MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif.- -- What first began as an oasis far, far away from everything else, has blossomed into the grounds for the largest Marine Corps training base in the world. After 52 years, the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center celebrated its illustrious history with a birthday celebration at the base flag pole Aug. 20.
After the morning call for colors, Marines, Sailors, civilians and family members gathered to hear the story how of the Combat Center came to be.
Brig. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer, commanding general, briefly retold a piece of the Combat Center’s history.
"The base has become a war front to our warfighting excellence, and it has served us well these last 52 yeaers," said Zilmer. "Our future is secure and bright to train Marines, Sailors, soldiers and airmen for the challenges of the 21st Century."
In the 1940s the base was first an aviation training area used by the Army and Navy; it wasn’t until 1952 that the Marines landed and designated the base as the Marine Corps Training Center, Twentynine Palms.
In its first year the Marine Corps Training Center, Twentynine Palms, trained more than 2,000 Marine reservists and had a roll call of 17 active units according to Col. Verle E. Ludwig, U.S. Marine Corps, retired, author of “U.S. Marines at Twentynine Palms, California.”
Through the next 52 years the base underwent many name changes as well as physical changes. On Feb. 16, 1979, the base was officially re-designated to its present name—the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center.
Between the 1980s and 1990s the 7th Marine Expeditionary Brigade consolidated into what 7th Marines is today, part of the 1st Marine Division. On Oct. 1, 2000, the Combat Center came under the Marine Corps Training and Education Command and thus received the additional mission of the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command.
For 52 years the base has been recognized multiple times for its efforts in training Marines for combat. During the ceremony, Headquarters Battalion noncommissioned officer of the quarter, Sgt. Joe A. Castellanos, promotions clerk, Installation Personnel Administration Center, honored the base’s organizational colors by attaching the Meritorious Unit Commendation. The base received the award for meritorious service from August 1990-March 1991.
Headquarters Battalion Marine of the Quarter, Lance Cpl. Juan G. Yoccosajay, information technology clerk, Manpower Directorate, also had the honor of attaching an award to the colors; the Combat Center was recognized for service during the Korean War from Aug. 20, 1952 through July 27, 1954, and was awarded the National Defense Service Medal. The base was also awarded for the periods of the Korean War, Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Operation Enduring Freedom.
Retired Brig. Gen. Ernest R. Reid, base commanding general from July 18, 1974, through June 30, 1976, was honored with the first piece of birthday cake. Since 1990 the 79-year-old former Marine has resided in Twentynine Palms and said one of the biggest changes of the base is the amount of construction.
“The biggest base change since my period would have to be the growth of military personnel, as well as the families and accommodations,” said Reid. “I’m glad to have been included in the ceremony.”
Honored along with Reid was retired Sgt. Maj. Ray V. Wilburn, who was stationed here in 1954 with the 1st 8-inch Howitzer Battalion, making him owner of the oldest known reporting date of any Marine in the area.
Concluding the ceremony, Zilmer lightheartedly ordered that no guest would leave without having a piece of the cake celebrating the founding of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center and the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command.
“Since I’ve been gone for 28 years from the base, the base has definitely [improved] tactical training,” said Reid. “And since the first time I was stationed as a battery commander in 1955, the base is the best thing ever to train Marines. I fell in love with the ‘big sand box.’”