Fort Hood is located in southwestern Bell and southeastern Coryell counties in Central Texas. Most of the 218,000 acres owned by the United States Army is located in Coryell County. On January 14, 1942, at the beginning of United States involvement in World War II, it was announced that a tank destroyer tactical and firing center would be established near Killeen, Texas. Gen. Andrew D. Bruce was selected as the first commander. The first major unit, the 893d Tank Destroyer Battalion, arrived from Fort Meade, Maryland, on April 2, 1942. As other troops began arriving, some 300 farming and ranching families were required, on very short notice, to give up their land. Camp Hood was officially opened on September 18, 1942, and has been continuously used for armored training ever since. The installation was named in honor of Gen. John Bell Hood. The mission at Camp Hood was almost immediately expanded to include a replacement and basic training center at North Fort Hood. At times as many as 100,000 soldiers were being trained for the war effort. During the later part of the war some 4,000 German prisoners of war were interned at Camp Hood.
The postwar years saw a significant reduction of activity, and the post's population dropped to about 1,700. By 1950 the temporary camp was designated the permanent status of Fort Hood. Basic facilities for a permanent army installation were constructed. The demands for training brought about by the Korean War accelerated military activities. The installation acquired an additional 49,578 acres in 1953 and former United States Air Force and Department of Defense landholdings in the 1950s and 1960s. Major army units stationed at one time or another at Fort Hood included the First, Second, and Fourth Armored divisions. In 1954 Fort Hood was the nation's only two-division installation, and the Third Corps was transferred from Camp Roberts, California. In 1990 the installation was the home of the headquarters of the III Corps under United States Army Forces command. Fort Hood was located in the Fifth United States Army area. The two active army divisions, the Second Armored Division ("Hell on Wheels") and the First Cavalry Division, were stationed there. Other commands at Fort Hood included the Sixth Cavalry Brigade (Air Combat), Corps Support Command, the Third Signal Brigade, and several tenant organizations including MEDDAC (Medical Department Activity), Test and Experimentation Command, and more than a dozen other smaller support or tenant commands including two major airfields. Reserve units such as the Forty-ninth and Fiftieth Armored divisions and the Thirty-sixth Airborne Brigade of the Texas National Guard and other smaller regular and reserve units of the army, air force, and marine corps used the Fort Hood facility.
Fort Hood is one of the largest federally owned Texas landholdings and has taken an initiative in the stewardship of cultural resources on public lands. More than 2,000 archeological sites dating from the Ice Age to historic times have been recorded. The archeological record at Fort Hood contains a diversity of resources including more than 1,000 sites of hunting and gathering people from all major time periods in Texas prehistory and the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. More than fifty historic communities, most of them now extinct, are represented in the Fort Hood archeological inventory. In November 1973 the skeletal remains of forty-five Indians were reinterred at Fort Hood. Archeological sites are protected by federal law from unauthorized damage, destruction, collecting, or excavation, and records provide resources for anthropological research and public appreciation.
Fort Hood is one of the largest military installations in the world. The primary mission of Fort Hood is to maintain a state of readiness for combat missions, and the dominant activity is the training of III Corps. A significant portion of the combat-ready air and ground forces of the United States Army is stationed at Fort Hood. The combat readiness of III Corps distinguishes Fort Hood from many other installations which do not have the same rapid and massive military response capability. With the end of the Cold War, military cutbacks became common throughout the United States. The Second Armored Division was deactivated for a short period, during which time the Fifth Infantry Division (Mechanized) was assigned to Fort Hood. However, operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990–91 halted this deactivation, and more than 25,000 troops were sent from Fort Hood to the Middle East. Of these, 17,000 were from the Second Armored Division and the First Cavalry Division. Three soldiers from Fort Hood were killed and nine wounded. On April 12, 1991, following the Gulf War, the Department of Defense labeled Fort Hood a top fighting installation and stationed 12,000 additional troops there. In December 1992 the Fifth Infantry Division was inactivated and redesignated the Second Armored Division.
On December 15, 1995, the Second Armored Division was officially renamed the Fourth Infantry Division (Mechanized) with Fort Hood as headquarters. This division was also designated as the Army's test division under the Force XXI program, which involved the testing and implementation of the latest technological advances in warfare. Fort Hood units provided support in Bosnia in 1998 and 1999. In the wake of the terrorist attacks upon the United States on September 11, 2001, Fort Hood personnel served in key roles in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq regarding combat operations as well as the rebuilding of infrastructure. The Fourth Infantry Division was deployed to Iraq in January 2003 and was credited with the capture of former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, on December 13, 2003. The First Cavalry Division at Fort Hood was deployed to Iraq in spring 2004. In addition to combat support, Fort Hood units have also provided disaster relief efforts both nationally and internationally for fighting forest fires in Idaho in 2000, for example, and aiding flood victims after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In 2005 the nearly 65,000 personnel at Fort Hood included the First Cavalry Division, Fourth Infantry Division, III Corps Headquarters, TRADOC Test and Experimentation Command, and numerous support units and organizations. On November 5, 2009, an Army psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, killed thirteen people and wounded dozens of others in a mass shooting at the Fort Hood processing center. On August 23, 2013, a military jury found Hasan guilty of forty-five counts of premediated murder and attempted premediated murder. Five days later he received the death penalty, and the sentence remains under appeal in 2016.
The installation has been a critical social and economic reality in the Central Texas region. Prior to the establishment of Fort Hood the region was cotton and cattle country. The shift from a low-population agrarian environment to a densely populated cosmopolitan environment has had both positive and negative features. On the one hand, Fort Hood has stimulated the growth of educational institutions, commercial conveniences, and professional services such as health care. Local communities have benefited from a military population with a pool of experienced teachers and professionals not found in most rural areas. On the other hand, the large number of transitory personnel has resulted in a community characterized by a sense of impermanence and highly focused economic interests not generally found in communities with more social and economic diversity. The installation offers excellent public recreational opportunities including Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area (BLORA), Clear Creek Country Club, and restaurants and other facilities. Fort Hood operates two museums—the First Cavalry Division Museum and the Fourth Infantry Division Museum—that are open to the public. An Operational Testers Hall of Fame is located at the West Fort Hood Headquarters of the U. S. Army Operational Test Command. On-post elementary schools, youth centers, and child care facilities serve Fort Hood families, and Fort Hood offers the largest commissary complex in the United States. The fort also hosts several festivals throughout the year.