New Jersey's Fort Monmouth, a sprawling post located about five miles from the Jersey shore, will permanently close its doors Thursday after 94 years in operation.
The sprawling fort, which was open to the public to drive through until the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, was originally a potato farm converted into a military base because of its proximity to river and rail transportation. The post was officially named Fort Monmouth in 1925, and went on to provide our country with invaluable advances in communication technology.
The fort launched the first radio-equipped weather balloon, hosted hundreds of courier pigeons that served in the two world wars, developed systems for air traffic control and enemy artillery detection, and pioneered the development of FM radio, radar, and the ability to bounce signals off the moon.
It's sad. It's depressing, says Tom Hipper, who worked at the fort as a division chief. We all felt like we were doing something positive for our country, like we were an integral part of supporting the warriors.
Indeed, Fort Monmouth continued assisting the U.S. Armed Forces long after the 1940s. In fact, during the Afghanistan war in the early 2000s, Fort Monmouth developed the phraselator system, which translated the English voice into Dari, Pashto, Arabic, and other languages and dialects.
The base was fated to close back in 2005, when the Base Realignment and Closure Commission listed the fort in a list of military facilities to close to save money. The commission said moving the fort's mission to Maryland would cost roughly $782 million, but by 2008, that number grew to nearly $2 billion.
It's a huge waste of money. Politicians were involved, so what do you expect? says Joe Jenkins of Eatontown, whose mother, father, and brother all worked at Fort Monmouth. They're spending all this money moving it to Maryland instead of keeping it here where people need it. It's going to hit a lot of people and businesses hard.
Out of the fort's 5,570 civilian and military jobs, 5,400 have been transferred to Maryland, and 3,144 civilian employees took the Army up on its offer to move. Since the base sprawls across three New Jersey communities, those areas will likely be affected by a greater number of vacancies in commercial properties, which hurts the tax base even further.
We're seeing an impact already, and it's going to get worse, says Mayor Gerald Tarantolo of Eatontown. This is a very somber time. The reality is sinking in.
According to the Associated Press, the Fort's flag will be lowered at 4:30 p.m. when Retreat is sounded for the last time.