First Army was activated in France in August 1918 under the command of Gen. John J. Pershing. By the end of WWI, First Army had engaged in two major operations: the reduction of the Saint Mihiel salient east of Verdun; and the great Meuse-Argonne offensive west of Verdun.
After approval by Congress of his declaration of war against Germany in April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Gen. John J. Pershing to lead an American Expeditionary Force (AEF) to France to aid our allies, the battle-weary English and French. When America entered the war, 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. Meanwhile, Pershing was forming his First Army staff while overseeing the AEF.
As more American troops arrived, Pershing insisted that they be trained to exacting standards before they could be sent to the front. French and English troops who fought in the trenches, helped train American Soldiers. Before long, more than 500,000 Americans were on French soil. Pershing ensured his troops were trained continuously by battle-seasoned Soldiers.
Driving the Germans out, in September 1918, Pershing led 500,000 Soldiers in the reduction of the St. Mihiel salient. This was a first victory of the First United States Army in the first entirely U.S. operation. Pershing’s staff consisted of such future leaders of World War II as Maj. Douglas MacArthur; Col. George C. Marshall; sharpshooter and Medal of Honor recipient from
Tennessee, Pvt. Alvin York; Maj. Eddie Rickenbaker; 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 rainy weather for 47 days, Pershing’s Soldiers helped smash the Hindenburg line and speed the German surrender.
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, NY, in 1933, First Army's new mission of training and readiness matched today’s mission.
An impressive record of “firsts”
The 1930’s and early ‘40s, became known as the maneuver years when large troop movements were used to develop training and mobilization readiness. First Army commanded Soldiers from the Army’s three components (Active, Guard and Reserve) until the eve of WWII, when it resumed a combat role.
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, with Gen. Omar N. Bradley commanding, First Army troops landed on Omaha and Utah beaches in Normandy.
Lt. Gen. Courtney Hodges served with Bradley as deputy commander of First Army. In August 1944 he succeeded Bradley, who had gone on to command 12th Army Group.
First Army established an impressive record of "firsts" in World War II. Hodges’ troops were the first Americans to enter Paris on their way across Northern France and through the Ardennes Forest. They were the first to cross the Siegfried Line into Germany in September 1944 and reached the Rhine in March 1945. Hodges was promoted to general after encountering Russian forces at Torgau in April 1945. Following the German surrender he was preparing to take the First Army to the Pacific theater in September, 1945 when the war ended. Hodges’ promotion made him the second man to rise to four-star General from enlisted private.
After World War II, First Army headquarters was located on Governor’s Island, N.Y. In 1946, 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. First Army mobilized and deployed thousands of Soldiers during the Korean War and Vietnam.
On January 1, 1966, First and Second Armies merged and First Army headquarters moved to Fort Meade, Md. In 1973, First Army transitioned from an Active Army oriented organization to one dedicated to improving the readiness of Reserve Components (RC).
In 1990, First Army trained, mobilized and deployed more than 41,000 Army RC Soldiers to Kuwait for the first Gulf War. In 1991, Fourth U.S. Army was deactivated and its seven mid-western states rejoined First Army. First Army left Fort Meade, Md., in 1995 and was reorganized at Fort Gillem, Ga., upon the deactivation of Second Army. First Army’s area increased to include the eastern half of the United States and two territories. Along with the training mission, First Army had a military support to civil authorities 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.
In 2001, after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, First Army Defense coordinators and their cells provided DoD support during relief efforts.
The years 2004 and 2005 marked not only the busiest training load for First Army, but also record hurricane seasons, culminating when Katrina and Rita ravaged the Gulf Coasts of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
First Army commander, Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré was named Joint Task Force Katrina commander and First Army was given the mission to coordinate the command and control of all DoD assets for relief efforts. In all 72,000 active-duty, National Guard and Reserve members from all services responded to relief efforts on the Gulf Coast.
First Army gained the entire continental United States in its mission of mobilization, training and deployment of all Army National Guard and Reserve Soldiers as part of the Army’s transformation efforts in 2006. The military support to civil authorities role went to Fifth Army under U.S. Northern Command.