After a childhood as a “military brat,” four years at the West Point Army Academy, and more than 25 years as a logistics officer in the Army, Col. Nicole Lucas’ life is the Army. She even married a fellow soldier and raised another generation of military brats, her three sons.
Throughout her career, Lucas has had assignments in Korea and Germany, with a few interspersed deployments to places like Kosovo, Iraq, and Kuwait. Though most of those assignments were largely tactical, performing duties specific to her logistics career field, her current role at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) is much different.
These days, Lucas serves as the garrison commander. What does this mean? Essentially, Lucas runs the entire JBLM installation.
“A lot of people liken this job on first blush to being a mayor,” Lucas said with a laugh. “I know now that it’s really more of what I think a city manager would do. So it’s probably all the things that the mayor needs someone else to do.”
— Joanna Kresge
What are some of your day-to-day responsibilities or duties?
How long do you have? It’s the day-to-day operations of the entire installation. So whether that is the law enforcement, the fire, the electricity, the water, the maintenance of our facilities, the construction on our roads, it’s all those parts of sort of running an installation or running any town or city. But for us there’s also that aspect of training that we are able to provide, both here on JBLM and then also at the Yakima Training Center over across the mountains.
Is that facility under your purview as well?
We run both installations and really provide that training capability that allows our units not just to live and function here on JBLM, but also be able to deploy out of here ready to go do what the nation needs them to do.
That’s a lot of responsibility. And then there are the soldiers and airmen as well, right? More than 40,000 service members in uniform?
Yes, it is a large number. But it’s really pretty neat to be able to provide that support, not just to the soldiers, airmen, and service members on the installation, but we play a really important part in making sure that their families are ready to support them in what they need to do, too.
How does supporting individual families help support the troops on the installation?
The Army and the Department of Defense (DOD) talk a lot about readiness right now, and in my job, readiness is not just about having units ready to deploy or the Air Force ready to do their mission from here, but it’s also having their families ready. Whether that is spouse employment, whether that is childcare, whether that is schools, there is an aspect of that we focus on, and I can very easily tie that back to readiness. A soldier or airman who knows their family is well taken care of is going to be able to do their job even better.
One aspect of taking care of families is finding affordable housing. In the current housing market here in the Pacific Northwest, how is the base helping families afford housing?
We do watch the housing dynamics a lot, and we are fortunate that every year, the DOD assesses the region and makes the decision on our housing allowance. So we at JBLM fare pretty well in the compensation for housing. Then the other thing we have is our housing office. So when a new soldier, airman, or family reports to JBLM, there is a team there that helps them get to know the area better so they can make a smart choice in terms of housing.
What trends are you seeing in terms of where your service members are choosing to live?
The dynamic that we are seeing is that a lot of our families are choosing to live in the Thurston County area south of JBLM versus here in the Lakewood/DuPont area. That is just because that can be a little more affordable depending on their rank. We try to give as much information as we can to a newly arrived service member so they can make a good decision if they choose to live off the installation or if they have to live off the installation.
Is base housing at capacity?
I do have a lot of housing on JBLM, but unfortunately that only allows me to house about 30 percent of the population that needs it, and we run at a 98 percent occupancy rate. If I had more housing, I think folks would definitely choose to be in it.
What are some other issues out in the community that are facing service members right now?
A couple of things we work hard on is, as the construction continues to ramp up on the I-5 expansion, just making sure that we are really communicating well with the folks who are doing that work and the community. The things I need to do from JBLM — whether that is the Air Force deploying (aircraft) every day or the Army being able to operate their missions out of here — includes ensuring everyone’s day-to-day commute. So we are working closely with that so I don’t do anything that might impact traffic.
Speaking of traffic, the installation is bisected by not only I-5, but also the Point Defiance Bypass. How will the eventual move to that bypass and Amtrak’s high-speed trains affect the base?
As (Amtrak Cascades) starts up here in fall, we are wanting to make sure we as a community are ready for that to happen and making sure we can do everything we can there. We still have crossings in several locations along JBLM … making sure we in the community are as ready for that to start up again as we can be. In December, we had that derailment that was right here close to us.
It must be pretty incredible to see your soldiers execute a real-world emergency response like that.
To me, of all the things that I’ve seen my team here at the installation do, that was amazing to see the way we were able to respond with the community.
Would you say that’s one of the greatest accomplishments you and your team have had here at JBLM?
I’m really humble to do this job. It’s such a team effort to run JBLM. But what I will say is that there are 12 joint bases, and JBLM has a really great reputation for making joint basing work. I’m really proud of that. When the DOD looks at which one of these is doing well, JBLM always rises to the top. I’m really proud that we can support the Army units and commanders and the Air Force commanders as well, who really allow them to do their jobs. I’m really proud of the team that does that every day. It is very humbling to see them work.
What is next for you?
I’ve got about a year to go. So it’s about time to start thinking about what is next. Honestly, I haven’t quite expended a lot of effort on that, yet.
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