Elected officials from around Pierce County received a snapshot briefing from Joint Base Lewis-McChord's top brass so they could better understand operations at the Army-Air Force installation as well as understand the challenges and projects ahead.
Any news about JBLM is big news since the combined Army and Air Force Base not only represents more than 50,000 military personnel but more than $3.3 billion in local paychecks and annual purchases that require coordination with state, county and local officials especially since the number of veterans settling in surrounding communities is on the rise. About half of military personnel who retired from JBLM in 2013 remained in the region. That number jumped to two out of every three last year, which gives rise to military-support efforts around the South Sound.
"It's about relationships," said JBLM’s Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza.
Soldiers and airmen at the base are largely shifting away from the pattern of often year-long deployments experienced during the last decade to a sustained-readiness model, which means military personnel are rotating through shorter training schedules and shorter, more defined deployments such as humanitarian efforts and disaster response missions. This is a shift from a schedule of two years of training followed by 12 months of deployments to three months of training followed by three months of deployments and three months of training for future missions. That means civilian neighbors could expect more noise associated to live-fire exercises and more rapid flows of soldiers and airmen in and out of the installation.
"We have a lot of missions coming up," Lanza said. "The military will always be ready to do the missions we are asked to do."
While personnel conduct some training in the South Sound, the larger-scale exercises occur in Eastern Washington, a fact that ties all of the bases in the state together.
"The military value of JBLM is tied to Yakima," Garrison Commander Col. Daniel Morgan said of the 327,000-acre Eastern Washington location.
The next major exercise locally will come in July and August with Army, Air Force, Reserve and Guard units as well as units from allied nations training in airlift skills. Military personnel from JBLM will also be training in Thailand, Japan, South Korea and Australia. Air Mobility Command's first Mobility Guardian readiness exercise, formerly known as Rodeo, will involve 45 military units from 25 countries in one of the most realistic, real-world exercises the command has ever done.
The exercise comes as operations with local ties have never been faster, with flights from the 62nd Air Wing taking off from an airfield around the world every three minutes and airmen with local ties located on six of the seven continents on the globe at any one time, said Col. Stephen P. Snelson, 62nd Airlift Wing Vice Commander.
But those missions are being complete with aging equipment with the youngest B-52 still in use, for example, dating back five decades. The average age of all Air Force aircraft is 27 years old, making the planes older than the pilots who fly them or the mechanics who maintain them.
That said, the base innovates when possible. Madigan Medical Center, for example, is a center of military innovation with digital record keeping so military-affiliated patients not only have quick access to their medical records for themselves but have them available to their civilian specialists, which provide two thirds of medical services for military personnel. Madigan also provides medical exams and services in area schools with high numbers of military dependents such as Lakewood, Puyallup and Steilacoom, saving them from time away from school for routine medical appointments School Based Health Centers that range from immunizations, physical exams, diagnosis and treatment of minor illnesses and injuries and referrals for specialty care services.
“This way the classroom becomes their waiting room," Madigan Commanding Officer Col. Michael Place said.
Madigan is also forming a Center for Autism Resources, Education and Services through a partnership with the JBLM Armed Forces Community Service that will provided patient-centered care for military children with special needs and their families when it opens next year. The JBLM CARES program will serve as a one-stop shop for all pediatric special needs services.
JBLM also just opened a $91 million, state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant after two years of construction to upgrade the Solo Point location, according to release statements. The upgraded plant serves JBLM, Camp Murray and the American Lake Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Healthcare System American Lake Division in Lakewood with the most current technologies to meet future discharge requirements to protect Puget Sound water quality. The plant is now capable of treating wastewater to meet Class A drinking water standards, setting the stage for reclaimed water usage in the future.