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Outgoing Fort Drum, 10th Mountain Division commander recounts time on post

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FORT DRUM — As he prepares to leave Fort Drum for a nominated role leading Fort Hood, the post and 10th Mountain Division’s commander reflected on his time in the north country and his accomplishments during the past year.

Maj. Gen. Mark A. Milley, who arrived on post in November 2011, told the Times in a phone call Friday afternoon about the honor he felt leading the division. Gen. Milley had led the 2nd Brigade Combat Team from 2003 to 2005 and was with the division in the mid-1990s.

“There are only 10 divisions in the Army,” he said. “To be given the privilege of leading one of them is very exciting, and at the same time very humbling.”

He said his No. 1 goal when he arrived was to ensure the division was ready to deploy for combat operations. For much of his time on post, most of the division’s brigades were home, allowing soldiers to undertake several large training operations.

In the past six months, division soldiers and leaders have taken part in one of the largest Mountain Peak training exercises in more than a decade, along with a rotation through the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.

“They’ve gone through a vigorous work-up period,” Gen. Milley said.

The post has seen an expansion in the number of leadership courses available to soldiers, along with more than $10 million in spending to improve its functional fitness offerings with new facilities and individual company and battalion fitness spaces.

“A soldier’s life is something to be treasured, and this is an insurance policy to protect against the rigors of deployment,” Gen. Milley said. He said that if he could have done it again, he would have tried to implement the program changes faster.

The months of preparation will be put to the test as thousands of soldiers from both the 1st and 2nd BCTs will deploy early next year to Afghanistan in a security force assistance role.

“They’re well trained, well led and they’re ready to go,” Gen. Milley said.

Gen. Milley was praised by several in the community for his work to renew relationships with organizations outside of the post that had been downplayed due to deployments.

“This is his third time back. ... He didn’t have to ask where anything was,” said F. Anthony Keating, civilian aide to Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh. Gen. Milley “hit the ground running, and he knew the people he needed to talk to,” Mr. Keating said.

Carl A. McLaughlin, executive director of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization, said that early in his time in the area, Gen. Milley organized representatives from several community groups to talk about their agendas and how the post might be able to help.

“He was very open with us all,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “That’s what helps the bond.”

Michael T. Plummer, a retired colonel and former division chief of staff, said Gen. Milley and his command group’s efforts created a positive working environment in the area.

“It wasn’t just a one-way street, but we were a partnership,” Mr. Plummer said.

Gen. Milley called the outreach efforts a way to avoid being in a bubble away from the civilian world.

“America’s Army is the people’s army, so you have to find ways to keep that connection to the people,” he said.

On Nov. 15, Gen. Milley was nominated by President Barack Obama to lead Fort Hood, Texas, and its III Corps, along with a promotion to lieutenant general. Both the assignment and promotion require Senate confirmation.

Gen. Milley called his departure “bittersweet,” as the post has served as home for him and his family for a combined six years of service.

“I love Drum, I love the 10th Mountain Division, and I love the north country,” he said.

Gen. Milley will be replaced by Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, director of the Pakistan and Afghanistan Coordination Cell Joint Staff, Washington, D.C. Gen. Milley said the two have crossed paths multiple times during their careers, most recently in 2009, when Gen. Townsend replaced Gen. Milley as deputy commanding general of operations for the 101st Aviation Division, Fort Campbell, Ky.

Gen. Milley described his replacement as an expert on military operations in Afghanistan. Gen. Townsend has spent about four years in Afghanistan on three deployments, on top of earlier deployments to Iraq, Haiti, Panama and Grenada.

“He’s a wonderful officer, he’s a great human being and extremely talented,” Gen. Milley said. “This is first-class guy that’s coming in here.”

A change-of-command ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at the post’s Magrath Sports Complex.

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