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Original Yuma Marine recalls station's past during visit

By Lance Cpl. Gregory Aalto | | January 21, 2010

When 30-year-old Reg Garavito arrived at Vincent Air Force Base in 1958, the scenery was very different from the 2010 Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.

The palm trees and the runway were half their size, what is now the provost marshal’s office was new barracks and most of the station’s married personnel lived off-base.

The retired master sergeant, now 82, was one of the first four Marines sent here from Marine Corps Auxiliary Air Station Mojave, Calif., as a transition team when the Marine Corps was preparing to take control of the land from the Air Force. Garavito was the station’s communications officer.

Garavito returned to the station Jan. 12, received a tour and answered questions from the station’s commanding officer, executive officer and sergeant major.

“This is great because it gives a historical perspective of how the Marine Corps came to this place, and that cannot be lost,” said Col. Mark Werth, station commanding officer.

A chance encounter united Garavito with Werth and Sgt. Maj. Terry Stanford, station sergeant major.

During a Marine Corps birthday ball at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., where Werth was the keynote speaker, Garavito explained his unique tie to the air station. Werth invited him to visit and discuss the history of the Marine Corps in Yuma.

Garavito explained many of the changes to the area in the last 50 years.

The Corps’ first change to the air station was to extend the runway to prevent safety issues encountered by pilots using the airfield previously.

Before the extension, it was commonplace for pilots to extend the runway into an orange orchard. Pilots were instructed to slow down as much as possible and jump out of the aircraft, then meet at a rendezvous point where a vehicle would pick up the pilot to be driven back to the operational area.

The present command’s leadership was also able to ask their questions about the original civilian and Department of Defense contracts concerning the air station’s use.

The only way to take control of the air station was to accept the Air Force’s existing policies, said Garavito.

After the transition period, Vincent Air Force Base became MCAAS Yuma on Jan. 1, 1959. There were no tenant units and the station was known as an auxiliary air station, to denote the base’s exclusive training role.

During Garavito’s time here between 1958-1960, approximately 200 Marines and sailors were stationed here at a given time.

Garavito joined the Marine Corps in 1944, and after recruit training was assigned to E Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, at the end of World War II.

In the Korean War, Garavito was with the 1st Marine Division at Inchon, widely known as the “Frozen Chosin.”

Before retiring in 1972, Garavito participated in the Vietnam War. The Whittier, Calif., native received a Purple Heart for combat wounds in both Korea and Vietnam.

Garavito was inducted into the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame for charity work in the community after his time in the Marine Corps.

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