Since 1917, Camp Shelby has served as a training site for various military branches. It was the second largest training site during the Second World War and played a pivotal role in training troops for overseas service during the Global War on Terrorism.
Today, Camp Shelby encompasses over 134,000 acres of Perry, Forrest, and Greene counties in south Mississippi. In its 100-year history, Camp Shelby has fostered a strong legacy of excellence in training American military personnel during war and peace.
Camp Shelby was first activated on July 18, 1917, as a training camp for National Guard soldiers during the First World War. It was one of 16 “National Army” camps established by the War Department to train mobilized National Guard soldiers. Although Meridian and Biloxi were early favorites for the base, Hattiesburg was selected.
Hattiesburg received the training camp due to the efforts of local area physicians, businessmen, and other civic leaders directly petitioning the United States Army. The effort was led by Dr. Walter W. Crawford with the help of Dr. George A. McHenry and several others.
The City of Hattiesburg proposed the camp be named Camp Crawford in honor of Dr. Crawford and his efforts to obtain the camp for the Hattiesburg area. The Army selected names for all of the new camps, however, and the “Hattiesburg Camp” was officially designated Camp Shelby on July 18, 1917. The name was chosen in honor of Isaac Shelby, a hero of the Revolutionary War and War of 1812, renowned frontiersman, and the first Governor of Kentucky. Shelby’s life was spent in western Virginia (later West Virginia), Indiana, and Kentucky. National Guard soldiers from these states were assigned to the 38th Division, which was sent to Camp Shelby for training in 1917. The 38th Division adopted its nickname, the “Cyclone Division,” as a result of a tornado that struck the camp on April 17, 1918.
More than 4,500 civilian contractors built 1,206 buildings, including a large base hospital and rail depot. Troop capacity exceeded 40,000. Besides the 38th Division, elements of the 3rd, 4th, 9th, 17th, 39th, 42nd, and 92nd Divisions also trained at Camp Shelby in the First World War. The 101st Division was established at the camp in late 1918, but was disbanded before the full division was assembled.
With the end of the First World War, Camp Shelby was closed on October 15, 1919. All of its assets had been sold as surplus by the end of 1920.
In 1934, the State of Mississippi acquired the site for use as a summer camp by the National Guard. Camp Shelby served as the center of operations for the 1938 Protective Mobilization Maneuvers held in the De Soto National Forest. With the Second World War looming, Camp Shelby was again reactivated as an Army training camp in 1940.
After reactivation in 1940, the camp was rapidly rebuilt by 17,000 construction workers. The new, larger camp featured more than 1,800 buildings and included an airfield, hospital, prisoner of war stockade, and 250 miles of roads. The cost exceeded $24 million dollars. The new camp was the second largest training base in the United States (after Fort Benning, Georgia) with a troop capacity of 85,000. The camp exceeded this troop capacity, topping 100,000 in 1944. Camp Shelby also had the distinction of being the second largest city in Mississippi after the capital, Jackson.
The first unit to arrive for training after reactivation was the 37th Infantry Division of Ohio in 1940. The “Buckeyes” were joined in early 1941 by the returning 38th “Cyclone” Division. Other major units training at Camp Shelby during the Second World War included the 31st “Dixie” Division, 43rd “Winged Victory” Division, 65th “Halbert” Division, “Fighting” 69th Division, 85th “Custer” Division, and the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team made up of Japanese-American volunteers. Women served at Camp Shelby in the 45th Women’s Army Corp (WAC) Detachment and as nurses in the base hospital. Over 2,300 German soldiers were held in an adjacent prisoner of war camp. Most of the German prisoners were captured in North Africa while serving in the famous Afrika Korps under Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.
After the Second World War, the post was again closed. The War Assets Administration sold the federally owned property. Even the water pipes were dug up and sold, most of them going to Oklahoma City, where some are still in use.
During the Korean Conflict, Camp Shelby was developed as an Emergency Railhead Facility, and $3 million was spent to restore rail, water, and electric services. In the summer of 1954, non-divisional National Guard units trained at the post, and in 1956, the Continental Army Command designed Camp Shelby as a Permanent Training Site, under the direction of the Third Army Headquarters.
In 1965, during the Vietnam War, the 199th Light Infantry Brigade performed combat training at Shelby prior to their deployment to Vietnam. The unit was honored with a community salute entitled “Shelby Sunday” before their departure, which featured a concert by Pete Fountain, Dizzy Dean, Gov. Paul Johnson, Jr., and local beauty queens. It was the first time the newly-finished Reed Green Coliseum, on the University of Southern Mississippi campus in Hattiesburg, was filled to capacity.
Since the Vietnam War, Camp Shelby has been widely utilized for training by the National Guard, Reserves, and regular forces, including Air Force, Navy, and Marine personnel. Designated as a Power Support Platform (PSP), Camp Shelby was tasked to mobilize, receive, train, and support Reserve Component (RC) units required to expand the Active Army Component (AC) to meet emergency requirements.
The post was activated on June 1, 2004, as Mobilization Center Shelby and tasked to train United States military personnel for overseas service in the Global War on Terrorism. The 278th Regimental Combat Team (Tennessee National Guard) was the first unit deployed from Camp Shelby to Iraq. Eight other brigades and numerous smaller units have followed. The number of military personnel training at Camp Shelby in 2007 exceeded that of the First World War, making the Global War on Terrorism the second largest mobilization effort in the post’s history.
The post was re-designated as Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center in 2006 to reflect its role in training personnel from all branches of the armed forces. Camp Shelby has undergone rapid growth to meet the need for training for the Global War on Terrorism. Several full-scale “FOBs,” or Forward Operating Bases, train soldiers and other personnel for conditions they would later encounter overseas. Other high-tech simulators cover nearly all other aspects of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The C-17 Assault Strip allows the aircrew of the largest of the United States Air Force’s transport aircraft to train at Camp Shelby. Camp Shelby ended its mobilization and demobilization mission in support of the Global War on Terrorism in March 2014. From June 2004 through March 2014, over 280,000 American and Canadian military personnel trained and/or demobilized at Camp Shelby.