JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- While the Army Family Covenant pledges to keep the promise of supporting servicemembers and Families, the Military Community Covenant expands its scope to reflect the bond between servicemembers and Families with the communities in which they live.

The reciprocal commitment was evident most recently during the first meeting of the Elected Officials Council of the South Sound Military and Communities Partnership held June 24 at Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood.

Dozens of leaders from Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the South Sound region attended the meeting and signed the Military Community Covenant, which also symbolizes the close relationship between the rapidly growing installation and the communities that support and nurture its servicemembers.

On hand to sign the covenant was I Corps Commanding General Lt. Gen. Mike Scaparrotti, JBLM Garrison Commander Col. Thomas Brittain, 62nd Airlift Wing Vice Commander Col. Rick Moore, Lakewood Mayor Doug Richardson and Pierce County executive Pat McCarthy.

Other representatives from JBLM and surrounding communities took part in the signing.

Five years ago, several leaders from the South Sound region were invited by the Department of Defense to attend a “Responding to Change” workshop in Atlanta.

Lakewood City Manager and Steering Committee Coordinator Andrew Neiditz was one of those from around the nation who attended to learn of upcoming changes.

The workshop immediately followed the latest round of deliberations by the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

At that time, Neiditz said Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base were seen as neither closing nor growing, but instead becoming a joint base.

He suspected the area would see marginal growth, but that it warranted regional planning and cooperation.

“If we were to think regionally, we would have a better chance of getting funding, and we would have a much better chance of success,” Neiditz said.

Soon the South Sound Military and Communities Partnership was formed.

The Washington State Department of Transportation was one of the first to show its support by awarding a $500,000 grant to conduct an I-5 traffic alternatives analysis, paving the way for the Growth Coordination Plan.

The plan quickly moved into a number of other areas, including grants for housing, education, social services and health care.

“In many respects, we owe that regional approach to JBLM because there are so many of us, and the rest of them coordinated ... a unified message that certainly made sense,” Neiditz said.

The Military and Communities Partnership is comprised of more than 100 stakeholders who have devoted significant time and effort to developing a growth and coordination plan dealing specifically with the impact on the South Sound region and growth of JBLM.

With the addition of more than 15,000 active duty personnel and about a 47 percent increase in Family members during the last decade, Richardson acknowledged the positive impact of JBLM’s growth on the local economy.

The numbers will continue to grow, but at a slower pace, said Dan Penrose, staff liaison and steering committee member, beginning with the addition of a combat aviation brigade that will bring about 1,400 personnel and their Families.

“That growth is a great thing,” Richardson said. “It is a testimony foremost to the importance of the South Sound region to our nation’s defense.”

Understanding the opportunities that derive from growth is key to fostering and sustaining effective services both at JBLM and in the communities. McCarthy said increased collaboration and participation by community leaders has minimized potential negative effects of rapid growth on the communities while fostering economic development.

“The potential is unbelievable for us,” McCarthy said.

JBLM is now the third largest employer in Washington, providing military-related jobs for an estimated 136,000 people.

Including Family members, Penrose said there are easily 250,000 people regularly accessing the installation.

The JBLM military population accounts for approximately one-third of the 800,000 people who live in Pierce County.

“That is substantial,” Penrose said.

By working together, communities in the region have greater chance of obtaining grants necessary for making improvements related to the growth.

In just the last five years, $1.8 billion was spent on construction on JBLM with another $2 billion projected over the next several years.

A recent $4.8 million grant is providing work opportunities for spouses of military employees, underscoring the both the significance of military Families and the communities commitment to them.

“We have a lot to be proud of in the collaborate work that we are doing here in this county,” McCarthy said.

“This partnership, which we have developed collectively, provides a wonderful opportunity for all of us to support our nation and enhance the quality of life in the South Sound region,” Richardson said.

Laura M. Levering:

Page last updated Fri July 1st, 2011 at 11:31