The Fort Irwin area is rich with history dating back almost 15,000 years, when Native American Indians of the Lake Mojave Period were believed to live in the area. Indian settlements and pioneer explorations in the area were first recorded when Father Francisco Barces, a Spaniard, traveled the Mojave Indian Trail in 1796. During his travels, he noted several small bands of Indians and is believed to have been the first European to make contact with the Indians of this area.
Jedediah Smith is thought to have been the first American to explore the area in 1826. A fur trapper, Smith was soon followed by other pioneers traveling the Old Spanish Trail between Santa Fe and Los Angeles. Bitter Springs, on the eastern edge of Fort Irwin, was a favorite stop-over site.
In 1844, Capt. John C. Fremont, accompanied by Kit Carson, was the first member of the U.S. Army to visit the Fort Irwin area. Fremont established a camp near Bitter Springs that served travelers on the Old Spanish Trail, and later the Mormon Trail, linking Salt Lake City to California. This camp was later to become an important supply center for pioneers during California’s settlement and gold rush.
The California Gold Rush brought prosperous trade and unexpected trouble to the area. As California grew, and more travelers used the trails to enter the territory, raids and horse stealing became a problem. In 1846, the Army’s “Mormon Battalion” patrolled the Fort Irwin area to control the raiding and horse stealing. During the Indian Wars the Army constructed a small stone fort overlooking Bitter Springs and patrolled the Fort Irwin area.
In the 1880s the area experienced an economic boom with the discovery of borax at Death Valley. From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, the area began to grow tremendously as mining operations of all types flourished. Soon railroads, workers, and businesses led to the establishment of the nearby town of Barstow.
The years following the Indian Wars were quiet militarily. In 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt established the Mojave Anti-Aircraft Range, a military reservation of approximately 1,000 square miles in the area of the present Fort Irwin. In 1942, the Mojave Anti-Aircraft Range was renamed Camp Irwin, in honor of Maj. Gen. George LeRoy Irwin, commander of
the 57th Field Artillery Brigade during World War I. Two years later, Camp Irwin was deactivated and placed on surplus status.
Camp Irwin reopened its gates in 1951 as the Armored Combat Training Area and served as a training center for combat units during the Korean War. Regimental tank companies of the 43d Infantry Division from Camp Pickett, Virginia, were the first to train at the new facility.
The post was designated a permanent installation on Aug. 1, 1961, and renamed Fort Irwin. During the Vietnam War buildup, many units, primarily artillery and engineer, trained and deployed from Fort Irwin.
In January 1971, the post was deactivated again and placed in maintenance status under the control of Fort MacArthur (Los Angeles), Calif. The California National Guard assumed full responsibility for the post in 1972. From 1972 to late 1980, Fort Irwin was used primarily as a training area by the National Guard and Reserve components.
On Aug. 9, 1979, the Department of the Army announced that Fort Irwin had been selected as the site for the National Training Center. With more than 1,000 square miles for maneuver and ranges, an uncluttered electromagnetic spectrum, airspace restricted to military use, and its isolation from densely populated areas, Fort Irwin was an ideal site for a National Training Center. The National Training Center was officially activated Oct. 16, 1980, and Fort Irwin returned to active status on July 1, 1981.
Since its activation, the National Training Center has witnessed many firsts. The first unit to train against the Opposing Force at the NTC were from 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division in January 1982. Infantry and engineer units first augmented the Opposing Force in 1984. June 1984 saw the first use of M1 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles on the National Training Center battle field. The first armored cavalry squadron rotation occurred in November 1984. Units from the 101st Airborne Division participated in the first light force rotation in March 1985. The 197th Infantry Brigade participated in the first extended rotation with brigade operations in June 1985. The first urban terrain mission was conducted at the National Training Center Pioneer Training Facility in December 1993.
The National Training Center and Fort Irwin continue to serve as the Army’s premier training center. Officials from many countries have visited the National Training Center and use it as a model to build their own training centers. As in the past, Fort Irwin pits Soldiers against a harsh environment, but now adds a determined and formidable opposing force. As during World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, the National Training Center and Fort Irwin continue to train units to fight decisively and win on any battle field.