History

First Army – America’s first, oldest and longest-serving numbered field army.

In April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson received approval from Congress for a declaration of war against Germany. He appointed General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing to lead an American Expeditionary Force to France to aid our allies, the battle-weary English and French. America’s entry into the war came just in time, as France was on the verge of collapse.

Since the standing Army was only 98,000 strong and the National Guard numbered only 27,000 troops, it became clear that conscription was needed to quickly raise a large Army. Pershing was to have his Army, but it needed to be trained. While Pershing was overseeing the AEF, he was also forming the nucleus of his First Army staff.

As more American troops arrived, Pershing insisted that they be trained to exacting standards, by battle-seasoned Soldiers, before they could be sent to the front. French and English troops, who had fought in the trenches, helped train the American Soldiers. Before long, more than 500,000 Americans were on French soil.

On Aug. 10, 1918, First Army was established in France, under Pershing’s command.

In September 1918, after months of training and frontline experience, Pershing and 500,000 Soldiers drove the Germans out of the St. Mihiel salient. It was First Army’s first victory, and the first entirely U.S.-led operation of World War I.

Pershing’s staff consisted of such future leaders as Maj. Douglas MacArthur; Col. George C. Marshall; sharpshooter and Medal of Honor recipient from Tennessee, Pvt. Alvin York; aviation pioneer and Medal of Honor recipient Maj. Eddie Rickenbacker; Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell, Lt. Gen. Hunter Liggett, and Capt. George S. Patton, commander of the newly formed U.S. Army Tank Corps.

In one of the most spectacular troop movements of all time, Marshall, then First Army’s Operations Officer, planned and directed the transfer of 600,000 men with complete secrecy for the massive offensive in the Meuse-Argonne Campaign, west of Verdun. Fighting in cold and rainy weather for 47 days, Pershing’s Soldiers helped smash the Hindenburg line and speed the German surrender.

Cpl. Jake Allex, a First Army Soldier from Illinois serving in Company H, 131st Infantry, 33rd Division, was awarded the first Medal of Honor during World War I for his actions at Chipilly Ridge, France, on Aug. 9, 1918. Seventy other First Army Soldiers, including Cpl. Alvin York, were awarded the Medal of Honor for valor during World War I.

After World War I ended, and after a short period of occupation in Europe, First Army was deactivated in 1919. When it was reactivated at Fort Jay, New York, in 1933, First Army's new mission was to command and train regular Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard units within its assigned area – a training and readiness mission similar to the unit’s contemporary mission.

The 1930s and early ’40s became known as the maneuver years, when large troop movements were used to develop training and assess mobilization readiness. First Army commanded Soldiers from the Army’s three components (Active, Guard and Reserve) until the eve of WWII, when the unit resumed a combat role. In October 1943, First Army headquarters transferred to Bristol, England, where the unit began preparations for Operation Overlord, the invasion of France.

On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Gen. Omar N. Bradley commanded the First Army troops landing on Omaha and Utah beaches in Normandy, with British and Canadian troops on their eastern flank. During Operation Cobra, First Army smashed the German line west of St. Lo and was finally able to break out of the Normandy hedgerow country. From there, they drove across France, and almost trapped the bulk of the German Seventh Army in the Falaise Gap. For the remainder of the war, First Army participated in the Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes, Rhineland and Central Europe campaigns. First Army Soldiers also participated in battles including the Hürtgen Forest, the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen and the Ruhr Pocket.

First Army established an impressive record of "firsts" in World War II:

  • FIRST on the beaches of Normandy
  • FIRST out of the Normandy beachhead
  • FIRST into Paris
  • FIRST to break the Siegfried Line in September 1944
  • FIRST to cross the Rhine River in April 1945
  • FIRST to link up with our Soviet allies at the Elbe River

During Bradley’s tenure as First Army commanding general, Lt. Gen. Courtney Hodges served as deputy commander. In August 1944, Hodges succeeded Bradley, who was promoted to command 12th Army Group. Hodges’ troops were the first Americans to enter Paris on their way across Northern France and through the Ardennes Forest. After encountering Russian forces at Torgau in April 1945, Hodges was promoted to general, making him the second man to rise to four-star general from enlisted private.

Following the German surrender in May 1945, Hodges prepared to take First Army to the Pacific theater. Two months after VE Day, a First Army advance detachment arrived in Manila to join the war with Japan, only to find the Japanese surrender made the voyage unnecessary.

As a testament to their bravery and courage, 60 First Army Soldiers, including Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. and 2nd Lt. Audie Murphy, were awarded the Medal of Honor for valor during World War II.

In late 1945, First Army returned to the United States, first to Fort Jackson, S.C., then to Fort Bragg, N.C., eventually returning to its former location at Fort Jay, Governors Island, N.Y., in the spring of 1946. That year, First Army was designated as one of six continental U.S. Armies responsible for supervising and training Army National Guard units, as well as commanding all installations in its area of control: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York.

Beginning in the 1950s and continuing through the 1970s, First Army mobilized and deployed thousands of Soldiers during the Korean and Vietnam wars.

On January 1, 1966, First and Second Armies merged and First Army headquarters moved to Fort Meade, Md. First Army’s area of responsibility increased to include Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

With the Army’s reorganization in 1973, First Army transitioned from an Active Army-oriented organization to one dedicated to improving the readiness of the Reserve Components, as it had between World Wars I and II.

In 1990, First Army trained, mobilized and deployed more than 41,000 Army National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

Following another Army reorganization in 1991, Fourth U.S. Army was deactivated and its five Midwestern states – Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana – joined First Army. At that time, First Army’s area of responsibility covered the 20 northeastern, mid-Atlantic and upper Midwestern states and the District of Columbia, making First Army the largest of the Continental Armies in terms of personnel and second-largest geographically.

Upon the second deactivation of Second Army in 1995, First Army’s area increased again to include the seven southeastern states of Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. At the same time, First Army left Fort Meade, Md., and was reorganized at Fort Gillem, Ga.

Along with the reserve-component training support mission, First Army executed the defense support of civil authorities (DSCA) mission for many years. This meant that First Army planned for and provided personnel for Department of Defense support to domestic disasters ranging from hurricanes to floods to fires to terrorist attacks.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, First Army Defense coordinators and their cells provided DoD support during relief efforts.

The years 2004 and 2005 not only marked First Army’s busiest training period – with nearly 500,000 service members mobilized, trained and deployed around the world – but were also record hurricane seasons, culminating in 2005 when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged the Gulf coasts of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. While First Army’s primary mission remained training and mobilization of all Army Reserve and Army National Guard units east of the Mississippi River, First Army’s role in responding to Hurricane Katrina was instrumental to the recovery efforts.

In Katrina’s aftermath, First Army Commanding General Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré was named commander of Joint Task Force Katrina, and First Army was given the mission to coordinate the command and control of all Department of Defense relief efforts. In all, 72,000 active-duty, National Guard and Reserve personnel from all services responded to relief efforts on the Gulf Coast. The actions of Joint Task Force Katrina earned First Army a Joint Meritorious Unit Award.

Just months later, in 2006, as part of the Army’s transformation efforts, First Army gained the entire continental United States in its mission of training, mobilization, deployment and demobilization of all Army National Guard and Reserve Soldiers. The mission to provide defense support of civilian authorities was transferred to Fifth Army under U.S. Northern Command.

With its newly expanded mission, First Army organized its training brigades under two subordinate multi-component headquarters – one division to support the eastern United States and the other to support the western United States. First Army Division West was activated at Fort Carson, Colo., in 2006 and moved its headquarters to Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009. First Army Division East was activated March 7, 2007, at Fort George G. Meade, Md., and moved its headquarters to Fort Knox, Ky., in April 2016.

In July 2011, First Army Headquarters relocated from Fort Gillem, Ga., to its current location at Rock Island Arsenal, Ill.

In 2015, First Army reorganized under Operation Bold Shift, reducing from 16 to nine brigades and shifting mission focus from post-mobilization training to partnering with Army National Guard and Army Reserve units and supporting annual and pre-mobilization training to increase reserve-component readiness.

In October 2017, First Army reactivated the 166th Aviation Brigade, bringing the unit to 10 training brigades. Division West consists of the 120th Infantry and 166th Aviation Brigades at Fort Hood, Texas; 181st Infantry Brigade at Fort McCoy, Wis.; 189th Infantry Brigade at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.; and 5th Armored Brigade at Fort Bliss, Texas. Division East consists of the 157th Infantry Brigade at Camp Atterbury, Ind.; 174th Infantry Brigade at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.; 188th Infantry Brigade at Fort Stewart, Ga.; 177th Armored Brigade at Camp Shelby, Miss.; and 4th Cavalry Brigade at Fort Knox, Ky.

Since 2001, First Army has mobilized, trained and deployed more than 1.2 million Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and civilian interagency personnel for missions ranging from Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, Operations Freedom’s Sentinel and Inherent Resolve, the Horn of Africa, Guantanamo Bay, Kosovo Forces, Multinational Force and Observers, and the air defense mission in the National Capitol Region.