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1st JMB inactivates after 13 years

Unit had an impact on Army’s readiness of tens of thousands of service members

Northwest Guardian

Published: 12:01PM May 29th, 2014

One local chapter in the War on Terrorism ended Tuesday with the inactivation of Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 1st Joint Mobilization Brigade.

Past commanders, senior enlisted and civilian employees came to Carey Theater to watch Col. John W. Velliquette Jr. and Command Sgt. Maj. Tam M. Ngo case the brigade colors.

JBLM commander Col. H. Charles Hodges Jr. said 1st JMB’s mission “had impact,” as it trained and mobilized more than 120,000 service members during the past 13 years of war. It demobilized about 80,000.

“It touched the lives of those individuals as they prepared them for the most difficult mission many of them will have in their lives, and they reintegrated them back into this base,” Hodges said.

The mission included preparing gear and sometimes vehicles for downrange operations, and then refurbishing that equipment back to service-worthy status.

The unit began as the 2122st Garrison Support Unit, overseeing the mobilization of about 27,000 Soldiers as well as commanding the Reserve component of the Medical Holdover Company. Retired Col. Del Larson was the unit’s first commander in February 2003.

“It was crazy,” Larson said. “I spent 25 years training, mobbing, demobing — then Sept. 11 hit.”

Larson said his group of fewer than a dozen Soldiers mobilized about 15,000 within three weeks at the start of the war.

The 654th Area Support Group (Forward) succeeded the 2122nd GSU in May 2004 and continued to mobilize Soldiers until March 2007, when the Army redesignated it the 1st JMB.

The tempo didn’t let up until about 2009, after the last surges for Operation Iraqi Freedom, Velliquette said, who took command in 2012. The brigade worked around the clock seven days a week to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also sent military members of all services to Guantanamo Bay, the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, the Republic of Kosovo and the Horn of Africa.

It handled units as large as the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team of the Idaho National Guard, comprised of 2,600 Soldiers.

The brigade entered “cold status” in 2011, when training and mobilization validations moved to individual units instead of the JMB, Velliquette said. Support for the Mobilization Training Center remained so Reserve component service members could still be mobilized and demobilized.

The unit “took care of all problems — Reserve,” from that point on, Velliquette said. That included legal and administrative command and control of diverse units coming through JBLM, as well as host-unit support for deploying units.

Velliquette, a Reservist who works for the Seattle Police Department, highlighted how his team led the Department of Defense Joint Service Processing Team, which responded to Japan’s earthquake and tsunami disasters in March 2011.

The colonel said the unit has about 50 to 60 people left, from a high of 250 during the surge for OIF. Its members helped bolster the Support Resource Center, inprocessing and outprocessing service members at Waller Hall on Lewis Main.

Velliquette said since March this year, the unit’s been going through “11 years worth of stuff” to finish up equipment refurbishing, support the 191st Infantry Brigade and hand off its duties other units, such as JBLM’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company and selected base directorates.

Several of the brigade’s assigned personnel also are moving to those directorates and units. Executive assistant Bridget Mann said individual National Guardsmen and Reservists still can contact inprocessing assistance at 253-967-4063, or by going to Building 3655 by the JBLM base cemetery.

Those myriad functions of 1st JMB, and the loss of them, spurred Hodges to say that losing the brigade will be like the base “cutting off its right arm.

“I don’t think we’ll truly understand the true impact they had, and how much they’ll be missed, until they walk out the door,” he said.