Keys to Connection 2 wb.jpgChaplains, religious affairs noncommissioned officers, and military and family life counselors (MFLCs) facilitated discussions with in-processing 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers about purpose, development goals, relationships, and more during the recent Keys to Connection event, which is intended to welcome incoming Soldiers to their new duty station. (Photos by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)

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Keys to Connection welcomes new Soldiers
to Fort Drum with focus on purpose, goal setting

Mike Strasser

Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Feb. 27, 2023) – A Soldier’s journey can begin from practically anywhere in the world.

For some new members of the 10th Mountain Division (LI), it is as far away as Ghana and Iran and as close as Syracuse and Queens.

But for now, home is Fort Drum, and more than 100 Soldiers recently were welcomed here during the Keys to Connection event.

Keys to Connection is a new spiritual readiness initiative from the Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division Chaplain Section and Religious Support Team that strives to make a meaningful first impression on Soldiers as they in-process at their new duty station.

“How we welcome people sets up their entire experience going forward,” said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Matthew Atkins, 10th Mountain Division (LI) chaplain. “One of our goals with Keys to Connection is to honor Soldiers and thank them for being a part of this team – and do so in a way where they leave feeling they are uniquely valued.”

The bi-monthly, 90-minute forum involves Soldiers engaging in meaningful discourse, some self-reflection, and goal-setting exercises.

“We talk about purpose, and how you can begin your new assignment thinking about how you want to leave it,” Atkins said. “A lot of people will come to Fort Drum and the time comes and goes like a whirlwind. And then after leaving, they look back and think, ‘I wish I had done this,’ or ‘I wish I spent a little more time developing this skill or that relationship.’”

Keys to Connection provides Soldiers with some time to think about what they want to achieve during their time at Fort Drum, define what a successful duty assignment will look like and identify potential obstacles along the way. During roundtable discussions, either a chaplain, religious affairs noncommissioned officer, or a military and family life counselor facilitates the dialogue among the newcomers. 

Chaplain (Capt.) Michael Kearney, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 10th Mountain Division (LI), led a discussion on what he called “Azimuth Check.” Soldiers who are adept in land navigation know the importance of conducting azimuth checks to stay on the right path. Kearney said this applies to living a purposeful life, as well.

“What I would ask everyone to consider is, as you are plotting out your purpose, you want to know two things,” he said. “You want to know where you are going and how to get there. It’s not always a straight line. So, it’s important every now and then to check your waypoints and see if you are still on course or if you need to recalibrate.”

Reflecting on their personal goals, Soldiers were asked to consider how they would know – six months, a year from now and then before leaving Fort Drum – if they were on the correct path.

“Our hope is to get Soldiers thinking about ways to ensure they have pre-planned what they want to get out of their time at Fort Drum,” Kearney said. “We want them to consider physical goals, professional goals, and personal goals. I use the analogy of planning a route with a map and compass to help them consider ways that will get them where they want to go in life.”

At one point, Chaplain (Maj.) Jon Bailey, 10th Mountain Division (LI) deputy division chaplain, told the group that they can always lean on the experience and expertise of others to assist them through difficulties.

“We want you to connect with people who can help you,” he said. “I promise you, there are a lot of knowledgeable people out there who want to help you. Seek and you will find.”

Starting in March, the Keys to Connection program will be held in the Commons, and it will include a resource fair so that participants can make those connections with support agencies and subject-matter experts at Fort Drum.

The way Soldiers are engaging wholeheartedly in the conversations during the forum indicate Keys to Connection is having a positive impact. Kearney said that he has received good feedback from in-processing Soldiers in his battalion – from first-term privates to end-of-the-road sergeants major.

“It makes them feel like they are wanted here,” he said. “And it is helping to change the stigma of Fort Drum being a duty assignment to avoid into Fort Drum as the place to be.”