Member Spotlight: Ft. Indiantown Gap
(Photo Caption: The regal fritillary butterfly.)
While Ft. Indiantown Gap, located in Annville, PA, has been a recognizable installation in the community for decades, what people really know about the base is generally limited. For many, Ft. Indiantown Gap is the place they hear booming explosions coming from on the weekends. For others, it’s where they see all of the army vehicles driving.
However, what many people don’t know is that the PA National Guard’s primary training site used to be located in Mt. Gretna, PA, until they outgrew the 120-acre stretch of land. In 1931, the Guard received authorization to purchase land in Dauphin and Lebanon Counties, and in 1933, Ft. Indiantown Gap was first used for training.
At the onset of World War II, Ft. Indiantown Gap was leased to the U.S. Army for use as an active training post. The cost of the lease was one dollar. In order to prepare for the Army’s inhabitance, 13,000 workers constructed more than 1,400 buildings as well as Muir Army Airfield in readiness for troops and supplies. The Gap was officially dedicated on March 3, 1941 as Indiantown Gap Military Reservation (IGMR). Throughout the course of WWII, over 150,000 troops received training at the Gap. It also served as a German Prisoner of War (POW) compound and as a training center to educate soldiers serving in port battalions. Three landships were also constructed at the Gap for stevedore training, or the training of personnel transporting cargo between ocean vessels and the shore.
At the close of WWII, IGMR served as a demobilization center. Over 450,000 soldiers passed through the Gap as they returned to civilian life. Sometime between the end of WWII and the Korean War, the Gap was inactivated as a federal post, and control was returned to the PA National Guard. During the Korean War, from 1951-53, the Gap was again activated as a federal post and served as the base for the 5th Infantry Division, training 32,000 replacement soldiers to replenish troops in Korea.
It wasn’t until 1975 that the Gap’s name officially changed from Indiantown Gap Military Reservation to Ft. Indiantown Gap. Also in 1975, the Gap was used as a refugee camp to house over 20,000 Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees. This wouldn’t be the last time the base was used as a refugee camp. In 1980, over 19,000 Cuban refugees were housed in the Gap’s facilities.
In the following years, Ft. Indiantown Gap served as a training site for military operations in Grenada, Panama, Bosnia, Kosovo, and more. On October 1, 1998, the Gap was again deactivated as a federal installation and the PA National Guard once more resumed control. Today, Ft. Indiantown Gap serves as the headquarters for the PA National Guard, as a major reserve component training post, and as the second largest employer in Lebanon County. During its busy training sessions, the Gap could house anywhere from 7,000 to 8,000 National Guard members. During the holidays, this number could drop as low as 200.
While some local residents of the communities surrounding the Gap may be aware of the facility’s history as a federal post, many community residents aren’t aware of the Gap’s various amenities which are open to the public.
“The Gap has been tied since its origins to the Lebanon Valley community,” explained Major Angela King-Sweigart, public affairs officer for the PA National Guard.
Ft. Indiantown Gap’s Community Club houses the Boxcar Coffee Shop and Arrowheads Bar & Grill, both of which are open to the public. Rental of the Community Club is also open to the public. The space is ideal for receptions, conferences, weddings, banquets, and more and catering options are available. Members of the community are also welcome to attend Sunday services at the Post Chapel. Services cater to a variety of denominations, including Catholic, Protestant, and non-denominational.
Located at Ft. Indiantown Gap is the Pennsylvania National Guard Military Museum. The museum, which is open to the public, is open Mondays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or by appointment only. The museum features a variety of rotating exhibits, from those centering on Pearl Harbor, to ones focusing on WWII living quarters. Admission to the museum is free. Static displays, including the 40 & 8 Boxcar, the Battle of the Bulge Monument, the 28th Infantry Division Monument, the 95th Infantry Division Monument, and the 3rd Armored Division Monument are available for viewing at any time.
Other recreational activities are also available to the public. From June to August, the Ft. Indiantown Gap pool is open to the public seven days per week from 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Daily rates starting at $4 apply.
Another surprising fact of which some might be unaware is that Ft. Indiantown Gap has extensive environmental and wildlife programs.
“We have the best in the nation,” LTC Dale Waltman, the director of personnel & community activities at the Gap said. “We have to train, but we have to be stewards of the land.”
Through its sustainable range program, the Gap’s wildlife team manages invasive species, performs prescribed burns of 3,000-4,000 acres, maintains an extensive network of trails, and more. Certain parts of the Gap’s land are designated for certain maneuvers so that the local wildlife can be sustained. According to LTC Waltman, the Gap is home to the biggest native grassland area in the state, measuring 4,500 acres. The Gap is surprisingly also home to an endangered species, the regal fritillary butterfly. The Gap hosted a butterfly walk last year, allowing community members to walk through the Gap’s ranges while learning about the 83 species of butterflies, 241 species of moths, and numerous species of snakes, other wildlife, and plants which call the Gap home.
In addition, Ft. Indiantown Gap also permits members of the public to hunt, fish, and trap on the post in order to help manage the wildlife. Safety briefings and youth hunting programs are offered through the Gap. There is also a Fish and Game Conservation Club which meets monthly and which community members can join. As part of its conservation program, the Gap also has a wood yard where community members can purchase wood chips and firewood for a nominal charge. Money earned from the wood yard goes back into managing the Gap’s forestland.
What are some other things which the community might not know about Ft. Indiantown Gap?
“Many people still think our installation is similar to an active duty post in terms of turnover,” King-Sweigart stated. “Our employees stay local. It is local residents running the installation.”
Another fun fact is that a gravesite of one of the members of the legendary Blue-Eyed Six is located on the Gap’s property.
Anyone who would like to learn more about the history of Ft. Indiantown Gap or about any of its amenities open to the public can visit their website at http://ftig.png.pa.gov or call their community information line at 717-861-2007.
A local resident fishes at the Gap.
Ft. Indiantown Gap personnel perform a prescribed burn.