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Fort Drum commander tells state Senate about importance of post, potential cuts

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Given the opportunity to address the state Senate, the commander of Fort Drum told the legislative body the post’s soldiers were still active overseas and likely would continue to be so through 2014.

“When you hear people say that our nation is drawing down in Afghanistan and our Army is returning to its garrison, I want you to tell them, ‘That’s correct, but not New York’s 10th Mountain Division and not New York’s Fort Drum,’” Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend said.

The general, along with other division leadership and soldiers, was at the state Capitol in Albany on Monday for 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum Day. The event, organized by state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, is in its second year.

“I think it’s really important to hear about the 10th Mountain Division and what they mean to New York state and the nation,” Sen. Ritchie said after the event. Her remarks highlighted the post’s connection to the community and its financial impact on the region.

Ahead of potential Armywide cuts, the commander asked for the Legislature’s support and told legislators they should not take the post or the 10th Mountain Division for granted.

Gen. Townsend said the Army’s long-term plans to cut eight to 12 brigades made him “almost certain” the post would lose a brigade. If sequestration were to go through, the post could lose even more soldiers, he said.

Gen. Townsend also told the Senate that his soldiers’ skills and training made them the “cream of the crop” of America’s sons and daughters. He repeated past public statements that it was likely the division’s headquarters, 3rd Brigade Combat Team and 10th Sustainment Brigade would deploy in late 2013 and 2014. However, the post has noted that the deployments are not official until announced by the Department of Defense.

Before Gen. Townsend’s remarks, Senate Republican leader Dean G. Skelos said the state was lucky to have Fort Drum, and thanked the division for its service.

In addition to Gen. Townsend, representatives from post included division chaplain Lt. Col. John Kallerson and a color guard that led the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance. A handful of soldiers from New York also were named: Capt. Richard Loveless, Staff Sgt. Michael Housk, Spc. Brian Menard and Pfc. Scott Haughney.

In a phone call while traveling back to post from the event, Gen. Townsend said it was “commendable” for legislators to want to know more about the post and the soldiers in attendance.

“There was an eagerness to get to know them better,” Gen. Townsend said. “They were very welcoming.”

He and other division leaders were in Afghanistan for about two weeks earlier this month, and he said he was encouraged by the abilities of the division’s Afghan partners despite some skepticism before going over.

“They’re certainly in the lead, and they’re doing complex military capabilities they weren’t able to do before,” Gen. Townsend said, referring to his last combat deployment about two years earlier.

He said the security force aid and assist role undertaken by the division was working and reducing American casualties.

The death of two officers, Capt. Aaron R. Blanchard and 1st Lt. Robert J. Hess, from the division’s 10th Combat Aviation Brigade in late April was the first for the division since July.

“It was tough to take because we’ve had a run of pretty good luck,” Gen. Townsend said. “My observation is that run of luck is due to how we’re operating right now, but a lot of that has to be good luck.”

For the deployed soldiers and those about to leave from the division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team at Fort Polk, La., Gen. Townsend said leadership on post “think about them every day, and we’re watching out for their families.”

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