Lt. Gen. Curtis "Mike" Scaparrotti commands thousands of soldiers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord who are expected to stay home, rest and retrain for nearly two years.
There are no major combat deployments on the horizon, but it’s hardly a slow time for Scaparrotti. He took the Army’s top position at the base two months ago when he was appointed the commander of I Corps.
His calendar is booked with duties that range from preparing troops for eventual overseas assignments to working with the state on improving Interstate 5 traffic. Other tasks include overseeing court-martial proceedings for soldiers accused of war crimes, preparing for military exercises in Asia next year and managing the base’s efforts to boost mental-health services for combat veterans.
All of this and more comes with the assignment of serving as commander of some 30,000 soldiers – more people under his management, by far, than any other CEO in Pierce County. In between, he and his wife, Cindy, are getting settled in the Northwest after spending much of their careers in the South.
“We’re thrilled about being out here. It’s a beautiful part of the country,” he said Friday in an interview with The News Tribune.
His office shows the trappings from his 32-year Army career. Framed flags from past units decorate his walls. A table made by a former colleague at U.S. Central Command sits in the middle of the room, adorned with dozens of service coins he’s collected from his comrades.
Above his desk hangs a portrait of his dad, the late 1st Sgt. Mike Scaparrotti of Logan, Ohio. Lt. Gen. Scaparrotti says his father inspired him to join the Army, but he says he couldn’t have imagined becoming a three-star general when he left his hometown for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
“When I got to West Point, the goal was to graduate. Then when I matured in the Army as a young officer, I thought if I was fortunate enough to command a battalion, that would be a privilege, and I thought that would be a reach.
“I never thought as a young officer that I would be a corps commander. I couldn’t be happier being here.”
Here are some of Scaparrotti’s thoughts on what’s ahead for the base and its soldiers.
What are your primary concerns for Lewis-McChord soldiers and families?
We have an opportunity here. We have what we in the Army call “a full nest.” We have almost everybody home. At least right now, it appears most of the brigades and subordinate units will have 20 to 24 months here before they return to Iraq or Afghanistan.
My priority is that we provide the resources to restore soldiers and their families. Let’s get ready, let’s get reorganized, let’s train, but in the meantime, let’s focus on the soldier.
What sort of public presence do you expect to have in your neighboring towns?
I’m going to try to have as much of a presence as I can. I’m very impressed by the connections between the base and the communities. It’s a robust connection.
You recently returned from leading the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan. What’s your sense of how that conflict is going?
My sense after a year there is that it’s a very complex and difficult problem, but progress is being made. That’s a critical mission for our country.
Do you expect soldiers from Lewis-McChord to serve there in the years ahead?
I do for some time in the future. We know that NATO is committed to be there through 2014, and we will still need forces there.
The Army has a proposal to add a new combat aviation brigade to Lewis-McChord. When might you see that unit arrive if the plans are approved? Will that be in your tenure?
I don’t think that’ll be on my watch, but it might. It’s predecisional, and we are working on it.
At what point do traffic and growth in neighboring communities limit growth at Lewis-McChord?
We’re already working on that and it’s already a factor in our growth. The community has grown a great deal and so has Joint Base Lewis-McChord, so we’re working with government officials – the Washington State Department of Transportation – to plan for the infrastructure we’ll need for that growth.
How much of your time are you spending overseeing legal proceedings for 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division soldiers who have been accused of war crimes in Afghanistan?
Obviously it’s an important part of what I do, and I provide the time it requires. That’s about all I can say about that.
We represent the American people and the Constitution. As a commander, I’m responsible to make sure we uphold those ideals and laws. Due process is one of them, and I’ll make sure our service members enjoy that right.
What else do you want the people in your surrounding communities to know about the soldiers and airmen here?
We have a very diverse part of the Army and an important part of our Air Force that have served selflessly and brilliantly, and I want people to understand that.
I’m very impressed with the people of the Northwest and how they treat our soldiers and airmen. It’s important to soldiers, and it’s a factor in why our soldiers are staying in and re-enlisting at record rates even though they’re constantly deploying.