Family, military’s impact in state motivate WA's military affairs director

Staff writerMarch 3, 2014 

Kristine Reeves is the state Commerce Department’s military director.

Washington state’s first military affairs director, Kristine Reeves, knows she can’t stop the Pentagon budget cuts that will soon ripple across the country.

That’s why she’s working to help the Evergreen State make its best case to protect as much as it can of its six military installations, the largest of which is Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Tacoma. They inject $14 billion a year into Washington’s economy and support a broad local defense industry that brings in billions more.

“Nearly every county in our state has some sort of defense impact,” Reeves said, from National Guard members bringing home paychecks to Boeing’s multibillion-dollar contracts to build Air Force and Navy jets in the Puget Sound region.

Reeves, 33, started her job — a new position in the state’s Commerce Department — three months ago. She’s been traveling the state to get a better understanding of the concerns of defense industry representatives and military communities.

Reeves, who lives in Federal Way with her husband and 1-year-old son, worked as a staffer for U.S. Sen. Patty Murray from 2008 to last year. She was Murray’s on-the-ground representative for projects including the $715 million nuclear submarine wharf underway at Naval Base Kitsap and complaints about mental health misdiagnoses in 2012 at Madigan Army Medical Center.

Reeves wants Washington residents to think of the looming changes in the military with the same urgency they have about where Boeing will build its next commercial airplanes.

She recently spoke with The News Tribune about expectations for her new assignment.

Question: The defense sector in the state swelled over the past dozen years. Why did your position come together at this time?

Answer: The military and defense sector represents 5 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. We have six military installations, all with somewhat unique assets and mission sets.

Now, as the Department of Defense downsizes, we’re looking at how those mission sets are relevant to the DOD and ultimately how the state of Washington can help ensure that those mission sets and military value retains itself in our state.

Q: What connects the concerns you’re hearing from Joint Base Lewis-McChord to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island to Fairchild Air Force Base?

A: They’re all struggling with how to ensure that our military personnel transition effectively to civilian life. There are things that seem isolated but really overarch the entire state.

How are we are all dealing with urban growth around our installations? How are we ensuring that we can retain these military mission sets, and that the state is doing what it can to help the military grow or at least retain a baseline in Washington?

Q: What have you done so far to get your feet on the ground?

A: The primary thing that’s come out of the last 60 days is developing a strategic plan, a path forward. The result of that has been defining the three things we’re going to work on in 2014.

It’s really how are we going to coalesce this sector? This position has never existed. There’s never been somebody to help bring it all together, and we’ve definitely not looked at it from an economic development factor.

The second part is, how do we communicate? Local communities understand the value of their installations because they live with it every day. But how do we help people in King County understand that they are technically the largest defense community in our state because they have a majority of the primary contractors that DOD is working with? Boeing just got a $4.6 billion award from DOD in the last defense budget. Outside of the military installations, that’s one of the largest defense contracts we have in our state, and it’s in Seattle.

The third part of this is, how do we look for opportunities and challenges with a focus on base realignment and closure? That’s things like urban growth, transition, quality of life, all those things you get scored on (by the Defense Department). Are there ways the state can work to make sure we’re putting our best foot forward?

Q: What concerns are you hearing from the Lewis-McChord community?

A: (The military) naturally values it. It’s the largest army installation on the West Coast. It’s recognized as a forward-leaning joint base. They have done a great job of being innovative.

What I’m hoping to help people understand is that things they don’t naturally think of as military infrastructure — things like ports, railroads, major highways — those are all things that the military pays attention to.

Part of what makes (Lewis-McChord) a power projection platform has nothing to do with the installation itself, but has a lot to do with the fact that Washington has multiple airports, deepwater ports and a major interstate.

Hopefully we can create a culture where we don’t necessarily do whatever the military says, but are at least asking them about the impact.

Q: What drew you to these issues?

A: Two things. Thinking of it from an economic development perspective, the military collectively is a larger employer than Boeing in our state and yet we don’t talk about it with near the same consistency or energy that we talk about Boeing.

And then I think about my brother. He’s in the Air Force. He’s on his sixth or seventh deployment. I think about the things that would impact how he does his job day in and day out, and I think about who is going to be taking care of him as he leaves the military, the challenges he is going to face.

I like to think the work I’m doing here will help my brother, somebody’s brother, somebody’s dad, somebody’s parent. I care about these people and their families and their experiences when they come to Washington. I want to make sure it’s the best experience they can have.

Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646

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