Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center
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|Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center|
|Part of Michigan Air National Guard (MI ANG)|
Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center Main Gate
|Owner||United States Air Force|
|Controlled by||Air National Guard|
|In use||1941–1945; 1954 – present|
|Garrison||Michigan Air National Guard|
The Alpena CRTC is a year-round training facility. It provides premier support, facilities, instruction and airspace to Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Coalition and emergency responders to meet the mission requirements of combatant commanders and civil authorities.
It is one of four Combat Readiness Training Centers in the United States. (The others are at Volk Field in Wisconsin; Gulfport, Mississippi; and Savannah, Georgia.) The Alpena CRTC boasts the largest airspace east of the Mississippi River, has 147,000 acres available for ground maneuver units, and trains over 20,000 joint and coalition personnel annually.
The Alpena CRTC is the second organization in the Air National Guard to be certified as a Joint National Training Center. The base has three JTE's, offers JTAC Training, and operates a JTAC 4m dome simulator.
Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center (CRTC), formerly named Phelps Collins Field and the Phelps Collins Air National Guard Base, has a long interesting history beginning in the early 20th century. Before that date, the area had a reputation for yielding blueberries in abundance to local Indians and early settlers in the area. In the early 20th century, the area was known as the "Seven Mile Plains" named because the flat open area stretching from the Seven Mile Dam to M-32.
During the early part of the 20th century, flying machines began to appear in the sky over most of the country including the Alpena area. It didn't take long for the early aeronautical risk takers to realize the flat open area was just what they needed to land and take off with their aircraft known as Jennies. The landing area was a bit rough going, but so was the practice of flying in general during those early years.
Around the same time, local developers and land owners realized the potential of the flat area and foresaw the need for a landing strip as a result of the onset of air travel. Thus the idea of an airport was born. Harry Fletcher and his brother Philip (Nephews of Alan M. Fletcher, founder of Fletcher Paper Co.) began negotiations along with Robert Scott (then president of Scott Engineering) and James McQuarrie, who later sat on the County Board's Airport Committee. These individuals were fundamental in developing the plan and getting the state on board.
The tract of 80 acres, previously surveyed by the Army Corps of Engineers, was donated by Harry and Phillip. Several other 40 acres plots donated by Alpena Power Company set the proposed plan into action.
During that same time, Works Progress Administration (WPA) crews were working on projects around the country. They were pressed into service to begin the clearing of the underbrush and leveling out the land in preparation for the first landing area, which would later become the main part of the runway now in existence.
On 31 August 1931, the airport was formally dedicated as Captain Phelps Collins Field in honor of Alpena's World War I hero, who in May 1917 volunteered to the French Air Service and fought with the celebrated French Escadrille 103. On January 7, 1918, he transferred to the famed American 103d Aero Squadron, a successor to Lafayette Escadrille, and died while defending the airspace over Paris on 12 March 1918. Governor Wilber M. Brucker flew in to formally accept the Airport and it became Michigan's first State owned airport. Phelps had spent a lot of time in Alpena as a youth shortly before he became interested in flying. There is a monument in France honoring the escadrille and his name appears on it.
Construction of the first hangar, a 40x90 foot structure built of cobblestone, began in 1935 and was completed in 1937. It could accommodate four average size aircraft of the era.
The 1st Pursuit Group out of Selfridge Field practiced flying maneuvers and gunnery training near Oscoda, Michigan. When they became aware of the facility at Alpena, they were eager to try it out. By the late 1930s, they began to use the airfield, housing their personnel in tents at the Alpena County Fairgrounds. This marked the beginning of military personnel using the site for training maneuvers as they still do today.
In 1940, 400–500 Selfridge men trained at Phelps Collins with a complement of 35 Seversky P-35's. With World War II looming on the horizon the training tempo increased. The next year they brought P-40 Warhawks and the first P-38's Lockheed Lightning fighters.
World War II
As a result of World War II, the demand for training facilities became crucial and so the field was taken over by the War Assets Administration. The rough landing strip was replaced by a military airfield, with construction beginning on 29 July 1942. When completed, Alpena Army Airfield consisted of three hard-surfaced concrete runways (5000x150 (01/19), 5030x150 (70/250), and 5030x150 (16/34). Improvements included: housing for 2,000 personnel, two mess halls, operation buildings, a hospital and three runways over a mile long and 150 feet wide. Actual construction began in 1942. This was a big project for Alpena. By this time the total acreage of the base had increased to 2,500 acres. It was activated on 19 April 1943.
The planned use of the base, along with training military personnel, was to provide air defense for the Soo Locks. Controlled by the 4250th Army Air Force Base Unit. the airfield was initially assigned to Air Transport Command as a training base for long range transport pilots. In addition, the base was also tasked with certifying and training a pool of new pilots resulting from the P-47 Thunderbolt modifications for staging out aircraft to overseas bases.
It operated two sub-bases, one being Kinross Army Airfield, which later became the Strategic Air Command Kincheloe Air Force Base and Raco Army Airfield, which later became an Air Defense Command CIM-10 Bomarc surface-to-air missile site during the Cold War.
It was transferred to Air Technical Service Command in late 1944 when the ATC training program was wound down. Designated as Alpena Army Air Base, the facility was a maintenance and overhaul facility for B-24 Liberator bombers produced by Ford at its Willow Run, Michigan aircraft manufacturing plant. Aircraft would be sent to Alpena for modifications prior to their deployment to overseas combat units.
In 1946, Alpena Army Air Base was declared surplus and turned over to the War Assets Administration for disposition. It became Alpena County Regional Airport. Many of the buildings constructed in 1942 were stripped down and auctioned off and the only buildings left standing were the hospital area and big hangar built in 1943. Some of the barracks (which were very small) were sold off and moved. Some were placed in neighborhoods on Alpena's North side and were converted into private residences.
Air Defense Command
Alpena Air Force Station (ADC ID: M-105) was established in 1954 by the United States Air Force Air Defense Command as one of a planned deployment of forty-four Mobile radar stations to support the permanent ADC Radar network in the United States sited around the perimeter of the country. This deployment was projected to be operational by mid-1952. Funding, constant site changes, construction, and equipment delivery delayed deployment.
Exercising a right of return to the facility, ADC constructed the radar station on the northwest corner of the airport on the grounds of the former Army Air Base ground station. This site became operational in December 1954 when the 677th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron was moved to the new station from Willow Run Air Force Station, Michigan. Beneficial occupancy was achieved at this Phase I mobile radar site in late 1954. Operations began in 1956, with an AN/TPS-1D radar, and initially the station functioned as a Ground-Control Intercept (GCI) and warning station. As a GCI station, the squadron's role was to guide interceptor aircraft toward unidentified intruders picked up on the unit's radar scopes.
Budget cuts forced the station to close in 1957. It was then replaced by an unmanned gap-filler radar site, designated P-34E with an AN/FPS-18 radar, located on the southwest side of the airport. It was operated as such by the 752d Radar Squadron at Empire AFS, Michigan from June 1960 until June 1968.
Today, a few buildings remain of the ADC Radar Station, and the FPS-18 support building remains of the Gap Filler site.
Air National Guard use
By January 1952, plans were in place to have joint use with the civilian airport. The facility would be instated as an ANG Permanent Field Training Site (PFTS).
Once the ANG took over the site, they completed another round of construction projects totaling $2.5M dollars. Sixty-two concrete block buildings were built including two dining facilities and barracks to house 2,000 men. The North/South runway was extended to 8,000 feet. Most of the day-to-day operations were performed by the Alpena County Road Commission still occupying a few building on the base.
During the 1960s, the runway taxiways were extended and an air traffic control tower was added. Also during that decade, the Air Defense Command Detachment from Wurtsmith AFB, Oscoda Michigan, had 60 persons permanently stationed here in Alpena until 1972/73 at which time their unit was discontinued.
The original military personnel assigned in 1953 totaled seven individuals and an additional two military and two Federal Civil Service personnel were added the following year. The next major personnel change was in 1979 when the military personnel had their status changed from Federal Civil Service Technicians to Active Guard Reservists (AGR). About that time the civilians employed on the base became Michigan State Civil Servants.
In early 1960s, the Grayling Air-to-Ground Gunnery Range Negotiations began and early during the decade the range was constructed on 1,900 acres near Grayling, Michigan. Soon after, aircraft could be seen using the site to fly sorties for aircraft gunnery and bombing exercises. This added asset increased the usage and value of the base immensely.
Units from all over the United States come annually to train, with Air National Guardsman totaling in the tens of thousands. In 1991, the site was renamed the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center (CRTC). This new title was more in line with the base mission of "combat training".
With the closing of Wurtsmith AFB in 1993, the need for radar approach and control was assigned to the CRTC. Equipment and personnel to operate it were added to the facility. The mission of the CRTC was increased with the additional tasking of running an ANG Medical Readiness Training School. The schoolhouse was designed to train ANG medical units for field operations. Both of these programs added personnel to the workforce and the number of employees, military and civilian, was over 100 persons.
Construction in the early 1990s was ongoing, with a major emphasis on upgrading the 1950s barracks and latrines to current standards. Thus a $3.8 million dormitory upgrade project begun and office buildings and officer quarters were all remodeled.
During the period, under the command of Col Thomas G. Cuter, the base created a long range plan including a new dining facility, fire station, operations facility, squadron operations (office) buildings, a convention center, a new facility at the Grayling Range and new dormitories.
In 1991, another tasking was added to the mission when the Air Combat Maneuver Instrumentation (ACMI) was instated. This system involves computerized communication between the aircraft and a computer satellite, providing full mission replay.
With the addition of the Fire Training Site and MOUT City in early 2000, the CRTC hosts several Fireman Schools and numerous law enforcement training courses annually.
Although the CRTC's core mission is to train ANG units, other military train here regularly. Air Force, Army, Navy Seals Marines and Latvian and Italian military have trained at the site. In recent years the CRTC has opened its gate to numerous non-profit organizations. It is not uncommon to see canine training, emergency response training along with other training maneuvers running all at the same time. Youth programs have expanded from the traditional Civil Air Patrol Cadets to include ROTC, JRROTC, Boy Scouts of America/Girl Scouts of the USA, Freedom Academy Students, Michigan Youth Camp Cadets.
With the addition of 26 Traditional Guardsman positions in 2000, the number of total base personnel now is over 200 employees. AGRs, Traditional Guardsman, Michigan State Civil Service and contracted employees make up the group. Military members come from all over the United States as well as local residents. Prior to their assignment at the base, many personnel have served the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines.
Personnel have been called to give aid for local area flooding and deployed to Hurricane Katrina relief mission. Many have volunteered and been deployed overseas in support of operations: Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Iraqi Freedom, Joint Forge, Jump Start, Enduring Freedom, Northern Watch, Northern Eagle and Deep Freeze.
In 2013 manpower reductions took place with the closing of the Medical Readiness Training Site (MRTS). This closing was part of a reduction in manpower directed by the USAF and ANG. The closing of the MRTS constituted a loss of 14 enlisted and two officers.
The Alpena CRTC also faced manpower reductions in 2013. The vehicle maintenance shop has faced manpower reductions. The Alpena CRTC Supply has been reduced to two members. The total loss of manpower in 2013 was over 25 enlisted members.
- Lloyd H. Cornett and Mildred W. Johnson. A Handbook of Aerospace Defense Organization, 1946 – 1980. Office of History, Aerospace Defense Center, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado
- Winkler, David F. (1997). Searching the skies: the legacy of the United States Cold War defense radar program. Prepared for United States Air Force Headquarters Air Combat Command.