General says JBLM isn't especially troubled
Gen. David Rodriguez affirmed his confidence in Joint Base Lewis-McChord Friday after a difficult week that began with news that a soldier from the installation was suspected of killing 16 Afghan civilians.
Seattle Times staff reporter
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD — Gen. David Rodriguez affirmed his confidence in Joint Base Lewis-McChord Friday after a difficult week that began with news that a soldier from the installation was suspected of killing 16 Afghan civilians.
"There is nothing different here than most places," said Rodriguez, a four-star general who previously served in Afghanistan.
"Those things happen... Everybody knows that doesn't reflect our standards and our values, nor does it reflect the majority of the leaders and soldiers that serve here every day as well as overseas."
Rodriguez commands the Fort Bragg, N.C.-based Army Forces Command, which is responsible for equipping and training some 250,000 soldiers, including the major combat brigades at JBLM.
The troubles at the base this week, in addition to news of the Afghan murders, also included the arrest of a Lewis-McChord lieutenant colonel charged with threatening to kill his estranged wife, girlfriend and commander and threatening to blow up the U.S. capitol. In Olympia, a private from the base was stabbed to death.
News media from around the country also have been revisiting a string of other violent crimes tied to Lewis-McChord in recent years.
Rodriguez declined to comment on the Army investigation into the Afghan murders but said the base leaders are " ... are surprised and shocked by it just as much as we are."
"We have a lot of confidence in the chain of command and the leadership ... and the exercise of leadership, discipline and standards," Rodriguez said. "Again, that doesn't solve every single problem."
Though it is unclear where the expected court-martial of the staff sergeant will take place, Rodriguez said Lewis-McChord could be one possibility.
"I am confident that this base can be properly secured to do that in the right way," he said.
John Henry Browne, the staff sergeant's civilian lawyer, said Thursday the soldier had been on three previous tours in Iraq and didn't want to head off to war for a fourth time.
The case has brought increased scrutiny to stress brought on by having so many soldiers serve multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq as the fighting has dragged on for more than a decade. Rodriguez noted that soldiers on repeat deployments continue to serve honorably, and that the Army has done a good job of sustaining those soldiers through their tours of duty. He said the military reviews soldiers' cases to determine if they can continue to handle the rigors of combat duty.
"We're on the cutting edge of the study of the human mind, and we continue to get better and better," he said.
Rodriguez said there is "sufficient screening" for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at Lewis-McChord.
Madigan Army Medical Center, located at Lewis-McChord, is currently the focus of an investigation to determine if soldiers' PTSD diagnoses were improperly reversed as they were considered for medical retirement. Soldiers leaving the Army with a PTSD diagnosis can qualify for a medical retirement, and some soldiers have been concerned they were denied the diagnoses in an effort to save money.
"There is no pressure on resources at the cost of taking care of soldiers and their families," he said. "That situation is unfortunate, but the investigation is still ongoing and I can't comment on how it's going to come out in the end."
Lewis-McChord, home to about 37,000 Army and 6,000 Air Force personnel, is one of the largest in the United States. It includes three combat brigades formed around the eight-wheeled Stryker brigades, as well as other units involved in the war effort.
Troops from the base are currently playing a major role in Afghanistan. Currently, some 5,400 base troops are in Afghanistan. Another brigade of some 4,000 soldiers is scheduled to depart for Afghanistan later this year.