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The U.S. Army began utilizing the Belvoir peninsula as an engineer training facility in 1915. America’s entry into World War I in April 1917 led to the first wave of military construction at the Virginia training site. Construction of the temporary cantonment, named Camp A. A. Humphreys in honor of Civil War Commander and former Chief of Engineers, Andrew A. Humphreys, began in January 1918. By the end of the war, over 50,000 enlisted men and 4,900 officer candidates had been trained at Camp A. A. Humphreys.
The outbreak of World War II in Europe in 1939 and Japanese expansion in Asia and the Pacific motivated the United States government to begin preparing for possible involvement in the expanding world conflict. To accommodate the influx of draftees after 1940, an additional 3,000 acres north of U.S. Route I were acquired to make room for the new Engineer Replacement Training Center (ERTC). One of the most innovative troop training strategies developed during World War II was the obstacle course. A Fort Belvoir invention, the course was designed to teach recruits how to handle themselves and their equipment in simulated field conditions. Belvoir’s obstacle course incorporated walls to climb over, hurdles to jump over, barbed wire to crawl under, ditches to swing over and pipes to crawl through. The course was put into operation at the ERTC during the spring of 1941, and was replaced in November 1941, with a more rigorous course designed by Major Lewis Prentiss. Proven to be a highly effective training exercise, the obstacle course was adopted at Army installations throughout the country.
Today, Fort Belvoir employs more than 22,000 Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, and Department of Defense civilians, all dedicated to maintaining the fort as America’s premier administrative support center in the National Capital Region. As such, nearly 100 tenant organizations presently call Fort Belvoir home. No other Army base in the world can compare to the level of support Fort Belvoir is able to provide to such a diverse mix of tenant and satellite organizations.
Fort Belvoir is also home to one Army major command headquarters and elements of 10 others. Other organizations with agencies at Fort Belvoir include the U.S. Army Reserve, the Army National Guard, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Air Force and the Marine Corps.
Conservation also plays a key role at Fort Belvoir. More than one-third of the installation’s acreage has been preserved as a designated wildlife sanctuary. The Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge was established in 1980 and includes over 1,300 acres of marsh and hardwood forest in the southwestern corner of the post, in an area formerly used for target ranges.
The Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge, dedicated in October 1989, incorporates 150 acres of non-tidal wetland and forest near the Woodlawn Village Housing area along Dogue Creek. Both refuge areas are open to the public and provide miles of trails including a one mile handicapped-accessible trail. In 1991, as a result of its efforts to preserve the natural environment, Fort Belvoir received a Natural Resources Conservation Award from the Department of Defense.