Northwest Military Blogs: Army West Blog

December 14, 2017 at 11:09am

Robots on point

By 2025, the Army sees ground troops conducting foot patrols in urban terrain with robots, called Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport vehicles, that carry rucksacks and other equipment alongside soldiers. U.S. Army graphic

It's December and many are doing their holiday shopping or making a wish list of gifts they'd like to receive.

During the Future Ground Combat Vehicle Summit here earlier this month, Army acquisition professionals and program managers had their own wish lists that included an assortment of robots and ground combat vehicles meant to protect soldiers and give pause to potential adversaries.

ROBOTS

Brian McVeigh, project manager for Force Protection, was big on robots.

Over 7,000 were fielded in just the last decade, he noted. The challenge now is to move the most effective ones into programs of record.

Among these, he said, is the M-160 Robotic Mine Flail, which efficiently clears land mines using rotating chains that flail the ground. It is also rugged enough to be protected against mine explosion fragments.

The M-160 made it into a program of record this year before the holidays, and a number are already involved in route-clearance missions in Afghanistan.

By 2025, dismounted soldiers will conduct foot patrols alongside robots called Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport, or SMET, vehicles that carry rucksacks and other equipment that will lighten the soldier load, McVeigh said.

In order to get these to the warfighter sooner rather than later, the Army is procuring them through an Other Transactional Agreement, or OTA, he said.

The OTA got the program rolling fast, with requirements out in April and a down-select six months later in November, he said. Four contracts were awarded for 20 vehicles each, which will be tested by soldiers in two brigades until the end of next year. Low-rate initial production is expected to follow with a production contract in place.

The requirements were limited to give manufacturers more flexibility in the trade-space, he said. The only firm requirements were that SMET be able to haul 1,000 pounds off-road, cover 60 miles in 72 hours and cost $100,000 or less each.

The OTA was used because Army leaders prioritized getting the weight off the backs of dismounted soldiers, he noted.

Common Robotic System (Heavy) is designed to disarm or disable unexploded ordnance using a highly dexterous arm remotely controlled by a soldier. The Army just published requests for information from industry for the wireless-range manipulator arm, McVeigh said.

Feedback from industry on CRS-H has been good, he said. It is expected that by next summer, draft performance specifications will be issued, and it is hoped that fielding can begin as early as 2020. This system is also going the OTA route.

The Enhanced Robotics Payload is another explosives ordnance disposal robot. A request for proposal has been released, McVeigh said. And in October, a contract was awarded to Endeavor Robotics for another EOD robot, the Man-Transportable Robotics System Increment II.

GROUND COMBAT VEHICLES

David Dopp, program manager for Mobile Protected Firepower Vehicle, Ground Combat Systems, said a request for proposal was released in late November for MPF.

The MPF he envisions can be described as a light tank. It will be light in the sense that it will weigh less than half as much as an Abrams tank, which will allow two to fit inside a C-17 aircraft. That means its armor will be less than an Abrams.

The MPF will also sport a gun in the 105mm to 120mm range, similar to the ones on early versions of the Abrams, Dopp said.

It is expected that the MPF will provide infantry brigade combat teams with a long-range, direct-fire capability for forcible entry and breaching operations, he noted, so it is not by any stretch a tank replacement.

There will not be a lot of requirements other than MPF being light and powerful, he said. Army leaders are eager to quickly get it into the hands of Soldiers for testing.

A contract could be awarded by early FY19 with low-rate initial production to follow, he said.

Maj. Gen. John Charlton, commander, Army Test and Evaluation Command, said that although the Next Generation Combat Vehicle fielding isn't expected until 2035, a lot of the components that may find their way onto the NGCV in one shape or another are being currently tested around the Army.

Two such systems that will likely inform development of NGCV, he said, are the Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station-Javelin and the Stryker Remote Weapons Station.

CROWS-J allows the warfighter to remotely engage targets with precision fire from the Javelin while on the move, he said. Stryker RWS is a 30mm cannon on an unmanned turret. Both systems keep the gunner inside the vehicle, in a less exposed area than the turret.

Electro-magnetic interference testing is now underway on the sensors and software, he said.

There are some challenges to overcome in putting this technology on the NGCV, he said, describing a few.

Although the gunner is tucked inside the vehicle, rounds must still be loaded and reloaded in the gun, which means being exposed to enemy fire and working in cramped conditions, he said.

Getting everything working correctly will require a lot of software development, he said. This is probably the most difficult challenge.

And finally, situational awareness could be lost with the crew fully buttoned up inside the vehicle, he said. This could be particularly bad in urban terrain where Soldiers cannot get good visuals of what's around and above them.

The situational awareness issue could be addressed through adding sensors and cameras so the crew doesn't feel so completely closed in, he noted.

OTHER FUTURE WEAPONS

Charlton said several promising weapons are in the science and technology and testing stages.

Engineers are now designing extended-range cannons that can be mounted on the Paladin and will fire much greater distances than current artillery, he said, noting that the distances are impressive but classified.

The cannons could find their way on the NGCV, he said.

The challenges are now designing a breech in the gun system that can handle the enormous pressures and getting the APS software and sensors developed. Also, the crew might be adversely affected by the enormous pressures, so some sort of dampening mechanism would be needed.

Another weapon that will eventually make its way to the battlefield is the high-energy laser, Charlton said.

The Army and Air Force are now out at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico using them to knock out air-to-ground and surface-to-air missiles, as well as unmanned aerial vehicles, he said.

A 300-kilowatt laser will be built and tested in the near future, he added.

"We want to ensure the lanes are clear when firing the laser," he said. "We don't want to take out one of our own satellites, so it will need to be equipped with an avoidance detection system."

Lastly, Charlton said that an electromagnetic rail gun will be developed soon, but he's not sure if it will find its way onto the NGCV. "But it will be on the battlefield in some shape or form," he said.

The rail gun will shoot small, dense projectiles to distances of 30 kilometers at several times the speed of sound using electromagnetic pulses, he said. That will require some serious power, so initially it might have to be loaded on a large cargo truck.

JOINT DEVELOPMENT

Dr. Dale Ormond, principal deputy, Research Directorate, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, said his office is working to ensure all of the laboratories across the Department of Defense are talking to each other, helping each other and avoiding duplication of effort.

The areas he's particularly excited about are artificial intelligence paired with autonomy. Machines programmed for artificial learning will be able to collaborate much better with Soldiers and give commanders more options on the battlefield, he said.

Other promising areas are hypersonic weapons, he said, like the rail guns and lasers that the Army is working on.

He said he also expects to see a lot of developments in the space and cyberspace domains, as well as being able to operate in GPS-denied environments.

December 7, 2017 at 11:41am

Meet Washington National Guard's Spartan Warrior

Julie Keppner is getting ready for Pre-Ranger School. Photo credit: Washington National Guard

"Put one foot in front of the other," Julie Keppner kept saying to herself.

"Focus on the little goal right in front of you," she added, standing in position, waiting for the signal at the start of her latest attempt to conquer another Spartan Race.

"Anything is possible."

Keppner, 36, lined up next to hundreds of others, all of them revved-up and set to leave everything out on the course in order to get the fastest time. That is, after all, what a Spartan Race is all about. The mentality is also what makes her a clear champion in the Washington National Guard, and gives her the potential to be the state's very first female Infantry Officer. She's a Motor Transport Operator, 88M, but things are changing quickly for her.

Off to the races

The Spartan Race is a series of obstacle courses of various lengths designed to test the willpower, endurance and stamina of anyone who attempts them. They range from three to five miles with 20-23 obstacles, a Super at eight to 10 miles with 24-29 obstacles, a Beast at over 12 miles with more than 30 obstacles, to the Ultra Beast at 26+ miles and more than 60 obstacles. Complete all three distances (Sprint, Super, Beast) and earn a Trifecta.

To the average person, this might seem like a totally absurd situation to voluntarily put yourself in, but to Keppner this is just another weekend.

"I've done almost 50 Spartan Races, including three Ultra Beasts, and over 100 races all together," recalled Keppner, who calls Kent home. "I've done seven marathons and 21 half marathons."

Keppner wasn't always an enthusiast of endurance races. In fact, it was just in April 2012 when she ran a half marathon on a whim. She flew down to California to visit a friend and found out that her friend was going to run the race by herself.

"I wanted to support her and help her out. And so, I ran the half marathon without training for it," Keppner said.

It was at that moment, after running 13.1 miles without training that Keppner realized the human body can do so much if you just put your mind to it. "If I can simply walk on and complete a half marathon without training, what else can I do?" Keppner thought to herself. Her motto became, "If you Believe, you can Achieve."

"That first year I signed up for several half marathons and three obstacle races," Keppner said.

Over the course of the next couple years, Keppner just couldn't help herself. She signed up for all the marathons, half marathons, obstacle races that she could find. It started off every couple of months and then quickly turned into nearly every weekend.

One race was not enough.

"How can I make it harder?" Keppner asked herself.

She started making half marathons harder by adding a ruck sack, wearing boots and cargo pants on obstacle races, completing only men's obstacles, multiple races in a day, back-to-back races in a weekend and following up shorter distance races with longer ones, such as a Beast and Ultra Beast.

She's even gone so far as to book flights to Spartan Races around the country.

For Keppner, submitting herself to these grueling and exhausting endurance races isn't just about proving to herself that she can conquer them, it's about finding guidance in her life.

"I think, overall, between obstacle racing and the military, they have helped with always looking forward and having a vision of where I want to go. Having these races to look forward to has helped me stay motivated in life."

Challenging the status quo

Prior to her military career, Keppner was in a traditional relationship based in a religious culture that was family-oriented.

"It was not common for wives to work outside the home or be in the military. It was the husband's job to provide for the family, and the mother's job to care for the children and tend to the home," Keppner said. "I accepted it at the time, and it is a great culture, but it's very difficult for ambitious, goal-oriented women like myself who's main role is to be the homemaker. Once I left, I decided to go after all the things that I couldn't do."

One of those things was enlisting in the military.

Keppner, 32 years old at the time and a recently single mother of two, started her own business as a fitness coach. She volunteered much of her time preparing Marine Corps poolees (those who have passed all the prerequisites for service, have signed a contract and are awaiting shipment to boot camp) and those wanting to enlist for the rigors of recruit training. She coached them on physical fitness in order to help give them a running start at boot camp. She also took on clients on an individual basis.

Keppner has a passion for inspiring people to be the best version of themselves. That's why the Marines kept returning to her to motivate and train their newest recruits.

"The thing with my business, as well as coaching in general, was that it focused on dreaming big and living out your passions and helping other people," she said. "I wanted to be a part of that. Also, my lifestyle of coaching and obstacle racing really ties closely to the military."

Being around and coaching all the eager and motivated recruits inspired Keppner to be a part of the very organization she was helping to strengthen.

"I looked into the Marine Corps but I was too old for them so I couldn't enlist there," she recalled. "I considered the Air Force and the Navy but the reason why I chose the Washington National Guard was that I felt that with the Guard I would be able to live where I wanted to -- have my family here, run my business and be in the military at the same time. I would have that flexibility."

So, in December 2013, she enlisted in the Washington National Guard and soon joined Officer Candidate School with the hopes of being an officer.

"I chose the officer route because as an officer I could have a larger base of people that I can inspire and influence," she said.

Fun for the whole family

When Isaac, 11, Keppner's youngest, was 6 years old, she brought him to a local obstacle race. It was fairly small and was geared toward the younger crowd. There was a one-mile course and a three-mile course.

"At first, he told me that he didn't want to run at all," Keppner recalled. "I told him that it's okay, you don't have to if you don't want to."

As Keppner continued on to the starting point, Isaac spoke up and said that he wanted to give the one-mile course a try. So, they got Isaac registered and they started the one-mile obstacle course. As they came upon the end of the first mile, they had the option to quit now or continue on to complete the three miles.

"At that point, at the cutoff, he decided to keep going," she said. "He went from not wanting to do anything, to wanting to do just the one-mile course, to wanting to do the whole three-mile course."

But once they got to the end of the three miles, Isaac spoke up.

"I want do this again," he announced.

So, he did ... two more times. At the end of the day, Isaac and his mom completed about nine miles of the local race, turning what was supposed to be a quick jaunt into an afternoon affair.

"At that moment, I really saw myself in him," she said.

Little Isaac is not the only Keppner child to tackle various mud runs with their mother. Hannah is Keppner's oldest. She's 14 years old and recently ran a Spartan Sprint in Big Bear Lake, California, and earned her first Trifecta. Keppner remembered the struggle Hannah had during this particular race.

"She really struggled with this one due to the elevation," Keppner recalled. "I told her ‘Look. Look around you. You're not the only one that's having a hard time. Everyone is having a hard time. Just take a deep breath, you're going to be fine and we can continue when you're ready.'"

Keppner reassured her daughter once they crossed the finish line of the Big Bear race. She treated Hannah's experience as a teachable moment for her. Life is not always going to be easy. Life is full of obstacles and we shouldn't quit when we start to struggle a little bit. When we stop and look around, we realize that we're not the only ones struggling.

Both have been racing with their mother since 2012. Hannah has done 30 races and Isaac has completed more than 40.

"They really like the bonding experience of doing (races) with me," she said. However, when she continued her thought she couldn't help but notice the irony in her children's affinity toward these races. "They like the obstacles and yet they don't like the obstacles. They like the challenge of them and they like doing them but yet they hate doing them. It's a weird concept," she chuckled. "All obstacle racers understand this concept and do the races because of the struggle and challenge of doing them."

First comes Infantry, then comes Ranger School

When Keppner first enlisted into the National Guard, the Department of Defense was still reviewing its initiative to open combat arms occupations to female servicemembers. The idea to be an infantry leader hadn't crossed her mind in the early stages of her career.

That all changed on the side of a mountain in Temecula, California, in 2014.

While Keppner was in Officer Candidate School (OCS), she had a weekend off and took the opportunity to fulfill her itch to do a Spartan Race. She was coaching a client at the time and flew to Southern California to do a Spartan Race with her.

"There are two ways to do a Spartan Race," Keppner explained. "One way is if I'm doing it by myself, I go for time. The other method is with other people. You are there to provide assistance when they need it."

In this particular race, she was there to provide support for her client. This was the first time the Temecula Spartan Race held their event in September as opposed to the more reasonably temperate January. The temperature exceeded 100 degrees and people weren't prepared and started dropping out of the race left and right. Even Keppner's racing partner dropped out after six miles. The heatwave that weekend gave rise to the race's new nickname, "Hellmecula."

"It was so hot that people started getting heat exhaustion and heat stroke," Keppner said. "They didn't have food, didn't have water."

Keppner, who is five-foot one and 128 pounds, went into action. She spent the next eight hours tending to exhausted racers -- helping them in any way she could. She would run up and down the side of the mountain bringing people safely down and getting them much needed food and water.

Keppner posted about her experience on Facebook and the sergeant major of OCS noticed. He reached out to her and asked if she would like to attend a certain premier Army school.

"He contacted me on Facebook and asked me if I wanted to go to Ranger School," Keppner recalled. "He said that I demonstrated a lot of the qualities and abilities of what it takes to be a Ranger."

The military recently opened its combat arms occupations to women, including infantry, Rangers and Special Forces.

That was all the convincing that Keppner needed. Keppner dropped out of OCS in order to go get a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). An MOS is required before going to Ranger School. She chose 88M which is a Motor Transport Operator. She wanted to be one of the first females to attend Ranger School but due to an unforeseen funding issue she was not able to attend that first class.

That meant that Keppner had to wait because she missed the cutoff to get back into OCS. During that year-long wait she found herself being pulled toward the infantry.

"Right before I went back into OCS, I went to a career fair," Keppner recalled. "One of the presenters said that they needed female infantry officers." With the integration of females into combat arms, one of the stipulations is that there needs to be a qualified female officer appointed in a leadership position before they can start filling positions with lower-enlisted women.

"The Guard was standing up a new infantry battalion and needed infantry officers," she said. "So I said ‘As long as you send me to Ranger School.'" It's been three years since Ranger School was opened to females in that first class, and she is finally able to attend.

"Keppner is a driven soldier," said Staff Sgt. Virginia L. Adolfson, Keppner's sponsor/mentor throughout last year's Washington National Guard's Best Warrior Competition, which saw Keppner score high marks. "Her focus and strength is an inspiration to her fellow soldiers."

As Keppner stares down this next long road of Army schools that she is about to go down, she can't help but recall the words that go through her mind at the beginning of a Spartan Race: "Put one foot in front of the other, focus on the little goal right in front of you, and anything is possible."

"I attack my military career just like I attack a Spartan Race, I focus on the next immediate task, be it an obstacle on the course or the next school, and I get past it," she said. "Then it's on to the next one and the next one."

Keppner's next school is Infantry Officer Basic Leader Course (IBOLC) at Fort Benning, Georgia. After that, she goes on to Ranger Training Assessment Course (RTAC/Pre-Ranger School) and if all goes well, followed by Ranger School, also at Fort Benning. Once Keppner completes IBOLC and is fully branch qualified, she will be Washington's first female infantry officer.

December 7, 2017 at 11:29am

Program boosts Special Forces physical, mental

(Editor's Note: Names of service members not used because of security concerns.)

Special Forces soldiers, known as Green Berets, are some of the most highly-trained troops in the Army. Their readiness requires them to have a performance training program designed to increase physical performance and emotional well-being, prevent injuries and improve mental skills necessary to perform optimally in training and combat operations.

This is the goal of the U.S. Special Operations Command's human performance program, also known as the Tactical Human Optimization, Rapid Rehabilitation and Reconditioning program, or THOR3.

The purpose of THOR3 is to create programs for special operations-focused missions by using professional sports-quality staff to provide coaching in strength and conditioning, physical therapy, dietetics and cognitive enhancement, officials said.

Increasing Mental, Physical Capabilities

"Our goal is to increase their mental and physical capabilities to help them recover from injuries sustained in combat or training, helping them to stay combat ready, longer," said a cognitive enhancement specialist with THOR3. "Cognitive enhancement is a formal part of the program, which seeks to provide a systematic way to build mental and emotional strength."

A soldier assigned to 10th Special Forces Group here said the THOR3 training significantly enhances troops' physical capabilities. He also said the physical improvements made by those who have participated are resulting in increased attendance in the program.

"The biggest thing about the THOR3 program is its growth," the soldier said. "You see more people filtering in. The facility will definitely need to be expanded to accommodate that."

A strength and conditioning coach said the THOR3 program strives to optimize special operations troops' mental, spiritual, and physical condition.

The THOR3 program staff at 10th Group consists of a human performance program coordinator, strength and conditioning coaches, physical therapists, a dietitian and a cognitive enhancement specialist.

In addition to the mental aspect of the program, proper nutrition is required to optimize rehabilitation and performance. This is an often overlooked, yet vital aspect of human performance, which is emphasized by the THOR3 team.

"We have added THOR3 nutritional items at the dining facility that are scientifically proven to improve a soldier's performance," said a performance dietician with the performance program. "Often overlooked, there are specific foods you must eat to effectively optimize the body's potential, along with rest, recovery and training."

Holistic Approach

Additionally, the total holistic approach to fitness includes the collection of data. Information is collected through sports science data during heart rate monitoring, GPS tracking, mobility tests, lactate testing, and body composition testing. This testing is needed to assure the effectiveness and overall management of the program.

"We collect the data from tests run on the soldiers and personalize a training program for them to optimize their abilities physically, tactically, technically and mentally," said the performance analyst assigned to the program.

While the focus of the THOR3 program is to improve current operational longevity, and reduce the potential for injury, the added value to the SOF operator is the improvement in their overall health, coupled with improving physical and mental well-being that is the catalyst for success throughout their personal and professional lifetime.

November 30, 2017 at 1:46pm

McChord readies for Operation Cookie Drop

The Team McChord Operation Cookie Drop is set for Dec. 5. Photo credit: 446th AW

The Team McChord Operation Cookie Drop is set to bring hundreds of cookies to single airmen assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

The drop is scheduled for Dec. 5, but cookie donations will be accepted as early as noon on Dec. 4, at the Chapel Support Center. Any and all cookies are welcome, including ones that are free of any peanut products for those with allergies. The one requirement is that cookie donations are dropped off in disposable containers labeled with name and unit. Team McChord wants to recognize all the help received for this event.

No worries if those baking skills are not world class, because on the day of the drop volunteers are also requested to help with distribution.

For more information, please send an email to: teammcchordcookiedrop@gmail.com.

November 22, 2017 at 11:42am

JBLM troops join China for exercise

Participants listen to remarks during the opening ceremony of the 2017 U.S.-China Disaster Management Exchange at Camp Rilea, Oregon, Nov. 16. Photo credit: Nathan H. Barbour

The 13th annual U.S.-China Disaster Management Exchange Table Top Exchange (TTE) and Practical Field Exchange (PFE) portions commenced Nov. 16 with an opening ceremony at Camp Rilea, Oregon.

Hosted by U.S. Army Pacific, the DME allows hands-on and side-by-side interaction between United States Army and the People's Liberation Army (PLA) on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HA/DR) operations and enables sharing of lessons learned.

The 2017 exchange focuses on a notional flooding scenario in which both armies will be requested to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to a third affected state as part of a Multinational Coordination Center (MNCC).

Maj. Gen. Susan A. Davidson, Commanding General, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, welcomed attendees and highlighted how the event builds understanding and trust between the two armies.

"Disaster Management Exchanges like this are invaluable because as they expand in depth with each iteration, they allow us to truly recognize the importance of collaboration in addressing non-traditional security threats such as natural disasters," Davidson said. "Our ability to increase our practical de-confliction, and gain a better understanding of each other's procedures in the event of a real-world disaster response, could be what makes all the difference to the affected state."

Throughout the exchange, personnel simulate real-life scenarios in order to identify procedural gaps and practice techniques required for efficient and collaborative response, such as search and rescue techniques and the construct of the MNCC.

"The PLA and U.S. military both have dignified histories of glorious accomplishments. Although we are geographically far from each other, the respect for human life is beyond national boundaries and races," said Maj. Gen. Huang Taoyi, Deputy Commander, 75th Group Army, PLA Army. "We are ready to join our friends from the U.S. to actively implement the consensus reached by our two state leaders and make concerted efforts to make this year's DME more practical, more in-depth and improve the two militaries' abilities in disaster relief."

Starting in 2005, the DME has been held at locations in Hawaii, Washington, D.C., New York, Washington State, and multiple areas in China. The DME has also matured from basic visits and briefings into a substantive exchange that uses table top and practical field exchanges to focus and facilitate interaction and develop the capacity to de-conflict HA/DR operations between the U.S. Army and the PLA.

In addition to providing a learning opportunity for the U.S. and PLA Army participants, this year, the DME includes military and government observers from Bangladesh, Canada, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore and the People's Republic of China.

U.S. participants include U.S. Army Pacific, the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, the Oregon National Guard, the United States Military Academy (USMA), Joint Base Lewis-McChord's 351st Civil Affairs Command, the 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion (CSSB), and the 571st Sapper Company, the U.S Coast Guard Sector Columbia River, the Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Northwestern Division, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Portland District, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the Pacific Disaster Center, an applied research center managed by the University of Hawaii.

November 22, 2017 at 11:38am

Extended family of 41 joins Army

More than 30 members of an American Samoa family pose for pictures Nov. 8 at Thompson Hall, Fort Lee, Virginia. Photo credit: T. Anthony Bell

Enlisting in the Army with a childhood friend or relative is a generations-old practice meant to bring familiarity and comfort to an experience fraught with stress and uncertainty.

So, does signing up with more than one recruit further ease the difficulties associated with initial military training?

The answer is an emphatic "yes" as it relates to members of a Samoan family with a decidedly large footprint at Fort Lee. There are 41 of them enrolled in various Sustainment Center of Excellence courses here, twisting the old adage "strength in numbers."

"This is good for us," said 30-year-old Spc. Joseph Tauiliili, assigned to Papa Company, 244th Quartermaster Battalion, and the oldest among relatives in various stages of advanced individual training. "We come from American Samoa, and we're basically thousands of miles away from home. Seeing them by my side keeps me motivated every day."

American Samoa is a U.S. territory and part of the Samoan Islands, an archipelago that also includes the independent nation of Samoa. It is located in the Pacific Ocean roughly 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii and a little over 2,000 miles northeast of New Zealand.

The Samoans in training here -- first, second, third and fourth cousins -- hail from Poloa, an area near the capital city of Pago Pago. All are related to the same malietoa or chieftain. Their decision to join in close proximity was partly based on strong familial and cultural ties, said Pvt. Siiva Tuiolemotu, assigned to Whiskey Company, 244th Quartermaster Battalion.

"We wanted to stick together in training," the 20-year-old said, noting her country's communal culture.

Most of the Samoans are training in the Unit Supply Specialist Course taught at the Quartermaster School. A few are enrolled in courses for other quartermaster military occupational specialties, and at least one attends the Ordnance School.

American Samoa, which has struggled economically, boasts strong traditions of military service, said Tuiolemotu. In 2014, a local Army recruiting station was the most productive in the world, according to the Samoa News website. Still, kinship is what drives most to take the oath of service.

"The thing we care about is supporting our families," she said. "If that means (sacrificing) our lives, yes, we have to fight for them."

It also is legacy. Many of the soldiers are the latest to uphold family traditions.

"Most of my siblings are in the military, and I'm the youngest, so I wanted to follow in their footsteps," said 25-year-old Pfc. Vasait Saua, Whiskey Company, 244th Quartermaster Battalion.

Pvt. Talalelei Ames said his parents also spent time in uniform, and his father is a retiree. Enduring long periods of separation while they served, he said his military ties were not strong, but that has changed since he took the oath.

"Wearing the uniform makes me feel I am more connected to them," said the 19-year-old. "I think it's pretty awesome. I never had this much fun in my life and never had this much responsibility. Now, I know what my parents went through to protect the country."

The question of whether the Samoans are a close-knit clan or a loose group of relatives was answered during a recent photo session. The Quartermaster School's Sgt. Maj. Micheal Lambert, who organized the gathering, said there were smiles, hugs and kisses reminiscent of a family reunion. To top it all off, they postured as if performing a traditional dance complete with contorted facial expressions

"They are definitely a family," he said.

At some point during their training, the Samoans must face an inherent component of Army life - family separation. The sheer number of Samoans wearing uniforms, however, along with the richness of Samoan culture, is comforting in light of the prospect, said Tuiolemotu.

"I'm the first one who will leave the group," she said, noting a pending Fort Riley, Kansas, assignment. "I'm not worried because there are a lot of us out there. I'm bound to meet another relative somewhere. That's for sure."

November 22, 2017 at 11:08am

Ghost Brigade soldiers hone war-fighting-skills

A noncommissioned officer with 1-23 Infantry, 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, specifies a soldier’s sector of fire Nov. 2 at Yakima Training Center. Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Samuel Northrup

Soldiers of 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team conducted Operation Argos, a training exercise held Oct. 27-Nov. 15, at Yakima Training Center, to build the brigade's war-fighting capabilities.

The purpose of the exercise was to prepare the units of 1-2 SBCT for their upcoming Bayonet Focus and National Training Center rotation at Fort Hunter Liggett and Fort Irwin, California, respectively. The training included company combined arms live-fire exercises involving obstacle breaching, clearing buildings and reacting to a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) environment; a sustainer gunnery; and a joint capabilities integration exercise involving coordination among the intelligence, artillery and Air Force assets to target simulated enemy on the range.

"It is important for everyone to know what is going on on the battlefield," said Staff Sgt. Kiser Russell, a weapons squad leader with Company A, 2-3 Infantry, 1-2 SBCT. "Communicating with one another is essential to get the job done in a timely manner. When everyone is on the same page, it makes it easier for us to move pieces around the battlefield and accomplish the mission."

The CALFEX was a complex operation with a lot of moving parts, Russell added. Getting the coordination down between the different platoon leaders, the company commander, and the support by fire element is important, and this training was good practice for that.

During the CALFEX, the habitual relationships with the other units were solidified, according to Maj. Joe Mangan, the executive officer for 23rd Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1-2 SBCT. There are platoons of engineers who will have a habitual relationship with the different infantry units. These platoon-size elements of engineers will go through the lanes with an infantry company to remove impediments to the mission such as mined wire obstacles.

"We use a specific jargon within the engineer field when we talk about things such as a Bangalore breach," said Mangan. "That is great internally, but now we need to ensure the maneuver elements understand that jargon so they can better synchronize their operations.

"We also learn to communicate effectively with those maneuver elements," he added. "This helps create that shared understanding among us. That is a critical piece of this exercise that we wouldn't get if we were out executing a platoon live-fire by ourselves without the infantry units."

It is essential for these units to get that foundation of skills down before moving onto the more complex environments that are at Bayonet Focus and NTC, Mangan said.

It is important to build that foundation, especially between those assets such as the CBRNE (Chemical Nuclear, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive) Reaction Team and engineer personnel, Russell said. When the unit has to work with those assets later on, they are already tracking how this unit operates and what is expected from each other.

"Ultimately, it boils down to when you are deployed, you are going to be part of a larger team and it is critical to get out there and integrate and train the way that you would fight," said Mangan.

November 22, 2017 at 11:04am

Thurston County Stand Down & Job Fair serves vets

Volunteers came in droves to assist setting up one hundred free turkeys for veterans (donated by Auto Warehousing in Tacoma) during the Thurston County Stand Down & Job Fair held in the Olympia National Guard Armory Friday, Nov. 17. Photo credit: WDVA

Thurston County Veterans took advantage of a dual Veterans Stand Down and Veterans Job Fair event held in the Olympia National Guard Armory Nov. 17.

Stand-Downs are typically a one-stop shop operation offered at various counties throughout a given state.

These events provide direct and needed services, while connecting veterans to dozens of veteran-supporting organizations and resources all under one roof.  Typical resources available at stand downs range from medical, dental, housing, employment and veteran benefits, to counseling, free haircuts, food, pet supplies and clothing.

Along with an abundance of available resources, veterans could also ask questions and obtain resources that they might not have otherwise known were available to them.

Thankfully, if you are a veteran in need of resources, the Thurston County Stand Down and Veterans Hiring Event had it all.

"Well we've got everything for those who are hearing impaired or have speech impairments ... We've got resources for those with TBI ... We've got the Social Security Administration for homeless vets that may have lost their social security card ... We've got the metropolitan development council and we've got service support for veteran's families program ... We've got the Washington Department of Veteran Affairs and their representatives ... We've got the Federal VA with VASH Housing Vouchers and other health programs, and we've even got a variety of Veterans Service Officers (VSO) organizations that are all here to assist with filing for service connected claims. Basically, we've got it all here for veterans," said Disabled Veteran Outreach Program Specialist Case Manager for Employment Security Department's Work Source in Thurston County, John Moysiuk or "Moose."

Along with having "everything" a homeless veteran could need, there are other advantages with having a stand down and hiring event both taking place at the same time.

"We have the event from this morning which is the stand down portion that's focused on presenting various service providers," said Moose.  "This afternoon we're going to transition to our hiring event which presents employers who are seeking to fill positions and not just advertise their business."

The stand down serves as an effective pre-cursor to the search for employment.

"Getting them ready and confident, by also providing a little additional dignity will always make for a better career search."

Both the Thurston County Veterans Stand Down and Veterans Hiring Event worked together to better serve veterans while ensuring they are better prepared to look for employment.

Moose speaks from his personal experience on the topic, as he was once a homeless veteran himself.

"I was a homeless vet, too, so I know what it's like and I'm still serving!"

A community coming together could be the most valuable resource for a veteran. Spreading the word and sharing information about resources and benefits is crucial in the battle against veteran homelessness.

"You need to spread the word that there are organizations that can assist and fight," said Moose.  "But the only way it's going to happen is if you step forward and open your mouth and ask for the assistance or ask the question."

November 20, 2017 at 5:59am

Free trees for JBLM families

EDITED: Once again, the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation will donate free holiday trees to military families in Washington.

The nationwide program, founded by the non-profit arm of the National Christmas Tree Association, and co-sponsored by Federal Express, collects monetary donations from corporations and individuals and donates trees from Christmas farms in order to ensure that military families in need have a tree for the holidays.

Families E-5 and below can show up to get a free tree December 16 at the American Lake Conference Center from 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Trees for Troops will be in the parking lot giving away free trees to all valid ID cardholders and Families with ranks E-5 and below on a first-come, first-served basis. Just find a parking spot and go pick up your tree.  ALCC is at 8085 NCO Beach Rd. at Lewis North.

November 17, 2017 at 3:16pm

Awardees honored for outstanding service to veterans

Dozens of American Gold Star Parents proudly display their fallen military children’s photo banners during the 52nd Auburn Veterans Day Parade held Nov. 11 in downtown Auburn. Photo credit: Gary Lott

Thousands of people lined a mile-long parade route on Main Street in Auburn Nov. 11 to watch the 52nd Annual Veterans Day Parade & Observance.

The day kicked off with a breakfast sponsored by the American Legion followed by a Remembrance Ceremony and Static Display & Exhibit Showcase held along the parade route.

The Auburn Noon Lions Luncheon and an open house at the VFW followed the parade. The day concluded with the state's largest Marching Band and Field Competition awards, which took place at the Auburn High School Stadium.

Four vehicles traveling down the parade route honored this year's Outstanding Service to Veterans Award winners for their contributions to Washington State's veterans and their families during the past year.

The awards, presented during the Auburn Noon Lions Club Veterans Day Luncheon, are co-sponsored each year by the Governor's Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee (VAAC) and the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, and they recognize individuals who devote time and energy to improving the lives of Washington's veterans.

The 2017 Outstanding Service to Veterans are:

  • Dr. Theresa Cheng - Issaquah
  • Armando Mejia - Renton
  • Jermaine Kearse - Former Seattle Seahawk
  • John Moysiuk - Tumwater
  • Consulate General of the Republic of Korea - Seattle
  • Spokane Veterans Treatment Court - Spokane
  • Butterfly Wranglers - Tacoma
  • Heroes on the Water NW - Tacoma
  • Sen. Jan Angel
  • Rep. Kristine Reeves

"I am absolutely humbled to have just been awarded the 2017 Outstanding Service to Veterans Legislator of the Year Award from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs and the Governor's Veterans Affairs Advisory Board during the Auburn Noon Lions Auburn's 52nd Annual Veterans Day Parade Luncheon," said Legislator of the Year winner, Rep. Kristine Reeves.  "It is my honor to serve those who have served, currently serve, and their families as an advocate in our state's capitol."

For more information about the awardees nominations, contact Lisa Narciso at lisan@dva.wa.gov.

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