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Free clothing, equipment cleaning eliminates one clearing stress

Christopher Gaylord/JBLM PAO Jessyie Gaspar processes a Soldier’s deployment gear for cleaning March 13 at the DOL laundry service.

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It's been available free to Joint Base Lewis-McChord Soldiers since 2003, but Rita Parker knows the reality: The base's Directorate of Logistics laundry service is still something of a hidden gem.

She doesn't know why, she said, but even despite Facebook posts on some of JBLM's most popular fan pages, newspaper blurbs and urgent requests to spread the word for the in-and-outprocessing laundry service, most discover it too late or not at all.

"At least 20 times a month I hear, ‘Hey, we didn't know about it,' or ‘We didn't hear about it in time,'" said Parker, the facility's contracting officer's representative.

The laundry facility, in Building 9660, directly behind the Central Issue Facility on Lewis Main, processes and ships an unlimited quantity of clothing and equipment items for Soldiers changing duty stations, retiring, ending their terms of service, coming back from deployments or for any other reason. They just have to be washable in an industrial-type machine with no plastic or rubber items.

The process takes three days, not including the drop-off day.

And it comes at no cost beyond a copy of orders or a memorandum authorizing an individual to clear without orders.

When the time comes to clear, Soldiers often dread visiting CIF. They file daily in and out of the issue warehouse with their official clothing and individual equipment. Some are leaving, some are arriving, and some just need a different sized jacket.

At most installations, the process is anything but quick and easy, especially when turning in items. If they aren't cleaned to standard, CIF refuses to take them.

"They have to wash (their gear), they have to scrub it, and they have to make sure it's ready for CIF, and CIF is hard to deal with," Parker said.

A small stain, a light coating of dust or a tiny spot of dampness can send a Soldier with two shopping carts full of items back out the door in a matter of seconds, faced with the task of trying again another day.

Captain Noel Whitten knows that sting. He spent two days scrubbing and washing issued items in his bathtub for CIF in preparation to leave for Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. - his first change in duty station. And it wasn't enough.

"It was pretty frustrating for the some of the stuff to get kicked back," said Whitten, who served on JBLM with 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. "Some of it's just stained, and I couldn't get it out."

Luckily, Whitten heard about the DOL laundry service from friends also leaving for new duty stations. "I just did CIF this morning, so whatever they kicked back I'm bringing over here," he said, just after turning in items for cleaning. "I kind of wish I knew about it before I spent the time cleaning."

But that, Parker said, is often the way it goes. Of all the Soldiers coming to and going from JBLM, only about 450 visited the facility throughout the month of February.

Ask Lenin Estrada, though, and he'll tell you it's usually less than that.

"On average per month, we do about 300 to 350, so 400-something. That's a good number for us," said Estrada, a supervisor at the facility.

"People don't know about it, for some reason," he said. "They say it's hard for them to find out, or they find out too late."

When they do find out, however, there's nearly always a sigh of relief.

"I've heard a lot of ‘Oh my God, I'm so glad you're here,'" Parker said. They're words that reflect relief of at least part of the often stressful clearing process for Soldiers.

"That's one less worry," said Parker, who said the plant in Kent that washes the items separates them in mesh bags so they won't get mixed in with someone else's gear. The plant uses chemicals that are completely safe on equipment.

"It's out of your hands; you don't have to worry about doing it. It's a day that's good for a person rather than giving them a hard time," Parker said.

It's a service she remembers the Army didn't offer in 1975.

"Back in the day, us old folks had to do all of our own laundry," said Parker, who served from 1975-1980 as a supply specialist for helicopter repair parts. "So, I just think it's something the guys should use when they have the chance.

"It doesn't make sense that you wouldn't use it if you knew about it."

The facility also cleans cook white uniforms for food service specialists and replaces dirty or ruined linen on the spot for Soldiers living in the barracks.

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