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April 24, 2015 at 11:07am

Air Mobility Command cancels 2015 Rodeo at McChord Field

Swarner Communications - publisher of the Ranger and Northwest Airlifters newspapers serving Joint Base Lewis-McChord and regional active, reserve and retired military - has always been a big part of McChold Field hosted Air Mobility Rodeos - the biennial, international airlift competition hosted by the United States Air Force Air Mobility Command. We published the daily newspapers serving the Rodeo, sponsored Rodeo events and, of course, covered the event. Unfortunately, this year's Rodeo scheduled at McChord Field has been canceled.

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Air Mobility Command announced today that the 2015 Rodeo readiness competition, which was scheduled to take place at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in August, has been canceled.

General Darren McDew, AMC commander, decided to cancel the competition largely because of the high current operations tempo for mobility Airmen and budget constraints.

"During these challenging times, we need to be good stewards of our very limited funds and our Airmen's time," McDew said. "It's unfortunate, but given the circumstances, this is the right decision. We're looking forward to the possibilities of tailoring future Rodeo events, to ensure we're getting the most training and international partnership building value from this event."

It is not the first time Rodeo has been canceled for budgetary or operational tempo reasons. In both 1988 and 2013, Rodeo was cancelled due to budgetary shortfalls, and 2003 was canceled because of worldwide commitments for the Global War on Terror and humanitarian efforts. The last Rodeo event was held at JBLM in July 2011.

"An event of this magnitude could not be successfully completed without the strong relationships built together with our community partners and businesses that support Joint Base Lewis-McChord," said Col. David Kumashiro, 62nd Airlift Wing commander. "We value and appreciate our continued partnerships and very much look forward to the day when we can bring this event back to JBLM and our surrounding communities."

Rodeo competitions are held to train and improve the abilities of U.S. and international partners' air mobility operations skills while building international relationships.

April 2, 2015 at 11:50am

PlayStation, NBA coming to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in June

It's not every day that a National Basketball Association legend swings by your local military base to shoot hoops with the fellas. But later this spring, in conjunction with the NBA, Sony PlayStation and the USO, military families on Joint Base Lewis-McChord will have the chance to rub elbows with basketball greatness.

The 2015 PlayStation NBA Cares Hoops for Troops activation event is part of a series of visits this spring to military installations around the country. The JBLM visit, the penultimate in a series of seven, is slated for June 10 to12.

Though details are still being finalized (including exactly which NBA legend will take part), the visit is scheduled to include a variety of events over the two-day period. For instance, two basketball hoops will be donated for either an indoor gym or outdoor court on JBLM. After the hoops are installed and the ceremonial "hanging of the nets" is complete, the NBA player and others will host a basketball clinic for military youth and families. Players will have "hands-on" time with a true NBA legend and learn tricks of the trade from one of the country's best. Participants will also get a free "swag bag" containing PlayStation and NBA gear.

Also on the agenda is a Commitment to Service project, which is aimed at helping get servicemembers involved in their community.

There will also be a PlayStation trailer set up on site - attention, gamers! - in which new and possibly unreleased video games will be available for play. A gaming tournament is slated for the final day of the visit, with prizes including PS4 consoles and games.   

The yet-to-be-named NBA legend is scheduled to play a few of those PS games alongside the servicemembers, and PlayStation plans to donate several PS4 consoles and games to places like the USO and the Warrior Zone.

The locations of the donated hoops, PlayStation consoles and games, gaming trailer and clinic are still to be determined.

Hoops for Troops began nine years ago as a "global social responsibility program for USA Basketball," according to information on its website.

Its programs and events work to provide support for military personnel and their families. PlayStation is the first-ever partner of NBA Cares Hoops for Troops program.

For more information about the program, visit www.nba.com/hoopsfortroops.

April 2, 2015 at 11:20am

Washington National Guard hosted its annual menu board selection and food demonstration

Washington National Guard’s Aviation Readiness Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord played host to this year’s Washington National Guard FY15 WA Guard Food Service Menu Board Event. Photo credit: Gary Lott

The Washington National Guard hosted its annual menu board selection and food demonstration event March 27 in its Aviation Readiness Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord with the goal of selecting this year's new menu items for drilling service members.

"Servicemembers need to learn new skills, and those skill sets play a role in our ability to do more from scratch, to feed more and still stay within the budget," said the Guard's Food Program Manager Master Sgt. Darrell DeGroff.

The purpose of the event was to allow servicemembers an opportunity to learn more and help decide on the menu items that they will see during their drill/AT weekends in the coming year.

Along with selecting meals, attendees also had the opportunity to enjoy a wide variety of different food samplings from dozens of food vendors like Sysco, PepsiCo and US Foods.

While the taste testing of the latest and greatest food items was occurring downstairs, culinary competitions took place upstairs with various local schools and colleges.

"Our high school is so military centric because we have so many military kids that go through our school," said Lakes High School sophomore Anna Short, who participated in the day's culinary competition.

Lakes High, Steilacoom High and Bates Technical Culinary students all had to use the same primary ingredients to create a meal that cost no less or no more than $4.09 per person.

"Conceptualization was the most difficult part of today's meal," said Bates Technical culinary student Anthony Brooks.  "It's important how these plates look as well, and we wanted to take the budget and meal choice and make it more exciting."

>>> A Culinary Arts Program student from Bates Technical College communicates on what techniques they used to craft the vegetable portion of his presented meal.  Command members of the Washington National Guard were the official judges for the culinary competition that took place during this year's FY15 WA Guard Food Service Menu Board Event. Photo credit: Gary Lott

The chefs also had to ensure that the total amount of their ingredients could feed 100 servicemembers.

Short gave a familiar-sounding description of how resiliency fits into her cooking career, similar to the military.

"We have to learn how to work together really well," she said. "You've got to learn how to listen to others, work together and check up on each other to see how everyone's doing."

Food brings people together, and that message is one that should resonate with every FY15 Menu Board attendee.

In other words, food isn't just about eating.

"The Army is coming to understand that food means more than eating," DeGroff said. "It is, as we say, feeding the soul, the mind, the body and the spirit.  It's a part of our big Army cycle of physical fitness."

>>> These Culinary Arts Program students from Bates Technical College show off their FY15 Outstanding College Culinary Arts Team award for winning this year's college culinary competition.  Each group had to spend a $4.09 budget per servicemember to prepare a lasagna and salad plate. Photo credit: Gary Lott

Involving the servicemembers that actually eat the food to become a part of selecting the food that they eat sounds like a reasonable idea and is something that remains a focus of the Washington National Guard.

"The fact that we are reaching out to our customers to get them in, so they can have an influence, is impactful for all of us," DeGroff said.

Anyone who has had a really good meal probably agrees with the fact that food has many feelings of endearment associated with it.

"We care about each other, and it's demonstrated in food here," DeGroff added.  "These menu boards allow for training and (food) demos to remind these soldiers that they just don't come here to throw a meal out and go home."

>>> The Washington National Guard's 81st HBCT Annual First Place Trophy for the Philip A. Connelly Award for Excellence in Field Kitchen Competition was on display for this year's FY15 WA Guard Food Service Menu Board Event. Photo credit: Gary Lott

The biggest addition this year from last was the inclusion of the Washington Restaurant Association. 

"The troops have to be healthy and vibrant to protect us, so food safety is critical," said guest judge and Washington Restaurant Association Director of Education Lyle Hildahl. 

Hildahl provided constructive criticism to the students throughout the competition.

With servicemembers relaxed and full of savory snacks, the FY 15 WA Food Service Menu Board also provided resiliency support resources.

"The number of younger soldiers that we have that leave our drill weekend that don't have a place to live, that don't have a job, are unfortunately increasing dramatically," added DeGroff.

Suicide Prevention, Family Programs and Employment Transition Services representatives from the Joint Services Support Directorate-Washington National Guard were present throughout the day for servicemembers to utilize as well.

"If you provide hope, if you provide a challenge, then you lift them, you get them engaged," DeGroff said.  "Getting them to go to these people is very difficult, but bringing these people to them in a place like this, where they are away from their family and just relaxing, is very beneficial.

"They let down their guard and become more willing to pull someone to the side and have that conversation than they would back in their unit."

March 18, 2015 at 1:01pm

446th Airlift Wing names Col. Gerry Signorelli second in command

This just in from the 446th Airlift Wing at McChord Field on Joint Base Lewis-McChord

MCCHORD FIELD, Wash. -- The 446th Airlift Wing, the sole Air Force Reserve flying unit in Washington state has selected Col. Gerry Signorelli to be its vice commander, effective April 6.

Signorelli brings 23 years of all-around experience as a traditional [part-time] Reservist, air reserve technician, active-duty Airman, and individual mobilization augmentee to the wing.

"You can't find a military journal published that doesn't boast about the tremendous global impact of the men and women of this wing," he said. "I'm honored to join this outstanding team."

Signorelli said he's grateful Col. Scott McLaughlin, 446th AW commander, trusts his abilities to be his right-hand man, and make a positive impact on the people in the wing.

McLaughlin and Signorelli share history.

"I have had the pleasure of working with Colonel Signorelli," he said. "[He] is eminently qualified to fill a senior leader position at the 446th and has an impressive history of military excellence."

In his previous assignment as the Senior Joint Operations action officer and service lead at Norfolk Naval Air Station, Virginia since October 2014, Signorelli coordinated with Department of Defense agencies to efficiently position assets that support emerging national security interests.

A resident of Rockwall in East Texas, Signorelli is a first officer, and leadership and aviation risk resource management instructor for Southwest Airlines in his civilian career.

He earned his commission through Norwich University's ROTC program in 1991, and earned the distinguished graduate award. Since then, he's held several operational, staff and leadership positions, and tallied more than 8,500 hours in multiple military and civilian airframes.

As the vice commander, Signorelli will be responsible for assisting the wing commander with organizing, training, and ensuring the readiness of nearly 2,100 Reservists.

Signorelli succeeds Col. Richard Grayson, whose retirement ceremony was March 8 after serving as vice commander since 2012, and nearly three decades in the Air Force.

"There's no replacing Colonel Grayson after 27 years of steadfast dedication to the Airmen and mission of the 446th," Signorelli said. "I will do my best to uphold his incomparable service record."

March 9, 2015 at 9:29am

47th Combat Support Hospital leads efforts to raise cancer research funding at Joint Base Lewis-McChord

Sgt. 1st Class Madeline Diaz and Spc. Corey Seay, 47th Combat Support Hospital, hold hands as their heads are shaved to show support for the St. Baldrick Foundation. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

There are 175,000 reasons to shave your head.

That number represents the children who are annually diagnosed with cancer. Their fight against this deadly disease is an uphill brawl; more children in this country die of cancer than any other disease.

Saturday afternoon in the Joint Base Lewis-McChord MWR Special Events Tent, several dozen soldiers, family members and friends dropped by to have their heads shaved.

St. Baldrick - a play on words if ever there was one - touched every head.

A nonprofit public charity, the St. Baldrick's Foundation is a childhood cancer charity funding research to help cures for children with cancer. 

The foundation's name is not associated with a recognized saint of the Catholic Church but is founded on word play and the use of the title "saint."

>>> Staff Sgt Gregory Pfaff, 18th Engineer Company, holds his son, Richard, as his head is shaved. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

Speaking of the path to secular saintliness, volunteers, sponsored by family and friends, had their heads shaved in solidarity with children who typically lose their hair during cancer treatment.

Some women gave up eight to 10 inches of their hair, from which wigs would be made for children.

"We're here today to honor the sacrifices that embody the Army family," commented Sgt. 1st Class Madeline Diaz, a platoon leader in the 47th Combat Support Hospital and the event's organizer.

She had a point. Just before having her head shaved, Diaz told the audience that she would wrestle with cancer and the treatment it entails ... for the fourth time.

That statement brought the clippers and small crowd to a momentary halt.

After processing the comment, the barbers from the Olympia Barber and Esthetics School, who yielded their clippers like Samurai warriors, resumed their skin close shaving.

"This is no big deal," said Staff Sgt. Gregory Pfaff, 18th Engineer Company, as he held his son, Richard, and sat next to wife, Stephanie, as they too had their heads shaved. "Your hair grows back."

And so does the fight against childhood cancer.

Since 2000, St. Baldrick's Foundation volunteers have organized almost 4,200 head-shaving events and shaved more than 191,000 heads, raising more than $120 million for children cancer research.

"Our son, Freddy, was diagnosed with leukemia at age 2," said Chief Warrant Officer Carlos Henao, 47th Combat Support Hospital, as he sat next to his wife, Joselyn.

With chemotherapy the little boy soon went bald, and Henao twice gave up his hair in solidarity with his son's fight, one that he eventually won.

"This event is really, truly amazing," Henao continued. "It is great that we come together like this for a wonderful cause."

For more information about the St. Baldrick's Foundation, visit www.stbaldricks.org.

>>> Veteran Michael Henderson has his head shaved in support of children battling cancer. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

February 17, 2015 at 9:47am

Military Saves Week at Joint Base Lewis-McChord

Learning to manage money is no easy task. It's not easy when you don't have any, and it can be just as difficult when you actually, finally have some extra cash to manage. The Financial Readiness Program on Joint Base Lewis-McChord is hosting a series of events Feb. 23 to 26 in conjunction with Military Saves Week to help members of the military understand some of the financial issues specific to them.

Thursday, Feb. 26, Holly Petraeus will be the featured speaker at a Military Saves Week Town Hall, which will be held from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the American Lake Conference Center. As the assistant director of the Office of Servicemember Affairs for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Petraeus is all too aware of some of the scams and fraudulent practices that target servicemembers and their families.

Town Hall topics will include consumer challenges such as predatory debt collection tactics, deceptive college recruiting practices and identity theft, scams and fraud.

"She's looking out for the military," said Mary Cron, Financial Program manager at Armed Forces Community Service on JBLM, "and the things the military may experience with businesses as a consumer."

Military life is unique in ways that may open the door for scams and fraudulent business practices. Deployments, frequent PCS moves and emergencies can lead to difficulties - particularly for younger military families - that can lead to dire consequences financially. Furthermore, some deceptive vendors take advantage of military families by appealing to their sense of service, a practice known as "affinity marketing."

"Younger [military] families basically are targets for predatory vendors," Cron said. "They get targeted the most. But we all know that just because you get older and wiser, there are still people that can take advantage of you."

So how are families to know which businesses are legitimate and which aren't? How can they learn to recognize the signs of fraudulent business practices? And if they've already been taken advantage of, where can they turn?

The town hall will feature remarks by Petraeus, who will explain her role at the CPSD, a government organization that strives to educate consumers about abusive practices, enforce Federal consumer laws and analyze information to better understand consumers and financial markets.

She will then open a question and answer session that will help servicemembers find the answers they need.

The idea, said Cron, is to teach servicemembers how to empower themselves with the knowledge about what's going on so they don't fall victim to a scam, and let them know where to turn if they do.

In addition to the Town Hall on Feb. 26, Military Saves Week on JBLM also features a series of Boot Camp classes Feb. 23 and 25 at Stone Education Center and Feb. 24 at McChord Field Education Center. Morning and afternoon sessions will feature topics such as Finding Money to Save (Budgeting), Thrift Savings Plan, Cost of Credit/Credit Reporting and Basics of Car Buying.

Family members, retirees, DoD civilians and members of the public who have base access are invited. All events are free, but reservations are required.

Finally, the Financial Program is challenging all military units on JBLM to take the
Saver's Pledge. "Pledge cards can only be obtained with a one-on-one appointment or attending one of the classes," Cron said. The unit with the highest percentage of savers will be announced at the Town Hall.

For more information or to RSVP for any of these Military Saves Week events, visit the JBLM Financial Readiness Program website. Users can also sign up for one of the many fiscal fitness classes offered each month.

February 10, 2015 at 10:07am

Washington National Guard 351st Aviation Support Battalion deploying to Kuwait

351st Aviation Support Battalion was honored in a deployment ceremony at the Washington National Guard Army Aviation Sustainment Facility #1 on JBLM, Feb. 8. Photo credit: Gary Lott

Dozens of military helicopters were the background for an important ceremony that took place last weekend at the Washington National Guard's Flight Facility on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

That's because all eyes were on Washington National Guard soldiers from Detachment 1, B Company of the 351st Aviation Support Battalion.

Last summer, these servicemembers had an important role in Washington state by assisting with battling wildfires that plagued Central Washington. 

Bravo Company provided critical maintenance operations for the Guard's helicopters as they dropped 2.5 million gallons of water over the Carlton Complex and Chiwaukum Complex fires. The unit ensured the helicopters continued to operate by working long hours into the night.

This summer, these servicemembers will be tasked with another important role, but this time thousands of miles away in Kuwait.

The unit of more than 35 Washington National Guardsmen will perform aviation maintenance support operations while deployed.

During last weekend's ceremony, the deploying servicemembers were surrounded by their fellow service members, friends and family, who were shown a special slideshow of some of the many recent accomplishments of the 351st. Attendees were also treated to the national anthem and Army Song performed by the 133rd Army Band, and of course, cake!

The 351st cased its colors during the deployment ceremony as part of its preparation to deploy to Kuwait in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

This is the first deployment for the 351st and will be the first under the command of Capt. Daniel Clemons.

Along with the traditional casing of the colors and remarks from the commander, deployment ceremonies are also important venues to connect with the families of the deploying soldiers.

Military families serve, too, and are left to maintain their households and communities while their service member is deployed.

>>> Pfc. Aaron Hamrick cherishes a hug from his daughter during a deployment ceremony for members of the 351st Aviation Support Battalion, Feb. 8. Hamrick will be joined by more than 30 other members of his battalion for a deployment to Kuwait to perform aviation maintenance support operations. Photo credit: Gary Lott

Although families may initially feel as if they are being left behind, the reality is these families receive support and training before, during and even after deployments, as well as the security of 24/7 support throughout.

These are just a few of the major impacts that make Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Programs & Family Programs across the nation so crucial and impactful for those still serving from home.

Spouses and significant others were provided with various resources and contacts and given the opportunity to connect with and ask questions of Washington National Guard Family Programs staff members. Military youth were given USO deployment bears that allow them to insert a photo of their deploying parent.

The adjutant general for the Washington National Guard, Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, joined other general officers and commanders for the departure ceremony.

This ceremony not only provided support from their peers and bosses, but also provided service members with the security of knowing that their families will be taken care of during their deployment.

February 9, 2015 at 3:37pm

Skanska USA, BCRA partner with JBLM nonprofit for new 2-2 SBCT memorial

A sketch of the proposed Lancer Brigade Memorial. Courtesy illustration

In just a few short months, the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team will finally have a memorial on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The monument will join several other unit memorials in the installation's Memorial Park, which is located on Lewis Main near the Cascade Community Center.

Groundbreaking is set to begin soon, and a dedication ceremony is planned for the end of May.

"We are currently the only Stryker brigade on the installation without a memorial for its fallen soldiers," said Danielle L'Heureux, a 2/2 spouse and chairwoman of the Lancer Soldier and Family Fund, a nonprofit 501c3 organization. "It's an important thing to make happen."

The project has been in the works since 2013 and is a joint effort between construction company Skanska, design and engineering firm BRCA, their subcontractors and the Lancer Soldier and Family Fund.

Angela Crabtree, a spouse in the brigade at the time, initially approached members of Skanska to ask if they would be willing to help with the project.

"As with each Skanska project, we look for opportunities to give back to the communities that we work in," said Brian Urban, a senior project manager with Skanska who is leading the JBLM memorial effort, "whether it's donating toys to the toy drive, sponsoring and building a gingerbread house to support the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund, and donating services to build a memorial. On top of that, it is an honor to help pay tribute to fallen soldiers."

Skanska, BRCA and their subcontractors have donated thousands of dollars in manpower and materials toward the 2/2 memorial project, and the Lancer Fund is working to raise the roughly $23,000 needed to pay for the granite pillars. Fundraising was slow to start, but monies are now starting to add up. Efforts have included a ride with Northwest Harley Davidson in Lacey last year that raised thousands of dollars; a similar fundraising event is planned for April 24.

"We are amazed and thrilled that Skanska has been able to pull together all the materials and labor at no cost to us," L'Heureux said. "To have it all donated is awesome."

Work on the project will begin soon. "We are in the process of obtaining a dig permit through JBLM, and once that is in hand, the project will be completed within 30 days," Urban said.

The memorial design features a central bench with boot prints leading away from it with two large granite pillars on each side. The names of the brigade's 51 fallen soldiers will be etched on those pillars, and the back of the bench will read "Seize the High Ground."

When it stood up in 2007, the brigade was known as 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. It was reflagged as 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division three years later after returning from a yearlong deployment in Afghanistan. Current units include infantry and field artillery battalions, a cavalry squadron and a support battalion.

L'Heureux said she hopes the memorial will bring closure for the families of the fallen. "There isn't one place on this installation [for all of the brigade's fallen soldiers]," she said. "Some battalions have a memorial, but it's in their building and not really for everyone."

The group is also looking to raise money to help defray the cost of bringing in as many Gold Star families from the brigade as possible for the memorial's unveiling and dedication in May.

For more information or to donate, visit the Lancer Soldier and Family Fund on Facebook.

February 3, 2015 at 2:06pm

Military spouses network with Washington state employers

Coyeatta Lee, a military spouse who lives in Yelm, networks during a Hiring our Heroes job fair as part of the Military Spouse Program at the American Lake Conference Center at JBLM. Photo credit: Sgt. Ryan Hallock

More than 250 military spouses and servicemembers from the Joint Base Lewis-McChord community attended the Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Program hiring fair at the American Lake Conference Center Jan. 29.

Employer after employer lined the conference center - Amazon, Starbucks, Uber, and more than 50 other local companies - to discuss potential career opportunities with military spouses.

"It's important that our country focus on helping veterans, especially those who have been unemployed, seek meaningful employment, but the awareness is so minimal for what (challenges) our military spouses have always faced and will continue to face because they're relocating so often," said Sarah Worley, the Military Spouse Program senior manager.

The hiring fair gave military spouses the opportunity to network with different employers, which is considered to be the most important aspect of landing a job by the Army's Service Member For Life Transition Assistance Program.

"This is the best place to network," said Neha Malhotra, a military spouse and business analyst who lives in Renton, Washington. "There is no way you can get a job just by applying online - you have to network."

In addition to local employment opportunities, the career fair offered resume building help, as well as educational specialists to network within the local area.

"It's a beautiful area with a lot of opportunities," said Malhotra. "It's not hard to find a job; it's just hard to find the best fit."

>>> Maren Nguyen, a military spouse and native of California, speaks with a Pierce County sheriff correctional officer about potential career opportunities during a Hiring our Heroes job fair as part of the Military Spouse Program at the American Lake Conference Center at JBLM, Jan. 29. Photo credit: Sgt. Ryan Hallock

Companies like Uber offer a unique opportunity to spouses who might be expecting to permanently change stations frequently. The company is in more than 260 cities, which means, as Kimberly Pine, a company driver said, spouses can "pick up and keep going," if moving to a new installation.

"They know they'll always have work," said Pine, who spent time at the hiring fair networking with spouses. "This event lets spouses know there are really a lot of opportunities for them."

Worley values the level of experience and professionalism that military spouses like Malhotra bring to their new community after a permanent change of station.

"Spouses are some of the most professional, dedicated candidates I have ever met," said Worley. "You know they want it. You know they're going to work the hardest for it, because they've been working for so many years to try and maintain a meaningful career."

>>> Karen Marie Blank, a military spouse and native of Astoria, Oregon, speaks with an employer from Washington state during a Hiring our Heroes job fair as part of the Military Spouse Program at the American Lake Conference Center. Photo credit: Sgt. Ryan Hallock

Spouses can also visit careerspark.org, a website designed to create skills-based resumes with nearly 1,000 volunteer positions preloaded. For more information on the Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Program visit uschamberfoundation.org/hiring-our-heroes.

Sgt. Ryan Hallock is with the 19th Public Affairs Detachment.

February 2, 2015 at 2:00pm

BOSS Designated Driver Program at Joint Base Lewis-McChord

Sgt. Hassan M. Lovett, a BOSS Members representative with the U.S. Army Joint Base Lewis-McChord Garrison, leans against one of the BOSS designated driver vans, Jan. 29 at JBLM. Photo credit: Sgt. Sinthia Rosario

Don't drink and drive, buckle up and have a plan. These are just some of the things said to soldiers during a safety brief.

For the most part it works. However, there have been incidents where a soldier does not listen to their leadership or friends and accidents occur.

In an effort to help prevent soldiers from driving under the influence, the Better Opportunity for Single Service Members run the Designated Driver Program within a 15-mile radius of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. This is a volunteer-based service, which servicemembers give up their time to help other soldiers. It provides service members a safe ride home when drinking, instead of getting behind the wheel and causing harm to themselves or others.

Soldiers needing a ride first need to contact them at 253.208.9169 for a ride. The BOSS volunteer will then pick up the servicemember. Finally the soldier is returned safely to the barracks at no expense.

Since the program is run by servicemembers, it is only available Friday, Saturday and on training holidays from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.

"However, we make special exceptions for New Years, Brewfest, St. Patrick's Day, Oktober Fest and other popular holidays which typically promote alcohol consumption," said Spc. Jennifer R. Helm, BOSS president with the U.S. Army JBLM Garrison.

The volunteers take their responsibilities as designated drivers very seriously in order to ensure all the soldiers are picked up and taken care.

"Many of our volunteers stay past the 3 a.m. cutoff just to ensure everyone gets home safe," added Helm.

"We love the BOSS van program," said Maj. Jay I. Cash, provost marshal, JBLM. "It's good when servicemembers on JBLM contact the BOSS for a ride because that just means the likelihood of JBLM or civilian police coming into contact with an impaired servicemember behind the wheel of a motor vehicle is significantly reduced."

"So, when it's working at its best we don't even know they're there except when they pass thru the gates." He added, "This is classic battle buddy program for which the military is known for."

Servicemembers caught on or off post drinking and driving may face legal actions, fines, have on post driving privileges suspended or possibly ruin their military career.

Cash said that on post penalties for DUIs mirror that of the state of Washington as well as a couple of mandatory DoD requirements.

In order to highlight the program Cash shared the BOSS number with local departments in the event they have impaired service members needing a ride.

"The police community thinks that this is an excellent program which saves service members lives and career ... if used," said Cash. "The decision to drive drunk is generally made while impaired. If servicemembers were to make a plan to use the program before they even leave for the night I believe it would be even more successful."

For more information on the Designated Driver Program call BOSS at 253.967.5636.

Sgt. Sinthia Rosario is with the 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.

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