Library Fact Sheets
ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE HISTORY|
Printable Fact Sheet
Date of establishment: 27 Jun 1940; deed transferred from U.S. Army 3 Mar 51
Date of construction: Began on 8 Jun 1940
Date of current name: 26 Mar 48 (USAF)
Previous Names: Elmendorf Field, 12 Dec 40; Elmendorf Army Air Base, 21 Jun 42
Date of beneficial occupancy: 8 Aug 40
Runways completed: 14 Jan 41; lengthened Aug 1945; enlarged w/concrete aprons Spring 1957
Primary Host: Third Wing, Pacific Air Forces
Commander in Chief's Installation Excellence Award, 1994
Elmendorf Air Force Base, adjacent to the city of Anchorage, is the largest Air Force installation in Alaska and home of the Headquarters, Alaskan Command (ALCOM), Alaskan NORAD Region (ANR), Eleventh Air Force (11th AF) and the 3rd Wing.
Construction on Elmendorf Field began on 8 June 1940, as a major and permanent military air field near Anchorage. The first Air Corps personnel arrived on 12 August 1940.
On 12 November 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. After World War II, 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.
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 AFB 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 Kurile 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 (AAC) on 18 December 1945. The Alaskan Command, established 1 January 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 l940s and early l950s caused a major buildup of air defense forces in Alaska. The propeller-driven F-5ls 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 (ROCC) at Elmendorf served as the nerve center for all air defense operations in Alaska.
Air defense forces reached their zenith in l957 with almost 200 fighter aircraft assigned to six fighter interceptor squadrons located at Elmendorf AFB and Ladd AFB. 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 l950s, 1960s, and early l970s 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 1 October 1977.
The strategic importance of Elmendorf AFB was graphically realized during the spring of l980 when the l8th 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 Elmendorf AFB and 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 l980s witnessed a period of growth and modernization of Elmendorf AFB. During l982, 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 l983), and the replacement of the l950s 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 l985. Alaska's air defense force was further enhanced with the assignment of two E-3As to Elmendorf AFB in l986. 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 19 December 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.