An Army command built two years ago to oversee thousands of Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers at home will grow in 2015 to become a deployable division headquarters, the Army announced today.
The change is expected to add about 80 more positions to the staff of JBLM’s 7th Infantry Division, according to a summary circulated to Washington state congressional offices.
The Army is not announcing any plans to deploy the division in the near future. The conversion is intended to grow the command so it would be available for an overseas mission at some point.
A deployment appears to be on the horizon for the division. Army spokeswoman Maj. Charlene LaMountain said the division is scheduled to participate in a warfighting exercise in April. Those exercises are sometimes used to test a unit prior to a deployment.
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The change from a purely stateside assignment to a full division mission reflects an increasing demand for headquarters overseas even as the Army carries out a massive drawdown from its peak strength during the Iraq War.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told reporters in October that seven of the Army’s 10 active-duty divisions were committed to or recovering from foreign missions. They’re deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Liberia. Another division is stationed in South Korea, and one could be called on to flesh out security forces in Europe.
"The complexity of the environment we have to operate in now and probably over the next 10, 15 or 20 years, requires headquarters. You ask me where the real stress point is in the Army; it's on headquarters," Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told reporters in September.
The 7th Infantry Division launched in October 2012 with a charge to get a better handle on the combat brigades that swelled at JBLM during the Iraq War.
At the time, JBLM was the only large base in the Army without a division command led by a two-star general. JBLM had a missing layer of oversight with brigade commanders with the rank of colonel reporting to the three-star general in charge of the I Corps.
That structure became particularly problematic for JBLM in 2009 when the I Corps deployed to Iraq, leaving less oversight for the training of combat units at home.
Over the past two years, the division has standardized training and operating procedures for the six brigades and 15,000 soldiers that fall under its command. The headquarters has been assigned 250 positions, about a third of a traditional division command. It is to have a total of 333 soldiers, which the Army calls a “deployable command node.”
It activated under Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, who is now JBLM’s I Corps commander. Lanza has said one of his main goals in his time at JBLM was to build up the division so it had the same capabilities as the Army’s other 10 divisions.
Maj. Gen. Terry Ferrell now leads the division and will be charged with converting the unit into a deployable command.
“This reorganization is the result of sudden crises in Iraq, Africa and other locations that have increased demand for deployable command and control headquarters,” the Army wrote in a memo to the state’s congressional staffs.
“The complexity of these environments requires readily-available, high-level leadership cadres drawn from divisional headquarters to provide oversight over deployed units and interact with local and international partners.”
LaMountain characterized the additional staff as a temporary increase for the division, meaning the Army intends to move the division back to a stateside oversight role sometime after 2015.
Lawmakers greeted the Army announcement as good news for JBLM in a time of tight budgets.
“The Army correctly recognizes the strategic importance of the 7th Infantry Division headquarters, whose soldiers have performed admirably in supporting operations abroad from here at home,” said Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, whose district includes JBLM.
The Pentagon’s latest quadrennial defense review calls for a total of 10 active-duty divisions by 2019, which implies the Army would deactivate a division as it draws down from its current strength of roughly 510,000 soldiers to a force of fewer than 450,000.
So far, the drawdown has cost JBLM one brigade command and about 5,000 soldiers from the 7th Infantry Division. The Pentagon is considering a proposal that could cut as many as 11,000 more Army positions from JBLM over the next five years.