Where’s the gear? Infantry company confined to Lewis-McChord base


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About 100 soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state remained confined to base Monday as U.S. Army officials tried to trace $600,000 worth of missing high-tech equipment.

The equipment includes sophisticated rifle scopes, laser sights and night-vision equipment -- gear described by Army officials as ‘sensitive’ but not necessarily dangerous to the public.


The Army’s Criminal Investigative Division, in a statement Monday, said the equipment is believed to have been stolen from a supply area outside an arms room belonging to the Army’s 4th Stryker Brigade at Lewis-McChord. No weapons or ammunition are missing, the statement said.

‘There’s a civilian version to most of the stuff that’s missing -- it’s about a generation or two behind. This is just the military’s latest and greatest version,’ Maj. Christopher Ophardt, a spokesman for the Army’s I Corps at the base, told The Times.

The confinement order began Wednesday as a “lockdown,” although terms of the order were eased over the weekend to a “restriction,” which permits telephone calls and visits from families.

Lockdowns are frequent occurrences at military bases, but the reported size of the suspected theft is not. Army officials said they are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the missing equipment’s return.

‘Honestly, the lockdown happens all the time. Somebody drops something in the training area or the rifle line, and they put everything away and they go, ‘We’re missing a scope -- everybody on lockdown.’ They go back out on the range.... Normally in six hours they find the one piece of equipment, and it’s over,’ Ophardt said.

In the current case, he said, equipment attached to 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division’s ‘C’ company was inventoried in December. ‘They went on holiday break, they came back and were doing their inventories last week and they noticed a whole bunch of stuff missing.’


The optical equipment would have to be attached to an appropriate firearm by someone trained in how to use it, Ophardt said. ‘Some 20-year-old kid can’t just buy this, put it onto a weapon and all of a sudden become an expert marksman.’

The veterans group March Forward! launched a petition to end what it called the ‘collective punishment’ lockdown, in which soldiers have been confined to base, largely to their barracks. It said the action represents a hardship to soldiers and their families, who have been cut off from one another.

‘Enlisted soldiers in 4/9 Infantry are on lockdown because of the negligence of their officers and senior NCOs, who failed to maintain positive control over their sensitive items,’ the statement said.

Commanders over the weekend eased the lockdown to ‘restriction.’


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-- Kim Murphy in Seattle