By CourtesySeptember 29, 2017
On Jul. 21, 1992, ATCOM was provisionally established in Saint Louis, Missouri, combining the Aviation Systems Command (AVSCOM) with the Troop Support Command (TROSCOM). The new organization stood up effective Oct. 4, 1992 as the U.S. Army Materiel Command (AMC) major subordinate command (MSC) responsible for the effective life cycle management of assigned aviation and troop support systems, individual soldier support systems, and other materiel to include research, development, product assurance, test and evaluation, procurement, logistical support, and security assistance service. The completed merger brought together two commands whose organizational paths had often intertwined throughout the preceding 30 years.
Like the Army Missile Command (MICOM) with which it later merged in 1997 to create the U.S. Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM) headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, ATCOM and its various predecessor organizations traced their origins to the 1940s. The Aviation Systems Command mission was rooted in the 1942 War Department approval of organic aviation for the Army's field artillery. It took another ten years though to establish AVSCOM's earliest predecessor. The beginning of the Troop Support Command traced back to 1941, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers established a small element known as the Engineer Supply Control Office (ESCO) in Granite City, Illinois. After it was assigned additional responsibilities, the office relocated to Saint Louis.
The history of AVSCOM and its predecessor commands was one that changed and expanded with the evolution and growth of Army aviation. It started as a logistics support organization before the close of 1952, "the product of the politics that created the United States Air Force (USAF) from what had been the Army Air Corps" in World War II. At the end of the latter global conflict, the role of aviation in support of the Army's ground forces was ill-defined, but the service wanted more say in the tactical controls over the aircraft that would support its airborne artillery and logistics operations. Subsequently, the Key West Agreement signed by President Harry S Truman in 1948 was a major step toward resolving differences between the military services over their respective roles and missions. The immediate purpose was to reconcile inconsistencies about individual service functions contained in the National Security Act of 1947 which created, among other things, the U.S. Department of Defense.
In addition to addressing several other interservice conflicts, the 1948 agreement established the role and missions for Army aviation, leaving the service with a small fleet of single engine, fixed wing aircraft restricted in size, weight, and range, along with a few helicopters. Under provisions of the agreement, which lasted from 1948 to 1954, the USAF controlled the procurement and engineering of Army aircraft as well as stocked, stored, and issued all associated publications and spare parts. It also retained responsibility for depot maintenance. The job of lower echelon Army aircraft maintenance was assigned to the Ordnance Corps, which continued the support role started in World War II and which fit in with Ordnance's traditional artillery and ground forces support missions.
In the immediate post-World War II era, Army aviation's primary mission involved using its smaller fixed wing aircraft for observation and artillery spotting. The outbreak of the Korean War in Jun. 1950, however, saw the beginning of a new role for Army aircraft, which included evacuating seriously wounded soldiers, transporting materiel, and carrying troops. The Army accomplished these added functions by using a new generation of helicopters that influenced not only the developing aviation mission but the Transportation Corps' increasing responsibilities in the rapidly growing field of military air transport. Wartime conditions also showed clearly the shortcomings in the USAF supply and maintenance support for Army aviation as well as the increasingly strained relations between the Ordnance Corps and the Air Force over Army aviation maintenance issues. In a move that proved to be "too little, too late," the Office of the Chief of Ordnance established a small cadre of aviation experts at Raritan Arsenal, New Jersey, to address the problem.
These difficulties, along with the formation of specialized aviation companies during the Korean War, recalled William H. Gillispie, an engineer and longtime AVSCOM employee, "was the foot in the door that planners with the Transportation Corps needed to begin an all-out thrust to capture a greater piece of the aviation mission." Col. William B. Bunker, later promoted to lieutenant general and eventually honored as "the founding father of AVSCOM," in cooperation with Maj. Frank S. Besson, Jr., who as a four-star general became the first commander of AMC, "took the lead in working the halls of the Pentagon in selling the Army staff not only on the role of aviation but the part the Transportation Corps could and should play in this expanding mission." Previously involved with the Berlin Airlift operated between Jun. 24, 1948 and May 12, 1949, both officers realized the major importance of future aviation developments in furthering the faster, more efficient movement of Army materiel and personnel.
By early 1952, Bunker was assigned as chief of the Air Transport Division, while Besson became the special assistant for Army Aviation. That summer, the duo's efforts paid off when Army leaders reassigned the aviation logistics support mission to the Transportation Corps, which subsequently established the Transportation Corps Army Aviation Field Service Office (TCAAFSO) on Nov. 11, 1952. Collocated with the Third Transportation Zone in St. Louis, Army officials chose the city as the site of the new office's headquarters because of its central location near Army aircraft manufacturers, the density of Army aircraft in the area, the availability of transportation facilities, the proximity of USAF specialized depots, and an existing labor pool that included workers experienced in the aviation field.
On Jan.19, 1953, TCAAFSO commenced work with five Army officers and 48 Department of the Army civilians (DACs). The first commanding officer was Col. Issac Sewell ("Luke") Morris, who had worked earlier with Bunker and Besson in helping to convince higher headquarters to transfer responsibility for the aviation logistics mission to the Transportation Corps. Leland Springer, the first civilian employee to report for duty and later AVSCOM's first civilian comptroller, reminisced decades later about the new office's meager furnishings, which consisted of a briefcase, a broken desk, and a borrowed typewriter. Other early staff members recalled that "there were no filing cabinets at first. Files were kept in footlockers." Most work was prepared by hand using a pencil or typewriter. Also, there was no air conditioning in the first office space located in the Boatmen's Bank Building, leaving workers to swelter during the hot St. Louis summers. Individual staff members also handled a wide variety of tasks. Dolores Schoener, another longtime AVSCOM employee who joined TCAAFSO in Mar. 1953, served not only as the first receptionist for the office but also functioned as the supply clerk, forms control clerk, and personnel assistance clerk. Despite the less than ideal working conditions, the one thing that struck William Gillispie when he first reported for duty in Jan. 1953 was the office's "can do, will do" attitude that helped the tight-knit group handle daily challenges where they "had to write [their] own rule book."
Even though responsibility for aviation support transitioned from one Army technical service (Ordnance) to another (Transportation), a reminder in 1953 of the "old loyalties to the Ordnance Corps" was the group of equipment specialists from Raritan Arsenal who moved to St. Louis to help start TCAAFSO. Some of the men were former mechanics and technical representatives who had worked previously for either the Air Force or Ordnance. More interesting in terms of the pre-merger connections between ATCOM and MICOM, however, were the "aeronautical engineers who had been drafted into the Army upon graduation from Parks Air College," the federally approved school of aeronautics founded in St. Louis in 1927 and now part of St. Louis University. "These fellows," explained Gillispie, "were assigned to Redstone Arsenal and had worked directly with Von Braun and his group for about three years. They, in turn, were transferred to Raritan and eventually to TCAAFSO." Like other members of the 9330th Technical Service Unit, who are better known as Redstone's "Soldier-Scientists," the two rocket experts assigned to TCAAFSO only stayed "for about a year," before moving on "to jobs designing and building rockets for the space program."
One less than satisfactory holdover of the ineffective arrangements for providing supply and maintenance support for Army aviation was the fact that when TCAAFSO first stood up "practically all of [the new organization's] actions were related and restricted to the tenets of the  Key West accords." For the first three years, staff members supported the Army aviation mission by submitting requirements to the USAF for the procurement of air equipment. Restricted by a small budget and few aircraft, the office initially computed requirements, budgeted and obtained funding, then processed the Military Interdepartmental Purchase Requests (MIPRs) by which everything needed to support Army aircraft was acquired. Yet, even as they "acted as go-betweens for Army users and the USAF engineers," the office was in "the forefront of improving support" for Army aviation. Gradually, from 1949 to 1961, Ordnance and its Transportation Corps heir assumed all aviation logistics responsibilities from the Air Force.
The first major reorganization of the aviation support mission occurred in Mar. 1955, when the Transportation Corps consolidated TCAAFSO and the Transportation Materiel Command of Marietta, Pennsylvania, into the Transportation Supply and Maintenance Command (TSMC) headquartered in St. Louis. This action combined the Army's still evolving aviation logistics mission with logistical responsibility for the service's rail and marine equipment. The new organization's first commander was none other than Colonel Bunker. During his tenure, Bunker developed and established sophisticated procurement and logistics systems for the Army's aircraft.
The following year, higher headquarters assigned TSMC the depot stockage and distribution, depot maintenance, and technical publications responsibilities for Army aviation originally handled by the USAF. The command also acquired its first subordinate organizations in 1956: the Transportation Aircraft Test and Support Activity (TATSA) at Fort Rucker, Alabama, as well as control of stock stored at the New Cumberland Army Depot, Pennsylvania; the Sharpe Army Depot, Lathrop, California; the Fort Worth Army Depot, Texas; and the Atlanta Army Depot, Forest Park, Georgia. Effective Oct. 1, 1959, TSMC was redesignated the U.S. Army Transportation Materiel Command (TMC).
It was not until the following decade, however, that the formerly separate lineages of AVSCOM and TROSCOM began to intermingle in a series of reorganizations and new command names that eventually led to the standup of ATCOM in 1992.