Soldiers at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin leave their mark when they leave

A rock painted by the Bulldog brigade, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division is displayed outside the gates of the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California on May 28, 2018.


By JENNIFER MAHER | The San Bernardino County Sun | Published: August 28, 2019

FORT IRWIN (Tribune News Service) — Just outside the main gates on the way into Fort Irwin sits a pile of painted rocks that represent years of sweat and training.

The words “First to Baghdad,” “Without Fear,” and “Duty, not reward” are painted on some. Others bear the insignias for military units such as the “Pale Riders,” “The Iron Brigade,” the “Desert Rogues,” and the “Buffalo Soldiers.”

Since its creation in 1981, military teams from Guam, South Carolina, Ohio and many more, have completed the two-week intensive training rotation at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, just north of Barstow, and many have left their mark.

“The National Training Center’s mission is to provide tough, realistic joint and combined arms training for units prior to their deployment overseas,” according to the U.S. Army’s website. The center “was established by President Franklin Roosevelt as a sub-installation of Camp Haan in Riverside, California.”

And what about the pile of painted rocks? The massive mound of colorful boulders bear the names, insignias, slogans and regiment numbers of those units who have completed their training at Fort Irwin in the past.

Some of the rocks have horses, shields, a polar bear, a grim reaper and even Lady Liberty herself painted on them. Some have medals attached to the back of the boulders, next to the soldiers’ names and one has a sort of cubby hole with a pair of boots hidden inside.

At the entrance to “Painted Rocks,” about twenty-five miles off the 15 Freeway on Fort Irwin Road, a weather-beaten sign bears a poem which reads, in part:

“And so let’s take the time to praise,

that unit who came in long past days,

to train to fight, but on a lark,

established a tradition by leaving its mark.”

– The Rockpile, by Wilma Pollette Self, 1981.


©2019 the San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, Calif.)
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Rock paintings near the entry to Fort Irwin attest to the units who once trained here.

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