By Allen Shaw, Fort Wainwright PAOJuly 1, 2010
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - Editor's note: The 70th Anniversary and celebration of Ladd Army Airfield scheduled for July 17 is rapidly approaching. Over the next few weeks the Alaska Post, with information compiled by Mike Ferguson and other resources, will lay the foundation of what transpired over the years to bring us to where we are today.
Part 1 described what happened between 1930 and 1940. Congress realized the need for a strategic location at the top of the world, the importance of learning how to operate under extreme conditions and how Ladd Army Airfield was built in just over a year.
Part 2 explained the dividends of cold- weather testing and how Ladd Army Airfield along with the Lend-Lease activities, played a pivotal role in a campaign by the U.S. to help the Soviet Union battle Hitler.
Part 3: Post War Transformation
The end of World War II signaled the start of the cold Cold war War era. Due to its close proximity to the Soviet land mass, Alaska became a strategic location for defensive and possible offensive operations against the Soviet Union.
Shortly after the war concluded, Ladd Field was turned over to the newly formed Alaskan Air Command's 11th Air Force. The mission was to prepare for operations against the Soviet Union. More significantly, Alaska became the first U.S. unified command when the Joint Chiefs of Staff established the Alaska Command in 1947. In October the U.S. Army Air Forces was designated a separate service and renamed the United States Air Force. Simultaneously, Ladd Army Airfield was renamed Ladd Air Force Base to reflect the new service.
The base became the Northern Sectornorthern sector headquarters for the Alaskan Air Command and its missions of air defense, strategic reconnaissance and arctic research. The base hosted an Air Defense Command Center which monitored Soviet air movements through the Distant Early Warning Line radar network. Ladd also hosted some of the first long-range strategic aerial reconnaissance units that flew B-29 photo- reconnaissance, electronic- intelligence and signal- intelligence sorties to gather information on the Soviets' capabilities. In 1953 an air- defense- alert facility was constructed on the southeast corner of the airfield to give alert aircraft a high-speed entry if necessary. In 1954 the 449th Fighter Interceptor Squadron equipped with F-89 Scorpion aircraft was assigned to Ladd AFB to provide on-alert air- defense capability.
The Army did not abandon Ladd during this era. The Army established the Yukon Command at Ladd as a subordinate of the U.S. Army Alaska with the mission of point defense north of the Alaska Range. Consequently, infantry and anti-aircraft artillery units comprised most of the Army presence at Ladd during the 1950's. The 4th Infantry Regiment arrived at Ladd in 1950, and the 9th Infantry took its place in 1956. The 4th AAA Group was stationed at Ladd until 1958. In 1959, a NIKE battalion equipped with nuclear-capable NIKE-HERCULES surface-to-air missiles took over the interior Interior defense mission.
The limited runway length with the Chena River at both ends prevented the Air Force from basing alert bombers at Ladd, so the runway was extended at Eielson Air Force Base, twenty-six miles away. Throughout the 1950s the Air Force increasingly transferred aircraft, missions, people and equipment to Eielson and in 1960 declared they no longer needed Ladd. On January 1, 1961, the Army resumed control of the installation and renamed it Fort Wainwright in honor of Medal of Honor recipient General Jonathon Jonathan Wainwright of WWII Corregidor fame.
The Fort Wainwright Headquarters for Yukon Command housed the 1st Battle Group, 9th Infantry and the 2nd Missile Battalion, 562nd Artillery. In 1963, the 171st Infantry Brigade was formed as the Yukon Command's primary combat unit. To support the ground defense mission and provide mobility to the infantry brigade the USARAL Aviation Battalion was activated in April 1961 with its subordinate 12th Aviation Company. In August, the 65th Transportation Company was also assigned. The aviation battalion was equipped with HU-1UH-1 Iroquois (Huey) helicopters, the 65th with UH-21 Shawnee (flying banana) helicopters, while the 12th was initially equipped with U-1 fixed-wing Otters, L-19 Bird Dogs, L-20 Beavers and L-23 Seminoles. A few of the utility aircraft were on floats and operated from a segment of the Chena River just north of the airfield. In 1970 the 12th Aviation Company became a general support unit operating U-21 Ute's, OV-1 Mohawks, and UH-1 Hueys.
These aviation units were an integral part of troop support and training. They primarily transported troops and supplied field sites. Additional missions included fire patrol, missile- range sweeps in support of NIKE live firings, weather reconnaissance and, on at least two occasions, the Mohawks with their side-looking infrared radar were used to monitor Soviet activities in the Diomede Islands area. In addition, helicopter assets were routinely used to evacuate people from flooded villages and rescue climbers from Mt. McKinley.
In June 1968, the Bureau of Land Management was permitted access to the airfield for basing of fire-fighting aircraft and retardant- mixing and loading operations. BLM initially operated from the concrete ramp just north of hangars 2 and 3, but by 1975 they were allocated approximately 115 acres on the northeast side of the airfield in addition to almost 900,000 square feet of parking ramp. While their aircraft are only on station during the summer fire- potential season, the Alaska Fire Service Division of BLM is permanently housed in approximately 25 buildings on the northeast area of the airfield. Their air operations on the airfield during the summer fire season are extensive and account for a significant portion of the daily air traffic movements.