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Different can be good

Published: 12:01PM March 20th, 2014

Airmen will often ask me for my opinion on joint basing and my standard response is that joint basing is different. Sometimes different can be challenging, but sometimes different can be good. And sometimes different is just different.

Each joint base is structured and governed in a way that is consistent with the mission and services involved. For example, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the U.S. Army runs the installation with augmentation from Airmen assigned to the 627th Air Base Group. No other joint base uses that same construct.

At my first Community Health Partnership Council, I understood about half the acronyms and programs described during the meeting. Even though the terms and programs were not identical, the end result was the same — taking care of service members and their families. Thus, while each service has a different heritage and organizational culture, our ultimate mission to support and defend the Constitution and our way of life is our shared and common bond.

Joint basing can be challenging. As the overall defense budget is reduced, there will be many competing demands for scarce resources. The Joint Base Partnership Council, which includes the joint base commander and his deputy plus each senior service component commander, is an established process for setting priorities and vetting our mutual concerns. I have seen this process resolve multiple issues at the local level but this process takes time. Thus, one of the challenges at a joint base is that progress takes time, but I can attest that much progress has been made over the past 18 months. Other challenges exist and new ones will develop but I know they can be resolved but probably not quickly.

Joint basing can be good. At JBLM, the Army and Air Force have made tremendous progress toward finding opportunities for joint training and operational integration. Just as we fight together in a contingency, it makes sense that we should train together when feasible. Several weeks ago, the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings flew six missions in support of the 17th FiB and the 5-3 FAR’s live fire training with their High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. These sorties were the culmination of months of coordination and planning that provide critical experience in joint operations. Lessons learned from this exercise will improve the tactics, techniques and procedures used by Air Force and Army units in the future.

We have also been planning another joint training exercise with Strykers from the 4-23 Inf. and C-17s flown by the 62nd and 446th AWs. On local training sorties, as many as 24 Stryker vehicles and their crews will fly to Grant County airport to practice initial force entry procedures. The Aerial Port and loadmasters get practical loading experience and the pilots will have the opportunity to practice heavy-weight assault landings. Again, these exercises are a win-win for both services since they leverage planned training events and turn them into a joint training experience. I encourage unit commanders from both services to continue looking for these incredible opportunities to enhance and improve joint training.

Joint basing can be very good. There are programs and resources at JBLM that an Airman will not find at any other Air Force base. From Better Opportunities for Single Service Members to the Armed Forces Career and Alumni Program and more, the Army has invested in some world-class programs to support service members and their families. While smaller bases are forced to close some services like the base theater, the sheer size of the largest operational joint base allows most of those services to remain intact.Apprenticeship programs offered at JBLM are great examples of the benefit from joint basing. Recent Air Force policy guidance changed so Airmen, with approval by their commander, can fully participate in these groundbreaking programs. From Microsoft Software Systems Academy to Veterans in Piping, apprenticeship programs are spreading across the country as other installations benchmark JBLM.

Yes, joint basing is different. Yet, whether you call this installation a post or a base, we should all take pride in calling JBLM our home. While challenges exist, we are making progress and becoming more efficient and more integrated each and every day.