The 56th Range Management Office stood up at Luke Air Force Base as a wing staff agency 20 years ago this week. The office handles operations, scheduling and maintenance of the Barry M. Goldwater Range complex, Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field and the airspace over them.
In 2001, its role increased when the Military Lands Withdrawal Act of 1999 transferred land management authority from the Bureau of Land Management to the Air Force and Navy, primary users of the Goldwater Range. Today RMO is a group-equivalent organization. Its roots can be traced in the history and oversight of the range.
It all started Aug. 8, 1940, when President Franklin Roosevelt, in anticipation of the United States’ involvement in World War II, ordered the Army Air Corps to produce 12,000 pilots annually. He later increased the demand to 30,000 pilots annually. To produce that many pilots, the Army Air Corps needed more airfields and ranges. Southwestern Arizona was perfect for both tasks. The state ended up with well over a dozen primary airfields and approximately three dozen auxiliary airfields. Luke Field and Williams Field were located in the Valley of the Sun. Gila Bend, Dateland, Ajo and Yuma fields were built southwest of Luke.
President Roosevelt issued the first in a number of executive orders Sept. 5, 1941, allowing military use of the Gila Bend Range. Those orders set the land aside for bombing and gunnery practice.
After the war, the Army Air Force placed Luke Field on the inactive list. The range was reassigned to Williams Field and renamed the Williams Bombing and Gunnery Range. Congress enacted Public Law 561 on May 28, 1948, which withdrew the land from public use so the military could use it. Since then, Congress has periodically re-enacted laws to continue military use of the range. Over time, the range land proper was expanded and RMO is now responsible now for more than one million acres.
The gunnery range and Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field were reassigned to reactivated Luke AFB on Nov. 14, 1951.
The range was renamed the Luke Air Force Range March 6, 1963 and renamed again March 23, 1987, to honor retired U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater from Arizona.
But who managed the range prior to 1993?
The 3600th Air Base Squadron activated April 10, 1951, at Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field to manage and maintain the range. Since that date, a number of squadrons filled that role as the base shifted major commands and wings. Those squadrons included the 3600th Support Squadron, 4510th Support Squadron, 4510th Combat Support Squadron, 58th Combat Support Squadron, 832nd Combat Support Squadron, 58th Support Squadron and 56th Support Squadron. A year after RMO stood up, the 56th Support Squadron inactivated as the operations and maintenance of the range and Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field was designated a contract-run operation.