JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Joint Base Lewis-McChord Garrison Commander Col. Thomas Brittain and Deputy Commander Col. Kenny Weldon have a message for the joint base community: Thank you for all the hard work in making the joint base a success.
Those sentiments were passed to hundreds of joint base civilians, Airmen and Soldiers during back-to-back Joint Base Garrison town hall meetings June 29, at the Evergreen Theater on Lewis-Main and the McChord Theater at McChord Field.
The joint base achieved full operational capability eight months ago as Lewis and McChord directorates integrated into a joint base asset, including transfer of all Air Force property, operating funds, installation support civilian employees to the Army.
With the town hall meeting scheduled for the end of June, the garrison staff assembled a list of topics a few months ago that were built into a survey, allowing base employees to share their opinions about the progress of the joint base.
Brittain incorporated that feedback into his presentation.
The joint base integration rivals huge corporate mergers, but with one major difference: the joint base finished in eight months, contrasting the years most large corporations require.
“We look at what we’ve done over the past eight months, and they can’t compete with us,” Brittain said.
Several major successes have occurred since Oct. 1, 2010, the date of JBLM Full Operational Capability, that some audience members hadn’t heard about.
For example, not a single Department of the Air Force civilian lost a job in the transition to becoming an Army civilian.
The colonels noted a number of significant achievements:
A virtual local area network now spans both Lewis and McChord allowing Army and Air Force installation support staff to communicate in a common space.
With growth testing installation infrastructure, especially at gates, the McChord Main Gate reopened after months of construction, during which the Woodbrook Housing and Barnes Gates remained open to reduce backups at the Main Gate during peak hours.
Emergency response times improved markedly for the joint base after the Department
of Emergency Services consolidated fire and police services, including creating the Joint Base Emergency Center, an integrated one-stop shop anyone on base can use.
“The best engineer in the United States Air Force and the best infantryman in the United States Army couldn’t have done any of this stuff without the efforts that were put forth by all of our Airmen, or Soldiers and our civilian workforce,” Brittain said.
He noted two areas that still require improvement: traffic and civilian career development opportunities.
The population of the South Sound community surrounding JBLM has grown by nearly 160,000 since the U.S. first went to war in Afghanistan.
During the same period, the number of installation’s military Family members, civilian employees and contractors has grown by 40,000.
Add the numbers to regional population growth as well as roads and infrastructure on the base that had not been previously improved since the 1960s, and there’s good reason why drive-time traffic is dense on Interstate-5 and other arteries around JBLM.
“(The 1960s) were different cars, different traffic flow, different population,” the garrison commander said.
His team has met with local, county and Washington state Department of Transportation leaders to find solutions to the complex traffic challenge. Meetings and dialogue at all levels continues.
One answer, Brittain said, is $1 billion dollars to widen the freeway to five lanes with HOV access.
With shrinking federal budgets a reality, it might be years before the project is complete.
“We have to do this incrementally,” Brittain said.
While traffic was the No. 1 issue cited in survey responses, another is the lack of a professionalized education program for civilians, which he said carries important implications.
The Air Force and Army allocate money to units to have servicemembers attend military schools and a vast array of training programs.
That broad professional education program has no equivalent in the civilian workforce. If a servicemember leaves for a school, another arrives to backfill.
Again, that is not the case with DOD civilians.
“We have looked at how we can work to retain quality people in our civilian workforce,” Brittain said.
“(Sending civilians to school) short-term, is worth my return in the long-term, and we need to figure out how to make that happen.”
Brittain and Weldon said they want to continue moving the joint base forward to find more efficiencies and develop more “best practices” that can be used as a model for joint bases.
Meanwhile, Army and Air Force senior leadership is presenting one voice to the local community.
Areas of policy conflicts between the services are identified early, targeted and resolved by senior leadership as quickly as possible.
Senior Department of the Air Force leaders have invited two other joint base commanders to JBLM to see for themselves the effectiveness of installation programs and policies within the context of the brief time since FOC.
“(Air Force leadership) realized that we are way ahead of where the other joint bases are, and our ability to integrate and adopt best practices, and try to move things forward,” Weldon said.
“The environment that joint basing has provided is nothing like ever before.”
That dedication to fully believing in the joint base mission and the hard work put forth by everyone on JBLM is what the two senior garrison leaders wanted the audience to leave with.
“It doesn’t matter what uniform you wear, what pay grade or what rank you are, if you think you can make it better, I want to be able to wrap my arms around it, understand it, memorialize it and make it happen,” Brittain told the audience at McChord Theater.
“In 25 years, I haven’t had a better job and I haven’t had a better crew to work with.”
None of JBLM’s rapid achievements could have been possible without dedicated, talented and experienced professionals, said the garrison commander.
“It doesn’t matter if its ACU, ABU, suit and tie, flight suit, pair of coveralls, a dress, a skirt " this workforce that encompasses the joint base ... continues to amaze me,” Brittain said.
JBLM garrison leadership solicits continued feedback. Suggestions and observations will be personally reviewed at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lorin T. Smith: email@example.com