Northwest Military Blogs: Army West Blog

Posts made in: June, 2012 (4) Currently Viewing: 1 - 4 of 4

June 8, 2012 at 5:34am

East Gate Road, Pendleton projects to make progress in June

Construction on Joint Base Lewis-McChord roads continue to show progress, despite a delay in the installation of a traffic light at State Route 507 and East Gate Road, which has postponed the closing of Roy Gate.

The project has been delayed because of "unforeseeable site issues," according to Washington State Department of Transportation spokesperson Lisa Copeland. Workers encountered many rocks in the soil that led to crews opening a trench instead of just drilling straight into the ground. Crews are still installing electrical conduit to get the signal up and running. They anticipate finishing by the end of June.

Once the signal is installed, Roy Gate will close.

Construction continues on schedule along Pendleton Avenue and the "Banana Belt" on JBLM Lewis Main, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager Jonathan Norquist. The project, which includes widening the road and adding decorative paving and landscaping after upgrading utilities, will continue through July 2013 as it moves from 3rd Division Drive through Lewis Main to North 12th Street.

Crews have been putting the final touches on 2nd Division Drive and hope to open the road for regular traffic next week.

"(This) is a big step," Norquist said. "Once we open 2nd Division we will close 3rd, which is only one lane right now, so it should help (traffic) out."

Other major developments happening in upcoming weeks include putting in curbs along the south side of Pendleton next to Gray Army Airfield and transitioning traffic from the north side of the street to the south. This will allow curbs to be installed on the other side of the road.

Another major change in traffic will be closing off access from 23rd Street and Tacoma Avenue to Pendleton.

"We curb right through there so the roads will no longer exist (for access) when the project is done," Norquist said. "We are closing 23rd now indefinitely and we will leave Tacoma open as long as we can to get people through and then shut it down."

Drivers will be able to access the buildings along Tacoma and 23rd via Colorado Avenue or 41st Division Road.

As the project moves forward drivers can get a preview of what the entire road will ultimately look like when complete. Decorative paving in rustic red and grey cobblestone will be installed, as well as the planters along the middle of the road, in the next month.

For more information on the Pendleton Avenue project visit:

June 8, 2012 at 5:36am

191st deploying for first time since World War II

Once led by iconic U.S. generals, John "Black Jack" Pershing and Omar Bradley, First Army was among the first units to cross German lines in World War I and to storm Normandy during World War II. But in 1946, First Army became exclusively a training unit. Its unique combination of active duty, Reserve and National Guard cadre has a diverse mix of units - of all types from all services. The unit has trained service members deploying to every major U.S. conflict since, from the Korean War through Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

But now the 191st Infantry Brigade, headquartered at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, is deploying to Afghanistan over the coming months in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The first First Army unit to be deployed since World War II, its mission is to train the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police to take full responsibility of operations following the U.S. withdrawal.

"As a training brigade, we're replete with expert-trained noncommissioned officers and officers. We are going over there to do exactly what we do here in many ways," Col Shawn Reed, 191st Inf. Bde. commander, said.

The brigade is composed of Soldiers experienced in individual military skills and small-unit tactical tasks.

On a given training mission, 191st cadre instructs everyone from brigade command staff to individual Soldiers from most branches. These key skill sets are essential to train not only U.S. forces newly called to duty, but also the nation's Afghan partners.

"Training and mentoring is what we already do. We are just changing the model from National Guard and Reserve to Afghan unit," Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Woods said.

The 191st Inf. Bde. is deploying throughout Afghanistan in small teams, from nine to 12 Soldiers, to work with regional and provincial leaders. Their focus will not only be training the local leaders to take full control of all levels of security and help maintain their government, but to foster good working relationships.

"A large challenge (for us will be) to gain trust and confidence and build relationships that are absolutely critical in successful foundation in partnering," Reed said. "As with any other culture, when you have two different cultural approaches to things you have to be very patient and have to understand that they are the decision makers."

To prepare for their mission the brigade conducted its own on-site cultural training and went to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La. Teams attended classes taught by native speakers to learn about cultural and linguistic characteristics specific to the region in which they will be working.

"There definitely will be differences (in culture) but culture is just a thin veneer on humanity. Our needs are their needs, their needs are the same," Woods said. "We have different methods of achieving those goals or those needs. Once we understand those it becomes a mutual lever."

For Reed and Woods, it is an honor for their unit to be chosen to serve in this capacity, and one that they believe they are uniquely qualified for.

"Our skill sets transcend and parallel exactly what the requirements of this mission are ... it is a perfect fit," Reed said.

For Woods, this assignment speaks volumes to the United States' commitment to Afghanistan moving forward.

"We are using the same forces that we use to train and mentor our own force ... applied to Afghans as a measure of commitment," he said.

Reed and Woods are proud of their brigade and have full confidence that they will successfully complete their mission. But they are also looking forward to adding to the legacy of First Army.

"It's an honor to add to history and lineage of First Army," Woods said. "It doesn't happen every day or (in) every career."


U.S. Army photo

Sgt. Maj. Timothy Beall, left, sergeant major of SFAT Team 14’s “Iron Gladiators”, 191st Inf. Bde., receives his First Army combat patch from his team commander, Maj. Matthew Carl. The patch, received during a ceremony in Camp Nathan Smith, Khandahar City, Afghanistan on May 27, signifies wartime service.

June 9, 2012 at 8:02am

JBLM engineer non-commissioned officers inducted by firelight

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - "Inductees are you ready?" was shouted across the flame lit field lined with the ranks of non-commissioned officers surrounded by friends, family members and coworkers. The boisterous response of "Yes, sergeant major," echoed back with confidence and pride by soldiers that would step through the threshold and ceremonially become a part of the Corps of non-commissioned officers.

Approximately 40 non-commissioned officers with 555th Engineer Brigade took part in an induction ceremony here, June 1.

The time-honored ceremony is a way to show the transition from a junior enlisted soldier to a leader of soldiers. Every soldier being inducted passed through the archway marked with the chevrons of the Non-commissioned Officer Corps from corporal to sergeant major of the Army and was greeted on the other side by their sponsor and the brigade command sergeant major.

The ceremony was held just after sunset, as small torches illuminated each of the enlisted rank symbols and three fires burned in the distance representing the non-commissioned officer's "burning desire to lead soldiers."

The progression of soldiers into the ranks of the Non-commissioned Officer Corps is one way to emphasize the duties and responsibilities that each non-commissioned officer will be required to live up to.

"This is a cognitive procedure for each young leader to know and understand that his or her life is about to change," said Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Bryan, 555th Engineer Brigade.

"I want them to think the minute they cross that line, I am accountable for my actions as a non-commissioned officer, a leader of Soldiers; here it is I'm an NCO," said Bryan.

Not all sergeants in the Army have had the opportunity to participate in an induction ceremony and receive the full benefit of what it stands for.

"I never got to do anything like this," said Sgt. Eric Mitchele, husband of Sgt. Sara Mitchele, one of the inductees. "Something like this is really neat; it shows that the unit cares about their NCOs."

Moving into the Non-commissioned Officer Corps represents more than simply moving up in rank and receiving a bigger paycheck. It is a time when the new leaders take their position and become mentors to other soldiers. This is what one platoon sergeant witnessed as he sponsored an inductee passing through the archway.

"I'm super proud; I brought him up from a day-one private in AIT [Advanced Individual Training] at Fort Leonard Wood," said Sgt. 1st Class Adam McCroy, platoon sergeant, 557th Engineer Company. "This ceremony is everything the NCO Corps stands for, the way it should be done, a passage of rites from specialist to NCO."

Sgt. Carlos Piaz, 557th Engineer Company, said he has every intention of continuing the traditions of the Non-commissioned Officer Corps and will pass on the lessons he has learned from McCroy.

"I learned a lot from him, he's a very professional non-commissioned officer," said Piaz. "I learned a lot as far as being a professional soldier and having that desire to move forward in the military."

"Everything that I grasp as an NCO I'm going to share with my Soldiers so that when they become NCOs they will pass it on and the tradition will continue," said Piaz.

Every soldier that walked through the archway received a few items to help them stay on the path of being a leader and non-commissioned officer including; a signed "Charge to the Non-commissioned Officer," a personalized Non-commissioned Officer Creed scroll and an Non-commissioned Officer guide, the field manual that sets the standards for non-commissioned officers.

The sergeants that stepped across the archway accepted the challenge to join the Non-commissioned Officer Corps and become leaders of soldiers. Command Sgt. Maj. Bryan had this to say to them, "Armies all over the world look at us, look at our NCO Corps and want to be like us. What you see out here today is some of the Army's finest."

Photo: Sgt. Austan Owen

Sgt. Carlos Piaz, 557th Engineer Company, is greeted with a handshake by Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Bryan, command sergeant major, 555th Engineer Brigade, after crossing through the threshold during a Non-commissioned Officer Induction ceremony here, June 1.

June 9, 2012 at 8:05am

1-17th Inf building rapport in Lowy Kariz

COMBAT OUTPOST LAKARAY, Afghanistan - Soldiers from Company C, 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, accompanied Afghan Border Police of Checkpoint 62 on a joint patrol through the streets of Lowy Kariz, May 31.

The mission began at the checkpoint with a meeting between 1st Lt. Dave Pensyl, platoon leader of 2nd Platoon, and Sadiqullah, the ABP checkpoint commander.

"We are grateful that you all come from a foreign country just to help us," Sadiqullah said. "We are so happy that you are working with us and that you ask about our problems."

Joint partnerships are an important way to build cohesion between the International Security Assistance Force and the Afghan National Security Forces. It is equally important to emulate this partnership to the local populous by conducting activities such as partnered patrols.

"What we want to do is more partnered stuff out here," said Pensyl. "So when we come out it's never going to be just the Americans coming through and just walking through the city by ourselves."

The local ABP are subject matter experts, familiar with the local area, including information on tribal elders as well as the locations of any suspected areas of interest.

"Today, I'd like to walk through the city with you and some of your guys," said Pensyl. "We have an idea of where we want to go, but with you walking with us, you'll be able to show us around."

Between the drinks of hot chai, Sadiqullah spoke about the assistance offered by Pensyl and his soldiers.

"I like that you guys come to me, because I'm so happy that you want to cooperate with us, and you want to work with us shoulder-to-shoulder," said Sadiqullah. "But also, you want to work with us to defeat the enemy."

Building rapport and inspiring trust with the locals are major steps in creating an environment where villagers feel comfortable enough to provide information to ISAF and ABP forces.

"We want the people to see that you guys are here to watch after them and keep them safe from the Taliban," said Pensyl. "Having you guys take the lead on that is important, because the people need to see you doing that with us just helping out."

With the location of Lowy Kariz so close to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, there have been many incidents and engagements between the Taliban and the ABP forces in the area.

"I have fought the Taliban twelve times," stated Sadiqullah. "Ten of my men, they were killed by the Taliban. Five were killed during the day, and five men were killed in the early morning."

Sadiqullah, seeing the value in a partnered patrol, formed up some of his men and was eager to lead Pensyl and his soldiers through the village.

"We moved into the town, and I pulled security directly on the road," said Pfc. Johnny Arnold, an automatic rifleman with 2nd Platoon. "Little kids would come up to us and ask us for pens and stuff - shake our hands - they were just real nice to us, and I was offered some ice cream-type stuff."

"We came in and the marketplace was pretty scarce," said Spc. Justin Mullen, a combat medic with the unit. "Just mainly young kids, a few middle aged men, no women around. The kids were pretty needy."

"These kids were so happy to even receive little things," said Arnold. "Back home, I'm all about church and to come here and see their faces light up - over the smallest things - was pretty touching."

Even though soldiers receive hours of language training, in the heat of the moment it is often difficult to remember the lessons learned in the classroom.

"A lot of them were just talking to me in their regular Pashtu language," Arnold said. "I could not understand a word they were saying. All I could say was hello in Pashtu."

Besides engaging the children, the patrol gave the ABP a chance for more interaction with the locals, which allows for a continued relationship growth between the two parties.

"They need to trust [the ABP] so they can report things, go to them when there are problems," said Mullen. "They need to trust them because once we leave, that's all they have."

Although this was just one patrol out of the thousands conducted in Afghanistan, it boosted the confidence and morale in both the villagers and the local ABP.

"For now, when they see us in the village, they will say, there is the U.S. Army and ABP working together," said Sadiqullah. "So instead of talking to the Taliban, the villagers will bring any problems to us, knowing that we will protect them."

Photo Sgt. Brendan Mackie

First Lt. Dave Pensyl (second from left), 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, walks with Sadiqullah (third from left), the commander of Checkpoint 62, Afghan Border Police, during a dismounted patrol through the village of Lowy Kariz, Afghanistan, May 31, 2012.

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