Residents near Joint Base Lewis-McChord will be closely watching, or rather listening, as the military prepares to practice a type of rocket training there next week for the first time.
The test will measure how loud the weapon, a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), will be in the area.
“It’s really to establish what amount of noise we’re creating,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Schmidt, deputy commander of the HIMARS battalions in the 17th Field Artillery Brigade.
JBLM has two units that fire the weapon, a system which launches rockets from a truck, and has the potential to create sonic booms, which is louder than the usual artillery fired on base.
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The units now train near Yakima, but the test next week will help determine whether they might be able to do that closer to home.
Local residents gathered late Tuesday at the Eagles Pride Golf Course in DuPont for the last town hall before the test to get information about what will happen when the rockets are fired 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on March 15, 16 and 17.
Jill Shilling attended the open house and said she was particularly concerned about the nearby Nisqually Wildlife Refuge should the training become routine at JBLM.
“A lot of money was spent on that wildlife refuge,” she said. “It could change wildlife habits.”
But while she wasn’t looking forward to the test next week, she said the few days of firing didn’t concern her and that she thought it was necessary to figure out what the effect might be.
Lt. Col. Schmidt said the base will have 20 stations set up to monitor the noise. Of those, eight will be on base, in areas near Roy, Yelm and DuPont. One will be at the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge and 11 will be at the Nisqually Reservation.
The test rockets will be fired from just across the freeway from the golf course, and will travel about five miles southeast from that point.
The military plans to record video of the test firing, to release later.
Reporters won’t be allowed to attend in person.
“It’s pretty dangerous to be close enough to actually get video,” Schmidt said.
Grace Ann Byrd said at the open house that she’d rather all training stays in Yakima, and that she prefers they didn’t test at all next week.
She worried about how her 3-month-old granddaughter will handle the noise. Their house on the Nisqually Reservation already shakes sometimes during artillery firing, she said.
“She’s got baby eardrums, you know?” Byrd said.
She also worried about the tribe’s elders, some of whom she said planned to get hotel rooms out of the area during the testing.
And the potential effect on wildlife was an issue for her.
“They don’t have a voice,” she said. “Our salmon is our way of life. I grew up in those woods.”
A representative of the tribe had a private session with JBLM officials before the town hall late Tuesday.
JBLM Chief of Staff Tom Knight said the tribe has concerns about how the noise and vibrations would affect places, such as the area’s salmon hatchery, elder housing and sites of historical and cultural significance, such as the cemetery.
At the tribe’s request, the base increased the number of noise stations on the reservation, and representatives of the tribe will be at some of them during the testing, to monitor the effects.
Rick Patterson of DuPont said he’s worried about how the noise will affect his 12-year-old Doberman, Sitka, who is bothered by artillery fired on base.
“We’re going to hear it,” he said. “We’re concerned about what it’s going to sound like.”
He described his stance on the idea of bringing the training to JBLM as “borderline opposition.”
The cost savings and convenience to soldiers doesn’t seem like much compared to the potential imposition of the noise, he said. He served on JBLM during his 30-year career in the military, and said he sometimes had to make the trip to Yakima for different types of training.
His hope is that the test turns out like any other day of activity on the base, and that the military has overstated the potential noise to be cautious.
It reassured him to hear at the open house that the training won’t happen if the test goes badly.
“They say they’ll pull the plug if it doesn’t go well,” he said.
How to give feedback
Joint Base Lewis-McChord officials want residents to call with concerns about the tests, if they think they’re too loud. They also want to hear from people if they don’t notice the firing, or if they hear it, but it’s not bothersome.
A report about the results of the test will be accessible to residents who make a public records request.