Air Force Bases

Fort Bliss Research and Training

Founded after the Mexican War, the "Military Post in El Paso" left a colorful history as infantry and cavalry units maintained peace on the American frontier. However, during World War II, the post shifted from the nation's premier cavalry training organization to become the nation's antiaircraft artillery center. In 1944, the Army Anti-Aircraft Artillery School moved from North Carolina to take advantage of the large land holdings and favorable climate. The post also became involved in early missile testing.

Research and Development

In 1944, the Army Ordnance Department contracted with the California Institute of Technology Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to develop a long-range missile. Under the aegis of the Ordnance-California Institute of Technology (ORDCIT) project, JPL scientists came to Fort Bliss in early 1945 to test the Private-F missile. At Fort Bliss's Hueco Range (located 28 miles north/northwest of the main post) 17 rounds were fired from April 1 through 13, 1945. These tests indicated that much work needed to be done on wing and tail construction to allow for stable flight.

Meanwhile in Germany, German scientists began development on nearly 140 different missile programs. With the conclusion of the war, much of this expertise fell into American hands. The U.S. Army's "Operation PAPERCLIP" brought hundreds of German scientists into U.S. service, including the V-2 team headed by Wernher von Braun. After arriving at Fort Bliss in January 1946, the von Braun team set up shop in former hospital buildings. By March 1946, some 39 German scientists based at Fort Bliss were work- ing on projects at the newly opened White Sands Proving Grounds across the border in New Mexico.

Before the arrival of the von Braun team, the 1st Anti-Aircraft Guided Missile Battalion was formed on October 11, 1945. This unit provided support for the research effort and would eventually grow to battalion size. As research and missile fabrication occurred at Fort Bliss, facilities were prepared at White Sands for engine and flight testing. Missiles assembled at Fort Bliss and fired at White Sands during this period include the V-2, Hermes II, Corporal, and WAC Corporal missiles. After 4 years at Fort Bliss, the von Braun team moved to Huntsville, Alabama. However, while the missile development mission became the focus of the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville and testing and evaluation became a responsibility of White Sands, Fort Bliss retained the training and deployment mission for the newly emerging missile systems.

Training at Fort Bliss

In July 1946, the 1st Missile Battalion came under the command of the newly activated Anti-Aircraft Artillery and Guided Missile Center headquartered at Fort Bliss. Since that time the organization evolved to become the U.S. Army Air Defense Artillery Center and School. Throughout this period, the command has trained new missile units and evaluated the competence of active and Army National Guard units.

With the formation of the Army Anti-Aircraft Command (ARAACOM) in 1950, activity at Fort Bliss increased as Nike Ajax batteries had to be trained and deployed around the nation. Packages of 14 officers and 123 enlisted men who formed the nucleus of a Nike battalion received job-specific training from instructors attached to the two training battalions. Once the individual elements of the future Nike battalion completed classroom training, the package came together for integrated system training. The 5-week team training period culminated with a missile shoot at the Red Canyon Range.

McGregor Guided Missile Range was used by Fort Bliss for missile testing.