Maj. Gen. Brian J. Mennes is delighted to be heading to Watertown after the announcement Thursday that he will be the next senior commander of Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division, replacing Maj. Gen. Walter E. Piatt. Although he has never served at Fort Drum, it will almost be a homecoming.
“Kelly and I are really excited about moving home to New York,” he said. “I can’t tell you how much (Gen.) Walt (Piatt) has spoken about how good the Watertown community is to the soldiers.”
Gen. Mennes currently serves as director of force management in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Plans & Training at the Pentagon.
Gen. Mennes grew up in Amherst, outside Buffalo, skating, bike riding and cheering for the hometown Sabres. He married his high school sweetheart, Kelly, also from outside Buffalo, and his family still lives in Western New York.
“I’m actually a little bit of a hockey player,” he said. “I grew up in Buffalo, so it was kind of mandatory.”
Over the years, Gen. Mennes has served in a number of roles, including as an operation planner with Joint Special Operations Command.
“I was with the team initially when the war started,” he said. “I was the lead planner for (JSOC in Afghanistan) and then the operations into Iraq.”
He also deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan, most recently in 2011 and 2012 to southern Kandahar province in Afghanistan.
Gen. Mennes said he wants to continue Gen. Piatt’s focus on readiness and preparedness.
“I love that he’s got us focused on being ready now,” Gen. Mennes said.
He also thinks it will be important to look to the future and integrating future technology around cyber war and new kinds of weapon systems, especially if the United States has to face a near-peer adversary.
“We want to be a base that is integrated with the Army’s vision for multi-domain (operations),” he said.
He wants to learn what has been happening at Fort Drum before putting forward any new goals, but said if the Army decides to invest in the fort — with an East Coast Missile Defense Site, for example — they will be ready.
Finally, Gen. Mennes wants to focus on the spiritual welfare of the soldiers under his command — not so much in a religious sense as a focus on growing self-confidence, strength and competence.
“(The way) to continue the tradition of that great unit is a focus on soldiers,” he said.
He said the Watertown community’s accommodation of Fort Drum’s training needs and the recreational opportunities it provides to soldiers are both excellent. He was excited about the character of the city after Gen. Piatt referred him to a recent article in the Atlantic about Watertown being the “least politically prejudiced place in America.”
“You guys are in a great place,” he said.
And of course, he will be able to hit the hockey rink again.
“You get to almost go home and join a great team,” Gen. Mennes said of his assignment. “As a kid I wanted to get drafted to the Sabres; it’s almost better than that.”