FORT DRUM, N.Y. (June 21, 2018) -- Thousands gathered at Division Hill on June 20 for all the attractions and entertainment that makes Mountainfest an annual must-attend event at Fort Drum.

As soon as the gates opened, crowds enjoyed ATV rides, archery, rock climbing and other fun fare at Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation's Adventure Zone. With some instruction from his dad, Elyjah Rios, age 9, scaled the rock wall like a professional and then took giant leaps to rappel himself back to the ground.

"I was really nervous when I was way up there and I looked down," he said. "My dad took me to the gym once and I climbed halfway, but not this high."

Like many patrons, Elyjah said he wanted to attend Mountainfest "just to have fun."

Mike Stanford said that Mountainfest didn't exist when he was stationed here almost two decades ago. Now, a little league coach for the Lyons Falls Lions, Stanford brings his family and team members to Fort Drum for the festival.

"I've come out here the last four years, but this is the second year bringing the team - as many as I can," he said. "I want them to experience it all, and see what it's like at Fort Drum. It's something different then small town Lewis County. They're having a good time."

Perched on top of the dunk tank, Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Tabor, 227th Law Enforcement Detachment, 16th MP Brigade, encouraged people passing by to try and "dunk a cop." Capt. Daniel Mahoney, 227th LE and 8th Military Working Dog Detachment commander, showed off his own arm strength by plunging his colleague into the water.

"We're always stopping people during PT hours, so this gives them an opportunity for a little payback," Mahoney said.

Besides the fun and games that some of the military police Soldiers were having, many more were there to provide a greater service.

"We probably have about 60 percent of our force actively patrolling the area, supporting Mountainfest in that law enforcement perspective because force protection is so important. But then it's also important for us to be here and make that connection with community members and show that we're here to build a community."

The festival was also an opportunity for several 10th Mountain Division units to have representatives talk with community members about their profession and show some of the equipment and vehicles that is unique to their mission.

Sgt. Melissa Youngblood, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, was in attendance to talk about the CH-47 Chinook helicopter, but also to participate in the Auto and Motorcycle Show, hosted by the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program.

"This is my baby," she said, wiping down one of the wheels on her 2015 Audi S4. "It's very much a hobby of mine - I like doing most of the maintenance on it myself, but I'm finding that the Audis are very difficult to work on. The German engineering definitely lives up to its name."

Youngblood said that her unit participates in a lot of community outreach events, so talking to community members about her job and aviation unit is familiar to her. She said that they did similar static displays while deployed in Europe, and it was in Germany where she developed a passion for foreign vehicles.

Pfc. James Woodbury, assigned to 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, also registered his vehicle at the Car Show.

"I know a lot of people out here today, but I also get to meet people who like cars as much as I do," he said. "It's a fun hobby - expensive, though. My wife gets pretty mad whenever I get a new package in the mail."

Attendees had two opportunities to see the 10th Mountain Division Band perform during Mountainfest - during the Salute to the Nation ceremony and as pre-concert entertainment.

Sgt. 1st Class Christine Permenter, vocalist with the 10th Mountain Division Band, performed last year during Salute to the Nation but this was her first time at Mountainfest with the division rock band Avalanche.

"It's an amazing opportunity to show the community, especially those who have not been able to see us perform at events, what we are able to play," she said.

Members of the Black Dagger Parachute Team conducted an aerial demonstration to open the Salute to the Nation, which was followed by a color guard and formation of 10th Mountain Division Soldiers marching onto the field with the flags of 56 states and territories. Each flag was announced with a burst of cannon fire.

Brig. Gen. Patrick J. Donahoe, 10th Mountain Division (LI) deputy commanding general, said that the greatness is not in the 56 individual states and territories, but in the one nation made up of 56 parts.

"In the early 1800s when someone spoke of the Unites States, they spoke in the plural - 'the United States are ....' After the Civil War, it became 'the United States is' and we went from the plural to the singular, and that is the power of our great nation," he said. "But today we celebrate the 56, because it is a lot more fun to shoot 56 cannons than just one."

Retired Lt. Col. David O. "Rocky" Rockwell served as guest speaker at Salute to the Nation. Following his retirement from the Army, Rockwell worked at Fort Drum as a combat computer generations instructor and, later, as a safety officer for 1st Brigade Combat Team. He deployed twice to Iraq as a Department of Defense civilian in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"This is, and always has been, a great week for the division," he said. "To spend time with the family and to recognize the wonderful community where we serve. We have been welcomed to the North Country like no other area I have ever served in, and there is good reason why many choose to stay here."

Rockwell said that the operational tempo of 10th Mountain Division Soldiers is so great that they rarely have the time to reflect on their impact to the nation and how critical they are to the profession of arms.

"Make no mistake, the United States Army is an endurance sport," he said. "We've been at war since 9/11 - the longest continuous conflict in our 243-year history - 17 years-plus, and you have carried that load."

Rockwell said that it is estimated that less than one percent of today's Americans have served in uniform, and that those Soldiers standing in formation represent the nation's best.

"Put in today's language, you are awesome," he said.

Following Salute to the Nation, attendees made their way back to the festival area for the AmeriCU Salute to the Troops Tribute Concert that featured national recording artist Chris Janson with, opening act, David Lee Murphy.