The Army completed construction of the original base in October 1944. The base consisted of approximately 600 acres with housing for 108 officers and 330 enlisted. It eventually featured two parallel runways 6,625 feet long by 150 feet wide and Birchwood Hangar, long a fixture on base. The base was dubbed "Satellite" or "Mile 26" by some workers and "26-Mile Strip" by the brass. One story had it the base was named 26-Mile Strip because of its proximity to one of the 13 Army telegraph stations that linked Fairbanks with Valdez as part of the Army's WAMCAT, or Washington-Alaska Military Communications and Telegraph, system. However the reason for the naming was even simpler. Once built, the gate to the base was constructed at the south end of the runway, so people traveling from Fairbanks would have to go to the south end. That drive measured out to be exactly 26 miles, so the base was then known as 26-Mile Strip.
In 1946, with the onset of the Cold War looming, there came a time for a large bomber base in Alaska. The military needed a long runway to accommodate the planned deployment of Strategic Air Command intercontinental bombers. The existing west runway was expanded to a length of 14,500 feet.
In November 1947 the first Strategic Air Command bombers arrived at 26-Mile with the deployment of the 97th Bomber Group from Smokey Hill Air Force Base, Kan. Shortly afterward, on Feb. 4, 1948, the Air Force changed the name of 26-Mile Post to Eielson Air Force Base in honor of famed Arctic aviation pioneer Carl Ben Eielson.
The 97th Bomber Group departed Eielson in March 1948, but other Strategic Air Command units followed. Eielson played host to B-29s, B-36s and finally B-47s. In fact, the largest hangar on Eielson today, now used for the Air Force's Cope Thunder exercises, was originally built to house two B-36 "Peacekeeper" bombers, the largest bomber ever in Air Force inventory.
The Air Force has seen many changes at Eielson, and many missions and aircraft have come and gone. Since its early days, Eielson has also been home to weather reconnaissance aircraft, tactical units from Alaskan Air Command, aerial tankers and, most recently, F-16s, A-10s and OA-10s as part of the 354th Fighter Wing, flying close air support and forward air control missions for nearby ground units.
Strategically, Eielson's location allows units based here to respond to hot spots in Europe faster than units at bases on the East Coast. The same is true for Korea and the Far East. Eielson units can respond quicker than many of the units based in California.
Secretary of Defense Recommendations: In its 2005 BRAC Recommendations, DoD recommended to realign Eielson Air Force Base, AK. The 354th Fighter Wing's assigned A-10 aircraft would be distributed to the 917th Wing Barksdale Air Force Base, LA (three aircraft); to a new active duty unit at Moody Air Force Base, GA (12 aircraft); and to backup inventory (three aircraft). The 354th Fighter Wing's F-16 aircraft would be distributed to the 57th Wing, Nellis Air Force Base, NV (18 aircraft). The Air National Guard Tanker unit and rescue alert detachment would remain as tenant on Eielson.
Secretary of Defense Justification: Eielson's (11) military value is high because of its close proximity to valuable airspace and ranges; however, Eielson is an expensive base to operate and improve (build). The Air Force recommends realigning Eielson, but keeping the base open in a "warm" status using the resident Air National Guard units and a portion of the infrastructure to continue operating the base for USAF/Joint/Combined exercises. The Air Force distributes the F-16s to Nellis (13) a base with high military value, and the A-10s to Moody (11-SOF/CSAR), which also ranks high in military value. The CIRFs at Moody and Shaw compliment force structure moves and anticipate these bases as workload centers for these commodities.
Community Concerns: The Eielson, AK, community argued that DoD's proposed realignment deviated from military value criteria, would not produce estimated savings, undermined joint training, and ignored the strategic value of military presence in Alaska. First, although the Air Force acknowledged Eielson's high military value, it subordinated this value to cost savings. Further, the cost to maintain Eielson in a "warm" status is not realistic. A site survey subsequent to the original DoD proposal showed an additional 1,000 personnel would be needed to properly maintain the installation.
Second, the community asserted the loss of close air support aircraft at Eielson would reduce joint training opportunities with the Army and degrade readiness of the Stryker Brigade at Fort Wainwright, AK, and the Airborne Brigade at Fort Richardson, AK. Further, they questioned the affordability of large-scale exercises at Eielson if the Air Force has to pay higher than projected costs to properly maintain the base in "warm" status. These costs could result in underutilization of Eielson's valuable range complex.
Finally, the community contended DoD's recommendation ignored Eielson's strategic location in the Pacific theater, claiming that operational units at Eielson are even more critical given plans to reduce US forces in Korea and Japan. Removing aircraft could send an unintended message that the US is reducing its interests in the Pacific and increase response times to regional contingencies.
Commission Recommendations: The Commission found that a risk of the realignment of Eielson would be under-use of one of the Air Force's best airspace and range complexes. Eielson's military value is distinguished from other bases by its airspace and range complex, which is about three times the size of the Air Force's Red Flag complex at Nellis AFB, NV. The investment in the complex's range instrumentation is also significant. The Air Force justified its recommendation by its intention to increase the number of large scale exercises at Eielson. Eielson would have greater capacity to host these exercises without aircraft permanently based there. However, the Commission found that plans to expand exercises are not yet formalized. In order to maintain air combat forces in the region and further utilize the range, the Commission rejected the portion of the recommendation that relocates the 354th Wing's F-16s.
The Commission found permanently basing A-10s in Alaska would have a negligible impact on the ability to respond to a contingency in the Pacific Theater. While there would be a delay in getting forces into theater, the timing would still meet operational plan requirements. The Commission also found that the lack of permanently assigned A-10 aircraft at Eielson may somewhat limit joint training opportunities with the Army in Alaska, but those losses would be offset by far more training opportunities at Moody AFB, GA, which is close to a large number of Army and Special Forces units.
The Commission found that the Air Force significantly underestimated the costs of maintaining Eielson as a "warm base." The Commission was unable to determine how many more personnel are needed to maintain the base. The Commission found that portions of the base needed for future use, such as supporting a contingency or exercise, must be properly maintained. The Commission found that savings attributable to military personnel reductions represented an estimated 86 percent of Eielson's net present value savings.
Finally, the Commission notes that the economic impact in the Fairbanks, AK area would be substantial. Nearly nine percent of jobs in the area would be lost.
Separately, the Commission found the air sovereignty mission could be conducted from Eielson Air Force Base and recommended closure of Galena Forward Operating Location, AK. Eielson will become the northernmost air defense site in the United States.
The Commission found no substantial deviation in paragraph 79.b and 79.c of the bill (see Appendix Q) related to the TF- 34 and ALQ-184 maintenance realignments.
Commission Recommendations: The Commission found that the Secretary of Defense deviated substantially from final selection criteria 1 and 5, and from the Force Structure Plan. Therefore, the Commission recommends the following:
Realign Eielson Air Force Base, AK. The 354th Fighter Wing's assigned A-10 aircraft will be distributed to the 917th Wing Barksdale Air Force Base, LA (three aircraft); to a new active-duty unit at Moody Air Force Base, GA (12 aircraft); and to backup inventory (three aircraft). The Air National Guard Tanker unit and rescue alert detachment will remain as tenants on Eielson.
Realign Moody Air Force Base, by relocating base-level ALQ-184 intermediate maintenance to Shaw Air Force Base, SC, establishing a Centralized Intermediate Repair Facility (CIRF) at Shaw Air Force Base, SC for ALQ-184 pods.
Realign Shaw Air Force Base, relocating base-level TF-34 engine intermediate maintenance to Moody Air Force Base, establishing a CIRF at Moody Air Force Base for TF-34 engines.
The Commission found that this change and the recommendation as amended are consistent with the final selection criteria and the Force Structure Plan. The full text of this and all Commission recommendations can be found in Appendix Q.
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