BARKISDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. --
The pine trees and hardwoods of the Kisatchie National Forest cover more than 604,000 acres of Louisiana with a canopy so dense, in many places, sunlight only speckles the forest floor. The foliage seems to swallow everything in sight, including a little gravel road that leads to Claiborne Range, an Air Force Reserve Command training site tucked away in the heart of the KNF.
Driving down the gravel trail, dust kicks up on every side, winding through the trees to a gate at the edge of a clearing, revealing a small cluster of simple, metal buildings. Moe, a stray puppy that has adopted the staff at Claiborne Range, greets most visitors, wagging her tail as if meeting a long-lost friend. She is just one of the many animals that wandered onto this site and made it their home.
“I’ve seen horses, donkeys, mules, goats, dogs, cats and, at least once we had an emu running around the place,” said William Avants, 307th Operations Support Squadron range operations officer. “We do not engage with the animals unless they begin to present a danger to personnel or property. However, if an animal looks particularly healthy, some of the contractors here might contact friends and family to find them a more suitable home.”
Beyond the cluster of buildings, the road leads to a grove of pine trees. Here, the trail begins to disappear into an open prairie where feral horses graze among old military trucks and tanks that now serve as training props and targets. The horses looked up for just a moment before returning to their meal.
The quiet serenity of Claiborne Range hides the truth about this training site. It is a busy place with a serious mission. Managed by the 307th Operations Support Squadron, the range supports all branches of the military, but the Air Force and Army utilize it most often, according to Avants.
“Several years ago, we were primarily serving the A-10 community by providing bomber and gunnery training,” said Avants. “Now, we provide a broader spectrum of options.”
The range offers simulations that Air Force pilots and navigators need to hone skills necessary for real-world environments. It also affords Army and Air Force ground troops the room needed to remain competent on various skill sets.
Despite its important military mission, there are many occasions when a portion of the range, called the safety fan, is open to the local populace. Approximately 90 days per year, the area offers hunting, camping, hiking and trail riding. According to Avants, the offer is readily accepted by many people.
“We once stumbled upon a guy who had been camping out at one of the creeks for several weeks before we noticed him. He was training for an audition on a reality television show,” he said.
Claiborne Range consists of more than 7,000 acres within the KNF as part of an Interagency Agreement between the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service and the 307th Bomb Wing.