Northwest Military Blogs: Army West Blog

Posts made in: February, 2010 (15) Currently Viewing: 1 - 10 of 15

February 5, 2010 at 11:27am

17th Fires teams with Guard to clear routes

FOB SHARANA, Afghanistan - The active duty Army and National Guard members of a new route clearance patrol formed here last month would experience many "firsts" in their maiden voyage.

For many of the members of the 5th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery (the 5-3), 17th Fire Brigade, based at Fort Lewis, Wash., last week's opening mission marked the first time they served as part of a route clearance unit - a job typically left to combat engineers. Becoming route clearance personnel means taking on a substantially different role than manning MLRS - multiple launch rocket system - batteries, the 5-3's core mission.

For the members of the 203rd Engineer Battalion, Missouri Army National Guard, it was also their first time serving in a route clearance capacity in Afghanistan with an active Army element. When the 203rd was ordered to mobilize last August, these particular citizen-soldiers initially were slated to perform a personnel security role but that changed once they arrived here and the need for more route clearance patrols (RCPs) became evident.

For all of them - who are collectively nicknamed the "Black Jacks" - the mission marked the first time they worked together "outside the wire" as a team.

And the first time they went out, they had their hands full.

While these route clearance Soldiers were already prepared to expect the unexpected, no one could have predicted they would engage in a three-hour vehicle recovery operation not caused by an IED detonation but was, instead, caused by bad luck. But the experience proved to be extremely valuable and helped the unit come together as a team.

A few hours into the mission the Black Jacks were preparing to turn around and begin the second phase of their operation when the lead MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected) vehicle, an RG-31, suddenly sank three feet into a ditch that had been hidden by road work and softened by two days' worth of rain and snow.

"Leader, this is Two," said the convoy's second vehicle, which had watched the incident unfold just ahead. "One is stuck. They're buried on their right side in mud up to their axle."

"Can we pull them out?" Leader responded.

"I don't know," said Two.

Unbeknownst to the convoy prior to the start of the mission, the local villagers had begun a project to lay new pipe across the roadway, which forced local traffic onto a much softer bypass. The smaller cars and trucks driven by Afghans had little problem negotiating the obstacle, but for the much heavier MRAPs the soggy, muddy bypass became a vehicle trap.

"We didn't have any intelligence that the roadway was out," said First Lt. Phil Kirk, originally from Waterloo, Ill., the RCP platoon leader whose unit is attached to the 203rd Engineer Battalion, Missouri Army National Guard. "When we got up there we discovered the route was completely torn out."

"I thought our people on the ground definitely took charge and developed plans and made it happen," Kirk said, noting that a few of his soldiers who had route clearance experience from Iraq took control of the situation right away and began implementing possible solutions.

Local nationals also took an immediate role in helping the Americans - much to the surprise of a number of convoy team members. One Afghan offered the use of his road grader, which was parked nearby. And several ANP (Afghan National Police) officers also arrived to lend assistance by helping the Americans keeping crowds at bay and locate more heavy equipment to pull their vehicle out.

"It was great how the (Afghan National Police) were able to go into the village and get the construction operators to bring their equipment, rollers and graders out to assist in helping us get our vehicle out," said Kirk.

Initial attempts to dislodge the heavily armored vehicle using only the road grader proved unsuccessful, as the mud gripped the right side of the MRAP like a vice. But the Americans and the Afghans soon realized they would need more than one vehicle - and other road-building support - to free the RG.

By the time the vehicle was freed more than three hours had passed, it was well after dark and the temperature had fallen well below freezing. But Kirk's RCP, and their Afghan supporters, never gave up. When one idea failed, another was tried. When one plan fell through, another was quickly implemented. When the situation seemed hopeless, the Soldiers were at their most professional and adamant.

"It could've gone better, maybe, but it was our first time out as our own element. It wasn't that bad," said Staff Sgt. Nathanial Muller, an MRAP vehicle commander and member of the 5-3 FA Company who is originally from Vancouver, Wash.

Indeed.

In a combat zone no plan is ever perfect and few conditions are ever ideal. What's more, every Soldier will tell you there is always a first time for everything, and how a unit collectively handles those unforeseen problems can be indicative of the way they will deal with future mission-related issues, both big and small.

If their first-time performance is any indication of future success, perhaps "Black Jack" is a new synonym for accomplishment.

Filed under: Iraq,

February 8, 2010 at 6:42am

Through rain, sleet and sand

(From left) Spc. Edgar Nzigou, Staff Sgt. George Figueroa and Spc. Daniel Myrick, all assigned to A Battery, 3rd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment, 5th Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, prepare to connect an M110 Howitzer to a CH-47 Chino

KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - Every week hundreds of letters and packages come into the Kandahar Airfield Post Office from family, friends and supporters of 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division Soldiers to help close the distance between the pains of deployment and the comforts of home.

Receiving a letter or care package while deployed to a combat zone can be critical for Soldier morale. Cpl. Ryan Holden, the SBCT mailroom Non-Commissioned Officer-In-Charge can relate to his fellow infantrymen out in the fight. He knows how something as simple as mail can be so significant.

"I see my guys out there, and I know what they are going through," Holden said. "They come back to their tents hoping that there's a package on their bunk from their girlfriends, wives or families." 

But Soldiers hoping for mail also hope that what arrives is handled with care.

"They beg me not to hurt their mail," Holden said.

Damaged packages are not uncommon. When a damaged package is found a few procedures are required. First, the post office is notified. If the package is cracked or opened then mail handlers must inventory the package and have it resealed by the post office. Sadly, this process is now common to those that handle the mail.

"Most packages get damaged in the process of getting here," said Holden. 

Holden and his certified team of mail clerks, both assigned personnel and volunteers, make a daily run in a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle to collect the mail from a large storage container at the KAF post office. The mail, which takes about a week to reach its final destination, is presorted and stacked on the back of the LMTV.

The mail goes through another sorting process once it reaches the Stryker Brigade mailroom, as the letters and packages are placed into one of three containers based on destination and parcel type. 

Sometimes as many as 20 pallets stacked with mail come in to the post office and must be received, sorted and distributed by Stryker mail clerks. Though all of the brigade's battalions regularly receive mail, one of them consistently receives the lion's share of the bulk- the Brigade Support Battalion. The men and women of the 402nd BSB often enough receive enough daily mail to warrant a 40 foot storage container all to themselves, equal to the other battalions combined.

Staff Sgt. Fernando Torres, B Company, 402nd BSB, is a familiar face in the mailroom and is one of his unit's certified mail handlers. 

"I am able to give an answer right away when my Soldiers ask me if they have any mail today," Torres said. "It is important as a platoon sergeant to do this for my Soldiers."

In the course of regular mail operations, items arrive for those members of the brigade either killed or wounded in action. Dealing with this specific mail can be tough for the mail handlers, but they understand that these items, too, require special treatment, and they make sure all is handled properly.

"When we're sorting mail and I see a name [of a Soldier] who I know was killed in action I bring it up to the postal officer," said Holden. "I get a memorandum from the unit saying what to do with it. If a wounded Soldier gets mail it's returned to sender."

The Stryker mail clerks have a challenging job, but one that is appreciated. Every day they retrieve the mail and deliver it to the brigade's Soldiers, many of whom await what their letter or package brings. The mail handlers know how important their efforts are. For them, they're doing much more than completely the cycle started with the price of a few stamps. They're delivering morale, one letter at a time.

Filed under: Strykers,

February 8, 2010 at 6:49am

1-38th Inf. commemorate 138th Day

Staff Sgt. Joshua Schlueter, assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, tosses a Frisbee to a member of his team during a recreational day at Camp Liberty. Feb. 5 marked the unit's

BAGHDAD - For Soldiers who are in the habit of patrolling the streets of Baghdad up to eight hours each day, meeting with key Iraqi leaders and training members of the Iraqi Security Forces, taking a day off now and then comes as a much-welcomed break. 

For Soldiers assigned to 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, that day arrived Feb. 5. But the idea was not simply about taking the day off. 

Leaders decided that tying the numeric designation of the unit into the 138th day of "boots on ground" - a term which refers to how many days the Soldiers have been in Iraq - was a great way to remember the heritage of the 1-38th Inf. Regt., and to build esprit de corps by bringing the troops together for some friendly competition.

"Today is primarily to honor the service of the regiment, but it also gives a little bit of a break to get re-motivated," said Lt. Col. John Leffers, 1-38th commander and a native of Utica, N.Y. 

The festivities started with a somewhat informal ceremony during which two Soldiers were promoted in rank and several awards were given out; one for expertise of marksmanship. There was also an historical account of the battalion's involvement at Omaha Beach, during the Normandy Campaign, in July 1944. 

After the formation, the Soldiers moved on to compete in various tournaments, such as 3-on-3 basketball, an Ultimate Frisbee game, a classic tug-of-war competition and an intense game of dodgeball. The Soldiers were also treated to a picnic-style lunch. 

"It's good for everyone to come together," said the battalion chaplain, Capt. Steven Thomas, a native of Oscoda, Mich., of the operational tempo, which forces Soldiers to often go several different directions, seldom seeing each other.

Soldiers said they also enjoyed having a change of scenery. 

"It's a nice break in the routine, which helps us with not getting burnt out," said 1st Sgt. James Arnett, a native of Marianna, Ark., assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1-38th Inf. Regt. "You can take a step back, and then continue on with business."

Throughout the day, there was plenty of laughter and a healthy dose of old-fashioned ribbing, upon which many Soldiers seemed to thrive. The relaxed atmosphere of the day also lent itself to a bit of goofiness.

"Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme, get on up; it's Frisbee time!" chanted Pfc. Ryon Carrillo, an infantryman with Company B, and native of Brea, Calif., as the Ultimate Frisbee tournament began.

Overall, the relaxing day seemed to be a success and most of the Soldiers agreed they are looking forward to the celebrations that are scheduled to take place on the 238th day of boots on ground, and the 338th day ... 

Filed under: Strykers,

February 8, 2010 at 6:52am

2-12 FA innovate for marksmanship

Sgt. William Russell, a Barona, Mich., native and team leader with Battery B, 2nd Battalion, 12th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, removes a nail from a target stand. The Soldiers reuse supplies in an effor

BAGHDAD- A 20-foot high dune rises from the sand at Contingency Operating Location Justice, partially masking the bustling life of Baghdad in the distance. 

Soldiers hike to a quiet corner of the lifeless landscape.

"Let's go!" a Soldier shouts. "The faster we get the range set up, the sooner we get out of here."

Soldiers spring from the right and left sides of the mound, equipped with two-by-fours, large pieces of cardboard, thumbtacks, tape, paper plates and plastic bottles.

Their intent: to construct a rifle range.

With limited resources, the Soldiers assigned to Battery B, 2nd Battalion, 12th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, have been forced to find innovative ways to build a rifle range so they can hone their marksmanship skills. Their creativity has become a weekly ritual.

Since arriving to Justice in December 2009, the unit found there was not only a lack of supplies to work with, but they were unable to coordinate with other units to provide range safeties, said Sgt. Jorge Olea, a Fontana, Calif., native and squad leader with Btry. B.

So they decided to take matters into their own hands.

The Soldiers have had to improvise ways to safely and effectively operate the range, said Sgt. Roy Vital, a squad leader for Btry. B, from Lake Charles, La. 

The unit managed to scrounge up two-by-fours from the military materiel and supply yard. The repair and utility representative and Bedford, Va., native Spc. Benjamin Willis, constructed square-shaped stands to hold targets, as well as paddles crafted by attaching a simple, square piece of plywood to a two-by-four, Vital added. 

"If the stands get shot up, [Willis] builds new ones," said Vital. 

Once the target stands and paddles were constructed, Soldiers who would act as the range safeties were identified and additional tasks divided out for the setup of the range.

Upon arriving, the Soldiers lugged previously filled sandbags to the firing line. The sandbags served as an aid to them while in prone and supported positions. 

The Soldiers dragged the assembled target stands to the edge of the sandy berm and situated them, 25 meters directly in front of the sandbags. They pried rusty nails from the wood frames and reused them to hang the cardboard, on which the paper targets were attached. The cardboard was then gathered from empty packing boxes, with the intent to be reused, if possible.

Additional Soldiers spray-painted the handcrafted wood paddles - red on one side, black on the other - to be used when the range was functioning, indicating to the noncommissioned officer in charge of the range whether each firing order was ready to put bullets down-range. 

Battery B noncommissioned officers have learned to use everything they can get their hands on, from tape to thumbtacks to paper plates in constructing the targets, said Olea.

"Our staple gun quit working properly, so we used thumb tacks to hang the targets," said Vital. 

The squad leaders have tried to be creative with the training as well in order to keep the Soldiers on their toes, said Olea. 

"We try to make [the range] competitive," said Olea, "to get everyone to strive to shoot better and really push themselves."

At a previous range, the Soldiers conducted what they call a "stress shoot." During the shoot, Soldiers team up in pairs and are timed and graded on their performance while negotiating various obstacles.

Olea said the intent of the stress shoot is to simulate what Soldiers' reaction times and accuracy might be during combat. 

Soldiers must sprint from obstacle to obstacle, shooting in various positions at different types of targets - in this case, paper plates and plastic bottles. Each team must communicate throughout, sometimes carrying a litter full of water bottles to simulate carrying a casualty.

Extra stress is added into the mix as Soldiers are given point deductions if they are caught performing an unsafe act, such as not putting a weapon on safe when loading a new magazine, not carrying a litter correctly, and even shooting out of order.

First Lt. Jeremiah Faught, a section leader with Btry B, and native of Sotin, Wash., said these training exercises are critical because the Soldiers regularly run intense missions outside of the wire that last four to six hours, and they serve on quick reaction force teams every other week. 

"Warrior tasks are very important because they're what keeps [Soldiers] alive," Faught asserted. 

Another important task is preserving the environment after a range concludes.

Soldiers conduct a "police call," raking through the sand to collect all of the expended brass casings. Others repack their improvised supplies, determined to leave the area the way they found it: a 20-foot high dune rising from a sandy lot, partially masking the bustling life of Baghdad.    

February 8, 2010 at 6:53am

The Flying Cannons of Kandahar: 3-17 FA Transports Howitzers to FOB Price by Helicopter

KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, completed the transfer of two M110 Howitzers from Kandahar Air Field to Forward Operating Base Price Jan. 16.

It may seem like a routine task, but when the transfer takes place by two CH-47 Chinook helicopters, things get a little more interesting.

"Well the first thing is that it enables us to keep the guns off of the road, so we won't be hit with [Improvised Explosive Devices] and become non-mission capable," said Staff Sgt. William Willoughby, assigned to A Battery, 3-17 FA, 5/2 ID (SBCT). "This is enabling us to stay mission capable and allowing us to move the guns at a faster speed than we would on the road."

Using helicopters during missions is new territory for 3-17 FA according to Willoughby.

"Most of us have done it three or four times here in country," Willoughby said. "It's relatively new for 3-17 to do Air Assault missions, but our guys trained well and we adapted quickly to the mission at hand."

One of the key members of the sling load team, Pfc. Michael Wall, a Bridgeport, Texas native assigned to Headquarters and Service Battery, 3-17 FA, 5/2 ID (SBCT), joined an all ready established team of soldiers from A Battery.

"It was one of those "Hey, you" details and I was the only one qualified to do it," Wall said. "My Battery is so undermanned right now having everyone pushed out, so I was the only one left to do it."

After learning the basics of sling load operations, Wall found a new passion for the duty.

"I can honestly say that I didn't know this detail was going to be fun," Wall said. "There aren't a lot of details out there that are fun, and this is one of my favorites and I've been on pretty much everything."

The operation was a success, and according to Capt. Jason Washburn, assigned to 3-17 FA, 5/2 ID (SBCT), saved 3-17 FA time and trouble.

"I think it's a great enabler," Washburn said. "It's much safer, based on the IED threat. Flying is safer than driving, right?"    

Filed under: Strykers,

February 8, 2010 at 6:56am

The cameramen behind the 5th Stryker Brigade

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Rodolfo "Rudy" Castro a videographer with 4th Combat Camera Squadron March ARB, Calif. Working with 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment Charlie Company Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Fort Lewis, Wash., documents the local surroun

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - The calls were placed on Easter Sunday, nine of them. The Fourth Combat Camera Squadron from March Air Reserve Base, Riverside, Calif., had received a tasking to Afghanistan and the team members were alerted. Although they were each given some advanced notice, the phone calls removed all doubt that the squadron would soon have a firm foot print in southern Afghanistan.

The team's mission was a first for a reserve Combat Camera Squadron. 

"This was a new tasking, we were not replacing an outgoing team," said Maj. Paul Smedegaard, a Phoenix, Ariz., resident and the officer in charge of the team. "We had to establish a brand new team and build the infrastructure at the management level from the ground up." 

Upon arrival in Kandahar, Oct. 20, 2009, the squadron members, self-titled the "A-Team," received several days of briefings, vehicle roll over training and a class in counter-improvised explosive device recognition. However, before being forward deployed, members received the specialized training they would need to effectively support the 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team. For the 179 day deployment the combat camera team had to learn infantry tactics, small unit drills and become familiar with the special equipment from which the brigade gets its name.

It didn't take long for the teams to get a real taste of combat. On their inaugural mission Master Sgt. Juan Valdes and Tech Sgt. Francisco Govea II encountered their first Improvised Explosive Device. The Stryker in front of theirs hit a large IED, resulting in a catastrophic kill with several casualties. Relying on their training, instinct and prior combat experience the two combat photographers immediately began to document the recovery, which lasted well into the night. The video and still pictures were promptly sent up the chain of command to the brigade. The imagery gave key leaders a visual representation of the events on the ground.

"We routinely use combat camera imagery to explain our operations to other units and agencies so they can visualize the complexities of the terrain in which our Soldiers operate," said Maj. Cory Delger the brigade's fire support officer.

The Combat Camera team generally transmits images to the brigade within 4 - 12 hours of mission completion. The quick turn around provides leadership with a near-real time snapshot of the battle space. Once the images are posted on the brigade's shared portal, the images are given a classification and forwarded to the Pentagon where they are distributed to decision makers within the Department of Defense. The pictures and videos that are cleared for release are made available to the public on the web. See www.defenseimagery.mil. 

Despite the inherent danger, the teams still document much of the same types of events they would on any other deployment. 

"The fundamentals of photography do not change from one mission to another," said Tech. Sgt. Efren Lopez a combat photographer forward deployed with the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment. "The body armor and my M-16 makes shooting more difficult, but the photographic opportunities make the added stressors worth it. The people and landscape of Afghanistan are amazing subjects." Lopez is a reservist and a full time commercial photographer in Phoenix, Ariz. When he was initially chosen for the mission he saw a unique opportunity to build his military portfolio. 

Although the Fourth Combat Camera Squadron members were activated for this deployment, the commander was able to fill the tasking with an all volunteer force. For Staff Sgt. Dayton Mitchell, a photographer from Las Vegas, Nev., getting on the initial team was not an option. He volunteered even before the tasking was official. He believed he could make a difference and embraced the opportunity to set the standard for future teams. The squadron has been tasked with at least one more rotation.

Mitchell said the opportunity to work with and learn from the Army has enriched his military career. He has learned about documenting combat operations from one of the most active units in southern Afghanistan. In exchange, he has passed along several photographic tips to the Soldiers, such as how to properly pose people for group photos and the benefits of using natural light instead of a flash.

The group is now past the halfway point of their deployment and despite the many hardships, the team remains focused. They overcame many of the initial challenges and are now fully integrated into operations. 

This deployment is the first time a Combat Camera squadron from the Air Force Reserve Command has been tasked with establishing initial operations and Smedegaard could not be more pleased with the job his team is doing. For him, the images his team is producing are among the best photographs that have come out of Afghanistan since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001. 

"Our imagery gives the American public, the international community and the people of Afghanistan the opportunity to view first-hand the counterinsurgency operations here in Afghanistan," said Smedegaard. 

Although the team has less than 60 days left on their deployment, they still face a long road ahead. The constant threat of IEDs, austere conditions and an impending troop buildup leave little doubt that the next two months will continue to bring tremendous challenges.    

Filed under: Strykers,

February 9, 2010 at 6:03am

4th Bde: Finds bomb making factory

Using a laser pointer during a meeting at 4th Battalion, 22nd Iraqi Army Brigade, 6th IA Division headquarters in Ghazaliya, Feb. 4, the battalion commander, Iraqi army Lt. Col. Abdullah, explains to Capt. Vic Morris, commander, Company F, 52nd Infantry R

BAGHDAD - The voice of one trusting local citizen helped keep the streets safer in southern Ghazaliya when he notified 4th Battalion, 22nd Iraqi Army Brigade, 6th IA Division, of a possible improvised explosive device factory.

"Whether it's big information or small information, [it's] all important information," said IA Lt. Col. Abdullah, the 4th Bn., commander. "Whatever we find, no matter how small it is, we found it because of our efforts, because of our sources, and because of the information that we get."

The information regarding the IED factory turned out big, resulting in the seizure of a quarter kilogram of ammonium nitrate, 43 battery connecters and condensers, one cell phone and other supplies used to create magnetically-attached IEDs, commonly used to in assassinations.

This, along with other recent tips provided by local citizens, continues to demonstrate that many Iraqis are no longer afraid to come forward and help, said Abdullah. 

"Day by day, the trust of the civilians is getting stronger," he said.

The partnership developed between the IA and the local civilians has become a key topic of discussion during council meetings attended by 4th Bn. and local sheikhs. 

At the meetings, Abdullah updates council leaders on what improvements have been made by his battalion.

Bolstering the community's confidence in the battalion has led to increased participation from the local populace, greatly appreciated by the battalion, said U.S. Army officials. 

In response to the successful, Feb. 4, discovery, Soldiers from Company F, 52nd Infantry Regiment, the Iraqi battalion's U.S. partners, visited the battalion headquarters in Ghazaliya to congratulate them.

"The fact that they were able to seize these MA-IEDs degrades the enemy's ability to conduct attacks against them," said Capt. Vic Morris, the commander. 

The company is attached to 2nd Battalion, 12th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. 

Morris and Abdullah said they plan to continue to work together in the future, using assets such as military working dogs and metal detectors to improve security for the local populace. 

Abdullah summed up contributions of the citizens who helped find the bomb-making factory with a quote from the Quran: "When you protect someone from being killed, you're saving everybody's life."

Filed under: Strykers,

February 9, 2010 at 12:40pm

Memorial for 5th Stryker

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Family, friends, Service members and

the Joint Base community will remember a Soldier who died while in

support of Operation Enduring Freedom with a ceremony to be conducted

Wednesday, February 10, at 3 p.m. in the JBLM Lewis North Chapel.

Sgt. Carlos E. Gill, 25, of Fayetteville N.C., died Jan. 26 at Walter

Reed Army Medical Center of an illness. He was evacuated from Kandahar

Air Field, Afghanistan, on Dec. 19, 2009, where he was supporting combat

operations. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment,

5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

The brigade deployed to Afghanistan in July, 2009.

Filed under: Strykers,

February 11, 2010 at 3:38pm

Medical CSM named NCO Academy commandant

Madigan Healthcare System specialists and sergeants attending the Warrior Leader Course at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Noncommissioned Officer Academy will see a familiar face sitting at the commandant's desk. Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew Shepardson was hand-selected by leadership to serve as the top enlisted leader at the base's Army NCO development school.

Shepardson recently said goodbye to friends, families and Soldiers during the Madigan Healthcare System Troop Command change of responsibility ceremony Jan. 20, at Keeler Sports and Fitness Center.

His two-year appointment as commandant is unusual - typically the position is held by command sergeants major from one of the combat arms.

His selection as commandant is a testament to his career as a leader of Soldiers, said his former boss, Lt. Col. Jon Van Steenvort, Troop Command commander.

"(The JBLM leadership) could not have picked a better NCO, leader or person than (Shepardson) to educate, develop and grow the NCOs of tomorrow," Van Steenvort said. "I am confident he will make history by taking the reins of the NCO Academy and moving it forward to leadership excellence."

Shepardson assumes the duties as commandant at a pivotal time for the NCO Education System, which is undergoing a redesign to better mirror officer schools' curriculums. More focus will be placed on critical thinking and problem-solving skills. This will better prepare front-line leaders, like young sergeants, to make split-second, complex decisions during the heat of the battle, Shepardson said.

At JLBM, the title noncommissioned officers academy will be replaced with the Institute of Professional Development, and instead of being subordinate to the base, the school falls under the Training and Doctrine Command. Shepardson said he likes the changes, as commandants at the base level will have more of a voice on NCO education standardization.

"In my perspective, it's a great opportunity to voice concerns of the I Corps NCOs to the rest of the Army," he said. Shepardson is ready to prove wrong those who think a medic can't teach infantry tactics, marching and NCO leadership.

"I look at it like this - an NCO is an NCO," he said, "and all NCOs, whether infantrymen or lab technicians, should have predetermined leadership skills required of any leader to lead in the Army, and that's the bottom line."

Replacing Shepardson at Troop Command is Command Sgt. Maj. David Rogers, who comes to Madigan from just a few miles down the road at 62nd Medical Brigade. He joins fellow 62nd alumnus Van Steenvort. Both deployed to Iraq for 15 months with their former unit more than a year ago. But the day belonged to Shepardson as the outgoing senior enlisted leader of Troop Command.

"I've done my research - your peers, subordinates and superiors above you, everything I found on google.com, everything they said; you did a fantastic job," Rogers said about Shepardson. "I am both honored and humbled to follow in your footsteps."

February 11, 2010 at 3:40pm

Soldier’s suggestion to fix problem on Kiowa Warrior helicopters ‘is an asset’ for Army

Sgt. Samuel Viall stands next to a XM 296 .50-caliber machine gun mounted on an OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter. Viall designed and built a .50 caliber flash suppressor removal tool and was awarded the 2009 Suggester of the Year (JBLM Lewis) and 2009 Mili

When 4th Squadron, 6th Air Cavalry Regiment's Sgt. Samuel Viall saw a costly problem during his tour in Iraq, he proposed a fix that can save the Army some money and possibly some lives, too.

In recognition of his idea, Viall was named 2009 Suggester of the Year for both Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the Army.

The suggestion, a housing that stabilizes the flash suppressor jacket on the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior's XM-296 .50-caliber, aircraft-mounted machine gun for careful extraction, was born from necessity.

Prior to Viall's suggestion, the housing could only be removed via brute force.

The more than 1,000 pounds of leverage needed to loosen the stuck barrels could have undesired consequences, he said.

One example from his time in Iraq illustrates the point. Returning from a mission, the barrel of an OH-58D's XM-296 was jammed into the receiver of the gun because of heat and carbon buildup, Viall said.

Using the normal means of extraction, part of the barrel housing was unknowingly damaged, he said. When fired during a subsequent mission, a flash suppressor tine broke off and flew through the canopy.

"Luckily, it didn't injure the pilot," Viall said.

Viall's suggestion will save the Army more than $39,000 during its first year of use.

A letter of nomination said the improvement reduces the amount of damage to equipment during routine maintenance by 95 percent.

"Previously, Soldiers were having to strap down the receiver to a tabletop or something heavy," he said. "Then they'd pry it loose with a big wrench."

Units can produce the tool locally in their own machine shops, he said.

After word of Viall's invention spread, other Kiowa units in Iraq were lining up to get their hands on the invention.

"The general said, ‘We need this thing now - we need our weapons up,'" Viall said.

Production of the new tool became a full-time job for Viall and others in the shops platoon, he said.

"We made about one per day," Viall said. "They were waiting on a solution."

A year and a half later, after a permanent change of station to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Viall was informed of the award.

"It was pretty amazing," he said. "It was a big surprise."

The Army training manual that covers the repair of the XM-296 weapon system now includes Viall's invention and procedures.

Viall will receive his Suggester of the Year Award in Washington, D.C., next month.

Viall's commander, Maj. James Faulknor, said the sergeant's knowledge and skills are indispensable to the unit.

"His accomplishment really is a great thing," Faulknor said. "Speaking from a maintenance perspective, the ability - in the field - to exchange something this rapidly is an asset."

It can be manufactured by anyone with the same MOS in any unit, he said.

Battalion commander Lt. Col. Charles Bell said he is proud to have a Soldier like Viall under his command.

"His suggestion has great utility across the Army," Bell said.

Filed under: Army News,

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