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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center celebrates 60th anniversary

17 Aug 2012 | LCpl. D.J. Wu

On Aug. 24, the Combat Center will celebrate its 60th anniversary. For more than half a century the Combat Center has earned its reputation as the Marine Corps’ foremost training facility.


According to a commemorative letter by Commanding General Brig. Gen. George W. Smith Jr., “The anniversary celebration serves as a salute to six decades of selfless service by tens of thousands of sun leathered Leathernecks who have played a role in writing the rich history of this ‘crown jewel’ of our Corps.”

In November 1941, the Army Air Corps established a glider training school on dry lake beds north of Twentynine Palms, Calif. The Camp Detachment Marine Corps Training Center made its start at the Army-built training area, formerly known as Condor Field.

In 1952, Base Headquarters at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., issued Post Order 343. The order made 930 square miles of the Mojave Desert into Camp Detachment Marine Corps Training Center, under Camp Pendleton’s command. The Combat Center would not become its own independent command until a few years later.

The operational requirements of World War II led to the establishment of the Corps’ new training center. The Marine Corps had quickly outgrown the training areas at Camp Pendleton. The desert was full of training potential.

The Training Center was known as the Marine Corps’ largest training base and still is today.

The Combat Center’s large training area enables the Marine Corps to conduct live-fire training including long-range artillery operations. The Combat Center is the only installation that can accommodate the Corps’ large-scale combined-arms live-fire exercises.

In February 1957, the Training Center became its own command, independent from Camp Pendleton. It was re-designated as Marine Corps Base Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Many changes and advancements would happen in the 1960s for MCB Twentynine Palms. Two Light Anti-Armor Missile battalions began to call Twentynine Palms home.

These additions made the base one of four places in the country to be able to host surface-to-air missile training.

In 1964, Marines and sailors with Twentynine Palms tenant units deployed to combat in Vietnam. The first of many deployments to come.

On Nov. 22, 1963, Headquarters Marine Corps planned to move the Communication-Electronics School Battalion from Marine Corps Recruiting Station San Diego, to Twentynine Palms. In the fall of 1967, “C&E School” graduated its first class of 400 Marines.

History was made Aug. 20, 1965 when Cpl. Ida Buchman became MCB Twentynine Palms’ first female Marine. At that time female Marines could only be stationed here if accompanied their by Marine spouse or if they were married to a retired Marine that lived here.

The Vietnam War came to an end in the 1970s. Gen. Louis H. Wilson, 26th Commandant of the Marine Corps expanded the base’s mission to include training of all tactical units in the Marine Corps. Construction of the Expeditionary Air Field was completed and plans were formed for the Tactical Exercise Control Center.

The command’s name changed again in October 1978 to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Training Center after the completion of the Expeditionary Airfield. The name would change again a few months later in February 1979 to its present Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center.

The 1980s brought even more Marines to the Combat Center. Units including Light Assault Vehicle Battalion and battalions from 11th Marine Regiment started calling the Combat Center home.

As environmentalism gained importance in the 1990s, the Combat Center established conservation programs. The installation built a solid reputation within the Corps and community. The Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs directorate was stood up in 1992. They kept the Combat Center on the forefront of environmental policies. 7th Marine Regiment came to the desert in the 1990s. Shortly after the arrival of the “Magnificent Seventh,” another conflict arose, known as Operation Desert Shield.

“I was the first sergeant for Company A, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, during the transition,” said Ron Genet, deputy director for the Center’s community plans liaison office and retired sergeant major. “We just started our training cycle at the (Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, Bridgeport) when Saddam attacked Kuwait. We came straight back down and started getting ready.”

The training priorities of the Combat Center shifted at that time from Combined Arms Exercise training to preparing units for duty in the Persian Gulf.

CAX became the predeployment training standard for the Corps until 2005, when Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom forced the Marine Corps to focus on counterinsurgency warfare. CAX changed to Mojave Viper, and shortly after, Enhanced Mojave Viper. EMV became the standard in pre-deployment training for Marine combat operations.

In the last two decades the Marine Corps has relied on the Combat Center for preparing Marines for deployments to expeditionary operations. The installation’s unique ranges and training staff make it central in training and developing core Marine combat skills.

“Things have changed so much since my time here,” Genet said. “I’ve served with a few different units on this installation and the things that they do now are just bigger and better.”

Recently, the Combat Center has made significant advancements. One major step was the construction of the Combined Arms Military Operations in Urban Terrain city known as CAMOUT, the Corps’ largest urban warfare training range.

In 2010 the Combat Center furthered its environmental programs by partnering with the Mojave Desert Land Trust for the installation’s first Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative project. Efforts like this one and those of the NREA contributed to the Combat Center winning two Secretary of the Navy Environmental Awards for Sustainability.

The Combat Center has mapped an exciting trajectory into the next decade that includes tremendous infrastructure growth throughout Mainside, according to Smith’s letter. (It also includes) an ongoing initiative to acquire additional lands to support 21st Century MAGTF live-fire training requirements, and a DOD-leading effort to leverage renewable energy while continuing to serve as responsible stewards of the environment.

The additions of CAMOUT, the Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group and the Marine Corps Logistics Operations Group have advanced the standardization of MAGTF operations.

The tactical training Marines conduct at the Combat Center continues to evolve along with Combat Center’s role in ensuring Marine Corps readiness.

One constant remains, the all-important role the Combat Center will play in ensuring that our Corps remains the Nation’s Expeditionary Force in Readiness with the core competency of being the most lethal combined-arms fighting force in the world. Our collective responsibility to our Corps and out Nation remains crystal clear.

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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms