Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s newest two-star general is a fast-talking New Yorker with a plan to bring more oversight to combat brigades and more attention to the care the Army gives its soldiers and families.
The base on Thursday welcomed Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza, the commander of the reactivated 7th Infantry Division.
His arrival completes a pledge from Army Secretary John McHugh to create a division headquarters at Lewis-McChord to better manage the Army’s rapid growth in the South Sound. It now 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.
“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 Thursday’s ceremony.
Until Lanza’s arrival, Lewis-McChord had an unusual command structure. It was missing the standard division headquarters that bridges the gap between a three-star corps command and the colonels who lead brigades.
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.
Lanza over the next month intends to build up his headquarters by filling open positions and creating 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.
He 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 here.
“The key is to have a robust plan to restore and reintegrate the (brigades),” Lanza said.
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 murdered 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.
Brown, the three-star general, was a Stryker brigade commander at Fort Lewis early in the Iraq War.
“When I was a brigade commander, you could do pretty much what you wanted to do because the corps command was a long way away,” he said. “I would like to think I was doing good things, but who knows?”
Lanza, 55, is a West Point graduate who most recently served as the Army’s chief of public affairs in the Pentagon. He led a cavalry brigade in Iraq as a colonel in 2005. He returned to Baghdad in 2008-09 as a brigadier general managing communication, political and economic programs. Lanza also served in the Gulf War and in Bosnia-Herzegovina.adam.ashton@ thenewstribune.com 253-597-8646 blog.thenewstribune.com/military