Island.
In fact, promotions within the Guard are usually approved by the state’s adjutant general, the military officer in charge of the New York Guard as well as the Army National Guard, the Air National Guard and the Naval Militia. The adjutant general is appointed by the governor.
George Liebner, Mr. Lax’s predecessor at the Guard, was unabashed about his recruitment of politicians during the 1980s, not least because the organization depends on annual grants known as member items from the State Legislature for its budget of about $85,000 a year. Guard members like State Senator (and Col.) Dean G. Skelos and former Assemblyman (and Maj. Gen.) Thomas F. Barraga, both Long Island Republicans, have been among the sponsors of such grants; this year, Joseph L. Bruno, the Republican leader of the State Senate (and Guard colonel) delivered a last-minute item of $85,000.
“What could I give these guys except a title?” said Mr. Liebner, a Long Island accountant. “I’m not stupid. If I ask some political guy to join the New York Guard and support our mission, and I offer to make him a private, you think he’s going to join?”
Mr. Liebner recruited Mr. Mondello, Mr. Skelos and Mr. Bruno, who remains on the roster despite having attended few meetings and having passed the Guard’s mandatory retirement age of 68 a decade ago. And he made Alfonse M. D’Amato, then a Republican United States Senator, a colonel (he has since retired from the group).
Mr. Bruno did not return calls for comment. A spokesman for Mr. Skelos, Thomas Dunham, said his boss never considered his Guard membership anything but honorary and “never used it in any public way.”
Like New York, most states had similar organizations during World War I, but many disbanded right after the armistice. There are now 22; those in Georgia and South Carolina sent troops to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina; doctor-volunteers in Texas and Maryland have done service on the Mexican border and in Bosnia.
But as for politicians filling the group’s highest ranks, Byers W. Coleman, executive director of the State Guard Association of the United States, said of New York: “Usually, you hear of one or two, but not so many as they have where you are.”
Giulio A. Cavallo, the chairman of the Westchester County Independence Party, is a colonel.
Philip C. Nolan, the Islip town supervisor, is a major. Assemblyman Daniel J. Burling of Wyoming County is a lieutenant colonel. Joseph J. Maltese, a State Supreme Court justice, is a brigadier general.
Members buy their own uniforms, which look like Army uniforms, and pay their own way to events. Clearly, some take their mission more seriously than others.
Guard members assembled for 46 events over the past six months: more than 100 marched in each of two St. Patrick’s Day parades; handfuls attended an emergency preparedness drill in Albany, provided the color guard for a funeral of a fellow guardsman in Flushing or handled security for a veterans’ charity run in Central Park; and one attended a lifesaving course in Cortland, N.Y. Mr. Mondello, the state Republican chairman, said he attended two-week Guard training sessions upstate for “about 10 years in a row,” volunteered at ground zero, and helped write wills for departing soldiers in the National Guard.
“I am proud of the work I have done as a member of the Guard,” he said. “Have some people used it to brush up their résumés? Sure. But most of us, believe it or not, are principled guys who believe in helping our country to be prepared.”
On May 6, when 30 Guard members provided music and speakers at a service in front of the veterans’ memorial at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Westchester, the only elected official among them was Stephen A. Bucaria, a State Supreme Court justice who is a Guard brigadier general and coordinator of pro bono legal services.
“We don’t do some of the things that are the most thrilling examples of what soldiers do,” he explained to about 50 onlookers of the Guard volunteers in their green camouflage uniforms. “We just do what we are called upon to do to make our state and country a safer place.”
Then, with cherry blossom petals whipping by in the morning breeze, the band of the New York Guard played a heartfelt and brassy rendition of “America the Beautiful.”
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
- - -
This Just In: Town of Hempstead Supervisor, Kate Murray, has been promoted to Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, New York Guard, Hempstead Division. Quick. Sound the retreat. . .
You, too, can join the New York Guard. WWI may be over -- for some -- but in New York State, and certainly on Long Island, the battles in the trenches wage on!