Northwest Military Blogs: Army West Blog

Posts made in: January, 2017 (22) Currently Viewing: 1 - 10 of 22

January 5, 2017 at 12:04pm

Guardsmen and reservists receive 'veteran' status

Soldiers with the Idaho Army National Guard’s Troop A, 2nd Squadron, 116th Cavalry Regiment, move their M2 Bradley Cavalry Fighting Vehicles into attack position during a training exercise in July. Photo credit: Pfc. Jessica L. Pauley

ARLINGTON, Virginia - A recently signed law gives official veteran status to National Guard members who served 20 years or more. Previously, Guard members were considered veterans only if they served 180 days or more in a federal status outside of training.

"As long as you were deployed on active-duty for at least 180 days and you didn't get a dishonorable discharge or a bad conduct discharge coming off those orders, then you could be considered a veteran," said Army Sgt. Maj. Matthew Krenz, a legislative liaison at the National Guard Bureau who provided background information to Congressional members working on the bill.

Prior to the new law's passage, even if Guard members served for 20 years or longer, they were not deemed veterans unless they served on active-duty. That included those serving in an Active Guard and Reserve status.

"They could have served twenty years as (AGR), but that wasn't considered qualifying time," said Krenz, adding that veteran status was specifically linked to serving on federal orders, rather than on state orders.

"(If) they were never activated on (federal) orders they weren't, from the government's perspective, considered veterans," he said.

Now, under the new law, anyone eligible for reserve component retirement benefits is considered a veteran, said Krenz.

"Anyone who has reached twenty years of service, even if they were never activated on a (federal) order for more than 180 days outside of training, will now be considered a veteran," he said.

The change in law, said Krenz, simply recognizes those who serve. For those in the Guard, that can mean responding to large-scale emergencies, natural disasters and other events at home in addition to training for combat and deploying overseas.

"There are many soldiers (and airmen) who can serve twenty years in the National Guard and never see an overseas deployment," said Krenz, adding he feels "that shouldn't diminish their service to this country and what they've done for this organization."

The change in status, however, does not entitle Guard members to any additional retirement benefits.

"Basically, it gives them the ability to be officially honored as a veteran," said Krenz. "They are already going to be getting their retirement incentives based on their twenty years of military service."

Krenz said he feels the change in law is a positive one.

"I think this is a good step in the right direction," he said.

January 5, 2017 at 12:07pm

More pay, new TRICARE

WASHINGTON - The approval of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2017 provides a number of changes for servicemembers, retirees and families, to include stabilizing readiness and end strength, improving pilot retention, modernizing compensation and benefits, and enhancing transparency in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The NDAA authorizes an overall increase in manpower by 4,000 airmen increasing the Air Force active forces end strength to 321,000.

For personnel compensation and benefits, effective Jan. 1, the monthly basic pay will increase by 2.1 percent, and while there will not be any changes made to the administration of the housing allowance, the NDAA directs the defense department to begin planning for a transition to a single-salary pay system no later than Jan. 1, 2018. The goal is to create a system that better aligns the payment with the DoD's use of the housing allotment as compensation rather than as an allowance.

The NDAA additionally authorizes the Air Force to increase aviation retention pay from $25,000 to $35,000 per year and flight pay up to $1,000 per month as needed to address manning shortfalls and challenges.

Also addressing staffing challenges, the Air Force is required to transition to an organizational model with enlisted remotely piloted aircraft pilots by Sept. 30, 2020, for the regular component and 2023 for the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard.

The NDAA also directs improvements to military healthcare. One provision authorizes the Secretary of Defense to establish a self-managed, preferred-provider network option under the TRICARE program. This program - "TRICARE Select" - will be available to active-duty family members, retirees, Reserve, and young adults. Under TRICARE Select, eligible beneficiaries will not have restrictions on the freedom of choice of the beneficiary with respect to healthcare providers.  Cost sharing requirements are determined by prior military status. In addition, some additional cost sharing fees for Tricare Prime retirees and family members and small increases to annual enrollment will be implemented. Another provision requires the DoD to improve access to urgent care services in both military medical treatment facilities and the private sector, while also requiring Military Treatment Facilities to expand hours on weekdays and weekends to ensure the availability of primary care services.

In addition, the NDAA authorizes up to 12 weeks of total leave for a primary caregiver, including up to six weeks of medical convalescent leave, to be used in connection with the birth of a child. It also allows a primary caregiver up to six weeks of total leave to be used in the case of an adoption.  In each instance, a secondary caregiver is also authorized up to 21 days of leave.

This year's authorization also contains a number of civilian hiring provisions, including direct-hire authorities for post-secondary students and recent graduates, wage schedule employees, financial management experts, industrial base facilities, major range and test facilities, and positions at DoD research and engineering laboratories.  The NDAA also returned a restriction on the appointment of retired members of the Armed Forces to civil service positions in the DoD within 180 days of their retirement. Previous statute allowed that restriction to be waived based on a state of national emergency.

The first major reforms to the UCMJ in 30 years were also part of the authorization.

The implementation of the reforms should improve efficiency and transparency, while also enhancing victims' rights.  The reforms include expanding the statute of limitations for child abuse offenses and fraudulent enlistment, and establishing new offenses ranging from improper use of government computers to retaliation to prohibited activities with military recruits and trainees by a person in a position of special trust.

January 5, 2017 at 12:13pm

New fitness standards

Soldiers administer the “standing long jump” portion of the Occupational Physical Assessment Test to potential recruits during an OPAT pilot program. U.S. Army photo

WASHINGTON - On Tuesday, the Army began administering the Occupational Physical Assessment Test, or OPAT, to all recruits to assess their fitness for military occupational specialties. The OPAT also will be used to assess some soldiers who are reclassifying into a different MOS.

Army Recruiting Command estimates that the OPAT will be administered to about 80,000 recruits and thousands of cadets annually. Soldiers moving into more physically demanding MOSs also will have to meet the OPAT standard, said Jim Bragg, retention and reclassification branch chief for Army Human Resources Command.

Under the OPAT, there are four physical demand categories, Bragg explained.

  • Heavy (black)
  • Significant (gray)
  • Moderate (gold)
  • Unqualified (white)

When a soldier wishes to reclassify to a new MOS, from the significant category to the heavy category, for example, he or she will need to take the OPAT. However, a soldier whose new MOS falls within the same or a lower level physical demand category will not need to take the OPAT.

The soldier's commander will be responsible for ensuring the OPAT is administered prior to approval of a reclassification, Bragg said. As with any reclassification action, the battalion-level or brigade-level career counselor will administer the OPAT.

When it comes to recruiting, Brian Sutton, a spokesman for Army Recruiting Command, said the OPAT is not meant to turn away or weed people out.

"It is designed to put the right people in the right jobs and to ensure we keep our recruits safe while doing so," he said.

OPAT scoring is gender neutral, he added. All soldiers, male and female, must pass the same physical standards for their desired career field.

The test will be administered to everyone coming into the Army: officer, enlisted, active, Reserve and Guard, he said. It will be administered by any command responsible for soldier assessions - including Recruiting Command and Army Cadet Command - after the soldier swears in but before he or she begins training.

FOUR TESTS OF OPAT

OPAT measures muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiorespiratory endurance, explosive power, and speed. It consists of four individual tests:

  • The "standing long jump" is designed to assess lower-body power. Participants stand behind a takeoff line with their feet parallel and shoulder-width apart. They jump as far as possible.
  • The "seated power throw" is designed to assess upper-body power. Participants sit on the floor with their lower back against a yoga block and upper back against a wall. They hold a 4.4 pound (two kilogram) medicine ball with both hands, bring the medicine ball to their chest, and then push or throw the medicine ball upwards and outwards at an approximate 45 degree angle. The throw is scored from the wall to the nearest 10 centimeters from where the ball first contacts the ground.
  • The "strength deadlift" is designed to assess lower-body strength. Participants stand inside a hex-bar and perform practice lifts to ensure good technique. They then begin a sequence of lifts starting with 120 pounds, working up to 220 pounds.
  • The "interval aerobic run," always performed last, is designed to assess aerobic capacity. The evaluation involves running "shuttles" or laps between two designated points that are spaced 20 meters apart. The running pace is synchronized with "beeps," produced by a loud speaker, at specific intervals. As the test progresses, the time between beeps gets shorter, requiring recruits to run faster in order to complete the shuttle. Participants are scored by the level they reach and the number of shuttles they complete.

FOUR PHYSICAL DEMAND CATEGORIES

Here is a quick breakdown of the four physical demand categories incorporated into the OPAT:

  • "Black" is for MOSs with heavy physical demands, like those of the combat arms branches, that require lifting or moving 99 pounds or more. To attain black on the OPAT, the recruit or soldier would need to achieve a minimum of 5 feet, 3 inches in the standing long jump; 14 feet, 9 inches for the seated power throw; 160 pounds for the strength deadlift; and a 10:14 minute mile over the course of 43 shuttles.
  • "Gray" is for MOSs with significant physical demands that require frequent or constant lifting of 41 to 99 pounds and occasional tasks involving moving up to 100 pounds. To attain gray on the OPAT, the recruit or soldier would need to achieve a minimum of 4 feet, 7 inches in the standing long jump; 13 feet, 1 inch for the seated power throw; 140 pounds for the strength deadlift; and a 10:20 minute mile over the course of 40 shuttles.
  • "Gold" is for MOSs with moderate physical demands, such as cyber, that require frequent or constant lifting of weights up to 40 pounds or when all physical demands are occasional. To attain gold on the OPAT, the recruit or soldier would need to achieve a minimum, 3 feet, 11 inches in the standing long jump; 11 feet, 6 inches for the seated power throw; 120 pounds for the strength deadlift; and, a 10:27 minute mile over the course of 36 shuttles.
  • "White" is unqualified. A recruit or soldier who attains white has failed to meet OPAT's minimum standards.

Sutton noted that if a recruit fails the OPAT, he or she can request to retake the test. If the recruit cannot eventually pass the OPAT color designator for his or her MOS, it could be possible to renegotiate the contract that would allow the recruit to go into an MOS with a lower physical demand OPAT category, the minimum being Gold.

ARNEWS reporter Todd Lopez contributed to this report.

January 6, 2017 at 9:12am

Learn about Survivor Benefits Wednesday

Survivor Outreach Services is providing a Milestone Benefits Class at the Family Resource Center on Lewis Main Wednesday. (JBLM PAO photo)

If you are a surviving military spouse and you’ve ever wondered what benefits change as you or your children attain specific life milestones, Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s Survivor Outreach Services is offering a Milestone Benefits Class at the Family Resource Center, 4274 Idaho Ave., on Lewis Main Wednesday from 9 to 11:30 a.m.

Tina Mann, SOS financial counselor, said she’s dealt with a lot of military family members who shared confusion about how benefits change through time, with specific age and other milestones in life.

“I’ve had (families whose) benefits stopped for survivors because they did not know to submit paperwork before their child turns 18 years (old,)” she said.

There’s also some confusion on paying for or signing up for insurance and how that changes through time, Mann said. The class will help answer questions concerning benefits, insurance and how to plan ahead in order to meet deadlines for those changes.

“This milestone class will allow survivors to meet the experts and have their questions answered,” she said.

Elizabeth Culp of Yelm is a military widow whose husband, Army Sgt. John “Brian” Culp, died two and a half years ago. Culp hasn’t attended a benefits class previously, but said she’s looking forward to attending the upcoming event.

“I have attended the estate planning class and utilized some of the financial counseling and information offered by the (SOS) office,” she said. “I’m sure this class will be helpful as well.”

Culp said she jumped on the opportunity to reserve a seat in the upcoming class because she’s six months out from the third anniversary of her husband’s passing and wants to make sure she doesn’t miss out on any of the crucial deadlines for benefits available to her and her two young sons.

“I can’t navigate this alone, and the (SOS) staff is so sweet and approachable,” she said. “I want more people to know about the class because there are so many young widows around here. I know of several in Yelm alone, and whether they are young or not, anyone who is a parent or a (surviving spouse) can benefit, from educational benefits to financial blessings. Even if the class just tells me what deadlines to meet and what questions to ask, that to me is a Godsend and a huge blessing.”

January 6, 2017 at 11:01am

New outreach efforts on discharges, records

WASHINGTON - The Defense Department Friday announced a renewed effort to ensure veterans are aware of the opportunity to have their discharges and military records reviewed, according to a DoD news release.

Through enhanced public outreach; engagement with veterans' service organizations, military service organizations, and other outside groups; as well as direct outreach to individual veterans, the department encourages all veterans who believe they have experienced an error or injustice to request relief from their service's Board for Correction of Military/Naval Records or Discharge Review Board, the release said.

REVIEW, POTENTIAL UPGRADE OF DISCHARGE STATUS

With Friday's announcement, the department is reaffirming its intention to review and potentially upgrade the discharge status of all individuals who are eligible and who apply, the release said.

Additionally, all veterans, VSOs, MSOs, and other interested organizations are invited to offer feedback on their experiences with the BCM/NR or DRB processes, including how the policies and processes can be improved, the release said.

In the past few years, the department has issued guidance for consideration of post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as the repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and its predecessor policies, the release said. Additionally, supplemental guidance for separations involving victims of sexual assault is currently being considered.

The department is reviewing and consolidating all of the related policies to reinforce the department's commitment to ensuring fair and equitable review of separations for all veterans, the release said.

Whether the discharge or other correction is the result of PTSD, sexual orientation, sexual assault, or some other consideration, the department is committed to rectifying errors or injustices and treating all veterans with dignity and respect.

Veterans are encouraged to apply for review if they desire a correction to their service record or believe their discharge was unjust, erroneous, or warrants an upgrade.

January 9, 2017 at 7:07am

Military father helped prepare UW’s Potoa’e

JBLM PAO/2015 Before announcing his college football future at the University of Washington, Benning Potoa’e, right, shook hands with his father Aleki Jan. 22, 2015, at Lakes High School’s Career Center in Lakewood.

A little less than two years ago, Benning Potoa’e was sitting at a table at Lakes High School in Lakewood with his Lakes Lancers coaches as well as his father, Master Sgt. Aleki Potoa’e, commandant of the 7th Infantry Division Bayonet Academy at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

There were a lot of ears listening and cameras recording after Benning had 17 different NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision programs offer him scholarships. He chose to play college football at the University of Washington in Seattle.

After spending his true freshman year as a redshirt player, he played his first official collegiate games this season. Although Benning isn’t a starter in the Husky defense, he’s still contributing to a team that qualified for the 2017 College Football National Championship Playoff.

Benning said he is happy his dad has been able to attend all of the Husky games this season, even at road games against Arizona, Oregon, Utah, California and Washington State.

“It’s something that he’s had a huge part in. He’s contributed a whole lot in what my brother has done and what I’m doing and on my way to do,” Benning said. “Especially with him not being there for the majority of my high school career, it’s special for him to see the hard work paying off.”

For most of Benning’s childhood, his father was often gone on deployments — missing large chunks of his high school athletics career at Lakes. Benning’s older brother Sione also played for the University of Washington from 2010 to 2013. As they grew up, their father often took them to physical training on JBLM. Sione went through the recruiting process and also played for the Huskies.

“Because of (Sione), I was able to learn the pros and cons of college football,” Benning said. “(I learned) the things to dodge as I come into college.”

Benning wasn’t the only college football player with ties to JBLM this season. Potoa’e found himself across the line of scrimmage from Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau. Benning said players like him and Liufau are able to successfully blend into the world of college football.

Benning said he saw a lot of similarities in how Liufau carries himself on the field with discipline. It’s a little different coming from a military background, but it is something that affects players like he and Liufau.

“There’s a lot on our backs and a lot on our names,” Benning said. “It’s bigger than us when it comes to the decisions we make.”

The Huskies were considered a team playing a year ahead of expectations, which led to being viewed as an underdog against top-ranked Alabama in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve.

While the Huskies scored first, Alabama scored 24 unanswered points to win the Peach Bowl 24-7 — advancing to face Clemson in the 2017 National Championship Monday. Benning finished the Peach Bowl game with three total tackles.

Before the game, Potoa’e said there is a lot of excitement moving forward. The team finished 8-6 after the 2014 season with a loss in the Cactus Bowl, right before Potoa’e announced his decision to attend UW. During his redshirt season, the Huskies went 7-6 and defeated Southern Miss in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

This year, the team went 12-1 after winning the Pac-12 Championship to earn the No. 4 ranking in the final College Football Playoff rankings announced Dec. 4, 2016. Potoa’e will have three more seasons to be part of what many fans hope is a revival of the Washington Husky dynasty.

“I have a lot of time to be under Coach Pete’s wing and just enjoy and learn from the coach as he’s building,” Potoa’e said. “This team that we have this year and the team that is being built for the next couple of years is something I’m very proud to be a part of.”

January 12, 2017 at 10:06am

New retirement coming

Soldiers charting a course for their eventual retirement should know they may be able to opt into a new system Jan. 1, 2018 that blends a traditional pension with the Thrift Savings Plan. Photo credit: David Vergun

Beginning January 2018, a new Department of Defense enterprise-wide retirement system will go into effect.

The blended retirement system, which was instituted by the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, will take effect for all soldiers joining the Army beginning Jan. 1, 2018, but some current service members will have the option to opt into the new system.

Soldiers with less than 12 years of active duty service and National Guard and Reserve members with less than 4,320 points will have until Dec. 31, 2018, to choose whether to remain in the current system or opt into the new one.

The new blended retirement system offers three options:

  • Option 1. A traditional defined-benefit plan. This will be the default plan for soldiers currently in the Army.

Soldiers who forego the traditional plan option will receive:

  • Option 2. A 401K-type defined-contribution plan with a portable retirement account through the Thrift Savings Plan.

In addition to option 2, they can receive:

  • Option 3. A one-time continuation payment at the mid-career point.

Army News Service spoke with Col. Steven Hanson, Army G-1 Compensation and Entitlements Allowances branch chief, to get a rundown of each.

1. DEFINED-BENEFIT PLAN

The defined pension benefit upon retirement is similar to the current system, Hanson said

The current retirement system awards a pension of 2.5 percent of basic pay per year, multiplied by the number of years of service, for those serving 20 or more years, he explained. So someone with 20 years would receive 50 percent of base pay per year.

The new blended retirement system awards 2 percent per year. So that same soldier serving 20 years would earn a pension of 40 percent of base pay.

Soldiers who already have 20 years in service are covered by the older plan, which awards 2.5 percent of basic pay per year.

2. THRIFT SAVINGS PLAN

The Thrift Savings Plan is similar to a 401K plan, Hanson said.

Under the Thrift Savings Plan, the government will contribute 1 percent of base pay after 60 days and then will match up to 5 percent of contributions after two years. Even if the soldier does not contribute anything, the government will continue contributing 1 percent after the initial 60-day period.

3. ONE-TIME CONTINUATION PAYMENT

The exact dollar amount of the one-time continuation payment for soldiers with eight to 12 years of service will be determined sometime during in fiscal year 2017, Hanson said.

At minimum, the amount will be 2.5 months of base pay for active duty and half a month's basic pay for those in the Guard and Reserve.

A soldier who accepts this one-time payment, known as continuation pay, must agree to serve for three additional years.

DECISION MAKING

When it comes to deciding whether or not to opt in or remain in the current system, Hanson said, each soldier must consider his or her own unique circumstances. In about three weeks, the Army will put out a mandatory Joint Knowledge Online course to provide soldiers with the information they need to decide what is best for them.

Should a soldier require further guidance, they can receive additional help from counselors at Army Community Services or Army Emergency Relief.

ANALYSIS

Overall, the implantation of the blended retirement system is good news for the vast majority of soldiers, Hanson said.

Currently, some 70 percent of officers and 90 percent of enlisted serve for less than 20 years, and they leave the Army with no retirement benefits. Under the new system, all soldiers who serve honorably for at least two years (approximately 85 percent of servicemembers) will now have some retirement benefits when they leave the service.

It is widely recognized that Thrift Savings Plan is an excellent retirement plan, Hanson said, with benefits and low fees. Even after separating from the Army, soldiers can keep contributing or roll it into some other plan like a 401K.

The other good news, he said, is that soldiers currently serving are not being forced into a new plan.

"There's no opting out," he noted. "Only opting in."

January 12, 2017 at 3:09pm

Madigan welcomes first babies of 2017

Madigan Public Affairs Parents Sgt. Cengly Compton, right, and Staff Sgt. Albert Compton hold their twin daughters, Madeleine and Victoria, in Madigan’s neonatal intensive care unit. The girls were the first babies born at Madigan in 2017 Jan. 1.

Twins Madeleine and Victoria decided to make a dramatic entrance when they came into this world. Not only did Madeleine and Victoria arrive more than a week early, but they also became the first babies born at Madigan Army Medical Center in 2017 on Jan. 1.

“They had to make a big entrance,” said Sgt. Cengly Compton, Madeleine’s and Victoria’s mom who is a medical logistics sergeant with 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne).

Madeleine (3 pounds, 13 ounces) came first at 5:44 a.m., and her sister, Victoria, (4 pounds, 9 ounces) arrived a minute later.

“I didn’t even have my go-bag ready — I was definitely not prepared,” said the twins’ dad Staff Sgt. Albert Compton, who works in the logistics and transportation unit of the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.

He and Cengly spent New Year’s Eve watching babies being born on old “Grey’s Anatomy” episodes with no idea they would be encountering the real thing the next day. But when Cengly’s water broke in the middle of the night, it was time to head to the hospital.

“She scared the heck out of me at 3 a.m.,” Albert said.

He said he tossed toothpaste and socks in a bag and drove Cengly across base to the Madigan emergency room.

A few hours later, the couple’s youngest children (Albert has three older kids) were born via cesarean section. Both girls are now in Madigan’s neonatal intensive care unit as they gain weight, stabilize their temperatures and learn to breathe steadily without any incidents.

According to their dad, Madeleine “needed to be reminded how to breathe” while Victoria is making strides on that front; she went from using a continuous positive airway pressure machine to using a less-intensive breathing device.

“They’re doing really good — every day they’ve been improving,” Cengly said.

“As soon as we go in (to the neonatal intensive care unit), mom tells them not to act up so they can get better and come home,” Albert said.

Mom and dad are allowed to hold the twins every three hours to visit and feed them; the girls are still too small and sensitive to be held more often, Cengly said.

The parents get their questions answered by the neonatal intensive care unit nurses, who also teach them how to care for Madeleine and Victoria.

“All of the nurses have been so great — you can tell the love they show toward them,” Cengly said.

The love in the Compton family itself shows through their banter about their newest additions.

“I think the girls love me

more than mom,” Albert said jokingly.

Cengly laughed, “He’s always saying that,” Cengly said. “I have the food.”

Even so, Albert’s said he’s convinced “They’re going to be daddy’s girls.”

January 13, 2017 at 10:10am

New to JBLM contracting

Maj. Jason Brotherton reviews contracting documents Dec. 12 as part of his duties working for the Mission and Installation Contracting Command-Fort Sam Houston contracting office. Photo credit: Ryan Mattox

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas - An agreement between the Army Contracting Command and 377th Theater Sustainment Command is increasing mission readiness with reservists now lending acquisition support to the Mission and Installation Contracting Command.

The program will start at Joint Base Lewis-McChord this month.

Officials from ACC and the 377th TSC, higher headquarters to the Army Reserve Sustainment Command, signed a memorandum of understanding in May 2016 allowing the integration of ARSC soldiers in the 51C military occupational specialty into ACC units.

"The MICC and other ACC subordinate organizations will use this opportunity to strengthen and challenge Army Reserve acquisition professionals through a meaningful contracting workload," said Col. Catherine Lassiter, the director of Reserve operations for the MICC. "When we are called upon, the goal is to complement our active-duty mission partners and prepare ourselves to be ready."

Through a phased-in approach that got underway in October, the MICC began integrating Reserve soldiers with the 915th Contracting Battalion in Baltimore and the 917th CBN at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas. As a total and operational force, the battalions are providing soldiers to the MICC. The Army Total Force Policy directs active and Reserve component forces to integrate their soldiers and unit capabilities into pre-deployment joint training events to maintain Army readiness standards; provide predictable, recurring and sustainable operational force capabilities; and prepare for deployment as multicomponent expeditionary forces.

These Reserve soldiers are part of a first phase to provide the MICC with recurring and sustainable capabilities to build a bench of available contracting professionals to support contingency operations. The Reserve soldiers are assigned to MICC offices: MICC-Fort Hood, Texas; MICC-Fort Sam Houston; and MICC-Fort Eustis, Virginia.

The three soldiers working at MICC-Fort Sam Houston are Maj. Jason Brotherton, Sgt. 1st Class Juan Juarez, and Staff Sgt. Dawn Rogers. These 51C soldiers are assigned to the 917th CBN but also perform contracting duties at the MICC-Fort Sam Houston contracting office as reservists and civilian employees. At MICC-Fort Eustis, Master Sgt. Luciana McCann, a 51C soldier with a Level III contracting certification, is identified to arrive in the coming weeks.

"This is the best part of the agreement," Lassiter said. "The Army reservist hones their contracting skills and maintains proficiency, and the MICC receives the support of its mission and support for its deployed support missions. This is a win-win situation for everyone involved."

This month, phase two of the integration effort will begin by adding MICC-Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, and MICC-Fort Drum, New York, to the list of units receiving support from the Army Reserve.

According to the memorandum agreed upon between the two units, the agreement identifies the arrangement of responsibilities in these units. The ARSC will provide administrative support duties to Army Reserve soldiers while ACC will provide operational guidance. The ARSC formally stood up the Army Contracting Command-Army Reserve Element in October at the ARSC headquarters in Birmingham, Alabama. The ACC-ARE is commanded by an Army Reserve colonel located at the ACC headquarters at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, and is the focal point for coordination of the Army Reserve 51Cs across the ACC.

Lassiter said the ARSC's objective is to plan, prepare and provide a pool of acquisition professionals from the ACC-ARE to work at MICC locations during their training periods, typically one weekend a month, and annual training of up to 29 days throughout the year. Army Reserve 51Cs may support missions within the continental United States and in various worldwide contingency operations as needed.

Headquartered at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, the MICC is made up of about 1,500 military and civilian members assigned to three contracting support brigades and a field directorate office throughout the United States who are responsible for contracting goods and services in support of soldiers. In fiscal 2016, the command executed more than 32,000 contract actions valued at more than $4.6 billion across the Army, including $2.1 billion to American small businesses. The command also managed more than 585,000 Government Purchase Card Program transactions in fiscal 2016 valued at an additional $741 million. 

January 13, 2017 at 10:38am

Helping soldiers

Researcher Nile Bunce uses ultraviolet light to illuminate fluorescent materials that may shed light on the effects of blast pressure on the human brain. Photo credit: David McNally

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Maryland ­- Army researchers are studying the physiological effects of blast pressure on the brain to discover technology solutions to protect soldiers.

Scientists at the Army Research Laboratory have developed a gel substance with fluorescent properties that mimics the texture and mass of the human brain. Their goal is to show the scale of damage to the brain under the pressure conditions that soldiers encounter in combat or training.

"We develop materials solutions that enable us to understand the mechanisms of damage at the cellular level," said Dr. Shashi P. Karna, ARL nanofunctional materials senior research scientist. "What are the mechanisms by which the blast pressure waves travel to the brain?"

The laboratory is also creating materials that will enable the researchers to see details that have never been recorded. Using nanotechnology, scientists will see what happens to the brain during an explosion - at the cellular level.

"We have nanomaterials that are highly robust so that in real time, when the blast occurs, it will be possible to image the effects like an MRI, but with fluorescence," Karna said. "Colors will show the motion of the cells."

Researcher Nile Bunce said she and fellow researcher Rebecca Jimenez found that infusing the gel samples with fluorescent properties presented a complex technical challenge.

"It was more a trial and error," Bunce said. "We got a nice dispersion of sample into our gels, and that's what we've been going with so far."

"Since our nanoclusters are pressure sensitive, when we apply pressure the fluorescence intensity will either increase or decrease depending on an increase or decrease in pressure," Jimenez said.

Jimenez said they use ultraviolet light to illuminate the fluorescent materials.

"Depending on the type of metal that we use and the concentration, it can fluoresce anywhere on the visible wavelength spectrum," she said. "It can be from blue all the way to red."

To derive useful information about the effects of blast pressure on the brain from these colors, the team plans to develop a pressure scale, Bunce said.

"We put the nanoclusters under different pressures," she said. "Based on how it fluoresces, under each certain pressure, we'll make a graph and, from that, we can correlate it to how it will fluoresce in a brain situation."

Over the past two years, the laboratory has built a partnership with the Japanese Ministry of Defense, which is working on the same problem. On Dec. 19, Japanese medical researchers visited Maryland for an update.

"The Japanese are addressing this through a medical technique ... to look at the oxygen level, for example, in the tissue," Karna said. "They also look at the cortical depressant. When the blast waves hit the brain, there is fluctuation in the blood circulation level. So they look at these physiological systems to assess what is affected by the blast."

Karna said the Japanese team plans to test the Army's samples with a laser-induced shockwave and share the results of the experiment.

"This is extremely important for us," Karna said of the ongoing research. "The Army Research Laboratory provides the technology that enables the soldier to function on the battlefield. It provides the best lethality and the best protection."

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command.

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