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Twentynine Palms, California
Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command and Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center
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Combat Center Range Safety Officers Gary Santiago, left, and Steve Lomax discuss what's happening with the Can-Am KOH UTV Race with Sgt. Aaron Thiel of the Provost Marshal's Office, Feb. 7, 2018, outside the King of the Hammers operations trailer in Hammertown, Johnson Valley, Calif. Behind them, KOH co-founder Dave Cole leads a tour of Hammertown for members of the media, and volunteer KOH liaison Dawn Rowe talks with law enforcement officers. King of the Hammers is the largest off-road racing and rock-crawling event in North America. (Marine Corps photo by Kelly O'Sullivan)

Photo by Kelly O'Sullivan

Combat Center Range Safety, law enforcement critical to King of the Hammers’ success

7 Feb 2018 | Courtesy Story by Kelly O'Sullivan Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

JOHNSON VALLEY, CALIF. — King of the Hammers week keeps Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Range Safety and law enforcement personnel busy.

With air and ground live-fire training conducted daily during the year’s first Integrated Training Exercise, and thousands of off-roading enthusiasts racing and rock-crawling along the base’s western and northwestern border, it’s up to the Combat Center’s crew to work with other government agencies and HammerKing Productions staff to make sure no one gets hurt.

When four motorcycle riders made their way onto the Combat Center’s Emerson Lake training area Feb. 3, 2018, they were spotted by Provost Marshal’s Office patrol officers, who called the incident in to Gary Santiago, the lead Range Safety officer on duty in Hammertown. Santiago immediately called Range Control (call sign “Bearmat”) to shut down training while the riders were escorted safely from the area.

“This is the first time in three years we’ve had to put the base into cold status,” Santiago said. Training resumed about 30 minutes later and the ranges were hot again.

The incident was one of a historically low number of incursions onto the base that occurred during this year’s weeklong event, which Combat Center officials attributed to education and outreach conducted by Government and External Affairs personnel since 2015.

During the race event, Santiago and fellow range safety officers work with law enforcement officers from PMO and the Combat Center’s Environmental Affairs Division, as well law enforcement rangers from the Bureau of Land Management and California State Parks. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and California Highway Patrol also provide law enforcement during the event.

Interagency cooperation is essential to the safety and success of King of the Hammers.

“Park rangers have been instrumental in assisting with the northern border,” Santiago said. “Our guys patrol the southern borders. BLM helps HammerKing Productions to make sure the course is safe.”

During the three years he’s worked the event, Santiago has seen relationships and battle rhythm build.

“Every entity has its own specialty,” he said. “This is a people business. All egos are left at the door. When you know what’s supposed to happen, you know where you need to be. Everyone works for the success and safety of the race.”
Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms