If you are new to Fort Drum and wonder what people “do” around here for fun, the many answers to that simple question are spread out in outdoor activities that are as diverse as the seasons of the year.
But that is about to change, thanks to the hard-shouldered passion of a few garrison and division leaders driving forward a comprehensive vision for an outdoor sportsman’s complex that will centralize activities in one locale.
Fort Drum commanders, along with leaders from Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, have announced the forthcoming massive transformation of FMWR’s Outdoor Recreation Division – phase one of which will feature a new state-of-the-art shooting range on North Post.
“This is a monumental movement forward that is going to have an immense impact on Fort Drum,” said Hal Greer, FMWR director. “The finished complex will be a hub, an island of excellence for leisure and recreational activities on post.”
By next summer, Soldiers, Family Members and Army employees will be able to bring their handguns and long guns to the new 100-meter shooting range, which will go in alongside the skeet and trap range near Dirty Harry’s Sportsman Lodge.
Greer said with the lodge acting as a sort of “rod and gun club” backdrop, the new sportsman’s complex, which is not yet named, will be located within the larger recreational complex. Eventually, he said, a motocross dirt track, paintball battlefields and several other exciting prospects will be incorporated in phases.
“The goal is making the Army fun again,” Greer said. “We have been war fighting for 12 years now. That’s been our focus. We have forgotten how to play softball and (recreate) as a team.
“If we want to keep our Army, we have to make it fun again,” he said. “We need to take a rest. This integrated program will contribute to that.”
The five-lane shooting range will be a baffled system with berms, side walls, shooting stalls and bullet traps to expedite lead cleanup, removal and reclamation.
Greer said Fort Drum will purchase a steel- and ceramic-plated baffle system that is designed with a “no blue sky” concept to ensure that any errant round or ricochet is stopped and contained.
To bring a personal firearm on post – whether a handgun or a shotgun – individuals must register it with Fort Drum’s Directorate of Emergency Services. Hand- guns require a New York state license, which can be obtained through a county clerk or sheriff’s office.
Despite the coming expansion, Outdoor Recreation will continue as a base of operations for geocaching, whitewater rafting and Adirondack hiking trips, snow- mobile / ATV orientation and training, and its large “gear to go” inventory of outdoor rental equipment, which includes canoes, tents, campers, skis, snowshoes and much more.
“It allows us to take that whole area down there and, on days of no scheduled activities and weekends, maximize the use for Soldier leisure and recreation,” Greer said. “And it’s all because of (Maj.) Gen. Townsend and (Brig.) Gen. O’Neil, who put their shoulders behind this program, and Col. Rosenberg, for making sure we got the (funding) to realize this dream.”
Greer said those three men – Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander; Brig. Gen. Mark O’Neil, division deputy commanding general of operations; and Col. Gary A. Rosenberg, Fort Drum garrison commander – are responsible for the dramatic expansion.
“They are all hunters,” Greer said. “They are all shooters. They are all marksman.”
Gene Spencer, chief of FMWR Outdoor Recreation, said a high demand exists for recreational shooting at Fort Drum, particularly because of the post’s location.
“You think about the North Country and the outdoor activities that are possible – it’s God’s country up here,” Spencer said. “There are fathers who just want to teach their kids how to shoot.
“Kids need this kind of outdoor activity,” he said. “It’s just one of many other things they can go out there and do. There is fishing, backpacking, hiking out in the Adi-rondacks – these kids have a blast, espe- cially the ones who have never been exposed to these outdoor sports. They get hooked.”
In addition to the positive influence on other Family Members and the obvious benefit of enhancing one’s marksmanship skills, outdoor activities such as shooting sports also help Soldiers get alone with their thoughts, Spencer said.
“It can be therapeutic,” he said. “Soldiers have been down range and in conflicts. They come back here, and it is very soothing to go out and spend time in the woods with a firearm hiking and fishing. It does the body and soul very good.”
Because the only other option for FMWR customers to sight their weapon or practice on targets has been to embark on a 30-minute drive to Range 21, the new shooting range will be one of the crowning jewels of the new sportsman’s complex.
Greer said the range will not only save Soldiers and Families time compared to using Range 21, but it also will provide a world-class operation alongside many other choices right in people’s backyard.
“The big payoff is the dramatic broadening of leisure and recreational services all in one area,” Greer said. “There is the immediacy of it. We will be able to run combined programs now on the weekends all in one location.
“Outdoor Recreation will be the controlling hub for the safety and security of the entire area.”
Another element that FMWR officials envision is an on-site arms room to provide shooting sports enthusiasts with another significant convenience.
“Soldiers could come directly here, pick up their guns and go down to shoot,” Spencer said of housing a vault at Outdoor Recreation. “That will remove a logistical challenge from the company commanders on base.”
Another convenience in store for Soldiers and Family Members will be state-compliant handgun classes on post.
Spencer, a certified firearms instructor, held Fort Drum’s first handgun course back in September to prepare himself and others for handgun qualification courses that will be regularly offered on post going forward.
Spencer said the vast majority of the class was spouses working toward their New York state handgun license.
Passing such a course is a mandatory step in the New York handgun licensing process.
Because of the high demand, advertising for the handgun course never made it to the community.
The next one will be offered Dec. 7 at a cost of $30. FMWR will offer the handgun course as often as the demand warrants it.
“It’s only the cost of ammunition,” Spen-cer said. “It’s much more expensive off post. Sometimes you have to travel quite a distance, too, maybe even hundreds of miles, plus accommodations, to take the eight-hour course.”
Greer pointed out that the new complex also will catapult FMWR’s Warrior Adventure Quest program, which mainly targets units and Soldiers, to another level.
Warrior Adventure Quest offers outdoor adventure training and recreational opportunities to challenge Soldiers in confidence-building activities while fostering strong bonds among teammates in a nontactical environment.
The program also helps Soldiers and Family Members in dealing with reintegration, deployment-related stress and the military lifestyle in general by offering everything from hiking, fishing, shooting and mountain biking to guided trips involving ATVs, snowmobiles and whitewater rafting.
“When we created the Warrior Adventure Quest program, we built it around what Soldiers were familiar with,” Greer said.
Spencer, whom Greer called an avid “champion” of FMWR’s Warrior Adventure Quest program, said he would love to see the program strengthened through Outdoor Recreation’s new direction, especially for wounded warriors who derive resiliency through its activities.
Also down the road, Spencer said he hopes Dirty Harry’s Sportsman Lodge develops into a club type of a system to enhance the camaraderie of members. He said the recreational shooting community on post will not only have access to the new range but also Range 21 for as long as the demand continues.
Greer, who said the shooting range phase of the expansion should be done in May, emphasized how critical command support has been to the execution of the entire vision.
“They help me achieve things that are right for their Soldiers,” he said.
For more information, visit Outdoor Recreation on Iraqi Freedom Drive or call the office at 772-8222.