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    Saturday, February 24, 2024

    National Guard looking to be good neighbor in Niantic

    Maj. Jamie Cuticello, of the Connecticut Army National Guard, talks about Camp Nett’s relationship with town of East Lyme Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, and one of the examples was the town helping maintain the beach, in background, at Camp Nett in Niantic. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Maj. Jamie Cuticello talks about his career and the Connecticut National Guard Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, while walking around Camp Nett in Niantic. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    East Lyme ― Maj. Jamie Cuticello was new to his role as post commander at the Connecticut National Guard’s primary training installation in Niantic when he stopped by the Town Hall with pastries from the Sift Bake Shop.

    “I just went there to introduce myself like a new neighbor would,” he said Friday from Camp Nett at Niantic.

    The Smith Street facility sits 0.2 miles from the Town Hall on an 86‐acre coastal peninsula along the western side of the Niantic River.

    He said the gesture made sense at a time he was trying to establish himself as the leader of the regional training center with resources and barracks accommodations for up to 800 service members. He also oversees training at the Stones Ranch Military Reservation in town and the East Haven Rifle Range.

    That initial meeting with First Selectman Kevin Seery and executive assistant Sandra Anderson was in May. This week, Cuticello’s team presented them and other staff members with a plaque of appreciation for their “support and outstanding dedication” to the partnership between the military post and its host town.

    The camp, formerly known as Camp Niantic, was renamed in 2019 in honor of New Haven Medal of Honor recipient Army Col. Robert Nett. But many remember the pre-2010 era when the name would change with each sitting governor.

    Cuticello said the neighborly relationship between the National Guard and the town opens up the possibility of partnerships large and small.

    “In my experience, it’s imperative to know your neighbors and your business partners anywhere you’re working,” he said.

    Cuticello joined the National Guard in 2011 at the age of 30 after job prospects stemming from his bachelor’s degree in art from Southern Connecticut State University and subsequent master’s degrees in management and business administration from Albertus Magnus College in New Haven left him unfulfilled.

    He spent a rotation with the National Guard in Poland managing logistics for one base and was deployed in 2021 for an almost year-long stint in the Horn of Africa overseeing logistics across multiple bases.

    Cooperating with each other

    Cuticello cited recent examples of local cooperation including search and rescue operations at Stones Ranch that drew support from East Lyme firefighters and the Connecticut State Police before a missing Marine Corps reservist was found safe.

    An Army National Guard spokesman at the time said a member of the Plainville-based Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center appeared to have gotten lost during night navigation training on Oct. 20.

    Cuticello recalled searching for the reservist overnight into the morning hours. That’s how long Flanders Fire Department Chief Chris Taylor said local firefighters were there to provide light for the search.

    “As quickly as we called, fire, EMS and police showed up to support that operation,” Cuticello said. “Understanding the land as well as those men and women do was very, very helpful.”

    Seery this week pointed to another example of cooperation with Parks and Recreation groundskeepers who went out on multiple occasions over the summer to help groom Camp Nett’s shoreline.

    Cuticello said the partnership emerged after he found no clear plan for maintaining the strip of beach back at the camp. So it occurred to him after his meeting with Seery to reach out for some advice about how the town handles such things.

    “I have beach, you have beach,” he said. “So how does it work? I’ve never held a position before where beach maintenance was a topic.”

    The end result was an agreement for the town to send in Parks and Recreation Department’s employees with heavy duty equipment used to rake the beaches.

    Seery noted the advantages that come from having a military facility with a guard shack in the neighborhood. He recalled a night in May when National Guardsmen alerted police to a group of people in two cars who were checking the neighborhood for unlocked vehicles.

    East Lyme police said the suspects drove off after the guardsmen yelled at them. It was later determined the suspects were in two stolen cars, including one taken that night from the nearby Crescent Beach area.

    “They can’t leave the guard shack to go chase them, but (alerting the police) did prevent it from getting worse,” Seery said.

    The first selectman recalled the National Guard facility hosted public hearings on a controversial zoning application for hundreds of apartments in the environmentally-sensitive Oswegatchie Hills drew more residents than the town’s facilities could accommodate.

    “We’ve been fostering the relationship over time, both doing what we can to assist each other in different areas,” Seery said. “I think it’s been getting better, and it's as good now as it’s ever been.”

    Cuticello recalled telling town hall staff members to let him know if there’s anything his team at Camp Nett can do for them.

    He said no requests have come in yet on his watch, but he’s ready when they do.

    “We’re just a phone call away,” he said.

    e.regan@theday.com

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