There are a handful of active Army bases in California, some with an intriguing and very dated history. And it doesn’t take long to understand why there are so many Army military bases in California. With a variety of different terrains and an expansive coastline, it makes sense that California is where the military chose to set up camp and train soldiers.
Here, we’re going over the U.S. Army bases in California – mostly active but some inactive as well.
What Army bases are in California?
California boasts seven Air Force bases, eight Army bases, two Coast Guard bases, seven Marine bases, fifteen Navy bases, and two joint military bases. Here, we’re sticking to the US Army bases in California which include:
- Fort Irwin Army Base in Barstow, California
- Presidio of Monterey Army Base in Monterey, California
- Fort Hunter Liggett Army Base in Monterey, California
- Camp Parks PRFTA Army Base in Dublin, California
- Camp Haan Army Base in Riverside, California
- Camp Roberts Army Base in Monterey, California
- Camp San Luis Obispo Army Base in San Luis Obispo, California
- Sierra Army Depot Army Base in Herlong, California
With three of these Army bases in Southern California and five of them in Northern California, we’ve separated them as such in order to better understand their location, history, and what they contribute to the U.S. Army.
Army Bases in Southern California
Fort Irwin Army Base
Fort Irwin is in Barstow and the area has a compelling history. It is believed that the Native Americans of the Lake Mojave Period lived there and some accounts suggest that the first contact between Europeans and Native Americans was made there.
The U.S. Army first explored the area in 1844 and established a camp at Bitter Springs which was a popular stop-off on the Old Spanish Trail. When the California Gold Rush began, it brought a need for patrol since raiders and looters were running amuck. In 1846, the Army ordered a group known as the Mormon Battalion to assist.
Other than the Gold Rush and some action during the Indian War, the area has been mostly peaceful.
In 1940, nearly 1,000 square miles of public land in the area was used to create the Mojave Anti-Aircraft Gunnery Range and in 1961 it was renamed Fort Irwin after Major General George Irwin who served during World War I.
Fort Irwin was initially used as a training site to prepare for various wars and has been deactivated and reactivated as necessary. In 1979, the Army named Fort Irwin as their National Training Center and even today is considered one of the top training areas in the U.S. Army.
Camp Haan Army Base
Camp Haan opened in Riverside in 1941 as a Coast Artillery Anti-Aircraft Replacement Training Center at the height of World War II since leadership saw a need for a coastal base to aid in the war effort.
The base grew to an incredible size, at one point hosting 80,000 troops and was home to the men who would have served on the front lines had the attacks on Pearl Harbor continued to California.
Those who came to Camp Haan were part of the 815th Anti-Aircraft Artillery, Automatic Weapons Battalion but as the war continued, the base became less useful and was closed in 1942 to become a camp for Italian and German POWs.
After World War II, Camp Haan was used as a separation center to house soldiers before they were discharged from the Army. It was officially deactivated on August 31, 1946. It is the only inactive Army base in California on our list.
Camp San Luis Obispo Army Base
The California Militia was established in 1850 and became the California National Guard in 1928. The need for a training area became imminent after World War I and Camp Merriam was created in San Luis Obispo.
Its name was changed from Camp Merriam to Camp San Luis Obispo in 1940 once the Army began training there on lease from the state. The base was home to the 40th Infantry Division and was mostly a training base.
In 1946, Camp San Luis Obispo went back to the state as headquarters for the US Property and Fiscal Office of California before returning back to the Army in 1950 at the outbreak of the Korean War.
By 1965, the camp was back under state control as the California Military Academy in connection with the Army. Interestingly, the largest military exercise ever conducted took place at Camp San Luis Obispo when the US Army launched GALLANT EAGLE in 1984.
Army Bases in Northern California
Presidio of Monterey Army Base
Located in Monterey, Presidio of Monterey is one of the oldest in the area and has deep ties to the Spanish. In the 18th century, around 1768 it took the Spanish two years to take control of Monterey and San Diego in the name of the Spanish king. A few years later Monterey was one of the most famous presidios or forts in the Spanish empire. Around 56 troops inhabited the presidio until 1818 when the pirate Hipolito Bouchard raided and evacuated it.
In 1846, the Americans took over while warring with Mexico and a few Marines were left in the area to keep it prepared for potential attacks. But with news of the Gold Rush, the fort was all but abandoned as even the soldiers left to check it out.
The Presidio of Monterey was reactivated during the American Civil War and in 1903, these troops renamed it to what it’s known as today.
During World War I, the fort was used as a musketry and cooking school and in 1917, more than 16,000 acres of land were added to it. But this extra land would eventually be turned into Fort Ord. After World War II, Presidio of Monterey became an additional base for Fort Ord until 1994 when Fort Ord was shut down.
These days, Presidio of Monterey hosts four units, the most important of which is the 229th Military Intelligence Battalion.
Fort Hunter Liggett Army Base
Fort Hunter Liggett is also located in Monterey although it was born much later – in the 1940s. It was under the authority of Camp Roberts until it became part of Fort Ord in 1952. It would go on to serve as a training area for the 7th Light Infantry Division and as home to the U.S. Army’s CDEC to test and evaluate newly developed weapon systems.
Upon the closure of Fort Ord in 1994, Fort Hunter Liggett was transferred to the Army Reserves and now serves, first and foremost as a training facility.
Fun Fact: Fort Hunter Liggett Army Base has been used to film popular films such as We Were Soldiers and Clear and Present Danger.
Camp Parks PRFTA Army Base
Originally, Camp Parks in Dublin was built for the Navy’s efforts in World War II in 1943. Then it turned into an extremely strict prison, hosting some of the most ferocious and dangerous criminals in California. Then, in 1959, the Army took control and made it an Army base, although it was held on standby until 1980 when it became semi-active.
Like many of the other Army bases we’ve talked about, Camp Parks is primarily used for training purposes but also completes administrative and regular operations. On average, about 11,000 troops live on the base at any given time and is home to ten Army units.
Camp Roberts Army Base
Also located in Monterey, Camp Roberts straddles the Salinas River. The land used to belong to the Native Americans and the drive there is still one of the most beautiful in all of California.
When Congress began looking for proper training grounds for the Army in 1902, they found what was called Nacimiento Ranch. Still, the location was controversial and didn’t officially come under Army control until 1940.
The name was changed to Camp Roberts, named after Corporal Harold Roberts who perished while driving a tank under fire in France in World War I. An interesting fact about this is that it is one of the only military facilities named after an enlisted man.
In 1941, it was the largest training facility at the time and in 1946 began functioning as a processing center on soldiers’ way home. After World War II, Camp Roberts was deactivated until the Korean War in 1950.
After the Korean War, activity fell off again and the base was mostly deserted. It was closed by the Army in 1970 and is now home to the California National Guard while also being used by other military branches for training purposes.
Sierra Army Depot Army Base
Established in 1942 in Herlong, the Sierra Army Depot began as a storage facility supplies and Treasury Department material. After World War II, its mission expanded to munitions for the Korean War.
Throughout subsequent conflicts including the Vietnam War through to the War in Iraq, the Sierra Army Depot supplied vital necessities to troops overseas while its mission expanded even further to provide tactical vehicles, fuel systems, hospital supplies, and maintenance equipment.