Seventy-five years ago, Camp Hood officially opened Sept. 18, 1942, in Central Texas to rapidly train tank destroyer battalions desperately needed during World War II.
Named for the commander of the Confederate Texas Brigade, General John Bell Hood, the original facilities provided housing and training sites for nearly 38,000 troops. In January 1943, an additional 16,000 acres in Bell County and 34,943 acres in Coryell County near Gatesville were purchased. The site near Gatesville was known as the sub-camp and later as North Fort Hood. During the war years, North Fort Hood housed nearly 40,000 troops and 4,000 prisoners of war and was the site for the southern branch of the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks.
By the end of 1944, the number of tank destroyer battalions in training at Camp Hood declined rapidly but field artillery battalions and the Infantry Replacement Training Center replaced them. The last year of World War II saw a major shift of emphasis in Camp Hood’s mission and a drastic reduction in population. As the war came to an end, the training of troops slowed and equipment reclamation and demobilization planning became the priorities. A separation center was established in September 1945, and as the year ended, post strength had fallen to 1,807 prisoners and about 11,000 troops.
In January 1946, the 2nd and 20th Armored Divisions arrived from overseas. From the end of 1946 to 1950, Camp Hood changed little, but April 15, 1950, Camp Hood became a permanent installation redesignated as Fort Hood. During the Korean War years, the post continued its training mission and provided individual replacements for many of the units involved in that conflict.
In mid-1954, III Corps moved from California to Fort Hood. The Corps supervised the training of combat units at Fort Hood and other Fourth Army stations from 1954 to 1959 when III Corps was inactivated. Probably, the most famous trainee to come through Fort Hood was Elvis Presley, arriving March 28, 1958. Other than receiving record amounts of mail (three to four bags per day), Presley was treated like all other trainees. Nearly six months later, Presley shipped out for Germany.
In September 1961, Fort Hood again became the home for the III Corps, and in February 1962, III Corps was assigned as part of the U.S. Army Strategic Army Corps. On June 15, 1963, Killeen Base was turned over to the Army. Today, the only remnant of its secret mission is tunnels honeycombed under West Fort Hood.
In October 1969, Killeen Base was designated as West Fort Hood and the airfield’s name was designated as Robert Gray Army Airfield. The base was named after a Killeen native who was killed flying combat missions during World War II. Robert Gray was also a pilot of a B-25 bomber on the famous Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in 1942. With a redesignation came a change in mission at West Fort Hood. Atomic weapons were removed. They had been secretly kept there since 1947.
During the late 1960s, Fort Hood trained and deployed a number of units and individuals for duty in Vietnam. As the United States ended its role in the conflict, thousands of returning soldiers completed their active duty with one of the divisions.
During this time, the post began a modernization effort. On Sept. 13, 1965, Darnall Hospital opened and began providing quality medical care to the Fort Hood community. In 1970, construction began on Palmer Theater and Venable Village was dedicated. New barracks were springing up around post. The wood buildings of Fort Hood were quickly being replaced with brick structures. In September 1967, Fort Hood was officially designated a two-division post with the 1st and 2nd Armored Divisions. In 1971, the 1st Cavalry Division came to Fort Hood from Vietnam and replaced the 1st Armored Division when “Old Ironsides” moved to Germany.
Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, Fort Hood played a major role in the training, testing and introduction of new equipment, tactics and organizations. A primary player in the test and evaluation mission has been the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Test and Experimentation Command (now the U.S. Army Operational Test Command), located at West Fort Hood. Fort Hood has been instrumental in the fielding of the M1 Abrams tank, M2/3 Bradley Infantry/Cavalry Fighting Vehicle, the Multiple Launch Rocket System and the AH-64 Apache helicopter.
In August 1990, Fort Hood was alerted for deployments to Southwest Asia as part of the joint forces participating in Operation Desert Shield. The deployment to Saudi Arabia began in September, extending into mid-October. Upon its return to the United States, the 1st Cavalry Division became the largest division in the Army, with the reactivation of its 3rd “Greywolf” Battle Team May 21, 1991, and subsequent activation of the division’s Engineer Brigade in October 1992.
The 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized) was designated the Army’s Experimental Force on Dec. 15, 1995, as its colors were unfurled for the first time over Central Texas and Fort Hood. A new chapter in its long history began as its soldiers were given the mission to lead the Army into the 21st Century. Twenty-five years after making its home in Colorado, the Iron Horse Division was again re-stationed to meet the Army’s requirements, but this move would be quite different from others. The Iron Horse Division became a split-based organization with six brigades and three brigade combat teams remaining at Fort Carson.
In the 1990s, Fort Hood units supported Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia to help bring an end to years of bloodshed in that war-torn country. In October 1998, the 1st Cavalry Division was the first United States division to assume authority of the Multinational Division (North) area of operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Also during the 1990s, Fort Hood continued an extensive building program to modernize the post. The Robertson Blood Center, Soldier Development Center, Soldier Service Center and a new Commissary at Warrior Way were all completed during this timeframe. Many other improvements were made to the Power Projection Mission of the post such as upgrades to the railhead and the runway at Robert Gray Army Airfield and to training ranges.
The beginning of the 21st century saw modernization in the Army in full swing. Fort Hood made history when it was the first installation selected to privatize post housing under the residential communities’ initiative. Under this initiative, new housing units, remodeled housing and community improvements were added to the post.
After Sept. 11, 2011, a new era was ushered in at Fort Hood as security and the war on terrorism became a prime focus. Fort Hood transitioned from an open to a closed post almost overnight. Since 2001, the deployment pace at Fort Hood has accelerated as the Army continued to fight the war on terrorism. Many Fort Hood units have deployed to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom and to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.
Highlighting this period was the 4th Infantry Division’s assistance in the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003 and the 1st Cavalry Division’s deployment to Baghdad in spring 2004, culminating with Iraq’s first democratic election in the post-Saddam Hussein era in early 2005.
Later in 2005, many Fort Hood units were called on to provide humanitarian relief after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Hurricane Rita in southeastern Texas and Louisiana. More humanitarian aid came from Fort Hood in early 2006 after a devastating earthquake in Pakistan.
Closing out this century’s first decade, in 2009 the 4th Infantry Division returned from Iraq and cased its colors at Fort Hood for the last time with the unit’s move back to Fort Carson, Colorado. Coming from Fort Carson was the Division West Headquarters of the First Army. Also in 2009, Fort Hood opened its Resiliency Campus (now the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Training Facility) to help meet the needs of soldiers and their families.
Two major events in 2010 had a lasting impact on the educational aspirations of the Fort Hood military community. The first was Jan. 13, when Central Texas College opened a new classroom building with 21 new classrooms and four state-of-the-art computer labs. Then on Aug. 26, Texas A&M-Central Texas broke ground on a new campus complex on land provided by the installation.
In December 2010, the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center broke ground on a $534 million hospital, which opened in spring 2016. The post opened a new main exchange complex in October 2015.
Over the past several years, fewer troops have been called to serve in harm’s way overseas than in the previous decade. The 1st Cavalry Division’s 3rd “Grey Wolf” Brigade Combat Team was the final unit to leave Iraq in December 2011.
Today, nearly one in 10 soldiers serving in the Army is stationed at Fort Hood, and its troops continue to deploy around the globe wherever the nation needs them, proving that Fort Hood remains a source of the best trained and equipped soldiers in the U.S. Army.