Joint Base Lewis-McChord is a huge base missing one layer of management that other Army installations of its size tend to have: A division headquarters.
Ann Marlowe at World Affairs this week pointed out that the absence of that office could be contributing to the base’s recent run of tragic events. Normally. a base the size of Lewis-McChord has a three-star general leading a corps, a two-star general leading a division and a number of colonels leading combat brigades.
Lewis-McChord grew rapidly in the past decade, rising from a post with 19,000 troops in 2003 to more than 35,000 today. It has a three-star general in charge of the I Corps. Its three combat brigades belong to the 2nd Infantry Division, which has its headquarters in South Korea. While they’re in the states, Lewis-McChord’s combat brigades answer to the corps instead of the division.
“In addition to the commanding two-star general and two one-star deputies, a divisional HQ has the hundreds of officers that deal with administrative issues. A significant number of brigade commanders have gotten themselves into trouble when they do not have mentors on hand.”
An officer told Marlow that’s important because the division can help prioritize resources in the run-ups to deployments. The base has only so much ground for training.
Here’s Marlowe again:
“A military friend put it in more colorful terms, writing in an e-mail that, at Lewis-McChord, ‘brigades constantly fight with each other for land, ammo, training venues, etc and there is no DIV HQ to prioritize one over the other.’ He added that a brigade commander ‘can rise unchecked, because he doesn’t have the 2 star in his shit daily.’”
By comparison, Fort Hood is the home of III Corps and the 1st Calvary Division while Fort Bragg has the XVIII Corps and the 82nd Airborne Division.
Lewis-McChord now has had two tragic Afghan war crime cases.
The first led to an investigation into whether former 5th Stryker Brigade command Col. Harry Tunnell was out of step with his NATO leadership. It found that he encouraged a more aggressive approach to warfare than NATO wanted in 2009-10, and that he was not in line with his leadership. It did not find a connection between that command dissonance and the so-called “kill team” homicides that took place in Kandahar Province among his ranks.
Some officers at Lewis-McChord and at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif. recognized that Tunnell was not a believer in NATO’s strategy before the brigade went to war. They argued to have him removed from his post. Instead, Tunnell received counseling from former Lewis-McChord deputy commander then-Maj. Gen. John Johnson and took the brigade to southern Afghanistan.
In the current war crimes case, no one has charged that Staff Sgt. Robert Bales’ brigade leadership set the conditions for his alleged massacre of 17 Afghan civilians. Instead, the Army and the public has focused on whether he should have been screened out of his deployment because of his past reported traumatic brain injury and possible post-traumatic disorder.
It’s impossible to say if a division HQ at Lewis-McChord could have prevented either of the war crimes cases. The implication of Marlowe’s argument is that Lewis-McChord could be running a tighter ship if it had the management resources the Army has given to its other major installations.