vet visits old air base
Warden Aaron Krieger received a call earlier this year from USAF veteran John Kwaczala requesting a tour of his old duty station, which is now North Idaho Correctional Institution (NICI). John served as a radar technician from 1961-63 with the 822nd Radar Squadron Cottonwood Air Force Station, which was a unit of Spokane Air Defense Sector North American Air Defense Command. The radar squadron provided information 24/7 utilizing the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system which was then analyzed to determine range, direction, altitude, speed, and whether or not aircraft were friendly or hostile.
In 1962, the 822d began operating an AN/FPS-24 search radar and an additional AN/FPS-6B radar. Today most of the radar site on the mountain summit has been torn down. The AN/FPS-24 tower still stands, but only building foundations and deteriorated streets remain.
After a tour of the NICI facility, Warden Krieger drove John up to the Cottonwood Butte summit so he could also visit the radar site. He recalls having to walk the perimeter of the Radar Station in a snow storm during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
He has many fond memories of his time on base, noting that the Gym and Unit 1 were built after he left.
He was housed in an individual room on what is now Unit 3, and everyone’s vehicles were parked on Main Street before the razor wire was installed the around the facility. John and his fellow service members enjoyed living above the Camas Prairie as well as traveling to Moscow and Lewiston for supplies.
NICI staff members were honored to meet John and share in his nostalgic journey.
John Kwaczala when he served at the air base on Cottonwood Butte.