TACOMA, Wash. — An annual exercise that brings thousands of Army officer cadets to Joint Base Lewis-McChord for a month of demanding drills could be moving to Kentucky, according to lawmakers lobbying to keep the program in the South Sound.
Last summer, Operation Warrior Forge drew more than 6,000 Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets to Lewis-McChord. Many of their parents attend graduation ceremonies to see off cadets heading into their final year of college.
That 29-day Leader Development and Assessment Course could be consolidated with the Army Cadet Command at Fort Knox, which hosts a smaller summer ROTC exercise called the Leaders Training Course.
Officials at Fort Knox confirmed that the Cadet Command is considering the move but said the Army has not made a decision and that it does not have a timeline to release one.
“We are looking at it, but there’s nothing to report so far,” said Lt. Col. Matt Hackathorn at the Cadet Command.
The Cadet Command has created a cost-benefit analysis that makes an argument for consolidation, Hackathorn said. The analysis is being circulated among Army leadership posts such as U.S. Forces Command in North Carolina and the Army Training and Doctrine Command in Virginia.
U.S. Reps. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, and Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, want to see the report. They wrote a letter last week to Secretary of the Army John McHugh requesting details about the potential move.
The News Tribune also submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the document.
Dicks anticipates a meeting next week with the Army to discuss the letter, his spokesman George Behan said.
The lawmakers are preparing to argue that the Army should keep the course at Lewis-McChord because the base has more varied training opportunities than Fort Knox.
We “believe there are clear advantages to remaining at JBLM,” Behan said.
For example, in recent years the Army has partnered its artillery and Stryker brigade with ROTC cadets for special exercises. The lawmakers also note that Lewis-McChord offers the Army different environments for training, such as the high desert grounds of the Yakima Training Center.
“It seems if they want to consolidate the programs, it makes more sense to have those folks come to JBLM,” said Smith’s spokesman, Benjamin Halle.
Lewis-McChord has grown rapidly since 2003, nearly doubling its ranks of active-duty soldiers to some 34,000 troops.
It’s heading into a period of significant change as the war winds down in Afghanistan, meaning all of its major combat brigades expect to be home at the same time and competing for training resources in the South Sound and in Yakima.
For decades, the ROTC exercises at Lewis-McChord gave cadets their first glimpse of the Northwest from wooden World War II-era barracks. Its draw as a summertime economic booster is another reason Dicks and Smith want to keep Operation Warrior Forge in the South Sound.
The Army’s decision is “quite in play,” Behan said.