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Secretary of defense visits Fort Drum, says base isn't going anywhere

Julia Botero
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter addresses a select group of 10th Mountain Division soldiers Monday afternoon at Fort Drum

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter visited Fort Drum Monday afternoon. The base was the second stop on the secretary’s first domestic trip outside Washington since taking office just over a month ago.

Carter assured a room of 10th Mountain Division soldiers that Fort Drum isn’t going anywhere.

“Its critical," said Carter. "And we’ve made big investments here and we have reaped the benefits of those benefits in terms of amazing power emanating from this place all over the world, year after year after year."

Carter went on to announce that 1,250 soldiers from Fort Drum’s 1st Brigade will deploy to Iraq again this fall to train, advise and assist Iraqi forces in an effort to defeat ISIS. Carter said his bigger reason for being at  Fort Drum was to talk about changes he'd like to see in the Army. He says he wants to build what he called "the force of the future."

“I don’t want to lose our best people. I don’t want to lose our best skills and I know I can’t take that for granted. Because you guys are so good that you have other places in society that you can apply your skills and we want to keep you,” Carter said.

Carter wants to expand retirement benefits to those who haven’t completed 20 years of service. He wants to allow longer leave times so soldiers can get an education or spend more time with family. Fort Drum soldiers asked about how Carter would improve benefits. The secretary was vague on details but said balancing the way soldiers and veterans are treated with budget requirements will be one of his challenges.

“We ought to try our veterans with the same dignity as we do active members of the military.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik was at the secretary's address. She said she and Carter are committed to combating sequestration to prevent further cuts to the military.

“We work well together and I had the opportunity to talk to him and talk to him about my commitment to working on a bipartisian basis to get ready of sequestration. I think its an important issue we need to set politics aside and get it done," Stefanik said.

Carter will be in Syracuse later today to talk about programs to ease the transition out of the military and into civilian life.