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Originally published April 25, 2012 at 8:40 PM | Page modified April 26, 2012 at 11:07 AM

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Lewis-McChord reorganization to increase oversight of combat units

The Army will put a division headquarters at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, a move that would increase the mentoring and oversight of combat brigades at the Western Washington military installation, according to Army and congressional sources.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The Army will put a division headquarters at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, a move that would increase the oversight of combat brigades at the Western Washington military installation, according to Army and congressional sources.

The move has been under review for months and could be announced as early as Thursday, when Army Secretary John McHugh is scheduled to appear at the base to speak about a "force realignment" decision.

The division headquarters is expected to be staffed with several hundred soldiers and will be led by a two-star general, in a structure similar to what now exists at Fort Bragg and other major Army installations.

The headquarters division is expected to have oversight of nearly half of the more than 35,000 soldiers stationed at Lewis-McChord, according to Army sources. Its duties would include setting training priorities, counseling senior officers within the brigade and tackling leadership problems that sometimes arise within brigades.

Organizationally, it would provide a kind of middle layer of management now lacking at the Army base.

The division headquarters would fit in between the brigades and I Corps, the top-tier unit at the base that is now led by a three-star, Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti. I Corps has a range of responsibilities, including its current yearlong assignment to help run the NATO war effort in Afghanistan.

The decision follows more than a decade of growth at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, which has been a focal point for development of combat brigades built around the eight-wheeled Stryker vehicles.

During the war years, there have been plenty of accomplishments, as Lewis-McChord units repeatedly deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

But misconduct by soldiers has repeatedly thrust the base into the media spotlight. And a major war-crimes case in 2010, which involved the murder of three unarmed Afghans, prompted an Army investigation of the 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

That investigation found no relationship between the leadership of the brigade commander, Col. Harry Tunnell, and the war crimes.

But it also found that Tunnell had created a command climate marked by "frustration and confusion" because his focus on fighting the enemy was out of step with an Army doctrine in Afghanistan that focused more on gaining the trust of the civilian population.

Several junior leaders who have served at Lewis-McChord said that a division headquarters, if present back in 2009, might have helped resolve the conflicts within the brigade. "There needed to be that next level of leadership to step in," said one former captain from the 5th Brigade who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com

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