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Pentagon picks former JBLM corps commander to lead NATO

Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti greeted soldiers in June 2012 when he returned to JBLM with his I Corps headquarters after a deployment in Afghanistan.
Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti greeted soldiers in June 2012 when he returned to JBLM with his I Corps headquarters after a deployment in Afghanistan. Staff file, 2012

Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the officer who led Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s I Corps during its deployment to Afghanistan, was nominated to be NATO’s next supreme allied commander.

The Defense Department announced his promotion Friday, but it must be approved by the Senate. He’ll succeed Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove as the Army prepares to send more resources to Europe to support countries that feel threatened by Russia’s aggressive maneuvering in Ukraine.

Scaparrotti led I Corps during a tumultuous period five years ago when it served as the Afghanistan War’s daily operational headquarters in Kabul and its Stryker brigades went on their last big deployments.

Since 2013, Scaparrotti has been the commander of all U.S. forces in South Korea, an assignment that calls on him to keep about 29,000 military service members ready for combat at any moment. Defense Secretary Ash Carter called Scaparrotti a “soldier-statesman.”

Scaparrotti’s “proven leadership over the course of several difficult assignments will serve him well in this critical command,” Carter said in a statement. He “is one of the U.S. military’s most accomplished officers and combat leaders, and it is my hope that the Senate will act quickly on his nomination.”

Scaparrotti commanded I Corps for about 20 months, ending in 2012, with about a year of that time spent in Afghanistan. He also has served in Iraq, at U.S. Central Command and in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division.

Although he was overseas for much of his JBLM command, he set in motion some of the reforms that steadied Army leadership after two separate incidents of Strykers soldiers committing illegal killings in Afghanistan drew international notoriety to JBLM.

In February 2011, Scaparrotti wrote an order directing the corps to step up inspections of barracks and drug testing. It followed an Army investigation into the so-called “kill team,” the group of JBLM soldiers who in 2010 murdered three Afghan civilians on patrol from a neglected outpost where troops also smoked marijuana and flouted other rules.

Scaparrotti also advocated for the creation of a division headquarters at JBLM led by a major general to provide better oversight of combat brigades that expanded during the Iraq War. That call gained momentum in March 2012 after then-Staff Sgt. Robert Bales slaughtered 16 Afghan civilians in a solitary killing spree during his last of four deployments with a JBLM Stryker brigade.

The Army launched the 7th Infantry Division at JBLM in October 2012 under the leadership of now Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza. Soldiers have credited the additional oversight it provides with improving the Army command structure at the base and getting a better handle on training and discipline.

Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646, @TNTMilitary