Fort Chaffee Maneuver Training Center
|Part of Arkansas National Guard
United States Army Reserve
|Fort Smith, Arkansas|
U.S. Army Reserve soldiers of the 652nd Multi-Role Bridge Company, from Ellsworth, Wis., launch and position bridge bay sections during River Assault 2011 at Fort Chaffee, Ark. River Assault 2011.
|Type||National Guard Training Camp|
|Built by||United States Army|
|Prior Permission needed|
|Controlled by||Arkansas National Guard|
|Occupants||U.S. Army, Arkansas National Guard|
|Battles/wars||World War I, World War II, Cold War|
Fort Chaffee Maneuver Training Center is an Army National Guard installation in western Arkansas, adjacent to the city of Fort Smith, and one mile (1.6 km) southeast of Fort Smith Regional Airport. The Arkansas River flows eastward along the northern border of the post and Interstate 40 is five miles (8 km) to the north on the opposite side of the river. Fort Chaffee is primarily used as a training facility by regional National Guard and Army Reserve units and active military units from other installations. Fort Chaffee is now under the control of the Arkansas Army National Guard; at this time, no active Regular Army units are permanently stationed at the post.
Fort Chaffee was originally named Camp Chaffee. Camp Chaffee was established in response to the need for more US troops for the imminent involvement in World War II. Construction on Camp Chaffee was started in September 1941, with troops arriving on the base in December 1941. In March 1956, the name of Camp Chaffee was officially changed to Fort Chaffee in recognition of the permanent nature of the base.
Fort Chaffee, located just outside of Fort Smith (Sebastian County) and Barling (Sebastian County) on Arkansas Highway 22, has served the United States as an army training camp, a prisoner of war camp, and a refugee camp. Currently, 66,000 acres are used by the Arkansas National Guard as a training facility, with the Arkansas Air National Guard using the fort's Razorback Range for target practice.
The groundbreaking of Camp Chaffee was held on September 20, 1941, as part of the Department of War's preparations to double the size of the U.S. Army in the face of imminent war. That month, the United States government paid $1.35 million to acquire 15,163 acres from 712 property owners, including families, farms, businesses, churches, schools, and other government agencies. The camp was named after Major General Adna R. Chaffee Jr., an artillery officer who, in Europe during World War I, determined that the cavalry was outmoded and, unlike other cavalry officers, advocated for the use of tanks. It took only sixteen months to build the entire base. The first soldiers arrived on December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The installation was activated on March 27, 1942. From 1942 to 1946, the Sixth, Fourteenth and Sixteenth Armored Divisions trained there. The creation of the camp caused the nearby town of Barling to experience a tremendous boom in housing and businesses.
From 1948 to 1957, Chaffee was the home of the Fifth Armored Division. On March 21, 1956, Camp Chaffee was re-designated as Fort Chaffee; the US Army generally refers to an installation as a fort when it is a more permanent installation than a camp. In 1958, Chaffee was also home to its most famous occupant, Elvis Presley. As part of his induction into the US Army, Presley received his first military haircut in Building 803. In 1959, the "Home of the U.S. Army Training Center, Field Artillery" moved from Fort Chaffee to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where it remains to this day.
Fort Chaffee has twice served as a primary center for housing foreign refugees. First, it held Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees following the end of the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia as from 1975 to 1976, when Fort Chaffee was a processing center for refugees from Southeast Asia. The facility processed 50,809 refugees of the Vietnam War, giving them medical screenings, matching them with sponsors, and arranging for their residence in the United States.
On May 6, 1980, Fort Chaffee became a Cuban refugee resettlement center after the Cuban government allowed American boats to pick up refugees at the port of Mariel. Three weeks later, a number of refugees rioted at Fort Chaffee and burned two buildings. State troopers and tear gas were used to break up the crowd, and eighty-four Cubans were jailed. Riots among the Cubans were a key factor in Governor Bill Clinton's loss of the office in 1980. In two years, Fort Chaffee processed 25,390 Cuban refugees.
In 1987, the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) began training soldiers at Chaffee. The JRTC was transferred to Fort Polk, Louisiana, in 1993 and in 1995, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) recommended the closure of Fort Chaffee. The recommendation was approved with the condition that minimum essential ranges, facilities, and training areas were maintained as a Reserve Component Training enclave. On September 28, 1995, Fort Chaffee became a subinstallation of Fort Sill. In late 1995, the federal government declared 7,192 of Fort Chaffee’s 76,075 acres to be surplus and turned the land over to the state. The remaining 66,000 acres were turned over to the Arkansas National Guard for use as a training facility
A change-of-command ceremony was held on September 27, 1997 and command of Fort Chaffee was transferred from the U.S. Army to the Arkansas Army National Guard when the U.S. Army garrison was deactivated, with Fort Chaffee subsequently becoming the Chaffee Maneuver Training Center for Light Combat Forces. The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority was established to begin redeveloping the 6,000 acres that were turned over to the state. This was to include demolishing more than 700 buildings and rezoning land. The official redevelopment of the base began shortly after land was turned over, and the redevelopment authority is overseeing a number of residential, commercial, and industrial projects in what is known as Chaffee Crossing. On January 6, 2005, ground was broken for the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center, which now sits on 170 acres that was previously a part of Fort Chaffee.
With property transfers complete and minimal military staff permanently stationed there, the Chaffee Maneuver Training Center was declared an open post. The gatehouses were abandoned, and most of the fencing was removed. Military Police patrols were discontinued, and emergency services turned over to the city of Barling, the Arkansas State Police, and Highway Patrol Troop H. This lasted until the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. Then, all US Army installations in the United States were declared a closed post, and the center again took over emergency services.
The latest use of Fort Chaffee to house evacuees was when Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana in 2005. After Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, the empty barracks at Fort Chaffee were converted into temporary housing for more than 10,000 refugees from Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and other areas affected by the hurricane and its aftermath. Many of the evacuees were sponsored or temporarily housed at Fort Chaffee and have since decided to make Fort Smith their new home. This has brought a slight increase to the city's economy.
During the morning hours of January 29, 2008, a mixture of high winds and fire (which local authorities determined later an electrical brush fire) burned approximately 100 acres (0.40 km2) and damaged or destroyed 150 abandoned buildings at Fort Chaffee.
Approximately 10:00 PM local time on the night of August 3, 2011, another fire broke out on the 90 acre former medical complex. This was, according to the National Weather Service, the hottest day in Fort Chaffee history at 115 degrees Fahrenheit. This fire destroyed the hospital complex and nearly 120 buildings in the area. The fire's cause was ruled accidental.
Other uses of Fort Chaffee
In 1958, Elvis Presley stopped at Fort Chaffee en route to his basic training at Fort Hood, Texas. It was here that the public information officer John J. Mawn told a news conference that Presley would receive the standard "G.I. haircut" and would resemble a "peeled onion". Mawn, thereafter stationed in Germany, was the technical advisor for Presley's film G.I. Blues. Arlie Metheny, another information office, also coordinated Presley's induction at Fort Chaffee.
Fort Chaffee was featured in episode 11 of the 4th season of Ghost Adventures on November 19, 2010.
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