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Military Bases in Montana

The U.S. Military has a long history in Montana. The first military men traveled through Montana as part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

As western expansion moved into Montana and European settlers began settling in wild places like Montana, the US Army became a more permanent presence, protecting settlers, prospectors, and the railroad from the threats that were frequently encountered in the “Wild West”.

As Montana Territory became the State of Montana, and the wild west became more developed with growing towns and cities, the need for a robust military presence in Montana became less necessary.

By the late 1800s, most of the forts and military bases in Montana that had been established to support the territorial area, were no longer necessary and were decommissioned. Many of these forts and bases were either demolished or converted to other uses.

Today, remaining forts within Montana are considered historic places, and most function as museums, educating the public on the history of Montana. The US Military has only a few bases and installations remaining in Montana, today. These facilities support troops and functions of the Army and Air Force.

We will take a look at the remaining military bases in Montana and give you some background on each.

Military Bases in Montana

Though there are 60 current and former U.S. Military installations in the state of Montana the only active military base in Montana today is Malmstrom Air Force Base, located near Great Falls, MT. Malmstrom Air Force Base is in charge of the operation and maintenance of the Minutemen III ICBMs

malmstrom air force base
Image: US Air Force

Malmstrom Air Force Base

Malmstrom Air Force Base is the only operating military base in Montana. It is located near Great Falls, MT.

  • Location: Great Falls, MT
  • Population On Base: 4,544 (including civilians)
  • Military Branch: United States Air Force

Malmstrom Air Force Base was first established in 1939 when war broke out in Europe. The base was commissioned at the request of local Chamber of Commerce members who were concerned about an impending war.

The original base was known as East Base and was a support facility for the Army Air Corps, the predecessor to the Air Force.

The original base was located on the site of the Great Falls Municipal Airport and only operated from this location for a few short years.

In 1942 a government survey team designated a site east of Great Falls that was sparsely populated as a potential location for a full-scale military base. This site was one of 10 possible locations and was officially designated in 1942.

Construction on Great Falls Army Air Base began on June 8, 1942. The base was intended as a training location for pilots and crew of heavy bombers which were used heavily during World War II.

Great Falls Army Base was also a critical location where numerous military aircraft were assembled for use in battles both in Europe and the Pacific.

Additionally, many of the critical intelligence functions necessary for defeating enemy forces in Europe and the Pacific were stationed at Great Falls Army Air Base. This site was considered very secure due to its remote location.

Following World War II, Great Falls Army Air Base was utilized as a support base for personnel assigned to service in Alaskan military installations.

It was also used as a training location for the Continental Air Forces Fourth Air Force, a unit under the 418th Army Air Force.

malmstrom afb
Image: Exchange Associate

In September of 1947 air operations were separated from the Army, and the United States Air Force was established. At this time the base was renamed Great Falls Air Force Base.

Operations at the base after World War II centered around intelligence, training pilots for a variety of experimental and new military aircraft. Additionally, the base continued its work as a part of the Military Air Transport Service which provides support for air squadrons across the globe.

In 1954, the base was renamed to Malmstrom Air Force Base in honor of Colonel Einar Axel Malmstrom. Colonel Malmstrom was the vice wing commander for the base and died when his T-33 Shooting Star crashed on August 21, 1954.

He was a well-liked member of the Great Falls community. After his death, the residents of Great Falls petitioned to have the base renamed in his honor.

In 1959 Malmstrom Air Force Base became the home of the 341st Strategic Missile Wing. Malmstrom was selected for this wing of the Air Force because its location was ideal for reaching strategic targets in the Soviet Union with the new Minuteman I missile.

Numerous Minuteman missile sites were constructed around Malmstrom and most of them were armed and under alert throughout most of the Cold War era.

After the Cold War era ended Malmstrom’s operations have changed many times, but the base’s one constant is the presence of the 341st Missile Wing.

Besides its military mission, Malmstrom Air Force Base does allow visitors on a limited basis. The base has a museum and air park where visitors can learn more about the base’s history and the aircraft that were used and made on the base throughout its history.

Fort William Henry Harrison

fort william henry harrison
Image: @USArmy

Fort William Henry Harrison, also known as Fort Harrison is an active training installation for reserve troops in Montana. It is located near Helena, MT.

  • Location: Helena, MT
  • Population On Base: Unknown
  • Military Branch: United States Army, US Navy, Montana National Guard

Fort William Henry Harrison (Fort Harrison) was established in 1895, following a Congressional Act that was passed in 1892 which established more centralized locations for troops in states that were less populated.

Smaller forts and installations were abandoned following the passage of the Act, and most of the troops stationed in Montana were moved to Fort Harrison.

The Fort was named after the United State’s 9th President, William Henry Harrison. The first troops arrived at the fort in September of 1895 from Fort Assiniboine. The use of the Fort as an active military installation was short-lived, with the original troops withdrawn from the site in 1913.

In 1942, Fort Harrison was placed back into service as a training location for the US Army’s 1st Special Service Force. This was a light infantry brigade that was made up of both US and Canadian troops.

Following World War II, the Fort was established as a training area for Army and Navy Reserve troops and the Montana National Guard.

Today, Fort William Henry Harrison is home to the Montana National Guard and is used as a training location for a number of National Guard units. It also serves as an Army and Navy National Guard training site.

Fort Harrison Veterans Administration Hospital and the Montana State Veterans Cemetery are also located on the previous Fort site.

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