Sunday, April 24, 2005

Ft. Devens Memories--Part I

I’ve had Ft. Devens on my mind lately. Jack Army and SFAlphageek are two bloggers who, like me, are Army Special Forces. While they are still serving, I’m a civilian, having grown long in the tooth and short on functional body parts. But the bond is a powerful one. As it turns out, all three of us have spent time at Ft. Devens.

With that on my mind I was talking with a woman while chaperoning a class trip and she mentioned that her husband had been activated. That led to conversation and damned if they hadn’t been stationed at Ft. Devens as well. He’s an engineer officer and was a company commander in the 39th Engineer Battalion, which occupied the barracks next to ours.

Ft. Devens (now Devens Business Park) was a good place to be stationed. As Army posts go it was on the small side, which I prefer. It was close to Boston as well as the best skiing in the east. On the down side Natick Labs was just down the road and 10th Group got to serve as testers for some pretty bad ideas.

Devens is bisected by Rt. 2. The area south of Rt. 2, which was called South Post, was a training area with ranges, maneuver areas, Turner Drop Zone and mosquitoes that could exsanguinate a hippopotamus. There are a number ponds there that offer decent fishing.

As you enter the main post north of Rt. 2 you pass a golf course with a pond. Legend has it that the pond was the best fishing spot on post. The story was that guys would catch fish on south post, then take their catch with them for supper. As they entered main post they’d have second thoughts about a fish dinner and how thrilled the wife was going to be and they’d toss their catch into the golf course pond.

Just inside the south gate were a number of bushes arranged to spell “Fort Devens”. Another legend has it that late one night someone dug them up and replanted them to spell “F**k Devens”. Given the proximity to the gate house I have my doubts, but one never knows.

One story I do know happened involved a jumpmaster class and a road. I think it was Searstown Pike. As an aircraft approaches the drop zone for a parachute jump the jumpmaster issues a aeries of commands. The penultimate command is “Stand in the door”. As it turns out the road runs perpendicular to the approach to the drop zone (Turner DZ is so small that aircraft can only approach from one direction) right at the spot where the command “Stand in the door” should be issued. So one night a jumpmaster class went out and painted the command on the road. A jumpmaster cue card, so to speak.

Speaking of Searstown, there is a mall by that name some ways west of Devens, in a town called Leominster. As an aircraft approaches a drop zone the jumpmaster clings to the door sills in the aircraft and leans out to do a visual check for other aircraft, etc. Once, while a student jumpmaster was performing his check he lost his grip and fell out of the aircraft, descending into the parking lot at Searstown Mall.

While we’re on jump stories... As I mentioned, Turner DZ is small. When the jumpmaster says “Go”, you need to get out of the aircraft. One day there was enough wind that we actually flew over the trees rather than the DZ, the idea being that the wind would push us onto the DZ. I was second in line, behind a qualified jumpmaster who should have known better. The jumpmaster yelled “Go” and the guy in front of me, seeing nothing below but trees hesitated. “What?” “GO!” “Now?” “YES NOW. GO!!!!” The entire stick overshot the drop zone and ended up in the trees in an M203 impact area. I got lucky and dumped air over a clearing. I hit hard, but the ground was soft. While I laid there I watched a team leader hit a tree and come down just like one of those wooden toys in which a figure bounces down from peg to peg. He later took his shirt off and it looked like someone had taken a baseball bat to him.

I never had any real adventures on Turner DZ, I always succeeded in getting hurt while deployed somewhere rather than making it easy by getting hurt close to home. I do recall one jump where a newly minted jumpmaster repeatedly begged us not to throw the staticline at him as we exited the aircraft. I was so preoccupied with taking it easy on the guy that I very carefully handed the staticline to him then turned and literally fell out the door. Got a twist or six in the risers on that jump...

Update: Stumbled across another 10th Group type here.


Lilly said...

The most jumping I've ever done was a bungee jump off a bridge. Holy crap! that was the scariest thing I've ever done. You had to hike a couple hours to the bridge, and that was fun and a great work out, but no more jumping for me. If I want my heart in my throat, there's plenty of roller coasters around here :-)

Anonymous said...

Loved the blog. I was stationed at Devens from 1982-1985 and there were rumors of the F**K Devens and your comment gave me a laugh. I was not in the 10th but was next door at the 39th engineers. We were jealous then of you guys in the 10th because you were allowed to run in sneakers! Ofcourse you ran a hell of alot longer than the 2-3 miles we did daily thats for sure. Salute! Thank you for the trip down memory lane. Devens was one of the best places I was stationed.

Brian Fitzgerald

Snakeeater said...

Brian, don't forget those way cool green sweatsuits we got to wear, too.

Good to hear from another Ft. Devens guy.

NewYorkkid1959 said...

Hello Snakeeater, I was right behind you in HHC 39TH ENGR. BTTL. but I had a buddy from Harlem NY that was with 10th around 1981 or 82.
When would sit in his room on Friday nights drinking beer and listen to music, wish I can remember his name.
I PCS to Fort Devens after my reenlistment from the 25th Infantry with Charlie 1/5 Bobcats where I was a bush beater and snake eater as you were.
But I re up for water treatment and did not go to Ranger school so my fate was changed forever.
Hope that you are doing well.
God Bless

Johnny Roe

NewYorkkid1959 said...

here is my e mail

Anonymous said...

I realize this post is very old but I was searching the internet for information on the Turner Drop Zone. That drop zone was dedicated to my father, Robert T. Turner. He was a member and photographer with the Army Golden Knights parachute team (1960-61). He was killed in a airplane crash at an airshow in Wilmington, NC on Sept. 1961. He was born in MA so the Army named the drop zone to honor him. He was a Korean War veteran and was stationed at Fort Bragg at the time of his death. I am the eldest of 5 daughters. My mother never remarried so when she passed we buried her ashes at my father's grave at Fort Donelson National Cemetery in Dover, TN. Just thought you guys would like some history of the Turner Drop Zone. Charlotte Turner chaturner55@gmail.con