Alpena CRTC History

Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, formerly named Phelps Collins Field and the Phelps Collins Air National Guard Base, has a history beginning in the early 1900's. Before that date the area had a reputation for yielding blueberries in abundance to local Indians and early settlers in the area. In the early 1900's the area was known as the "Seven Mile Plains" named because the flat open area stretching from the Seven Mile Dam to M-32.

During the early part of the 20th Century, flying machines began to appear in the sky over most of the country including the Alpena area. It didn't take long for the early aeronautical risk takers to realize the flat open area was just what they needed to land and take off with their aircrafts known as Jennies. The landing area was a bit rough going, but so was the practice of flying in general during those early years.

Around the same time, local developers and land owners realized the potential of the flat area and foresaw the need for a landing strip as a result of the onset of air travel. Thus the idea of an airport was born. Harry Fletcher and his brother Philip (Nephews of Alan M. Fletcher, founder of Fletcher Paper Co.) began negotiations along with Robert Scott (then president of Scott Engineering) and James McQuarrie, who later sat on the County Board's Airport Committee. These individuals were fundamental in developing the plan and getting the state on board.

The tract of 80 acres, previously surveyed by the Army Corps of Engineers, was donated by Harry and Phillip. Several other 40 acres plots donated by Alpena Power Company set the proposed plan into action.

During that same time, Works Progress Administration (WPA) crews were working on projects around the country. They were pressed into service to begin the clearing of the underbrush and leveling out the land in preparation for the first landing area, which would later become the main part of the runway now in existence.

On Aug 31st 1931, the airport was formally dedicated as Captain Phelps Collins Field in honor of Alpena's World War I hero who fought and died with the famed Lafayette Escadrille. Governor William M. Brucker flew in to formally accept the Airport and it became Michigan's first State owned airport. Phelps had spent a lot of time in Alpena as a youth shortly before he became interested in flying. There is a monument in France honoring the escadrille and his name appears on it.

Construction of the first hanger, a 40x90 foot structure built of cobblestone, began in 1935 and was completed in 1937. It could accommodate four average size aircraft of the era.

The First Pursuit Group out of Selfridge Field practiced flying maneuvers and gunnery training near Oscoda, Michigan. When they became aware of the facility at Alpena, they were eager to try it out. By the late 1930's they began to use the airfield, housing their personnel in tents at the Alpena County Fairgrounds. This marked the beginning of military personnel using the site for training maneuvers as they still do today.

In 1940, 400-500 Selfridge men trained as Phelps Collins with a compliment of 35 Seversky P-35's. With World War II looming on the horizon the training tempo increased. The next year they brought P-40 Warhawks and the first P-38's Lockheed Lightning fighters.

As a result of World War II, the demand for training facilities became crucial and so the field was taken over by the War Assets Administration. During this time, there was a $5M project approved to increase on site capabilities. Improvements included: housing for 2,000 personnel, two mess halls, operation buildings, a hospital and three runways over a mile long and 150 feet wide. Actual construction began in 1942. This was a big project for Alpena. By this time the total acreage of the base had increased to 2,500 acres.

The planned use of the base, along with training military personnel, was to provide air defense for the Soo Locks. In addition, the base was also tasked with certifying and training a pool of new pilots resulting from the P-47 modifications for staging out aircraft to overseas bases.

When WWII ended, many of the buildings constructed in 1942 were stripped down and auctioned off and the only buildings left standing were the hospital area and big hanger built in 1943. Some of the barracks (which were very small) were sold off and moved. Some were placed in neighborhoods on Alpena's North side and were converted into private residences.

Not long after the War Assets Administration (WPA) turned over the site to Alpena County. The site was solely used as a civilian airport for a few years. During that time, the Air National Guard (ANG) had expressed an interest in the facility and in 1948 negotiations began. By January 1952, plans were in place to have joint use with the civilian airport. The facility would be instated as an ANG Permanent Field Training Site (PFTS). So began the training as we know it today. Over the years many changes have occurred, but our core mission has not changed; and still is to train Air National Guard personnel for protection and combat.

Once the ANG took over the site, they completed another round of construction projects totaling $2.5M dollars. Sixty-two concrete block buildings were built including two dining facilities and barracks to house 2,000 men. The North/South runway was extended to 8,000 feet. Most of the day to day operations were performed by the Alpena County Road Commission still occupying a few building on the base.

During the 1960's, the runway taxiways were extended and an air traffic control tower was added. Also during that decade, the Air Defense Command Detachment from Wurtsmith AFB, Oscoda Michigan, had 60 persons permanently stationed here in Alpena until 1972/73 at which time their unit was deactivated.

The first PFTS base commander was Lt Col Donald Fishbeck; the current CRTC commander (2011) is Col Bryan J. Teff. There have been a total of ten base commanders.

1st Lt Col Donald Fishbeck 1953
2nd Col Lloyd J. Koglin 1960
3rd Col Thomas Purtill 1973
4th Col Frank O'Neill 1981
5th Col Paul A. Pochmara 1985
6th Col Thomas G. Cutler1987
7th Col Terry R. McKenna 1995
8th Col James E. Makowske1999
9th Col Ewin R. Sansom 2004
10th Col Bryan J. Teff 2011

Two of the commanders have been promoted to general officers. Major General Paul Pochmara, commanded the 113Wing, Washington D. C. Major General Thomas G. Cutler, after commanding at the CRTC for six years, was assigned to command the 127Wing, Selfridge, MI. In 2003 he was selected to serve as the State of Michigan Adjutant General.

The original military personnel assigned in 1953 totaled seven individuals and an additional two military and two Federal Civil Service personnel were added the following year. The next major personnel change was in 1979 when the military personnel had their status changed from Federal Civil Service Technicians to Active Guard Reservists (AGR). About that time the civilians employed on the base became Michigan State Civil Servants.

In early 1960's the Grayling Air-to-Ground Gunnery Range Negotiations began and early during the decade the range was constructed on 1,900 acres near Grayling, Michigan. Soon after, aircraft could be seen using the site to fly sorties for aircraft gunnery and bombing exercises. This added asset increased the usage and value of the base immensely.

Units from all over the United States come annually to train, with Air National Guardsman totaling in the tens of thousands.

In 1991, another significant event took place; the site was renamed the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center (CRTC). This new title was more in line with the base mission of "combat training".

With the closing of Wurtsmith AFB in 1993, the need for radar approach and control was assigned to the CRTC. Equipment and personnel to operate it were added to the facility.
The mission of the CRTC was increased with the additional tasking of running an ANG Medical Readiness Training School. The schoolhouse was designed to train ANG medical units for field operations. Both of these programs added personnel to the workforce and the number of employees, military and civilian, was over 100 persons.

Construction in the early 90's was ongoing, with a major emphasis on upgrading the 1950's barracks and latrines to current standards. Thus a $3.8 million dollar dormitory upgrade project begun and office buildings and officer quarters were all remodeled.

During the period, under the command of Col Thomas G. Cuter, the base created a long range plan including a new dining facility, fire station, operations facility, squadron operations (office) buildings, a convention center, a new facility at the Grayling Range and new dormitories thus keeping the Alpena CRTC one of the premier training sites in the world.

In 1991 another tasking was added to the mission when the Air Combat Maneuver Instrumentation (ACMI) was instated. This state of the art system involves computerized communication between the aircraft and a computer satellite, providing full mission replay.

With the addition of the Fire Training Site and MOUT City in early 2000, the CRTC hosts several Fireman Schools and numerous law enforcement training courses annually.

Although the CRTC's core mission is to train ANG units, other military train here regularly. Air Force, Army, Navy Seals Marines and Latvian and Italian military have trained at the site. In recent years the CRTC has opened its gate to numerous non-profit organizations. It is not uncommon to see canine training, emergency response training along with other training maneuvers running all at the same time. Youth programs have expanded from the traditional Civil Air Patrol Cadets to include ROTC, JRROTC, Boy/Girl Scouts of America, Freedom Academy Students, Michigan Youth Camp Cadets.

With the addition of 26 Traditional Guardsman positions in 2000, the number of total base personnel now is over 200 employees. AGR's, Traditional Guardsman, Michigan State Civil Service and contracted employees make up the group. Military members come from all over the United States as well as local residents. Prior to their assignment at the base, many personnel have served the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines.

Personnel have been called to give aid for local area flooding and deployed to Hurricane Katrina relief mission. Many have volunteered and been deployed overseas in support of operations: Dessert Storm, Desert Shield, Iraqi Freedom, Joint Forge, Jump Start, Enduring Freedom, Northern Watch, Northern Eagle and Deep Freeze.