Camp Santiago or Campamento Santiago is a military training facility located in Salinas, Puerto. The Puerto Rico National Guard is stationed here and has a rich history dating back to World War II. The camp was named after Hector Santiago-Colon who was a Specialist Fourth Class. Born in Salinas in the middle of World War II, Hector has been a positive symbol for his hometown. He earned recognized by sacrificing his life in 1968 at the age of 25 to save the lives of those fighting with him in the Vietnam War. He was one of four Puerto Ricans to be given the Congressional Medal of Honor, and he was the second soldier to have an installation camp named after him in recognition of his patriotism. Camp Santiago was apart of Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield and continues to serve as the location of the Puerto Rico National Guard.
History of Campamento Santiago
In 1940, the US government leased what was known as Camp Salinas from the Insular Government of Puerto Rico. It was the home of the 65th Infantry Regiment 3rd Battalion training throughout 1941. The troops were then sent to Panama to protect the Panama Canal through the second World War.
After World War II, the camp went back to the government of Puerto Rico, but it was again licensed to the Puerto Rico National Guard in 1967. What originally used to be a tent camp with very little permanent buildings has grown to a huge installation spanning 715,680 square feet with more than 300 buildings.
In 1975, the installation received a new name and was known as Campamento Santiago. Just a decade earlier, Hector Santiago-Colon received the Medal of Honor after his valiant service in the Vietnam War where he saved many lives though sacrificing his own. Salinas was his hometown and birthplace. Since that time, the camp has become a very important asset to several modern operations and training maneuvers.
In the early 1990s, military units like the 92nd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade were stationed in Camp Santiago for their initial training before deploying to Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait. The camp also continued to be the training grounds for the National Guard and Reserve soldiers in Puerto Rico especially for Operation Enduring Freedom, which occurred during the war in Afghanistan.
In 2000, Operation Tradewinds began at Camp Santiago, which was meant to test assistance and maintenance of order in times of disaster. Five hundred troops were involved in the exercise including those from Antigua, Dominica, Granada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, the Grenadines, Belize, Bahamas, Trinidad, Guyana and Tobago. The US and the UK both participated in the 8-day training exercise, which was sponsored by CARICOM, which is the Caribbean defense system. In 2006, more soldiers were stationed at Camp Santiago to prepare for the Iraq War as part of Operation Desert Shield.
Camp Santiago is also home to a US Navy radio station receiver site. The camp also became a small village for athletes who were competing in the 1993 Central American and Caribbean Games in Ponce and again in 2010 when the games were held in Mayaguez.
The Installation at Camp Santiago
The Camp Santiago Joint Maneuver Training Center (CSJMTC) is located south 51 miles of San Juan, which is the capital of Puerto Rico. You can find the main gate to the camp right off Puerto Rico Highway 52, but the camp’s entrances are accessible to any direction in Puerto Rico. While there aren’t any permanent residents at Camp Santiago, it houses thousands of troops on a temporary schedule.
In 1966, Colonel Alberto A. Nido requested to construct a range at the Salinas Training area and began to bring in equipment to create the range. The towers were donated by the air depot at McDill AFB. The range was inaugurated in a few months with the presence of Hon Roberto Sanchez Vilella, the Governor of Puerto Rico.
Recently much of the old barracks have been replaced with new facilities. Other facilities in the camp include the Sustainment Automation Support Management Office (SASMO), Puerto Rico National Guard Museum, movie theater, dining hall, base chapel, fire station, community pool and water training area, fitness area, cyber cafe, Torres Fitness Center, six shoppettes, post exchange and a gas station.
There are multiple training facilities at Camp Santiago including Virtual Convoy Operations Trainer, Maneuver Area Training Equipment Site, Call for Fire Trainer, Engage Simulation Training, EID Path Zoo, rappelling tower, FOB Compound Area, 2HMMWB Engress Assistance Trainer, Pre-mob Training area and an urban assault obstacle course. There are some projects in the works for the Camp Santiago Joint Maneuver Training Center to include land navigation courses, military pistol qualification range and live shooting house.
Camp Santiago is also home to the Warriors Plaza, which was revealed on September 11th, 2011 to remember the 10th anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 attacks. Many of the Puerto Rico National Guard members were mobilized to the New York area to respond and help with search and rescue.
Today at Camp Santiago
Camp Santiago is still the primary training installation for the Army National Guard, US Army and US Army Reserve for Annual Field Training Exercises each summer and for monthly drills. Army National Guard and Army Reserve units also visit the camp to undergo annual training. US Marine Corpse Reserve units also use the facilities for field training and weapons qualifications. Semester training exercises for the Army ROTC and Air Force ROTC are also located at Camp Santiago.
Each February, Camp Santiago opens up to the general public for the annual Puerto Rico National Guard Family Day and celebrates the history of the installation on the island.
The Puerto Rico Rifle and Pistol Association also have their official state championships hosted at Camp Santiago each year. Participants enter from law enforcement, military and civilian organizations.
Most of Camp Santiago is dedicated to operations in southern Puerto Rico as well. The Civil Air Patrol and US Naval Sea Cadet Corps also have their summer encampment located at Camp Santiago.