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Fort Drum commander says overseas deployments to continue, now with fewer soldiers

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Julia Botero
/
WRVO News
Maj. Gen Jeffery Bannister takes questions from journalists at Fort Drum.

All units at Fort Drum will likely deploy overseas within the next 13 months. That’s according to the military base’s new commanding general, Maj. Gen. Jeffery Bannister. He sat down with local reporters last week to address what’s in store for soldiers stationed at Fort Drum. 

Bannister said the changing nature of the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan is changing  the way troops are deployed  at Fort Drum.  They will still go to those countries but they will also go to other strategic locations around the world.  

“You’ll have units that could be going to Korea. You’ll have units that could be going to the Middle East – to Jordan. Troops who are supporting the Iraq war effort but they aren’t in Iraq,” Bannister said.

Only two deployments are confirmed. Fifteen hundred soldiers will leave for Afghanistan at the end of May. And more than 1,200 will head to Iraq this fall.  But Bannister said fewer soldiers are needed for the ongoing mission of training, advising and assisting Iraq and Afghani security forces.  

“When I was here last time, we took everybody. The entire brigade combat team, up, gone. That’s now its not like that. We’re not taking entire formations, ” Bannister said.

Only about 30 to 50 percent of troops on base will be sent overseas. Bannister says his major challenge will be to determine who gets to go and who can stay. 

“You have to balance. You have to have really good people who stay here to look over those who don’t deploy."

With more soldiers at home, Bannister said the base will be active and loud as training continues.

Bannister said military budget cuts caused by sequestration is an ongoing concern.  Though Bannister said he’s confident Fort Drum will be spared from the worst of the cuts, if the Army is forced to shrink down to 420,000 soldiers, troops may not have enough time to recover and train before being asked to deploy again.

“If you take it down to that small, what really happens? The hamster wheels turns faster right? Because you have the same units deploying. They get back they barely get a year at home and they’re back, " Bannister said.

The instability in the Middle East and the encroachment of the Islamic State in Iraq, Bannister says, means protecting the readiness of the force is as important as ever.