Northwest Military Blogs: Army West Blog

Posts made in: October, 2017 (24) Currently Viewing: 1 - 10 of 24

October 2, 2017 at 11:02am

Former AUSA sub-chapter president, wife of former JBLM SF soldier, killed in Las Vegas shooting

Denise Burditus is pictured here in 2010 as the new Lacey sub chapter president and bank manager for Heritage Bank as she signs the group's new by-laws.


One of the 59 people killed in the Las Vegas mass shooting Sunday had ties to Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Denise Burditus, who originally stood up the Association of the United States Army’s sub chapter in Lacey, Wa., and the wife of a recently retired Green Beret with JBLM’s 1st Special Forces Group died in the arms of her husband at the concert.
"It saddens me to say that I lost my wife of 32 years, a mother of two, soon to be grandmother of 5 this evening in the Las Vegas Shooting,” Tony Burditus wrote in a posting to family and friends. “Denise passed in my arms. I LOVE YOU BABE.”

Tony Burditus spoke with Anderson Cooper on CNN Tuesday evening.  Burditus echoed other eyewitnesses that said at first the gunfire sounded like fireworks or technical problems with the concert sound stage. 

He told Cooper that Denise asked him if those were gunshots.  He told her no in that moment.

Once he did determine the sounds came from gunfire, he thought the shooter was in the concert grounds.  He said if he had known they came from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, he would have chosen a different escape route.

Tony told Cooper he didn't have a chance to tell his wife goodbye.  He said Denise was unconcious the moment she was hit as they fled.

"I am going to miss her greatly - she was a great person," he told Cooper.  He also thanked both first responders and fellow concert-goers for their support.  He said the crisis center in Las Vegas had also been a huge support.  Tony Burditus was headed back to West Virginia to be with his family Wednesday, he told Cooper.

One of Tony Burditus’s followers on Facebook wrote Monday: “Tony, I am so heartbroken and angry for your loss and don't know if I have any words to help. I know Denise was the love of your life and can't imagine what you are going through. Please know, there are many who are with you in thought and prayer during this terrible time. I pray God give you, your family and Denise's family courage, strength, and peace.”
Denise Burditus’s last photo was of her and her husband smiling in front of the stage at Route 91 Harvest in Vegas, Sunday less than an hour before Stephen Paddock reportedly fired countless bullets onto the crowd of 22,000 country music fans.
Carlene Joseph, former president of the local AUSA chapter said Tony retired from the Special Forces last year, and he and Denise recently moved to West Virginia. "Denise was working on her college degree and was so proud of her grades.   I was one of her many cheerleaders on Facebook.  She had a West Virginia heart as big as she was.  Total shame this woman was taken so quickly during the second stage of her life.   She just turned 50."
Denise worked for Heritage Bank in the Lacey area, and while there, she spearheaded the efforts to start a subchapter for the Captain Meriwether Lewis AUSA Chapter in that community.
“In addition to being an Army wife, Denise Burditus volunteered her time and effort to organize  and then lead an AUSA organization in the Lacey area to support soldiers serving in combat and their families,” said Major General (retired) John Hemphill, a member of AUSA.  “She made this organization successful.”
Joseph concurred. “We lost a special friend and our hearts ache for her family.”
The Captain Meriwether Lewis Chapter of AUSA represents the JBLM area to the headquarters in D.C.  The chapter is divided into many sub chapters, and those sub chapters are aligned to support key units on the base.

A local community leader and military spouse Stephanie Scott wrote on Facebook, "Denise was such an amazing woman. To the family, please know that your wife and mom touched so many lives while living in WA state. There is an entire contingent of people on standby wanting to do something for your family. I know there is nothing we can do to ease the pain, no words that can make this easier. But with time, I hope it brings you some measure of peace to know that this incredible, giving woman's memory will forever live on in the lives of all she touched. She was truly one of a kind with such a huge heart. Love and prayers from so many here in WA."

A GoFundMe site has been established to support the Burditus family at gofundme.com/burditus-family-fund

October 5, 2017 at 10:55am

Ghost Brigade learns from global partners at home

Soldiers from the Indian Army 2/11 Gorkha Rifles and a U.S. soldier with 2-3 Infantry, 1-2 SBCT, search a room for enemy combatants during a training scenario Sept. 25, at the Leschi Town on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Photo credit: Capt. Casey Martin

During the month of September, two battalions from the 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team trained with the Indian and Japanese armed forces to enhance interoperability and to increase the brigade's readiness.

The two separate training missions consisted of Rising Thunder with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) and Yudh Abhyas with the Indian Army. Both training scenarios focused on sharing tactics and ideas to become better, more effective warfighters. From long-range sniper and anti-tank training to urban combat and command post exercises, every servicemember learned how the other nation's armed service operated and provided input to become more effective partners.

Rising Thunder was conducted between the JGSDF and the U.S. 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, at Yakima Training Center, Sept. 5-20. Yudh Abhyas was held Sept. 15-27 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and included soldiers from the U.S. 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, and the Indian Army's 2/11 Gorkha Rifles.

"There are numerous benefits these exercises bring," said Col. Jasper Jeffers, the commander of 1-2 SBCT. "I think the interoperability, relationships and experience we gain from working with our partners and understanding how they approach problems drives readiness and allows us to be able to execute our mission in the Pacific theater."

Building these kinds of relationships is just as important to members of the JGSDF, said Capt. David Darnell, assistant operations officer with 2-3 Inf. In the future, the U.S. and Japan may end up on the same battlefield. They have now established those important relationships and won't be starting from zero during wartime.

Achieving a degree of interoperability with the United States Army is also the purpose of Yudh Abhyas, said Col. B.K. Attri, an Indian Army officer with 2/11 Gorkha Rifles. If the time should arise, both armies can operate with much ease and understanding of each other's ground battle drills.

"I don't think you can put a price on the intangibles of long-term relationships, especially in the military community," Jeffers said. "Our most interoperable partners are the ones that we had the longest relationships with."

During Yudh Abhyas, U.S. soldiers learned how tactically patient Indian Army soldiers were, said Staff Sgt. Brent Brabant, who was a platoon sergeant during the exercise. They will wait until they receive orders before they act in certain circumstances, while U.S. soldiers are more initiative-based. If the conditions are already set, and the soldiers don't receive a radio call, there are primary and alternate contingencies that allow U.S. soldiers to conduct their part of the mission.

"We would practice their tactics and techniques and we would practice ours," said Brabant. "It was good seeing both sides."

"The Ghost Brigade brought a tremendous amount of mounted and dismounted infantry during the exercise paired with the mobility that the Stryker vehicle gives you," said Jeffers. "That also includes all the fire power and communications capabilities that the platform provides."

The Indians and Japanese also bring their unique expertise in environments that U.S. soldiers don't often get to train in, Jeffers added. The Indians have a lot of mountainous regions with the Himalayas on one side and also being near Kashmir. This particular Indian unit has been fighting in the Siachen glacier for years.

The Japanese bring a focus on homeland defense, said Jeffers. Their training and experiences are some things that we don't often get with our soldiers unless we deploy for training somewhere else.

"This is the first time my soldiers got to work with somebody outside the U.S. Army," said Brabant. "The soldiers had the ability to see what it is like in another army. They saw the pride that the 2/11 Gorkha Rifles took in just their name and motto."

The most important gain is building readiness for the future fight, said Jeffers. It really ends there.

"This interoperability will allow us to function with our partners when needed in support of the military objectives of the United States," Jeffers said. "We will need to be able to work with them. This is about the readiness of our force."

October 5, 2017 at 11:21am

Modular Handgun to begin fielding before Christmas

By November, the Army is expected to reach a conditional material release for the Modular Handgun System, and will issue some 2,000 of the pistols to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Photo credit: Lewis Perkins

Come November, the XM17 handgun, also called the "Modular Handgun System," or MHS, will drop the "X," which designates it as "experimental" and will instead be called the M17.

At that time, the Army is expected to reach a conditional material release for the MHS, and will issue some 2,000 of the pistols to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

The "Screaming Eagles" will be the first in a long line of units to receive the new 9mm pistol, which is meant as a replacement for the existing M9, which is quickly approaching the end of its useful service life.

Also among the first to receive the new pistol will be the 3rd Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood, Texas, as well as one of the Army's new security force assistance brigades.

All three units will have the new M17 handgun issued to them by the end of the year, said Brig. Gen. Brian Cummings, who serves as Program Executive Officer Soldier at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

While the XM17 pistol is manufactured by Sig Sauer and is based on Sig Sauer's existing P320 pistol, Cummings brushed off comparisons between the two weapons.

"It's a different weapons system," Cummings said.

As the Program Executive Officer Soldier, Cummings is responsible for managing those Army programs that provide most of the things soldiers carry or wear. That includes, among other things, individual and crew-served weapons, protective gear, weapons sights and sensors, and uniform items.

The general said that both the M17, which is a full-sized version of the pistol, and the M18, which is a compact version, include different safety features than the P320 pistol, as well as different requirements for accuracy and reliability.

Cummings also said that the new pistol may see more action than its predecessor, the M9, which was primarily issued as a personal protection weapon.

"We're looking at more than the traditional basis of issue, where we are doing a one-for-one replacement," he said. The M17 and M18, he said, have also proven good for close-quarters combat, and so might be issued to some units and soldiers to fill that role as well.

STILL ON TARGET FOR NEW RIFLE

Despite some reports to the contrary, the Army is still looking for a new rifle that uses a 7.62mm cartridge.

"The chief (U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley) wanted an interim combat rifle, or he was only going to fulfill a requirement to have a squad-designated marksman in each squad, called a squad-designated marksman rifle," Cummings said. "So, there are two efforts going on to get a 7.62 inside the squad."

What are those two efforts? Cummings said that course of action No. 1 is to have one soldier in a squad carrying the Squad-Designated Marksman Rifle, or SDMR. Course of action No. 2, he said, is to have multiple soldiers in a squad with the Interim Combat Service Rifle, or ICSR. Both are 7.62mm weapons.

The SDMR is already a program of record for the Army, Cummings said, and there is a weapon already identified to fill that role: the M110A1 Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System, or CSASS. That weapon is undergoing testing now, Cumming said.

But the ICSR and the SDMR do not represent the future for what weapons will be issued to most soldiers.

"Right now, many are focused on the ICSR or SDMR," Cummings said. "But that's not the long-term way ahead. The long-term way ahead is a brand new rifle for all of the Department of Defense called the Next Generation Squad Weapon."

The Next Generation Squad Weapon, or NGSW, is actually two weapons, he said. It'll include one rifle to replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, and then a carbine that replaces the M4. Both the M249 and the M4 use the 5.56mm cartridge. The NGSW will likely use a different caliber cartridge than 5.56mm.

"For the next-generation, we wanted to make one end-all solution," Cummings said. "With the M4, when you look at it, it's got all these things hanging on top of it. We keep evolving by putting on things. The next-generation is going to be kind of like what we did with the pistol, with the modular handgun system. It'll be one complete system, with weapon, magazine, ammo and fire control on it and we will cut down on the load and integration issues associated with it."

The general said the U.S. Marine Corps is "on board" with development of the NGSW, and the British are interested as well.

Cummings said the Army can expect to start seeing the Next Generation Squad Weapon by 2022, in about five years. That'll include the weapon, magazine and bullet. Later, by 2025, he said, soldiers can expect to see a fully-developed fire-control system.

Until then, Cummings said, the Army is working on an interim solution to get a larger-caliber rifle into the hands of at least some soldiers. It'll either be the SDMR in the hands of one soldier, or the ICSR in the hands of some soldiers. But, he said, "the final decision has not been made."

October 6, 2017 at 5:52am

Las Vegas Shooting: Former Madigan doctor ran toward danger

Retired Army colonel and MultiCare Health System surgeon, Dr. James Sebesta, right, and friend, Stephen Williams, speak with the media Wednesday about their experience evacuating the wounded at the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Veg

Doctor James “Jim” Sebesta has saved countless lives during his 25-year career as an Army trauma surgeon. But Sunday night he found himself without supplies, surrounded by a sea of people mowed down by gunman Stephen Paddock at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas.

“I’ve been in a lot of bad places in my career and seen lots of (mass casualties), but in the Army we were ready for them,” Sebesta said. “And the other thing is there was a reason for it — it was war. This was the most devastating thing I’ve ever seen. I could not believe it. It took me a long time when we started hearing the shots because I just could not believe that somebody would do this.”

Sebesta said he and his wife saw the muzzle flashes coming from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, where the sniper used 23 guns to terrorize innocent concert-goers in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

When the onslaught finally stopped, more than 500 people were wounded, and scores were dying in front of the concert stage. Sebesta, his wife and friends, who were hunkered down in the VIP tent, had somehow survived the violence, but they feared the gunfire would start again any moment, Sebesta said.

They made the decision to pick themselves up and get out of there.

“As I ran, I looked out over the field and saw multiple people out there — people doing CPR, people trying to carry people — and I just ... I couldn’t not go help them,” Sebesta said.

Knowing every second is crucial to a gunshot victim, Sebesta made the call to run toward danger instead of away from it. He asked his friends to take his wife to safety, then turned, jumped over the fence and headed back.

There were skilled medical providers all over the place, Sebesta said — nurses, emergency medical technicians and even a few doctors. Sebesta retired as a colonel from Madigan Army Medical Center in 2016 and now works for the MultiCare Health System as a bariatric and general surgeon.

Despite his training and experience, Sebesta had no medical equipment or supplies of any kind. He saw a man, shot in the back — his son plugging the bullet hole with his fingers. Another, a girl, was shot through the neck and needed to establish an airway that Sebesta knew would not arrive soon enough.

Twenty-two thousand people had attended the concert, and all of them needed to get off the field and out of the line of fire.

“We knew that we had to get them somewhere where they had medical supplies,” Sebesta said.

The mission became less about lifesaving measures and more about evacuating, he said. From person to person, Sebesta went to help, tearing down fencing for a makeshift gurney to carry people about 40 yards from the front of the stage to the nearby House of Blues, where they could be loaded into vehicles.

“It’s all a blur,” he said. “You were just running as fast as you can, and grabbing somebody and going back and grabbing somebody else.”

Sebesta’s friend, Stephen Williams of Edmonds, Wash., was right on his tail. Many others also helped evacuate victims.

“We did everything we possibly could just to comfort people,” Williams said. “We were stepping in and around many bodies, wounded and otherwise, just trying to do whatever we could to help. Like Jim said, there are no heroes per se, there were just a lot of willing people that I saw trying to help others survive.”

Sebesta doesn’t like the word hero, he said, pointing out the others who also answered the call.

“Everybody that was on that field, whether they were skilled or not, helped carry somebody off that field who probably lived,” Sebesta said.

Tragically, not everyone was as fortunate. Among the 59 people killed in the attack was a person with ties to JBLM. Denise Burditus, who helped launch the Association of the United States Army, Captain Meriwether Lewis subchapter in Lacey, was killed in the shooting Sunday. According to the Lacey subchapter, Denise died in the arms of her husband, Tony Burditus, who retired from 1st Special Forces Group, at JBLM, just a year ago.

Hours later, Sebesta was able to reunite with his wife. The two traveled home to Olympia, and Sebesta recently resumed his work as a surgeon. In the days since, he said there have been a lot of emotions and a few tears when he sees his children.

Sebesta said he is taking time to heal by talking with his wife and friends who were there that night. Instead of focusing on his own actions or the horror of what he saw, he’s choosing to remember everyone who put their lives on the line for others, he said.

“The way everybody came together and helped each other — it wasn’t about who was a doctor or who was a nurse; it was about what we had to do to get people out of there,” he said. “That gives me hope that we’ll move past this and keep on going.”

October 6, 2017 at 5:58am

JBLM hitter helps Army to gold medal

Armed Forces Sports Sgt. Jedon Matthews, of 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, makes contact while representing the All-Army team during the 2017 Armed Forces Softball Championships at Joint Base San Antonio in Te

Whether on a professional baseball field or a softball diamond on a military installation, Sgt. Jedon Matthews of 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division has maintained a strong swing of the bat and a love for the game of baseball and softball.

Matthews was one of the powerful bats in an All-Army men’s line up that swept the nine-game schedule to claim the gold medal during 2017 Armed Forces Softball Championship at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, Sept. 19 to 23. The win gave Army a sixth, consecutive first-place finish in the annual softball tournament.

The Army men’s team totaled 278 runs in the nine-game stretch, scoring no less than 28 runs in two of the games. Matthews certainly had his fair share of runs driven in as he held a batting average of .689 and a slugging percentage of 1.489.

In terms of production, Matthews led all Army batters with 10 home runs. He also tied for the Army lead with Eric Sessom and Leonardo Aviles with 27 runs batted in. His biggest individual contribution came during the Army’s 38-31 win over the Air Force Sept. 23: five hits in six at-bats for two home runs and nine RBI.

“We had a real good group of strong guys, mentally and physically,” Matthews said. “We had a lot of (experienced) vets and only three young guys.”

Matthews was then one of nine Army players selected to play for the U.S. Armed Forces team that competed in the ASA Nationals in Oklahoma City Sept. 29 to Sunday.

The Armed Forces team was eliminated after two losses to the OC (26-25) and the FK/Pauer Sports club (32-27). Even though the Armed Forces team went winless, there was pride in the fact that it played a lot tougher than in years past.

“It’s truly an honor just to be selected to advance — to put that USA across your chest and your hat,” Matthews said.

Matthews is no stranger to playing on the diamond, both softball and baseball. Before entering the Army, Matthews was scouted out of Horizon Christian High School in San Diego to play professional baseball. In 2006, he was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 28th round of Major League’s Baseball June amateur draft.

Matthews played two seasons for the team’s Appalachian League team, the Bristol White Sox, from 2007 to 2008. In 190 games, he hit for a .270 batting average with three home runs and 23 RBI.

He was released from the White Sox organization in 2009. Without an agent, he looked around for other baseball options before deciding to move onto something bigger. He joined the Army in 2012.

During his first year serving in South Korea in 2013, Matthews found opportunities to play softball on the installation and eventually with All-Army. He continued playing as he transitioned to Fort Benning, Ga. Now stationed at JBLM, Matthews has played for All-Army for four years during its dominant stretch — 2013, 2015 to 2017.

Softball has become his peace and serenity, he said, similar to what baseball has been for him since he first played on a diamond at age 5.

“It’s all about fun,” Matthews said. “I play the game the way it’s meant to be played. I just carried that over from baseball to softball.”

October 11, 2017 at 6:03am

Outdoor photography tours hosted via JBLM

Northwest Adventure Center One of the most popular photography trips that the Northwest Adventure Center hosts is a nighttime tour of the city of Seattle.

Retired Army sergeant first class Kaweka Stoney, an adventure programmer for the Northwest Adventure Center, has always done photography, but he’s become more involved with the art in the last five years.

Now as part of the team that provides outdoor adventure trips for the JBLM community, Stoney shares his passion and knowledge of photography with various outdoor trips, including a Sunset Photography trip to Discovery Park in Seattle Saturday afternoon.

Stoney said he likes to provide a variety of outdoor photography tours to capture as much of the Pacific Northwest as possible. That includes mountains, ocean, rivers, beaches, cities, rural areas and more.

“There’s just so much here in the Northwest that makes it pretty amazing,” Stoney said. “There’s always something new to discover.”

Stoney teaches the three essential elements of photography exposure — the International Standards Organization’s scale for measuring light, better known as ISO, shutter speed and aperture.

Stoney recommends people bring their own camera to shoot and learn; however, he does bring a few extra camera bodies for those who are very new to the art.

“There are people who really want to get into photography, but they don’t have a camera or they only have a point and shoot,” he said.

Whether his groups are the average three to five people, or up to 10 people, the majority of participants are seeking to learn how to work with their cameras.

“I find out a lot of them spend $200, $300 or up to $1,000 (on a camera), and they leave it on automatic,” Stoney said. “But they want to learn how to advance beyond that.”

Stoney spends a good portion of time during the tours providing tips on how to adjust ISO, shutter speed and aperture settings for different kinds of photography. Still, he said he wants participants to figure it out on their own.

The benefit to having trial-and-error moments in photography is that cameras on the market are majority digital, unlike yesteryear’s tedious and labor-intensive film format.

“You can keep filling up that memory card and just experiment,” Stoney said. “See what your camera can do.”

Stoney said there are a lot of repeat photography tour sign-ups because people want to learn more. That’s why Stoney recommends they sign up for his Photography 101 courses.

The next class is scheduled for Oct. 29, but he’s hoping to have it become a monthly class starting in 2018.

Stoney will host photography adventures tours this fall, including a Waterfall Photography Tour Oct. 28. Stoney said he’s planning on taking people to various waterfalls along the Lewis River, a tributary of the Columbia River in southwestern Washington.

“(We’re going to try) different ways (to photograph), like the silky effect or freezing the motions of the waterfall,” Stoney said.

Stoney will also host a Seattle Night Photography tour Nov. 4, which is one of the most popular tours he’s offered outside of astrophotography, he said.

October 11, 2017 at 2:31pm

Comedian Jo Koy to Perform at Lucky Eagle Casino & Hotel



Rochester, WA, October 5, 2017 –– Lucky Eagle Casino & Hotel welcomes comedian Jo Koy to their Event Center stage on Friday, November 3, 2017 at 8PM.

In addition to regularly performing to sold-out crowds across the nation, Jo Koy has been featured on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, starred as a recurring panel member on The Chelsea Handler Show and has had two featured specials on Comedy Central. His latest special, Jo Koy, Live from Seattle is currently showing on Netflix. Inspired by his humorous family, Jo Koy’s comedy brings a uniquely hilarious perspective on life.

We are proud to be a place where our guests can see their favorite entertainers in an intimate setting. We are extremely excited to be bringing Jo Koy back to his home state for what surely will be a memorable performance. If you’ve never seen his show live, get ready to laugh so hard you’ll cry” said Lucky Eagle Casino & Hotel CEO Lisa Miles.

Seating is limited and the show is expected to sell out quickly. Tickets and more information can be found online at LuckyEagle.com or by calling 1-800-720-1788. Players Club members can get discount tickets starting at just $25 when purchased at the casino.

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Lucky Eagle Casino & Hotel is owned and operated by The Chehalis Tribe and features approximately 1,300 slot machines, 14 table games, exceptional dining, live entertainment and a 170-room hotel. More information can be found online at www.luckyeagle.com.

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October 12, 2017 at 11:24am

POW recalls Fort Lewis

Günter Gräwe, 91, laughs Oct. 3 as he tours the site of his former POW barracks during a visit to Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Photo credit: Scott Hansen, Northwest Guardian

Former German prisoner of war Günter Gräwe was 18 years old in August 1944 during what he calls the luckiest time of his life.

That was shortly after he, as a new recruit in the German Army, was injured in the foot by a grenade in Normandy, France, and captured in a field hospital.

Gräwe was transported on the Queen Mary to Dover, Maine. He was then transported by train to a prisoner of war camp near what's now the Washington National Guard Readiness Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Now 91 years old, Gräwe returned to JBLM Oct. 3 to ride his bicycle from the Liberty Gate on Lewis Main to the site of that former prisoner of war camp. He was escorted by JBLM military police members.

For Gräwe, the visit to JBLM was an opportunity to say "thank you" for the treatment he received as a prisoner and see once again the place that holds positive memories, despite the troubling times of his youth. The buildings, now a handful of brown one- and two-story structures, are all that remains of what was 60 barracks, a soccer field, fences and guard towers.

He toured the inside of one of the surviving structures with Col. William Percival, deputy garrison commander of JBLM and commander of the 627th Air Base Group.

"My bed was over there," Gräwe said, as he pointed to a corner in the building similar to the one in which he'd lived. "It was (a bunk bed). The (building) must have been improved later; it wasn't as nice as this."

Gräwe doesn't have any complaints about his treatment as a prisoner. In fact, he had only good things to say about his time in America.

"All we cared about was the food," he said of prison life.

Gräwe said he appreciated the meat and vegetables served but also loved that he could use his 80 cents a day -- payment for work performed picking apples or harvesting potatoes in eastern Washington or picking cotton in Arizona -- to purchase items he would not have been able to buy in Germany.

In a 2016 letter to Marie McCaffrey, co-founder and executive director of History Link, who accompanied Gräwe on his visit to JBLM, he wrote: "It was in August or September 1944 when I stood in front of a shop in the POW Camp (at) Fort Lewis considering what to buy first: an ice cream or a bottle of Coca-Cola. The last ice cream I had been able to buy in Germany was years ago. But Coca-Cola? Never before. So I decided to take both. I suddenly realized how extremely lucky I had been to be captured by the American Army and not the Russian one."

Food was rationed in Germany during World War II, and Gräwe's family wasn't able to buy such niceties. Gräwe grew up the oldest of two children in Lüdensheid, a small west German town. He had a sister, Erika, who was three years younger than him. She died in 2015.

Gräwe joined Deutsches Jungvolk -- a German group for young people -- when he was 10 years old and transitioned into the Hitler Youth program at the age of 14. At the time, Gräwe had no knowledge of the German leader's horrific plans for his country. Gräwe said he thought of the youth groups as similar to American Boy Scout programs.

"We had fun and went places, camping and games, things we wouldn't have been able to do otherwise," he said.

His father was drafted into the German Army and died a year later, when Gräwe was just a youth. Before his 18th birthday, Gräwe was called into the German Army. He joined voluntarily, he said.

According to Gräwe, the German Army and Hitler's Nazis were two completely different groups. Prison camps in America, including the one at JBLM, also differentiated between the two, giving 10 cents a day in pay for work to Nazi prisoners and 80 cents a day to German soldiers, such as Gräwe, according to Duane Denfield, JBLM architectural historian.

Gräwe said he and other prisoners couldn't believe it when an American military officer told of atrocities performed by Nazis, such as Jews being murdered in concentration camps. A few years after the war, Gräwe returned to Germany. He married his wife, Chrestel, in 1950. She died two years ago, shortly before he decided to make the trip to JBLM.

"She'd have said I was crazy," he said, when asked if his wife would have approved his pilgrimage.

The couple has two sons, Ulrich and Mathias, who now run the family import business in Germany, along with his grandson, Holm, and his wife, Swetlana.

Gräwe said he was glad to have seen JBLM and met current military leaders, and he is grateful for the way Americans help other countries -- such as the Marshall Plan, after WWII, which helped rebuild Germany. He said he decided to make this bike trip now because he wanted to thank America for treatment he'd not have received at the hands of other captors.

"With all the trouble in the Middle East, there are so many things happening," he said. "I think of the prisoners of ISIS; they won't get ice cream or Coca-Cola. My stay here was the best (treatment) I've had."

October 12, 2017 at 11:40am

Medics test their limits

Capt. Stephanie Germeroth finishes a 12-mile foot march Sept. 28, the final event of nearly two weeks of testing for the Expert Field Medical Badge qualification. Photo credit: Capt. Cain S. Claxton

Mentally, physically and emotionally grueling. That's how candidates described 12 days of testing for the Army's Expert Field Medical Badge, which ended Sept. 28 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Only about 10 percent of the Army's medical community has earned the badge, according to Maj. Erica Kane, 56th Multi-functional Medical Battalion Brigade executive officer. Kane organized the EFMB event for the 62nd Medical Brigade at JBLM.

"This is an opportunity for soldiers within the Army medical department to demonstrate their ‘extra mile' toward being committed to their profession," Kane said.

That "extra mile" included evaluations of 42 hands-on tasks, land navigation, a 60-question written test, and ended with a 12-mile foot march.

"It is quite a grueling (evaluation) and it requires a significant amount of intestinal fortitude, physical strength and mental acuity to make it through all those tasks," Kane said.

More than 200 candidates from JBLM and other parts of the western United States began testing Sept. 16. Only 29 soldiers made it to the final event, the 12-mile foot march, which began at 5 a.m., Sept. 28, along East Gate Road and ended at Cowan Stadium three hours later. Twenty-six soldiers finished in time, earning the coveted badge.

Spc. Sam Arnold of the 520th Medical Company (Area Support), 56th Multi-functional Medical Battalion, finished the course first with a time of 2:25:12. He was followed by 1st Lt. Jessica Knoll, 555th Engineer Brigade, and 2nd Lt. Joseph Miller, of the 514th Medical Company (Ground Ambulance), 56th MMB. Madigan Medical Center's Capt. Stephanie Germeroth had the highest overall score through all testing phases, while Pfc. Nathan Harrington achieved the highest written test score.

"It was pretty tough," Miller said of the foot march. "It was a long course but was definitely worth it. The hardest part was the very meticulous standards that they upheld throughout the course and all the combat testing lanes."

Command Sgt. Maj. Walter Tagalicud, I Corps and JBLM command sergeant major, spoke to the recipients and about 200 guests in an award ceremony at Cowan Stadium after the foot march.

"The EFMB is more than just a badge that these soldiers wear, it is about being an expert of your craft," Tagalicud said. "It is about being able to master the fundamentals of war-fighting, demonstrating that you can shoot accurately, move quickly and communicate effectively.

"It is anticipating requirements and conducting requisite (pre-combat checks and pre-combat inspections) to ensure equipment and medical supplies are accessible and serviceable. It is confidently proving ones medical proficiency, treating wounds, applying tourniquets, and sending 9-line medevac reports, while reassuring the wounded that everything is going to be okay."

Tagalicud applauded the 26 EFMB recipients for not only the expertise they demonstrated, but for their character.

"It highlighted your impeccable character: you never faltered and you never quit. You fought through frustration, pain and fatigue. When your teammates needed help, you were the first ones who stayed up late to help. Today you can say, ‘I did it.'" 

October 12, 2017 at 11:53am

Army rolls out latest Abrams Battle Tank

The Abrams M1A2 SEPv3 is a great step forward in reliability, sustainability, protection, and onboard power -- positioning the Abrams tank and the Army’s ABCTs for the future. Photo credit: U.S. Army

On Wednesday, Oct. 4, members of the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center workforce celebrated the delivery of the next iteration of the iconic Abrams Main Battle Tank as the Army accepted the first of six M1A2 System Enhancement Package Version 3 initial production vehicles.

Production for the M1A2 SEPv3 is being conducted at JSMC in Lima, Ohio, and at the Anniston Army Depot in Anniston, Alabama.

"This version is the most modernized configuration of the Abrams tank, having improved force protection and system survivability enhancements and increased lethality over the M1A1 and previous M1A2 variants," said Lt. Col. Justin Shell, the Army's product manager for Abrams. "The Abrams M1A2 SEPv3 tank will be the foundation for future incremental system upgrades and can host any mature technology the Army deems operationally relevant."

"The Abrams M1A2 SEPv3 is the first in a series of new or significantly improved vehicles that we will be delivering to the Army's ABCTs," said Maj. Gen. David Bassett, program executive officer for Ground Combat Systems. "It is a great step forward in reliability, sustainability, protection, and on-board power which positions the Abrams tank and our ABCTs for the future. Even in a fiscal environment that has greatly hampered our ability to move towards entirely new vehicles, the Abrams M1A2 SEPv3 shows we can still deliver meaningful and operationally relevant improvements."

The SEPv3 will replace the M1A2 SEPv2 which has been in production since 2005. In 2011, the Program Executive Office for Ground Combat Systems was directed by the Army to execute Engineering Change Proposals to restore lost capability and allow the capacity for the insertion of new technologies.

The M1A2 SEPv3 improvements include:

  • Joint Tactical Radio System: Integration of the Government Furnished Equipment Joint Tactical Radio System Handheld, Manpack, and Small Form Fit radio to support the need to establish network readiness and maintain battle command and communications interoperability with future Brigade Combat Teams.
  • Power Generation and Distribution: Aspects include Improved Amperage Alternator, Slip Ring, Enhanced Hull Power Distribution Unit/Common Remote Switching Modules, and the Battery Monitoring System. These technologies address the power demand growth potential and the need for dissemination of critical information.
  • Line Replaceable Unit/Line Replaceable Modules Redesign: Migration of current force Abrams platforms to a two-level maintenance scheme can be initiated through the implementation of Line Replaceable Module technology.
  • Counter Remote Control Improvised Explosive Device Electronic Warfare V3: Counter Remote Control Improvised Explosive Device Electronic Warfare/Duke V3 is the latest version from PM CREW.
  • Ammunition Data Link: The ADL is required to program the M829A4 Advanced Kinetic Energy and Advanced Multi-Purpose rounds.
  • Auxiliary Power Unit: The under armor APU provides capability to operate on-board systems with a reduced probability of detection during silent watch operations.
  • Armor Upgrades: The Abrams Tank will continue to advance its ballistic protection to counter the latest threats and maintain battlefield superiority.

"These vehicles are not just about assuring our allies, or deterring or coercing potential adversaries," added Bassett. "They are about compelling our enemies and winning the multi-domain battle."

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