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In Fort Drum, Soldiers Prepared For Deployment

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The Army's 10th Mountain Division will play a key role in the troop increase. The division is based at Fort Drum in upstate New York. As David Sommerstein of North Country Public Radio reports, eight years of war, plus more in the future, are wearing down the soldiers and their families.

DAVID SOMMERSTEIN: At Bradley's military supply just off post, most everyone's getting ready to go to a war zone or coming home from one. Specialist Rashaun Terrell(ph) is ordering new fatigues following a year in Iraq. He knows Afghanistan will likely be next.

Specialist RASHAUN TERRELL (10th Mountain Division, U.S. Army): We have to do what the president says. We have to do what our higher ranking says. And if they tell us we've got to go over there and fight, we've got to go and fight.

SOMMERSTEIN: Terrell says the troop surge is inevitable and necessary.

Specialist TERRELL: Because if we don't show that we are a stronger power, a stronger people, then everyone else will think we're weak, and what they'll try to do is try to attack us instead of us defending other nations and helping them.

SOMMERSTEIN: Last night, President Obama was careful to distinguish between what he considers success in Iraq and a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. For a lot of soldiers here, though, the wars seem to blur into one big conflict. While Staff Sergeant Terence Nurse shops, he glances at a TV showing clips of last night's speech. He says he supports President Obama's plan only because of the timeline to begin pulling out in 2011. So that was important to you that�

Staff Sergeant TERENCE NURSE (10th Mountain Division, U.S. Army): Yeah.

SOMMERSTEIN: �he said, hey, we're going to start handing this over in�

Staff Sgt. NURSE: Yes.

SOMMERSTEIN: �in eighteen months.

Staff Sgt. NURSE: Yes. It's time to give it back.

SOMMERSTEIN: Specialist Natasha Medlock(ph) picks through a rack of camouflage vests. She remembers candidate Obama talking about ending the war in Iraq. Now, she says, with Afghanistan, she feels like President Obama is going in the wrong direction.

Specialist NATASHA MEDLOCK (10th Mountain Division, U.S. Army): He made a promise that he would pull us out of the Middle East, you know, out of Iraq, but it seems like more troops are going to Afghanistan. So I'm not too fond of the decision.

SOMMERSTEIN: Many soldiers here are reluctant to talk about the new Afghanistan strategy. Some just seem tired of it all. You get a sense the saying holds: If you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all. Fort Drum officials have acknowledged growing concerns about morale, with some soldiers having deployed three or four times since 2001. Sue Black(ph) cuts soldiers' hair at a barbershop down the road. She says she sees it firsthand.

Ms. SUE BLACK (Barber): Before they deploy, people is really happy. When they come back, a lot of depression, have a family issue. They need a lot of counselor.

SOMMERSTEIN: Black says it's affecting her children, too. Her husband's been to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ms. BLACK: Daddy's gone. Daddy come back. Daddy's gone. Daddy come back. So this is really hard for the military family.

SOMMERSTEIN: Since last May, 24 members of Fort Drum's 3rd Brigade have been killed in Afghanistan. The unit's coming home over the next month, but another brigade is widely expected to join the surge early next year - with more units to follow. Specialist Terrell says the only thing to do is follow orders, collect your money, and don't complain.

For NPR News, I'm David Sommerstein outside Fort Drum. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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David Sommerstein, a contributor from North Country Public Radio (NCPR), has covered the St. Lawrence Valley, Thousand Islands, Watertown, Fort Drum and Tug Hill regions since 2000. Sommerstein has reported extensively on agriculture in New York State, Fort Drum’s engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the lives of undocumented Latino immigrants on area dairy farms. He’s won numerous national and regional awards for his reporting from the Associated Press, the Public Radio News Directors Association, and the Radio-Television News Directors Association. He's regularly featured on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Only a Game, and PRI’s The World.
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