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Leading into deployment, 10th Mountain Division commander stands by Afghanistan efforts (VIDEO)

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FORT DRUM — As about 1,000 10th Mountain Division headquarters and sustainment brigade soldiers mark the start of a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan, their commander proclaimed his belief in America’s military efforts there.

Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend said that in recent weeks he had read reports indicating fatigue and declining public support for operations in the country.

“I want to tell all of you and all of America today, do not count me or the 10th Mountain Division among those who have lost faith, who have lost heart, who no longer believe in this cause,” he told the crowd at the Magrath Sports Complex.

About 630 personnel from the division’s headquarters will run American operations on the country’s eastern side, supporting Afghan training and closing facilities.

“Our work in Afghanistan is not yet done,” Gen. Townsend said.

In addition to the division headquarters, about 300 soldiers from the 10th Sustainment Brigade will deploy for up to 12 months. A brigade spokesman said that once deployed, they will be the only American sustainment brigade operating in the entire country.

“It’s our turn to do our part,” Col. Willie I. Rios III, the brigade’s commander, said during his remarks.

The deployment around the planned American withdrawal at the end of 2014 could mark an end to an era of division service in the country.

The deployment is the division headquarters’ and sustainment brigade’s fifth to Afghanistan, and the sixth overall since 9/11.

Gen. Townsend spoke optimistically about the prospect of Afghan security past 2014, provided the Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai sign an agreement for continued international support.

Among the highlights of coalition action in the country since 2001, Gen. Townsend said, have been improvements to the nation’s security, an increase in the number of children in school and a decline in child mortality rates. He also said that since 9/11, America soil has not been hit by an attack originating out of Afghanistan.

However, Gen. Townsend said it was not his place to decide whether that progress was worth its cost.

Among the prominent guests for the event was state Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy, who gave remarks and helped Gen. Townsend and division Command Sgt. Maj. Rick Merritt case its flag, signifying the start of the deployment.

Calling himself a beneficiary of the soldiers’ courage and service, Mr. Duffy said after the ceremony he was proud of them and grateful for what they do.

Army secretary and north country native John M. McHugh also was scheduled to attend, but could not make it because of the recent inclement weather.

“Even the secretary of the United States Army could not overpower Mother Nature,” Gen. Townsend said.

Video from the ceremony can be seen at http://wdt.me/10thMtnDiv-HQ-deploy

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