THEMIS was launched on February 17, 2007 to determine the trigger and large-scale evolution of substorms. During the first seven months of the mission the five satellites coasted near their injection orbit to avoid differential precession in anticipation of orbit placement, which started in September 2007 and led to a commencement of the baseline mission in December 2007. During the coast phase the probes were put into a string-of-pearls configuration at 100 s of km to 2 R-E along-track separations, which provided a unique view of the magnetosphere and enabled an unprecedented dataset in anticipation of the first tail season. In this paper we describe the first THEMIS substorm observations, captured during instrument commissioning on March 23, 2007. THEMIS measured the rapid expansion of the plasma sheet at a speed that is commensurate with the simultaneous expansion of the auroras on the ground. These are the first unequivocal observations of the rapid westward expansion process in space and on the ground. Aided by the remote sensing technique at energetic particle boundaries and combined with ancillary measurements and MHD simulations, they allow determination and mapping of space currents. These measurements show the power of the THEMIS instrumentation in the tail and the radiation belts. We also present THEMIS Flux Transfer Events (FTE) observations at the magnetopause, which demonstrate the importance of multi-point observations there and the quality of the THEMIS instrumentation in that region of space.