Vancouver Barracks transition from post to park

U.S. Army departs from longest continuously operating installation west of the Mississippi

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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VANCOUVER MILITARY HISTORY

1848: Secretary of war sets aside 10 square miles for Fort Vancouver military reservation; soldiers arrive.

1849: Capt. Ulysses S. Grant arrives as regimental quartermaster.

1853: Post reduced to 1 square mile between what is now Fourth Plain Boulevard and Columbia River.

1860s: Troops fight in the Civil War.

1879: Name changed to Vancouver Barracks.

1906: Construction of Barnes Hospital, forerunner of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and Camp Hatheway, on current site of Clark College.

1917: World War I brings in 30,000 soldiers for training, deployment.

1945: 30,000 military personnel come and go from barracks, a hub for soldiers returning from World War II.

1986: Lt. Col. Royce Pollard takes command of barracks.

2000: Last four active-duty Army officers and six civilians pull out of Vancouver Barracks, leaving Reserve and National Guard units.

2004: Many troops with Vancouver ties deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan.

2006: The Army Reserve’s 104th Division remains in Vancouver, while another 300 prepare for deployment to Iraq. Members of the Washington National Guard’s 790th Chemical Company and the 396th Combat Support Hospital also are deployed.

2008: Col. Daniel L. York assumes command.

2009: York is promoted to brigadier general; the Army announces plans to build a training center at Fourth Plain Boulevard and Ward Road.

2010: The 104th Division relocates to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Tacoma.

2011: Military operations cease at Vancouver Barracks on Sept. 14, as soldiers complete the move to the new Armed Forces Reserve Center.

2012: The East and South Barracks become National Park Service property in a Memorial Day ceremony.

An era ended in May when military officials handed over the East and South Vancouver Barracks to the National Park Service.

The “Post to Park” ceremony on Memorial Day included a U.S. flag transfer from Brig. Gen. Alton Berry, commander of the 88th Regional Support Command, to Christine Lehnertz, director of the National Park Service’s Pacific West region.

It marked the U.S. Army’s departure from its longest continuously operating installation west of the Mississippi — a span of more than 162 years.

As the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site works to prepare the East and South Barracks for new roles, the local military presence has had a chance to get accustomed to its new home. About 1,000 Army Reserve and Washington Army National Guard soldiers moved into the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Sifton in September 2011.

The transition was part of the Defense Department’s Base Realignment and Closure program. The new center cost about $30 million.

While they’re no longer based in Vancouver’s historic core, the service personnel will continue the tradition of some distinguished soldiers. They include Ulysses S. Grant, who served here as a quartermaster before he was elected president after the Civil War.

Others include Union Gen. O.O. Howard, who was awarded a Medal of Honor during the Civil War; Gen. George Marshall, the only career soldier to win the Nobel Peace Prize; Gen. Thomas Anderson, the first general to lead U.S. troops in combat overseas, in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War; and Joseph K. Barnes, who became Army surgeon general in 1864 and attended President Abraham Lincoln after he was shot.

One venerable military-related resource did stay behind, by the way. The birthplace of the U.S. Army post exchange system is getting another distinction: It will be the only one in a national park. The Vancouver Exchange is on the east end of Hatheway Road.

While the new reserve center, 15005 N.E. 65th St., doesn’t offer the same echoes of history, the 18.5-acre campus provides much more as a training and administrative facility. The reserve center includes storage buildings, a site for a combat-support hospital, a maintenance shop for equipment and parking for almost 300 vehicles.

Units that occupy the reserve center include the Washington Army National Guard’s 790th Chemical Company, which is able to respond to domestic emergencies.

The center’s Army Reserve occupants include the 1st Logistics Support Battalion, 413th Regiment; the 204th Army Band; the 2nd Brigade, 95th Division; the 3rd Battalion, 354th Regiment; the 396th Combat Support Hospital; the 852nd Minimal Care Detachment; and the 915th Forward Surgical Team.

The new site also houses the Soldier Readiness Processing Center; the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System office; retention/recruiter offices; and the Family Programs Support Office.

The U.S. Army has been in Vancouver since 1849. It took over Fort Vancouver from the British Hudson’s Bay Company, which arrived in 1825 to oversee the fur trade. Vancouver Barracks, which grew out of the old fort, swarmed with soldiers through World War II.

Many local service personnel have seen action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Another sizable contingent of local military personnel are based just across the Columbia River, with the Oregon Air National Guard’s 142nd Fighter Wing. The 142nd has almost 1,200 members, and up to half of them live in Clark County.

Heading into the end of 2012, at least 20 soldiers, Marines and civilian contractors with local ties had been killed in the war on terrorism since 2003.