Barstow, Calif., is a hub for military auctions
Daily Press, Victorville, Calif.
At two vast, shadeless parking lots at the Marine Corps Logistics Base east of Barstow, Calif., sits some of the equipment the nation’s military can do without.
Vehicles, including buses, military trucks and trailers, sit idle in rows. Some equipment served troops overseas before being replaced or wearing out. As government surplus, it’s resold or converted to other uses.
The military has a precise process for dealing with the leftovers, Dennis Fleener, site lead for the Defense Logistics Agency, said.
First, the equipment is held for 42 days to allow other government agencies to claim it, Fleener said. Often, equipment is taken by law enforcement agencies, who repurpose it for civilian use. In the past two weeks of the process, nonprofit organizations can take equipment if they choose to. About 80 percent of the vehicles start, either normally or with a jump start, Fleener said.
While much equipment remains for the taking, civilians find creative uses for some of it, Fleener said. He’s seen farmers turn old ammunition cans into heaters for their crops, small businessmen turn a pontoon boat into a karaoke bar and a Christian summer camp turn military trailers into hay wagons. The products also make their way to army surplus stores, movie studios and nostalgic former soldiers, he said.
For law enforcement, the program is a big financial boon. In California, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has been the largest beneficiary of the program. Nonprofit organization California Watch , part of the Center for Investigative Reporting, reported earlier this year that the agency has four long-haul tractor-trailers that travel the country collecting surplus military equipment.
High Desert law enforcement agencies have purchased equipment too, but not recently. The Barstow Police Department picked some helmets used by military parachutists in 1996 and night vision goggles in 1999 — equipment valued at $4,322, records show.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department was more prolific, acquiring aircraft, helicopter and vehicle parts, as well as trucks and miscellaneous supplies, totaling about $9.4 million in value. The department picked up most of that equipment in the 1990s, when Congress first created the program. (It’s currently on hold while federal officials take inventory of the items sent to local agencies, after the Arizona Republic reported last month that an Arizona sheriff’s department might be reselling free items at auction to pad its budget.)
If no other agencies want the equipment, it moves across the street to a second lot, where it goes on sale to the public.
That's where Government Liquidations comes in. The private company resells the equipment under contract with the Department of Defense, posting items on its website at govtliquidation.com. Items that don’t leave the property within two weeks are required to be transported off the base to the company’s storage facility in Oklahoma.
“This is a continuous conveyer belt,” said Tim McPhillips, site manager for the company. He said Barstow was the company’s largest revenue site on the West Coast.
Equipment can also be claimed by allied foreign militaries. That diverts it into a third lot, where it waits for shipment to the country. In that lot, rows of humvees and other vehicles sit with the names of their eventual destinations scrawled on their front bumpers — places such as Cambodia, Morocco and the Philippines.
A recent shipment of five boxes of winter coats did not last long before being snapped up, frozen and sent to Afghanistan’s military, Fleener said.
Fleener said the military takes care to remove all sensitive material from the items before putting them on sale.