FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Gray skies, light precipitation, frigid water of the St. Lawrence River and a cheering crowd welcomed more than 200 participants to the 23rd Annual Polar Bear Dip on Feb. 23 at Bonnie Castle Resort in Alexandria Bay.The dip, presented by the Friends of River Hospital, is an annual event that raises money to purchase medical equipment for the hospital. Among the dippers were nearly 20 Soldiers from 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, Brigade Rear Ready Force, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, who helped to raise about $1,500 for this year's purchase -- a portable ultrasound machine for the emergency department. "We choose ahead of time what the equipment will be, and this year the funds will purchase a portable ultrasound machine for the emergency department," explained Karen Peters, a volunteer with the Friends of River Hospital. "We already have an ultrasound, but it is in radiology, and it means moving a patient from ER downstairs to radiology. So ER will have their own ultrasound, and it will speed up things a bit." The annual event has gained popularity and momentum during the past couple of years, according to Peters. "It just gets more and more popular every year. The last two years, we've added 50 more dippers each year. We never know until registration is over how many we're gonna have," she said. Spc. David Navarro, company clerk for F Company, 210th Brigade Support Battalion, attached to 4-31 Infantry, who is originally from the Caribbean, was excited to participate in his first dip. He said it is something he has not been able to do before, and he wanted to help out. " I completely support it; it was one of my drives to actually be here," he said with a big grin. "This is a good cause. We are not just wasting money on dumb things; we are doing something with money for a good cause. Raising money for the hospital -- you cannot get better than that." This was also Lt. Col. Roland Dicks' first jump. Dicks, who recently took command of 4-31 Infantry, said he knows how important it is to participate in community events like this. The "Polar Bear" Soldiers have been supporting the event for several years. "It is a pleasure to come out and participate in the Polar Bear Dip as the commander of 4-31 (Infantry). I have been looking forward to this since I have taken command, and the day is here," he remarked. "This is important for the Polar Bears because it is team building, but at the same time, we are also supporting the community," he added. "And these two things are very important to 4-31 as an organization, so we are glad to do it." Polar Bear Dips take place all over the country. Participants usually dress in costumes for the annual winter events that have people run into icy, frigid waters for charity and local festivals. Here in Alexandria Bay, a hole is cut in the ice for participants to jump into. Each dipping group or individual is introduced as they walk onto the dock. A panel of eight judges rates the costumes and dipping technique, while spectators gather around the hole to cheer for their favorite dipper. "It is unique; there are a lot of Polar Bear Dips around the country. A lot of them are in the surf, where they just run out and run back," Peters said. "This one really is cutting a hole in the ice and jumping in the water. (It's) kind of crazy, but it's great." After Navarro dipped with nothing on but a tank top, spandex and a helmet, he shared his experience. "It is actually worse than it looks," he said. "On the dock, when you are walking out, you are still feeling warm -- I guess from your adrenalin and everything that is going on around you. But once you get in, it's like needles in your body. "But the feeling that you did it and you get it over with and you are doing it for a good cause -- it is worth it," he added. For 2nd Lt. Andrew Lucid, distribution platoon leader for F Company, 210th BSB, the event is a good way to give back to the Alexandria Bay community that supports Soldiers on Fort Drum. "Once I found out it (the dip) was for a good cause and a bunch of my friends were doing it, I decided 'Why not, I can take a little bit of cold; it is not a big deal,'" he said. "It just shows the community around here that we are part of their community, and we care about them. We are not just going to work every day on Fort Drum; it gives Fort Drum a purpose," he added. "We are giving back to the community that supports us." Fort Drum Soldiers and their Families will continue to support surrounding communities, just as local residents support service members. "I look at the relationship between Fort Drum and River Hospital as very beneficial; one hand washes the other," Peters said. "They help us, we help them. We have the new wellness center at River Hospital; it's working with mental health issues, post traumatic stress disorder and so on. "We also see a lot of the Fort Drum Families coming here for vacation, for recreation and on weekends. They have been a huge support for this event," she concluded.
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