Northwest Military Blogs: Army West Blog

Posts made in: August, 2012 (47) Currently Viewing: 1 - 10 of 47

August 2, 2012 at 7:06am

JBLM's Division West leads US shift to advisory role in Afghanistan with first deployments since WWII

FORT POLK, La. - Deep in the tall piney woods and steamy summer heat of the Joint Readiness Training Center here, a team of First Army Division West soldiers is preparing to make history.

Ranging in rank from a staff sergeant to a full-bird colonel, and comprised of two women and seven men, the Soldiers - all from Division West's 191st Infantry Brigade at Joint Base Lewis McChord, Wash. - are a Security Force Assistance Adviser Team.

In just a few weeks, in direct support of the U.S. shift from kinetic to advisory operations in Afghanistan, the SFA AT will deploy to Regional Command East, not to go out on patrols in search of insurgents, but to work side-by-side with their counterparts in the Afghan army, police and border police as advisors.

"It's a very decisive shift, and it's a very critical shift," said Col. Shawn Reed, commander of the 191st Infantry Brigade and leader of the SFA AT. "The transition to putting (Afghan National Security Forces) in the lead ... is the critical aspect of success or not in Afghanistan. Being part of that is historic."

The Division West SFA AT deployment is historic on another level, too.

"First Army hasn't deployed into a theater of operation as an organization since World War II," Reed said. "We're very proud of our heritage, very proud of our history, and we're very proud to be representing First Army in this fight in Afghanistan."

August 3, 2012 at 6:29am

Native culture inspires 295th Quartermasters

Howeeshata traveled by canoe with members of his tribe for two weeks from the home village of La Push to arrive in Olympia on Sunday. The hereditary chief of the Quileute tribe, Howeeshata said the long journey was not tiring: they sang songs to motivate them. Regardless, he was still grateful to bring his canoe to the ramp where Soldiers from the 295th Quartermaster Company at Joint Base Lewis-McChord were pulling watercraft onto trailers.

"Being in the Army, we have had the support of people from all over, civilians and military, and they support us, you know, throughout two wars and so we feel like we should ... help out where we can," said Capt. Michael Watkins, the 295th commander.

Watkins and his troops came to help move approximately 100 canoes out of the water after their crews completed the Paddle to Squaxin 2012. The annual event provides an opportunity for various Native American tribes from Washington and areas farther away to journey in a traditional way and come together in friendship.

"It is what our forefathers did; we're just doing it (on a) different day, different year," Howeeshata said.

Staff Sergeant Marcos Castro of Manati, Puerto Rico, a squad leader, said he volunteered partly out of enjoyment of new experiences.

"I get to know about a lot of different cultures, how they operate," Castro said.

The exposure to new cultures gave 2nd Lt. Tim Vanderpoel of Oakton, Va., a chance to know more about his Soldiers.

"It was interesting. We have a few Native American Soldiers, so it was kind of interesting to see their tribes out here too, kind of see where they come from," said Vanderpoel, a platoon leader.

"This is a once in a lifeime opportunity," Watkins said. "I've never been part of an event like this. This is what it's about. It's learning more about others and contributing to this great country and this great nation."

August 3, 2012 at 6:30am

Community reflects on NCO’s heroism

Soldiers, friends and families at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, gathered to honor the life of Sgt. Jose Rodriguez, 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, during a ceremony at the Lewis North Chapel, July 25.

Rodriguez died June 19 from wounds suffered during a small arms attack near Maiwand, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.

"Sergeant Rodriguez personified what it meant to be a Soldier and a leader in the U.S. Army," said Capt. Brandon Wohlschlegel, B Company commander, 4-23 Inf., from downrange. "His devotion to duty and selfless service to his unit, the Army and his company were self evident. He believed he owed it to his Soldiers who he helped train over the past year."

His former platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Eric Howard, spoke of an IED detonating while on dismounted patrol with Rodriguez. Howard and two other Soldiers were seriously injured in the explosion. Rodriguez administered aid to all three, but Howard, awoke to find him tying off a second tourniquet on his arm because the first hadn't stopped the bleeding.

"I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for Sgt. Rodriguez," Howard said. "He stayed by my side until our helicopter came. I can never repay him for what he has done."

Rodguez was known for leadership by example - doing more than required without complaint. Wohlschlegel said he often carried extra gear without complaint.

"Sgt. Rod, I will forever be in awe of the selfless example that you set," Wohlschlegel said. "To his son, I want you to know when you are older, your father was ... courageous to his last breath."

In Memorium: Sgt. Jose Rodriguez

The Merced Sun-Star said about 650 people came to Sgt. Jose Rodriguez's funeral Mass July 3 in Gustine, Calif., where he graduated from high school in 2008 and joined the Army. The Sun-Star observed he and his Family had a lot of friends.

Rodriguez was born in San Jose, Calif., and his family moved between Gustine and Newman while he grew up, the Gustine Press-Standard said. He played youth baseball in Newman and was a "stand-out athlete" in high school, Fresno ABC affiliate Channel 30 KFSN reported. He fulfilled a lifelong dream when he joined the Army.

Rodriguez saw heavy combat with his unit in Afghanistan in 2009-2010. Nevertheless, he extended beyond his ETS date of December 2011, to continue benefits for his wife and his 13-month-old son, and to see the mission through in Afghanistan with his Tomahawk brothers.

"He loved what he did," said Jesus Zuno, a high school classmate and close friend since early childhood. "He enjoyed every second of it. He was a true hero."

His brother, Ruben, remembered his smile, sharp sense of humor and distaste for "sitting around."

Jose was devoted to his family, postponing his other dream of becoming a firefighter to better provide for them. His wife, Maria, told reporters of his sending Valentine's Day flowers while he was deployed.

"He was a great dad," Maria told the Press-Standard. "Everything that he would do was to benefit (his son) Octavian and I. He was very loving and caring. He left us with great memories."

He is survived by his wife he called "Lupita," son, his parents Margarita and Augustine Rodriguez; his brothers, Ruben, Julian, Edgar, and Jonathon Rodriguez; his sisters Judith and Jacqueline Rodriguez.

His awards include the Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, NCO Professional Development Ribbon, NATO Medal and Combat Infantryman's Badge.

August 3, 2012 at 6:32am

Soldier Show comes to JBLM next week

For anyone who thought last year's Soldier Show packed a punch, its song-and-dance production this year is likely to yield a full-blown knockout.

The travelling show's program manager, Johnny Stewart, said the cast will bring with it a 13-foot-high, 28-foot-wide, high-resolution LED video wall, which will set a background of images portraying Army life as the group performs.

This year's cast, which began its tour at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, April 19 and makes its way to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Aug. 10 for a one-time-only performance, is the first to have the use of such state-of-the-art equipment.

"The show is getting more and more technical each year and is becoming more and more advanced," Stewart said.

This year's performance, inspired by Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno's message praising the Army and its Families and communities, is paying tribute to the sacrifices of not only Soldiers, but the support systems that stand behind them.

"It takes more than just a Soldier," Stewart said. "It takes a Family, and it takes a community; everybody plays a part. "It drives the Army's message home more than ever."

The show, which will play for more than 30 installations around the U.S. and Japan in its five-month tour, emphasizes qualities and characteristics, like resilience, that are commonly indicative of Soldiers, their Families and the Army society as a whole.

The cast will perform renditions of songs from all genres and ages, including music by singer Etta James, rapper Pitbull, pop artist Kelly Clarkson and contemporary group LMFAO.

Stewart said Soldiers interested in joining the Soldier Show team as technicians need not worry about their level of relative experience.

"It's more about having an interest in something," he said. "We can train you to be an audio technician. It's just a desire to be involved in it (that matters)."

Those interested in becoming technicians with the show can contact Stewart via e-mail at for more information.

The group will perform for the JBLM community at 5 p.m., Aug. 10 at Evergreen Theater.

August 3, 2012 at 6:34am

JBLM Crime Corner

Courtesy of JBLM Provost Marshal

July 24: A sergeant from the 1st Special Forces Group was charged with Article 121 Larceny of AAFES Property. The Soldier picked up sun glasses, placed them in his jacket pocket, and exited the Lewis Main Exchange without payment. The Soldier was apprehended, processed and issued an Exchange Revocation Letter, and released to his unit.

July 25: A Soldier from the 17th Fires Brigade was cited for Driving While License Suspended and Cell Phone Use While Driving. A patrol observed the Soldier operating a vehicle and texting. A traffic stop DOL check revealed a suspended driver's license. The Soldier was cited on two District Court Violation Notices, issued a Post Driving Revocation Letter and released to his unit.

July 26: A Soldier from the 555th Engineer Brigade was charged with Article 134 Drunk and Disorderly, Article 128 Assault and Assault on a Military Police Officer, Article 95 Resisting Arrest, and Article 117 Provoking Speech and Gestures. The Soldier and two other Soldiers argued: the Soldier struck one in the head and spat on the other. The instigator was apprehended, resisted arrest, head butting a patrolman. At the station the Soldier uttered racial slurs toward patrols. The Soldier was transported to MAMC for his high level of intoxication, treated and released to his unit. July 28: A sergeant from the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division was charged with Article 134 Disorderly Conduct (Drunkenness) and Residential Trespass. Investigation revealed that the intoxicated Soldier (PBT .135) was kicking doors to a residence other than his own. The Soldier eventually entered through a window, breaking the wood frame and then fell asleep on the floor of the room he had entered. The Soldier was apprehended and transported to the station where he was processed and released to his unit.

August 4, 2012 at 5:18am

Stryker soldiers earn silver spurs

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash., - For a cavalry soldier, earning silver spurs is an induction into a tradition that dates back to the days of horse-mounted cavalrymen.

Young troopers and their horses would leave their homes to train under harsh, battle-like conditions for several days on cavalry history, tactics and skills. Once the team returned, the trooper was awarded his silver spurs as a sign of his ability and responsibility as a cavalryman.

One hundred and forty soldiers, mainly from 2nd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, continued that tradition as they earned their silver spurs Aug. 1 after a two-day Spur Ride event here.

The soldiers, assigned to 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, spent two days on training areas here navigating terrain and applying soldier and cavalry skills through several different lanes.

"It's important and special to the soldier that earns their silver spurs because it shows they went through a lot of hardship, a lot of trials and tribulations, and just a lot of pain to earn something that's special and sacred to every cavalry soldier," said Sgt. 1st Class Brian Sides, a platoon sergeant with 1st Platoon, C Troop, 2nd Sqdn., 1st Cav. Regt. from Spokane, Wash.

Over the two days, Sides watched as spur candidates worked toward earning the spurs he himself received while stationed in Germany in the late-90s. However, on the day of the Spur Ride ceremony, he wore his gold spurs that he earned in Iraq in 2003, which indicate a cavalryman has been to combat.

From troop commanders to the most junior soldiers, cavalrymen of all ranks received their spurs.

Some soldiers sat on a horse saddle and had the spurs placed on their boots.

For Pvt. Zachary Thomas, a cavalry scout with B Troop, 2nd Sqdn., 1st Cav. Regt., participating is a Spur Ride was something he wanted to do since he signed up to be a cavalryman, he said.

In the pushup position on the sands of Solo Point, here, Thomas had his silver spurs placed on his heels by his sponsor.

"It felt good because it's finally over with and I finally earned my silver spurs," said Thomas, an Albuquerque, N.M., native. "I was pretty happy about it."

At the end of a very tiring day, senior spur holders welcomed the 140 new members into the coveted club of silver spur holders.

Photo: Pvt. Zachary Thomas, a cavalry scout with B Troop, 2nd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, receives his silver spurs after completing the squadron’s Spur Ride Aug. 1, at Solo Point, here. Thomas, an Albuquerque, N.M., native, and 139 other soldiers, mainly from 2nd Sqdn., 1st Cav. Regt., earned their silver spurs.

August 4, 2012 at 5:20am

JBLM Joint Base change of command Tuesday

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Col. Thomas H. Brittain will relinquish command of Joint Base Lewis-McChord to Col. H. Charles Hodges, Jr., in a change of command ceremony scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday at Watkins Parade Field, JBLM Lewis-Main

Col. Brittain has been the joint base commander since July 2009. The joint base commander manages the day-to-day operation of Joint Base Lewis-McChord on behalf of the war-fighting units assigned here.  Brittain led the base as Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base merged in 2010 to become Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the largest Army-led joint base in the Department of Defense.  Brittain's next assignment will be as the chief of staff at the 7th Infantry Division Headquarters here at JBLM.

Col. H. Charles ("Chuck") Hodges, Jr., comes to JBLM from his previous assignment as a student at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pa. His military career began in the summer of 1985 when he enlisted in the Florida National Guard as an 11B Infantryman. He was later commissioned an Infantry second lieutenant from the University of Central Florida. His military education includes Infantry Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, Airborne and Ranger School, DoD Public Affairs Officer Course, and Command and General Staff College.

His assignments include 3rd Armored Division, Germany; 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry (Air Assault), Republic of Korea; Training with Industry, Edelman Public Relations, Wash., D.C.; 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry, 3rd Stryker Brigade, JBLM; Director of Training, G3, I Corps, JBLM.  He deployed in support of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and he deployed twice to Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

August 4, 2012 at 5:26am

JBLM's Red Lion soldiers named best in Food Service

Soldiers with 308th Brigade Support Battalion, 17th Fires Brigade, prepare food for the Philip A. Connelly Award competition here June 27, 2012. Soldiers with 308th BSB won first place in the best field kitchen category at the Force Command level. (U.S. A

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - Soldiers in food service with 308th Brigade Support Battalion, 17th Fires Brigade, were named some of the best in the industry when they won first place in the Philip A. Connelly Awards Competition for best Active Army Field Kitchen at the Forces Command level here July 27.

The competition, created by the Army and the International Food Service Executive Association, was named after Philip A. Connelly.

"He was basically the father of food service [in the Army]," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Philip D. Saunders, a Philadelphia native, now the chief food adviser with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 17th FiB. "He was the one who set all the standards."

Judges in the competition critique food service teams based on certain categories such as food safety, site layout and supervision. According to Chief Warrant Officer 5 Princido Texidor, a Forces Command food advisor and contest judge, the most important thing Soldiers need to exhibit in any of these categories is knowledge.

"It's not about what you think, but what it is," Texidor said. "[Soldiers] need to know how to do things according to regulatory guidance."

Saunders said he believes that's what earned his team the win. The reason they entered a competition for excellence in food service was because "excellence in food service" is exactly what his team possesses, he said.

Saunders' confidence in his team is based on their camaraderie, teamwork and the leadership of Sgt. 1st Class Donald Hillard, the chief food operations sergeant with HHB, 17th FiB.

According to Hillard, his ability to lead his team is greatly enhanced by the quality of his soldiers.

"I've been in [the Army] for about 20 years, and I would say this is one of the best groups of soldiers I've ever worked with," Hillard said. "They work hard and they're always willing to do more."

The food service soldiers with 308th BSB have won the competition at both the installation level and the Force Command level, but their work is far from done.

They've moved up to the final bracket of the contest and are working to win the title of best food service section in the entire Department of the Army. Hillard said he's excited at the chance to compete at that level, and thinks they've got a good chance at winning.

The food service soldiers are currently in the field, training for the final competition and following a clear-cut plan, said Saunders.

"[We plan to] continue meeting the standard, staying in accordance with all the regulations and pushing forward," he said.

August 6, 2012 at 7:00am

Veterans’ risk of developing ALS may be higher


A small number of studies have suggested military veterans may be at a higher risk for developing ALS.

It's enough evidence that, in 2008, the Department of Veterans Affairs began setting aside benefits specifically for anyone who had been in the service and developed the disease.

Although benefits vary depending on service time and other factors, ALS was categorized as a "presumptively compensable illness." In other words, veterans diagnosed with ALS are eligible for monthly disability pay and funds to modify their homes, vehicles to transport them, insurance for dependents and survivors' benefits.

From January 2003 to September 2011, Veterans Affairs - prompted by anecdotal reports of young veterans returning from the Persian Gulf War and developing ALS - collected information and even blood samples from willing veterans with ALS, said Dr. Eugene Oddone, who ran the registry and is now director of the Center for Health Services Research in Primary Care at the VA Medical Center in Durham, N.C.


August 6, 2012 at 7:03am

Tricare will again cover breast cancer tests


Genetic tests for breast cancer gene mutations will again be covered for some Tricare beneficiaries under a new program, the Pentagon announced this week.

Tricare providers will accept patients for the tests, commonly known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, beginning Sept. 30. Coverage will be retroactive to May 22, according to a release from the Tricare Management Activity.

The Oncotype DX Breast Cancer Assay, a test that analyzes tumor tissue at the molecular level, also will be covered under the same demonstration program, according to Tricare.

Before this year, Tricare or the individual services offered the BRCA cancer screenings for high-risk individuals under special programs, research projects and at some military treatment facilities. But in January, Tricare stopped covering the tests after a decision by the American Medical Association placed the non-FDA approved screenings on the Pentagon's "No Government Pay List."


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