Fort Drum saved the best for last as it held its Centennial Air Show to wrap up the post's 100-year anniversary celebration.
The air show, held Saturday and Sunday at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield, was the culmination of a yearlong celebration of a century of Soldiers defending life and liberty.
"The air show was fantastic," said Col. Kevin W. Mangum, 10th Mountain Division (rear) commander. "I'm a pilot, and (I) did not think I would be impressed. I was wrong. The show exceeded all expectations, even with the challenging weather on Saturday. The entire Centennial celebration was awesome.
"As the new guy on the block, my initial impression was the program was a bit ambitious," Mangum added. "But I had not yet met and did not know what a wonderful team of dedicated pros we have here at Fort Drum. Everybody came together - division, garrison and the community. The teamwork, can-do attitude and professionalism were most impressive."
During the two-day event, 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers gave an air-assault demonstration for the crowd, members of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command executed parachute demonstrations, jet fighters went through their paces and aircraft performed close-formation flying and aerial acrobatics.
Those acts included: Aerostars, Dan Buchanan-flying colors, Red Star and The Dragon, Lima Lima flight team, Iron Eagle Aerobatics, Gary Rower Vintage Aerobatics, Geico Skytypers and Paul Lopez.
"This has been a very educational experience," said Aimee L. Goff from Antwerp. "There is a lot to see and do here. This is a chance in a lifetime. I will most definitely come again if they ever host another one.
"I got to go in the cockpit of the C-5, which is huge by the way, and it was amazing," she added. "I am very proud of our Soldiers and everyone who made this all possible. This has been wonderful."
There were also World War II and vintage aircraft such as the B-17, B-25, C-47, P-51 and P-40. Modern aircraft on display included C-5 Galaxy and C-130 transports, KC-10 Extender and KC-135 air refueling tankers, F-16 Fighting Falcon, A-10 Warthog attack aircraft and UH-60 Blackhawk, CH-47 Chinook and OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters.
"I have truly enjoyed this weekend," said Pvt. Donna Molina, 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion. "I will definitely look back on this and tell everyone I was here. I like the variety of airplanes, and watching them do their maneuvers is truly awe-inspiring.
"I hope we get to do this every year," she added.
In addition, enthusiasts got a chance to get up close and personal with helicopters, aircraft, tactical vehicles and military equipment on display and talk to their crews.
On both days, Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation featured food and beverage tents, a Children's Fun Zone, midway games and numerous local vendors.
"I am really enjoying the air show," said Capt. Rebecca Collins, Division Special Troops Battalion. "It's really nice for Fort Drum to reach out to the community and put on events like this for the Soldiers and community members."
New York State Department of Transportation estimated 35,000 to 45,000 spectators attended the two-day event.
The air show director talked about the logistics of bringing everything together, even if the weather didn't always cooperate.
"I think we exceeded expectations," said Joe White, Fort Drum Aviation Division chief. "The weather was an issue on both days. Saturday had a lot of rain to work around, but almost every act was able to perform. For those who withstood the elements, you need to be complimented, and in turn, I think they were treated to a very wonderful experience.
"On Sunday, the weather forecast wasn't much better, but the clouds parted and we had a spectacular show," he added. "The show went off as planned; every act was able to fly except the B-17, which had a minor mechanical problem but it was fixed later. On a 10 scale, the air show was a 10-plus."
Reflecting on some of the weekend's highlights, White talked about the joy of bringing to Fort Drum an opportunity for people to enjoy the art of flying.
"This was extra special because we were able to mix so many varieties of flying machines in one place," White said. "The ability to mix so many helicopters and airplanes and have people touch, sit in, walk through, meet the pilots, was very gratifying to see.
"We had the one of the world's largest airplanes and we had a tiny homebuilt aircraft all on one ramp," he added. "We had veterans here who were absolutely moved by seeing the World War II airplanes; for some, there might not be a chance for them to ever see this again. The Soldiers walking up to the crowd and getting a standing ovation and our helicopters flying by in formation was also great."
White also discussed what it meant for veterans to witness a solemn tradition when one of the acts performed a missing-man formation.
"Lima Lima's missing-man formation was very touching; there were more than a few moist eyes during that event," he said.
White said he would like to see the air show become a new North Country tradition for all Fort Drum Soldiers to enjoy with their Family Members.
"One of the tough things about the event is that we wanted to do this for our Soldiers and Families as well as our surrounding neighbors," he said. "I only wish that every Soldier and Family Member could have been here to enjoy this. I think we presented Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division in a very positive light and we hope this will just strengthen our bond with the community."
Others also talked about how well the Fort Drum workforce came together to make the air show a success.
"Without a doubt, the employees of Fort Drum stepped up to any and all challenges, regardless of whose job it was," said Jack Lancaster, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobility and Security.
Lancaster also remarked that people behind the scenes made the event a truly memorable event.
"From the Jefferson County Emergency Management, to the New York State Emergency Management Office, to the New York State Department of Transportation, to the New York State Police, to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, to the FBI to the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade's offer to provide medevac helicopters as a back up just in case, not to mention our own Public Works and Directorate of Emergency Services - without them, this would not have happened," he said.
Those who have been on the flying circuit for a while remarked at how smoothly the weekend went.
"People here bent over backwards to make sure we were taken care of," said Navy Lt. Adam "Lil' Roo" Drayton, F-18 Super Hornet weapons system operator. "People have been very friendly, and it was a privilege to talk to those who came to watch us. Fort Drum has a great facility, and I will recommend it to anyone who asks me if they should come here.
"I would like to come back and visit," he added. "The people are great, and it is always great to be around the Soldiers we support when our nation calls on us to do our duty."