U.S. Army South (ARSOUTH)
U.S. Army South, also known as ARSOUTH, is headquartered in Fort Sam Houston, Texas. ARSOUTH is the Army’s command center for the Southern hemisphere. From this location, the Army is able to focus on thirty-one countries and ten territories located in Latin America and the Caribbean. ARSOUTH’s mission is to detect, prevent, and stop any transnational threats to the United States, as well as to improve the security of the entire hemisphere. To reach this auspicious position, U.S. Army South has had a rich and long history.
The groundwork for this location was laid in November of 1903 when Panama declared independence from Columbia. That very month, the United States earned the right to create and oversee the Panama Canal. The Isthmian Canal Commission (ICC) members were appointed to take care of the area. Appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt, most of these men were Army officers who reported to the Secretary of War. In 1907, the project was officially declared a military project.
In 1911, to help keep the Canal safe from threats, the Army began building defensive forts. Collectively, the troops from all of these forts were called the Panama Canal Guard, which ultimately became what is now known as U.S. Army South.
Although the Panama Canal was completed in 1914, the forts remained an integral part of the world’s military stage. In the late 1930s, the area was strengthened by a new series of roads, built in response to the United States’ growing concerns about the events taking place in Europe at that time. By the end of that decade, there were 14,000 troops in the area; by the following year, that number doubled to about 28,000. Three years later, in 1943, there were 67,000 troops. These troops used the modern technologies of that era, including a combination of machine guns, barrage balloons, and smoke machines, to protect the locks of the canal and keep enemies at bay.
After World War II ended, the Panama Canal Department was renamed the United States Army Caribbean. Under President Harry Truman, the Caribbean Command was declared as one of the nation’s unified command centers. At the same time, close to 1,000 soldiers from the CDC were sent from this post to New Caledonia in the southwest Pacific.
The skills that were needed on this mission were incredibly important. In fact, one of the most important tasks of the CDC in the second half of the 1900s was keeping jungle warfare skills active in the Army. Fort Sherman, in particular, was used extensively as a place for soldiers to learn about jungle warfare. Many soldiers destined for Vietnam were trained there.
In 1963, the United States Caribbean Command was renamed the United States Southern Command, and the United States Army Caribbean became the United States Army Forces Southern Command. These name changes were designed to reflect that the Army was responsible for South and Central America as well as the Caribbean.
During the 1970s, there were typically between 10,000 and 14,000 soldiers in Panama. They initially defended the Panama Canal, but after the signing of the Panama Canal Treaties in the late 1970s, their role changed. Primarily, they switched from a heavy to a light brigade, and moved their headquarters from Fort Amador to Fort Clayton. From 1989 to 1990, U.S. Army South was the headquarters of Operation Just Cause, which was responsible for removing dictator Manuel Noriega from his position as the head of Panama. During this time period, the number of troops increased to 27,000. After the operation was completed, half of these soldiers were sent back to the United States.
In 1986, ARSOUTH was made an active Army command center, and from this unified command center, the United States Southern Command took on responsibility for an increasing number of countries and territories, including thirty-one countries and ten territories spread throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. In 1998, U.S. Army South worked with Belizean, Colombian, Venezuelan, Salvadorian, Chilean, Paraguayan, and Argentinean soldiers to work on jungle training strategies.
After 9/11, the forces in this area implemented other changes to keep pace with the unique demands of a post-9/11 world. The history of U.S. Army South stretches back a century. They have seen many important turning points that have made them into the important center that they now are.
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