Located on either side of the Salinas River in California, Camp Roberts is situated right in Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties. The land here once belonged to Native American Indians who hunted and fished these lands exploring areas all around where the camp is now located. Camp Roberts is just off Highway 101, which happens to follow the old Mission Trail through these parts. It’s one of the most beautiful drives in California, and the road is still referred to as “El Camino Real,” which translates to the “The Royal Road” or “The King’s Highway.” North of the camp, you’ll find the historic landmark of the Mission San Miguel, which was one of the most popular missions first established in Alta California by the early Franciscan missionaries. It also produced some of the country’s best livestock and grain for the time. Camp Roberts’ history dates all the way back to 1797 when the land was farmed and groomed by these same missionaries. While the camp has been closed on and off throughout the years, it remains open today as the home of the California National Guard and is still apart of a great military history.
History of Camp Roberts
In 1902, Congress began looking for areas that were suitable for military post establishment. One of the sites considered was called “Navimiento Ranch.” The land was surveyed and was found to be an excellent spot for training and range facilities. At the time, the land was only $5.76 per acre in California. However, it would be awhile longer before Camp Roberts was established as the land was in a controversial location and it was suggested that soldiers would undergo inhumane conditions at the ranch. In 1940, the land was assessed once more and the Army purchased all of the leased parcels and additional land to establish the new facilities.
Construction began in 1940 under Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Martson. His command included the office, plans and blueprints for all of the facilities involved with Camp Roberts. The project involved 8,000 workers and was capable of housing 30,000 trainees at once. The name also changed from Camp Navimiento Replacement Training Center was changed to Camp Roberts in honor of Corporal Harold W. Roberts, who was a tank driver in World War I.
Corporal Roberts sacrificed his life while driving a tank under fire in Montrebeau Forest in Northeastern France. The tank fell into a shell crater that was filled with rainwater while to help another nearby tank. The tank continued to fill with water, but Corporal Roberts pushed the gunner out in time. He was unable to get out himself and drowned. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery and selflessness.
Camp Roberts was designated as a training facility for new soldiers in preparation for the coming conflicts of World War II. The Army remembered Harold Roberts as a 19-year-old hero who had laid his life down for his country, which is why he was honored by the camp receiving his name. Camp Roberts is one of the only military facilities named after an enlisted man.
In 1941, Camp Roberts opened as a replacement training center. It was the world’s largest military training facility at the time. It allowed for the training of thousands of soldiers and featured the largest parade area that was the length of 14 football fields. No other military facility comprised the same amount of land for such purposes.
The main garrison of Camp Roberts was built to house 23,000 troops and officers. Across the Salinas River, another garrison was built that could accommodate 6,000 troops. The 26th Field Artillery Brigade moved into the East Garrison in 1941. In total, 436,000 World War II Field and Infantry Artillery troops moved through training cycles at Camp Roberts. They were then sent to various combat zones in Europe and the Pacific. At its peak, Camp Roberts reached a population of 45,000 troops in 1945. Many men slept in tent cities during their training as there wasn’t enough space in the two garrisons.
Besides the training centers at Camp Roberts, there was also a hospital with 750 beds and prisoner of war area for German and Italian prisoners. Many of the Italian POWs were enlisted into a special Army Service Unit after Italy surrendered and spent the rest of the war as workers at Camp Roberts.
In 1946, Camp Roberts began processing soldiers returning home. The war was over, and as such, the camp became deserted. It was inactivated for training and went to “caretaker” status with only a small crew for maintenance who became the permanent residents. In the summer, National Guard and Army Reserve troops began training cycles at Camp Roberts. However, for most of the year, the camp was inactive until the Korean War in 1950.
Activity fell off again after the Korean War. The Army’s Combat Development Experimental Command used the area for weapons testing, and the Navy began to use it for live-fire ranges to teach gunners. However, it was mostly dead, and as such the camp was closed by the Army in April 1970. The California National Guard received control of the site a year later and established a Reserve Component Training Center. The site continues to be the home of the California National Guard, and other military branches train here as well.
Housing and Billeting at Camp Roberts
Housing is provided for all troops stationed at Camp Roberts in the old garrisons. You can contact the California State Military Department Joint Force Headquarters and ask for more information about your specific housing at 916-954-3000.
Camp Roberts offers houses, RV park and barracks-style rooms for billeting. You can reach the billeting office at 805-238-9312 or contact through DSN at 949-8312. Billeting is located in Building 6037. Camp Roberts has several programs such as hunting and fishing, environmental, USAREUR drivers training and resource management for which billeting is provided for the duration of the program.