Division Hill was a flurry of activity June 26 as thousands of Soldiers, Family Members and community members attended Fort Drum’s annual Mountainfest celebration.
This pinnacle event concluded a weeklong series of competitions and ceremonies leading up to the two-week block leave period that Soldiers began Saturday.
Mountainfest started with the celebration of Riverfest on June 20. Soldiers and Family Members were invited to take a trip to Alexandria Bay, where they enjoyed a fun-filled day of activities, including a riverboat ride and a stop at Boldt Castle on Heart Island.
The many sporting events kicked off June 22, with teams competing for the coveted Commander’s Cup trophy in events like soccer, basketball and football.
On June 24, Families were invited to Remington Park to cheer on Soldiers as they competed in several challenges, including a Warrior Endurathon and a tug-o-war match. The day also featured music, food and a variety of games and activities.
The annual Remembrance Ceremony took place June 25 in Memorial Park. Family Members were invited to witness the dedication of a commemorative plaque to honor Fort Drum Soldiers who gave their lives this past year in support of freedom.
Mountainfest Day activities began June 26 with the Division Run in the morning. The activities continued at Division Hill in the afternoon, with a variety of carnival-style games, concessions and learning opportunities.
Attendees had an opportunity to get a sneak peek at the life of a Soldier as they viewed military equipment displays. Children were invited to don helmets and sit inside helicopters, wreckers and Humvees as Soldiers provided them with demonstrations and information about the equipment.
Child, Youth and School Services staff members were on hand with a variety of fun activities for children, including bounce houses and slides, an archery range and a laser tag course.
Staff members from Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation provided a rock-climbing wall and an ATV riding course. Concert headliner and country music star Craig Morgan even rode his dirt bike on the course, much to the delight of Mountainfest attendees.
The festivities drew a sizeable crowd, and participants voiced their appreciation for the event, which provided a venue to enjoy good times with friends.
“They have activities for people of all ages. It’s a really good opportunity to enjoy a fun day,” said Tanya Gooding, who attended the celebration with her husband, Maj. Derek Gooding, and their children.
Andrea Ray, a military spouse who brought her children to the event, said she had been looking forward to the day for some time. She was thankful that Fort Drum had been able to continue Mountainfest activities this year.
“It’s important because it gives Families a fun day. We are really looking forward to the concert tonight,” Ray said.
Hal Greer, FMWR director, said he was extremely pleased to see that attendance at this year’s event was on par with that of years past.
The success of this year’s Mountainfest celebration, he said, was possible because of the support of the community and of corporate sponsorship.
“We couldn’t have done this without the help of our community and corporate sponsors,” Greer said. “Our sponsors have funded the event and underwritten the entire cost of the concert. They are the reason that we are able to continue to provide this wonderful event for our Families.”
Greer also emphasized the importance of maintaining a state of normalcy despite the challenging fiscal restraints resulting from sequestration. Because Soldiers are still deploying in support of freedom, it is important that the community continue to honor their hard work and dedication.
“Celebrating our great nation and our Soldiers is something that has been done since the division was founded,” Greer said. “We felt it was important to continue the tradition of celebrating the sacrifices of our Soldiers and Family Members. They deserve it.”
Greer also pointed out that Mountainfest is open to the public, and it is a great way to encourage the surrounding community to come to Fort Drum and interact with military Families.
At 5 p.m., the Salute to the Nation ceremony began with a rank and file display of the flags of each U.S. state and territory.
Col. Mark J. O’Neil, 10th Mountain Division deputy commander for operations, welcomed Soldiers, Family Members and honored guests to the ceremony. O’Neil was promoted to brigadier general in a ceremony held Monday.
O’Neil emphasized that this year’s Mountainfest celebration was particularly special to the division, as we currently have three brigades engaged in forward operations in Afghanistan, with additional units preparing to deploy in the near future.
“The 10th Mountain Division does not rest,” O’Neil said. “So today, as we honor our great nation, we remember those Soldiers currently deployed in harm’s way, and we will keep those Soldiers and Families in our thoughts and prayers.”
O’Neil introduced the evening’s guest speaker, Tony Keating, civilian aide to the secretary of the Army.
Keating had been asked to fill in for Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander, so that he and his wife could attend their son’s basic training graduation ceremony at Fort Benning, Ga.
Keating passed along Townsend’s reminder to enjoy the upcoming holidays in a safe and responsible manner and asked the 10th Mountain Division Band to present a medley of patriotic tunes in lieu of a lengthy oration.
“I recognize that they, musically, (will) offer patriotic messages and themes far more elegantly and articulately than I could possibly do with words,” he said.
“All of us on this side of the parade field understand that it is you – each one of you – together with your sisters and brothers at arms, who for the last 238 years have stepped into the breach to defend all of us against all enemies – foreign and domestic – just as you pledged you would,” he continued. “Without you, there is no independence, no freedom. Without you, there is no point in celebrating on this day. I want you to enjoy this concert. This one’s for you.”
The 10th Mountain Division Band played a medley of “America the Beautiful,” “Yankee Doodle” and “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
Following the ceremony, concertgoers made their way to the stage area, where the evening’s events began with performances by 2013 North Country Idol winner, Corey Walts, and Syracuse's newest rock band, Scars N' Stripes.
After the opening acts, country music star Craig Morgan took the stage to entertain the crowd. The evening events concluded with a fireworks display immediately following the concert.