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Tour at Fort Devens Offers View of ‘Premier Training Base’

October 21, 2011 : Nashoba Publishing, by Karen Riggert

DEVENS – They came intrigued and they left impressed.

On Thursday, Oct. 6, Fort Devens Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Donald Thelen, along with the Range Control Officer, Keith Jackson, of the South Post, led a tour of the 5,000-acre Fort Devens Range Complex, highlighting its South Post and the new Soldier Integration Lab.

Stepping from the helicopter, Senior Enlisted Adviser to the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Reserve Affairs), Command Sgt. Maj. John Gipe, of the Air Force Reserve; Dale Badgett, Command Chief Master Sgt. for the Air National Guard, Chris Muncy; Senior Enlisted Leader to the Chief, National Guard Bureau, Chief Master Sgt. Denise Jelinski-Hall; Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Forces Reserve, James Booker; Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Reserve Force, Chris Wheeler; Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Reserve Force, Mark Allen; and Sgt. Maj. John Edwards proceeded to greet Thelen and Jackson. They were escorted by U.S. Army State Command Sgt. Maj. Joe Sevigny of the Connecticut National Guard.

“We’re excited to be sharing our facilities, which represent a premier training base here in New England, with our guests today,” Thelen stated. “This is the only facility offering these opportunities in the country.” He continued, “We trained 140,000 personnel in 2010 at Fort Devens. It has been rebuilt and modernized. Our goal is to become an Urban Warfare Installation.”

The Senior Enlisted Advisers jumped on a bus already populated with Devens Marine Reservists and members of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute ROTC. The tour began with a range complex drive-through. With 23 firing ranges allowing for target practice, machine gun usage, demolition training, the use of mortars and hand grenades, and a sniper qualification course, the Devens Range Complex appeared to have a great deal to offer for those in training.

The Devens Range Complex is also home to 25 training areas for land navigation, orienteering, and conducting unit Field Training Exercises, including an active Drop Zone for parachute jumps. It hosts an urban assault course and a Military Operation Urban Terrain Facility. In this area stand building units that are facades replicating a third world country.

At a final stop at South Post, the tour guests stepped off the bus onto the grounds of Facility 8 – the Tactical Training Base on which a System Integration Laboratory was opened in June.

There, they were met by the Post Commander U.S. Army Garrison Fort Devens, Lt. Col. Warren Bacote, and his guest, Executive Vice President of Devens operations for MassDevelopment, George Ramirez. Retired Marine, Lee O’Donovan led the tour.

The tour guests stepped inside the first of many long, tubular-shaped tent units. They found it warm, brightly lit, and comfortably slept 20 people in 10 double-decker canvas cots, each with a locker. “This unit can be set up in 10 minutes!” O’Donovan exclaimed. “In fact, the entire SIL can be set up in four hours.”

Guests began to witness the efficiencies and simplicity of just what could be set up for soldiers in four hours. They found themselves in a dining hall with a full kitchen. Seating could accommodate one-third of the troops at a time or about 48 soldiers.

A brightly lighted shower unit was complete with sinks and mirrors. Another unit held bathrooms, and the final unit was home to a massive washer and dryer.

The Fort Devens SIL has been implemented to test futuristic technologies aimed at creating more energy-efficient base camps. The SIL will measure water, fuel and power usage at a site that is modeled after forward operating bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With the opening of the Systems Integration Lab, the 10-acre site will be the home to two 150-soldier sets, living side by side. Both active military components and reserve military components will occupy the site for weeks or months at a time.

One of the initial key purposes of the Devens SIL is to help the army meet its five goals of reducing energy consumption, increasing energy efficiency across platforms and facilities, increasing the use of renewable and alternative energy; assuring access to sufficient energy supplies today and in the future, and reducing adverse impacts on the environment.

Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment, said that through innovation, adaptation, exploration and evaluation, “We are creating a culture that recognizes the value of energy sustainability, measured not just in terms of financial benefits, but benefits to maintaining mission capability, quality of life, relationships with local communities and the preservation of options for the Army’s future. It is operationally necessary and financially prudent.”

The Fort Devens facilities have been shared with the FBI, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Secret Service, the Department of Transportation, and the Natick Soldier Systems Center. The ROTC uses the facilities and there is an obstacle course being upgraded to the caliber required by the Marine Corps.

Thelen explained that, “Overall, Fort Devens currently has 1,000 beds with a plan for expansion. There are 3,500 acres designated for maneuvers. A 900-meter sniper range has been built with firing platforms that include building rooftops, windows, and crows’ nests. The objective for those in training is to provide the opportunity to fine- tune weapons systems and marksmanship.”

Thelen went on to say, “The Drop Zone is actively used by the Air Force. Their personnel performs approximately 12 drops per year and additionally, they practice an estimated 50 equipment drops each year.” “Our third world city façade has a ‘neutral’ look to it, with 10 buildings – it could be in Iraq or Afghanistan or any third-world city.”

In other words, the sharing of the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Devens presents a positive opportunity for all military branches. “The overall goal of the Department of Defense is to know what resources are available, so I have been touring the country to evaluate the facilities available within the different reserve components,” CSM John Gipe stated. “The reserves always need to be up to date with current practices and exercises and they are often competing with active members in training for facilities and space.”

Gipe concluded, “I am impressed by the size, the offerings, and the quality of the Fort Devens facility.”

© Copyright 2011 Nashoba Publishing.