Northwest Military Blogs: Army West Blog

Posts made in: September, 2017 (32) Currently Viewing: 1 - 10 of 32

September 1, 2017 at 10:09am

Make a "max impact"

Former Seattle Seahawks Ricardo Lockette helps to spread the word and sign promotional outreach cards for the brand new “Max Impact” TBI Mobile Application. Photo credit: WDVA

Of the 600,000 veterans who call Washington State home, it is estimated that one in five has some level of a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

TBI is an alteration in brain function, or other evidence of brain pathology, caused by an external force. Examples of external forces are falls, exposure to blasts, being hit in the head, sudden and violent change in air pressure and more.

"Brain injury happens every nine seconds in the United States," said Washington Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA) TBI program manager Dan Overton. "Although most of those are considered mild (also called a concussion), about ten to fifteen percent of people, even with a concussion, are going to have ongoing chronic symptoms."

The WDVA has launched the Max Impact Traumatic Brain Injury Mobile Application aimed at empowering veterans, family, friends and caregivers of veterans living with the effects of TBI.

"This app is a suite of tools that is really designed to try and empower the individual to take control of (his or her) own symptoms," Overton said. "Max Impact has a suite of tools designed to try and help veterans and their families understand their symptoms, where they are coming from, and what they can do about them."

MAX is like a virtual service dog designed to help veterans who have experienced a TBI.

Veterans can use a free screening tool to determine whether symptoms may be related to a TBI, be connected with area providers who can help, learn how to manage symptoms and better relax, and connect with other veterans with TBIs all from the safety of their own home.  

It can be hard for individuals to determine whether symptoms are related to TBI and often, symptoms are attributed to other issues such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. The app is a tool that can help veterans seek treatment for TBI or learn how to better manage TBI symptoms.

Max Impact is designed for family members and resource providers as well.

"A family member can say, "I wonder if John has a traumatic brain injury?" and then can actually go through the screening tool steps and detail that John was in a car accident, that he was knocked out, and confirm that John may indeed have a traumatic brain injury," Overton said.  "From there, they can find out, ‘What does it mean?' ‘What exactly is a brain injury?' ‘Is it a concussion versus a brain injury?' ‘Are they going to get better?' What are some of the symptoms because of their brain injury?' And if they can understand all of that, then they can understand why this person is behaving the way (he or she is)."

Many times, especially for those with TBI, it can be easy to become overwhelmed with all of the resources available.

"What we try to do is boil things down (through) all the resources to those the veteran is really specifically needing," Overton explained. "Too much information, too many steps, and we're going to lose that person ... if you choose a particular provider in your county, Max Impact pops up (with) an auto dialer to connect the veteran to (specific resources), including crisis lines, which is an extremely important piece."

Along with available TBI resources, Max Impact also features breathing and stretching exercises, games to assist with memory problems and much more.

"Max Impact has the potential to empower and help somebody in all kinds of ways," Overton continued.  "In terms of their emotional health, in terms of their physical health, in terms of finding providers, in terms of being able to understand behavior more ... this app is designed to help!"

Lastly, there should not be any concern with personal information being shared or with anyone finding out that users have a TBI.

"The app is completely anonymous," Overton assured.  "Nobody is going to be data mining anything, and no user will ever need any special permissions."

The Max Impact Mobile App is available to download at no cost from iTunes and the Google Play Store. Search for it as one word, "MaxImpact" or use the following links:

iTunes:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/max-impact/id1266331417?ls=1&mt=8

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=gov.wa.dva.maximpact

For more information about the WDVA TBI Program, to learn how to be listed as a TBI provider, or to share information about an event where you would like the WDVA to educate attendees about the Max Impact app, visit dva.wa.gov/benefits/traumatic-brain-injury-tbi or contact Overton at danielo@dva.wa.gov or 360.725.2223.

September 1, 2017 at 10:18am

2017 5th Annual VA Mental Health Summit

When a servicemember, veteran and even one of their family members reaches out for help, they can oftentimes experience hearing what sounds like a hundred different responses when it comes to mental health assistance.

"As a provider, we state to our clients/patients that asking for help isn't a sign of weakness but a strength, and as providers, I feel at times, we need to remember that which we teach, and ask our fellow providers for help in areas that we don't know or have the answers for," said Shaida Houssein.

The 5th Annual VA Mental Health Summit was held Aug. 23 at the Puget Sound Industrial Excellence Center Apprenticeship & Education Center in Seattle.

The 2017 VA Mental Health Summit served to increase awareness of issues facing veterans and their family members, assist mental health providers and resources in becoming better educated about the kinds of services and resources that can best help veterans and their family members, establish connections with other service providers and, become better equipped in improving existing programs that serve veterans and their families.

Although the general themes are familiar, the method of the summit can always be improved.

This year, the required annual summit focused on improving mental health for resource providers working with servicemembers, was implemented in a new, innovating way with changes in the logistics and the topics discussed.

"Last year, summit attendees remained in the same room for the entire duration of the summit, and would listen to all the same speakers," said one of the event coordinators, panelists and project coordinator for Give an Hour, Shaida Houssein.  "This year, we incorporated breakout workshop sessions where attendees could choose two of the three breakout sessions to attend throughout the entire summit."

This allowed attendees to delve deeper on the summit's central topics while also allowing more opportunities of interactions and engagement to occur between VA and community providers.

"In the workshops, attendees were able to have in-depth conversations about access and resources that will improve the work they do with veterans and their loved ones," added Shaida.

This year's VA Mental Health Summit was planned by, put on by, and featured panelists from numerous local, state and federal organizations that have established themselves in the local mental health veteran community.

The 2017 Summit Steering Committee Members featured National Alliance 2 End Veteran Suicide (NA2EVS), Give an Hour, Washington Department of Veterans Affairs Behavioral Health Program, Veterans Training Support Center (VTSC), King County and the VA Puget Sound Healthcare System.

The event's keynote speaker was Dr. David Ruskin from the VA Puget Sound Healthcare System who specializes in the Mental/Behavioral Health field.

Several breakout sessions, focused on central themes of Suicide Prevention, Access to Care and Family Services, were available for attendees to learn more about how to better serve veterans in their communities.

"As a panelist, it was helpful to hear directly from the community and VA providers of the existing gaps and barriers accessing mental healthcare services, and then, for me, to be able to harness that need into a goal priority for my community collaborative work and outreach in the upcoming year," said Shaida.

Creating a routine of mental wellness can be a tremendous benefit in looking at overall health.

"Wellness is achieved when individuals are looking after themselves (self-care), enjoying life (leisure), and contributing to the social and economic fabric of their communities (productivity)," said Shaida.  "Overall wellness involves paying attention to one's emotional well-being, and it reminds us that one's emotional well-being is just as important as our physical well-being."

Providing a conference where everyone learns to "speak the same language," is pretty typical, however, the 2017 Mental Health Summit continuously reiterated the theme of teamwork.

"You are not alone ... And with that, there are others in your field that one can collaborate with," said National Alliance 2 End Veteran Suicide (NA2EVS) founder, Rod Wittmier.  "The acronym TEAM remains very important to us all ... Together. Everyone. Achieves. Miracles."

It takes a "TEAM" effort to effectively better serve the veterans in one's community.

"Helping an individual can be an arduous and time-consuming task to take on, but the rewards have the potential to be so great (saving lives)," said Shaida.  "Many individuals assume they need to be a mental health provider to make a difference to an individual with a mental health disorder, but truly it just takes seizing the opportunity to reach out and touch (i.e. asking questions, simple acts of kindness)."

"For veterans, we need to reach in and not wait for them to reach out, and give them the hope that they can still be a contribution in their life and other's lives."

To learn more about this summit or to become involved with next year's summit, please contact Laura Merritt at Laura.Merritt2@va.gov.

September 1, 2017 at 10:34am

Soldier with 5-20th Inf. is FORSCOM's NCO of the Year

Sgt. 1st Class Brenden Shannon, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, assesses and treats injuries on a mannequin at the 2017 Forces Command Best Warrior Competition at Fort Bragg, N.C., Aug. 23. Photo credit: Spc. Liem Huynh

For five days, Sgt. 1st Class Brenden Shannon woke up not knowing what was in store for him, but he had one goal: winning the 2017 U.S. Army Forces Command Best Warrior Competition at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

"Competition is key in any Army organization," said Shannon, the first sergeant of Company C, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team. "When we do our jobs in a combat scenario, we are competing against our enemy. It is about who has the best tactics, who is the most adaptable, who can think through whatever dilemma the enemy is presenting to us."

The first day began Aug. 20, with a combat-focused physical fitness test that included a one-mile run in the Army Combat Uniform and body armor, negotiating an obstacle, tire flips, an agility drill, a 240-pound dummy drag and more. He then completed a general Army knowledge quiz and a packing list layout.

"I enjoyed the fitness test," Shannon said as he chuckled. "It was a smoker."

The physical exertion did not stop. Day two brought an unknown distance ruck march over uneven terrain.

"A lot of people train for a twelve-miler, so they know how to pace themselves for that distance," Shannon said. "If it is six miles, you think it's easy and run the whole thing. When they give you an unknown distance, that is when you have to focus on the fundamentals of ruck marching such as making sure you are quick but not burning yourself out the whole time."

An M4 Rifle qualification came next, followed by an orienteering event.

At each orienteering point, there was a task that had to be accomplished, said Shannon. The first task for him was hand grenade fundamentals, then camouflage, correcting a malfunction on an M4 Rifle, loading a radio, weapons assembly, and finally a swim through McKellar's Pond.

Shannon and his fellow candidates had previously received a counter-IED class at Fort Bragg that focused on tactics during a dismounted patrol, which he later used on the third day's IED lane.

"We had civilian instructors for that portion," he said. "It was good information that I can retain and bring back to my organization."

That led up to the last event of that day: the confidence course. It consisted of obstacles such as the Confidence Climb, High Step Over, Tough One, Six Vaults, Weaver, Incline Wall, Low Belly Crawl and others.

The competition didn't slow down. Wednesday brought the medical lane where candidates had to demonstrate care under fire procedures and treat a simulated casualty.

They then moved into the stress shoot, said Shannon, a native of Los Angeles, California. They carried water cans for approximately 150 meters and engaged popup targets. After engaging targets, they dragged a litter to the finish point and threw a smoke grenade.

After all the physical strain they were put through, the last day started with an Army Physical Fitness Test and concluded with an oral board.

"You learn a lot out as you prep for the boards," Shannon said. "I am a first sergeant who is digging back into those manuals and broadening my knowledge base. This self-development piece widens soldiers' scope of knowledge, which makes them more adaptable. This is emphasized in these competitions and these boards."

Shannon started at the 1-2 SBCT Noncommissioned Officer of the Quarter competition and has worked hard to compete in the 7th Infantry Division and I Corps levels. On Aug. 25, he earned the title of FORSCOM's NCO of the year.

"I felt great and I was a little surprised," said Shannon.

"Shannon is a very unique and well-balanced leader," said 1st Sgt. Adam Asclipiadis, the first sergeant for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 5-20th Inf. and Shannon's sponsor for the 7th ID NCO of the Quarter competition. "He is very standards-oriented and takes care of soldiers."

Shannon is probably one of the most selfless NCOs he has ever met, Asclipiadis said. Shannon is very passionate about doing his job and doing it well. He does not accept defeat or leave a job unfinished.

"The command team is extremely proud of Sgt. 1st Class Shannon, not only for his personal accomplishment, but also for showing all the soldiers within Ghost Brigade what the standard looks like," said Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Grant, the command sergeant major for 1-2 SBCT. "Leading by example, he is the epitome of our NCO Corps and he will be a force to reckon with at the Army NCO competition later this year."

Shannon will compete against his U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard counterparts at the Army Best Warrior Competition scheduled for Sept. 30 to Oct. 12 at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia.

September 6, 2017 at 6:54am

JBLM hosted Joint Northwest Regional Warrior C.A.R.E.

Vickie LeBrun, of Great Falls, Montana, takes aim with an air rifle during the annual Joint Northwest Regional C.A.R.E. event on Lewis Main Monday. JBLM PAO photo

Air Force Master Sgt. Earla Webb, currently attached to the Air National Guard’s 165th Airlift Wing in Savannah, Ga., never thought she would be playing sports again after suffering several injuries from a deployment to Afghanistan in 2011.

As Webb participated in the third annual Joint Northwest Regional Warrior C.A.R.E. event Monday through Thursday at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Webb found herself being active again for the first time since her deployment.

In 2011, Webb suffered from injuries to the back and neck and also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. She continues to struggle with chronic migraines and body pains, and she recently had foot surgery.

Webb was able to play wheelchair basketball at the McChord Field Fitness Center — a variation of the sport she played through her middle and high school years in Lake City, S.C.

“This is giving me the opportunity to get back to some of the things I used to do,” Webb said.

She also tried other activities, including wheelchair racing. All in all, she was able to find new ways to be as active as she was before 2011 — back to the kind of person who ran 6 to 8 miles per day.

“Seeing I can do the things I didn’t think I could, it gives me some hope,” Webb said. “This is giving me a new beginning in my life. This is my new start.”

Webb’s story was similar to more than 100 participants representing both the Army and the Air Force wounded warrior community. With the support from Madigan Army Medical Center’s Warrior Transition Battalion, the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program brought in ill and wounded service members and veterans from throughout the country to JBLM.

Through adaptive sports, the wounded warriors are learning different ways to be active. Finding a new way of doing something not only translates in sports but also in everyday life — which is a main goal for the overall C.A.R.E. event.

Casey Dockins, a medically retired Air Force first lieutenant, said it’s all about being able to focus on the “can” and less on the “can’t.” Dockins was injured by an improved explosive device in 2007 during a deployment to Iraq. He now has PTSD, a traumatic brain injury, damage to the spine and heart issues.

Speaking to the participants during the opening ceremony at Cowan Stadium on Monday, Dockins said they all had courage. Being part of a C.A.R.E. event means taking a step into the unknown — but not alone.

“Individually, you may seem invisible, but together, we can be invincible,” Dockins said. “We’re not broken; we’re just redesigned.”

The overall event featured more than just sports clinics with a few scrimmages at the end of the week. C.A.R.E. stands for Caregiver support, Adaptive and rehabilitative sports, Recovering mentorship and Employment and career readiness. The weeklong event also featured workshops revolving around music, journaling and transitioning from the military into the civilian world.

“In the end, our goal is to support them on their journey,” said Marsha Gonzales, branch chief of the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program.

Some participants are considering Warrior Games’ trials through their respective military branches — the path to qualify for the Department of Defense’s 2018 Warrior Games in June at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., or maybe the 2018 Invictus Games October 2018 in Sydney, Australia.

For many wounded warriors, learning how to be active despite injuries means more than any medal that can be won at those competitions.

“I don’t want to feel like a lot of pieces,” Webb said. “I want to be whole again.”

September 6, 2017 at 6:59am

Horticulture vocational program on JBLM

Community service is the foundation of our military. Successful community service is dependent on strong partnerships within the local community.

The 508th Military Police Detention Battalion and the Northwestern Joint Regional Correctional Facility have partnered with Clover Park Technical College, in Lakewood, to support fellow community organizations including Thurston County Food Bank, Joint Base Lewis-McChord Fish and Wildlife and the Sustainability in Prisons Project in an effort to make an impact on the lives of those in our community.

Clover Park Technical College, accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, provides support for the horticulture vocational program within the correctional facility on JBLM. The horticulture vocational program provides community based education which supports rehabilitation and employment skills for the incarcerated to use upon release.

In doing so, individuals have the opportunity to give back to the local community by growing both crops and endangered prairie grasses.

The horticulture vocational program provides fresh vegetables to the Thurston County Food Bank year-round. These vegetables are grown through a combination of traditional farming, greenhouses, as well as aquaponics techniques which utilize fish to grow leafy greens indoors — even during the cool wet winter months here within the Pacific Northwest.

Crop yields range from 50 pounds a month in the winter to upward of 400 pounds month in peak summer. Annual deliveries of organic vegetables range from 6,000 pounds to upward of 10,000 pounds. The fresh vegetables are hand delivered by military police soldiers directly to the community through the Thurston County Food Bank.

The horticulture vocational program also dedicates outdoor growing space to endangered prairie grasses for their partnership with JBLM Fish and Wildlife and the Sustainability in Prisons Project. These community partners plant the seeds produced by these grasses in order to replenish local habitats with the intent of restoring healthy ecosystems and supporting native biodiversity.

The habitat generated from these efforts support a large number of rare, threatened and endangered plant and animal species. Outside of protecting our local community from an environmental perspective, efforts of this magnitude also save the installation approximately $250,000 annually in EPA fines.

The 508th MP Bn. and the Northwestern Joint Regional Correctional Facility have cultivated strong community partnerships in order to strive toward successful community service. The 508th MP Bn. and the Northwestern Joint Regional Correctional Facility will continue to increase supporting local partnership efforts in order to make the most impact on the lives of those within our community.

These partnerships are what make both our community and our military a success.

September 7, 2017 at 10:52am

A legacy remembered

Gov. Chris Gregoire and Maj. Gen. Lowenberg on his retirement day, July 31, 2012. Photo credit: Washington National Guard

Maj. Gen. (Ret) Tim Lowenberg once said he wanted to be remembered as a general that took care of the soldiers -- and never backed away from a challenge.

His legacy will far exceed his wishes.

On Aug. 27, Lowenberg, the former adjutant general of the Washington Military Department and commander of the Washington National Guard, unexpectedly died at the age of 70.

He helped oversee a time of deep transition for the state agency, with soldiers being deployed to the Middle East, emergency preparedness coming into focus for the state and a brand new school coming online to give troubled teens a second chance. He served as the adjutant general from 1999 to 2012, highlighting a career that spanned more than 44 years in the U.S. Air Force.

"He was a great leader, mentor and friend to all of us and led our team through many difficult challenges during his thirteen years as adjutant general," said Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, the current adjutant general.

"America's freedom endures because of those who answer the call to serve. General Lowenberg was the epitome of service, and on behalf of a grateful state and nation, I want to thank him and his family for their service and sacrifice," Gov. Jay Inslee said after hearing of Lowenberg's death.

Lowenberg's impact and dedication to service will leave a lasting impression on the U.S. Air Force and the Washington Military Department. Prior to his retirement, Lowenberg sat down to provide a historic look back at his career, talking about his life, legacy and service to our nation.

Lowenberg was raised in the small rural town of Donnellson, Iowa, and after graduating high school, enrolled at the University of Iowa in 1964. At the time, all freshmen were required to take first year Reserve Officer Training Corps classes, and he enjoyed the experience and continued.

"I was influenced a lot by an uncle who served in the Army, and then two tours in the Navy in World War Two," said Lowenberg in the 2012 interview. "I wanted to serve in any way I could."

After receiving his commission in 1968, Lowenberg started law school at Iowa.

"Along with an ROTC scholarship, I had to work multiple jobs to pay for school, and that continued all the way through law school," he recalled.  

After completing law school in 1971, Lowenberg served on active-duty at McChord Air Force Base. Originally assigned as personal affairs officer with the 62nd Air Base Group, he was reassigned as a judge advocate a year later.  

In May of 1978, Lowenberg, then a major, left active-duty and joined the Washington Air National Guard as a Judge Advocate staff officer.

"I left active service. I did enjoy service, but like most Guardsmen I wanted to have it all, serve my country, I wanted to be in uniform, and wanted to pursue my own interests," Lowenberg recalled.

His first few years in the National Guard weren't what he was expecting. In his historical interview, Lowenberg recalls that the Guard of the late '70s was not up to the standards he had grown accustomed to in the active-duty.

"I had been in the Guard about a year-and-a-half and I remember walking into the Air Guard Chief of Staff's office, it was a colonel as I recall, and asking for a transfer to the Air Force Reserve," said Lowenberg. "He asked me to tell him more, and I did, and at the end of the conversation he said, ‘Would you give us a try for another year? If you still feel the same way I will sign your paperwork.'"

Later that year, Col. Robert Collins was named the adjutant general of the Washington National Guard, and one of his first calls was to Maj. Lowenberg.

"He asked me, ‘Remember the conversation we had, remember the things that were broken? Can I count on you to help me change them?'" said Lowenberg. "If he had been threatened or offended by my candor, I might have just well been in and out of the Guard."

In May 1989, Col. Lowenberg was promoted to the assistant adjutant general for the Air National Guard. This is where Lowenberg and his fellow general officers started breaking down walls.

The post-Vietnam war military was very different than it is today. Army National Guard and Air National Guard headquarters were separated. No information was being shared and the relationship between professional officers was very stand-offish.

"The adjutant general would hold leaders meetings, we were friendly but it always seemed like we were at arm's length from one another."

After a successful four-and-a-half years as the assistant adjutant general, then Brig. Gen. Lowenberg was selected to work at the Pentagon as the Air National Guard Assistant to the Judge Advocate General of the Air Force.

For six years, he worked on multiple high profile assignments that would shape the Air Force.

It was while planning a United Nations' peace-keeping trip to Haiti, Lowenberg got the call that would bring him back to Washington State.

"I clearly remember it was a two o'clock on a Friday afternoon, with a change of command ceremony already scheduled for noon the following Monday, no announcement had been made and I didn't think I was a serious candidate for adjutant general," said Lowenberg. "I didn't put a lot of thought into it, and my receptionist called back to my office and said Governor Locke is on the phone, and I am thinking he is going to tell me who he picked."

The offer to be the adjutant general came as a shock for Lowenberg.

"I hadn't even talked to my law partners about a change in career, so we had a quick huddle and it was something you follow your heart in."

On Sept. 13, 1999, Lowenberg became the adjutant general.

"I remember mostly the feeling of responsibility for getting it right and setting the tone right from the beginning," said Lowenberg. "Until that point only one Air National Guardsman had served as the adjutant general."

Lowenberg took the position with a great focus. In 1995, the Washington Military Department took over responsibility for Emergency Management. Not only would Lowenberg be the adjutant general, he also was the director of Emergency Management and the homeland security advisor to the governor.

"At the time, the Guard was very much, militarily, a strategic reserve. But because of the other part of the Military Department portfolio, our Emergency Management oversight for state and local agencies -- because of our access to intelligence information -- what shaped my perspective from the earliest days was -- long before I became adjutant general -- we had gone a decade with terrorist activities that came close to home."

Right away, Lowenberg helped Locke stand up a statewide committee on terrorism. He realized that the Guard could have a bigger role to play in global defense and counter-terrorism.

While in Montana to attend a meeting with national emergency management directors, Lowenberg learned of the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.

In the public eye, National Guardsmen began standing armed at airports across the country, providing security and reassuring passengers. Behind the scenes the Guard was also beefing up operations overseas. In November 2003, more than 3,000 members of the 81st Brigade Combat Team reported for active-duty service at Fort Lewis to begin training for a deployment to Iraq.

"I anticipated the deployment of every element of our force; I didn't anticipate this was going to be a short-term engagement," Lowenberg recalled. "But you prepare for the worst and gladly accept anything less than that, but you always think big and plan for that."

After a short train-up period during the winter of 2004, 3,000 Washingtonians in the 81st Brigade Combat Team mobilized and spent 2004 and part of 2005 in Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia supporting Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

At home, Lowenberg oversaw the morphing of the Western Air Defense Sector, which has grown significantly since 2001, and worked heavily at the national level to see the creation of the 10th Civil Support Team.

Another significant contribution during the early years of Lowenberg's tenure as the adjutant general was the state partnership program agreement with Washington and the Kingdom of Thailand.

"Washington is the most heavily trade dependent state in the nation, especially with Asia," said Lowenberg.

During Lowenberg's tenure as the adjutant general, he also saw the creation of the 194th Wing, and increased the focus of the Air National Guard in Washington to include cyber warfare and defense.

As the 81st Brigade Combat Team returned in 2005, Lowenberg watched multiple units from the Washington National Guard deploy and redeploy to and from the Middle East.

"At one point we had more than sixty percent of the end strength of the Washington Army National Guard deployed out of the country," Lowenberg said. "We, as a Guard, had to adapt so we could still respond quickly to a domestic emergency."

As the adjutant general, Lowenberg would watch as more than 12,000 citizen-soldiers and airmen deployed overseas to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

"One of my biggest regrets was not getting into theater more and visiting the troops, the rigorous schedule of being adjutant general kept me here."

Deployments not only kept the Guard busy from 2003 to 2009, the National Guard was also responding to multiple state emergencies, including floods, fires, snow storms and national emergencies such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita as well as supporting multiple Olympic games in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Vancouver, B.C.

In March 2008, Lowenberg along with Gov. Chris Gregoire and Congressman Norm Dicks, broke ground on a 17,000-square-foot facility in Bremerton for the Washington Youth Academy. Even after retiring from service in 2012, Lowenberg stayed active with the Washington Youth Academy, was active with the Youth Academy's foundation, and was on stage in December 2016 to congratulate the 2,000th graduate of the program.

One of the last impacts that Lowenberg made during his tenure as the adjutant general was the standing up of the Washington National Guard Homeland Response Force.

"We need to be able to deploy anywhere, and be prepared to deploy anywhere around the world," Lowenberg said.

In August 2011, the Washington National Guard's Homeland Response Force was certified, becoming the second in the nation and ready to support Federal Emergency Management Agency Region 10 during large-scale disasters. They would be tested less than 20 months later when called to respond to the State Route 530 landslide in Oso.

On July 28, 2012, Lowenberg retired from the Washington National Guard passing the torch to Daugherty.

"General Lowenberg has been an invaluable advisor and confidant to me since the day I became Governor," Gregoire said in a 2012 release. "His leadership at the state and national level on military issues, homeland security and domestic preparedness are second to none. He deserves a wonderful retirement, but he will be sorely missed."

Lowenberg was the second longest-serving adjutant general since the Washington Territorial Militia was first fielded in 1855. His time in office was second only to Maj. Gen. Maurice Thompson, a Washington National Guard icon who served for nearly half a century in the Guard; 27 of those years as adjutant general.

"I want to be remembered as someone that took care of the troops, never backed down from a challenge and loved everything he did," said Lowenberg.

September 7, 2017 at 11:08am

Army to rapidly procure reusable shoulder-fired weapon system

The Army plans to purchase 1,111 M3E1 units and field them to soldiers, as part of an Urgent Material Release. The M3E1 can fire multiple types of rounds, giving soldiers increased capability in battle. Photo credit: U.S. Army

Used on battlefields around the world since 1991, the M3 Multi-Role Anti-Armor Anti-Personnel Weapon System, or MAAWS, has seen several iterations.

The latest version, or M3E1, is not only lighter, but shorter and ergonomically designed with a longer handle and better grips. These features, as well as its ability to use multiple types of rounds for firing, has led the Army to approve a requirement for 1,111 M3E1 units.

"The current system that the Army uses is the AT4, which only allows soldiers to fire one shot, and then they have to throw the system away. With the M3E1, soldiers can use different types of ammunition which gives them an increased capability on the battlefield," said Randy Everett, Foreign Comparative Testing, or FCT, project manager.

The M3E1 is part of the Product Manager Crew Served Weapons portfolio, which is processing a contract to procure 1,111 M3E1s and an Urgent Material Release to field them as soon as possible.

The U.S. Army FCT program office, which is positioned within U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, receives oversight from the Office of the Secretary of Defense's Comparative Technology Office. The FCT program provides an avenue for Army engineers, scientists and program managers to test and evaluate items and technologies from allies and other friendly nations that may fill an Army capability gap.

The program encourages international cooperation and helps reduce the DoD's overall acquisition costs by providing funds to formally test and evaluate foreign non-developmental items, commercial-off-the-shelf items, or technologies which are in the late stage of development that may satisfy U.S. military requirements.

In 1988, U.S. Special Forces identified a need for a shoulder-fired, recoilless rifle to replace the M67, and Saab Dynamics developed the M3, which was a likely candidate to address the need. It was through the FCT program that the first M3s were delivered to U.S. Rangers and U.S. Navy Seals in 1994.

Kevin Finch, MAAWS product director, has worked on the M3 program throughout the years, collaborating with Saab Dynamics AB, the Swedish vendor, to perfect their system.

According to soldier feedback, the M3 was too heavy and bulky. By using titanium, the updated M3E1 is more than six pounds lighter. The M3E1 is also 2.5 inches shorter and has an improved carrying handle, extra shoulder padding and an improved sighting system that can be adjusted for better comfort without sacrificing performance.

In response to the new requirement, a wiring harness was included in the M3E1 configuration that provides a foregrip controller and programmable fuze setter for an interchangeable fire control system. For added safety and cost savings, an automatic round counter enables soldiers and logisticians to accurately track the service life of each weapon.

The system was tested for gun tube safe service life at IMT Materialteknik AB in Sundsvall, Sweden, by the U.S. Army Test & Evaluation Command and other subject matter experts. Testing at the vendor's test facility in Sweden eliminated the need to purchase ammunition and material, and it limited range time in the U.S., saving the Army nearly one million dollars.

The M3E1 uses the same family of ammunition as the M3, which has already been successfully tested.

As a result of this project, the Army received the OSD award for the FCT program.

"Our original investment of three million dollars has led to an approximate forty million dollar procurement for the Army, which is a great return on investment. But, most importantly, the M3E1 can be reused so it gives soldiers increased flexibility and capability on the battlefield," Everett said.

For more information on the FCT program, visit https://cto.acqcenter.com.

September 7, 2017 at 11:14am

Incoming JBLM spouse hikes 2,198 miles along Appalachian Trail

Julie Coffman poses at Baxter Peak on Mount Katahdin, the stopping point of the northbound Appalachian Trail, July 30. Coffman hiked 2,198 miles on her journey. Photo credit: Julie Coffman

Just over six months ago, Fort Lee spouse and USO volunteer coordinator Julie Coffman took the first step on the journey of a lifetime.

Coffman set out to traverse the Appalachian Trail, an arduous undertaking, to say the least.

The trail goes through 14 states and is 2,198 miles long. The journey took her 163 days. She had 23 zero days (no miles hiked) and took off five weeks for family activities.

"I thought it was going to be a cake walk. I sure was in for a surprise," she said. "This was one of the hardest things I have ever done."

Coffman's family -- including Sgt. 1st Class Doyle Coffman, who was an instructor on the Ordnance Campus, and her three children -- were supportive of her journey, but also surprised at first.

"About a year-and-a-half ago, I decided it was my turn to go TDY," Coffman said. "I always have had a love of the outdoors and thought I wanted to do something big before I turned forty. A few nights later, I told my family. I think, at first, they thought I was nuts.

"I told them I was almost forty years old and needed to find peace and clarity in myself," she continued. "They understood this."

The hike was a chance for Coffman to rediscover herself, she said.

"I have been the Army spouse, mom, Linda's daughter, and many other things, but I wondered who I really was," Coffman said. "I've been to college, but could never decide what to study. I've switched professions many times, but never decided what I wanted to be. I used this as a quest to do soul-searching and find these answers."

On Feb. 18, Coffman's husband and two of her children dropped her off in Amicalola Falls, Georgia, which is the starting point for the thru-hiker traveling northbound.

It's been said that hikers will walk more than five million steps on the trail, but when Coffman's Fitbit died due to water damage, it registered more than seven million.

"When I started, there were no leaves on the trees, so you could see for miles," she said. "As I walked north, the seasons changed and the leaves came out to turn into a green tunnel. The views were still amazing!

I stayed at 17 hostels, four strangers' houses, behind a building and in a restroom. I cowboy camped (under the stars) in three parks. For the most part, I used my tent up until the end. When I got lazy, or when it was storming, then I camped in a shelter."

It rained about half the time she was on the trail, said Coffman, but that wasn't the only weather difficulties she faced.

"I hiked for about four days in over a foot of snow deep in Tennessee, and temps of 11º F and a wind chill of -10º F," she said. "The trail took on many forms from dirt to mud puddles, bridges, board walks, bogs, bog bridges, rocks, cliffs, rock scrambles, streams, and, yes, even rivers. I have forded four rivers and rode on two boats."

Many northbound hikers experience the "Virginia blues," said Coffman, where they are just done with the trail and want to quit.

"For me, it was the Vermont blues," she said. "I was done; I had it with the mud, rain, smells, cuts, scrapes, hunger, exhaustion, and everything about the Appalachian Trail. There's a saying that you don't quit on a bad day. So, I hitched into the Yellow Deli Hostel in Rutland, Vermont. I had the rest of the day and the next one off as a mental health break and spent it with family and friends. I took off on the trail with a new outlook the next day."

Coffman's trail name is Trippin' due to her not being the most graceful hiker, she said.

"I quit counting how many times I biffed it," said Coffman. "I tripped all day long, but tried not to eat dirt too many times. The most I ever fell was ten. Maine had to be the state I ate the most dirt. I broke four toes and two ribs, and I tore my rotator cuff. It was my fault because I like to monkey around on rocks. The injuries did not stop me, though, I just pulled over, taped them up and pushed on. I had zero blisters, as for which I am very happy, but lost all but two of my toenails."

Coffman said the hike gave her a greater appreciation for the little things in life, like modern bathrooms.

"The longest I went without a shower was nine days," she said. "I have a new respect for running water and flushing toilets."

Additionally, she said she lost 38 pounds on her journey and consumed about 3,500 calories a day with two breakfasts, lunch, dinner and lots of snacks.

"I also developed a sweet tooth," Coffman said. "When I came into a town, and saw the word ‘bakery,' well, my feet just took me there."

Summiting the trail on the final day was Coffman's favorite part of the journey, she said.

"It was a day of mixed emotions," she recalled. "I felt so empowered when I got to the top. I accomplished and fulfilled a dream."

Coffman used the trip to promote another aspect of her life that she loves -- volunteering with the USO.

"When thinking about all the reasons why I wanted to do this hike, I thought of all the people I would be meeting, and all the opportunities it would have to pass on knowledge about an organization I love," said Coffman, who posed at various landmarks along the trail with her USO patch. "Most people don't even know what the USO is, so it was great to inform them of all the hard work our volunteers do for our servicemembers. The USO and I climbed approximately 470,000 feet in elevation and reached the summit of dozens of mountains. I followed over 165,000 white blazes, which are the trail markers for the trail.

"I hiked 2,198 miles, but I can't say I did it all on my own," she continued. "I had a great support system. I could not have done the trail without the love and support of my family. Most of the time I could not talk to them, but I always knew they were there with me. I also have been blessed to have great friends, and a USO family to support me on my journey. The Fort Lee USO employees and volunteers were a vital part of my trip on the Appalachian Trail."

Now, Coffman said she's enjoying family time. They changed duty stations shortly after she completed her trip and are on their way to Joint Base Lewis-McChord. But she has her eye on her next goal: "I have the Pacific Crest Trail -- a 2,659-mile path that runs from California to Canada -- on my docket for 2020."

September 8, 2017 at 5:49am

Warren Miller's Line of Descent to swoosh through here

This fall, the annual tradition is back to salute the start of winter. The world’s biggest name in snowsports cinema—Warren Miller Entertainment—celebrates its 68th ski and snowboard film with downhill thrills, global adventure and a nod to those that taught us to slide on snow with multiple showings in the greater Puget Sound area at the start of November.  See dates and times here.

Snow riders are a family—one big tribe comprising of many smaller ones. Familial rites pass down through generations. Skier roots grow deep in high mountain soil. Line of Descent celebrates just that, the lineage of legendary athletes through a multi-generational cast of skiing’s icons and fresh faces, including Tommy Moe, Jonny Moseley, JT Holmes, Lexi duPont, Seth Wescott, Kalen Thorien, Marcus Caston, Jeremy Jensen, Griffin Post, and more.

This year, Volkswagen joins the most esteemed name in winter sports films as the presenting sponsor of the Line of Descent U.S. film tour. The partnership builds on the heritage and passion associated with both the Volkswagen and Warren Miller brands. Volkswagen’s partnership will grow authentically well into 2019, elevating the event experience that is the Warren Miller institution and marking the beginning of every winter season.

Ride along on a stunning cinematic journey as we travel near and far, descending some of North America’s deepest lines in Jackson Hole, Montana, Silverton, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, and Steamboat.

From powsurfing to splitboard, motorcycle, dogsled or snowmobile, watch as athletes chase winter along the Beartooth Pass, the French Alps, New Zealand, British Columbia, and Norway.

“This season, we explore how skiers are shaped by picking up a pair of skis for the first time,” notes Warren Miller’s veteran producer Josh Haskins. “More often than not, it’s family who introduces us to the sport or steers us on the path towards an ongoing passion—be it a ski bum lifestyle, a professional career or simply the desire to pass on the same feeling to the next generation. There is a kinship unlike any other in the ski community, and Warren Miller is the elder, bringing generations of skiers and riders together for 68 years, and this year is no different.”

Since 1949, ski families have cheered the official kickoff of winter with the ski film company that started it all. As the family grows, the traditions grow richer. Volkswagen Presents Warren Miller’s Line of Descent will premiere worldwide in three locations on October 13, 2017, including Salt Lake City, UT, Portland, OR and Bozeman, MT. Screenings will then sweep across the U.S. from the Pacific Northwest to the East Coast from October to January.

Tickets go on sale September 12, 2017, and discounted presale tickets will be available online only the week of August 28. Film attendees will enjoy lift ticket and gear savings from Warren Miller resort, retail and partnered brands and also be entered to win nightly prizes like swag and ski vacations. Local show dates and times can be found on warrenmiller.com.

Sponsors of the 2017 Warren Miller Film Tour include: Volkswagen, Western Montana’s Glacier Country, Gosling’s, L.L.Bean, Ester C, Ducati, Airstream, Helly Hansen, K2, HEAD, Marker Dalbello Völkl USA and SKI Magazine.

Featured Athletes

Scotty Arnold | Jeremy Jensen | Neil Provo | Ian Provo | Jonny Moseley | JT Holmes | Errol Kerr
Ty Peterson | George Rodney | Arielle Gold | Taylor Gold | Lexi duPont | Amie Engerbretson
McKenna Peterson | Tyler Ceccanti | Collin Collins | Julian Carr | Keith Curtis | Kalen Thorien
Michael "Bird" Shaffer | Seth Wescott | Rob Kingwill | Kevin Giffin | Marcus Caston | Kaylin Richardson Linda Haaland | Tommy Moe | Jess McMillan | Griffin Post

Film Destinations

British Columbia | California | Colorado | France | Montana | New Zealand | Norway | Wyoming

About Warren Miller Entertainment

Warren Miller Entertainment has been a pioneer in action sports cinematography since 1949. Line of Descent marks the 68th installment of its expansive feature film library. Warren Miller Entertainment is a division of Active Interest Media based in Boulder, Colorado. One of the world’s largest enthusiast media companies, Active Interest Media (aimmedia.com) produces leading consumer and trade events, websites, magazines, and films and TV shows that reach 40 million readers, fans, and attendees in 85 countries.

About Volkswagen of America, Inc.

Founded in 1955, Volkswagen of America, Inc., an operating unit of Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. (VWoA) is headquartered in Herndon, Virginia. It is a subsidiary of Volkswagen AG, headquartered in Wolfsburg, Germany. VWoA’s operations in the United States include research and development, parts and vehicle processing, parts distribution centers, sales, marketing and service offices, financial service centers, and its state -of-the- art manufacturing facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Volkswagen Group is one of the world's largest producers of passenger cars and Europe's largest automaker. VWoA sells the Atlas, Beetle, Beetle Convertible, e-Golf, Golf, Golf GTI, Golf R, Golf SportWagen, Golf Alltrack, Jetta, Passat, Tiguan and Touareg vehicles through approximately 651 independent U.S. dealers. Visit Volkswagen of America online atwww.vw.com or media.vw.com to learn more.

SPONSORED

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September 8, 2017 at 5:51am

Takuichi Fujii exhibit to open in Tacoma

This fall, see three exhibitions at Washington State History Museum that explore how individuals react in crisis: artistic expression and quiet introspection; protest; and citizen diplomacy. Witness to Wartime is the first, followed byLoyal Opposition: The Protest Photos of George P. Hickey, opening September 30; and on October 7,Glasnost and Goodwill: Citizen Diplomacy in the Northwest.Don’t miss our newest permanent exhibition,Washington, My Home, sharingdiverse stories of migration and immigration to Washington.
Takuichi Fujii was incarcerated during World War II as a result of Executive Order 9066. His work sheds light on difficult events that most Americans did not experience, the lessons of which remain highly relevant today. Fujiidrew and painted throughout his imprisonment at the Puyallup and Minidoka War Relocation Centers.Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujiiopens Saturday, September 16, 2017 and is on view through Monday, January 1, 2018. See70 works by Fujii and scroll through a digital version of his nearly 400-page diary to see the evolution of his experiences and his artmaking.

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