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Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Joe McLaughlin, former Fort Drum Noncommissioned Officer Academy commandant; Sgt. Maj. Thomas West, 10th Mountain Division (LI) G3 Operations sergeant major; and Col. Kendall Clarke, 10th Mountain Division (LI) deputy commander for operations, participate in the wreath-laying ceremony Nov. 9 at Magrath Sports Complex in observance of Veterans Day. (Photo by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)

Fort Drum community members observe Veterans Day with wreath-laying ceremony

Mike Strasser

Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Nov. 9, 2023) – Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) leaders, community members and Gold Star family members honored veterans – past and present – during a wreath-laying ceremony Nov. 9 inside Magrath Sports Complex.

“Veterans Day reminds us that people are the greatest strength in our Army,” said Col. Kendall Clarke, 10th Mountain Division (LI) deputy commander for operations. “Who knows what the future will hold, but we are going to be ready.”

Clarke welcomed retired Command Sgt Maj. Joe McLaughlin, former Fort Drum Noncommissioned Officer Academy commandant, as guest speaker.

“We have the luxury of living in the greatest land known to man – the United States of America,” McLaughlin said. “We stand here free because of the millions of men and women who have served our country in all the armed forces, and gave you their time and talent, or in some instances their lives.”

McLaughlin said veterans have an obligation to share their stories, which can motivate, inspire, and inform.

“Anything they sell at our Exchange with the 10th Mountain Division powder keg on it, I buy it,” he said. “And I wear it wherever I go, hoping to strike up a conversation with someone about our great division in the United States Army. Being a veteran means sharing the Army story. Whether you’re talking to people in your family or talking to total strangers, you should brag up the Army and tell the Army story.”

After retiring from service as the Fort Drum garrison senior enlisted adviser in 2000, McLaughlin continued to support Soldiers and veterans through his work with the Northern New York and Fort Drum chapter of AUSA (Association of the U.S. Army) and the Fort Drum Sergeants Major Association.

He currently runs the Adopt-A-Unit program, which he inherited from the late retired Col. Michael Plummer. This program connects community members and organizations with 10th Mountain Division (LI) units deployed overseas for the delivery of cards and care packages. Since 1992, every platoon from the division, including units currently deployed, has been adopted.

“Due to my role in this program, I often brief groups who want to adopt a platoon, and I get to share Army stories,” he said. “I love getting invited to participate in events involving Soldiers and veterans. I enjoy listening to other veterans’ stories and telling mine.”

When the 10th Mountain Division (LI) established the Powder Keg Patching Ceremony, where new Soldiers formally receive the division patch for their uniform, it instilled unit pride and a connection to the division’s history.

“I love participating in this event and having a conversation with these young men and women,” he said. “First and foremost, because of the patch I wore and the patch I put on that Soldier, we are now bonded as veterans of the 10th Mountain Division for life. I think that is pretty cool. Usually, I will ask the Soldier if he or she is going to tell their family about the ceremony. Their usual response is, ‘I can’t wait to tell my mom or dad!’”

McLaughlin encouraged veterans in attendance to further set the example and participate in this ceremony or find other opportunities to represent the Army as a veteran.

“Before I close, I would like to thank the veterans here today and the many more across the nation,” he said. “The 1 percent who raised their right hand and, as Col. Mike Plummer put so eloquently, wrote a blank check payable to the United States of America. I would also like to thank the families of our veterans who support them while they serve, both here and abroad, and again thank our Gold Star families present here today.”