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Fort Pickett

With over 35,000 acres of available maneuver training area in Virginia's piedmont physiographic province, Ft. Pickett-Maneuver Training Center (FPMTC) consists of diverse terrain with few environmental constraints. It offers the best in both mounted and dismounted infantry training. Open upland savannas, with rolling contours and patches of cover, lend themselves effectively to both mounted and dismounted operations. Three platoon sized lanes have been developed offering "open/broken" terrain, typically intermixed with patches of forest. Terrain is being managed to closely resemble the eastern European theater. The prescribed burn program in use at Ft. Pickett has opened the understory significantly to facilitate maneuver. The ultimate goal is to provide "GO" terrain for all types of combat arms, combat support, and CSS units.

While the facilities at Pickett are geared to train military personnel and units, non-military organizations use them too. These include the U.S. Marshal's Service, FBI, A.T.F., Virginia State Police and local law enforcement agencies. The decision to inactivate the regular Army garrison at Fort Pickett and turn over operation of the post to the Virginia National Guard was finalized in 1995 and enacted in 1997. Since that time no regular Army personnel have been assigned to Pickett for the first time since January 1942.

A new addition to the installation is the infantry platoon Combined Arms Live Fire EXercise (CALFEX) corridor, which includes an area of 12,000 square meters culminating into the dedicated impact area. This gives commanders the ability to exercise their combined arms team with all supporting assets such as: FA, CAS, Mortars, Combat Engineers, and Aerial Gunnery (rotary wing). Creativity is widely available to commanders to develop their own combat live fire scenarios.

Petroleum pipeline construction and operating units are not authorized the Inland Petroleum Distribution System (IPDS) equipment on their Modification Table of Organization and Equipment (MTOE). To meet their training requirement, the US Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) Petroleum Training Module (FPTM) was established at Fort Pickett, VA, for annual training of both active duty and reserve soldiers on the IPDS. The FPTM provides petroleum and Engineer units with realistic, hands-on training on the installation, operation, maintenance, disassembly, cleaning and storing of the major IPDS components. Each year, 700-1,200 soldiers from 12-17 active and reserve units train at this site. Annual training has four phases. The initial phase is classroom training at the unit's home station. The second phase requires Engineer construction companies to construct and install 23 miles of petroleum pipeline with associated pump stations and terminals. Phase three consists of each Quartermaster petroleum pipeline and terminal operating company conducting two weeks of intensive, hands-on collective training. The fourth phase entails recovery, cleaning and repacking all equipment.

Fort Pickett is located in the lower piedmont of southeastern Virginia near the town of Blackstone. Historically, fire played a significant role in shaping the vegetation and thus the landscape in the southeastern United States. In the past two decades prescribed fire emerged as a cost effective and ecologically appropriate method of landscape manipulation in the southeast. At FPMTC military trainers expressed the need for more "Go" terrain for mechanized and light infantry maneuvers. In addition, control of woody vegetation in existing maneuver areas was becoming very costly to control through traditional means. The increased use of prescribed fire was identified as a cost effective tool to successfully manipulate vegetation at FPMTC. From a training perspective, prescribed fire is effective in controlling woody vegetation, clearing the understory of downed woody debris and improving lines of sight. As a result, prescribed fire can significantly improve mobility and thus the usefulness of open and forested training land for infantry training. In addition, the increased use of prescribed fire is consistent with the ecosystem management goals of FPMTC.

In late 1941, as war drew closer to America's shores, a team of Army surveyors visited the site of a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp near the small rural town of Blackstone, Virginia. There they found enough land, water and other resources needed to establish a post large enough to simultaneously train more than one infantry division. The site also offered easy railroad access to both mountain and coastal training sites. By December 1941, 45,867 acres of land in Nottoway, Dinwiddie, Lunenburg and Brunswick Counties were acquired and cleared to prepare for construction of the first buildings.

Elements of the Virginia National Guard had their first taste of what is now Fort Pickett on Dec. 6-7 when the 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry, camped here on the way back to its home station at Ft. Meade, Md., having completed a series of war games in North Carolina. After the 116th left on Dec. 8, no Virginia Guard commands returned to train at Pickett until 1950, shortly after the beginning of the Korean War.

The rapid development of Fort Pickett became a top priority after U.S. entry in WW II. Two rail spurs were built to the camp in 1942-1943 to increase logistical efficiency and the rapid movement of troops on and off post. Air transportation to and from Pickett became available with the completion of a four-runway airfield in late 1942. The tower was placed beside the only hangar built on post, and its steel beam frames and cinder block foundation are still visible today. Since each cement runway was 5,269 feet long and 300 feet wide the Blackstone Army Airfield was large enough to allow the safe landing of the Douglas C-47 "Gooney Bird". Fighter planes could use the runway in an emergency, although none were stationed at the airfield. Aircraft fuel was delivered by rail and contained in fuel trucks, since permanent storage tanks were not constructed until after World War II. The airfield remained virtually unchanged until the 1990's.

By the end of 1942, more than 1,400 buildings were completed and in use across the post, including approximately 1,000 enlisted barracks and 70 officer's quarters. Twelve chapels, the post hospital complex (later greatly expanded) and six firehouses were built, along with warehouses, headquarters and administrative buildings. To assure an adequate water supply for the post and its potential 60,000-soldier population, the Army built and maintained its own water pumping, filtration and sewage treatment plants. In the 1980's the Army transferred control and operation of these facilities to the town of Blackstone.

For recreation, there were four movie theaters (two more were added later), a field house with a gym, several enlisted clubs, a main post exchange and several "satellite" PXs. By war's end, more than 300 additional buildings were constructed, including female barracks and facilities for two prisoner-of-war camps. When the German and Italian armies were defeated in North Africa in mid-1943, more than 250,000 enemy soldiers were captured. Many of these POWs were brought to the United States to perform farm work and other non-war-related jobs as allowed by the Geneva Convention. A total of approximately 6,000 German prisoners were sent to Camp Pickett beginning in January 1944. The Army built two main camps and nine smaller satellite camps in the nearby counties to house the Germans. The main compounds had a perimeter of barbed wire surrounding the barracks and other buildings. The perimeter of Camp Number I still stands on Pickett.

Although Camp Pickett seemed destined to be closed, the demands of the Cold War and the need to train division-sized Reserve Component units in the mid-Atlantic region brought a redefined role for the post. By 1960, portions were being revamped to house battalions coming for a week or two each year to conduct specialized training. This included not only Guard/Reserve commands, but also Navy and Marine Corps personnel. These components still use Pickett's facilities today under Virginia National Guard control.

The predecessor to the Virginia National Guard Maneuver Training Center was organized and stationed at Pickett in 1961. Its primary mission, then as now, was to store and maintain pieces of equipment such as tanks and other armored vehicles that visiting units could use, rather than incurring the high cost of bringing their own machines from home station.

Pickett experienced two significant interralated events in 1974 that marked its future path. The first was its redesignation from "Camp" to "Fort Pickett" as a reflection of its new mission to offer quality training opportunities, not only to Reserve units, but also active duty forces on a yearly basis. The second important event was the completion for the first time since the Korean War, of a new building on post. Building 467 contained space not only to house enlisted personnel, but to serve as a mess facility and administrative area. More significantly, it was built of brick and intended as the first permanent structure in Pickett's history.

Ten years later, a whole new complex of barracks and support structures was completed. Large enough to house an entire brigade, the complex was dedicated June 8, 1984, in memory of Tech. Sgt. Frank Peregory of the 116th Infantry, 40 years to the day after he earned the Medal of Honor during the D-Day invasion. Other upgrades of facilities included a doubling of the existing telephone system from 2,600 to 5,100 lines in 1991 and renovation and extension of the Blackstone Army Airfield's runways in 1994 to allow use by C-130 and C-17 transport aircraft. This permitted easy access for airmobile troops and equipment coming to Fort Pickett for training.

In more recent years, other structures were added or converted to meet the post's changing missions. Among these were a new firehouse and renovations on the remaining NCO Club, making it more of a community center where local town events as well as post functions are held. Good community relations have always been important to the success of Fort Pickett. From its very beginning, the post has dramatically changed the lives of the citizens of Blackstone. It has created a number of good jobs and supported the town in a variety of other ways, from hosting elderly fishing trips at the on-post lakes to Fourth of July celebrations. Boy and Girl Scout organizations also have camped, fished and hiked the nature trails for many years. Currently, many activities attract a large number of local citizens and former staff and personnel who had been stationed there during the war.



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