By Kaylene Hughes, AMCOM Historical OfficeAugust 25, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--On July 3, 1941, the War Department announced that a site on the southwestern edge of Huntsville had been selected as the location for a new chemical munitions manufacturing and storage plant. Five days later the department disclosed that a $6 million Ordnance Corps assembly plant would be built adjacent to the Chemical Warfare Service facility. The groundbreaking for the CWS installation took place on Aug. 4, 1941.
Construction of the Redstone Ordnance Plant got under way when Maj. Carroll D. Hudson turned over the first spadeful of dark orange clay on the sultry morning of Oct. 25, 1941. These actions marked the beginning of today's Redstone Arsenal complex and initiated a rush of new mission assignments and accompanying military construction that has been repeated periodically (except for a brief interval immediately after World War II) throughout the installation's seven decades of supporting Soldiers. Redstone Arsenal's Ammunition Division, which was the biggest producer of chemical ammunition used by the armed forces in both World War II and the Korean War, officially closed down in June 1956.
Previously, in October 1948, the Chief of Ordnance designated Redstone Arsenal as the center of research and development activities in the field of rockets and related items. The Arsenal was officially reactivated as the site of the Ordnance Rocket Center on June 1, 1949. By the end of that month, Huntsville Arsenal ceased to exist as a separate facility. Later, on Oct. 28, 1949, the Secretary of the Army approved the transfer of the Ordnance Research and Development Division Sub-Office (Rocket) at Fort Bliss, Texas, to Redstone Arsenal. Among those transferred were Dr. Wernher von Braun and his team of German scientists and engineers. With the arrival of the "Fort Bliss group" beginning on April 15, 1950, Redstone Arsenal officially entered the missile era.
Ballistic missile mission
The Army Ballistic Missile Agency, subsequently established at Redstone on February 1, 1956, began with a purely military mission: to field the Army's first intermediate range ballistic missile. The Army satellite program, for which ABMA was best known, was executed under special orders and was not actually assigned as a mission of this agency.
On March 31, 1958, the Department of the Army created the Army Ordnance Missile Command because of the increasing importance of missilery and the pressing need for exploiting resources to their maximum capacity. It was the largest field organization within any of the Army's technical services. The command's subordinate elements included ABMA, Redstone Arsenal, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and White Sands Proving Ground, N.M. Another AOMC subordinate element was the Army Rocket and Guided Missile Agency, which was created on April 1, 1958. Although not officially established until June 1, 1958, ARGMA assumed the technical missions formerly assigned to Redstone Arsenal.
The period between Jan. 31, 1958 and July 1, 1960 also was the time during which the Army made its most notable early contributions to the nation's outstandingly successful space effort. Foremost among the Army commands aiding the nation's space mission was ABMA. However, on Oct. 21, 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved the transfer of the Army agency's scientists and engineers to the newly created National Aeronautics and Space Administration. On July 1, 1960, AOMC formally lost all of its space related missions, along with about 4,000 civilian employees as well as $100 million worth of facilities and equipment, to NASA's George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, the only NASA space flight center collocated on an Army post.
As part of the subsequent reorganization of AOMC, both ABMA and ARGMA were abolished on Dec. 11, 1961. Additional restructuring of the organization helped to smooth the transition from AOMC to the new command that was created at Redstone Arsenal as part of DA's 1962 reorganization. The Army Missile Command was established at Redstone on May 23, 1962 and activated on Aug. 1, at which time AOMC officially ceased to exist. MICOM was one of the original five major subordinate commands that reported to the newly created Army Materiel Command.
From 1950 to 1997, the Army's mission at the Redstone Arsenal complex focused on work that integrated space-age technology with weapons for Soldiers in the field. In almost five decades of research and engineering, the Army organizations and personnel at Redstone, along with contractors throughout the United States, developed, deployed and maintained an impressive array of weapons designed to meet the nation's changing defense needs. More than two dozen missile and rocket systems reached the field between 1954 and 1996. Launched from a variety of platforms and carrying diverse warheads to defeat a wide range of battlefield targets, only about one-third of those weapons have ever been used in combat. The first Army missile fired in wartime was the Hawk used by Israeli troops during the Six Day War in 1967. Five years later U.S. Soldiers fired TOW antitank missiles in Vietnam. The largest deployment and subsequent combat use of Army missiles up to that time in U.S. history occurred during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait during the early morning hours of Aug. 2, 1990 initiated a chain of events leading to Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Virtually every one of the Army's fielded missile systems managed and supported by the technological and logistical know-how of the Army elements at Redstone Arsenal were sent to Southwest Asia.
As a result of DoD recommendations to the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure Commission, the Army's missile and aircraft commands were combined into a new organization headquartered at Redstone Arsenal. On Dec. 9, 1996, AMC directed that the Aviation and Missile Command be established effective Oct. 1, 1997. The new command was provisionally established on July 17, 1997. As part of the BRAC '95 action, the PEO Aviation also physically relocated from St. Louis. The installation's tenants included AMCOM, the PEO Aviation, the PEO Tactical Missiles as well as several other Army and DoD elements and MSFC.
On Oct. 1, 1998, AMCOM assumed operational control of Corpus Christi Depot and Letterkenny Army Depot. The Army's only in-house facility for the repair and overhaul of DoD rotary-wing aircraft, CCAD is located on the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station in Texas. Situated near Chambersburg, Pa., Letterkenny performs all tactical missile depot repairs as well as handles additional vehicle maintenance and ammunition missions.
The new organizations that comprised the transformed Team Redstone worked together on behalf of Soldiers between 1997 and 2005 to develop superior aviation and missile systems based on state-of-the-art and emerging technologies. These systems were a crucial element in the nation's response to the events of Sept. 11, 2001 after the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. Almost 60 years before, the nation had come under a similar surprise assault when the Japanese bombed the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, early on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. Both of these aggressive actions precipitated global warfare involving the Army organizations at Redstone Arsenal.
What lay ahead after 9-11 were Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Among the Army weapon systems key to Soldiers' success in both operations were the helicopters and missiles managed by the program executive and program management offices at Redstone Arsenal and sustained by AMCOM and its Corpus Christi and Letterkenny depots. The importance of working closely together to ensure that the best possible support is rendered to the Soldiers engaged in the Global War on Terror was a given among Team Redstone members.
The pace of recent changes at the installation in the years subsequent to 9-11 and in the wake of the continuing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, is reminiscent of the post-World War II transformation that involved the realignment and reorganization of the entire U.S. armed forces to deal with the threats and unprecedented challenges of the escalating Cold War. Today, the BRAC 2005 recommendations that became official in November of that same year are a significant part of DoD's current strategy for preparing the entire national military establishment to meet the rapidly shifting demands of the asymmetric warfare confronting the United States on a global scale. The BRAC 2005 actions that have once again transformed Redstone Arsenal both organizationally and physically in light of the 21st century's changed security environment represent another major milestone in the installation's 70-year tradition of excellence in support of Soldiers.
A coincidental highlight of Redstone Arsenal's 70th anniversary year took place on Jan. 31, 2011 in a ceremony held at the Pentagon, when retired Brig. Gen. Creighton W. Abrams Jr., executive director of the Army Historical Foundation, unveiled the three commemorative coins designed by the U.S. Mint to recognize and celebrate the traditions, history and heritage of the Army and its role in the safeguarding of America.
The obverse side of the Clad Half-Dollar coin, which represents the Army's "Service in Peace," depicts three examples of such activities undertaken on the nation's behalf. Included is the Redstone missile, a modified version of which placed Explorer I into Earth orbit on Jan. 31, 1958. The Redstone is the only Army (and possibly DoD) missile to be named for a military installation, thereby making this Arsenal the only Army post to be indirectly mentioned on one of the newly issued Army commemorative coins.