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United States Army South
United States Army South shoulder sleeve insignia
Active 1986-present
Country United States
Branch U.S. Army
Part of United States Southern Command
Garrison/HQ Fort Sam Houston
Motto Defense and Fraternity
Engagements Operation Just Cause
Major General Simeon Trombitas
Distinctive Unit Insignia UNITED STATES ARMY SOUTH DUI.gif

United States Army South is the Army's service component command of United States Southern Command whose area of focus includes 31 nations and 10 territories in Latin America and the Caribbean. It is headquartered at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.



The stated mission of U.S. Army South is to conduct Operations and Theater Security Cooperation to detect, deter and disrupt transnational threats in order to protect the United States of America and to enhance Hemispheric security.

On order conducts contingency operations and as directed serves as a Joint Task Force Land Component Command or Joint Task Force. [1]


U.S. Army South has existed under its current name since 1986, but its historical roots reach back much farther, to the Isthmian Canal Commission and the Panama Canal Guard of 1904-1914, both of which played a pivotal role in the construction and early defense of the Canal. [2]

With the active support and encouragement of the United States, Panama declared its independence from Colombia on Nov. 3, 1903 and that same month, the United States received the right to build and administer the Panama Canal.

On Mar. 8, 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed an Isthmian Canal Commission (ICC), composed primarily of Army officers, to govern the Canal Zone and to report directly to the Secretary of War. [3]

In 1907, President Roosevelt appointed Army Lt. Col. George W. Goethals to the post of Chief Engineer of the ICC, officially turning construction of the Canal into a military project. To more adequately protect the Canal from external threats, the Army conducted an on-site survey in 1910 and began building defensive fortifications in 1911—to include Forts DeLesseps, Randolph and Sherman on the Atlantic side, and Forts Amador and Grant on the Pacific side. On Oct. 4, 1911, a regiment of the U.S. Army 10th Infantry arrived at Camp E.S. Otis, on the Pacific side of the isthmus. They would form the nucleus of a mobile force that grew to include other infantry, cavalry, engineer, signal, and field artillery units, as well as a Marine battalion that had protected the Canal since 1904. Together these troops, under the control of the ICC, were known as the Panama Canal Guard.

On July 1, 1917, the Panama Canal Department was established as a separate geographic command with headquarters at Quarry Heights. Units included the 19th Brigade, composed of the 14th and 33rd Infantry, the 42nd Field Artillery, the 11th Engineers, and special troops.

In the late thirties, events in Europe and technological developments, such as the aircraft carrier and long-range bombers, caused construction of more modern defenses, including a network of roads, and Albrook Field. By 1939, the military strength in the Canal Zone was about 14,000 and by early 1940, the troop strength rose to almost 28,000. In January 1943, the troop strength peaked at just over 67,000, as the Coastal Defense Network grew to include machine guns, barrage balloons, and smoke machines protected the Canal's locks. Army aircraft patrolled the Caribbean Sea searching for enemy German submarines.

Once the allies prevailed in Europe, the Army command was re-designated the United States Army Caribbean on November 15, 1947, following inactivation of the Caribbean Defense Command and reorganization of the Army, Navy, and Air Force (now an independent service) in the Canal Zone under the newly activated United States Army Caribbean. Meanwhile, 960 jungle-trained officers and enlisted men from the CDC deployed to New Caledonia in the southwest Pacific to help form the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), codenamed Galahad and later nicknamed “Merrill’s Marauders” for its famous exploits in Burma.[4]

In December 1946, President Harry Truman approved a comprehensive system of military commands that put responsibility for military operations in various geographical areas in the hands of a single commander. Thus was the principle of unified commands established and the U.S. Caribbean Command was designated on Nov. 1, 1947.[5]

On Nov. 15, 1947, the Panama Canal Department became U.S. Army Caribbean, headquartered at Fort Amador. One of its primary missions, from 1951 to 1999, was the task of "keeping jungle warfare alive in the Army." Fort Sherman became the home for USARCARIB’s Jungle Warfare Training Center (JWTC), which ran up to ten three-week courses per year. Many Soldiers destined for Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War first received their jungle training at Fort Sherman.

On June 6, 1963, the United States Caribbean Command (the theater command) was re-designated as the United States Southern Command, to reflect primary responsibility in Central and South America, versus the Caribbean. Meanwhile, the United States Army Caribbean was re-designated the United States Army Forces Southern Command.[6]

During the 1970s, the troop strengths averaged between 10,000 and 14,000 soldiers. Implementation of the Panama Canal Treaties of 1977 on October 1, 1979, brought with it the following changes: a new arrangement for the defense of the Panama Canal; the disestablishment of the Canal Zone; a change in designation for the brigade to 193rd Infantry Brigade (Panama), resulting in the beginning of the process of reorganizing from a heavy to a light infantry brigade; and a headquarters move from Fort Amador to Fort Clayton.

On December 4, 1986, the United States Army South was activated as a Major Army Command and the Army component of United States Southern Command, with Headquarters at Building 95, Fort Clayton.

Operation Just Cause, the United States military action used to depose Panamanian dictator, General Manuel Antonio Noriega, was officially conducted from December 20, 1989 to January 31, 1990. United States Army South Headquarters became the Headquarters for Joint Task Force-South, the Headquarters designated to execute the operation. During the Panama Invasion the total troop numbers increased to 27,000. Of these, 13,000 were already stationed in Panama and 14,000 were flown in from the United States.[7]

As part of a Unified Command Plan change, United States Southern Command also assumed geographic responsibility for U.S. military forces operating in the Caribbean Basin and the Gulf of Mexico on June 1, 1997. Within this framework, United States Army South's geographical area of responsibility expanded to include the territory of 31 sovereign nations and 11 dependencies throughout all of Latin America and the Caribbean, except Mexico. In 1998, United States Army South units participated in 15 platoon exchanges at the Jungle Operation Training Center with soldiers from Belize, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Chile, Argentina, and Paraguay.

As part of a larger Army transformation in response to the demands of post-9/11 operations worldwide, U.S. Army South became U.S. Army South (6th Army) on July 16, 2008, a change that expanded its size and capabilities to include an Operational Command Post (OCP) that could serve as the nucleus of a Joint Task Force (JTF) or Joint Forces Land Component Command (JFLCC) headquarters anywhere in the Southern Command Area of Focus. While U.S. Army South received an exception to policy from the Army Chief of Staff to retain its distinctive Spanish galleon insignia, its colors were merged with 6th Army’s to mark the new, combined lineage of two historic organizations—one that played a pivotal role in the security of the Panama Canal and the broader region of Latin America and the Caribbean, and one that fought a series of famous battles in the Pacific theater of the Second World War.[8]


  • Mellander, Gustavo A.; Nelly Maldonado Mellander (1999). Charles Edward Magoon: The Panama Years. Río Piedras, Puerto Rico: Editorial Plaza Mayor. ISBN 1563281554. OCLC 42970390.
  • Mellander, Gustavo A. (1971). The United States in Panamanian Politics: The Intriguing Formative Years. Danville, Ill.: Interstate Publishers. OCLC 138568.
  1. ^ USARSO - United States Army South
  2. ^ Global Security
  3. ^ Almanac of Theodore Roosevelt]
  4. ^ Merrill's Marauders]
  5. ^ Out from the Canal Zone]
  6. ^ U.S. Southern Command History]
  7. ^ Operation Just Cause]
  8. ^ Cavallaro, Gina (2007-10-09). "New name, same mission for U.S. Army South" (in English). Army Times (Army Times Publishing Company). Retrieved 2008-12-21.  
  • Bennett, Ira Elbert (1915); History of the Panama Canal: its construction and builders. Washington, D.C.: Historical Publishing Company. OCLC 138568

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