Devens Reserve Force Training Area 33
The Devens Reserve Forces Training Area (RFTA) provides training facilities and training support to enhance the readiness of reserve component units in the New England Area. The Devens RFTA provides base operations support to military and other federal activities on and off the installation. The Devens RFTA is able to focus on training without the distractions that larger installations must face. The Devens RFTA is located in Middlesex and Worcester counties, 35 miles northwest of Boston, 12 miles south of the New Hampshire border, and adjacent to the town of Ayer, MA. Logan International Airport, Boston, is located 36 miles southeast of Devens, and is serviced by several major air carriers.
The 9,400-acre U.S. Army facility was established in 1917 as a temporary training camp for soldiers during World War I. In 1931, the camp became a permanent installation and grew to include three main areas, the Main Post, North Post, and South Post. The land surrounding the base is primarily rural and residential. There are 3,500 households within two miles. The four nearby towns of Ayer, Shirley, Lancaster, and Harvard have also been historically tied to the Army base. The Nashua River and many of its tributaries run directly through the base. Wetlands border the banks of the Nashua River and the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge is located just below the southern boundary of the Main Post. At its peak, 15,000 military personnel and their families lived on the Fort Devens base. However, military cutbacks forced the base to close in 1996.
Fort Devens closed its gates in 1996 after almost 80 years of service. When the base closed, more than 7,000 jobs were lost, contaminated soil and groundwater were left behind, and the economies of several nearby towns that were historically tied to the Army base were placed at risk. Today, however, the site is reemerging as a thriving business center that is restoring the area's economic health.
What is now the Devens Reserve Forces Training Area (RFTA) first came into existence in September 1917, as a temporary cantonment arising out of preparations for World War I. It was named for Brevet Major General Charles Devens, a Massachusetts general who served in the Civil War and later became Attorney General under President Hayes. It was opened as a reception center for WWI selectees, processing over 100,000 men from the New England area into the Army. Two divisions (76th and 12th) were trained during the war at Devens. After the war, over 150,000 men processed out through Devens' gates to return home.
In 1921, Devens was declared excess, with only a small caretaker staff to care for it. Through 1931, it was used for summer training by National Guard and Reserve units, ROTC Cadets, and Citizens Military Training (CMTC) groups. In 1926, Robert Goddard accomplished the world's first flight of a liquid fuel rocket in nearby Auburn, MA, and in 1929 moved his rocketry operations to Devens for a brief period.
In 1931, Devens was declared a permanent installation, and given the name Fort Devens in 1932. It was then the home of the 3rd Battalion, 66th Infantry (Light Tanks). With the outbreak of World War II, a $25 million building program began and an airfield was constructed. During the war three divisions (1st, 32nd, and 45th) trained here. A Prisoner of War Camp for German and Italian prisoners was in operation from 1944 to 1946. Devens was again reduced to caretaker status after the war, and used by the University of Massachusetts to offer educational opportunities to returning veterans.
Devens reactivated again in 1948 and was again a reception center for the Korean Conflict. The Army Security Agency Training Center began a long affiliation with Fort Devens in the 1950s, along with several other units. During the Vietnam War, two brigades (196th and 2nd) were trained and sent to war. More recently, many soldiers were sent to Desert Shield/Desert Storm through Fort Devens. Over the years, this installation has been home to more than 400 units. Fort Devens officially closed as an active Regular Army installation on 31 March 1996, ending nearly 80 years of service to its country and its people.
An Army enclave of 5,448 acres remains of the former Fort Devens, with a mission of training Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers from across New England. The remainder of the former Fort Devens was turned over to the State of Massachusetts and is being redeveloped by the state as a planned business community.
Approximately 5.6 million square feet of land and more than two million square feet of existing buildings and facilities on the base have the potential for reuse because of their location and access to major highways and rail service. As part of the redevelopment, the Department of Defense (DoD) transferred large portions of the site to other federal departments and the state. DoD retained control of 5,000 acres of land, including all of the South Post and portions of the Main and North Posts, for construction of a new Army Reserve enclave and training area.
Land given up by DoD became what is now called the Devens Commerce Center. Twenty-two acres belong to the Department of Labor for a Jobs Corp Center. The Department of Justice is building a Federal Bureau of Prisons Hospital on 222 acres, and the Fish and Wildlife Service has taken over 836 acres along the Nashua River for an extension to the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge. The remainder of the Main and North Posts was transferred to the Massachusetts Government Land Bank (MassDevelopment) which was empowered by the state legislature to promote and oversee private development, and to issue bonds and borrow up to $2 million to support the redevelopment.
Prior to any private development, the state legislature required a plan that would outline future use of the former base. This plan, called the Devens Reuse Plan, was prepared by MassDevelopment and representatives from the surrounding towns of Ayer, Harvard, and Shirley. The plan lays out the preferred types of reuse of the base, which are: innovation and technology; business and community services; environmental business; research and development; rail, industry and trade; and open space and recreation. The state legislature also created incentives to encourage private sector interest in the area, including designating the site as a State Economic Target and Opportunity Area, establishing wholesale utility rates, eliminating personal property tax, and providing reduced rates for water and wastewater treatment. Today, dozens of facilities have been built or are currently under construction. One of these is the 410,000 square foot warehouse and distribution center built by the Gillette Corporation. Other companies planning to occupy the site include industrial manufacturing, and computer software and graphics firms.
For years, stores, restaurants, and other establishments in the towns surrounding Fort Devens relied on military personnel and their families for their business. When the base gradually shut down, people lost their jobs and businesses lost many of their patrons. But the cleanup and redevelopment of the base have turned things around economically, while also creating social and environmental benefits. Hundreds of new jobs on the former base, both permanent and temporary, have generated a substantial amount of income and local spending. More than 2,500 permanent jobs are expected when the Devens Reuse Plan is fully implemented, bringing in an estimated $70 million in annual income. This growth will increase property values, lead to further spending, and contribute to the public's revenues through local and state taxes.
In addition to economic impacts, the land and groundwater are being restored and sensitive areas such as wetlands, the Nashua River, and the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge are being protected and enhanced. Several endangered or threatened plant and animal species also inhabit the area and are being protected throughout the cleanup and redevelopment. Finally, the turnaround at the site has led to several social benefits, such as preservation of the surrounding communities.
The site's ideal location, its building and transportation infrastructure, and state-sponsored economic incentives made the former installation attractive for businesses. However, it was the partnerships formed among federal, state, and local government agencies, and community members that assured successful reuse of the site.
In its 2005 BRAC Recommendation, DoD recommended to to realign the Malony United States Army Reserve Center on Devens Reserve Forces Training Area by disestablishing the 94th Regional Readiness Command. DoD claimed that this recommendation would support the Army Reserve's Command and Control restructuring initiative to reduce Regional Readiness Commands from ten to four by disestablishing one major peacetime administrative headquarters, the 94th Regional Readiness Command and creating a new deployable headquarters on Westover Air Reserve Base.
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