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Naming Army Installations

Historically, what has been the process for naming U.S. Army Installations?


Naming Army Installations

The naming of posts started as a tradition when the Army was young. In the Continental Army, many posts and camps were named by the commander or supervising engineer for high ranking officers, including those still living; for example, Fort Washington on the New York and Fort Lee on the New Jersey sides of the Hudson in 1776, Fort Putnam at West Point, or Fort Mifflin below Philadelphia on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware. Forts were also named for fallen heroes, such as Fort Mercer, built in 1777, on the New Jersey side of the Delaware opposite Fort Mifflin, named in honor of Brig. Gen. Hugh Mercer who fell at Princeton in January of that year.

For much of the Army's history in the 19th Century, the naming of posts was still mainly a local prerogative. For example, War Department General Order Number 79, dated 8 November 1878, left the naming of installations to the commander of the regional Military Division in which the installation was located. Although not always, the names of installations usually reflected a local influence, such as Fort Apache in Arizona, established in 1871, and the Chickamauga Post in Georgia, established in 1902. In the 1890s, the then Quartermaster General, Maj. Gen. Richard N. Batchelder, recommended that the War Department assume responsibility for naming installations, but that did not become policy until World War I when the massive general mobilization saw the establishment of numerous installations of various sizes and functions. The names usually, but not always, reflected some regional connection to its location, and usually with a historic military figure significant to the area: for example, Camp Lee near Richmond, Virginia, and changing the name of the Chickamauga Post in Georgia to Fort Oglethorpe.

In the years between the World Wars, it became the common practice for the War Department to entertain recommended names for posts from installation commanders, corps and branch commanders, and the Historical Section Army War College, as well as from outside the Army. Public opinion and political Influence sometime weighed heavily on the decisions. For an example of the latter, when in 1928 the Army renamed Fort George G. Meade in Maryland as Fort Leonard Wood, the Pennsylvania delegation in Congress held up the Army's appropriation bill until the service agreed to restore the name of the Pennsylvania-born general. The regional connection, however, cannot be overemphasized. Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, for example, was originally named Camp Alfred Vail, in honor of the Army's then chief Signal Officer, when the installation was established as a Signal Corps training facility in 1917, but changed to Fort Monmouth, for the 1778 battle fought nearby, when it became a permanent installation in the 1920s.

The War Department better defined the criteria when it established the policy for "naming military reservations in honor of deceased distinguished officers regardless of the arm or service in which they have served" in a memorandum dated 20 November 1939.

Shortly after World War II, in 1946, the Army established the Army Memorialization Board. Governed by Army Regulation (AR) 15-190, Boards, Commissions, and Committees: Department of the Army Memorialization Board, it assumed responsibility for deciding on the names of posts and other memorial programs and the criteria for naming them. The regulation stated that all those individuals memorialized must be deceased and fall within one of five categories:

  • (1) a national hero of absolute preeminence by virtue of high position,
  • (2) an individual who held a position of high and extensive responsibility (Army and above) and whose death was a result of battle wounds,
  • (3) an individual who held a position of high and extensive responsibility and whose death was not a result of battle wounds,
  • (4) an individual who performed an act of heroism or who held a position of high responsibility and whose death was a result of battle wounds, and
  • (5) an individual who performed an act of heroism or who held a position of high responsibility and whose death was not a result of battle wounds.

On 8 December 1958 , AR 1-30, Administration: Department of the Army Memorialization Program superseded AR 15-190 , and removed responsibility for naming installations from the Memorialization Board and transferred it to Headquarters, Department of the Army. In turn, AR 1-33, Administration: Memorial Programs superseded AR 1-30 on 1 February 1972. This revision retained the same memorialization criteria and categories as the previous regulation, but added a list of appropriate memorialization projects for each category. For example, it would be appropriate to name a large military installation after a person in category two, while it would be appropriate to name a building or a street after a person in category five. The final decision on naming a post was still made by the Headquarters, Department of the Army. The 15 January 1981 revision of AR 1-33 named the Army Chief of Staff as the responsible individual for the naming of installations.

The current AR 1-33 became effective on 30 June 2006, and redefined and expanded the categories of individuals to be memorialized, and listed appropriate memorialization programs for each category. The naming of installations is now the responsibility of the Assistant Secretary of Army (Manpower and Reserve Affairs). The Director of the Installation Management Agency is responsible for the naming of streets, buildings, and facilities on all military installations except medical installations, where the Commander of the U.S. Army Medical Command has the approval authority, and on the United States Military Academy, where the Superintendent of the United States Military Academy has the approval authority.