JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Joint Base Lewis-McChord is at the forefront of joint bases across the Department of Defense in developing best practices and creating a culture of collaboration, officials at the Washington state base said recently.

The largest joint base west of the Rockies has been committed for nearly 18 months to implement best Department of Defense practices. As one of 12 joint bases around the country and the largest of the two led by the Army,

JBLM has earned national attention from senior military officers as an installation that displays what “right looks like,” as the commander of Air Mobility Command, Gen. Raymond E. Johns Jr. put it.
Johns should know; his command has a presence at two of the 12 joint bases in DOD.
The impact joint basing has made on the installation’s Airmen, Soldiers, civilians and Family members would be hard to overstate.

Less than a year ago, Air Force and Army emergency services and network systems were separate, Better Opportunities for Single Servicemembers only represented Soldiers and all McChord civilians were still Air Force employees. The transition has gone more smoothly than anyone could have imagined, said the deputy garrison commander, Air Force Col. Jerry K.(Kenny) Weldon II.

“At first, there was a lot of concern that there would be a loss of service identity, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Weldon said. “You cannot erase an existing service culture or identity, as those are important to mission commanders, Family members, and at the same time, adequate housing, child care, library services, are common to all. We’ve been able to (transition to a joint base) better than people might have anticipated.”

Weldon mentioned three successes that stand out in his mind. He said he was happy that no Air Force employee lost a job or pay in the conversion to Department of the Army civilian. Garrison leadership ensured that the pay changeover was not burdensome during the last year’s holiday season. “The whole process was seamless, and minimally impactful to the civilians,” Weldon said.

Big winners in joint basing are Family members residing on the installation, the deputy commander said. That’s because Army and Air Force emergency services combined to form the Joint Base Directorate of Emergency Services’ Emergency Communications Center, a one-stop shop for police, fire and medical services. Calls to 9-1-1 go to one central dispatch location, improving emergency response times and saving money, gas and resources, said Emergency Communications Center Chief Jeff Rodeman.

A key to framing the joint base architecture was implementation of a common virtual local area network system. JBLM personnel have the ability to access both Air Force and Army servers on one computer. This common computer backbone saved the base more than $6 million worth of communications infrastructure, Weldon said.

It’s a personal matter for him, as he has spent the last 18 months managing two offices " one on Lewis Main and the other at his day job as the 627th Air Base Group commander at McChord.
Before the conversion, he had to travel back and forth between the bases to use his separate Air Force and Army email accounts. Now, he can use both accounts no matter which side of the installation he has hung his hat.

“We have charted a course to deal with organizational change issues, cost savings and efficiency that looks to the future,” Weldon said. “These are common solutions that can be identified and used across the DOD.”

Weldon has a history of looking beyond the divisions of separate services. Four years ago, he was the manager of the Pentagon-based team picked to oversee the conversion of the 12 joint bases. He arrived at McChord Air Force Base to take the reins of the 62nd Mission Support Group, which he guided to become 627th Air Base Group, the Air Force unit organic to the garrison, as part of the joint base architecture. He became Garrison Commander Col. Tommy Brittain’s deputy in the process, and the two have spent most of their time and energies devoted to making joint basing a success ever since.

Under their watch, JBLM will have the distinction of being the only joint base that finished its transition while managing garrison missions for combatant commanders during real-world Air Force C-17, Army I Corps and Stryker brigade missions.

Developing, facilitating and analyzing joint base processes is the garrison’s Joint Integration Office headed by Col. Julia Taylor. For the past two years, the small office of fewer than 10 Air Force and Army servicemembers, government employees and contractors has studied how the two services can optimize conduct of garrison-related activities.

Dozens of the JIO’s recommendations have turned into JBLM policies and been sent up the chain to higher headquarters for broad application. Some changes were easy; others required messaging with town halls and communication plans to ensure that everyone was on the same page.

“The whole point of joint basing is to find efficiencies for installation support,” Taylor said. “I do think we are seeing the first round of many (joint bases) to come and joint basing won’t be going away.”
Because the Army is in the lead at JBLM, Johns’ AMC is a “mission partner” of the 627th Air Base Group and joint base garrison despite occupying command space two levels above the airlift wing. He is well satisfied at how well the two installations have merged and created new ways of doing business that interact efficiently while saving taxpayer money.

“The leadership has done a wonderful job building this sense of collaboration between Lewis and McChord, while allowing (the combat units) to continue to evolve war fighting skills,” Johns said.
Thanks to the attention to detail and can-do attitude of the joint base staff, Johns said he routinely recommends that other joint base commanders visit JBLM.

“What you have done out here is extraordinary, and everyone needs to know it,” he said.
There remain some training issues to be resolved, Johns said, especially process improvements for Air Force reservists and Washington state Air National Guardsmen. And the services don’t have common nomenclature, noticeable in family services like housing. But the joint base leadership works issues like these daily. Normally, the problems don’t exist at user level and often trace to higher, service-specific policies. When those are identified, joint base staffers pick the policy that suits best for local needs.

“There are hundreds of policy differences between the Army and Air Force that still need to be addressed,” Weldon said. “These policies were written by two services with two perspectives, and we as the joint base sort through each one, determining which works better, saves more money and makes more sense.”

Installation officials agree that even though the merger of the two services is complete at JBLM garrison, the hard part is communication. The irony is that the usual measures of success for JBLM are invisible " no one notices if it’s done right. Efficiency is hard to quantify, Taylor said.

Cost savings will come as administrative, logistical and leisure activities become even more efficient over time. Meanwhile, Brittain and Weldon have teamed up with the I Corps and 62nd Airlift Wing commanders to speak a common language to the community.

“Local community support and interaction have improved greatly now that we all speak as one voice,” Weldon said.

Lorin T. Smith: