The Sound's war

A primer on the Seattle area's military bases.

EVEN AS President Bush readied the nation for war last week, and Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane deployed many of its planes to undisclosed locations, military operations around the Puget Sound insisted that all was calm. But even if highly disciplined soldiers betray little emotion at the prospect of what they've trained for, their family members aren't necessarily as sanguine. Sgt. 1st Class Cynthia Blanks, based at the National Guard's Seattle Armory, says of her 10-year-old son, "Every day he asks me, 'Mommy, are you going to war?'"

Many local soldiers would surely be deployed in the event of war. This region boasts a major military presence with facilities for the Army, Air Force, Navy, National Guard, and Coast Guard, as well as their respective reserves. Yet despite its closeness, military society seems far away for many Seattleites. Out for a walk in Discovery Park, we may pay little mind to the squat buildings of the Army Reserve's Fort Lawton. It is, however, the command center for a three-state district, headed by a two-star general. That general, James Collins, is now getting daily briefings in a battle room known as the emergency operations center.

Here's a primer on how local military operations would be involved in a war.

Army

Just south of Tacoma, Fort Lewis is home to approximately 20,000 soldiers, making it the biggest military facility in the region. Yet at least a sizable contingent of that force would probably not be called to war, at least not initially, according to spokesperson Joe Hitt. Two combat brigades of 3,000 soldiers each are in the middle of a "transformation" that will not be complete until 2003. Intended as a model for a transformation of the entire Army, the brigades are to use lightweight equipment and be able to be mobilized within 96 hours. Fort Lewis does, however, have other units, including a military police company that went to the East Coast on Saturday. In addition, units comprised of specialists in intelligence, medical care, and engineering might be called up soon.

Navy

The Puget Sound has the third largest concentration of Navy fleets in the country. The region's 3,200 active duty and reserve officers operate within a sprawling network of facilities devoted to just about every function within the Navy. At the Bangor base, there are submarines, while Everett station is home to destroyers and frigates. Supply ships dock at Bremerton, and artillery is kept at a magazine on Indian Island. Whidbey Island has the Navy's only air station on the Pacific Rim, housing the majority of its Prowler squadrons. Prowlers, which take off and land from ships, are used to jam enemy radar.

Air Force

Adjacent to Fort Lewis, McChord Air Force Base would "almost definitely" be involved in a war, says Lt. Suzanne Ovel. Its 6,000 active duty and reserve airmen don't fly fighter planes however. They operate midair refueling planes, as well as cargo planes that haul people and supplies. McChord has already helped in the relief effort. Last week, it sent two planes to the New York area carrying local Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel.

Army Reserve

Fort Lawton in Discovery Park serves as headquarters for some 5,000 Reserve soldiers in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. These part-time soldiers are not combatants but support troops using a range of specialties honed in their civilian jobs. Reserve soldiers include doctors, lawyers, computer programmers, and engineers. While they would generally be called only after active-duty officers, the Army's post- Cold War downsizing of full-time troops makes it ever more reliant on both the Reserve and National Guard.

National Guard

Camp Murray, south of Tacoma near both Fort Lewis and McChord, is the state headquarters for almost 8,000 Guardsmen. During peacetime, the National Guard serves under the command of the governor, but in war it is at the service of the Army and Air Force. Comprised mostly of part-timers, the Guard includes both combat troops and those who support them, with such tasks as flying planes, driving trucks, and providing supplies. The Seattle Armory, just north of where Elliott Avenue West turns into 15th Avenue Northwest, houses the headquarters for one combat brigade of 5,000 soldiers, as well as a battalion of between 500 and 700 soldiers providing logistical support for the brigade. You can also find nearly 200 Army trucks at the Seattle Armory that could be shipped to a battlefront, including ambulances, fuel trucks, and trailers for transporting tanks.

Coast Guard

A district headquarters in the downtown federal building oversees 3,300 Coast Guard personnel throughout Washington, Oregon, and Montana. Hundreds of those guardsmen are located at a base on Pier 36 near Safeco Field, and a handful of ships are located there as well. The Coast Guard is under the control of the Department of Transportation in peacetime and the Navy in wartime. In the event of a war, the Coast Guard could be used domestically and abroad to inspect commercial ships for weapons and to enforce security at ports. Last week, the Coast Guard was stepping up its patrol of Puget Sound, shooing away any vessels that got too close to naval bases.

nshapiro@seattleweekly.com

 
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