With more beds and railroad tracks serving Camp Atterbury, the facility will be able to train some of the largest groups of soldiers since World War II.
Military officials opened the new $84 million north barracks and railhead complex at Camp Atterbury, which has been under construction for about three years. The new housing units can hold up to 1,200 more people, and the rail improvements will allow trains to ship equipment and supplies directly to the military base near Edinburgh, the Daily Journal reports.
Now Camp Atterbury has to market itself across the nation to make the most of the new facilities.
The project was announced in summer 2012, when Camp Atterbury was training and preparing thousands of soldiers per year to head overseas to serve in Afghanistan and Iraq. As the wars wound down, the military announced last year that deployment training would be ended at Camp Atterbury, leading to a significant and almost immediate decrease in staffing and troops using the base.
Since then, the post has worked to brand itself as a location for specialized large-scale training exercises such as the Vibrant Response emergency preparedness, a host site for required annual training for Indiana National Guard members and a place for special events such as unmanned aircraft testing.
The new barracks and rail facility will help Camp Atterbury attract more large retraining events for the U.S. Army, Camp Atterbury spokeswoman Capt. Jessica Cates said.
Instead of training 150 to 200 people at a time, the new facility could host battalions of 1,000 to 3,000 soldiers at a time, she said. The rail yard can process equipment for up to 4,500 troops in less than 72 hours, and the new dining facility at the complex can serve 1,800 troops in less than two hours.
The brick and limestone buildings surrounding a courtyard make the complex look more like a university than a military base, according to Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, adjutant general of the Indiana National Guard.
The additional capacity and new facilities, which were built on part of the original Camp Atterbury site established during World War II, will make military units want to come here when they need to train, he said.
"They're going to see this as a great place to train," Umbarger said. "East of the Mississippi, this makes us probably one of the more premier training facilities."
To get on the list of national retraining sites, bases are supposed to have housing for about 8,000 soldiers and a rail system large enough to quickly load and unload equipment, such as vehicles and those needed for training. The new rail spurs will allow Camp Atterbury to meet one requirement, but the base will need more barracks to meet the housing requirement, Cates said.
Although Camp Atterbury isn't quite to that level yet, she said, the increased capacity will help put the site in the running for more programs.
Camp Atterbury could hold about 4,300 soldiers at one time before, but those barracks were spread out in multiple locations at the camp and separated from bathrooms, showers and dining halls. In the new north barracks complex, all of that is kept together in one tight area, which also helps improve security at the base, she said.
Camp Atterbury can now house up to 5,600 troops at one time.
The federal government has continued to invest in Camp Atterbury because of its location and reputation as a training facility, Umbarger said.
The base was reactivated solely for the purpose of readying soldiers for overseas missions after the Sept. 11 attacks because soldiers weren't able to effectively train at active duty bases throughout the U.S., he said. Since then, about 145,000 soldiers mobilized from the base, and the federal government invested more than $300 million to continue upgrading the facility.
"We showed what we can do," Umbarger said. "The future of Camp Atterbury could be no brighter."
New large Army retrainings would help keep up activity at the base since the overseas wars have ended. Camp Atterbury has shifted its focus to offer continuous training for active and reserve members of the military and also taken additional steps to market the base for drone testing. The military and private companies both have been using Camp Atterbury's restricted airspace to do research and development testing on unmanned aircraft.
It's not the same amount of activity Camp Atterbury had during the previous five years, but it has kept the base from being out of use, Cates said.
"We've held a few major exercises—Vibrant Reponse being one of them—a lot of individual annual trainings not only throughout the state of Indiana, but other states, too.
"And NASA has been here quite a lot to do some testing at the facility. A lot of Special Forces have come to use the facility. It's been a pretty busy summer," Cates said.
The continuing growth of Camp Atterbury shows that Indiana is doing a good job supporting the nation's military and the new improvements will help ensure more American soldiers are ready if they are called into duty, Gov. Mike Pence said.
Pence, who grew up in Bartholomew County, recalled hearing the thunder of shells from Camp Atterbury as a kid when the base was much smaller than today. He said the mission to train hasn't changed since then.
"We not only raise heroes, but we train heroes," Pence said.