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The Rock Island Arsenal is expecting an invasion. In 2009-2010, hundreds of soldiers will arrive in the Quad-Cities as the U.S. First Army relocates its headquarters to the Rock Island Arsenal. The current headquarters, at Fort Gillem, Ga., is scheduled to be closed under the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Act.

The relocation of the First Army will bring an increase in military personnel on the Arsenal from the current level of about 250 to as many as 800. There are only 57 housing quarters on Arsenal Island itself. That means most of the newcomers and their families will be living in communities in the Quad-Cities.

According to Rock Island Economic Growth Corp. Executive Director Brian Hollenback, the Quad-Cities as a whole is working to meet the housing needs of the First Army.

“Here in Rock Island, we are able to offer multiple housing choices, whether people are interested in renting or owning,” Hollenback said. He also points out that some soldiers arrive with families while others are single. The fact that different people have different needs makes it important that a range of options is made available to the incoming soldiers.

Since 2000, Rock Island Economic Growth Corp. has developed more than 120 rental housing units in downtown Rock Island, including Goldman and Renaissance Lofts, Sala Flats and Voss Brothers Lofts. Also, Rock Island Economic Growth Corp. will expand its Live and Work in Rock Island employer-assisted housing program to include the military, for soldiers who are interested in owning a home in Rock Island.

As it is set up, employees who work for a participating employer and who make up to 120 percent of the area median income are eligible to participate in the employer-assisted homebuyer program. The Rock Island Arsenal will be added to the list of participating employers.

Those who qualify for the program will receive a grant for 5 percent of the purchase price of the house minus $500 for the down payment, and up to $2,000 in additional funds to pay for closing costs and the first year’s homeowner’s insurance.

Live and Work Rock Island is one of several homebuyer programs offered by the Rock Island Economic Growth Corp. Since it was launched in 2003, the program has been used as a model and expanded state-wide.

More than 6,000 civilians work at the Arsenal, making it the largest employer in the Quad-Cities area. The business conducted on the island also supports more than 12,000 additional jobs in the surrounding communities. The total annual economic impact is more than $1 billion to the local economy.

The Rock Island Arsenal is the largest government-owned weapons manufacturing arsenal in the United States. It has been an active manufacturer of military equipment and ordnance since the 1880s.

Established as both an arsenal and a center for the manufacture of leather accoutrements and field gear, today it provides manufacturing, logistics and base support services for the Armed Forces. The Arsenal houses the Department of Defense’s only general-purpose metal manufacturing complex. Production can be from raw material to final product, including systems integration and simulated testing.

The U.S. First Army was initially created in France in 1918 to command elements of the American Expeditionary Force during World War I. It was dissolved in 1919, but was reactivated in 1933 and stationed at Governor’s Island, N.Y., where it was in charge of U.S. Army activities in the northeastern United States.

In October 1943 the headquarters of the First Army transferred to Bristol, England, where it began preparations for the invasion of France. On D-Day the First Army, under General Omar Bradley, commanded all U.S. ground forces committed to the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

Immediately after the war, in 1946, First Army returned to its headquarters at Governor’s Island. Twenty years later, in 1966, First Army and Second Army were merged and at the same time First Army moved its headquarters to Fort Meade in Maryland. The emphasis of First Army changed in 1973 from dealing with active units to reserve unit training and preparation. It remained at Fort Meade until 1995 when it moved to Fort Gillem, the former Atlanta Army Depot.

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