Northwest Military Blogs: Army West Blog

June 29, 2017 at 1:23pm

Laser weapons bring advantages to the battlefield

Matthew Ketner, branch chief of the High Energy Laser Controls and Integration Directorate, shows the effects of laser hits on materials during Lab Day in the Pentagon, May 18. Photo credit: David Vergun

The Army and Navy are increasingly incorporating laser weapons on a limited number of platforms and training exercises, according to Matthew Ketner, branch chief of the High Energy Laser Controls and Integration Directorate at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, Virginia.

Ketner spoke on these emerging laser technologies last month during Lab Day at the Pentagon.

For its part, the Navy placed a 30-kilowatt laser onboard the USS Ponce, an amphibious transport dock ship, in 2014. The laser has been tested extensively and is authorized for defensive use.

The Army, meanwhile, is testing lasers to bring down unmanned aerial vehicles, according to Ketner.

In one training instance, a 10-kilowatt laser was placed on a Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck and tested during a Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in April 2016. The laser successfully shot down a number of unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as UAVs.

In February and March of this year, the U.S. Army Space and Missile Command shot down a number of UAVs with a five-kilowatt laser mounted on a Stryker during the Hard Kill Challenge at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.

The purpose of the Hard Kill Challenge "was to assess and look at technology ... to do a ‘hard-kill' shoot down of Group 1 (UAVs) and inform decision-makers on the current state of technology and how it can deal with single and multiple targets," said Adam Aberle, SMDC High Energy Laser Division technology development and demonstration lead.

The Army recognizes that high energy lasers have the potential to be a low-cost, effective complement to kinetic energy, he said. Lasers have the potential to be more effective at addressing rocket, artillery, mortar, or RAM threats, as well as unmanned aircraft systems and cruise missiles.

On the plus side, lasers are silent and invisible to the human eye and are thus hard to detect by the enemy, Ketner said.

Also, a laser has a near-perfectly straight trajectory, unlike the arc of an artillery round, which allows the laser to be much more accurate in finding its target.

Ketner also pointed out that a laser beam can also be scaled to the object in question, as he showcased a display of items that were hit by a laser. The objects included steel plating, aluminum, copper, carbon fiber and Kevlar. Other display items included a fried circuit board, a destroyed fixed-wing UAV and quadcopter, all victims of the laser beam.

The power of the beam can be adjusted for any material, he said. There's even a non-lethal adjustment for human targets.

So far, lasers have taken out cruise missiles, mortars, and other projectiles during testing, Ketner said.

One downside, he noted, is that lasers take a lot of energy and have difficulty penetrating haze, dust, smoke and materials with anti-laser coatings. But overall, lasers remain a valuable tool in the military's arsenal. "Unlike a traditional gun," Ketner said, "lasers don't run out of bullets."

June 28, 2017 at 5:43pm

DIVARTY masses guns first time in 14 years

Soldiers of 2nd Infantry Division Artillery prepare to fire their M777 Howitzer at a target during the DIVARTY Mass Fire exercise June 10 at Yakima Training Center. Photo courtesy of 7th Infantry Division

In 2003, Pfc. Jesse Kobussen, a field artillery fire direction specialist, was processing mass fire missions at Rodriquez Live Fire Complex, South Korea, for 2nd Infantry Division Artillery. This would be the last time the DIVARTY would control fires for multiple artillery battalions before its deactivation Nov. 30, 2006.

But on June 10, Sgt. 1st Class Kobussen sat again in the DIVARTY Fire Control Center as the senior fire direction specialist - controlling fires for multiple field artillery battalions for the first time since 2003.

DIVARTY, based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, orchestrated the massing of 33 M777 Howitzers from three field artillery battalions, including one Washington Army National Guard unit, while conducting Force Field Artillery Headquarters training at the Yakima Training Center. This was the first time since the DIVARTY's reactivation Sept. 25, 2014, the fire control team has demonstrated this critical capability required by the 2ID commander.

"It is truly awesome when you see thirty-three cannons mass on a single target," said Kobussen. "That destructive power shakes the earth for miles and shows the lethality of the DIVARTY."

DIVARTY routinely participates in 2ID exercises, such as Operation Key Resolve, Operation Ulchi Freedom Guardian and division-level warfighting exercises. Their ability to integrate fires with maneuver and set conditions for maneuver commanders has proven critical to the success of 2ID missions.

"Re-establishing and training on this critical capability after some fourteen years clearly demonstrates the lethality and the significant role the DIVARTYs have in a Decisive Action battle," said Col. David Pierce, 2ID Artillery commander. "The Force Field Artillery HQs can control multiple field artillery battalions and effectively mass onto a single target simultaneously and instantly destroy the adversary, creating that marked battlefield advantage for our brigade combat teams."

Soldiers of DIVARTY stand ready now to support their Republic of Korea partners. Kobussen and the soldiers of DIVARTY have proven they can effectively control the field artillery fight, mass all indirect fires on enemy targets and are prepared to take the fight to the enemy.

June 22, 2017 at 3:03pm

Canadian general bids farewell to I Corps

Canadian Brig. Gen. Dany Fortin, the outgoing I Corps deputy commanding general for operations, addresses the audience during a Courage Honors Ceremony on Joint Base Lewis-McChord June 13. Photo credit: Sgt. Youtoy Martin

After completing a two-year assignment as I Corps' Deputy Commanding General for Operations, Canadian Brig. Gen. Dany Fortin and his wife Madeleine Collin, are headed north, back to their home country.

Members of I Corps said goodbye to Fortin during a brief ceremony June 13 at Joint Base Lewis McChord.

"It's a bitter sweet day for all of us at I Corps as Brig. Gen. Fortin and his wife Madeline return to Canada as Dany continues to assume roles of greater responsibility in his Army," said Lt. Gen. Gary Volesky, I Corp commanding general, during his remarks. "I would like to extend a special thanks to our teammates in Canada for continuing to send us their best officers to serve in America's I Corps, and Brig. Gen. Fortin is a shining example of this."

Fortin said Canadian general officers have been embedding in I Corps since 2008. His predecessors, he said, paved the way for success in his assignment as the I Corps DCG-O.

"They have established this relationship with the Corps," Fortin said. "Regardless of who the commander or key staff are, there is a bit of institutional memory here."

Fortin said the assignment was an honor and great learning experience.

He came to I Corps as a newly promoted general and within a month he was off to his first training exercise with the Corps headquarters, one of many in his tenure throughout the Pacific Region.

"It is an incredible privilege to have been selected by my country to come here, and a tremendous opportunity to develop my warfighting skills," Fortin said. "I never would have had that opportunity to work at that level of warfighting in Canada and have so many repetitions, which I've had over the course of my two-year assignment."

Fortin said he fostered and shared great relationships with his American teammates and quickly found himself feeling like a fully-integrated member of the unit despite being a member of a foreign military.

At times, he said, he forgot he was a Canadian officer and not a member of the U.S. military.

"I believed in being a part of the team that is the U.S. Army, and adding value to the training and readiness," said Fortin.

One of Fortin's goals while assigned to I Corps, was to develop his skills and master his craft as warfighter.

On many occasions, former I Corps Commanding General Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, called on him to lead the team on several exercises to provide guidance on his behalf, commanding the Corps during command post exercises. Experiences Fortin said he might not have had in his native country.

"It's not that I wouldn't have been entrusted with that responsibility back home, but I would not have had that kind of opportunity back home to work at that level," Fortin said.

Fortin said his time at JBLM led not only to professional opportunities, but to the development of treasured relationships.

When he arrived at JBLM he and his wife knew no one, he said. But he soon met people who he would come to see as great friends and neighbors who welcomed and accepted him as a member of the team and the community.

"Two-years later, as we are about to leave, we have so many good friends from the Corps and across JBLM and we will miss them," said Fortin. "We've learned a great deal from this experience not just professionally but personally. We learned a great deal being here on base with great friends and we look forward to reconnecting with them as we go the four-winds."

In two-weeks, Fortin and his wife will celebrate their 24th wedding anniversary on the road, as he said they often do. They look forward to his next assignment in Canada, which brings them closer to family.

Fortin said this was the first time they had to be away from their daughter Gabrielle, who stayed home in Quebec, Canada, some 3,000 miles away to attend college.

"Being so far from our daughter was particularly harder for my wife, than me as it often is," said Fortin. "We look forward to reconnecting; we will only be about four hours from her and other family in my next assignment."

June 22, 2017 at 2:43pm

Bayonet division sets record

Pfc. Shaqwahn Stanard, a turn-in clerk with 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, places a pallet into a truck for shipment June 17 at Yakima Training Center. Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Samuel Northrup

The largest 7th Infantry Division-led exercise since 2012 is happening at Yakima Training Center and at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, June 15-29. Thousands of soldiers from 22 units from across the country are conducting live, virtual and constructive training simultaneously, and none of it would be possible without the efforts of 35 soldiers.

Servicemembers conduct training at YTC throughout the year. The installation is normally capable of supporting 1,500 people with food and water. However, Bayonet Focus 17-03 has swelled YTC to approximately 7,000 people.

This exercise gave soldiers who are automated logistic specialists an experience they wouldn't normally get, said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Kizzie, 46th Aviation Support Battalion Supply Support Activity noncommissioned officer in charge. He wants his soldiers to understand they deal with multiple classes of supply, not just the Class 9.

Kizzie has revolutionized the way logistics is conducted, said Sgt. 1st Class DeRonnious Heidelberg, logistics noncommissioned officer in charge for 7th ID. He has set the standard even though he had one month to plan and execute the massive logistical operation.

Only 17 soldiers from 46th ASB and 18 soldiers from 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion are responsible for the inventory, separation and distribution of food rations for this exercise.

Food in the Army supply system falls under Class 1. The Class 1 yard is where these rations are pulled, inventoried and loaded to the correct unit. Normally this is done by automated logistical specialists; however, culinary specialists have been included into the Class 1 yard for the exercise.

"This is the first ever that culinary specialists have had this much involvement in class one resupply," said Sgt. 1st Class MacArthur Ocampo, Senior Culinary Management NCO, 2-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team.

Ocampo, who orders and manages rations for the entire exercise, has only been at Lancer Brigade for two weeks and has never done anything of this magnitude in his career.

"An army marches on its stomach," Ocampo quoted Napoleon. That quote is what motivates him.

"How can a soldier focus on a mission if he is hungry?" Ocampo said.

The focus is to ensure soldiers are fed, stomachs are full and people are energized, said Sgt. 1st Class Dedrick Williams, noncommissioned officer in charge of the Class 1 yard. Nothing is worse than a soldier on the battlefield with a hungry stomach.

Approximately 21,000 meals are consumed daily and all that perishable food needs refrigeration. The Multi Temperature Refrigerant Containerized System is an eight-foot tall, eight-foot wide, 20-foot long freezer. The maintenance team for the system ensures the freezer keeps working so food doesn't spoil and meals keep getting to the troops.

"What motivates me is that there are seven thousand people counting on me to keep the refrigerators going and it makes me feel useful to this massive overall mission," said Spc. Cassition Adelbai, air conditioner mechanic, 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion. "I have only been in the Army six months and it taught me to adapt and overcome any obstacle."

All unused food not used during the exercise will be donated to the Washington Food Bank.

Bayonet Focus 17-03 is the largest exercise 7th Infantry Division has executed since 2012. Thousands of soldiers are training in combined arms breaches, attacking, counter-attacking, defending and calling for fire. An army marches on its stomach and it's 35 soldiers that make it happen.

June 18, 2017 at 5:59am

JBLM soldier headed to Warrior Games

U.S. Army photo Army Spc. Maria Garcia trains for the swimming event for the Warrior Care and Transition’s Army Trials at Fort Bliss, Texas, March 29. About 80 wounded, ill and injured active-duty Soldiers and veterans competed in eight different spor

Specialist Maria Garcia of Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s Warrior Transition Battalion will be one of 40 athletes representing Team Army at the Department of Defense Warrior Games June 30 to July 8 in Chicago.

Between the Air Force and Army trials, Garcia earned seven medals in cycling, shooting and swimming. When she first heard about the Warrior Games in February, she wasn’t exactly sure she wanted to participate. It took some encouragement from peers whose injuries prevented them from signing up to convince her.

“It was an eye-opener,” Garcia said. “I could be a lot worse off, and there would be plenty of people who would love this opportunity. I can’t really lose anything from it; I can only gain.”

That’s not to say Garcia’s injuries don’t make it tough to compete. In mid-2015, Garcia suffered injuries to her back, knee, shoulder and pelvis during a routine road march. She had one surgery in May 2016, and she has pelvis and back surgeries scheduled later this year.

Before signing up for the Air Force Warrior Games trials, Garcia said she was hesitant to go jogging, let alone running. There are still constant pains in her everyday life. That’s part of why she took on the physical and mental challenge of competing in the first place.

“If I’m enjoying (the competition) in the moment, that outweighs the pain later on — sometimes,” Garcia said.

When Garcia first began training for the Air Force Warrior Games Trials Feb. 24 to March 3, she said she wasn’t aware that there were medals. Her goal was to overcome the physical and mental challenge while receiving support from new teammates.

Garcia earned a gold medal in the 50-meter backstroke and a bronze in the 50-meter freestyle swim. She also added a silver medal in air rifle shooting.

Fast forward to the Army Warrior Games Trials April 2 to 6 at Fort Bliss, Texas, where she added four more medals — gold in 50-meter backstroke, silver in 50-meter freestyle, silver in air rifle and bronze in recumbent cycling.

“Yes, it was nice to see I could accomplish something, and it made me feel good,” Garcia said. “But the teamwork with everyone else was definitely a lot more important to me.”

Since training for the Warrior Games, Garcia has gained a lot of support from newfound peers — many of whom are folks with similar injuries who have learned how to adapt life to their physical and mental needs.

Those adaptations have allowed Garcia to be more confident moving forward, she said. It’s all about pacing herself to jog rather than try to go for a run. It’s also helped her to rediscover some of her previous passions, like dancing.

“Maybe I can’t do the splits anymore or other moves, but there are other things I can do slowly,” Garcia said. “Maybe I’ll get back to where I want to be>”

It wasn’t long ago when Garcia had the feeling of being alone, and it was hard to find someone who could relate in a logical manner, she said.

For Garcia, the most important outcome from participating in Warrior Games is the network of other wounded and injured service members.

“(Competing is about) not feeling alone and knowing that people do care,” Garcia said.

June 15, 2017 at 2:09pm

1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) Special Olympics power lifting

Soldiers with 4th Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), assist an athlete during the squatting event at the Special Olympics on Joint Base Lewis-McChord at the Evergreen Theater. Photo credit: Brandon Welsh

The soldiers who gave up their Saturday had no problem doing so and would gladly volunteer at any type of event if ever such occasion arises. "For us it might be a little thing, but for them it's such a great accomplishment and you can see the satisfaction on their face, and that's definitely something that sparked the light in me that made me want to do this more and more," said human resources specialist Sgt. 1st Class Juan Heward. That's what being a soldier is all about - supporting the community they reside in and willfully volunteering whenever one can, showing selfless service in everything they do.

The amount of support that the soldiers gave to the athletes throughout the competition was overwhelming. Nothing but smiles and happy people the whole day everywhere one looked. The athletes were so proud of themselves after every complete lift as the building erupted in cheers and were greeted with high-fives on all sides of them from soldiers and other athletes alike.

The soldiers volunteer at this event every year and any other event they can, work permitting. Heward also said, "My wife and I always volunteer and try and participate, it's good to volunteer and give back to the community. Why not? It's better than sitting at home on the couch," said Heward. "When you do this type of event, it makes you feel good and that's what we should do. Nobody told us to come here; we participate every year."

June 15, 2017 at 2:05pm

"Ghost Brigade" holds change of command ceremony

Col. Jasper Jeffers gives a speech June 8 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord after assuming command of the 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team. Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Samuel Northrup

The 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team "Ghost Brigade," 2nd Infantry Division, welcomed a new commander at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, with a change of command ceremony at Watkins Field June 8.

Col. Jasper Jeffers assumed duties as the commander, replacing Col. David Foley as the commander of the Ghost Brigade.

Maj. Gen. Thomas James, the 7th Infantry Division commander, described Jeffers as a man equal to the task of carrying on the legacy of the Ghost Brigade and Jeffers arrives at command with combat experience from Iraq, Afghanistan, North and West Africa as well as other locations throughout the Middle East.

"His predecessor, Col. Foley, aggressively built mission command," said James, "which allowed the Ghost Brigade team to attend two decisive action rotations at the National Training Center within 10 months, enhanced readiness through deploying formations to exercise Yudh Abhyas in India and on JBLM, plus simultaneously building interoperability with partnered nations in the Pacific Region through two Pacific Pathways iterations."

For Foley, the change of command ceremony was the opportunity to reflect upon the lineage of the 1-2 SBCT as well as the brigade's accomplishments.

"Over the course of this command," said Foley, "I've watched with admiration as these Ghost soldiers have not only evolved into a contemporary Stryker brigade combat team, but also conducted countless operations, administrative requirements, and training initiatives in support of a multi-faceted operational strategy that justly encapsulates the strength of this Stryker warfighting formation.

"They have developed strong community partnerships and a health of the force campaign in support of both a comprehensive leader development strategy and the indoctrinated tenets of a values-based learning organization," Foley added. "All of these major accomplishments could not have been realized without the strong support of the magnificent officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers in the bayonet division."

Foley highlighted what he believes is the single most important element of the formation: the soldiers and their development as leaders of character.

"The soldiers of this brigade are the best the Army has to offer," Foley said. "They are empowered leaders of character who possess the moral courage to do the right thing, who operate on disciplined initiative, fight and care for each other ... and they do not quit.

"They emulate the Officer/NCO team as the centerpiece for accomplishing tasks to standard and for developing individual and unit strength of character," he said. "Their physical and mental toughness is the cornerstone for ensuring competent, confident leaders, for inspiring a winning spirit, and for achieving the kind of readiness essential to providing lethal and adaptable force projection in support of future national security requirements."

This brigade change of command is the most recent in a series of changes within the subordinate battalions in the unit. Five of the six battalions that make up the Ghost Brigade changed command within recent months, with the final battalion scheduled to change in the near future.

June 13, 2017 at 7:11pm

I am a Sikh American. I am proud to serve.

Spc. Gurpreet Gill, a soldier with 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team at JBLM, had his religious accommodation approved, allowing him to grow facial hair and wear a turban in accordance with his Sikh faith. Courtesy photo

In 2012, I immigrated to the United States at age 24. I knew I was going to a whole new world, one that was markedly different from Jaipur, India, where I was born and raised.

America is a melting pot; as a Sikh, I was excited to share my culture with my new friends and neighbors. While I did not know exactly what the future would hold for me, I knew that I wanted to be true to the Sikh values of serving others and my country while fulfilling the Sikh tradition of serving in the armed forces. In 2014, I joined the U.S. Army. 

I was first stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., after which I was stationed at Fort Lewis, just south of Tacoma, where I currently serve as an active-duty member of the Army.

For me, there was never any question on whether I was going to join the military. The values with which I was raised placed a strong emphasis of serving my community and those around me. These values are a core tenet of my religion: Sikhism, which is still not well known in the U.S.

To provide some background, Sikhism is the world's fifth largest religion. It was established in India in the 16th century as a response to a cultural caste system, which had a rigid social structure that dictated how you were treated by society. Sikhism was founded, in part, to change that and to create equality and opportunity for all.

One of the ways Sikhs demonstrate their commitment to equality is by wearing the turban, a symbol that is often misconstrued as a symbol of extremism in the U.S. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sikh Americans wear the turban to demonstrate their commitment to equality and serving others. In fact, the turban symbolizes the same values that I defend as a member of the U.S. Army.

Approximately 600,000 Sikhs live in the U.S. and about 99 percent of the people seen wearing turbans in the U.S. are Sikh. Yet a majority of Americans don't know what Sikhism is and even more still have never interacted with a Sikh American. To help close this information gap, the National Sikh Campaign just launched We Are Sikhs, a new, national effort to help Americans better understand their Sikh American neighbors.

Until recently, Sikh men and women were not able to wear a turban while serving in the U.S. military, including myself. Earlier this year, the U.S. Army revised its regulations to allow servicemembers to wear a turban for religious reasons.

Due to the change in policy, I now wear my turban and beard with pride and I no longer have to choose between my country and my faith. This is a significant victory for Sikh Americans. I believe this will allow more Sikhs to continue the tradition of serving in the U.S. armed forces, which for Sikhs dates back to World War I.

Undoubtedly, the U.S. military is among the most diverse fighting forces in the world. Not only do my fellow soldiers fall across the socioeconomic spectrum, but our cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds are just as varied. There are very few places in the world that I can work alongside someone who could trace their ancestry back to the founding of the U.S. or share a bunk with someone who left his or her hometown for the first time to go to basic training.

The diverse culture of the U.S. military is what makes it unmatched around the world; our shared commitment to defending the United States, despite our differences, is what makes it great. I joined the U.S. Army to fulfill my desire and drive to serve my community. Even though I was not born in the United States, I know I am surrounded by soldiers - people - who share these feelings.

I am proud to be an American. I am even prouder to be a Sikh American. It is an honor to serve my fellow Americans in the U.S. Army.

June 13, 2017 at 7:07pm

Leaders discuss lessons learned in the Pacific Theater

Col. David Foley (facing away), commander of 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, speaks with Lt. Col. Teddy Kleisner, commander of 1-23 Infantry, about the importance of training frequency to build skills into muscle memory. Photo credit: Maj. Kelly Haux

From February to May 2017, soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry, developed their combat and interoperability skills in a series of joint bilateral exercises with allies in Thailand, Korea and the Philippines.

In order to expand upon the experience gained during these exercises, collectively known as Pacific Pathways, senior leaders of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Ghost Brigade, held a Key Leader Symposium, May 31, 2017, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, to discuss key practices developed by 1-23 Infantry during Pacific Pathways.

"It's about how we see ourselves now and where we see our formation, the Stryker Brigade, in the future" said Col. David Foley, the 1-2 SBCT commander and host of the KLS. "Our purpose is to examine the lessons  learned from Pacific Pathways and how best to resource our formation."

Pacific Pathways is an innovative training deployment or "pathway" for Army forces, linking existing exercises with partner-nation militaries and demonstrates U.S. commitment in the Pacific Region.

The overall assessment of Pacific Pathways was that it enabled the Soldiers of the Ghost Brigade to develop skills on the asymmetric battlefield similar to the situations they might encounter in the Middle East or in Africa. Not only did the training opportunity enable the Soldiers to grow in their tactics and skills but to learn from other nations' professional military forces, increasing the reputation of the US Army as a premier fighting force.

During Pathways, military tactics was a common language among allied nations and an avenue of overcoming a perceived language barrier.  

"A squad attack is a squad attack," said Lt. Col. Teddy Kleisner, commander of the 1-23 Infantry. "Of course there are some nuance differences between how it is carried out between U.S. and partnered nations, but essentially it is an easy common language between soldiers."

The common terminology, along with the frequency of live fire maneuver training during Pacific Pathways allowed a strong muscle memory to be developed, which in turn creates better soldiers and leader, Kleisner said.

Kleisner further explained interoperability with allies is much more than using the other nation's military hardware. In some cases it requires keeping plans simple, assigning language-capable liaison soldiers with radios to the right leaders, or using "old school" signal solutions such as signal flags to ensure everyone can communicate effectively.

Attendees at the leadership symposium later collaborated efforts and described what they learned when they participated in group break-out sessions, which were designed to develop strategies to enhance the Ghost Brigade's future training and campaign plans.

Additionally, brigade staff sections presented future training opportunities, discussed training objectives, challenges, possible risks and concerns which would provide details for future combat training center rotations.

In his closing remarks, Foley praised the participants for their active engagement in the conversation about the Ghost Brigade's future and how each of them has contributed to the unit's success.

"This has really been a great opportunity for us to actively participate in discussions about what we've learned, and where we're headed collectively as an organization," Foley said. "We don't look at this as an end state for we're barely scratching the surface of what we can do as we empower, develop and grow our leaders and prepare for the future.

June 13, 2017 at 6:59pm

Why is grass tall on JBLM?

The tall grass alongside the sidewalk between the McChord Field lodging and the Civil Air Patrol building still remains uncut, June 1, on McChord Field. Photo credit: Senior Airman Divine Cox

For the past few months members who work on McChord, those visiting and those living on McChord have noticed that the grass has grown out of control and that the grounds maintenance has seemed to go by the way side.

Both the Joint Base Lewis-McChord and 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs offices have received numerous complaints on this situation and in an effort to inform the community we will attempt to answer the growing question of "Why is the grass so tall on McChord?"

"Grass cutting and landscaping for McChord Field's 1,400 acres of grass used to be provided by a long-term contract that expired in 2014," said Mr. Joe Piek, JBLM public affairs officer. "In the follow-on contract, challenges with a contractor and drought water condition very much degraded the quality of grounds appearance across McChord Field.  

"In the interim a series of ‘bridge' contracts have been awarded. The focus of these ‘bridge' contracts has been on maintaining grounds around high visibility areas such as the McChord Field Main Gate, the 62nd and 446th AW headquarters buildings, the medical clinic, the PAX terminal, and Western Air Defense Sector facilities.

"The recent award of another ‘bridge' contract will address basic grass trimming and edging for the remainder of McChord's grounds."

"We have been watching this, been concerned, and working to address this over the last year and a half with the JBLM Department of Public Works and Army Contracting," said Col. Leonard Kosinski, 62nd AW commander. "The grass is starting to get cut, buildings are being cleaned and repaired and we're working towards the level of appearance expected for McChord.

"We have Air Mobility Command's largest exercise, known as Mobility Guardian, coming to JBLM in August 2017 and are working together with our joint base partners to ensure the base appearance is addressed to meet that timeline and sustained after that."

Recognizing the situation, the JBLM Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation has "flexed" some of its grass cutting resources to McChord Field to help out, according to Piek.

Shrinking DoD budgets, increasing mission-driven requirements and funding allocated to JBLM to pay for building maintenance, repairs, utilities, base support contracts and the manpower to do the work has been cut significantly over the past several years stated Piek.

This situation is not only affecting McChord as it is seen across all of JBLM as well.

"Six years ago, JBLM Directorate of Public Works had more than 30 full-time employees, plus 15 summer hires to do grass cutting, spraying, trimming, and storm debris removal on Lewis Main and Lewis North, said Piek. "Now, 12 JBLM DPW employees (a 75% cut) mow more than 2,500 acres on Lewis Main and North, which includes the training ranges. These same 12 employees are responsible for snow plowing and storm debris removal.

"DPW prioritizes "high-visibility areas" to receive grounds maintenance.  These areas include locations on Lewis Main and Lewis North like Memorial Park and Camp Lewis Cemetery, certain headquarters buildings, the Liberty Gate, the Lewis-Clark monument and Iron Mike and other improved areas. Training ranges must be mowed two to three times each summer to ensure targets are visible.

"Every area to be mowed is already scheduled from April through October, but because of personnel cutbacks the time between cuttings is longer."

Piek addressed other grass contract and grounds maintenance that is not worked by JBLM DPW or the McChord Field contract.

"DFMWR cuts and maintains the grounds around all their recreation, child development, and child and youth services facilities, as well as both JBLM golf courses," said Piek. "Lincoln Residential cuts the grass throughout base housing, except for residents who have fenced-in yards, or residents who have requested to mow their own lawns.

"Contracts for trash pickup are gone. The Joint Base Headquarters has two, three-Soldier details that pick up trash along three routes on McChord Field, Lewis Main and Lewis North, as well as a few exterior roads just off base.

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