The Army on Thursday put on a show illustrating Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s new ties to Pacific allies. It was part of the goodbye ceremony for the commander who spent much of the past two years readying South Sound soldiers for fresh challenges as the war in Afghanistan ends.
Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, who led Lewis-McChord’s I Corps through its Pacific pivot, handed his command to a familiar face in Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza. For 16 months, Lanza has commanded the 7th Infantry Division and its 20,000 soldiers at Lewis-McChord.
The handover signaled how the Army wants to leverage the I Corps in the years ahead as the primary headquarters overseeing ground forces along the Pacific Rim.
The corps now reports to U.S. Army Pacific and the Navy-led Pacific Command. It also manages the 25th Infantry Division, which has soldiers in Alaska and Hawaii.
“In my decades of experience in the Pacific, I have never seen a time where partnership, cooperation and collaboration are more necessary, effective or more productive,” Brown said.
The Army drove home that point by calling commanders from Japan, Hawaii and Alaska to participate Thursday.
Brown arrived at Lewis-McChord as corps commander in the summer of 2012, just after the I Corps returned from a yearlong assignment in Afghanistan. That year, some 15,000 Lewis-McChord soldiers fought in the war at different times.
Far fewer soldiers are heading there these days. Instead, many are preparing for assignments that partner them with allies from South Korea to Australia.
“I Corps is a player on the team, and the Pacific Command has better opportunities as a result,” said Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of U.S. Army Pacific.
In a time of Army downsizing and budget cuts, the corps also will be expected to train soldiers for an uncertain mission that could send them anywhere in the world.
Six of the Army’s 41 brigades are projected to be fully ready for a deployment by the end of this year. Two will be from Lewis-McChord under current plans.
“As we move forward, we’ll ensure our forces are both globally responsive and regionally focused to support the Pacific,” Lanza said.
Earlier this week, Lanza stepped down as 7th Infantry Division commander. He was succeeded by Maj. Gen. Terry Ferrell, an Iraq and Bosnia veteran who most recently served as commander of the Defense Department’s Horn of Africa headquarters in Djibouti.
Lanza got to Lewis-McChord in October 2012 when the Army picked him to launch the 7th Infantry Division. His soldiers and officers already know him; the mayors, political staffers, academics and retired officers who make up the base’s extended community know him well, too.
Brown’s most recent assignment as corps commander was his second stint in the South Sound. He also led a Stryker brigade that was based at Fort Lewis until 2006. Brown and his wife, Patti, regularly visited local businesses and colleges on both of their local assignments.
“It is not easy for Patti and me to leave JBLM,” he said. “We have loved our time here. But we will take with us fond memories and new friendships, which we will have for years to come.”