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Growth to slow at JBLM after new aviation brigade arrives

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on March 30, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
March 30, 2011 1:14 pm

The addition of a new combat aviation brigade at Joint Base Lewis-McChord signals the tail end of the Army’s rapid expansion there, a base spokesman said.

The 16th Combat Aviation Brigade will begin building up at Lewis-McChord as early as this June, bringing 1,400 news soldiers and 44 more helicopters.

The Army said today the brigade will draw on existing resources stationed at Lewis-McChord, Fort Wainwright, Alaska and Fort Hood, Texas. Lewis-McChord would have a total of 143 helicopters, though not all of them would be assigned to the new brigade.

After the new brigade’s in place, base spokesman J.C. Matthews says the Army has plans to add just 600 more soldiers to Lewis-McChord through 2016. Since 2003, the Army’s ranks at Lewis-McChord swelled from 19,000 to more than 32,000.

“That is all the additional growth we can see from here,” Matthews said, referring to the aviation brigade and the additional 600 soldiers.

Lewis-McChord’s recent growth reflects the Pentagon’s move to joint basing in 2005, a decision that put more resources at fewer bases.  It also stems from the success of the Stryker, Lewis-McChord’s marquee vehicle, in the Iraq war. Three Stryker brigades are stationed there today. That vehicle wasn’t even in service until 2002.

“We’ve had a lot of growth,” said Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair. “You just never know what’s going to happen. I would’ve never suspected we’d have three Stryker brigades.”

But the growth also stressed surrounding communities that weren’t prepared for the expansion. They’re lobbying the state and federal government to build traffic improvements along Interstate 5.

Matthews said the base is working on projects to catch up to its growth, such as expanding a sewage treatment plant and collaborating with local governments on roadwork planning.

The aviation brigade “is going to continue to enable us to do the nation’s work,” Matthews said. “This really gets us very close to the end of the growth that has been projected.”

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