By Paul Steven GhiringhelliJune 21, 2011
For the first time, Fort Drum held a ball to celebrate the U.S. Army's birthday.
Civilians in elegant attire and Soldiers in full dress uniform escorted guests to a formal evening Friday at the Commons that included dinner, dancing, entertainment and reflection.
"For 236 years, the nation has entrusted the Army with preserving its peace and freedom, and with defending its democracy," said Col. Noel T. Nicolle, Fort Drum garrison commander and master of ceremonies for the evening.
The origins of today's Army can be traced to the formation of the Continental Army on June 14, 1775, when the Continental Congress authorized the enlistment of militiamen in the 13 original colonies to battle Great Britain for independence.
Taking a moment to consider Fort Drum's place in an Army that is still securing America's freedoms, Nicolle pointed out that nearly 10 percent of the Soldiers on bases and outposts throughout Afghanistan and Iraq wear the 10th Mountain Division (LI) patch.
"They are our division headquarters, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Brigade Combat Team and the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade," he said. "Every day, they continue to make improvements and to set the conditions for increased security and stability in the region."
Nicolle said Soldiers deployed in harm's way have an indispensable resource on the home front " their Families and loved ones. He asked every person in the crowd who is the spouse of a deployed Soldier to stand up to be recognized.
"Here at home," he said, "our Families show incredible endurance as they wait for their deployed loved one to return. From the beginning, the Army has relied on the strength of its Families."
The evening included performances by the 10th Mountain Division Band, the Stardust Quartet and members of the U.S. Army's Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, who traveled from their home station near Arlington National Cemetery to bring festive music and a touch of Colonial history to the North Country.
The Old Guard is a part of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, which is the regular Army's oldest infantry regiment. Musicians with the Fife and Drum Corps wore uniforms and played instruments resembling what members of the Continental Army used during the Revolutionary War.
Guest speaker at Fort Drum's inaugural ball was retired Lt. Gen. James L. Campbell, former 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander, who retired three years ago from the Pentagon after nearly 37 years of service.
"It is always very special for us to come to Fort Drum, because it feels like we are coming home," said Campbell, who was accompanied by his wife, Carol. "It is impossible for me to pass a young Soldier with a 10th Mountain patch without stopping to shake hands, to ask about deployments and Families, and to thank them for serving our country."
Campbell delivered an impassioned speech praising everyday Soldiers as the Army's most precious and enduring legacy.
"When you raised your right hand, when you swore to defend the constitution of this country, you thrust yourself into what I consider the most elite class of Americans: those who are willing to put everything on the line, and I mean everything, for our way of life," Campbell said.
"You look evil in the eye and you do not blink," he added.
"I stand in awe, with respect and sincere admiration, for what you, and those who support you from the home front, have sacrificed and endured for an entire decade," Campbell continued. "While others in this country fret about gas prices and foreclosure rates you go about your job quietly and confidently."
The retired general became inflamed as he recalled reading a recent article in a national magazine that was critical of the bonuses some troops received for "simply reenlisting."
"That deeply, deeply offends me," Campbell said. "I wonder if [this reporter] has a clue that if it was not for our young men and women in uniform -- our most precious resource 'simply reenlisting' " he would not have the luxury of sitting safely and comfortably behind his computer screen to eloquently voice his opinion."
During his speech, Campbell also spoke of "the call" that young Soldiers have consistently answered throughout Army history.
"Through the years, our nation has turned to the Army time and time again," he said. "At moments of great danger and peril, we have never failed to answer the call.
"While we've always had the edge in technology, and the best systems, and have been blessed with the best leadership," he added, "it is the Soldier and what he or she is made of that has made the difference and enabled us to answer the call."
Fort Drum Soldiers who are called to accomplish dangerous missions in distant lands were the focus of an earlier segment in the evening, when Brig. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl, division deputy commander for support, provided guests with an update from the front in Afghanistan.
Dahl said it was very significant how after 10 years of war, the U.S. recently put its first two-star division headquarters in Regional Command South " the 10th Mountain Division (LI).
"The change has been more than significant, at least dramatic and perhaps transformational," he said. "I mean that very sincerely."
As a sign of their progress, Dahl reported that the prices of land in Kandahar are up, thousands of residents picnic every weekend on the river and that the business of harvesting pomegranates, apricots, almonds and other agriculture is booming.
Danger is ever present, he admitted, but security and freedom of movement in the area has increased.
"We have taken terrain away from the Taliban," he said. "We have found 200 caches of weapons and discovered 200,000 pounds of their homemade explosives. They finance their efforts with narcotics, and we found 200,000 pounds of hashish and marijuana, over 1,000 pounds of heroin and 1,000 pounds of opium.
"We know we are on the terrain that they want to be, but they can't be there anymore," he said.
Dahl also used the occasion Friday to honor the crucial role that traditions play in the Army.
"The speed of change and how rapidly (the Army) has changed over the last 10 years makes your head spin and your knees knock," he said. "So we need to hold on to those things that we know well. Our traditions provide us with stability, strength and comfort. The Army Ball is one of those (traditions)."
Before dinner was served, Joe McLaughlin, president of the Northern New York-Fort Drum chapter of the Association of the United States Army, presented awards to exceptional Soldiers, civilians and organizations for improving the welfare and quality of Army communities.
James W. Corriveau, Fort Drum Public Works director, was presented with the 2011 AUSA Civilian of the Year award. Lt. Col. Lee Grubbs, former commander of 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, along with his wife, Christy, and three sons " Jackson, Connor and Tristan " received the 2011 AUSA Volunteer Family of the Year award.
The AUSA Volunteer of the Year award went to Michelle Capone, while the Corporate Sponsor of the Year was awarded to the Syracuse Research Corporation.
The 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldier of the Year was Pfc. Thomas Hauser, 563rd Military Police Company, 91st Military Police Battalion, while the 10th Mountain Division (LI) Noncommissioned Officer of the Year was Staff Sgt. Douglas A. Milne, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment.
The Fort Drum Garrison Soldier of the Year was Spc. Benjamin Henderson, while the Fort Drum Garrison NCO of the Year was Cpl. Joseph Noganosh. Both serve with U.S. Army Garrison.
After the awards ceremony, Milne and Hauser assisted Campbell and Nicolle in cutting the Army birthday cake, which was served later in the evening.
The ball concluded with the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps performing for guests, followed by dancing and socializing.