Camps and military bases often have architecture worth preserving. One example is Camp Dodge, an Army National Guard training facility in Iowa. Its construction and facilities management staff won a Pentagon award earlier this year for renovating the 1907 gatehouse building and fence. For more details, Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke to Colonel John Perkins, director of facilities and management at Camp Dodge.
Tom Temin And just tell us about Camp Dodge itself. This has some historical and Iowa significance.
John Perkins Camp Dodge is the only military facility in Iowa. It is now a state military facility. It was founded in 1907. Our first building was actually commissioned in 1909. During World War I, we were the 13th national canton to help build forces for World War I. He returned to the state and we were federalized in 1942. And then after World War II, we’ve been a state agency ever since.
Tom Temin And where exactly is it able to?
John Perkins So, Camp Dodge is located north of Des Moines, that is, in the central part of the state.
Tom Temin I see. So there’s Des Moines on one side and cornfields on the other three sides.
John Perkins Well, yes, this is Iowa. Yes.
Tom Temin All right. Yeah, well, they make good corn there. And you’re the director of facilities, but you’re from the National Guard, so you kind of have two hats, right? Civil and military?
John Perkins This is correct. So I’m a dual status military technician. So GS-14 overnight. I am also a colonel in the Army National Guard. And as with all federal techs who are in the National Guard, our regulations require us to wear a uniform, so we’re almost indistinguishable.
Tom Temin All right. Understood. And what is going on there and how big is this place? How many people come and go every day? What is this? Give us a feel.
John Perkins So Camp Dodge is about 5,000 acres. So it’s not a big deal from a training standpoint, but we’re between the third and fifth busiest outposts when it comes to National Guard Post and National Guard inventory. We regularly train between 350,000 and 400,000 soldiers a year. We have several activities here, such as the National Maintenance Training Center, a center that conducts combat simulations on computers. And yes there are a lot of soldiers here as well as marines, military reserve, most of your reserve component in Iowa, because we also have the only training grounds in Iowa. As well as helping to train some civilians like – or use our coverage like law enforcement and police.
Tom Temin I see. So there are quite a lot of buildings and objects that need to be taken care of.
John Perkins Yes. Thus, there are approximately 375 facilities at Camp Dodge alone at Camp Dodge.
Tom Temin Golly. And some of them come back, you say, is the 1909 building still there?
John Perkins Yes. Yes, the building from 1909 is there. It was actually a powder magazine. It was built of tiles with all non-spartan surfaces. So we go back to that period. But the fence is actually from 1937, so.
Tom Temin All right. So this project we’re talking about won an award. What was the prize for? Maintenance and why?
John Perkins Yes, it was. It was the restoration and protection of a cultural artifact. So we both have an environmental heritage that we are very proud of at Camp Dodge. At Camp Dodge, we have many species to care for. We also have many cultural artifacts. So in this particular case, this fence was built under the CCC, the Work Progress Administration. The Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937. So these were people who didn’t have jobs, they brought them in. It was all done by hand. They learn skills, they learn craftsmanship and we thought it was worth keeping. It is not listed as such on the National Historical Register, but is eligible for the Historical Register. And what is very important to me is that many of these young men who came did this work, then served in World War II. So we are talking about an artifact of the greatest generation.
Tom Temin And the fence has 99 pillars. And it’s not just wooden posts, right?
John Perkins No, no, they’re not. So each pillar is about three feet by three feet square, about four feet high. And they’re made of Indiana limestone. Pieces about an inch to two inches thick. And they’re stacked there and bricked in place. So it was 100% manual work. To account for the foundation, the foundations of the pillars were not poured with concrete, which we discovered during the renovation. They are actually larger pieces of limestone, all hand-bonded.
Tom Temin Interesting. So some real craftsmanship. We’re talking to Colonel John Perkins. He is the Director of Construction and Facilities Management for the Iowa National Guard. And besides restoring those pillars, you had a gatehouse.
John Perkins Yes. So the lodge was part of that. Very interesting. It has some hand forged iron pieces. It replaced the old gatehouse there from what used to be the main entrance to Camp Dodge and very much looks almost like a castle. But again, it was these young men of 1937 who put it all together.
Tom Temin What condition was it in when you decided to restore it?
John Perkins So it was solid. Some of the poles were hit by cars that had gone off the road over the years. They cracked, grass grew there, stones cracked it, mortar fell out of it. And it was really a decision to release such a cultural asset or put some money into it to preserve it for the next generation.
Tom Temin And what did it take to do the renovation?
John Perkins From a work standpoint, they literally had to go back and do manual labor. They had to cut the stones, grind the mortar, replace the stones, finish the interiors, cement the same color mortar, cement the same color to cover it up. And then it was cleaned in an environmentally safe manner with a pH-neutral cleaner and replaced some of the wood with refurbished like new.
Tom Temin wow. This also applies to the caretaker.
John Perkins This is correct.
Tom Temin And were concrete foundations laid under the pillars, or did you just restore the plinths that were there from the 1930s?
John Perkins We restored the bases there, so we dug a lot of where we needed to go, but it really was, it needed to be fixed, but stone mortar, it takes a long time, it’s actually quite solid. Only these elements had to be redone.
Tom Temin Just like your own pyramids at Camp Dodge.
John Perkins They will outlive me after this renovation.
Tom Temin And who did the work?
John Perkins It was a company, I don’t remember the name, unfortunately from Wisconsin, they did this renovation work. This was done by a local architectural engineering firm called Snyder Associates. And that is very satisfying for us because a company has come along that has hired a lot of local workers and taught them some skills. When they put it back. Again, it was a very laborious process.
Tom Temin Bright. And how did you pay for it?
John Perkins So it was a combination of federal funding and state funding to do this, which is quite common, a National Guard station has this mix of funding.
Tom Temin So there’s federal money, which means the Pentagon will eventually decide that this kind of work to preserve these heritage sites is worth it.
John Perkins Yes, it is because it represents our post. If you walk through a military facility, whether it’s Fort Leavenworth, you’ll see preserved history. That being said, we have to make some tough decisions on whether we’re going to keep the building, whether it’s culturally significant is one factor, whether it’s architecturally significant, whether it’s really worth restoring. We’ve had a few cases where we had a bunch of WWII buildings that were temporary, WWII buildings that we just knocked down a few last year that they’re not architecturally significant and they’ve just passed their lifespan. So we want to spend our money sparingly, but some things are worth keeping.
Tom Temin Yes, it’s like the naval annex in Washington. I think this was supposed to be demolished in the 1950’s and continued until around the 1980’s until they finally removed the buildings. I think they were historic in the minds of the people who worked there, but as structures they weren’t particularly significant.
John Perkins And as a National Guard base, as a member of our community, during this renovation, I found out that it was in the local papers. I’ve received a lot of comments, people in the community are stopping me. So it is also a community icon. So we have to be federal community members, we have to be very, very aware of that.
Tom Temin Yes, because you said that over the years the car would sometimes hit the stone pillars, which means there is a community, roads and traffic next to Camp Dodge. So people may have adopted it locally.
John Perkins This is correct. We have a great relationship with our community and consider ourselves part of the community as well as an asset.
Tom Temin And what’s next on your list for a possible restore and refresh?
John Perkins So we are completing a multi-year, multi-year renovation of one of the two existing World War II induction hospitals left in the United States. While we renovate the exterior to make it look the way it does with the right windows and the right roofing. However, inside there are the most modern training rooms for our soldiers and airmen that you have ever seen. So we believe we can achieve both. Keep that readiness, reuse the structure without having to build a new one, which is also good for the environment, but keep the legacy outside.
Tom Temin Do you have any really cool cannons or any old Army Air Corps planes there?
John Perkins Absolutely. If you look at the news, we just took off the F-86. Well, we, the Chinook helicopter, picked it up from Carthage, flew it to the paint shop at the Air National Guard in Sioux City, and just delivered it back in the mail, and now it’s back on display in all its glory.