Fort Lewis soldier returns as post commander

Fort Lewis – The man who will run daily operations of Fort Lewis is no stranger to the area: Col. Thomas Brittain’s first assignment as a second lieutenant in 1987-90 was at the Army post.

“It seems like familiar ground, but it really has changed a lot since then,” Brittain said minutes after he replaced Col. Cynthia Murphy as Fort Lewis garrison commander Tuesday.

The garrison commander manages the maintenance and construction of Fort Lewis and the Yakima Training Center, overseeing an array of responsibilities like public works, maintenance of community facilities and emergency services.

It’s a busy time to take the job: Current construction projects total about $290 million, and another $1.7 billion in construction is planned. Early next year the post will merge with McChord Air Force Base, part of a military-wide joint basing effort – the topic of Brittain’s thesis at his most recent assignment, as a student at the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania.

Brittain, the son of a retired Air Force colonel, was born in Savannah, Ga., and graduated from West Point. He has three children: 13-year-old Thomas, 16-year-old Lauren and 19-year-old Jessica, an Army private serving at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Randall Robinson, the director of the West region of U.S. Army Installation Management Command, praised Murphy, who had been garrison commander since August 2006. She is undergoing medical treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and couldn’t attend the ceremony.

Murphy relinquished command last week and will take an I Corps staff position upon her return. Robinson, who oversees the management of Army installations in 14 states, noted an array of projects Murphy took on during her three years in the position, including handling an increase of thousands of troops on post, improving deployment and reintegration process, creating a long-term master plan for the post and starting a suicide task force.