All posts by Jonathan (Jay) Koester

Jonathan (Jay) Koester is a writer/editor for The NCO Journal.

Oregon Army National Guard NCOs stay busy stateside

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By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

The beautiful sights of Oregon’s mountains and waterfalls can end up being dangerous to those unprepared. That danger is what keeps Soldiers from the Oregon Army National Guard busy.

Staff Sgt. Benjamin Sjullie is a platoon sergeant and flight medic with the Oregon Army National Guard. He said the Pacific Northwest state’s terrain, along with the cooperation of other state and local agencies, means National Guard flight crews in Oregon get more training and missions than they might in other states.

“In Oregon, we’re blessed with these mountains and we’re blessed with very active people who love to hike, love to ski, love to push the limits,” Sjullie said. “Mount Hood is probably our bread and butter when it comes to our missions. The thing about Hood is it’s just tall enough to make it exciting, but it’s also tall enough to get yourself into danger if you don’t know what you are doing. … It’s really forced us to stay on top of our game in hoisting and search and rescue. A lot of other states’ National Guard units don’t have that.”

Sjullie said Oregon Army National Guard leaders reached out to state agencies to let them know what the National Guard could do, and now Soldiers are called on quite often.

“We get a lot of support from the state,” he said. “They really have our backs. The sheriffs and the search and rescue companies around the state, they know the procedure on getting a Black Hawk in the air. They know what type of missions we do. So, they’re really proactive on getting a Black Hawk in the air when they need it.”

Flight crew

Getting a Black Hawk flight crew ready for missions can be difficult, Sjullie said. All National Guard Soldiers have civilian jobs they have to keep up with, but being part of a flight crew requires many extra hours.

“That’s the thing about our unit,” Sjullie said. “When we go through the interview process for new crew members and new flight medics or crew chiefs, one of the things we really voice to them is that this is not a typical M-day (man-day) job because we have flight requirements we have to keep up with. We have hours we have to keep up with, daytime and nighttime training. We have our hoist training, which is very extensive.”

Oregon’s missions require skills and training that many active-duty units never receive, said Maj. Nathan Edgecomb, operations officer of the Army Aviation Support Facility in Salem, Oregon.

“A lot of active, they are very restrictive on what they can do, so they might only do a 50-foot hoist,” Edgecomb said. “We won’t even sign off our crew chiefs and medics until they’ve done a 250-foot hoist under night-vision goggles and in the daytime. We do a lot more of that kind of training.”

Lessons learned

Sjullie said the main lessons new crew members learn involve working with a crew while traveling by helicopter.

“Attention to detail is the big thing,” Sjullie said. “They go through a lot of academic training before they really start flying. Once you get the academic training, you start thinking — and I still remember going through my progression back in 2003 — ‘Oh, yeah. This is simple. I got this.’ Then you get out there, and the helicopter turns on, the rotor starts turning and all communication is hand and arm signals and over our inner communication system, and so just learning how to operate around the aircraft with all the noise and all the moving parts, remembering where to walk and when not to walk, when to talk, when not to talk — just starting off, it’s difficult. Once you progress so far, then you throw in the hoist training and the mission training, and you can get overwhelmed pretty quickly. But we stay on top of it, and more than 90 percent of the people who we bring in do a really good job.

“That’s because of our interview process,” Sjullie said. “On the paramedic side, we run the medics through medical scenarios prior to getting them into the unit, just to make sure. You really don’t want to be a mediocre medic coming into the unit because we’re not here to teach medicine. We’re here to teach paramedics how to be good flight medics. Because you’re not just a medic, you’re a crew member. The Army motto as a medic is you fight first, then you tend to your medicine.”

An Oregon Army National Guard crew chief from Charlie Co., 7-158 Aviation, directs first responders as they load a simulated injured "patient" onto an HH-60 Blackhawk MEDEVAC helicopter during the Vigilant Guard Exercise near Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., May 2, 2012. (Photo by Spc. Cory Grogan, Oregon Military Department Public Affairs)
An Oregon Army National Guard crew chief from Charlie Co., 7-158 Aviation, directs first responders as they load a simulated injured “patient” onto an HH-60 Blackhawk MEDEVAC helicopter during the Vigilant Guard Exercise near Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., May 2, 2012. (Photo by Spc. Cory Grogan, Oregon Military Department Public Affairs)

In his civilian career, Sjullie is a paramedic, and the mindset of fighting first as a National Guard flight medic is just one of the differences Sjullie has to adjust to when he gets on a Black Hawk.

“Being a medic on the civilian side I realize that when I’m working on patients I’m in a pretty safe environment, and I have got five or six other paramedics around me,” Sjullie said “But on a typical mission, either downrange or stateside, most likely it’s just you. And you have three extra crew members who don’t know paramedicine, so you’re not only trying to take care of yourself, keep yourself safe, you’re also trying to do your paramedic job.

“For an example, when we do high-altitude missions here — like on Mount Hood or Mount Jefferson or the Three Sisters mountains — I’ve been on missions where I have to anchor into the side of the mountain before I get off the hoist because it’s so steep,” he said. “So I have to take care of myself before I can take care of somebody else. You’re constantly trying to take care of two people at one time, whereas, on the civilian side you have that safety net where you’re not going to fall of the side of a mountain. You’re on a street or in somebody’s house. So it doesn’t just take being a good medic here. It takes having a good head on your shoulders, being smart, being able to break up a mission so you don’t get tunnel vision on just one thing. We have some pretty dangerous missions here where if you’re not paying attention, one wrong move and it could be you who is needing to be rescued.”

Firefighting mission

In addition to hoisting injured people off mountains and getting them medical care, the National Guard Black Hawk crews in Oregon also help the state’s firefighting efforts.

Sgt. Steven Armstrong, Black Hawk crew chief and mechanic for the Oregon National Guard, said his job as crew chief involves daily inspections to make sure the helicopter is ready to fly, replacing components as needed, then controlling the hoist on missions.

“Our biggest flight duty is we’re the hoist operators,” Armstrong said. “We’re the ones controlling the hoist, dropping the medic down. We help with other tasks in the aircraft, like fuel management and air space surveillance.

“But then we also do water bucket stuff for wildfires here stateside, which is a really fun mission for us,” Armstrong said. “They train all the crew chiefs to press the button to open the bucket. That’s basically what we do. But we also talk the pilots in to where they need to drop the water. So, we have guys on the ground who are doing the real work on the wildfire, digging lines to contain the fire, and then they’re telling us where they want us to drop the water. Because the pilots in these aircraft —it’s not our full-time job to work fires — they don’t have bubble windows so they can see. So we have to be their eyes, basically, and try to talk them in to where they need to drop the water.”

Armstrong has been so inspired by what he has seen while being part of a Black Hawk crew that he just finished getting a paramedic degree so that he can be more involved in the life-saving portion of the mission.

“I went on a mission a couple of years ago with Staff Sgt. Sjullie, and it made me want to go the paramedic route, so I’ve been going to school for two years,” Armstrong said. “I just got my degree as a paramedic. So, I’ll be switching from the crew chief to the flight medic side.”

Transitions

Life in the National Guard is full of transitions. Before you can get too settled in your civilian life, you get sent on a long deployment. Upon your return, you try to settle back into the civilian routine. But most employers do their best to ease the transition, Sjullie said. He works as a firefighter/paramedic for the city of Eugene, Oregon.

“Luckily, most employers are really good about it,” Sjullie said. “There are not a lot that I’ve heard of that give the Soldier a hard time. Once we get word that we’ll be deploying, I try to let my employer know as soon as possible. On my last deployment, I was able to let them know about a year out. They prepare for it.

Oregon Army National Guard Sgt. Mike Buchan, of Salem, Ore., a crew chief with Charlie Co., 7-158 Aviation, looks for spot fires around the larger Government Flats Complex fire (seen in the background) from an Oregon Army National Guard HH-60M Black Hawk helicopter, near The Dalles, Ore., Aug. 21, 2013. (Photo by Spc. Matthew Burnett, 115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)
Oregon Army National Guard Sgt. Mike Buchan, of Salem, Ore., a crew chief with Charlie Co., 7-158 Aviation, looks for spot fires around the larger Government Flats Complex fire (seen in the background) from an Oregon Army National Guard HH-60M Black Hawk helicopter, near The Dalles, Ore., Aug. 21, 2013. (Photo by Spc. Matthew Burnett, 115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

“It’s a tough transition,” he said. “After my last deployment, it took me a few months to get back into the groove because you go from a combat environment to a civilian environment. It can be tough. But if you have a good employer, they really make it easy for you.”

In addition to having developed a good working relationship with state and local agencies, the Oregon National Guard offers opportunities for joint training and missions, as well, Sjullie said.

“We have a really good working relationship with the Navy and Marines,” he said. “I got to fly with the Coast Guard a few years ago and train with them. That was a really good experience because they do a lot of water rescues, obviously. They like to do hoist missions 50 feet or lower. They hate the heights. I hate the water, so it works out. Their eyes got really big when I told them we do 300-foot hoists. We bumped a lot of our training off each other, and we learned a lot from it. I learned a lot from them on some hoist-training techniques, and they learned a lot about doing higher-altitude training.”

What NCOs bring

When it comes to Black Hawk medic missions, NCOs are really what the mission is all about, Edgecomb said.

“On a Medevac, I’m an officer and a pilot, but I’m a really just a chauffeur,” Edgecomb said. “My job is to get the medic and the crew chief wherever they need to go, so they can hoist somebody down, pick up the wounded and start working on them. Without them, I wouldn’t have a job. They are the ones who save the lives. We’re just taxi drivers.”

Sjullie takes his job as an NCO seriously and is as professional as they come, Edgecomb said.

“He is a great NCO because he is a true leader,” Edgecomb said. “The guy, you give him a task and he will find the necessary resources and he’ll get it done. He doesn’t give you a bunch of lip, and you don’t have to go through a bunch of ‘This is why we need to do it.’ He just says, ‘Yes, sir,’ and goes and does it. You don’t have to hold his hand or give him a bunch of guidance. He just gets it done.”

Both Sjullie and Armstrong are the type of NCOs who make sure the Oregon National Guard Black Hawk mission stays successful, no matter the hours they have to put in, Edgecomb said.

“Part of our mission set here is the search and rescue, and 85 percent of those seem to happen on a Sunday at 3 p.m. when no one is working,” Edgecomb said. “Those are two guys who I can always call, and if they are not working (at their civilian job) they will always volunteer to come in and do a search and rescue. They are so important to our program. Without the M-Day guys who volunteer, we wouldn’t be able to do any of this stuff.”

The NCOs in the Oregon National Guard are a special group of men and women, Edgecomb said.

“We have a variety of skill sets and civilian jobs,” he said. “We’ve got nurses, Sjullie is a paramedic in real life. We have engineers, a broad spectrum. What I’m trying to say is we have a bunch of smart NCOs in our organization who have these high-profile civilian jobs, but they still choose to come in and be an E5 or E6 because of what they get to do: save lives and fly around in helicopters.”

Unexpected complications turn hoist mission dangerous

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By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

Many of the missions the Oregon Army National Guard gets called for start with people, often tourists, trying to enjoy nature, but getting into situations they can’t get themselves out of, said Staff Sgt. Benjamin Sjullie. With nature being unpredictable, those missions can turn dangerous quickly.

“I had a mission in the gorge a couple of years ago where it was three kids who had gone out for a day hike,” Sjullie said. “They did not expect to spend the night, and they ended up getting lost and leaving the trail. This was over by Cascade Locks on the Oregon side, where it’s pretty steep, rocky and mountainous. Luckily they had cellphone coverage, so they were able to call, but they couldn’t really describe where they were. So they used a signal fire on a little rock ledge. There was a waterfall right there by them. They could see the gorge and they could see the Columbia River, but they couldn’t get down because it was about a 200-foot drop right there, and it stopped them from going any further.

“When we got to the location, it was a really tough hoist because although we have 350-feet cable on our hoist, the trees in that area are about 190 to 250 feet tall, and we were on a 65-degree incline on the hillside,” he said. “So you add that incline, plus the height of the trees, and we were running out of cable. It was really thick there, so we spent a lot of time getting me on the ground.”

Once on the ground, the situation quickly changed.

“The whole time we were hovering we didn’t realize their campfire, which we assumed was out, was not out,” Sjullie said. “So, when they finally got me down on the ground on the hillside, one of the pilots let me know over the radio they were low on fuel, so they were going to have to go to Troutdale, (Oregon), and get some fuel. I said, ‘No problem. I’ll get them ready to go. By the time you get back, we’ll be waiting for you.’ Well, once the helicopter took off and the rotor wash died down, the fire picked up, so we had this huge fire all of a sudden on the hillside, and it was just filling up the drop zone that I was in.

“Once I lost sight of the treetops, I knew we were no longer going to be able to get into a hoist there, so we took off,” he said. “I kept saving my GPS locations as I was talking to the helicopter, and I think we traveled more than a mile and a half just to get to a location where the helicopter could get us out. It was tough because the kids, they were all 18 years old, and they were wearing board shorts, skater shoes and tank tops. They had spent the night out there, so they were freaked out. We had this fire that was chasing us up the hill. It was tough. They kept slipping down the hill. It was supposed to be a simple mission. It was the middle of August, and none of us had water. I was in full gear.”

With Sjullie pulling them up the hill at times, they eventually made it to where the helicopter could pull them up.

“They were running on adrenaline, but when we hoisted them — we did three separate hoists and we got them up and out of there — they weren’t injured, so we took them down and landed in a park near the river,” Sjullie said. “The parents were there waiting with some firemen and medics. Once we hit the ground and they knew they were safe and they saw their parents, they just all lost it.”

An Oregon Army National flight medic with Charlie Company, 7-158 Aviation, oversees a Canadian flight medic with 5 Field Ambulance, Valcartier, Quebec, as he loads simulated patients into an HH-60M Black Hawk helicopter during Exercise Maple Resolve at Canadian Forces Base Wainright, May 11, 2015, in Denwood, Alberta. Simulated casualty exercises tested the Canadian Armed Forces' response time to field injuries and medevac procedures with the air support of the Oregon Army National Guard. (Photo by Sgt. Erin J. Quirke, 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs)
An Oregon Army National flight medic with Charlie Company, 7-158 Aviation, oversees a Canadian flight medic with 5 Field Ambulance, Valcartier, Quebec, as he loads simulated patients into an HH-60M Black Hawk helicopter during Exercise Maple Resolve at Canadian Forces Base Wainright, May 11, 2015, in Denwood, Alberta. Simulated casualty exercises tested the Canadian Armed Forces’ response time to field injuries and medevac procedures with the air support of the Oregon Army National Guard. (Photo by Sgt. Erin J. Quirke, 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs)

Missions sometimes require learning on the fly

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By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

Sgt. Steven Armstrong has been a Black Hawk crew chief with the Oregon Army National Guard for nearly six years. The missions he has been a part of inspired him to go back to school to become a paramedic. He recently graduated and will soon start joining missions as a flight medic. Though Armstrong said he was excited about his future, working the hoist to bring patients to safety has also offered plenty of thrills.

“A mission I did with Staff Sgt. [Benjamin] Sjullie was probably my most exciting, even though it was a routine mission for him, really,” Armstrong said. “A girl was hiking in the Opal Creek Wilderness area, a big hiking area here. She was trying to use a rope to climb down an embankment, fell and broke her leg.

“We were trying to get her taken care of and up and out because she was 50 feet down an embankment,” he said. “They had her in a basket and all rigged up with rope systems to lift her out. But it was going to take them too long and it would have been dark by the time they could get her out of there, so they called us.

“It was my first hoist mission,” he said. “We overflew the area, saw where she was. She was kind of in the bottom of a valley, on a rock bank next to a creek. Then there was a bridge right next to it, so Sgt. Sjullie said, ‘Hey, drop me on the bridge.’ We came back around and lowered him onto the bridge. We used about 240 feet of cable to get him onto the bridge, so we still had about 50 feet to play with.

“He rappelled down the rock bank and picked up the patient,” he said. “We did orbits until he called us on the radio. We went and hovered over, I lowered down the cable. We got to 290 — which is our max cable — and we weren’t there, so we had to descend from where we were hovering. We started to get a little bit close to the trees, but it wasn’t too bad. Because she was down on the ground below the bridge, we had to use a lot more cable.

“We hooked her up,” he said. “We used what’s called a tagline on the basket to keep the patient from turning from the rotor wash. Well, the tagline broke about halfway up. Normally when there is a patient in the basket, when they get under the rotor wash, they’ll start spinning, which is really dangerous for the patient, so then we’ll usually have to lower them back down or bring them up and try to slow the spinning. But after it broke, she didn’t spin at all. We were very lucky there.”

One crisis averted, but there were still other lessons to be learned from the mission.

“When she got up, the rigging on the basket was too long,” he said. “Basically our hoist sits above the door. The hook can only go so far up before it gets to the hoist and stops. And the rigging was so long that the patient was still below the floor. We were able to finagle it in there, but we had some learning points from that.”

An Oregon Army National Guard HH-60M Black Hawk helicopter crew navigates through smoke on the way to their drop site in support of firefighting ground crews, Aug. 5, 2015. The Black Hawk helicopter is equipped with a "Bambi bucket" which carries approximately 500 gallons of water.(Photo by Staff Sgt. Jason van Mourik, Oregon Military Department Public Affairs)
An Oregon Army National Guard HH-60M Black Hawk helicopter crew navigates through smoke on the way to their drop site in support of firefighting ground crews, Aug. 5, 2015. The Black Hawk helicopter is equipped with a “Bambi bucket” which carries approximately 500 gallons of water.(Photo by Staff Sgt. Jason van Mourik, Oregon Military Department Public Affairs)

Oregon training center helps Soldiers transition to infantry

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

Out in the rolling hills of north-central Oregon, far from the crowded cities near the coast, Soldiers train to join the U.S. Army infantry.

Camp Umatilla, near Hermiston, Oregon, lacks the forested landscape and waterfalls usually associated with the Pacific Northwest. Instead, Soldiers who want to change their military occupational specialty learn infantry skills while rucking past tumbleweeds and eerie-looking symmetrical mounds.

Camp Umatilla is home to the Oregon National Guard’s 1st Infantry Training Battalion of the 249th Regional Training Institute and the only certified Army infantry training academy west of the Mississippi River in the continental United States. The camp was originally built during World War II to serve as a munitions storage area. Exactly 1,001 munitions storage bunkers — now mostly empty — still dot the landscape, visible to travelers on the nearby interstate highway.

Though the history is interesting, infantry course instructors of the 249th RTI are more worried about the future and preparing Soldiers for the demands of service in the infantry.

Soldiers in the MOS-Transition course of Oregon National Guard's 249th Regional Training Institute train on infantry tactics at Yakima Training Center, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Soldiers in the MOS-Transition course of Oregon National Guard’s 249th Regional Training Institute train on infantry tactics at Yakima Training Center, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

Infantry courses

For those already in or transitioning to an infantry MOS, three courses are taught at Camp Umatilla. Junior enlisted Soldiers who want to join the infantry go through the MOS-Transition course. NCOs who want to transition to infantry go through the Infantry Transition Course. And those NCOs who are already in the infantry and seek to be promoted can go through the Advanced Leader Course.

Though active-duty and reserve Soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, and other duty stations train at Camp Umatilla, recently the two transition courses were crowded with National Guard Soldiers from Washington and California, said Staff Sgt. Henry Snyder, a primary instructor for the RTI.

“This year is kind of different than traditional years because there are National Guard units in California and Washington transitioning into a Stryker Infantry Brigade,” Snyder said. “So a lot of these Soldiers are being told they need to change their MOS or look elsewhere. We get Soldiers from a variety of MOSs and backgrounds, but by the end of the course, everyone is on the same page.”

Though some must transition to infantry to keep their Army careers on the right paths, others volunteer to join the infantry because they are looking for something different than their current job, said Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Austin, course manager for the RTI’s infantry courses.

“A lot of people transition because they like the job better,” Austin said. “They want to be one of the ground-pounders who carry the guns and do the shooting. They like to lead the way. It’s usually pretty aggressive, type-A personalities.”

Soldiers in the MOS-Transition course of Oregon National Guard's 249th Regional Training Institute train on infantry tactics at Yakima Training Center, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Soldiers in the MOS-Transition course of Oregon National Guard’s 249th Regional Training Institute train on infantry tactics at Yakima Training Center, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

When asked what Soldiers transitioning to infantry are most surprised by or have the hardest time with, there are different answers, but Snyder said it was the overall stress of infantry life.

“I think a lot of them coming into this feel that the infantry is just a bunch of mindless people who will run into a fire instead of run away from it,” Snyder said. “But there is a culture shock of what really goes into everything. From mission planning, to execution, to recovery, there are a lot of meticulous things that happen. It’s a very difficult school that we run, but real-life situations are way more difficult than what we have here. We can add a little bit of stress — time management stuff, or carry heavy things for long distances — but, at the end of the day, nobody is shooting at them and nobody is getting blown up. We can’t paint that picture of that stress and being able to think on that level, but we try as hard as we can to create a stress factor and also have the thought process that goes with it.”

Sgt. 1st Class Eddie Black, MOS-T infantry instructor, said the physical difficulty of the job can surprise people, especially when they have to complete the 12-mile ruck march with more than 70 pounds of equipment.

“The number one question — by far — is, ‘We have to carry this much weight on our backs?’” Black said. “It shocks people. Even people who think they have been training for this, they’ve been carrying, like, 35 pounds for six miles. That ain’t training. 35 pounds? I carry more than that in beer when I go camping. The first ruck march wakes them up.”

Black said the top lesson he tries to impress upon Soldiers transitioning into infantry is that the workout routine they had before probably isn’t going to cut it anymore. Both the frequency and intensity of their exercise will need to increase. 

Soldiers in the MOS-Transition course of Oregon National Guard's 249th Regional Training Institute take a break while training on infantry tactics at Yakima Training Center, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Soldiers in the MOS-Transition course of Oregon National Guard’s 249th Regional Training Institute take a break while training on infantry tactics at Yakima Training Center, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

“A lot of people go to the gym and it’s like, ‘Let’s do an arm curl. Let’s do a bench press,’” Black said. “That’s not working out. I’m talking about high intensity workouts. When is the last time you worked out and you ended laying down on a filthy floor, thankful for the opportunity to lay down? That’s a workout, and that’s what I show the students.”

The 12-mile ruck march is just one of the items on the Infantry High Physical Demands Task List. The items on the list need to be checked off before a Soldier can join the infantry. But despite the difficulty of the ruck march, carrying 45-pound ammo boxes, or dragging a 268-pound person 15 meters, it is a much simpler task that is causing the most problems for the newest generation of Soldiers: throwing a grenade.

It turns out that, in an era when youth play on smartphones instead of throwing a ball around with friends, the seemingly simple task of throwing a one-pound grenade 35 meters is causing the most failures, Snyder said.

“In this computer generation, there are a lot of people who come through who have never thrown before; they’ve never thrown a one-pound anything,” Snyder said. “So a lot of people struggle with that. We take a lot of time to help them just with the basic mechanics of how to throw something. Some of them grasp it, and some of them don’t. That one is our biggest thing that knocks people out.”

Umatilla history

Construction of the Umatilla Army Ordnance Depot began in 1941. With rail lines nearby, plus a port on the Columbia River, the site allowed easy movement of munitions while being inland enough to be safe from sea attacks.

Originally, 1,000 of the munitions storage bunkers were built. On March 21, 1944, a bomb being loaded into one of the bunkers exploded, killing six workers, said Maj. Timothy Merritt of the 249th RTI. A plaque on the post memorializes those who lost their lives that day. 

Soldiers in the MOS-Transition course of Oregon National Guard's 249th Regional Training Institute train on infantry tactics at Yakima Training Center, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Soldiers in the MOS-Transition course of Oregon National Guard’s 249th Regional Training Institute train on infantry tactics at Yakima Training Center, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

“But the design of the bunker worked and it didn’t cause a chain reaction, blowing up the entire post,” Merritt said. “They then built two more, so there are 1,001 of these out there now. It’s pretty surreal when you go out there in the field.”

After World War II, the depot continued to store and supply munitions until 1962, when the installation’s name was changed to the Umatilla Army Depot and it began storing chemical weapons. In 1994, the depot shipped its final supplies of conventional weapons. In 1996, the name was changed again, to Umatilla Chemical Depot. After the Umatilla Chemical Agent Disposal Facility was built, the chemical weapons on the post began to be disposed of by incineration in 2004.

With all chemical weapons at the installation safely destroyed by the beginning of 2012, the incineration plant was demolished. About 7,500 acres on Camp Umatilla are now used for training by the Oregon National Guard. Other parts of the camp are in the process of being transferred to local governments for various uses, including a wildlife preserve.

Women in infantry

In December, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the Army would open all branches and specialties to women. Sgt. Shelby Atkins of the Wyoming National Guard became the Army’s first female enlisted infantry Soldier in May. In August, two women successfully completed the 249th RTI’s Infantry Transition Course, making them among the first enlisted women to transition to infantry.

Sgt. Jennifer Sargeant of the Washington National Guard trains on infantry tactics at Yakima Training Center, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Sgt. Jennifer Sargeant of the Washington National Guard trains on infantry tactics at Yakima Training Center, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

Sgt. Jennifer Sargeant of the Washington National Guard transitioned from the 88M (motor transport operator) MOS. When asked during the course if she had any thoughts or pride about being one of the first women to join the infantry, she said, “No. I’m just here to work.”

“It’s going well,” Sargeant said. “The difficulty of the ruck march was probably the most surprising, but I think everybody kind of realized that. It was an eye-opener for everybody here. That was probably the most challenging mentally. Otherwise it’s just been work hard, pay attention, learn everything you can.”

Staff Sgt. Heidi Brezynski of the Washington National Guard transitioned from the 68W (health care specialist) MOS. She also said she had no special feelings about being one of the first women in infantry.

“I’ve always been in male-dominated industries,” Brezynski said. “It’s nothing new.”

Speaking during the course, Austin said he could tell Sargeant and Brezynski had what it took to be in the infantry.

“We’ve actually had other classes with females; they just didn’t make it all the way through,” Austin said. “This is the first one where I think they’ll make it through. They are doing well.”

Though there have been changes to the course program of instruction in the past year — adding measurable skill sets and reducing PowerPoint time — how the course is taught overall hasn’t changed with women joining the ranks, Black said.

“The way we train Soldiers, the intensity, and what we expect from them, that hasn’t changed at all,” Black said. “These two individuals have delivered exactly what we hoped for them to deliver.”

And whatever slight changes come to how the Army trains infantry Soldiers, men and women, the major demands will remain the same, Black said.

“These tactics, techniques and procedures will change; weapons will change,” he said. “But at the end of the day, you have to be able to carry 70 pounds of gear over a long distance, sleep in a hole, eat lousy food, use hand and arm signals in a crazy environment, through the worst inclement weather, and get a job done. That’s it right there.”

Sgt. Jennifer Sargeant of the Washington National Guard learns infantry tactics during a day of training at Camp Umatilla, Oregon. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal
Sgt. Jennifer Sargeant of the Washington National Guard learns infantry tactics during a day of training at Camp Umatilla, Oregon. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal

 

 

Third town hall to answer, ‘How do I get ahead in the Army?’

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

NCOs looking for answers to their questions about Army talent management will have a chance to participate in the third NCO Professional Development Town Hall on Thursday, Nov. 3.

Thousands of NCOs participated in the first two town halls in March and June, watching live and asking questions in chat rooms and through social media. In an effort to allow even more participation, Thursday’s town hall has been moved to an earlier time. NCOs may tune in from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. EDT at www.tradoc.army.mil/watch. The chat room at the same web address opens at 11 a.m.

NCOs may send their talent management questions to Army leaders who will be staffing the chat room, or to TRADOC’s Facebook or Twitter page using #TRADOCtownhall.

Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport, command sergeant major of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, began the town halls as a way to communicate to the force the changes being made to NCO professional development. Davenport wrote last week that the third town hall is meant to help answer the question, “How do I get ahead in the Army?”

“During the town hall, you’ll have an opportunity to learn about commissioning programs like ROTC, West Point, Officer Candidate School and Warrant Officer Candidate School,” Davenport wrote on his news blog at tradocnews.org. “The experts joining us come from the U.S. Army Human Resources Command, Department of the Army G-1 and TRADOC G-1, and they are going to share with you their experience and knowledge about the various programs available to help you get ahead.

“What will you do with this information once you have it?” Davenport wrote. “Will you take charge of your career and start making decisions based on your ability and potential, or will you settle and put your career in someone else’s hands? The opportunity for you to ask and to be heard is being presented. I challenge you to take advantage.”