The United States Army 10th Mountain Division was reactivated in 1985. In the fall of 1984, Fort Drum, New York was designated as its home installation. The newly reactivated Division was organized as a Light Infantry unit.
During that period, the citizens of the Tri-County Northern New York region directly impacted by the location of the Division at Fort Drum formed the Fort Drum Steering Council. The primary purpose of the Council was to be a first point of contact between the military and civilian communities.
The Council was funded through the Office of Economic Adjustment of the Department of Defense and the sponsoring local agencies. The Council was also predisposed to disband when it was determined that its planning role was no longer necessary. The sunset for the Fort Drum Steering Council was determined to be September, 1990.
Consequently, the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization was formed to foster strong positive communications that enhance the interrelationships between military and civilian people who reside in the Fort Drum Region.
In 1990, the Board of Directors of the FDRLO established eight goals to guide their work:
During the 1990’s, the 10th Mountain Division (LI) adjusted to its new home at Fort Drum (the newest and most modern facilities in the U.S. Army) and the North Country civilian community became more accustomed to daily interactions with its fatigue-clad neighbors.
The unique manner in which Fort Drum was constructed created many common interests between the military and civilian communities. No schools nor hospitals were built on-post and 2000 housing units were leased from private developers off-post through the 801 housing program.
The Division was frequently called upon to answer the call of the President, the commander-in-chief, and, before long, became the most deployed division in the United States Army. Soldiers deployed from Fort Drum for service in Desert Shield/Storm (1990-91), Hurricane Andrew Relief-Florida (1992), Somalia (1992-94), Operation Uphold Democracy - Haiti (1994-95), Operation Joint Guard Bosnia (1997), Task Force Eagle (1998-2000) and most recently after the events of 9-11, it was the soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division that first answered the call to Afghanistan.
With each deployment, the economic ups and downs become more routine and almost predictable for the business community. Family members left behind at Fort Drum soon found that their North Country neighbors truly wanted to help in whatever way possible. School administrators, teachers and parent-teacher organizations learned how best to support the remaining sole parent and the children as military families awaited the return of their deployed soldier-mother or -father.
It was also during this decade that the federal government instituted a series of Base Realignment and Closure rounds. In-depth studies of economic and military value of military installations all around the country were conducted. Military analysts made recommendations for realignments and closures to the Base Realignment and Closure Commissioners and subsequently, communities around the country saw the gates of nearby military installation closed.
The strong commitment to open-door and frequent communication between the 10th Mountain Division’s Command Group and Fort Drum’s Garrison Command and the leadership of the FDRLO helped sustain the North Country during these sometimes dark and uncertain years. FDRLO board members and staff worked with the North Country’s local, state and federal representatives to ensure that Fort Drum did not appear on the BRAC list. The closure of the airfield at Griffiss Air Force Base, Rome, New York, some ninety miles south of Jefferson County did impact Fort Drum. It was from this airfield that the Division deployed when called to active duty in service to the nation. Ultimately it was this closure that resulted in the construction of the new runway at Wheeler-Sack Airfield, Ft. Drum, making Fort Drum one of the Army’s Premier Power Projection Platforms.
In early 2001, members of the FDRLO Board of Directors and representatives of Fort Drum’s leadership launched a five year strategic planning process, with an eye toward a careful assessment of the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. In the aftermath of 9/11, planning assumptions were reviewed and updated to address the dramatic changes this un-paralleled event brought to the nation and the North Country.
Officially adopted in January, 2002, the Strategic Plan’s vision statement set the focus for the organization as FDRLO, through its leadership efforts and activities, committed to making the Fort Drum region:
With the official announcement of a new BRAC round for 2005, FDRLO immediately took steps to gear up for the community’s defense of Fort Drum’s military and strategic value. Two full- time staff members, a research analyst which became an Executive Director position in 2004, and administrative assistant were brought on board along with LTG Lawson W. Magruder, III, US Army (Retired).
FDRLO formed a BRAC Steering group, Drum 2020, to lead the North Country’s response to BRAC. Throughout the three year process which was set to culminate in Fall, 2005 with the Commission’s submission of a list of installations recommended for re-alignment or closure, FDRLO worked closely with Congressman John McHugh, Senators Clinton and Schumer, the Governor’s Office and State and local officials across the tri-county area. FDRLO membership was strengthened, strong community support for Fort Drum was affirmed through formal surveys of North Country residents, and numerous presentations on BRAC and FDRLO’s “defense of our Fort Drum” were made. The case for Fort Drum as “Planned, Positioned and Proven” was made in a DVD presentation that was carried to the Pentagon by an FDRLO delegation and shared widely with decision-makers at every level of government.
In September, 2005, a successful conclusion to the FDRLO-led effort to ensure Fort Drum’s future for our nation and the North Country was observed at the organization’s quarterly meeting with a celebratory cake and T-shirts heralding “We survived BRAC 2005!” There was, however, to be no lull in FDRLO’s level of activity. Citing the expansion which Fort Drum could now be expected to continue to experience as “the greatest single opportunity this generation will see”, Board Chair Deans issued a call for continued action to build a robust economy and improved quality of life.
While FDRLO had been carefully preparing for the 2005 BRAC round, the organization had also taken steps to assist Fort Drum in addressing a major DOD initiative, the Residential Communities Initiative (RCI). This initiative, designed to address severe housing challenges throughout the military by “privatizing” family housing facilities and building quality housing communities immediately became an additional FDRLO priority. Working closely with Fort Drum’s Garrison Commander, FDRLO constituted a Housing Task Force and in Spring, 2003 sent a delegation to San Antonio, Texas to an RCI Industry Forum to help Fort Drum make its case to prospective RCI developers.
FDRLO’s focus on housing has expanded beyond its initial focus on RCI and its successful implementation at Fort Drum. The organization has continued to carefully monitor housing needs and share results of updated housing analyses with Fort Drum, developers and area communities. FDRLO has also played an active role in attracting additional off-post housing. In January, 2006, FDRLO hosted a major Housing Forum where speakers including Senators Clinton and Schumer, Congressman McHugh and representatives from the Pentagon and Fort Drum laid out the case for needed housing growth to over 300 developers, builders, financiers, and State and local agency representatives.
To help address the impact of Fort Drum’s projected transformation from an installation of approximately 21,000 soldiers and family members at the close of 2003 to over 34,000 by FY 2006, FDRLO also created an Economic Development Task Force. This on-going initiative has focused on efforts to strengthen spousal and retiree employment opportunities and to stimulate area economic development by identifying “gaps” between the goods and services Fort Drum needs and the local economy’s current ability to address those needs.
In 2005, FDRLO also assisted in the creation of a new group, the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization (FDRHPO). Recognizing the unique nature of the community-based health-care model for Fort Drum, this initiative has taken steps to foster community- Fort Drum health-care planning by identifying gaps in services, expanding offerings and pro-actively planning for future health-care needs.
In June, 2006, as he concluded his third two year term as FDRLO chair, Chairman Deans noted that, thanks to the improved quality of life which a growing Fort Drum and its soldiers and family members have brought, the North Country was re-inventing itself. He urged FDRLO members to take” the steps necessary to effectively manage the opportunities before us and build a future through careful planning and choice, not happenstance.”
Keith Caughlin succeeded Dr. Deans as chair of FDRLO. The FDRLO continued its commitment to open communications and liaison between military and civilian residents of New York’s North Country.
Since the announcement of the creation of the 3rd brigade and transformation in May 2004, FDRLO has worked to provide housing for the 65% of Soldiers with dependents expected to reside off post. Addressing and defining the housing needs of the expanding installation became paramount.
FDRLO recognized the community supply of housing, in particular rental housing, needed to complement the efforts of on post Residential Community Initiative (RCI). It was also recognized that in this market, with substantially lower feasibility rents and single major client, the Army, creating demand, such housing could not be accomplished without developer subsidies. The State contributed $7.5 million to the county and local development agency allocated funds of $1.5 million to create a Community Rental Housing Program (CRHP). Over the ensuing years, CRHP projects added 690 new units to the rental stock directly as a result of those funds. Indirectly those same projects added another 550 units as the initial cost of infrastructure and start up had been covered by the subsidy for the first units.
The remaining balance from that original CRHP funding was allocated to Norstar Bank in early 2011 to subsidize the Creek Wood project located on the north side of the City of Watertown. This project will add an additional 100 units of mixed use housing to the community. Formalization of the project parameters were completed in the spring of 2011 with ground work scheduled for the fall of the year.
As Norstar’s Creek Wood project became a reality, the FDRLO met with the Garrison team to review the continuing need for off base housing. The local market is very hard to forecast because of the frequent deployments and turnover within units following redeployments. Despite Army housing surveys, FDRLO housing studies, and mutual monitoring of available rental stock, it is still difficult to predict the real need for additional units.
Clearly, the need for additional rental stock is largely driven by the deployment cycle of the 10th Mountain Division. FDRLO and Garrison representatives agreed that based on current known factors an additional 1,035 rental units will meet future demand. This “future demand” is largely predicated on Soldiers enjoying an increased dwell time at home and the possibility of reduced deployment time. Both factors will influence the number of family members who will locate to this area.
Though the area has seen increasing rents as part of the increased demand, the basic equation requiring incentives and subsidies to spur development has not changed. With the initial funds pledged from State and local sources exhausted, FDRLO launched new efforts to identify sources for incentives to produce additional construction. Local community support built a new fund of $7 million from DANC, JCIDA, and Jefferson County. With new funding available the FDRLO posted notice of the availability of monies seeking new developments for funding under Community Rental Housing Project (CRHP.)
During the summer months, FDRLO also contracted with GAR Associates for an update to the community based Housing Needs Analysis. Results of this study were released that fall.
Federal funding through the Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment has been used for several community initiatives under FDRLO’s leadership.
The Growth Management Task Force worked closely with Behan Associates in partnership with EDAW, Inc, the towns and villages surrounding the installation and those not so adjacent and yet impacted by the growth of Fort Drum on the development of the FDRLO Growth Management Strategy. The first part of the project involved “Telling the Fort Drum Story.” The report was rolled out at a series of community-based meetings (DATES) to ensure public involvement.
The final document included
Land use and community planning tools and models that can be implemented locally to facilitate optimal land use and development patterns
The task force continues to incorporate the recommendations and principles of this strategy in regular, day to day community assistance activities and coordination efforts with Fort Drum.
Two key elements encouraged through this plan ensure that:
OEA support has also been critical in providing training to elected officials from local towns and villages on the front lines of growth management in their communities. Since September of 2007, FDRLO has sponsored a Training series for local planning and zoning officials. Sample topics covered:
These sessions have been very well received and efforts to deliver the training via video conferencing to Lewis and St. Lawrence County are underway.
In 2011, FDRLO launched a Public Transportation and Mobility study. This project involved conducting a transit needs survey, cataloging of existing resources, and analysis of service gaps. The consultants, Nelson/Nygaard, will ultimately offer possible efficiencies and solutions for mobility options for the ever increasing population due to Fort Drum expansion. While focused on that growth, the project will examine existing local resources currently applied to public transportation and suggest possible means of better usage and interagency enhancements.
A public-private partnership originated in 2008 among FDRLO, the Industrial Development Agencies of Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence Counties, Development Authority of the North Country, and National Grid has raised $75,000 in local dollars with an additional $45,000 from the National Grid.
Under the FDRLO umbrella, this project has produced a regional marketing plan, community prospectus, targeted industries, and a new web site (www.drumcountrybusiness.com) specifically directed towards site selectors. The website promotes our community assets: a well-trained and experienced workforce, low cost and available sites, growth, closeness to markets, and a superior quality of life. This effort continues the branding of the area, central upstate New York, as Drum Country. It is seen as part of the Fort Drum community, which provides a national and international recognition among the many suppliers and producers who service government and military markets.
Keith Caughlin shared a comment after a farewell event at Fort Drum honoring nine departing officers and their families: “If we could have videotaped the heartfelt and emotional comments by these senior officers about the unique relationship between our military and civilian communities in Drum Country, we would have the footage for our promotional video. It is a rare and valuable relationship that we, frankly, take for granted but that these officers with a combined 225 years of service appreciate as exceptional”.
As the various studies proceed and the board, task force volunteers and staff of FDRLO continue to address the mission and goals of the organization, Soldiers continue to deploy and redeploy from Fort Drum again and again.
Our communities celebrate the successes and mourn the losses of our neighbors. New community leaders are elected and appointed in cities, towns, villages, counties and at the state and federal level. The Division Command team and the Garrison leaders change.
Through it all, in its 21st year of existence, this organization stands as the focal point of communication between the installation and the surrounding community.