FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — On Oct. 16, 1918, at a then-rural outpost in King George County, a Navy gun fired a 158-pound shell nearly 5 miles down the Potomac River.
That shot was the beginning of what is now the Naval Support Facility Dahlgren, which is celebrating its 95th anniversary this week with some events on base today (Oct. 16), a ceremony tonight and a museum open house on Saturday.
Exhibits, historical displays and other anniversary activities are scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. today for those on base.
The Dahlgren Heritage Foundation’s commemorative reception and ceremony runs from 5:30–7:30 tonight at the University of Mary Washington’s Dahlgren Campus on University Drive off U.S. 301. Both events are open to the public.
Retired Rear Adm. Brad Hicks, former commander of Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, one of the base tenant commands, is among the speakers. Virginia Sen. Richard Stuart and Del. Margaret Ransone will present a proclamation from Gov. Bob McDonnell recognizing “Dahlgren Day.”
Artifacts from Dahlgren are on display in the Dahlgren Campus main corridor, and the exhibit will feature a preview of a new exhibit that opens at the Dahlgren Heritage Museum on Saturday.
The Dahlgren Heritage Foundation oversees the museum, which is located in the former Gateway Welcome Center on U.S. 301.
The museum had scheduled tours of the base, but those were put off until the end of the partial government shutdown. Instead, it will host an open house from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Naval Support Facility Dahlgren began as an extension of the Indian Head Proving Ground in southern Maryland. Over the decades, it has had a big impact on the region’s economy, mainly through jobs and an enormous payroll.
According to the most recent economic profile, it is one of the region’s largest employers, with about 7,600 workers. Of those, 4,729 are civilians working for nearly 20 separate military commands and supporting organizations.
Most of those work at Dahlgren’s eight tenant commands. The largest of those is the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division.
Another 2,500 work for defense contractors that do business with the installation—companies such as General Atomics and BAE Systems, which have built launcher prototypes for a planned electromagnetic rail gun under development at Dahlgren.
In a column about the base’s 90th anniversary in 2008, then-Free Lance–Star Editor Ed Jones noted that it all began with that shot on the Potomac, but that the base and its diverse group of tenant commands has come a long way—becoming one of the Navy’s premier research, development and testing venues.
“Scientists and engineers at Dahlgren are taking the lead in developing sophisticated anti-missile systems for the United States and its allies. They are drawing on new theories of quantum mechanics for more advanced detection of targets,” wrote Jones, who is president of the Dahlgren Heritage Museum.
“They are predicting hurricane damage and developing unmanned reconnaissance aircraft.”
In short, Jones wrote, “They are living up to [former] Sen. John Warner’s description of the Dahlgren base as ‘one of the crown jewels of national defense.’”