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May 2, 2015 at 6:01am

Silver Star for JBLM soldier

Sgt. 1st Class Earl D. Plumlee with the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Joint Base Lewis-McChord received the Silver Star Medal Friday for his actions in Afghanistan in 2013.

When attacked by a vehicle-borne IED and nine insurgents, Plumlee engaged the enemy at close range even after wounded by a detonating suicide vest.  According to an Army report, he risked his life in the line of fire to rescue another soldier while preventing the insurgents from gaining entry to his forward operating base.

(U.S. Army Photo by SPC Codie Mendenhall, 1st SFG (A) shows Plumlee receiving his medal from Maj. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl, I Corps Deputy Commanding General.

Filed under: Special Operations Units,

June 4, 2013 at 10:57am

Service for Staff Sgt. Michael H. Simpson is tomorrow

The Joint Base Lewis-McChord Public Affair Office sent a reminder that the service for Staff Sgt. Michael H. Simpson will be held tomorrow.

Family, friends, Service members and the Joint Base community will remember a 4th Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) soldier who died while deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in a ceremony to be conducted Wednesday at 2 p.m. in the JBLM Lewis North Chapel.

Staff Sgt. Michael H. Simpson, 30, of San Antonio, Texas, died May 1 in Landstuhl, Germany, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit on April 27, with an improvised explosive device in Arian, Afghanistan.  He was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

January 24, 2012 at 6:49am

LONGER REACH: M3 Carl Gustaf extends lethality

With the need for Soldiers in Afghanistan to engage the enemy at longer distances, Picatinny Arsenal has completed an initial training and fielding of a weapon for traditional Army units previously used only by special operations commands.

The Multi-Role Anti-Armor Anti-Personnel Weapon System (MAAWS), also known as the M3 Carl Gustaf, has been in the United States Special Operations Command inventory since 1991.

However, the unique capabilities of both the system and its ammo led to a forward operational assessment (FOA).

The MAAWS has similarities to the AT4 shoulder-fired, anti-tank system. But the MAAWS is unique in that the system itself is not disposable, which means it can be used more than once.

"It operates just like a rifle," said Bhuvanesh Thoguluva, Chief of the Vehicle Protection, Rockets & Shoulder Fired Weapons Branch of the Munitions Systems and Technical Directorate. The directorate is part of the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center at Picatinny.

"After firing, the assistant gunner reloads it, and it can be fired again.

"On a disposable weapon you will find a maximum effective range of approximately 300 meters, whereas with the Gustaf you are talking about possibly up to 1,700 meters. That's a huge difference," Thoguluva said.

An operational need for the MAAWS system occurred in May, when troops reported that they were having a difficult time in reaching the enemy at those distances.

The purpose of the MAAWS is to engage lightly armored targets at ranges up to 700 meters and soft targets at up to 1,000 meters.

Previously used only by special operations commands--beginning with the Army Rangers in 1989, the Navy SEALS in 1997, and later the rest of the U.S. Special Operations Forces--the need for the system has become more apparent among traditional Army units.

"This fielding really could not have been done without the help from SOCOM," Thoguluva said.

The United States Special Operations Command allowed the transfer of these systems and its ammo to the Army for this fielding.

The quantities for this initial fielding were 58 Carl Gustaf Rifles and 1,500 Rounds of High Explosive and High Explosive Dual Purpose Ammunition. Also, 114 Soldiers and 21 armorer maintainers were trained in its use.

Although, there are eight varieties of combat rounds and two training rounds for the system, the High Explosive and High Explosive Dual Purpose Rounds are the only two included in the assessment.

The other rounds can provide users with heat, illumination, anti-structure, multi-target and smoke capabilities. As the need for additional capabilities increases with the Army users, other rounds could be fielded to the Army troops in the future.

The gun is breech-loaded and can be fired from the standing, kneeling, sitting or prone positions. A built-in detachable bi-pod helps the shooter raise the weapon off the ground while shooting from the prone position.

The propellant gas escapes through the rear of the weapon, which equalizes the force of recoil. In the AT4-CS type system, a salt-water solution is ejected rather than exhaust, which is one reason why the AT4-CS does not have the range of the MAAWS.

"Remarkably, there is actually more recoil from firing a 7.62mm round than this 84mm round," Thoguluva said.

"It's a balancing act," he added. "When shooting a 7.62 there is no exhaust gas, so the shooter's shoulder takes the majority of the recoil." This balancing act puts less stress on the shooter.

The current MAAWS system weighs approximately 22 pounds with each round of ammunition weighing less than 10 pounds. Material developers are working to lighten the load of the rifle by five to six pounds.

The user can usually load and fire four rounds within one minute.

The blast radius stemming from a High Explosive round is anywhere from 50 - 75 meters. The user sets the firing distance on the MAAWS by simply rotating a labeled meter at the top of the round.

The High Explosive Dual Purpose round can detonate in two ways: upon impact of the intended target, or in a delay mode where it will penetrate a target, then detonate at a pre-determined time.

Since fielding the system, feedback from the field has been very positive. "It's safe to say it's doing its job. I can't really tell you much more than that," Thoguluva said.

The current fielding is being used by Soldiers in the 3rd and 25th Infantry Divisions, as well as the 10th Mountain Division. Representatives from the Army Test and Evaluation Center FOA Team conducted assessments of the training event. The FOA will assess initial combat usage after 30 days.

Additionally, Soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division are training on the system at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Filed under: Special Operations Units,

July 29, 2011 at 12:05pm

JBLM wounded warriors climb Mount Rainier

Spc. Bibek Gurung, 1st Special Forces Group, climbs Mount Rainier in support of Camp Patriot’s mission July 13. (Photo by Spc. Ryan Hallock)

Mount Rainier National Park - Looking east on any clear Washington day from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Mount Rainier dominates the horizon.

The mountain's snow cap and jagged peaks, often enveloped in clouds, make it an imposing part of the landscape that some see as symbolic of triumph arising out of struggle.

War veterans might have a special connection to the mountain and its poetic symbolism; wounded warriors, an even stronger bond.

Camp Patriot recognized that connection in 2007, between Rainier and combat veterans who honored the nation's values by fighting for them overseas under the most trying circumstances. They welcome the challenge to overcome the odds, to prove the skeptics wrong, and to prove to themselves they still have what it takes to make it to the top of the world.

Camp Patriot is a nonprofit organization with the mission to give something back to those servicemembers who have paid for Americans' freedoms with pain and sacrifice. The camp provides veterans therapy via outdoor recreation, including fishing trips, big-game hunting, 500-mile motorcycle rides and mountain climbing excursions. Its vision is to facilitate the transition from veterans' past to their futures and expand their views of life.

Four years ago Camp Patriot sponsored the first of what has become an annual climb to Mount Rainier's 14,411-foot summit. Only 50 percent of all who attempt the climb reach the summit, laying the groundwork of the challenge for wounded warriors.

On July 9, a team of wounded warriors, Sgt. Derrick Ford, medically retired Staff Sgt. Eric Cowin and retired Master Sgt. Gil "Mag" Magallanes Jr., joined Camp Patriot to meet the challenge at the foot of Mount Rainier.

"It's critical in their rehabilitation," said Micah Clark, founder and executive director of Camp Patriot. "The idea is to stretch the imagination, to get them out there, and create that hope and light at the end of the tunnel."

Reality shifts

Eric Cowin's uphill climb began on a 130-degree day in Baghdad, June 9, 2009, with 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division. Fifty meters from the convoy's mission completion that day, Cowin's vehicle was attacked with an explosively formed penetrator.

"I couldn't feel my legs," he said. "I couldn't feel my whole body."

Cowin's left leg was severely injured in the blast. Remaining calm and in charge despite extraordinary pain, he took control of the situation and got his Soldiers back to base.

"I knew what was going on," he said. "It was my second deployment."

Cowin's left foot was amputated on June 17, 2009.

Derrick Ford's journey began two months later on Aug. 14, 2009, in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. His platoon in 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, was conducting route reconnaissance when his Stryker armored fighting vehicle rolled over a pressure-plate IED.

"I only recall dust being thrown everywhere and an incredible pain in my feet," Ford said.

Before he received medical attention, Ford crawled out of the top of his Stryker and attempted to secure the convoy.

Spending the next 14 months at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in rehabilitation, Ford worked to save his leg. A newlywed who got married prior to the deployment, and his wife, Michelle, was expecting twins.

"After my kids were born, it was kind of a reality check," Ford said. "I just decided, cut the leg off, I'm walking before my kids do."

Ford's left leg was amputated on Oct. 9, 2009.

"I have made it my mission since I have started walking again that I would make the most of my life and everything I can to prove to myself that I am not disabled, but only wounded," he said. "I hope this climb up Mount Rainier will be another step I take of a long line of adventures in my life."

Gil "Mag" Magallanes Jr. served 21 years on active duty as a Green Beret in the Special Forces. He was guarding the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, when he was injured by friendly fire after a 2000-pound bomb was dropped on his team's position.

Magallanes suffered multiple injuries, including traumatic brain injury. After intensive therapy and hard work, he is once again competing in triathlons and exploring the great outdoors.

Battle-tested, the three teamed up with Micah Clark and Camp Patriot for the challenge of climbing Mount Rainier.

"At first it was just kind of a bucket list thing," Ford said. "I've been through airborne school, jumped out of perfectly good airplanes, dove at Guantanamo Bay. The next thing was to climb a mountain."

Step by step

The adventure began in Ashford, Wash., where team members prepared for the climb early the following morning. A support team, all members of the Special Forces community led by Staff Sgt. Edward Grondin, 1st Special Forces Group, hauled gear and supplies up the mountain.

Grondin, in his fourth year supporting the climb, not only donates his labor, but also the proceeds of his custom woodworking company to further support this mission of outdoor recreational therapy.

"I have very rarely met an organization run by people who genuinely put their entire self into it," Grondin said. "If I'm able to be here, I'll be here every year."

The group arose the next morning to sun and blue sky to begin the 4.5-mile hike up the Muir Snowfield to Camp Muir on the Cowlitz Glacier at 10,080 feet, carrying rucksacks that averaged 75-pounds up the slopes.

They navigated over snow, rocks, ice and through clouds. After nearly seven hours of climbing, the teams made it to Camp Muir, where they set up camp.

The next day was focused on summit training: four-person rope teams simulated falling down slopes and anchoring themselves to the edges of ridges. They strapped on rope harnesses, wielded ice axes, and traversing the near slopes, practicing scaling and descending.

Clouds had arrived to diminish visibility by the afternoon, and the teams went to sleep early without knowing if the weather would allow them to summit the most heavily glaciated peak in the United States.

By the evening, the weather cleared to allow the 11 p.m. push to the top. As they began, temperatures dropped to below freezing and the winds picked up. The only sounds the climbers heard over the wind was the ice axes hacking into the frozen ground.

They moved steadily upward, with the sun finally rising to reveal a whole new world above the clouds. After nearly eight hours of continuous effort, the Camp Patriot party reached the summit.

"Who needs two legs?" Ford shouted as he stepped onto the summit. "My injury doesn't stop me at all."

Ford and Cowin grabbed the Camp Patriot flag and raised it above the clouds.

New adventures

"Every day's a challenge," Cowin said. "I was happy I finally made it."

Magallanes successfully climbed to about 13,000 feet before traversing back down to Camp Muir.

Camp Patriot founder Micah Clark once again achieved his goal to create positive, life changing outdoor experiences for veterans.

"It's inspirational on so many levels," Grondin said. "It inspires me to go back to my day-to-day life and appreciate the things I do have and to continue to push myself in my own personal life."

Camp Patriot is open to military veterans from all wars and generations.

"We show them that we love them and that we're patriotic Americans," Clark said.

Cowin, Ford, and Magallanes said more adventures will follow.

Cowin plans to move to Puerto Rico to get his dive instructor certification. Ford looks forward to more scuba diving, and Magallanes finished his first 70.3-mile triathlon in 2010 and cycles as part of his therapy.

December 1, 2010 at 11:01pm

U.S. deploys 'game-changer' weapon to Afghanistan

This from American Free Press: WASHINGTON (AFP) - It looks and acts like something best left in the hands of Sylvester Stallone's "Rambo," but this latest dream weapon is real -- and the U.S Army sees it becoming the Taliban's worst nightmare.

The Pentagon has rolled out prototypes of its first-ever programmable "smart" grenade launcher, a shoulder-fired weapon that uses microchipped ammunition to target and kill the enemy, even when the enemy is hidden behind walls or other cover.

After years of development, the XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement System, about the size of a regular rifle, has now been deployed to US units on the battlefields of Afghanistan, where the Army expects it to be a "game-changer" in its counterinsurgency operations.

For more on the XM25, click here.    

July 23, 2010 at 6:00am

SF soldier remembered

Editor's note: The special forces operators who spoke at the memorial ceremony are not identified at their request for security reasons.

He sought responsibility and volunteered for tough assignments so that others wouldn't have to go. That was the consensus among eulogies by eight Soldiers, most of them special forces teammates of Sgt. Andrew J. Creighton, 23, who with family, friends and fellow warriors, filled the Joint Base Lewis-McChord North Chapel July 13 to mourn his passing.

He died July 1, apparently drowned while crossing a river returning from a patrol in Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan. A signals intelligence specialist, Creighton reportedly carried 40 extra pounds of communications equipment. His body was recovered three days later on Independence Day. "A.J. was the warrior who stood tall and said, ‘Send me, I will go. I will fight for those who cannot and defend those who seek our protection,'" said Col. Brian Vines, deputy commander of 1st Special Forces Group, "‘and I ask nothing for myself in return except to serve.'"

A former team sergeant said Creighton had volunteered for duty in Afghanistan when another Soldier broke his arm and couldn't go. It was not his first short, selfless turnaround back to combat. Creighton had previously gone to the Philippines in January 2009, only five months after his return from Iraq, again volunteering in the place of another.

"He was always on the front lines no matter how difficult or dangerous the mission because he knew that was where he was most beneficial to his teammates," said his detachment sergeant. "He led a team in (an area) that was constantly under fire."

To a friend's concerned wife, Creighton had guaranteed that he would ensure her husband returned safely from Afghanistan. He made good on his promise on his final operation.

"On this last mission, I was pinned down in a cornfield in a close ambush behind a tree maybe 8 to 10 inches wide," said the Soldier. "Rounds were snapping and popping around my head. I couldn't move or return fire. A.J. stood up and laid down covering fire on the enemy long enough for me to sprint for better cover. This caused them to orient fire onto his position, but he called out to make sure I was OK, even as the rounds were impacting the berm he was hiding behind. He was more worried that I was out of the line of fire than he was his own safety. It wasn't the first time he had done that for me."

For his professionalism and selfless attitude, Creighton's battalion commander said he had earned the deep respect of his fellow warriors, resulting in a by-name request for him to support Special Operations Team-Alpha 1302. It was an honor bestowed on few - to serve with the close-knit band of SF brothers and become part of the team.

"He was a SOT-A Soldier doing exactly what SOT-A's do," his commander said, "fighting alongside his special forces teammates in the most difficult, dangerous places while carrying heavy loads of technical gear that saves lives of our forces and takes the lives of our enemies."

One fellow NCO took comfort that he had died among fellow warriors, doing what he loved. His brother said he decided to join the Army while he was still in high school. It was no surprise to him that the charismatic Creighton had made an impact on so many, just as he had profoundly influenced his younger brother.

It was a difficult day for friends and family alike.

"Our 1st Special Forces Group family grieves and mourns the loss," Vines said. "Sergeant Creighton will always be remembered as an American Soldier, as a Special Forces enabler, as a signals intelligence professional, a teammate of the men of (Special Operations Team-A) 1302, a combat-proven warrior, a husband, a son, a brother and a friend."

Creighton posthumously received the Bronze Star Medal and Meritorious Service Medal. His awards and decorations include two Army Commendation Medals, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Overseas Service Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, NATO Service Ribbon, Parachutist Badge and Combat Action Badge.

Filed under: Special Operations Units,

April 22, 2010 at 8:49am

Care Coalition coming to JBLM

FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Sgt. 1st Class Mike Fairfax never planned on being injured in battle. But on a fateful day in the summer of 2005, an IED blast would ultimately leave him an above-the-knee amputee. 

He spent months in rehabilitation and endured a number of surgeries following his injury, yet he would return to duty at his unit a year later. 

During his recovery process, however, he realized he would have a hard time getting around once he was home. 

That is because his house wasn't built for an amputee, or a wheelchair, and he needed a home that could better accommodate his condition. 

So an organization stepped-up to help find funding for the roughly $25,000 it would cost to have ramps installed, doorways and hallways widened and a shower expanded at the Fairfax household.

That organization was The United States Special Operations Command "Care Coalition." Headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., the Care Coalition began in 2005 and is designed specifically to advocate for and help wounded, ill or injured United States Special Operation Forces' service members and their families.

The program will soon set up shop at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

"What the Care Coalition did for me meant a lot," said Fairfax, a Special Forces operations and intelligence Soldier with Company B, 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne). "The renovations offer a better quality of life for me and my family."

The Care Coalition supports SOF members, and support-service members attached to SOF units, from every branch of service. 

Sgt. Maj. Daniel K. Thompson, senior liaison for the Care Coalition, said the organization was originally set up to help those wounded in war. But over time they realized there were those who needed help after succumbing to injuries outside the battlefield.

"There were guys hurt in training accidents, getting sick downrange such as having an appendicitis or cancer, and we needed to take care of them too," said Thompson, a 32-year veteran and former Army Special Forces medic. 

Providing for and looking out for those wounded, ill or injured service members are the coalition's liaisons and advocates.

Liaisons are spread out across the country at specific medical facilities that handle war injured and at military installations with special operations forces.

"The liaisons are hands-on with the service members; they take care of the wounded as inpatients and as outpatients," Thompson said. 

Most liaisons are military members - some being formerly wounded. 

Advocates step in once the wounded, ill or injured service member is ready to transfer back to duty.

"The advocates stay in contact with the service member and let them know when benefits change and what benefits are available to help out the family," Thompson said. "It's a lifelong program."

Fairfax can attest to the longevity of the program. He said he still gets contacted and updated regularly. Several Care Coalition members know him by first name, including Thompson, who works from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

"They don't treat you like a number," Fairfax said. "They take it personally. You have an advocate by your side and it gives you peace of mind."

A more in-depth side to the advocacy portion is the Care Coalition Recovery Program, which is designed for the severely wounded and injured.

The program works in three facets, Thompson said: mentorship, wellness and reintegration.

In the area of mentorship, a severely injured service member will be linked up with a mentor that may have already gone through a similar injury.

"We found that it is easier for that newly wounded guy to relate to somebody that has been through it," Thompson said. 

The wellness portion involves getting the service member moving again.

Scuba-diving and sky-diving are some activities which Thompson said the coalition tries to get injured service members involved.

Reintegration helps the service member get back into society. Thompson said that entails some of the following:

- Advocates assist the sevice member still wanting to serve, whether that is on active duty or reserve. "Unit's are very willing to take these guys back," Thompson said. 

- Home modifications and repairs.

- Coordination with the Veteran's Administration, military and non-military organizations for assistance.

- Assisting family members.

These benefits and more are seen at all levels: from the injured and their family, to the Care Coalition director whom Thompson said spends time in Washington advocating for rights and hoping to effect policy change to the leaders of the wounded, ill or injured service members.

"The work of the Care Coalition gives us as leaders a phenomenal feeling," said Lt. Col. Christopher N. Riga, commander, 1st Bn., 3rd SFG. "We know that if something happens to our guys, they will give them the utmost care and respect."

Riga learned about the group while working at the United States Army Special Operations Command. Watching the Care Coalition in action while at USASOC has helped him better utilize the organization at his battalion, he said.

"Whenever something happens to one of our own, I call the Care Coalition, and within an hour I will get a return phone call with them telling how they can help our Soldiers or family members," Riga said. "I just can't say enough good things about the work they do."

Some of the areas in which the Care Coalition has representatives include the following:

Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington; Brook Army Medical Center, San Antonio; Naval Base Coronado, San Diego; Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Tampa, Fla.; and soon to have representatives at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

More information about the Care Coalition can be found at their Web site:    

Filed under: Special Operations Units,

March 12, 2010 at 11:24am

Did Lewis SF Group participate in Afghanistan blunder?

Army Times has the story.  Excerpt:

A helicopter attack that killed at least 15 civilians in Afghanistan's Oruzgan province was called in by a Special Forces A-team that did not have "eyes on" their target and resulted in a 48-hour standdown for U.S. special operations forces, said an Army officer familiar with the incident.

In the wake of the incident, the commander of coalition and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and then to the Afghan people in a Feb. 23 television address. "I have instituted a thorough investigation to prevent this from happening again," McChrystal said.

Filed under: Special Operations Units,

January 30, 2010 at 7:52am

Rusty Christian, a Fort Lewis SF soldier reportedly killed

GREENEVILLE (AP) - A U.S. Army Special Forces soldier from Greeneville has died in Afghanistan. Staff Sgt. Rusty Christian's mother, Donna Ball, of Kingsport, told the Greeneville Sun Christian died earlier this week along with three Afghan soldiers when a roadside bomb exploded near a military truck they were walking beside.

"You never think this day will come," she said.

Ball said she learned of her son's death Thursday afternoon in a telephone call from his wife, Amber, who lives with the couple's 3-year-old and 11-month old children at Fort Lewis, Wash., where Christian was based before he deployed.

The 24-year-old Green Beret is also survived by his brother, Aaron Christian, of Greeneville, as well as his mother and stepfather, Jim Ball, of Kingsport.

He graduated from Greeneville High School in 2004 and enlisted in the Army shortly afterward. Ball said the Iraq veteran had only been at Camp Cobra in Afghanistan since the first week of January.

The family will receive friends at Hamlett-Dobson Funeral Home in Kingsport next week before Christian's body is taken to Arlington National Cemetery for burial.

"He wanted to come back to Tennessee one more time," Ball said.

Filed under: Special Operations Units,

December 17, 2009 at 5:54pm

SF at Fort Lewis getting another battalion

The Army announced today the planned activation of the 4th Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group. This force structure action represents a net increase of 432 military authorizations and four civilian authorizations at Fort Lewis, Wash., and two civilian authorizations at Yakima Training Center, Wash. Implementation of these changes is expected to be completed in August 2011.    

Filed under: Special Operations Units,

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