The Watertown Daily Times
December 6, 2018


FORT DRUM — The north country is one of five communities across the nation named to the 2019 Class of Great American Defense Communities.

Now in its fourth year, the Great American Defense Communities recognize military communities that help improve the quality of life for service members and military families.

Fritz Keel, executive director for Advocate Drum, said he attended the Defense Communities National Summit last June when he declared to himself that Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties should be nominated for the designation this year.

“We’re absolutely humbled to be honored in this way,” he said Wednesday. “It really shows the support that the north country has for Fort Drum and its members.”

The Great American Defense Communities program recognizes overall support that communities and regions in the country provide to service members and military families. Communities are chosen through a competitive nomination process based on community-building and integration, support and collaboration, educational and employment opportunities and family support.

Mr. Keel sent in the formal nomination to the national organization in October.

In his 26 years in the Army, Mr. Keel said that the north country is the only place in which he lived that features billboards along a busy highway expressing the community’s support for a military installation. He served at Fort Drum during two stints in his military career.

The north country allows soldiers to easily integrate into the community and its schools, he said.

U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, thanked the Association of Defense Communities for selecting the north country.

“Our district is home to more veterans than any congressional district in New York, and has a close, long-standing relationship between the community and Fort Drum — the proud home of the 10th Mountain Division,” she said.

Mr. Keel, who was appointed as executive director last July, will attend the same national summit in Washington, D.C., that he did last year when he heard about the program. A series of events will be held by Advocate Drum, formerly known as the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization.

Communities in New Mexico, South Carolina and Georgia were also honored.