By Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public AffairsSeptember 6, 2019
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Sept. 6, 2019) -- A warm welcome and some helpful advice.
That's what newly arrived community members can look forward to when they move to Fort Drum and attend the Spouse's Welcome.
Scheduled from 9 to 10:30 a.m. every Thursday at Clark Hall, the weekly briefing is designed to connect attendees with representatives from across the installation to discuss all matters of community life at Fort Drum - from education and health care to housing and youth activities.
"There's no question too small to ask," said Lenore Lucas, wife of Col. Jeffery Lucas, Fort Drum Garrison commander. "We have a team of dedicated professionals here who really care about welcoming you to Fort Drum."
Lucas said that, oftentimes, people get their first impressions of a new duty station from people who have never themselves been stationed there before. She shared her experiences of moving to Fort Drum during a recent Spouse's Welcome.
"I really attribute how I felt before I got here to the people that are in this room, who are assembled here to help," she said. "What I can say is that this has been one of the most welcoming communities we've experienced, and this has been our 14th move."
Lucas said that one of her first phone calls was to Matt Rogers, Fort Drum's school liaison officer, to find out about New York state requirements and class schedules for her children. Rogers said that they spoke for about 45 minutes before he learned that her husband was the incoming garrison commander.
She also appreciated talking with Megan Klosner, Fort Drum Mountain Community Homes project director, who told her: "Don't worry. I know the winters are cold here, but the people are warm."
"It doesn't matter who you are or what your husband or wife does for the Army," she said. "I feel like all the staff here would have provided the same quality of treatment whether this was my first day here or if I had been here for 23 years."
During the Spouse's Welcome, Chaplain (Lt. Col.) David Stoner, Fort Drum garrison chaplain, also extended a friendly greeting and a quick overview of worship opportunities on and off post.
"We want to give them a little reminder to take care of their spiritual needs and not get isolated, and that there are plenty people around to help if you just ask," he said.
He reminded them that unit chaplains serve the whole family and not just the members who wear a uniform.
"They are there to take care of that family, so please feel free to ask them anything," Stoner said. "If you're ever worried talking about something sensitive and it's something that you really want to keep close-hold but you need to talk to somebody - your chaplain has 100-percent confidentiality. No matter what you share with them, they have to hold that in secrecy."
Stoner said that the Spouse's Welcome was a chance for recently arrived spouses to meet fellow newcomers and make connections with their new community, rather than going at it alone.
"A lot of our spouses are not only new to Fort Drum, but they are brand-new to the Army so they don't understand all the support agencies that exist to help families," he said. "So this is a really good way for them to hear from the people who are involved in getting people that assistance."
Stoner also liked the way this event was structured, where a lot of the networking was happening before and after the actual briefing. This permitted spouses to talk with subject-matter experts about employment opportunities, different housing options and some of their initial concerns as new community members.
"Soldiers don't always go home and tell their spouses about what's going on," he said. "They pocket the information and move on, so this Spouse's Welcome is great for that reason. They're getting the information directly and specific to what they need to know."
The briefing also benefits the more seasoned Army family members, Stoner said.
"Every installation is going to be a little bit different than the last one," he said. "This gives people a little more clarity about Fort Drum, the Army and the local community."
Some of those differences were explained by Col. Brian Sullivan, 10th Mountain Division (LI) chief of staff.
"By design, there are no schools on post and there is no hospital on post, because we recognized how important the relationship with our local community is," he said. "All our children go to school off-post, and if you require any specialty care, that will be referred off post. We pay very close attention to making sure our off-post partners and friends are doing exactly what they need to support military families."
Sullivan also spoke about the high operational tempo of the 10th Mountain Division (LI), which makes the Soldier and Family Readiness Groups at each unit a valuable and reliable resource.
"Just know that you are not alone," he said. "We're working very hard for you. It's a very fine line because we recognize that our Soldiers and our families are adults, but at the same time everyone needs a really good parent now and then. We want to be both the chain of command that treats you like adults but we also want to be the good parent when you need it."
Scarlett Sharkey, Readiness Relocation program manager at Army Community Service, leads the weekly spouse's meeting. She said that with all of the information that is shared at this briefing, it can be a little overwhelming. Therefore, people can always follow up or request more information by contacting ACS at (315) 772-2271. She also invited attendees to join her on an upcoming Readiness Relocation Tour, whether it's to a local farmer's market or to a cider mill for warm apple cider and donuts.
Upcoming tours and events can be found at https://drum.armymwr.com/programs/army-community-service.
Sharkey said that whether someone is stuck driving a continuous spiral around South Riva Ridge Loop and has lost all sense of direction or people want to find out about the best places to go deer hunting, there is a simple solution to it all.
"All you really have to remember is to 'think ACS first,'" she said. "It's really that simple. We are here to help you."
Sylvia Romero said that she got that message loud and clear.
"I feel very welcomed," she said. "There's so many resources for us, and everyone wants to help."
Romero and her husband arrived less than a week ago, and she attended the Spouse's Welcome while her husband was in-processing at Clark Hall. She said that her family was once stationed at Fort Drum, but they moved shortly after she was born. Now it's her first duty station.
"It's exciting," she said. "I grew up as a military child, so I kind of missed moving around all the time once my father retired."
Romero said that her husband has shared a lot of Fort Drum information with her, but she wanted to attend this meeting to see if there was anything he might have forgotten.
"Getting all this information and hearing about everything myself was nice," she said. "I'm definitely going to take use the employment readiness services, since I've been seriously considering getting a job. I definitely want to get back into the workforce and not be stuck home all day."