On the Cutting Edge, 1972-1999
Fort Lewis was redesignated Headquarters, 9th Infantry Division and Fort Lewis on 21 April 1972. On 26 May 1972, Army Chief of Staff General William C. Westmoreland unfurled the 9th Infantry Division colors during a day-long activation ceremony held at Gray Army Airfield and presented them to Major General William B. Fulton, signifying the reactivation of the "Old Reliables."
The activation was phased over a 12-month period. During this period, the 9th recruited over 8,000 men, including many from the Pacific Northwest. It became the first "all volunteer" division in the U.S. Army.
Once reactivated at Fort Lewis, the 9th was deeply involved in training for future conflicts. It participated in exercises from Alaska to California and east to North Carolina.
The Fort Lewis Military Museum was established in 1971. It was originally housed in a two-story barracks, but in July 1973, it relocated in the old Fort Lewis Inn. The Inn, built in 1918 by the Salvation Army, had served the post as a hotel and guest house. Originally called the Red Shield Inn, after the symbol of the Salvation Army, it was renamed the Camp Lewis Inn in 1921 when it was deeded to the Army. When Fort Lewis became a permanent post in 1927, the name was changed to the Fort Lewis Inn; and it was operated until August 1972, when it was closed and renovated for service as a museum. The building was entered on the National Register for Historic Places in February 1979.
The mission of the Museum is to collect, preserve, and exhibit objects, and provide information on the history of the military in the Pacific Northwest. There are approximately 10,000 square feet of interior displays and 2 1/2 acres of outside exhibits.
On 21 March 1973, the 593rd Area Support Group was activated at Fort Lewis as the only area support group in the Active Army, vice the 15th Support Command. The 593rd, with attached supply, maintenance, transportation, ordnance, engineer, and signal units, operates as a composite logistical support group with a peacetime mission of providing support to Fort Lewis and its units. Added missions have been: support to the Vietnamese refugee project, the 1980 Mount Saint Helens relief operation, duty in Operation Desert Storm in 1990-91, and Operation Restore Hope in Somalia in 1993.
On 3 July 1973, the Headquarters for IV ROTC Region was established here in what at one time had been the installation Headquarters, Building 1010. Handling administrative, procurement, and training for ROTC detachments scattered at college campuses throughout 17 western states and Guam, the Headquarters' most visible mission is coordinating and commanding the ROTC Senior Cadet Encampments. These train 2,200/ 2,800 cadets each summer.
Almost simultaneously, on 1 July 1973, Readiness Group Fort Lewis was established on North Fort Lewis. This agency, a part of Sixth U.S. Army in San Francisco, controlled through Army Readiness and Mobilization Region IX, is responsible for integrating Army Reserve and Army National Guard units of Washington and Oregon into a comprehensive training and assistance program aimed at achieving and maintaining combat readiness. It was instrumental in the mobilization and demobilization of Reserve Component units for Operation Desert Storm.
The 2nd Battalion (Ranger), 75th Infantry was activated at Fort Lewis on 1 October 1974. This battalion, which traces its lineage back to the famous "Merrill's Marauders" of Burma in World War II, is in constant training for an aggressive response anywhere in the world. It played key roles in Grenada in 1983, and in Panama in 1989.
In 1979, some decisions were made at the Secretary of Defense and Chief of Staff of the Army level that would have a profound effect on Fort Lewis and its primary tenant, the 9th Infantry Division.
At the time, there was a major movement in the Department of Defense and in Congress to structure Army forces as mechanized or armored forces. All eyes seemed focused on war in Europe or the Middle East. In order to avoid this heavy-division fixation, the Chief of Staff put forward a proposal. He proposed, through the use of high technology, to structure a light division that had a rapid deployment capability, but the firepower and survivability of a heavy division. The 9th Division and Fort Lewis were selected for this task.
The basic implement of this innovative idea would be an organization on the ground at Fort Lewis known as the High Technology Test Bed (HTTB). The Test Bed was to explore all types of equipment, military and civilian, foreign and domestic, which would be suitable for the new unit. They were to acquire this equipment in the most expeditious way possible, short cutting the normal 10-15 year procurement cycle. In the meantime, the Test Bed, along with the 9th Division and under the guidance of the Chief of Staff of the Army, would develop the tactics and employment doctrine to be used by this High Technology Light Division (HTLD).
Formation of the HTTB began in 1980. In the late summer the Army Science Board met at Fort Lewis for a week. When it left, there was an idea of what the Test Bed should be doing, and from that, what structure it should take. By early 1982, the Test Bed was beginning to deal with equipment, and had begun to formalize the structure of HTLD. On 14 April 1983, the HTTB became the Army Development and Employment Agency (ADEA). As time went on, the activity's function changed; and in March 1990, it was redesignated the Army Tactical Command and Control Experimentation Site.
Throughout the 1980-1987 time period, the 9th Infantry Division also evolved. At first it was called a High Technology Light Division, and it was equipped with modified and armed dune buggies and many other items of innovative equipment. Later, the dune buggies were replaced with the High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicles which carried tank-killing missiles. At about this time, the 9th Division's designation changed from light to motorized.
In 1980, Fort Lewis was notified of another major change of structure. A corps headquarters was to be activated in March 1982. I Corps was formally activated on 1 October 1981, much earlier than expected. It became a primary contingency planner for U.S. interests in the Pacific region, with a rapidly expanding role in Army affairs. With I corps as the senior headquarters, it was involved in the operations and training of active, reserve, and National Guard units from Alaska to Alabama, and from Pennsylvania to Puerto Rico. I Corps was designated as an early deploying corps for military contingencies in the Pacific and was able to deploy on short notice with Active Army, Reserve Component and National Guard “Total Army” forces. On 1 August 1983, the Corps expanded its operational control of active Army units outside Fort Lewis, to include the 7th Infantry Division (Light) at Fort Ord, California, and the 172nd Infantry Brigade (Light) in Alaska, which then became the 6th Infantry Division (Light).
Fort Lewis itself continued to grow and modernize. The 1st Special Forces Group was activated on 4 September 1984, and the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade on 1 June 1985, both on North Fort Lewis. On 18 January 1985, ground was broken for a new Madigan Army Medical Center, which began to receive its first patients in March 1992.
Three child care centers, new facilities for the 1st Special Forces Group, a new commissary, and more hangar space on Gray Army Airfield were constructed. Occupation of the new facilities began in 1988.
In 1987, two new units were activated, the 66th Aviation Brigade and the 201st Military Intelligence Brigade.
The 9th Infantry Division (Motorized) was reduced by one brigade "slice" in the summer of 1988, and the civilian workforce was reduced by some 500 positions, both as economy measures. By 11 December 1991, inactivation of the 9th Division was complete.
During 1989-90, it became obvious that the "cold war" had been won. That, combined with national budgetary problems, dictated a careful restructuring of national priorities and of the defense establishment. As these actions evolved, it became evident that Fort Lewis was ideally located to act as a base for mobilization and power projections into the Pacific region. Thus, while most of the Army was downsizing, Fort Lewis began to grow. Most of the changes described in the paragraphs that follow were driven by these considerations.
A residual of the 9th Division inactivation in 1991 was that its 3rd Brigade became the 199th Motorized Infantry Brigade. This one-of-a-kind unit was an I Corps unit until its redesignation as the 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment (Light), and its departure for Fort Polk, Louisiana, which occurred in 1993. They latter returned to Fort Lewis in 2005 for conversion to a Stryker Brigade Combat Team and departed to a new home in Germany in 2006.
On 13 September 1990, the 1st Personnel Group was activated at Fort Lewis. The Group Commander was dual-hatted as I Corps Adjutant General and 1st Personnel Group Commander.
In 1990 Fort Lewis received word that it would likely become the home of the 7th Infantry Division (Light) if Congress approved the closure of Fort Ord, California. This approval occurred in 1991. The 7th Division began its move in 1992. After the move began, in March 1993, the decision was made to allow the 1st Brigade of the 7th (the 9th Infantry Regiment) to complete its move to Fort Lewis, but to inactivate the rest of the division. Later in 1993, the post was alerted to expect to receive at least one armored brigade from Europe.
Also in 1990, the U.S. intervention in Southwest Asia began with Operation Desert Shield. During that intervention, Fort Lewis shipped 34 active and 25 reserve component units to Saudi Arabia and welcomed them home again. I Corps contributed to the command structure of Operation Desert Storm with the I Corps commander, Lt. Gen. Calvin A.H. Waller and the Deputy I Corps commander, Maj. Gen. Paul Schwartz, assisting General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the commander of the American forces.
I Corps expanded its contingency missions and became a quick-response corps. For several months, I Corps was the nation's worldwide contingency corps, while the XVIII Airborne Corps was in Southwest Asia. This caused a good deal of activity on Fort Lewis, as the post postured itself to support the Corps' expanded mission, and to insure that the Corps had a smooth, rapid departure in case they were needed anywhere in the world.
After the return of forces from Southwest Asia, activity on Fort Lewis did not return to pre-war levels. While I Corps did not retain the worldwide contingency mission, it did retain contingency responsibilities for that half of the world whose shores were washed by the Pacific Ocean. The Corps began to convert to a permanently-structured, no-mobilization contingency corps. This entailed the addition of a number of active component corps units.
In preparation for these new I Corps requirements, Fort Lewis began to receive new corps support units which were coming out of Europe. One of these was the 7th Engineer Brigade, which was inactivated on 16 January 1992 and immediately reactivated as the 555th Engineer Group. On 16 February, the 210th Field Artillery Brigade, also from Europe, was activated. In 1997 the 35th Air Defense Brigade moved to Fort Bliss, Texas, to join other air defense brigades. Until the end of the century, other units would flow into and out of Fort Lewis as the operational needs of the Army changed.
Also, as a result of units being deployed to Southwest Asia from Fort Bragg, NC, and Fort Riley, Kansas, which were normal ROTC summer camp sites, Fort Lewis became host to the only ROTC camp during the summer of 1991. From June through August, 5,300 cadets trained at Fort Lewis.
In 1994, Fort Lewis completed an Environmental Impact statement which allowed up to two heavy brigades to be stationed here, in addition to the 9th Regiment. In May, elements of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Armor Division began to flow in, and by 1 October, some 3,600 soldiers, with their families, pets, vehicles and household goods had arrived. On 29 September, the brigade was redesignated as the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Mechanized). The 2nd Division Headquarters and the other two brigades remained in Korea.
On 12 October 1999, General Eric K. Shinseki, Chief of Staff, Army (CSA), announced the acceleration of Army transformation and the creation of two medium-weight, Initial Brigade Combat Teams (IBCT) at Fort Lewis, Washington. The 3d Brigade, 2d Infantry Division (Heavy) (3-2d ID) was named to transform first, with the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division (Light) (1-25th ID) following shortly after. This concept entailed that the brigades would use lighter weight armored vehicles, dismounted infantry/combined arms, recent technological developments (particularly in communications and computers), and parallel and collaborative leadership techniques to create a new combat power. The brigades would be deployable anywhere in the world within 96 hours of initial notification. The IBCT combat power would be optimized for Small-Scale Contingencies (SSC) in urban and complex terrain, but it would be capable of participating in the full spectrum of operations. This new concept required reorganizing, re-equipping, and retraining the two existing Fort Lewis brigades. In the long term, this transformation process would serve as a model for change in the U.S. Army.
Since being assigned to Fort Lewis in 1981, Soldiers from I Corps, Fort Lewis-based units have participated in Operation Just Cause in Panama, Desert Shield and Desert Storm during the Persian Gulf War, and Operation Provide Comfort for Kurdish refugees. They helped with the restoration of order following the riots in Los Angeles, participated in Operation Safe Harbor in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for Haitian migrants, supported relief efforts following Hurricane Andrew in Florida and Hurricane Iniki in Hawaii, and played a significant role in Operation Restore Hope in Somalia and in restoring peace in Kosovo at the end of the millennium.
Thus, the tarpaper barracks and remount corral of World War I gave way to lasers and fiber optics on the gravel shelf known as the Nisqually Plain.