In 2010 came the first indications that Joint Base Lewis-McChord had, at the very least, an image problem.
A Stars and Stripes article described Lewis-McChord as “the most troubled base in the military,” largely based on the Stryker “kill team” atrocities in Afghanistan and problems diagnosing returning soldiers at Madigan Army Medical Center.
The Los Angeles Times piled on the following year by quoting a local antiwar group’s label of Lewis-McChord as a “base on the brink” and citing some high-profile crimes committed by current or former soldiers.
But closer scrutiny by News Tribune reporters found that Lewis-McChord’s problems actually weren’t much different than those experienced at other installations of similar size with high numbers of combat troops. In fact, in 2010 there were fewer crimes against people and property at Lewis-McChord, per capita, than in the Army as a whole.
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Any community with a high percentage of young men can expect to have its share of assaults and incidents related to substance abuse. Add to that the stresses created by multiple deployments to war zones, and it’s not hard to understand why Lewis-McChord was experiencing some bad publicity.
To its credit, the Army chose not to turn a blind eye to the problem but chose to fight it head-on, as detailed in a Sunday report by The News Tribune’s Adam Ashton. The strategy it chose – launching a new two-star headquarters, the 7th Infantry Division, in April 2012 – appears to be getting the desired results.
With a tighter command structure, more standardized disclipine policies and greater oversight, JBLM has seen decreases in crimes such as assault, drunk-driving and drug-related charges. One way that’s been accomplished is by getting rid of frequent troublemakers, which has been accomplished by the division’s increased administrative strength.
In 2012, 1,114 Lewis-McChord service members had multiple offenses on their records. That number has dropped to 376 this year. As anyone in law enforcement can attest, most crimes are committed by a small percentage of people. Focusing attenton on them is almost certain to pay off.
The most telling improvement at Lewis-McChord has been that criminal incidents declined even as the base’s population spiked with the return of 8,000 Stryker soldiers in late 2012 and early this year. In years past, similar homecomings met with higher crime rates.
Other improvements at Lewis-McChord can be attributed to the closer oversight provided by the division headquarter’s presence. To the greater South Sound community, though, the best news is that the Army didn’t shy away from its problem and set about solving it. That’s something the bases’s neighbors appreciate.