Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst formed as the result of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission. On Oct. 1, 2009, former Fort Dix, Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst and McGuire Air Force Base were combined to create JBMDL.
The oldest portion of the installation began as an ammunition proving ground near the resort town of Lakehurst, New Jersey. In 1917, following the Russian Revolution, the Eddystone Testing Ground was procured by the Ordinance Department of the Army. The area was then named Camp Kendrick and used as a munitions and mustard gas testing location.
Nearby Camp Dix — named for Maj. Gen. John Adams Dix — was also formed in 1917, to serve as a training and staging location for the heavy troop requirements of World War I. Throughout the next few years, Camp Dix trained and deployed the 87th and 34th infantry divisions and was the birthplace of the fabled 78th “Lighting” Division and “Point of the Wedge” in World War I’s final offensive.
After the war, both installations experienced rapid reductions in manpower and personnel. However, the Navy, wishing to continue its lighter-than-air efforts, saw Camp Kendrick as a likely location for airship operations and began building the foundation for its air station in 1919. The foundation — Lakehurst’s Hangar One — was built to house and support the lighter-than-air program. The structure was 961 feet long, 350 feet wide and 200 feet high and was intentionally built oversize in order to comfortably construct and house the first of the United States’ rigid airships, the Shenandoah.
In 1921, the Navy purchased Camp Kendrick from the Army and renamed it Naval Air Station Lakehurst.
Between the wars, Camp Dix and NAS Lakehurst maintained steady operations. Camp Dix became a training facility for National Guard and Army Reserve units after World War I. Meanwhile, NAS Lakehurst became home to three of the four rigid airships owned by the Navy (ZR-1 Shenandoah, ZR-3 Los Angeles and ZRS-4 Akron). It was the nation’s first trans-Atlantic international airport and the U.S. berthing location of the LZ 129 Hindenburg. On the evening of May 6, 1937, the Hindenburg airship exploded and crashed at Lakehurst killing 37 people.
Soon after, NAS Lakehurst purchased an additional 5,892 acres and became the largest naval installation east of the Mississippi at 7,430 acres. As the Navy’s primary location for lighter-than-air vehicles, NAS Lakehurst was a thriving hub of home defense activity.
Camp Dix officially became a permanent Army installation March 8, 1939. In order to meet the needs of the Army, Fort Dix absorbed surrounding farm fields and wooded acres — nearly 35,000 acres — to create the enormous artillery grounds and training ranges. The installation gained more capacity when the Civilian Conservation Corps runway was constructed in 1937. This formed the Fort Dix Army Air Base that provided aerial support to the Army post.
At the end of World War II, more than 1.2 million soldiers returned home and demobilized at Fort Dix. Fort Dix Army Air Base closed its doors in 1946 when the demobilization mission was completed. Two years later, the Air Force reopened the installation and named it after one of World War II’s leading fighter pilots, Maj. Thomas B. McGuire. In the postwar years, the three installations would see rapid and meaningful changes.
Fort Dix remained an important Army troop training location. In 1947, it officially became a Basic Training Center and then an Army Training Center in 1956. One year later, Fort Dix revealed the “Ultimate Weapon,” which is based on the infantrymen mission. Shifting to 24-hour operations, Fort Dix swung into high gear and produced thousands of recruits to support the Vietnam conflict. To better simulate the battlefield conditions these recruits would face, Fort Dix constructed a mock Vietnamese village to provide realistic training simulations and augment the already robust training offered on the post.
NAS Lakehurst’s mission was also restructured. Lakehurst became host to the Navy’s first helicopter squadrons, as well as one of the Navy’s only overhaul-and-repair services for heavier-than-air and rotary winged aircraft (the forerunner of a Fleet Readiness Center).
Across the way, McGuire AFB opened in August 1948 and rapidly grew into an important eastern hub. From 1948 to 1954, McGuire held a short-lived role as a Cold War early warning sensor and primary defensive base. A contingent of the defensive role remained on McGuire until 1972.
McGuire quickly became known as the “Gateway to the East” as service members depended on Military Airlift Command for travel to bases and battlefields around the world on aircraft such as the C-54 Skymaster, C-118 Liftmaster and C-135 Stratolifter.
NAS Lakehurst’s name changed in 1977 when the Naval Air Engineering Center relocated from Philadelphia. The critical design, prototyping, manufacturing and testing facilities were constructed to support Naval Air Systems Command.
Five rounds of BRAC have left an indelible mark on the installation. As the result of the 1988, 1991 and 1995 BRACs, Fort Dix’s active Army training mission ended after 45 years. Dix then became an important Regional Reserve Training location and served as a critical reserve troop training location for the entire eastern region.
The 1993 BRAC ended with an increased mission and capability for McGuire AFB. The KC-10 Extenders joined the extensive C-141 Starlifter fleet stationed on McGuire since the introduction of the cargo airframe in 1967. Close partnerships with nearby Fort Dix and the strong McGuire airlift support provided to mobilizing soldiers heading to Desert Storm and Desert Shield cemented the need for a strong Air Force location on the eastern seaboard.
Initially, the 1995 BRAC targeted NAES Lakehurst for closure; however, this decision was soon reversed. Lakehurst’s support role to naval aviation, specialized testing equipment and dedicated air corridors were too valuable to be relocated. Therefore, additional specialized missions such as the U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion Mid-Atlantic, the Army CERDEC testing mission and a number of other support missions and training functions transferred to Lakehurst.
Since the stand-up of the joint base, McGuire, Dix and Lakehurst have settled into their enduring roles. McGuire remains the “Gateway of the East” and serves as an air mobility center of excellence. The Marines share McGuire Field and bring an airborne fighting capability to the installation. Lakehurst continues as an elite test and development facility, hosting several developmental missions for the Army and Navy. Meanwhile, the primary mission on Dix continues to revolve around training, mobilization and demobilization as Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy forces engage in the numerous developmental programs and facilities situated on the installation. A truly joint integrated installation, JBMDL’s mission partners represent all services and active, reserve and guard components.