Fort Irwin, located in the Mojave Desert of California, is the home to the main training area for the United States Military. With over 1,000 square miles for ranges and manuever, it has also become a premier training site for the prestigious National Training Center. The military installation is surrounded by rugged mountains and desert hills, with a desert terrain that supports limited vegetation of yuccas, mesquite, and creosote. The Mojave Desert is also known for bringing blue skies, beautiful sunsets, and wide-open vistas that can evoke a strong sense of freedom in most people.

Map of Fort Irwin

History of Fort Irwin

The rich history of Fort Irwin dates back almost 15,000 years, when Indians believed to reside in the area during the Lake Mojave Period. Father Francisco Barces recorded Indian settlements in the area when he came across the Mojave Indian Trail in 1976. During his pioneer explorations, he encountered a small group of Indians so he was considered as the first European to ever make contact to the first inhabitants of Lake Mojave. In 1826, Jedediah Smith also explored the area before other pioneers finally took the Old Spanish Trail between Los Angeles and Santa Fe.

Captain John C. Fermont, along with Kit Carson, was actually the first member of the US Army who visited the area of Irwin in 1884. He then established a camp nearby Bitter Springs, which accommodated travelers who took the Old Spanish Trail as well as the Mormon trail that links Salt Lake City to California. This camp eventually served as the supply center of pioneers during the California Gold Rush. While the Gold Rush promoted prosperous trade in the area, it also brought unexpected trouble to the area’s first inhabitants. As more travelers used the hidden trails to enter the growing territory of California, horse stealing and raids became problems.

In 1846, the Mormon Battalion was assigned to patrol the Fort Irwin area and control the horse stealing and raiding. The Army also constructed a stone fort overlooking the Bitter Springs during the Indian Wars. In the early 1880’s, the area also experience an unexpected economic boom when borax was discovered within the territory of Death Valley. The area continued to grow tremendously until the 1900’s as various mining operations flourished. Soon enough, workers, businesses, and railroads resulted in the establishment of Barstow town. The years that followed the Indian Wars were also quite peaceful.

In 1940, President Roosevelt decided to establish the Mojave Anti-Aircraft Range, an important military reservation that is approximately 1,000 square miles of the entire area of Fort Irwin. The Anti-Aircraft Area was then renamed Camp Irwin to celebrate the heroic deed of MG George Leroy Irwin, commander of the 57th Artillery Brigade, during the World War I. The camp was deactivated two years later but it reopened its gates as a premier Combat Training Area. In August 1961, Fort Irwin became a permanent military installation and eventually became the training site for the National Training Center.

Since the birth of the National Training Center, Fort Irwin has continued to witness many historical firsts. In 1984, the fort witnessed the first use of M2 Bradley fighting vehicles and M1 Abrams tanks on the battlefield of the National Training Center. It was also where the first armored squadron rotation took place. The 197th Infantry Brigade also participated in the extended rotation, and the National Training Center organized the first urban terrain mission in December of 1993. Until today, most countries visit the Fort Irwin Army Base to use it as an inspiration for building their own training centers.

Fort Irwin’s vision and mission

The main goal of the National Training Center is to provide realistic joint and combined arms training that focus on developing competent leaders, tough soldiers, and impressive units for the American Army. It aims to accomplish this goal by exposing soldiers to a harsh environment that adds a menacing, opposing element to their training. NTC also works to identify the deficiencies of training units and provide accurate feedback that will help in preparing the force for success in future joint battlefields. As a venue for transformation, the Fort Irwin Army Base also takes care of civilians, soldiers, and their family members.

NTC succeeds in training the American Army by exposing them to live-fire training and force-on-force aviation brigades. It also uses virtual-constructive training models as portrayed by the capable and highly lethal Opposing Force and controlled by the well-experienced Operations Group. The brigade, together with its joint partners, is allowed to use the full range of their combat and combat service support systems in multiple urban operations. This, of course, reflects the human dimension and complexity of modern battlefields. NTC also provides rotational training that is supported by modern equipment, facilities, and joint organizations.

Interesting facts and figures

Fort Irwin is located in the Mojave Desert, which sits between Las Vegas, Nevada, California, and Los Angeles. It is approximately 37 miles away from the town of Barstow, California. Town hall meetings and other activities in the community have given this military installation the relaxed atmosphere of a small town. However, soldiers from other military installations are known to rotate through the National Training Center several times a year. While the natural vegetation in this area remains sparse, its panoramic views of wide vistas and beautiful sunsets give local citizens and visitors a great sense of pride and freedom.

The population in the Fort Irwin Base can be grouped into four categories – assigned military forces, rotational soldiers, civilian workforce, and family members. Its total population of 23,958 people consists mainly of 6,288 rotational soldiers and 6,934 family members. While the number of assigned members of the military in this area is only 4,997, the civilian workforce is limited to 5,637 people. As the Fort Irwin Army Base continues to expand, the number of housing units, bachelor’s quarters, and barracks also continue to increase. Today, 168 bachelor’s quarters, 2,376 housing units, and 1,248 barracks already exist in this area.

Those who are interested in the history of Fort Irwin Army Base can now visit the NTC & 11th ACR Museum. It showcases exhibits that depict the history of the Bitter Springs Area from its first official government through todays highly specialized military training. This quick museum also has extensive dioramas and artefacts that can clearly portray the rich history of Fort Irwin Army Base.

Video – The Story of Fort Irwin