Scenario: a US Marine infantryman playfully complains about his vintage barracks conditions at the Virginia National Guard’s Fort Pickett, not realizing he’s taking an interesting look into what life was like for warfighters of yesteryear.
Well, it actually happened- and while funny, it did open up a chance to bring up Fort Pickett’s interesting history.
Poorly imitating MTV’s Cribs series, mustachioed Lance Corporal Sebastian Hammond does a walkthrough of the barracks his unit is presumably staying in, citing the long halls of bunk beds for lower enlisted, unpartitioned toilets and NCO/Officer private rooms.
However, despite the humorous and fast-paced verbal demolition of the barracks, the now semi-derelict training center is a living monument of sorts to what life was like for troops, as far back as World War II.
Thrown together in 1942, Camp Pickett (it didn’t become a fort until 1974) was one of many military bases that popped up across the country in the wake of the United States’ entry into World War II, along with the nearby Blackstone Army Airfield (named after the nearby town). Over 1,400 buildings were placed on site, with over 1,000 of them being enlisted barracks, as well as 70 officer’s quarters, twelve chapels, a hospital, six firehouses, and other buildings for the estimated 60,000 troops that could be stationed there.
Life as an enlisted soldier back then was pretty invasive- you lived with little to no privacy, had the majority of your day blocked off for scheduled military activities and often couldn’t even go off the installation without a pass- and you were pretty much always in uniform. From sunup to sundown, the US military owned every aspect of your life.
By the 1960s, the installation was relegated to the Virginia National Guard, who then oversaw training of large units all along the mid-Atlantic region, including US Navy and Marine units. The installation has over 42,000 acres of Maneuver areas and provides many state of the art facilities such as live fire range, a forward operation base, urban assault, training villages, EST 2000 and several other training facilities.
The post has survived largely due to its value as a training center and good relations with the local population, who look toward the post for jobs, civic event venues and other such benefits.
In addition to military use, Fort Pickett is a training ground for many federal law enforcement agencies.
Are the living conditions at Pickett dated and, shall we say, “Rustic?” Absolutely. However, they serve as a historical reminder that life in the military could always be worse.
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