Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Fort Drum’s outdoor adventure program offers plenty to do

Sgt. Chris McCann
2nd BCT Journalist

Now, no one can complain, “there’s nothing to do around Fort Drum!” Skiing, snowmobiling, hunting and fishing have long been a part of the North Country’s heritage. But having fun just got a little easier for Soldiers and Family Members.
Fort Drum’s new Outdoor Adventure Training program began in October. Gene Spencer, a veteran of the 10th Mountain Division (LI) Brigade Support Battalion, received command backing for the program, which he said is sorely needed.
“The operational tempo we’re maintaining in the Army means that even when they redeploy, Soldiers want to maintain the high adrenaline of a combat situation,” said Spencer. “These activities let Soldiers maintain that without, say, getting into a fast car and speeding and causing injury to themselves.”
Spencer is a one-man show, although he is hiring other people to assist him with the program, which is becoming Army-wide. But Fort Drum is the first post to have a Morale, Welfare and Recreation Outdoor Adventure Training program.
The program offers a host of activities - paintball, guided hunting and fishing trips, orienteering, geo-caching, guided all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile trips, mountain biking and archery and shotgun shooting. And that’s just a few.
For those with edgier tastes, there are more extreme activities like hang gliding, free-fall and static parachuting, bungee-jumping from balloons and intensive rock climbing.
“People can do hiking and ice and rock technical climbing based on their skills – working with a professional,” said Spencer.
Paintball is offered indoors at the Pine Plains Gym “megarena” and offers three-on-three combat, with a variety of cover and concealment. Outdoor play is seven-on-seven, and the facilities can be reserved for unit training, hail-and-farewells, birthday parties and even physical training.
“It can be real combat training,” Spencer said. A paintball gun, called a “marker,” sits on his desk, a replica of an M-4 carbine a Soldier might carry in combat, complete with flashlight and bipod. Spencer also sells, repairs and upgrades paintball equipment through the program.
Recently Soldiers and Family Members held a three-on-three speedball tournament, said Spencer. Twenty-five teams participated, and the program provided food and trophies for the winning team. He envisions having more tournaments and scenario play, he said.
Snowmobile and ATV courses are offered the first Saturday of each month, and Soldiers and Family Members with certification can go on guided trips or take the snowmobiles out on their own. The rides are free, and equipment, including snowmobile and helmet, is provided. “I deliver the vehicles to the Soldiers,” said Spencer. “I even provide the fuel.”
A 14-year Fort Drum resident, Spencer is committed to tying in the activities with 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum history, he said; geo-caching ‘clues’ might be installation points of interest, and ATV trips could be linked to historical sites.
“I want to tie it all in with Mountainfest,” he said, noting that the Fort Drum area “has a fascinating history.”
Skeet and trap shooting as well as an archery range provide a chance to shoot just for fun or to keep hunting skills honed.
Spencer added that he is hoping to create a program to help wounded Soldiers continue to fish and hunt deer, turkey and pheasant in the area, regardless of their injuries.
An ice-climbing trip is planned for Feb. 22 through 24 in the Adirondacks.
Spencer credits division leadership, especially Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, division commander, with making the program possible.
“There’s been a need for this,” he said. “But some leadership didn’t want the risk. Oates is all about this, and he’s a great supporter…he’s a leader who reaches out and relates to Soldiers.”
The Outdoor Adventure Training office is located on Iraqi Freedom Drive, formerly Memorial Drive, in Bldg. P-11115, near the Car Care Center. Those interested can also call 772-0045 or e-mail mwrodr@conus.army.mil

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