A long-running Army officer training program at Joint Base Lewis-McChord that brings thousands of families to the South Sound every summer is moving to Kentucky by next year.
The month-long training, popularly known as Operation Warrior Forge but formally called the Leader Development and Assessment Course, has given tens of thousands of soldiers their first look at the Puget Sound area over the years.
“We’re going to lose some folks who will never get a chance to visit the Northwest,” said University Place City Councilman Chris Nye, who settled here after serving as an officer at Fort Lewis. “I hate to see them go.”
Starting in the summer of 2014, the training will take place at Fort Knox, the headquarters of the Army Cadet Command.
It’s not clear what economic impact the move will have on the South Sound. Typically cadets live in old Army barracks at Lewis-McChord during the training. Their parents often spend a weekend in town for graduation ceremonies.
Warrior Forge is the senior-level Reserve Officers’ Training Corps summer training event before cadets can receive their commissions as second lieutenants in the Army. More than 272 college and university ROTC programs from around the country send cadets here for it.
The News Tribune first reported on the relocation in November when lawmakers sought information about the Army’s plans. Since then, the Army has declined to publicly release a cost-benefit analysis.
“Though it seems the U.S. Army has been determined to make this move for some time, I am still disappointed by this decision,” said U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia.
Heck said he still has questions about why it make sense to move the established program from Lewis-McChord, where it benefits from existing resources and partnerships with active-duty troops.
“I will be sending a number of questions to the U.S. Army asking for an explanation as to how and why this decision was made. I look forward to prompt responses,” Heck said.
In Kentucky, lawmakers crowed about the decision after learning of it from senior Army officers. It could be a lifeline to Fort Knox, which is losing its only combat brigade to Army downsizing.
“This is great news for the Commonwealth,” said Kentucky Republican Rep. Brett Guthrie. “This sensible decision only enhances the role Fort Knox plays in our communities and the entire Kentucky economy. Fort Knox is a natural choice because of the excellent infrastructure and existing commands.”
In 2011, more than 6,000 cadets passed through Lewis-McChord for the course. Another 6,000 usually participate in another cadet training course at Fort Knox every summer, meaning about 12,000 cadets are expected to move through the Kentucky post next summer.
Maj. Gen. Jeff Smith, who leads the Cadet Command, said in a news release that consolidating the courses at Fort Knox helps the Army “develop our
cadets to better prepare for the challenges they will face as Army officers in an increasingly complex environment.”
Retired Lt. Col. Bob Dermann of Spanaway oversaw a program that moved National Guard officer candidates through Warrior Forge in the 1990s. The former Washington National Guard officer remembered young people from all over the country getting their “first taste of what a real mobilization and active-duty post looked like.”
He said cadets got “top notch” training from experienced active-duty officers and noncommissioned officers.
“We got good training, and that’s what they were after,” he said.
Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646