Here's the real story behind the 'Painted Rocks' at the Army's National Training Center


Editor's Note: This article by Matthew Cox originally appeared on, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

FORT IRWIN, California -- Anyone who's been here has seen it: the field of brightly painted boulders surrounding a small mountain of rocks that symbolizes unit pride at the Army's National Training Center.

For nearly four decades, combat units have painted their insignias on boulders near the road into this post. It's known as Painted Rocks.

"It's a big tradition," said NTC Command Sgt. Major Matthew Lowe. "The higher you go, the older they are. If you are out there and you look toward the top, you can see the old acorn for the 24th Infantry Division with a big three on there; that unit has probably been deactivated since 1994."

Lowe was close; the 24th was inactivated in 1996, but the unit's painting is still old.

Troopers from Supply and Transportation Troop, Regimental Support Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, salute the unfolding of the flag at a re-enlistment ceremony at Fort Irwin, Calif., Aug. 31, 2012 (U.S. Army/Sgt. Anthony Lecours)

The tradition dates back to the mid-1960s when Col. Robert Osbourne, the post commander at the time, kept a concrete burro to represent the many burros that gather in San Bernardino County, where the post is located, Lowe said.

NTC did not exist yet, but units would come here to train before going to Vietnam, he said.

The 36th Engineer Battalion was here training and decided to paint Osbourne's burro.

"Of course, Colonel Osborne saw that and was not pleased, and they repainted it. And then, every couple weeks, this kept happening, where the burro kept getting painted," Lowe said.

"One day, they went out there and burro was gone and, a couple of weeks later, Colonel Osborne got a letter from Private Burro in Vietnam, with a picture of him serving his country in Vietnam," he continued.

Osbourne realized that this tradition was going to continue, so he designated an area where units could paint their insignia, Lowe explained. "And out there, Painted Rocks was born."

Rock paintings near the entry to Fort Irwin attest to the units who once trained here. (U.S. Army/ David Vergun)

That was in 1967, "but it really didn't catch on until we became the National Training Center," he said. "The idea for NTC was born in the late 1970s, and we did our first rotation in 1981."

The 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team is currently at NTC, and "there will probably be five rocks added after this rotation because battalions like to do it; separate companies like to do it," Lowe said. "The Japan Ground Self Defense Force was here in February with a company team, and they painted a rock and put it out there."

NTC officials don't know exactly how many rocks have been painted.

"Since 1981, you figure every rotation -- nine or 10 a year for the last 38 years -- units have been dropping rocks there," Lowe said. "And you don't paint over someone else's rock. That's a big no-no."

This article originally appeared on

More articles from

SEE ALSO: Why They Went: The Inside Story Of The Standing Rock Veterans

WATCH NEXT: Meet The Army Helicopter Pilot Who Re-Supplied Thousands Of Hippies At Woodstock

Fort Irwin's painted rocks in Nov. 25, 2014 (U.S. Army/ Guy Volb)
Photo: Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Porch/U.S. Army

Army Staff Sgt. Albert Leon Mampre, who served during World War II with the famed Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division depicted in the HBO series 'Band of Brothers,' was laid to rest on June 15th, the Army announced

Mampre, who died on May 31 at 97 years old, was the last living medic from Easy Company, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. A number of soldiers assigned to his unit provided an honor guard for his funeral service.

Read More Show Less
(Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev)

NIEUWEGEIN, Netherlands (Reuters) - Three Russians and a Ukrainian will face murder charges for the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine which killed 298 people, in a trial to start in the Netherlands next March, an investigation team said on Wednesday.

The suspects are likely to be tried in absentia, however, as the Netherlands has said Russia has not cooperated with the investigation and is not expected to hand anyone over.

"These suspects are seen to have played an important role in the death of 298 innocent civilians", said Dutch Chief Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke.

"Although they did not push the button themselves, we suspect them of close cooperation to get the (missile launcher) where it was, with the aim to shoot down an airplane."

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Army photo)

A Navy SEAL sentenced to one year in prison for the death of Army Special Forces Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar is under investigation for allegedly flirting with Melgar's widow while using a false name and trying to persuade her that he and another SEAL accused of killing her husband were "really good guys," according to the Washington Post.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Navy/Cameron Pinske)

Editor's Note: This article by Patricia Kime originally appeared on, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

A senator has taken up the cause to negate a controversial court ruling that bars service members from suing the federal government in cases of medical malpractice by military doctors.

Read More Show Less
Paul Szoldra/Task & Purpose

NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO — The trial of Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher officially kicked off on Tuesday with the completion of jury selection, opening statements, and witness testimony indicating that drinking alcohol on the front lines of Mosul, Iraq in 2017 seemed to be a common occurrence for members of SEAL Team 7 Alpha Platoon.

Government prosecutors characterized Gallagher as a knife-wielding murderer who not only killed a wounded ISIS fighter but shot indiscriminately at innocent civilians, while the defense argued that those allegations were falsehoods spread by Gallagher's angry subordinates, with attorney Tim Parlatore telling the jury that "this trial is not about murder. It's about mutiny."

Read More Show Less