Today, the Joint Forces Training Base at Los Alamitos, formerly known as the Armed Forces Reserve Center, Los Alamitos, is home to the U.S. Army's 63rd Regional Support Command and the California Army National Guard's 40th Infantry Division (Mechanized). Various other National Guard and Army Reserve units, as well as units of the California State Military Reserve, are also stationed at Los Alamitos. Additionally, the Joint Forces Training Base supports the Marine Corps Reserve and Civil Air Patrol as well. In addition to these military commands, the facility also hosts the State of California's Office of Emergency Services.
But the history of the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base dates back to when it was originally commissioned in 1942 as the Los Alamitos Naval Air Station (NAS Los Alamitos).
Some thirty years later, in November 1972, NAS Los Alamitos was redesignated as an Armed Forces Reserve Center (AFRC Los Alamitos).
In July 1977, operational control of AFRC Los Alamitos was officially transferred from the Department of the Navy to the Department of the Army. In August 1977, AFRC Los Alamitos was licensed to the State of California by the Department of the Army and the California Army National Guard was directed to serve as the host activity at the facility and assigned the operational control of the installation.
ARFC Los Alamitos has become the largest Army Airfield operated by the National Guard Bureau (NGB) and has become one of the most active DOD aviation operations in the Continental United States.
Since that time, ARFC Los Alamitos supported various mobilizations and deployments including the Gulf War, Panama, Bosnia and most recently operations in support of Enduring Freedom. AFRC Los Alamitos was used as the assembly and staging area for the 1984 Summer Olympics, the Los Angeles Civil Disturbance in 1992 (1), the Loma Prieta Earthquake 1989, Northridge Earthquake in 1994, Northern California Floods of 1997, and a variety of emergency preparedness exercises.
AFRC Los Alamitos' status as a reserve center changed in July 2000 to that of a Joint Forces Training Base (JFTB Los Alamitos) to reflect the stations ever changing role.
Today, with an ever dwindling military presence in California, JFTB Los Alamitos has become a strategic military asset on the West Coast. The significance of this former Navy airfield has greatly increased over the past few years. Over 800 military, civilian and contract personnel are assigned to the JFTB Los Alamitos on a full time basis to support training, operations and services to the more than 2,500 National Guardsmen and Reservists who conduct training here.
JFTB Los Alamitos is located in one of the most congested and heavily flown airspace in the United States, its Control Tower is one of the busiest in southern California. Managing five instrument approach procedures including radar, JFTB Los Alamitos can handle almost every aircraft in the flying inventory as it has two all weather runways, one at 8,000 feet and the other is 6,000 feet. The airfield often lands C-5, C-17, C-141, other military transports, DOD charter airlift, NASA missions, fighter aircraft and has even hosted Air Force One on numerous occasions along with the USMC Presidential Helicopter Flight Detachment (HMX-1). Presently, some 60 helicopters of the 40th Aviation Brigade are stationed at Los Alamitos. These include OH-58C Scouts, UH-1H Hueys, UH-60 Blackhawks and AH-1F Cobra Attack Helicopters. The airfield itself includes a fully staffed Army Air Traffic Control Tower, crash rescue and fire department, jet fuel farm with aviation refueling and an Army Aviation Weather Office.
When compiling a history of a military installation it is always interesting to look back to origins.
Los Alamitos was once among the largest Spanish land grants doled out in the vicinity of pueblo of Los Angeles. It was a vast grassland area adjoining Rancho San Pedro, that went to Manual Perez Nieto de Cota in 1790 (2). Manual Perez Nieto de Cota was a Spanish foot soldier who received a 300,000- acre land grant for his retirement. It was originally called Rancho La Zanja, later known simply as Rancho Los Nietos. The vast rancho of Los Nietos, by royal grant, stretched from the San Gabriel River to the Santa Ana and from the mountains of the coast range to the sea, which includes the present-day cities of Long Beach, Los Alamitos and Cerritos.
Disputes with Mission San Gabriel quickly reduced his holdings to 167,000 acres. Juan Jose Nieto de Cota had been left in charge of all his father's property in 1804. His was the largest portion when the land was divided as he became owner of two of the ranchos Los Coyotes and Los Alamitos. His property was further diminished in 1806, when Manual's heirs petitioned to split the land into five great ranchos Los Alamitos, Los Coyotes, Los Balsas, Santa Gertrudes and Los Cerritos. About this time, the children of Juan Manuel Nietos de Cota were concerned about having their property reconfirmed, as there was a possibility that others would claim some of it. The family had hired Abel Stearns, an amateur surveyor, to make a formal map or diseno of their lands. On May 17, 1834, Governor Figueroa signed a document that confirmed the land to the heirs, which divided the property into five ranchos. These were called Santa Gertrudes, Las Bolsas, Los Alamitos, Los Cerritos, and Los Coyotes.
Having already taken title to Rancho Los Coyotes, the 28,500-acre Rancho Los Alamitos, became an outpost ranch of Juan Jose Nieto de Cota. Following his confirmation of the title to the lands in 1834, then governor Jose Figueroa proceeded to purchase Rancho Los Alamitos for $500, or less than 2 cents an acre. He, in turn, sold the Rancho in 1842 to Able Stearns for $6,000. Don Able Stearns, one of the first American immigrants to arrive in California in 1829, purchased Rancho Los Alamitos for his young Spanish-Californian wife, Arcadia Bandini, to use as a summer home. During his ownership of Rancho Los Alamitos, California was annexed by the United States (1848) and subsequently became the 31st State of the Union (1850).
In 1861, Abel Stearns mortgaged Rancho Los Alamitos to Michael Reese, who purchased it at a sheriff's sale five years later. A Bavarian, Reese settled in San Francisco in 1850 and purchased large tracts of land vacated by the exodus to the gold fields. By 1878, when Reese died while on a trip to his homeland, his estate was worth more than $6 million. He never lived at Rancho Los Alamitos, but had leased it for stock grazing. In 1878, John Bixby leased the ranch from Reese and moved into the deteriorating adobe. Thus began what was to be a 90-year occupation of Rancho Los Alamitos by the Bixby family.
By the early 20th century, the Bixby family would be one of the largest landowners in the Los Angeles area. John Bixby had traveled from his native state of Maine to California to supervise the sheep-raising operation of his cousin Jotham Bixby's Rancho Los Cerritos. During the Civil War, cotton was replaced by wool, hence the profitability and importance of raising sheep to the newly created state. In 1881, John Bixby purchased Rancho Los Alamitos in partnership with I. W. Hellman and J. Bixby & Co. (which comprised Jotham Bixby & Flint Bixby & Co.). To make the adobe more livable for his wife and young children, John Bixby added many improvements before he died suddenly at age 39 in 1887. The ranch was then divided into three parts; his wife and two children received the middle section, which included the ranch house and gardens, the barns, and the corrals.
By 1915, Rancho Los Alamitos was more commonly referred to as the Bixby Ranch. This land remained in the possession of John Bixby's heirs. In the 1940s, the U.S. Navy purchased the land, consisting of the present day Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base, from Mrs. Susanna Bixby Bryant at $300 an acre for the purpose of establishing a Naval Air Station.
To fully appreciate the history behind this one time Naval Air Station, one needs also to look back to two local but important airfields Allen Field (later renamed Reeves Field) at Terminal Island, and Daugherty Field at Long Beach.
Allen Field - Reeves Field
Allen Field was a small 410-acre civilian airport built in 1927 on a portion of the expanded section of Terminal Island. Terminal Island is a sand-filled island located adjacent to the port of Los Angeles and expanding between the harbors of San Pedro and Long Beach.
Located approximately equally between three cities, San Pedro, Wilmington, and Long Beach, it was reached by each city by taking a foot ferry or one of the Red Cars operated that were operated by the Pacific R.R. Company. The field itself consisted of three paved runways (the largest being 4,200 feet long), a large seaplane ramp, and several hangars and other buildings.
The U.S. Navy began its use of Allen Field almost from the very beginning. In 1927 a Naval Air Reserve Training Facility was established there. With the U.S. Naval Reserve Training Camp located across the harbor at the Submarine Base in San Pedro, it was an ideal location. With its large seaplane ramp, the airfield at Terminal Island soon became the primary operating base for seaplanes assigned to ships of the Pacific Fleet.
In 1935 the Navy took complete control over Allen Field and in 1936 designated it as a Naval Air Base (NAB San Pedro) and renamed it Reeves Field, in honor of Rear Admiral Joseph M. Reeves, Naval Aviation Observer and farseeing pioneer in the tactical employment of aircraft carriers.
Terminal Island was one of the first islands seized from Japanese fishermen and cannery workers shortly after Pearl Harbor was attacked.
Early in1942, the Naval Reserve Air Training Facility at Reeves Field was turned over, along with its facilities there, to other Naval units of the Pacific Fleet and relocated to NAS Los Alamitos, and NAB San Pedro was redesignated as a Naval Air Station (NAS Terminal Island). Even though Reeves Field was operational as a Naval Reserve Air Training Facility from 1927 to 1942, it continued to play an important training role to Naval Reserve Air personal through 1945.
In 1942, NAB San Pedro, now NAS Terminal Island, was now relegated to the task of equipping and perform flight-tests on a large number of military aircraft produced at the nearby plants of Lockheed, Douglas & Vultee. To facilitate delivery of these aircraft, the U.S. Navy established the Naval Air Ferry Command (NAFC) in 1943. This was a wing of the Naval Air Transport Service (NATS), and three Air Ferry Squadrons were commissioned, VRF-1 at NAS New York, VRF-2 at NAF Columbus, Ohio, and VRF-3 at NAS Terminal Island, California. Originally called Air Delivery Units (ADUs), the ADUs and ferry squadrons used small transports to ferry pilots to the manufacturer's plant to pick up the aircraft and then the transport would fly to the station where the aircraft were delivered to bring the pilots back to either the factory for another flight or to their home station.
The commander of NAS Terminal Island was Captain Kneflar "Socko" McGinnis, who had been awarded the Navy Cross for transporting the first mass flight of seaplanes from Northern California to Hawaii.
Also stationed at NAS Terminal
Island were a small group of women, whose contribution to the
war effort has often been overlooked. These women were part of
an elite group of the Navy's WAVES (Women Accepted in Volunteer
Emergency Services). (3) Of the 25,000 WAVES and 1,900 SPARs who
became part of naval aviation in jobs as mechanics, air traffic
controllers, and radio and air navigators in World War II, about
200 of them worked at Terminal Island. These women played an important
role in the Naval Air Transport Service.
Day and night, hundreds of new planes roared in and out of Reeves Field, one of the busiest naval ferrying air stations on the West Coast. Planes just off assembly lines were flight-tested here and then "pickled" with a protective coating to protect them against salt air before they were shipped to the South Pacific.
Reeves Field also served as a training field for men having just completed Naval Air Navigation School. Interestingly enough, a few of the WAVES assigned to NAS Terminal Island were qualified as Navy aerial navigators (4) and trained hundreds of men naval aviators and navigators from the Naval Reserves at Reeves Field.(5)
Even so, with the Naval Reserve Training Facility having been transferred in 1942, NAB San Pedro's status was downgraded to that of a Naval Air Station (NAS Terminal Island) in 1943. Both NAS Terminal Island and NAS Los Alamitos remained under the command of the Naval Operating Base at San Pedro, California, until August 10, 1944, when they both fell under the jurisdiction of the Eleventh Naval District. The Long Beach Naval Station (NAVSTA Long Beach), which was not established until 1941, became located adjacent to the airfield. Reeves Field as a Naval Air Station was disestablished in 1947, although the adjacent NAVSTA Long Beach would continued to utilize Reeves Field as an auxiliary airfield until the late 1990s, at which time the land was made available to Los Angeles for critically needed port expansion to the south. The name of Reeves Field was later transferred to the Naval Air Station in Lemoore, California, where a new airfield was established in 1961 for the U.S. Navy's fighter and attack bombers.
The Naval Reserve Air Base at Long Beach, or Daugherty Field, began in a much different way. In 1923, the Long Beach City Council set aside 150 acres near the intersection of Spring and Cherry Streets for use as an airfield. The airfield was later named Daugherty Field after Earl S. Daugherty, a Navy Lieutenant (junior grade) and one of the area's pioneer aviators.
This new airport enabled the city of Long Beach to gain access to the nation's infant air transportation system. (6) The first airport operator's lease was issued on April 7, 1925.
To attract the U.S. Navy, the City of Long Beach built a hangar and a administrative building and then offered to lease it to the Navy for $1 a year for the establishment of the Naval Reserve Air Base. On May 10, 1928, the U.S. Navy commissioned the field as a Naval Reserve Air Base (NRAB Long Beach). Two years later, the city built a hangar and administrative building for the Army Air Corps as well. It should be stated that the only significant developments to the little city airport began only after the city built hangars and administrative facilities for the Army and Navy in 1928-30.
As a Naval Reserve Air Base, the mission was to instruct, train and drill Naval Reserve aviation personnel. A ground school was offered three nights a week at the base and two nights a week at the University of California in Los Angeles until 1930, when ground school was continuously offered at the base. On April 9, 1939, training in night flight began, and shortly thereafter its facilities began to be used by fleet aircraft as well.
However, with increased air activity by commercial airlines and the private airplane industry, particularly with Douglas Aircraft showing an interest in the Long Beach Municipal Airport, the little municipal airport simply had to have more room. With Douglas Aircraft as a resident, the attitude of Long Beach's authorities became cold and openly hostile to naval aviation, with its city manager saying that "the sooner the Navy gets out of the Long Beach airport, the better we will like it."
Due to this hostile attitude, and unknown to city officials at the time, the Navy had begun a survey for a more suitable site. Nevertheless, Admiral Ernest J. King, then the Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics, and Admirals William D. Leahy, Joseph K. Taussig, and Allen E. Smith pointedly demanded the city of Long Beach to repair the hazardous runways and simply reminded the city that the Pacific Fleet, then laying offshore in both Long Beach and San Pedro harbors, had a payroll of over $1 million a month. Of course, that was a lot of money in those days and the city complied with the Navy's demands.
Still, the city continued to show a hostile attitude toward approving a lease on any additional land that the Naval Reserve now required.
The Navy there upon, fed up with the city of Long Beach, decided upon the purchase of some property owned by a Mrs. Susanna Bixby Bryant, a fact made known by the commander of the base, Commander Thomas A. Gray, to the Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics, Admiral John H. Towers. The circumstances behind the purchase were revealed to James V. Forrestal, Under Secretary of the Navy, and by him to the House Naval Affairs committee who approved the purchase. Although Comdr. Gray had offered Mrs. Bryant $350 an acre, in the best patriotic spirit she sold the property at $300 an acre.
With the site acquired, in1941, construction funds soon followed and NAS Los Alamitos began to take shape. Upon the transfer of the Naval Reserve Training Facility to Los Alamitos, quite to the surprise of city officials of Long Beach, in 1942, instead of returning the Naval Reserve Air Base facilities at Long Beach to the city, the Navy simply turned over the facilities to the U.S. Army Air Corps (7), which had also established a training base adjacent to it.
Nevertheless, with war clouds on the horizon, the NARB Long Beach was not totally abandoned but simply downgraded to that of a Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS).
The 1940s was an extraordinarily busy time for the Long Beach airport. Throughout World War II, the air field was given over to the war effort. In August, 1941, the Civil Aeronautics Administration took over control of the airport, which had increased to 500 acres. Once Los Alamitos became an operational base in 1941, NAAS Long Beach now turned to servicing carrier borne F4Fs, SBDs, FM-2s, F4Us, F6Fs, TBF/TBMs, and SB2Cs. In addition, it had utility aircraft and such patrol planes as the PBY, SNB, GB3, NH, GH, and SNJ.
As the Navy's activities began to be shifted to Los Alamitos, the Long Beach Army Airfield at Long Beach became the home of the Army's Air Transport Command's Ferrying Division, which included a squadron of 18 women pilots commanded by Barbara London, a long time Long Beach aviatrix.
Like the Naval Air Ferry Command at NAS Terminal Island, the Army's ferrying work was an immense undertaking, thanks to Douglas Aircraft's wartime production. Groundbreaking for the initial Douglas Aircraft facility occurred in November 1940, with dedication in October 1941. Douglas had been drawn to Long Beach primarily because of the presence of the town's growing municipal airport and the presence of both the Army and Navy there. With wartime contracts, the company immediately went into intensive production. The company's first C-47 was delivered 16 days after the attack of Pearl Harbor, and another 4,238 were produced during the war. Additionally, the plant turned out some 1,000 A-20 Havocs, not to mention 3,000 B-17 Flying Fortresses and 1,156 A-26 Invaders.
With the end of the war, the U.S. Navy abandoned any use of the Long Beach Municipal Airport facility completely, and with it, the designation of Long Beach as a Naval Auxiliary Air Station.
NRAB/NAS/NAAS Los Alamitos
After the relocation of assets from Naval Reserve Air Stations at Long Beach and Terminal Island, the facilities at Los Alamitos were formally commissioned as a Naval Reserve Air Base (NRAB Los Alamitos) on May 31, 1942.
The U.S. Navy immediately had began the task of clearing the land in late 1940, with construction of buildings for an air station at Los Alamitos, not to mention a weapons depot at Seal Beach, beginning in early 1941, so that by May 1942 Los Alamitos was operating with a complete physical plant including administrative office, sick bay, a synthetic training facility, central files, classroom, and an Assembly and Repair Department.
With a station complement of about 2,500 officers and men, it began training its first 500 aviation cadets, all having been transferred from the Los Beach facility in 1941. By 1942, NRAB Los Almitos graduated its first 729 cadets, 180 having washed out. By the end of the year its 36 planes had increased to 140, and in 1943 it acquired five outlying fields.
NRAB Los Alamitos was re-designated as an Naval Air Station on August 15, 1943, to provide support for carrier-based aviation units. This changed the airfield from a Naval Primary Training command to an Operational Training Base for training of fleet units. In addition to providing training, NAS Los Alamitos serviced aircraft from the Battle Fleet, including carrier air groups from the USS LANGLEY (CV-1), USS LEXINGTON (CV-2) and USS SARATOGA (CV-3).
NAS Los Alamitos' flight operations were now conducted by a Fleet Air Detachment. With additional construction undertaken after mid-1943, by December of 1943, NAS Los Alamitos was again redesignated, this time as a Naval Air Auxiliary Station (NAAS Los Alamitos) and was again returned to its NAS designation in September 1945. NAS Los Alamitos played an integral role in the air defense of the west coast of the United States during World War II, as well as serving as a primary training facility for the training of U.S. Naval aviators. Naval fighter, reconnaissance, and light bomber crews were trained and stationed at the facility.
Approximately 130 buildings, including housing for 2,200 naval personnel were built during the early 1940s. Other structures included hangars, equipment and maintenance shops, a laundry, warehouses, mess halls, headquarter buildings, a gymnasium, chapel, and a small hospital.
By the end of 1945, NAS Los Alamitos facilities included ordnance storage facilities, a rifle range, motor repair shops, gasoline and oil stations, aviation fuel dispensing, wash racks and grease racks, a laundry, and a fire station. The air station was equipped with both storm and sanitary sewer systems and a wastewater treatment plant that performed secondary water treatment and included a sludge lagoon. During the 1940s, the airfield had underground storage capacity of 160,000 gallons of aviation fuel in approximately 17 underground storage tanks.
Following the war, NAS Los Alamitos soon supported a patrol plane squadron, two escort carrier air groups, and a carrier air group. On 16 August 1946 the first group of aviation cadets in the Selective Training Program came on board, and after September 1, 1946 the station was also being used by the Naval Air Transport Service (NATS).
By 1947, with 243 Reserve pilots, 1,375 volunteer Reserve pilots, 255 inactive Reserve enlisted men, and 368 active duty station keepers, NAS Los Alamitos was one of the busiest Naval Air Reserve Stations in the Reserve Program. Between January and March 1947 the station became the largest in the entire Naval Reserve Air Training Program. By mid-May, the administration of the Naval Air Facility at Litchfield Park, Arizona, was placed under NAS Los Alamitos to serve Naval Reserve aviation personnel in the Phoenix-Tucson area. With 1,300 organized Reservists, 1,682 inactive Reservists, 12 over-aged Reservists, 7 women Reservists, and 583 station keepers, NAS Los Alamitos remained the largest Naval Air Reserve Station in the country.
March 1948 found NAS Los Alamitos with a light carrier aircraft group, two carrier air groups, two escort carrier air groups, two patrol plane squadrons, three transport squadrons, four fleet aircraft service squadrons, two Marine fighting squadrons and a Marine ground control interceptor unit, two volunteer units, one at Litchfield, and one on the station proper, a NATS Unit, and an all-weather station. When it was decided that there were not enough personnel to continue support for the Reserve units at Bakersfield and Santa Barbara, NAS Los Alamitos assumed administrative responsibilities for them as well.
On November 7, 1949 the first jet, an FJ-1 Fury, was received by NAS Los Alamitos. By December 1950, a reorganization occurred in which there was provided a Wing Staff with twenty-five squadrons.
During the Korean War, NAS Los Alamitos continued to serve the fleet as a Naval Reserve Training Facility. In answer to the president's request for reservists to volunteer for duty during the Korean War, U.S. Navy and Marine Corps units were trained and mobilized. VF-781 squadron, stationed at NAS Los Alamitos, was the first complete unit mobilized in the nation. Three squadrons from the Marine Corps Reserves were organized and ordered to active duty, as was the Naval Reserve VP-772 squadron. Others squadrons soon followed.
During the summer of 1950, there was a waiting list for pilots and ground officers. When the Naval Aviation Cadet Program, which had opened on July 1, closed on October 25, NAS Los Alamitos had obtained a tenth of the cadets recruited in the entire nation.
On January 15, 1952 the first helicopter units came on board, also in 1952 a Reserve Air intelligence Unit came on board. For the next decade operations at NAS Los Alamitos were routine, reservists were trained and the base continued to support the fleet. In addition to its other squadron units, in 1969, the first Phantom F-4s in the Naval Reserve were assigned to NAS Los Alamitos.
In 1970, however, the U.S. Navy closed the station as a Naval Air Reserve Training Facility and let it serve merely as a Naval Air Station until 1972, when it was changed into an Armed Forces Reserve Center to be used solely by Reserve Components.
From leased facilities at commercial airports helicopter elements of both the National Guard and Army Reserve were soon moving to the center. Following approval by an Environmental Impact Statement, filed in August 1973, the U.S. Navy was designated host to the Armed Forces Reserve Center, with the California Army National Guard charged with operating the airfield.
In July 1977, operational control of AFRC Los Alamitos was officially transferred from the Department of the Navy to the Department of the Army by the House Armed Services Committee, and by August 1977, AFRC Los Alamitos was licensed to the State of California by the Department of the Army. The California Army National Guard was directed to serve as the host activity at the facility and assigned the operational control of ARFC Los Alamitos, becoming the largest Army Airfield operated by the National Guard.
In July 2000, AFRC Los Alamitos' status as a reserve center changed to that of a Joint Forces Training Base (JFTB Los Alamitos) to reflect the stations ever changing role.
Yes, the role of the Joint Forces Training Base at Los Alamitos, formerly known as NAS Los Alamitos, is ever changing. Today, this one timer Naval Air Station is now the home to various National Guard and Army Reserve units, as well as units of the California State Military Reserve.
(1) 8,602 soldiers were called to State Duty during the Los Angeles Civil Disturbance.
(2) Seldom do two ranchos parallel themselves more than the two ranchos of Rancho Los Cerritos and Rancho Los Alamitos. Both were a part of the Manuel Nieto grant made in 1780 by the King of Spain. Both ranchos were the result of a partition granted to a Nieto heir. Los Cerritos on the East, Rancho Los Alamitos to the West. Both would become the property of a New Englander John Temple and Brigadier General Jose Figueroa, each a naturalized citizen of Mexico, and a rival of the other. Together, these ranchos would become the property of the Bixbys, thereby going on to play a major role in the formation of the present cities of Cerritos, Los Alamitos and Long Beach.
(3) To free up men for sea service, thousands of women jointed the Navy in the newly organized women's unit called WAVES, and a few thousand more enlisted in the Coast Guard's women units called SPAR (short for Semper Paratus, "Always Ready").
(4) On March 30, 1945, as the war neared its end, the Navy authorized a distinctive gold wings insignia for the 80 airborne female navigators, all of whom until then had worn a 1920s design "observer" wing with a compass in the center over crossed anchors.
(5) The pilot in training sat in a mock-up training cockpit wearing a headset, a WAVE would sit at a desk just outside, also wearing a headset, sending Morse code signals to the pilot, changing wind speeds and charting his path on a map to see how well he could follow the course changes. Hundreds of aviators and navigators were trained this way.
(6) Prior to the establishment of Daugherty Field the only so-called "airport" in Long Beach was the city's huge, crescent-shaped beach. Landings and takeoffs were best made at low tides, and it was common to see fabric-covered biplanes flying off the sand amidst ocean spray.
(7) The Army Air Corps facility was the first stop for many a Californian who signed up to become Army fighter pilots in World War II. For a brief time, also flying out of Long Beach during the wartime era was Capt. Eddie Rickenbacher's 94th Pursuit Squadron ("The Hat in the Ring Squadron") and the Army Air Corps' "Flying Sergeants" in their P38s.
LTC Tom Lasser jokingly calls the Joint Forces Training Base at Los Alamitos, Calif., a "military oasis," but it's an apt description.
Surrounded by the urban sprawl and 12 million inhabitants of the Los Angeles basin, the 1,400-acre installation packs a lot into a relatively small area. Within its eight miles of perimeter fencing are more than 160 buildings encompassing about 1.5 million square feet of space. More than 45 tenant organizations call the small post home, and on any given day some 700 people -- military, civilian employees and contractors -- work at JFTB Los Alamitos. If they mobilized all the reserve-component units assigned to the installation, some 5,000 people -- military and civilian -- would report for duty. And, perhaps most important, Los Alamitos is home to the sole remaining military airfield in the greater Los Angeles and Orange County area.
A Little Bit of Everything
Opened during World War II as a naval air station, JTFB Los Alamitos became Army property -- licensed to the California National Guard for operations, maintenance and management -- in 1973. Commanding the base for California's State Military Department is BG Guido Portante Jr., who oversees the installation's extensive infrastructure, civic interaction and environmental compliance, as well as coordination of the base's diverse tenants.
Most of Los Alamitos' tenant organizations are military, and most of those are Army. These include an active-duty military intelligence company and elements of a training support battalion, as well as the headquarters and several units of the California Guard's 40th Infantry Division -- the largest single Army maneuver formation west of the Rocky Mountains. JFTB Los Alamitos also boasts the airfield, a 200,000-gallon fuel farm, extensive storage areas for military vehicles, and a state-of-the-art UH-1 helicopter simulator complex used by aviators from throughout the western United States and Pacific basin. The National Guard's Civil Support Team 9, a 24-member weapons-of-mass-destruction team, also calls the base home.
The Army Reserve is also well represented. The installation is home to the 63rd Regional Support Command and such other units as a psychological operations company, a quartermaster company and a maintenance battalion. A detachment of Navy Reserve Seabees and two Marine Corps units -- an infantry company and staff of instructors and inspectors -- also are assigned to the JFTB.
Among the installation's five nonmilitary tenants are the state's Mediterranean Fruit Fly Eradication Program and California's Southern Region Office of Emergency Services. The latter agency is responsible for controlling all state emergency-relief efforts in Southern California, and it's no coincidence that JFTB Los Alamitos is a designated assembly area and air-movements center for disaster-relief operations.
"There are only two such centers in the state," said Lasser, commander of Los Alamitos Army Airfield, "here, and at Travis Air Force Base near San Francisco. The Office of Emergency Services has a 24-member staff and operates 24 hours a day."
The JFTB has performed its military-support role several times, most notably during the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. In 1992 the installation was the arrival and assembly area for law enforcement, National Guard and active-Army personnel involved in quelling the widespread rioting in Los Angeles. The 1994 Northridge earthquake also brought local, state and federal disaster-relief agencies to Los Alamitos, and the base was a staging area for agencies mobilized during the 2000 Democratic national convention.
The Biggest Little Airfield
Though home to a range of organizations, JFTB Los Alamitos is perhaps best known for its airfield.
"This is the largest Army airfield operated by the National Guard Bureau," said Lasser. "Our two all-weather runways are capable of accommodating all U.S. military air-craft except the B-2 and B-52 bombers.
"And at one time or another we've had virtually every type come through here," he added. "That includes everything from F-18 fighters to Air Force One. We can accommodate up to 12 C-5 airlifters on our 1.4 million-square-foot main parking ramp, and we can park additional aircraft on our inactive third runway. That's a significant capability, especially given the crowded conditions at local civil airports, and it makes Los Alamitos look more like an Air Force base than the typical Army airfield." The field has its own permanent residents as well -- California Army Guard UH-1, AH-1 and UH-60 helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft participating in the Mediterranean fruit fly spraying effort and three Army Reserve C-12 utility transports.
"Every day is different," said MAJ Myles T. Williams, the airfield's operations officer. "One day we might have a dozen F-18s coming and going, the next day the president of the United States might land here, and the day after that a movie might be filming on the ramp. There is always something new going on. It's challenging and fun and occasionally frustrating, but it's a great place to work."
A Crowded Piece of Sky
The more than 1,100 flights that arrive or depart from Los Alamitos AAF every month, combined with the incredibly crowded airspace over Southern California, mean that the field's control tower is one of the busiest both in the state and in the Department of Defense.
At any given moment there are scores of airliners and smaller commuter planes landing at or taking off from nearby Los Angeles International, Long Beach, John Wayne and Fullerton airports, as well as fixed-wing civil and military aircraft transiting the airspace near the base. Add to that military, police, fire department and TV news helicopters -- not to mention the occasional blimp -- and you have a very crowded piece of sky.
"It can get a little busy," said James Reasoner, one of two air traffic controllers on duty in Los Alamitos' tower during Soldiers' visit. "Though our main job is handling the variety of military and civilian aircraft that use the base itself, we also handle commercial traffic in the immediate area."
"One challenge is handling the different types of aircraft that may be in the area at the same time," said Nancy Qasem, the other on-duty controller. "We may be working different types of aircraft with different airspeeds. For example, we may be working a slow helicopter and an inbound F-18 at the same time, and their speeds differ so much that it takes a little more concentration to do the job.
"But the most challenging thing for me," Qasem said, "is the noise restrictions in place here. Military airfields are usually surrounded by big open areas, but here you have houses that come right up to the fence next to the runway. So when an aircraft departs, we direct it over the freeway or out over the industrial parks. But with aircraft of all sizes and types coming in here, there is definitely some noise."
Surrounded as it is by the Orange County communities of Los Alamitos, Rossmoor, Seal Beach and Cypress, the JTFB cannot avoid disturbing some of its neighbors.
"When this installation was established during World War II it was in the middle of open farmland," Lasser said. "We haven't expanded, but over the years the cities around us have -- right up to the perimeter fences. So we do everything we can -- consistent with safety and mission requirements -- to mitigate the noise. It's all part of trying to be a good neighbor."
The JFTB also makes an effort to reach out to the surrounding civilian communities, Lasser said. Not only is the installation home to a Civil Air Patrol squadron, it also hosts periodic open houses, Fourth of July fireworks, 5- and 10-kilometer community fun runs and other events.
Portante encourages collaborations among the base, its tenants and the local communities. One of the most prominent links between the JFTB and the greater civilian community is centered on the installation's Olympic-size outdoor swimming pool. Once sliding slowly into disrepair because of scarce maintenance funds, the pool is now the focal point of a collaborative effort among the base, the city of Los Alamitos and USA Water Polo. It is the centerpiece of a major aquatic training center and home to the U.S. national water polo team.
"Our military personnel and base employees use the pool for recreation, and our units use it for water-survival training," Portante said. "The U.S. women's Olympic water polo team trained here before going on to win the Silver Medal at the Sydney Olympics, and the pool was the site of last summer's men's and women's water polo championships. It's really a great deal for everyone involved."
Still to Come
And what does the future hold for Joint Forces Training Base Los Alamitos? Given the installation's key role in both state and national operations, the coming years will be both busy and challenging.
"We have a lot to offer here -- key facilities, well-trained and highly motivated personnel, and a great location," Portante said. "Construction is under way on a multimillion-dollar joint headquarters building for the 40th Inf. Div. and 63rd RSC, and in the coming year we'll welcome a Close Combat Tactical Trainer. And a state-of-the-art Training Simulations Center now under development will be able to train company- through division-level staffs. All in all, I think this 'military oasis' of ours will be here, doing the job, for many years to come."
With the war on the horizon, Douglas Aircraft expressed an interest in building a plant at the airport. As a result, the City of Long Beach's relationship with the Navy became cold and hostile. The Navy found an acceptable site for a new air station, 17 miles to the east, near the town of Los Alamitos. Although offered $350 an acre, Mrs Suzanna Bixby Bryant sold 715 acres of land for $300 per acre -- her patriotic contribution to the country.
Construction began shortly on a primary training base with the intention of basing fleet units later. All training transferred to Los Alamitos on June 1, 1942, as the Navy leased its facilities at Long Beach to the Army's Ferry Command. NRAB Los Alamitos commissioned on August 1, 1942, and included five OLFs for primary training. To the men assigned there, the new base was nicknamed "Los Al."
Los Alamitos started with just 39 aircraft. By the end of the year, the station had expanded rapidly with 100 aircraft that included 15 N3Ns and 79 N2S Stearmans. A total of 729 cadets had the primary training course with 180 failures and one fatality. Los Alamitos became an NAS on January 1, 1943. Six months later, the station was operating 96 Stearmans and 24 Timm N2T Tudors. Primary training diminished during 1943 and finally ended on August 15, 1943, after 3,821 flights had accumulated 5,556 hours during the year.
No time was wasted changing the station over to operational units and the next month three squadrons of CAG 19 and CAG 37 with two squadrons moved aboard for several months of training. CASU 33 support the various change of mission, commissioned at the station to carrier units present.
With the Los Alamito's designation changed to an NAAS under San Diego. From August 1943 until September 1945, Los Al hosted two VB, 24 VC, eight VF, two VJ, and five VT squadrons, plus four CAGs, three CASUs, and two ARGUS units. Beginning in late 1944, the primary unit at Los Alamitos was CAG 98. The West Coast's operation training squadron, CAG 98 conducted refresher training to pilots returning from combat and trained replace ment pilots. By the beginning of 1945, Navy invest ment reached $4.8 million.
Primary training landing areas consisted of two large rectangular mats orientated in a southwest/northeast direction. With the end of primary training, four runways and taxiways were established obliterating the mats.
Los Alamitos was the largest of San Diego's auxil iaries with the capacity of two large air groups of 180 aircraft. The station's ultimate acreage totaled 1198 with four tarmac runways, the longest 5,700 ft. In March 1944, Los A1 had a complement of 414 officers and 2790 enlisted men while barracks exist ed for 375 officers and 2070 enlisted men. The station operated four to eight aircraft of various types. Utilization of the station peaked during 1945 with almost 300 aircraft on board.
Following the war, Los Alamitos became the Navy and Marine Air Reserve center for the Los Angeles area. In 1947, the station assumed command of the Reserve Unit at Litchfield Park, Arizona. During the Korean War, six of the station's units were activated and participated in the war. In 1972, the Navy closed Los Alamitos turning the facility over to the California Army National Guard that continues to conduct flight operations at the airfield today.
On August 15, 1943 the station was transferred from the U.S. Naval Air Primary Training Command to the U.S. Naval Air Center, San Diego. The base was redesignated as the U.S. Naval Auxiliary Air Station, Los Alamitos, California, on December 30, 1943. The area of the U.S. NAS on May 1957 was 1340 acres. The Navy's Fiscal Year 59 Military Construction for Naval Reserve Forces Program contained money to acquire approximately 124.4 acres in fee and 89 acres for flight clearance easements contiguous to the NAS. Two parcels of approximately 24 and 14 acres were released between 1949 and 1972.
A 6-acre parcel was deeded to the City of Los Alamitos in September 1989. A parcel containing 38.7 acres was transferred to the State of California at some unspecified time before 1990. The State of California is currently administering the base as the Armed Forces Reserve Center , California National Guard, as a licensee of the U.S. Army, who owns the large portion of the site.
Extract, US Army Air Forces Directory of Airfields (January 1945)