Camp Pendleton is committed to operating and maintaining the world's finest amphibious training facility. With more than 125,000 acres of varied terrain and 17.1 more miles of shoreline, Camp Pendleton is one of the Department of Defense's busiest training installations.
The base's varied topography, combined with its amphibious training areas, inland training ranges and airspace, offers maximum flexibility for Marine Air Ground Task Forces and other service units that require a realistic combat training environment. Each year more than 40,000 active-duty and 26,000 reserve military personnel from all services use Camp Pendleton's many ranges and training facilities to maintain and sharpen their combat skills.
Each day and night, thousands of Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen hone their skills from the sea, on land and in the air above the Marine Corps' premiere amphibious training base. Camp Pendleton is home to the I Marine Expeditionary Force and two of its major subordinate commands - the 1st Marine Division and 1st Force Service Support Group. This finely tuned fighting force is the principal user of the base's training facilities.
Camp Pendleton offers a wide array of training opportunities: firing ranges for everything from 9 mm pistols to 155 mm artillery; landing beaches; parachute drop zones; aircraft bombing and strafing ranges; three mock urban warfare towns; and large maneuver areas for training tactical units.
The installation provides a wide range of training venues, including accessibility to amphibious landing areas. However, its location on the Pacific Coast between the congested Los Angeles and San Diego metropolitan areas leaves it vulnerable to a variety of encroachment concerns. In particular, rapid growth of adjacent communities (in some cases literally abutting the base boundaries) poses a variety of challenges. Some of these issues are the consequences of unregulated growth in nearby communities. Camp Pendleton has noted that its existing operations are challenged by noise control advocates, in most cases representing communities that were established long after the installation was established and the operations were underway. Beyond constraints on current operations, these communities have established a pattern of challenging, at times in court, USMC plans to establish new facilities and undertake new operations aboard Camp Pendleton. In particular, adjacent communities have taken legal action to preclude construction and use of helicopter landing facilities in the northern part of Camp Pendleton. Constraints and consequences attributable to growth also include threats to the quality and quantity of the installation's water supply.
Perhaps the most intrusive effects involve the application of a wide range of state and Federal environmental statutes. Camp Pendleton, like many large DoD facilities, manages large parcels of land which have the capability of providing habitat for endangered species. The installation's status as a US Government facility dramatically increases its susceptibility to locally imposed designations under the ESA and supporting regulations, potentially without consideration of the potential costs or reduction in training capability or quality. Ironically, in many cases, especially the identification and establishment of critical habitat for endangered species, the installation is a victim constrained by the legacy of its own long term success in effectively preserving and managing habitats. As adjacent private lands have been developed, activists have become more insistent that Camp Pendleton take action to protect remaining habitat for the seventeen endangered species currently considered to be resident there, and to include other species and other habitat under more restrictive management protocols. Such protection (imposed via restrictive use rules, and flight and ground maneuver avoidance areas) may come at the expense of effective and realistic training.
It is surely premature to speculate that civil pressure will cause the closure or the loss of significant parts of Camp Pendleton. However, the pressures now being experienced do represent a threat to effective use of the installation, and are emblematic of the effects of poorly considered and short-sighted development schemes, and do indicate the vital necessity for ensuring effective community support for retention of a key installation. In the case of Camp Pendleton, it is obvious that no other location in the nation would offer its tactical and logistical advantages, regardless of current or future investment in land or infrastructure.
Of all the Marine Corps bases throughout the world, Camp Pendleton has one of the most intriguing pasts, filled with historical charm and vibrancy. Spanish explorers, colorful politicians, herds of thundering cattle, skillful vaqueros and tough Marines have all contributed to the history of this land.
In 1769, a Spaniard by the name of Capt. Gaspar de Portola led an expeditionary force northward from lower California, seeking to establish Franciscan missions throughout California. On July 20 of that same year, the expedition arrived at a location now known as Camp Pendleton, and as it was the holy day St. Margaret, they baptized the land in the name of Santa Margarita. During the next 30 years, 21 missions were established, the most productive one being Mission San Luis Rey, just south of the present-day Camp Pendleton. At that time, San Luis Rey Mission had control over the Santa Margarita area.
In 1821, following Mexico's independence from Spain, the Californios became the new ruling class of California, and many were the first generation descendants of the Portola expedition. The Mexican governor was awarding land grants and ranchos to prominent businessmen, officials and military leaders. In 1841, two brothers by the name of Pio and Andres Pico became the first private owners of Rancho Santa Margarita. More land was later added to the grant, making the name Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores, and that name stayed with the ranch until the Marine Corps acquired it in 1942.
In 1863, a dashing Englishman named John Forster (Pio Pico's brother-in-law) paid off Pico's gambling debts in return for the deed to the ranch. During his tenure as owner of the ranch, he expanded the ranch house, which was first built in 1827, and developed the rancho into a thriving cattle industry.
Forster's heirs, however, were forced to sell the ranch in 1882 because of a string of bad luck, which included a series of droughts and a fence law that forced Forster to construct fencing around the extensive rancho lands. It was purchased by wealthy cattleman James Flood and managed by Irishman Richard O'Neill who was eventually rewarded for his faithful service with half ownership. Under the guidance of O'Neill's son, Jerome, the ranch began to net a profit of nearly half a million dollars annually, and the house was modernized and furnished to its present form.
In the early '40s, both the Army and the Marine Corps were looking for land for a large training base. The Army lost interest in the project, but in April of 1942 it was announced that the rancho was about to be transformed into the largest Marine Corps base in the country. It was named for Major General Joseph H. Pendleton who had long advocated the establishment of a West Coast training base. After five months of furious building activity, the 9th Marine Regiment marched from Camp Elliot in San Diego to Camp Pendleton to be the first troops to occupy the new base. On Sept. 25, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt arrived for the official dedication.
On the eve of World War II, as the Marine Corps doctrine of amphibious warfare was being refined and tested, the training of Marines was limited to Quantico and Parris Island on the East Coast, and San Diego on the West Coast. When expansion of all U.S. armed forces was authorized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's proclamation of unlimited national emergency on May 27, 1941, there was an immediate need for additional training area on both coasts. The creation of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina filled the critical need for training facilities along the Atlantic Coast.
Continued expansion and increased concentration of Marine activities on the West Coast, especially after it became apparent that the Marine Corps would have primary responsibility for Pacific operations, necessitated additional land for training purposes. The Marine Corps base at San Diego had become the center for all Marine activities in the Pacific. Nearby Camp Elliott provided the only area for small-unit training, but there was no training facility for the large division-size units that would be fighting the upcoming island campaigns against the Japanese.
On March 10, 1942, the Navy Department announced the purchase of approximately 130,000 acres, the "Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores," located between Los Angeles and San Diego. Construction of the base started March 23, 1942, with the awarding of a contract to build training facilities for amphibious forces
Under the command of future commandant Col. Lemuel Sheppard, 9th Marine Regiment completed a four-day march from Camp Elliott in San Diego to be the first troops to occupy the newly acquired West Coast training base, later known as Camp Joseph H. Pendleton. The time was September 1942, and building activity aboard the new base continued at a frenzied pace to transform a peaceful cattle ranch into a fast-paced military installation capable of training and transporting a large number of Marines to the Pacific. Also during these early days, one of the famed Raider Battalions was formed and trained here under LtCol. James Roosevelt, son of the president.
Combat Marines were not the only people to populate Camp Pendleton. Women Marine reservists arrived here in 1943 and were able to keep the administration of the base running smoothly. The Ranch House Chapel was restored and opened primarily for their use.
Wars inevitably produce heroes, and Camp Pendleton recognized one of it's own. Basilone Road, familiar landmark on base, was named for Sgt. John Basilone, who was the first enlisted Marine to wear the Medal of Honor in WWII, which he earned at Guadalcanal in 1942. Following the war, Camp Pendleton was inundated with troops returning from the Pacific and the deserted tent camps were once again bustling with activity. Working overtime the Redistribution Regiment was able to discharge about 200 Marines a day, and before leaving, each man was issued a discharge emblem to be sewn on his uniform as a badge of honor.
Camp Pendleton was declared a "permanent" installation in October 1944, and in 1946, Gen. Vandegrift stated that the base's future role was to be the center of all West Coast activities and the home of the 1st Marine Division, the peacetime strength of which would be 12,500. It was during this period of peacetime that MGen. Graves Erskine, commander of the base then known as Marine Barracks, Camp Pendleton, was determined to develop the base into "the finest Marine post in the world."
Tent camps were torn down and Quonsets put in their place, 17 area barracks were renovated into officers quarters, a $130,000 Spanish beach club was opened at San Onofre and a commissary opened in 1948. The base library opened in 1950 in a small frame building across from Division Headquarters where it remains today.
During the war, Pendleton became "Hollywood South." Movies were filmed on the base where morale was boosted by watching Hollywood Marines vanquish Hollywood Japanese. After the war, moviemakers continued to seek out Pendleton's brown hills for movies such as "Battle Cry," "Sands of Iwo Jima," "The Flying Leathernecks," and in later years "Retreat Hell" and "Heartbreak Ridge."
Relations with surrounding communities have not always been cordial. In 1947, MGen. Erskine was embroiled in a bitter dispute with the Oceanside School District over his right to operate a separate school for the children of Marines. The "Little Red Schoolhouse" was built in 17 Area and operated for two years until finally turned over to Oceanside in 1950.
Water was at the root of another controversy that resulted in a long and complicated legal battle involving Camp Pendleton and Fallbrook area residents who felt entitled to use the water from the Santa Margarita River, flowing through the base. The water rights trial became the longest trial in history, ending 17 years later in a compromise allowing Fallbrook Water District and Camp Pendleton to each construct a dam in order to obtain the share that they were allotted. But the case is not yet closed as Camp Pendleton is currently undergoing a re-evaluation of its water requirements, postponing any dam construction until completion of the survey.
Peacetime activities came to an abrupt halt in 1950 with the outbreak of the Korean War. Reservists crowded into Camp Pendleton, headed for the front, faster than the base could process them. Throughout the war years, replacements were hurriedly trained and sent to the Far East. The training, however hurried, was tough and realistic. A combat town was constructed to simulate a North Korean village where troops were exposed to as much realism as possible. Cold-weather training was moved from Idylwild to Pickle Meadows in the High Sierras because Idylwild wasn't tough enough. Cold-weather training was definitely survival training for those soon to be sent to Korea. Camp Pendleton's role as a training and replacement command was reflected in the nearly 200,000 Marines who passed through the base on their way to the Far East.
Those same hills and valleys beckoned to Camp Pendleton's civilian neighbors who wanted pieces of the base for their own use. Leases were granted for a California State Beach and for a nuclear power plant to the northern edge of the base, but developers eyeing the land for an airstrip and for private housing were forced to look elsewhere. At one point, the city of Oceanside even attempted to annex the base to become part of their city's tax base. The purpose for Camp Pendleton's existence has not changed; it was first and foremost a training base.
The Vietnam years again saw a buildup of men and machines bound for Indochina. The movement of the 1st Marine Division to the Far East occurred more gradually than in Korea and WWII. Replacements were rotated in and out of combat zones through Staging Battalion, which took a Marine arriving at the camp and gave him 15 intensive training days before sending him to Vietnam. The Korea combat village became a Vietnamese jungle village, complete with deadly booby traps. The combat environment and training methods changed over the years, but the purpose remained - train Marines to fight and get them to battle.
Unlike their WWII counterparts, Marines discharged after the Vietnam War did not receive badges of honor, but could still hold their heads high, as they had fought bravely and honorably in the highest Marine Corps tradition. And Camp Pendleton continued its proud tradition of training top-quality Marines and maintaining its combat readiness while it prepares itself to face the 21st century.
The Corps broadened its mission capabilities during the 1980s as "amphibious" became "expeditionary." Marines combined infantry, armor, supply and air power according to the task at hand, then demonstrated the effectiveness of the air-ground team in Grenada, Panama, Persian Gulf and Somalia. The rapid projection of self-sustaining military power was clearly shown when Camp Pendleton forces and their equipment were deployed halfway around the globe in just days.
In the late 1950's and early 1960 it became apparent that the continued use of Camp Matthews as the MCRD Weapons, Training And Small Arm facility could no longer be safely accomplished due to rapid growth of the City of San Diego and it's adjacent areas. So it was determined, after an area study, that a new recruit rifle range would be built on Camp Pendleton. I site known as Stuart Mesa was chosen. The area, named after Mr. E. B. Stuart a former agent for the Santa Fe Railroad in 1938, was originally a wheat farm, worked by a Mr. Newton (a canyon located to the east of Stuart Mesa bears his name). Construction of the new recruit weapons training facility was completed in the summer of 1961. The Weapons Training Battalion moved from the old Camp Matthews location to their new home on Camp Pendleton. The first Commanding Officer was LtCol T. B. Ettenborough, (11 July 1964 - 30 June 1965). The first recruits arrived from San Diego on 8 August 1964 and fired their first practice rounds on 17 August 1964. After establishment of the range, then known as Stuart Mesa Range, a study for an appropriate Marine oriented name was conducted, Those considered were sufficiently prominent in small arms marksmanship in both training and supervisory capacity and or for other .services rendered to the Corps.
MajGen Merrit A."RED MIKE" Edson, was a firing member of the 1921 Marine Corps National Rifle Team that won the matches at Camp Perry, Ohio that year He wag actively involved in the Marine Corps National and Regional Teams as a coach and as team captain from 1927-1936. At the outbreak of WWII, as a LtCol, he went to war with the 1st Marine Raider Battalion (known as Edson's Raiders) and wag awarded the Medal of honor for actions against the Japanese on the Solomon Islands during 13-14 September 1942. Due to General Edson's close association with the art of small arms marksmanship and a military record that would serve as an inspiration for any Marine, it was decided that the new rifle range facility would be named in big honor and on 25 January 1965 it was so named. When the range area wag originally built, there were 12 streets, they were named in honor of 11 Marines and one Hospital Corpsman who received the Medal of Honor and died in action.
As of August 2004, Camp Pendelton, Calif., was one of only Five locations in the Department of Defense to operate the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) air radar. The STARS radar allows the facility to simulate air traffic for training purposes. With built-in software, the digital STARS allows controllers the ability to simulate any number of inbound and outbound air traffic, and the target simulators perform with the same type of climb, descent and turn rates, with approach speeds of the actual type of aircraft it is simulating. This simulator has the ability to run a 200-aircraft training scenario with any type of military or civilian aircraft. The other facilities operating such a system were four other locations: NAVSTA Rota, Spain, in Norfolk, Va., Willow Grove, Pa., and Patuxent River, Md.
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