America’s Tank Division last week marked the nine-year anniversary of its historic return to U.S. soil after serving four decades abroad.
After the 1st Armored Division cased the colors on May 13, 2011 at Wiesbaden Army Airfield in Germany, the division command team uncased the colors at Fort Bliss to the booms of howitzer cannon fire echoing off El Paso’s Franklin Mountains on May 24, 2011.
The occasion marked the first time the division colors were unfurled in the U.S. since 1971 and the homecoming of the last U.S. Army division to leave Germany.
It was also the start of the special bond and rapid growth of Fort Bliss and the city of El Paso. With the relocation of the 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss grew from 9,000 soldiers in 2005 to more than 34,000 in 2011.
“To be a part of the division’s history across multiple continents is incredible,” said acting senior commander Brig. Gen. Matthew Eichburg. “The increased opportunities for training here at Fort Bliss demonstrate that this was absolutely the right place for us to be, not to mention the welcome we received in becoming a part of the city of El Paso.”
Eichburg served with the 1st Armored Division from 2006 to 2009 when it was headquartered in Germany, as well as during two deployments with the division.
The start of the division’s move to El Paso began in 2005, when the Pentagon determined that the division should move in accordance with the Base Realignment and Closure commission’s recommendations.
The commission recommended developing Fort Bliss from an institutional training post to a major mounted maneuver training installation with the capacity for heavy armored units. With a vast 1.12 million acres of training area available, there was more than enough real estate to accommodate the 1st Armored Division’s 11,500 incoming troops.
Master Sgt. Albert Apodaca was able to experience the Fort Bliss growth firsthand as a platoon sergeant.
“Before my first deployment from Bliss in 2006, it was a ghost town,” Apodaca said. “There was hardly any infrastructure, roads or buildings.”
“It got much busier after I returned from my second deployment in 2010, but now after nine years, it’s become a full blown working division,” he added. “It’s like night and day.”
By the end of 2010, all the major brigades had relocated to Fort Bliss. The division headquarters joined the subordinate brigades the following year, in May 2011.
Major construction projects went underway at Fort Bliss as a part of the expansion, which transformed the post on several fronts, including operations facilities, training areas and soldier quality of life functions.
Fort Bliss is considered to be one of the largest continental U.S. expansions of any installation in the last several decades in terms of population size, construction size and end state growth. It is the largest Forces Command installation in the Army and the second largest in the Department of Defense overall.
This story was originally published by DVIDS. It has been edited for length.