By Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public AffairsSeptember 28, 2018
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Sept. 28, 2018) -- Fort Drum officials hosted a compatibility tour Sept. 24 for community planners and North Country leaders from the tri-county area to meet with installation subject matter experts.
Collectively, they form the Fort Drum Compatibility Committee, and this was their first formal meeting since the publication of the Joint Land Use Study (JLUS) in February. The goal of the tour - and the formation of a committee - was to address encroachment issues, promote environmental and economic sustainment, strengthen communication and share expertise.
"The report itself looked at 25 potential encroachment issues that might impact Fort Drum and the surrounding communities," said Michelle Capone, Development Authority of the North Country regional development director. "The committee was formed to look at encroachment-related items associated with land use planning at Fort Drum and the surrounding communities."
With a 108,000-acre training complex that includes 47 live-fire facilities, 18 major training areas and 196 surveyed artillery fire points, Fort Drum supports training for more than 15,000 active-duty service members and more than 26,000 National Guard and Reserve personnel.
Many of its historic sites and cultural resources properties are integrated into training events. Fort Drum land managers target the enhancement of forests for the benefit of military training, and Natural Resources personnel improve wildlife habitats with research projects that have yielded national attention and accolades.
Maj. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum commander, said that the reason why division Soldiers and visiting units can conduct large-scale training exercises on post is because of the focus placed on preserving and protecting environmental and cultural assets.
"Every day, we have to be ready for anything, from major combat operations to disaster relief," he said. "But we also have to be relevant tomorrow. It's not good enough to just build readiness for today, we have to see where that future threat is going to come from and prepare for an unknowable future."
He mentioned the recent deployment of 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade and 10th Combat Aviation Brigade troops who are supporting Hurricane Florence relief efforts.
"Fort Drum is strategically vital to the defense of the United States," Piatt said. "This is where the 10th Mountain Division trains and is ready for every contingency, every single day. If we took it for granted, we wouldn't have that readiness. We wouldn't have that division for the Army to call upon, and that, to me, is unacceptable."
The tour allowed attendees to feel the sandy ground of the beachhead at one of more than 350 prehistoric sites protected on post. They rode the bus along dusty stretches of tank trails to a historic cemetery and then stopped at one of the "Lost Villages," where they could hear the staccato bursts of weapons fire from a distant training range.
"There's a lot going on at Fort Drum, and the issue kind of becomes that we hear about it and read about it in the study, but to actually see that these are the training areas and these are the habitats being protected, it creates a much clearer picture for us," Capone said. "It makes a big difference, and it makes it personal for all of us. You can see the excitement in the people who work at Fort Drum, the pride and ownership, and all the committee members are the same way about supporting one another."
The tour included stops at nearly a dozen sites and covered topics ranging from post access and recreational opportunities for community members, aviation and artillery noise, changes in land management and research partnership with the Natural Resources Branch.
"It was the first opportunity for this specific group to see Fort Drum firsthand and, I would say, behind the scenes," Capone said. "Fort Drum is very open to the community and to the public, but this was a chance for the planners who work with elected officials and work with developers on projects to see this."
Accessibility was one of the JLUS issues discussed, and Ray Rainbolt, Fort Drum Fish and Wildlife manager, said it is something he is always trying to promote. He said that with the exception of one year following the 9/11 attacks, Fort Drum land has been available for public recreation since 1946.
"I'm always surprised that people don't realize that they can come out here and recreate as members of the public," he said. "About two-thirds of Fort Drum is open for recreation."
Those activities include deer and small game hunting, fishing and bird watching. The Fort Drum Fish and Wildlife Management Program website, www.fortdrum.isportsman.net, provides information on recreational activities, rules and regulations, and interactive maps. People also can register at this site for a free recreation pass.
"We issue about 4,000 passes per year, and about half are issued to the general public," Rainbolt said.
Committee members also visited OP 4 - the center of the training complex - which is about five miles from the nearest municipality. Jim Moore, Fort Drum Range Control chief, spoke about the 20,000-acre impact area, where all the munitions are fired, and he addressed training noise, which is another of the prioritized compatibility issues in the JLUS.
"This installation is capable of supporting every weapons platform in the Army's inventory today," he said. "So, that makes us a very large commodity on the East Coast. All of our ranges are multifunctional where we can support numerous training events on every one of them."
Motioning to the range in front of them, Piatt said that for anyone who has ever seen smoke from Fort Drum or asks about hearing bombs exploding, "This is where it's coming from. This is our strategic center of gravity, in military terms."
"This is it, this is where I am able to accomplish my mission given to me by the Army," Piatt said. "It's much more than the 10th Mountain Division. It's really about our air-ground integration and our ability to have a piece of land where we can integrate all the weapons systems that we would need in a fight."
"You have to do it in training," he continued. "Pilots don't just fly over things and drop bombs. It's an incredibly complex problem, and if you don't do it right, you cause more harm than good, so you have to train in places like this to get it right."
Piatt said that every complaint is taken seriously, but it takes a lot of community input to create long-term solutions.
"It's important to us that we inform the community when we are about to do these training exercises," he said.
Responding to a question from a committee member, Moore said that there are noise monitors positioned around the installation to collect data on noise levels.
"When we get a call from someone saying 'there is a lot of noise out here and it's bothering me,' we can go to that system and determine what that noise level was in the area," he said.
Committee members asked questions at every stop and discussions continued on the bus as they reached each destination. Capone said that this was encouraging to see.
"This is a very unique and interesting group, and I am excited to be a part of it," she said. "The whole purpose of the compatibility committee is to have this open dialogue so that we are both benefiting - so that what the communities are planning off post don't encroach upon or hurt Fort Drum's current or future mission, and that what is happening at Fort Drum doesn't encroach or hurt surrounding communities," Capone said.
Gary Eddy, Town of Rutland supervisor, said that he was most interested in learning about protected airspace and how it might impact town planning in the future.
"It was a great informational tour ... to see where we are headed as Fort Drum readies itself for the future," he said. "It was also interesting to see why we need to protect that airspace to support Fort Drum and our community."
The tour ended where it began, at the historic LeRay Mansion, with the commanding general hosting a social for the committee.
"For this compatibility tour, I want to make sure we are sharing more with you ... so we are invested together in the goal that we have of positive growth for the North Country," he said. "I think it can be positive growth if we all work together and lean on each other's expertise."
To learn more about compatibility issues and recommendations from the Fort Drum JLUS, visit www.FortDrumCompatibility.org or www.danc.org/fort-drum-joint-land-use-study.