By Staff Sgt. Jennifer Bunn (10th Mountain)May 24, 2012
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Excitement flashed on the faces of students while they disembarked their buses and walked under the arch leading them to the Olympic Village. Music billowed through the air and hotdogs cooked on the barbeque as the students' lips formed broad smiles and eyes grew wide as they looked for their buddy dressed in blue.
More than 150 students from several local community schools participated in the Special Olympics Day on May 18 at Fort Drum. The event is an outreach bonding program that brings special needs students and 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers together for a day of enriching activities.
The games began with an opening ceremony, which included a powerful rendition of the national anthem performed by Nathan Carlton, a student who participated as an athlete. Maj. Gen. Mark A. Milley, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander, gave the opening remarks to the crowd and gave thanks to all those who supported the event.
"Today is a special day for all of us here at Fort Drum," Milley said. "Thanks to everyone for supporting this special event.
"To the Soldiers who volunteered; there are several hundred of them out here today," he said. "They have been specially trained to participate. They volunteered for the Army, the 10th Mountain Division and to assist with our Special Olympics. So for all of you out there in the blue shirts, thank you for volunteering."
Milley continued with encouraging words to all the student athletes who anxiously waited to start the festivities.
"Most importantly, this event would not occur without our Olympic athletes," he said. "And they are very much, each and every one of them, an Olympian in the true meaning of the word. To be an Olympian, it means you have to have courage, cross any river, climb any hill no matter how high, and you have to overcome any obstacle. Every one of the athletes today is an Olympian every bit as much as anyone who is competing in the (official) Olympics. They are Olympians as much as any professional athlete.
"So our hats are off to you. You have our tremendous respect, and we are extraordinarily proud of putting this event on. Good luck to each of you. Climb to Glory!"
After the participants recited the Athlete's Oath with the help of their buddy, everyone broke from the crowd and headed for their sporting event.
All students were assigned an activity before they arrived. Some enjoyed the sunny outdoors by dashing to the finish line and throwing softballs in the grassy fields; some showed off their basketball skills in the Monti Physical Fitness Center; some made a splash in the Monti pool; while others hit the lanes in the Pines Plains Bowling Center.
Nine-year-old Mitchell Lehman, a student at South Jefferson, showed off his pitching arm with a smooth softball throw. His mother, Dawn, and father, Sgt. 1st Class Keith Lehman Jr., assigned to 3rd Battalion, 85th Mountain Infantry, Warrior Transition Unit, proudly watched their son compete in his events.
"Mitchell loves being involved in the Special Olympics, and he really gets enjoyment from meeting new friends," said Dawn Lehman. "He has participated in the Exceptional Family Member Program Mountain Camp. These events mean the world to me, because the military has done a lot for Mitchell and my husband. We love the military."
Pvt. Franklin Nelson, an infantryman assigned to A Company, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, said he enjoyed being Mitchell's buddy. Volunteering for community events is nothing new to him.
"I like helping the community. Back home, I did a lot of volunteer programs," Nelson said. "This is something I really enjoy. It is very important for us (Fort Drum) to (support) this event. It gives us Soldiers a sense of community outside the post limits."
Melanie Beasley, whose son Sean, 8, is a student at Calcium Primary School, greatly appreciates the special events the military hosts for her son. She is also thankful for volunteers like Spc. Brian Bennett, an unmanned aerial vehicle maintainer, from B Company, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, who mentored Sean.
"It is super important for events like these, because it brings a lot of EFMP Families together so we get to know each other," Beasley said. "When he (Sean) found out he was getting another buddy, he was super excited. When he got out of the bus, he ran to find his buddy."
Once the Olympians received their medals, they milled around the Olympic Village to eat lunch, play carnival games and demonstrate their artistic abilities at the various arts and crafts booths. Some even checked out the red fire trucks.
Although it has been several years since the last Special Olympics Day event here, Harold D. Greer, director of Fort Drum Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, knows why they are always successful.
"The Special Olympics has always been successful on Fort Drum simply because of our Soldiers and their passionate outreach, character and nature," Greer said. "So our children love coming out here and being mentored by Soldiers and cheered on.
"This (event) leads into our Summer Olympics for our kids under the EFMP summer camp, and many of the Soldier volunteers who are out here today are going to volunteer again," he added.