Northwest Military Blogs: Army West Blog

Posts made in: February, 2012 (98) Currently Viewing: 1 - 10 of 98

February 1, 2012 at 12:11am

Valentines to Veterans connects local Servicemembers, vets

Last year, AAFES tested out a new program with a lot of heart. Its Valentines for Veterans campaign was a nationwide effort intended to connect those still serving with those who had served before. Based on its initial success, the program is now back for a second year.

Through Feb. 6, AAFES Exchange shoppers can take a moment to send some love to local veterans in honor of Valentine's Day. Free cards are provided at Exchange locations, but customers are also welcome to bring their own cards. Completed valentines will be distributed on or before Feb. 14 to nearby military retirement facilities, Fisher House locations and Veterans Administration hospitals.

"Our shoppers include many veterans and their families who know what it means to serve, and understand how nice it is to be remembered," said Exchange Chief of Staff Col. Thomas Ockenfels. "This is an opportunity for our patrons to reach out to those who've already served."

Valentines for Veterans drop boxes, and tables with cards, are located near the entrances of both Joint Base Lewis-McChord Exchange locations, near the food court.  

February 1, 2012 at 6:54am

TRIWEST hit with $10M fine


WASHINGTON - One of the Pentagon's major health care contractors, which is fighting to keep its multibillion-dollar contract, recently paid a $10 million fine to the federal government to settle a Justice Department suit over claims the company failed to pass on savings to the military.

TriWest Healthcare Alliance, a consortium of non-profit groups in the West, is one of three main contractors for Tricare, the Pentagon's health care program. It paid the government in September to settle a case in which four employees claimed the company defrauded the government by keeping savings it generated while working on the contract.

TriWest has held the contract - estimated to be worth about $17 billion over the next five years - since 1996. It is now in the middle of a rebidding process that likely will be settled next month.

The Defense Department asked for the new bids after UnitedHealth Group argued that Tricare chose contractors that promised to negotiate discounts with providers at levels below Medicare. That, they say, is an invitation to focus on low costs rather than quality care. UnitedHealthcare, which is part of UnitedHealth Group, is competing against TriWest in the bidding process.

But since that complaint pushed the government to renegotiate bids, former TriWest employees filed a whistle-blower lawsuit saying TriWest "systematically defrauded" Tricare, and that:


February 1, 2012 at 6:58am

U.S. seeks new limits on troops’ and their families legal rights


For decades, federal law has barred troops from suing the government for any injuries they suffer as a result of malpractice in military medical facilities, no matter how negligent or egregious the error.

Now government lawyers in Florida are seeking to expand that restriction to include the spouses and children of service members.


February 1, 2012 at 7:55am

JBLM MP’s hone leadership skills

Photo by Staff Sgt. Teresa Adams Soldiers assigned to the 170th Military Police Company, 504th MP Battalion, 42nd MP Brigade, prepare to tow a vehicle Jan 10 during a field training exercise.

JOINT BASE LEWIS McCHORD, Wash., -- Most days he is a team leader in a military police platoon. Today he steps up to the plate and takes over as squad leader for his team. Utilizing the training received from his leadership, the average onlooker would never guess that today is his first time as squad leader.

Sgt. Hannibal Acosta-Alicea, a military police specialist and native of Kissimmee, Fla., and Soldiers assigned to the 170th Military Police Company, 504th MP Battalion, 42nd MP Brigade sharpened their troop leading skills during a field training exercise Jan. 10th at JBLM.

The training exercise is in preparation of a scheduled rotation to the National Training Center and in anticipation of a future deployment to Afghanistan.

The exercise began Jan. 3 with basic troop leading procedures and culminated on Jan. 10 and 11 when squads were evaluated by platoon leaders based on performance during combat scenarios such as; securing and responding to improvised explosive devices, conducting reconnaissance and surveillance, gathering intelligence, setting up tactical check points and performing as a quick reaction force while engaging the enemy during simulated live fires.

The command was pleased with Acosta's performance during the field exercise.

"Sgt. Acosta is a warrior that every commander loves to see in his formation, he is an intelligent and tactically proficient warrior who is aggressively dedicated to mission accomplishment," said Andrew Sergent, commander of the 170th. "His skills will ensure our Military Police soldiers are successful on the battlefield and here at home."

Acosta-Alicea and bravo team effortlessly navigate the first two squad lanes. While patrolling a fictitious village as part of a three vehicle convoy, his team gathered intelligence by questioning a village elder. Upon leaving the village they encountered an improvised explosive device. They immediately secured the device until an explosive ordinance disposal unit could respond.

"This is my first time as a squad leader," said Acosta-Alicea. "I am learning to let my team leaders think for themselves."

U.S. Army 2nd Lt. MacKenzie Duncan, 1st platoon leader, assigned to the 170th is the observer controller and access's the squad's proficiency during the exercise.

"Sgt. Acosta is a team leader who was chosen to fill in as a squad leader," said Duncan. "This sudden change in responsibility for him has been challenging to grasp during the lanes, but we have stood by to help assist and provide direction. By the second week of this field exercise, you wouldn't know it was only his second week as a Squad Leader."

Under the guidance of Acosta-Alicea, bravo team was successful during the quick reaction force lane. The squad provided security for friendly forces under simulated enemy contact by returning enemy fire and towing a disabled vehicle. Acosta-Alicea gave his team leaders the appropriate orders; ensuring that all returned to the tactical operations center safely.

"The more hands-on training we do the more proficient we become and this makes it possible for everyone to make it home," said Acosta-Alicea.

Part of the military police mission is to conduct reconnaissance and surveillance and provide security for troops during combat situations. The 170th ensures that its troops are ready for any mission by rehearsing troop leading procedures until they become second nature.

"Don't be nervous, follow your training," said Acosta-Alicea. "Every team leader has the same training as every squad leader. Step up and train as you fight."

February 2, 2012 at 6:20am

Some parents can now be buried alongside vets


The Veterans Affairs Department has announced new burial rules to make parents of some deceased veterans eligible for interment in national veterans cemeteries.

The policy, announced Tuesday in a notice in the Federal Register, implements the Corey Shea Act, passed by Congress in 2010 as part of a comprehensive veterans benefits bill that allows parents to be buried alongside a service member who had no surviving spouse or children at the time of death. No more than two parents could be buried alongside a veteran, meaning plots could not be used for two parents plus an adoptive stepparent, for example.

The bill is named for Army Spc. Corey M. Shea, who died in Iraq on Nov. 12, 2008. He was 21 years old when he was shot by an Iraqi army soldier, and his mother, Denise Anderson, pressed Congress to allow her to be buried alongside her son when she dies. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., were chief sponsors of the legislation that expanded the burial benefit to include parents who would otherwise not be able to be interred.

In tearful testimony before the House Veterans Affairs Committee in 2009, Anderson said her son "was not married nor did he have any dependents" when he died. "He did not have time, since, like I said, he was a child himself."

There are several limitations:


February 3, 2012 at 6:18am

JBLM storm workers recognized for their efforts

Scott Hansen/JBLM PAO Col. Thomas Brittain congratulates Tech Sgt. Sean Cornwell, of the 62nd Logistics Readiness Squadron, for a job well done Jan. 26.

When thousands of people were without power on Joint Base Lewis-McChord during the snow and ice storm two weeks ago, civilians and military personnel hustled to restore it.

When roads, yards and common areas were covered in debris on base, they also cleared the damage. And when the storm closed down Sea-Tac International Airport, McChord Field runways were still operational.

While efforts continue to recover the storm damage, JBLM recovered quickly thanks to the extraordinary efforts of many people. Colonel Thomas Brittain, JBLM commander, gathered 77 of those who played roles in restoring services on base and honored them Jan. 26 at the Warrior Zone on JBLM Lewis North. Brittain awarded the civilians and servicemembers commander's certificates of appreciation.

"It's a thank you to a lot of the civilians and military that may not have been working in the same areas that came together as a team of teams to solve a problem," Brittain said. "It was one of those things that reinforces that the military is a team sport."

Brittain said the 77 award recipients represented the hundreds, or even thousands of people who worked to get JBLM back to normal operations. The "team of teams" award recipients represented seven departments:

Directorate of Emergency Services, Directorate Family and Morale Welfare and Recreation, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, Directorate of Logistics, Directorate of Public Works, Network Enterprise Center and Joint Medical Battalion.

The first snowfall began Jan. 16, and as the days progressed the weather quickly turned to freezing rain followed by high winds, resulting in massive regional power outages. Civilians worked overtime and the military donated thousands of volunteer hours.

"They were working above and beyond their normal duty day to operate equipment and help out with the cleanup efforts," Brittain said.

Staff Sgt. Jason Edwards and Airman 1st Class Casey Johnson, of 627th Air Base Group, were recognized. During the storm, Edwards and Johnson maintained air traffic control landing systems on McChord Field. They said they were humbled; to them it was just another day at the office.

"I didn't do anything other than my regular job," Edwards said.

Brittain recognized the awardees at the new Warrior Zone the day before its grand opening. They were given a free meal along with their certificates.

"It's a neat combination to be able to say thank you to them with an opportunity for them to see this (Warrior Zone) and be some of the first ones in the pre-grand opening to be here," Brittain said.

February 3, 2012 at 6:35am

Local CFC pledge drive nets second highest total ever

The 50th Combined Federal Campaign pledge drive brought in the second highest dollar amount ever for the South Puget Sound, but the campaign isn't just about the money.

For those involved most closely, the CFC was about a spirit of service and connecting to the community, and a way of reminding people of what really matters when times are tough.

"It's always challenging raising money," said CFC of South Puget Sound Director Melanie Manista-Rushforth. But in spite of the challenge and a down economy, organizers predict that Soldiers, Airmen and other federal employees committed to donating around $1.35 million to local and national charities.

The pledges are automatically deducted from employees paychecks and sent to agencies of their choice. Since the last day to solicit pledges in December, the CFC has pulled in $1,325,932, with expectations of more once online contributions have been added in.

Already the campaign is the second-largest ever, following last year's total of $1.41 million.

Manista-Rushforth sees a few reasons for the jump - first, in recent years a lot more servicemembers have been home and able to make helping others a priority. Second, servicemembers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord tend to be more seamlessly integrated into their communities than at other installations, making them more likely to want to give back to them.

"Once the family unit is back together, they can rethink giving," she said.

There aren't results yet showing which charities were most popular, but Manista-Rushforth says historically servicemembers have given heavily to organizations "inside the fence." JBLM's Fisher House and the USO are always big recipients, but agencies that support children and animals get a lot of attention, too.

But outside charities are not forgotten, which says a lot to Manista-Rushforth. She's prior service herself, and remembers being stationed places where military members all lived near each other, looked like each other and didn't interact much with the civilian world.

Here, she said, it's different - and that benefits everyone.

"When you feel like you're actually part of the community that's supporting you, you're more likely to contribute," she said. "You don't get that silo effect."

For her the best part of the campaign was watching the four loaned executives - employees temporarily tasked to the

CFC from the U.S. Postal Service, JBLM (both Army and Air Force) and Madigan Army Medical Center - embody the sense of social consciousness that's so important. In fact, she wishes more people would follow their lead.

"I want people to stop being so afraid to support their community," she said.

After all, when you support your community you ensure that it's able to support you.

February 4, 2012 at 6:14am

5-20 Regulars’ academy is anything but

FORWARD OPERATING BASE LAGMAN, Afghanistan - The backbone of any army is the Non-Commissioned Officer Corps. The NCOs train their troops, look after their needs and provide the first line of leadership to all their soldiers. In the absence of orders, they are to take the initiative and execute with the proper actions.

That is exactly what the NCOs of Sykes' Regulars, 5th Battalion 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division believe, and they are looking forward to sharing that with the Afghan National Army NCOs of 2nd Infantry Kandak Headquarters, 3rd Brigade, 205th "Atal" Corps.

"We wanted to enable the Afghans to be able to train themselves," said Sgt. 1st Class Paul Underkoffler, operations sergeant major, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 5-20 Inf. Regt. "So the first step is training the NCOs, who will then be able to train their soldiers."

Although the academy was a joint endeavor between Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph Dallas, command sergeant major Task Force Regulars, and Command Sgt. Maj. Ahmad Buylar, command sergeant major 2nd Kandak, the NCOs of Task Force Regulars went from a concept and created the academy in three weeks. They developed many different classes for the senior NCOs of the 2nd Kandak before presenting the curriculum to both command sergeants major. Buylar then decided which classes he wanted taught to his NCOs.

The first class started Jan. 29 and lasted three days. The subjects included roles of the NCO, identification of improvised explosive devices, map reading, first aid and field sanitation.

The academy is currently in its infancy, and the NCOs of Task Force Regulars plan on it being a huge success. They intend to conduct the academy every other month, with it growing in duration to a few weeks.

"From this academy we got a lot of ideas of what they want to be trained on," added Underkoffler.

Underkoffler went on to say they are trying to develop a program where they train the Afghan senior NCOs to become trainers themselves.

"The next phase is we get them trained," said Underkoffler. "Then, we move out of the leading role and into the support role just making sure that they're training and [we're] providing them with any help that they need."

The NCOs of Task Force Regulars are trying to ensure that the 2nd Kandak leadership recognizes the importance of having an academy that they can send their senior NCOs too. Once the ANA have a stronger NCO Corps, they will also have a stronger army.

"We're trying to get them to ... buy into it, and that way they will be able to sustain the academy," added Underkoffler. "Because if we train them and they don't have a buy in, the academy will cease after we leave."

Photo: Sgt. 1st Class Copeland, 5th Battalion 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division demonstrates how to properly apply a sling on an Afghan National Army non-commissioned officer

February 4, 2012 at 6:22am

Danger Pay Now Calculated By the Day


Starting this month, the Defense Department will calculate imminent-danger pay by the day rather than the month, a cost-cutting move the department estimated last year could save $30 million annually.

Up to now, servicemembers received a full month's imminent-danger pay -- $225 -- for spending even a single day in designated hazardous areas, which range from war zones such as Afghanistan to out-of-the-way spots like Montenegro.

But beginning Feb. 1, they'll get the extra pay only for days they're actually present in the danger zones. The prorated daily amount works out to $7.50.

"This is a more targeted way of handling that pay," Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby said Thursday.

The exception is for troops exposed to hostile fire.

"If you take fire, you get the full $225," regardless of time spent in the area, said DoD spokeswoman Eileen Lainez.


February 5, 2012 at 6:59am

As drawdown looms, mind your personnel file


With the Army poised to launch a major drawdown of forces involving tighter promotion rates and involuntary separations, service officials say it's time for soldiers to spruce up their personnel files.

"Soldiers should serve as their own best career manager," said Maj. Randy Gillespie, chief of the officer promotions branch of Human Resources Command, Fort Knox, Ky.

"Soldiers should be concerned about being competitive with their peers," Gillespie said. "It's not how well soldiers compete against a set standard but how well they stand in comparison with their peers."

The bottom-line message from Gillespie and other officials with the Army promotion office is that soldiers must be quality-control managers for the personnel and training records that will constitute the board file used to determine who will get promoted and who will stay or go during the pending drawdown of officers and enlisted soldiers.

In recent weeks, senior leaders including the Army chief of staff and sergeant major of the Army have signaled that promotion rates not only will be tightened but that soldiers whose careers are stalled in over-strength specialties, or who do not measure up to Army standards of performance or behavior, are at risk of being involuntarily separated.


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