DEVENS -- Recognize it. Retreat from it. Report it.
These are the recommended actions if an unusual metal object is spotted on or around Devens. Safety Officer Stephen Banks says there is no real or present danger of happening upon an unexploded ordnance (UXO) near the old military base, but it is a remote possibility and the public should be aware of the potential hazard.
Although significant land development over the past 20 years has shrunk the once massive fort down to its present size of 5,000 acres, there is still a chance that an undetonated mortar or artillery shell could be hidden within the landscape. The fort's old footprint was much larger and new construction, along with terrain reconfiguration have encroached onto that original area.
"As the earth changes due to erosion, it may expose some things that are buried or conversely, bury things that are exposed," said Banks.
Since its 1917 opening, through the wars that followed, and still today, Fort Devens has had a robust schedule of all types of military training, including artillery. In fact, the training is as busy as ever with more than 135,000 troops from around the country participating every year. These include Reservists, National Guard and law enforcement personnel. The need for awareness of UXO hazards is heightened not only with the uniformed but also within the surrounding community.
Banks said the published is information is not to cause panic, only awareness.
A former U.S. Army artillery officer, Banks explains less than five percent of U.S. made munitions actually fails to explode. "It's very rare, but under certain conditions it does happen," he said.
There have been reports from other bases around the country about such findings and that sometimes they end tragically, which is why he plans to give regular updates to the surrounding communities with help from school administrators and town websites. "It is my responsibility to alert people, hopefully every six months."
Even trained soldiers get a UXO briefing when assigned here, or anywhere that has a history of munitions training. The post is still active in its live-fire exercises but that is confined to a clearly marked impact zone where all foot traffic is prohibited. During hunting season, some sportsmen who are lucky enough to procure a permit, via a lottery system, can hunt for game in the remote, fertile areas of the fort away from the impact zones.
Those hunters are also briefed on how to "Recognize. Retreat. Report."