The division is employed as the ground combat element (GCE) of the I Marine Expeditionary Force or may provide task-organized forces for assault operations and such operations as may be directed. The 1st Marine Division must be able to provide the ground amphibious forcible entry capability to the naval expeditionary force (NEF) and to conduct subsequent land operations in any operational environment.
1st Marine Division was activated aboard the battleship USS Texas on Feb. 1, 1941. It is the oldest, largest and most decorated division in the United States Marine Corps.
Guadalcanal was the first major American Pacific campaign in World War II and the first time 1st Marine Division conducted combat operations as a division. Three weeks after Japan surrendered, the Division was dispatched to North China for occupation duty.
When war broke out in Korean, 1st Marine Division provided support as the Pusan Fire Brigade and later landed in Inchon during the largest amphibious operation conducted at that time on Sept. 15, 1950. The Division, as part of the U.S. Army X Corps, subsequently pushed back enemy forces north into mountains around the Chosin Reservoir before being surrounded by Chinese forces, who suffered more than 40,000 casualties trying to stop the Marines' withdrawal from reservoir.
In 1962, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, deployed to Guantanamo Bay for two months during the Cuban Missile Crisis. More than 11,000 Marines of the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade participated in the naval blockade, which forced the withdrawal of the missiles from Cuba.
In 1965, 7th Marine Regiment participated in the first major engagements for American ground troops in South Vietnam. Its zone of operation included the southern two provinces of I Corps, Quang Tin and Quang Ngai. Between March 1966 and May 1967, the Division conducted 44 named and unnamed operations. Major engagements included Operations Hastings and Union I and II.
During the 1968 Tet Offensive, the Division was involved in fierce fighting with both Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army elements. It successfully defended every enemy assault in its area of operations, pursuing the enemy back to their strongholds. After six years, 1st Marine Division returned to California in 1971.
In 1975, the Division supported the evacuation of Saigon by providing food and temporary shelter at Camp Pendleton for Vietnamese refugees as they arrived in the United States.
In 1990, 1st Marine Division formed the core of the force sent to Southwest Asia in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. During Operation Desert Shield, the Division provided the ground combat element of I Marine Expeditionary Force in Saudi Arabia. In 1991, the Division fought alongside 2nd Marine Division and the rest of the coalition forces in Operation Desert Storm. In 100 hours of offensive ground combat, 1st Marine Division destroyed the enemy in its path as it led the breakthrough to Kuwait City.
Immediately following the Persian Gulf War, the Division sent units to assist in disaster relief efforts in Bangladesh through Operation Sea Angel and the Philippines through Operation Fiery Vigil. In 1992, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment and the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit brought relief to famine-stricken Somalia. The final phase of the operation involved the transition to a United Nations peacekeeping force. U.S. Marine involvement in Operation Restore Hope officially ended April 27, 1993, when the humanitarian relief sector of Mogadishu was handed over to Pakistani forces. Elements of the Division participated in the extraction of U.N. forces from Somalia.
In early 2003, the Division deployed by air and sea to link up with its advanced headquarters deployed to Kuwait under I Marine Expeditionary Force. In a high-speed attack, and in conjunction with 1st (UK) Armoured Division and the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division, 1st Marine Division conducted the longest ground march in Marine Corps history. The Division attacked to Baghdad alongside the U.S. Army and seized Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit. Afterward, the Division conducted stability operations in Baghdad, Tikrit and south-central Iraq from May to October 2003.
In March 2004, 1st Marine Division relieved the 82rd Airborne Division in Iraq's Sunni Triangle. During Operation Iraqi Freedom II, the Division conducted counter-insurgency operations throughout the Al Anbar Province, culminating in Operation Al Fajr, which liberated the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah and enabled the first legitimate elections to occur in Iraq. During February and March 2005, 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions successfully conducted the largest relief in place in the history of the Marine Corps. In 2006, 1st Marine Division once again deployed to Iraq as the ground combat element for I Marine Expeditionary Force.
Throughout the course of Operation Enduring Freedom, 1st Marine Division personnel and units deployed to Afghanistan to provide both advisory support and maneuver elements. In 2010, 1st Marine Division (Forward) deployed to Helmand province, Afghanistan, as part of the surge of more than 30,000 troops into the country.
While in Afghanistan, the Division served as the ground combat element for Task Force Leatherneck, leading a multinational coalition and working alongside Afghan National Security Forces. They conducted large-scale offensive operations throughout Helmand province, including Sangin and Musa Qal’eh districts.
In 2012, 1st Marine Division deployed to Afghanistan to serve as the headquarters for Task Force Leatherneck, the ground combat element for Regional Command (Southwest). During the year, the Division focused primarily on training and advising Afghans to take over security and stability operations. They assisted with the closure and transition of many posts throughout Helmand province. During spring and summer, coalition and Afghan forces cleared large areas of insurgent forces as part of Operation Jaws. Currently, 1st Marine Division units are in Afghanistan supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.