Fort Irwin has a rich and varied history that goes back almost 15,000 years. It is believed that the Native Americans of the Lake Mojave Period lived in the area, though the first recorded Native American settlements and pioneer explorations didn’t occur until 1796. Father Francisco Barces from Spain traveled the Mojave Indian Trail that year, and during that time he recorded sights of several small groups of Native Americans. His recordings are some of the earliest made and many historians believe that he was the first European to make contact with the Native Americans living in the Fort Irwin area.
A fur trapper by the name of Jedediah Smith is thought to have been the first American to explore the Fort Irwin area. He started his travels in 1826, but was soon followed by other pioneers that were traveling on the Old Spanish Trail between Santa Fe and Los Angeles.
The first members of the United States Army visited the site in 1844. CPT John C. Fremont and Kit Carson established a camp near Bitter Springs, a popular stopping place on the Old Spanish Trail. This camp also became a rest stop for those pioneers traveling the Mormon Trail from California to Salt Lake City.
When the California Gold Rush hit, it brought both wealth and trouble to the Fort Irwin area. California’s population was growing at a rapid rate and raiders and horse thieves soon populated the area as well. In 1846 the Army ordered a group known as the Mormon Battalion to patrol the area and try to control the raids and horse stealing. The area saw some action during the Indian War, but afterwards the area was fairly peaceful.
The President took almost 1,000 square miles of public land in 1940 to be used as the Mojave Anti-Aircraft Gunnery Range. The area was later renamed Fort Irwin in 1961, in memory of Major General George Irwin, who had been the commander of the 57th Field Artillery Brigade during World War I. During World War II, Camp Irwin was a training area and was also used to hold prisoners of war. The War Department closed the camp in 1944 and it remained closed until 1951.
When Camp Irwin reopened in 1951, it was as the Armored Combat Training Area. Fort Irwin was 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 there. Many units, primarily artillery and engineer, trained and deployed from Fort Irwin during the Vietnam War.
When the Vietnam ended in 1971, The Fort Irwin military reservation was again deactivated as an active military site and was eventually given to the State of California to train National Guard and Reserve Component soldiers. The California Army National Guard assumed control of Fort Irwin in 1972, operating it as a Reserve Component Training center (RCTC) on a full-time basis for the next nine years.
While Fort Irwin was being used as a RCTC, the Army started looking for a place to put a National Training center. They narrowed the possibilities down to eleven before choosing Fort Irwin. The Department of the Army announced their decision in 1979 and the National Training center was officially activated the following year. Today, Fort Irwin is considered to be one of the top training areas in the United States Army.
The National Training center at Fort Irwin was the first area to use M1 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradley fighting vehicles, and the first armored cavalry squadron rotation occurred there in November of 1984. The first MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) mission was also conducted at the National Training center Pioneer Training Facility, in December of 1993. Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the National Training center has changes its focus to continuous counterinsurgency operations that better reflect the ongoing and always changing battlefield.
The realistic training provided at the NTC makes sure that soldiers are prepared to protect and preserve U.S. interests both at home and abroad. Each month the NTC runs 4000-5000 soldiers from other installations through the essential training necessary to maintain and enhance military readiness and promote national security. The NTC provides a constant stream of new and evolving technology to keep soldiers familiar with the ever-changing weapons and technology being developed world-wide.
Fort Irwin is located in the western Mojave Desert midway between Las Vegas, Nevada and Los Angeles, California, approximately 37 miles northeast of Barstow, California. The Fort is surrounded by the desert hills and the mountains, with very little vegetation. Since it is in the western Mojave Desert, the regional forecast is generally dry and hot during the day, but there are clear, beautiful sunsets at night.
The entire area includes more than 642,000 acres of training area, and is as large as the state of Rhode Island. The northern boundary lies less than 1.7 miles (3 km) from the Death Valley National Monument. The San Bernadino and San Gabriel Mountains lie to the east and the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the west. The area is mountainous and elevations of over 10,000 feet (3,050 meters) are common.
Since the area is large, it gives brigades the chance to practice maneuvers in a realistic environment. They are able to test their endurance and skill in rough terrain and in more intense weather conditions. This helps the soldiers to stay in peak physical condition and prepare for the real thing when they leave.
The Fort Irwin military base is a fairly small and secluded area, and so the area maintains the feel of a close-knit community. Many families with small children live there and even though 4,000 to 5,000 soldiers rotate through the training program there each month, people continue with their normal, everyday lives.
In the 2010 United States Census, it was reported that Fort Irwin’s population was 8,845, made up of a variety of ethnic backgrounds. The Census also reported that 7,507 people (84.9% of the population) lived in households, while 1,338 (15.1%) lived in non-institutionalized group quarters. 2,371 households were reported, 1,532 (64.6%) of which contained children under the age of 18. There were 244 households (10.3%) made up of individuals and 3 (0.1%) had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.17. There were 2,090 families reported (88.1% of all households), and the average family size was 3.41.