FORT DRUM Post leaders showed off their technical ability as well as their connection to the local community at Fort Drums annual Mountainfest event Thursday.
When the nation calls, this division answers, said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III, the Armys top enlisted soldier, who was making his first trip to post. Theyre the first to answer that call.
The event served as the culmination of several weeks of community events and competitions, as soldiers prepare for a two-week block leave period starting Monday.
Thousands of soldiers and their families, along with members of the public, were treated to carnival-style games and food, a car show and a presentation of Army vehicles and aircraft. As evening approached, participants could be seen running across a field to get to the stage area for a concert by country singers Jake Owen and T.J. Murphy, along with a fireworks show.
Maj. Gen. Mark A. Milley, commanding general of the post and the 10th Mountain Division, said the annual event is a sign of continuity for soldiers, as well as a way to link people to their Army.
The formal Salute to the Nation ceremony highlighted the afternoons proceedings, with each state cheered as its flag was presented with cannon fire.
Sgt. Maj. Chandler praised the soldiers and veterans in attendance, calling them the strength of our nation.
He pointed out the exclusive nature of Americans with either military service or direct ties, a figure he estimated at less than 1 percent.
Most of our country really has no idea of what it means to be a warrior or the family of a warrior, he said.
The ceremony ended with a live aerial assault demonstration, one of the first at the event in several years, with 10th Mountain Division soldiers executing a staged attack against a generic enemy dressed completely in black.
Powering their way through with a series of blasts, dozens of soldiers stormed and secured the enemy huts, backed by a group of eight Apache, Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters and a handful of ground support vehicles.
Speakers at the event honored several Vietnam War veterans and Gold Star families, a term for the family of soldiers killed in action, who were in attendance.
Two of those Gold Star family members, Dawn M. Esposito and Chrys S. Kestler, made the trip to post from Long Island. Both lost sons who served with the division in Afghanistan.
Mrs. Kestler, whose son 1st Lt. Joseph J. Theinert was killed by rocket-propelled grenade fire in June 2010, said she felt compelled to reach out to others and help others find ways to contribute.
I feel like I would dishonor my son if I curled up in a corner and didnt do anything, she said. She said even small things like volunteering and stocking bags for deployed soldiers went a long way toward showing support for the military and their families.
Mrs. Esposito, whose son Sgt. Michael J. Esposito Jr. was killed in March 2004 while clearing an enemy compound, said she and her family had developed a great number of friendships through talking and working with other military families.
We have a whole lot of sons now, she said.