FORT DRUM – When he first arrived in the north of the country, Col. James J. Zacchino Jr., the installation’s new garrison commander, was playing football as a 13-year-old Thousand Islands student in 1986.
He and his family were part of an influx of families who moved to the Nordland before the installation began a major expansion. His father, James J. Zacchino, served as a sergeant at Fort Drum for three years.
On Friday morning, his family, friends, retired and current Fort Drum leadership, civil employees, and local dignitaries greeted the Colonel during a change of command ceremony at Fort Drum’s LeRay Mansion.
He and his father, who retired from Fort Drum in 1989, fondly remembered those days when he was a teenager in Clayton.
He was especially happy that his father, a 1st Sgt. With the 10th Supply and Transport Battalion, was allowed to be there at such a happy occasion and where his father also served.
“It’s exciting,” said the new garrison commander. “It’s really like coming home. It’s not an opportunity that many have, so I don’t take it lightly. “
He has spent every decade of time at Fort Drum since the 1980s. In addition to his youth, he returned to the north in 1997 as a ROTC cadet and a decade later as head of the logistics training and advisory team at the 10th Sustainment Brigade.
During his father’s time in Fort Drum, Col. Zacchino – a self-proclaimed “military brat” at the time – spent more than three years of his youth, aged 13 to 16, in the north of the country. In 1986, The Times featured the budding soccer star in a story about the first military families who came to the north of the country to serve at Fort Drum.
But even then he knew that he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and serve in the military.
His father’s fondest memory was leaving work early to see his son’s soccer games.
Back then, Fort Drum was not the sprawling complex it is today, where 30,000 soldiers and their families call their home today. The retired Fort Drum soldier recalled that the complex had no apartments and that the post at the time consisted of aging white barracks from World War II.
Fort Drum didn’t even have a commissioner and PX until the retired soldier left Fort Drum in 1989. The Salmon Run Mall hadn’t been built either.
“It starts where I left off,” said the father, who moved to Vincenza, Italy, to work for the federal government. He still lives there.
Col. Zacchino said he was proud to lead the post’s garrison, which is charged with directing the post’s day-to-day operations, including overseeing the post’s civilian employees.
In addition to Fort Drum, he has served in Fort Lee, Virginia; Stuttgart, Germany; Joint Base, Lewis-McChord, Wa .; Rome and Vincenza, Italy; and was deployed in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.
He replaces Col. Jeffrey P. Lucas, who headed the post’s garrison since 2019 and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Col. Lucas, serving in the Pentagon, greeted the garrison commander.
“If you enjoy taking this seat as much as I am grateful that I sat on it, then you are indeed a happy man,” said Col. Lucas.
Col. Zacchino and his wife Maria have a 9 year old son, James, who will have the experience of enjoying northern New York the way his father and grandfather did.