As we begin to celebrate and honor our nation's birthday, it's nearly impossible not to think of the current war, September 11th and the Middle East. It's a day that's forever etched into the brain of former Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division Commander Lieutenant General Retired Franklin "Buster" Hagenbeck. The man who led the 10th into battle the weeks following 9-11 was back on Fort Drum for Mountainfest and talked a bit about his experiences.
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- When then Major General Franklin "Buster" Hagenbeck was assigned to lead the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum back in August of 2001, it was already the most deployed division in the Army.
"In fact, we had 3,000 plus soldiers down at Fort Polk training for a deployment in October to Bosnia," Hagenbeck remembered.
The morning of September 11th, Hagenbeck was on his way to Fort Polk to visit those soldiers. That trip never happened.
Most everyone in the Army assumed the 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, would get the call. It's a quick reaction force, the first responders. But the call, instead, came to Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain.
"When the call came, they didn't ask are you ready," the now retired Lieutenant General said. "They said get your first battalion ready to go in 72 hours. In which time the 1-87 infantry under Lt. Col. Paul LaCamera deployed to Karshi-Khanabad, Uzbekistan."
Initially, the fight in Afghanistan was primarily special forces using air power to topple Taliban. In January of 2002, there was talk of bringing the 10th home.
"We were convinced," Hagenbeck remembered. "As much and most of the U.S. military chain of command was, that the mission had been accomplished."
The plan was to leave just a small military footprint and turn the work over to government agencies and other organizations. But plans can change quickly.
Late February, a call came that Al-Qaeda was strong at the Afghan/Pakistan border and the 10th was needed. It became the first battle in Afghanistan that used mostly conventional forces like the 10th's light infantry. Operation Anaconda began March 2nd, 2002.
"It turned out to be the largest conventional fight since Vietnam and it was a resounding success. Hundreds of foreign Al-Qaeda were killed," Hagenbeck said.
Those soldiers finally made it home in late April. They handed over the reins to the 82nd.
But the war was far from over.
"None of us ever expected that our return would be temporary," Hagenbeck said. "That there would be many more rotations to the Middle East and Afghanistan and a year later to Iraq."
And while the President has called for an end of 2014 withdrawal in Afghanistan, the 10th will certainly add to its total of five division and 23 brigade deployments, 5,000 Purple Hearts for injuries and 295 soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Hundreds of medals of valor have also been awarded.
Lieutenant General Hagenbeck went on to become the Superintendent at West Point in 2006 before retiring in 2010.