Barracks to muster out of Army

Ceremony will hand facility to parks service

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 

Update

• Previously: About 1,000 Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers left the Vancouver Barracks in September and moved into a new military center in Sifton, 15005 N.E. 65th St.

• What’s new: Lead abatement and caretaking work is being done on several East and South Barracks buildings.

• What’s next: The Army Reserve will transfer the East and South Barracks to the National Park Service in Monday’s “Post to Park” ceremony.

photoBob Cromwell, an archeologist with the National Park Service, takes a group of visitors on a tour of the Vancouver Barracks Wednesday February 22, 2012 in Vancouver, Washington. Fort Vancouver is getting ready to take hand-off from US Army on remaining Vancouver Barracks property. (Troy Wayrynen/The Columbian)

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photoClark College students (from left) Kenta Takao, 17, and Sunny Pisano, 17, take a walk past the Vancouver Barracks while on a break from classes on Monday February 6, 2012. (Zachary Kaufman/The Columbian)

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The Vancouver Barracks and its soldiers have seen a lot of American history since 1849, and a 1 p.m. ceremony Monday will be another defining moment.

Brig. Gen. Alton Berry will pass the United States flag to National Park Service official Chris Lehnertz, in the final action of military personnel on Vancouver Barracks.

Memorial Day's "Post to Park" event is the official closure of the East and South Vancouver Barracks as an Army Reserve base, and its transition to a national park.

"It's a major milestone -- not just for the Army and the National Park Service, but for the community," said Tracy Fortmann, superintendent of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

One of 397 national parks, Fort Vancouver is working on a master plan for the 33 acres and 28 buildings it is acquiring.

The ceremony will be at the Artillery Barracks, 600 E. Hatheway Road. The renovated structure is in the West Barracks, which already is under civilian ownership and management.

The ceremony will follow the 11 a.m. Memorial Day observance at the nearby Clark County Veterans' Memorial on Fort Vancouver Way and McClellan Road.

The Post to Park exchange involves much more than the moment when Brig. Gen. Berry, deputy commanding general of the Army Reserve's 88th Regional Support Command, passes the flag to Lehnertz, the Pacific West regional director for the park service.

The process is governed by the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Act of 1990 (BRAC). The Defense Department and the Department of the Interior (which oversees the National Park Service) have been collaborating on the handover, Fortmann said.

"We've worked well with the U.S. Army," Fortmann said. "We've worked with them on caretaking issues."

It's a continuing process, which means the Army isn't actually done with the barracks. It's still working on lead abatement in three high-visibility buildings facing Officers Row. The buildings had firing ranges in the attics for small-arms practice.

The Army also will do additional work to button up the unoccupied buildings.

"Both those projects will carry on until the end of June or July," said Ray Cozby, the park service's project manager.

And speaking of an ongoing Army presence, regional military units are welcome to return for special events.

"We want them to use the barracks for observances like change-of-command ceremonies," said Larry Smith, Vancouver city councilor and mayor pro tem.

Smith, who will be part of Monday's ceremony, served at Vancouver Barracks two decades ago.

Monday's ceremony will be followed at 2 p.m. by 30-minute park ranger tours and Fort Vancouver's annual "Soldiers Bivouac." The living history encampment will include costumed interpreters representing the post's links to the Civil War, Indian War, Spanish-American War, and Philippine War eras.

Others sites will interpret the post's World War I and World War II history, including home-front perspectives from the Kaiser Shipyard's "Wanda the Welders" and Army aviation at Pearson Field. Vintage military vehicles will be on display.

At 3 and 5 p.m., reenactors portraying the Civil War-era soldiers from the First Oregon Volunteers will conduct a weapons drill and ceremony on the parade ground. At 3:30 p.m., WWII veteran and National Park Service volunteer Fred Bridges will share his accounts of World War II.

At 4 p.m., Fort Vancouver staff and volunteers will demonstrate historic weapons, including the firing of the site's replica 1840s mountain howitzer.

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://twitter.com/col_history; tom.vogt@columbian.com.