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Fort Drum prepares for Mountain Peak exercise starting Monday

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FORT DRUM — The post’s annual Mountain Peak exercise will be the largest in more than a decade, as soldiers prepare for future training and deployments.

Col. Richard D. Clarke, the post’s deputy commanding general of operations, said the post hadn’t conducted such a large training exercise since before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The exercise, which starts Monday, will last for 10 days.

“It will literally involve every single brigade that’s out here,” Col. Clarke said. He estimated 10,000 soldiers would be in the field.

“This steps them up to the higher level,” Col. Clarke said. “It’s making them better.”

Joining those soldiers will be other military elements from around the area. Air Force units will come to the post and train with nearly every style of aircraft in the arsenal, from F-16 fighter jets to the smallest unmanned aerial vehicles.

“The skies will be filled,” Col. Clarke said.

He said planning for the training has taken about six months to complete.

Post leadership sees the exercise as a chance for less combat-experienced soldiers to get ready for an extended stay at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., scheduled in August.

“You’ve got to work out your systems, and work repetitively at those skills,” said Maj. Gen. Mark A. Milley, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division commander.

The training also will serve as an opportunity to prepare platoon leaders and company commanders in combat scenarios before being deployed. Though details still are being worked out, the 10th Mountain Division’s 1st and 2nd Brigade Combat Teams could be sent overseas in early 2013.

Gen. Milley said he didn’t want a young soldier’s first experience applying “hard skills,” such as calling for medical or tactical support, to happen while on deployment.

“You don’t want that to happen in combat,” Gen. Milley said.

To help prepare troops for deployment, many will be overseen and mentored by members of the post’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team, which returned this spring from a yearlong deployment in southern Afghanistan.

With ranges around the post area expected to be used, Col. Clarke said residents could see and hear more activity than usual. “All that noise is the sound of freedom,” he said.

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