FORT DRUM, N.Y. - They've hunted down terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan, opposed rebels in Bosnia and battled warlords in Somalia. Now, 10th Mountain Division troops are facing off against Martian invaders - with no less than the fate of the Earth in the balance.
The soldiers were called on by Steven Spielberg, who picked Fort Drum troops to star in his remake of the H.G. Wells classic "War of the Worlds." The movie, starring Tom Cruise, opens nationwide Wednesday, but the actor-soldiers were treated to a sneak preview Monday night at the post movie theater.
"It feels awesome to help save the world," said Sgt. Christopher Lumpiesz, of Tampa, Fla., who gets to help shoot down a Martian ship in the movie.
Lumpiesz, who saw real combat in Afghanistan, was one of 42 10th Mountain Division soldiers who play roles in two scenes in the movie. Other military units from the Army and Marines appear in the movie as well.
Thirty-two of those watched the movie Monday night, along with a capacity crowd of special guests. The other 10 soldiers were on leave or have been reassigned since the scenes were shot in the first week of December in upstate New York and Connecticut.
"Spielberg wanted real soldiers to make the scenes more authentic. He was quite impressed. You don't get any more Army than the 10th Mountain Division," said Lt. Col. Paul Fitzpatrick, the post's public affairs officer. "This is a reward to soldiers who have been among our best, and it's a way to showcase the American military."
After the special showing, the soldiers were called up on stage for a curtain call.
Spc. Kenneth Wright, of Bakersfield, Calif., and Staff Sgt. Aaron Dewitt, of Perrysville, Ohio, agreed that it was a chance for America's soldiers to get some added recognition. But for the time being, they prefer to soak up their celebrity status.
"It's been a whirlwind to be part of it. My mom didn't believe me at first when I told her I met Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg and Dakota Fanning," said Wright. "Now she's stoked about it. Everybody in my family is going to go see me ... I mean the movie."
It's not the first time the 10th Mountain Division has made it to the silver screen. The division's historic rescue of Army Rangers in Somalia in 1993 was chronicled in the book "Black Hawk Down," which was made into a 2001 movie by director Ridley Scott.
Since its reactivation in 1985, the 10th Mountain Division has been the nation's most-deployed military force. Fort Drum troops also have served in the Persian Gulf War, in Florida providing relief to victims of Hurricane Andrew, and in Haiti, Kosovo and more than a dozen other countries.