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Another view of Drum: oppose growth of ‘military colony’

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Bob Arnebeck is a retired writer who began vacationing on Wellesley Island in 1974 and moved there permanently from Washington, D.C., with his family in 1994. He and his wife have a vegetable garden in the town of Alexandria. He submitted the following article in the form of a letter to Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division commander Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend.



Hi General Townsend,

I am the guy who interrupted your “listening session” in Watertown.

The Watertown Daily Times’ coverage, headlined “Community shows broad support of Fort Drum at listening session” (www.watertowndailytimes.com/article/20130426/NEWS03/704269889) is fair enough:

“However, opinion wasn’t entirely positive. Near the start of the session, Robert B. Arnebeck, of Alexandria, interrupted the session to protest military helicopters and the speaker sign-up process that he felt gave a false impression of community opinion.

“‘It’s a canned event ... am I right, general?’ he asked, drawing a swift denial from Gen. Townsend. He left a few minutes later, but not before claiming the Army was turning the north country into a ‘military colony.’”

Surely I was the odd man out, but the odd thing about this session, which I recall you likened to a “town hall meeting,” was that for over two hours a half dozen local politicians and some 60 representatives of every organization, industry and business that attended sang the praises of the 10th Mountain Division, gloried in the estimated $1.6 billion economic impact on the area, and begged for more soldiers.

When I grew up, the only place where there was such unanimity at a government “listening session” was in the Soviet Union.

Of course, I don’t think there is such widespread support. I once thought the only kids who had sleepless nights from booms and fire in the night lived east of the fort. Then I talked to a farm girl who grew up west of the fort and she couldn’t count the sleepless nights.

Since the 10th Combat Air Brigade moved to the fort helicopter flights back and forth north of the fort to the St. Lawrence River and then up and down the Thousand Islands region have been almost daily, repeated over and over again in the same corridors, and some days almost incessant. Night flights are becoming more common.

My wife and I have complained for years. One would think that with the Army organizing a “listening session,” Fort Drum public affairs might call us and others who have complained and ask us to come to the meeting. The Pentagon is cutting Army troop levels, and the fort could lose 8,000 troops.

Tell us how much peace and quiet will be restored if that happens. But subsequent brigade realignment might lead to a gain of 3,000, bringing the troop total up to 21,000. How much more noise might that entail?

Instead you asked the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization, an unabashedly pro-Fort Drum group, to organize the session. News reports suggested that that group had “lined up” 20 or so speakers, but there would be a “sign up sheet” at the door for those who wanted to speak. When they took over running the meeting, the FDRLO announced that over 50 people, mostly representatives of groups and industry now dependent on the fort, were ready to talk, plus 15 that signed up at the door. So I raised my objection.

Fair enough to wait my turn, but not when a group determined to mute any criticism of Fort Drum was controlling the microphones.

“Military colony” is not when the Army is used to occupy enemy territory. It’s the use of the Army to populate an area and change the surrounding culture to give the Army leeway to use the area for what strategic or training purposes they want.

The FDRLO is proud that with the addition 3,000 more troops, the “Fort Drum community” will be twice as large as Watertown, the largest city in the region. I find that scary.

When we complain about helicopter noise, your civilian flacks tell us we are in a “military zone,” a 20-mile area surrounding the fort. But the military colony here is larger than that. The FDRLO and Army are promoting a three-county area 5,200 square miles as “Drum Country.”

(For the Army’s promotion of it see: www.drum.Army.mil/AboutFortDrum/DrumCountry.aspx) This new D.C. is bigger than Connecticut.

Who is going to blink when the powers in that other D.C. order a new missile defense base or expanding drone presence in “Drum Country,” let alone another combat brigade?

As you must have learned at your “listening session,” you have successfully brainwashed and bribed the leaders of this community.

Your public affairs officers repeatedly assure us that our complaints are out of line. The Army is always “friendly.” General, I hope you will agree that the training and deployment of soldiers is not a walk in the park and that fooling anybody about that is dangerous.

Adding 3,000 troops will have consequences. Tell us how many more sleepless nights we will have. Tell us how many more helicopters flights will roar over us. Maybe you’ve taken one of your listening sessions out in the fields and have noticed the Army helicopters are half as fast and twice as loud as civilian helicopters.

At least disassociate the 10th Mountain Division from the Drum Country ballyhoo.

You can’t watch local TV without seeing ads promoting Fort Drum.

You are bullying people into a sense of powerlessness as the expansion of the Army which has been ongoing for the past 25 years changes their way of life. You are turning a corner of the country once famous as a place of relaxation, recreation, family farms and small industry into a military colony.

Bob Arnebeck

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