Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville in northeast Pulaski County today is a key part of the defense of the United States and home to thousands of service members. But it emerged mostly as a local effort.
During World War II, much of the base site had been used as an ordnance plant, making detonators and fuses for explosives as part of the war effort. The Arkansas Ordnance Plant, as it had been called, was one of six sites used for producing weapons in the state. The plant was built quickly in 1942, employed hundreds of civilians and produced millions of components for explosives until it was shut down in August 1945.
After the war ended, much of the plant was dismantled and much of the land sold back to the original property owners, but with the stipulation that the government could buy it back if needed again for defense purposes.
In 1947, fearful of the ominous intentions of the Soviet Union, the federal government began rebuilding the military. As part of a massive defense reorganization, the US Air Force was created out of the US Army Air Force. The Air Force began looking for strategic base locations in the central United States. By the early 1950s, a group of Pulaski County businessmen began lobbying Congress to bring a base to the Little Rock area. The government, however, was not interested in buying land for new bases, but area leaders pledged to raise money for the project and to bring the base to the old ordnance plant site.
In December 1953, construction began on the new $50 million base, with $800,000 raised by the community. The base opened in October 1955, with a staff of 1,200 personnel and numerous civilian employees on 6,000 acres. The community, officers, and airmen manning the base worked hard to make a name for the base. An air wing of Boeing B-47 bomber jets was assigned to the base for several years. So impressed by the work of the service personnel and cooperation with the local community, the Strategic Air Command named LRAFB “base of the year” in 1956.
Numerous changes would come to the base over the years. In 1963, the first of a series of Titan II nuclear missile silos was established near the base. In 1971, the 314th Airlift Wing was assigned to the base as the host unit (the main unit for the base). In 1997, the 314th was placed under the Air Education and Training Command, making it in charge of training pilots and crew with the Lockheed C-130 transport airplane. Arkansas Air National Guard units also train at the base, and a college is available on base for degree seekers. Now sixty years after construction began, more than 8,000 work at the base.