Administrator (acting) Larry Pangilinan will tell you that the residents of Veterans Homes of California-Barstow and the entire town of Barstow will never be safer and more secure than they will be on Thursday.
Why? Hundreds of soldiers from Fort Irwin’s 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment – known as the “Blackhorse Regiment“ troopers – will converge upon the town for the 23rd Long Walk and Memorial Walk to the Veterans Home, where they will share a meal and listen to the stories of service told by the resident veterans there.
“It’s a big event not only for the Home, but for all of Barstow,” said Pangilinan, a Navy veteran. The Veterans Home is operated by the California Department of Veterans Affairs. “The police, sheriff’s deputies, and a whole bunch of Army personnel will be here. Even the fire department.”
So big, in fact, that some of the town’s streets will be closed when many of the soldiers arrive by bus at the Harvey House – Barstow’s historic train station.
The bus trip and shorter trek is a departure from the tradition that began in 1996, when troopers marched all the way from Fort Irwin. The event took a brief hiatus when the regiment was deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom in the mid-2000s, missing just one march before resuming.
“In 2015, it was a 2-day, 38-mile march,” said Captain Caleb M. Beasley, the Army’s public information officer at Fort Irwin. “(They marched) about 30 miles the first day and the remainder on the second day.”
The format changed a year later when teams of 3, 5 and 10 troopers began covering the 38 miles in relay legs. The soldiers bused to the Harvey House will await the arrival of the last relay teams at 10 a.m. Then, led by the command team with regimental colors or a horse detachment and guidons, they will travel the final three-and-one-half miles to the Veterans Home at 11 a.m.
The purpose, though, remains the same: To connect the active military with the veterans at the home and the people of the community.
As they arrived for last year’s march, Col. Scott C. Woodard reminded them of the importance of listening to the veterans tell their stories, the Victorville Daily Press reported.
“Take the time to speak to these people before they pass because they are living history. They lived it. They were there,” Woodward told the troopers. “The stuff they write in books, the documentaries you see on TV, they were doing it of all those people that were there. So spend some time with them.”
Indeed, the Barstow Home residents have a strong relationship not only with the Army at Fort Irwin, and also with the U.S. Marine Corps, which has operated Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow since 1942. The base is the area’s second-largest employer.
“We went to the Marine Ball a month ago, and residents were invited to go,” Pangilinan said. “We have great relations between Fort Irwin and us and the Marine Base.”
And for a day each December, the town of Barstow becomes the safest place in the West.