Northwest Military Blogs: Army West Blog

Posts made in: June, 2012 (92) Currently Viewing: 1 - 10 of 92

June 1, 2012 at 6:23am

JBLM exhibition puts focus on safety concerns

Spc. Thomas Lewis takes a turn behind the wheel under the supervision of instructor Steve Kristoff. Lewis was wearing vision impairment goggles to simulate driving under the influence of alcohol during Safety Day May 24 on JBLM Lewis Main. Scott Hansen/JB

When Spc. Micah Lavigne climbed into the driver's seat May 24, he knew things weren't right. Double vision made it tough for him to read the speedometer, and his depth perception was off. Guiding the vehicle in a straight line was more difficult than usual.

"The goggles made everything confusing," he said after a short trip around the parking lot outside AFC Arena on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

He wasn't wearing beer goggles - at least not in the typical sense. Lavigne wore an actual piece of eyewear that simulates the effects of drunkenness.

The exercise was part of the JBLM Garrison's Safety Exhibition, which occurred on the same day as I Corp's annual Safety Day. The two events happen each year before Memorial Day, the unofficial kickoff of the high-risk summer season.

"We can't put our hands on the mishaps we prevent ... but we like to think even if we prevent one, it's all worth it," I Corps Safety Director Mike Hoover said.

In addition to mandatory briefs and trainings, the day included the garrison's exhibition, which provided informational booths and activities, and I Corps events including a presentation on driving under the influence and a live band.

It was the first year that Safety Day included the live Street Smart presentation, put on by teams of firefighters and paramedics from the Stay Alive from Education program. It shows in graphic detail the effects of driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, with insights from first responders. Actual photos of crash victims were displayed in slideshows while the presenters provided information and debunked myths about bad safety decisions.

"This does more than we could ever hope to do," Hoover said of the program, adding that he knows your average safety brief can be a little dry.

Still, the message is a critical one. Each year on JBLM, about 130 Soldiers, the equivalent of an entire company, die in preventable accidents, Hoover said. Last year, a platoon's number was lost to motorcycle accidents alone.

Vehicle and recreation accidents tend to peak in the "101 critical days of summer," the activity-filled period between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

The timing of the events, which took place the Thursday before Memorial Day, was designed to make an impression on service members before summer even starts.

"We need each and every one of them," I Corps Command Maintenance Evaluation Team Technical Trainer Theron Smith said at the drunk driving test scenario.

Smith, who spent seven years as a Washington State Patrol Officer before coming to JBLM, took a step back to his old job that afternoon. He performed standardized field sobriety tests on service members wearing goggles that helped mimic the effects of different blood alcohol contents, anywhere from .05 to .15.

The difference was, after putting civilians and service members through the paces on the side of the road, he asked them to step into the vehicle and drive through a marked course around the parking lot.

Many participants felt they didn't do too badly at avoiding the cones - granted, they were also going about five miles an hour in an empty lot. Even then perfect results were rare.

For Lavigne, who wore .15 BAC glasses that put him at almost twice the legal limit for his test, the experience drove home the idea that regulations are there for a reason.

Nearby, in the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Fest Tent, visitors gathered information about on-base safety resources, visited vendors selling safety products and even took a moment to watch as a hot dog in a hard hat got tangled in some power lines ... to potentially delicious results.

"They can get a better understanding of how safety fits into their personal lives," JBLM safety specialist McNeal Baptiste said. The main idea of the day was to remind people to make good risk decisions, no matter what the time of year.

"A lot of people say safety is a priority, but it's not really a priority. It's more of a value," Baptiste said.

As he pointed out, priorities shift and change. Values are unwavering.

June 1, 2012 at 6:25am

JBLM service members send message during annual ride

Staff Sgt. Jerry Mahan leads a group of riders from 17th Fires Bde. during a recent motorcycle safety awareness ride to Point Defiance in Tacoma. Scott Hansen/JBLM PAO

Staff Sergeant Jerry Mahan likes to plan motorcycle safety awareness rides before holiday weekends.

The Soldier from the 17th Fires Brigade understands the importance of staying current on motor skills, and knows people enjoy the open road on long weekends when the weather is nice. Mahan organized the annual I Corps Safety Ride the day before Memorial Day weekend as part of the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Safety Fair May 24.

"It's good to do safety awareness to try to get people to slow down, take their time and realize they're not the only ones on the road," Mahan said. "If you're not refreshed on it and you're not thinking about it, you're not really looking for it until it happens and then it's too late."

About 60 riders from a variety of JBLM units gathered outside of Carey Theater on Lewis Main for a controlled ride to promote motorcycle safety awareness. The month of May was the National Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month.

This year's annual ride exited out of the DuPont Gate and traveled through Steilacoom, Chambers Bay and stopped at Point Defiance. Dressed in leathers, riding vests, bandanas and decorated helmets, riders took a break at the park and discussed the first half of the ride before returning to JBLM.

"There are a lot of new riders that don't really get out and ride a whole lot, especially in a group," Mahan said. "It's really beneficial for other riders to experience that. The experience comes from getting on a bike and riding and learning from other people, along with the experiences they have themselves."

Mahan has more than two decades of experience on his motorcycle and led the last group of riders off JBLM. The ride was split into three groups that traveled five minutes apart.

Master Sergeant Michael Kohlhorst of Bravo Company, 46th Aviation Support Battalion, dressed in bright yellow riding gear, attended the ride to support the Corps.

"It's great that we get senior riders out here with beginning riders," Kohlhorst said. "It's good to show that we are focused on motorcycle safety."

As the weather continues warm up and more people choose to travel by motorcycle, Mahan urges riders to be alert and to obey traffic signs.

"It's not so much your riding ability as it is everything else that is around you," he said. "The elements, a patch of gravel, construction. It's a hazard."

The 446th Airlift Wing's Wings on Wheels Motorcycle Group, led by Senior Master Sgt. Rob Cutchin of the 446th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, will take its first ride of the year today at 3:45 p.m. at McChord Field's Heritage Field. The group focuses on motorcycle safety.

June 1, 2012 at 6:30am

JBLM firefighters named one of the best, again

JBLM firefighters (from right) Mike Thompson, Mike Gilbert, Wade Sampson and Doug Vranna use a pulley system to raise an accident victim from a 150-foot embankment along Perimeter Road, during January low-angle litter rescue training exercise on JBLM Lewi

The fire and rescue crews for the Army's largest West Coast installation have once again been named one of U.S. Army Installation Management Command's best. Joint Base Lewis-McChord Fire and Emergency Services Division in the Directorate of Emergency Services, was recently named IMCOM- Central Region's 2011 Fire Department of the Year (Large Department).

The JBLM FES' 160 employees, a diverse makeup of DOD civilian, Army, Air Force and Air Force Reserve personnel, were measured against Large Department competition from Fort Bliss and Fort Hood, Texas. According to Fire Protection officials for IMCOM's Central Region, the teams were measured on "their interpreted efforts of the department's customer service, department-level awards, accreditation, certifications and other recognition, innovativeness, quality of life initiatives (within or outside of the department), firefighter health and safety initiatives," along with other parameters.

JBLM Fire Chief Dean Dixon, who also serves as FES division chief for DES, said having his team recognized by IMCOM in its first full year as a joint base force was especially satisfying.

"Nobody else has the Air Force intermixed in it - two airfields that are active 24 hours a day and mandatorily staffed," Dixon said. "There are no more McChord Field fire department and Fort Lewis fire department; we're one. People come and go from every single station and intermix at every single place."

An example of FES' joint team effort is its partnership with the 62nd Airlift Wing at McChord Field to create a specialized C-17 wing fuel cell confined-space rescue team, a first for the Army. Between the 62nd and 446th Airlift wings, more than 50 C-17 aircraft are stationed at JBLM.

JBLM's FES teams protect approximately 98,000 acres and the 55,000 Soldiers, Airmen, civilians and family members who live and work at JBLM. They've also deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as DOD assets.

JBLM firefighters are augmented by service members from units like the 627th Civil Engineer Squadron, 555th Engineer Brigade and 593rd Sustainment Brigade. Dixon said FES leaders take pride in further mentoring these troops during their time at JBLM.

"The key difference is the civilian typically has tenure here, where the (service members) are constantly revolving," Dixon said. "They come to us trained and fully capable firefighters, but we get them trained up on the local stuff. We're working on systems to get them more worked in to all of the stations."

Dixon said though performance comes first, to him, the accolades matter.

"It helps morale and gives us some bragging rights - it matters to me as the fire chief," he said. "I love talking to counterparts and I assume that's the same of the firefighters. It's something they can brag about when they're talking to their buds who work for other stations."

JBLM Deputy Fire Chief James Elways said he wasn't surprised that IMCOM was impressed by a team he's impressed by every day.

"Our personnel are very involved in the community," he said. "They take great pride in being here to support the Soldiers and Airmen so they can go and do their duties and protect our nation."

Army and DOD-level winner announcements are expected in August.

June 1, 2012 at 6:35am

46th ASB wins JBLM soccer crown

46th ASB’s David Essi heads the ball forward over James Campbell to teammate Abdulrahaman Abdulrahaman during the intramural soccer championship game at Cowan Stadium. Scott Hanson/JBLM PAO

With all of joint basing's upsides, one concern has been that service identities and cultures might be lost. If you were at Cowan Stadium May 23, you'd know that Joint Base Lewis-McChord is in good hands in that respect, with Army and Air Force units joining in competition.

It was a purple evening with a green topping as 46th Aviation Support Battalion "Bellators" bested 62nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 3-1, for the JBLM FMWR intramural soccer championship. The backfield play of the Bellators' David Essi (assist, 6 steals) and his late-match kick start of a sometimes disorganized attack were vital in a match that saw his team outshoot 62nd AMXS, 23-6.

The first minute of play was an indication that 62nd AMXS fans had a long night ahead of them as Lovemore Mafasa's pass found Abdulrahaman Abdulrahaman and Army drew first blood with a dribbler goal. The pair would combine for 10 shots over the following 49 minutes - four more than their opponents' entire squad.

Airmen from the 62nd AMXS weren't without their stars: Colton McLaughin and James Campbell had good first halves, and Doug Fielding, 62nd AMXS' goalie, did everything but stand on his head to turn back a fire-happy Army offense (9 first-half shots). Fielding's play countered 62nd AMXS' off-target offense (3 shots wide to 2 shots on net) and was the reason the first half ended at a hopeful 1-0 score.

On the sidelines, Essi said he wasn't totally pleased with 42nd ASB's first-half play, but his confidence hadn't waned.

"We played well, but I think we need to control the midfield more - slow the game down," he said. "We have a lot of talent. If we can slow that midfield down, I can tell you that Army is going to win the game."

On the other sideline, the Airmen were trying to mentally adjust to an Army team who Ryan Ackles, the team's head coach, said was definitely beatable.

"We need a lot more passing using the length of the field," he said. "We need to put more bodies on them, show them that we're here - it's not out of our reach."

To open the second half, 62nd AMXS' Ryan Goetz lightly charged a 46th ASB ball handler, as if to send a message that the McChord Field champions weren't going back up Interstate 5 without a fight. Fight they did as the Army defense saw more challenges in the opening minutes of the second half than they did in all of the first. The Air Force team got off their heels and took it to the Bellators, while the Soldiers' first-half confidence dialed back for the fight at hand.

Just past the 15-minute mark of the second half, 62nd AMXS' Mike Granato had a nightmare moment when he found a rebounded ball at his feet and an empty 46th ASB net in front of him as the Bellator goalie scrambled to recover. Instead of tying the match, he sent the ball high over the net, maybe knowing that with now four minutes left in regulation, that may have been his team's last chance.

That wasn't 62nd AMXS' last chance and it took less than a minute for the Airmen to get their shot once again.

Following illegal contact inside the Army box, a penalty shot was called and it was Granato who had the chance for redemption. He didn't miss and 62nd AMXS tied the game 1-1.

Now past the 20-minute mark, both teams seemed to be playing not to lose and looking toward overtime - everyone except Essi. After about 20 seconds of his attack dribbling the ball deep in 62nd AMXS territory, he jumped up from his defensive position and fired a pass through traffic that found Victor Ortega for the go-ahead goal and what would eventually be the game winner.

At 24:03 a third goal, scored by Mafasa, provided insurance for the 46th ASB victory.

After the match, Ortega admitted said he may not be a great soccer player, yet he wanted to be a great teammate.

"I didn't care if it went in or not," he said with a laugh, "I just knew I had to shoot. I'm lucky that it did go in."

With the season now in the books, he said running the pitch with his fellow Bellators was time well spent.

"This season was a lot of fun," he said. "These guys are great guys and they've taught me a lot."

Lt. Col. Mark Sisco, 46th ASB commander, was on the sideline to cheer his troops. He said he appreciated that they got a chance to play in the FMWR league, and were able to grow because of it.

"This (match) was a great representation of two teams coming together, a great show of sportsmanship and some Army-Air Force friendly competition," he said. "Teamwork is what we're about in the Army, both personally and professionally. It was a tight game and was a good opportunity for them to rise above."

June 1, 2012 at 11:42am

Army amends, adds charges against Bales

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Today the United States Army preferred amended and additional charges against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the Soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers in March.   

The charges allege Staff Sgt. Bales violated the following provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice:

  • Article 118- sixteen specifications of premeditated murder
  • Article 80- six specifications of attempted premeditated murder
  • Article 128- seven specifications of assault
  • Article 112a- two specifications of wrongfully possessing and using a Schedule III controlled substance (steroids)
  • Article 92- one specification of wrongfully consuming alcohol while deployed

The amended charges, which include reducing the number of premeditated murder victims from 17 to 16, conform to developments in the ongoing investigation surrounding Staff Sgt. Bales' alleged crimes on March 11, 2012.

Bales is currently in pretrial confinement at the Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

Filed under: Afghanistan, Crime, News To Us,

June 2, 2012 at 6:46am

TSGLI to start paying $50K for loss of genitals


The Veterans Affairs Department announced Friday it will begin paying $50,000 in traumatic injury insurance to service members who suffer severe genitourinary losses.

The $50,000 payment of Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance traumatic injury payments will apply to the loss of genital or urinary organs as a result of military service, for injuries incurred on or after Oct. 7, 2001, VA announced in a Federal Register notice.

Bomb blasts suffered by combat troops are the primary cause for the loss of reproductive organs.


June 2, 2012 at 6:48am

Soldiers Could Go Reptilian with New Camo


This month, soldiers will begin testing a camouflage pattern that looks more like reptile scales than terrain as part of the field-trial portion of the Army’s camouflage improvement effort.

The start of the field evaluation comes five months after Army uniform officials announced the finalists that had emerged from the service’s exhaustive Phase IV Camouflage Improvement effort. A handful of vendors were awarded contracts to make camouflage-patterned material for uniforms and equipment. Ultimately, the winner’s pattern could end up replacing the Army’s embattled Universal Camouflage Pattern, known as UCP, which was adopted in 2004.

Last fall, Army uniform officials completed tests that involved 900 soldiers taking a digital picture survey of camouflage patterns under consideration. The computerized survey had soldiers look at dozens of camouflage patterns and then rate their concealment performance.


June 2, 2012 at 7:08am

More I Corps troops home Monday

About 160 Soldiers assigned to the I Corps Headquarters will be reunited with family and friends at Joint Base Lewis-McChord with a "homecoming" ceremony at Soldier Field House, JBLM Lewis Main, currently scheduled for 1:00 p.m., Monday, June 4.

The I Corps Soldiers recently completed a 12-month deployment to Afghanistan, where I Corps served as the core of NATO International Security Assistance Force Joint Command Headquarters with operational responsibility throughout all of Afghanistan.

This will be the second large group of I Corps Soldiers to return. The unit's remaining Soldiers are expected to return to Joint Base Lewis-McChord within the next several weeks.

June 2, 2012 at 7:13am

Aerial Radiological Survey training conducted first time at JBLM in 20 years

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - Turbulent winds, rain and cold weather didn't stop them from executing the mission.

Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and high-yield Explosives (CBRNE) students, enrolled in a CBRNE Defense Course, conducted aerial and ground surveys of simulated contaminated areas on April 30 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. This type of training has not been conducted in the United States in the last 20 years.

After students boarded a Boeing CH-47D Chinook, their training mission was conducted to determine the origin of a contaminated area following a scenario of a nuclear bomb detonation. Students communicated with pilots and an aviation crew to assess the threat by measuring radiation levels using their equipment and teamwork.

John Guirell, the Chief of the Individual Training Branch who oversees the CBRNE School, takes pride in the unique services offered at the school.

According to Guirell, the highlight of the course was the opportunity for students to board a helicopter and engage in responding to a simulated real-world CBRNE attack.

"To the best of my knowledge it doesn't happen anywhere else in the Army at the Forces Command (FORSCOM) or Installation Management Command Level (IMCOM)," added Guirell.

Regardless of the forces of nature blowing against them causing the helicopter to shake, students stood fearlessly on the edge of the loading ramp. They collected water samples measuring the levels of contamination as they hovered above American Lake at JBLM.

Guirell also mentioned that JBLM is one of the few non-training doctrine installations in the Army that has its own CBRNE school requiring reservations and accommodating an average annual enrollment of 39 thousand students with only 16 staff members for support.

"We have to be innovative and use resources available to us on this installation in order to make this happen," said Guirell.

Sgt. 1st Class Romereo Paine, the CBRNE non-commissioned officer in charge of the school, helps make that innovation possible through the development of an operating procedure that incorporates flight time.

"The intent and purpose of the training is so that CBRNE students can be qualified at the NCO level and be ready to immediately respond to a real CBRNE attack while being prepared to implement the training in their respective commands," said Paine.

Dressed in Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) gear, (protecting them from bio-hazards) students exit the Chinook as it landed on a hilltop. Once on the ground, they assessed the direction and wind speed to estimate the amount of time left to prevent further radioactive contamination.

They used special equipment to train detecting gamma radio waves in the area within a 10 minute timeline. This real life training exercise was a valuable experience for students.

"I'm excited to get up in the air because I learn more by doing hands on things like this and actual scenarios allow me to use my equipment," said Pfc. Vanessa Valencia, a human resource specialist assigned to the 67th Military Police Company, adding that she intends to help her unit by teaching others while speaking from experience.

Commanders and their units react to mock drills and are expected to respond to an attack in a timely manner, said 1st Lt. David Young, platoon leader for the 542nd Support and Maintenance Company.

The fear of the unknown is a battle soldiers struggle with when responding to a CBRNE attack, said Young. He mentioned that he is ready to respond now that he has completed the course.

Confidence in knowing how to maneuver with their equipment helps conquer the battle against this fear, said one student regarding the level of instruction provided by their instructors.

"Everything is only a theory until you put it into practice," said Paine about incorporating the use of flight time.

CBRNE students who complete the CBRN aerial radiological survey training at JBLM are better prepared to respond to a real radiological threat following their experience in the air.

June 2, 2012 at 5:47pm

Triple Nickel soldier killed

According to the Dept. of Defense, Staff Sgt. Alexander G. Povilaitis, 47, of Dawsonville, Ga., died May 31 in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with an improvised explosive device.  He was assigned to the 570th Sapper Company, 14th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

According to unit records, Staff Sgt. Povilaitis entered the Army in February 1984, and he served three years as a Single Channel Radio Operator. He had a break in service until March 2008 when he enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve.

On September 23, 2008, he re-entered the active duty Army and reported to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., for initial Army training and Advanced Individual Training in Military Occupational Specialty 12B (Combat Engineer). Upon completion of AIT he reported to White Sands Missile Range, N.M. He deployed with his unit in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom November 2009 through July 2010.

Staff Sgt. Povilaitis reported to Joint Base Lewis-McChord on June 23, 2011, where he was assigned to the 570th Sapper Company, 14th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade.  He deployed with his unit to Afghanistan in July 2011. This was his first deployment to Afghanistan.

Staff Sgt Povilaitis' civilian and military education includes a high school diploma (1983), and Military Occupational Specialty 25C: Radio Operator-Maintainer (1984), Airborne School (1984), Military Occupational Specialty 12B: Combat Engineer (2008), Warrior Leader Course (2010), Combatives    Level 1 (2010), Urban Breach Course (2009), and Unit Prevention Leader (2009).

His awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medal (three awards), Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal (two awards), National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, Iraq Campaign Medal with campaign star, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Ribbon,  NATO Medal, Combat Action Badge, Parachutist Badge.

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