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Saturday, August 24, 2019
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The End of an Illustrious Career 
Fort McClellan thrived during the 1970's and 1980's as a major training facility for military and civilians. The Department of Defense's (DoD) decision to consolidate training for all branches of the service brought U.S. Army, Navy, Marine, and Air Force chemical officers and non-commissioned officers, Military Police, civilian law officers, and various Government agencies to the post for training. The addition of the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute resulted in Fort McClellan evolving into an important hub for all aspects of Law Enforcement/Criminology training. The U.S. Army Chemical School continued to make important advances in chemical warfare, camouflage tactics, chemical detection, decontamination, and protection.

Fort McClellan became home to the Chemical Decontamination Training Facility (CDTF), where chemical soldiers worked with live nerve agents under controlled conditions. This facility, being the only one of it's kind in the free world, provided confidence training to chemical soldiers in proper chemical decontamination techniques. The quality and depth of training provided by the Chemical School proved to be a formidable deterrent to the use of chemical warfare by Saddam Hussein and his forces during Operation Desert Storm. The CDTF operated for almost a decade, training thousands of U. S. soldiers, and hundreds of chemical soldiers from various allied countries, with a flawless safety record.

The 1980s ushered in a 'new era' for the Department of Defense and America's war machine. Shrinking defense budgets and escalating costs for weapons and machinery forced the Defense Department to make some harsh decisions concerning the future of the U. S. Army. The Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) was formed for the purpose of evaluating U. S. military installations worldwide. Their task was to determine how to shrink the military and DoD civilian population, close and/or realign unnecessary and redundant bases, while maintaining the current quality of military readiness required for the defense of the United States.

The first round of BRAC recommendations were released in 1989. Fort McClellan was placed on the list of military bases to be closed. Due to Congressional objections, the BRAC recommendations were not acted upon. It was agreed to delay any BRAC actions until 1991, which saw Fort McClellan again on the BRAC closure list. Fort McClellan's presence on the BRAC list created intense debate for and against closure. Our country still had vivid memories of the chemical warfare threat presented in Operation Desert Storm, and many experts spoke out against the move of Fort McClellan's Chemical School to a new location. Many agreed that the disruption of the Chemical School's training mission to prepare for a major move would set back chemical training for 5 to 10 years. Other experts argued that the move could be carried out smoothly and a transition to a new location would cause no disruption in training and military readiness. Another point of contention was the Chemical Decontamination Training Facility's unique mission. Local community leaders argued that the economic impact of closure of one of the areas larger employers would devastate the local economy. When the final vote was taken, Fort McClellan survived.

A new round of BRAC came in 1993. Once again, Fort McClellan was placed on the closure list. But many of the arguments from the 1991 BRAC resurfaced in debates during the 1993 sessions. Again, Fort McClellan survived. 1995 saw Fort McClellan again on the list for closure. Many of the same arguments from the 91 and 93 debates were brought into the discussions of the 1995 sessions. The Department of Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) had a well conceived plan for the consolidation of Fort McClellan's missions into Fort Leonard Wood's existing training. TRADOC presented the concept of a Maneuver Support Center, integrating the Chemical School, Military Police School and Fort Leonard Wood's Engineer School, all with closely related missions, which would enhance DoD's vision for moving into the 21st century. After much deliberation and debate for and against closure, the BRAC commission voted to close Fort McClellan. The vote was not unanimous and one commission member went as far as to lodge an official protest, calling for further consideration of the closure. It was evident that Fort McClellan's importance was a matter which should not be taken lightly by the BRAC Commission, the Department of Defense, or the nation as a whole.

The vote for closure stood, and the Fort McClellan military and civilian population prepared for closure in 1999. Fort McClellan began the arduous task of packing up and moving a major Army installation. The official closing ceremony was held on May 20, 1999. As closure neared, civilian employees were forced to seek employment elsewhere. This task was made easier through the many programs in place to aid displaced employees find new employment. The military population was moved to other installations to continue their dedicated service to the nation.

At the official closing ceremony, Major General Ralph G. Wooten, Commanding General and Chemical School Commandant, conveyed a heartfelt thanks from the Department of the Army to Fort McClellan and the surrounding communities for more than 81 years of dedicated service to our nation's defense. General Wooten's tribute to the dedication and quality of service and training conducted by the thousands of military and civilians throughout the years at Fort McClellan will forever echo throughout the hills of northeast Alabama.

His words rang sad but true; the long illustrious career of a battle-hardened warrior had reached its end.

"For more than 81 years, Fort McClellan set the standard of excellence in training America's sons and daughters to defend freedom in two world wars and a myriad of conflicts and operations. In the last generation, we were singularly responsible for providing our Army with the world's finest military police and chemical soldiers. Our pride is justified by our spectacular success!" (Major General Ralph G. Wooten, 20 May, 1999, Fort McClellan Closing Ceremony)

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