Northwest Military Blogs: Army West Blog

Posts made in: December, 2009 (9) Currently Viewing: 1 - 9 of 9

December 2, 2009 at 5:45pm

17th Fires soldier dies in Iraq

The Department of Defense announced today the death Pfc. Derrick D. Gwaltney, 21, of Cape Coral, Fla., who died Nov. 29 south of Basra, Iraq, of injuries sustained from a non-combat related incident. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 377th Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Brigade, Fort Lewis, Wash.

According to unit records, Gwaltney enlisted July 22, 2008 at Tampa, Fla., and reported to Fort Jackson, S.C., for basic training. On October 6, 2008 he reported to Fort Lee, Virgina, for Advanced Individual Training in Military Occupational Specialty 92G: Food Service Specialist. He reported to Fort Lewis on January 3, 2009, and was assigned to 17th Fires Brigade. The brigade deployed to Iraq in July, 2009. This was his first deployment.

Bates civilian and military education includes a General Equivalency Diploma (2001) and the 92G: Food Service Specialist Qualification Course(2009).

His awards and decorations include the National Defense Service Medal, and the Army Service Ribbon.

On behalf of the entire Fort Lewis military and civilian community, we extend our sincere condolences to the family and friends Pfc. Gwaltney.

Filed under: Iraq,

December 7, 2009 at 2:44pm

Hello from 5th Brigade

Sunday, December 6

Left Dubai International Airport on time and on a Boeing 737 that had seen better days.

Landed at Kandahar Air Field at exactly 11:15 am local time.

The weather was clear and sunny, and the mercury had climbed to about 65 degrees.

"But it does get cold at night around here," one deplaning passenger said to me.

If I didn't know better, I would have thought I had I stepped off the aircraft and into the National Training Center (NTC) outside of Fort Irvin, California.  The topography is identical - long stretches of sand broken up by large rock outcroppings.

I found my way to the Media Support Center (MSC) and signed some paperwork.  I was told I would pick up my press pass in the morning.

Kudos to SFC Robert Couture, SFC Teresa Coble and Capt. Omar Villarreal, 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment (MPAD) for their nice work.

A crew from Fox News was just leaving; a correspondent from CNN and two writers from Time Magazine were just arriving.

The Fort Lewis Ranger Newspaper was in some newsworthy company.

Be that as it may, the MSC is a joint Army-Air Force operation that handles all media arrivals and departures in southern Afghanistan.  The staff was friendly and knowledgeable.

With nothing else to do, I found my room, secured my gear and decided to take a closer look at my surroundings.

I discovered a PX, a MWR and the gym.  Running away from the center of the base are housing units for the various NATO forces stationed here.

Everything here is coated in a fine, whitish/gray dust. 

Besides the large contingent of American forces (Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force), I also saw British, Canadian, French, Dutch and Slovakian troops as I walked around the Boardwalk, the center of activity here.

The Boardwalk - which gets its name from the very large, rough-hewn planks of wood from which it is constructed - is a very large (think almost a football field sized) square around which are numerous shops and eateries.

Outside of one coffee shop is a very large wireless Internet connection site where literally 30 to 40 individuals were engaged with their computers.

Military members can shop for scarves, electronic gadgets, leather goods, carpets and jewelry (to name a few) as they stroll the Boardwalk.

There is a very cosmopolitan feel to the Boardwalk - almost as if one were back home in America or Europe.

But this is Afghanistan, the Kandahar Province, home to the Taliban.

As the sun headed west, the temperature began to drop sharply and the sky began to turn a deep blue.

I figured it best to call it a day.  On the morrow I would lay the foundation to begin my work here. 

Filed under: J.M. Simpson,

December 10, 2009 at 6:47pm

Welcome Home 593rd

Money and freight are the lifeblood of U.S. full-spectrum war efforts.

Transporting cargo and dispersing pay are the specialties of two 593rd Sustainment Brigade units that returned last week from a year in Iraq. Thunderous cheers and applause greeted approximately 175 Soldiers of the 21st Cargo Transfer Company and Alpha Detachment, 9th Financial Management Company the evening of Dec. 4 at Wilson Sports and Fitness Center.

"What a wonderful gift that you're all home for the holidays," said Col. Lois Beard, commander of 593rd Sust. Bde. Rear. "Know that we all take great pride in your sacrifice and successful accomplishment of a full range of missions that you executed in support of coalition forces fighting for the security and freedom of the citizens of Iraq, while at the same time protecting and defending our nation's interests and our way of life."

Both organizations deployed December 2008 to Iraq and under the concept of modular support, set up operations at three locations.

"The relatively small number of Soldiers before us moved one heck of a lot of cargo and cash that was needed to sustain the counterinsurgency effort that has successfully deterred terrorism," Beard said.

Soldiers from the 9th Fin. Mgt. Co. disbursed more than $20 million in military pay and payments to commercial vendors at Camp Victory and several forward operating bases, while 21st CTC managed two centralized receiving and shipping points, one at Camp Liberty and another at Taji; it also coordinated cargo shipments at a key airfield. All three operations facilitated the onward movement of cargo to its final destination in Iraq or Kuwait.

The 21st CTC gained notice in 2006 throughout the Department of Defense as the Army winner of the National Defense Transportation Association's "Military Unit of the Year."

Beard made a point of acknowledging the sacrifices of the family members who came to welcome their loved ones in uniform.

"(These Soldiers) are the best in the world at what they do largely because of (you)," she said.

Vilma Araneta has been cooking non-stop in anticipation of the 593rd Sust. Bde. Soldiers' return. Her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Romeo Araneta, and son, Pfc. Jenneth Araneta, returned after deploying together in February.

"I went home to the Philippines," she said. "I went home to my family because I didn't have anyone here."

Araneta returned to Fort Lewis, however, when her husband called to tell her that he and her son would return on Dec. 4.

Lori Lamar came from California to greet her daughter, Staff Sgt. Misty McFarlane. Mother and daughter had stayed in touch via Yahoo instant messenger and an occasional video chat, but it wasn't the same as speaking to her face to face.

"I'm excited to have her back for every second, not just Christmas," Lamar said. "I'm just glad she's alive. I'm so proud of every single one of them - all of them, all over the world."

December 17, 2009 at 5:38pm

864th Engineers prepare for Afghanistan

YAKIMA TRAINING CENTER - The 864th Engineer Battalion is preparing to deploy to Afghanistan early in 2010. To get ready, the battalion spent the last two weeks training in the cold of Yakima Training Center.

The 864th's primary mission in Afghanistan will be to build the infrastructure necessary to support brigade combat teams in the area. The first BCT the engineers expect to support downrange is Fort Lewis' own 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

In Afghanistan the 864th will create secure command outposts, sustainable service routes and security details to protect resources and personnel. The battalion's Soldiers have trained on the required skills for months. Now was time to apply what they had practiced.

"This was the opportunity to put all of the training together in an event," said Lt. Col. Heather Warden, the battalion commander. Colonel Michael Brobeck, 555th Engineer Brigade commander, said that the purpose of the exercise was to give his Soldiers the confidence to trust in themselves, their battle buddies and their leaders and to put them in the right place at the right time. The battalion benefits from a lot of combat experience. Nearly one-third of the Soldiers assigned to the 864th have been with the unit for its two deployments since 2005.

The battalion's vertical and horizontal construction companies were at the forefront of the YTC training. The 557th Engineer Company (horizontal) and the 585th Engr. Co. (vertical) established teams at Command Outpost Schooner and Forward Operating Base Badger Gap. The units had to first secure the sites.

"If we can prevent IEDs from being put in place to begin with, we have won half of the battle," said 1st Sgt. Steven Williams, first sergeant of the 585th.

The other half is protecting innocent lives.

"As far as the Afghan (people), we want them to know that we are there to help make their lives better," Williams said.

Another crucial aspect of the training was replicating the equipment that is currently employed downrange.

"What we're doing is as (close) as one can get to what they're doing in theater," said Capt. Phillip Ambrose, current operations plans officer for battalion. "We're constructing a COP that's overlooking a training village ... so that we can interact with the local residents."

Another aspect of the training at YTC was preparing the battalion for operations in a country that has an average elevation of 7,000 feet above sea level.

"It's not flat like Iraq," said Cpl. Jeffrey Kreds, Headquarters and Headquarters Co. The terrain like that at YTC can keep you from having a clear view around you, even when you are on a high point, Kreds said.

Warden said that the "engineer" mindset is to always be resourceful, especially when it comes to building materials and projects.

"The important thing about interacting with the local Afghan people is that we will be able to better integrate ourselves with the people and gain their trust," Warden said.

Filed under: Afghanistan,

December 17, 2009 at 5:54pm

SF at Fort Lewis getting another battalion

The Army announced today the planned activation of the 4th Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group. This force structure action represents a net increase of 432 military authorizations and four civilian authorizations at Fort Lewis, Wash., and two civilian authorizations at Yakima Training Center, Wash. Implementation of these changes is expected to be completed in August 2011.    

Filed under: Special Operations Units,

December 18, 2009 at 5:16pm

Mullen praises Strykers in Afghanistan

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff praised the soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry, for their service in Afghanistan's Kandahar province here yesterday, saying the unit has made a difference.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told the soldiers he appreciates their sacrifices and their flexibility. The Stryker unit was supposed to deploy to Iraq. That mission was changed to Afghanistan, and the soldiers arrived here in July.
The reinforced battalion moved into battle space formerly occupied by a Canadian Forces company. The company's 80 servicemembers physically could not clear the area of Taliban. The 800-man Stryker battalion aggressively moved out after the enemy - going into areas where the Canadian company had lacked the muscle to venture.
The unit began taking casualties soon after arriving, and through November, had lost 21 soldiers and had 40 more wounded. Now the battalion - part of the 2nd Infantry Brigade's 5th Brigade Combat Team at Fort Lewis, Wash. - has to change again.
"You have already adapted to the changing counterinsurgency strategy," Mullen said during an all-hands meeting at the dining facility here. The unit has embraced the "protect the population" concept. Now, its soldiers will switch missions again, being responsible for freedom of movement on the major highways into Kandahar - Afghanistan's second-largest city.
"I've spent a lot of time on leadership, and there is no more difficult time to lead than in a time of change," Mullen said. "I know you have been in a very tough fight, and those you've lost, and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of those."
Mullen said leaders believe the new strategy will work, and now the military must rapidly execute the plan. This should be plain to the soldiers, he said.
"It is on your shoulders to execute that," the chairman said. "[That's] part of the reason I come out here to the pointy end of the spear and see what we're actually asking you to do."
Protecting the people is the key to success, the chairman told the soldiers, and civilian casualties are the bane of a counterinsurgency operation. "I've said many times that we can tactically win, but if we're killing local civilians, we're going to strategically lose," he said.
Each soldier is going to have use leadership in the fight, the chairman said. They are going to have to learn all they can and make important decisions.
"I want to encourage you to do that: to lead quietly, to lead [while] listening, to lead [by] understanding what the challenges are for these people," Mullen said. "Because in the end, they want to raise their kids to a higher standard of living, [and] they'd like to do it in peace and security, just like you and I."
Mullen expressed his gratitude to the soldiers' families for the support they provide. He said he understands the sacrifices being made in soldiers' homes across the country.
"We've asked a lot, you've sacrificed a lot, you really do make a difference, and this region is absolutely vital to our national interests because of the threat that resides here that still threatens American citizens," he said.
Mullen told the young soldiers to keep their head in the game and to watch out for each other as they continue to serve and to adjust.    

December 29, 2009 at 2:05pm

Brotherly reunion includes Stryker from Fort Lewis

Capt. Jordan Enger (left), commander of Troop A, 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division reunites with his younger brother, Spc. Jared Enger, a cavalry scout in C Troop, 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd St

BAGHDAD-Wartime service often separates soldiers from their families during the holidays, but when family members serve near each other in the war zone, holidays can still be family time. Two brothers, assigned to Multi-National Division - Baghdad and Multi-National Division - North spent Christmas together in Iraq after their units coordinated the family reunion.
It was not the first time that Capt. Jordan Enger, commander of A Troop, 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division got to see his younger brother during this tour. The armor officer from Houston, Texas, flew from Joint Security Station Istiqlaal to Combat Outpost Cobra Oct. 18 to administer the oath to his younger brother, Spc. Jared Enger, a cavalry scout in Troop C, 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division who reenlisted for six more years of service.
"I'm really proud of him and what he's accomplished," Capt. Enger said of his younger brother. Spc. Enger feels the same towards his older brother. "I think he's a good commander, he really looks out for his soldiers."
With both brothers serving their second tour in the Global War on Terror, their family is evenly split for the holidays. They have no other siblings, and their parents back in Houston are glad that the brothers saw each other during Christmas.
"The Squadron commander and command sergeant major really worked hard to get him out here to JSS Istiqlaal," Capt. Enger said as the two brothers worked together on Christmas Day. 
His participation in the squadron's activities did not end there, though. On his first night at JSS Istiqlaal, Spc. Enger accompanied his brother to the station's firebase, where he hung rounds with the mortar section during the unit's final planned fire mission of the deployment. The next day he boxed alongside other Troop A soldiers in the squadron's boxing tournament.
Opportunities to see each other have not been frequent. Both have now served in the Army, at different duty stations for several years. During their first tour, they only saw each other in Kuwait as they passed through the theater gateway, one heading into combat, the other on the way back to the United States. They are both optimistic, though, that the relatively small size of the armor branch will give them opportunities to serve near each other in the future.

Filed under: Strykers,

December 29, 2009 at 2:08pm

5th Brigade in the Arghandab River Valley

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Six months ago, the Arghandab River Valley, home to approximately 70,000 Afghans, lacked the security needed for aid agencies to begin governance or development projects. But now, the determined, combined efforts of ISAF and Afghan national security forces are paying off for the people of the valley.

Soldiers from the U.S. 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, along with members of the Canadian Operational Mentor and Liaison Team, ANSF, Special Operations Forces, and ISAF air units, have collaborated in successful operations designed to protect Afghans from the insurgents.
"It has been a total team effort," said Col. Harry Tunnell IV, commander of the 5th Stryker Brigade.
Despite frequent attacks by insurgents in the Arghandab Valley, troops from ANSF and ISAF pushed ahead with the "shape, clear, hold, build" approach to counter-insurgency operations. Ground and air units carried out operations to protect the population in the area and prevent further insurgent attempts to disrupt development within the region.
Tooryalai Wesa, the Governor of Kandahar province, held a shura on November 5 to announce the introduction of the Afghanistan Vouchers for Increased Production in Agriculture program in Arghandab District. The AVIPA program is designed to improve farming techniques, modernize agriculture equipment and deliver work projects that employ local citizens.
"The most apparent indicator of success is that Arghandab District was the first area that was announced in Kandahar province for the USAID [United States Agency for International Development] AVIPA program," said Col. Tunnell.
Since the announcement, initial agriculture assessments have been made, training of local farmers has started, and local work projects have begun in the fertile area of the Arghandab River Valley. 
With ISAF and ANSF counter-insurgency operations preparing the way for development, progress can safely come to the people of Arghandab District.    

Filed under: Strykers,

December 29, 2009 at 2:10pm

17th Fires going toxic

Army Staff Sgt. Timothy Price is scrubbed off as he makes his way through the decontaminating process during a Toxic Industrial Chemical Protection and Detection Equipment training exercise on Contingency Operating Base Basra, Iraq, Dec. 15, 2009. (U.S. A

CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq - Twelve soldiers and three sailors conducted a 10-day Toxic Industrial Chemical Protection and Detection Equipment training exercise here recently. 
"You never know what could pop up," said Army Capt. Leann Yi, 17th Fires Brigade Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear officer in charge. "In case of any sort of hazardous material, toxic industrial chemical [leak] from a lab or a chemical manufacturing company in our area of responsibility would require the assistance and expertise of this team." 
According to Karen Kirkpatrick, a civilian instructor with the training team, the 80-hour course is the same training received by stateside emergency services personnel. 
This type of training usually is provided to military CBRN specialists prior to deployment. However, with the high operational tempo and the limited number of trained CBRN troops, it is sometimes the first time service members receive this training. 
Trainees learn to inventory and operate all of the protection and detection equipment. They rehearse the roles each team will play when working in a hazardous material and toxic industrial chemical environment. Trainees first become familiar with operating their protective suits that are equipped with an independent air supply system. 
"It was challenging being in the level 'A' suit. You have limited dexterity and limited visibility because of the condensation in the mask," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Blackwood, a CBRN specialist with the 203rd Military Police Battalion. 
Less than two days after the completion of training, Yi's team assisted an explosive ordnance disposal unit with the removal of a missile with 500 pounds of explosives from Basra city.

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