Joint Base Lewis-McChord plans to proceed with a three-day artillery test in March that will help determine whether the Army can practice firing rockets that have the potential to create sonic booms in the South Sound area.
The practice rockets — 27 rounds to be fired in the week of March 14 — will be especially noticeable to residents in DuPont, Roy, Yelm and the Nisqually reservation.
Soldiers will shoot them from a firing range just east of Interstate 5 near the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge.
The test will involve the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), a weapon that can fire rockets from a truck and then quickly move soldiers to a safe hiding place.
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JBLM has two artillery battalions that must train to fire the system, but they have been prohibited from practicing in the South Sound area because of worries the weapon is too loud for suburban communities near the range.
Instead, they practice at the sprawling Yakima Training Center in Central Washington.
The Army in 2009 considered moving forward with a proposal that would have allowed them to train at JBLM, but dropped it when the HIMARS battalions moved into a period of successive deployments to the Middle East.
Now the Army wants to see whether concerns about excessive noise in the South Sound area are warranted. Later, the Army may develop a larger study to seek approval for more frequent HIMARS training at JBLM.
“This is an opportunity for us to do the test and determine the noise levels,” JBLM base Commander Col. Daniel Morgan said. “This is not a test that is going to result in a final decision. We will open it back up to public for discussion. There is no near-term solution that you’re going to end up seeing rockets being deployed.”
I like it all actually, the lower and louder the better. I am serious and a 69-year-old old lady.
Comment on JBLM rocket proposal
Dozens of people wrote letters to the Army protesting the proposal for a test after JBLM announced it in August. More attended a town hall on the rockets in DuPont.
Most people said they feared the rockets would disturb residents, veterans with post-traumatic stress and animals. Some suggested the Army create a method to notify to individual residents when it plans a loud exercise so people can prepare themselves.
“My husband suffers from PTSD, as do a majority of the vets here and around JBLM,” one resident wrote. “As a veteran of the Iraq war and a Purple Heart recipient, the last thing my husband needs in the middle of the night is another reason to wake up with tremors.”
Several said testing the rocket system would be intolerable to them based on the noise they already hear during helicopter training or when the Army fires its howitzers at JBLM.
“I cannot believe you tyrants want to introduce to the suburbs a noise louder and more obnoxious than a howitzer,” a resident wrote. “What is the matter with you people?”
Allowing the training at JBLM could help the military save money.
Today, JBLM’s HIMARS battalions generally travel to the Yakima Training Center twice a year for practice with the weapon at a cost of about $227,000 a trip. Those two- and three-week exercises also draw soldiers away from their families for longer periods of time than if they could train in the South Sound area.
Bringing the training to JBLM “saves time. It really gives us the ability to improve our sustainment and our readiness,” said Col. Andrew Gainey, who commands the HIMARS battalions in the 17th Field Artillery Brigade.
Some residents said those were good reasons to allow some HIMARS training at JBLM.
“Do it! It saves money, transportation, possible breakdowns in transit and so-on,” a resident wrote. “I for one do not, and will not, complain about training noise at JBLM. I know you are attempting to be a good neighbor. That’s fine. I moved here after the base was formed. If I don’t like it, I’ll move.”
“I just want to know where the bleachers will be set up!” another wrote.
The Nisqually Tribe wrote a letter opposing the test and demanding a thorough environmental study if the Army decides to pursue a plan that would allow year-round rocket training.
Its main tribal office is within a range where noise from the rockets may reach about 115 decibels, louder than an indoor rock concert. DuPont and Roy also are in that range.
The tribe said its members were concerned the rockets would disturb mammals and a salmon hatchery close to the firing point, as well as reservation residents.
“It defies logic that the Army feels the need to move this program from the rural and unpopulated area of the Yakima Training Center to the urban and densely populated South Sound,” the tribe wrote.
Morgan said he has had three meetings with the Nisqually Tribe and worked to involve its leaders with decisions on how to monitor noise during the tests. Tribal leaders also have visited a HIMARS exercise in Yakima.
“I’ve had some really open and candid discussions” with the tribe, Morgan said. “We are taking all the steps we can to be transparent with everybody.”