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Outgoing general at JBLM anticipated a year guiding Army life at home, instead led war from Kabul

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on July 2, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
July 3, 2012 1:17 pm

Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti became the senior Army officer at Joint Base Lewis-McChord a year and a half ago expecting to join a “full nest” of soldiers at home in the South Sound focusing on leadership, training and discipline.

Instead, the Army tapped Scaparrotti to become the No. 2 commander of the war in Afghanistan. Lewis-McChord stayed mostly full in his absence, but the commanding general’s attention centered on the war.

He’s handing his command to Lt. Gen. Robert Brown tomorrow in a ceremony where some 2,000 soldiers are expected to take to Lewis-McChord’s main parade grounds. Scaparrotti’s moving on to the Pentagon, where he will be director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Brown will take the post with a half-empty base. Some 10,000 Lewis-McChord soldiers are fighting in Afghanistan today, and another 4,000 are getting ready for a fall deployment.

He’ll also soon have new resources Scaparrotti did not hold in managing training and discipline challenges at Lewis-McChord when the 7th Infantry Division headquarters opens at the base in October.

Scaparrotti was open with the press and made time for several interviews with us and other media in the Puget Sound. Looking back, those interviews show us his mission in Afghanistan was not on his radar when he came to Lewis-McChord in October 2010, or at least not as imminent as he might have anticipated.

This was his focus at that time: “We have an opportunity here. We have what we in the Army call ‘a full nest.’ We have almost everybody home. At least right now, it appears most of the brigades and subordinate units will have 20 to 24 months here before they return to Iraq or Afghanistan.

“My priority is that we provide the resources to restore soldiers and their families. Let’s get ready, let’s get reorganized, let’s train, but in the meantime, let’s focus on the soldier.”

Scaparrotti’s focus shifted to Afghanistan in January 2011 when the Defense Department announced his assignment there. It made sense because Scaparrotti had led the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan in 2009-10.

He deployed in June 2011, and Maj. Gen. Lloyd Miles became the I Corps’ acting commander.

The stateside issues Scaparrotti described in his early interviews at Lewis-McChord became dominant themes in his absence with scrutiny falling on the base for rising suicides and questions about behavioral health treatment for soldiers at Madigan Army Medical Center.

Those issues will persist for Brown, though he’ll get help from the 7th Infantry Division’s Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza in overseeing Lewis-McChord’s main combat brigades. Lanza’s new job represents the missing layer of oversight at Lewis-McChord, which was unique among major Army posts in having a corps oversee combat brigades instead of a division.

Scaparrotti in Afghanistan completed the second deployment for the I Corps as a combat headquarters in this era’s wars. He said the corps advanced NATO’s effort by building up the capabilities of Afghan security forces and guiding plans for the drawdown of American troops over the next two years.

“We’ve done everything we set out to do,” Scaparrotti said when he returned with the I Corps last month.

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