SMDC History: Arctic vs. Cold Regions; A glimpse into Fort Greely history

By Sharon Watkins Lang, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Command HistorianAugust 11, 2016

SMDC History: Arctic vs. Cold Regions; A glimpse into Fort Greely history
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Like the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, Fort Greely, Alaska and the Cold Regions Test Center have undergone a number of name changes.

In the midst of summer and as the nation celebrated its bicentennial, effective July 1, 1976, on the first day of the new fiscal year, the U.S. Army Arctic Test Center was renamed the U.S. Army Cold Regions Test Center.

Requested by Center commander, Col. John M. Pickarts, the name change was designed "to reflect more accurately the nature of the terrain and climate at Fort Greely." As the Army news features reported, "the arctic denotes ice caps, frozen terrain and trackless wastelands, which is not the case at Fort Greely."

Instead the weather at Fort Greely was likened to "Northern Europe, Siberia, much of China and most of the world's mountainous regions." With temperatures which range from 40 to -50 degrees or below, Fort Greely was described as "the only Army test facility offering long periods of extreme cold to allow adequate cold weather testing.

The first permanent military settlement at Fort Greely dates to the beginning of World War II. In June 1942, a party led by 1st Lt. William Brame selected a site near Delta Junction to construct Allen Army Airfield, which would serve an integral role in the American Lend-Lease Program. It was a rest and refueling site, one of 26 across Canada, Alaska and the Soviet Union, for pilots ferrying aircraft to the Soviet Union.

Based on experiences of World War II, officials decided that military personnel and equipment should be able to perform in all temperatures. Task Force Frigid and Task Force Williwaw spent the winters of 1946 and 1947 in Alaska testing equipment in the frigid temperatures of the Arctic.

The Artic Test Branch, later known as the Army Arctic Test Center, and the Army Arctic Indoctrination and Survival School at U.S. Troops, Big Delta, were subsequently created to provide a more permanent cold weather test facility. Individual training, offered to personnel from all of the services, addressed arctic survival techniques, mountaineering, skiing, and "solutions to tactical, technical and logistical problems in cold regions."

With respect to these missions, Big Delta was renamed Fort Greely on Aug. 6, 1955, in honor of Maj. Gen. August Washington Greely, Arctic explorer, Medal of Honor recipient and founder of the Alaska communications system, which consisted of 45,000 miles of telegraph lines.

Since 1948 the mission for Big Delta/Fort Greely, in addition to overseeing the airfield, was to support the test centers. Between 1948 and 1954, the post was also home to the Army's only dog sled team.

In 1953, the Chemical Corps added a new mission to the base with the creation of its Arctic Test Team. Approximately 20,000 acres to the south of the main fort was purchased to support this mission -- which included the atmospheric testing of chemical and biological weapons between 1954 and 1967.

As space for additional test ranges was readily available at Fort Greely, test missions previously assigned to Fort Wainwright, Alaska, transitioned to Fort Greely.

Ultimately the testing and firing ranges of the Center would encompass 670,000 acres and virtually every piece of equipment in the Army's inventory, to include clothing, food, aircraft, ground vehicles and weapons would be tested there.

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