Alpena CRTC: Michigan's 'Gem of the North'

  • Published
  • By Sft. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs

With 147,000 acres of land available for ground maneuver and the largest piece of air space east of the Mississippi, the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center provides Michigan with a unique and valuable asset for the warfighter.

On any given day at Alpena, a visitor is likely to see a visiting fighter squadron preparing to launch "live-fire missions" at the nearby Grayling Air Gunnery Range; firefighters battling a blaze in the aircraft fire simulator; security forces personnel at the small arms range or urban warfare training center.

"The units that train here come not only from all branches of the military - Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines - but we also frequently host law enforcement, fire departments and similar agencies and are able to tailor a training scenario to meet their needs," said Col. Andrew Roberts, commander of the Alpena CRTC.

One of only four such locations in the Air Force, the Alpena CRTC annually hosts upwards of 38,000 visiting personnel per year. The visiting units are able to tailor training scenarios to meet the specific needs of their unit, explained Chief Master Sgt. Alan VanPate.

Buildings at the base are set aside for use as classrooms, operations centers and other facilities, allowing visiting units to establish their own operations while at Alpena. The base also offers a variety of dining and lodging options - including the renowned River Club on the base - to allow units to further tailor their activities.

In addition to the unit-specific training options, the Alpena CRTC is also one of the key hubs for the annual Operation Northern Strike exercise. ONS draws thousands of National Guard, Reserve and active duty personnel from about a dozen states, along with a few international coalition partners, to engage in a series of maneuvers. During ONS, ground and air forces work on integrated operations using both fixed- and rotary-wing assets. The three-week exercise, held every summer, also includes air-to-air combat training scenarios and a maritime component.

A small cadre of support and training specialists work at Alpena year-round to support the base's varied exercises. About 90 Airmen and 90 civilians are permanently assigned to the CRTC.

The Alpena area first began being used by military units as a training site when the Selfridge-based 1st Pursuit Group utilized the Alpena County Fairgrounds as an air field in the 1920s. In 1931, the current air field opened as the first state-owned airport in Michigan. The field was named for Capt. Phelps Collins, an Alpena native who was the first member of the U.S. Air Service to loss his life in combat during World War I. The Army Air Corps took over the base as a training facility during World War II. Following the war, the Air National Guard assumed control of Phelps Collins Field and the base has been operated by the ANG ever since. The facility was re-named the Alpena CRTC in 1991 to better reflect its current mission - the main conference building on the base retains the Collins name.

In addition to military training, the Alpena CRTC is also home to the Michigan Freedom Academy and the Michigan Youth Academy, summer camp-style programs for young people that promote fitness and citizenship. The base also hosts a number of junior ROTC and similar military-affiliated youth programs when the training schedule allows.