Northwest Military Blogs: Army West Blog

Posts made in: March, 2012 (102) Currently Viewing: 1 - 10 of 102

March 1, 2012 at 6:10am

Rules explained for shopping in exchanges in Germany

HEIDELBERG, Germany -- U.S. forces stationed outside Germany are not normally allowed to shop at the exchanges and commissaries in Germany, say military customs officials. But, they noted, that there are exceptions.

"Active duty service members and U.S. civilian employees who are based in countries like Belgium, the Netherlands or Italy can shop at U.S. facilities in Germany if they are on [temporary duty], leave or pass," said Fred Evans, chief of Customs Services at U.S. Forces Customs--Europe.

These shoppers must have their TDY orders with them to use facilities there, he added. U.S. forces personnel in Germany on leave or pass must carry documentation that identifies their duty stations in Europe or North Africa when shopping at U.S. military retail facilities in Germany.

Family members can also travel to Germany and shop in an exchange or commissary without sponsors, as long as they carry a copy of the orders assigning their sponsors to Europe or North Africa.

Customs officials pointed out, however, that dependents of U.S. personnel on TDY to Germany from locations other than Europe or North Africa are not authorized shopping privileges in Germany.

"Duty and tax-free shopping is a very important benefit to U.S. personnel stationed in a high-cost country like Germany," Evans said. "But one condition of that privilege is that we limit access to the sales facilities to authorized personnel."

In Germany, the use of U.S. facilities is based on the NATO Status of Forces Agreement. It specifies military tax-free facilities are designated for the sole use of members of the military forces, federal civilian employees and other personnel with SOFA status, and their authorized dependents, while they are stationed in Germany.

March 1, 2012 at 6:12am

Eyes could provide windows to traumatic brain injury

Long hailed as windows to the soul, the eyes also might provide insight for researchers at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, or USARIEM, who are evaluating and working to improve methods for detecting traumatic brain injuries, or TBI, in Soldiers while they are still deployed.

"The ultimate goal is to provide the most accurate and efficient tools and techniques for determining Soldier performance and readiness," said Dr. Kristin Heaton, a neuropsychologist at USARIEM, "and bringing these tools as close to where the Soldier is working and performing his or her duties as we possibly can."

The EYE-Tracking Rapid Attention Computation, or EYE-TRAC, device being developed by Sync Think, Inc., of Boston, could provide a new tool in that quest. The portable device, which includes hooded goggles worn by the patient and a hand-held peripheral that displays results, tracks eye movements with two high-speed cameras as the patient follows a moving target on a screen.

"It's a relatively simple test, but the device uses complex algorithms to quantify how well a subject can follow, and synchronize with, the target," said Kevin Coppersmith, Sync Think CEO. "We're measuring attention performance, a subject's focus. We believe eye-movement control provides a window to the brain and can be a reliable indicator of brain health."

According to Coppersmith, desktop eye-tracking devices have been available for a decade, but EYE-TRAC would bring the technology closer to deployed Soldiers who suffer blast injuries.

"In order to make the device portable, ruggedized and self-contained, we had to build the end-to-end system from scratch," Coppersmith said. "We found that there is no head-mounted eye-tracking technology with the performance specifications to do clinical-grade testing."

USARIEM has teamed with Dr. Jamshid Ghajar of the Brain Trauma Foundation to do this research, which includes funding by the Department of Defense. Three hundred-fifty Soldiers will be studied at USARIEM, located at Natick Soldier Systems Center.

"By evaluating a person's tracking performance, we can make inferences about their attention system function," Coppersmith said. "Attention is one of the cognitive processes that [are] often affected by brain injury or illness. It can be a fairly sensitive, but not necessarily specific, indicator of brain injury."

Coppersmith said that eye movements are captured by EYE-TRAC in a 30-second test, and then graded and analyzed.

"The results presented on the hand-held are easy to read and understand, and the subject's scores are compared to normative values and also to baseline performance," Coppersmith said. "Significant deviations from either could potentially indicate further follow-up by a medical professional."

"It's a combat-readiness tool," ," Coppersmith explained. "We're careful not to use the term 'diagnostic,' because a diagnosis tends to include other testing and patient history, but we have found significant differences in eye-movement behavior in those with injury relative to those who are healthy."

How big a role EYE-TRAC will play in the future of TBI detection in Soldiers remains to be seen.

"This is one tool out of many that we're evaluating," Heaton said. "It's part of an ongoing effort, really, to provide accurate, efficient assessment tools and techniques for field use. The closer that we can get to where Soldiers are and where they may be working and injured, the more quickly we're able to get them appropriate treatment after injury."

Yet, nothing will replace people in the equation, Heaton added.

"Tools such as EYE-TRAC," said Heaton, "may provide valuable information about brain function that, when used together with other tests and clinical observations, could facilitate return to duty decision making and treatment planning."

March 1, 2012 at 6:16am

38-year-old California Cadet commissions, proves age is just a number

Kenya Nelson always knew he'd get by on his gifts. His mother and big brother both had flashes of music stardom. Kenya had all that talent, too. Four years ago, with things going well, and a budding family, a new idea came clear: Nelson felt the call to stop getting by on himself and become part of something bigger.

So he joined the Army. In December, U.S. Army Cadet Command commissioned more than 700 lieutenants at colleges and universities across the United States. Nelson was among them, earning his Army commission at 38.

It's rare for people in their late thirties to join the Army -- let alone earn an Army commission. According to Maj. William Ritch, assistant professor of military science at the University of California Los Angeles, it's a feat that would take "tremendous drive, focus and dedication" to achieve.

Nelson was ready for the challenge. His love of leadership, instilled by a single mother raising the Nelson boys in the poorest part of Philadelphia, led him to military service.

"My mother instilled in us that following others can get you into trouble," Nelson explained. "With my mother and my aunts and uncles watching over us, it became easy for us to know how to find who I should and who I shouldn't surround myself with."

Nelson's mother, Phyllis, whisked the boys, now young men, off to California in the mid-1990s when she was offered a recording contract. Kenya worked various retail jobs, attended college, and followed his brother Mark, a successful record producer and recording artist, into the Los Angeles music scene. He also married and started a family.

"I grew tired of the day-to-day," Nelson said, "with no one having my back. The Army was the best organization I could think of to join."

Nelson shipped out to basic training in May 2008, a day he won't forget. His desire to lead became clearer. His service as a non-commissioned officer in his California-based Reserve unit and his attendance at California State University -- Northridge created a gateway to officership.

Nelson uses tactics to raise his children similar to the ones his mother used to raise him and his brother. He and his wife, Aubrey, amid their three children in a flurry of shoelaces and backpack straps, head out the door to start their day. Dropping his charges at school, his leadership instincts kick in and the daily mantra begins:

"What are we?," Nelson asks.

"Leaders!" his kids reply.

"What do we do?," he asks.

"Lead by example!" they shout back.

"What happens when we don't lead?"

"We get into trouble!"

Savion, 13, Ajani, 10, and Kadir, 6, pour out of the truck to school. As a father, and now as an Army lieutenant, leadership has become something that Nelson breathes -- not leadership for the sake of notoriety or self-promotion, but for the sake of service.

"I spoke with an Army general at Fort Knox," Nelson explained. "I asked him, 'How did you become a general?' He said to me 'When I was a second lieutenant, I thought about being a second lieutenant.'

Nelson said the lesson has stuck.

"I'm not even thinking about becoming a first lieutenant. My main focus is knowing how to take care of my Soldiers. The rest will come with the territory."

March 1, 2012 at 6:19am

Chief of Staff's Professional Reading List

This reading list is an important element in the professional development of all leaders in the Army. We can never spend too much time reading and thinking about the Army profession and its interaction with the world at large. These readings will deepen our understanding of the history of armies, the critical role of leadership in combat, and the strategic environment of today and the future. There is simply no better way to prepare for the future than a disciplined, focused commitment to a personal course of reading, study, thought, and reflection. I challenge each of you to tackle these books and improve your power of critical thinking and understanding of the profession of arms.

March 1, 2012 at 6:43am

Playground Notes

Princesses unite!  There are a few princess parties that yiour daughters and you might love.  See them here, here, and here.

March 1, 2012 at 8:30pm

JBLM Marines celebrate after returning from Afghanistan

Harley Backes, 8, said one of many great things about her father, Sgt. Justin Backes, is "wherever he is, he knows where we are."

After a year apart, they were finally together again when Backes and 27 other Marines from Alpha Company, 4th Landing Support Battalion reunited with

their families Friday at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. "Red Patcher" Marines returned from a one-year mobilization that included a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan.

"You can't put this into words," Cpl. Kevin Tweet, a 4th LSB Marine, said. "It's good to be home, see the family, see the kids; they've definitely gotten a lot bigger."

His son Michael turned 3 while he was away.

"He remembered who I am," the landing support specialist said. "He's excited for me to be home and he's talking a whole lot more - that's a big difference."

On deployment, A Co. Marines and other 4th LSB troops attached to Combat Logistics Battalion 6, an active duty battalion within 2nd Marine Logistics Group. The detachment was assigned to conduct expeditionary airfield operations for forward operating bases surrounding Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

Staff Sergeant Brent Huntington, A Co. platoon sergeant, deployed with his troops and said he's proud of their performance in support of coalition forces.

"All the major airfields, from the small ones to the big ones, they were running them," Huntington said. "It was nothing but the utmost operational professionalism. I ran the airfield out of Leatherneck and I couldn't have done it without them. They did an exceptional job and I'm glad we're all home and safe."

The 4th LSB, a Selective Marine Forces Reserve logistics battalion, is a part of 4th MLG and has two companies, Headquarters and Service and A, stationed at JBLM Lewis Main. The battalion, made up of active duty and reserve Marines and Sailors at nine different sites nationwide and in Puerto Rico, "conducts landing support operations in support of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force," among other transportation-based capabilities.

Rachel Backes, Sgt. Backes' wife, said regardless of 10 years of marriage to the 13-year Marine, homecomings never get dull for her.

"Every time that our guys come home is a fantastic, special day," she said, "It doesn't matter if it's your first time or your 15th."

Jennifer May and her husband Glen were at JBLM to welcome their daughter, Lance Cpl. Jessica May, home from her first deployment. She said technology made a difference with their family in terms of staying in touch and lessening worry.

"You're always going to worry, but it was good to hear from her frequently," Jennifer said. "If we didn't hear from her for a few days I'd worry, but soon after we'd hear from her again."

Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Raftery, 4th LSB's command inspector-instructor, said the family turnout for A Co.'s return was an example of Red Patchers' exceptional Family support. The 4th LSB recently received a 2011 Department of Defense Reserve Family Readiness Award, one of only seven given annually.

"When you're away for a year it's difficult - maybe more so for the family because they don't know what their Marines are doing on a day-to-day (basis)," Raftery said. "Homecomings replace those feelings as these families reunite."

Though he's a training head for 4th LSB personnel spread across the map, Raftery said he's just as pleased to see the JBLM Marines return home safely with their mission accomplished.

"It makes me proud to know these Marines receive good training from this organization," he said. "As a commander I can sleep easier at night because I know I train these Marines the right way to get them on the path for deployment and combat operations. They applied what they learned here and came back in one piece."

PHOTO: Marine Sgt. Justin Backes leaves the Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Training Center on JBLM Lewis Main with his daughters Kylie, 4, and Harley Bostick, 8, and nephew Garrett Farmer, 7. Scott Hansen/JBLM PAO

March 1, 2012 at 8:32pm

JBLM's 110th Chem. Bn. preps for mission success

With the snow, rain and ice, Soldiers of the 110th Chemical Battalion might have been relieved to suit up in Mission Oriented Protective Posture gear recently to train on their Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives mission at Joint Base Lewis- McChord.

"We never know where we are going to be needed and what kind of call we are going to have to respond to," Capt. Olja S. Correa, assistant operations officer, 110th Chem. Bn, said. "Being able to respond to those missions in any kind of an environment makes our Soldiers able to deliver."

Soldiers in full MOPP navigated a variety of graded scenarios to prepare them for responses to CBRNE and enhanced conventional weapons attacks.

"It's really essential that we train and that we maintain the standard in order to perform and come back home safe every day," Correa said.

Over the course of nearly three weeks, the battalion broke up into teams and responded to situations requiring threat assessments of locations and data and sample retrievals.

"We give guidance to commanders about what is on the ground without having to resource out to civilian sectors because it takes them longer than it takes us," Correa said.

Technical escort teams and explosive ordnance disposal components were assessed by their performance on each element of their missions to earn annual certifications. "It is crucial to evaluate them because if something is not being done correctly, we are able to fix it here," Correa said. "This process is going to take time so mistakes they make today they probably will not make by the end of it."

It is a procedure that requires much cooperation because of communication barriers associated with wearing a mask.

"When you're in a fully enclosed suit your IQ drops 10 percent and you're thinking that you're thirsty, tired, cold or hot. You know that it's something that you're doing together that you need to understand each other and have to work together," Sgt. 1st Class Leon A. Washington, the battalion operations NCOIC, said. "Every success depends on teamwork. When you've got that team together you've got a family."

While conducting training there is an expectation of individual and collective performance improvement. The goal is a proficient team less prone to mistakes that could cost lives.

"We only have a certain amount of time to t aake a sample to take off the target. There are time constraints for EOD as well and if they don't know what they are doing or we don't or our leaders don't then the mission is a failure and people could die," Sgt. Ron C. Dean, transload NCOIC, Bravo Company, said. "Training helps prevent that because you actually can practice to almost perfection so that when it's real world it will be second nature."

March 2, 2012 at 6:32am

Promotion updates

You can access a variety of promotion stories here: Reserve captains, chief warrants, 1st LTs, and 0-4s.

March 2, 2012 at 6:34am

New Army Guidelines Make It Tougher for NCOs to Re-Enlist


SEOUL -- It just got a lot harder to stay in the Army.

Under new guidelines that went into effect Thursday, E-6s and above might not be given the option to re-enlist if they have certain negative marks on their service records. And some of those who do have the option of re-upping, could have to retrain to other jobs to do so.

As a result of the new rules, three in 10 soldiers in South Korea, for example, probably won't get the chance to re-enlist, Army officials there said.

"Tough decisions are ahead," according to a Feb. 2 memo issued by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh. "Some fully qualified soldiers will be denied re-enlistment. Commanders must carefully assess their soldiers and ensure only [the] best are retained to meet the needs of [the] Army."

"As we begin this deliberate process, it is imperative we retain those soldiers with the greatest potential for future service -- ones truly deserving to remain a part of our Army team," the memo said.


March 2, 2012 at 6:37am

Troops Say They're Overcharged for Calls Home


Members of the U.S. military say they have been overcharged by a U.S. phone company for calls made during refueling stops in Germany.

Sgt. Richard Corder told NBC News he was charged $41 for a 3-second call home from a pay phone at the Leipzig airport while he and his Army unit were en route to Iraq last May. He and his wife, Dharma, have filed a lawsuit against a San Diego-based company, BBG Communications.

"It's terrible that they would do that to us," Corder said. "I mean we volunteer to serve our country."


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