As a young Marine, few potential duty stations come with more trepidation and anxiety than Twentynine Palms.  The Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, or MCAGCC as it is sometimes called, is a sprawling military installation in its purest sense: while many military bases in the United States offer a pleasant and even domestic appearing façade throughout their “main sides” or primary areas of operations, Twentynine Palms offers dirt, barbed wire, and a huge waste treatment facility you can see from the main gate lovingly referred to as Lake Bandini.

During my three-year tenure at MCAGCC, I recall sweltering hundred and fifteen degree runs through loose sand hills with names like “sugar cookie,” participating in training cycles so far into the desert I could hardly believe we were still technically considered on the base, and of course, hours and hours of football practice during my playing days – in a field directly adjacent to the massive lake made up of human waste cooking in the desert sun.

Many see Twentynine Palms as the worst duty station the Marine Corps has to offer – though I honestly grew to like it a bit (even my wife occasionally admits to missing it out there), and we’re not alone.  There is at least one other group with long-standing ties to the dry region of Southern California where the Mojave and Colorado deserts collide: the desert tortoise.

Despite being dry, hot, and full of the smell of human feces, MCAGCC is not just home to thousands of Marines and their families – it’s also home to a great deal of wildlife.  Lizards, coyotes, jack rabbits, and all kinds of birds can be spotted in the vast browns of the landscape, and although I once lost a pet cat to desert coyotes, I hated none of the wildlife more than the dreaded desert tortoise.

The military has a long tradition of maintaining a policy of “hurry up and wait.”  With thirty levels of leadership each planning to have their troops ready fifteen minutes prior to when they need to be, it isn’t uncommon to find yourself waiting in formation for the better part of an hour (or more) before a training cycle kicks off.  A normal range event, for instance, often plays out a bit like this:

Your staff non-commissioned officer was directed by the officer in charge (OIC) to have everyone ready at 0700, so he directs his platoon leaders to have everyone assembled by 0645.  Those platoon leaders then direct their squad leaders to have their squads accounted for by 0630, who relay the need to the fire team leaders who plan for 0615, but know at least three of the lance corporals will be too drunk to get there without help, so they call it 0600.  It won’t be until the next morning that you come to find the OIC was taking his cues from a senior officer who assumed you’d be drawing weapons at 0700, but no one told the armory, which remains closed until 0800.

You, the hard-charging young corporal tasked with making sure your Marines don’t make your platoon look bad, are then left staring at the small formation in front of you for a solid two hours before weapons issue even starts… but surely the day will fly by after that.  After all, what’s better than lining up a hundred Marines on a firing line and laying waste to a bunch of targets?

You wait patiently in line for your rifle, despite being certain that the three cans of Monster you drank waiting for training to start will explode your bladder and poison your blood stream at any time, and then you finally receive it, grab your ammo and head for the line to spend a day doing what Marines do best – shooting – only to have everything brought to a screeching halt by a single god damned tortoise.