As the Iraqi conflict continues and the November presidential election approaches, Republicans and Democrats persist in slinging criticism at each other like children throwing sand in the sandbox. But there's one topic on which there's little debate—the courage and commitment of our troops.
Turn on any news program and you'll likely hear about soldiers at one U.S. military base or another. You'll find that Fort Hood, outside Killeen, is among the most often mentioned. "Fort Hood and the units that call it home have a special place in our country's military history," President George W. Bush said in a January 2003 address.
The president's praise acknowledged that the site's significance dates back much further than Operation Iraqi Freedom. Indeed, the United States has relied on Fort Hood for several generations. World War II secured Fort Hood's place in American military history. When the German blitzkrieg necessitated a response, the War Department cast its eye on Killeen as a suitable location for a tank destroyer tactical and firing center. It cost approximately $22.8 million to buy and develop the first 108,000 acres of land. The official opening of Camp Hood—named for Confederate General John Bell Hood—took place on September 18, 1942.
The creation of the camp forced about three hundred families to leave their homes, and with their departure went the cotton gins and farm-centered businesses. Since then, Killeen's economic success has waxed and waned with the size and strength of the military presence. Camp Hood was established as a permanent installation in 1950, at which time its name was changed to Fort Hood.
During the mid-sixties, Fort Hood opened the Darnall Army Community Hospital to provide health care for current and retired soldiers and their families. The Army also replaced old wood structures with new brick buildings during this period of modernization, and this dedication to improvement has continued to this day. The Robertson Blood Center, the Soldier Development Center, and a vehicle maintenance facility are examples of recent progress.
Killeen's official slogan, "Tanks for the Memories," was created in the eighties to gain public support and attract tourists. Fort Hood has certainly had its share of memorable soldiers. Elvis Presley trained at the base in 1958, but some of the most unforgettable residents were known more for their group successes than their individual identities.
After World War II, the 2nd Armored Division—General George S. Patton's famed "Hell on Wheels"—returned to Camp Hood. Over the years this division sent troops to major combat locales, including Korea, Vietnam, and Kuwait, but in 1995 it was redesignated as the 4th Infantry Division. The 1st Cavalry Division, which arrived from Vietnam in 1971, and the 4th Infantry Division make Fort Hood the only U.S. base with two armored divisions. Other major units include the III Corps, the 13th Coscom, the Operational Test Command, and the 4003rd Garrison Support Unit.
Task Force Ironhorse, which includes members of the 4th Infantry Division, helped capture Saddam Hussein in December of last year. But as of June 23, 2004, eighty-four Fort Hood soldiers had lost their lives in Iraq and one had died in Kuwait City. "Fort Hood has made a mighty contribution to freedom in Iraq and to security for the country," President Bush told reporters earlier this year.
According to its Web site, Fort Hood spans 340 square miles and is "the largest armored training installation in the free world." This military powerhouse continues to live up to that retired, yet remembered, Army charge: Be all that you can be.