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Legacy of former Fort Drum assistant division commander recalled at highway dedication

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FORT DRUM — The family, friends and colleagues of Lt. Gen. Paul G. Cerjan, the post’s former assistant division commander, recounted his impact on the community as the Fort Drum connector road was dedicated in his honor Thursday morning.

His wife, Patricia H. Cerjan, told an assembly of local and state officials gathered on post that the name was a good fit, as his brother Stephen reminded her the previous day that her husband was in many ways a connector of people in both his professional and his personal life.

“He always brought them together,” she said.

Interstate 781, now known as the Paul Cerjan Memorial Highway, opened earlier in December and connects the post directly to Interstate 81.

Mrs. Cerjan said the naming was a great honor for the family, whose members traveled across several states to make the dedication. She later said she was overwhelmed when she first saw the sign with her husband’s name on it. Mrs. Cerjan, who was an Army child, met her husband in 1961 when she worked as a teacher in Ulm, Germany, and the two married the following year.

Gen. Cerjan, a Rome native, served for 34 years in the Army. He was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division from 1985 to 1987. Working with fellow 1960 West Point graduates Lt. Gen. William S. Carpenter Jr., who then commanded the 10th Mountain Division as a major general, and the division’s chief of staff, Col. Michael T. Plummer, Gen. Cerjan helped plan and develop the post’s construction.

“The beauty of this was you had a blank piece of paper,” Mr. Plummer said. “You had nothing but woods.”

Mr. Plummer, president of the National Association of the 10th Mountain Division, said the post’s layout, with division headquarters in the middle and smaller units pushing outward, set a foundation that would help the post as it grew and added a third brigade decades later. The $1.2 billion in work was done on time and under budget.

Brig. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, the division’s deputy commanding general for support, noted the post was set up in a way that would require a connection to the outside civilian community.

“His vision ensured the relevance of his beloved 10th Mountain Division,” Gen. Piatt said, adding the division was “forever in his debt.”

In addition to helping develop the post’s design, Gen. Cerjan helped expand local civilian-military partnerships such as the Fort Drum Steering Council, now the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization, and pushed for civilian leadership at the Northern New York-Fort Drum Chapter of the Association of the United States Army, when most chapters had been run by military installations.

Gen. Cerjan later served as the supreme allied commander in Europe and the commandant of the Army War College. A lover of the north country, he with his wife in 2005 purchased a summer home in Henderson, where he liked to go boating and fishing. Gen. Cerjan died in Florida in April 2011 at the age of 72.

Other family members in attendance were his son Col. Robert P. Cerjan, who serves with Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Fla., his wife, Heidi A., a retired Army captain, and their children, Christopher R. Cerjan, a ROTC member at the University of Florida, and Meghan N. Cerjan; son David M. Cerjan, who served in the Army for seven years, and wife Amy; and son Timothy M. Cerjan.

The project was praised by several speakers as a positive sign for the region and its economy.

“From the very beginning we realized this was much much more than a transportation project; it was much more than a military project,” said Mark E. Frechette, DOT acting regional director. “This really was a community project.”

Noting the years that the project was in the works, Mr. Frechette said he felt like a proud new parent.

“It’s 4.8 miles and weighs in at about 1.7 million tons,” he said. “It’s a big baby.”

Other speakers at the dedication included Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush and former state Sen. James W. Wright, executive director of the Development Authority of the North Country.

The dedication ceremony was held indoors in a ballroom at the post’s Commons, about 3.5 miles from the connector road. Mr. Frechette said the last time he could remember an indoor dedication ceremony for a road project was a few years ago for a project in Madrid.

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