Happily, my new work schedule allowed me to be nimble enough to attend on such short notice. Another press release appeared in The Suburban Times at 4 a.m. on the day of the event. It included phone numbers to RSVP plans to attend. One was an 'after hours' number. I called at 6 a.m. and reached Maj. Arnold. I was concerned I might have awakened him by calling so early. It turns out he was in the midst of PT. Despite that he was happy to take my name and contact information to add me to the list of those planning to attend the event, which will be the first of several. I made a point of meeting him at the event.
The purpose of the gathering was to allow local business leaders and community members representing civic groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, and an array of local government officials to bring their questions to the top brass regarding mandated budget cuts that will result in the draw-down of active duty Army troops. (Air Force personnel are not affected by this) However, nationwide the numbers will be decreased from 570,000 to 490,000 between now and 2017. The impact to local businesses as it relates to the economy, housing, and health care were among the concerns. Approximately 125 people were on-hand to listen to Lt. Gen. Brown (on the right in the picture below) and then the question and answer session with the public in attendance. Here is a link to 5 minutes, 23 seconds of video from the General's presentation: http://youtu.be/Q103tn-IeX8
Interesting facts included:
- 70% of all active duty military and their families live off-post in the local communities
- Stryker Brigade alone represents $231 Million in salaries
- 5,000 soldiers from JBLM are currently in Afghanistan
- Highest number of troops affected at JBLM by draw-down will be 8,000 and this represents 12,000-15,000 including their families
- 4 Brigades have been in Europe, but this has been reduced already to just 2 (1 in Italy & 1 in Germany
- JBLM is home to 52 C-17 aircraft
- Madigan is the "crown jewel" in the Defense Health Agency.
- Madigan trains 300 physicians each year and is "the farm system for future doctors."
Virgil Clarkson, the Mayor of Lacey, expressed concern that the "medical component" of services in this area might be cut-back, but was answered with "not significantly." The Defense Health Agency regards Madigan as the "premier military medical center west of the Mississippi."
Connie Ladenburg inquired about whether or not the National Guard and Reserves would be affected by the draw-down, but the answer was that the numbers pertain to active duty troops only.
Bob Levin of the City of Tacoma asked whether some of the cut-backs will be from attrition and that was affirmative.
Another matter that was explained was that of some 500 current Lt. Col. positions, 100 will be asked to retired after having been "looked at twice for possible promotion."
One audience member joked that the troop draw-down "could be as simple as moving a Stryker Brigade to the Korean Peninsula."
When Don Anderson of the City of Lakewood inquired about "encroachment" he was referring to how close civilians live to the perimeter of JBLM. It was explained that in many areas there is a larger buffer of some 5-10 acres established when a base is first set up to ensure that there is less "encroachment" and fewer noise-related issues and concerns. However, Fort Lewis "is the only base in the world, which was established in the early 1900s where citizens gave money and land" for its establishment. Over the years the local residential communities have grown up around it. Prairie grass preservation is just one of the concerns the military is mindful of environmentally.
There is a Facebook page where noise complaints and other concerns can be registered. Here is the link to that page: https://www.facebook.com/1STCORPS and it is maintained by David G. Johnson, Director, Public Affairs. He added that it is their intention and mandate to "ensure feedback gets back to the decision-makers." Interestingly, JBLM is interested in purchasing or leasing land from areas adjacent to the base to "introduce habitat." Letters from community leaders and other citizens are welcome input, as well.
The Washington State Fish & Wildlife Department work closely with the Department of Defense to protect rare or endangered species such as these (thanks to The News Tribune):
(Photo left: Charles Jones, resident of Tacoma, and Cindy McKitrick, President of the Steilacoom Chamber of Commerce)
I was on-hand to represent Soundcare, Inc. http://soundcareinc.com, a local corporation that owns and operates four health care facilities in the South Sound region including Nisqually Valley Care Center, in McKenna, nearby to JBLM. I asked about how to facilitate serving more wounded soldiers in their rehab at Nisqually Valley Care Center. http://nisquallyvalleycare.com Tri-Care has transitioned to Tri-West and Tri-West is transitioning to United Health Care. A lot of changes, but officials ensured that those rehab services are going to be made available to soldiers and other veterans. Col Dallas W. Homas, Hospital Commander, and David Johnson, Director, Public Affairs each gave their assurance.
Rick Hansen, Mayor of Puyallup, inquired about government contracts here in the State of Washington. We were told that Washington ranks 17th to 20th for the number of government contracts. The Sequestration $80 Billion budget cuts are separate from the reduction in force cuts, but the "ability to use local contractors will be decreasing" as a result. Construction work, for example, from 2016-2019 will be reduced.
Javier Figueroa, City Councilman from the City of University Place, wanted to know more about the reduction in force and how it may affect those who desire to re-enlist. Often they will not be allowed to re-enlist, but in most cases will be made aware of that at least a year ahead of their separation from the military.
(Photo: Linda Smith, President & CEO of the Lakewood Chamber of Commerce)
Presidents & CEOs of at least three Chambers of Commerce attended and participated in the Listening Event including Tom Pierson, Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber http://www.tacomachamber.org/, Linda Smith, Lakewood Chamber of Commerce http://lakewood-chamber.com/, and Cindy McKitrick, Steilacoom Chamber of Commerce http://steilacoomchamber.org/.
Dave Winslow, Mayor of Sumner, was concerned about the impact on local housing. The explanation of how city-by-city those numbers would play out was difficult to anticipate.
Mary, the Director of the Washington State Government Affairs education programs spoke about helping soldiers transition back into civilian life through job training, other education programs, Job Fairs, the Army Career Alumni Program, Soldier for Life program, VA employment services, need for college money, and unemployment compensation. After serving in the military students with that background are "mature, disciplined, creative, agile, and are skilled at solving complex problems." All of that translates for military members to enter 6-month apprenticeships before the soldiers even get out of the military. Careers available include pipefitters who will be hired in Japan immediately, or HVAC system apprenticeships have also just started. Currently, the Upward Bound program is not available in Washington, but work is being done on making that available to military personnel. It is a program that accelerates studies.
Amazon.com has begun what they call "Amazon Warriors" and give hiring preference to veterans. A Marine is in charge of that program for Amazon. Here's an article from the Puget Sound Business Journal regarding the program: http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/blog/techflash/2011/08/sen-murray-stops-by-amazon-to-praise.html?page=all
Senators Cantwell and Murray have done a lot to ensure that more engineering jobs are going to a higher percentage of veterans. The central point of contact -- again -- is through the Facebook page given above.
The GI Bill is still in effect.
It is important for businesses to come to events and have a booth with information about employment opportunities and to advertise training that is available with their companies.
For soldiers dealing with PTSD there are new ways to reach out for help. It's called "Virtual Resiliency" and is a website that offers financial assistance, chaplaincy services, PT, a website kiosk and easily visible, easy to find information, e.g. a 24/7 suicide hotline number, and for people who are more comfortable texting rather than talking there is now 24/7 chat available as an alternative to the toll-free phone number for suicide prevention.
Others who attended and presented some tough questions to Lt. Gen. Brown and other military officials included Kevin Phelps of Pierce County regarding OEA services, Rick Ritz (USAF) from the City of Orting regarding discretionary income and bomb squad bonuses; Ken Swarner, newspaper publisher, regarding overseas duties; Mayor Hardy of the City of Yelm, Bob Young of the City of Olympia; Dan Penrose of the South Sound Environmental Board, and others.
(Photo: Eagles Pride Golf Course)