There are quite a few misconceptions about Fort Irwin. It really doesn’t help that in a recent article circulating Facebook it was listed as the fourth worst duty station. Would I rather be kicking back on a tropical island with a Cosmo in hand? Sure! But the crazy thing is that out of all the duty stations we have been to, this one is where I have felt most at home.
In case you aren’t familiar with Fort Irwin’s purpose, it’s primarily where the Army trains for deployments. For that reason, it’s commonly known as the National Training Center. For about two weeks every month the rotational units and those stationed here go out into “The Box” to do a series of training exercises.
With that being said, let me establish a few things you should know about Fort Irwin and the surrounding area!
Photo by: Christopher Michel
On the map, Fort Irwin appears to be in the middle of nowhere, and let’s be honest…it is. It’s about 120 miles north of Joshua Tree, 200 miles south of Death Valley and among a whole lotta mountains and wide open desert. Las Vegas and L.A. are about three hours north and south of here, respectively, so you are smack dab in the middle. These two locations are also home to the closest major airports (LAX and McCarron International Airport).
Needless to say, it’s easy to feel isolated, but fear not! Desert living might not appeal to most people at first, but you would be remiss to not take advantage of exploring your surroundings. What you’ll find is a breathtakingly beautiful landscape with quiet oases around every corner. As always, with the right attitude and willingness to make the best of your new assignment, Fort Irwin will surprise you.
Photo by: Delobius
Considering Irwin is in the desert, it will get super hot in the summer. It’s around 100 degrees in July and August, and the lack of rain makes for very arid soil. There are often 2-3 months straight without any rain, with the majority of the wet months in winter. However, there are plenty of ways to keep cool (unless you’re one of the poor unfortunate souls out in The Box). Consider an outing to the Splash Park and pool, which are the go-to spots in the summertime!
Winter is a bit chilly, as it usually never gets warmer than about 60 degrees. November through February are the coldest months with average lows in the 40s.
The Villages at Fort Irwin is the on-post housing community. The houses are mostly modern with many having faux hardwood floors and faux granite countertops with a townhouse style to them. Plus, all of the houses have fenced-in yards, which is a huge perk for your furry friends.
Since Irwin is a small base, you’re just a short walk away from playgrounds and friends’ houses. Irwin may be in the middle of nowhere, but on post, you’ve got just about everything you need a stone’s throw away.
If you prefer off-post housing, your only feasible option is Barstow—about 40 miles away. Because of that distance, just about everyone stationed here lives on post.
Fort Irwin has schools for almost every age group to include a preschool, elementary school and two middle schools. The only downside is that high schoolers have to travel about 45 minutes off post to go to school in Barstow.
Photo by: Whitney Runyan
My favorite thing about the late spring is that our wild donkeys (also known as wild burros) start to return. In the fall and winter they leave to look for shrub habitats, but when it heats up they come back because of the water sources on post. In recent years the burros have been removed because they’ll often wander through live-fire exercises. I’ve had to stop my car a few times for them to cross the street.
Coyotes are quite common as well, but as with most animals, if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone.
6. On-Post Activities
Many of the single Soldiers head off post to Vegas on the weekends for obvious reasons. But for those with families, there is a pool, a splash pad and playgrounds aplenty. There are movie nights, momma & kiddo workouts, a bowling alley, 5Ks, a gym, library and extracurricular activities in which kids can participate. On any given weekend there are usually events going on, so take advantage of them to try something new.
Photo by: James Marvin Phelps
If you need a break from Fort Irwin (sometimes I do just because I miss trees and grass!), you have plenty of options. Barstow, which is a 45-minute drive, has an outlet mall, Wal Mart, Home Depot, Marshalls and the California staple: In-n-Out Burger. A lot of people will drive an hour and a half to go to Victorville, which also has a lot of shopping and restaurants. As mentioned before, consider wandering farther out to LA, Las Vegas or any of the beautiful national parks!
You may never have another opportunity to see and spend quality time in the kind of landscape surrounding Fort Irwin, so I hope you make the best of it and enjoy it as much as we do!
Featured image by: Thomas Hart
About the Author
Whitney Runyan is a stay-at-home mom of a 4-year-old boy and 2-year-old girl. She and her husband, Ron, are graduates of Ohio State University and have been married since 2009. The Runyans have been stationed at Fort Irwin for a year.