JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD -- Gen. David Rodriguez affirmed his confidence in Joint Base Lewis-McChord on Friday after a difficult week that began with news that Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a soldier from the installation, was suspected of killing 16 Afghan civilians.
“There is nothing different here than most places,” said Rodriguez, a four-star general who previously served in Afghanistan.
“Those things happen. … Everybody knows that doesn’t reflect our standards and our values, nor does it reflect the majority of the leaders and soldiers that serve here every day as well as overseas.”
Rodriguez commands the Fort Bragg, N.C.-based Army Forces Command, which is responsible for equipping and training some 250,000 soldiers, including Lewis-McChord’s major combat brigades.
The troubles at the base this week also include the arrest of a lieutenant colonel on charges of threatening to kill his estranged wife, girlfriend and commander and threatening to blow up the U.S. Capitol. In Olympia, a private from the base was stabbed to death.
Other violent crimes were tied to Lewis-McChord in recent years.
Rodriguez declined to comment on the Afghan murders but said the base leaders are “surprised and shocked by it just as much as we are.”
“We have a lot of confidence in the chain of command and the leadership … and the exercise of leadership, discipline and standards,” Rodriguez said. “Again, that doesn’t solve every single problem.”
It is unclear where Bales’ expected court-martial will take place, but Rodriguez said it could be at Lewis-McChord.
“I am confident that this base can be properly secured to do that in the right way,” he said.
The case has brought increased scrutiny to stress brought on by having so many soldiers serve multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq as the fighting has dragged on for more than a decade. Rodriguez said soldiers on repeat deployments serve honorably, and that the Army has done a good job of sustaining those soldiers through their tours of duty. He said the military reviews soldiers’ cases to determine if they can continue to handle the rigors of combat duty. “We’re on the cutting edge of the study of the human mind, and we continue to get better and better.”
Rodriguez said there is “sufficient screening” for post-traumatic stress disorder at Lewis-McChord.
Madigan Army Medical Center, located at Lewis-McChord, is currently the focus of an investigation to determine if soldiers’ PTSD diagnoses were improperly reversed as they were considered for medical retirement. Soldiers leaving the Army with a PTSD diagnosis can qualify for a medical retirement, and some soldiers have been concerned they were denied the diagnoses in an effort to save money. “There is no pressure on resources at the cost of taking care of soldiers and their families,” Rodriguez said.
Lewis-McChord, home to about 37,000 Army and 6,000 Air Force personnel, is one of the largest bases in the United States. Currently, some 5,400 of those troops are in Afghanistan.