Joint Base Elmendorf/Richardson

As the world prepared for World War II in 1940, military construction accelerated in Alaska. In 1940, Ladd Field was built near Fairbanks as a cold-weather test station. Fort Richardson, named for Wilds P. Richardson, was built in 1940-1941 near Anchorage. COL Simon Bolivar Buckner assumed command of the Alaska Defense Force in 1940 and, while at Fort Richardson, achieved the ranks of brigadier and major general.
Construction of airfield at Fort Richardson began 8 June 1940. The Army intended it to be a significant and permanent military installation. The first Army Air Corps personnel arrived on 12 August 1940, led by Maj. Everett S. Davis. On 12 November 1940, the War Department formally designated the installation Fort Richardson. The air facilities and flying field on the post were named Elmendorf Field in honor of Capt. Hugh M. Elmendorf who died in an accident in 1933 while flight testing an experimental fighter, the Consolidated Y1P-25, near Wright Field, Ohio. Though he had no real ties to Alaska, Elmendorf was a contemporary and friend of many of the leading Army Air Forces commanders before the war and would have doubtless figured prominently in the command hierarchy.
The first Air Force unit to be assigned to Alaska, the 18th Pursuit Squadron, arrived in February 1941. The 23rd Air Base Group was assigned shortly afterward to provide base support. Other Air Force units poured into Alaska as the Japanese threat in the Pacific developed. The Eleventh Air Force activated at Elmendorf Field on 15 January 1942. The field played a vital role as the primary air logistics center and staging area during the Aleutian Campaign and later air operations against the Kurile Islands of Japan.
Through the Lend-Lease Program, during World War II, the United States transferred nearly 8,000 aircraft to the Soviet Union at Ladd Field, which later became Fort Wainwright. The aircraft was flown from Great Falls, Montana, to Ladd Field by American crews. Then Russian crews flew the planes to Siberia and onto the Russian front.
The pilots leaving Great Falls followed a series of small airfields known as the Northwest Staging Route. The airports were located at intervals along a route that would later serve as the aerial footprint for constructing the Alaska Highway.
One of those airfields, Big Delta Airfield, later became Fort Greely, providing ample acreage for Northern Warfare Training Center exercises and testing by the Cold Regions Test Center. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Army engineers began building airstrips in the Aleutian Islands to fight possible Japanese invasions there. The Army Corps of Engineers joined Canadian Forces in building the Alaska Highway in less than eight months. The 1,420-mile road was built as an overland supply route to get troops and supplies to Alaska. Officials in Washington, D.C., saw Alaska as a possible starting point for the Japanese forces to invade the United States and Canada and took measures to prevent this.
Alaska was the only spot on the North American continent to see fighting during World War II when the Japanese forces bombed Dutch Harbor and seized Attu and Kiska Islands in the Aleutian Chain.
The successful battle to retake Attu in June 1943 was one of the bloodiest in the war. The Japanese pulled out of Kiska before the Americans stormed ashore a few months later.
At the end of the war, many of the small Army posts throughout the state closed permanently. Postwar emphasis turned to train military forces in the arctic environment. On 18 December 1945, Eleventh Air Force was redesignated as Alaskan Air Command.
Following World War II, Elmendorf Field assumed an increasing role in defense of North America as the uncertain wartime relations between the United States and the Soviet Union deteriorated into the Cold War.
Following the National Security Act of 1947, the Army planned to move its operations to a new site named Fort Richardson, adjacent to the World War II installation. The Air Force assumed control of the original Fort Richardson and renamed it Elmendorf Air Force Base, gaining full ownership of Elmendorf and its facilities in 1951. The Alaskan Command, established 1 January 1947 and headquartered at Elmendorf, was a unified command under the Joint Chiefs of Staff, based on lessons learned during World War II when a lack of coordinated effort hampered operations to drive the Japanese from the western Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska. Elmendorf itself officially became an Air Force base on 26 March 1948. The new name for the headquarters for all Army personnel in Alaska became U.S. Army, Alaska, joining Alaskan Air Command as a component of Alaskan Command.
Military missions assigned to U.S. Army Alaska included ground and air defense of Alaska, prioritizing Anchorage and Fairbanks areas. Also, U.S. Army Alaska developed cold-weather and mountain-warfare doctrines by conducting a cold-weather and mountain school at Fort Greely. Additionally, U.S. Army Alaska provided logistical support to Air Force and Navy elements in Alaska. The Army elements also conducted National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve training; supervised Reserve Officer Training Corps activities; and provided internal security, to include plans for recovery from nuclear attack.
The uncertain world situation in the late 1940s and early 1950s caused a significant buildup of air defense forces in Alaska. The propeller-driven P-51's were replaced with F-80 jets, which were replaced in succession by F-94, F-89, and F-102 interceptor aircraft for the defense of North America. The Air Force built an extensive aircraft control and warning radar system with sites throughout Alaska's interior and coastal regions. Additionally, out of necessity, the Air Force created the White Alice Communications System (with numerous support facilities around the state) to provide reliable communications to these far-flung, isolated, and often rugged locales. The Alaskan NORAD Regional Control Center at Elmendorf was installed in 1961, serving as the nerve center for all air defense operations in Alaska.
Air defense forces reached their zenith in 1957 with almost 200 fighter aircraft assigned to six fighter-interceptor squadrons located at Elmendorf and Ladd Air Force Base. Eighteen radar sites provided aircraft control and warning. Elmendorf's motto became "Top Cover for America," which Alaska Air Command adopted in 1969. With the end of the Cold War and the increased emphasis on Alaska's strategic importance, the motto changed to "Top Cover and Global Power" and then to "Top Cover and Global Engagement."
The late 1950s, '60s, and early '70s brought about a gradual but significant decline in air defense forces in Alaska because of mission changes and the demands of the Vietnam War. The Air Force inactivated five fighter squadrons and closed five radar sites.
In 1961, the Department of Defense consigned Ladd Air Force Base to the Army, renaming it Fort Wainwright. Elmendorf also began providing more support to other Air Force commands, particularly Military Airlift Command (now Air Mobility Command) C-5 and C-141 flights to and from the Far East.
By 1959, several Army Nike Hercules missile battalions were activated in the Anchorage and Fairbanks areas. The last Nike Hercules battalion, which included the battery at Site Summit overlooking Anchorage, was deactivated in 1979.
July 1953 saw U.S. Army Alaska's combat units officially reorganized into the 172nd Infantry Brigade (Mechanized) at Fort Richardson and the 171st Infantry Brigade (Mechanized) at Fort Wainwright. The two brigades were redesignated as light-infantry brigades in 1969.
U.S. Army Alaska was discontinued as a central subordinate command on 31 December 1974. The 172nd Infantry Brigade (Alaska), headquartered at Fort Richardson, assumed command and control, reporting to Forces Command at Fort McPherson, Georgia.
In the economic cutbacks that followed the American disengagement in Vietnam, Alaska Command was disestablished in 1975 and replaced with Joint Task Force Alaska and Joint Task Force Aleutian. Despite less personnel and aircraft, the arrival of the 43rd Tactical Fighter Squadron in June 1970, from MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, signaled a new and flexible role for Elmendorf-based units. The squadron gave Alaska Air Command an air-to-ground capability that was further enhanced with the activation of the 18th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Elmendorf, also with F-4Es, on 1 October 1977.
The 171st Infantry Brigade was deactivated in the fiscal year 1973. The 6th Infantry Division (Light), headquartered at Fort Richardson, was activated in 1986, replacing the 172nd Infantry Brigade. The strategic importance of Elmendorf Air Force Base was exercised during the spring of 1980 when the 18th Tactical Fighter Squadron deployed eight of its F-4Es to South Korea to participate in exercise Team Spirit. It was a historic first and underlined an increasing emphasis Alaskan Air Command placed on its tactical mobility.
The strategic location of Elmendorf on the Great Circle Arctic Navigation Routes made it an excellent deployment center, a fact that validated the contention of Billy Mitchell, who in 1935 declared Alaska to be "the most strategic place in the world." Now deployments from Elmendorf to Asia are conducted on a routine basis. The 1980s witnessed a period of growth and modernization of Elmendorf. During 1982, the 21st Tactical Fighter Wing converted from F-4s to F-15s. The 18th Tactical Fighter Squadron was assigned to Eielson Air Force Base, equipped with A-10s.
The 54th Tactical Fighter Squadron, of Aleutian Campaign fame, activated once again in 1987. Rounding out the modernization program was constructing an enhanced Regional Operations Control Center, completed in 1983, replacing the 1950s-generation aircraft control and warning radars with state-of-the-art AN/FPS-117 Minimally Attended Radars. The integrated air warning and defense system became fully operational in mid-1985. Alaska's air defense force was further enhanced by assigning two E-3 Sentry aircraft to Elmendorf in 1986.
The Alaskan Command was re-established at Elmendorf in 1989 as a sub-unified joint service command under the U.S. Pacific Command in recognition of Alaska's military importance in the Pacific region. Concurrently, Joint Task Force Alaska and Joint Task Force Aleutian were disestablished. In October 2014, Alaskan Command was reassigned from U.S. Pacific Command to U.S. Northern Command; Alaskan Command is responsible for the planning and execution of the U.S. Northern Command mission in Alaska. Its importance was further recognized when a fighter squadron moved to Elmendorf from Clark Air Base in the Philippines in May 1991, equipped with the F-15 Strike Eagle. The Pacific Regional Medical Center moved from Clark AB to Elmendorf, and construction of a new hospital began in 1996. The early 1990s also saw significant organizational changes and an expansion of Elmendorf's importance. In 1991, the 21st Tactical Fighter Wing was reorganized as an objective wing, and all the central tenant units on Elmendorf were placed under it.
The 21st Wing was inactivated on 19 December 1991, when the 3D Wing was reassigned from Clark Air Base to Elmendorf Air Force Base. The 3D Wing constitutes one of the longest-serving and most distinguished wings in the Air Force — its progenitor was first activated on 1 July 1919.
The 6th Infantry Division (L) was actively involved in training exercises in Japan and Thailand, at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Arkansas and Louisiana, and throughout Alaska until its deactivation in July 1994.
Once again, the U.S. Army Alaska became an operational headquarters at Fort Richardson. In 2005, U.S. Army Alaska began to build up the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division.
Also, in 2005, Congress announced the latest round of Base Closure and Realignment activities. Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson were chosen to realign under a single support agency as a single installation known as Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The Air Force activated the 673D Air Base Wing to take over the base support and garrison functions of the two bases. All personnel assigned to those functions transferred into the new unit on 24 June 2010, initially still under the direction of the 3D Wing.
Complete turnover of responsibility for base support and garrison functions at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson occurred with the arrival of the 673D Air Base Wing command element on 30 July 2010. Today, the joint base enjoys a unique partnership among three Air Force total-force wings, one Army Brigade, and multiple tenant units to include an Air Force Reserve unit, Alaska Command and its components, a Numbered Air Force and its components; as well as the Alaska National Guard and Air National Guard. Military forces from all services, including the Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard, are present and active on the installation.