Watertown Daily Times
CLAYTON — Representatives from four upstate congressional districts showed their support for Fort Drum on Thursday during a reception at the Antique Boat Museum — a feat Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, called “historic.”
“One of the things that I’ve learned after being in Congress for slightly over two months is that it’s hard to get four members of Congress in one place, especially if it’s outside three of their districts, so this is a huge sign of historic support for Fort Drum’s presence in upstate New York,” Ms. Stefanik said during her remarks to community leaders in the museum’s Elizabeth and Bolling Haxall Building.
The event preceded today’s rally and listening session during which Army officials will see and hear from an anticipated 3,000 attendees at Jefferson Community College, Watertown.
Reps. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, John Katko, R-Syracuse, and Richard Hanna, R-Syracuse, attended the event along with Ms. Stefanik. The three congressmen will not attend the listening session, though they have issued statements that Ms. Stefanik will read during the event. They also signed a letter, along with the other members of New York’s congressional delegation, that was sent to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter on Thursday.
The signs of support were encouraging, according to public officials who attended the event, but the post does face challenges as the Army looks to slash troop levels across the country, due in large part to sequestration cuts in the federal budget.
Ms. Stefanik and her Republican colleagues responded to a question about balancing the GOP’s competing priorities of balancing the budget and promoting a strong national defense by replacing the sequester.
“All of us are united that sequestration is devastating our nation’s military,” Ms. Stefanik said. “We are working as a coalition of upstate New York members to make sure we replace the sequester. I believe that we are the party of a strong national defense. I believe it is a priority in our nation to make sure that our Defense Department is funded to our 21st century national security challenges.”
Secretary Carter, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in February, said during a House Armed Services Committee meeting Wednesday that he would support a presidential veto of any congressional budget plan that leaves sequestration in place, even if the Department of Defense gets the funding it wants in this year’s budget.
“We need the end of sequestration across the board,” Mr. Carter said, according to the Army Times. “What we need for defense ... is stability.”
Mr. Carter’s statements were met with criticism from House Republicans, many of whom have pushed to boost the military budget while leaving other spending caps in place, the Army Times said.
It was not immediately apparent whether the policy of which Ms. Stefanik spoke would address Mr. Carter’s concerns.
Mr. Gibson, who was stationed at Fort Drum during his 24-year career in the Army, addressed questions about responding to terrorist threats such as the Islamic State even as public support for prolonged ground conflicts overseas has diminished over more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The question is, what’s the smart way to address this?” Mr. Gibson said. “I would tell you that we always reserve the right to act, immediately and unilaterally, if we ascertain intelligence that there’s an attack that’s imminent for our country. But at the moment, the intelligence community says that they (ISIS) do not have that capability.”
Mr. Gibson said that restricting the ability of ISIS to recruit and raise funds, as well as providing material support and training support to Iraqi and Kurdish fighters and their allies in the region, is a way to contain the growth of the militant group.
Mr. Katko, a member of the Committee on Homeland Security, said Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division, if staffed and supported adequately, could play a crucial role in responding to the ever-changing security situation.
“Fort Drum is the antidote for crisis,” Mr. Katko said. “They are ready to go at a moment’s notice.”
Also attending Thursday’s event were state Sens. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Elizabeth O’C. Little, R-Queensbury, as well as Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, and Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River. Sens. Ritchie and Little, along with more than 30 other members of the state Senate, signed a letter to the New York congressional delegation supporting Fort Drum. U.S. Sens. Kirsten E. Gillibrand and Charles E. Schumer both prepared video statements to be delivered at the listening session.