As news broke of Osama bin Laden's death, Joint Base Lewis-McChord's senior Army officer was in Afghanistan laying the groundwork for the next significant deployment of South Sound soldiers.
Lt. Gen. Curtis “Mike” Scaparrotti is slated to become the war in Afghanistan’s daily operations commander this summer, coordinating everything from combat to supplies. He will bring with him about 700 soldiers from the Army I Corps, the base’s headquarters unit.
I Corps spokesman Lt. Col. David Doherty said Monday that Scaparrotti is in the field on one of several trips to Afghanistan preparing for the assignment in Kabul.
Doherty said Monday that bin Laden’s death was a “welcome message,” but he said it doesn’t alter the basic mission facing I Corps.
“While this news represents another victory in the war on terror, we are still facing many important days in Afghanistan,” Doherty said. “The next year will be crucial; I Corps is looking forward to integrating and working closely with our partners to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.”
Retired Lt. Gen. James Dubik, a former I Corps commander, called bin Laden’s death a morale boost for American soldiers that won’t change the challenges facing Lewis-McChord troops.
“I think it will have little effect on what the country’s going to ask I Corps to do,” Dubik said.
Other Washington-based service members likely will serve in Afghanistan during I Corps’ yearlong mission.
• The 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment is preparing for a four-month assignment this spring, its commander said last week.
• An 80-soldier Washington National Guard aviation company is in the country now, as is a smaller unit from the Washington Air National Guard.
• Airmen attached to the Lewis-McChord-based 62nd Airlift Wing and 446th Reserve Airlift Wing likely will be in and out of the country delivering supplies and service members on four-month rotations, as they’ve done for the past nine years.
Meanwhile, some 12,000 soldiers in three Stryker brigades likely will be given some time to train at home.
Another Stryker brigade – the Alaska-based 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division – is starting its yearlong deployment to Afghanistan this month. Down the road, one of Lewis-McChord Stryker units could be tapped to replace their Alaska counterparts.
Scaparrotti last month outlined a complex assignment for I Corps during an interview with The News Tribune. His priorities included taking the fight to the Taliban while supporting the development of Afghan governance and social services.
Much of the I Corps staff has recent experience in Iraq, where it led combat operations for American forces in 2009 and early 2010. Scaparrotti is looking for soldiers with recent time in Afghanistan to fill open spots.
He’ll be expected to manage some sort of withdrawal of American forces as well as turnover in the war’s top ranks. Marine Lt. Gen. John Allen is expected to succeed Gen. David Petraeus as the war’s commander later this year.
President Obama has set July 2011 as the beginning of a drawdown of U.S. forces, though military commanders stress that specific numbers will be determined by conditions on the ground.
From Scaparrotti’s vantage point, the addition of more than 30,000 American soldiers since 2009 has made an impact on the war.
“It’s still a very difficult fight,” Scaparrotti said. “It’s complex and it’s going to require continued focus and momentum to succeed.”