JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD (AP) — The Army expects the addition of a two-star general at Joint Base Lewis-McChord will improve oversight of combat brigades and provide more attention to the care of soldiers and their families.
The base welcomed Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza on Thursday as the commander of the reactivated 7th Infantry Division.
Lanza's arrival completes a pledge from Army Secretary John McHugh to create a division headquarters at Lewis-McChord to better manage rapid growth. JBLM has more than 34,000 active-duty soldiers, up from 19,000 in 2003.
The Army last had a division headquarters at then-Fort Lewis in 1991. Its chain of command now is the same as the Army's two other largest posts, Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Hood in Texas, The News Tribune reported Friday.
"I don't think any place in the Army has needed a division more than here, and it's because of the size," Lewis-McChord senior Army officer Lt. Gen. Robert Brown said at the welcoming ceremony.
The division headquarters bridges a gap in the command structure between a three-star corps command and the colonels who lead brigades.
Lanza, 55, plans to fill positions over the next month and create protocols for working with the five combat brigades that will report to him. His headquarters is expected to be up and running by Oct. 4.
Lanza plans to visit Afghanistan this fall to meet with leaders of two Lewis-McChord Stryker brigades that are fighting in Kandahar province. The brigades with a combined 7,500 soldiers are due home between November and February. Lanza wants to talk with them about how the stateside command can help them readjust to life when they return.
"The key is to have a robust plan to restore and reintegrate the (brigades)," Lanza said.
Two years of bad news
The Army's decision to install the division headquarters at Lewis-McChord followed two years of bad headlines at the base. In 2010, five Lewis-McChord soldiers were accused of murdering three Afghan civilians. Four were convicted.
Earlier this year, another Lewis-McChord Stryker soldier allegedly killed 16 Afghan civilians. Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is awaiting a court-martial on the murder charges.
The base also faced controversies over care at Madigan Army Medical Center. This year, Madigan was on the hot seat from veterans whose post-traumatic stress diagnoses were changed by forensic psychiatrists as the veterans prepared to leave the Army.
Supporters say a two-star command paying close attention to the brigades could have helped them better prepare for their missions by providing guidance to senior officers, The News Tribune reported.