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
from 1905 to 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.
During World War II, Fort Richardson was used briefly as a holding center for
several family members of Alaskan Japanese Americans arrested after Pearl
Harbor. Fifteen Japanese Americans and two German Americans were interned here
before being transferred to other camps. Built during 1940-1941 on the site of
what is now Elmendorf Air Force Base and established as the headquarters of the
United States Army, Alaska (USARAK) in 1947, the post moved to its present
location five miles (8 km) northeast of Anchorage in 1950. The post then had
barracks for 500 soldiers, a rifle range, a few warehouses, a hospital, and
bachelor officer quarters. From 1986-1994 the fort was headquarters of the 6th
Infantry Division (Light). Fort Richardson is now headquarters for United States
Army Alaska (USARAK), a subordinate unit of United States Army Pacific Command.
For more than a decade, the major combat unit at Fort Richardson was Task Force
1-501, the only airborne infantry battalion in the Pacific Theater. Task Force
1-501 deployed to Afghanistan from October 2003 through August 2004.
The majority of USARAK combat forces were at Fort Wainwright, 300 miles to the
north, with Fort Richardson as the primary support base.
During the Army's expansion following the September 11, 2001 attacks, Task Force
1-501 was expanded into an airborne brigade. Flagged as 4th Brigade Combat Team
(Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, the unit is now the primary strategic
response force for the Pacific Theater. It comprises two infantry battalions,
one cavalry squadron, a small artillery battalion, a support battalion, and a
special troops battalion. A full range of family and soldier support facilities
common to any small Army community are found on post, ranging from a shoppette
to childcare and recreational facilities. The post has small but modern dental
and medical clinics, and receives major medical services from the 3rd Medical
Group hospital at Elmendorf. The Joint Military Mall, also located on Elmendorf,
provides post exchange and commissary services.
The post’s largest military tenant is the Alaska National Guard, with facilities
at Camp Carroll and Camp Denali. Fort Richardson also hosts several non-military
activities, including a United States National Cemetery and a state-owned fish
hatchery. According the Fort's website there are 5,418 soldiers, as well as over
8,300 family members housed at the base as of June 2008. The Fort also employs
about 1,200 Army and DOD civilian employees. Fort Richardson's military payroll
for fiscal year 2003 was $85 million. The civilian payroll was $49 million.
Including other expenditures of $111 million, Fort Richardson put more than $245
million into the local economy.
The fort encompasses 62,000 acres (25,091 ha), which includes space for offices,
family housing, a heliport, a drop zone suitable for airborne and air/land
operations, firing ranges and other training areas. Nearby mountain ranges offer
soldiers the opportunity to learn mountain/glacier warfare and rescue