Keep Rocket Training Booms at Yakima Training Center

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Take a long look at the editorial cartoon.

It’s funny and engaging. I imagine, however, the military brass at Joint Base Lewis-McChord are not all that pleased. And they shouldn’t be.

The cartoon has a young public relations soldier saying to a commander, “Don’t worry sir … I can Photoshop that out before the press release.” The cartoon depicts a rocket spiraling out of control and crashing through the Yelm water tower.

This is all about the noise test JBLM has been conducting this past week. They are trying to measure the decibel levels from missile firings of High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems. In the past they did the training on the rocket firings at their facility near Yakima, which is far away from any population centers, let alone cities and towns.

Soldiers must train. We can’t send them out to fight without the proper experience. JBLM is looking at cost savings of up to $1 million annually by not having to load up and drive over the mountains to Yakima. I certainly appreciate the military’s due diligence in looking at cost savings.

JBLM is extremely careful to not have a missile go off course. The flight plan stays well within the base’s borders. The rocket themselves are “duds,” filled with concrete.

I’ve met the soldiers that fire the rockets. They are the best of the best, smart and fit. I trust in their work. I guarantee the rockets won’t be landing anywhere near downtown Yelm. So yes, the cartoon is ridiculous. Anyone who believes different just isn’t cognizant.

Then there are the words spoken by the public relations soldier. I’ve worked with the PR staff at JBLM. They are pros. If a rocket flew through the water tower, no amount of Photoshopping would keep it out of the news. And they just don’t operate that way. Our military for the most part is not one big propaganda machine. They are here to keep us safe and to protect our freedoms. They are our brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, fathers and mothers.

But the cartoon does have a point. JBLM delivered some big booms this week, and they are reverberating throughout Yelm. In essence it is the sound of freedom. But this time around the one’s I heard on Wednesday were a bit much, and my office is about four miles from the JBLM border.

One neighbor to JBLM is a bit closer: the Nisqually Indian Tribe. They are right next to JBLM. They put out a press release that didn’t mince words. They reminded us that about 100 years ago Pierce County condemned 3,337 acres of Nisqually tribal land that is now part of JBLM.

“In that time, we here at Nisqually have become accustomed to a diminished quality of life with cannon fire, helicopters, ground-pounding vibrations that are destructive to our homes, structures and infrastructure and now potentially sonic boom-inducing aircraft. It’s life in a war zone,” said Nisqually Vice Chairman Chris Olin.

I have said in the past that people living near JBLM should expect to hear the booms. Their pets will cower and sometimes the bangs will be startling. You moved here, knowing there was a major West Coast military base next door.

The Nisqually Indian Tribe, however, cannot make that claim. Their reduced reservation was their home long before the military ramped up in the valley.

The U.S. Department of Defense spends about $600 billion a year. I don’t think the $1 million in savings in this case is appropriate.

I applaud our friends at JBLM. This has been an open, transparent process. They even sent the Nisqually Valley News a photograph of the firing. And again, I appreciate the examination of every penny spent.

In this case, however, I think the tribe is on higher ground. We’ve come a long way since the government was allowed to take thousands of acres from a tribe. Let’s not make that kind of mistake again.

Keep the test firing in Yakima

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