By Mr. Paul Steven Ghiringhelli (Drum)May 31, 2012
ALBANY, N.Y. -- Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division (LI) community received an exceptional tribute last week, the kind of recognition usually reserved for major military installations.
The state of New York declared its first ever "10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum Day" in honor of a post that has emerged in recent years as the DoD's premier power projection platform in the Northeast and one of the Army's most vital installations.
Dozens of Soldiers and members of the garrison and division command groups celebrated the proclamation by spending the day at the New York State Capitol building in Albany, where the senate unanimously passed a resolution making May 23 officially "10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum Day" in the state of New York.
Organized by Sen. Patty Ritchie of New York's 48th District, the inaugural event included static displays of military gear and hardware, a Black Hawk helicopter fly-by of the Capitol building and an address in the senate chamber by the division's commanding general -- a rare occurrence for an unelected official.
"Thanks very much for honoring us," said Maj. Gen. Mark A. Milley, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander. "And thanks also to the governor, for signing off on 23 May being 10th Mountain Division Day in the great state of New York."
Before the general was introduced, Ritchie called it an honor to welcome the division leaders to Albany to "educate us" on Fort Drum.
"I hope my colleagues will take time to stop by the displays and talk to some of the men and women who are here today, and share our encouragement and support for all they do to defend our fine country and help keep us safe," she said.
"I'm proud to honor these men and women and certainly proud to represent them in the 48th District," Ritchie added. "I appreciate you coming down today so that all of my colleagues can have firsthand knowledge of what wonderful men and women you truly are."
Dean G. Skelos, New York state senate majority leader, also took time to welcome the general, his staff and his Soldiers.
"I'd like to join Sen. Ritchie in welcoming you," he said. "We are truly honored by your presence in our historic chamber.
"Fort Drum is home to the famous 10th Mountain Division," Skelos continued. "Sometimes it feels like we have to move mountains to get things done here in Albany, but it pales in comparison to the tremendous work and selfless service that you give to our country."
Skelos said with unanimous consent of the senate, and without objections, Milley was permitted to address the senate.
The general, impeccably dressed in his Army service uniform, took to the rostrum with a booming voice, first directing the senators' attention to the upper chamber, where Brentwood native Dawn Esposito was seated.
She is the mother of Sgt. Michael J. Esposito Jr., who was killed in Afghanistan while serving with the division's 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment.
"She's a very special member of our community," Milley said. "She represents 295 Gold Star Mothers from the 10th Mountain Division."
The general went on to share the division's illustrious history with the senators, describing campaigns from the mountains of Italy during World War II to recent conflicts that have made the 10th Mountain Division the most deployed division in the U.S. Army.
"We have in fact been the tip of the spear on anyone intending to do harm to the United States," Milley said. "To follow the 10th Mountain Division since 1985 is to visit every crisis spot that America has been involved in.
"We were the first conventional force to enter Afghanistan shortly after the tragic events of 9/11," he continued. "That's appropriate, that an American infantry division led the way against our enemies in Afghanistan.
"And it is doubly appropriate that a division from New York led the way, given that the enemy of our country attacked this great state and murdered our fellow citizens."
The general also introduced service members seated on the senate floor. He told the legislators the 15 Soldiers were their constituents -- New York natives serving at Fort Drum in capacities ranging from cavalry and artillery to aviation and logistics.
Milley told the senators that the 40,000 Soldiers and Family Members of the 10th Mountain Division appreciate the distinct honor proclaiming May 23 their day.
"The United States Army, since 1775, has fought on behalf of the American people," he said. "It is important that the American people and their elected representatives stay connected to our force.
"Thank you again for this great opportunity," he concluded. "We will be forever grateful that 23 May is 10th Mountain Day."
The honor came on the heels of another major recognition for Fort Drum. The post received a $150,000 prize for winning the 2012 Army Communities of Excellence bronze award earlier this month, marking the third consecutive year that Fort Drum has claimed an ACOE award.
The day before the event in Albany, and leading up to the Memorial Day weekend, officials inducted a select group of individuals into the New York State Senate Veterans' Hall of Fame. Retired Col. Michael Plummer, 10th Mountain Division's (LI) first chief of staff and a Watertown resident, was the Hall of Fame inductee to represent Ritchie's district this year.