Col. Ken Kamper doesn’t miss much at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. He’s there when his artillery troops come home from war. He’s there to pay respects when soldiers fall in combat. And Kamper almost always says yes when South Sound communities come looking for an officer in uniform to represent the Army outside the base.
The two-time Iraq veteran who spent eight of the past 10 years at the base south of Tacoma is moving on after two and a half years leading about 2,500 soldiers in the base’s artillery brigade. His 17th Fires Brigade is one of four large Army and Air Force units at the base that are getting new commanders this week.
Kamper, a tall officer with gentle manners, left his mark on Lewis-McChord by lending a hand to Army units all over the post as they deployed to war or recovered from combat missions.
His artillery brigade participated in drills to help infantry soldiers prepare for war while sending its own batteries to Afghanistan and Iraq repeatedly since Kamper took command in December 2010.
He also supervised rear detachments for Lewis-McChord’s three Stryker brigades during tough deployments to Iraq. That’s one of the reasons he rarely missed a memorial service for fallen soldiers in every unit on base.
Last summer, when several local soldiers died every month in Afghanistan, Kamper showed up to pay his respects more than any other senior officer.
“That was a tough, tough year,” he said.
He also helped advance a new medical program at Lewis-McChord that brings expert doctors out of Madigan Army Medical Center and places them inside Army units where they can spend the most time with his soldiers. His brigade was one of the first two to get a so-called “soldier centered medical home,” which he credits with getting troops expert care more efficiently than the past model.
He’s not one to take credit for the good things that happened under his watch. “It really takes a whole team,” he said at his change of command ceremony Monday.
Kamper’s philosophy emphasizing teamwork immediately caught the attention of his commander, Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza of the 7th Infantry Division. “It’s not about how you good you are, it’s how you make the team better,” he said.
Kamper arrived in 2003 during the buildup to the Iraq War and deployed there twice with local Stryker brigades. He led an artillery battalion on 15-month tour in Iraq in 2006-07, and he served as an aide to former I Corps commander Lt. Gen. James Dubik.
Since he took command of the fires brigade, Kamper nurtured ties with the cities of Olympia and Tumwater through the Army community connector program in the South Sound. He had an open door for those communities.
He and his wife Krista “have been tremendous ambassadors for our Army,” Lanza said.
Kamper is moving on to the Army War College in Pennsylvania. He is being succeed by Col. Timothy Kehoe, a recent deputy commander of the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division. He previously served at Lewis-McChord as the commander of a battalion in the 17th Fires Brigade, and he spent three years in Washington, D.C. as an aide to the office of Vice President Dick Cheney.
The others units getting new commanders at Lewis-McChord this week are:
- The 62nd Airlift Wing, which is saying goodbye to Col. Wyn Elder. He’s being succeeded by Col. David Kumashiro. Kumashiro is coming to Leiwis-McChord from the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
- Col. Louis Zeisman, a recent operations officer of the 82nd Airborne Division, is taking command of the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. He succeeds Col. Barry Huggins, who left Lewis-McChord last month for an assignment at the Pentagon’s Africa Command,
- Lewis-McChord’s chief aviation officer, Col. Robert Dickerson, is handing the reins of the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade to Col. Paul Mele. Dickerson established the aviation brigade in 2011. Mele has extensive experience at the Joint Special Operations Command and the Army Special Operations Aviation Command.