North Country Throws Support Behind Fort Drum
North country residents turned out in force Thursday night to make the case for Fort Drum.
Dozens of speakers appeared at a "listening session" conducted by 10th Mountain Division commander Maj. Gen. Stephen Townsend at Case Middle School in Watertown.
The session, which was scheduled to run from 5 to 7 p.m., concluded at 8:15 p.m.
The message delivered Thursday night by speaker after speaker: Fort Drum has been critical to the north country, and the north country has done whatever is necessary to help the post and its soldiers.
"I think it's very important that Fort Drum keeps our soldiers and support here," Sarah Loudon said. "It's well-needed."
"The community embraces Fort Drum," she continued. "It's very important, especially to students like me who go to Indian River with such a large military population that we don't have this change."
The listening session is one of 29 taking place across the country.
"I never sat in an auditorium full of local citizens who had three hours to tell the army how much they appreciated the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum," Townsend said. "And I heard that for over three hours tonight, and it was pretty powerful."
Sixty-five people signed up to have their say and show the community is passionate about Fort Drum.
"I think you grow up in this passion," Shawn Mead said. "I've been fortunate enough to be in this area my entire life and you grow up around that and you understand the importance and the value of the soldiers and what they do to support our nation."
There was a brief disruption early on, when a man shouted that he hadn't "signed up" to live on a military post, and complained about helicopter traffic from Fort Drum. He left just as officials converged on him to escort him from the room.
The Department of Defense is trying to get an idea of how downsizing the Army will affect military towns.
What was said at the north country listening session is expected to help shape the decision to either grow or shrink Fort Drum.
The active duty force will be cut by 80,000 soldiers in the next few years.
Fort Drum's population will likely change.
An internal Army report suggested it could shrink by as many as 8,000 soldiers or gain up to 3,000 troops.
The Army downsizing is expected to be complete in 2017.
It's unclear when any decision regarding Fort Drum will be made.