FORT DRUM, N.Y. - Some 1,000 Soldiers assigned to 10th Mountain Division (LI) headquarters and several 10th Sustainment Brigade battalions marked the official start of their yearlong deployment to Afghanistan during a casing ceremony Thursday at Magrath Sports Complex.

"Our work in Afghanistan is not yet done," said Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) command-er and the event's featured speak-er. "I'm not going to sugarcoat this. You've heard me say it before. The mission we have is extremely challenging. In fact, it may be the most challenging and demanding mission we have undertaken in this war thus far.

"But I see broad shoulders and steady gazes out there," he said. "I know you are more than up for what lies ahead."

Townsend will assume command of Regional Command -- East in Afghanistan, where the division's mission will be to train, advise and assist Afghan National Security Forces.

It is division headquarters' and 10th Sustainment Brigade's sixth deployment since 9/11 -- each one's fifth to Afghanistan.

Col. Willie Rios III, 10th Sustainment Brigade commander, will lead about 300 Soldiers from his brigade -- including the 10th Special Troops Battalion and 548th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion -- providing combat support not just for the division but coalition forces across Afghanistan.

"It is my privilege to serve with you in our upcoming deployment," Rios told his Soldiers in formation. "There is no doubt in my mind that you are trained and ready for this combat operation."
Townsend reminded the hundreds who had gathered that the 10th Mountain Division was the first U.S. division headquarters to deploy to Afghanistan after 9/11.

"It is entirely fitting that our 10th Mountain Division will be one of the last U.S. divisions in Afghani-stan, helping to bring Operation Enduring Freedom to a close," he said.

Townsend also took time to address recent media reports that indicate Americans no longer be- lieve in the war.

Alluding to those reports, the general put hard questions to himself, candidly answering each one as best he could.

"Are the American people tired of this war?" he asked. "Maybe, (but) that's not for me to judge. I will say that no one has a right to be more tired of war than America's Soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors. Yet, here they stand in front of us today -- determined, ready and willing to go once again. These Soldiers need the American people to be just as determined, ready and willing to back them up.

"Has it been worth the cost?" Townsend asked.

Less than 1 million Afghan children were in school in 2002 -- all of them boys, he said. Today, more than 7 million children attend school -- more than 2 million of them girls.

Meanwhile, life expectancy for Afghans has increased by 20 years in the last decade while child mortality has decreased by 50 percent, he said.

Townsend, who was in the 10th Mountain Division on 9/11, added that Afghan security forces have gone from a "ragtag militia" in 2002 to a 350,000-strong, organized army and air force.

He said he believes those Afghan forces, which now lead and bear the brunt of the fighting, will be capable of keeping al-Qaida from executing another 9/11 in the future.

"I stand here today to tell all of you -- these Soldiers who will go forward and those who will do their mission from here, these Families who will stay behind awaiting their return, this community that has always stood with us -- I am not tired," Townsend said. "I have not lost heart. I still believe in what we are doing."

Severe winter weather last week led to the cancellation of the event's originally scheduled guest speaker, Secretary of the Army John McHugh. Townsend said the North Country native sent his regards and expressed great appreciation for the division's continued service and sacrifice for the nation.

Among several prominent elect-ed state officials, New York Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy was in attendance and offered brief remarks before helping Townsend and 10th Mountain Division Command Sgt. Maj. Rick Merritt case the division's colors.

"I want to say how proud we are -- as members of New York state government -- of the 10th Mountain Division, (which) calls New York state home," Duffy said.

"I will pray personally every day for your safe return," he added.

Also in attendance were corps-level leaders from Fort Bragg, N.C., including Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Colt, XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg deputy commanding general, and Command Sgt. Maj. Isaia Vimoto, XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg command sergeant major.

In addition, Maj. Gen. Harry Miller, 42nd Infantry Division commanding general and senior rear commander for Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division from September 2010 to January 2012. attended the ceremony.

While the commanding general is deployed, Brig. Gen. Michael L. Howard will lead the post and division as deputy commanding general -- rear.

Page last updated Thu January 16th, 2014 at 08:42