Capt. Joseph W. Payton
1st Brigade Combat Team PAO
ALBANY – Brig. Gen. Michael L. Howard, acting senior commander of Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI), led a delegation of 30-plus Fort Drum Soldiers to Albany on Tuesday to represent the post on a special day dedicated in its honor.
Sen. Patty Ritchie of New York’s 48th District, which includes Fort Drum, organized the event and presented the resolution that passed with unanimous consent making March 18 “Fort Drum Day.”
“From where I stand, I want to be clear that all the men and women of Fort Drum are New Yorkers, and the 10th Mountain Division is New York’s division,” Ritchie said.
New York State Senate members and Legislative Office Building visitors were able to view multiple Army displays of military weapons, cold weather and medical equipment, bomb detection robots and an Army aviation drone representing some of
the capabilities that Fort Drum – the Army’s only power projection platform in the Northeast – provides.
“The DOD is moving to a light mobile, strike-fast, agile force. That’s what the 10th is,” Howard said. “That’s why it exists. That’s why it was built. It’s the lightest division we have in the Army.”
Members of the Fort Drum delegation included a few New York residents.
Spc. Eric Johnson, an Albany native and rifleman with the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, was proud to participate in the event in his hometown where his state elected official showed appreciation for the troops.
“When you go to an event like this where the public is invited and they’re coming through sharing their appreciation, you really get a better understanding that this (Army) is a very select community and people do appreciate us,” he said.
Johnson grew up in Albany without much familiarity with Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division (LI). He empathizes with New York residents who are unfamiliar with the military, and he is certain a lot of them are newly realizing the benefits of having an Army post 3½ hours from their front door.
“I’m very proud. I was never well educated on Fort Drum growing up. And now that the Senate has taken the time to, in the third year in a row, put together a display to formerly recognize the impact that Fort Drum has, not only on Watertown and the North Country, but on the state as a whole, I think it’s great,” Johnson said.
Visitors expressed gratitude for the Soldiers’ service and sacrifice for the country. Johnson recalled one onlooker who did not realize that the Fort Drum Soldiers and displays were real.
“She paused and asked ‘Wait! Are you in the Army?’ And I kind of wasn’t sure what to make of the question, and I just chuckled and said, ‘Yes! We all are.’ We all drove down (early this morning) from Fort Drum for this event,” Johnson said. “Then she said, ‘I thought you were all young men they picked up, cut their hair, and slapped uniforms on to stand here and pretend.’”
Realizing that she was addressing people who really volunteered to join the Army, her eyes began to water as she expressed her gratitude for the troops’ service and her joy to know she was talking to “real” Soldiers, Johnson said.
The positive regard and sentiment for the Fort Drum Soldiers was a consistent theme throughout the day.
“It’s an honor for me to represent them,” Ritchie said. “For anyone who thinks that this post does not mean anything to their district, they’re not correct.”
After viewing the Soldier displays, Howard addressed the Senate floor, sharing with them Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division’s (LI) contributions to the nation’s war effort since 9/11. Since the war began, the division has deployed a brigade-sized element 33 times, he said.
“Some mainstream media talk about the war like it’s over, but for the 10th Mountain Division, it’s not over,” Howard said. “The 10th Mountain Division was the first division to deploy. They’re there now. And will be one of the last, if not the last, division to leave Afghanistan.”
Ritchie shared how the medical display, which consisted of a remote-controlled mannequin that was a double-amputee, resonated with her. She said it reminded her of the dangers Soldiers face to fight for the nation’s freedom.
“One of the reasons I’m so proud of these Soldiers is because of what they mean to our national security,” Ritchie said.
The acting senior commander also provided insight to the post’s economic impact upon the region and state.
“Last year’s economic impact was $1.4 billion,” Howard said.
He explained that there are a number of ways to measure impact, but the most significant part relates to employment.
“The base employs 18,000 Soldiers and about 4,000 Civilians with a total payroll of $1.1 billion annually. That’s $1.1 billion in groceries, gas, rent and electricity, firewood, tuition, etc. This is really helpful to the North Country and really useful for New York.”
Considering budgetary concerns and expected troop drawdowns, the general responded to queries regarding the installation’s future.
“What I do know is that the military is moving toward a lighter, more agile force, capable of deploying rapidly. That’s exactly what the 10th Mountain Division is right now,” Howard said. “That’s why we were built in the 1980s and what we’ve taught our people to do for the last 12 years of this war. In that regard, I think we’re in pretty good shape.”
Howard concluded his remarks by expressing thanks to the New York State Senate and reminding them that everyone must maintain the commitment to care for Soldiers and their Families, especially those who were lost or have been wounded as a result of their service.
“I ask that you think about how you, and your delegations, can take part in bringing stability, guidance and friendship into their lives as we strive toward a post-war future,” he said.
Fort Drum Day was well worth the hard work made by the Soldiers and units that participated, Johnson said.
“Prepping for the event was stressful, but I think the event itself certainly benefitted from our preparation,” he said. “Once the conversations started flowing with the public, any tension dissipated, and I know I had a great time.”
Coming from an origin unfamiliar with the military, Johnson was happy that his father and sister were able to attend the event. This helped him to realize the significance of the day and the important role he and the other
Soldiers played in telling Fort Drum’s, the division’s and the Army’s story.
Johnson noted that what Soldiers do on a daily basis is foreign to others and to have them show their appreciation is special.
“I couldn’t count how many people just walked by to shake our hands just to say ‘thank you for your service,’” he said.