By Sgt. Mark MirandaMarch 23, 2012
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. (March 23, 2012) -- The U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff visited Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), Friday. General Lloyd Austin III and other Army leaders came to see firsthand the systems and processes that support Soldiers before deployment and upon their return.
Key areas examined included behavioral health, the Warrior Transition Battalion, resources to treat substance abuse and those for traumatic brain injuries. Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler accompanied Austin, and met with junior Soldiers and noncommissioned officers to gain some insight into their chain of command and the work environment at JBLM.
The visiting leadership took time to discuss solutions to the issues that have called recent attention to JBLM.
"The goal was to find ways that we at Headquarters, Department of the Army may be able to further assist them in their efforts to effectively address the challenges and stressors that you would expect of a force that has been fighting two wars for more than a decade to be experiencing," said Austin.
"We all recognize that JBLM has been dealing with some especially difficult challenges of late, and the leadership is doing a terrific job aggressively addressing the issues that they're facing on a daily basis," said Austin.
During a press conference, he also mentioned several positive events surrounding JBLM. Among them was the construction of the $52 million Warrior Transition Barracks that can accommodate more than 400 wounded warriors.
Austin also highlighted what he called the "innovative and interdisciplinary approaches to patient care." These include the leading edge pain management program at Madigan Healthcare System, which offers alternative complementary treatment methods including acupuncture and chiropractic therapies.
Austin also dismissed the idea that JBLM is a troubled post.
"I think that label is very unfortunate because what we saw here today is a tremendous amount of professionalism from both military and civilian (personnel). They're not only working hard but really proud of what they do and Soldiers and noncommissioned officers who have confidence in their chain of command.
Chandler also spoke at the press conference on some of his impressions of JBLM's Soldiers.
"A great overall indication of the effectiveness of these and other programs is the number of service members who elect to re-enlist to stay here at JBLM. It's one of the highest in the Army," said Chandler.
"I saw about 70 Soldiers this morning, between them deploying over a hundred times in their military careers. When you think about that it's a testament to their resilience and their Families' resilience. Overall, Soldiers are very satisfied with their chain of command and the fact that they trust their leaders is a testament to their leaders' concern for their well-being," said Chandler.
The visiting Army leadership convened at the Cascade Community Center to meet with Washington Congressional representatives Senator Patty Murray, Congressman Norm Dicks and Congressman Adam Smith.
"We talked about a number of things. Our congressional delegation is always focused on making sure we're doing the right things to take care of our troops and our Families. They are incredibly supportive, very active in what's going on," said Austin.
Topics of their discussion included the health of the force; policies and laws that could be adjusted to ensure providing the best healthcare, as well as the best resources for troops at JBLM.
"It was a great session. The people of this area should be very proud of the continued interest and support that they're getting from their congressional delegation," said Austin.
In a following press conference held outside the I Corps headquarters, Austin shared his observations and impressions of JBLM.
"The bottom line is, I'm very encouraged by what we saw and heard here today. The numerous initiatives and endeavors that are underway are aimed at expanding access to resources while improving the overall care and support provided to our Soldiers, veterans and their families," said Austin.
"Our nation has been at war for more than a decade and yet in spite of the high (operational) tempo of in many cases multiple deployments in support of operations around the world, ours remains a highly-trained and incredibly resilient force," Austin added.
Lieutenant General Patricia Horoho, Surgeon General of the Army, addressed how JBLM treats its post traumatic stress disorder patients.
"We met with behavioral health providers and primary care who also see our patients for evaluation of behavioral health. We just reconfirmed and reaffirmed our commitment to our patients that the health and welfare and the psychological health of our patients are a primary concern," said Horoho.
"As we decrease the stigma for behavioral health, it's going to increase the demand and so we will continue to work to get an increase in the number of behavioral health providers so that we can have an increase in the access to care. That is an ongoing commitment that we have. Madigan has been the home to one of the most innovative ideas in treatment for behavior health and concussive care and evaluating those best practices to see which ones we can use across Army medicine."
This was Austin's first visit to JBLM since becoming the Army Vice Chief of Staff on Jan. 31. He said he remains confident that the chain of command is focused on doing the right things.
"The American people have been extremely supportive of us and they remain supportive of us. We have your trust and confidence that we're going to do the right things in terms of taking care of our troops and Families and we want to make sure that people understand that we're very serious about that. Whatever the Department of the Army can do, whatever Forces Command can do to make sure that we're resourcing JBLM appropriately, that's really our focus," said Austin.