Starting life as Camp Polk in 1941, this Army base was built quickly to train troops for Northern Africa, European and Pacific theaters. It was one of the first Army bases that specialized in mechanized or mobile forces. Camp Polk also served as a place for German prisoners of war after WW 2. After that war, the camp opened and closed many times for a few decades. Then, in 1950, in preparation for the Korean War, the base became active again. It remained an important training ground for soldiers going to Vietnam as well. In fact, Fort Polk trained more soldiers for Vietnam than any other U.S. Army base.
Updated: February 17, 2015
There is only one Army base in Louisiana, but it currently plays a vital role in America’s military strategy. Fort Polk is located in Vernon Parish, just east of Leesville and halfway between New Orleans and Houston, Texas. From its earliest days in World War Two, Fort Polk has been training units in cutting edge maneuvers and joint operations to prepare them for the combat arenas of today and tomorrow.
Fort Polk began as Camp Polk in 1941, where soldiers were trained in the Louisiana Maneuvers prior to being sent to one of the many fronts of World War Two. It also housed German POWs. After the end of the war, it was closed and then reopened for the Korean War. In the mid-1950s it served as the location for Operation Sagebrush, a training exercise that focused on a nuclear event; following this successful exercise it became a permanent installation and was renamed Fort Hood.
During the Vietnam War, Fort Hood again became a key training facility, with weather that mimicked the conditions of Southeast Asia and a section of its grounds that had the lush, dense foliage of a jungle environment; this section became known as “Tigerland.” For 12 years Fort Polk sent more soldiers to Vietnam than any other training base.
With its nearly 200,000 acres, Fort Polk’s role as a key training facility was cemented when the Joint Readiness Training Center moved there in 1993. To this day the JRTC is one of only three “Dirt” Training Combat Centers in the United States. The JRTC provides realistic arms training and mission rehearsals that integrate Army units with other military services and civilian role players. The exercises replicate the complex scenarios units may face today, including terrorists and insurgents, host nation officials, news media coverage, and non-governmental organizations.
Today Fort Polk is home to five units: The 1st Battalion, 509th Infantry (Airborne); the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division; the 115th Combat Support Hospital; the 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade; and the 162nd Infantry Brigade. It also contains a garrison, a hospital, and a National Guard maintenance facility.
Nearby military bases such as Barksdale Air Force Base, NSA New Orleans, and Camp Beauregard facilitate the joint exercises that have become a vital part of Army training.
Fort Polk is also forward-looking in its role as a member of the local community and its place in Louisiana’s history. Numerous historical and archaeological sites on the grounds have been carefully inventoried and preserved by the U.S. Army, and Fort Polk is currently implementing a pioneering Installation Strategic Sustainability Plan to ensure proper stewardship of its grounds and resources well into the future.