Sunday, September 2, 2012

Everything About Alabama, the CDP and Fort McClellan

Before moving to Mississippi last month, I put together a package of statistics, history and fun facts about the state and shared it on Facebook. People seemed to enjoy it, so I decided to do another package for our upcoming move to Anniston, Alabama and the Center for Domestic Preparedness, where FEMA Corps South will spend fifteen days learning everything there is to know about FEMA and about our specialist positions. Here's a breakdown of what I learned about the CDP, as well as a ton of information about Alabama in general. 

History of the CDP: Camp/Fort McClellan

The present-day CDP began life in 1917 as Camp McClellan, a WWI Army training camp. In 1929, it was upgraded to a fort and turned into a permanent base. According to Wikipedia, the base was expanded pre-WWII and trained nearly 500,000 men during the war. It also housed around 2,500 German and Italian prisoners of war. The Chemical Corps School, later the U.S. Army Chemical Center and School, was established there in 1952. In the same year, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps was established there. The Military Police School was moved to Fort McClellan in 1975, and the base served as a Vietnam War training facility from 1966-1970.

Fort McClellan was officially closed in 1999. However, the Alabama National Guard still uses it as a training site, and it houses a National Guard Officer Candidate School as well as the CDP. Nine thousand acres of the former fort are now part of the Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge, established in 2003. The base houses McClellan Community, which is apparently a new small town,  and the US Army Chemical Corps Museum. If you're interested, it apparently has over 4,000 “chemical warfare artifacts”.

The CDP itself opened in 1998 as a “training center for the nation’s emergency responders”, with a focus on chemical, biological and radiological disasters. It includes the Noble Training Facility, a block south of the CDP proper, which has more of an emphasis on natural disasters as well as manmade ones. The CDP became part of Homeland Security in 2003, and part of FEMA in 2007. According to Wikipedia, “In 2011, FEMA began using the CDP as a staging area for major disaster response. It will eventually become one of four National Staging Areas across the country developed for this purpose." The CDP web page contains a standing offer to local and state First Responder units: come train with us and we'll pay for literally everything, from room and board to the training program itself to the drive from the airport. The Department of Homeland Security is happy to pick up the tab. 

Beyond the former Fort McClellan, the state has three current Army bases (including one chemical weapons storage depot, the Anniston Army Depot), one Coast Guard and one Air Force base. Rather misleadingly, the Aviation Training Center is actually the Coast Guard one; Air Force is Maxwell-Rucker.

History and Politics of Anniston and Alabama

The population of Anniston is 23,106; it is the county seat of Calhoun County, named for John C. Calhoun. As of 2000, the population was 48% white, 48% black and change for anyone else. Anniston boasts the Anniston Museum of Natural History, the Berman Museum of World History and the largest chair in the United States. Michael Biehn, of Terminator, Aliens and The Abyss fame, is a former resident. So is Kevin Greene, former five-time Pro Bowl linebacker and current Green Bay Packers outside linebackers coach.

As far as history goes, Alabama was first explored by the Spanish and later colonized by the French and English. After the French and Indian War, the French ceded the area and it was held by the English until the Revolutionary War. Parts of Spanish West Florida were annexed in 1812, making up the rest of Alabama’s present-day territory. The U.S. fought the Creek and Choctaw tribes in the Creek War to gain effective control of said territory, a war that made Andrew Jackson into a national political figure. 

The Confederate flag was first designed and flown in Alabama, the fourth state to secede from the Union. The first capital of the Confederacy was Montgomery, where the Confederate Constitution was written after about four months, the capital was moved to Richmond as a show of defiance towards the North. According to immediate postwar assessments, approximately 120,000 Alabamians fought in the Civil War. 35,000 of them died and another 30,000 were permanently disabled. 

Never the most progressive state towards its black population, Alabama took a giant step back in 1901 when the Democrats' new state constitution effectively disenfranchised the state's African-Americans (as well as hundreds of thousands of poor whites). During the civil rights movement, the state was indubitably the frontline of the fight against segregation. The Montgomery Bus Boycotts of 1955-6, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, took place in AL. Other notable events included the 1961 Freedom Rides, the brutal 1963 Birmingham Campaign and the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery in support of the Voting Rights Act. One Freedom Ride bus was firebombed and the riders attacked by a mob in Anniston itself. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself was an Alabama native, as was his wife Coretta Scott King and ally Booker T. Washington. 

George C. Wallace, one of the most well-known names in Southern politics for a generation, was a four-time Alabama governor. It was he who took the infamous "stand against desegregation" in front of an Alabama university. Wallace ran for president three times as an old-style Southern Democrat, losing in the primaries each time, and once in 1968 as an independent. He carried five Southern states that time but was swamped by Richard Nixon. 

 Today, Alabama is dominated by Republicans. Every state appellate judge and Supreme Court judge, not to mention every elected official of the executive branch, both Senate seats and six of seven House members, are Republicans. The party also holds six of eight seats on the Alabama Board of Education and controls both houses of the state legislature. I don't know if this is typical or not, but the state government employs a scanty 9,500 people. 

Population, Economy and Trivia

The state holds a hair under five million people, at 4,779,336 as of the 2010 census. The largest city, Birmingham, holds just 212,237. 68% of the population is ethnically white and 26% is black; everyone else is pocket change. A resounding Bible Belt state, 58% of the population attends church regularly. Most of the state is either evangelical or regular Protestants. 75% of Alabamians graduate from high school, the fourth-lowest rate among the states; according to the CDC, Alabamians are the U.S. state least likely to exercise, and are among the nation's 'leaders' in obesity and diabetes rates.

Alabama's economy is based in manufacturing, agricultural products and miscellaneous services. The state produces about 12% of the nation's broilers, and also have livestock, calves, chicken eggs and catfish. Their agricultural economy is dominated by livestock, but they do produce limited stocks of cotton, grain, soybeans and peanuts. In keeping with the chemicals theme (see above), Atlanta is one of the nation's largest producers of chemicals. They also produce paper products, and have large mining concerns of coal, natural gas and limestone. Alabama ranks fourth in the county in car production, and is a major hub for the U.S. steel industry; they also do aircraft engines and "military and space equipment". 

The list of impressive people from Alabama is ridiculously long. I mentioned a few people above (Dr. King, Michael Biehn, etc), and will list a few others below. Names that caught my eye included Charles Barkley, Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, actress Felicia Day, Mia Hamm, Zora Neale Hurston, jazz composer W.C. Handy, brilliant authors Edward O. Wilson, Nelle Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) and Zora Neale Hurston, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Jake Peavy, Jesse Owens, Tallulah Bankhead, Nat King Cole, the "Brown Bomber" Joe Louis, Channing Tatum, country music singer Sonny James, and of course Helen Keller. Just on the pro football side of things, Alabama has produced Bart Starr, Bo Jackson, Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, Walter Jones and Terrell Owens, among hundreds of others. Although not residents, George Washington Carver, Truman Capote and Wernher von Braun also lived in the state. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that one of my personal heroines, Condoleezza Rice, is a Birmingham native.

State stuff: Alabama has one of those Southern no-nonsense mottoes, "Audemus jurus nostra defendere" or "We dare defend our rights". They're one of only six states with two state birds, the Yellowhammer (a.k.a. northern flicker) and the wild turkey, the state game bird. Alabama is known as the "Yellowhammer State" (apparently it's also a nod to the color of Confederate uniforms), as well as the "Heart of Dixie" and the "Carmellia State" (state flower). It used to be called the "Cotton State", but that was before the coming of the boll weevil. The state nut is the pecan, the state insect is the monarch butterfly, the state fossil is the Basilosaurus (prehistoric whale again), the state alcoholic beverage is Conecuh Ridge Alabama Fine Whiskey, and the state outdoor drama (they have that?) is William Gibson's The Miracle Worker, about the life of Helen Keller. 
Despite not having any professional sports teams, Alabama has four of the largest stadiums in the country. The Talladega Superspeedway, Bryant-Denny Stadium, Jordan-Hare Stadium and Legion Field combine to seat over 400,000 people. The all-time high of 114 degrees was recorded in 1925; Alabama is troubled by thunderstorms, hurricanes and tornadoes, and contains the southern end of the Appalachian Mountain chain. If you want to go to the bars, you're subsidizing the state government, which is the only legal alcohol seller in the state (I did not know that places did that). Finally from the college football world, Alabama just bulldozed Michigan 41-14, which makes their sports scene profoundly OK in my book.

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