By Melissa Ziobro, Fort Monmouth Historian's OfficeMarch 25, 2010
FORT MONMOUTH, N.J. -- The Army established Fort Monmouth at the outbreak of World War I, when it recognized that the Signal Corps--with its strength of 55 officers and 1,570 men--was insufficient to furnish communications for the tremendous Army that was needed for the war.
The search for land for additional Signal training camps led the Army to Fort Leavenworth, Kans., Leon Springs, Texas, Presidio of Monterey, Calif., and to a site in New Jersey formerly home to the Monmouth Park Race Track and a luxury hotel.
A man named Melvin Van Keuren owned the New Jersey site in 1917. The Army leased 468 acres of the tract from Van Keuren on May 16, 1917 with an option to buy.
The Army originally called the installation "Camp Little Silver," based merely on its location. General Orders dated June 17, 1917 named Lt. Col. Carl F. Hartmann as the first commander.
The Army renamed Camp Little Silver "Camp Alfred Vail" in September 1917 to honor the New Jersey inventor who helped Samuel Morse develop commercial telegraphy. By the end of 1918, some reportedly called it the "best equipped Signal Corps camp ever established anywhere."
The camp ultimately prepared several battalions for war. About 1,000 officers and 9,000 enlisted men served at the post in 1918.
In addition to wartime training, the Army conducted research and development work at the radio laboratories and associated airfield on post. That included pioneering work on air-to-ground radios and direction finding by radio.
The Chief Signal Officer authorized the purchase of Camp Vail in 1919 for $115,300. The Signal Corps School relocated to Camp Vail from Fort Leavenworth in that year. The Signal Corps Board followed in 1924.
The installation received permanent status and the name "Fort Monmouth" in August 1925. The designation honored the Soldiers of the American Revolution who died in the Battle of Monmouth Court House in 1778.
The Signal Corps' Electrical Laboratory of Washington, D.C., and the Signal Corps' Research Laboratory of New York merged with the Radio Laboratories here in 1929 to form the consolidated "Signal Corps Laboratories."
The scientists of those labs developed the first U.S. aircraft detection radar, among many other things, between the wars. The Signal School and Laboratories flourished here for several decades, training tens of thousands of Soldiers and participating in scientific feats such as man's first contact with the moon; the first weather radar; first communications satellite; first weather satellite; first televised weather satellite; and the first high capacity communications satellite.
The 1960s brought big changes to Fort Monmouth. On Feb. 16, 1962, The Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara's Project 80 was quietly put into effect. Done with little fanfare, Project 80 totally reorganized the Army.
It abolished the technical services and assigned their schools to the Continental Army Command; created a Combat Developments Agency to handle Army Doctrine; and established a single, giant, logistics agency, the Army Materiel Command (AMC), to handle all logistics, research, and development for the Army.
One of the major subordinate commands of AMC, the Army Electronics Command (ECOM), was activated here on May 23, 1962, and established on Aug. 1, 1962, to handle most of the logistics functions that formerly belonged to the Office of the Chief Signal Officer as well as all associated organizations, installations and personnel.
That included a work force of 14,000 people and a budget of $760 million. Maj. Gen. Stuart S. Hoff was appointed the first commander of ECOM.
At the time of the reorganization, the structure of ECOM was that of simply a headquarters with Signal Corps organizations that were already in place. The subordinate commands and field offices of ECOM corresponded in both name and function to the Signal Corps agencies that they were the day before reorganization.
With the exception of several intensively managed products and functions, the ECOM of 1962 was just a new command group for all the functions formerly done by the Office of the Chief Signal Officer.
That was not what McNamara intended when he undertook the reorganization. Nor was it what then AMC Commander Gen. Frank S. Besson, Jr., wanted when he spoke of "integrated commodity management."
A major and total reorganization of the old Signal Corps structure was needed to provide the integrated commodity management that Besson wanted and to reduce duplication of effort within the command.
The task fell to Maj. Gen. Frank W. Moorman, who assumed command of ECOM on Aug. 29, 1963, after Hoff retired. Moorman immediately began to lay plans for a massive, command-wide reorganization, officially implemented on May 1, 1964. It was the first true ECOM organization.
ECOM continued in the tradition of its Signal Laboratory forbearers and supplied combat troops with a number of high-technology commodities during the Vietnam conflict. Those included mortar locators, night vision devices and surveillance systems.
ECOM, for example, provided the AN/PPS-5 man-portable surveillance radar that one commander called "worth 500 men," and supported the new, transistorized FM radios of the AN/VRC-12/PRC-25 families that Gen. Creighton Abrams reportedly dubbed "the single most important tactical item in Vietnam."
But during the Vietnam War, the majority of the Signal Corps' enlisted personnel trained at the Southeastern Signal School at Fort Gordon, Ga., not at Fort Monmouth. Fort Gordon also hosted the Signal Corps' Officer Candidate School.
The Army would soon order the consolidation of the Signal School activities split between Fort Monmouth and Fort Gordon. The consolidation was meant to economize manpower and operational costs for communications-electronics training due to the reduced training requirements resulting from the drawdown in Vietnam.
Combining the two schools at Fort Gordon would provide greater efficiency in the administration and support of academic programs, and a year-round climate more conducive to the conduct of field exercises. The Army also claimed that Fort Gordon had better access to adequate field training sites.
In fact, veteran Frank Effenberger, when interviewed in March 2010 about his experiences at Fort Monmouth in the early 1950s, recalled that during bivouac, "part of it was to go out in a night march and I could hear the juke boxes playing, you know, from Route 35 and the bars there...and we're marching practically through people's backyards, and of course they all want to know what was going on. The last night of the bivouac they held a mock battle out in the woods. We were all issued blank ammunition...they had a machine gun setup firing and making a big racket. Police pulled into the clearing and wanted to know what was going on..."
Not everyone agreed with the decision to move the school. Fort employees and the local communities formed a "Save our Signal School Association." At the time, U.S. Rep. James J. Howard declared the move "a waste of the taxpayers' money and an insult to the people of the Third Congressional District."
State Sen. Joseph Azzolina, called the idea "typical false economy." Assemblyman Joseph Robertson said "If that's the Army's idea of economy, we're in bad trouble."
Veteran William Ryan, who trained at Fort Gordon in 1952 and later taught at the Signal School here, said in 2008 of the move, "I thought it was the worst thing they ever did. They moved, essentially, the core of talent away from the center. The center of the communication industry is New York City. Or California. But to take it and move it all the way to Georgia, away from that reality, I thought was a disaster."
On July 1, 1974, the Southeastern Signal School at Fort Gordon became "The U. S. Army Signal School." The signal school here continued to operate for a time as "The U.S. Army Communications-Electronics School," while equipment and personnel transferred. Fort Monmouth's last class in signal communication graduated on June 17, 1976. Pfc. Rose Hull had the distinction of being the last of some 280,000 servicemen and women of all ranks and all arms and services to receive a diploma from the school.
The old troika of the post, school and laboratory, formed in 1919, was officially and finally broken up with the official closing and transfer of the school to Fort Gordon.
The movement of the school involved the transfer of only 89 civilians who had elected to accompany the school. More than 700 others were either reassigned to other agencies here or retired.
The Signal School here existed under various names over the years, to include the Signal School, the Signal Corps School and the Eastern Signal Corps School. In addition to its traditional training missions, the school had trained several thousand foreign officers and enlisted men representing 60 different countries. The school administered some 200 correspondence courses to a yearly average of 15,000 registered students at home or deployed.
After several reorganizations here, the new Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) was stood up on May 1, 1981, charged with the research, development, engineering, acquisition, and materiel readiness of communications and electronics systems. Personnel from the organization worked round-the-clock during the Gulf War to equip Soldiers with everything from electronic jammers to night vision goggles and to sustain the systems in the field.
For example, 24th Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. Barry McCaffrey commented "our night vision technology provided us the most dramatic mismatch of the war," and Brig. Gen. John Stewart remarked "JSTARS [the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System] was the single most valuable intelligence and target collection system in Desert Storm."
On Aug. 2, 2004, Claude M. Bolton, Jr., assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology (AL&T), and Gen. Paul J. Kern, commanding general AMC, signed a memorandum of agreement to formalize the Life Cycle Management Initiative.
That initiative established Life Cycle Management Commands by aligning the AMC systems-oriented major subordinate commands such as CECOM with the Program Executive Offices (PEOs) with which they worked.
The result of the initiative here would eventually be the formation of the Communications-Electronics Life Cycle Management Command (C-E LCMC). The C-E LCMC, now known as the CECOM LCMC, began on Feb. 2, 2005.
Support for Soldiers continues today. The team headquartered here manages 128 major defense programs, amounting to over $10 billion in total obligation authority to acquire, field, and provide new equipment training.
In recent years the command has repaired, recapitalized, or replaced over 127,000 systems. The CECOM LCMC team is responsible for almost half the Army's inventory of end items and spare parts.
The command of course is in the process of relocating to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., as a result of 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) law.