In wide-ranging interview, Fort Drum’s General Mennes discusses Afghanistan, Capitol breach, extremism and more

Updated: Mar. 23, 2021 at 5:00 PM EDT
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FORT DRUM, N.Y. (WWNY) - The commander of the troops at Fort Drum is back from an Afghanistan deployment. He spoke with 7 News about a number of topics ranging from from winding down the war, to ramping up on directives from D.C.

“You know the old adage, ‘there’s no place like home.’ And being an Army family, we call Fort Drum and Watertown home and it’s just great being back home,” said Major General Brian Mennes.

Mennes is back from Afghanistan, a country with now 2,500 U.S. troops, the lowest number since the war began.

Back 20 years ago when the war started, the 10th Mountain Division was one of the first called to the battle and now it’ll be some of the last to leave.

“The 10th Mountain soldiers are the backbone of the theater operations and I think it’s a credit to our warrior spirit, our leaders and work ethic,” said Mennes.

During their deployment, one major event stateside was the breach at the Capitol building.

“I think that’s where I do get concerned. If we lose patience with each other, if we lose respect for each other, then likely things like this can happen more readily,” said Mennes.

Also, while away, a new administration took office, and a new secretary took the helm of the Defense Department. Secretary Lloyd Austin plans to tackle the military’s sexual assault problem.

When asked if a General Mennes encourages 10th Mountain Division soldiers to come forward if they’ve been sexually harassed or sexually assaulted, he said, “Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think the track record - I wish I could share with you the discipline that we’ve had to impose.”

Secretary Austin is also addressing extremism in the ranks.

“I don’t believe that there’s any here, but I am not naive that it’s not on our doorstep,” said Mennes.

With most of post back home, the focus will be on training. The summer promises to be busy on Fort Drum’s ranges. In fact, it has already been busy with a recent exercise involving the Army, Marines and Air Force.

“Yesterday, I had people from 2-87 Infantry out there making calls integrating with our Apaches. Just at that time, we share space with the Air Force. The Air Force sends off some flares. They’ve got a C-17 coming in working with our team, so I got to see a C-17 during evasive maneuvers. Just before that, they had a J-35 Strike Fighter come in. So I saw attack aircraft from the Air Force, our guys getting after it with Apaches, and guys on the ground coordinating all this and the Air Force guys doing the same thing. I guess I got lucky, but that sort of thing is happening more regularly here at Fort Drum,” said Mennes.

General Mennes has new orders to become a deputy commanding general at Joint Base Lewis–McChord in Washington state. Happy for the new opportunity, but the general doesn’t look forward to leaving Fort Drum.

“I personally think I have the best job in America, serving as your 10th Mountain commander and I have taken advantage of being in this position and being on the team. I can just tell you - there just may be something in the water here, maybe, and I hope that Kelly and I will drink a lot of it before we leave. I think it makes you better. And as you look at the history of the folks who have served here and 2 very important people now who have served here, they probably will tell you the same thing. I am better. They are better because of having served at Fort Drum,” he said.

No date is set for the change of command ceremony, but it’s likely this summer. Coming to command the 10th will be Brigadier General Milford Beagle, Jr., who is currently the commanding general of the U.S. Army Training Center and Fort Jackson in South Carolina.

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