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Leadership changes hands for Fort Drum’s Warriors in Transition Battalion

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FORT DRUM — The new commander of the post’s 3rd Battalion, 85th Mountain Infantry Regiment, better known as the Warriors in Transition Battalion, said he was thankful for the opportunity to aid wounded soldiers and their families.

Lt. Col. Todd E. Bajakian, a cancer survivor who previously had served as an operations instructor at Fort Belvoir’s Command and General Staff College in Virginia, said at a change of command ceremony Friday morning that the idea of transition for many soldiers is seen inaccurately as ominous.

“Transition must be a way of life, but you will not transition alone,” he said. “Your journey will be aided by the cadre, doctors and nurses of this battalion who have you, your loved ones and your concerns first and foremost.”

Col. Bajakian replaces Lt. Col. Celia A. FlorCruz, who had been in the role since May 2011. The battalion prepares injured soldiers to return either to their unit or to civilian life.

Col. FlorCruz was asked to improve the battalion and its reputation following a scathing report from the Department of Defense Inspector General’s office that listed several issues within the battalion from 2007 to 2010 regarding its care of soldiers and overall soldier morale.

Col. Mark W. Thompson, commander of Fort Drum’s Army Medical Department Activity, credited Col. FlorCruz and her staff with improvements in several categories, such as increasing soldier satisfaction, reducing wait times for specialty care and improving the battalion’s family outreach. Col. Thompson said the battalion recently received high marks on an Army organizational inspection that could not be completed two years ago because of the large number of deficiencies.

“By any measure, what has been accomplished here over the last two years is truly remarkable,” Col. Thompson said.

Col. FlorCruz told attendees that she was inspired by the question “What gives you hope?” that is asked to soldiers when they enter the battalion. She said it was important the hope was realistic and honest, and not idealistic.

“Stuff happens in our lives, and life is hard and life is unfair,” Col. FlorCruz said. “Everybody here needs a plan B, not just those of you standing in formation but everyone out here.”

Col. FlorCruz said that her faith, family and the patriotic service of fellow service members and caretakers gave her hope, and that finding hope and meaning was critical to get through hard times.

“What matters is how we handle the unexpected,” she said.

Col. FlorCruz and her husband, Maj. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl, will both head to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., where Gen. Dahl was selected to serve as the deputy commanding general of support for the installation and its I Corps. Col. FlorCruz’s new role within the installation’s 7th Infantry Division was not available Friday.

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