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The 10th Mountain Division (July–September 1991)
Three months later I was driving through the incredible greenness of summertime in upstate New York to report to Fort Drum. After six years in the desert (four in Fort Irwin, California, and two in Saudi Arabia), going back to a place that had grass was something strange. Fort Drum was only a few miles from the Canadian border, so I knew we would often visit Donna’s family in Toronto. Being so far along in her pregnancy, she had flown on to visit her folks. I would pick her up after I signed for quarters. The trees and lush countryside were a feast for the eyes, and even though we had been back from Saudi for almost a month, I could still take simple pleasure in being in America. The miles rolled on, and the sign for Fort Drum came up. With a sense of anticipation and well-being, I turned off to report to my new duty station.
Fort Drum (previously Camp Drum, and before that, Pine Camp) has a long history of army and National Guard use going back to before World War I. Camp Drum had served as a key mobilization post during World War II. In fact, Pvt. Bill Mauldin, the cartoonist, had served there, training with the 45th Division before shipping out overseas to Italy. Many of the cartoons he drew of stateside training were based upon his experiences at Pine Camp.
Camp Drum soldiered on as a National Guard mobilization and training post over the next four decades, becoming Fort Drum somewhere along the line. Then in the early 1980s the decision was made to activate a light infantry division (the 10th Mountain) there. A massive construction effort transformed the sleepy little post with its World War II buildings into one of the most modern and well-laid-out posts in the U.S. Army. By the time I got there (July 1991), Fort Drum was the newest post I’d ever seen. I was pleasantly surprised as I drove around the troop areas and checked out some of the other modern facilities, such as the PX and commissary. It certainly wasn’t some run-down post with inadequate housing in the middle of east overshoe. Not a bad place to begin family life, I thought as I drove up to the division headquarters and went to sign in.
The 10th Mountain Division was a J series TO+E (Table of Organization and Equipment) light division of the kind that first came into existence in the early 1980s. The army had been pulled in two directions then. We, of course, had to maintain heavy forces to face our potential adversaries in Europe and Korea. But we also had to have forces ready to deploy swiftly to conduct operations on the lower end of the spectrum of conflict. There was a real possibility of conflict in Central America plus contingency operations elsewhere in the world. The 10,000-man light division was the answer to these requirements. It was designed to fit inside 500 air force C-141 transports (although in practice this number grew to about 560). The division had no armor. Its combat power was made up of three brigades of three infantry battalions each. The division also had a Division Artillery (DIVARTY) consisting of three battalions made up of M102 105mm howitzers and a battery of M198 155mm howitzers. The 10th Mountain Division’s aviation brigade had AH-1S attack helicopters both in the attack helicopter battalion and the 3-17th Light Cavalry Squadron. Its other aviation battalion was made up of UH-60 Black Hawks, for transporting troops and equipment. There were also engineer, signal, air defense, intelligence, and logistical support units that rounded out the division. It was a no-frills outfit. The ratio of supporters to combat troops was the lowest in any unit in the army. (In the vernacular, it had a high tooth-to-tail ratio.) In truth, in some cases there were too few supporters for sustained operations, so the division had to be augmented with assets from other army units. But whatever the shortcomings of the light division’s organization, there could be no doubt that at least the primary design factor had been met. The 10th Mountain was indeed a rapidly deployable outfit. We could be anywhere in the world in a matter of days.
The teeth of the 10th Mountain Division were in its three infantry brigades; two of these were regular army and the third was the 27th Brigade of the New York National Guard (whose ancestors were the famous “fighting 69th” of World War I fame). The two active brigades would, of course, be the first to be deployed to a contingency, followed by the 27th Brigade after a period of post-mobilization training. Each brigade had three infantry battalions, making nine in all in the division. These battalions were the core of the division’s combat power. It was my ambition to serve in one, either as the S3 or the XO.
The army had activated four light divisions (the 6th, the 7th, the 10th Mountain, and the 25th) during the mid-1980s. The 6th was already in the process of being deactivated as part of the post–Cold War/post–Gulf War drawdown. Another division (the 7th) would be chosen for deactivation while I was at Fort Drum. The 10th Mountain was thought to be a similar candidate in the summer and fall of 1991. We hadn’t served in the Gulf War or in Panama, and although the division could look with pride to a short but illustrious battle history in World War II, it had nowhere near the historical lineage of the 7th or the 25th. In any event, I was keen to get into one of the infantry battalions before they were deactivated.
I was not surprised to learn, however, that my first assignment with the division was to be in the division headquarters G3, or operations and training section. This is a normal pattern of assignment, because once I served in a battalion and became “branch qualified in grade,” I would be subject to reassignment. Hence the division wanted to get some other use out of me before I was sent to a battalion. Relatively few officers walk directly into a battalion. There was a whole crop of guys just leaving the G3 to go down to serve in units after a year at division headquarters. I told myself philosophically that I had to wait my turn like everyone else.
As it turned out, my stay at division headquarters was short-lived but enjoyable. The G3, Lt. Col. Buster Hagenbeck, was a good man to serve under, and the work, although interesting, was not particularly stressful. Donna and I spent a lot of time getting to know our surroundings. The city near the post, Watertown, was a midsized town that had most of the amenities of civilized living, and upstate New York was beautiful. We spent our time off in these first few months alternately furnishing our house, preparing for the baby’s arrival, and exploring the environs around Watertown. We did most of the tourist things and were only moderately inhibited by Donna’s ever-burgeoning size. The fact that we were within four hours’ drive of Donna’s family in Toronto was also a considerable help. Life soon developed into a comfortable routine of work, property acquisition, housing setup, and gestation. Donna would pick me up around half past six each night as it was getting dark and we would drive home looking at the dozens of rabbits that would edge out of the forest along the road to munch the sweet grass. I was still itching to get to a battalion but at the same time was reasonably content.
Then in a flash it all changed.
The officer who was holding the S3 slot in the 2d Battalion, 87th Infantry transferred to a combat service support branch (a rare but not unheard-of occurrence). The 2-87 was scheduled to go to the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin in three months. I was asked if I would please go down to 2d Brigade to be interviewed for the job by the brigade commander.
Would I ever.
My interview with the brigade commander, Colonel Burnette (who would go on to command the division in later years), went exceptionally well. I was told the next day that I had been selected to be the S3 of the 2-87 Infantry and would start work there the next Monday. Thus after less than two months in division headquarters, I was going to do what I had come to the 10th Mountain Division for.
The 2-87 Infantry (September 1991–June 1992)
The 2-87 Infantry (Mountain) was one of nine identical (six regular army and three National Guard) infantry battalions in the 10th Mountain Division. In the cold and bureaucratic designation of army organizations, the battalion was a Table of Organization and Equipment (TO+E) 07015L0 light infantry battalion. The mission of these types of battalions was stated tersely in the TO+E document; it was in part a classic restatement of the infantry’s mission and had changed little throughout the centuries. A Civil War soldier would have instantly understood the first portion of the mission statement (once he’d gotten the computer printout). Mission: To close with the enemy by means of fire and maneuver in order to destroy or capture him, or repel his assault by fire, close combat, and counterattack.
The second part was a gray concession to the post–Cold War world. I can well imagine Lee or Grant scratching his head and asking for clarification: “. . . To conduct low intensity combat (LIC) and operations other than war in an internal defense and internal development environment.” Basically, it was to do any other mission that the army could think of (but couldn’t be called a war). Even if the definitions of internal defense and development were ambiguous, it was taken for granted that we’d sort it out on the ground. Policy formulation was not our thing. Policy implementation was.
When it came to the listing of capabilities, we were generally capable of just about anything short of fighting a Russian tank division in the desert or on the plains of Europe. The list given was generic and relatively meaningless, because the battalion never was meant to act in a vacuum. It would always (supposedly) be part of a larger whole. Nonetheless the army made the assumption that the light infantry battalion could more or less accomplish the following:
Capabilities—At level 1 (manning over 90 percent) this unit:
• Provides base of fire and maneuver elements
• Seizes and holds terrain
• Conducts independent operations on a limited scale
• Provides mortar fire support for organic and attached units
• Conducts long-range patrolling when properly equipped
• Participates in motorized and/or mechanized operations when provided with appropriate transportation assets
• Participates in airmobile and/or airborne operations when provided with appropriate air transport
• Maneuvers in all types of terrain under all climate conditions
• Participates in amphibious operations
• Participates in counterinsurgency operations as part of a brigade-sized force
To accomplish this, the battalion had four companies, one headquarters company, and three rifle companies. It was a unique organization for the highly mechanized U.S. Army in that the majority of its combat power came from foot mobile infantry. It was an organization that Willie and Joe (and their Vietnam veteran sons) would have recognized and felt right at home in. It was the U.S. Army’s latest wrinkle on an ancient and necessary social skill—the ability to fight and defeat your enemy face-to-face at close range.
The 2-87 Infantry had a good reputation in the division headquarters. It was an outfit that had a history of strong performance on field exercises, and most of the people I knew on the division staff spoke highly of it. Being chosen to be the battalion S3 was an incredible stroke of luck. As I came to the battalion for the first day, I cautioned myself to make an objective evaluation of the unit and neither embrace nor reject what I saw until after a few weeks of observation.