History of the 1st Guided Missile Brigade

McGregor Range Camp

As the role of [Anti-Aircraft Artillery] AAA Guided Missile defense grew in the decade following World War II, plans and negotiations were started to obtain an artillery surface-to-air guided missile range in the Fort Bliss area. By 1955, acquisition of the necessary land was under way, and McGregor Range Camp was becoming a reality.

The site chosen for the range is about 20 by 45 miles in area, confining an oblong generally parallel to highway 54 and comprising the present South McGregor Gun Range, Desert Range, North McGregor Gun Range and additional lands to the northeast. The base camp is situated some 27 miles northeast of Fort Bliss and is about 6 miles north of the New Mexico-Texas State line. All the range impact areas are in the State of New Mexico.

On 13 July 1956, McGregor Range Headquarters and Service Battery was activated by a General Order of the U.S. Army Antiaircraft Artillery and Guided Missile Center. Construction of the existing facilities was begun on 1 September 1956. These facilities include a road network, a missile assembly building, a Range Headquarters, barracks, a mess hall, a range control building and fire control and launching sites.

Initially, the Range has the mission of proving facilities for the firing of Nike Ajax missiles by newly formed Nike battalions.

The presently authorized strength is 8 officers and 198 enlisted men. These men comprise the military staff usually found in an artillery battalion headquarters. They furnish range administrative support, including housing, messing, missile launching and handling equipment, range control, and communications for packages.

Radio Controlled Aerial Target (RCAT) missions are provided by an RCAT launching and control platoon located two miles east of the Orogrande, New Mexico, railroad station, some 20 miles down-range from the base camp. The first Tow Target Squadron, based at Biggs [Air Force Base], provides tactical aircraft flights for tracking missions and offset missile shoots.

Personnel work on a target drone outside of a hangar, 1959. WSMR photo.

The first missile launched at McGregor was fired by the 495th Guided Missile Battalion (SAM) in 3 May 1957. Since the date, many packages have completed their training at the range. In addition to duties in conjunction with its training mission, McGregor Range Camp has become the show-place of surface-to-air missile firings, and has been host to several outstanding programs under the supervision of the U.S. Air Defense Center.

Among these was the Armed Forces Day program held on 18 May, to which the public was invited and where they had the opportunity to observe actual Nike training firings being conducted by packages number 60 and 61. Another event was the show put on in honor of the visit by the Cadets of the class of 1958 from the U.S. Military Academy in July. The most outstanding program, at least from the point of view of size and activity, took place at the Range on the first U.S. Army Air Defense Center Organization Day, 6 July 1957.

That day, military personnel, their families and civilian guests were invited to observe missile firings, have a barbecue dinner and join in carnival activities. The proceeds from the program went to welfare agencies at Fort Bliss, and an estimated 20,000 persons attended.

It is expected that the Range will continue to handle big things in a big way. To meet the requirements of new weapons and programs for additional SAM units, the Range has plans under way to expand its facilities manyfold.

But recently organized, McGregor Range Camp still retains its first commander, Major Patrick G. Wardell.

8 thoughts on “History of the 1st Guided Missile Brigade

  1. Wonderful article and I enjoyed learning about this unit. I have the same pin that belonged to one of my mothers brothers but it isn’t yellow it is red or burgundy colored. Would this be from another battalion? Any information would be appreciated.

  2. This is a wonderful one and ai enjoyed reading about this battalion. I have the same pin but it is t yellow. It is red or almost burgundy colored. It belonged to one of my mothers 3 brothers but I don’t know where they served or anything about their military careers. Any information or assistance about the pin would be appreciated.

  3. My father served in the 1st AAA Guided Missile Bn. Started out as a machinist and ended up as personnel sgt major before being discharged in ‘46. I’ve been wondering about the graphic with the red and yellow v-2 that appears on the title page of each chapter. Is it an official insignia of the unit?

    1. Good Morning, thank you for your comment! The logo depicted is not an official insignia recognized by the US Army Institute of Heraldry. However, it was used as the unit’s unofficial logo and appeared on several unit history documents from the late-1940s into the 1950s that we have in the museum archives.

      1. Thanks so much! I plan to be at the range for a NASA sounding rocket launch in August. I’d like to learn whatever I can about the early history when my father was there.

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