- Valuable, "sensitive" items are missing from a vault at the military base
- The items include things such as scopes, but no weapons or ammunition
- The soldiers can now return as investigation continues
- A $10,000 reward has been offered for information on the case
About 100 soldiers at a large military base in Washington state were allowed to return home Tuesday evening while the Army continues to investigate the theft of "sensitive" and valuable "military-grade" equipment.
"The soldiers were detained due to the investigation of a theft of weapon accessories worth about $600,000," a statement from Joint Base Lewis-McChord said.
On Monday, Maj. Chris Ophardt, a spokesman for the U.S. Army's I Corps that is headquartered at the base and includes the affected unit, said members of the Army Criminal Investigation Command are at the base trying to find out who is responsible for the missing items
"Hundreds of items" are missing from a vault that is inside a building on the base, the spokesman said. They include things such as scopes and night-vision goggles but no guns or ammunition.
"There are no weapons, and there's no danger to the public," Ophardt said.
After learning of the thefts, the Army decided on January 4 to put members of the Army's 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division on lockdown, preventing soldiers from making phone calls or leaving the unit's barracks or unit office.
The unit has been home from Iraq since September 2010.
These measures were relaxed somewhat on Saturday, with some supervised visits allowed on a case-by-case basis to deal with personal issues and permission granted to eat at the base's dining facility. Division members, who live either on or off the base, still must sleep at the barracks.
Military officials did their monthly inventory of the vault in December. They then did another after the holiday vacation and determined that "large amounts" of items were missing -- "immediately" precipitating the lockdown, said Ophardt.
A $10,000 reward has been offered by the Army in the case.
It has not been determined whether the missing items were stored properly or if someone was able to get into a properly locked vault and made off with the equipment.
The missing items could all "be bought on the civilian market, just one or two generations older," the spokesman said. He added that they have limited use to the public, given the challenges in knowing how to use them and having the right kind of weapon to attach them to.