Fort Chaffee is in the northwest Arkansas region adjacent to the city of Fort Smith, located one mile southeast of Fort Smith Regional Airport. The Arkansas River flows eastward along the northern border of the post. Interstate 40 is five miles to the north on the opposite side of the river. Fort Chaffee is primarily used as a training facility by regional National Guard and Army Reserve units as well as active military units from other installations. Fort Chaffee currently houses no active units.
Fort Chaffee was originally named Camp Chaffee. Camp Chaffee was established in response to the US need for more troops for the imminent involvement in World War II. Construction on Camp Chaffee was started in September 1941, with troops arriving on the base in December 1941. In March 1956, the name of Camp Chaffee was officially changed to Fort Chaffee, to indicate and recognize the permanent nature of the base.
During World War II, in addition to providing a training facility for US soldiers, Fort Chaffee served as a POW camp, housing 3000 German prisoners of war.
Fort Chaffee served as the home of the U.S. Army's Joint Readiness Training Center from 1987 to 1993. In September 1997, command of Fort Chaffee was transfered from the US Army to the Arkansas Army National Guard.
In recent years, Fort Chaffee has forfeited large portions of land to the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA), an organization with the purpose of stimulating the local economy.
During the morning hours of January 29, 2008, a mixture of high winds and fire (which local authorities determined later an electrical brush fire) burned approximately 100 acres (0.40 km2) and damaged or destroyed 150 abandoned buildings at Fort Chaffee.
Other uses of Fort Chaffee
There were three movies filmed at Fort Chaffee: A Soldier's Story and Biloxi Blues and The Tuskegee Airmen.
In 1958, the entertainer Elvis Presley stopped off at Fort Chaffee en route to his basic training at Fort Hood, Texas. It was here that the public information officer John J. Mawn told a news conference that Presley would receive the standard "G.I. haircut" and would resemble a "peeled onion". Mawn, thereafter stationed in Germany, was the technical advisor for Presley's film G.I. Blues. Arlie Metheny, another information office, also coordinated Presley's induction at Fort Chaffee.
In August 1956, just like Elvis I stopped off at Fort Chaffee en route to take basic training at Fort Hood, Texas for the second time in 90 days. After arriving by bus from Minnesota, I then boarded a troop train with other recruits to Fort Hood, Texas.