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Military installation celebrates birthday with cake, road race

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Fort Gillem is counting down its last birthdays.

The fort, which is located in Forest Park, turned 68 on Friday. Officials from Gillem, and its nearby, sister installation, Fort McPherson, celebrated the occasion with a birthday cake -- cut with a ceremonial military saber -- and the running of the 26th Annual Gillem Gallop.

The race is traditionally held on Fort Gillem's birthday, said Howard Butler, the deputy commander of the garrison stationed at Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem.

There is not much of a future left for forts Gillem and McPherson, though. Next year, Fort Gillem will celebrate its last birthday. It will close in 2011, just shy of its 70th birthday.

"There's been a lot of history here," Butler said. "It's going to be some sad times when the fort closes, but that's part of closing a base."

Fort Gillem was established in 1941, as the Atlanta General Depot, according to the fort's web site. The web site also says the name was later changed to the Atlanta Army Depot, and gained its final name in 1973, when command of the fort was transferred from the Army Material command, to the U.S. Army forces Command.

The fort is named in honor of Lt. Gen. Alvan C. Gillem, Jr., who began his career in the Army at Fort McPherson in 1910, and retired 40 years later, according to Fort Gillem's web site.The fort became a satellite installation of Fort McPherson when the Forest Park installation's name was changed to Fort Gillem.

Early in its history, Fort Gillem was a training and supply facility, from World War II, to the Vietnam War, Butler said. "It has also been the home of the First U.S. Army for several years, making it a three-star headquarters," he added.

The U.S. Department of Defense announced plans four years ago to close Fort Gillem, and Fort McPherson, as part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, according to Fort McPherson's web site.

After Fort Gillem closes, 1,190 acres of the 1,400-acre property will be handed over to Forest Park officials for redevelopment.

Butler said the remaining property will remain in the possession of the Army, becoming known as the "Gillem Enclave," which will include the Army's forensics lab, the 81st Readiness Reserve Command, and the local U.S. Military Entrance Processing (MEPs) Command.

He said those are all entities which already exist at Fort Gillem. The enclave will be located on the western side of the existing Fort Gillem property, Butler said.

Fred Bryant, the executive director of the City of Forest Park's Forest Park/Fort Gillem Local Redevelopment Authority, said the city is planning to begin redevelopment of the remaining property in 2012. The northern area of Fort Gillem, near Moreland Avenue, will be converted into environmentally friendly industrial properties, Bryant said.

He added that the city is considering putting residential developments on the property, near two lakes there. "It's probably going to be a 20-year build out," Bryant said. "The initial build, by Moreland Avenue, will probably take 3 to 4 years to complete."