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Fort Irwin

The National Training Center (NTC), located at Fort Irwin, CA, is the only instrumented training facility in the world that is suitable for force-on-force and live fire training of heavy brigade-sized military forces. The realistic training provided at the NTC assures soldiers are adequately prepared to protect and preserve US interests here and abroad. Each month the NTC provides 4000-5000 soldiers, from other installations, the essential training opportunities necessary to maintain and improve military readiness and promote national security. The evolving sophistication of military equipment and advances in technology require a comprehensive battlefield that realistically simulates the tempo, range, and intensity of current, and future conflicts. The NTC must provide all the necessary components to achieve world-class training for the world's best Army.

The National Training Center is the Army's premier heavy maneuver Combat Training Center (CTC). As large as the state of Rhode Island, the fully instrumented NTC allows live Brigade level force-on-force exercises to be conducted numerous times each year.

The depth and width of the battle space gives brigade elements the unique opportunity to exercise all of its elements in a realistic environment. This is often a unit's only opportunity to test its combat service and combat service support elements over a doctrinal distance. BCTs must be able to communicate through up to 8 communications corridors, evacuate casualties over 40 kilometers, and navigate at night in treacherous terrain with few distinguishable roads. Other environmental conditions such as a 40 to 50 degree diurnal temperature range, winds over 45 knots, and constant exposure to the sun stresses every system and soldier to their limit.

Fort Irwin is located approximately 37 miles northeast of Barstow, California in the High Mojave Desert midway between Las Vegas, Nevada and Los Angeles, California. The installation is surrounded by desert hills and mountains. Natural vegetation is sparse and consists of mesquite, creosote, yucca's, and other low growing plants. Beautiful sunsets, blue skies, sunny days and wide open vistas are some of the pleasures of the desert and give many a sense of freedom. Do, however, expect the primary colors to be tan and brown. For those needing to see green, Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead are two hours away providing tall trees and lakes.

The entire reservation encompasses more than 642,000 acres of training area with the northern boundary less than 1.7 NM (3 km) from Death Valley National Monument. The San Bernadino and San Gabriel Mountains extend in an east-west path 73 NM (135 km) southwest of Bicycle Lake. The Sierra Nevada Mountains, oriented north- to south, are to the west. Elevations in excess of 10,000 feet (3,050 meters) are common in these ranges.

Soldiers assigned to the NTC Aviation Company work out of Barstow-Daggett Airport which is located in Daggett off I-40 a few miles east of Barstow. Many of this unit's personnel choose to live in Barstow, on the Marine Corps Logistics Base or at Silver Lakes (a small community located about 25 miles southwest of Barstow).

Because Fort Irwin is a fairly small community, people living here get to know their neighbors. After a short period, visits to the commissary and post exchange (PX) are usually accompanied by a series of friendly "hellos". Children often live next door to their school mates, play on the same sports teams, or go to daycare together. Fort Irwin maintains a small town atmosphere with town hall meetings and other community forums even though 4000-5000 soldiers from other installations rotate through the NTC each month.

The Fort Irwin area is rich with history dating back almost 15,000 years, when Indians of the Lake Mojave Period were believed to live in the area. Indian settlements and pioneer explorations in the area were first recorded when Father Francisco Barces, a Spaniard, traveled the Mojave Indian Trail in 1796. During his travels, he noted several small bands of Indians and is believed to have been the first European to make contact with the Indians of this area.

Jedediah Smith is thought to have been the first American to explore the area in 1826. A fur trapper, Smith was soon followed by other pioneers traveling the Old Spanish Trail between Santa Fe and Los Angeles. Bitter Springs, on the eastern edge of Fort Irwin, was a favorite stop over site.

In 1844, CPT John C. Fremont, accompanied by Kit Carson, was the first member of the US Army to visit the Fort Irwin area. CPT Fremont established a camp near Bitter Springs that served travelers on the Old Spanish Trail, and later the Mormon Trail, linking Salt Lake City to California. This camp was later to become an important supply center for pioneers during California's settlement and gold rush.

The California Gold Rush brought prosperous trade and unexpected trouble to the area. As California grew, and more travelers used the trails to enter the territory, raids and horse stealing became a problem. In 1846, the Army's "Mormon Battalion" patrolled the Fort Irwin area to control the raiding and horse stealing. During the Indian Wars the Army constructed a small stone fort overlooking Bitter Springs and patrolled the Fort Irwin area.

In the 1880's the area experienced an economic boom with the discovery of borax at Death Valley. From the late 1800's to the early 1900's, the area began to grow tremendously as mining operations of all types flourished. Soon railroads, workers, and businesses led to the establishment of the nearby town of Barstow. The years following the Indian Wars were quiet militarily.

On August 8, 1940, a Presidential order withdrew from public use almost 1,000 square miles of public land in the High Desert of Southern California. The land was established as the Mojave Anti-Aircraft Gunnery Range and later named Camp Irwin in memory of Major General George Irwin, , commander of the 57th Field Artillery Brigade during World War I. During World War II, Camp Irwin was used for training and served as an internment site for prisoners of war. In 1944, the camp was closed by the War Department and remained in caretaker status until 1951.

Camp Irwin reopened its gates in 1951 as the Armored Combat Training Area and served as a training center for combat units during the Korean War. Regimental tank companies of the 43d Infantry Division from Camp Pickett, Virginia were the first to train at the new United States Army Armor and Desert Training Center. The post was designated a permanent installation on 1 August 1961 and renamed Fort Irwin. During the Vietnam buildup, many units, primarily artillery and engineer, trained and deployed from Fort Irwin.

During 1964, the Fort Irwin Con-Site supported an exercise conducted by the US Strike Command called "Desert Strike". This large two-sided Army-Air Force exercise took place in a 12-million acre area of desert in California and Arizona centered on the Colorado River. Total Army troop participation was 89,788 of which over 4,000 troops being from the California Guard. 2nd Brigade, 40th Armored Division (CA ARNG) was assigned to Task Force Mojave on the California side of the river. 2nd Brigade drew all their tracked vehicles from the Fort Irwin Con-Site and then moved to an assembly area by Tonopah Lake. From there, the battle took the brigade to Bristol Lake, Sheephole, Essex, Amboy, Homer and Topek at the Colorado River. The Con-Site also assisted the Active Army. Then Con-Site personnel recovered non-operational vehicles, repaired them at Fort Irwin and returned them to the exercise. The equipment operational rate of all forces was very low after the exercise due to the numerous miles the equipment had been driven in the exercise. Personnel of the Con-Site recovered equipment for eight months. It took the Con-Site nine months to repair the vehicles used in the exercise.

Again in 1971, with the Vietnam war winding down, Fort Irwin was deactivated and eventually turned over to the State of California to train National Guard and Reserve Component soldiers. California Army National Guard units continued to train at Fort Irwin with limited support provided by the Sixth United States Army. As a result of post closure, the Fort Irwin ATEP moved to the current location of Langford Lake Road and MATES Road plus occupied the maintenance complex across the street and Building 860 (Warehouse) during 1970 to 1971. The California Army National Guard assumed control of Fort Irwin on 1 September 1972, operating it as a Reserve Component Training Center (RCTC) on a full-time basis for the next nine years.

During this period, the Army began looking for a site to house a National Training Center and out of the eleven sites considered, Fort Irwin came out on top. On 9 August 1979, the Department of the Army announced that Fort Irwin had been selected as the site for the National Training Center. The National Training Center was officially activated 16 October 1980 and Fort Irwin returned to active status on 1 July 1981. Today, it is considered to be the premier training site of the U.S. Army.

The designation of the Army National Guard Mobilization and Training Equipment Site was changed to Maneuver Area Training Equipment Site (MATES) in 1998. The MATES at Fort Irwin is scheduled to have a new twenty million-dollar facility built in the year 2002. This a long term project that has been working since 1985 when the first DD Form 1390/ 1391s were submitted to the Headquarters, California National Guard outlining the specifications and justifications for a new MATES. In 1986 a request was submitted to the National Training Center (NTC) for a 100 acres site that would accommodate a completely modern and larger MATES complex at Fort Irwin. The NTC indicated that this project must first be worked into the NTC master plan and approved by FORSCOM. In the mean time, revised DD Form 1390/ 1391s continued to be submitted. The request to the NTC for land was reinitiated in 1993 resulting in an allocation of 100 acres in the NTC master plan with FOSCOM approval. The process to complete the project's environmental assessment and documentation requirements was conducted from November 1993 to late 1997. In early 1998, an architect to design the facility was selected.

A 1996 survey of World War II and Cold War structures revealed that several buildings from Fort Irwin's Pioneer Deep Space Tracking Station (closed in the early 1980s) were eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. In 1997, the California State Historic Preservation Office recommended that this complex be considered an historic district. Because of the area's relative isolation and the high cost of potential renovation, the Team has since consulted with the California State Historic Preservation Office regarding options for recording it. In the meantime, the site is monitored frequently for impact.

The Army's new generation of sophisticated equipment and technology will move faster, endure greater distances and engage more enemies. The NTC must be flexible enough to meet the challenges presented by such equipment, tactics and technology well into the 21st Century. The Cold War may have been more dangerous, but the current geo-strategic environment is much more complex. The next generation of threats to U.S. security may come from a divergent array of sources; regional instabilities, terrorism, rogue nations. The ability to fight and win on any battlefield anywhere in the world for the foreseeable future is essential to the mission of the U.S. Army of the 21st Century.

In 1981, when Fort Irwin was designated the National Training Center, U.S. Army tactics were structured around equipment that could effectively engage an enemy at ranges of 1 to 12 miles. Today's Army equipment effectively engages an enemy at ranges up to 60 miles away. Also, the pace of tactical operations has increased from 10 miles per hour to more than 25 miles per hour. A modern tank can now reach speeds of more than 60 MPH. Our experience in the Desert Storm operation, has also confirmed the need to train heavy mechanized units in larger, brigade-sized assemblages. Modern tactics involve a more diffuse, faster moving array. The result is a greater number of soldiers and equipment spread over larger land areas. Therefore, the current lands at the NTC are not adequate to realistically support the changes in distance and pace of equipment, along with the training needs of today's brigade-sized units.

The NTC's proposed expansion will provide Fort Irwin with additional areas of operation for heavy force-on-force maneuvers. By so doing, NTC commanders can provide new and varied scenarios to rotational units and the Opposing Force (OPFOR) units. The value inherent in such flexibility cannot be overstated. Realistic training is at the very heart of the NTC mission. Diverse and unfamiliar training lands provide an essential element of realism for units and commanders who have become accustomed to the single theatre now in use at the NTC. The options represented by additional areas of operation can be used to test planning and execution of tactics without the drawbacks associated with being to familiar with the terrain.

The Army completed Land Use Requirements Studies (LURS) in 1985 and again in 1993, to determine the amount of training land required to meet current and future training needs at the NTC. The LURS takes into account the types of units, the kinds of maneuvers, and the organizational characteristics of realistic battlefield training missions. The studies indicated a need for approximately 552,000 net maneuverable acres to be consistent with current and future needs. The NTC currently has about 358,701 net maneuver acres available for training, leaving a shortfall of about 193,300 acres.

In October 2000, extended negotiations between DA and DOI resulted in a DA/DOI agreement on proposed legislation that would determine boundaries of a western expansion area. This legislative proposal is a culmination of discussions in which the Army modified its training land requirements to avoid use of Paradise Valley, the most sensitive desert tortoise habitat. Under this new concept, the Army would seek the use of about 133,000 additional training acres, which includes approximately 22,000 acres of Fort Irwin land that is not currently used for this purpose, plus 46,438 acres east in Silurian Valley and 63,673 acres west in Superior Valley. Congress approved the DA/DOI joint approval for expansion and President Clinton signed the legislation (H.R. 5666) on 21 December 2000.


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