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History of 9th Division at JBLM

‘Old Reliables’ served at Fort Lewis from 1972-1991

U.S. Army Photo In the shadow of Mount Rainier, two Scot’s Broom-camouflaged troopers of the 9th Infantry Division troopers train at Fort Lewis in 1974.

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In December 1991, on the Fort Lewis main parade field, the Army bade farewell to one of its most decorated combat divisions, the 9th Infantry Old Reliables. The ceremony on Watkins Field marked not only the end of the 9th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, but the end of the division’s history as well.

Activated in July 1918, too late to serve in France during the first World War, the 9th would be among the very first to fight during World War II where it battled Nazi Germany from North Africa to Central Europe. Following the war, the division served in Germany until the mid-1950s.

The 9th was the only U.S. Army combat division reactivated specifically for service in Vietnam. Mobilized at Fort Riley, Kan., in 1966, the division was trained, equipped and organized to serve with the Mobile Riverine Force, a joint Army-Navy amphibious force deployed to South Vietnam’s harsh Mekong Delta region.

The division served with distinction as part of the Mobile Riverine Force from 1966 to 1971. As a result of the President Nixon’s drawdown of U.S. forces in South Vietnam, the first American unit to be withdrawn was the 9th Division’s 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment.

The 3rd Battalion’s 800 Soldiers landed at McChord Air Force Base July 8, 1969, where they were greeted by civilian and military dignitaries, including Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird. Later, the battalion marched in a special welcome home parade in downtown Seattle.

In October 1970, the division’s 3rd Brigade, the last to have remained in Vietnam, brought its colors to Fort Lewis’ Watkins Field for inactivation. Though its colors were cased for a third time, it was not to be the end of the Old Reliables.

On May 26, 1972, the division’s colors returned to Watkins Field as the division was reactivated for its last time. Major General William Fulton assumed command of the reactivated division from Army Chief of Staff William Westmoreland, himself a veteran of the Old Reliables.

Throughout the 1970s the 9th was trained, equipped and organized as a standard leg-infantry division. In 1981, the division was designated as the U.S. Army’s High Technology Test Bed. The purpose of the test bed was to test cutting edge equipment, tactics and organization.

During this period, Fort Lewis tested several concept vehicles to replace the venerable military jeep. When the Humvee was selected as the Army’s standard utility vehicle, several 9th Division infantry battalions were designated as motorized battalions and equipped with the new vehicle as their primary means of transport.

Other battalions, designated as attack battalions, were equipped with the Chenowith Fast Attack Vehicle as their primary fighting platform. Motorized battalions fought as traditional infantry using their Humvees for maneuver transport. In contrast, fast attack vehicle-equipped attack battalions used speed and mobility to engage the enemy.

Armed with grenade launchers, machine guns and antitank missiles, the fast attack vehicles were highly lethal. Despite attack battalions’ speed and lethality, their lack of sufficient battlefield survivability ultimately spelled the concept’s demise.

In the late 1980s, as the Cold War drew to a close, the 9th fell victim to the Army’s need to draw down its active force. In early 1990, the 9th was ordered to once again inactivate. In December 1991, following a deliberate 18-month inactivation process, the Old Reliables moved again into history.

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