Camp Bullis

By: John Manguso and Art Leatherwood

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: August 20, 2014

Camp Bullis, a United States Army field training area and firing range complex, lies sixteen miles north-northwest of downtown San Antonio in Bexar County and occupies 28,000 acres northeast of the intersection of Interstate Highway 10 and Loop 1604. Camp Bullis and the adjacent Camp Stanley make up the Leon Springs Military Reservation which grew out of the army’s need for firing ranges and maneuver areas. Until 1892 these activities were conducted at Fort Sam Houston. After that year, the artillery and small arms fire could not be safely contained within the post. At first, the army leased tracts of land as far away as Kerrville for weapons firing. In 1906–07 the army bought the Schasse and Oppenheimer ranches and four small tracts near Leon Springs, totaling 17,000 acres. Early improvements included the drilling of wells to be able to supply water to as many as 10,000 troops. The first large-scale maneuvers at the camp took place in June and July 1908.

During the World War I, as troops strength at Fort Sam Houston and Camp Travis soared beyond 50,000, the army leased 15,427 more acres south of the original reservation and began adding training facilities. In the western part of the reservation, there were cantonments for cavalry and field artillery—Camp Samuel F. B. Morse (a Signal Corps training camp), a remount station, and an officer training camp. The latter conducted three training cycles to produce junior officers. A tent camp was set up near the Scheele Ranch on the leased land for the Ninetieth Division troops mobilizing at Camp Travis. In September 1917 the Ninetieth Division designated this tent camp as Camp Bullis in honor of Brig. Gen. John Lapham Bullis, noted Indian fighter and leader of the Black Seminole Scouts. In October of that year, the War Department designated the facilities in the western part of the reservation as Camp Stanley in honor of Brig. Gen. David S. Stanley, Medal of Honor recipient during the Civil War. By the end of the First World War, the army had spent $1,350,000 developing the facilities at the Leon Springs Military Reservation.

After the war, the leased land was given up but the reservation was enlarged, adding 4,573 acres between 1920 and 1933, as the size of the garrison at Fort Sam Houston was increased, as well as the number of Reserve Component troops who would also be using it. A cantonment was built at the Ninetieth Division’s Camp Bullis location with mess halls and other mobilization-type buildings. Camp Bullis added a small infirmary, an officers' mess, vehicle sheds, a landing field, a post exchange, and a swimming pool, in addition to improved firing ranges. The ammunition storage function of the San Antonio Arsenal in downtown San Antonio was moved to Camp Stanley in 1931.

With these improved facilities, Camp Bullis supported the Civilian Military Training Corps, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Reserve Officer Training Corps, and the Officer Reserve Corps as well as the garrison at Fort Sam Houston. In the period 1925–27, parts of three motion pictures were made on the Camp Bullis reservation. The Second Division at Fort Sam Houston provided troops and equipment for The Big Parade (1925). For the filming of The Rough Riders (1927), troops from the Second Division and Fifth Cavalry were used as extras, and Palmtree Hill was made over to simulate the famous charge up San Juan Hill. For Wings (1927), the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, extensive trench works south of Wells Hill and a faux French village near the Oppenheimer Ranch were built and manned by Second Division troops in German and American uniforms to portray the climactic battle of St. Mihiel. During the late 1930s the maneuver areas at Camp Bullis were used to test the organization of the streamlined “triangular division” for the War Department. This organization would be the basic organization for the army in World War II.

With World War II looming, Congress authorized the call-up of the National Guard, and in 1940 the Selective Service Act was passed. To provide sufficient room for an increasing number of users, the camp was expanded in June 1941 by 10,306 acres along the north and east sides of the reservation. An additional 7,000 acres north of Cibolo Creek was leased for maneuver areas. From January 1942 through November 1943, the Second, Ninety-fifth, and Eight-eighth Infantry divisions and numerous smaller units trained at Camp Bullis. Smaller units continued to use the camp until 1944. Two mock villages and a bunker complex were built so troops could train on attacking those types of objectives overseas. There was also a prisoner-of-war compound (a branch of the POW camp at Fort Sam Houston) and parts of the Provost Marshal General School in the cantonment area.

The changing needs of the army during and after World War II brought major changes to Fort Sam Houston and Camp Bullis. The reservation no long met the War Department’s requirement for the acreage necessary to safely employ all the weapons of an infantry division. Concurrently, the growth of San Antonio and increased commercial air traffic over Camp Bullis soon made it necessary to restrict the firing of mortars and artillery. The War Department had to look for another mission that didn’t require the employment of heavy weapons. As the Medical Field Service School (MFSS) had outgrown its training areas at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, the War Department ordered the MFSS to Fort Sam Houston in 1947, joining Brooke Army Medical Center and the Medical Replacement Training Center already there. Use of Camp Bullis was not limited to medical field training however. The National Guard, Army Reserve, and garrison units still conducted field training and weapons firing there. With the establishment of Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Air Force basic trainees began taking their weapons training at Camp Bullis, followed soon by the Air Force Security Police.

With the outbreak of war in Korea in June 1950, MFSS training at Camp Bullis surged. The Army Food Service School established a field site, the Detroit Arsenal established a tire-testing facility, and the Fourth Army established a chemical defense school at Camp Bullis. In 1953 some 2,040 acres of land were transferred to enlarge Camp Stanley which had become part of the Red River Arsenal in 1949. By 1955 Camp Bullis was providing ranges and training areas for medical units of the regular army, reserve component units, ROTC, and United States Army Reserve schools. Trainers conducted field exercises under realistic conditions, including survival techniques, map reading, and escape and evasion. The reservation was also used by the Army Field Medical Service Development Unit to develop medical equipment and organizations for field service. This included the Medical Unit, Self-contained, Transportable—or MUST—a modular, mobile field hospital. The Air Force Security Forces Airbase Defense School was established at Camp Bullis in 1956. Use of Camp Bullis increased significantly, preparing soldiers and especially medical personnel for service in Vietnam during the 1960s. A mock Vietnam village was constructed to familiarize soldiers with conditions they would encounter in Vietnam.

As the war in Vietnam wound down, so did activity at Camp Bullis. The General Services Administration declared 1,140 infrequently-used acres of the reservation excess in 1972. Some 323 acres were transferred to the city of San Antonio and eventually became Dwight D. Eisenhower Park which opened in 1988. Another ninety-four acres were transferred to Bexar County in 1977 to allow the widening of Blanco Road, and forty-seven acres were turned over to the county for a park near Borgfield Drive. Greater reliance on the Reserve Components in the post-Vietnam era saw greater use of Camp Bullis by the Army Reserve and National Guard. In 1975 an armory and maintenance facility was built at Camp Bullis for the Texas National Guard. In 1977 an Air Force Security Police Training Site, known as Victor Base, was constructed near the Schasse Ranch to accommodate the Air Force Security Police Academy. The air force was subsequently the largest single user of Camp Bullis until 1987 when the Air Base Ground Defense School moved.

Frequent use of Camp Bullis by air-delivered units led to the construction of a drop zone (DZ) between Pike and Butte hills in 1980 and a Combat Assault Landing Strip (CALS) in the northern part of the reservation in 1983. With its completion, the army began emergency deployment readiness exercises at Camp Bullis for units not stationed at Fort Sam Houston. These eventually included units from III Corps at Fort Hood, the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile), the Eight-second Airborne Division, and the First Marine Amphibious Force. In 1985 the 307th Medical Battalion and a French Army medical unit were air-dropped on Camp Bullis. In addition to the DZ and CALS, Camp Bullis added or improved the mini-mortar ranges (1984 and 1986), the M203 grenade launcher range (1986), a hospital clinic (1988), an Armored Personnel Carrier Assault Course (1989), and a land navigation course (1989). On August 12, 1987, a new training facility was opened in Training Area 7 for the Deployable Medical System (DEPMEDS). This facility is used to train Active and Reserve Army, Navy and Air Force medical units which are equipped with the DEPMEDS.

In the 1990s Camp Bullis was used for the training of Active Army, Army Reserve and National Guard units mobilizing and deploying to Southwest Asia for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm and for subsequent operations in the region. Other units were subsequently deployed for operations and training exercises in the Caribbean, Central America, and Europe. The air force’s Airbase Ground Defense School returned in 1995.

After the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001, units and individuals deploying Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere in support of the Global War on Terror trained at Camp Bullis. To facilitate this, a mock Forward Operating Base and mock village typical in the Southwest Asia Theatre of Operations were constructed. Following the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC), the Department of Defense began to transfer the training of the enlisted medical personnel of the navy and air force to Fort Sam Houston, joining with the Army Medical Department Center and School to form the Medical Education and Training Campus (METC). This brought the number of medical trainees trained at Camp Bullis to 45,000 annually.

As of 2014, Camp Bullis offered not only traditional maneuver areas and small arms live-fire ranges but also a fully-instrumented Urban Assault Course, a fully-instrumented Combined Arms Collective Training Facility , and a live-fire Shoot House, using Short Range Training Ammunition (SRTA) which provides a realistic, restricted range training alternative to service rounds. There are drop zones for parachute operations; the Combat Assault Landing Strip which can handle up to seven C-130 aircraft; a convoy tactical simulator; a convoy live-fire range; a demolition range; hand and rifle grenade ranges; Nap-of-the-Earth flight routes; and a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear training area (including the traditional gas chamber).

In addition to its strictly military usage, Camp Bullis has accommodated other uses as well. Under the army's "multiple land use" concept, the reservation has been used by Boy Scout and Girl Scout organizations and by various police and law enforcement agencies. Some 20,000 acres are under agricultural grazing leases. Twenty-seven thousand acres can be used for hunting during the state-designated hunting seasons. The whole reservation is likewise managed as a habitat for numerous wildlife species, both game and non-game. Camp Bullis is home for one threatened species, the Golden-cheeked Warbler, and one endangered species, the Black-capped Vireo. Parts of the reservation are held as easements by the San Antonio River Authority and the Alamo Soil Conservation District for the operation of the Salado Creek Flood Control Project. Camp Bullis integrates its diverse military training requirements and land management practices through Integrated Training Area Management. This program considers the amount and type of training, training areas and facilities, the natural and cultural resources on the reservation, and land maintenance and rehabilitation to ensure no net loss of training and mission requirements.

In 1891 Gen. David S. Stanley had stated the need for a maneuver area and firing range for the troops at Fort Sam Houston. It took fifteen years to acquire a suitable tract. Since its initial purchase, the Leon Springs Military Reservation has grown in size (27,993 acres) and in the number and types of facilities on it to support the changing needs of the armed forces. The land acquired has proven to be very adaptable to those needs though the army has changed from a foot- and horse-mobile force armed with black-powder firearms to a modern force equipped with motor vehicles and aircraft, armed with powerful individual and crew-served weapons, and using high technology systems to support tactical operations, logistics and administration. The variety of the terrain, the amount of land, the year-round good climate, and its easy access from local posts and bases contributed to its adaptability for a wide variety of uses. The ability of the Leon Springs Military Reservation to accommodate changing military needs over a period of more than a century confirms the wisdom of the initial selection of this piece of land as "admirably suited” to all types of military training and bodes well for the continued development and use of Camp Bullis through the twenty-first century.

Camp Bullis (, accessed August 26, 2014. Camp Bullis: A History of the Leon Springs Military Reservation, 1890–1990 (San Antonio: Fort Sam Houston, 1990). Headquarters US Army North (Fifth Army), Camp Bullis Regulation 350-1, 17 May 2011 (Fort Sam Houston, 2011). Life, April 14, 1939. John Manguso, Fort Sam Houston (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2012). John Manguso, San Antonio in the Great War (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2014). Edward S. Wallace, "General John Lapham Bullis, the Thunderbolt of the Texas Frontier," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 54, 55 (April, July 1951).

Time Periods:
  • Progressive Era
  • World War II

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

John Manguso and Art Leatherwood, “Camp Bullis,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 29, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 20, 2014