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    A blessing in disguise: 25 years after BRAC decision, Fort Indiantown Gap thriving

    A blessing in disguise: 25 years after BRAC decision, Fort Indiantown Gap thriving

    Courtesy Photo | A yard sign that was made in 1995 during a campaign by members of the local community...... read more read more



    Story by Brad Rhen 

    Fort Indiantown Gap

    FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. – In the fall of 1995, there was a sense of anxiousness around Fort Indiantown Gap.

    The installation had come into the crosshairs of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, and some feared it would close. Instead, the commission decided to remove the active-duty Army units and transfer the installation from federal to state control in 1998 for use as a reserve component training site.

    Many people were not sure what the future would hold for the installation.

    But, instead of languishing, numerous new facilities and ranges have been built over the past 25 years, and Fort Indiantown Gap is now one of the nation’s premier National Guard training centers.

    "Fort Indiantown Gap has definitely come a long way in the last 25 years,” said Army Col. Kevin Potts, Fort Indiantown Gap’s garrison commander. “It's gone from a somewhat sleepy installation with a small active-duty contingent to being one of the busiest National Guard training centers in the country with numerous modern ranges and state-of-the-art training facilities."

    A World War II hub

    Fort Indiantown Gap’s history dates back more than 90 years. After outgrowing its training site at Mount Gretna in southern Lebanon County, the Pennsylvania National Guard began purchasing land for a new training site in northern Lebanon and Dauphin counties in 1931.

    The first training exercises were conducted here in 1932, and the installation – known as Indiantown Gap Military Reservation – was completed in 1940.

    As the U.S. prepared to enter World War II, the federal government leased IGMR from Pennsylvania on Sept. 30, 1940, to use as a training base. A massive construction project got underway, as 13,000 workers quickly constructed more than 1,400 buildings, including barracks, mess halls, fire stations, chapels, theaters, a sports arena and a 400-bed hospital.

    IMGR was one of the nation’s busiest Army training camps during World War II, serving as the staging area for the New York Port of Embarkation. More than 150,000 troops in eight divisions were given final training at IGMR prior to being shipped overseas.

    When World War II ended, IGMR became a separation center for troops returning from overseas, and more than 450,000 Soldiers were demobilized and returned to civilian life. At its peak, the center processed more than 1,000 Soldiers per day.

    Between the end of World War II and the beginning of the Korean War, IGMR was inactivated as a federal post, and control was turned back over to the Pennsylvania National Guard.

    From 1951 to 1953, during the Korean War, the installation was once again a hub for training when it became the home of the 5th Infantry Division, whose mission was to train 32,000 troops as replacements for Soldiers in Korea.

    Although it was never as busy as it was during World War II, activity at Fort Indiantown Gap remained relatively steady over the next 40 years.

    During the 1960s and 1970s, Fort Indiantown Gap served as the Army’s largest Reserve Officer Training Corps summer camp, providing training for future officers.

    The installation was chosen on two separate occasions as a refugee resettlement camp. In 1975, more than 20,000 Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees were housed at the post until they were processed for sponsorship in the local area and across the U.S. Five years later, in 1980, more than 19,000 Cubans were brought here for processing and sponsorship.

    Into the BRAC Commission’s crosshairs

    As the U.S. military’s overall size was reduced following the Cold War, so too were the number of bases. The Base Realignment and Closure Commission was established to study U.S. military installations and recommend closing them or realigning them with other bases.

    Fort Indiantown Gap first made a BRAC “hit list” in 1991, when the commission recommended transferring the installation to the reserve component. After testimony from Pennsylvania National Guard officials and the state’s Congressional delegation, the installation was removed from the list.

    However, Fort Indiantown Gap was once again placed on a BRAC list in 1995 for potential closure or realignment.

    Air Force Lt. Col. (Ret.) Chris Cleaver, who was the Pennsylvania National Guard’s state public affairs officer at the time, recalled that there was a sense of anxiousness as the installation and the surrounding communities awaited the BRAC Commission’s decision.

    “There was a lot of concern with the BRAC process and that we were on the list,” said Cleaver, who served as the state PAO from 1990 to 2011. “People were anxious. Very anxious.”

    Cleaver said he and many others thought there was a possibility the base would close altogether.

    “No one knew what the outcome was going to be,” Cleaver said.

    Members of the local community and Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation launched a campaign to try to convince the BRAC Commission not to close the installation.

    Eventually, the commission recommended to “close Fort Indiantown Gap, except minimal essential ranges, training facilities, and training areas, as a reserve component training enclave to permit the conduct of individual and annual training.”

    “Somebody said this was a victory because we maintained the installation,” Cleaver said. “We did lose some civilian employees that were working for the Army garrison, so some people did lose their job. By and large, overall, it was a great decision.”

    Prior to the federal government returning control to the state, several dozen World War II-era buildings were demolished or burned. That action turned out to be beneficial, as those buildings were later replaced by new facilities, including the 166th Regiment Regional Training Institute, the Mission Training Complex and a U.S. Army Reserve Center.

    ‘A fantastic move’

    Three years after the BRAC Commission decision was handed down, the federal U.S. Army Garrison was closed, and control was returned to the Pennsylvania National Guard on Oct. 1, 1998.

    Once the state took over control of the installation, there was a tremendous investment in infrastructure, Cleaver said.

    “The work that we did prioritizing our requirements for funding for infrastructure on the installation were fantastic,” Cleaver said. “We just began a very aggressive program. They started right away getting roofs on old barracks. These barracks were crumbling away, but all they had to do was get a new roof on them to preserve them and then we could come back around and put new siding on and then bring them up to standard barracks for Soldiers.”

    Additionally, Cleaver said, there was a lot of duplication when the installation was under federal control. For example, he said there were two post offices, two logistics centers and two areas for operational control for people going into and out of the training corridor.

    “We were able to run the installation more efficiently and effectively, and we ended up with a much more productive installation,” Cleaver said. “It all worked out.”

    When all was said and done, Cleaver said he believes the BRAC decision turned out to be a great thing for the installation.

    “It was an active-duty Army garrison that ran it, and they had no pride of ownership,” Cleaver said. “Just the pride of ownership that we now would run the installation – everything got better with that pride of ownership: ranges, infrastructure, overall operations. Things were cleaner, better run and more efficient.”

    Twenty-five years after the transfer from federal to state control, Fort Indiantown Gap is one of the busiest National Guard Training Centers in the country, annually hosting over 100,000 personnel per year for training. In addition to National Guard personnel, the installation regularly plays host to active-duty personnel from all branches of the military as well as law enforcement personnel from local, state and federal agencies for training.

    “I know that the decision to transfer Fort Indiantown Gap from an active Army garrison to National Guard control was a fantastic move that not only saved money, but also helped us springboard Fort Indiantown Gap to be the top-tier training center it is today,” said Cleaver, who now resides in Mount Gretna, Pa.

    Potts, a native of Schuylkill Haven, Pa., joined the Pennsylvania National Guard in 1994 and has been coming to Fort Indiantown Gap for training ever since. He, too, believes the installation has changed for the better since the transfer to state control.

    “I’ve seen massive changes over the years through the improvements in the barracks, training areas, the 166th Regiment, and even an improved PX and Military Clothing Sales store,” Potts said. “The improvements are too numerous to name, however, the changes of the post over time and the impact to the national community are massive and far reaching.”



    Date Taken: 09.29.2023
    Date Posted: 09.29.2023 11:21
    Story ID: 454669
    Hometown: MOUNT GRETNA, PA, US

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