By U.S. ArmyJune 28, 2016
Although the 59th Signal Battalion did not formally come into existence until 1992, the unit traced its history to various efforts in Alaska well before then. On 9 February 1870 an Act of Congress authorized the Army to establish meteorological stations in Alaska. The mission was assigned to Chief Signal Officer, Brigadier General Albert Meyers, who created the Army Weather Bureau. At its high point the Army Weather Bureau had over 90 stations in what was then known as the Alaska Territory. On 1 July 1891, the Army Weather Bureau was transferred to the Department of Agriculture.
In May of 1900, Congress appropriated nearly half a million dollars for the purpose of establishing a communications system connecting the military posts in Alaska. This system, which came to be known as the Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System (WAMCATS), was constructed by the Army Signal Corps. Construction of the telegraph cable portion of the system began in the summer of 1900. In 1903, a 107 mile wireless system crossing Norton Sound on the west coast of Alaska was added. Also, in 1903, a submarine cable between Sitka, Alaska and Seattle, Washington was laid, allowing rapid communication between Alaska and the lower 48. By the time WAMCATS was completed in 1904, it included almost 1400 miles of overland telegraph cable, over 2000 miles of submarine cable, as well as the existing short wireless section.
On 9 April 1918, the 1st Signal Service Company at Valdez and 2nd Signal Service Company at Fort Gibbon were activated to operate WAMCATS in Alaska. On 1 October 1925, 1st Signal Service Company assumed responsibility for all WAMCATS sites in Alaska, although the 2nd Signal Service Company was not formally inactivated until 1927.
In 1936, WAMCATS was renamed the Alaska Communications System (ACS). By this time most of the major land lines were replaced by wireless systems. This change occurred due to the high cost of maintaining cable systems over the vast inhospitable expanse of Alaska.
There was, however, a short resurgence in the use of cable system for security purposes during World War II. It was during this time that the first full duplex teletype system was established between Seattle and Alaska. During the Second World War, numerous signal units participated in campaigns in Alaska, including the battles in the Aleutians. Some also participated in the construction of the Alaska-Canadian Highway (ALCAN) and the 838th Signal Service Company operated the Canadian sites as part of the ACS.
By 1950, ACS operated 32 sites administered by sectors. No specific unit designations were maintained for management of the system. The Alaska Communications System remained under the control of the Army Signal Corps until 1962 when it was taken over by the Air Force. At that time, the unit was known as the US Army Signal Office. In 1963, the Department of the Army established the US Army Element, Alaska Communications System USAF.
Upon activation of United States Army Strategic Communications Command (STRATCOM), at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, "the command and responsibilities of the US Army Element, Alaska Communications System USAF, a special foreign activity,' were transferred from the Chief Signal Officer to the Commanding General, STRATCOM. On 1 April 1967, STRATCOM-Alaska activated at Fort Richardson with subordinate elements, 60th Signal Detachment (Crypto), and STRATCOM-Alaska, Fixed Signal Operations Company-North at Fort Wainwright. The 33rd Signal Battalion, which had been activated in 1963, was placed under the command and control of STRATCOM-Alaska. On 1 June 1969, STRATCOM-Alaska (approximately 850 personnel assigned) was re-designated as STRATCOM Signal Group, Alaska.
In 1971, the system was purchased by RCA and subsequently most long haul communication systems were owned by ALASCOM, a public utility. This system operated over a backbone of microwave linked and over 100 earth satellite stations, some serving communities of as few as 25 people. The units that went on to form the basis for the 59th Signal Battalion depended on this system for much of its communications within the state. In 1972, the Alaska Signal Operations Battalion and the separate 272nd Signal Company, which had been activated in 1966, were inactivated.
On 26 January 1973, STRATCOM Signal Group, Alaska was re-designated US Army Communications Command (USACC)-Alaska, which resulted in the re-designation of subordinate elements to USACC-Alaska Theater COMSEC Logistics Support Center, USACC-Alaska, Fixed Signal Operations Company-North, and Fixed Signal Operations Detachment-Fort Greely, near Delta Junction. The 33rd Signal Battalion continued to operate under the command and control of USACC-Alaska. On 16 February 1973, 57th Signal Company was activated at Fort Richardson and assigned to 33rd Signal Battalion. On 7 November 1973, the USACC-Alaska Theater COMSEC Logistics Support Center was shut down.
On 1 July 1974, US Army Communications Command-Alaska at Fort Richardson was re-designated US Army Communications Command Agency-Alaska and assigned under 7th Signal Command, Fort Ritchie, Maryland. In 1978, the 21st Signal Company was activated at Fort Richardson and was assigned to 33rd Signal Battalion.
On 15 May 1984, USACC Agency-Alaska was re-designated as US Army Information Systems Command (USAISC) Alaska. On 15 April 1986, 33rd Signal Battalion, 57th Signal Company, and 21st Signal Company were inactivated at Fort Richardson. The 6th Signal Battalion, the 6th Infantry Division (Light)'s divisional signal battalion was activated in their place at Fort Richardson.
On 20 December 1989, USAISC-Alaska was reflagged as 1117th Signal Battalion with the Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment at Fort Richardson, A Company at Fort Wainwright, and B Company at Fort Greely. On 15 July 1991, 1117th Signal Battalion was transferred from the 7th Signal Command to 1106th Signal Brigade, Fort Shafter, Hawaii. On 16 October 1992, 1106th Signal Brigade was reflagged as the 516th Signal Brigade. 1117th Signal Battalion was similarly reflagged as the 59th Signal Battalion with its Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment at Fort Richardson, and the 507th Signal Company activated at Fort Greely. The 408th Signal Company was activated at Fort Wainwright.
On 4 August 2000, the 507th Signal Company at Fort Greenly and the 408th Signal Company at Fort Wainwright were inactivated. The effective closure of Fort Greenly as part of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) plan resulted in the personnel of the 408th Signal Company being reflagged as the 507th Signal Company, which was concurrently reactivated at Fort Wainwright.
The mission of the 507th Signal Company was to provide reliable, timely, cost effective Information Management Assets and sustaining base information systems support to the United States Army Alaska (USARAK), 172nd Infantry Brigade (Separate), United States Army Garrison - Alaska (USAG-AK), the Cold Regions Test Center (CRTC), Northern Warfare Training Center (NWTC), and other federal elements at Forts Wainwright / Greely Alaska. The Company consisted of a mixture of soldiers and civilians divided into 4 sections: Headquarters Section, Telephone Section, Administrative Services Branch, and the Local Control Center.
As of 2010, the Battalion consists of Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 59th Signal Battalion at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), the 507th Signal Company at Fort Wainwright, and a NEC Detachment at Fort Greely. C Company, 307th Expeditionary Signal Battalion is also at JBER, attached to the Battalion.