“Fort Yuma is probably the hottest place on earth. The thermometer stays at one hundred and twenty in the shade there all the time – except when it varies and goes higher. It is a U.S. military post, and its occupants get so used to the terrific heat that they suffer without it. There is a tradition… that a very, very wicked soldier died there, once, and of course, went straight to the hottest corner of perdition, – and the next day he telegraphed back for his blankets.” ~Mark Twain, Roughing It
Arizona is the site of two major air force bases: Luke Air Force Base and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. (A third, Williams Air Force Base in Mesa, was active from 1941 until its closure in 1993.) The state also has a major U.S. Army base at Fort Huachuca, as well as a Marine Corp Air Station and Proving Ground in Yuma, a bombing range and auxiliary field, a National Guard training site, and munitions storage depot. During the Cold War, Arizona was the site of 18 Titan Missile silos.
1. Fort Huachuca – This fort was established in 1877 by the U.S. Army and it has a rich history that continues to this day as the major military installation in Arizona and one of prominence throughout the Southwest. Today the fort is still an active Army post serving as the home for the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and headquarters for the Army’s Strategic Communication Command. The “Old Post Area” historic district contains many notable old buildings including the Fort Huachuca Historical Museum, an adobe and stone building originally used as the post chapel. Old Fort Huachuca, a National Historic Landmark, is four miles west of Sierra Vista on AZ 90. The Fort Huachuca Museum is located three miles northwest of the fort’s main gate at Boyd and Grierson Aves.
2. Yuma Proving Ground – The U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground is located in the southwest portion of the state near the Arizona-California border, adjacent to the Colorado River, approximately 24 miles north of the city of Yuma. Since 1943 when General George Patton trained his soldiers there, the Yuma Proving Ground has played a significant role in testing weapon systems and training troops for battle. The Yuma Proving Ground is one of the largest military installations in the world, with state-of-the-art facilities and ranges covering more than 1,300 square miles of terrain and 2,000 square miles of restricted airspace. This size allows the Army to fully exercise their ground combat equipment and weapon systems capabilities without endangering the public. The center is also the Army’s desert test base, where grueling terrain and extreme heat combine to challenge equipment in demanding real-world conditions. The desert is a harsh environmental extreme that taxes soldiers and weapon systems to the fullest degree possible. The proving ground’s sea level altitude, clear climate, and sparse vegetation makes it an outstanding helicopter test center. There is a Heritage Center Museum on the grounds, and an outdoor interpretive area with historic military vehicles and weapons systems, including a great collection of tanks.
3. Yuma Marine Corps Air Station – Yuma is the busiest Marine Corps air station, and it’s also one of the busiest in the Naval Service. Four squadrons of Harriers are stationed here. The base is approximately five square miles in size and employs 6,500 people; an additional 13,000 people come through every year for training on the ranges. The Yuma Training Range Complex, which totals 2.8 million acres of aerial training ranges in Arizona and California, includes almost 2,000 square miles of land space for bombing and gunnery ranges.
4. Davis-Monthan Air Force Base – Davis-Monthan became a military base in 1925. The airfield was dedicated in 1927 by Charles Lindbergh. During World War II, Davis-Monthan served as an operational training base. After the war, it became a storage site for hundreds of decommissioned aircraft, a mission that continues to this day. Designated as a Strategic Air Command base in 1946, the base was transferred to the Tactical Air Command in 1976. Until 1976, U-2 reconnaissance aircraft remained at the base. Nearly every major air command, the Air Force Reserve, and the Air National Guard are represented among the associate units at Davis-Monthan.
5. Luke Air Force Base – Luke Air Force Base is located in Maricopa County, approximately 20 miles west of Phoenix in the City of Glendale. Luke Air Force Base is the largest fighter training base in the western world located in the 5th largest metropolitan area of the United States. Boasting more than 200 aircraft as well as 7,000 military and reserve personnel and 1,500 civilian employees, the base has been training pilots for America’s most advanced fighters since 1941. Luke was named for the first aviator to be awarded the Medal of Honor, Frank Luke, Jr. During World War II, Luke Air Force Base was the largest fighter-training base in the Army Air Force. Deactivated in 1946, the base was reactivated in 1951 and in 1971 assumed the role as the main provider of fighter pilots for Tactical Air Command.
6. Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range – Formerly called Luke Air Force Range, this is a bombing range in Southern Arizona along the Mexican border. It is used for bombing practice by United States Air Force pilots in A-10s and F-16s, and Marine Corps pilots in F-18s and AV-8B Harriers. The entire range is approved for day and night operations. Four controlled, manned, and electronically scored surface attack ranges are available for pilots to practice basic air-to-surface weapons employment including bombing, rocket delivery, and strafing. Three additional uncontrolled tactical ranges contain two airfield mockups plus many diverse arrays of targets including structures, vehicle convoys, aircraft, and armor. These ranges are used to train pilots for strike and close air support missions, and support various types of live ordnance. An air-to-air gunnery range is also available. Near the center of the range complex, Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field serves as an emergency landing strip for pilots training on the ranges.
7. Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field – The Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field is 45 miles south of Luke AFB and approximately two miles south of Gila Bend off State Highway 85. The range extends south to the Mexican border, west to the outskirts of Yuma, and southeast toward Tucson. The auxiliary field is used as an emergency landing facility by Luke aircraft and units from other nearby bases using the Barry M. Goldwater range complex. The facility dates back to the early 1940’s when it was part of the Gila Bend Gunnery Range. It was an active Air Force facility until approximately 1995.
8. Camp Navajo Army Depot – The Navajo Army Depot is located at Bellemont, which is about 12 miles west of Flagstaff and 17 miles east of Williams. The base encompasses 28,347 acres (about the size of the city of Boston) and is situated in terrain that ranges from heavily forested and steep to grassy and gently rolling. The facility has 227 miles of roads, 38 miles of railroad, approximately 780 ammunition storage igloos; and its own electrical, water and wastewater distribution systems. There is a demolition area in the southern portion and buffer zones along the eastern and western borders. The Navajo Depot was created in 1942 to provide for munitions storage and shipment of explosives while also conducting recovery and disposal of obsolete or deteriorated explosives and ammunition. Inspection teams from the former Soviet Union periodically visit the installation to verify count and serial numbers of ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) rocket motors stored there. A secondary mission of Camp Navajo is to support and train the Arizona National Guard.
9. Papago Military Reservation – The 3/4 square mile facility used by the Arizona National Guard is situated approximately 1.5 miles northeast of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, on McDowell Road adjacent to Papago Park. The Arizona Military Museum is also located on the Papago Military Reservation at 52nd Street and East McDowell Road. (Entry at Main Guard Gate.) The museum operates independently and not as a function of the Arizona Army National Guard. The museum opened in 1981 to preserve the military history of Arizona and its theme is “Lest We Forget.” The museum displays are filled with historical uniforms, weapons and flags. It even features artifacts dating to the days of the Spanish conquistadors who marched across Arizona. One of the most popular exhibits is the Vietnam-era helicopter that is open for visitors to explore. The museum is open Saturdays and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. It’s run by volunteers and admission is free, but donations are accepted. For information, call: (602) 267-2676.
10. Titan Missile Silo – Arizona was once the site of 18 Titan Missile installations. All of the national Titan Missile sites have been destroyed except one near Tucson which was deactivated and retained for tours. It’s the only publicly accessible Titan II missile site in the nation. Visit the underground missile site and see the 3-ton blast doors, the 8-foot thick silo walls, the control center, and an actual Titan II missile in the launch duct. All of the original equipment was left intact. The Titan Missile Museum is located in Green Valley, about 20 miles south of Tucson. Take I-19 south to exit 69 and head west for about half a mile until you see the signs on the right.
Honorable Mention: Phoenix Goodyear Airport – The Phoenix Goodyear Airport, 2.2 miles south of Interstate 10 on Litchfield Road, used to be called the Litchfield Naval Air Facility and it served as the training base for the Navy Blue Angels aerial demonstration team until 1968. The airport is now classified as a general aviation reliever airport for Sky Harbor, and it has one of the best general aviation runways in the country.