Sunday, May 26, 2019

Photo Essay: The Former 29 Palms Air Academy Readies Future Iraqi War Heroes

I hadn't noticed it much when I first visited Joshua Tree back in February 2009. But when I lived in Joshua Tree during the summer later that year, it was inescapable.

All those young boys were stationed at the 29 Palms base while the rest of us were hiking, basking, getting coffee, taking a dip in the pool.

They'd get one night out on the town, maybe, and I'd see them drinking margaritas at Kokopelli's Kantina on karaoke night, ready to kiss up on any lady willing to pucker her lips.

I'd wonder what life was like for them on that base—and I knew there were others, the married ones with wives and kids in tow, probably having already bounced from one place to another, maybe feeling punished with having been stationed in the California desert in summertime.

The Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) isn't generally open to the public, though community groups can request a tour to walk through Heritage Park...

...and catch a glimpse of daily life.

Officially commissioned as a Marine base in 1957, this huge swath of land had been used before that by the Army, with its beginnings as a glider school (a.k.a. 29 Palms Air Academy).

The Navy took it over in 1943—but two years later, after World War II ended, they removed it from its active duty support role.

During the Korean War of the early 1950s, our U.S. military needed a space big enough for long-range field artillery (missiles, rockets) as well as giant tanks so troops could perform complete and realistic combat simulations.

Those simulations didn't end with the Korean War—because in Summer 1966, conditions in Vietnam were simulated as part of "Operation Sidewinder." And it wasn't just the heat, but also ground troops being attacked by fighter jets and learning to avoid booby traps and civil insurrection.

Through the end of the Cold War, 29 Palms was also where you could find training for Fleet Marine Forces (an amphibious brigade) and the Combined Arms Training program, which took an integrative approach to warfare and trained its battalions in fighting in the air, on the ground (a.k.a. infantry), and with long-range weapons (a.k.a. artillery).

In 2003, soldiers who had been trained at 29 Palms were deployed to Iraq as part of "Operation Enduring Freedom," a.k.a. the "War on Terrorism" in the wake of 9/11.

The operation against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban may have technically ended in 2014, but the conflict is ongoing.

The entrance to the base is situated just north of the town of Twentynine Palms, which is civilized enough despite its proximity to a national park.

But the extent of the base stretches for miles and miles and miles, practically meeting up with Ft. Irwin outside of Barstow.

In fact, its exact borders are classified. But what can't be seen by neighbors or passers-by can probably be heard.

In 2010, the base opened its Combat Center at Range 800 to train units on counter-IED (improvised explosive devices) warfare—teaching them the "5 Cs" (confirm, clear, cordon, check, control).

A resourceful insurgent can make a bomb out of nearly anything, without it even looking like a bomb. That's what accounted for 85% of deaths of U.S. troops and our allies during Operation Enduring Freedom.

Marines learn marksmanship here, too—in the indoor simulator, which provides a safe way for inexperienced shooters to achieve proficiency in small arms (pistols, rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers)...

... and proficient shooters to hone their skills.

Another technological advancement that allows for training without the waste of resources (or the risk of, you know, death) is the Combat Convoy Simulator... immersive training environment for drivers, gunners, and passengers in tactical scenarios related to convoy operations in combat.

It's "virtual reality"-type simulations like this that allow civilians to really understand the training that our troops go through, too.

You can even get behind the wheel of the Operator Driver Simulator—and it really feels like you're driving (on a rough road, making sharp turns, etc.).

Fortunately, our simulator shooters weren't using real bullets.

Another part of the 29 Palms base training ground at Camp Wilson is the Egress Trainer.

It's basically a simulation of a scenario in which your vehicle rolls over and you have to get out (or get your fellow troops out)—and it's mandated for all Marines to complete before they enter any "real-world" combat scenarios. (Only a few bases have them, so some Marines have to travel to train.)

It's not exactly that simulated—because they literally flip the thing over.

But it's a controlled environment, even though it doesn't feel that way when you're inside during what they call an "inverted event."

If there's anything that can convince you to wear a seatbelt, it's that.

The 29 Palms Combat Center also houses natural resources—not the least of which are the desert tortoise, a prehistoric spring fed by "underground fossil water" (a.k.a. Surprise Spring), and many prehistoric art panels (petroglyphs and pictographs) created by the indigenous peoples who once occupied the land (Serrano, Mohave, Chemehuevi, Cahuilla tribes, etc.).

The Foxtrot Petroglyph Preserve—a national historic landmark located in the Lava Training Area—is probably the best known, though few ever get to see it. It's federally protected, so the Marines have to preserve it as part of their duty in 29 Palms. The site has been off-limits to live-fire maneuvers since 1973.

Their biggest challenge with the ancient cultural site? Beating back intentional vandalism.

They've got their work cut out for them.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: A Fake Iraq in the Middle of the Mojave Desert
Photo Essay: The Abandoned Morton Air Academy at Gary Field
Photo Essay: The Boneyard at the Former Cal-Aero Flying Academy

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Photo Essay: Every Day Is Memorial Day at Bob Hope Patriotic Hall

After World War I, a number of veterans' organizations were formed—the American Legion, the VFW, and so on.

But there's one group that predates nearly all of them: the Grand Army of the Republic, formed in 1866, the year after the U.S. Civil War ended.

At its peak in 1890, it consisted of nearly a half-million members, at a time when the Civil War was being commemorated and monuments were being dedicated.

Of course, all of its members have died off.

But there's still a constant influx of veterans coming off duty and trying to make the transition from military to civilian life.

There are veterans' memorials all over Southern California, too—we even have Veteran Avenue here in LA, which runs along the east side of the Los Angeles National Cemetery.

But there's one place that's considered a "living memorial" to LA County veterans.

And that's Bob Hope Patriotic Hall in Los Angeles, part of the Military and Veterans Affairs division of the County of Los Angeles—and originally built specifically to support the Grand Army of the Republic.

A California state landmark, it's also known simply as Patriotic Hall...

...but "patriotic halls" have been dedicated all over LA County since as early as 1913.

The first one to be built was on the 10th floor of the old Hall of Records building. There were two separate such halls by 1915—and the First World War didn't even end until 1918.

By 1926, all the veterans' organizations had outgrown every other patriotic hall in LA—so they all moved into this one on South Figueroa Street. At the time, it was the tallest building in the city of LA.

Designed by Allied Architects Association of Los Angeles (a partnership that included Donald and John Parkinson, and a firm also known for its work on the Hall of Justice in the LA Civic Center) in Italian Renaissance style, it was rededicated in 2004...

...and renamed in honor of Bob Hope (in the year after he died) for his work with the USO.

The hall was upgraded during a renovation between 2007 and 2013, after which it was rededicated once again—now LEED Gold-certified and ADA compliant.

The main lobby retains some architectural elements from the 1920s...

...including its arched ceiling, which was hand-stenciled in Gothic-Renaissance style...

...but it also features tryptic murals that were painted as part of the Works Progress Administration in 1942, including A.J. Leitner's "Soldiers and Sailors."

The other WPA-era murals in the lobby—those by Pasadena painter Helen Lundeburg circa 1941, which depicted the Preamble to the Constitution, the Freedom of Assembly, and the Freedom of the Ballot—were damaged in the early 1970s. At some point, they were removed and... well... lost.

They've been replaced by a tryptic of photorealistic painted murals—"We the People: Out of Many, One," by former U.S. Air Force illustrator Kent Twitchell, circa 2011.

In addition to an administrative office and library...

...the main floor also houses a 500-seat auditorium, with preserved architectural features...

...including coffered arches by the doorways.

The opening scene of Patton was shot in there; and the Los Angeles Municipal Court used it (as well as other rooms around town) during the 25 years it was without a courthouse after the Long Beach earthquake of 1933.

The upper floors of Patriotic Hall contain a variety of offices and meeting rooms and halls, including the Theodore Roosevelt Office Suite...

...the Masonic-style John Hancock Room, the Marine Room, the General Grant Room, and the Lincoln Room (some with church pew benches lining the walls, like in the old days).

Artifacts from all those vets organizations abound...

...whether photos, paintings, printed matter, personal effects...

...or uniform items from each of the five service branches throughout history.

There's even a mini museum devoted to the U.S. Navy, including a collection from the U.S.S. Los Angeles (BB-11).

The original "mess hall" has been preserved on the lower level...

...though it was converted into "The Purple Heart Inn" in 1976, when downstairs was also rededicated as the "Bicentennial Level."

At the Veterans Service Center at Patriotic Hall, today's vets can get support services related to housing, counseling, legal issues, and job searches.

Unfortunately, Bob Hope Patriotic Hall isn't generally open to the civilian public—though veterans and members of their immediate families are welcome.

I managed to get in on a tour arranged by LAVA: Los Angeles Visionaries Association. I've heard stories of people being turned away when they've just shown up.

But next time you see it from the 10 freeway or while driving around USC, you'll know what it is!

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Amongst the Abandoned at the Veterans Administration, LA
Photo Essay: Masonic Hall NYC (Open House NY)