The nation’s mobilization after the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor swamped U.S. military installations with inductees, and that next summer the War Department took the advice of its Brig. Gen. Frank Lackland and peeled off Kelly Field’s west side for what became the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center. Lackland had believed, correctly, it turns out, that consistent aircrew training in one spot would produce higher-quality aircrew graduates faster.
The military already had a cadet training center on Kelly’s Security Hill, and with the U.S. suddenly in a shooting war, the Air Corps replacement-training center there became a processing and pre-flight school for thousands of cadets. Kelly Field’s mission, though, was to meet the nation’s urgent demand for bomber pilots, and the numbers and needs of so many green cadets next door tested that mission so sorely that in June 1942, the Adjutant General formally separated Security Hill from Kelly Field and made it an independent Army military installation, the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center.
The Gulf Coast Army Air Forces Training Center shifted its classification center, preflight school, station hospital, several other units and even an Army Air Force band to the new center, which activated on Independence Day 1942. Ultimately, 90,000 candidates for flight training passed through the preflight school; early on, they mostly lived and studied in tents because there hadn’t been time to build accommodations.
Missions for the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center were adjusted or added throughout World War II, and as the war ended in 1945, the center began taking in returning U.S. overseas fighters and either reassigning or separating them from service. In early 1946, the Army decided to use the center for all its Army Air Force basic training and for its Officer Candidate School as well, which was transferred from Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama (in 1993 that school, by then known as Officer Training School, was returned to Maxwell Field).
Numerous designation tweaks over the years had reflected the facility’s changing uses, but on July 11, 1947, the War Department definitively named it for Brig. Gen. Lackland, whose vision created it. Two months later, President Harry Truman signed the National Security Act to make the U.S. Air Force, formerly part of the Army, an independent service equal to the Army and U.S. Navy; thus Lackland Air Force Base got its name.
The base is known, justifiably, as “Gateway to the Air Force.” Except for three limited occasions, since 1946 all enlisted airmen have begun their Air Force careers at Lackland.
The decades since have been marked by constant infrastructure upgrades and replacements of the 1,400 buildings hastily thrown together during World War II, as well as wholesale repairs and replacements to crumbling roads, water mains, sewers and sewage treatment plants.
In 1956, Lackland was given charge of all Air Police training; a year later, training in cryptographic equipment maintenance came to the base, the same year a new nine-story, 500-bed hospital, Wilford Hall Medical Center (now Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center) opened. The hospital doubled its size with the addition of a 500-bed wing in 1961.
The U.S. Air Force Marksmanship Center arrived in 1958, as did Sentry Dog Handler School, now the U.S. Military Working Dogs Training School, which trains drug- and bomb-detection dogs, patrol dogs, dogs skilled at finding land mines, specialized search dogs and dogs that protect visiting dignitaries. Breeds favored for their intelligence, temperament and athleticism are the German shepherd, Dutch shepherd and Belgian Malinois, and after their careers (usually 10 to 12 years) most are adopted as pets.
Starting in 1953, Lackland AFB began teaching English to military personnel from foreign countries, a program that became the USAF Language School in 1960 and the Defense Language Institute English Language Center in 1976.
Lackland’s parent and neighbor, Kelly Air Force Base, closed in 2001, and Lackland along with the city of San Antonio inherited the 2-mile-long runway between them as a joint-use facility — Kelly Annex — which supports flying operations for the Air Force Reserve’s 433rd Airlift Wing and the Air National Guard’s149th Fighter Wing. The civilian side of the former Kelly AFB is now known as Port San Antonio and run by the Greater Kelly Development Authority, a state entity. It is occupied by some 70 tenants in the fields of professional services, transportation, warehousing and aerospace, among them defense contractors Boeing and Lockheed Martin, though the Air Force has leased back 200 acres for 13 Air Force agencies.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, cybersecurity has received new emphasis at Lackland, which hosts the 24th Air Force — Air Forces Cyber, a military consolidation of cyberspace combat and support forces. The Air Force’s main network warfare wing, the 67th Cyberspace Wing under the 24th Air Force, is headquartered at Lackland.
The National Security Agency uses the Texas Cryptology Center at Lackland’s Medina Annex as a satellite campus. Six years ago, the NSA set up a data-mining complex at a former San Antonio Sony microchip plant; both are intended to identify and quash threats to national security, and most information about either is classified.
Lackland’s heritage is celebrated by dozens of historic aircraft like the B-17 Flying Fortress and the P-82 Twin Mustang on display around the base, and visitors and military personnel alike can enjoy the new new Airman Heritage Museum & Enlisted Character Development Center, which combines the much-loved Security Forces Museum and the Airman HeritageMuseum.
For more than seven decades, Lackland has responded to the nation’s changing needs, but in all that time its primary responsibility has been and remains preparing new airmen with the uniform knowledge and skills they need to go on as successful, contributing military specialists.