Throughout its history, Fort Detrick has contributed scientific breakthroughs and medical solutions for the Armed Forces and the nation. The history of the post actually began in 1931 when the Frederick airport was renamed Detrick Field and designated a part of the Maryland National Guard.
The field was named in honor of Frederick Louis Detrick, a Frederick County native who served as a U.S. Army flight surgeon during World War I in Belgium. After the war, he joined the Maryland National Guard’s 29th Division Air Service and was a respected surgeon and faculty member of Johns Hopkins University Hospital.
During World War II, every American knew that the very existence of our nation was threatened. Twenty million Americans were serving in the military, but the front lines were far away in Europe, Africa and the Pacific. Among the threats facing our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines was the specter of biological agents.
Scientists converged at Camp Detrick in 1943 to develop defenses to protect our troops from this threat. The research program at Fort Detrick pioneered the laboratory facility designs, equipment and procedures used for infectious disease research that are in place today in laboratories worldwide.
In 1949, an enclosed one million liter test sphere was built at Camp Detrick, unofficially referred to as the ‘8-ball.’ This unique laboratory was used to test the dispersal of biological agents in aerosol.
In the early 1950s, the Army Surgeon General became concerned about medical defense issues. He appointed a medical liaison officer to the biological warfare laboratories at Detrick. Beginning in 1953, medical defense research against biological weapons was conducted cooperatively by the Army Chemical Corps and the Army Medical Department.
In 1956, the U.S. Army Medical Unit was formed to develop medical countermeasures, which included prophylactics, therapeutics and rapid and effective diagnostic and identification procedures. They documented the characteristics of microbial aerosols and designed equipment and procedures to support research on the airborne transmission of respiratory diseases and the prevention of such transmission. Fort Detrick scientists developed the techniques to sterilize labs and equipment using ethylene oxide.
Construction began in 1956 for the Flair Army Reserve Center, named after PFC Raymond R. Flair, a Frederick native and a reserve infantryman who was recalled to active duty after the Korean War broke out. He was killed in action on Feb. 9, 1951. This facility was the first unit at Fort Detrick unrelated to biological warfare research. In 1959, the U.S. Army Strategic Communications Command was activated at Fort Detrick. This primary switching center for global communication thrives today as the 21st Signal Brigade. The brigade provides important strategic communication support to the White House and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In 1969, President Richard M. Nixon ended the Nation’s offensive biological warfare program; however, a defensive biological research program for the military was still necessary.
When President Nixon ended the biological warfare research program in 1969, he pledged to turn swords into plowshares by establishing a cancer research center at Fort Detrick. The doors opened in 1972 with 21 employees and 67 buildings. Today, the National Cancer Institute-Frederick is an internationally recognized center for scientific excellence in the prevention, detection and treatment of cancer and AIDS.
On January 27, 1969, the Office of The Surgeon General of the Army established the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. The Institute’s science and technology base addresses current threats to U.S. military personnel and is an essential element in the medical response to any future biological threats that may confront the men and women of the U.S. military.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture unit was established here in 1971, when Army researchers and research facilities were transferred and leased to the USDA for the study of foreign plant pathogens and emerging crop and weed diseases.
In 1973 Fort Detrick was transferred to the U.S. Army Health Services Command, headquartered in San Antonio, Texas.
In 1974, the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency relocated to Fort Detrick.
The Air Force Medical Logistics Office and the Defense Medical Materiel Board came to Fort Detrick as part of the same mid-70s transfer of medical logistics organizations. In 1978, the US Army Research and Development Command Headquarters, now MRMC, transferred to Detrick.
The Army Medical Intelligence and Information Agency, now the National Center for Medical Intelligence, came to Fort Detrick in 1979. It is the sole producer of medical intelligence to the Defense Intelligence Agency.
In August 1985 the Naval Medical Materiel Support Command “was piped aboard” at Fort Detrick. It is now called the U.S. Naval Medical Logistics Command and directs and manages logistical systems and coordinates health care services contracting procedures for the Navy Bureau of Medicine and surgery.
Today, all three services conduct medical logistics planning and management at Fort Detrick, in support of global military operations. In 2009, the Defense Medical Logistics Center will open, consolidating all Defense Department medical logistics agencies in one location.
In October 1987, Fort Detrick became a quad service installation when Company B, 4th Light Armored Vehicle Battalion of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, activated at Fort Detrick. Now the 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, the unit has the mission of reconnaissance and security in support of a Marine Air/Ground Task Force. The 4th LAR served in Operation Desert Shield/Store and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In 1994 Fort Detrick became a part of the newly established U.S. Army Medical Command, when Health Services Command was disestablished.
In the spring of 1999 the U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Detrick, was selected by the Army Chief of Staff as a Community of Excellence.
In 2008, the fort saw the opening of the Central Utilities Plant, destined to provide state-of-the-art utilities support for the National Interagency Biodefense Campus. The Department of Homeland Security also dedicated the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center, a NIBC partner. Ground was broken for a new steam sterilization plant, designed to provide high-tech waste water management for the NIBC laboratories as well.
In October 2008, the garrison assumed responsibility for the Forest Glen Annex, formerly part of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and the Glen Haven housing area. Forest Glen houses the Walter Reed Army Institute for Research and the Navy Medical Research Center, and other mission partners. Glen Haven provides contract housing for military families in the national Capitol Region.
Fort Detrick appears poised to continue to be a focal point for scientific leadership in the future. The National Interagency Biodefense Campus represents a partnership for biodefense research that will marshal research capabilities while consolidating resources in response to the nation’s changing needs. The Department of Homeland Security, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, the Department of Agriculture, and finally, the Center for Disease Control are joined together at Fort Detrick. Future investment of biodefense research resources at Fort Detrick will take advantage of the long history of biomedical achievement and biocontainment safety established here.