Northwest Military Blogs: Army West Blog

March 23, 2017 at 4:52pm

Combat medic on patrol

Deputy Sergio Sanchez also serves as a specialist with the Washington National Guard. Photo credit: WA National Guard

CAMP MURRAY - When Deputy Sergio Sanchez arrived at the scene of a drive-by shooting during his night patrol shift with the Pierce County Sheriff's Department in Spanaway, he came upon a crime scene with a victim bleeding from his leg. Sanchez, 28, a six-year veteran in law enforcement, exited his squad car with his personal first aid kit and instantly went to work.

"I knew exactly what injury he had and immediately I knew what to do," said Sanchez. "It was essentially what I learned in (68) Whiskey school in San Antonio."

The victim had a bullet wound that went straight through his leg and was bleeding profusely. It took Sanchez three to five minutes to stabilize the victim's injuries with gauze and a tourniquet for transport to the local hospital.  

Sanchez didn't learn his life-saving skills on the police force, though. One weekend a month he serves as a combat medic specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 146th Field Artillery Regiment.

Having a career and formal military training with the Washington National Guard as a combat medic provides Sanchez an extra skill set that sets him apart from his peers on the force.

"We don't usually see that kind of qualification and experience with a brand new deputy," said Sgt. Glen Carpenter, Sanchez's shift supervisor.

Most deputies do not have formal training as a medic or a first responder. Having Sanchez's talent and ability to provide life-saving first aid to victims of crimes makes him a valuable resource to have in his precinct.

"(We) have a pretty diverse department and many of the different sections have people who are cross-trained in TCCC (Tactical Combat Casualty Care), but not at the patrol level," said Carpenter. "He was probably selected for the extra talent that he has."

The drive-by shooting was not the only time Sanchez used his Army medic skills. A couple weeks after the drive-by shooting, he was called to the scene of a hit-and-run. He arrived on the scene and saw a man lying in the middle of the road.

"When we got closer we saw a large amount of blood coming from his head," recalled Sanchez. "He was not responsive and barely breathing."

That's when Sanchez's training kicked in and he was able to provide C spine control, a procedure that stabilizes the neck and spinal cord. He applied gauze and pressure to the head injury and soon the victim began to show signs of life.

"He eventually started moaning so that was a good sign. I just kept him stabilized until (the) fire (department) got there," Sanchez said.

Sanchez was hit with the medic bug when he was a young boy. His father, an Army veteran, asked him to clean out a closet in his childhood home. Little did he know that seemingly innocuous chore would send him on a path that would shape the person he'd become. As he was cleaning out the closet, he came across an old first-aid bag from his father's time in the Army.

"(I) was immediately drawn to what was inside and spent hours studying the many different pieces of medical equipment," said Sanchez.

Sanchez, himself, doesn't think that he, alone, saved these two people's lives, but he was a significant contributing factor. As a combat medic he is trained to treat, stabilize and move them on to higher care.

"That's exactly what I do. I just treat and stabilize until fire personnel get there," said Sanchez. "They start doing more medical intervention (that I'm not able to do)."

Being both a law enforcement officer and a combat medic is the perfect combination. Training as a medic helps him be a much more valuable commodity to the profession that he loves so much.

"Being a deputy ... I love it, not every day is the same," said Sanchez. "Being a medic adds a way for me to be helpful and effective to the citizens and my partners." 

March 23, 2017 at 4:48pm

1-94th FAR receives firing orders from Marines

Marine Lance Cpl. Gregory Guseilarizo and Spc. Keia West, watch together as a High-Mobility Rocket Artillery System fires off one of its rockets, Yakima Training Center, March 10. Photo credit: Sgt. Jacob Kohrs

Everyone in the room starts yelling "Fire Mission, Fire Mission," and the room starts buzzing with instructions, numbers and call backs. A call just came from Marine Corps Camp Pendleton and within 15 minutes the High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System fires its rockets and hits said target.

Soldiers from 1-94 Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Field Artillery Brigade, out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, team up with the Marines from 5-11 Marines Regiment, 1st Marine Division, out of Camp Pendleton, California, to exercise long distance communications and build joint standard operational procedures.

"First we are here to build relations with the Army," said Marine Corps 1st Lt. Ronnie Reyes, communications officer for 5-11th Marine Regiment. "We are looking at how each other operates, so that we may bounce ideas off of the other and to adopt the best practices."

This exercise is a continued effort to build a joint interoperability SOPs for HIMARS units that fall under a joint force artillery headquarters. Currently, there is only one communication system that both forces are using and this exercise is giving each the ability to lessen the gap in their communications interoperability.

"We received a support package from the Marines here on the ground," said Army Cpt. Artem Skryabin, communications officer for 1-94th FAR. "We are exercising joint interoperability at the battalion level by simulation the Army sending reinforcement fires to the Marines in a frame work of joint force artillery headquarters."

Their current exercise is a rudimentary one, with the wars in the Middle East, the communication were made very easily through satellite systems. So they asked themselves, "how would we do long-range communications without military satellites?"

"Our objective is to operate in a satellite degraded environment," said Reyes. "We have gotten comfortable with satellite communications and now we need to get into fighting a near-peer threat. With the tech that is out there we need to assume that satellites will be degraded in a future confrontation."

So far they have accomplished this through the use of high-frequency voice and high-frequency digital by stretching it to its excesses and through tunneling of pre-existing commercial infrastructures using the Harris RF-7800B Broadband Global Area Network.

"We are looking forward to testing out the BGAN system," said Skryabin, "because it is a system that we do not currently possess but will greatly help with interoperability between us and the Marines. We could do this with our current communications packages, but the likelihood of success is very low."

"There is a lot that both sides are learning from this," said Reyes. "We are stretching the limits of our current shared communication systems, testing new communication gear to expand on current systems, and bringing an understanding of each other's artillery lingo."

In the future they hope to conduct these exercises more independently, so that future exercises are more of a validation that upgraded services and that communications are working.

"Our plan is to continue with these kinds of exercises and increase the complexity and locations," said Skryabin. "To ensure that both the Army and Marines have a better global reach with our launchers and our fires, to increase our capabilities and to better support each other in our missions."

March 23, 2017 at 4:38pm

Best three on JBLM

Army Sgt. 1st Class Brenden Shannon is awarded the Army Commendation Medal and a plate carrier from Tactical Tailor during I Corps’ inaugural Best Armed Forces Competition on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, March 15-16. Photo credit: Sgt. David N. Beckstrom

After two days of grueling physical challenges, tests of will power and military knowledge, an Stryker claimed 1st place in I Corps' inaugural Best Armed Forces Competition at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, March 15-16.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Brenden Shannon, a platoon sergeant with 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, took first place over 16 other competitors.

Army Spc. Kasey McIlveen, a soldier with 62nd Medical Brigade, 593rd Sustainment Command, took 2nd place, and Air Force Senior Airman Joseph Pennington, an Air Support Operations Specialist with 5th Air Support Operations Squadron, rounded out the top with 3rd place.

Shannon was awarded the Army Commendation Medal, a plaque from the Captain Meriwether Lewis Chapter Association of the United States Army and a plate carrier from Tactical Tailor. Both McIlveen and Pennington received the Army Achievement Medal and a gift from Tactical Tailor.

The Best Armed Forces Competition included day and night land navigation, a 12-mile road march, M9 stress shooting range, obstacle course, physical fitness test and military knowledge question board.

"I wanted the servicemembers from the local area to come together and learn from each other," said Sgt. Maj. Jose Otero, the event coordinator and Provost Marshal Sgt. Maj. for I Corps. "When we deploy, we work alongside each other; however, in a garrison environment, we don't get to interact with our sister services as often. I planned this event for these men and women to not only learn about the other services, but learn from the other servicemembers and how they complete these basic military tasks."

The tasks were chosen to emulate the basic tactics and techniques used by each of the services so one branch would not have an unfair advantage, said Otero.

"This event helped me get back to the basics of being in the military," said Pennington. "It let me hone my skills and allowed me to experience new things. During the stress shoot, I shot a 9mm pistol while lying on the ground. I had never done that before and I thought it was pretty cool. I also had to learn about things from the other services for the board."

During the military knowledge board, each service had a representative that would ask questions specific to their branch, from the services birthdate to specifics about the branch's crest. Each of the contestants received a packet of sample questions to study.

Shannon plans to take these events and scale them down for his platoon. He added that each service would get even better if they did the same.

"This event was some of the best training that I have had," said Shannon. "This tested more than just our physical capabilities, it strengthened our fighting spirits, hearts and minds."

Some of the contestants were chosen based on their previous competition capabilities, such as Pennington, who won a Best Airman competition previously. Others volunteered for this to prove they are the best, like Coast Guard Petty Officer 1 Nathanael Kruse. While still other contestants didn't have a chance to train for this event due to other missions.

"This was my baseline," said Shannon. "I was in a training event out in Yakima, Washington, leading up to this challenge. I didn't do anything extra to prepare. Most of the servicemembers out here didn't train specifically for this event. This is just who we are every day of the week."

Participants came from many different services. The Army provided seven soldiers, the Air Force sent six, three Marines attended, and one Coast Guardsman all came to prove they are the best.

Upon completion of the event, I Corps' Commanding General Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, spoke to the candidates, telling each of them that the military is immensely better for their contributions and dedication.

"Each of you show the dedication you have to support and defend the nation by having the will to win," said Lanza. "But, each of you not only has a will to win, you have the will to prepare to win ... People have asked me, ‘what makes the U.S. military so great?' The answer is: NCOs like you."

March 23, 2017 at 1:45pm

Four JBLM photographers claim awards

Courtesy Photo “Tools of the Trade” earned Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jessica Veltri, 22nd Military Police Battalion, 6th Military Police Group, first place in the still life category.

Four photographers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord were recognized March 16 for their submissions to the 2016 Army Digital Photography Contest.

The four are Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jessica Veltri, 6th Military Police Group, 22nd Military Police Battalion; Maj. (Dr.) Shannon MacLean, a flight surgeon with the 62nd Medical Squadron; and two JBLM retirees, Kaweka Stoney and Jason Nielsen.

“I was excited for when I found out that I was being given first place for my photograph,” Veltri said. “ I’ve been entering this contest for years. Even though it’s not the first time I’ve won, it’s still a really cool feeling to have your work recognized.”

The Army selected the winners from a pool of more than 4,000 entries from service members around the globe. Winners were chosen from seven distinct categories: animals, design elements, digital darkroom, military life, people, still life and nature and landscapes.

Veltri earned first place for her submission in still life and Stoney for his entry into a design element. MacLean was given third place for a military life photo, and Nielsen’s work earned him an honorable mention in the still life category.

Veltri’s first place photo was called “Tools of the Trade” and showed many of items that she and her colleagues use on a daily basis.

“I wanted something for the people (who) are considering retirement,” Veltri said. “The photo is meant to capture some of the things that we all are used to using. It’s meant to help them remember their careers.”

Stoney’s photo of CenturyLink field captured the majesty of the field against a rainy backdrop. The field is fully illuminated and sparkles in the darkness. He titled it, “CenturyLink Field at Night.”

“Everything about the lines and the curves are so symmetrical,” Stoney said. “It really caught my eye when I first took the photo. I had figured it was a pretty good photo and had a chance to win, but I was still pretty shocked when I found out.”

MacLean’s picture has two C-17s flying above the clouds and is called “C-17 Formation.” Nielsen’s photo captures a train against the backdrop of an expansive meadow and embodies the name of the photograph, “Endless.”

First place winners received $300, second place $200 and third place winners were given $100.

The goal of the program was to encourage the arts. For Veltri, the program is a nice remainder of her progress in the medium of photography.

“I’ve been taking photos since I was stationed in Hawaii,” she said. “It’s been growing with me ever since. It allows me to express myself in a way outside of work.”

March 23, 2017 at 1:41pm

JBLM soldiers win gold at Warrior Games Trials

Courtesy photo Spc. Maria Garcia, left, and Spc. Alexandria McIntyre take aim during the air rifle event during the 2017 Air Force Warrior Games Trials that took place Feb. 24 to March 10 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

Two Army specialists with the Warrior Transition Battalion on Joint Base Lewis-McChord brought home gold medals from the Air Force Warrior Games Trials at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 24 to March 3.

Specialists Maria Garcia and Alexandria McIntyre haven’t been with the Warrior Transition Battalion for very long, but they became like sisters after rooming together in December.

When Garcia heard about the WTB recruiting for the Air Force Warrior Games Trials, she thought it would be good to sign up. Being a good “sister,” she signed McIntyre up and then told her about the event.

“She called me up and asked if I minded,” McIntyre said.

Although both said they were a little nervous going into the competition, they left with some memories — not just through the pictures they took and the friends that they made. Both brought home awards from the competition.

Garcia won gold in the 50-meter backstroke swim, along with a silver in air rifle and bronze in the 50-meter freestyle swim. McIntyre earned a gold in the 50-meter freestyle and bronze in air rifle.

Neither had a lot of competitive swimming experience before the Air Force Trials. McIntyre once swam for lifeguard training in her hometown of Victorville, Calif. Garcia swam when she went surfing in the San Fernando Valley in California.

The WTB encourages service members to be active and provides opportunities for participating in adaptive sports. There was some nervousness going into the competition, the two said.

“It was the mixture of the unknown and knowing I was going to be in front of large crowds,” McIntyre said.

It certainly helped that there was a camaraderie between competitors. Other swimmers were even offering tips and advice during practices for both swimming and air rifle. McIntyre and Garcia gained confidence that led to success.

Both said they were appreciative of the team effort and support from their peers. McIntyre and Garcia were even lent swimming caps. The one minor problem was that they read “Air Force” on the side.

“We didn’t want them to read Air Force, so we flipped them inside out,” Garcia said about service pride.

Both are already looking forward to the Army Trials for the Warrior Games starting Monday. Considering the great experience McIntyre and Garcia had in Nevada, it should have been a forgone conclusion they would enter another competition.

“Everyone was so supportive, whether you won or lost,” McIntyre said. “Why wouldn’t I continue?”

Garcia is already looking at doing more swimming. In addition to 50-meter events, she wants to work her way up to doing 100-meter events — but not right away.

She had some pains in her shoulder and spine that forced her to stop halfway through the 50-meter freestyle. Given some more time to train, she can see herself continuing to improve.

“I just keep pushing myself and knowing my limitations,” Garcia said.

March 16, 2017 at 11:55am

The colonel's home brew

Col. John Kent, the deputy commanding officer of Madigan Army Medical Center, makes sample glasses of beer from his kegerator during a home brewing session at his home in DuPont, Feb. 25. Photo credit: Sgt. Youtoy Martin

In a region filled with craft beers and microbreweries, some people still enjoy the process and science of concocting their own home brews.

Col. John Kent, deputy commanding officer of Madigan Army Medical Center, is one soldier who enjoys making his own adult beverages.

He said he tries to brew at least once a month when he finds time away from his busy work schedule.

"I started brewing because I was interested in beer and different kinds of beers," said Kent. "Back when I was a lieutenant or captain I had a neighbor who made beer and I thought it was cool. He really got me started."

Kent said the process of brewing is like a science project requiring precise measurements and organization. Cleaning and sanitation along with consistent temperature during fermentation he said, are keys to a successful brew.

A Tuscon, Arizona, native, Kent began getting seriously involved in home brewing in 2008 after returning from his assignment in Germany - a place he calls "the land of beer".

Later, while stationed at Fort Polk, Louisiana, he began researching, reading and brewing consistently.

"Pretty much since then, unless work gets crazy, about once a month I'll brew something," Kent said.

Home brewing is a good way to have fresh, interesting beer without having to settle for mass market brands, said Kent.

While he doesn't compete much, Kent was one of several servicemembers who participated in the latest Joint Base Lewis-McChord Brewfest competition in February to test his beers against other home brewers in the area. He entered four beers into the competition of which his Citrus Grove IPA placed second and another placed in the commander's cup event.

His other two beers were disqualified after judges opened the bottles and detected a sour odor, said Kent.

"I allowed them to get contaminated and I don't know how; I think it was the (bottle) caps," said Kent shaking his head. "Based on the judges' comments, it was evident that they were bad."

Kent said he is still puzzled about the two-beers that didn't place in the JBLM Brewfest. He received no complaints from attendees, who sampled his beers. His conclusion was that the two bottles that were judged had to have been the only bad ones of the bunch.

The JBLM Brewfest was the second time Kent had been in a brewer's competition. He's done fairly well in both competitions, he said, but prefers making beer for himself, friends and family.

"I don't usually compete," said Kent. "It's kind of like golf, when you keep score the only thing you start thinking about are those bad shots. Then the whole day becomes about the bad shots, instead of the good shots. With brewing, the beer is good or it's bad. But when you're competing, it becomes ‘what did I do wrong?'"

Kent said, since he began brewing he has always made a memorable beer at each of his duty stations.

Over the years, he said, the beer that has become the most sentimental was a creation inspired by a friend, who was the commander of the 10th Combat Support Hospital, in Fort Carson, Colorado. His friend's unit was prepared to deploy overseas, and Kent wanted to do something special for them.

"I told him I would brew a beer for them while they were gone," said Kent. "So I brewed an imperial porter. It's called Mountain Medic Imperial Porter, because they were the ‘Mountain Medics'. I brew that beer every year or so. It's a higher alcohol and takes a little bit more time to finish (brewing)."

Kent's recipes tend to be on the simple side, using two or three kinds of hops and as many as four kinds of grains.

"I found that simple is often times better, because, what makes your beer better is the sanitation, the fermentation, the attention to the details, not all the different junk you throw in," said Kent.

The recipe creation process is fun, he added. Trying to figure out the right combinations for a desired taste takes some creativity. While he doesn't rule out commercial brewing someday, it's a huge financial commitment and a competitive industry, said Kent. For now, he perfects the craft of home brewing and sharing his creations with friends and family.

"I make what I like, and I drink mostly what I make," said Kent.

March 14, 2017 at 7:04am

JBLM soldiers join Sgt. Audie Murphy Club

The seven newest members of the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club stand together moments after being pinned March 3. (JBLM PAO photo)

Seven Soldiers have joined the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club, a prestigious organization meant to honor the best noncommissioned officers in the Army, at the Evergreen Theater on Joint Base Lewis-McChord March 3.

The newest members are Sgt. 1st Class Cesar Blake and Staff Sgt. Trevor Larson, 8th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division; Sgt. 1st Class David Garcia, 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 229th Aviation Regiment, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade; Sgt. 1st Class Connie Von, 56th Multifunctional Medical Battalion, 62nd Medical Brigade; Staff Sgt. Joseph Alarcon, 504th Military Police Battalion, 42nd Military Police Brigade; Staff Sgt. Brandon Hollon, 23rd Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division; and Sgt. Jordan Lambert with the Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 7th Infantry Division.

The induction ceremony served a celebration for the all the work the inductees have put in to get to this stage. It comes after months of a grueling application process that has applicants go through a range of board reviews, tests, essays and oral interviews. Before they can even start this gauntlet of an application process, they first need to be nominated by commanding officers.

“Today’s event is the final step and moment of gratification for these Soldiers and all of their hard work,” said Sgt. 1st Class Gracie Best, the club’s president, and equal opportunity adviser with the 593rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command. “For some of them, this isn’t their first time trying to make it to this level, but they had the resiliency to come back and try again. Now they’ve made it after (being) recommended by senior (commanding officers) for what they do every day.”

Best and I Corps Command Sgt. Maj. Michael A. Grinston both provided addresses to the inductees. Both touched on how valuable NCOs are to the military’s missions and how deserving the attendees were to be named to the organization. Grinston and Lt. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, I Corps commanding general, conducted the pinning ceremony, which formally inducted the seven Soldiers into the club.

The club’s namesake, Audie L. Murphy, is a revered figure in military lore. He is often referred to as the greatest combat Soldier in the more than 200-year history of the United States. While serving in World War II, Murphy earned nearly every decoration of valor the country offered, including the Medal of Honor.

He also collected five decorations from France and Belgium. He went on to have a successful acting career, starring in 44 feature films.

For those being inducted, the celebration and the high turnout served as a moment to finally breathe after all the hard work.

“It’s a really good feeling, and I’m excited to pass on what I’ve learned to the future Soldiers so they can be the future NCOs that we need,” Lambert said. “All of the hard work that I’ve put into it has finally paid off, and it’s been a sigh of relief and an overwhelming feeling of happiness.”

March 14, 2017 at 6:59am

Guard holding nuke course this weekend

Homeland Response Force Academy Maj. Harry Stockton, left, a Defense Nuclear Weapons School instructor, demonstrates the use of radiation detection equipment at Jefferson Barracks, Mo., Feb. 23.

CAMP MURRAY The threat of a radiological or nuclear attack exists everywhere.

That’s why the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Defense Nuclear Weapons School-Reserve Component at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., emphasizes the Introduction to Radiological and Nuclear Incident Response course and teaches it to audiences worldwide.

“Responders need to know how to deal with it,” said Maj. Michael G. Schlueter, Defense Nuclear Weapons School instructor. “To have this awareness course means you are that much more prepared. Any accident or incident can pose a potential radiological threat.”

The free, two-day courses are sponsored by the Army National Guard’s 10th Civil Support Team located at Camp Murray and are offered three times this month — March 18 to 19, March 20 to 21 and March 22 to 23.

Seats are open to all military, government civilians, area responders and emergency managers.

“The (Introduction to Radiological and Nuclear Incident Response course) is a two-day awareness level course developed to increase confidence and skill in responding to and mitigating the consequences of radiological events, as well as weapons of mass destruction,” Schlueter said. “It is primarily for all U.S. military, federal, tribal, state and local emergency planners, managers and responders.

“Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Camp Murray (are) great venues because of the various organizations in the area that would likely be involved should a radiological or nuclear incident take place.”

The 10th CST also brings the Introduction to Radiological and Nuclear Incident Response course to Washington to provide a networking opportunity, and for other agencies to benefit, to help better prepare themselves and the community.

“These types of training opportunities are essential for our continuing efforts to nurture the dynamic working relationships we have cultivated within our local communities,” said Maj. Ty Clark of the 10th CST. “We utilize these types of events to broaden our outreach program, since the last thing we want is to arrive on scene at an incident and find ourselves working with strangers. The more time we can spend training with our response partners, the better prepared we will be during a real world event, and this will position us to potentially save more lives.”

The Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the National Training Education Division approved the course for inclusion in their state and federal sponsored course catalog. It is also accredited by the American Council on Education as a continuing education course.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Defense Nuclear Weapons School-Reserve Component is the Department of Defense’s go-to organization for this type of awareness training.

“Our Reserve mobile training teams are already slated this year to teach more than 1,200 first responders, military and executives,” Schlueter said.

Mobile training teams are available upon request. The course and materials are free to registered participants.

For more information, call the Introduction to Radiological and Nuclear Incident Response course manager at 505-846-0663 or 505-846-0664.

March 10, 2017 at 10:32am

"Pride in Performance"

Sgt. 1st Class Dustin Forgey evaluates Spc. Daniel Larios as part of the evaluation for the Army Award for Maintenance Excellence competition. Photo credit: Sgt. Jacob Kohrs

It's a familiar sight, an inspector with a clipboard runs down a checklist. Speaking to a maintenance soldier, he asks to borrow a tool he's missing. For this part of the roleplay, the inspector said he's from another unit and lost the tool in the last exercise. The soldier tells the inspector that he can't sign the tool out to him.

The inspector snaps around and with more urgency sets more of a scene - they are in the middle of Ft. Irwin, California, and a vehicle, necessary for a no-fail mission, is down and the tool he needs is not in his tool box. It's imperative that he gets the tool to complete the repair.

The soldier scrambles to look through his memos and regulations to figure out what to do about this situation, which the soldier is now internalizing. Frantically, the soldier asks for a life line. After getting permission from the inspector, the soldier turns to his chief warrant officer for direction.

"We don't inspect, we evaluate," said Sgt. 1st Class Dustin Forgey from the U.S. Army Ordnance School. "If we were inspecting, we would be making sure that you are following the rule, but this is a competition. Units have to be following the rules to not be disqualified."

Forgey is one of the Department of the Army evaluators who visited 308th Brigade Support Battalion's maintenance shops for the Army Award for Maintenance Excellence competition. The 308th BSB is competing in the Active Army Medium Category, putting their motto, "Pride in Performance," to the test.

"(The AAME) started in 1982," explained Forgey. "It's a competition based on different size categories and unit make ups. The unit puts together a packet, (and after) a board, evaluators do an onsite evaluation to score each unit and select a winner for each category and an overall winner."

"There are a lot of systems that get neglected due to the operational tempo," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jeffery Stepanoff, the 308th BSB's chief automotive maintenance technician. "This is a useful tool for us to make sure the commander's maintenance program is running in accordance with regulation."

Stepanoff said that his maintenance soldiers learned a great deal during the U.S. Forces Command and DA evaluations. Because the soldiers are directly evaluated, it gives them the experience and chance to practice talking through and performing their jobs. He added that they worked hard to learn the regulatory guidance behind what they do during day-to-day activities.

The chief of staff of the Army, Gen. Mark A. Milley, said at an April 2016 U.S. Army Reserve Command Senior Leader Conference, that readiness of the Total Army is his number one priority.

The U.S. Army Ordinance School's AAME work to help ensure readiness across the force, according to their website. They have made that clear in two of their primary objectives. First, improve and sustain field maintenance readiness and, second, assess the maintenance component of unit readiness.

"The fact that the command is embracing, owning and wanting to strive for excellence, sends a message across the formation that they care about Army readiness and maintenance," said Stepanoff.

He was proud to note that the 308th proved they have the top maintenance program in their category on JBLM during their many rounds of AAME evaluations.

March 10, 2017 at 10:18am

Soldiers use JBLM outdoor rec to go higher

Joseph Byrnes pulls himself to safety during a simulated crevasse rescue, at the JBLM Alpine Club basic alpine course, Mount Rainier National Park, March 5. Photo credit: Spc. Sean Harding/Released

Imagine that it's 10 degrees outside. You're literally sleeping in a hole in the snow that you dug out with your shovel, and the only thing that's separating you from the wind and heavy snow and sleet pounding the side of the mountain that you're on is a flimsy, but determined tent.

You have to poke the ceiling of your tent with your trekking pole every half hour to keep the snow that's accumulating there from caving in, which would cause you to asphyxiate or freeze to death if left unchecked. If you accidentally stumble outside of your campsite in the middle of the night, you could fall up to your arms in snow that could be well over 60 feet deep.

This isn't a drill, or mandatory unit readiness training in a remote region of Alaska. There are soldiers doing this for fun.

The Basic Alpine course is just one of several instructional mountaineering courses that the JBLM Alpine Club, a branch of Joint Base Lewis-McChord Morale, Welfare & Recreation (MWR), offers to servicemembers, family members, retirees and Department of Defense (DoD) civilians.

"The Basic Alpine course is designed for people who want to experience mountaineering to dip their feet in and see if it's what they want," said John Dorman, senior Alpine Guide and instructor for JBLM Alpine Programs.

"It's to really open your eyes and show you what's out there," he added.

Feet in the Water

Consisting of four full days of instruction, spread over two weekends, the Basic Alpine course introduces and familiarizes students with a wide-range of mountaineering skills and knowledge, including self-arrest, glacier travel, how to use an ice axe, signs and symptoms of high-altitude sickness, crevasse rescue and more.

The course culminates in an overnight practical exercise at Mount Rainier National Park. There, students learn how to camp in the snow, survive sub-freezing temperatures, navigate the backcountry, and practice the skills that they learned in the classroom in a realistic training environment.

Going Higher

After completing the basic course, many students then go off to climb Mt. Rainier and other mountains in the Northwest. Some also take the Intermediate Alpine course, and eventually head to Denali, North America's highest peak in Alaska.

"Mount Rainier is what a lot of people start off doing," said Dorman. "If you want to do bigger and bigger mountains, obviously you have to go somewhere else. It's a natural progression of mountaineering."

"The ultimate destination of course, is Nepal, the Himalayas," Dorman said. We have the capability to do some of the eight thousand meter peaks. We've priced out Cho Oyu, Ama Dablam, Island Peak, as well as some of the smaller peaks there. The sky is literally the limit."

Making the Grade

"I thought (the Basic Alpine course) was phenomenal," said Mark Deschenes, an operations officer with I Corps. "These opportunities can't be found anywhere else that I'm aware of in my 27-year military career."

"We wanted to climb Mount Rainier," said Jeff Wilson, an active-duty airman. "We're going in August," added his wife, Kim, who also took the course.

"John and Derrick have a very large depth of knowledge," said Joseph Byrnes, an active-duty soldier stationed at JBLM. "You can tell that they're passionate about mountaineering and sharing their experiences."

Dream Big

"I have a gentleman who's doing the highest peak in every state," said Dorman. Mountains like Denali, Rainier and Mount Whitney require technical climbing skills, and "over the next three years, he's going to work with us to achieve that goal."

Another member of the club is training to climb K2, the world's second highest mountain, in 2020.

Since MWR is funded by the DoD, the Alpine Club is able to offer its courses and trips for significantly less than equivalent offerings from civilian recreation companies, in some cases even as much as half as much.

Start Somewhere!

"If you're interested in mountaineering, and it's hard not to when you stare at Rainier every day from where we work, then you should absolutely go for it," said Deschenes.

"Go for it! Use your leave for something cool," added Wilson.

"Get out there, go do it!" concluded Dorman.

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