By Sgt. Dre Stout, 3rd Infantry Division.
FORT STEWART, Ga. — The 3rd Infantry Division marks its 26-year anniversary at Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield this week, after serving during the Cold War decades on the front lines of West Germany. The colors were unfurled at the division’s current home during a ceremony on Cottrell Field at approximately 9 a.m., April 26, 1996.
The last commander of 24th Infantry Division, Gen. Joseph DeFrancisco, cased the colors of the “Victory Division” for the final time during the occasion, ending its stay on Fort Stewart after being activated on the installation in 1975.
Moments later, Gen. Jack Keane, the XVIII Airborne Corps commander, handed DeFrancisco the 3rd ID colors, making him the first commander of the “Marne Division” on Fort Stewart. With this action, 3rd ID also took over the role as the armored force of the XVIII Airborne Corps from the Victory Division.
The 24th ID was inactivated and reflagged to become the 3rd ID as part of the Army's reduction to a ten-division force.
Dominic Pompelia, the 3rd ID Deputy Chief of Staff, was there that day as a major serving as the division artillery plans officer. He said that for Soldiers on Fort Stewart, not much changed apart from changing the patch on their left shoulder. The equipment remained the same except for the re-stenciling of bumper numbers.
Pompelia stated that at the time many advocated to change the Army’s decision to inactivate the 24th ID due to its rich history and numerous accolades achieved throughout its history. However, the 3rd ID was ready to continue its own legacy back on U.S. soil at Fort Stewart, Fort Benning and Hunter Army Airfield.
For the last 26 years, the 3rd ID has continued to serve proudly across all theaters of operation and as a supportive partner to the community of Coastal Georgia and Columbus for 20 years.
“I was equally proud of the transition because I had previously served in the 3rd ID in Germany. I was both proud to be a Dogface Soldier and a Victory Soldier,” said Pompelia.
Pompelia served in multiple company grade positions, including as a battery commander with then 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd ID in Germany between 1992 and 1995.
He described that while the Army’s decision to reflag the division was difficult for some local Veterans at first, the Coastal Georgia community was as equally welcoming of 3rd ID as it had been to the Victory Division Soldiers and Families. He also said the benefit of 3rd ID coming to the U.S. was the bond the division had with the Columbus area by expanding and having a brigade at Kelley Hill at Fort Benning.
“Both divisions have been regarded very highly because of their effectiveness in combat,” he said. “Just as 24th ID was respected for their role as the initial force in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, 3rd ID was seen as a similar success following their Operation Iraqi Freedom I rotation and entry into Baghdad. To many Veterans I’ve spoken to it was seen as very déjà vu because they looked at 3rd ID as the premier division in the Iraqi theater of operations, the same way they did 24th ID during Desert Shield and Desert Storm.”
The 3rd ID was originally created at Camp Greene, North Carolina, Nov. 21, 1917. The Marne Division trained at Camp Greene and Fort Bliss, Texas, before shipping to France in April 1918. The division earned its nickname as the “Rock of the Marne'' in World War I when division commander Maj. Gen. Joseph Dickman said “Nous Resterons La'' to French Allies as flanking units retreated in the face of a massive German offensive at the Marne River near Chateau-Thierry on July 15, 1918. The 3rd ID forces held the defense, nonetheless. The ambitious words, now embossed on the 3rd ID unit crest, means “We shall remain here.”
Col. (Ret). Peter Hoffman served as a Dogface Soldier both in Germany and at Fort Stewart and continues to serve and support the Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield communities as the executive director of the Coastal Georgia Military Affairs Coalition.
Incorporated in 1999 as the Friends of Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield, the organization reorganized as the Coastal Georgia Military Affairs Coalition in 2019 with a mission to enhance the overall economic value of Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Airfield and the surrounding communities through a progressive regional partnership.
Hoffman said that after serving with the historic division in the early 1980s when it was stationed in West Germany, he was extremely excited to be reassigned to the division almost 30 years later, this time in beautiful Coastal Georgia.
"This region is very lucky to host the 3rd ID with its storied history going all the way back to World War I,” said Hoffman. “Third ID Veterans and the community should be proud to see the division enduring as a guardian of freedom, with one of its brigades currently deployed back to Europe to again show support to our allies. I guess the old saying is true: the more things change the more they stay the same and this community remains as supportive of our division as when they arrived here 26 years ago.”
Throughout 3rd ID history, the unit has been filled with exceptional Soldiers. No division in the Army has more Medal of Honor recipients than 3rd ID with 61 which includes the famous Audie Murphy, the most decorated U.S. Soldier of World War II. With Fort Stewart as its home, 3rd ID continues to make its mark on Army history as the division modernizes and trains for the future of expected large-scale combat and remains responsive to contingency missions, domestically and abroad.