WATERTOWN — The public outpouring of support for Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division during Friday’s listening session at Jefferson Community College was so great that even the post’s commander — a man who told himself he would remain impartial — was affected.

“After sitting here listening to all of you for three hours, you’ve made me so proud, I can’t be impartial, I just can’t,” said Gen. Stephen J. Townsend. “So Maj. Gen. Steve Townsend, but also citizen Steve Townsend, believes that Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum is not only good for the north country and New York, as you all have said so well, but it is good for our Army and America.”

Gen. Townsend’s comments brought the second standing ovation of the evening. The first came when Mary M. Corriveau, chairwoman of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization, revealed that a petition to protest cuts at the post had received more than 22,000 signatures.

The Army is looking to cut up to 16,000 personnel at Fort Drum, the largest single-site employer in New York, and in a worst-case scenario, such a large cut would result in more than $1 billion in economic losses, thousands more indirect job cuts and the loss of about a third of Jefferson County’s population. The cuts come as a result of sequestration.

Friday’s listening session, one of the final stops on a 30-installation tour for Army officials, brought out politicians from all levels of government, including Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, state Sens. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton and Elizabeth O’C. Little, R-Queensbury. Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, and Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, Watertown Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham, members of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators, and town and village supervisors. Sens. Kirsten E. Gillibrand and Charles E. Schumer and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie delivered video statements during the listening session. Deanna Nelson, assistant attorney in charge of the attorney general’s Watertown office, read a statement from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.

First to speak was Lt. Gov. Hochul, who said the state has made a strong commitment to Fort Drum.

“We have stepped up as a community, we have stepped up as a state and met every single challenge that’s been presented to us to make sure that this relationship works out so well,” she said. “Making sure there’s plenty of housing in the community to support the people off base — 48 percent of the families and military live in our own communities, 40 percent of the kids in our local school districts are from Fort Drum. We are one community, ladies and gentlemen, and I’m not going to let anything happen to that.”

During her comments at the beginning of the listening session, Ms. Stefanik, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the post was uniquely positioned to meet the challenges of a dynamic security environment.

“I urge you to listen to the calls of thousands of north country citizens who are asking you to protect Fort Drum,” said Ms. Stefanik, who secured the support of the entire New York state congressional delegation in a letter sent Wednesday to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. “There is no better place in the nation to train our great soldiers to ‘Climb to Glory.’”

The support from the politicians was met with cheers, but some of the most affecting testimony came from the people in the audience, who drove home a theme that the north country and the post are one family, one community, with comment after comment.

“We are family sirs, you don’t mess with us,” said Dianne D. Chase, a local radio personality.

Audience members told stories of the care they received at local hospitals, former service members spoke of the safe and secure feeling they had when they deployed and left their families behind in the community and a woman told a story about how a soldier literally saved her life nearly 14 years ago when she was involved in a car accident outside a fast-food restaurant where he was eating with his friends.

At least three audience members spoke of the diversity that the post brings to the area and Rev. Jeffrey E. Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church, said the area should serve as a model to other communities around the country.

“I believe that we can be a model for this nation,” the Rev. Smith said. “We are different cultures, we can live together in peace and harmony, we all can get along, one nation under God, consider that also.”

In addition to the close-knit communities and personal stories shared by members of the audience, the post has a significant economic impact on the area as several businessmen and women noted during their comments.

Direct spending from the post, primarily soldiers’ paychecks, accounts for about $1.3 billion locally, with local advocates saying the post also contributes hundreds of millions of dollars in additional indirect economic activity.

A man from Detroit spoke of the economic devastation that resulted when the auto industry began to falter in his hometown.

“I’ve seen what happens to a community when the primary employer no longer does what they’ve been doing. ... It seems to me that the last thing you want to see is a mirror of what happened in Detroit.”

John P. McLaurin III, the Army’s deputy director for force management and top Pentagon official at the hearing, said he was impressed by the show of support for the post.

“It was overwhelming, the show of support.” Mr. McLaurin said. “Our soldiers live by a set of values — loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. Well, what I heard and saw here tonight was a reflection of those values from the community. For me, that was very special. It just emphasized the fact that Fort Drum and the soldiers and families there and all the communities surrounding the installation are really one family.”

Throughout the evening, between the jam-packed rally in the JCC gymnasium and the passionate comments during the listening session in the JCC auditorium, it was clear that many residents of the north country view the fates of their communities and of Fort Drum as being intertwined. The ultimate decisions affecting both, which will be made by politicians and government officials in Washington, D.C., remain unknown.

he entire New York congressional delegation is supporting an effort spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik to protect Fort Drum, home of the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division, ahead of a listening session Friday on the future of the base. 

Stefanik, R-Willsboro, U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer and New York's House members sent a letter Thursday to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to highlight the importance of Fort Drum to the North Country and the state. 

"Fort Drum is a critical and imperative installation to our U.S. armed forces because of its training facilities and capabilities, power projection, quality of life, expansibility and geographic distribution," the delegation wrote. "The installation is home to the 10th Mountain Division, the Army's most deployed division since 1990. The 10th Mountain Division is a light infantry division and is comprised of confident, resilient and competent warriors." 

Friday's hearing at Jefferson Community College will give the Fort Drum community an opportunity to discuss how cuts to the base would affect the area. 

Fort Drum is home to 17,269 soldiers and 18,383 family members, according to the latest economic impact statement. There are approximately 3,800 civilian employees who work at the base. 

The concern about cuts to Fort Drum stems from spending restrictions established in the Budget Control Act of 2011. While House leaders will include more defense funding in its budget proposal, there isn't agreement on how to address automatic cuts, which would occur if spending eclipses the cap. 

Last week, Stefanik joined U.S. Reps. Richard Hanna and John Katko for tours of Fort Drum and the 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Field. During visits to the facilities, the trio pledged to protect New York's bases from defense cuts. 

Hanna, R-Barnveld, Katko, R-Camillus, Stefanik and U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson attended a reception Thursday to support Fort Drum. Stefanik, who represents Fort Drum in Congress, plans on attending the listening session Friday. 

Stefanik won't be the only federal or state official with a presence at Friday's event.

Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has a sent a video that will be played at the hearing. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul and state agency commissioners will attend a rally for Fort Drum and the listening session. 

The rally will be held at 5 p.m. at JCC. The listening session is scheduled for 6 p.m. 

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.

Canadian and U.S. officials are working to pass legislation in both countries to offer a preclearance process and reduce wait times for travelers at border-crossing areas.

Canadian Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Steven Blaney and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson recently signed an agreement that would allow security agents from each nation to establish checkpoints on the other’s soil. They would conduct immigration, customs and agricultural inspections for people planning to cross the border by air, boat, land and rail. Preclearance of these individuals could reduce the time for others to cross the border.

Any measure that would uphold the security of each nation while making border crossing a faster process is worthwhile. The plan would need to be approved by both the Canadian Parliament and U.S. Congress.

“This landmark agreement is welcome news for our north country community,” U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, said in a statement supporting the proposal. “In addition to helping increase efficiency along our northern border, this agreement will help increase trade with our Canadian neighbors. This is good for our north country economy and for hard-working north country families.”

“Garry Douglas, president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, said in a prepared statement that the agreement announced Monday is welcome news for the organization that has pushed for the preclearance of New York-bound Amtrak passengers from Montreal, who frequently encounter long waits at the Champlain border crossing,” according to a story Tuesday in the Watertown Daily Times. “In addition to preclearance for Amtrak passengers, Mr. Douglas said in his statement that the agreement will allow officers from both sides of the border to ‘co-staff’ and operate small, rural crossings, jointly clearing traffic in both directions. This would save resources for both countries while securing the future of the many small crossings in the north country which, while being low-volume crossings, ‘represent important connections between rural communities,’ Mr. Douglas said. He said the pact also creates the possibility of the Canada Border Services Agency locating operations at the crossing between Massena and Cornwall, Ontario, ‘enhancing flow at this important north country gateway.’”

It’s in everyone’s interest to conduct inspections at the border that effectively maintain our security. At the same time, streamlining the process is vital to ensuring that travel between the two nations for commerce and tourism is less of a problem.

This agreement is a positive step toward that goal. It’s good that Ms. Stefanik supports this plan, and residents should encourage her along with U.S. Sens. Kirsten E. Gillibrand and Charles E. Schumer to pursue its passage.

Fort Drum was the last stop for the three New York lawmakers who hit the road yesterday to strengthen their arguments against cuts in military spending. Republican Representatives Elise Stefanik, John Katko, and Richard Hanna toured the base to show that support for Fort Drum extends beyond New York's North Country.

Stefanick said the visits to the New York Air National Guard's 174th Attack Wing in Syracuse and then to Fort Drum illuminate how the two military installations work together. Working together is also what the three New York Congressional representatives are doing now more than ever. “This is a new way of focusing on strengthening and protecting Fort Drum,” said Stefanik.

Stefanik explained this visit is in part a way to prepare for Fort Drum's listening session later this month in Watertown. Katko, Hanna, and Stefanik will be there in support of the base. Stefanik said she sees the upcoming listening session as an opportunity to show how important Fort Drum is to the local economy, the community, and national security. “This is not an issue that is just important to my district, given my role on the house armed services committee. It’s important to the state and to the nation so I’m excited to have such strong partners in upstate New York as we head into this listening session,” Stefanik said.

Katko pointed out the 174th depends on Fort Drum and Fort Drum depends on the 174th. That is especially true with the drone program. Katko also said both installations are at the cutting edge of what the new army will look like. The three lawmakers said the visits and the upcoming listening session will help bolster their arguments against cuts to the two military installations. The listening session is scheduled for March 20.


FORT DRUM — A little more than a week before a scheduled hearing about potentially massive cuts at Fort Drum, Rep. Elise M. Stefanik said she looked forward to showing “the best of this community.”

“We’re intertwined with our schools, with our hospitals, the ... ReEnergy biomass decision that was made. That’s a long-term commitment,” she said Tuesday. “I view it as an opportunity, and that’s how I’m working with other members of Congress.”

Ms. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, toured facilities on post with Reps. John Katko, R-Syracuse, and Richard Hanna, R-Utica, and met 10th Mountain Division leaders, including commander Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend and Garrison Commander Col. Gary A. Rosenberg. Prior to arriving at the post, the lawmakers visited the New York Air National Guard’s 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Field near Syracuse.

The three representatives have committed to attending the Army’s hearing about Fort Drum, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. March 20 at Jefferson Community College. The hearing is preceded by a rally that will begin at 5 p.m. at the college’s gymnasium. They also said Rep. Christopher P. Gibson, R-Kinderhook, will attend the hearing.

Their visit comes at a time when lawmakers are evaluating whether to continue sequestration budget caps that military officials and advocates say are heavily damaging military readiness.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that top Republicans are digging in and are expected to roll out House and Senate budgets next week that will keep military and domestic spending at levels agreed to in the 2011 deficit-reduction deal.

“There is need for more defense spending, but we do not break the sequester,” Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., a member of the House Budget Committee, told The Wall Street Journal.

In contrast, a report from The Hill newspaper said a group of Republicans and Democrats are looking to override sequestration through a combination of tax hikes and entitlement cuts.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a potential 2016 presidential candidate, told The Hill the plan would allow the government to spend more than what’s allowed under the 2011 cuts.

“What we need to do is buy back sequestration,” he told The Hill. “What we’re trying to do is put together a mini Simpson-Bowles deal.”

Ms. Stefanik said she would support eliminating the sequester caps.

“It’s bad policy,” she said. “It’s hurting our readiness, it’s hurting our training for our troops, which ultimately, we’re asking them to make significant sacrifices.”

Mr. Katko said he hoped the military would keep Fort Drum’s numbers due to its unique ability to deploy and perform a versatile range of missions.

“That’s a huge asset for the military,” he said.

Mr. Hanna said federal lawmakers were “hand in glove together” in keeping Fort Drum personnel numbers, highlighting the military’s ties to the surrounding community. He said he was impressed by “how it’s integrated itself into this very large community, and how critical it is for it to stay in this to community, and flourish in this community, and how well this community has welcomed this base for so many years.”

The Army is considering cutting 16,000 soldiers and civilian personnel from the post, and performing similarly large cuts at 29 other installations across the country. If Fort Drum were to lose the full number, it could result in more than $1 billion in economic losses, thousands more indirect job cuts and the loss of about a third of Jefferson County’s population.

In questions after her prepared remarks, Ms. Stefanik said she strongly opposed a new round of Base Realignment and Closure, despite repeated calls from top Department of Defense and Army officials. She also voiced support for the development of a missile defense site at Fort Drum, as the military reviews the necessity of such a site on the East Coast. Top officials from the Missile Defense Agency, including director Vice Adm. James D. Syring, have said the site is not needed, and cheaper alternatives for protecting the region exist.

Video from Tuesday’s Fort Drum appearance can be found at https://wdt.me/stefanik-drum.

WATERTOWN — U.S. Reps. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, Richard Hanna, R-Utica, and John Katko, R-Syracuse, will tour Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse and the U.S. Army Garrison at Fort Drum on Tuesday.

According to a news release from Ms. Stefanik’s office, the three representatives will “highlight these defense assets in the region and how they will continue to work together to ensure the viability of these facilities for the region and the overall security of our nation.”

The members of Congress are scheduled to tour the airfield in the morning and Fort Drum in the afternoon.

Media availability will be held at 11 a.m. at Hancock Airfield and at 2:25 p.m. on Fort Drum.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Three Republican members of Congress from Central and Northern New York say they will work together to protect Fort Drum and the 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Field from personnel losses in future Pentagon budget cuts.

U.S. Reps. John Katko, R-Camillus, Richard Hanna, R-Barneveld, and Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, plan to tour both bases on Tuesday as part of their effort to show a united front in Congress against the cuts.

Stefanik serves on the House Armed Services Committee, and could be a strong voice with Katko and Hanna in the GOP majority to advocate for the bases.

The Army is in the process of holding hearings at 30 bases across the nation to receive feedback from communities about the potential cuts. The hearing about Fort Drum, home of the 10th Mountain Division, will be 5 p.m. March 20 at Jefferson Community College in Watertown.

The Army is studying the potential impact of reducing its force by an additional 16,000 soldiers and civilian employees at each of nine bases nationwide. The study will present a worst-case scenario of the most extreme cuts if Congress allows the federal sequester budget cuts to remain in place.

The Army says it is required to plan for the extreme cuts as part of the sequester. At its worst, Army officials said, they would have to pare the force from 562,000 soldiers to 420,000.

Fort Drum officials this week released a report showing the base near Watertown had an economic impact of about $1.3 billion on the region in 2014. The base is home to 17,269 soldiers and 18,383 family members, according to the report.

Since fiscal 1988, Fort Drum has infused more than $21 billion into New York's economy, the report said.

Fort Drum's size was already reduced by about 1,500 soldiers as part of a 2013 Army decision to inactivate a combat brigade at the base. Those cutbacks were part of an existing Army plan to cut its overall number of combat brigades from 45 to 33, reducing the size of the Army by 80,000 soldiers by 2017.

WATERTOWN — Rep. Elise M. Stefanik said her decision to vote for a clean funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security was not difficult.

“Every day of the week I will put the interests of the district first,” Ms. Stefanik said. “Plain and simple, I’m not going to vote to shut the government down. I’m not going to vote to shut down the Department of Homeland Security.”

Congress narrowly averted a shutdown of DHS by approving a one-week extension of funding for the department. Ms. Stefanik said that Friday she supported a bill passed by the Senate that removed language undoing President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. That bill was not approved by the House, as Republicans continued to disagree about how to counteract what they have characterized as the president’s abuse of executive authority. The temporary stopgap measure was approved by vote of 357 to 60.

For Ms. Stefanik, who ran on a platform of “crossing the aisle” to find “bipartisan solutions,” Friday’s vote represented an opportunity to make good on her promises.

“I ran on getting away from this type of Washington dysfunction,” she said Sunday.

It also represented the end of her second month in office after a historic victory as the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

In February, Ms. Stefanik opened district offices in Glens Falls and Plattsburgh, hired a legislative assistant for military affairs, was named vice-chairwoman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and traveled to the Middle East.

During the February recess, Ms. Stefanik toured parts of Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan with other members of the House Armed Services Committee.

Ms. Stefanik and Representatives Seth Moulton, D-Mass., Joe Wilson, R-S.C., and Brad Ashford, D-Neb., met with officials including King Abdullah II of Jordan and Iraqi President Fuad Masum.

Though some have questioned the wisdom or necessity of the trip, Ms. Stefanik said it was worth the time and money.

“There is no question that getting briefings from military commanders on the ground in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq is a more effective way to learn than in hearing rooms,” Ms. Stefanik said.

Ms. Stefanik said one of the most valuable parts of the trip was meeting with troops from New York serving overseas and hearing their perspectives on issues both at home and abroad.

“It was an extraordinary privilege for me to be a part of the meetings with the soldiers in the district and show them our support but also to educate myself on some of the key challenges we’re facing in Afghanistan and Iraq,” she said.

For Ms. Stefanik, the month was filled with small victories — legislation on Section 529 College Savings Plans, charitable contributions and grant funding for science, technology, engineering and math programs — and frustrations, including President Obama’s veto of a bill authorizing the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Supporters of the pipeline, including Republicans in Congress, have hailed the project as a “jobs creator” and a way to strengthen energy policy and relations with Canada, while environmentalists have decried the pipeline as an ecologically unsound project that will only exacerbate the reliance on fossil fuels.

But with stories of train derailments and explosions becoming more frequent, Ms. Stefanik cited safety as one of the many reasons she is supporting the pipeline.

“The perspective I have from our district is the oil trains that are going at very high speeds throughout parts of the 21st district, in many cases right along waterways and lakes. ... They’re very unsafe,” Ms. Stefanik said.

The job-creating aspect of the project has been called into question.

According to a State Department report about the pipeline, spending on the project would support 42,100 “direct, indirect and induced” jobs, including 3,900 direct construction jobs over a two-year period.

Following construction, the project would generate 50 jobs during operations, the report said.

“I’m pretty confident in standing by the assessment that this will create tens of thousands of jobs,” Ms. Stefanik said.

Ms. Stefanik will be one of the speakers during a listening session March 20 about the future of the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum. She said she has invited other members of the New York state delegation in Washington to attend as well.

“My colleagues on the Armed Services Committee know that I am the go-to person for Fort Drum and I will protect Fort Drum at all costs,” she said.

Representatives Richard Hanna, R-Utica, John Katko, R-Syracuse, and Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, are expected to visit the post this month, Ms. Stefanik said.

Circling back to the immigration issue and fight over funding the DHS, Ms. Stefanik said she wanted to see immigration issues solved by the legislative process rather than executive action but that they should be separated from the debate over funding the department.

“We have to stop the policymaking of coming to the brink with discussions of government shutdown,” Ms. Stefanik said. “I support and I am urging leadership to bring up the clean Senate bill, which will provide long-term continuity through September. I am optimistic that if that is brought to the floor it will pass with Democrats and some Republicans.”