Northwest Military Blogs: Army West Blog

Posts made in: June, 2010 (7) Currently Viewing: 1 - 7 of 7

June 1, 2010 at 11:50am

5-20 Inf, Strykers, on a cache hunt

DIYALA, Iraq - The morning of May 28, proved to be a sweltering one throughout all of Diyala province, Iraq. This was especially true for the palm groves of the area, which provided a canopy that trapped humidity making the heat index underneath at 115 degrees Fahrenheit as Gen. Khalis, the division headquarters Iraqi police commander for Abu Sayda, led his men through on the hunt for weapon caches.

Advising and assisting Gen. Khalis and his men was Company C, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, along with military working dogs, an Explosive Ordinance Disposal Team, and scout weapon teams from the U.S. Forces.

"We were there because history has shown us that Abu Sayda and the surrounding areas are littered with caches," said Capt. Preston Aaron, commander of Company C, 5/20 Inf.

According to Aaron, three weeks prior to this mission, a wild fire devastated the palm groves in the area. As the fire spread, three weapon caches exploded, contributing to the rapidly growing flames as they went on to destroy crops, homes and personal property of Iraqi civilians. This, along with a rise in improvised explosive device attacks in the area prompted Aaron to do a clearing operation in the area.

"I brought up the idea to Gen. Khalis," said Aaron. "He was very energetic about the idea and wanted to do it right away. We did it literally two days after initial planning."

The movement plan through the groves and how to utilize assets was done by Gen. Khalis. Everywhere he went Aaron was two steps away, there by his side to give him advice or assistance if needed.

"We're really starting to transition to an advise and assist role with them," said Aaron. "We're stepping back, seeing how they want to do these missions, and coach, teach and mentor them. So far, it's working well."

No weapon caches were found in the particular palm groves they searched, but Aaron does not view this as a failure because he believes this has helped to strengthen his partnership with the policemen and show a presence in the area.

"It was a huge step in the right direction," said Aaron. "It was a success because our number one task of continuing intelligence driven missions in the area was achieved."

As U.S. Forces move into this advise and assist role, many Iraqi security forces in the area are going a step further and operating completely independently during unilateral operations.

"Many of the units in this area are doing so many missions, so many raids, that unless we keep up with them on a daily basis, we lose track of what they're doing," said Capt. Aaron. "They're starting to get ahead of us."

The Sykes Regulars of C Company plan on assisting Gen. Khalis and his men with missions coming up to make Abu Sayda a safer place. Even though there is more work to be done to rid the area of weapons and criminals, Gen. Khalis has seen what the work done in the past has done for this place.

"The situation here is very good, it has improved greatly in the past months," said Gen. Khalis. "I credit this not only to us, but to our strong relationship with U.S. Forces."    

June 4, 2010 at 4:42pm

Soldier charged with premeditated murder in Afghan deaths

Charges were preferred today against a soldier who is accused in the deaths of three Afghan civilians.

Charges against Specialist Jeremy Morlock include: three specifications of murder under Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 118 - Premeditated Murder; one specification of assault under Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 128, Assault.
JBLM officials emphasize that the charges constitute an accusation and that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Morlock, 22, from Wasilla, Alaska, is an infantryman assigned to B Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. He entered the military in June 2006 and reported to JBLM in December 2006, after receiving initial entry training and advanced individual training at Fort Benning, Ga.

Morlock deployed in July 2009 with his unit in support of Operation
Enduring Freedom. He redeployed on June 3, and was placed in pre-trial
confinement. This was his only deployment.

Jurisdiction of Morlock's case was passed to JBLM upon his redeployment.

Criminal Investigation Command officials are continuing their
investigation into the case.

Filed under: Afghanistan, Crime, Infantry, Strykers,

June 7, 2010 at 3:14pm

Jacoby says farewell

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Joint Base Lewis-McChord is holding a relinquishment of command ceremony on Tuesday for Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr.

He took command of I Corps in June 2007 and led the headquarters unit to Iraq in March 2009 for a yearlong deployment in which he was the No. 2 U.S. commander, in charge of operational forces.

Jacoby is moving to Washington, D.C., to serve as director of the strategic plans and policy section on the Joint Staff.

Maj. Gen. John D. Johnson will serve as interim commander of I Corps until the Pentagon announces Jacoby's replacement.

Jacoby was the 62nd commander of the military base near Tacoma

June 7, 2010 at 8:14pm

Five 5th Brigade soldiers implicated in killings

FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Five soldiers from the same Washington state-based unit have now been implicated in the killing of three Afghan civilians, an Army spokeswoman said Monday.

The Army said Friday that Spc. Jeremy Morlock had been charged with three counts of premeditated murder and one count of assault.

On Monday, Lt. Col. Tamara Parker, a Joint Base Lewis-McChord spokeswoman, said "there is enough evidence to say that five may be charged," although Morlock is the only one charged so far.

A second soldier is being held in confinement in Kuwait, and the others three remain with their unit in Afghanistan, she said.

Like Morlock, 22, of Wasilla, Alaska, the others are assigned to B Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team.

Morlock deployed in July 2009 with his unit in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He returned to the Washington state base Thursday, was charged Friday and has been placed in pretrial confinement.

The charges against Morlock involve three separate events alleged to have occurred between January and May at or near Forward Operating Base Ramrod in Afghanistan, Parker said. She said she had no further details on the victims or circumstances.

Parker said she could provide no additional information on the other four soldiers because they are not under Fort Lewis jurisdiction.

"Because they are from the same unit, we anticipate the others may return here but we don't know," she said.

A senior military official said last month that about 10 members of an Army unit based at Fort Lewis have been under investigation for as many as three civilian deaths in Afghanistan.

The official did not have details of the investigation but confirmed that the 5th Stryker Brigade was under scrutiny.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details of an investigation being conducted in Afghanistan.

The maximum penalty for conviction for premeditated murder would be life in prison or the death penalty, Parker said. Army prosecutors have not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty in Morlock's case.

Parker said she has asked whether Morlock's Army trial defense counsel wants to make a statement on Morlock's behalf but has not yet received a reply.

Filed under: Crime,

June 28, 2010 at 11:09am

3rd Strykers: Deployment reunites brothers

DIYALA, Iraq - "The best memory I had of my brother was going to the airport when he left to live with his dad when I was four," said Spc. Joshua Wagner, a cook from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 296th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.

With his own father not around, Spc. Wagner was placed in a foster home for a year until he was able to return to his mother after saying goodbye at the airport, the two brothers lost contact. Specialist Wagner spent the years afterward in and out of foster homes and learned to adapt to the new environments in which he was placed. 

While he moved, his younger brother and sister were separated and Spc. Wagner did his best to stay in contact and support them through their difficulties. This is a quality he may have gotten from his older brother, who demanded they stay together until the two were separated. 

Once Spc. Wagner was on his own, he spent much of his time finding his own path during his youth. He discovered activities, like wrestling, that he enjoyed throughout middle school and high school, but he could never quite decide on what to do after graduation. 

"When I got done with school, I tried the whole college thing but couldn't really stay focused," said Spc. Wagner, a Red Bluff, Calif., native. "So I decided to join the Army because I always liked to cook and figured I could get more experience there."

Meanwhile life for his brother, 2nd Lt. Justin Wagner, was in many ways the exact opposite. Living with his father in Pennsylvania provided a more regimented childhood filled with chores, curfews, and an emphasis on school work.

"With my dad, there were a lot more rules on what I could do, which kept me from getting in trouble like we did when we were together," said 2nd Lt. Wagner. "It was a great childhood, but I still always missed the old lifestyle with him [Spc. Wagner]."

As he got older, 2nd Lt. Wagner wanted to help kids growing up in situations similar to what he and his brother faced. When he started college, his goal was to obtain a teaching degree, but later his focus switched to criminal justice. After he received his degree, he first worked in social services, but realized it was not what he truly wanted to do and started considering the military.

By this time the younger Wagner brother was a step ahead, working through the initial entry phase of his military career. Shortly after Spc. Wagner graduated from Advanced Individual Training, he learned that his little sister had reconnected with their older brother through MySpace, an online social-networking site.

"When my sister and then my mom started talking to him about a year ago, I got his information because I just wanted to know how he was doing," said Spc. Wagner. "I found out that he was about to graduate from college and he wanted to know what my time in the Army was like."

Among many topics, the two discussed Spc. Wagner's career in the Army, and whether or not it would be a good choice for his older brother.

"At first I recommended he look into the Air Force, but I told him that with a college degree, being an officer [in the Army] would be great," said Spc. Wagner. "After a couple months he told me that he signed up, which made me really proud."

Since his commission, a congressional appointment to an officer, the two have had plenty in common to discuss during their phone calls and e-mails. Both went to the same training base, at Fort Jackson, S.C., and they were even in the same battalion. Now they find comfort and entertainment in hearing about each other's daily duties. 

"He has told me a lot about what he does, and though a lot of it is different because he's an officer, we still have a lot of things that we understand," said Spc. Wagner. "When he graduated [Officer Candidate School], we were kind of hoping he would get stationed at [Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.] so that we would get to see each other."

Instead, 2nd Lt. Wagner was stationed at Fort Riley, Kan., with the 1st Infantry Division. That did not dampen their spirits though, because soon after he found out he would also be deployed to Iraq.

"When I found out he was coming here, I immediately went to my leaders to see if we would be able to meet," said Spc. Wagner. "I never thought that I would be in Iraq when that happened, but my command said they would definitely try to make it happen."

Second Lieutenant Wagner received a warm reception to the idea as well.

"My superiors basically told me that they would do anything I needed to make sure that he could come visit me, or I could go see him," said 2nd Lt. Wagner, executive officer for Echo Company, 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st ID. "We even set it up so that I would be able to go see him in Kuwait before his brigade goes home if he couldn't come here."

With the approval they needed, the brothers simply had to wait for an opportunity to reunite. After working with his command, Spc. Wagner was able to pack his bags and take a flight to his brother's duty station at Contingency Operating Site Taji, June 18. 

All those years separated did not change the fact that these two share an obvious bond. Both have reserved personalities but were beaming with excitement to see each other. Quickly the stories started spilling from each brother, conversations that were 17 years in the making. Those close to 2nd Lt. Wagner continually made comments about how his younger brother acted just like him. Specialist Wagner had the same outgoing personality his older brother remembers from their childhood.

"He seemed to get along with everybody he met here really well, and it showed he hasn't changed much from when we were kids," said 2nd Lt. Wagner. "He always used to be the one that wanted to make everyone smile, and would do anything to get it done."

It didn't take much to get a smile from the siblings as they spent two days catching up on Family, friends and work. Though it was only a short reunion, they were able to make plans for their next visit and agree to take a family vacation when they both return to the United States.

"I'm still going to try and go to Kuwait to see him again, and we'll keep up through e-mail for now," said 2nd Lt. Wagner. "But we are also planning ahead for when we are both home because we have decided we want to take a vacation somewhere." 

Now that the two have been formally reunited, this is just the first of their plans to stick together through the years to come. Soon Spc. Wagner will have a lot more to remember than just the day his brother moved away.    

June 29, 2010 at 10:04am

Operation Ward 57 flag makes its way to D.C.

Here is an update on a story we wrote a couple of months ago about a Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier and a charity he was working with to support wounded warriors. 

Washington, D.C. - Three years ago when non-profit Operation Ward 57 started, Seattle based supporter Rick Clements offered to make a 10-foot flag like he had done for the Seahawks football team years before, but this time with the yellow & black WARD 57 logo to gather signatures of support for amputee soldiers returning from Iraq and recovering on Ward 57 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in WA, DC.

Since 2007 the flag has been at various events in the Northwest gathering sentiments such as "Thank you doesn't quite cover it."  Mr. Clements stated, "The signatures and flag symbolize support and respect for those wounded in combat."

This February, the flag was sent off with final signatures from students at Antioch University, Wounded Warriors from Joint Base Lewis- McChord and Seattle City Council Member Nick Licata, on its way to Iraq in the arms of SSG Christian Hamilton.  Once in Iraq the flag gathered signatures at the "Hold ‘em for Heroes" poker tournament SSG Hamilton created to raise funds for Operation Ward 57.  The event in Iraq was supported by the USO and the 1st Battalion (ASSLT), 377th FAR and raised $2,800.

Allen Schauffler of King 5 News covered the event on SSG Hamilton's last day of leave in the US. Hamilton said, "Once we get this (flag) back to Iraq and we can have some of the service members sign it, and show support for these guys up on the ward, I think it's going to be a pretty awesome deal."

Watch the interview with SSG Hamilton here:  http://www.king5.com/video/featured-videos/Hole-em-for-Heroes-poker-tournament-86652762.html

Recently Hamilton returned to the area after a year-long deployment and is on a cross-country road trip with his girlfriend and Operation Ward 57 administrator Brittney McBride. They are personally delivering the flag to the staff and patients on Ward 57.

Officer in Charge and Head Clinical Nurse, Lt. Colonel David Cassella and Ward Master SFC Velesia Janet will be receiving the flag this Wednesday at an Ice Cream Social event produced by Operation Ward 57, Bruster's Ice Cream and supporters Joe & Lisa Heeter of Cruise One.

Operation Ward 57 was started by Deborah Semer in 2007 with her husband SSG (Ret.) Scott Cameron, a nurse on Ward 57. It's mission is to support wounded warriors, their families and medical staff at Walter Reed Army Medical Center by providing items that assist in recovery, maintenance and morale of the hospital environment and through advocacy, education and promotion of their circumstances.

For more information about Operation Ward 57 visit www.operationward57.org or www.facebook.com/operationward57

Filed under: Veterans, Fort Lewis,

June 30, 2010 at 9:24am

Guard band begins summer concert series

CAMP MURRAY - The Washington Army National Guard's 133rd Army Band will perform a series of free community summer concerts through July 8.  Concert venues range from Tacoma and Olympia areas to the peninsula.

The 133rd Band will be performing works by contemporary composers Julie Giroux and Leonard Bernstein, and many patriotic favorites during the course of their concert schedule:

June 30 - Huntamer Park in Lacey at noon.

June 30 - Pioneer Park in Steilacoom at 6:30 p.m.

July 1 - Capital Campus Lawn in Olympia at 7:00 p.m.

July 2 - James Center of the Performing Arts in Sequim at 6:00 p.m.

July 3 - McCurdy Pavilion at Fort Warden Park in Port Townsend at 6:30 p.m.

July 4 - City of Port Angeles 4th of July Celebration at 6:00 and 8:30

p.m.

July 6 - Skansie Park in Gig Harbor at 7:00 p.m.

July 7 - VA Hospital in Lakewood at 1:00 pm and 6:30 p.m.

July 8 - Curran Apple Orchard in University Place at 6:30 p.m.

The 133rd Band is comprised of 41 citizen-soldiers who serve as musical ambassadors to our communities, in addition to providing music throughout the full spectrum of military operations.   

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