Looking back to the beginning of III Corps history, it’s no surprise that it continues to be an integral piece of the U.S. Army. Activated in 1918, the Corps participated in World War I, bringing home battle streamers for the Aisne-Marne, Lorraine and the Meuse-Argone campaigns.
Following the Great War, the corps was inactivated, only to return for World War II. It was then that III Corps earned its nickname, the “Phantom Corps,” by striking the enemy when least expected.
Former III Corps commander, retired Gen. Leon LaPorte, said he studied the key traits and tactics that earned the corps this nickname during his own time in command from 1998 to 2001. “What it was, was how deceptive the III Corps units were,” he said. “III Corps was very successful and moved very rapidly. It was a mobile force, a stealthy force and it was well-trained.”
For its efforts, the corps earned campaign streamers in Northern and Central Europe and established the Remagen Bridgehead, enabling the Allies to secure a foothold in Germany.
Again inactivated in 1946, the Phantom Corps returned five years later and remained active until 1959. It’s next return to duty in 1961 brought III Corps to Fort Hood as part of the Berlin Crisis of 1961. A year later, the corps was designated as part of the U.S. Army Strategic Army Corps.
During the Vietnam War, III Corps trained and deployed two field force headquarters and many combat and combat service support units totaling more than 100,000 soldiers.
Since then, subordinate units of the corps have fought in and supported operations worldwide, to include Grenada, Panama, Honduras, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq. It has also provided humanitarian support for Operation Restore Hope in Somalia and Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
LaPorte said what sticks out in his mind when reviewing III Corps’ history is the tremendous professionalism, pride and focus on training and readiness the soldiers possess.
“This wasn’t an outfit that didn’t take serious its mission to be able to deploy in a moments notice in world wide contingencies. Desert Storm reinforced that for all those on that deployment,” said LaPorte, who served as the 1st Cavalry Division’s chief of staff during the conflict.
Looking back on Desert Storm, he said that deployment shaped much of the focus of his command time.
“Desert Storm challenged the whole U.S. Army, and we found that we really didn’t have the strategic deployment assets relative to ships to railcars, to railheads and airheads to be worldwide,” he said. This led to an analysis of infrastructure and to concept of prepositioning assets for rapid deployment. In turn, LaPorte oversaw creating the joint use airfield with the city of Killeen and improving the railhead.
During 4th Infantry Division’s deployment to Iraq, LaPorte said he got a phone call from the division’s then commander, Gen. Raymond Odierno.
“(He) said, ‘Gen. LaPorte, I want to tell you I’m standing on a new railhead at Fort Hood and I’m loading a brigade simultaneously.’ That’s something we’d only dreamt of at Desert Storm,” LaPorte said.
In more recent history, III Corps has continued to support operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and most recently in the fight to defeat the Islamic State. Former commander retired Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland led the first deployment of the Phantom Corps in this operation, known as Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, in 2015. At that time, ISIS was presenting itself as a hybrid, almost conventional Army, he said. In the final years of the Iraq War, U.S. troops had trained the Iraqi army to conduct counterterrorism operations, not conventional warfare.
“They were not trained to synch all the warfighting functions against a quasi-conventional force. That’s where III Corps came in, because we’d just trained ourselves to do that,” said MacFarland, referencing a large warfighter exercise he led the previous year at Fort Hood. “The corps is designed to fight at operational level of war — campaigns in particular.”
Upon arrival to Iraq, III Corps was able to “stop the bleeding” and break the stalemate against ISIS. During that deployment, MacFarland said the combined task force regained about 40 percent of lost ground and set the conditions to defeat ISIS.
III Corps has returned to this mission, and will spend its 100th anniversary deployed in support of it. This time under the leadership of Lt. Gen. Paul Funk II.
“The Phantom Corps has a long and storied history of fighting against tyranny and oppression, and standing for freedom. From the Argonne forest to the Rhine River, and to the streets of Baghdad and Kabul, when our nation calls, they call for America’s Hammer,” he said. “This deployment marks the eighth time in history that the III Armored Corps has answered that call. If history is any indicator of the future, the Phantom Corps will undoubtedly be called on once again to serve on the front lines of freedom.”
Historical information provided through the Fort Hood Press Center.