Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) has been instrumental to the Puget Sound Region’s economy for nearly 100 years. It is comprised of Fort Lewis, an 87,000-acre modernized military reservation named after Meriwether Lewis (of the Lewis and Clark Expedition) and McChord Field, located about 8 miles up Interstate 5 from Fort Lewis-Main.
The Pentagon merged the two bases in 2010. Today, JBLM supports roughly 40,000 military personnel. There are thousands of civilian workers and upwards of 50,000 family members living on and off the base. Additionally, over 30,000 military retirees remain in close proximity because of the area’s quality of life, boating, scenery and fine retirement living and dining.
History of Camp Lewis
Camp Lewis was formed in 1917 when residents of Pierce County donated 68,721 acres of prairie on the Nisqually Plain to the federal government. Under the leadership of Captain David L. Stone, a city of 1,757 buildings and 422 structures was built in two months. By December 1917, 37,000 enlisted personnel and officers were stationed there.
During World War I, the 91st Division trained at Camp Lewis, which was converted to a “separation center” after the Armistice was signed. By the 1930s, Fort Lewis was revitalized with Neo-Georgian brick buildings and new infrastructure, community centers, and sports and recreation facilities. Improvements to Gray Army Airfield included a 6,000-foot runway.
Colonel Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower was assigned commander to the 15th Infantry Regiment, stationed at Fort Lewis. He would later become 34th President of the United States. While stationed at the fort, he became Chief of Staff of the IX Corps. During World War II, the facility’s hospital was expanded to over 2,450 beds, while, simultaneously, part of the camp held Italian and German prisoners of war.
Fort Lewis has served as a training camp and support base during the Korean War, the First Gulf War, and during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and other Homeland Security operations after Sept. 11, 2001.
History of McChord Field
McChord Field was originally established as Tacoma Airfield in 1927, 10 years after Camp Lewis started. The airfield officially opened on March 14, 1930. Built for $370,000, it featured a 1,000-acre airport with a 5,400-foot north/south runway. By 1934, it was considered one of the best airports in the country.
The airfield played an integral part during World War II, with more than 7,300 military personnel stationed there, while planes and crews were moved from Europe to the Pacific battles.
By the time the U.S. was in the Cold War, the airfield was renamed McChord Air Force Base, and assigned with the responsibility to defend U.S. soil. Later, the air base was increased to more than 4,600 acres. By the 1980s, McChord was a base for operations in Guyana, Grenada, and rescue missions after the Mount St. Helens eruption. Aid and troops were also deployed from McChord during the Yellowstone National Park fires.
More recent historical designations came in 2008, when McChord Field Historic District became listed on U.S. National Register of Historic Places, and in 2010 when the Pentagon merged McChord with Fort Lewis to create JBLM. Today, JBLM supports over 40,000 active, Guard and Reserve Service members on base.
Present-day JBLM is a short drive from both Seattle and Tacoma, and is the most requested station of duty in the U.S. Army. The Lewis Army Museum and McChord Air Museum are open to the public. The Base is within driving distance of the Cascade Mountains and ample boating, fishing and whale-watching activities on Puget Sound. JBLM is also close to Point Ruston, the premier waterfront residential location for JBLM personnel/retirees and their families to live, play and dine.