FORT POLK, La. — The Joint Readiness Training Center and Fork Polk is gearing up to celebrate its 80th anniversary Jan. 14 at the Fort Polk Museum.Starting at 2 p.m., the celebration will focus on Fort Polk’s historical contributions to the Army and surrounding parishes, dating back to 1941, and will include static displays, historic memorabilia, guest speakers, a historical video and photo opportunities.Guests will be invited to visit the Fort Polk Museum, Warrior Memorial Park, the Bayou Theater and Tiger land, increasing awareness of the 80th anniversary and commemorating Fort Polk’s years of training America’s Soldiers.For the curious reader, below are some interesting Fort Polk historical facts:In the fall of 1941, 350,000 Soldiers fought the greatest sham battle in United States history. The mock battles, which became known as the Louisiana Maneuvers, had one purpose: To prepare America’s Soldiers for the war that had already begun in Europe, and threatened to spread around the world.The Louisiana Maneuvers were a preface to World War II. Likewise, the rudimentary barracks and facilities that sprang up as a result of the massive exercises were a prelude to the importance of Central Louisiana to the U.S. armed forces — and so Camp Polk was born.As World War II intensified so did visits to Camp Polk by Army leaders who would become American legends: Eisenhower, Clark, Bradley and Patton.And in 1941, General George C. Marshall, spoke some words that would become Fort Polk’s greatest mission then and now.“I want the mistakes made down in Louisiana, not over in Europe, and the only way to do this thing is try it out, and if it doesn’t work, find out what we need to make it work,” he said. Eighty years later, that idea is still at the forefront of the installation’s mission: To train Soldiers and save lives.By 1946, Camp Polk was designated a medical training center and only a skeleton force remained. Finally, in December of that year, military officials declared Fort Polk inactive, and the now-empty barracks stood quiet.When the nation called again, Camp Polk answered. In the early morning hours of June 25, 1950, more than 100,000 North Korean soldiers surged across the 38th Parallel to invade South Korea. In August of 1950, the 45th Infantry Division, Oklahoma National Guard, reported for duty at Camp Polk.Camp Polk shook off the dust accumulated from disuse and once again teemed with Soldiers training for war. Seventy percent of the troops who first reported to Camp Polk that year had served in World War II, but thousands of other draftees or volunteers soon arrived. With no previous combat experience, these new Soldiers had to quickly learn enough at Camp Polk to wage war and survive.But after the Korean War ended in 1954, Camp Polk’s future was uncertain as the installation closed that year.A scant year later, tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union grew to alarming proportions, an era called “The Red Scare.” With the world seemingly on the brink of world war again — this time a nuclear war — the Army began searching anew for a place to conduct maneuvers.As they had done before World War II, civic and local government leaders fanned out in Vernon Parish, asking landowners to sign documents allowing the Army to use their land. In 1955, Camp Polk — now called Fort Polk — reopened in preparation for Operation Sagebrush.America’s biggest peacetime exercise since the 1941 Louisiana Maneuvers, some 85,000 troops participated, significantly fewer than the Maneuvers’ 350,000 service members.The Sagebrush exercises, covered a substantial portion of Louisiana, stretching east-west from Alexandria to the Sabine River, and north-south from near Shreveport to between DeRidder and Lake Charles.When the Sagebrush exercises ended after 15 days, the 1st Armored Division began establishing new headquarters at Fort Polk — and the installation again reverberated with the sounds of cannons, machine guns and Soldiers marching in cadence. Lines of M-18 Patton tanks, much heavier than their World War II counterparts, raced across training areas. The military’s highest echelons chose Fort Polk and the 1st Armored Division to test mobility and combat strategies for the nuclear age.But in June of 1959, Fort Polk shut down completely. Many local businesses closed and citizens left seeking better opportunities.With the growing Berlin crisis in 1961, however, the 49th Armored Division began rolling into Fort Polk; and in June of 1962, the installation became an Infantry Training Center. Its new mission was to provide basic training for individual Soldiers, many of them draftees. Fort Polk offered them their introduction to the military and most would never forget the experience.The number of Soldiers who trained at Fort Polk grew in correlation with the increased Army presence in Southeast Asia, where the U.S. was propping up the non-Communist government of South Vietnam. Training American Soldiers how to fight in difficult jungle conditions became a top priority; and again, Fort Polk’s environment fit the bill — and so Tiger Land emerged.More than one million soldiers trained at Fort Polk during the Vietnam War. They trained in two simulated Vietnamese hamlets at Tiger Land, which featured earthen berms, sharpened bamboo stake defenses and booby-trap simulations. A sign at the entrance to the mock, thatched village welcomed trainees to “Tiger Land — Home of the Vietnam Combat Soldiers.”The realism of Tiger Land was a foreshadowing to the mock Iraqi and Afghan villages that would pepper Fort Polk’s training area more than 40 years later.By 1969, Fort Polk had dispatched more Soldiers to Vietnam than any other military post in the nation. Fort Polk underwent major changes as the Vietnam War ended. Then-President Richard Nixon orchestrated the elimination of the military draft, transforming the Army into an all-volunteer force. By 1974, boot camp for individual Soldiers at Fort Polk tapered off when the post took on a new role housing the storied 5th Infantry (Mechanized) Division.In 1991, the drums of war beat once more for the nation, and Fort Polk was ready. The installation dispatched nine support groups totaling some 8,000 soldiers to the Middle East during the Gulf War. One of the most ferocious battles of the Gulf War — the Battle of 73 Easting — was led by the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment; the oldest continuously serving regiment in the Army.The 2nd ACR, soon to be stationed at Fort Polk, traveled more than 150 miles through Iraq and cracked through Republic Guard Defenses, capturing more than 2,000 prisoners and destroying at least 159 Iraqi tanks. The 2nd ACR was one of only two units given the Valorous Unit award for actions during the war.A year later, Fort Polk saw the end of an era when, in 1992, the Army ordered the 5th Infantry to deactivate and retired its colors.In 1993, the Joint Readiness Training Center moved from Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, to Fort Polk, thus beginning the installation’s reputation as the Army’s premier Combat Training Center.During the 1990s, America’s Soldiers trained at JRTC and Fort Polk-based Soldiers deployed to Haiti, Southwest Asia, Suriname, Panama, Bosnia and more. As Fort Polk grew, so did the surrounding communities — as well as the support received by those communities.Then came Sept. 11, 2001: A defining moment in American history. In October of that year, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in response to the terrorist attacks. And, on March 20, 2003, the Iraq War began.Patriotism proliferated throughout the country and nowhere was that more evident than on Fort Polk as Soldiers prepared for war.The always-important JRTC rotations became a critical training tool for Soldiers. The overarching theme of the JRTC was, “We want our Soldiers’ worst day to be here rather than in a combat theater,” which serves as a reminder that Fort Polk’s mission has endured since 1941.As Fort Polk modernizes to meet the needs of the nation, so too does the Joint Readiness Training Center. The rotational model is no longer the mission rehearsal exercises that prepared our Soldiers for the mission in Iraq and Afghanistan; but rather, it’s an operational concept known as Decisive Action — a focus on Soldiers’ core competencies after a long war.But, as it has been since 1941, the mission remains the same: Preparing our Soldiers — and increasingly joint forces — to train for whatever lies ahead.Today, Fort Polk is home to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division; 519th Military Police Battalion; the 32nd Hospital Center; 3rd Battalion, 353rd Infantry Regiment; Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital; 2nd Detachment, 18th Combat Weather Squadron; 5th Aviation Battalion; JRTC Operations Group and the 46th Engineer Battalion. These units, along with the U.S. Army Garrison all carry a tangible legacy of the men and women in uniform who have served Fort Polk and our country throughout the years. That legacy is carried in the hearts and minds of Fort Polk’s veterans, Soldiers, Families and the community in which it resides.