Ten years ago Monday, Fort Drum and the North Country suffered through one of its worst tragedies. During a training event, a Blackhawk helicopter carrying 13 soldiers crashed, killing 11. Our Brian Dwyer takes a look back and explains how even a decade later, the soldiers out on the field that day struggle to overcome the grief.
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- "Even to this day, I still don't believe it," Former 4-31 Polar Bear Matthew Boone said. "It seems like a bad dream that you wake up with a cold sweat from. The feelings of losing friends, battle buddies, there's no words to explain that feeling."
"Numb," another former Polar Bear Jaye Lindsay added when describing his feelings after the crash. "I don't think I ever knew what to think. At 23-years-old, you don't really know how to feel when something like that happens. There's no safety brief or training that prepares you for that."
Both Matthew Boone and Jaye Lindsay first thought it was part of their training. March 11th, 2003. They were getting ready to be one of the first 10th Mountain Division units to deploy to Iraq in support of the war on terror.
"That's what a lot of us thought at the time," Boone said. "It was part of the training exercise taking place."
"2003, I was waiting in line to get on the next chopper," Lindsay said. "My chopper never came back."
Because of the crash, the unit Charlie Company was replaced for its tour in Iraq. But a year-and-a-half or so later, the soldiers finally made it. A successful 2004-2005 tour that meant more than anyone outside looking in could ever understand.
"We were finally getting to carry out the mission that we were training for," Boone said. "The lives that we lost weren't in vein. It worked towards something. It was for a reason."
It's clear the emotion will never go away. But these soldiers say events like the one on Drum Monday to honor those 11 soldiers helps heal.
"I'm still having difficulty with it today," Boone said. "It makes it a lot easier seeing friends from that time that I can talk to and say ‘remember we did this’ and things you can't talk about on TV."
In fact it helps so much, the soldiers are hoping to make the trip to Fort Drum on this day every year.
The group of soldiers in the Polar Bear Charlie Company actually arrived on Fort Drum Sunday for a private party. One of the guests was one of the two men who survived the crash.