Fort Ritchie is the bomb

May 10, 1999

Perhaps you remember that several years ago the U.S. government decided to close and sell off a number of the nation's military bases because they were thought to be inefficient and outdated following the end of the Cold War.

These base closings helped produce what became known as the "peace dividend," a cash surplus that, instead of being spent on destructive bombs and missiles pointed at the Soviet Union, was now free to be spent on destructive bombs and missiles trained on Serbia and Iraq.

It is called the peace dividend because it allows us to blow a bunch of small countries to pieces.

One of the bases to be closed and moved into the private sector is our own Fort Ritchie Army base, a useful conglomeration of comfortable living quarters, recreational facilities, dining services and high-tech fiber optics, all conveniently located just this side of Pluto.

After numerous studies, consultants and business profiles were engaged, it was determined that the best, most efficient use for Fort Ritchie would be as a U.S. Army base. So, of course, that is the only option that has been completely, 100 percent, ruled out.


Right now the Army is in the process of transferring the 638-acre base to the PenMar Development Corp., which in turn is seeking out taxpaying, job-providing private industries that happen to be interested in moving to Pluto.

Except that now there is a potentially explosive problem.

In the middle of handing the keys to the property over to PenMar, the Army snapped its fingers and said, "Oh, did we remember to mention that there may be a whole train load of unexploded bombs and grenades scattered just beneath the surface of the property?"

This is sort of like the Realtor waiting until the deal is closed before mentioning in passing that the former owner and his family were knifed to death by an unapprehended psycho who scrawled in blood on the wall, "I'll be back."

So obviously, this poses a problem for PenMar, which may have trouble enticing a business to move to Fort Ritchie if there's a chance that with one misstep its CEO could get shot like a clown out of a circus cannon into the surrounding hills.

But perhaps the PenMar Development Corp. is treating this as a negative when it could use the bomb feature as an incentive.

My friend Jane suggested one use could be a wildlife observation platform for sickos. Stand there with binoculars watching a random herd of deer peacefully grazing on the golf course fairway in the hopes that one hapless doe might become instant air-mail venison.

But I think where live bombs are involved we need something a little more proactive, a little more derring-do. Some sort of extreme sport that you would see at 3 a.m. on ESPN 2. Then I had it: Paintball.

Every weekend, thousands of soldier wannabes trek into the woods hunting down an opposing "army" using guns loaded with cartridges of yellow dye. Wouldn't it be more challenging and realistic if these weekend warriors knew there was an eensy-weensy little chance that instead of being blipped with a 2-ounce dollop of dye they'd be blammed with a 16-inch World War I vintage Gatling shell?

How much more excitement, how much more of a thrill to be out in the woods knowing you or your comrades could be treated to real, actual death. Heck, people line up for the Anaconda at Kings Dominion, what wouldn't they do for a chance to be blown up?

Face it, Fort Ritchie is in the middle of nowhere. Knowing Americans as well as I know Americans, it's obvious they would need a compelling reason to drive all that way into the hills - and I am confident that that compelling reason would be the chance to die in a way stupid enough to be reported on Fox television.

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