FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Army News Service, May 13, 2008) - While Soldiers signed up to serve the nation, Northern New York community members signed up to serve Soldiers.

Residents of the North Country came out Friday evening to show their support for 10th Mountain Division Soldiers at the Army Community Covenant signing in Watertown, N.Y. Also present for the signing were Secretary of the Army Pete Geren and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston.

The Army Community Covenant is designed to develop and foster effective state and community partnerships to improve quality of life for Soldiers and their Families. The program highlights leaders at local and state levels participating in covenant signings, recognizing the strength of Soldiers, their Families and the support of their communities.

Welcoming participants to the covenant signing was Joseph E. McLaughlin, Association of the U.S. Army Northern New York-Fort Drum Chapter president.

"Fort Drum has a dynamic community partnership with many of the cities and towns in our area, and we are proud to have representatives from across our region with us today to demonstrate their support for our Soldiers and their Families," McLaughlin said. "The hardships our Soldiers face while deploying multiple times, protecting the freedoms that we enjoy and unfortunately many take for granted, we have not forgotten.

"We are here to support the Soldiers in the community; we will help them and their Families whenever and wherever we can," he added. "It's the least that we can do."

Among those showing their North Country support were representatives from Operation Yellow Ribbon, Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization, Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization and the Adopt-a-10th-Mountain-Platoon Program.

Officials attended from Watertown and Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties, as well as state Senator Darrel J. Aubertine and Assemblywoman Dierdre K. Scozzafava.
Representing Soldiers from 10th Mountain Division at the signing was Brig. Gen. Jeffery S. Buchanan, deputy commanding general for operations.

"I want to thank each and every one of you for supporting our troops and our Families who are here and deployed abroad," he said.

After Buchanan spoke on behalf of Mountain Soldiers, Maj. Gen. Joseph J. Taluto, New York adjutant general and former 42nd Infantry Division commander, spoke on behalf of National Guard and Reserve Soldiers who have served and spent time in the North Country.

"I have seen the Fort Drum infrastructure grow, and I have seen the 10th Mountain Division come in and grow," Taluto said. "But I have also seen an ever-increasing commitment from this community.

"As a Soldier, as the father of a Soldier, as the uncle of a Soldier, I feel supported by my community, by my state and by my nation. I want to thank you all," he added.

During the signing, Secretary Geren spoke about how important the community is in supporting Soldiers and their Families, especially during deployments.

"I think primarily this is to say thank you, and more than anything else, thank you to the community," Geren said. "We recognize the commitments and increasing sacrifices that our Families are making every day. This is a personal way to touch the lives of Soldiers."

Before arriving at the covenant signing, Geren visited wounded warriors from 3rd Battalion, 85th Infantry Regiment, and Families of deployed Soldiers. He also participated in a luncheon on Fort Drum to celebrate the 2008 Military Spouse Appreciation Day.

"With the Army so long at war and with our Soldiers deployed and their Families staying behind at Fort Drum, there is just no substitute for neighbors helping neighbors," Geren said. "And the communities around Fort Drum have definitely stepped up."

The first official signing of the Army Community Covenant took place April 17 at Fort Benning, Ga., with many more planned in the upcoming months at various installations

(Jason B. Cutshaw writes for the Fort Drum Blizzard newspaper.)