As the home of the Virginia National Guard and one of the largest military installations on the east coast, Fort Pickett is a key post for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. With the Blackstone Air Field, many supplies and equipment are shipped directly to Fort Pickett, and it’s also a very air mobile installation. To learn more about the history of Fort Pickett and its current status, read the guide below.
History of Fort Pickett
Fort Pickett, Virginia is the location of the Virginia Army National Guard installation right near Blackstone. The installation was named after the US Army officer and Confederate General George Pickett. The installation was originally opened before the US entered World War II. Army surveyors went to the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp that was located a few miles away from Blackstone, Virginia. This would eventually be the site of Fort Pickett.
The land that the surveyors found was filled with resources and water to establish a good size post and start training an infantry division as war drew closer to the shores of the US. There was also railroad access whether using the coastal or mountain training site. By December, almost 46,000 acres of land stretching across four counties was acquired and cleared to construct the first buildings of Fort Pickett.
As the US entered World War II, it was imperative that the Army increased their production of infantry training sites. Fort Picket was one of them. Two rail spurs were included in the camp’s building and increased the efficiency of the troops being moved in and out of the installation. There was also air transportation as an airfield was completed in 1942. A tower was placed beside a hangar, which was the only one built at the post. Even the steel beam frames and block foundation are still there today.
The cement runway was about 5,300 feet long and 300 feet wide. It was named the Blackstone Army Airfield and was large enough to land a “Gooney Bird,” or a Douglas C-47. The fighter planes were also used during emergency operations and training. Permanent storage tanks also delivered aircraft fuel. The airfield was left unchanged for many years until the 1990s.
At the end of 1942, there were over 1,400 buildings completed at the post including 1,000 enlisted barracks and 70 officer’s quarters. There were a dozen different chapels and a post hospital that was expanded over the years. Six firehouses were also built along with other headquarters, warehouses and administrative buildings. All of this was in preparation for a population of 60,000. The Army also build its own sewage, water pumping and filtration treatment plan. However, this was transferred in the 1980s to the town of Blackstone.
The post wasn’t all about training. There were also several areas for entertainment such as the four movie theaters, though two were added after the 1950s. There was a gym, several clubs for the enlists, post exchange and several satellite PXs. After the war, another 300 buildings had been added including a barracks for females and a prisoner camp. Guard, Reserve, Navy and Marine Corps personnel also had posts at Fort Pickett. These branches still use some of Pickett’s facilities today through the Virginia National Guard.
Before the Virginal National Guard Maneuver Training Center was created at Picket in the early 1960s, the primary mission of the post was store and maintain valuable equipment such as armored tanks. Visiting units were able to use this equipment without the additional cost of transporting their own equipment from home.
After 1974 in Pickett
Things abruptly changed for the direction of Fort Pickett in the 1970s. The first event was the redesignation of the camp to Fort Pickett. It was to show that the mission was changing to now offer more training opportunities that would go beyond just training for the Army Reserve. Active duty forces would also receive training at Fort Pickett on a yearly basis.
Another event that occurred at Fort Pickett was the completion of a new building. Buildings hadn’t been added since the Korean War in the 1950s before that time. This new building would house enlisted personnel and serve as a mess hall and administrative facility. It was the first permanent structure at Picket as well as it was made from brick.
After 10 years, another complex of barracks and support facilities were added to Fort Pickett. Now the post was large enough to house a complete brigade, and it was dedicated in 1984 in memory of Tech. Sargeant Frank D. Peregory of the 116th Infantry. He earned the Medal of Honor during the D-Day invasion.
More upgrades followed to change Fort Pickett into a modern training facility and administration compound. The telephone system was doubled and renovation began on the Blackstone Army Airfield’s runways in 1994 so that planes like the C-130 and the C17 transport could be used. Now the post allowed for troops to be transported by air as well as equipment and supplies.
There were multiple missions that changed other parts of the post. There was the addition of more firehouses and a NCO club. There was also a number of community events to integrate and maintain good relationships with the nearby Blackstone including Boy and Girl Scout organization affiliation.
Units at Fort Picket
Fort Pickett is the headquarters and training facility for the Virginia Army Reserve and National Guard. However, multiple branches of the military are stationed or otherwise trained at Fort Picket. The facilities at Pickett are for training military personnel and units, there are also non-military organizations that use them as well. US Marshal’s service, ATF, Civil Air Patrol, Virginia State Police and FBI have offices at Fort Pickett.
A yearly exercise also takes place at Fort Picket for the 36 Canadian Brigade Group, which is located in Nova Scotioa and Prince Edward Island. Called the Exercise South Bound Trooper, it’s a joint exercise between the Canadian Forces Primary Reserves and Virginia National Guard that coincides with the NATO doctrine that stands between the two military groups.