Canadian Brig. Gen. Carl Turenne likes to tell people that all of his nation’s army soldiers could fit inside Joint Base Lewis-McChord. It’s his way of reflecting on the scale of his assignment as a deputy commander in the base’s Army headquarters.
"This is a huge, huge base,” he said. “This is like a city.”
For the past two years, Turenne had a hand in running that “city” as the highest-ranking of six foreign officers who are stationed in JBLM’s I Corps. The other five include one Australian, one Japanese, two South Koreans and another officer from Canada.
Turenne was one of the corps’ two deputy commanders, an assignment that required him to help shape support programs for Army families and develop training exercises in Pacific nations.
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He learned in his time in the South Sound that both the U.S. and Canadian militaries face similar challenges in keeping troops and families healthy after long ground wars.
The biggest difference between the neighboring forces is their size. Canada’s army has about 45,000 active-duty troops. The U.S. Army has almost 500,000 active-duty soldiers. More than 40,000 military service members are stationed at JBLM.
“Fundamentally, it’s the same issues,” he said. “It’s the same (sexual harassment) problems, same resiliency issues, same mental health challenges back home. It’s the same efforts of ‘how do you maximize readiness in our soldiers? How do do you maximize the number of soldiers who are available to deploy tomorrow?’”
Turenne’s posting ended this week when Lanza led a ceremony bidding him farewell. He will return to Canada where he’ll take command of a division headquarters that trains and equips troops along the Atlantic coast.
Another Canadian officer is expected to follow Turenne at JBLM.
Turenne brought his wife and four children to the base south of Tacoma. They lived in one of the brick homes reserved for senior officers near JBLM’s main parade grounds.
His children attended schools in Tacoma and Lakewood. They enjoyed their community on base and seeing the ways South Sound civilian cities interact with the military.
“I’m blown away first of all by the sheer size of the base and the way it fits into the Puget Sound community,” he said. “I’ve never seen this before, anywhere in my career.”
Unlike the other foreign staff members in I Corps, Turenne was expected to work solely for the U.S. military. He did not send regular reports back to Ontario to give updates on his work. By contrast, the other five foreign officers maintain direct relationships with their home commands.
"You’re not a Canadian general," I Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza has told Turenne. "You’re an Army general who happens to be Canadian."
All together, about 60 Canadians are serving at Puget Sound military installations. The biggest group is at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, which has 37 Canadian sailors. The Washington National Guard’s Western Air Defense Sector at JBLM has about 15 Canadians in the command that watches North American skies for threats from abroad.
Turenne served at JBLM through an exchange that allows senior officers from Canada and the United Kingdom to hold temporary assignments in each of the Army’s three corps headquarters. The others are in North Carolina and Texas.
The arrangement serves a dual purpose of bringing fresh eyes to an American system while plugging a close ally into the daily operations of a high-level headquarters.
“These exchanges are worth their weight in gold,” Turenne said.
When they deploy to combat zones, the Army’s corps headquarters tend to become international commands running daily operations for tens of thousands of allied troops and carrying out high-level exchanges with foreign leaders.
JBLM’s I Corps last deployed to Afghanistan in 2012, where it was the second-highest NATO command in Kabul. It was a mixed command, with American and European officers working closely with senior-ranking Afghan officials.
Turenne said no other military has the same capability to deploy a high-level headquarters with so much responsibility. It’s one reason he was excited to take the assignment at JBLM.
“This is a privilege, absolutely,” he said.
He found that being an outsider helped Americans take a hard look at procedures they took for granted.
“Every day I bring a fresh perspective because I don’t know the U.S. system,,” he said.