With Veteran’s Day fast approaching, I felt it was time to spotlight this military base. It has been and continues to be an important economic contributor for Sonoma County. Although they have base housing and barracks for the students, many of the active duty and civilian employees live among us in Petaluma, Sebastopol, Rohnert Park and Cotati for example. In addition, after retirement, many former Coast Guard members have chosen to remain in the local area. Whether purchasing goods and services, providing employment opportunities, or working and living in Sonoma County after retiring; this military command continues to be part and parcel of the Sonoma County landscape.
Yet for all its contributions, I’m often surprised that many folks don’t even realize it’s here, or what it does. Located between Petaluma and Valley Ford off Tomales Road, the base is often called Two Rock Ranch, or just Two Rock. According to their website, it began its military career in 1942, but not as a Coast Guard Training Center. Shortly after World War Two started, the War Department was searching for a west coast radio monitoring site that was free from electronic and atmospheric interference. They found it in the Two Rock area. Purchasing nine tracts of ranchland totaling 876 acres, they set up a top-secret facility. They even camouflaged it so that from the air it appeared as just a working ranch.
The primary duty of the base was as a Signal Intercept Station. From here, many radio operators intercepted Japanese radio communications. They helped break the various codes used by Japan for communications and gave our country a tremendous tactical advantage during the war. At its height of operations, the staff consisted of 600 personnel including 100 Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps personnel. And training was a function of the base from the beginning. During and after World War Two, radio operator training was conducted. Also, of note, during the Vietnam War, a small corner of the base was transformed into a Vietnamese village to train troops headed for Vietnam.
In the late 1960s, it became excess to Army needs and preparations were made to close the base. Thus, the Coast Guard entered the picture. Existing Coast Guard training facilities were overcrowded. They were searching for a suitable site for a new training center. In 1971, they learned of the closing of Two Rock Ranch Station. Although the Highway Patrol and an Indian group were interested in the site, the Coast Guard was awarded the station. They renamed the base as Coast Guard Training Center Petaluma, primarily because Petaluma showed up on the map and Two Rock did not.
The first school to open was the Subsistence Specialist School that began training Coast Guard cooks. Shortly thereafter Storekeeper school opened, followed by Radioman School. By the spring of 1972, the base was fully loaded with students. The command continues to provide apprentice level training for seven enlisted career fields. These include the original three, however the names have changed over time. Cooks are now called Culinary Specialist and Radioman were merged into a new rating called Operations Specialist. Storekeepers are still Storekeepers. The other four are Electronics Technician, Health Services Technician, Information Systems Technician and Yeoman.
In addition to the entry level courses, advance courses were added over the years as the base continued to expand. These included the Coast Guard’s Chief Petty Officer Academy and Emergency Medical Technician Schools. More recently, a state-of-the-art Bridge Simulator was built to provide team training for personnel going to newly commissioned cutters as the Coast Guard upgrades their fleet. The training center consists of over 800 acres with 219 buildings, including 129 family units, a fully staffed medical clinic, a chapel, a small police and fire department and over 200,000 square feet of training facilities. Today it operates no less than 10 schools offering 50 courses to approximately 4,000 students a year.
I am proud of my Coast Guard career and this Training Center too. I spent 10 years active duty and 14 years as a civilian employee working on the base. Living in Sonoma County, raising my family here and contributing to this community has been a wonderful experience. Without the Coast Guard base however, I would never have experienced the beauties of our county. I just wish more knew about the base and what the Coast Guard Training Center brings to Sonoma County. Hopefully, this article helps.