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Originally published March 13, 2012 at 9:50 PM | Page modified March 14, 2012 at 12:36 PM

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Lt. colonel charged in flurry of threats

An Army lieutenant colonel stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord has been arrested and accused of threatening to kill his estranged wife, his commanding officer and girlfriend — the latest incident in a series of troubles tied to the large military post outside Tacoma.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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An Army lieutenant colonel stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord has been arrested and accused of threatening to kill his estranged wife, his commanding officer and girlfriend.

Robert E. Underwood, 46, who returned from a one-year tour in Afghanistan in January, allegedly told his daughter he planned do "something crazy" that "the world would know about," and told his girlfriend he planned to "blow up the state Capitol," Pierce County prosecutors said Tuesday.

Underwood, arraigned Tuesday on three felony harassment charges, increasingly appeared unnerved by a nasty divorce. His commanding officer, Lt. Col. Shawn Reed, told detectives he believed the threat was real in part because Underwood felt he had "nothing to lose" because of the divorce, according to a DuPont police report.

Underwood was taken into custody Monday and remained in the Pierce County Jail late Tuesday. He was being held on $250,000 bail.

The arrest is the latest in a series of troubles linked to Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Most prominently, an Army staff sergeant from the base was arrested in Afghanistan on Sunday and accused of killing 16 unarmed civilians, including women and children. In January, an ex-soldier from JBLM shot and killed a park ranger in Mount Rainier National Park — part of a string of high-profile crimes committed by soldiers and veterans associated with the base.

A record number of soldiers from the base committed suicide last year, while a psychiatric team at Madigan Army Medical Center is under investigation over possibly improper denials of post-traumatic-stress diagnoses to soldiers. Four Lewis-McChord soldiers also were convicted last year for their roles in the killing of three unarmed Afghan civilians.

Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said police moved quickly on the Underwood case because of the potential risk, "especially given his background" as a military officer.

Lindquist said the investigation was ongoing, but no evidence had surfaced that Underwood was actively planning an attack on the Capitol building.

"If there are mental-health issues," Lindquist said, "they will be addressed in this process."

Underwood was assigned to the 191st Infantry Brigade, which offers training support to National Guard and reserve units as they mobilize on the base, base spokesman Joe Piek said.

Underwood previously was based in Naples, Italy, from June 2008 until January of this year when he arrived at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. His record also includes a tour in Iraq from March 2004 to February 2005, and a deployment to Afghanistan from December 2010 to December 2011, Piek said.

The alleged threats surfaced this past weekend, when a woman claiming to be Underwood's girlfriend separately called Reed and Underwood's estranged wife, according to the police report from the city of DuPont.

The girlfriend told Kara Underwood that her husband planned to hire a hit man for $150,000 to kill her, according to the police report.

Kara Underwood already had a restraining order against her husband, claiming that he'd made threats against her and her two daughters during their ongoing divorce case.

The girlfriend, a 27-year-old from Lakewood, told police she was leaving for Seattle, fearful for her life as well. In her statement, the woman said Underwood was furious that she had found teenage pornography on his computer and had "threatened to wipe me off."

The girlfriend also called Reed and disclosed Underwood's plan to kill him as well, for allegedly helping "facilitate" Kara Underwood's efforts to "ruin his life."

Reed had been aware of the rancor since December and had helped obtain a military protective order separating the Underwoods. On Sunday, Reed told detectives he ordered Underwood to get an involuntary mental-health exam.

Reed wrote that Underwood had no sign of post-traumatic stress syndrome, but as a child Underwood had witnessed his mother kill his siblings. Underwood survived being shot eight times by his mother and left for dead, according to Reed.

Underwood was financially devastated by the divorce and complained bitterly on his Facebook page about court orders favoring his wife, according to screen shots of the page included in the divorce file.

"Put it all together and he is ready to snap," a detective wrote Monday, summarizing Reed's comments. In the divorce file in Pierce County, Underwood said he had been in the Army 20 years. "I am a senior officer in the Army with a TOP SECRET clearance," Underwood wrote in 2010.

An Army colonel, writing on Underwood's behalf, described him as "a valued and outstanding officer with a spotless career."

The divorce file shows the Underwoods fought bitterly about child custody and money for years, but Kara Underwood claimed that she was increasingly afraid of her husband of 21 years.

"His mental health has seriously disintegrated over the last year," she wrote in 2011, the year Underwood was serving in Afghanistan.

Officials at JBLM, which has about 4,500 service members deployed in Afghanistan, have said all of the troubling incidents involving soldiers from the base are isolated and don't reflect on the work and dedication of all service members.

Seattle Times staff reporter Hal Bernton and staff researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @jmartin206.

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