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North country wintry weather causes issues for Fort Drum rail deployment

A 10th Mountain Division soldier digs his vehicle out of the snow Feb. 5, 2019, after a polar vortex hit Fort Drum, N.Y.

MICHAEL REINSCH/U.S. ARMY

By CRAIG FOX | Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times | Published: February 11, 2019

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — You think it’s a nuisance to clean snow off your car during the north country’s harsh winters?

Try getting about 1,000 pieces of military equipment loaded on a Fort Drum railhead in 72 hours, in a blinding snowstorm, to be sent more than 1,500 miles away.

That’s what the 10th Mountain Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team had to do recently.

In the 30-below-zero weather that hit the north country Jan. 22, the team completed the rail load to prepare for a monthlong deployment to the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, La.

“There was a lot of snow, and it had to get cleared,” said Sgt. Maj. James Kelley, the operations sergeant major in the 87th Infantry Regiment.

“When the trains are under 3 feet of snow and on the tracks, it’s just time-consuming.”

Performing railhead operations can be dangerous, as injuries and even deaths are possible. The danger was exacerbated by the winter conditions that often pelt northern New York.

“The spectrum of winter conditions — we had everything,” Sgt. Kelley said.

One soldier suffered minor injuries during the mission.

Over the years, the 10th Mountain Division has worked to improve the aging railhead for future operations and to ensure the unit is ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.

Unfortunately, the existing railhead is limiting for such a preparation, Sgt. Kelley said.

However, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has urged the Army to embark on a $21 million project to double the capacity of the railhead for loading and unloading there.

During the operation, having to work in melting and refreezing snow made it even more difficult, said Sgt. 1st Class Charles Kohut, of 3rd platoon, D Company, 1-87 Infantry Regiment.

“On top of everything, we had a problem with guys staying warm,” Kohut said, noting soldiers had to be rotated every three to five minutes.

Despite the weather, Sgt. Kelley was pleased with the results, adding it just took a little longer than originally planned. If it were a real war, they would need to get the job done in 96 hours.

Civilians also were involved in the deployment to Fort Polk. After a state of emergency was lifted in Jefferson County, they drove equipment — in what is called a line-haul — to Fort Polk.

With the transportation preparations in such wintry conditions behind them, about 3,000 Fort Drum soldiers are now spending a month of training in simulated combat.

They will return to Fort Drum — and presumably more north country winter — later this month.

©2019 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)
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