Fort Pickett celebrates improvements on 77th birthday

(U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

FORT PICKETT, Va. —Maneuver Training Center Fort Pickett leaders celebrated the installation’s 77th birthday July 3, 2019, with a cake cutting at their headquarters. The post has transformed from its origins in the 1940s and training personnel for service in World War II to now being one of the premier military and public safety training facilities on the East Coast.

Fort Pickett was originally called Camp Pickett when construction began in early 1942 and formally dedicated July 3, 1942. The camp was originally built on 46,000 acres covering parts of four counties. The installation grew rapidly with the United States’ entry into World War II, and boasted about 1,000 barracks buildings, 70 officers’ quarters and other buildings by the end of 1942.

(U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

The 79th Infantry Division became the first combat division to train at Fort Pickett, taking advantage of the Army’s newest firing ranges, which allowed for simultaneous short and long-range rifle fire, and also incorporated moving targets. It later housed the 78th Infantry Division as it trained for combat in the European Theater, and also became a primary training center for the medical field as the Medical Replacement Training Center.

Today, Fort Pickett sits on about 41,000 acres and is operated by the Virginia National Guard, which took control of the post in 1997. It features a combination of open-terrain and wooded maneuver areas, more than 20 ranges capable of training on nearly every Army weapons system, a rail spur and a C-17 capable airfield. It also boasts a forward operating base, multiple training villages and a Combined Arms Collective Training Facility, Fort Pickett’s urban operations training facility.

Fort Pickett has grown and changed a lot over nearly eight decades, but some vestiges of the early camp still play prominent roles. The officer’s club, and the post gym still see regular use, with the gym recently getting a $1 million overhaul and renovation. Those improvements are just an example of how the installation is still adapting, growing and evolving as a modern Army training center.

“We definitely have a lot going on at Pickett,” said Col. Paul Gravely, Maneuver Training Center Fort Pickett garrison commander.

Gravely reflected on the post’s historic beginnings.

“Of course there’s historical importance, of the build up to World War II through the build up for the Korean War, all the way up through current day conflicts,” said Gravely. “It’s really important that we look back and see what the post has been capable of.”

The post’s birthday also offers occasion to celebrate what Fort Pickett has become, and to celebrate current and planned projects to keep it an elite Army training center.

“We’re designated a Regional Collective Training Center, which means we are here to support training for the units, both the National Guard and active component, within the region, but more importantly across the eastern seaboard,” explained Gravely.

The commander said there are several improvement projects currently ongoing at Fort Pickett, including the expansion of the Unmanned Aerial System airstrip in the southern training area and the construction of a new Training Support Center, which will include a covered issue area large enough to accept any size truck in the Army’s arsenal. The post is also in the process of upgrading its land mobile radio system, with three new towers already built and major upgrades to the radio systems expected soon.

One of Fort Pickett’s most-used amenities, the Multi-Purpose Range Complex, is also getting an overhaul.

“We’re going to undergo a major target upgrade on the MPRC,” said Gravely. “What you’ll see out there is a new after-action review system. A unit’s gunnery runs will not only be taped visually, but you’ll be able to hear what’s going on in the vehicles. It’ll be a great capability for them to have those after-action reviews on their gunnery objectives.

“The existing targets are going on something like 12 or 13 years old. Every one on the MPRC will be completely refurbished and replaced during this upgrade. There will be some pains with that, we’ll see the range get completely torn down, but in the long run it will be well worth it to have the premiere gunnery site on the east coast.”

Fort Pickett is also the site for an ongoing major State Department construction project, the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center, a state-of-the-art facility aimed at training State Department and other law enforcement personnel.

Fort Pickett was named in honor of Richmond, Virginia native Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett, whose ill-fated charge at the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania during the US Civil War, holds a unique place in the history of warfare. The Camp Pickett dedication was held on the 79th anniversary of that charge.

For a more in-depth history of the installation, click here.

About Mr. Mike Vrabel