Johnson Valley, CA -- MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER, TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — The Combat Center’s vast expanse of desert, more than 1,100 square miles, is home to many forms of wildlife and hidden archaeological wonders. Conservation Law Enforcement Officers, or CLEOs, work to protect these unique and irreplaceable resources aboard the installation, helping the base preserve its training mission.
Each February, CLEOs play an integral role in protecting that mission during the annual King of the Hammers event in Johnson Valley, Calif. KOH is the largest off-road racing and rock-crawling event in North America and brings hundreds of race teams and thousands of spectators to the dry lake beds, sand dunes and canyons west of ranges where combined-arms, live-fire training is conducted daily.
“Areas of high-density cultural and natural resources happen to fall near King of the Hammers due to the recent base expansion,” said Russel Elswick, chief conservation law enforcement officer, Environmental Affairs. “We get a lot of people who do and don’t know the new boundaries of the base, so we try to move them out of those areas and inform them of the base boundaries.”
CLEOs spend the week patrolling training areas to keep spectators and racers off the base and away from danger.
“We’re here to do the law enforcement aspect of environmental affairs,” Elswick said. “Our primary goal is to protect the large cultural and natural sites on the base. Our secondary is to protect any of the smaller ones that the base might have, as well to protect and serve the installation personnel and outside community.”
In addition to patrols during events like King of the Hammers, Elswick and his team of four officers work year-round to protect the Combat Center’s cultural and natural resources. They average more than 300 contacts a year with civilians coming onto the installation, resulting in everything from small citations to felony arrests.