Friday, August 22, 2014

Photo Essay: Joint Forces Training Base (Former Naval Air Station), Los Alamitos

I've explored so much of LA in such a short period of time, it's a rare occasion for me to hear of someplace new to visit. And when I do, I kind of have to jump on it.

Even if I'm not sure what exactly is going to happen there.

This week I found out that there is a Joint Forces Training Base just inside of Orange County in Los Alamitos, and that they conduct public tours which not only welcome photography, but also culminate with a simulation machine gun training exercise.

Three days later, I was there to check it out myself.



The tour starts at Building 244, the Veteran's Center...



...where you board a military bus...



...that drives you around the sprawling 1400 acre military base...



...past parked military-grade vehicles...



...surveillance equipment...



...and lots of buildings first erected in the 1940s when this was operating as Naval Air Station Los Alamitos, supporting the World War II effort.



You get to see some exhibits of historical aircraft on display...



...but this place isn't a museum: it's a fully functioning base with over 70 different tenant entities from both public and private sectors (including multiple military forces and government services).



Servicing military personnel as well as veterans is a full banquet facility...



...with the adjacent Pub at Fiddler's Green...



...where you can park yourself, grab a bite and watch the helicopters take off and land (like you can at The Proud Bird by LAX).



In fact, the base itself (not just the restaurant) is open to the public – whether you're military or not –



...as long as you have a government-issued ID to show at the security gate.



Located here are the headquarters of the 40th Infantry Division of the California National Guard, which took control of the base in the early 1970s...



...and continues to be one of the largest tenants of the base.



The JFTB also features the Los Alamitos Army Airfield...



...which is the last remaining (operating) military airfield in the greater Los Angeles / Orange County area.



There are two landing strips which can accommodate a 747 or even Air Force One if necessary...



...but most of their air traffic consists of helicopters (namely, Blackhawks), which could really land anywhere.



Perhaps most importantly, this is ground zero for emergency management and disaster support for the entire LA area, situated midway between the Valley and Dana Point (Orange County).



They not only store supplies and are capable of quickly setting up tent cities...



...but they also can deliver those supplies to any local airports that have been rendered inoperable, or otherwise impacted by natural disasters (which is what happened to the Van Nuys and Burbank airports during the 1994 Northridge earthquake), acts of terrorism, etc.



They currently deploy helicopters (marked with a swath of pink paint) to help fight California wildfires, too.



They say that even if this base is impacted (like if all the buildings fell down), Emergency Services could still be operational – which is important since they're the only nearby military support available to civil authorities in state and federal emergencies.



There is so much going on at the JFTB, from fuel storage....



...to "Operation Medfly" of the California Department of Food and Agriculture...



...to the Civil Support Team for Weapons of Mass Destruction, it's amazing that nothing out in the open is classified.



At its core, of course, the JFTB is a training facility for the FBI, FEMA, FAA, CHiPs, LA and OC fire and police, and even Boy Scouts (among many others).



They use an Engagement Skills Trainer to prepare individuals and firing squads for real field combat...


Photo by CA$H

...using real military machine guns, but saving ammunition (and ensuring safety) by retrofitting them with computer chips that shoot lasers rather than bullets.



And somehow they allow the public to give the simulator a whirl in the indoor, multi-lane facility, shooting at a screen that measures your success rate (and improves your shot). We shot M16s (or something very close) but they also train non-civilians for the use of the M4 carbine, M9 pistol, MK19 grenade machine gun, M249 squad automatic weapon, M240 machine gun, M136 (AT4), M1200 shotgun, M2 machine gun and M203 grenade launcher.

It was hard not to think of it as fun, especially since I've gone shooting for sport and have enjoyed the non-violent nature of aiming at a paper target, rather than a wild animal or a human being. But in reality, it's serious business, and in life-or-death situations (as in the case of the simulator, armed robbery, or ambush) I'm glad to know that protecting me is somebody else's job.

There used to be such a greater military presence in Southern California than there is now, with a few facilities still open (Seal Beach, China Lake, Camp Pendleton) but many others (George AFB, MCAS El Toro and Tustin) continue to become decommissioned, declassified, and closed. It's no wonder I turned to my friend and said, "I can't wait to see this place when it's abandoned."

But, as he said, "What happens during an emergency then?"

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Abandoned Naval Housing, Western Avenue
Photo Essay: Ancient Petroglyphs Secured Inside a Navy Weapons Testing Station