Former Ravenna Arsenal is now a state-of-the-art training center
By BOB GAETJENS | Record-Courier, Kent, Ohio | Published: April 20, 2019
KENT, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — More than 40 citizens took advantage of the opportunity to tour a 21,683-acre portion of Portage County rarely accessible by civilians — Camp Garfield Joint Military Training Center.
Formerly known as Camp Ravenna or the Ravenna Arsenal, the training camp is in the process of a transformation from a munitions plant, which got its start in World War II and continued production until 1971, to a state-of-the-art training center for National Guard troops, other military outfits and area first-responders, according to Major Shaun Robinson, base operations supervisor and commander at Camp Garfield.
"We are building this camp now to be a premier regional training site, with $39 million worth of projects planned," said Robinson.
He said Major General John C. Harris Jr., assistant adjutant general of the Ohio Joint Force Headquarters, wants to show off Camp Garfield to more people in the future.
"Their intent is that we sort of pull back the curtain and actually show people the great things going on here," said Robinson of Harris and other commanding officers.
Robinson briefly talked about the potential for the camp to be selected as the Missile Defense Agency's East Coast Missile Defense Site, but he did not share any details on when a decision may be coming down.
"Whether the MDA comes here or not, we have a mission; we have money coming in; we are focusing on what we're going to do to keep building and training," he said.
Following a brief slideshow and introduction to the camp, the 40 or so attendees piled on to a Windham school bus for a driving tour of Camp Garfield.
Much of the camp, still shrouded in woods, is used for survival training and navigation training, added Robinson.
"The posture of the army is talking about a return to the field initiative," he said. "It's about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable."
The camp has sporadic orange poles placed throughout which are part of the camp's orienteering training.
"Special forces come here to use our land navigation courses because they're that robust," said Robinson.
The first tour highlight was the cantonment area, where the first of several planned new barracks is under construction, as well as a dining hall. Nearby, the camp's new headquarters building is nearing the end of construction, added Robinson.
Robinson said no one currently lives at the camp, but about 100 people work there regularly.
The bus drove along two edges of the 1,200-acre area designated for the MDA site in the event Camp Garfield gets it. Both borders were lined with woods; at this point, there wasn't much to see of the potential future anti-missile site.
Robinson said the camp also has a water tower that's "perfectly functioning."
"However, it's all made of lead, and we can't use it at all," he said, explaining the tower dates to the arsenal's early history when people didn't yet understand the damage lead could cause.
Another sign of times past was the underground munitions magazines, which were grassed over so if one exploded it wouldn't set off a "daisy chain" of explosions, according to Robinson.
Camp Garfield has 616 of the mound-like structures left after 77 were destroyed recently.
The tour featured several ranges, including a grenade certification area and a nearby grenade launcher practice range.
The bus stopped at the Automated Record Fire Weapons Range, a $3.7 million installation with targets ranging from 50 meters away to 300 meters away. The range is still under construction. It includes an observation tower, a set of bleachers for observers and earthworks from which to shoot. Robinson said soldiers and National Guard members can practice shooting from three different positions at the range.
The bus also passed a pistol qualification range.
The camp also features a drop area used by the Air Force for training, a range where engineers practice moving dirt in different configurations and a practice range for tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.
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