Fort Indiantown Gap (FTIG) has been a key installation for the Army and the Pennsylvania National Guard for more than 80 years.
The name “Indiantown Gap” was fashioned from the Native American presence and geography. “Indiantown” is derived from the many Native American villages that existed in the vicinity of the installation and “Gap” results from the separation in the Blue Mountains that was used as a shortcut to Shamokin. Stagecoaches served the early settlers in this region, who worked hard to make a living coexisting with the native people.
In 1931, authorization was made to acquire land in Dauphin and Lebanon Counties when the Pennsylvania National Guard outgrew its 120-acre training site at Mount Gretna. Fort Indiantown Gap was first used by the National Guard in 1933 for training maneuvers, with completion of the military reservation by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1940.
As World War II erupted and the United States prepared to enter the conflict, Pennsylvania agreed to lease its National Guard Post to the U.S. Army for a training post. On September 30, 1940, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania leased the reservation to the federal government for $1. A massive construction project got underway, as 13,000 workmen quickly prepared for the arrival of troops and supplies and U.S. Army Garrison at FTIG was born.
When the facility was completed, there were more than 1,400 buildings, including three fire stations, two guesthouses, a bus station, nine chapels, two service clubs, four huge theaters, a large sports arena and a 400 bed hospital. Nearly, 800 temporary barracks buildings were located in complete regimental areas with mess halls, recreation buildings and store rooms. Muir Army Airfield was also constructed at that time.
Indiantown Gap was dedicated March 3, 1941, and was officially named Indiantown Gap Military Reservation (IGMR). It was one of the nation’s busiest Army training camps, serving as the staging area for the New York Port of Embarkation. More than 150,000 troops in eight divisions were given final training at IGMR, prior to being shipped overseas. In addition to Pennsylvania’s own 28th Infantry Division, the 3rd and 5th Armored Divisions and the 1st, 5th, 37th, 77th and 95th Infantry Divisions also trained at IGMR. Once Allied Forces gained a foothold in Europe, IGMR also served as a German POW compound.
As World War II continued with ever increasing American involvement, a transportation corps training center was established for the purpose of educating Soldiers who would later be used in port battalions. Three dry landships: S.S. Manada, S.S. Swatara, and the S.S. Indiantown were built at IGMR and used for Army stevedore training.
When the war ended, IGMR became a separation center for officers and enlisted men returning from overseas mostly from Europe. More than 450,000 men were demobilized here and returned to civilian life. At its peak, the center processed more than 1,000 Soldiers per day.
Between the end of World War II and the beginning of the Korean War, IGMR was inactivated as a federal post, and control was turned back over to the Pennsylvania National Guard.
From 1951 to 1953, during the Korean War, IGMR’s strategic role again surfaced. It became the home of the 5th Infantry Division, whose mission was to train 32,000 troops as replacements for Soldiers in Korea.
On May 1, 1975, the Secretary of the Army announced an official name change. Henceforth, “IGMR” was to be known as “Fort Indiantown Gap.” Although many important events occurred at FTIG, two are especially noteworthy. Fort Indiantown Gap was chosen on two separate occasions as a refugee resettlement camp. In 1975, more than 20,000 Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees were housed at the post until they were processed for sponsorship in the local area and across the United States. Five years later, in 1980, the post became a refugee camp again when more than 19,000 Cubans were brought to FTIG for processing and sponsorship.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, FTIG served as the Army’s largest Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) summer camp. Many young officers receiving commissions at that time later served during the Vietnam Conflict. In the 1980s and 1990s, various units of the military conducted and supported training at FTIG for military operations in Grenada, Panama, Operation Desert Shield, Operation Desert Storm, Bosnia and Kosovo.
On October 1, 1998, following Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) recommendations, the federal U.S. Army Garrison was closed and control was once again given to the Pennsylvania National Guard.
Now known as a National Guard Training Site, FTIG has had many enhancements to ensure its long-term viability. Today, FTIG serves as headquarters for the Pennsylvania National Guard, and continues its role as a major reserve component training post and the second largest employer in Lebanon Country. Major facilities include the Muir Army Airfield, Eastern Army Aviation Training Site, a state-of-the-art helicopter training center, an educational complex for combat arms training thru the 166th Regiment, the Northeast Counterdrug Training Center, numerous firing ranges and maneuver areas which makes it a mission-essential facility for training America’s “TOTAL FORCE.”
For more information on the history of Fort Indiantown Gap and the Pennsylvania National Guard visit the Pennsylvania National Guard Military Museum located on the installation and open to the public.