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I'm a loner, and not in a negative sense but I'm comfortable keeping to myself. Joshua Tree National Park speaks to me in that sense. I can spend hours even days laying in the sun or taking pictures of cars driving by in the middle of the night. The community that I've come to know has a laid back, live in the moment approach. It's not fast paced like my job. I've learned to unwind and JTNP brings me back. It's no wonder why people from all over the world make the trek to the 1235.37 square mile wilderness.

Photo by Cpl. Sarah Dietz

Our Backyard

11 Jan 2013 | Cpl. William Jackson

There were horror stories about the Stumps, like  unbearable heat and the stench of Lake Bandini. There were rumors of Marines getting struck by lightning in the field or getting lost in the middle of the desert. Granted, bad things happen everywhere, but everytime I hear a new story I keep thinking, “What horrible thing will happen to me?” This place has been my home for the past three years, and no, nothing terrible has happened to me.

When I first heard the horror stories, they came from my brother and my recruiter. We’ve all heard them. In fact, I still hear them.

I’ve always insisted that I didn’t care where I went, “The needs of the Marine Corps,” still resonates through my head. My body ached to be sent anywhere but Twentynine Palms. I cringed at the thought of it. I dreaded that very moment when the words “Twentynine Palms,” began forming on which ever Marine had the audacity to name my duty station.

There I was, a 19-year-old lance corporal dreading a duty station because of half-baked stories from Marines who spent their time in Twentynine Palms running through Combined Arms Exercise or Mojave Viper.

Little did I know the Combat Center had more to offer than anyone would have let me imagine.

I’ve been able to meet my share of the most interesting people in the world right here in our back yard. Royal Marines from the United Kingdom, Kiwi soldiers from New Zealand and United Arab Emirates have journeyed to the Combat Center because of the capabilities and assets we possess. 

There was this one time last June, 36 Kiwi soldiers stepped foot on soil that was unlike anything in their Southwest Pacific area of operation. It was my first real interaction with anyone from New Zealand and their first time coming to the Combat Center, some of them even the U.S. It turned out to be the most fun I’ve ever had on a photo shoot.

There were these guys my age from a completely different part of the world, but we weren’t very different. We joked about common American misconceptions, especially how everyone from the U.S. were like the guys from MTV’s Jersey Shore. I got them back though, in my own nerdy way, and asked if their upbringing was anything like how the Lord of the Rings portrayed New Zealand.

A few hours went by and we got into topics about accents, sports and movies. They felt interested in American culture just like I was in theirs. My misconception of other nations dislike for Americans was falling apart little by little.

The experiences with the Kiwi soldiers surprisingly gave me a whole new outlook to the installation and how I treated the surroundings. When I spoke ignorantly about how boring it is here, they came at me loaded with their own duty station downers. I had to agree with them they only had a bowling alley and a movie theater as their entertainment. Bummer. The ocean they lived by was shark-infested. During the stories, they painted their city to be about half the size of Twentynine Palms, another bummer, but, they mentioned there were tons of beautiful women which never hurts.

I’ve seen a lot on and off duty at the Combat Center. I’ve ventured to Orange County over the past year, which became a second home. As a person who loves to explore, climb and hike, this place is more than meets the eye. I’ve scratched the surface of Joshua Tree National Park and Big Bear. Las Vegas has become a sullen wasteland to me partly because of lost memories from social debauchery but that’s a whole thing in itself.

In reality, my back yard isn’t a horror story anymore. Except the smell because I don’t think I’ll ever get over it.

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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms