For civilian groups that support Fort Drum, the nomination of Rep. John M. McHugh, R-Pierrepont Manor, to be the next secretary of the Army is a bittersweet moment. Leaders say they are losing a great representative but are gaining a highly qualified secretary.
"It'll be big shoes to fill in his role as a congressman," said John W. Deans, a former Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization chairman. "But it's a perfect match for him as the secretary of the Army. He has helped Fort Drum to become the premier military installation that it is and has helped prepare the 10th Mountain Division to be a model in what the Army needs."
As chairman of the organization for six years, Mr. Deans worked closely with Mr. McHugh to resolve several issues, including surviving the base realignment and closure of 2005, solving the problem of housing for soldiers and families and acquiring funds for the expansion of on-post facilities.
Mr. Deans said Mr. McHugh's commitment to and knowledge of the Army gives him the understanding of what needs to be done to make improvements for soldiers and their families. He said this is extremely important now when soldiers are repeatedly deployed to two war zones, when increased mental health care services are needed and when caring for military families is on the minds of many.
"These are not quiet times in our Army," said F. Anthony Keating, the civilian aide to the secretary for the Army for the Fort Drum region. "He'll have to hit the ground running, and he'll be able to do that with his background and experience. There are going to be preoccupations from day one. Issues of deployment and operational tempo are still very much in the forefront for our Army leadership and he will have to immerse himself in those issues."
Mr. Keating said he believes that Mr. McHugh will be able to do that, and that he has proved that in his work as senior member of the House Armed Services Committee. Over the years Mr. McHugh has pushed for consistent pay raises for service members, increased medical benefits and a larger Army after he saw the kinds of strain soldiers and families were under after multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I'm hopeful that now the entire Army will be able to experience the same level of support that we've enjoyed over these many years," said Maureen P. Cean, president of the Fort Drum Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army. "There is no question that John loves the Army and loves Army families. I know that their safety is his concern day in and day out, and this is really the pinnacle of what he could achieve to support and protect our service members and their families."
Congratulations were also offered by Maj. Gen. Michael L. Oates, commander of the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum.
"I know I speak for all members of the 10th Mountain Division, past and present, and the north country community in congratulating Congressman McHugh on his nomination to be Secretary of the Army," stated Gen. Oates in a release. "Congressman McHugh is the model of public service and his record of integrity, leadership, and care for the United States Army makes him uniquely suited to serve while the Army remains at war. We wish him all the best."
The next step for organizations that support Fort Drum is to work with whoever replaces Mr. McHugh as the 23rd Congressional District representative. Keith B. Caughlin, chairman of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization, said it will be extremely important to educate the next representative.
"I think we have a big job with educating and working with whoever takes over the congressional district," Mr. Caughlin said. "It's a little early to see who emerges as the person who will take over the congressional district and we'll have to work really hard to make sure they understand the community relationship and keep the same type of advocacy that John McHugh has had. It's one of the more important tasks we will have."