Fort Irwin Working on Westerly Expansion

U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, depart during Decisive Action Rotation 16-09 at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Sept. 9, 2016. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Ernesto Gonzalez)
U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, depart during Decisive Action Rotation 16-09 at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Sept. 9, 2016. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Ernesto Gonzalez)

VICTORVILLE -- Fort Irwin is working on a westerly expansion, seeking to integrate into the National Training Center some 75,000 acres of land turned over years ago to the U.S. Army, Col. Scott Taylor said Tuesday.

Taylor, Ft. Irwin's garrison commander, called it a "very expensive, multi-year event."

The base's training area already covers a swath of desert the size of Rhode Island. In 2008, the U.S. Army's transfer of desert tortoises from land slated for an 118,000-acre expansion was halted after up to 90 died of the 411 being tracked.

Taylor acknowledged that the Army must still work through issues involving the threatened species. Any potential expansion to the north or east was recently blocked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein's Desert Protections bill, which added 1.6 million acres of protections in the Mojave Desert.

He also revealed that Fort Irwin's new hospital, replacing an old facility built in the mid-1960s, is expected to open in the summer.

Taylor, 46, who took over command of the garrison in July 2015, spoke at the Victorville Rotary Club meeting Tuesday, where he sought to educate the community on Fort Irwin's basic functions. It's part of an outreach that the Silver Valley High graduate said he'd like to ramp up, citing a recent address at a 9/11 memorial in Apple Valley and planning to visit more club organizations.

"Fort Irwin is an integral part of the neighborhood, this High Desert community," he said. "It's a world-class training environment; the best I've seen in my ... 24 years of service."

Featuring a well-executed and expansive war simulation environment, the training center has transitioned to hybrid training in recent years, accounting for sophisticated tactical threats like cyber security.

"It's a far more complex environment than when I started out," Taylor said. "Our enemies out there will not fight us toe-to-toe, because they know we'd blow them off the map. So they fight us asymmetrically, so we have to adapt our training environment at Fort Irwin to deal with that."

On Feb. 11, the Army installation plans to host its annual recognition ceremony for Vietnam War veterans, and Taylor said he believed they'd secure 1970s' rock band Blue Oyster Cult for the ceremony's after-dinner concert.

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