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Fort Drum welcomes new deputy commanding general of operations

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FORT DRUM — The post recognized the leadership of Brig. Gen. Richard D. Clarke, the 10th Mountain Division's deputy commanding general of operations, as it welcomed his replacement Thursday afternoon.

Gen. Clarke, who arrived on post in November 2011, was credited with helping to improve soldiers' readiness, including organizing the Mountain Peak training exercise in July. With more than 10,000 soldiers participating, it was the largest such exercise on post in over a decade.

“He has led a transformation of how we train,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, the post's and division's new commander. He added that in his limited time here, he has heard several positive comments from company and battalion leaders about Gen. Clarke's leadership.

“What he did is a legacy that we'll see fruits of long after he's gone,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Rick Merritt, who said this past year was the fourth time he had served with Gen. Clarke.

Gen. Clarke called his time at the post “a great ride,” and a great job for a rising brigadier general.

“I don't think any division in the past year has done as much as we've done with this leadership,” he said, praising the command team.

Gen. Clarke helped develop the post's light fighter school and expand its fitness facilities while serving under the posts's previous commander, Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley.

Gen. Clarke, who described himself as a gym rat, said he relished working on the project.

“The highlight was it was the whole team that made it happen,” he said.

He also thanked the north country community for its support. Among those attending Thursday's ceremony at the Magrath Sports Complex was the Rev. Frederick G. Garry, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, 403 Washington St., Watertown, which the Clarke family attended.

As deployments loom for the 1st and 2nd brigade combat teams, Gen. Clarke said his thoughts and prayers were with them and future deploying soldiers.

Gen. Clarke will be commandant of the U.S. Military Academy, West Point.

He will be replaced by Col. Mark J. O'Neil, who on Thursday afternoon was nominated by President Obama for promotion to brigadier general.

Prior to arriving on post recently, Col. O'Neil served as executive officer to Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Army chief of staff.

“We're very lucky to have a leader like this join our division,” Gen. Townsend said.

Col. O'Neil, who said he was humbled by the opportunity to lead, said he looked forward to continuing the post's focus on training, which he described as keeping the “mountain” in 10th Mountain Division.

“We're going to keep in that direction,” he said.

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