Fort Stewart was named for Brig. Gen. Daniel Stewart, great-grandfather of President Theodore Roosevelt. A Revolutionary War hero and Georgia statesman, Stewart was born in Liberty County in 1762. During the Revolutionary War, he joined the militia at age 15. Advancing to the rank of colonel, Stewart commanded a battalion of Georgia Militia and became one of Georgia’s leaders after the war.
Hunter Army Airfield bears its name in tribute to U.S. Army Air Corps’ (later U.S. Army Air Forces) Maj. Gen. Frank O’Driscoll Hunter. As a World War I fighter pilot, he became an ace, with eight German planes to his credit, earning him the Distinguished Service Cross with four oak leaf clusters. The former stockbroker found the Air Corps to his liking and made it his career. In 1942, Hunter joined the fighter arm of the 8th Air Force in England. During this command, he earned a Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross and a Silver Star. In 1943, Hunter returned to the United States to head the 1st Air Force. In 1944, he was awarded the Legion of Merit for his role in planning and executing the movement of air echelons of the 12th Air Force from Great Britain to North Africa. Hunter retired Dec. 4, 1945, at Mitchell Field, New York, then returned to his hometown of Savannah.
In tribute to Hunter, the Savannah City Council renamed its municipal airport Hunter Field in 1940. The Army Air Corps acquired the field a year later. Retaining the name Hunter Field, the Army Air Corps held it until 1946, when it was returned to the city. The Air Force took occupancy in 1949 with the Army returning in 1967, when the facility was renamed Hunter Army Airfield.
In June 1940, Congress authorized funding for the purchase of property in Coastal Georgia for the purpose of building an anti-aircraft artillery training center. It was to be located just outside of Hinesville, Georgia. The arrival of the anti-aircraft training center to the area adjacent to the sleepy little community of Hinesville would forever alter its lifestyle. Hinesville, the county seat of Liberty County, was populated by barely 500 people.
On July 1, 1940, the first 5,000 acres were bought and subsequent purchases followed. Eventually, the reservation would include more than 280,000 acres and stretch over five counties. The large expanse of property was required for the firing ranges and impact areas that an anti-aircraft artillery training center would need for live-fire training. In November 1940, the Anti-Aircraft Artillery Training Center was officially designated as Camp Stewart.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 accelerated activities at Camp Stewart. Facilities were expanded and improved. Camp Stewart’s training programs continued expanding to keep pace with the needs placed on it. Units were shipped out promptly upon completion of their training, and new units were received in their place. By late 1943, Camp Stewart assumed a new responsibility as one of many holding areas designated in this country for German and Italian prisoners of war who had fallen into Allied hands during fighting in North Africa.
Camp Stewart also served as a Cook and Bakers School and as a staging area for a number of Army postal units. By spring 1944, the camp was bulging at its seams as more than 55,000 soldiers occupied the installation during the buildup for the D-Day invasion. However, almost overnight the post was virtually emptied as these units shipped out for England. With the D-Day invasion and Allied control of the air over Europe, the need for anti-aircraft units diminished. In response, the anti-aircraft training at Camp Stewart was phased out. By January 1945, only the POW camp was still functioning. With the end of the war, Camp Stewart came to life briefly as a separation center for redeployed soldiers. But on Sept. 30, 1945, the post was deactivated.
World affairs would once again affect the life of Camp Stewart. With the outbreak of hostilities in Korea in June 1950, the United States again found itself with the need to update training and prepare new soldiers to meet the crisis there. Camp Stewart reopened in August 1950. Facilities were again repaired, and National Guard troops were brought in for training.
On Dec. 28, 1950, Camp Stewart was designated as the 3rd Army Anti-Aircraft Artillery Training Center for intensive training of soldiers destined for service in Korea. In late 1953, Camp Stewart’s role was changed to include armor and tank firing as well since the Communist forces didn’t seriously challenge control of the air in Korea. When the Korean conflict eventually cooled down, it was recognized that the U.S. would be required to maintain a ready and able military force to deal with any potential threat to the free world. As such, the post would no longer be viewed as a temporary installation.
On March 21, 1956, Camp Stewart was redesignated as Fort Stewart. Its role continued to evolve in response to specific needs and world events. In 1959, Fort Stewart was redesignated as an Armor and Artillery Firing Center since its old anti-aircraft ranges and impact area were better suited for this purpose than for the new age of missiles.
By 1961, there was a feeling that Fort Stewart may have served its usefulness, and there was movement to deactivate the post again. However, the age of missiles brought with it new threats and a new place for Fort Stewart. In 1962, on the outset of the Cuban missile crisis, the 1st Armored Division was ordered to Fort Stewart for staging, and in the short span of two weeks, the population of the post rose from 3,500 personnel to more than 30,000. The country prepared for the worst, but in the end a compromise was reached, and the crisis passed.
After the Cuban missile crisis, the Cold War situation kept Fort Stewart in an active training role. During the late 1960s, tension in the divided country of Vietnam brought about yet another change in Fort Stewart’s mission. The United States found itself becoming increasingly involved in that conflict. In response to a need for aviators, an element of the U.S. Army Aviation School at Fort Rucker, Alabama, was transferred to Fort Stewart in 1966. Helicopter pilot training and helicopter gunnery courses became Fort Stewart’s new mission. In an unusual twist, instead of training soldiers to shoot down aircraft, they were now training soldiers to fly them. When the Air Force closed its base at Hunter Field in Savannah in 1967, the Army promptly assumed control and in conjunction with flight training being conducted at Fort Stewart, the U.S. Army Flight Training Center came into being. Helicopter pilot training was rapidly accelerated, and pilots were trained and soon sent to duty all around the world, with a large percent seeing active duty in Vietnam.
Gradually, America’s involvement in Vietnam dwindled, and by mid-1972 the flight training aspect of Fort Stewart’s mission was terminated and both Hunter Field and Fort Stewart reverted to garrison status. The following year Hunter was closed entirely and Fort Stewart sat idle with the exception of National Guard training, which continued to be conducted at the installation.
It appeared as if Fort Stewart had again reached the end of its usefulness, and questions were raised about its status and future. The end of the Vietnam conflict meant a new focus for the U.S. Army, but a new life for several of the Army’s historic units would mean new life for Fort Stewart.
On July 1, 1974, the 1st Battalion, 75th Infantry Regiment (Ranger) parachuted into Fort Stewart and was reactivated the following month. It was the first Army Ranger unit activated since World War II. Hunter Army Airfield was once again reopened to support the training and activities of the Rangers.
In October 1974, Headquarters, 1st Brigade of the 24th Infantry Division was activated at Fort Stewart. This historic unit, which had seen active and arduous service in the Pacific during World War II and the Korean War, had been inactive since 1970.
With the reactivation of the 24th Infantry Division, the post entered a new phase in its history. Facilities were upgraded and new permanent structures replaced many of the old wooden buildings from the days of Camp Stewart. On Oct. 1, 1980, the 24th Infantry Division was designated a mechanized division and assigned as the heavy infantry division of the newly organized Rapid Deployment Force. This designation was the fruition of that potential first realized by those who served at the post during the Cuban missile crisis. The 24th Infantry Division began intensive training over the expanse of piney woods and lowlands of the post and conducted live-fire exercises on many of the old Camp Stewart anti-aircraft ranges.
In August 1990, Iraq invaded and overran neighboring Kuwait and threatened to do the same to Saudi Arabia. The Savannah port worked around the clock to load and ship the division’s heavy equipment while aircraft shuttles from Hunter Field flew the division’s personnel to Saudi Arabia. Within a month, the entire division had been reassembled in Saudi Arabia to face the possible invasion of that country by Iraqi forces. Fort Stewart saw a growing influx of National Guard and reserve units that were being mobilized to support the operations in Saudi Arabia and to assume the tasks at the post, which had formerly been accomplished by division personnel.
Within eight months, the crisis in the Persian Gulf had concluded and the 24th Infantry Division triumphantly returned to its home in coastal Georgia.
On April 25, 1996, the 3rd Infantry Division was activated at Fort Stewart. The division was born at Camp Greene, North Carolina, on Nov. 21, 1917. Today, the “Marne Division” serves as the iron fist of the XVIII Airborne Corps. Since Sept. 11, 2001, its units have been sent to Afghanistan, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries to support the war on terrorism. Early in 2003, the deployability and fighting capability of the division was highly visible worldwide when the entire division deployed in weeks to Kuwait. It was called on subsequently to spearhead coalition forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom, fighting its way to Baghdad, leading to the end of the Saddam Hussein government-imposed tyranny over the people of Iraq.
In January 2003, soldiers in the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized) were officially informed that they were headed for the Middle East to do their part in Operation Enduring Freedom. Throughout the early months of the year, a multitude of flights proceeded to carry the Marne Division’s more than 20,000 soldiers to the Middle East, where they continued to train in preparation for the possibility of war.
With the major conflicts of 2003 recorded in the history books, the 3rd Infantry Division again marked another chapter by returning to the scenes of Iraq for OIF 3. The 3rd Infantry Division officially jumped back into action Feb. 27, 2005, when a Transition of Authority ceremony was held to hand over the command of Task Force Baghdad from Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, 1st Cavalry Division “First Team” commander, to Maj. Gen. William G. Webster Jr., 3rd Infantry Division commander, at the Sahet Alihtifalat Alkubra (Ceremonial Circle) parade grounds. The 3rd Infantry Division became the first Army division to serve a second tour in Iraq.
During this deployment, the division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team was organized and became the first cohesive brigade combat team sent directly into combat by the Army. The 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry Regiment from the California National Guard served as one of its two infantry battalions, and there was an attachment from the Hawaii National Guard, the 2/299th Infantry. The 48th Brigade Combat Team from the Georgia National Guard also served with the 3rd Infantry Division, covering the area south of Baghdad.
The 3rd Infantry Division redeployed to Fort Stewart and Fort Benning in January and February 2006, then in November, the Army announced the 3rd Infantry Division was scheduled to return to Iraq in 2007, making it the first Army division to serve a third tour in Iraq, this time to lead “The Surge.”
By summer 2010, nearly the entire division had deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. But the mission of the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq was about to change.
On Sept. 1 of that year, President Barack Obama announced that American “combat operations” in Iraq were officially over, to be replaced by “stability operations” and “security force assistance” as part of Operation New Dawn.
As part of stability operations, 3rd Infantry Division units in Iraq were to serve as a third-party armed force to help the host nation (Iraq) protect its population. As a part of security force assistance, they were to help the host nation security force improve its capabilities to defend itself, its people and its territory by advising, training and assisting its security forces.
Today, Fort Stewart is known as the Army’s home and has earned the Army Community of Excellence Award an unprecedented six times in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2012 and 2015.