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Joint Base Lewis-McChord

Joint Base Lewis-McChord includes the merger of the former Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base and supports more than 40,000 active, Guard and Reserve service members as well as 15,000 civilian employees.

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Local News

JBLM downsizing: 1 Stryker Brigade, 4,500 soldiers to go

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD — Earlier this month, 180 soldiers with the 4th Stryker Brigade at JBLM returned from Afghanistan to a hero’s welcome. Some met their newborn children for the first time.

JBLMNow, it looks like those troops will be leaving JBLM for good.

“Our goal is to make sure it’s done right,” said Col. David Johnson, a spokesman for JBLM. “With our eye on taking care of soldiers and their families.”

Over the next four years, most of the 4,500 troops who make up the 4th Stryker Brigade, and their families, will be transferred to other units out of state. The entire brigade is being cut.

Top brass knew the cuts were coming, but losing a Stryker Brigade was considered the worst case scenario.

The pain will be felt beyond the confines of the base.

“Probably 90 to 95 percent of our customers are military,” said Tammy Fisher, who manages Farrelli’s Pizza, just off base.

When any number of troops are deployed, it hurts business. Losing 4,500 will hurt even more.

“It will directly affect our business,” said Fisher. “We basically fill up for lunch every day and when we do, it’s a sea of camouflage.

The shopping area known as Dupont Station was built in 2006 in reaction to the thousands of additional troops that poured into JBLM during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The news that the 4th Stryker Brigade is being deactivated comes as nearby Forza Coffee is getting ready to break out a back wall and expand, doubling the shop’s size.

“It scares us, very much so,” said Tammy Chamberlain, a manager at Forza. “ But it’s in the works and we’re doing everything we can to survive so we can make it work.”

Communities throughout the country will be affected.

The Army is eliminating 11 other combat brigades. With the Iraq war over and the Afghan war soon to be, it’s part of a plan to eventually cut 80,000 troops from the service.

Local News

JBLM to lose thousands of soldiers

JBLMTACOMA — About 4,500 positions for active-duty Stryker soldiers will be eliminated from Joint Base Lewis-McChord during the next few years, the Tacoma News Tribune reported.

The number of reductions were announced in a brief given to congressional members Tuesday morning. The reduction in forces is part of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan coming to a close, Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, said in release. It is unrelated to sequestration.

“This is necessary, natural and appropriate action,” Heck said.

According to the News Tribune, the Army will deactivate Lewis-McChord’s 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which contains around 4,000 active-duty soldiers. The overall number of soldiers will be gradually reduced from 36,000 to 26,500 over the period of a few years.

The News Tribune reported there was “some disparity” between the numbers provided to the lawmakers and the newspaper; the Tribune is investigating the shift in numbers.

A reduction in 8,000 soldiers could mean a loss of more than 20,100 military family members in the South Puget Sound area. The reduction would also mean a loss in military contract jobs and a general downturn to the South Sound’s economy.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA, said the news is disappointing for many in the JBLM community, but, ultimately, there is reason to look for the positives.

“These changes are never easy and they will be a tough adjustment for the community, but they come as a result of the end of combat operations in Iraq and the reduction of operations in Afghanistan,” Murray said.

“JBLM remains one of the premier military installations in America.”

Heck also said a reduction in force was the natural outcome coming from the closing of combat operations.

“The force structure changes will enable us to more effectively tackle a changing geopolitical environment,” he said.

JOINT BASE LEWIS MCCHORD — It was a Father’s Day to remember at JBLM Sunday as a group of 225 members of the 4th Stryker Brigade returned home from combat in Afghanistan.

It was also a big day for 5-month-old Grayson White, who had never seen before met this father, Army Spc. David White.

“I’m never going to be able to top this Father’s Day,” said a beaming Sheree White, David’s wife and Grayson’s father.

“It’s been hard raising a baby by myself… he’s never even held him,” Sheree said.

A hero’s welcome made even sweeter for a new dad.

“Cause I get to see my son, meet my son, it’s a good feeling,” David White said.

There were a lot of young dads in the group. Ashley Burnett’s daughter, Olivia, was just 3 months old when the soldiers deployed.

And Ashley Burnett is ready to have her husband home.

“I can’t put it into words; it’s the most amazing feeling,” she said.

JBLM butterflies

JBLM gets grant for program that aids butterflies and other wildlife and protects training area.

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD — The Department of Defense is giving a $3.5 million grant to Joint Base Lewis-McChord to preserve sensitive prairie land and offset some of the environmental effects of military training, the Tacoma News Tribune reported.

Several agencies partnered with the Defense Department to protect the threatened Mazam pocket gophers, Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies and streak-horned larks, according to the Tribune.

The Center for Natural Lands Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Department of Agriculture are several of the agencies that have joined forces to protect the habitat.

JBLM won the grant through the Defense Department’s Readiness and Envorinmenal Protection Integration Program.

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD — About 10,000 civilian employees at JBLM will be furloughed one day a week, most every Friday, and see their pay fall by about 20 percent because of the reduced workweek brought on by federal sequestration budget cuts, the Army announced Monday.


JBLM Commander Col. H. Charles Hodges Jr. announces the furloughing of 10,000 civilian employees.

JBLM Commander Col. H. Charles Hodges Jr. said the first furlough notification letters were distributed May 30 to JBLM employees. The first “furlough Friday” will be July 12 and continue through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The commissary will remain open Fridays, but will be closed Mondays, typically the slowest day for sales. Yakima Training Center employees will be furloughed Mondays as well — the day with the least training — beginning July 8.

Hodges said that with 48,000 service members on JBLM and 16,000 civilian employees and contractors, the base is the seventh largest city in Washington state.

“Without our civilians, we could not run or maintain the 7th largest city in Washington,” Hodges said at a news conference. “This furlough is going to have a significant impact on JBLM and the local communities.”

He said it was decided to make most of the furloughs occur on Fridays so that the employees would be able to look for part-time jobs to supplement their income.

“Bottom line: This is going to place a significant financial burden on them and their families,” he said.

He noted that businesses in the area surrounding the sprawling base near Tacoma would suffer, also, because those furloughed employees and their families will have less money to spend on goods and services.

jblmbadgeJOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD — Thousands of Defense Department workers face unpaid time off this summer, but not as much as the Pentagon initially planned, The Olympian reported.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel released details on Tuesday requiring about 680,000 civilian employees to take 11 furlough days through the end of summer, the paper reported. The furloughs are set to begin July 8 unless Congress allocates money to cancel them.

The furloughs would force workers to take off one day a week for three months. That’s less than the initial Pentagon plan, which would have called for 22 unpaid days off, the Olympian reported. Locally, the furloughs will affect approximately 10,000 workers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and another 10,000 workers across Washington state.

In March, Congress failed to avert the forced federal budget cuts known as sequestration, which triggered the furloughs.

russell2By Kim Murphy

Los Angeles Times

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD — A military judge is expected to render a verdict Monday in the court-martial of Army Sgt. John Russell for the killing of five fellow service members in Iraq.

The court-martial concluded Saturday with a military judge asked to decide whether the 14-year Army veteran was deluded by depression and despair or was executing a calculated plan of revenge against psychiatrists who had blocked his hopes for an early exit from the Army.

In closing arguments after a week of testimony, Judge David L. Conn was presented two starkly different views of what drove Russell, 48, to seize his escort’s M-16 rifle and gun down five people at the Camp Liberty combat stress center at the Baghdad airport on May 11, 2009.

While the defense says Russell was suffering from organic brain damage, major depression and post-combat stress that was aggravated by hostile mental health workers, Army prosecutors argued Saturday that Russell had been trying to paint himself as mentally ill even before the murders in an attempt to win early retirement and had then struck back “in the language of revenge” when a psychiatrist refused such a diagnosis.

Russell has already pleaded guilty to five specifications of murder, but the judge will determine whether the acts were premeditated, a key factor in whether he must serve life in prison or is eligible for parole.

“He wanted out,” Maj. Daniel Mazzone told the court, as Russell’s mother and sisters from Texas, along with family members of the victims, looked on.

Fearing that a threatened sexual harassment complaint could derail his career, Russell was looking for a way to salvage his benefits, but was told the day before the killings by psychiatrist Michael Jones that a mental disability retirement would require “some kind of suicidal psychotic crisis,” Mazzone said.

But when Russell saw Jones, a lieutenant colonel, again the next day, the psychiatrist said he had no intention of giving him “a golden ticket” out of the Army. “His career was over; his life was over; everything he had worked for the last 15 years was gone,” Mazzone said.

When Russell returned about an hour later, prosecutors say, he was looking for Jones, but wound up killing two patients, a bystander and two other mental health workers, including Navy Cmdr. Keith Springle, who had also briefly treated Russell in the days before the shootings. Jones escaped injury by jumping out a window.

Prosecutors described the methodical way Russell made his way through the small wood-frame clinic. The chief psychiatrist, Maj. Matthew Houseal, 54, was the first to be shot, through a window, in the head. Springle was next, shot dead in the torso, and then shot again — after Russell entered the room where he lay — in the back of the head.  Sgt. Christian E. Bueno-Galdos died after being shot in the flank and screaming, “Oh God, oh God,” as Russell moved in and shot him in the eye.

“This soldier is looking at him and pleading for his life, and he fires a shot into his eye,” Mazzone said. “That’s not a man confused about what he’s doing.”

But defense lawyers presented testimony from a leading forensic psychiatrist and the Army’s mental health board, which found that Russell suffered from severe depression with psychotic features and post-combat stress. A brain scan, they said, showed damage to the part of his brain that affects impulse control.

Russell, on his fifth combat deployment, had long sought help with sleep troubles — a colleague videotaped him crying in his sleep — and was stammering and crying for help in the days before the shooting. His commanders were so alarmed that they disarmed him and sent him for repeated visits to mental health clinics, civilian defense lawyer James Culp noted.

On the day of the shootings, Russell told Jones that the doctor either had to help him or he would kill himself, but Jones’ dismissive response was: “You’re fixed,” Russell earlier told the court. As Russell stormed out of his office, he said, Jones yelled at him and told him, “Soldier, you’ve made your decision.”

“And he closes the book on Russell’s life,” Culp said.

Russell, Culp said, decided to kill himself in a damaged mental state that started with despair and turned to rage.

“I would like to tell you that there’s 90% evidence in this case that shows that Sgt. Russell was going to kill himself when he got back to the combat stress clinic,” Culp said. “Ninety percent. But I can’t do that. Seventy-thirty? Fifty-fifty? I don’t know. Because the truth of the matter is that Sgt. Russell had frustration and anger and disappointment over the way he’d been treated.”

Culp urged the judge to find at least that the first killing — that of Houseal, the chief psychiatrist — was committed without premeditation, even if the others were found to be calculated.

That would allow the judge to say, “I do think that you were sick,” Culp suggested. “I don’t think that you’re a homicidal maniac by nature. And that something very scary and very sad happened over a period of 10 days that represented a terrible storm.”

The Army has resisted saying Russell is mentally ill because of what it would mean about repeat combat deployments, Culp said.

“It’s been really hard for the Army to not want to dial up the vilification of John, because like a person with alcoholism, it’s not all John’s fault,” he said. “And if he’s not completely sane, then maybe something … maybe one of the three components that led up to this massacre — mental illness, organic brain damage and provocation — maybe we own a little bit of that.”

The judge is expected to render a verdict Monday morning, followed by a sentencing hearing to extend through much of the rest of the week.

Mike Schindler with Operation Military Family talks about the sequester’s impact on local military families and JBLM.

jblmbadgeTACOMA — Pierce County prosecutors have dropped charges against a Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier accused of impersonating a Tacoma police officer during two separate incidents in October and illegally detaining a prostitute, it was reported Wednesday.

The News Tribune of Tacoma said the charges were dismissed Monday because the state couldn’t find either of the women allegedly involved in the incidents.

Charging documents had alleged that on Oct. 8, 2012, JBLM soldier Sylvester Haliburton, 27, showed a badge and gun to a prostitute who approached his vehicle and told her, “Tacoma police, get in the car, don’t make a scene.” Haliburton reportedly told the woman “I was gonna take you to jail, but I like you tonight.” Haliburton allegedly told the woman he wouldn’t arrest her if she gave him sex.

Haliburton allegedly told another prostitute on Oct. 15 that he was an undercover officer and showed her a badge, court documents stated. When the woman tried to flee the car, Haliburton reportedly grabbed her wrists and pulled her back inside. When the woman told Haliburton she had children, he apologized, gave her $50 and let her go.

Haliburton had been charged with two counts of first-degree criminal impersonation and one count of first-degree unlawful imprisonment.