FORT DIX TODAY
“Let, then, each and every individual connected with the Wrightstown Cantonment make high resolve to put into the work every ounce of intelligence, energy and ability that he can call into play, to the end that when the story of Wrightstown is written we may point with justifiable pride to our part in its accomplishment.” Thus wrote Irwin and Leighton, the original contractors, in the first issue of the “Camp Dix News,” published on Thursday, 16 August 1917.
Today, 50 years later, a brief trip around Fort Dix is enough to convince any observer that the plea of the first builder has been answered. Although little remains of their work, they laid the foundation and instilled the spirit of dedication that has characterized the efforts of the thousands of “builders” – military and civilian – who followed them to construct the Fort Dix of today.
In the final analysis, however, the true value of the “Home of the Ultimate Weapon” can be measured only through the men who trained at this post – - the millions that Fort Dix readied to serve with distinction in every armed conflict in which the United States participated since World War I. Throughout a half century, the primary mission of the post has been to prepare US soldiers for the defense of their country. This purpose is still paramount and will continue so long as American soldiers are needed in Vietnam or any other place in defense of freedom.
In order to carry out its mission in 1967, Fort Dix is organized into four major activities: Infantry Training Center, US Army Personnel Center, Walson Army Hospital, and the US Army Garrison. Although each of these activities plays a singular role, the one most directly concerned with the development of the individual soldier is the Infantry Training Center. It conducts four separate programs, which, in progressive stages, mold the raw recruit into a finished soldier prepared to take his place in a combat unit.
Of the four programs, the most fundamental is the eight-week basic combat training program conducted by the 2nd Basic Combat Training Brigade “Proud Rifles” and 3rd Basic Combat Training Brigade “Pioneers.” These two brigades provide the initial training to produce a soldier well grounded in basic military subjects and principles of ground combat. Reports from commanders in Vietnam confirm that this training is the best they have noted during their long Army careers. Under the expert leadership and guidance of his drill sergeant, the trainee masters those combat skills that instill confidence in himself, his individual weapon, and his ability to meet an enemy in ground combat and destroy him. Currently, more than 10,000 trainees in 50 companies of the two brigades are undergoing basic combat training. In 1966, more than 50,000 men were graduated from this course at Fort Dix.
Following completion of his basic combat training, the soldier moves on to more technical training in his field. He may be assigned to advanced branch or combat support training.
At Fort Dix, the advanced infantry training program is conducted by the 1st Advanced Individual Training Brigade – the “Blue Bolts.” This brigade provides the trainee with eight weeks of general instruction in the organization, mission, and functions of the infantry, to include general subjects, light weapons, heavy weapons, and tactical training. Upon successful completion of the course, trainees are assigned to regular units as light weapons infantrymen, infantry indirect fire crewmen, or infantry direct fire crewmen. At the beginning of 1967, more than 2,300 men were receiving advanced infantry training in nine companies of the brigade. Beginning in April 1967, both the number of trainees and companies are expected to double. In 1966, some 12,000 soldiers completed this type of training at Fort Dix.
Combat support training is conducted by the 5th Combat Support Training Brigade (the “Crusaders”), which instructs trainees in nine specialist fields as basic administration and personnel specialists, supply clerks, chaplain’s assistants, cooks, field communication crewmen, radio operators, light vehicle drivers, and wheeled vehicle mechanics. In 1966, almost 25,000 combat support trainees were graduated from the 5th Brigade. At the beginning of 1967, 7,000 students were attending formal courses and another 500 men were receiving on-the-job training. In early 1967, the number of students is expected to increase to 9,000.
Committee Group (the “Paragons”) provides all committee-taught subjects to basic combat trainees. These include marksman-ship, hand grenades, night firing, close combat, chemical-biological-radiological warfare, and individual tactical training. Committee Group also directs the Leaders Academy.
To provide a corps of qualified instructors, the Fort Dix Leaders Academy trains specially selected enlisted personnel as leaders for the training brigades. The Academy, under the direction of the Fort Dix Committee Group, conducts a seven-week Drill Sergeant Course, four-week Drill Corporal Course, and a two-week Leaders Preparation Course. Periodically, the Leaders Academy also holds a two-week Effective Military Instruction Course and a one-week Drill Sergeant Orientation Course.
In addition to the above regular programs, the Infantry Training Course also provides for training of US Army Reserve (USAR) and National Guard units. The 78th Infantry Division, the first to make its home at Camp Dix, is now a USAR training division from New Jersey, which has conducted its annual active duty training (ANACDUTRA) at Fort Dix. The 76th and 98th Training Divisions, from New England and New York, respectively, also perform ANACDUTRA at the post. Elements of the 80th Training Division have trained at the fort each year since 1960. In 1966, some units of the 85th Training Division from Illinois spent two weeks at Fort Dix. In addition to the Army Reserve, a considerable number of National Guard units train at the post on weekends.
Another major activity of Fort Dix is the United States Army Personnel Center (the “Centermen”), which is concerned with processing men as they enter the Army from civilian life, when they ship overseas, and as they leave the service. During 1966, almost 200,000 were processed in one way or another through the Personnel Center – Reception Station. 68,907; Overseas Replacement Station, 88,713; and Transfer Station, 39,481.
The newly inducted or enlisted soldier can expect to stay at the Reception Station for three to five days. During this time he is given special medical and dental examinations, classification and aptitude tests, personal interviews to help determine his future army training and assignment, his new military clothing, and orientation on military justice, PX privileges, pay scale, and conduct and discipline in an effort to make his transition to military life as smooth as possible.
The Overseas Replacement Station processes and assembles personnel for overseas shipment. Means of transportation to the new unit is coordinated with Eastern and Western Area of the Military Traffic Management Terminal Service, and is determined by the availability of spaces aboard military or civilian aircraft.
At the end of a tour of active duty, many officers and enlisted men receive final processing for retirement, separation, or transfer to reserve units at the Transfer Station. The wide range of personnel passing through this activity include persons arriving by air at McGuire Air Force Base, from units in the vicinity of Fort Dix, and individuals permanently assigned to this Army post.
The personnel commitments of the Army are extensive and variable. In times of crisis, buildups, and reductions, the Personnel Center has a ready organization through which it can react quickly and effectively with the personnel requirements of any situation.
Walson Army Hospital and the post’s health facilities provide medical care and hospitalization for Fort Dix, McGuire Air Force Base, and Lakehurst Naval Air Station military personnel and their dependents, military personnel overseas, and retired military personnel and their dependents living in New Jersey – Pennsylvania area. Staffing the medical complex are 1,357 military and civilian personnel, including 104 doctors, 68 nurses, 447 medical specialists, two veterinarians, 236 administrative personnel, and 500 civilians. Specialized clinics include dermatology, cardiology, radiology, radioisotope therapy, gastroenterology, internal medicine, pulmonary functions, obstetrics, gynecology, orthopedics, urology, neurology, psychiatry, pediatrics, surgery, preventive medicine, anesthesiology, veterinary medicine, and eye, ear, nose and throat. The hospital provides training residency programs in general practice, prespecialty surgical and preventive medicine.
During 1966, the hospital had a total of 32,780 admissions, an increase of almost 10,000 over the previous year. The number of major and minor surgical procedures performed during the year was 16,980. Outpatient clinic visits reached a total of 586,028, an increase of 200,000 over 1965. Even with completion of the new wing, pressure of an ever increasing patient load eventually will necessitate further expansion of the Fort Dix medical facilities.
Attached to the hospital to assist its normal staff are the 4th Field Hospital and the 461st Medical Detachment. These units maintain themselves in a state of operational readiness for deployment elsewhere, if needed.
The Dental Service Unit, which staffs six on-post clinics, provides complete care and treatment to all eligible persons, with emphasis on maintaining military personnel ready for combat. The unit also conducts the preventive dentistry program and the dental intern and dental resident training program.
Another major activity of the post is Special Troops, US Army Garrison. This unit houses and administers the servicemen and women who perform thousands of administrative and supporting tasks required for the smooth functioning of this 45,000-man training center. Special Troops (the “Garrisoneers”) comprises more than 20 separate units, including communications and ordnance units; engineers, military police, and band units; Women’s Army Corps Company, which supplies stenographers, medical aides, and receptionists; and units that supply all the administrative personnel to operate the training center headquarters, garrison headquarters, and all post agencies. In addition, Special Troops receives, processes, prepares, trains, and ships units departing for overseas.
These organizations, operating under the dirction of the Headquarters, United States Training Center Infantry, commanded by Major General John M. Hightower, carry out their duties at the largest military organization in the northeastern United States. Fort Dix today has come a long way from the 7,500-acre, 1,600-building camp that existed in the early days of World War I.
The post has grown in size until it comprises 32,605 acres, of which 1,566 acres are improved lad, 13,274 acres unimproved, and 17,765 woodland – all used for training. Fort Dix can take pride in a total of 2,611 major buildings, including 397 barracks without mess halls, 27 barracks with mess halls, 56 separate mess halls, 283 supply buildings, 197 administrative and personnel structures and 742 on-post housing units. There are also 12 chapels, the hospital complex, five theaters, 32 post exchanges facilities, and a variety of small administrative, supply and maintenance structures.
At the beginning of 1967, there were approximately 33,000 military personnel and 4,097 civilian dependents of military personnel living on- and off-post and several thousand retired personnel and their families living in the area. Military population of the post will increase because of additional requirements by higher headquarters, particularly in the advanced individual training brigades.
The economic impact of this military establishment on the New Jersey communities surrounding the post is considerable. For the last six months of calendar year 1966, $50.7 million was disbursed by the Post Finance Office. Of this amount, $32.1 million was for military pay, $1.9 million for travel pay, $8,9 million for civilian pay and $7,8 million for commercial payments. For the month of November 1966 alone, the total disbursed was $14 million, which was $3 million more than was disbursed for the month of May 1966. A large part of this money was fed into businesses of the local community, and over the years, Fort Dix spending has been credited as a major contributing factor in the prosperity and continued growth of the cities and towns of the surrounding area.
This brings to a close the story of 50 years at Fort Dix. By no means, however, will the post’s essential service to the nation end here. Perhaps the first 50 years will prove only a superficial beginning compared to its future. Although Fort Dix has experienced good years and lean years since its humble beginning in the cornfields and cranberry bogs of central New Jersey, the post today exudes and aura of permanency – not only in the construction of its buildings but in the expansion of its programs.
For five decades, Americans at Fort Dix have served their nation well. To their successors, they leave a legacy of accomplishment and a challenge to carry on with ardor and dedication in furthering the cause of freedom.