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Hundreds speak out on JBLM training plans for rockets, helicopters

A High Mobility Artillery Rocket System allows soldiers to fire rockets and quickly seek cover by driving away. JBLM has two artillery batallions that fire HiMARS weapons and it is seeking to allow them to train at JBLM instead of at the Yakima Training Center. The 2007 exercise in this photo took place in Yakima.
A High Mobility Artillery Rocket System allows soldiers to fire rockets and quickly seek cover by driving away. JBLM has two artillery batallions that fire HiMARS weapons and it is seeking to allow them to train at JBLM instead of at the Yakima Training Center. The 2007 exercise in this photo took place in Yakima. Staff file, 2007

Two Army training proposals are drawing hundreds of comments from residents with concerns about potential rocket noise in the South Sound and helicopter landings in remote areas of Washington.

This week, Joint Base Lewis-McChord closed a public comment period on a plan that may lead to the Army firing rockets at the military installation south of Tacoma.

More than 120 people submitted written comments raising concerns about the proposal, which would allow the Army to test-fire its High Mobility Artillery Rocket System at JBLM.

The rockets have the potential to create a sonic boom and would be especially noticeable to people who live near the Nisqually Reservation. The sound of a launch could reach 115 decibels near the reservation, according to the proposal. That’s roughly as loud as a rock concert.

At this point, the Army is studying only whether it should do a test involving the launch of 27 rockets over three days this winter during daytime and early evening hours.

JBLM has two HIMARS battalions that conduct most of their training at the Yakima Training Center. The Army wants to see if it can carry out that training at JBLM to save money on travel costs and to reduce the amount of days it takes soldiers away from their families on military exercises.

“The drive to Yakima not only costs the Army extra money, but it’s a multiweek event,” Warrant Officer Harry Morgan said last month at a town hall on the proposal. “Every time soldiers train at YTC is time spent away from their unit and their families.”

Meanwhile, about 1,200 people have submitted written comments about a proposal that would allow JBLM helicopter crews to conduct high-elevation training in the North Cascades and in Southwest Washington.

The Army first published documents regarding that proposal in July. An outpouring of concern persuaded the Army to extend a public comment period until Nov. 3.

The plan has been most controversial among wilderness advocates. One of the proposed sites is in the Okanogan National Forest, which the Navy also is considering as a location to enhance training for jets based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

The Army wants to use the off-base helicopter training areas to save money on the cost of flying to similar high-altitude sites in the Rockies. The training could take place at all hours of the day and night, and all year long except for federal holidays.

Military officials are also looking for more space to train on what has become a large fleet of Army, National Guard, Reserve and Special Operations helicopters at JBLM. Few of those units were at the base before the Iraq War. They now compete for training opportunities in the state.

The Army has not announced when it plans to respond to the public comments gathered for the HIMARS and the helicopter proposals.

More information

To learn more about the Army’s training proposals, read Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s environmental studies at www.lewis-mcchord.army.mil/publicworks/sites/envir/eia.aspx

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