Military surveyed - results

More troops are deciding to call Washington home

By Kevin Knodell on October 13, 2016

The South Sound Military & Communities Partnership has completed its survey of area residents associated with the military for 2016.

Formed in 2011, the SSMCP tracks how the military and local communities interact with one another socially and economically. Patterns over the last five years have shown a strong co-dependency -Joint Base Lewis-McChord is the number one employer in Pierce County.

Previous surveys had focused on serving military members, but the latest survey added Department of Defense civilian employees and contractors. "A lot of them tend to stay in the area longer," explained program manager Bill Adamson.

The number one complaint among troops and civilians alike is I-5 traffic, particularly around JBLM.  The two most heavily used gates, Madigan and Steilacoom-DuPont, account for 40 percent of the traffic entering JBLM.

Lakewood City Manager John Caulfield noted that congestion isn't necessarily because of the base itself but with population growth around the base in the South Sound area, which has experienced a population boom in recent years.

But servicemembers and contractors are part of that population growth. More servicemembers are choosing to either rent or buy property off post. The largest concentrations are in Olympia and Lacey, with DuPont having the most rapidly growing military community.

Additionally, more servicemembers are also choosing to stay in the area after their discharge. In 2013, the percent of transitioning soldiers choosing to stay in the South Sound after leaving the military was 45 percent. In 2016, that's grown to 59 percent.

Veterans report a high quality of living in the area, though some lower enlisted troops have complained that housing allowances often aren't sufficient to meet the high rental rates and property values in the South Sound.

While respondents almost universally reported a high quality of life and safety, the 2016 findings did hold a few surprises. For instance, there was a slight decrease in satisfaction with the quality of public schools. In 2013, 90 percent of respondents viewed public education systems positively, but by 2016 there was an eight percent dip in satisfaction.

Seventy-seven percent of respondents said they do most of their shopping off base, with 40 percent less reporting shopping at the PX. Adamson commented that he doesn't necessarily think it has decreased quite that much, and that the addition of civilians to the survey who may not have access to said facilities could impact the numbers.

As a result, one of the recommendations this year is to open up PX facilities and base housing to DoD civilians. "The PX needs to increase revenue," Adamson said. This recommendation may be one of the most ambitious, as it would require fundamental policy changes from top defense officials outside of JBLM.

Other survey statistics include: