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Soldiers coming home from Iraq in 2007.
Soldiers coming home from Iraq in 2007.

Fort Drum, fatigued, gears up for more fighting in Afghanistan

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According to the Associated Press, thousands of soldiers from Fort Drum near Watertown will play a major role in President Obama's new strategy in Afghanistan. The 10th Mountain Division's 1st Brigade was called off a mission to Iraq last month and is believed to be heading to Afghanistan instead as a part of the 30,000 troop surge announced last night. Fort Drum's 10th Combat Aviation Brigade is already slated to go there next October. And the division's headquarters is scheduled to take command of part of the war effort in Afghanistan in 2011. But eight years of war are wearing on one of the most-deployed divisions in the Army. David Sommerstein reports.

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David Sommerstein
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Airscript: David Sommerstein 12/3/09

At Bradley's Military Supply, just off post, most everyone's getting ready to go to a war zone, or coming home from one. Specialist Rashun Terrell's ordering new fatigues following a year in Iraq. He knows Afghanistan will likely be next.

We gotta do what the President says. He says go and fight we gotta go and fight.

Terrell says the troop surge is inevitable and necessary.

Because if we don't show that we're a stronger power, then everyone else will think we're weak and try to attack us, instead of us defending other nations and helping them.

Last night, President Obama was careful to distinguish between what he considers success in Iraq and a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. For a lot of soldiers here, though, the wars seem to blur into one big conflict.

While Staff Sergeant Terrence Nurse shops, he glances at a TV showing clips of last night's speech. He says he supports President Obama's plan, only because of the timeline to begin pulling out in 2011.

DAVID: "So that was important to you that he said, hey, we're gonna start handing this over in 18 months.

NURSE: "Yes. It's time to give it back.

Specialist Natasha Medlock picks through a rack of camouflage vests. She remembers Candidate Obama talking about ending the war in Iraq. Now, she says,with Afghanistan, President Obama's going in the wrong direction.

He made a promise that he would pull us out of the Middle East, out of Iraq, but now more troops are going to Afghanistan, so I'm not fond of the decision.

Many soldiers here are reluctant to talk about the new Afghanistan strategy. Some just seem tired of it all. You get a sense the saying holds - if you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all.

Fort Drum officials have acknowledged growing concerns about morale, with some soldiers have deployed three or four times since 2001. Sue Black cuts soldiers' hair at a barbershop down the road. She says she sees it first hand.

Before they deploy, people are really happy. When they come back, they have depression, have family issue, they need a lot of counselors.

Black's says it's affecting her children, too. Her husband's been to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Daddy's gone, daddy's back. Daddy's gone. Daddy's back. So it's really hard for all the military families.

Since last May, 24 members of Fort Drum's 3rd brigade have been killed in Afghanistan. The unit's coming home over the next month. But another brigade is widely expected to join the surge early next year, with more units to follow.

Specialist Terrell says the only thing to do is follow orders, collect your money, and don't complain.

For North Country Public Radio, I'm David Sommerstein outside Fort Drum.

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