An Army study on Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s new two-star infantry headquarters recommends increasing its staffing to improve oversight for the roughly 20,000 troops under its command.
The headquarters, JBLM’s 7th Infantry Division, had 250 soldiers assigned to it at the time of a study last year by the Army Audit Agency.
That’s about one-third of the size of a standard Army division headquarters.
The division’s first commander, Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, recommended adding at least 77 soldiers. The audit favored his analysis, but it acknowledged growing the headquarters might be unrealistic in a period of force reductions.
The Pentagon’s 2015 budget proposal calls for an active-duty Army force of fewer than 450,000, down from today’s 522,000.
“We believe the Army should acknowledge the shortfall needed to meet the division’s mission-critical requirements, keeping in mind the shortfall will need to compete with other priority requirements due to constraints,” auditors wrote.
Secretary of the Army John McHugh called for the creation of a division headquarters at JBLM in April 2012 in the aftermath of JBLM Staff Sgt. Robert Bales’ massacre of 16 Afghan civilians in Kandahar province that spring.
McHugh said at the time that the base needed a division to get a handle on the Army’s growth at the local base since 2003. The number of active-duty soldiers at JBLM nearly doubled between 2003 and 2011, rising from about 18,000 to about 34,000.
The Army audit reveals that the Pentagon began work to create a division at JBLM in the fall of 2011 — months before Bales’ killing spree.
At that time, JBLM had a missing layer of command oversight. The largest Army posts have brigade commanders with the rank of colonel reporting to major generals leading divisions. The division commander in turn reports to a three-star corps commander.
When McHugh visited to announce the division, JBLM had brigade commanders reporting to the three-star I Corps commander. That dynamic showed signs of strain when the Army began deploying I Corps as a headquarters in 2009, leaving less oversight at home for JBLM troops.
The Army does not need the 7th Infantry Division to grow as large as its other 10 active-duty divisions because the JBLM headquarters is not supposed to become a deployable combat command.
Instead, it is supposed to focus only on home-station training, health and discipline of JBLM’s six primary combat brigades.
Auditors found that the division headquarters was short-handed for its limited, stateside assignment because it did not have enough resources to test and certify its subordinate units for deployments.
For example, full strength divisions have 222 soldiers in so-called special troops battalions. They do the ground work for the headquarters to function.
At the time of the audit, JBLM’s division had 11 soldiers in that role.
“Simply stated, we have an issue of insufficient capacity to accomplish all tasks simultaneously,” Lanza wrote.
He requested the audit in the winter of 2013, a few months after the division activated in October 2012. He has since been promoted to I Corps commander at JBLM.
The News Tribune obtained the report through the Freedom of Information Act.
Lanza requested the 77 additional positions in a report he wrote summarizing the division’s accomplishments in its first 90 days. He wrote that the ideal strength for the headquarters would be 418, an addition of 168 soldiers from its original staffing.
Lt. Col. Joe Sowers, the division’s spokesman, said its current strength is about 300 soldiers.
Lanza in his review wrote that the retaining a division at JBLM has merit in a time of Army downsizing. He said the base has “untapped potential” as a platform to deploy forces to the Pacific and to nurture partnerships with the Air Force and Navy in Washington state.
Army leaders have said the division’s launch has improved oversight and discipline down the ranks at JBLM. It also has freed up I Corps to focus on developing defense strategies under the Navy-led Pacific Command.
It is not clear how Army downsizing will affect JBLM. The Pentagon’s latest Quadrennial Defense Review, a strategic planning document, calls for a total of 10 Army divisions at the end of the drawdown. The headquarters at JBLM is the Army’s 11th division
Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646