McChord AFB, Washington
Recent history has seen the demise of many Air Force installations worldwide, as part of the effort to reduce defense spending. McChord, however, goes on. Its association with the 62d Airlift Wing, and its proximity to Alaska and the rest of the Pacific theater, make it a vital part of our nation's defense. Its importance is highlighted and evidenced by its selection as one of two Air Mobility Command installations where the Air Force's newest airlifter, the C-17 Globemaster III, is based. The 62d's aging fleet of C-141's began to make its way to Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona in 1999, when the 62d began conversion to the C-17 Globemaster III began.
"Out where the blue Pacific finds haven in sun-splashed inland waterways, among the greenclad islands and along the varied shorelines adjacent to Tacoma, men and machinery have built a haven for the thunderbirds of the air that daily sing the song of a progressive community across the skies of many states in staccato notes of winged business and travel. With splendid facilities second to none in the country, Pierce County's new 1,000-acre airport has a complete landing circle of 3,000 feet in diameter that will permit landing and taking off in every direction of the compass with a 5,400-foot north and south runway in addition. The giant hangar recently completed has 27,600 square feet of storage space and contains every convenience and modern advantage to flying. A complete border and beacon lighting system make the local field an integral link in the second longest night run in the country. The field represents one of the finest landing areas in the country and its $370,000 cost was most reasonable. The airport offers a splendid potential site for manufacturing, airplane repair, and distribution."
That is how the Tacoma Ledger described what is now McChord Air Force Base, on 29 April 1931. Although man and progress have forever changed McChord's surroundings, this corner of the world continues to be one of the Air Force's most coveted assignments, both for its beauty, and TEAM McCHORD's reputation of unsurpassed excellence.
Much of present day McChord was swamp, plains, and prairie during the early years of civilian development. The location, weather, and terrain made it a natural choice for an air field. The moderate temperatures ensured year round use. The terrain was generally flat, ranging from 200 to 800 feet above sea level. The Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges shelter the field from strong Northwesterly winds.
Tacoma Field was in danger of being closed in early 1933, only four years after construction began. The airport was operating in the red, to the tune of $40,000 in operating costs and interest and principal on bonds per year. The Army, interested in Tacoma Field as a possible Northwest Air Defense base, announced 100 Army airships would be sent there from San Francisco in May, to take part in a Fort Lewis training exercise. That, added to the need for continued commercial use, convinced the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce to recommend keeping it open. By 1934 it was one of the best airports in America. Around that time Congress authorized the Secretary of War to establish airfields in six strategic areas in the United States. The 900-acre Tacoma Field was chosen as the best location in the Pacific Northwest.
Soon after the Governor of Washington approved the transfer of the airport to the United States Government, on 5 May 1938, it was officially designated McChord Field, in honor of Colonel William C. McChord, who had been killed in an accident near Richmond, Virginia, on 18 August 1937. At the time, the field consisted of one hangar and two landing strips. Shortly thereafter, construction on a large scale began. In December of 1938, a contract was awarded for construction of a 1,285-man Air Corps barracks. Today, this building is most commonly referred to as "The Castle."
During his lifetime, Colonel William C. McChord witnessed and took part in the birth of military aviation. Colonel McChord was born 29 December 1881, in Lebanon, Kentucky. He attended the United States Military Academy, where he earned a commission as a second lieutenant in the cavalry, on 14 June 1907. He received his flying training at Rockwell Field, California, and was rated a Junior Military Aviator on 31 May 1918. After completing a course in Bombardment Aviation at Ellington Field, Houston, Texas, and commanding for brief periods of time at Park Field, Tennessee, and Gerstner Field, Louisiana, he was transferred in March, 1919, to the Office of the Director of Air Service, Washington, D.C. There he served in various capacities; duty in the Finance Section of the Supply Group, a member of the Air Service Claims Board, assistant to the Chief of the Materials Disposal and Salvage Division of the Supply Group, and Assistant to the Chief of the Property Division of the Supply Group.
In July, 1920, Colonel McChord served as Air Officer of the Central Department (later the 6th Corps Area), for two years. He then completed the Air Corps Tactical, and Command and General Staff School courses of instruction. He went on to command Chanute Field, Illinois, and was Commandant of the Air Corps Technical School at the field until early in 1928 when he was transferred to the Advanced Flying School, Kelly Field, Texas. There, he completed the Special Observers course, and received the rating of "Airplane Observer" as of 25 June 1928. Following his graduation from the Army War College, Washington, D.C., Colonel McChord served as instructor at the Command and General Staff School for four years. He was then transferred to the Panama Canal Department for duty as Commanding Officer of the 19th Composite Wing. In October 1935, upon completion of his foreign service tour, he was assigned to duty in the Plans Division, Office of the Chief of the Air Corps, Washington, D.C. Later, he was assigned duty as Chief of the Training and Operations Division.
Two years later, while piloting a Northrop A-17 single engine attack bomber from Bolling Field, District of Columbia, to Randolph Field, Texas, Colonel McChord crashed near Maldens, Virginia, on 18 August 1937. Apparently, he was trying to land his malfunctioning aircraft. Colonel McChord died in the crash. His name was proposed for memorialization, and on 5 May 1938, Tacoma Field was officially designated McChord Field in his honor.
Construction continued at a steady pace. Hangars 1, 2, 3, and 4, officer and enlisted housing, three warehouses, a maintenance building, two wells, a hospital, and a central heating plant were built in short order. By 1939, a radio transmitter building, a 300,000 gallon water tower, an electric distribution system, a combination fire and guard house, and two runways had been added. Fort Lewis provided logistical support.
Finally, McChord Field was ready. Formal dedication took place on 3 July 1940. Thousands of people entered McChord to look at the new buildings, hangars, grounds, and the three B-18, B-18A, and B-23 bombers on the world's largest warming apron. The program kicked off at 1:00 PM, with a band concert. Colonel Washington, the Base Commander, introduced the many distinguished visitors and completed the dedication. Then, the American flag was proudly raised over McChord for the first time, followed by an address by Clarence D. Martin, Governor of the State of Washington. At 2:30 PM, 100 Army airplanes, the largest armada ever to fly at one time over the Northwest, flew over the field, in an impressive show of air power. McChord's mission encompassed training, aerial resupply, and defense of the Pacific Northwest.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, McChord was camouflaged and windows were blacked out. Combat air patrols soared over the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the mouth of the Columbia River. Satellite fields were constructed at Port Angeles, Olympia, Kitsap, and Ephrata, for dispersal of the increasingly large number of aircraft arriving at McChord. Squadrons of P-40 and P-43 fighters were assigned to the field, and bombers ferried in from Seattle, awaited the arrival of pilots from Ferry Command to take them to their final destinations. By January 1942, McChord's military population had jumped from 4,000 to 7,400.
In addition to training pilots (some went on to become "Doolittle's Raiders"), McChord was a clearing station for planes and crews headed for Alaska and the war in the Pacific. Additional rail lines were added to process the increasing movement of troops and supplies. In April 1944, McChord was designated as a modification center for P-39 aircraft. An additional 300 civilians were hired to do the work (doubling the civilian workforce), and they were trained by the Clover Park Vocational School. They modified 12 to 26 P-39s per month. Later, these proud Americans would also modify P-38s, B-24s, and B-25s. Following the end of the war in Europe. McChord redeployed thousands of troops arriving from the European theater to the Pacific. McChord's location had proven to be of great value during the war, and its importance did not diminish in peacetime.
In 1947, the 62d Troop Carrier Wing was assigned to McChord, marking the beginning of a long time association. McChord became the final continental stop in three "Great Circle" air routes from the United States to Tokyo, via Anchorage and Adak. McChord was thereafter the primary Northwest aerial gateway to Alaska and the Orient. On 1 January 1948, the field was redesignated McChord Air Force Base.
McChord was instrumental in the development of the Alaskan air defense system. Its airlift units provided air transport for personnel and equipment to northern radar sites. Fighter interceptor units from the base provided the necessary air security. In 1950, McChord became part of the Air Defense Command's 25th Air Division, and provided air defense for the Northwestern United States. On 22 March 1950, shortly before the outbreak of war in Korea, additional fighter units were ordered to the Pacific Northwest to guard the air approaches to the Hanford, Washington, atomic works, and other vital defense plants. In Korea, McChord's fighters (F-94s and F-86s) and transport planes (C-54s and C-124s) did their part in the war effort.
During the 1950s, the second major construction period began at McChord. Much of the work was carried out to accommodate new aircraft and associated equipment. New fighter operational facilities and the air defense tracking system facility were constructed. The runway was lengthened to 8,100 feet. Temporary World War II facilities were upgraded or replaced.
In the 1960s, the runway was again lengthened to its current 10,100 feet. Fighter units on base received the then state-of-the-art F-106 Delta Dart, while the airlift units began to fly America's first all-jet transport, the C-141A Starlifter. The nation's involvement in Vietnam mobilized McChord's airlift and defense forces, and the base became a major gateway to Southeast Asia, with thousands of Army troops from adjacent Ft. Lewis deploying to the ever growing conflict.
In 1968, the base was relieved of its assignment to Air Defense Command, when it was turned over to the 62d Military Airlift Wing, and became part of Military Airlift Command's worldwide operation. Many important missions were flown from the base, including the deployment of fighters to Korea during the Pueblo incident, Presidential support flights into China and Russia, the return of United States prisoners of war from North Vietnam, and the positioning of United Nations peacekeeping forces in Egypt.
McChord marked its third major period of construction in the 1970s. Construction included improved navigational equipment, conversion of the central heating plant from coal to natural gas, and numerous facilities, such as a passenger terminal, commissary, base exchange, NCO club, and dormitores. Other building projects included a bowling alley, youth center, reserve operations building, filling station, flight simulator, and gatehouses. The assignment of the 36th Tactical Airlift Squadron in 1975 resulted in the construction of a short field takeoff and landing zone in 1978, parallel to the main runway. This was vital to the training of the 36th's C-130 Hercules crews.
In May of 1980, a base-wide move of dormitory personnel completed the integration of women into previously all-male dormitories. Meanwhile McChord personnel provided assistance for Cuban refugees at Eglin AFB, Florida. Later that month, Mount St. Helens erupted for the first time in 123 years. Following the eruption, a C-130 crew from the 36 TAS provided communications support during the search for survivors. The 602d Tactical Air Control Wing, a unit at Ft. Lewis supported by McChord, became the only active duty Air Force unit to assist in search and rescue efforts at the emergency command center in the Mount St. Helens area. Great Britain's Prince Philip made an unexpected visit to McChord, when his plane was diverted because of volcanic ash.
One week after St Helen's first eruption, a second one occurred. All of the base's flyable aircraft were evacuated following reports that ash was drifting northwest toward McChord. A total of 26 aircraft were launched in four hours and 18 minutes. But, St Helens wasn't done, and August of the same year, another eruption deposited a noticeable coat of ash on McChord.
On 29 and 30 May 1980, McChord received its first two C-141Bs, stretched versions of the original series. On 22 March 1982, the last C-141A (65-257) departed McChord for stretch modification at Lockheed-Georgia.
In early 1985, as a result of the discovery of pollution in American Lake Gardens, McChord announced the establishment of the Environmental Control Office. At the same time, McChord won the MAC Explosives Safety plaque for 1984, while a C-47 Skytrain arrived inside a C-5 from Tucson, Arizona, destined for the McChord Air Museum. It was dedicated on 29 March, during anniversary ceremonies of the 4th MAS.
On 19 April 1988, the McChord Child Development Center opened, with the Commander in Chief of the Military Airlift Command in attendance. On 6 June, the bowling alley closed for major remodeling. On 22 August, McChord became involved in combating devastating Yellowstone National Park forest fires, carrying troops from Ft. Lewis to the fire areas. Between 11 September and 6 October, the 62d AW ALCE operated at West Yellowstone for fire duty.
The Air Freight Terminal became operational on 29 June 1989. On 1 October of the same year, the 36th Tactical Airlift Squadron was redesignated the 36th Military Airlift Squadron. In December, the base was very much involved in airdrop and airlift operations in Panama, during Operation Just Cause, resulting in the end of the military dictatorship in that country.
On 14 July 1990, McChord Air Force Base's 50th Anniversary Open House and Air Show drew an estimated crowd of 120,000. On 2 August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Within days McChord units were fully involved in Operation Desert Shield, deployed to several locations across the globe. McChord's involvement continued through Desert Storm, and well into the cease fire campaign.
Mount Pinatubo, in the Philippines, erupted on 9 June 1991. Consideration was given to evacuating Americans from Clark Air Base. Local agencies were notified McChord could be a hub for Philippine evacuation operations. By 16 June, the evacuation order was issued. the first plane load of evacuees arrived at McChord on the 18th. This repatriation operation was called Fiery Vigil. McChord carried out the operation single handedly until it ended on 3 July.
On 1 June 1992, McChord became an AMC base, as the provisional title Military Airlift Command deactivated, and the name Air Mobility Command took its place. The title change was a small part of the largest restructuring in the Air Force since its creation in 1947. Tragedy struck McChord on 30 November 1992, when two McChord C-141B Starlifters (65-255 and 66-142), participating in an air refueling training mission over north central Montana, collided in mid-air, killing all 13 crewmen.
The designation 36th Airlift Squadron officially moved to Yokota Air Base, Japan, in October, 1993, while the designation 7th Airlift Squadron officially moved to McChord from Travis AFB, California. This move brought the 7th home to its original roots, formed back in the early 1930s, when they belonged to the 62d Transport Carrier Group, now the 62d AW.
In November 1993, Headquarters AMC selected McChord as its winner of the Commander-In-Chief's Installation Excellence Award. McChord represented AMC at Air Force level. The previous month, McChord had won the 1993 AMC Environmental Restoration Award.
On 1 March 1994, for the first time in its history, McChord AFB was named a "Tree City USA" by the National Arbor Day Foundation, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, and the National Association of State Foresters. To become a "Tree City USA", a community must meet four standards: Have a tree board or department, operate a city tree ordinance, a comprehensive community forestry program, and hold an Arbor Day observance.
In another move related to the restructure of a shrinking Air force, McChord's Northwest air Defense Sector (NWADS), was redesignated as the Western Air Defense Sector (WADS), assuming air defense responsibility for the entire western U.S., from Texas, around the California coast, up through Washington, and all the way across North Dakota, doubling its area of responsibility, radar sites, and the aircraft under it's control. This redesignation, on 1 January 1995, created the largest sector in the United States.
World events continued to affect McChord through 1995 and 1996, most notably in the form of deployments to Europe in support of Operation Joint Endeavor, the peacekeeping effort in the former Yugoslavia.
In its 2005 BRAC Recommendations, DoD recommended to realign the 304th Rescue Squadron (AFR) at Portland to McChord AFB, WA, with no aircraft involved.
In another recommendation, DoD recommended to realign McChord AFB, WA, by relocating the installation management functions to Fort Lewis, WA, establishing Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
All installations employed military, civilian, and contractor personnel to perform common functions in support of installation facilities and personnel. All installations executed these functions using similar or near similar processes. Because these installations shared a common boundary with minimal distance between the major facilities or are in near proximity, there was significant opportunity to reduce duplication of efforts with resulting reduction of overall manpower and facilities requirements capable of generating savings, which would be realized by paring unnecessary management personnel and achieving greater efficiencies through economies of scale. Intangible savings would be expected to result from opportunities to consolidate and optimize existing and future service contract requirements. Additional opportunities for savings would also be expected to result from establishment of a single space management authority capable of generating greater overall utilization of facilities and infrastructure. Further savings would be expected to result from opportunities to reduce and correctly size both owned and contracted commercial fleets of base support vehicles and equipment consistent with the size of the combined facilities and supported populations. Regional efficiencies achieved as a result of Service regionalization of installation management would provide additional opportunities for overall savings as the designated installations are consolidated under regional management structures. The quantitative military value score validated by military judgment was the primary basis for determining which installation was designated as the receiving location. Assuming no economic recovery, this recommendation could result in a maximum potential reduction of 776 jobs (422 direct jobs and 354 indirect jobs) over the 2006-2011 period in the Tacoma, WA Metropolitan Division (0.2 percent).
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