The Army post has carried a heavy burden of the fighting in that country and in Iraq. The 10th Mountain Division's headquarters, including its commander, General James Terry, are currently leading coalition forces in southern Afghanistan. Todd Moe reports.
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A gaggle of reporters gathered on the tarmac at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield at Fort Drum and waited, sweating in the heat. Three security officers stood on a nearby rooftop, gazing out in all directions with binoculars, while men in dark suits and dark-tinted SUVs lingered nearby.
The journalists' chattering died off as Air Force One became visible, a dot in the distance. The sound changed to clicking shutters over the growing roar of the plane's engine.
Soon, the plane emblazoned with “The United States of America” along its side taxied and stopped near the corralled reporters. President Barack Obama descended the stairs, jogged to where a small group of soldiers and military families were waiting, and greeted them with handshakes and smiles. Then a long motorcade whisked him away to a dining hall full of soldiers.
President Obama told troops the U.S. has “turned a corner” in the war in Afghanistan, but that “there’s still some fighting to be done.”
The president praised the 10th Mountain Division in a speech before about 150 soldiers from the division's 1st Brigade Combat Team. The soldiers returned from Afghanistan in the spring and 11 from the unit listening to the president's speech lost their lives.
The president acknowledged those losses and said the soldiers' hard work was what made a drawdown possible.
"Because of your oustanding work,
what we've been able to do is train an additional 100,000 Afghan soldiers, so
that they can start carrying on the fight. Because of what you've done, areas
like Kandahar are more secure than they have been in years. Because of you,
we're now taking the fight to the Taliban, instead of the Taliban bringing the
fight to us," Obama said.
The president said his “main message” for the soldiers was that the American people understand the sacrifices they and their families are making. He also said their job was not finished, as the 10th Mountain Division would play a role in Afghanistan until a withdrawal is complete.
"We're not doing it precipitously. We're gonna do it in a steady way to make sure that the gains that all of you helped to bring about are going to be sustained," Obama said.
After addressing the soldiers, the president met privately
with families of the fallen. Two more brigades from Fort Drum are slated to
ship off for Afghanistan in the next year.
For North Country Public Radio, I'm Joanna Richards in Watertown.