Feedback: A Look Back At Fort Drum's Dramatic Expansion


In the mid 1980s, Terry Roche had his work cut out for him.

He was the 10th Mountain Division's first garrison commander.

Part of the job was finding room for all the soldiers that were coming to Fort Drum.

"We literally were working seven days a week," said Roche.

 When the official 10th Mountain Division announcement was made in September of 1984, not one new house was built in Watertown.

In fact, the first permit to build a home in 1984 was issued just days before that landmark news conference.

Early on, military leaders had to scrape for available space.

"We had sergeants major and real estate agents going around and knocking on doors asking people if they would rent a room, if they had any rooms to rent," said Roche.

There was room on Fort Drum, but many of the buildings dated back to the 1940s.

For some of the soldiers, that first year in the north country was a tough one.

"We had 120 families living in World War II barracks buildings for a whole winter," said Roche.

A development explosion was needed to accommodate the division.

Housing was planned in area communities.

Fort Drum was set for a major overhaul - new sewer and water service, followed by an entirely new city.

The post literally had to be built from the ground up.

Hundreds of million of dollars would be poured into the effort and that attracted private investors looking to get a piece of the north country boom.

"Every week...three or four developers would show up saying, 'I've got backing. I've got $40 million and we want to get part of this. What should we build and where should we build it?' It was those kinds of questions that were coming out of the blue," said Roche.

The breakneck speed at which the area was changing presented another challenge - protecting area communities from shell shock.

"It was going to be a sort of a trauma to the area," said Tom Walker.

Walker served as Watertown's mayor during those years.

As military officials worked to build up Fort Drum, the city of Watertown and all the surrounding towns had to prepare as well.

The city council sent Walker to the other side of the country to learn.

Bremmerton, Washington was about the size of Watertown and had recently undergone the same sort of expansion.

It was the new home of a trident submarine base and had to deal with its own growing pains, including increased crime and rapid development.

A documentary about the community was brought back to the north country where leaders took away one important message:  "Make sure you do your ordinance work before this thing engulfs you," said Walker.

A Fort Drum steering council helped bring in professional planners.

New laws were put on the books restricting where certain businesses and homes could be built and helping control all planned expansion.

"It would have just been chaos if that didn't happen," said Roche.

In June of 1987, ground was broken for the new Fort Drum.. 

There were new homes and new businesses.

It was the framework for the north country we know today. 

With that framework in place, the 10th Mountain Division was ready to do its job - deploy its soldiers.

On Thursday, we'll look at the reactivated division's short, but storied history of service from early deployments to countries like Haiti, to the non-stop tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

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Part 1

Sunday, December 11, 2016
, Watertown, NY

On Demand

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