More soldiers, construction expected

YAKIMA -- More soldiers and more construction.

That's the forecast for the next year at the Army's Yakima Training Center.

Twice as many soldiers as usual are expected on base because Joint Base Lewis-McChord's combat units have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan and are ready to resume their training cycle, said Lt. Col. Mike Daniels, the center's commander.

And several construction projects totaling almost $100 million are wrapping up or starting, including work on the largest current firing range project in the Army, Daniels said.

Local contractors are benefiting from the projects, but most residents won't notice anything from the training increase except more convoy traffic on Interstates 82 and 90, Daniels said.

Jim Reddick, the center's longtime civilian executive officer, said the year's construction is above average. "It's a pretty active construction period for us," he said.

The projects are all expected to be completed within two years.

Along with more and improved buildings will come more people.

Daniels and Reddick estimated that 150 to 200 additional National Guard and Reserve members will be stationed at the Training Center once the expansion concludes. An estimated 20 to 25 civilian employees will be added to the 550 or so full-time military and civilian employees.

Because of the returning combat units, the number of soldiers in training could more than double. Training Center officials say man-days -- which count each person per day on the ground for training -- are estimated to go from 330 in a usual year to as many as 800 for 2011.

The construction activity does not signal any effort by the Army to create a full, permanent base here, which the latest Army economic analysis predicted would not make sense, Daniels said.

"This is still to meet the needs of our current training population," which includes JBLM (Joint Base Lewis-McChord) troops, special operations units and international forces, Daniels said.

A quick look at the projects:

Renovation of the Multi- purpose Range Complex

Installation of digital equipment will make it easier for units in training to communicate with and be observed by their exercise command post. The eventual plan is to connect the Training Center with Joint Base Lewis-McChord so that training more closely resembles battlefield conditions.

More roads for convoy training and additional large and human-size targets will also be added to the range, which will be a mile wide and 3.5 miles long.

"The bottom line is it will improve the training capability for our Stryker units and aviation brigades that train here," Daniels said.

The project, the largest range update now under way in the Army, is scheduled to be completed in spring 2012, Daniels said.

Estimated cost: $40 million

Dedicated sniper range

This will allow training of sniper teams on a range designed by the infantry school at Fort Benning, Ga. Snipers have taken an active role in the current Middle East wars.

Estimated cost: $3.5 million

Armed Forces and Reserve Center

The Army Reserve's 737th Transportation Company and the 907th Engineer Detachment, a firefighting unit, will move into this new facility early next year. The new building was constructed on the site of the Pendleton reserve center, which it replaced.

Estimated cost: $29 million

Marine Corps Reserve Center

This new facility will house the Yakima-based 4th Tank Battalion. The battalion's tanks already had been at the Training Center; the new building will house personnel formerly stationed at an armory on Tahoma Avenue.

A infantry detachment from the National Guard's 81st Brigade that is housed at the armory will move with the Marines.

Work is scheduled to be completed in 2013.

Estimated cost: $13.8 million

New hangar at the Air Ambulance Detachment

The hangar will be used to store the detachment's fleet of Lakota helicopters, used for emergency medical flights and training. The Lakotas are the Army-wide replacement for the older Huey model.

Estimated cost: $2 million

Barracks refurbishment

Federal stimulus money will allow the Training Center to refurbish 1950s-era barracks that were intended to be temporary. The new housing will accommodate 2,900 personnel, most of a brigade. At the peak of summer training, remaining personnel will still have to use temporary outside housing.

Estimated cost: $4.5 million

Child development center

The center will provide child care services for military families in the area. Daniels said military officials decided to add the center after projections showed that the Yakima area had enough population to support it.

Estimated cost: Under $2 million

In another social-services development, the Training Center will bring on an employee to provide service members with advice for finding resources on such topics as financial management.