Fort Wingate Army Depot (FWDA)
The Fort Wingate Army Depot, located 7 miles east of Gallup, sits among the red rocks along U.S. Interstate 40, next to the reservations of the Navajo Nation and the Zuni Pueblo Tribe in New Mexico. According to the Navajo and Zuni, Fort Wingate is an ancestral home of both tribes. In 1918, the Army established a munitions-depot around an old cavalry post. From 1918 until its closure in 1993, the 22,000-acre installation stored and demolished ammunition. In negotiations with the tribes, the Army Base Realignment and Closure Program transferred half of the 22,000 acres to be used jointly by the tribes, retaining the other half for missile testing and launching.
The facility is occasionally used to shoot missiles to White Sands Missile Range, which is about 150 miles to the south. The 2,000 pound rocket boosters used in these test flights drop in nearby Cibola National Forest. Testing of the nuclear capable Pershing-1 missile at White Sands in the early 1960s involved off-range firings from Fort Wingate, N.M. and several locations in southern Utah like Blanding and Green River. The US Army Space and Missile Defense Command's Ballistic Missile Targets Joint Project Office, in support of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization's Consolidated Targets Program, successfully tested a newly configured ballistic missile target vehicle launched from Fort Wingate to White Sands Missile Range, N.M., on 02 March 1998.
TPL, Inc. is a materials science-based technology development and commercialization company. TPL's business areas are: contract R&D, engineering services (principally in the demilitarization of conventional munitions), and commercial products. Company facilities include a 1,000 acre site, with 150 storage bunkers and 50,000ft2 of buildings, that constitutes TPL's state-of-the-art demilitarizaton facility at Fort Wingate. TPL uses space at Fort Wingate to "demilitarize" a variety of surplus munitions by breaking them down into safe, recyclable materials. Several energetic materials resource recovery and reuse contracts received by TPL under the U.S. Navy's Ordnance Reclamation Program, funded by SBIR contracts, have allowed TPL to compete successfully as a prime contractor in the U.S. Army Industrial Operations Command Demilitarization Program. TPL, Inc. has, through the SBIR/STTR program, grown from a one-person company in 1989 to an 85-person company with over $7M in annual sales. TPL is working to establish a smokeless powder from gun propellant manufacturing plant at its Fort Wingate, NM, Demilitarization Facility.
In November 1999 two people were injured from unexploded ammunition at Fort Wingate. The two were believed to have been disassembling a howitzer shell which is fired in a high trajectory from a short cannon when it exploded. They reportedly worked for TPL, the private company hired by the federal government to decommission the weapons at the old ammunition storage base.
From 1949 to 1993, Fort Wingate stored, conducted functional testing of, and demilitarized munitions. Open-burning detonation, incineration, and bomb washout were the principal demilitarization methods used. Past practices deposited ordnance-related waste on and off the facility. Restoration efforts are focused on the following conditions: 1) clearance of lands affected by unexploded ordnance (UXO); 2) regulated closure of the Open Burning/Open Detonation (OB/OD) Area; 3) remediation of soils at a pistol range, pesticide-contaminated soil at building 5, and soil associated with the former Bomb Washout Plant Lagoons that was contaminated with explosives; 4) remediation of PCB contamination inside buildings 501 and 11 and demolition of the former Bomb Washout Plant (building 503); and 5) closure of two unpermitted solid waste landfills.
A Base Clean Up Team (BCT) is established for DOD installations slated for closure or realignment where property was available for community transfer. A typical BCT is comprised of one representative from DOD, one representative from the state, and one representative from the EPA. The plan empowers the team with the authority, responsibility, and accountability for all Environmental Cleanup Programs at these installations, emphasizing those actions which are necessary to facilitate reuse and redevelopment. In 1995, a BCT was formed at Fort Wingate Depot Activity.
In 1846 the Treaty of Bear Springs was signed by Narbona, Zarcillas Largo, Sandoval and other Navajo Chiefs and Colonel Alexander Domphor of Third Missouri Volunteeers of the US Army. In the spring of 1860 a temporary post, Fort Fauntleroy, was established at Bear Spring. Later it was renamed Fort Lyon when General Thomas T. Faunleroy, for whom the Fort was originally named, joined the Confederates. The post was abandoned at the time of the Texan invasion of the territory in 1862. By 1868 the post was reoccupied by troops accompanying the Navajo Indians when they were moved from the Reservation of Fort Sherman, New Mexico. The post was renamed Fort Wingate after the abandonment of an Army post of that name located near the present site of San Rafael, New Mexico. It served as the Agency for the Navajos returning from Fort Sumner for a short time until the Agency was moved to Fort Defiance.
Between 1910 and 1914 the Post was abandoned and placed in charge of a caretaker. The buildings were temporarily used for housing 4000 Mexican during the Villa Uprising in 1914, and General John J. Pershing used Fort Wingate as a rest post during the Villa Uprising. Between 1915 and 1918 the Post was abandoned and placed in charge of a carteker. In 1918 the facility was taken over by the Ordnance Department for the storage of high explosive.
Fort Wingate contains sites rich in cultural heritage and historical significance. Over 200 Navajo ruins were discovered on the property, as well as several modern earth-covered dwellings called "hogans". The property served for centuries as a hunting and gathering area for the Zunis. Over 600 archeological sites were recorded by surveyors, including an additional 200 ruins traceable to the Anasazi, ancestors of the Zuni.
Efforts to clean up the property have focused on the removal of exploded and unexploded ordnance. Given the cultural and historical significance of Fort Wingate, the first step of the restoration process involved identifying the numerous cultural and historic resources affected by the cleanup and disposal of the property.
Corps Of Engineers (COE) project managers recognized early that efforts to identify sites of cultural and historical significance would face possible resistance from the Navajo and Zuni. For many members of the tribes, divulging locations of religious and other sacred areas diminishes the sites' sacred nature.
Archaeologists and ethnologists working with the COE had to convince the tribes that although the Army needed to find sacred sites, it did not want to know the type and nature of the sites. In addition, project scientists had to overcome a legacy of more than 100 years of mistrust. Mistrust, unfortunately, was created by researchers who repeatedly violated the trust of the Native Americans by divulging the location of sacred sites and the nature of religious ceremonies.
In the 1994 Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Fort Wingate to White Sands Missile Range missile shots, the Navajo expressed concern that flying missiles might pierce the "dome of the spirit" which is the air space represented by visualizing a dome placed over the area enclosed by the four sacred Navajo mountains. Such an intrusion would disrupt the spiritual harmony of the lands within the four sacred mountains and perhaps effect the efficacy of ceremonies conducted within the reservation or at locations adjacent to the Navajo communities.
An outbreak of the hantavirus claimed Navajo lives in an area around the depot in 1994. George John, Navajo councilman from Red Mesa, AZ, was among the Navajos who questioned whether cleanup efforts at Fort Wingate resulted in the release of germ warfare agents previously stored at the base, an allegation denied by the Army.
When New Mexico Fish and Game scheduled a sport hunt to kill off buffalo in the state's herd in January 1996, Fort Wingate was the site of protests by Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment. New Mexico started the herd in 1966 to provide new hunting opportunities, but protests and lawsuits from American Indian tribes and animal activists prevented the hunts. New Mexico halted the buffalo shoot, and auctioned off the herd at about $1,000 a head. Moving the bison became a necessity when the federal government decided to transfer portions of closed Fort Wingate to the Navajo and Zuni Pueblo Indians. The tribes didn't want to take responsibility for the herd.
Flight tests of the Army Tactical Missile System [ATACMS] were conducted from Fort Wingate to White Sands Missile Range in 1998, sparking protests by tribes and environmentalists.
In 1991, the DOE considered New Mexico sites Fort Wingate and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) as places to store store 20,000-plus plutonium cores - or pits - from dismantled nuclear weapons. The Fort Wingate storage plan was subsequently scrapped.
Located just off Interstate 40 approximately 15 miles east of Gallup, Fort Wingate is part of the Eastern Navajo Agency of the Navajo Nation. The land in and around Ft. Wingate is mostly privately held or owned by the US Government. The Bureau of Indian Affairs' run boarding school of Ft. Wingate provides room for the Ft. Wingate Clinic. The primary purpose of this clinic is to provide Dental care to the students of the schools and other Native American beneficiaries of the area. The building also houses the School Nurse Office.
The community of Gallup was founded as a railhead for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad in 1881 and quickly became a trade center and supplier of coal to keep the railroad running. The community was named for railroad paymaster, David L. Gallup, who established an office in 1880. Gallup was a typical western town, including saloons, trade, and houses of the night. Nearby Fort Wingate held a contingent of federal soldiers that kept the peace on the frontier. Gallup grew commercially and soon became a trade center for Native Americans. The railroad selected Gallup as a Division Terminal in 1895 and for the next forty years coal mining and the railroad dominated the economy.
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list