Darren Bean, an equipment specialist with Product Manager Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment, or PM SCIE, has been working on a better way for Soldiers to carry the M320 40mm grenade launcher.
The detachable M320, named one of the Army’s top 10 inventions of 2009, comes equipped with a sling to carry it when not mounted to the M4 carbine or M16 rifle, according to Bean. At seven pounds, it provides a lightweight and lethal addition to a Soldier’s arsenal. The M320 began replacing the M203 in 2009.
Bean has been at the Natick Soldier Systems Center in Massachusetts since November 2012 collecting data for the M320GL Holster Soldier Enhancement Program, or SEP.
“It was a one-point sling, so (the weapon) was kind of bouncing around,” Bean said. “If you went down to the ground, you were dragging it through the dirt. Most people felt that protection was needed at some level because they were just getting dragged in the dirt and pounded on.”
Bean said some Soldiers wanted a holster for the M320, which weighs seven pounds with the butt stock.
The SEP allowed the purchase of enough holsters to equip a brigade combat team. He said the “buy-try-decide” concept allows the Army to test the functionality of equipment without spending a lot of time on research and development.
Bean found three commercial vendors who make M320 holsters, so PM SCIE acquired 167 of each.
Bean put the holsters in the hands of a dozen Soldiers from the 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning, Ga., who went through a set of standardized tests in mid May. The Soldiers filled out surveys after the testing.
The testing was to make sure it was realistic to go forward, Bean said.
“Now we can actually test them with an entire brigade,” he added.
Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) from Fort Drum, N.Y., the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the Vermont National Guard, and Soldiers in Afghanistan are currently evaluating the holsters. The Consumer Research Team at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center will collect data. PM SCIE officials will then make a recommendation to the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning by the beginning of fiscal year 2014.
The family of Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook was presented with his Silver Star for gallantry, and his second Combat Infantryman Badge on April 19 during an emotional ceremony at Derby Auditorium at Fort Benning, Ga.
Westbrook died Oct. 7, 2009, as a result of wounds suffered Sept. 8, 2009, when insurgents attacked his unit in the Ganjgal Valley of Afghanistan.
Receiving the award nearly three and a half years after his death, Westbrook’s wife, Charlene, said she felt an immense sense of pride in her husband.
“I would say that I’m so very proud of him, and that he’s my hero,” she said. “Actually, he’d probably grimace and say, ‘No, I’m not a hero. I’m just doing my job.'”
The Silver Star is the Army’s third highest award for gallantry, behind only the Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor.
When family members received word that the Silver Star would be posthumously awarded, they selected Fort Benning as the site of the ceremony, intending to reflect Westbrook’s love of and dedication to the Army as a whole, but also to the infantry.
“I met my husband when I was 13, and he asked me what I wanted to do for a career after we graduated high school. I said, ‘I don’t know. I’m 13 years old. I’m not thinking about my future,”‘ Charlene Westbrook recalled. “But he, from the very beginning, said, ‘I’m going to be an infantryman.’ He came to basic training here, and this place meant so much to him. He was so proud to have been an infantryman for 22 years.”
The family also took the opportunity to attend a basic training graduation before the Silver Star ceremony.
“It is fitting that we honor the courage and sacrifice of one of our fallen warriors shortly after we gathered to celebrate the entry of new Soldiers into our Army,” said Maj. Gen. H. R. McMaster, commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning, during his remarks at the Silver Star ceremony. “[It’s] fitting because what those young men and Sgt. 1st Class Westbrook have in common is that they volunteered to answer our nation’s call to duty in a time of war.”
“It is fitting that we are part of a living, historical community in which we do our best to preserve the legacy of courage and selfless service of those, like Kenneth Westbrook who have gone before us,” McMaster said. “Fitting because we want those who knew and loved Sgt. 1st Class Westbrook to know that he will not be forgotten, that we will continue to honor his sacrifice and remember the example that he set for all of us.”
The battle that led to Westbrook’s death occurred Sept. 8, 2009, when a joint force of American and Afghan personnel that Westbrook was working with were caught in an ambush.
According to the Silver Star award citation, while taking fire from rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and machine guns, Westbrook intentionally placed himself in the line of direct enemy fire without cover and concealment in an effort to engage targets and direct his Afghan peers.
He was wounded during the battle, but did not succumb to his injuries for 30 days.
Jonathan Landay, a reporter for McClatchy newspapers who was embedded with the joint force, said the scene was one of the worst he had ever seen.
“Within a few minutes, it was just an unbelievable kill zone,” Landay said. “All the guys who were in there had been veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, and they had never been caught in such hellacious fire. It was coming from three sides.”
Westbrook was preceded in death by his brother, Sgt. Marshall Westbrook of the 126th Military Police Company, New Mexico Army National Guard, who died Oct. 1, 2005, while serving near Baghdad, Iraq.
Charlene Westbrook said the award helped the family to feel like they were still a part of the Army family.
“I just want the Army to know that we’ve been an Army family for 22 years, and when the Army finally gave us this award and it came to light, it almost feels like the biggest family hug we could ever feel,” she said. “It makes me feel proud to be part of the Army family.”
McMaster echoed those sentiments during his remarks.
“To Sgt. 1st Class Westbrook’s family, we will never forget your sacrifice,” he said. “You are forever members of our Army family. We are grateful for the opportunity to be with you and to honor our brother-in-arms. For those of us who have not experienced such a profound loss, it is difficult to imagine what you have endured — the loss of not one, but two Westbrook sons who volunteered to serve their nation and made the ultimate sacrifice.”
A team from the Ranger Training Brigade at Fort Benning, Ga., has won the 2013 David E. Granger Best Ranger Competition.
Sgt. 1st Class Raymond M. Santiago and Sgt. 1st Class Timothy S. Briggs were named the winners of the 60-hour event, which concluded late in the afternoon of April 14.
Rangers have set the standard for extraordinary selfless service for more than 300 years. Their dedication is tested, even today, in Afghanistan and in operations like Operation Iraqi Freedom. The leadership, discipline and skill sets Rangers bring to the battlefield cannot be replaced by sophisticated weaponry and advanced technologies.
Competitors return to their units with a renewed sense of confidence, which inspires every Soldier they lead, improving combat effectiveness of units worldwide.
Sgt. 1st Class John M. Gendron and Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Horsager, a team from the 75th Ranger Regiment, Fort Benning, were awarded second place.
Rounding out the top three, in third place were Sgt. 1st Class Samuel E. Leritz and Staff Sgt. Christopher Brousard, a team representing the 75th Ranger Regiment, Fort Benning.
The winning teams and those teams that finished the competition were recognized at an awards ceremony at Marshall Auditorium in McGinnis-Wickam Hall.
Of the 49 teams that started the event the morning of April 12, just 24 finished the 3-day event.
Five cavalry scouts from U.S. Army Alaska won the inaugural Gainey Cup Competition on March 5, beating out 18 other teams to claim the right to call themselves the best cavalry scout team in the Army.
Staff Sgt. Justin Miller, Staff Sgt. Zachary Adkins, Spc. Mitchell Sanderson, Spc. Alexander Berlin and Pfc. Joseph Calderon made up the winning team from the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, headquartered at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
The five-day event held at Fort Benning, Ga., March 1-5, tested the Soldiers physically and on the basics of being a cavalry scout. The competition was named for retired Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, who was the first senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2005.
“It re-established all of the fundamentals of my job with me,” Miller said. “It was just a great training experience, and I’ll take it back to my unit and teach it to my guys and make them a better team.”
The competition began witha four-hour physical test, the “Disciplus Validus,” or “strong disciples” in Latin. The event incorporated both traditional exercises, such as pullups, dips, pushups and situps, with nontraditional challenges, such as tire-flipping, pulling a wounded person on a casualty sled and pushing a humvee uphill. The teams started at 10-minute intervals and were awarded points for each station based on their overall performance.
Spc. Ramuel Figueroa, a cavalry scout with the 2nd Infantry Division team from its 4th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, said the humvee push, which followed a 5-mile ruck march, was the toughest event of the test.
“We were going pretty good when we started. Then you just hit a wall,” he said. “You’re fighting for every inch, waiting for that guy to say, ‘Go, go, go.'”
Staff Sgt. Michael Christensen, a team leader with the 1st Cavalry Division team from its 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, said that though the humvee push was probably one of the hardest events of the day for him and his team, it showed what they were made of.
“You know when you get really tired, you just got to dig down deep and think, ‘Don’t put the quit in,'” he said. “Once the quit gets in you, it won’t leave, so you can’t have that poison in your mentality. You have to just keep pushing forward.”
Following the Disciplus Validus event, the scouts took a written exam to test their ability to recognize various U.S. and foreign vehicles, helicopters and weapon systems. The competitors then received the weapons and radios they would need for the rest of the competition.
During the next two days, the teams would face day and night live-fire exercises and a reconnaissance lane with a variety of tasks.
“It’s a great opportunity to see, as a representation of their units, where their unit is in their training path,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Michael S. Clemens, command sergeant major of the 316th Cavalry Brigade, U.S. Army Armor School, at Fort Benning. “It gives them an opportunity to focus on the fundamentals of reconnaissance and security tasks that we may not have been able to do necessarily over the past decade of conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
During the live-fire exercises, the cavalrymen were tested on their ability to observe named areas of interest — known as NAIs — acquire targets and engage them with both direct and indirect fire, and use proper reporting procedures. The teams were issued a fragmentary order that both instructed them to observe two NAIs and specified their engagement and displacement criteria.
The scouts were supported by a section of 81-mm mortars providing indirect fire support and targets to engage. They were allotted one adjustment and then a fire for effect. Additionally, a series of trucks, troops, and armored fighting vehicles were presented to test competitors’ knowledge of engagement and displacement criteria, as well as marksmanship.
“I have personally never called for fire with live mortar rounds,” Figueroa said. “We actually had to engage small-arms targets at the same time, so I thought that was awesome.”
The next test was the disassembly, assembly and functions tests of weapons common to the scouts’ mission. They were tested on the M9 automatic pistol, M4 carbine, M240B machine gun, M2 heavy barrel machine gun and Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher. Team leaders selected one member from their team for each weapon. Each system was given a time limit, and if they went over the allotted time for the weapon, graders began to deduct points. For example, the Soldiers were allotted three minutes for the M4 carbine.
“I’ve seen a really high level of professionalism and motivation,” Clemens said. “These guys are fired up; they want to be here. They are proud to represent themselves and their units. They want to the best job they can possibly do.”
The reconnaissance lane tested the cavalrymen’s ability to plan and execute a dismounted reconnaissance operation. Teams were issued a fragmentary order instructing them to observe an NAI approximately 7 kilometers from their location. They were required to plan their route, link-up with a host nation force, maneuver into their observation post and report any activity within their NAI without being detected by enemy forces.
Once they reported activity, they were instructed to displace to a specified location and establish a helicopter landing zone. As they maneuvered through various checkpoints, they tackled additional tasks and challenges. Participants had to evaluate a casualty, set up a field expedient antenna, react to a chemical attack, and demonstrate their use of explosives to create a hasty crater.
“I think it definitely put into perspective some of the stuff I would have to work on and some of the stuff that I’m pretty good at,” Figueroa said.
The scouts took to the air on the final day, as Chinook helicopters flew them from the training area to the last event: an obstacle course 2 miles from where they landed. The entire event was timed, and points were awarded based on the best completion time.
“The obstacle course was probably the roughest part,” said Spc. Sam Shuler of 1st Squadron, 108th Cavalry Regiment, 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Georgia National Guard. “It definitely took a lot of teamwork to get over it. We were all out of breath, but you just had to go, go, go,”
After the last obstacle, the scouts completed a written exam that tested their knowledge of the fundamentals of reconnaissance. Once the test was completed, they traversed the final three miles to arrive at the finish line.
Win or lose, the experience is one that scouts can use to hone their individual and unit skills, Figueroa said.
“Even if you come in last place, you’re going to learn so much from every other team and about yourself,” he said. “You’re going to learn what you need to work on, you’re going to learn what you’re good at, and you’re just going to learn your job better. You can’t leave here disappointed; there is a positive aspect to everything you do here.”
Miller agreed amd said he will encourage his Soldiers to compete in similar competitions.
“I’m going to tell them it’s a great training experience,” Miller said. “Anytime you can get some training like this, go ahead and take the opportunity.”
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