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Associated Press Newswires

Concern, Anxiety On Army Post, Communities As War Advances


April 6, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Associated Press Newswires. All rights reserved. 

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (AP) - Even on the busiest of days, Staff Sgt. Ken Ramos is up at 5 a.m. to get the latest news on America's war in Iraq before heading out to train and work.

And when the Fort Drum soldier returns home at day's end, he switches back on the television for updates.

"I spend at least a couple hours every day following the war," said Ramos, a 12-year Army veteran from Puerto Rico.

"I want to keep tabs on what's going on because you never know if you're going to be among the next to go," he said. "And I have an older brother (in the Army) who is over there somewhere."

Routines on the northern New York Army post are carried out with more urgency these days and a typical work day can run 12 to 16 hours. One of the few deviations for the 10th Mountain Division soldiers and nearly 4,000 reservists now stationed there is the time they spend in front of the television or radio, following the war.

"It's hard to get away from it," said Pfc. Valdis Granville of Montgomery, Ala. "And most people here want to know what's going on because they probably know somebody there or expect to be there soon themselves."

Sgt. Lamonte Jones of Cleveland, a veteran of deployments to Somalia and Saudi Arabia, has two friends in a field artillery battalion in Iraq.

"It's comes across very real to me watching it on television, knowing my buddies are there," Jones said.

Concern mixes with frustration as soldiers watch their brothers in arms do battle in a foreign land.

"It's like sitting on the sidelines in a football game that you've trained all your life to play in," said Spc. Ronald Derby, of Warwick, R.I. "You want to be there. You want to be helping."

Pfc. Adan Lopez, of Fairfield, Calif., joined the Army last July. He is on one-hour call for his first deployment.

"I know what's going on because I hear people talk. But honestly, I try not to think about it. Right now, I find it kind of stressful to watch so I really don't," Lopez said.

Since the war began, Lopez said training has intensified mentally and physically. There are fewer jokes, fewer questions.

"Everybody has a more focused approach right now. You don't want to come up short on any skill, any piece of knowledge, any piece of equipment. There's an edge to everything we're doing," Lopez said.

Bill McKinney said he senses the urgency in the stream of soldiers who stop daily at his military outfitting store a few hundred yards from the post's northern gate.

"They are very much mission-oriented at this point. Everything is at a hectic pace and businesslike," McKinney said. "But I'll tell you, to a single one, they carry a swagger. They are upbeat about doing their job."

Anxiety and concern caused by the war extends to many of the surrounding communities, which have strong attachments to Fort Drum and its soldiers. Many soldiers live off-post, shop at civilian stores and send their children to local schools. Thousands of North Country residents work at Fort Drum or have jobs indirectly linked to the post.

"War has a personal side for most of the locals because soldiers are so much a part of their everyday lives," said Anthony Keating, Fort Drum's civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army.

"I think that has created a strong connection that makes the civilian population here more interested in what's going on in Iraq, or Afghanistan or wherever, than the general population," Keating said.

The village of Philadelphia, a community of about 1,500 that borders Fort Drum to the west, typifies the strong connection.

A 5-by-7-foot sign at the village line is painted like a flag and reads "Philadelphia Salutes the 10th Mountain Division." On village streets, American flags and signs reading "God Bless Our Troops" and "United We Stand" decorate houses and front yards.

Outside the American Legion hall, a sign says, "God watch over our troops in Iraq," while at the fire station - where several volunteers are soldiers - another large sign honors "fallen warriors."

Red-white-and-blue bunting drapes the front entrance to Sylvia Fuller's antiques store and a red-white-and-blue welcome sign is hung in one window. In another window is a blue star, in honor of Fuller's grandson, who is in the National Guard but has not been deployed.

"We need to show our support. These are our friends and neighbors. Even more so, these are people protecting our freedom," said Fuller.

"A lot of times the wives come in just to talk. They're worried and scared, like we all are."

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