Officers in the new division headquarters at Joint Base Lewis-McChord will have direct oversight of five combat brigades with some 17,000 soldiers. In addition to oversight, the division officers will also offer mentoring to brigade officers, and could help tackle leadership problems within brigades.

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD — Army Secretary John McHugh announced Thursday the creation of a new headquarters here with direct authority over the facility’s five combat brigades, in an effort to provide more oversight on a base that has come under scrutiny for numerous cases of soldier misconduct.

Officers in the division headquarters will also offer mentoring to brigade officers, and could help tackle leadership problems within brigades.

“Eyes on those units, someone who has sufficient command authority to make sure that they are being properly trained, to make sure that they are being properly equipped, that the issues of good order and disciplined are being adhered to … is enormously important,” McHugh said in his announcement.

The division headquarters is scheduled to be in place by October.

Lewis-McChord’s troubles in recent years have included high-profile murders and other violent crimes committed by active-duty soldiers, a 2009 investigation of steroid use among a battalion about to depart for Afghanistan, and a record number of suicides in 2011. Earlier this year, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a Lewis-McChord soldier, was charged with the murder of 17 Afghan civilians.

Army officials have consistently expressed their confidence in Lewis-McChord leaders and soldiers, saying problems at the base were a broader reflection of an Army that has endured more than a decade of war.

But on Thursday, McHugh said that division leaders offered an important layer of oversight. They have long been present at other major Army installations, and might have helped Lewis-McChord grapple with some of the challenges of recent years.

“Would it have helped? I suspect it would have,” McHugh said. “Because you’d have better control of good order and discipline.”

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com