The News Tribune (Tribune News Service)
Published: May 27, 2016
Cmdr. Carol Kirkland lived at the Holiday Park campground on Joint Base Lewis-McChord so she didn’t have to buy a house before her upcoming retirement from the Public Health Service.
Robert Braley, a retired Alaska Air National Guard master sergeant, snowbirds at Holiday Park every year to be near his daughter, who lives in Tacoma.
Spc. Stephen Ogden, who enlisted in the Army Reserve after leaving active duty in September, planned to stay at Holiday Park until August, when his Reserve training will begin at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia.
The three were among 15 long-term residents at the campground — 10 in RVs or trailers, five in tents — who had a handshake agreement with the manager there to stay as long as they wanted. But the manager wasn’t following Army rules, which allow only four-week stays from October to April and two-week stays from May to September. When JBLM’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation leaders found out about the long-term arrangement, the manager was let go and the residents lost the spots they called home. The last of them, including Braley, have until Saturday to leave.
“Sometimes you’re not going to make anybody happy,” JBLM Public Affairs Office spokesman Gary Dangerfield said. “We’re not trying to make anyone homeless or put them in a bad situation.”
Holiday Park, on the southeastern corner of the former McChord Air Force Base, is a campground with 37 RV sites and 12 tent sites. It’s “intended for short-term recreational use,” Dangerfield said. The campground is available for people who have clearance to travel on the base, including active-duty service people and veterans. There are restrooms, showers and a laundry room in the wooded area, which has an abundance of Douglas firs that tower over the campsites.
Dangerfield said the park can be more flexible about extending campers’ stays during the off-season from October through April. But because demand is higher during the summers, the Army’s 14-day rule has to be enforced. “Multiple extensions during non-peak seasons may be approved on a case-by-case basis,” Dangerfield said. “However, homesteading is strictly prohibited.” The rules are in place nationwide so that as many people as possible can use the Army’s recreational sites. The Air Force’s standard rule allows for 240 days of camping in a given year, but Holiday Park fell under the Army’s rules once Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base merged officially in 2010.
Patrons were notified in mid-March that they could not stay indefinitely, Dangerfield said. Kirkland, 58, had lived at Holiday Park for about a year and intended to stay there until she retired and moved to her native Idaho. In the meantime, she was working as a nurse practitioner at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac. She took the job at the detention center because it’s the closest Public Health Service job to her Boise-area home. As a commissioned officer in the Public Health Service, Kirkland is considered a uniformed servicewoman entitled to the same benefits as a military member. She told Holiday Park she intended to stay for about 4 1/2 years, which the manager approved. “I know that this is a temporary situation,” Kirkland said. “I came here looking to retire to Idaho as soon as I could get there. For me to buy a house in the Seattle area, where everything is so expensive, would be insane.” She lives with her 14-year-old cat, Owl Bait, in a 40-foot motor home, which she moved to Gig Harbor after she was told in late March that she couldn’t keep staying at Holiday Park. Kirkland said she was told that she might be able to find a campground south of the base, but that would have made her commute to SeaTac even longer. “The last thing I want to do after I put in a 10-to-16-hour day is add another hour to that,” she said.
Braley, 64, takes his motor home around the country, with a 1975 MG Midget sports car in tow. He spends about six months a year in Alaska, where his son followed in his footsteps in the Alaska Air National Guard. He also enjoys spending long stretches near his daughter in Tacoma. Holiday Park was an affordable option to him, much cheaper than staying at an RV park off base. The campground was not yet enforcing the Army’s shorter stay limit when Braley first came in 2012. He’s returned each year since. “It’s just a little community that comes and goes, but some of them have to stay a little longer,” Braley said. “And trying to stay at an RV park outside is just phenomenally expensive.” When he returned in October, he said he was told there was no limit on how long he could stay. So he was surprised when told in mid-March that he had to leave within 10 days. That eventually was extended to the end of April, he said, and then two more 14-day extensions were granted to long-term residents. “They had the legal right to do any changes they wanted,” Braley said. “They didn’t have the right to do it the way they did it.” ‘That’s horrible. That’s deplorable.’
Ogden, 48, is a former combat medic who had been living in his trailer in Graham but moved to Holiday Park and planned to stay until leaving in August for training in Virginia. He is assigned to a Tacoma Reserve unit and goes to church in Lakewood. The former JBLM soldier plans to start working toward his master’s degree through the G.I. Bill when his six-week training is done. He believes the short time residents initially were given to move from the base was unfair, noting that most people evicted by their landlords have longer to leave. “So you’re saying we fall below these people that are not paying their rent or destroying their property?” Ogden asked rhetorically. “That’s horrible. That’s deplorable.” Ogden towed his trailer off the base Thursday.
©2016 The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)
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