The Difference Between a Fort, a Camp & a Base

Fort Bragg in North Carolina is a modern army base that continues to expand to meet changing needs.

During the United States settlement era, numerous forts evolved to support settlers and gain control over uncharted territories. On February 8, 1832, the War Department ordered that "All new posts which may be hereafter established, will receive their names from the War Department, and be announced in General Orders from the Headquarters of the Army." At the time, the army considered a camp as a temporary location and a fort was a permanent installation. Even as some forts expanded into bases, the names of the forts remained. Knowledge of the relationships between forts, camps and bases will clarify misunderstandings stemming from the military's naming convention.

1 Forts

Frontier forts functioned as a center for military exploration and regional control efforts.

Historically, forts served two purposes: to establish a military presence in a region, and/or to protect early settlers. The actual word "fort" indicates the function. A fort, an abbreviation of fortification, evolved from "fortis," the Latin word for "strong." "Stronghold" is the English equivalent to the Latin "fortaritia." Some Roman forts erected as military strongholds evolved into cities, such as Ravenglass, England. In Colonial America, many settlers were ill-equipped to defend themselves in the new world. Forts provided protection to Colonists against Native American attacks. In addition to protecting and organizing settlements, military officers served as liaisons with Native American tribes.

2 Camp

Temporary camps provide shelter and basic needs for soldiers during wartime.

A military camp functions as a place to house military personnel and store artillery. Camps provide combat training to enlisted persons to prepare for service in the armed forces. The Army selects and builds camps in strategic locations to fulfill temporary needs during war time. The United States involvement in World War I necessitated creating additional training facilities. Camp Knox, established in 1918, processed and trained soldiers to fight in Europe. On January 1, 1932, the Army made Camp Knox a permanent military installation and renamed the camp to Fort Knox. During the Great Depression, Fort Knox processed and trained young men for the Civilian Conservation Corps.

3 Base

Temporary bases function as the center of operations in remote locations.

The Army consists of two structures: institutional and operational. The institutional army supports the operational army. Institutional infrastructures raise, train, equip, deploy and ensure that army personnel are ready for combat duty, even during peacetime. Upon deployment of the operational army, the institutional army provides logistical support for the operational army to function. Operational army activities operate from camps, both temporary and permanent. The institutional army functions from a permanent base. A base serves many purposes, however the chief function is to be a center of command. Bases provide training, storage for military supplies and housing for military personnel and their families. A permanent base functions much like a civilian city, with features such as churches, gyms, schools and parks.

4 Relationships

Fort Point, located under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, is a popular tourist attraction.

Some forts evolve into camps, and some camps evolve into forts. Camps may evolve near an established fort or base in order to house the militia serving at that fort or base. Successful and strategically located camps and forts may evolve into a base. Fort MacArthur is a residential community for military personnel serving at the Los Angeles Air Force Base. Some abandoned forts no longer needed by the military become historic sites and places of interest.

Jodi Strehlow has been a freelance writer since 1992 and has experience writing employee how-to handbooks. Jodi earned an Associate of Arts in social and behavioral sciences from Merritt College and a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from San Francisco State University.