Northwest Military Blogs: Army West Blog

November 7, 2017 at 6:30am

Vets can shop Exchange starting Saturday

The Defense Department announced earlier this year that veterans will be able to shop online at military exchanges starting Nov. 11, 2017.

The policy change will extend limited online military exchange shopping privileges to all honorably discharged veterans of the military, DoD officials said in a news release.

The shopping benefit will be effective this Veterans Day.

While shopping privileges exclude the purchase of uniforms, alcohol and tobacco products, it includes the Exchange Services' dynamic online retail environment known so well to servicemembers and their families, the release said. The change follows careful analysis, coordination and strong public support, officials said in the release.

We are excited to provide these benefits to honorably discharged veterans to recognize their service and welcome them home to their military family," said Peter Levine, performing the duties for the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

"In addition, this initiative represents a low-risk, low-cost opportunity to help fund morale, welfare and recreation programs in support of servicemembers' and their families' quality of life. And it's just the right thing to do," Levine added.

The online benefit will also strengthen the exchanges' online businesses to better serve current patrons. Inclusion of honorably discharged veterans would conservatively double the exchanges' online presence, according to DoD officials, thereby improving the experience for all patrons through improved vendor terms, more competitive merchandise assortments and improved efficiencies.

"As a nation, we are grateful for the contributions of our servicemembers," Levine said. "Offering this lifetime online benefit is one small, tangible way the nation can say, ‘Thank you' to those who served with honor."

More info HERE.

November 2, 2017 at 2:33pm

Work in Saudi: unique opportunities for reservist

The Army Reserves has continually supported the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command’s Ministry of Interior-Military Assistance Group by providing qualified personnel for deployments to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Courtesy photo

One of the lesser known opportunities may be one of the most rewarding for reservists looking to serve in an overseas assignment.

The Army Reserves has continually supported the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command's Ministry of Interior-Military Assistance Group by providing qualified personnel for deployments to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Organized in 2008, MOI-MAG's mission is to train, advise and equip the Kingdom in the areas of critical infrastructure protection, public security and technical assistance. To accomplish its mission, MOI-MAG integrates diverse skill sets offered by active-duty Army, Reserves and civilian contractors.

Ongoing personnel requirements include both officers and NCOs. Qualified NCOs typically serve as instructors and have a background in Aviation, Special Operations, Infantry, Armor and Supply, but other opportunities are available.

Although the work at MOI-MAG will be challenging and time consuming, there are many benefits to the assignment.

Maj. Christopher Steighner served as the G-3/5/7 and recently returned from a 15-month deployment with MOI-MAG.

"This assignment was unique compared to my time in Iraq and Afghanistan in that we work with an able and well-resourced partner who has sought us out," he said. "I would advise any soldier seeking a challenging, but rewarding broadening assignment to apply for a position within MOI-MAG."

In addition to experiencing the country's rich and hospitable culture, recreation such as fishing and scuba diving in the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf are available. Soldiers will also have access to religious and legal services, PX, commissary, athletic fields, a movie theater and furnished housing.

Steighner speaks highly of the living conditions while in the Kingdom.

"The unit leadership is committed to providing the highest quality of life possible for soldiers assigned to MOI-MAG," he said. "Soldiers are provided furnished private quarters, transportation and Internet."

While assigned to the organization, reservists will receive pay and benefits typically associated with a mobilization -- active-duty pay for the grade held, BAH/BAS, Overseas Cost of Living Allowance, Hazardous Duty Pay -- location, Family Separation Allowance, federal tax exemption and full medical and dental coverage. Tours are unaccompanied and considered ADOS under Title 10, U.S.C. 12301(d).

Interested reservists should visit https://pfi.dod.mil/ to apply for open positions. Additional information about the organization can be found at https://usasac.army.mil/moimag/About.html.

November 2, 2017 at 2:29pm

Washington National Guard captain makes history

Capt. Samantha Domingue, Alpha Troop, 1st Squadron, 303rd Cavalry Regiment, takes possession of her troop’s guidon in a change of command ceremony held at the Washington National Guard armory in Puyallup, Oct. 13. Photo credit: Wash. National Guard

Friday, Oct. 13, the soldiers of Alpha Troop gathered together in the tiny National Guard armory in Puyallup to witness the first ever cavalry-qualified female take command of a troop in the Army.

Capt. Samantha Domingue took command of A Troop, 1st Squadron, 303rd Cavalry Regiment (1-303rd CAV), 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT).

"The squadron is already leading with a female platoon leader in Bravo Troop," said Lt. Col. Chris Blanco, commander, 1-303rd CAV. "We have strong females in almost every formation. This was the next logical step to progress, not only for the squadron and where it's at but the Guard in general."

Domingue said that she is honored to have been considered for the position and that she doesn't take the task lightly.

"I am new to the Armor community, so to be considered for a troop command is a privilege," Domingue said.

Domingue's assumption of command marks a new milestone for the Army and National Guard as the military continues to integrate women into combat roles previously only held by their male counterparts.

Domingue comes to "Assassin" Troop in the midst of a major transformation and reorganization within the Washington National Guard. The reorganization of the 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team removed the 1-303rd, placing the command and control of the historic unit between 96th Troop Command, Washington National Guard, and the 41st IBCT, headquartered in Oregon.

"It's going to be a long and challenging year ahead," Domingue said, after her ceremony. "But we've got the right soldiers, so I have the faith that we can overcome any challenge."

The squadron is currently preparing for an eXportable Combat Training Capability (XCTC) rotation at Fort Hunter Ligett and Camp Roberts in California. XCTC is a brigade field training exercise designed to certify platoon proficiency in coordination with First Army.

Despite the high operational tempo for A Troop, Blanco says that he has no doubt that she is the right person to lead the unit through this demanding exercise and the ensuing years.

"You look across the formation and you try to recognize talent," Blanco said. "She is the right fit for the right time."

Domingue hopes that her assumption of command inspires other officers to pursue leadership opportunities outside of their respective career paths.

"Cross-pollination of talent and knowledge is necessary for the betterment of the organization. If there are officers or soldiers on the fence about (changing career paths), I hope my command motivates them to pursue those positions."

Command Sgt. Maj. Brian Rikstad, squadron command sergeant major, added that the squadron has always led from the front.

"Captain Domingue is both physically and mentally tough and will provide Alpha Troop a diversity of talent, temperament and expertise."

Domingue is a graduate of the Army Reconnaissance Course, Cavalry Leader's Course and Maneuver Captains Career Course.

November 2, 2017 at 2:24pm

Standards remain: Army needs quality recruits

Sgt. Artem McCall participates in a fitness photo shoot to promote the Army Reserve at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, July 25. Photo credit: Master Sgt. Michael Sauret

In an increasingly complex world in which higher demands will be placed on soldiers, "we cannot afford to lower our standards" for enlistment, said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey.

Dailey spoke at the Association of the U.S. Army's Annual Meeting and Exposition, Oct. 11.

It would be easy to successfully make the recruiting mission by lowering physical or mental requirements, he added, "but it wouldn't bring us capability or readiness. We have no intention of dropping those accession standards in the future."

Sgt. Maj. Anthony C. Bowers, operations sergeant major for U.S. Army Recruiting Command, said that despite an increasingly tough recruiting environment, "there are a lot of high-speed non-commissioned officers out there every day beating the street, finding young men and women to join the Army."

He then outlined several reasons why it's getting tougher to recruit and why it will be even tougher in the future.

Military service is a family business. Most who serve have a family member who served and that's a big draw, he said, adding that 79 percent of recruits have a relative who served, including 28 percent who had a parent in the Army.

In 1995, 40 percent of all American youth between 16 and 24 had a family member who'd served in the Army. By 2014, it was down to 16 percent, Bowers said.

In the next 30 years, it's estimated that America's veteran population will decline by over 35 percent from what it is today, he added.

Because of fewer and fewer veterans for youth to have a conversation with, there's also very little accurate information out there about the Army, Bowers said.

For instance, 49 percent of people between the ages of 17 and 35 were not able to name all four services of the Department of Defense, he said. About 36 percent of them didn't know the difference between officers and enlisted.

Today's youth are also not inclined to leave their friends and family, he said. Those same family and friends often oppose them joining the military service, he added.

Another hurdle to joining the Army is that "we're competing against corporate America," Bowers said, meaning that companies often have fat pay and benefit packages that eclipse the Army's.

Most high school students say they plan to go to college, he said. Parents and high school counselors think that if they join the Army, it means they won't get that education. As recruiters, "we try to show the benefits of joining and that they'll still have the ability to go to college."

It's sometimes an uphill fight just trying to get into the schools, he said, to administer the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, an aptitude test that helps students understand what careers, both civilian and military, are a good fit for their strengths and interests. Even when students take the ASVAB, many don't score high enough to join, he added.

Congress requires that 90 percent of recruits have a high school diploma, Bowers said. Many potential recruits don't and over the next 30 years, projections are that even fewer will graduate.

Within the Army's acceptable age range of the U.S. population is a pool of 33.4 million, but just 5.7 million are qualified and available to serve. Only 136,000 of those say they have a propensity to serve in the Army, he said.

There are myriad reasons they cannot serve, he said, listing some of the disqualifying factors: medical or physical, 30 percent; drug usage, 30 percent; misconduct, 10 percent; overweight, 31 percent; mental health, 15 percent; and aptitude, nine percent.

Those with two or more of these disqualifying factors total 39 percent, he added.

Finally, with the unemployment rate down from what it was several years ago, more jobs outside the Army are available, he said.

James Cox, Active Duty Brand manager, Army Marketing and Research Group, added to Bowers' list, noting that there's a widespread perception out there that people who join the Army do so because they have no other opportunities and nothing better to do in life.

Cox, who was a recruiter in the Army before retiring, said his group is trying to provide information to young people so that when they meet a recruiter, they will have a baseline understanding of the Army.

The group's marketing efforts are trying to use the language of youth in advertisements and including people from all ethnicities, cultures and genders.

Ads target people the Army needs to recruit such as those in cyber fields, he said. A recent recruiting video portrays soldiers going after malicious hackers, depicting the soldiers as having the ability to code and being cool.

The ads aim to funnel youth to recruiters or to get them to find more information on goarmy.com, he added.

CUTTING ATTRITION

Besides marketing efforts to attract qualified prospects, the Army is gaining ground in cutting down on attrition rates during initial military training, said Dr. Whitfield "Chip" East, research physiologist, U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training.

The way it's doing that is through the administration of the gender-neutral Occupational Physical Assessment Test, or OPAT, which is used to assess recruits' fitness for various occupational specialties.

At first, it might seem that the OPAT might be another hurdle to joining, East said, countering, "no one fails it. You can retake it as many times as necessary. It just means you're not ready to ship to initial military training."

And, those who score better in the OPAT graduate at higher rates and have fewer injuries during initial military training, he said, particularly women.

Since the OPAT is less than a year old, those are initial findings, he added. A full-up review of OPAT results will be conducted in January.

November 2, 2017 at 2:12pm

Troxell: Soldiers at DMZ ready

Army Command Sgt. Maj. John W. Troxell speaks to reporters en route to Washington, D.C., after departing Hawaii, Oct. 30. Photo credit: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro

South Korean and American troops on and near the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea are ready, well-supplied, well-trained and prepared, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman said following a visit over the weekend.

Army Command Sgt. Maj. John W. Troxell accompanied his boss, Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to South Korea. But where the general participated in the Military Committee Meeting and Security Consultative Meeting with his Korean counterpart, Troxell used his time to get a feel for what life is like on "Freedom's Frontier" in light of current tensions.

The DMZ is a place where North Korean troops are studying every action on the southern side. They continually probe, test and push for a reaction from the South Korean troops that man most of the DMZ.

The unit Troxell visited -- the 1st Republic of Korea Division's 1st Reconnaissance Battalion -- was the victim of a North Korean intrusion across the DMZ three years ago and had soldiers wounded in a minefield laid by North Korean special operations forces.

Unfiltered Look at the North

"I felt the need to go up to the Demilitarized Zone outside of the Joint Security Area and go to an area where I could get an unfiltered look at the North Koreans and what their demeanor, what their disposition, what their posture was in light of all of this rhetoric," Troxell said.

He also just wanted to talk with South Korean troops to get a feel for their morale and readiness, he said.

The sergeant major's previous job was as the senior enlisted leader for U.S. Forces Korea and the Combined Forces Command.

He said he did not notice much difference in the North Koreans across the line. "They were on security," he said. "They were observing into the South, especially when I got there -- a lot of folks with binoculars trying to figure out what we were doing. But their patrols did not seem like they were in any more enhanced readiness than what they normally are."

Despite the rhetoric from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the North Koreans were carrying on business as usual, he said. On the North Korean side, there are heavy weapons in contravention of the U.N.-brokered armistice signed in 1953. The North kicked out the two armistice guarantor nations -- Poland and Czechoslovakia -- when the Soviet Union fell.

"We still have the Swiss and the Swedes in the southern part of the DMZ that are making sure that the (South Koreans) and the U.S. aren't breaking any rules, in accordance with the armistice," the sergeant major said.

The assumption in the south is that the North Koreans are breaking the rules and allied forces have to plan accordingly, he said.

‘Frail' Troops

And there are a lot of North Korean troops. "There's 750,000 North Korean troops on the DMZ, out of a more than 1.1 million man and woman force," Troxell said. "But we haven't seen them do a combined arms maneuver in 20 years. They fire about five to 10 rounds out of their rifles a year. And a good part of them have been diagnosed as being medically frail."

"But there are 750,000 of them," he continued. "So if you end up in conflict and you got full magazines of ammunition, you better not miss."

And the North Koreans have been indoctrinated since birth on the infallibility of the Kim family. "If we have to go into high-end conflict, the North Koreans are going to fight," Troxell said. "They're prepared to fight and defend their country and defend who they call the Great Leader."

On the South Korean side, the troops were patrolling and ready, the sergeant major said. They are a learning Army, he said, and have learned from the incident where the infiltrators came in. "They've really upgraded their positions," Troxell said. "They've cut back all of the foliage from around their guard posts and the gates to get into the DMZ. They've also reinforced with, you know, better cameras and everything, so they have (fewer) blind spots that the North Koreans can exploit."

‘Ready to Fight'

A bit farther back, the sergeant major met with American soldiers. "Obviously, they pay attention a lot more to the news than the (South Koreans) do, and certainly more than the North Koreans," he said. "There was a lot more heightened sense of, ‘Hey, we got to be ready.'"

The rotational brigade -- now from the 1st Cavalry Division -- goes through a decisive action training rotation at the National Training Center in California and then deploys to the Korean Peninsula. "Those guys and gals are absolutely prepared for high-end conflict because they've been certified in it," Troxell said. "They're ready to fight."

American units are training and focusing on potential threats, one of which is North Korea's use of tunnels. "Subterranean warfare is something we have to continue to prepare for," the sergeant major said. "As a matter of fact, the Army is making subterranean warfare part of their doctrine, and the Marines are going that way, too."

South Korean and U.S. soldiers serve together closely. The 2nd Infantry Division, which is the divisional headquarters there, is now a combined division, with South Korean and U.S. officers and noncommissioned officers on their division staff. "If you look at the 2nd Infantry Division patch, ... it says combined division over their patch now," he said.

The 2nd Infantry Division is also certified at all levels of combat.

Building Mil-to-Mil Relationships

The members of the division continually look for ways to enhance the military-to-military relationship, Troxell said, especially in their noncommissioned officer corps. The South Koreans are looking "to better develop their squad leaders and platoon sergeants to operate effectively at the decentralized level and operate off of commanders' intent and apply discipline initiative to get after combat, if they have to," he said. "They really look at the noncommissioned officer corps in the United States military, and they want theirs to be like that."

There are cultural differences that have to be overcome and much of the South Korean military is made up of conscripts. But, South Koreans have served alongside the U.S. in every contingency since the Korean War, Troxell said, and they see that the American military expands the commander's reach in the battlespace by empowering noncommissioned officers to act without being told.

This is especially needed in terrain like that at the DMZ, which is mountainous. "It's a cluttered battlefield," he said, "and it will call for decentralized execution to defeat the North Koreans. That means we've got to continue to have empowered enlisted leaders, because this will be a squad-level fight, more so than it will be a battalion/brigade-level fight."

October 30, 2017 at 5:55am

Soldier drew on Army skills to survive, protect others in Las Vegas shooting

FORT SILL, Okla. -- When the staccato sound of hundreds of rounds firing began, Nevada Army National Guard Pvt. Jacquelyn Trujillo ignored the comments of people around her who thought someone was shooting off fireworks or there was a problem with the speakers. Recognizing the sound of rifle fire, she quietly told her two younger sisters to leave the concert.

"I didn't want them to freak out or panic, we did it calmly," she said. "As we were approaching the exit, that's when everyone else started to realize that this wasn't fireworks."

Las Vegas Metro Police identified Stephen Paddock, 64, as the man who opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Oct. 1, killing 58 and injuring hundreds before taking his own life. Included in that number was another Nevada Army National Guard Soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Charleston Hartfield, 34, of the 100th Quartermaster Company.

When the shooting started, Trujillo saw people dropping to take cover, others falling from gunshot wounds or tripping and getting trampled. She and her sisters found safety behind a wall, where they met fellow concert-goer Tammy Dean.

"They saved me," Dean told a KTNV 13 Action News reporter. "(Trujillo) really took care of us and kept us calm and she kept me from doing something stupid like going inside looking for family."

Trujillo, her sisters and Dean left the area escorted by an off-duty police officer. She then led the group to her brother's house near the concert. The entire family wasn't reunited until the following morning.

"Right now, I think I'm handling the situation better than the rest of my family," Trujillo said in an interview about a week after the shooting. "I am just thankful for my training and to know what to do in that situation."

Trujillo credited her basic combat training she took as a Split Option Soldier at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for helping her to lead others to safety.

"Probably what helped me to respond the best to what happened was being able to remain calm and recognize the noises (of rifle fire)," she said. "I remember hearing those sounds, or similar, when we had to low crawl or when we fired our weapons."

Trujillo, who graduated Aug. 18, from B Battery, 1st Battalion, 19th Field Artillery, returned for her senior year of high school in Las Vegas, and is now a member of D Company, 3rd Battalion, 140th Security and Support Aviation Regiment. Looking back on her training at Fort Sill, she thanked all the drill sergeants here who helped teach her the ways of a Soldier, though she singled out one in particular.

"Drill Sergeant (Sgt.) Aubrey Lonsberry was my drill sergeant. It wasn't one specific thing she said that helped me the most, but just everything she taught us about the type of Soldier you want to be -- how to remain in control, how to stay calm and be Soldiers," she said.

Trujillo will attend advanced individual training next summer and become an aviation operations specialist with D Company. The unit flies and maintains the Nevada Army National Guard's six UH-72 Lakota aircraft. She plans to attend the University of Nevada - Las Vegas and become an officer.

Lonsberry said Trujillo's actions didn't surprise her.

"Private Trujillo consistently set herself apart from her fellow trainees by her high level of motivation and discipline. She brought good energy to our formation day in and day out. Her service was special to her, and it was clearly important to her that she learn and execute warrior tasks and battle drills correctly," she said.

Lonsberry added drill sergeants do their best to train up BCT Soldiers for all situations, but despite that, the outcome of what trainees will do is still uncertain.

"You see basic trainees make physical, mental, and emotional improvements over nine weeks and when they leave, all you can do is hope for the best," she said. "Private Trujillo showed that she can be relied upon by her country to answer the call whenever it may come. She also showed that consistently living up the Army values and applying BCT skills in tough situations can save lives."

As people process the outcome of this horrific episode in their lives, Trujillo said some call her a hero for doing what she did. She, instead, wants to be remembered in a different way: "I don't feel like a hero, I just feel like an American Soldier."

October 30, 2017 at 5:50am

JBLM soldiers killed in Afghanistan identified

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Pentagon has identified the U.S. soldier killed in a helicopter accident in eastern Afghanistan on Friday as Chief Warrant Officer Jacob M. Sims.

Sims, 36, who was born in Oklahoma but lived in Juneau, Alaska, was assigned to 4th Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, a unit known as the “Night Stalkers,” at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington.

The decorated 18-year veteran enlisted in the Army in 1999 and served in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. He was trained to fly the UH-60 Back Hawk and CH-47 Chinook, including the special operations variant MH-47G, according to his biography.

The Pentagon has provided few details about the incident in Logar province that took Sims’ life.

Salim Saleh, the provincial governor’s spokesman, told Stars and Stripes a helicopter was transporting troops for a night raid in the volatile Kharwar district when it hit a tree, forcing an emergency landing.


The U.S. military said six other U.S. crew members were injured in the incident and sent for medical treatment. Saleh said one Afghan servicemember was also wounded.

The joint raid with Afghan forces was part of a broader operation to clear the Taliban from parts of Logar, Saleh said.

The militants, who are believed to control about half of the province, said they shot down the helicopter, killing dozens of Americans — a claim NATO refuted.

“We can confirm the crash was not the result of enemy action,” NATO’s Resolute Support mission said in a statement. “We have full accountability for all personnel and the crash site has been secured.”

Sims’ death brings the total number of U.S. servicemembers killed in Afghanistan this year to 12. More than 2,400 have been killed since the war began 16 years ago.

“Jacob lived by a creed that few understand and even fewer embody,” Col. Philip Ryan, commander of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment said in a statement. “He will not be forgotten and his legacy will endure through his family, friends, and fellow Night Stalkers.”

Sims lived in Alaska with his wife and children, according to reports. The state’s governor Bill Walker on Sunday ordered U.S. and Alaska flags to be flown at half-mast in the soldier’s honor.

“Chief Warrant Officer Sims and his family made the ultimate sacrifice for the rest of us,” Walker said in a statement. “Our military servicemembers put themselves on the line in defense of the values we hold dear. We owe them a debt of gratitude.”

NATO said an investigation into the helicopter accident had been launched.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of our comrade,” Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said. “On behalf of all of Resolute Support, our heartfelt sympathies go out to the families and friends of our fallen comrade and those injured in this unfortunate event.”

October 26, 2017 at 10:49am

Purple Heart veterans honored

Korean War veterans, Irv Stephens (left) and Jim Evans (right), receive their Purple Heart medals 66 years after they earned them during the Aberdeen Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee Town Hall held Oct. 19. Photo credit: Gary Lott

During the governor's Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee (VAAC) Town Hall held Oct. 19, two Korean War Marine Corps veterans were surprised with their Purple Hearts after waiting more than 60 years.

Purple Hearts were awarded to Irvin Stephens and James Evans of Raymond, Washington, during the Korean War but both veterans were just recently presented them the awards during a recent Aberdeen VAAC meeting.

Irvin Stephens, now 85, broke his arm after being ambushed in Korea in November 1950.

Jim Evans, 89, suffered shrapnel wounds during the Korean War from a shell explosion in 1951.

During the meeting, the two veterans also received Ambassador of Peace Awards on behalf of the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Seattle.

The VAAC -- under the leadership of 2016/17 Chair Charles Wharton -- is composed of 17 members and advises the governor and the director of the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA) on issues and programs concerning veterans.

During VAAC meetings, community partners and service providers share how they are serving veterans and their families from the area.

Visit the WDVA website at dva.wa.gov or call 800.562.0132 opt 1 for additional information. 

October 26, 2017 at 10:05am

First responders working together

Washington National Guard Sgt. Adrian Bojorquez trains hospital staff from the Summit Pacific Medical Center on chemical decontamination procedures and techniques. Photo credit: Spc. Brianne Kim

When a disaster strikes, resources are put to the test. Especially in smaller, rural communities.

"We're a small critical access hospital so we would anticipate in a real situation that we're probably going to get a lot of patients and might even get overrun, so it's a great exercise for us to find out where the holes are," said Nick Greeley, a registered nurse at Summit Pacific Medical Center.

To strengthen its emergency response, the Summit Pacific Medical Center recently teamed up with the Washington National Guard and Grays Harbor County to conduct a regional exercise Oct. 14 in Elma. The exercise focused on incident response, decontamination (DECON) capabilities and medical treatment in the event of a major disaster.

The exercise simulated an earthquake scenario causing damage to tanks and piping at Vertellus, a local chemical plant, resulting in the release of methanol and isopropylamine chemicals. Mock casualties contaminated with the chemicals were sent to Summit Pacific Medical Center for treatment.

Training on DECON procedures is an important aspect for Summit Pacific hospital staff given the Vertellus plant is located just miles away, and contaminated patients are a real possibility for the hospital and Grays Harbor County.

"We're cross training with the hospital staff so that they can get practice utilizing their equipment and better understand the DECON process," said Sgt. 1st Class Courtney Serad, a DECON lane supervisor with 792nd Chemical Company.

During the exercise, guardsmen acting as mock casualties were sent through the DECON process at the incident site and then transported to the hospital by Grays Harbor EMTs before going through the hospital's DECON process and receiving medical treatment.

"The decontamination station is where (hospital staff) will be doing an undress, so cutting casualties out of clothing to try and remove the large amount of contaminate and then doing a wash and rinse within the tent," Serad said. "They got more practice with their equipment and they understand the DECON process so that in the event they have to do it themselves they're prepared to do so."

In the event of an earthquake that disrupts infrastructure, if the limited staff that is trained and familiar with the DECON equipment cannot get to the hospital, then it will be up to those with less knowledge and experience handling the equipment to set it up and begin operations, Greeley explained. "We need to be able to do that so I feel that we probably need to have more of our core staff regularly drilling on this."

The exercise not only enabled hospital staff to become more experienced with DECON procedures, but also strengthened the relations between the Washington National Guard and local emergency responders, ensuring that if the time comes, each agency will be able to work seamlessly together to successfully care for casualties as quickly as possible.

"There can be scenarios that are so big that we all have to work together quickly and efficiently even if we don't routinely work together," Greeley said. "And so I find that an exercise like this is really, really helpful to just see how different components of the machine work together. It's hugely important to make sure we are all communicating well and we understand the plan so we can do the most good as quickly as possible for people that need help."

"Working with the community is a massive, massive benefit because this is what we do as the National Guard. We're local state responders, our primary focus is how are we going to respond with locals when we need to whether it's wild land fires or floods or in a scenario like this where we're practicing for an earthquake," Serad said. "Anytime we can get out into our local communities and practice these scenarios and how we're going to interact and how we're going to engage and build relationships is a huge, huge benefit."

October 26, 2017 at 10:00am

DIVARTY preparing for Korea

Soldiers from the Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division Artillery, board a C-17 Globemaster at Joint Base Lewis-McChord Oct. 18. Photo credit: Pfc. Ethan Valetski

Dozens of soldiers from Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division Artillery, stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, participated in a deployment readiness exercise, Oct. 16-18, in preparation for an upcoming deployment to the Republic of Korea.

The purpose of the exercise was to stress unit and installation deployment systems and processes to ensure the readiness of the 2ID DIVARTY early entry command post.

"A large part of the challenge is making sure everyone is on the right page," said Maj. Dana Norris, the air defense artillery manager and brigade aviation element chief at 2ID DIVARTY. "Not only are we making sure our soldiers are prepared to deploy in little to no notice, we're cross coordinating with the Air Force to make sure our transportation and equipment is taken care of on the way to our destination and back."

The HHB DIVARTY received a no notice alert to deploy the EECP within 96 hours.

Within that timeline, the unit conducted necessary pre-deployment tasks and prepared essential personnel and equipment for a deployment to a forward location.

Everyone has a role to play in this exercise, said Sgt. Matthew Boisclaire, an air defense battle management system operator and team leader at 2ID DIVARTY. The soldiers participating are performing essential tasks like making sure our vehicles are ready to move out, communications are up and running, as well as the equipment brought has been well maintained and ready to be put to use.

With assistance from the 62nd Airlift Wing, 2ID DIVARTY soldiers and equipment were loaded on to a C-17 Globemaster, a military transport aircraft, and deployed from JBLM to the Moses Lake International Airport located in Grant County.

Col. Stephen Snelson, the 62nd Airlift Wing vice commander and one of the pilots for the exercise, said conducting joint training of this nature is important because it provides his crews the opportunity to conduct loading inspections and aerial maneuvers with a real combat load of personnel and equipment.

Once on ground at Moses Lake, the DIVARTY team established its mission command systems and executed critical Force Field Artillery tasks.

This exercise is the second time 2ID DIVARTY has conducted a no notice deployment readiness procedure in the last year. Exercises like these are a critical part of the unit's preparations to support operations in Korea as part of 2ID.

"What we have done here is create a proof of concept," said Norris. "These types of exercises let us know how prepared we are as soldiers, if we're told we need to fight tonight."

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