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Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center

Combat Readiness Training Center Main Gate (Alpena CRTC Website)

The Combat Readiness Training Center in Alpena Michigan was first established in 1940. This installation was not always a base, however, as it was originally home to an airport, which was built in 1931. The name of the installation has changed as well, originally starting out as “Phelps Collins Field” and “Phelps Collins Air National Guard Base”. Today the official title is “Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center”, which is still in use to this day. The base is in use all year, is one of four Combat Readiness Training Centers in the US, and trains over 20,000 joint and coalition personnel every year. The base covers an area of 147,000 acres and boasts the largest airspace on the east of the Mississippi. One of the biggest operations here is the Northern Strike, which is a joint training effort hosted by the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center and Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center since 2012.

History of the Base

Alpena CRTC

The area where the base now resides was once a field where Indians and early settlers would pick blueberries. It was originally called “Seven Mile Plains” due to the flat nature of the land. Since the land was so flat, it was the perfect site for aerial vehicle use. Early surveyors saw this opportunity, and after a few years of negotiations the airport was finally built. This airport was to service the public as well as military needs in the wars to come. Over the years, the Airport grew bigger and bigger. “Construction of the first hanger, a forty by ninety foot structure built of cobblestone, began in 1935 and completed in 1937. It could accommodate four average size aircraft of the era [7].” Towards the end of the 1930’s the first military training began. In the 1940’s training for WWII began, and the first fighter planes were brought to the airport. As WWII gained momentum, the need for training facilities became a top priority, which is why the War Assets Administration took ownership of the base.  “During this time, there was a five million dollar project approved to increase on site capabilities. Improvements included: housing for 2,000 personnel, two mess halls, operation buildings, a hospital and three runways over a mile long and 150 feet wide [7].” This was the first time the government granted money to build up the base. The war created the demand for expansion, which allowed the base to grow and expand over the coming years. The building of mess halls, operation buildings, a hospital, and housing allowed for real training to begin. The base improvements did not being until 1942, and the size of the base had grown to 2,500 acres. The base was tasked with protecting the Soo Locks, as well as training pilots.

The growth was not long-lived, however, as the end of the war led to “many of the buildings constructed in 1942 were stripped down and auctioned off and the only buildings left standing were the hospital area and big hanger built-in 1943. Some of the barracks (which were very small) were sold off and moved [7].” The growing base was suddenly stripped of its new buildings. The housing that moved off base was re-purposed for residential housing elsewhere in Alpena.

Over the next few years, the airbase was left for use as an airport, and during this time was little to no growth. Eventually, the Air National Guard took notice of the airport, and decided to turn it into a joint civilian airport and ANG Permanent Field Training Site. This took four years, 1948-1952, but they were ultimately successful in their plans. The result of which is what we see today.

Canine Training

Among the training conducted at the base, one of the notable events is the canine training “More than 300 civilian police canine teams assembled this year for the tenth annual National Association of Professional Canine Handlers skills workshop and conference [11].”

Canine Training at the Alpena CRTC
(Michigan National Guard Website)

Throughout the event, NAPCH professionals are present to help teach new skills and refresh the attendees on their existing skills. These skills range from human rescue to drug searching and discovery. Throughout the base there are 15 different training locations, with focus mostly on detecting narcotics and explosive devices. Many events include endurance related activities, for both the dogs and their handlers. The activities span indoors and outdoors to provide a variety of environments to train. Changing up the environment helps train the dogs to focus more on their task, rather than distractions. The collaboration between handlers from all over the world allows for the sharing of unique ideas, which everyone can benefit from. “We feel that this facility is the only place that has the ability to manage those scenario changes. This means we can give our members the best possible experience and keeps them returning each year [11].” The facility has received high praise for its training program, which shows, given the event has been conducted annually for 10 years now.


Aircraft Fire Training Simulator (Alpena CRTC Website)

One major training focus at the base is firefighting. There is a large Aircraft fire simulator on base, which is a great training tool used to give firefighters a taste of what a real aircraft crash could be like. They are able to practice putting fires out in various scenarios, as well as practicing rescue of passengers in the crash. Propane is used for the fires as it cleaner burning for the environment versus other fuels.

“As an annual requirement, fighting live fires is imperative to continuity in order to learn how to better work with one-another and to learn techniques on how to attack various kinds of fire,” said Brown. “Interior techniques used in large aircraft fires are like structural fires, we finished the training strong, aiding in our team building and overall the Alpena training was good for our team [1].” This type of simulation environment would not be possible without the base, and the simulator is of great value for the firefighters that get the chance to train there. They are provided the opportunity to learn techniques that would be very hard to obtain without the simulator.

In addition to the Aircraft fire simulator, there are a few other training facilities on base.  “The CRTC also boasts multiple automobiles and a four story tower with smoke and flash-over simulator, for structural training [1].” Like the aircraft fire simulator, the automobile fire simulators are a wonderful resource. Being able to work with a team to put out a real car fire is a valuable experience, as it is the closest thing to a real car fire, without being real. The building fire simulators are another great training resource, as the firefighters are able to run scenarios inside a real burning building in a reasonably controlled environment. These training opportunities will no doubt help the firefighters to save lives if tragedy should strike.

Northern Strike

Of all the military exercises and training operations that have taken place at the Alpena CRTC, the Northern Strike training operation in August 2016 would have the be one of the largest. Beginning on the 1st of August, and concluding on the 20th, more than 5,000 men and women from Latvia, Michigan, Illinois, Canada, Poland and more came together to conduct one of the largest military training exercises of its kind. “The exercise strives to provide accessible, readiness-building opportunities for military units from all service branches to achieve and sustain proficiency in conducting mission command, air, sea, and ground maneuver integration, and the synchronization of fires in a joint, multinational, decisive action environment [3].”

118th Security Forces Squadron at the Urbanized Terrain training facility (MI National Guard Website)

The training included a mixture of ground and air exercises, including a large variation of equipment ranging from small arms to large artillery “… employing a variety of weapon systems to include: M-4 rifle, M240B machine gun, 60mm, 81mm mortars, and 155mm howitzers…[8]”. Such a variety in armaments provides the personnel with a more diverse range of training possibilities. The ground training was not the only group to use a variety of equipment, however, as the air based training employed the use of a variety of aircraft. “It also includes various aircraft, such as the C-130 Hercules, A-10 Thunderbolt II, CH-47 Chinook, AH-64 Apache and the UH-60 Black Hawk [9].” Again, the variety in available aircraft allows for personnel to familiarize themselves with large range of vehicles that might be outside their comfort zone.

Airmen from the 821st CRG during Northern Strike (US Airforce Website)

The ability for personnel to practice aircraft based maneuvers is a great opportunity that they might not normally have. “Northern Strike also provided the opportunity for 821st CRG Airmen to rehearse potential real-world situations by training with Army counterparts in cargo uploading and downloading on aircraft, aircraft engine running off-loads, communications, aerial port procedures and air traffic control [9].” Running these situations in a safe and controlled environment allows for mistakes to be made. If a mistake is made during a live operation, it could lead to serious injury or worse. The Alpena CRTC is perfect for these types of operations, as they have the space and runways needed to properly conduct them. Some units do no have the luxury for such training facilities. These operations also give them a chance to interact with and meet people from other branches of the military or even from other allied countries. These types of collaborations will prove useful should a crisis arise and co-operation is required, and it helps everyone grow as a person. “It shows our Marines the strength of friendship and partnership across the world of other countries that stands for the same thing America does: freedom, liberty, and equality,” Samarov said. “The other value is the ability to exchange and learn about other cultures. I think it doesn’t just make us better Marines, it makes us better people [10].”

During the strike, the 821st CRG was split up with one group at the Grayling Army Airfield and the other at the Alpena CRTC. “Operating in two locations at once is challenging, but it also provides more opportunities for officers and enlisted to lead people on the road,” Smith said. “It also is very realistic for real-world missions where we could be operating at a main base and a forward operating base [9].” Being separated provides them the opportunity to show how well they could communicate, their ability to properly manage logistics, as well as displaying their ability to manage their site.

Maj. Gen. Gregory Vadnais and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder during Northern Strike 2016 (US Army Website)

The training operation was such a massive event that even the governor of Michigan decided to make a visit. “The Michigan training grounds for military members, law enforcement, and other security-related groups at Camp Grayling and Alpena are outstanding,” Snyder said. “I’ve met men and women from all over the world here, working together to improve their skills. The work that went into planning Northern Strike 2016 is evident in the value military members say they are getting from their time spent here [3].” Clearly this training operation not only had a positive impact for the those involved, but also provided positive attention for both Camp Grayling and the Alpena CRTC. In addition, the Northern Strike gave the respective bases’ a chance to show off their range of facilities on site. “NS16 also showcases numerous Michigan National Guard training facilities available for use by military, law enforcement and related security and environmental organizations. [2]” It would be safe to assume this exercise will be used as a recruiting tool to entice potential National Guard Recruits, which is an added bonus.

Primary Sources

  1. Hubble, Darin. “The GuardianThe Guardian 77 (2015): Winter 2015.
  2. Adams, Robert R. “Hometown Military News: Aug. 26, 2016.WJBC AM 1230. Cumulus Media, 26 Aug. 2016.
  3. Ames, Brandon. “Governor Snyder Visits Northern Strike 2016.DVIDS. Defense Media Activity, 8 Oct. 2016.

Secondary Sources

  1. Rosenfeld, Susan C., and Charles Joseph. Gross. Air National Guard at 60: A History. Arlington, VA: Air National Guard, 2007.
  2. Cornett, Johnson. A Handbook of Aerospace Defense Organization, 1946 – 1980. Office of History, Aerospace Defense Center, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado
  3. Pike, John. “Military.” Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center., 07 May 2011.
  4. Factsheets : ACRTC – Alpena CRTC History.Factsheets : ACRTC – Alpena CRTC History. Alpena CRTC PAO, 30 Aug. 2011.
  5. Piper, Tyler. “Michigan National Guard to Host Northern Strike…, Aug., 1-20, 2016.Home. Michigan National Guard, 06 July 2016.
  6. Carter, Amber. “Contingency Response Airmen Support Exercise Northern Strike.U.S. Air Force. United States Air Force, 18 Aug. 2016.
  7. Barnett, Devan. “Reserve Marines Demonstrate an Exceptional Performance at Northern Str.The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website. U.S. Marine Corps, 24 Aug. 2016.
  8. Alberts, Cammy. “Alpena CRTC Hosts International Canine Training.Home. Michigan National Guard, 02 Nov. 2015.

Further Readings