Northwest Military Blogs: Army West Blog

June 15, 2012 at 6:11am

Chaos breeds confidence in 4th Stryker's mass casualty exercise

FORT IRWIN, Calif. - Business is normal on your forward operating base in the middle of the desert, until suddenly you hear rounds popping in the distance and colliding with the ground.

Your world begins to shake.

Within minutes, ambulatory Stryker vehicles are rushing casualties to your aid station as silence turns to screams and Soldiers who were once walking and smiling are now sprinting and shouting.

Everywhere, medics are jotting down vitals, hooking up intravenous fluids and franticly tearing open gauze packets. Some wounded are missing limbs; some are violently calling the medics idiots, pleading desperately for their comrades.

"Captain Stone was just here!" one of them yells, lying on an operating table.

A chaplain - a tiny Bible in hand - kneels down beside a Soldier on a stretcher and bows his head. Together, they recite a prayer.

It's mass confusion; it's chaos.

Welcome to the National Training Center.

Here, the situation can change at a moment's notice and the craziness can escalate in the blink of an eye, but for medics and other Soldiers with the 702nd Brigade Support Battalion on FOB Denver - a mock southern Afghanistan base - chaos is welcomed with well-rehearsed performance.

Soldiers with the battalion harnessed their A game June 12 when a normal day turned into a mass casualty exercise with injured role players designed to test the entire FOB, but especially medics with the battalion's medical company.

The test served as just part of nearly an entire month of training the battalion is undergoing with the rest of its parent unit, the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, in preparation for a deployment to Afghanistan this fall.

"It allows our medics to be exposed to crisis management, and to have a lot of personnel coming into an aid station at one time to really cause a lot of chaos for them," said Command Sgt. Maj. Anthony Fourtunia, a New Orleans native and the battalion's commander. "When you have role players come in, it makes it really realistic for them and gets that adrenaline flowing."

For the battalion's company of medics, Company C, the mission was to take in casualties from two separate battalion aid stations on the base that serve as the first level of medical care for their Soldiers.

Company C operated as a second-level treatment facility, and cared for and evacuated approximately 35 wounded via Strykers and helicopters to more permanent care.

With so many moving pieces, chaos ultimately prevailed, even for the most seasoned medics on ground. But often times even the most intense pressure and stress can solidify confidence.

"If the Soldiers knows what their capabilities are before they go downrange, it builds their confidence," he said. "And for every warrior who goes downrange, if they don't have confidence performing their duties, it would be pretty hard for them to execute their mission."

Eight-year medic Sgt. Brenda Porto knows from experience that the sentiment is true for any medic.

"We get these scenarios in real life, so they need to be able to understand how to handle the stressors while we're here and cope with them," said Porto, a Las Vegas native and a C Co. medic. "And if they learn how to do that here, it'll be better once overseas.

"Any sort of experience - once you sort of know what to expect - it keeps you cool and calm. You won't freak out as much."

The company's first sergeant, 1st Sgt. Kristopher Rick, said his Soldiers have rehearsed similar exercises at their home station, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and twice at Yakima Training Center in Central Washington State.

But while the unit was well versed on what to expect, it hasn't yet rehearsed a mass casualty to such a large scale.

"It is very, very rare to have the opportunity to rehearse that at a FOB level that has more than one tenant unit," said Rick, a Yuma, Ariz., native. "You don't usually get to experience that until you get on site (during deployment)."

Rick knows the value of preparation, because when he walked up on his first real-life mass casualty in 2003 while deployed to Afghanistan, he should have had more of it.

"We did a three-day ground assault convoy, I rolled up onto my FOB after not sleeping for 72 hours with my physician assistant in the back to a guy running in front of my truck, stopping and saying, ‘hey, doc, we got a mass casualty at the Forward Surgical Team.' "

Rick, then a staff sergeant, walked in on 16 troops in varying condition. They had run into a firefight; none were wearing protective armor.

"They had been in a big gun fight," he remembered. "That was a chaotic event."

"The only way to manage that chaos is to rehearse it," he said, adding that his unit wasn't nearly as prepared for such an event as the infantry and artillery battalions in the 4th Stryker Brigade and his company of medics is currently.

"The more you do it, the more you learn," he added. "That's what we're trying to do for the Raider brigade is get it down before we go downrange."

Even Pvt. Jaime Medina, one of the company's newest medics, knows how real the possibility is that an actual mass casualty can occur downrange. He plans on being ready if the time comes.

"You should always hope for the best and prepare for the worst," said Medina, a Las Vegas native. "It's a very real possibility, and I like that we train like this."

But no matter the level of preparation, the chaos will always linger.

"In a mass casualty, there's chaos regardless, even if you have experience in it," said Porto after the exercise.

"The scenario's always different, so you can't avoid it."

Photo: Sgt. Christopher Gaylord

Pvt. Jaime Medina (right), a Las Vegas native and medic with Company C, 702nd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division; and a soldier augmenting the battalion treat a simulated casualty June 12 outside the company's aid station on the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., during a mass casualty exercise that tested their entire base. 4th Stryker Brigade is spending the month of June at the center making final preparations for a deployment to Afghanistan this fall.

June 14, 2012 at 8:10pm

2nd Brigade Stryker killed

According to the Dept. of Defense, Sgt. 1st Class Barett W. McNabb, of Chino Valley, Ariz., died June 12, in Khakrez, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when he was attacked by an enemy improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 562nd Engineer Company, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

"Sgt. 1st Class McNabb was an inspirational and highly motivated leader who always put the needs of his Sappers [engineer Soldiers] before his own," said 1st Lt. Robert Gold, executive officer of the 562nd Engineer Company.

"Always quick with a joke and a smile, McNabb's personality could light up the darkest place. McNabb was the true embodiment of what it means to be a Sapper and will be missed by all of his fellow Sappers in the 562nd Engineer Company," Gold added.

According to unit records, Sgt. 1st Class McNabb entered the Army in November 1999. After completing initial Army training, and Advanced Individual Training in Military Occupational Specialty 12B (Combat Engineer), He was transferred to Fort Riley, Kan. While assigned to Fort Riley he deployed three times; once to Kuwait (August through December 2001), and twice to Iraq (September 2003-2004, and September 2006 - December 2007). He reported to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in July 2008. Upon arrival he was assigned to the 3rd Battalion (Engineer), 364th Regiment, 191st Infantry Brigade. In April 2012 he was assigned to the 562nd Engineer Company, 2nd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.  He deployed with this unit to Afghanistan in April. This was his fourth deployment, first to Afghanistan.

Sgt. 1st Class McNabb's civilian and military education includes one semester of college (2006), Military Occupational Specialty 12B: Combat Engineer (2000), Warrior Leader Course (2002), Advanced Leader Course (2008), Combat Life Savers Course (2010), and Senior Leader Course (2011).

His awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, the Army Commendation with Valor, Army Commendation Medal (four awards), Army Achievement Medal (three awards), Joint Meritorious Unit Award, Valorous Unit Award (two awards), Army Good Conduct Medal (four awards), National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, NCO Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Ribbon (two awards), Combat Action Badge, Driver and Mechanic Badge with Driver - Wheeled Vehicles, Driver and Mechanic Badge with Driver - Tracked Vehicles.

June 14, 2012 at 6:28am

Brain injury tied to malaria drug, doctor says


An Army physician who spent his career studying the malaria drug mefloquine, also known as Lariam, asked Congress on June 6 to support research on brain injuries he says can be caused by the medication.

Speaking before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Maj. Remington Nevin requested funding for a mefloquine research center at a civilian medical or public health school to investigate the "physiology, epidemiology, clinical diagnosis and treatment" of health issues related to mefloquine.

"Given our research commitments to post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury ... this observation calls for a similarly robust agenda into mefloquine neurotoxic brain injury to ensure that patients with these conditions are receiving accurate diagnoses and the very best medical care," Nevin said.


June 14, 2012 at 6:26am

Survey: Troops still rank high in respect


A new survey ranks the U.S. military just behind firefighters and nurses as the most "valuable figures" in U.S. society, but it finds a widely held perception that the majority of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress.

The survey, released Wednesday, looked at whether the public believes Iraq and Afghanistan veterans could make good community leaders. It found the public thinks these veterans have proven their leadership skills and can serve their communities at home, but that they need time to recover from combat first.

Some of the findings show similarities to post-Vietnam perceptions of troubled veterans returning home. For example, 27 percent of those surveyed thought returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were more likely to suffer from alcoholism and drug addiction than non-veterans, and 53 percent believe the majority of returning veterans have PTSD.


June 14, 2012 at 6:22am

Suicide top cause of troops’ death after combat


The most common way that U.S. service members die outside of combat is by their own hand, according to an analysis released by the Pentagon Wednesday.

Since 2010, suicide has outpaced traffic accidents, heart disease, cancer, homicide and all other forms of death in the military besides combat, the report says. One in four non-combat deaths last year were service members killing themselves.

This year, suicides among troops occur on average once a day, according to Pentagon figures obtained by USA Today. The data, first reported by the Associated Press, show that after the end of the Iraq War, suicides may become more common than combat deaths.


June 13, 2012 at 6:38am

Military Soon Will Pay More For Former Soldiers Than Current Ones


The Pentagon soon will spend more on health care and other benefits for former military personnel than on the men and women fighting today's conflicts, according to a new study.

A Bipartisan Policy Center study group composed of former defense officials is warning that in 2014 the "cost of veterans' benefits will exceed [the] amount spent on active-duty troops."

If Congress fails to pass a broad debt-reduction package this year that would reduce the federal debt by $1.2 trillion, around $500 billion in separate cuts to defense and domestic entitlement budgets would go into effect Jan. 1. The impact would force government entities like the Pentagon to cancel contracts, lay off workers and terminate programs.


June 13, 2012 at 6:15am

JBLM Army choppers to deliver relief supplies in mock disaster drill


Just how soon and how efficiently would food, water, medicine and other critical supplies reach the San Juans and other areas of Puget Sound in the event of a major earthquake?

That is the question that local, state, tribal and federal agencies intend to answer in this week's Evergreen Logistics Exercise, a regional mock emergency drill.

Closer to home, a pair of US Army Resererve Chinook CH-47 helicopters today will depart Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Fort Lewis, bound for Orcas and San Juan islands and with a stockpile of relief supplies onboard.

The exercise, coordinated by the local Department of Emergency Management, is designed to test the islands' ability to receive and distribute critical supplies, and to ensure that federal and state agencies are familiar with the geography and capabilities of the San Juans.


June 13, 2012 at 5:56am

For 4th Stryker Brigade commander, NTC rotation all about relationships

FORT IRWIN, Calif. - Soldiers with the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division aren't deploying to Afghanistan this fall to play soccer, but that's the analogy the brigade's commander is using to describe how he'll partner with local leaders once in country.

"We're all players on a soccer team, and we're going to move that ball forward, and that ball is security for the people of Afghanistan," said Col. Michael Getchell, brigade commander, after a key leader engagement exercise with role players at the National Training Center on Fort Irwin, Calif., where the month of June has served as crunch time for the brigade to prep for its near-future tour.

While the majority of the more than 5,000 Soldiers with the brigade here are refining their common Soldier tasks in preparation for a combat zone, Getchell is putting his focus on the way he'll start building relationships with Afghan provincial leaders later this year.

"The dynamic in Afghanistan is changing," said Getchell, a Bridgewater, Mass., native who last deployed to Afghanistan in 2002. "We're pretty certain by the time we get there the Afghan Security Forces will really be in the lead, and so it's a different mission.

"It's about enabling them to remain in the lead, and the number one piece to that is relationships."

During a meeting June 11 with Afghan role players in a simulated Afghanistan province, seated between a smattering of small buildings that mirror a typical cityscape in the country, Getchell sat and talked security, safety and engineering projects - things that will take center stage in the brigade's real-life deployment.

"When you boil it all down, it's the same wants and desires that any American would want," he said after the meeting - just one of several planned for the rotation. "They want security; they want a better future for their kids - the same that we would want."

Getchell said that during his last Afghanistan deployment, the mindset was different, and face time between U.S. military leaders and the local populace was scarce in comparison with today's mission.

"It was a very different mission back then," he said. "We had very little engagement with the population, almost no engagement with the Afghan army, and really no engagement with police."

Sitting at a t-shape of tables in a tiny trailer with his brigade deputy commander, a U.S. provincial reconstruction team leader and other staff from the brigade, Getchell listened intently, scribbled down concerns addressed by the provincial leaders and reassured them of his team's commitment to their needs.

As two small fans whirled in a desperate effort to cool down the cramped room, Getchell shared his soccer analogy. But the Afghans have their own way of looking at their partnership, even if, in this case, the bond is for training purposes.

"They call it a bundle of sticks," Getchell said, adding that he and his team are just a few sticks in that bundle.

Sharing such analogies, stories and poems helps draw them closer, he explained.

"I'll be able to have that more human contact and human dialogue with them," he said, looking ahead to his plans for engagement with real Afghan leaders.

To Getchell, the role players - dressed in traditional Afghan hats and robes and speaking in their native tongue - are every bit as real and reminiscent of the country as Fort Irwin's backdrop of high-desert mountains, its extreme heat and simulated villages.

And so is the benefit they offer.

"They're trying to equip us with an understanding of the people and the desires and the problems that are going on in Afghanistan," Getchell said. "If we make cultural mistakes here, we can learn from those mistakes without really paying a penalty."

"It helps us to see ourselves, and then figure out how we can make the most out of these types of engagements," said Lt. Col. Jody Miller, the brigade's deputy commander, who sat next to Getchell during the meeting. "We're not going to get much done by ourselves over there. It's a joint effort for us to continue moving the ball forward."

Standing outside the small trailer under the inescapable rays of sun in a cloudless Fort Irwin sky, where pretend mortars are heard and troops die - in play but not real life - Getchell made it clear that common weather and physical terrain aren't the only reason units train at NTC.

"That human terrain is invaluable, and we can't replicate that at Joint Base Lewis-McChord or any other installation."

Photo: Colonel Michael Getchell, commander of 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division discusses the concerns of Afghan provincial leader role players during a key leader engagement exercise June 11 at the National Training Center on Fort Irwin, Calif. The unit, in its first NTC rotation since its inception as a Stryker brigade, is making final preparations for a deployment in the fall to Afghanistan. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Christopher M. Gaylord)

June 12, 2012 at 1:17pm

I Corps command staff home tomorrow

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Lt. Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, I Corps commanding general, Command Sgt. Maj. John W. Troxell, I Corps command sergeant major, and about 50 Soldiers assigned to the I Corps Headquarters will be reunited with friends and family during a "homecoming" ceremony Wednesday at Gray Army Airfield on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The ceremony is currently scheduled for 2 p.m.

The I Corps headquarters staff will arrive at Gray Army Airfield aboard an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III assigned to the 62nd Airlift Wing at JBLM-McChord Field.  The 62nd AW Commander, Col. R. Wyn Elder, will be piloting the aircraft.

The I Corps Headquarters, which deployed more than 600 service members, is completing a yearlong as the U.S. contingent of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command.

June 12, 2012 at 10:29am

Memorial Ceremony for 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division Soldier Wednesday

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Family, friends, Service members and the Joint Base community will remember a Soldier who died while deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom with a ceremony to be conducted Wednesday, June 13, at 3 p.m. in the JBLM Lewis North Chapel.

2nd Lt. Travis A. Morgado, 25, of San Jose, Calif., died May 23 in Zharay, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when insurgents attacked his patrol with an improvised explosive device.  He was assigned to the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

The brigade deployed to Afghanistan in December 2011.

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