6,000 Fort Drum Soldiers Prepare For Return Home

December 9th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: 6,000 Fort Drum Soldiers Prepare For Return Home

Syracuse Post Standard
December 8, 2006
By Hart Seely, Staff writer
As if they needed one, U.S. Army soldiers in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan recently received a cold, hard reminder that they'll soon come home.
Actually, they got about 40 inches worth.
"In the last five days, 2 to 4 feet of snow has fallen on them," said Maj. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, commander of the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division, in a Wednesday teleconference beamed to Watertown from Afghanistan. "Even though we have some soldiers under 4 feet of snow, because they're well trained and they're from the North Country, they are delivering."
Over the next three months, they'll get delivered home.
The grueling, yearlong deployment of 6,000 10th Mountain Division troops to the "forgotten war" of Afghanistan is winding down. In the last 10 months, the Afghanistan war has claimed the lives of 38 10th Mountain Division soldiers and tested the unit's will.
But Freakley noted proudly Wednesday that his division has achieved the highest re-enlistment rate in the U.S. Army.
"One-third of those have re-enlisted to stay in the North Country," he said. "That speaks volumes about how the North Country citizens take care of our soldiers and their families."
That support has come at a time when the 10th Mountain Division has done heavy lifting in both Afgghanistan and Iraq. About 3,000 soldiers from its 2nd Brigade are almost midway through a yearlong deployment to Iraq. Another 500 from the division's headquarters at Fort Drum will soon go there.
"They'll be ready," Freakley assured reporters Wednesday, from a wall-sized TV screen whose pixels occasionally popped and blurred. He spoke from Afghanistan in the latest in a series of media briefings that are beamed to Fort Drum from the front.
Freakley said one military police unit has completed its 12 months in Afghanistan and is now in the process of returning home. Other units are schooling their future replacements from the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division. Winter tends to tamp down enemy activity, but the threat remains.
In fact, Freakley opened the session by noting solemnly that two U.S. contractors had been killed that day by a suicide bomber. He said his soldiers must not let down their guard.
"We talk to them about staying sharp, staying focused and fighting all the way through, until they get the boots back on the ground at Fort Drum, New York," he said. "Then they can take a breather."
Freakley noted the construction of 20 regional government facilities and more than 300 miles of new road. He sidestepped questions about his new boss newly confirmed U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and new Iraq proposals that might come from the Iraq Study Group.
Over the 50-minute session, the general touched on several subjects:
Keys to progress in Afghanistan
"What I'm seeing is that where you find a good, solid Afghan mayor or chief of police who cares more about the people that he is serving than about himself, that's where you really feel a huge change in the environment."
Coming home
"People are always asking, 'What can we do for the soldiers?' I would say to our North Country family, when the soldiers come home, reach out and help them. How can you do that? Well, there are easy things: Like if a soldier is angry in a store, can people in the store step in and talk with them. If a soldier has had too much to drink in a bar, can the local bartender step in and stop him from drinking any further. Can you make sure the cars they are buying in the North Country are safe cars and sound cars, even though some might not be new cars. Can you make sure that they have an energy-efficient and safe home to live in, that they either rent or buy."
Corruption within Afghani police forces
"Until the police are seen as a viable arm of the government, and they care more about the people of Afghanistan than they care about themselves, we'll have a problem. But we're getting better."
Taliban attacks over the holidays?
"That is not what patterns would show us over the last three to four years. . . We do think their attacks are somewhat diminished because of the amount of snow we've had, which is blocking some of the passes."
The future
"There is still a lot of work to do. There is still a lot of fighting. The Taliban hasn't given up. But I do see a lot of reasons for hope, a lot of reasons for optimism in Afghanistan, and I see it because of what our soldiers tell us and what we see in the Afghan people when we go out and work with them."
How long will this war go on? "If you were to say that Afghanistan and Iraq were 'it,' then perhaps maybe a couple more years. But who's to say what will happen in Iran? Who is to say where Hezbollah is going in Lebanon, and therefore in Israel? It is a dangerous time for the Western world. Indeed, it is a dangerous time for the world. And the world needs to pay attention to it."
Soldiers' outlooks
"They're ready to come home. They can't wait to get home. They are focused on the mission. You'll hear them say, 'Hey, this snow reminds me of home.' "

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