Stood up in 2010, the 673d Air Base Wing today comprises over 5,500 joint military and civilian personnel, supports and enables America’s Arctic Warriors and their families. In addition, the wing provides medical care to over 35,000 joint service members, dependents, Veterans Affairs patients, and retirees throughout Alaska. The 673d ABW maintains $15 billion in infrastructure encompassing 85,000 acres, ensuring Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson remains America’s premier strategic power projection platform.
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Construction on Elmendorf Field began on June 8, 1940, as a major and permanent military air field near Anchorage. The first Air Corps personnel arrived on August 12 of that year.
On Nov. 12, 1940, the War Department formally designated what had been popularly referred to as Elmendorf Field as Fort Richardson. The air facilities on the post were named Elmendorf Field in honor of Captain Hugh M. Elmendorf, killed in 1933 while flight testing an experimental fighter near Wright Field, Ohio. In 1951, the Army moved its operations to the new Fort Richardson and the Air Force assumed control of the original Fort Richardson and renamed it Elmendorf Air Force Base.
For an extensive history of the installation, including homesteads that were in the area prior to 1940, visit https://jber.stqry.app/
Fort Richardson was named for the military pioneer explorer, Brig. Gen. Wilds P. Richardson, who served three tours of duty in the rugged Alaska territory between 1897 and 1917. Richardson, a native Texan and an 1884 West Point graduate, commanded troops along the Yukon River and supervised construction of Fort Egbert near Eagle, and Fort William H. Seward (Chilkoot Barracks) near Haines.
As head of the War Department’s Alaska Road Commission during 1905-1917, he was responsible for much of the surveying and building of early railroads, roads, and bridges that helped the state’s settlement and growth. The Valdez-Fairbanks Trail, surveyed under his direction in 1904, was named the Richardson Highway in his honor.
Fort Richardson was built during 1940-1941 on the site of what is now Elmendorf Air Force Base. Established as the headquarters of the United States Army, Alaska (USARAL) in 1947, the post moved to its present location five miles north of Anchorage in 1950. The post then had barracks for 500 Soldiers, a rifle range, a few warehouses, a hospital and bachelor officer quarters.
A more extensive history of the Army's activities here is coming soon.
The first Air Force unit to be assigned to Alaska, the 18th Pursuit Squadron, arrived in February 1941. The 23rd Air Base Group was assigned shortly afterwards to provide base support. Other Air Force units poured into Alaska as the Japanese threat developed into World War II. The Eleventh Air Force was formed at Elmendorf Air Force Base in early 1942. The field played a vital role as the main air logistics center and staging area during the Aleutian Campaign and later air operations against the Kuril Islands.
Following World War II, Elmendorf assumed an increasing role in the defense of North America as the uncertain wartime relations between the United States and the Soviet Union deteriorated into the Cold War. The Eleventh Air Force was redesignated as the Alaskan Air Command on Dec. 18, 1945. The Alaskan Command, established Jan. 1, 1947, also headquartered at Elmendorf, was a unified command under the Joint Chiefs of Staff based on lessons learned during World War II when a lack of unity of command hampered operations to drive the Japanese from the western Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska.
The uncertain world situation in late 1940s and early l1950s caused a major buildup of air defense forces in Alaska. The propeller-driven F-51s were replaced with F-80 jets, which in turn were replaced in succession by F-94s, F-89s, and F-102s interceptor aircraft for defense of North America.
The Air Force built an extensive aircraft control and warning radar system with sites located throughout Alaska's interior and coastal regions. Additionally, the Air Force of necessity built the White Alice Communications System (with numerous support facilities around the state) to provide reliable communications to these far-flung, isolated, and often rugged locales. The Alaskan NORAD Regional Operations Control Center at Elmendorf served as the nerve center for all air defense operations in Alaska.
Air defense forces reached their zenith in 1957 with almost 200 fighter aircraft assigned to six fighter interceptor squadrons located at Elmendorf and Ladd Air Force Bases. Eighteen aircraft control and warning radar sites controlled their operations. Elmendorf earned the motto "Top Cover for North America." AAC adopted the motto as its own in 1969.
The late 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s brought about a gradual, but significant decline in air defense forces in Alaska due to mission changes and the demands of the Vietnam War. The Air Force inactivated five fighter squadrons and closed five radar sites. In 1961, the Department of Defense consigned Ladd AFB to the Army, which renamed it Fort Wainwright. The Alaskan Command was disestablished in 1975. Elmendorf began providing more support to other Air Force commands, particularly Military Airlift Command C-5 and C-141 flights to and from the Far East.
Despite a diminished number of personnel and aircraft, a turning point in Elmendorf's history occurred in 1970 with the arrival of the 43d Tactical Fighter Squadron in June 1970 from MacDill AFB, Florida. The squadron gave AAC an air-to-ground capability which was further enhanced with the activation of the 18th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Elmendorf (also with F-4Es) on Oct. 1,1977.
The strategic importance of Elmendorf AFB was graphically realized during the spring of 1980 when the 18th Tactical Fighter Squadron deployed eight of its F-4Es to Korea to participate in exercise Team Spirit. It was a historical first and underlined an increasing emphasis AAC placed on its tactical role. The strategic location of Alaska made it an excellent deployment center, a fact that validated the contention of Billy Mitchell who, in l935, stated that "Alaska is the most strategic place in the world." Deployments from Elmendorf AFB and Eielson AFB to the Far East are now conducted on a routine basis.
The 1980s witnessed a period of growth and modernization of Elmendorf AFB. During 1982, the 2lst Tactical Fighter Wing converted from F-4s to F-l5s. The l8th Tactical Fighter Squadron was assigned to Eielson AFB where it was equipped with A-10s. The 54th Tactical Fighter Squadron, of Aleutian Campaign fame, activated once again in 1987. Rounding out the modernization program was the construction of an enhanced Regional Operations Control Center (completed in 1983), and the replacement of the 1950s generation aircraft control and warning radars with the state of the art AN/FPS-ll7 Minimally Attended Radars. The integrated air warning and defense system became fully operational in mid 1985. Alaska's air defense force was further enhanced with the assignment of two E-3As to Elmendorf AFB in 1986. The Alaskan Command was reestablished at Elmendorf in 1989 as subunified joint service command under the Pacific Command in recognition of Alaska's military importance in the Pacific region.
That importance was further recognized when the F-15E Strike Eagle equipped 90th Tactical Fighter was reassigned to Elmendorf Air Force Base from Clark Air Base in the Philippines in May 1991. The Pacific Regional Medical Center moved from Clark to Elmendorf and construction of a new, greatly expanded hospital began in 1993. The early 1990s also saw major organizational changes and an expansion of Elmendorf's importance. In 1991, the 21st Tactical Fighter Wing was reorganized as an objective wing and all the major tenant units on Elmendorf were placed under it. The 21st Wing inactivated and the 3rd Wing was reassigned from Clark Air Base to Elmendorf Air Force Base on Dec. 19, 1991. This was in keeping Air Force's polices of retaining the oldest and most illustrious units during a period of major force reductions.
The Air Force, because of the increased size and complexity of the 3rd Wing, assigned a general officer as its commander in July 1993. Today, Elmendorf AFB continues to grow in size and importance because of its strategic location and training facilities. The expansive Cope Thunder exercises, formerly conducted in the Philippines, moved to ranges near Eielson AFB, and Elmendorf regularly hosts visiting wings as well as participates in the exercises. The wing now has responsibilities far beyond the vast borders of Alaska.
The 673d Air Base Wing History Office supports the 11th Air Force and 3d Wing, and is open Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at 10471 20th Ave., Suite 133.
Contact the History Office at DSN or commercial 552-4765 or 4767.