*Note: Fort Richardson is now Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER)
Fort Richardson has been merged with the Elmendorf Air Force Base to form the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), the home of the US Army Alaska (USARAK), an element of the US Army Pacific (USARPAC). JBER is located in South-Central Alaska, surrounded by picturesque mountains, lakes, rivers, and glaciers, with its environment teeming with wildlife.
Why were Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Air Force Base joined?
Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Air Force were combined into a single base following the recommendations of the 2005 Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC). The reason for the merging stemmed from the commission noticing the common boundaries between the two bases, and that the merging of the two bases can potentially lead to a lot of savings for the government, as well as to give the joint camp more effective support. Subsequently, this decision led to the relocation of installation management functions from two different entities into a new joint base unit, as well as the Air Force serving as the supporting agency in the base.
Before the assimilation, Fort Richardson served as the headquarters of the 25th Infantry Division (Light), 4th Brigade Combat Team, the 2nd Engineers Brigade, and the SFC Brevard Noncommissioned Officers’ Academy. These squads continue to be deployed at JBER, alongside the military and civilian personnel from the Elmendorf Air Force.
Mission of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson
The mission of JBER is two-fold: to provide early entry battle command capability and to serve as the Joint Force Land Commander for homeland defense and civil support in the state. Among its responsibilities is to always be prepared to deploy units in the Pacific theater as well as anywhere else that will need military and air support in contingency missions that support US national interests and USPACOM objectives.
History of Fort Richardson and JBER
The history of the military presence in Alaska and Fort Richardson is intricately tied together with the history of the state itself, given that the military troops made their way to Alaska as soon as it was declared US territory.
The fort was named after Brig. Gen. Wilds P. Richardson, the military pioneer explorer who served three tours of duty in Alaska from 1897 to 1917. He was made the head of the War Department’s Alaska Road Commission from 1905 to 1917. The commission was in charge for surveying the land as well as to build local infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and railroads, to help the settlement and development of the state.
Most of the troops that were assigned to Alaska were from the 9th Infantry. They were not only charged with maintaining peace and order in the new territory, but also to enforce laws against the killing of fur seals. The population of the animals quickly depleted while the Russians ruled over the territory.
As the state was developed, so too did the need to create an established base for the military. While there were forts built in neighboring areas such as Wrangell, Kodiak Island, St Paul Canal, and the Kenai Peninsula, there needed to be military presence at the heart of Alaska, especially with the advent of World War I. Eventually, Fort Richardson was built between 1940 and 1941, interestingly enough, on the grounds of where the present-day Elmendorf Air Force Base is located. It soon became the headquarters of the United States Army, Alaska (USARAL), although the base was moved to its present location in 1950. Originally, the base supported 500 soldiers and had a rifle range, a hospital, bachelor office quarters, and some warehouses within the vicinity. Alaska was the only state aside from Hawaii that was affected by the wars. Following the two world wars and the Cold War, the US focused on building up air defense, and a lot of their forces were assigned to Alaska.
Eventually, the Alaskan Command (ALCOM) was created in January 1947, and this was put in full control of all of the military forces (ground forces, Navy forces, and air forces) in the state. The headquarters of ALCOM was in Elmendorf Air Force Base, and it was the first of the unified commands that were under the direction of the Department of Defense. In that same year, the ground forces of Alaska were renamed as the United States Army Alaska (USARAL).
Because of ALCOMs overall command, Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Field were considered as the same base. However, with the establishment of Alaskas Air Force as distinct from the Army Air Corps in 1947, the military leaders sought to make Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Field into two different installations. As such, the Elmendorf Air Force Base was constructed to serve as the home of the air force in Alaska.
The ending of the wars made a lot of the military bases in Alaska redundant. As such, some were discontinued while others were repurposed by other military troops. The 172nd Infantry Brigade (Mechanized) took over the reins of Fort Richardson. Subsequently, USARAL was discontinued, but the 172nd Infantry Brigade continued to be headquartered at the fort, with their squad reporting to the Forces Command at Fort McPherson, GA. While there were designated troops in Fort Richardson, some soldiers were also brought there for training, being made to go through unforgiving arctic conditions to prepare them for equally difficult situations in their military tours. Eventually, Fort Richardson became the home of US Army Alaska (USARAK), alongside Fort Wainwright.
Facts and Figures about Fort Richardson and JBER
- Population. There are currently 15,288 military personnel on active duty in JBER, with 18,844 of their family members living in the base. There are also 2,384 National Guard, 2,462 civilian employees, 5,893 retires, and 961 reserves.
- Housing in JBER is operated by Aurora Military Housing. There are currently over 3,000 military family housing units in JBER.
- Fort Richardson alone covers 62,000 acres of land.
- Support facilities. JBER has several support facilities for the soldiers and their families, including clinics, dental clinics, childcare services, and recreational facilities. Fort Richardson also hosts the Alaska Fish Hatchery and the Veterans Administration National Cemetery.
- The largest tenant in JBER is the Alaska National Guard, which has facilities in Camp Denali and Camp Carroll.
- Towns and cities in proximity. Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska, is quite near JBER.