The Army confirmed this week that it’s moving a Joint Base Lewis-McChord medical headquarters to Hawaii, taking 61 jobs and a command position for a general officer.
The news has been an open secret since September, when The News Tribune first published a story on an Army proposal to consolidate its five regional medical commands into four headquarters.
JBLM is losing the Western Regional Medical Command, which oversees Madigan Army Medical Center and 10 other hospitals west of the Mississippi River. The command has about 165 employees led by a major general.
It is unrelated to another, larger Army-wide downsizing announcement that is expected this week. The Army likely will release any day now the details of how it would cut 40,000 soldiers over the next two years to meet a target set by Congress.
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Some of those cuts would be felt at JBLM, but it is unclear how many will come from here. A copy of the report obtained by USA Today shows that the Army plans to cut another 17,000 civilian positions.
People around the South Sound, military and civilian, have been bracing for the news. Hundreds spoke out to protest the cuts at a Lakewood forum in January, and hundreds more expressed written concerns to the Army about how a deep force reduction might impact the region.
Meanwhile, the medical command change will relocate a two-star general position to Honolulu, the home of the Army’s Pacific headquarters. The medical commander would both oversee health care and look for ways to support military engagements along the Pacific Rim with foreign allies.
JBLM will retain a deputy commander as a rear headquarters. That position is expected to be held by a brigadier general who would focus on patient care throughout the Pacific, which includes Madigan and Army hospitals in Alaska.
Civilian employees will be given opportunities to move to Hawaii, the Western Regional Medical Command said. Those who can’t move may find work at Madigan.
The realignment is expected to take about two years. Western Regional Medical Command is expected to retain its current staffing and responsibilities for another year under Maj. Gen. Thomas Tempel.
When the transition is completed, JBLM will have three command positions for general officers instead of four.
Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho announced the decision this week with visits and calls to Washington’s congressional delegation.
Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, said he was assured the move would not impact care or staffing Madigan. He also said the change “complements the Army’s focus on the Pacific,” which has been a stated goal since the U.S. began shrinking its forces in Afghanistan.
"This announcement brings changes to JBLM’s role within the Army Medical Command structure, but it is not an unexpected shift,” Heck said. “With the nation’s strategic rebalance to the Pacific, moving the Western Regional Medical Command headquarters to Hawaii fits that plan.”
In addition to Hawaii, the Army’s other regional medical headquarters will be based in Fort Belvoir, Virginia (to manage East Coast hospitals); Joint Base San Antonio (to oversee hospitals in the Midwest and Rockies); and Sembach, Germany (to manage care for soldiers in Europe).