LOS ANGELES--The National Training Center was officially activated on Oct. 16, 1980, making the current incarnation of the sprawling Fort Irwin 33 years old. But did you know that the Los Angeles District worked under the direction of Gen. George S. Patton Jr. to procure the land to build an early and more vast version of NTC—then known as the Desert Training Center-California-Arizona Maneuver Area—in 1942?
“Patton in his characteristic flamboyant style, informed Lt. Col. Edwin C. Kelton, (then) District engineer of the Los Angeles District, that he would return with his division and its support personnel, consisting of approximately 60,000 Soldiers, in 40 days, by which time he expected facilities ready for quartering and messing these men,” according to "Did You Know? Vol. II," a historical guide written by Dr. Anthony Turnhollow, who served as the District’s historian from 1966 to 1998.
True to his word, Patton's troops began to arrive on April 11, 1942, to find the facility fully-annexed and ready for training. Patton went on to use the dry, rugged terrain to prepare Soldiers of the I Armored Corps for battle during the opening salvoes of U.S. involvement in World War II in French North Africa.
The official history of the 773rd Tank Destroyer Battalion, which was among the first units to train at DTC-CAMA, described the area as: "The world's largest Army post and the greatest training maneuver area in U.S. military history. Eighteen thousand square miles of nothing in a desert designed for hell." More than one million men experienced the Desert Training Center's version of "hell" before the post was closed in 1944.
The original Desert Training Center spanned 350 miles from Pomona, Calif., to the Arizona Desert, and 250 miles from Yuma, Ariz., to Boulder City, Nev. Today, despite its dramatically decreased size to its present 996 square miles, the National Training Center at Fort Irwin is regarded as the nation's premier training center.
The Los Angeles District has continued its partnership with the National Training Center in recent months, having broken ground on a new hospital and water treatment plant for the post. In August, an emergency contingent of engineers and other responders were deployed to assess damage and begin reconstruction efforts after a monsoon-like storm flooded much of the training center, causing an estimated $50 million in damage.