Joint Base Lewis McChord (Fort Lewis/McChord AFB)

Washington Park in WashingtonThis article was written by me for Army Wife Magazine in June 2101. It’s a great website! Visit them.
Nestled between the picturesque Puget Sound and the majestic Mount Rainier is Joint Base Lewis-McChord, named after Army Captain Meriwether Lewis (from the famed Lewis and Clark expedition) and Army Air Corps Colonel William Caldwell McChord.  Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) is one of the largest and most modern military reservations in the United States.  Although the post is set largely within rural surroundings, the bustling city of Tacoma, hip-trendy Seattle and the state capital, Olympia, are all well within an hour’s drive of the post.  You can almost feel the hum of Microsoft and Boeing fueling the economy, bringing together a worldly-sense of culture and creativity unique to the Pacific Northwest.

Call me ‘Lewis-Main’
In 2009, US Army Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base were joined in the second phase of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process. The joining makes sense when you consider the two bases are neighbors, sharing many of the same utilities, medical centers, and facilities. I was surprised how fast we are all getting used to the new name; as if this marriage is something we all wanted. To make the distinction between the legacy bases you’d have to say: “Lewis Main” for the old part of Fort Lewis on the east side of Interstate-5 and you would refer to Lewis-North for everything on the other side of the interstate. McChord AFB is ‘McChord Airfield’ now. Lewis Main is considered headquarters of this post.

  • 30,294 active-duty Army personnel
  • 2,805 Army reservists;
  • 3,637 active-duty Air Force personnel
  • 2,342 Air Force reservists and the US National Guard.
  • Around 17,000 Army troops from the base have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • The base has 29,247 military retirees . . . that’s a lot.

Heading out and leaving the Interstate-5 corridor you almost immediately hit a much more rural and idealistic Washington. There are quiet hiking paths crisscrossing Mt.Rainier National Forrest and the Olympic National Forest, bike paths stretching for miles and connecting towns, cities, and heart pounding single-track trails. In the four years of living here, Mt. Rainier has always taken my breath away as it rises proudly above the roads and trees of the region.

Oh my, traffic!
Be warned- traffic can be a problem at times! Starting from northern Seattle in Everett down to Tacoma and peaking during typical commuting times, traffic builds but I’ve noticed traffic starts to ease up around the JBLM vicinity and eases as you continue south.  Often those living north of the base have a longer commute than those that live farther to the south or east.  Areas to the south towards Lacey and Olympia usually have less traffic whereas going to or coming from Puyallup and Tacoma can be very congested.

Housing
Lewis-McChord Communities has 3600+ homes in 12 villages. Each home is equipped with stoves, refrigerators and in most homes, dishwashers and disposals. Many homes have a carport or a garage and some of the most breathtaking views of Mount Ranier and the many lakes that dot our communities.  New construction is an on-going project for family housing.  Lewis-McChord Communities has built a new village of 108 new homes and is in the process of renovating hundreds of existing homes.

Hospital
The primary medical facility is Madigan Army Medical Center, one of the largest military medical centers here on the west coast with more than 4,000 medical staff members.  The hospital is one of just a few Level II trauma centers within the U.S. medical command.

Prices
Cost of living is fairly high here with consumer prices generally higher than other parts of the country.  You can blame the city dwellers and those flocking to enjoy the beauty of the surrounding area!  You are even hard-pressed to find bargains at yard sales!  Nevertheless, between the commissary, Walmart, Costco and the shopping outlets you’ll be able to manage.  Did I mention shopping malls?  There are three within 40 miles of the base.  There are even several Coach outlets in the region!

Things to Do
Because you are so close to the Sound, where there are numerous beaches and parks with trails, playgrounds, and bike paths for family activities.  JBLM has a recreational facility on American Lake that includes a beach, picnic area, volleyball courts and large pavilions for group activities.  Despite the chilly temperatures of the lakes and the Sound, nearly every kind of water sport is readily available.  Kayaking is popular as well as sailing, waterskiing and fishing.  The Puget Sound has some of the best dive spots in the world!  If you are up for giant octopi, this is the place to be. The JBLM outdoor recreation center rents out equipment (snow skies, snowboards, tents, trailers, canoes, diving gear, etc.) for nearly all types of recreation.

To the west you’ll find the vast Olympic peninsula, a largely unsettled region containing the Olympic National Forest.  The region contains quaint seaport towns like Sequim with its huge lavender farms, Port Angeles where a short ferry ride drops you in beautiful Victoria, Canada, and the sleepy town of Forks, the inspirational town for the Twilight series movies.  The Washington beaches on the pacific are some of the few beaches in America where motor vehicles are permitted. Go for a drive -  it is a great experience!  But plan accordingly, as the water temperatures are chilly even in the summer.

South of JBLM lies the state capital, Olympia, filled with culture, art, music, and a small town vibe amongst the beautiful buildings. Before you leave make sure that you have seen Mt. St. Helens and walked through the awesome lava tubes.  To the east of JBLM stretches the Rainier National Forest with Mt.Rainier ‘watching’ over all of us (again, lots of hiking, biking and camping spots).  In the winter time, you can snowshoe almost anywhere or go skiing at one of six resorts within a few hours of JBLM.  The most popular ski areas are White Pass towards Yakima, about two hours away; Crystal Mountain near Mt. Rainier with a huge ski arena about 1.5 hours, and Snoqualmie Pass about 90 minutes away (it’s right off the interstate).

Now that you are probably tired from all the outdoor activities maybe you want to kick back with a beverage in a nice little German-like town: Leavenworth. If you want to experience Oktoberfest there, you’ll need to book early. It’s fun and almost a must. There are buses that will take you around for a great pub crawl experience. Should you feel more like wine, head over to the wine country of Wenatchee and enjoy the wine tasting there along with the milder and dryer weather.

Night Life
In and around Seattle, Olympia and Tacoma you will find an endless supply of night life activities. Bars, pubs, casinos, restaurants, and dance clubs en masse. Seattle is such a big city that a lot of bands, singers and other entertainers come and perform in the arenas, public venues, and casino pavilions. Oh yeah, about those casinos? Casinos are everywhere.  While maybe less glamorous and chic than the big names along the strip in Las Vegas, they are still great attractions, safe, and bustling with people seeking great entertainment.

Kids
Washington has lots to offer for both entertainment and education.  One of our favorite places for family-fun was the Greatwolf Lodge, a totally fun indoor water park, only a few minutes south of Olympia. Make sure you mention that you are military and you’ll get a much better rate. There is an outdoor water park, Wild Waves, up towards Tacoma, but most of the year…BRRR. I wouldn’t go, but most kids are tough as nails and go even with cooler temperatures. In Seattle, there is the following:
Pacific Science Center (for kids) in Seattle is spectacular: http://www.pacsci.org/
Museum of flight is hands on and not boring at all: http://www.museumofflight.org/
Glass Museum Tacoma: http://www.museumofglass.org/
Seattle Aquarium: http://www.seattleaquarium.org
Northwest Trek Wildlife Park near Puyallup: www.nwtrek.org
Snow tubing at Snoqualmie: http://www.summitatsnoqualmie.com/Activities/Tubing

For adult as well as kids activities, make sure you check out the outdoor recreational center on post because they just offer a great amount of tours and outdoor activities. Even if you don’t want to participate in a tour, check out what they offer to get an idea on what’s great to do or see in the area.

For regular activities for those children who like soccer and other sports, check the local Parks and Recreational websites. The YMCA has a lot to offer as well. On post you’ll find all the activities for children that you would find on other installations: SKIESunlimited, CYS, bowling, swimming, soccer, baseball and lots more.

Resources:
Statistics: http://www.army-technology.com/projects/base-lewis-mcchord/
Staff Members of Madigan:http://www.mybaseguide.com/army/fort-lewis/madigan-medical.aspx

Lunch with the First Lady of JB Lewis McChord

I recently had the honor of speaking with Mrs. Grace Dorta Jacoby, first lady of JB Lewis McChord and wife to Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., Commanding General of I Corps and Joint Base Lewis-McChord. She was so gracious as to invite me to her home on Lewis Main with the distinct address of “Quarters 1.” Mrs. Jacoby greeted me at the door with a warm smile that made me feel welcomed the moment I stepped into her residence.

A self proclaimed introvert with a proud Puerto Rican heritage, she easily led me on a colorful tour of her background, her experiences in the Army as both a spouse and an active duty member, and life here at JBLM.  She has been a military wife for over 20 years but also has 13 years active duty service prior to her marriage to General Jacoby. She has three sons, CJ, is 19, Victor Douglas, 15, and Michael Crider, 11. The oldest, CJ is attending the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Mrs. Jacoby said that taking CJ to West Point and leaving him there was one of the hardest things she’s had to do. Even as she was telling me this I could see that even the memory was painful to her and that she misses him. Victor is now the oldest son in the house and when his father is deployed he is the ‘man of the house.’ “He sure enjoyed the perks of this position,” Mrs. Jacoby stated. “But, he was not very enthused about the work and the responsibilities that came along with it.”  Then again, which teenager would be?

Michael, 11, the youngest enjoys reading and spending time with his dad. Most of their lives the boys had attended public schools.  “I believe in public schools and therefore sent my boys there,” admitted Mrs. Jacoby.  “Even though CJ has always had A’s and is ‘smart as a whip,’ the transition to such an academically challenging college such as West Point was not an easy one.”

Mrs. Jacoby is passionate about education. During her stay here on Fort Lewis she served on several education boards and groups to improve the military-civilian education connection.  She helped the Officer Spouses Club generate $31,000 in grants to be awarded to young adults planning to attend college.

“Actually, the military offers a lot of educational programs that some military families might not be aware of: There is GIANT Campus, offering great classes, on and off line (adults or kids), MyCAA (Military Spouse Career Advancement Account) that allows $6,000 for professional licenses and education, free tutor services via Tutor.com, Free SAT and ACT Test Prep Program via eKnowledge.com and much more. Militaryonesource.com has all the information.”

During the conversation it became very clear to me that her ambition and energy beguile her slender stature. An officer in the Army, she earned her parachute wings at the Army’s airborne school and was a career-oriented, independent woman…until she met the young Chuck Jacoby.  She became intrigued by this fellow officer who worked across the hallway from her office who she says was, “incredibly charming and smart. We would talk frequently and since I have never been much of a history buff, I was absolutely blown away by how much Chuck knew. He made it interesting and fun – a new way for me to look at history.” LTG Jacoby has a master’s degree in history and also taught history at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. “He is the kindest, gentlest man I have ever met,” said Mrs. Jacoby.

The Jacoby family, like most Army families, has endured many deployments; the most recent being a year-long tour to Iraq that concluded in April 2010. Knowing that there have been many months apart, I asked her, “Is there ever a point where you get used to the deployments somehow?” She looked at me and said, “No, I don’t think so, or at least not for us.” Army life keeps you moving and when asked to respond to a question about how many moves the Jacoby family has endured, “Oh, I never kept track of it. We are moving usually every two years…IF we have the luxury of staying two years! If we get to stay three years then there is usually a price to pay….in the form of a deployment. Just like during this tour.”

I see in Mrs. Jacoby, a strong woman and asked her: “What makes a strong Army wife?”
Her answer: “I believe it is important, especially as an Army wife, not to lean on your husband for EVERYTHING. Have your networks of friends and acquaintances. This will help you through deployments. Be pro-active and ask when you have a question, but be constructive.”

What advice would she give a new Army wife? “Go to ACS and see all the classes they offer. I believe that AFTB (Army Family Team Building) training is a great step to learning how the military works. You will learn how to read an LES, what acronyms are used frequently and the different ranks. Not that you have to know it all, but you will get a broad picture. Being informed is important; know where to go and what’s available to you. My second suggestion is to get or stay connected with the FRG (Family Readiness Group). Granted sometimes there is some drama, but all in all, the FRG is there to keep the spouses informed about what’s going on in the company or battalion, for networking and maybe even a little fun. But don’t wait for them to approach you, again be pro-active.”

The Jacoby family parted from JBLM at the beginning of June and will start a new life, as done many times before, in Washington DC.

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