By Michael StrasserOctober 1, 2018
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Sept. 30, 2018) -- Two towering monuments honor the proud legacy of the 10th Mountain Division (LI) and its home in the North Country. One is in Memorial Park across from the division headquarters at Fort Drum, New York, and the other is in the heart of Thompson Park, in the city of Watertown.
It takes about 25 minutes by car to see both monuments, but hundreds of Fort Drum and local community members took on the challenge of running a 10.8-mile course Sept. 29 at the first Memorial to Monument Run.
Maj. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum commander, welcomed the runners before the start of the race in front of the Military Mountaineers Monument, and noted how the last mile would be a climb to glory to reach the finish line at the top of the hill in Thompson Park.
"We're calling that 'The Last Ridge' so, no matter what, keep moving and we will all meet at the top," he said.
Piatt also introduced everyone to members of the Fort Drum Ten-Miler Team, who will be representing the 10th Mountain Division and the installation at the Army Ten-Miler on Oct. 7 in Washington, D.C. -- a race which draws roughly 35,000 participants.
"Take a good look at them now, because you won't see them again once this run starts," he said. "These are not only great athletes and great runners, they are Soldiers and leaders in this division and they took time off from all their responsibilities and their hard train-up for the Army Ten-Miler to join us for this run. We're proud of you."
Watertown Mayor Joseph Butler Jr. also addressed the participants before he fired the cannon to start the race.
"Today, you make history at the first-ever, inaugural Memorial to Monument Run," he said. "It's a great day where we celebrate the bond between the city of Watertown and Fort Drum. It's a day for family, recreation and fun. And it's also a day where we recognize and honor the service, the commitment and the dedication you all have to defending our freedom here and abroad."
The first three miles of the route were inside the cantonment area before runners made their way to the Black River Trail and into the city of Watertown. Several water stations along the way were supported by enthusiastic volunteers from local organizations to include the Fort Drum-Watertown chapter of Team Red, White and Blue, Samaritan Medical Center, Fort Drum MEDDAC and Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program personnel.
The run was organized by Fort Drum Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation directorate and the city of Watertown Parks and Recreation Department. Col. Kenneth D. Harrison, Fort Drum garrison commander, said that their efforts paid off after seeing how everyone enjoyed the run and post-race party.
"I had a great time running, and it looked like everyone was also having a great time," he said. "I think the route was perfect, and the best part about it was seeing everybody out and supporting the run. There was great support and great participation from the community. I know I couldn't have made it up this last hill without all those people cheering me on. 'The Last Ridge' was a tough one, but that's what makes it worth running."
Gene Spencer, Fort Drum Outdoor Recreation chief, decided to run the event at the urging of his wife. She, however, had a faster pace than his, so Spencer ran alongside Command Sgt. Maj. Ryan Alfaro, Fort Drum garrison senior enlisted aide.
"I made it to the finish line," Spencer said. "For an old retired Army guy, I'm moving really well," he said.
Spencer said that this event was a nod to a past 10th Mountain Division tradition where units participated in a relay run from Fort Drum to Whiteface Mountain. He said that he was proud of all the Soldiers, veterans and civilians who took on the challenge of this run, but he would also like to see more unit participation in future iterations of the Memorial to Monument event.
"I think we started something good this year, and I definitely want to see this sustained each year with more unit formations and with more military colors," he said.
The event also served as the official hand-over of the Honor the Mountain monument to the city of Watertown.
"This is really was a project that was done by the community for the community," said Ed Olley, a representative from the North Country Honors the Mountain committee. "When I say the community, I mean the city of Watertown, the region around it and, of course, Fort Drum, which has been an integrated part of the community for quite some time, and I hope will continue to be for a long time."
Butler accepted the monument on behalf of the city council and the citizens of Watertown.
"Two years ago, we made history when we dedicated this monument to make permanent the legacy of our military men and women in uniform - those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defending our freedom," he said. "It honors their legacy and the significant role the 10th Mountain Division has made, not only to our nation's history but the great partnership and friendship that has evolved between the city of Watertown and the 10th Mountain Division."
Piatt said that the bond shared between the 10th Mountain Division (LI) and its North Country neighbors was the vision of the late Nathan Morrell - former president of the National Association of the 10th Mountain Division and one of the original mountaineers who fought in Italy during World War II.
"It was his vision to create Memorial Park, his vision to add to Memorial Park and his vision to connect the base to this wonderful city and put a monument here," Piatt said. "He was a close friend to many of us here, he told us war stories all the time, and made us realize how wonderful those veterans were of the 10th Mountain Division. But what he really made us realize is how special this generation is, and how special our connection is to the city of Watertown."