10th Mountain Division is next to go to Iraq

(2006) 1st Lt. Brandon Shelley, left, and Maj. Chad Sullivan, center, both of 1st Battlion, 87th Infantry Regiment, talk with local Iraqi children 20 August in the Kadamiyah district, north of Baghdad, as part of an orientation convey with their 256th Brigade Combat Team counterparts.

March 31–FORT DRUM — Defense Secretary Ashton Carter had a clear message when asked about the possibility of major cuts at the post.

“Fort Drum isn’t going anywhere,” he said.

The secretary’s comments come as the military looks at cuts at installations throughout the Army. Though Mr. Carter acknowledged reductions may happen at installations nationwide if sequestration continued, he said the Division’s work is integral to the nation’s defense.

“We’ve made big investments here, and we’ve reaped the benefits of those investments in terms of amazing power emanating from this place, all over the world, year after year after year after year,” he said. “We can’t do without that.”

During his remarks, he also announced the deployment of about 1,250 soldiers from the division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team to Iraq around August, where they will replace members of the 82nd Airborne Division in an advisory role.

Mr. Carter’s appearance at Fort Drum was a part of a two-day tour that will conclude this morning with a discussion about the transition from the military to civilian life at Syracuse University. The trip is his first domestically since taking the secretary role about a month ago.

His appearances Monday focused on recruitment and retention of military and civilian talent, as the DOD considers easing some military enlistment standards for people with cyber or high-tech expertise.

Mr. Carter told the approximately 250 service members in attendance that he knows they have many choices as they consider future jobs.

“Are we able to compete, are we able to keep up?” he asked.

Mr. Carter told service members he was “looking very hard” at 401(k)-type programs, arguing 80 percent don’t hit the 20 year mark in which they can receive traditional military retirement benefits. Other proposals he suggested to retain talent were programs to pay off student debt, improvements to the retirement, promotion and evaluation systems and doing more to allow sabbaticals for service members.

After the event, Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, met with Mr. Carter and said his comments indicated the north country was “in a very strong position.” She also continued her calls for Congress andPresident Obama to find a way to end sequestration budget cuts.

Mr. Carter, in his remarks, called Ms. Stefanik a “staunch supporter” of the military and Fort Drum. In regards to sequestration, he called it “disrespectful of our institutions of government.”

The 1st Brigade’s deployment announcement comes after an approximately year-long reset from its last deployment in fall 2013.

“This brigade has a history of excelling in whatever mission we’re given so I expect our troops to do well by helping to train, advise and assist the Iraqi and Peshmerga forces in the defeat of ISIL,” said Col. Mark O’Donnell, the brigade’s commander, in a statement.

The last time division soldiers served in Iraq was in 2010, during the transition from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn.

About 1,600 soldiers from the division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team will deploy to Afghanistan later this year.

Prior to coming to Fort Drum, Mr. Carter told students at his former high school, Abington Senior High outside Philadelphia, Pa., that the military is going to have to work harder to compete with corporate America for highly-skilled graduates, and that public service was something they should consider.

“No one should gloss over the hardships or the dangers of military life, but I do want you to understand how fulfilling and rewarding military life can be also,” said Mr. Carter, Abington class of 1972.

By Gordon Block, Watertown Daily Times, N.Y

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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