FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Soldiers, Family Members and friends of the Fort Drum community gathered Thursday at Magrath Gym for a Mountain Salute ceremony to bid farewell to Brig. Gen. Richard D. Clarke and welcome Col. Mark J. O'Neil, who replaced Clarke as the 10th Mountain Division (LI) deputy commander for operations.

Before the ceremony, Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander, awarded Clarke the Legion of Merit Award for outstanding services while stationed at Fort Drum, and his wife, Susanne Clarke, was awarded the Superior Civilian Service Award, for her outstanding services while at Fort Drum.

"We've been incredibly fortunate to have an officer like Rich Clarke," Townsend said. "He is an exceptional tactician and a leader of Soldiers.

"Clarke has led a transformation in the way we have trained here for the past 15 months, and I believe the results of this transformation will be seen for the next couple of years in this division," he said.

This transformation included the Light Fighters School and its newer and more relevant courses. Townsend said Clarke was a significant driving force behind the installation's numerous new fitness facilities that will take our Soldiers to the next level.

Clarke provided the guidance and oversight for the re-establishment of the division's tactical assault command post, or DTAC, and oversaw deployments to several key exercises for the last year, Townsend said.

He served as the division's senior trainer during "Mountain Peak," the largest exercise in Fort Drum since 9/11, with more than 10,000 Soldiers involved.

Townsend said Clarke also led the division DTAC during the National Training Center exercise with the 1st and 2nd BCTs, an exercise that has become the Army's model for all divisions to follow, according to the Army's Chief of Staff, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno.

"Following Clarke is a deeply talented and combat-proven leader: Col. Mark O'Neil," Townsend said. "He's a great officer with vast experience in the mechanized infantry, light infantry, ranger battalion, and our special forces community, where he commanded the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment D from July 16, 2009, to July 21, 2011.

Before assuming duty as the 10th Mountain Division DCGO, O'Neil served as executive officer to the U.S. Army chief of staff.

"We are very fortunate to have a leader like this in this division, and he will take us into our next 'Climb to Glory,'" Townsend concluded.

After a round of applause, Clarke addressed the crowd.

"I am really humbled just to see all of the folks that are here, especially those standing out in formation," Clarke said. "Thank you for doing this and honoring my Family.

"This has been a great ride," he said. "As I look at Mark (O'Neil) and see what he is coming into, I'm jealous. In my case, I couldn't have been more fortunate because Maj. Gen. (Mark) Milley, (former Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division commander) focused me on what I love to do, and that's training formations for combat.

"This division has set new standards for the Army in what we do in terms of providing our nation a command and control capability that has not been seen since pre-9/11, and for that I am proud to have been a part of this each and every day," Clarke said.

"My heart, my prayers and my thoughts will remain with the 10th Mountain Division and all the folks here that I got to interact with, as you get ready to deploy," he said. "Thanks for all you do, good luck and Godspeed."

Applause rang out as Clarke concluded his statements and O'Neil approached the podium to address the waiting crowd.

"It's great to be back in my home state of New York," O'Neil said. "I'm honored to join the mighty 10th Mountain Division. The reputation of this division and the Fort Drum community is second to none."

This division has focused a lot in the last year on putting the "mountain" back in the 10th Mountain Division, he added.

"I want everyone to hear it publicly from me," O'Neil said. "We are going to keep going in that direction and take it to the next level."

He then thanked the Clarkes and wished them well at their next assignment.

To the leaders, Soldiers standing in formation, civilians and Family Members present, O'Neil made this last statement.

"We are going to continue to work every day to build our teams and ensure we are the premier rapidly deployable light infantry force in the Army today, ready to answer the nation's call at a moment's notice."