Marine Maj. Gen. William Mullen during a 2019 visit to Camp Johnson in North Carolina.

Marine Maj. Gen. William Mullen during a 2019 visit to Camp Johnson in North Carolina. (James Guillory/U.S. Marine Corps)

A retired Marine general who led troops during two wars in Iraq and was the personal aide to former President Bill Clinton died over the weekend at the Marine Corps base in the high desert east of Los Angeles that he once commanded.

Maj. Gen. William Mullen, 59, commanded Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms where Marines train for desert warfare from 2016 to 2017. He retired in 2020 after a 34-year career that included deployments in the former Yugoslavia and Iraq.

The San Bernardino County Coroner filed a report stating Mullen was “found at 29 Palms Base Building 1651” on Saturday. The report lists his residence of record as Arvada, a town in Colorado.

But the coroner said additional information would come from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which was looking into Mullen’s death. NCIS investigates deaths that might involve criminal activity but also any noncombat “unattended” fatalities involving military personnel or military installations.

NCIS officials at the Twentynine Palms base and the service’s headquarters in Quantico, Va., declined further comment.

A heat wave in Southern California pushed the average daily daytime temperatures higher than 100 degrees at the base, which sits about 2,000 feet above sea level in the Morongo Basin of the Mojave Desert. Temperatures are forecast to rise to more than 117 degrees this week, with overnight lows in the 80s.

Prior to retiring, Mullen last served as commanding general of the Marine Corps Training and Education Command, which includes the Twentynine Palms base.

Mullen was commissioned a lieutenant in 1986 following graduation from Marquette University in Milwaukee. He earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in political science from Marquette and a master’s in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College.

During his Marine career, Mullen was a rifle platoon commander and leader of an anti-terrorism unit at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in California. He also participated in anti-narcotics missions and was deployed in Operation Desert Shield. He later took part in small boat raids in Yugoslavia, trained as an advance artillery officer, and was the Marine aide to Clinton.

He was a commander with Marine forces during the fighting in Fallujah, Iraq. He returned to Iraq to coordinate artillery engagement support for Iraqi Security Forces during Operation Inherent Resolve, then he returned to take command at Twentynine Palms.

Mullen was commanding general of the Training and Education Command at the time of his retirement.

An aerial view of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif., in January 2023.

An aerial view of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif., in January 2023. (Isaiah T. Brummett/U.S. Marine Corps)

Twentynine Palms is the largest Marine base in the United States, at just less than 1,000 square miles near Joshua Tree National Park in the California desert.

With the slogan “the premier combat training center,” the Twentynine Palms base was an Army airfield at the end of World War II. In 1952, the Marines made the area an affiliated installation with Camp Pendleton, which is southwest in northern San Diego County. It became a separate Marine base in 1957.

The remote location allows Marines to conduct live-fire training. About 20,000 Marines and sailors are assigned to the base, but another 50,000 troops train there each year.

The center has been used extensively for training troops on how to fight in the harsh conditions of Afghanistan and Iraq. It features “Combat Town,” a 274-acre mockup of a Middle Eastern village.

Maj. Gen. Thomas Savage, the current commander of the training command, offered condolences to Mullen’s family and friends.

“Maj. Gen. Mullen’s dedicated service to our nation and the Marine Corps will always be remembered,” Savage said in a statement Tuesday.

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Gary Warner covers the Pacific Northwest for Stars and Stripes. He’s reported from East Germany, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Britain, France and across the U.S. He has a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.

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