Any discussion of the history of Central Louisiana will include a significant number of references to the area’s longstanding military connections.
From the Red River Campaign during the Civil War to the famed Louisiana Maneuvers in 1941 to the present-day activities at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, military connections continue to play a vital role in Central Louisiana’s development.
The Confederate-built Fort Randolph on the Pineville side of the Red River during the Civil War was one of the early military outposts established in Alexandria. Ft. Randolph along with Bailey’s Dam, a Union-built structure to facilitate ship movements through the rapids above Alexandria, are both historic sites that remain today.
In 1941, as World War II raged in Europe, United States military officials were in need of large tracts of wooded land for training operations. They found the available acreage in the Kisatchie National Forest met their needs. Numerous camps, including Camp Claiborne, Camp Polk, Camp Beauregard and Alexandria Airfield were created to host the Louisiana Maneuvers.
Many of the best and brightest upcoming military leaders, including leaders who would go on to become household names across the country, made their way to Central Louisiana for the training exercises. Dwight D. Eisenhower, George S. Patton, Omar Bradley and Henry Kissenger are just a few of the notables who came to Louisiana for the maneuvers, often staying at the Hotel Bentley in Alexandria to conduct planning sessions.
Many of those camps exist today. Camp Claiborne was decommissioned, but features a number of historical sites, including the location where the Army’s first airborne units, the 101st Airborne Screaming Eagles and the 82nd Airborne All Americans were founded.
Camp Beauregard remains in Pineville and is currently home to the largest Louisiana National Guard base in the state. Camp Polk became Fort Polk, home to a portion of the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army and the home of the Joint Readiness Training Center, the premier training facility in the nation.
Alexandria Airfield evolved into England Air Force Base, which was home to the 23rd Tactical Fighter Wing’s famed “Flying Tigers.” The base closed in 1992 as part of a nationwide base realignment and closure (BRAC) process. Community officials rallied to craft an innovative reuse plan for the former Air Force base and created England Airpark, which is also home to Alexandria International Airport (AEX). Although AEX is a civilian commercial airport, the Airpark maintains an Intermediate Staging Base and provides facilities for military aircraft to use in support of Army efforts and deployments at Fort Polk as well as La. National Guard activities.
The Central Louisiana Regional Chamber of Commerce works closely with all of the military groups in the region to support, protect and expand their activities. Chamber President Deborah Randolph calls Fort Polk and the National Guard “vital partners,” adding the Chamber sees them as “critical for future growth in the region.” Randolph is a frequent visitor at the Pentagon along with members of Fort Polk Progress and England Airpark in support of Fort Polk operations.
Just as the Chamber works to support the overall military operation, the organization’s Military Affairs Committee provides support to troops as well as their families through a variety of programs. Members of the “Apple Pie Brigade” are on hand to welcome soldiers home after deployment with a big hug, a happy smile and an apple pie serving. Other programs include facilitating discounts, job training for soldiers leaving the military, hosting military personnel at events like Mardi Gras parades and providing basic toiletries and personal supplies when needed.
Brigadier General David S. Doyle
Commanding General, JRTC and Fort Polk
Brigadier General David Doyle took command of Fort Polk and the JRTC in December of 2020. Doyle has numerous deployments to the Middle East, including service in Afghanistan and Iraq, and has worked at the Pentagon.
This is not Doyle’s first assignment at Fort Polk. He served as the Commander, Operations Group, at the Joint Readiness Training Center from 2017 through the summer of 2018.
His awards include the Silver Star Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit with three oak leaf clusters, Bronze Star Medal with three oak leaf clusters, Defense Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters, Joint Service Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Army Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters, and Army Achievement Medal. He has also earned the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal with arrowhead device, three Joint Meritorious Unit Awards, the Valorous Unit Award, the Afghan Campaign Ribbon with five service stars, the Iraq Campaign Ribbon with six service stars, the Operation Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal, the Humanitarian Assistance Award, the Armed Forces Services Medal and the NATO Medal with bronze service star. BG Doyle earned the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Expert Infantryman’s Badge, the Air Assault Badge, Master Parachutist Badge with Bronze Service Star, Canadian Parachutist Badge, and the Ranger Tab.