When American troops were called on to join the greatest global conflict the world has ever seen, WWII, there was a need to train new tank units under harsh conditions to prepare for the rigors of battle over rough desert terrain and in inhospitable climates. In response, in 1942 our nation established the 18,000 square mile Desert Training Center in the southeastern California and western Arizona desert to replicate one of the most difficult combat theaters on Earth.
Using this massive theater, the troops of General George S. Patton, Jr. learned modern tank warfare and acclimated to the arid environment. These brave soldiers would carry that training on to victory in the sands of North Africa. Camp Iron Mountain is perhaps the best known and best preserved of the Desert Training Center's 13 camps.
The Axis powers of old are no longer a concern, however protecting our unique desert public lands and our historical and natural heritage as a national monument is the new mission of many military veterans.
Vet Voice Foundation recently organized a tour of Camp Iron Mountain for local California veterans and family members. They learned about the important national history of the camp and the rich natural landscape in the immense training area from Angus Smith of the General Patton Memorial Museum. He arrived dressed in full World War II regalia, driving a 1942 Willys Jeep named "Fubar Flyer," with a 30 caliber machine gun mounted on the crossbar.
The veterans were touched in many ways from the sweeping desert vistas and by connecting with the military tradition of Camp Iron Mountain. The training center is important to me because I have a personal family affiliation to the site. My Grandfather's brother, Edward Reppenhagen, trained as a U.S. Army tanker and was killed in Europe in the line of service at the Battle of the Bulge. My father was named Ed after his honored uncle, and then served in the US Army in Vietnam. I myself joined the military and after 9-11 was attached to 2-63 Armor Battalion to operate in a scout recon platoon in Kosovo and Iraq.
One veteran's family that participated in tour included three homeschooled children. "My kids learn about the nation's military history from me, but today the desert will be our classroom," said mother Denise Perez of Twentynine Palms, whose husband is a Marine veteran.
Preserving past military battlefields and training areas is our responsibility so future generations can visit and learn from our ancestors' sacrifices, achievements, and even failures.
We also must conserve the wilderness and wildlife that have survived in these outdoor sanctuaries. Every day, landmarks of the Greatest Generation disappear and more development demolishes our natural world. It is a tragedy to allow these natural and cultural legacies to be lost or destroyed.
Camp Iron Mountain is on public lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and part of the Mojave Trails National Monument proposed by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein. Senator Feinstein has asked President Obama to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate Mojave Trails, along with the Castle Mountains and Sand to Snow, as national monuments.
Despite the ravages of time, many rock mosaics, two alters, a unique regional contour map, and numerous rock alignments at Camp Iron Mountain have survived. With the protection of a national monument designation, future generations of visitors will be able to learn the history and lessons they represent.
The Senator's request for new desert national monuments is supported widely among veterans and active duty service members. In asking President Obama to act on the Senator's request, we proudly join with chambers of commerce and business owners, local elected officials, Native Americans, faith leaders, historians, archaeologists, educators, astronomers, conservationists, and other desert and regional residents.
A poll released this week by Vet Voice Foundation showed broad support for the President to act with 75 percent of California voters and 70 percent of desert region residents expressing support for the President designating three National Monuments in the California desert.
In 1942 the Allies launched Operation Torch with landings in Northwest Africa, and finally encircled Axis forces in northern Tunisia, forcing their surrender. President Obama can carry on the spirit of Operation Torch by designating the Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains National Monuments and, in doing so, preserving Camp Iron Mountain along with countless other unique natural and historic resources that veterans have fought to protect as part of our nation.