YUMA PROVING GROUND, Ariz.-- When 2018 rolls around, it will signify much more than simply the beginning of a new year. 2018 is U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground's 75th birthday and a gala day-long bash is set to take place Saturday, Feb. 3rd.

The day will be celebrated in appropriate fashion, with all the pomp and pageantry one would expect of a 75th birthday party. The entire Yuma community is invited and, though it is impossible to predict how many people will show up, the number is bound to be substantial, with the crowd numbering in the thousands. Everyone is advised to circle the date on calendars now.

Activities will be many. These include displays of military equipment tested at the proving ground, historic exhibits, parachuting, a play area for young people, live musical entertainment, food and drinks, evening fireworks, and much more. Best of all, it will cost nothing to attend.

Special parking lots are being laid out and Yuma County Area Transit will offer bus service to and from downtown Yuma and the Foothills. Keep your eyes open in future months for more details.

Though the Army first came on a permanent basis to the desert southwest in 1850 when Soldiers constructed Fort Yuma overlooking the Yuma Crossing of the Colorado River, it wasn't until World War II that the beginnings of today's Yuma Proving Ground formed.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Yuma Test Branch below Laguna Dam on the Colorado River in 1943. This location was considered the most desirable spot in the country for testing portable combat bridges because of the abundance of swift flowing water that engineers could control as they wished. Dozens of bridges were constructed over the river, much of the labor performed by former Italian prisoners of war. Some of the tested bridge designs were successful, others needed improvement and a few were outright failures -- collapsing into the river or breaking apart into segments. In late 1944, rice and hemp plants were grown next to the Colorado River to establish realistic conditions for testing troop and vehicle movements in preparation for the expected invasion of Japan.

At the same time the test branch began operating, the Army established Camp Laguna a few miles to the west to train troops in mechanized warfare. Camp Laguna was one of 12 major U.S. Army desert training camps in the California-Arizona Maneuver Area (CAMA). An 18,000 square mile area chosen by General George S. Patton, this became the training ground for over one million Soldiers eventually deployed to combat areas overseas

Upward of 15,000 troops were stationed at Camp Laguna at any one time for periods generally lasting six months. The purpose of the challenging training was to prepare soldiers for a severe life of combat in the deserts of North Africa or one of World War II's other combat fronts. Camp Laguna and the other CAMA installations were crucial in preparing Army personnel for combat. Camp Laguna was deactivated and demolished in 1944.

After the war, the Yuma Test Branch remained in operation, but testing activities were turned toward the effect of the desert environment on engineering equipment, such as high-speed tractors, semi-trailers and revolving cranes. In 1950, the test branch closed, only to reopen one year later with a new name, Yuma Test Station, and a greatly expanded mission.

This new mission saw the testing workload greatly expand beyond its river and desert environmental roots. It became a multi-purpose test center that took on the lion's share of the nation's artillery testing workload, with the longest overland artillery range in the country. In addition, many types of armored vehicles, armored systems, and air delivery systems began to be tested.

As one of the geographically largest military installations in the western world, U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground's 75-year history has witnessed a huge and varied workload. Today's mission, as throughout its history, is to ensure that weapon systems and equipment issued to American Soldiers function safely and as intended -- all the time, without fail. This workload directly contributes to America's national defense, a source of intense pride for each of the 2400 Yuma County residents who work at the proving ground.