The mystery of missing sophisticated military equipment from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state may have taken a step toward being partially resolved Thursday when the Army announced it had charged a 22-year-old infantryman with theft.
But the Army's terse news release only hints at the full story -- which also includes charges of drugs and a murder threat -- that led to a days-long base lockdown in January for up to 100 members of the 4th Stryker Brigade.
"The bottom line is, the lockdown did work. As an administrative action to gather the information that they needed, it was a plus," Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield, I Corps Army spokesman, told The Times.
Pvt. Nicholas A. Solt of Slatington, Pa., has been charged with stealing and selling military targeting equipment valued at $630,000. He is also charged with possession of drugs and steroids and with communicating a threat to kill an individual. He is in pretrial confinement on base and, if convicted in military court, faces up to 59 years in prison.
Dangerfield, citing the ongoing investigation, declined to describe the nature of the purported threat. Nor would he say how the private came into possession of the stolen equipment, which went missing after soldiers of 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division's "C" company went on holiday break in December.
But the Army's statement said speedy detective work by the Army's criminal investigative division and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives helped locate and recover 98% of the missing equipment.
The high-tech gear, which was eventually tracked down at off-base residences, included sophisticated optics and sights for rifles and night-vision goggles.
Criminal Investigation Command "agents were able to move quickly because of the administrative actions taken and the I Corps Command appreciates their hard work, dedication and terrific police work," I Corps Chief of Staff Col. Steven Bullimore said in the statement.
Solt joined the Army in June 2008, trained at Ft. Benning, Ga., and arrived at Lewis-McChord in October 2008. He was deployed to Iraq from September 2009 to September 2010.
-- Kim Murphy in Seattle
Photo: A soldier in Baghdad uses night-vision goggles similar to those that were among the equipment stolen at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Credit: Chris Hondros/Getty Images