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A poster showing the missing equipment. Photo taken by an anonymous soldier at JBLM.

A poster showing the missing equipment. Photo taken by an anonymous soldier at JBLM.


Joint Base Lewis-McChord Continues 'Restriction' Of Service Members

Joshua McNichols

The search for the stolen equipment continues at Joint Base Lewis–McChord. The missing items include night vision equipment, laser sights and rifle scopes. The Army says it's nothing that would pose a danger to anybody. Officials value the loss at about $600,000. KUOW's Joshua McNichols has more.


Major Christopher Ophardt is an Army spokesperson. He says the Army takes missing equipment very seriously.

Ophardt: "If somebody even lost, you know, a pen, they'd automatically charge the last person that either had it or last signed for it. And I've had friends who had to pay $3, $6, $1,000 of their inventory because they were missing a screwdriver or a couple wrenches. And they had to take that out of their paychecks. So someone's going to pay for it, whether it's the criminals or if it's determined neglect, then it'll be the leadership officers or the NCO's."

Ophardt says little things get lost all the time. Say a soldier drops a rifle scope at target practice. The soldier's unit goes into lockdown, and soldiers comb the rifle range until they find the missing scope. During lockdown, soldiers can't communicate with the outside world. Usually the lockdown lasts around eight hours. But this time, it's different. These soldiers have been locked down since last Wednesday. Nobody I spoke to could recall such an extended lockdown.

Just off the base, there's a cafe where soldiers like to get breakfast.

Gordon: "In here at Gertie's, it's quiet today."

Gae Gordon is a waitress at Galloping Gertie's.

Gordon: "Usually in the morning, come 6:30, 7:00 it's wall to wall green. Soldiers, all over the place. That we feed every morning. But not today."

Technically, the Army says the lockdown has changed to a restriction. That lets family members visit. But the soldiers still can't go home.

The Army offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. But no one's stepping forward. Many soldiers wonder how long this standoff will go on.

Kevin Baker used to be a sergeant in the same battalion, until he was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and given a medical discharge. Now he volunteers with March Forward, a group that lobbies for veterans' mental health and an end to the wars. He says enlisted soldiers are being punished for mistakes at the top.

Baker: "So when you take the officer corps who should really be responsible for the missing equipment, they're the ones that have to sign off on it, they're the ones that are supposed to ensure that it's there, and then they turn around and punish all of the enlisted — and not just the enlisted, but their families and their children — that's something that is really bizarre."

Army Spokesperson Ophardt points out that the captain of the unit is locked down with the rest of the enlisted soldiers.

The Army says it will keep soldiers locked in the base until it concludes its investigation.

For KUOW News, I'm Joshua McNichols.

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