Tag Archives: Fort Drum

VTT connects in new way with Battle Staff NCO Course students

By MARTHA C. KOESTER
NCO Journal

The U.S. Army Video Teletraining Program for the Battle Staff Noncommissioned Officer Course at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas, has long since established its reputation as a cost-effective program.

VTT eliminates the need for students’ temporary duty assignments and allows one instructor to teach many Soldiers at remote locations. Its savings benefits just grew as the nonresident training program recently eliminated a third-party contracting agency, which connected all sites, in favor of a more direct connection that the Battle Staff Noncommissioned Officer Course can control.

The result is a new clarity in photo transmission for students, as well as a staff of instructors excited to deliver the next generation of VTT with enhanced equipment, said Master Sgt. Andrea Thomas, Video Teleconference manager and senior instructor, BSNCOC.

Sgt. 1st Class Khambao Mounlasy, a VTT instructor, says he values sharing his experience with noncommissioned officers out in the field. Mounlasy spoke with students and tries out the functions of the new enhanced equipment. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)
Sgt. 1st Class Khambao Mounlasy, a VTT instructor, says he values sharing his experience with noncommissioned officers out in the field. Mounlasy spoke with students and tries out the functions of the new enhanced equipment. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)

“We are the controlling tower, if you will,” Thomas said. “It will be easier, and it saves the Army money. This equipment is phenomenal. Our old equipment, you kind of had to patch it up and keep it going. We were well overdue.”

The new equipment will ease operations and help get instructors back to the fast-paced business of training the future leaders of the Army.

“I love it; it’s back-to-back-to-back classes,” Thomas said. “It’s a phenomenal course, and you get to train NCOs. What is better than that?”

“It’s been a good experience being an instructor and sharing the knowledge and my experience with the fellow noncommissioned officer out there in the field,” said Sgt. 1st Class Khambao Mounlasy, VTT instructor. “It’s fun. I learn new things every day from the students as well.”

Because they are transmitting remotely, VTT instructors have experienced their fair share of technical difficulties.

The enhanced VTT equipment offers the nonresident training program of the Battle Staff Noncommissioner Course a new clarity in photo transmission, instructors say. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)
The enhanced VTT equipment offers the nonresident training program of the Battle Staff Noncommissioner Course a new clarity in photo transmission, instructors say. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)

“We have to have a back-up plan because Murphy’s Law has littered our course with everything you could think of,” Thomas said. “In the wintertime, our East Coast folks at posts such as Fort Drum, New York, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, have bad weather and a lot of connectivity issues. We have seen it all. We have been quite talented in working around those issues, and we have accomplished the mission every time — graduating as many NCOs as possible. That is the goal, and that is what we are here for.”

Thomas said the support of USASMA’s leadership helped the success of the Battle Staff Noncommissioned Officer Course.

“I am thankful that we have the leadership that we have [at USASMA] because they are very supportive,” she said. “And the team we work with — we know there is a chain of command to follow, but we all treat each other as peers and that’s what works.”

Thomas said the experience she has gained as part of BSNCOC will serve her well as she transitions out of the Army.                 “The leadership, networking and being able to connect to people and seeing what works in the organization [has benefited me],” Thomas said. “I was able to get all of those tools working here in the Battle Staff.”

SMA: Engaged leadership key to resilient force

By CAPT. PETER SMEDBERG
10th Mountain Division

As the Army begins moving toward reduced troop numbers, a glaring reality faces units across the board — commanders must be prepared to sustain a rigorous operational tempo with fewer Soldiers standing in formation.

To help shed some light on the future of the U.S. Army, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III and his wife, Jeanne, visited Fort Drum, N.Y., this week to meet with Soldiers and family members and to talk about the Army’s Ready and Resilient Campaign.

Building the force during 13-plus years of combat in Iraq, Afghanistan and other more obscure theaters around the globe, helped shape the Army into a force of more than 570,000 — a number that could shrink to 450,000 by the end of fiscal year 2017, and if sequestration continues, could result in an even lower number of troops as overseas contingency operations wind down.

With a smaller Army, an added demand is placed on the need for a ready and resilient force capable of standing up to operational requirements at home station, at national training centers and while deployed.

“We’ve got to have as many Soldiers ready as we possibly can,” Chandler said. “We have a very small Army that will get smaller, but we will still have to do the things we’ve done over the last 13 years.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III speaks to Command Sgt. Maj. James L. Manning Jr., right, and 1st Sgt. Christopher Cunningham, center, both with 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, Aug. 5 during his visit to Fort Drum, N.Y., to discuss the Army's Ready and Resilient Campaign. (Photo by Capt. Peter Smedberg, 10th Mountain Division)
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III speaks to Command Sgt. Maj. James L. Manning Jr., right, and 1st Sgt. Christopher Cunningham, center, both with 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, Aug. 5 during his visit to Fort Drum, N.Y., to discuss the Army’s Ready and Resilient Campaign. (Photo by Capt. Peter Smedberg, 10th Mountain Division)

“We’re not going to be able to be successful as an Army if we have Soldiers who don’t have the ability to bounce back, whether that’s from an emotional injury or physical injury, so we’ve got to have as many Soldiers ready as we possibly can,” he continued. “Resiliency helps us in our ability to bounce back, and to be that person who is able to deploy, and fight and win our nation’s wars.”

To help mitigate the stressors placed on Soldiers and families as a result of a leaner force, the Army has placed high-level command emphasis on its Ready and Resilient Campaign, known as R2C.

R2C is designed to integrate and synchronize multiple efforts and initiatives already under way to improve the readiness and resilience of its force.

R2C ties assets including Sexual Harassment/Assault Response Program, Army Substance Abuse Program, Behavioral Health, Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness, Army Suicide Prevention Program, Soldier for Life: Transition Assistance Program, Total Army Sponsorship Program, Strong Bonds and the Integrated Disability Evaluation System, into a streamlined environment that is easily accessible and abundantly staffed at the lowest unit levels Armywide.

Despite the wide array of resources available to today’s Soldiers and families, the key to resiliency is engaged leadership at the first-line supervisor level, according to Chandler. Engaged leaders will be able to identify issues with their Soldiers’ physical and mental well-being — many times before the Soldiers themselves — and help guide them to the appropriate resource to address their needs.

“There’s a lot of things that engaged leadership means, but to me it means being present in your Soldiers’ lives, whether they live in the barracks or off post,” Chandler said. “It’s about being empathetic, extending yourself to Soldiers and trying to understand where they’re coming from — being aware of the issues that may be present in their lives.”

Individual resilience can be built, maintained and strengthened when viewed as an enduring concept and acquired through regular training, but without engaged leadership — leaders who really know their Soldiers — the Army cannot become the resilient force officials envision.

“I think just the term ‘engaged’ means action; you can’t just spout the NCO Creed or Warrior Ethos and thump your chest and say, ‘Look at me, I’m an NCO,'” Chandler said. “It means actually taking steps to be engaged in your Soldiers’ lives and the lives of their families.”

Chandler explained that being engaged does not mean interfering; rather, it means NCOs should be empathetic and knowledgeable about how to help and what services are available to Soldiers and their families.

“It’s about extending yourself to Soldiers and trying to understand where they’re coming from; being aware of the issues that may be present in their lives,” he said. “It could be financial issues, it could be physical issues that a Soldier or family member has, and it’s your responsibility as a leader to do something about it.

“That takes a level of commitment, character and competence,” Chandler continued. “There’s a lot of things that engaged leadership means, but to me, it means being present in your Soldiers’ lives. I challenge any NCO, if you don’t know where your Soldiers live off post and have not physically gone out to see how they live and where they live, you are not an engaged leader.”

While addressing 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) Soldiers during a town hall meeting, Chandler said engaged leadership extends past the supervisor level down to the “battle buddy.”

“I go back to the Army profession where it’s about character, commitment and confidence,” he said. “You should be looking out for the welfare of your battle buddy both on and off duty. You should be committed to them, willing to do what is necessary to ensure their well-being.

“You should know what to do if you sense that something’s wrong and be able to talk to your leadership about it,” Chandler added. “If you do that, I think you’re supporting our Ready and Resilient Campaign.”

NCO to posthumously receive Silver Star, Polish medal for heroism

Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis will be awarded the Silver Star posthumously at a ceremony later this month for his heroism earlier this year during an insurgent attack in Afghanistan.

His parents, Robert and Linda Ollis, will receive the award Oct. 24 at Fort Drum. Ollis, a 10th Mountain Division Soldier, will receive the honor for his actions while defending Forward Operating Base Ghanzi in eastern Afghanistan on Aug. 28.

According to Combined Joint Task Force-101, Ollis charged toward attackers that had breached the base in a “three-pronged attack.” He stepped between a Polish officer and a suicide bomber who was part of a “three-pronged attack” that breached the base. When the insurgent detonated his vest, the officer was shielded from harm. Ollis, however, was killed. He was 24.

Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis previously deployed to Iraq, from April 2008 to May 2009, and to Afghanistan, from June 2010 to May 2011. Ollis deployed with his unit to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in January 2013, and was killed Aug. 28, 2013, defending Forward Operating Base Ghazni. (Photo courtesy of Fort Drum Public Affairs)
Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis previously deployed to Iraq, from April 2008 to May 2009, and to Afghanistan, from June 2010 to May 2011. Ollis deployed with his unit to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in January 2013, and was killed Aug. 28, 2013, defending Forward Operating Base Ghazni. (Photo courtesy of Fort Drum Public Affairs)

Poland is scheduled to honor Ollis with the Polish Armed Forces Gold Medal on Nov. 8 in New York.

Ollis’ parents recently spoke to the Army News Service from their home in Staten Island, N.Y., to discuss their son’s life and accomplishments during a seven-year military career.

“We were overwhelmed, I think, first off. We just didn’t expect everything that has happened so far,” said Linda Ollis, who said the amount of love and support the family has received since Ollis’ death has been tremendous.

His parents remembered the “scrawny but tough boy” nicknamed “Mikey Muscles” by his friends, who climbed over everything, zoomed around the neighborhood on his Big Wheel, and had a calling to join his father and grandfathers in military service.

“I had some old Army fatigues that he used to wear running around the yard with them on,” said Robert Ollis, an Army Vietnam War veteran and, like his son, a Bronze Star recipient.

“From when he was a little boy, we knew what Mikey wanted to do. Michael wanted the armed service; he wanted to go into the Army,” he said.

And so, at age 17, his parents said, they signed for him and he enlisted. He was on his second deployment to Afghanistan at the time of his death. He had also served a tour in Iraq.

He loved the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, his parents said. He would tell his parents that the violence in those countries was due to a small group of people, not the innocent men, women and children the Army is protecting.

Linda and Robert Ollis said they couldn’t have been prouder of their son, a caring and generous person, they said, who looked out for others and loved the Army and serving the nation.

He was a great noncommissioned officer who was just accepted into the prestigious Sgt. Audie Murphy Club, they said.

That day in Afghanistan, Ollis charged toward danger to defend the base after it was infiltrated by attackers, the Combined Joint Task Force report said. The attack also claimed the life of a Polish Soldier and wounded several coalition Soldiers.

During the attack, a vehicle-borne explosive device detonated and 10 insurgents wearing suicide vests breached the perimeter. Additionally, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, grenades and small arms fire from the enemy rained down from the east, west and north, according to the CJTF.

Ollis, with the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, checked on his men, and then headed “directly to the sound of gunfire,” joining up with a Polish officer and a Special Forces team.

By then, 8 of the 10 insurgents had already been killed. Then the 9th was killed.

The 10th insurgent emerged from behind a group of containers; Ollis was the closest Soldier to the attacker. As Ollis moved toward the insurgent, the narrative said, he “stepped in front of the Polish officer, thereby blocking him from the insurgent.” When the insurgent’s suicide vest detonated, the Polish officer was shielded, but Ollis was killed.

That heroic act, the Army said, saved the life of the Polish officer.

“In emotional interviews with investigators, the Polish officer repeatedly praised Ollis and credited him with saving his life,” CJTF said.

Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley, commander, International Security Assistance Force, Joint Forces Command, praised Ollis as a great Soldier and said the battle was a “tough fight,” but the defenders of the base did “extraordinarily well.”

“Unfortunately, we lost a great American there from 10th Mountain Division in that attack,” he said.

Army News Service contributed to this report.

Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis, the godfather to the baby in this photo, poses with family members, including his sister and her baby, and his parents, Linda and Robert Ollis. (Photo courtesy of Ollis family)
Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis, the godfather to the baby in this photo, poses with family members, including his sister and her baby, and his parents, Linda and Robert Ollis. (Photo courtesy of Ollis family)

Trainers, mentors ensure reserve-component readiness

From the Army News Service:

First Army Division East trainers/mentors play an integral role in ensuring Reserve Component units maintain a high degree of readiness. Recently when members of the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, a National Guard unit, conducted a command post exercise at Fort Drum, N.Y., Soldiers from 4th Cavalry Brigade, First Army Division East, were standing ready as trainers/mentors and subject matter experts.

“They mentored and evaluated us on everything from start to finish,” explained 1st Sgt. Thomas Graves, with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, or IBCT. “They give us ideas on what we need to do to move forward. They truly have the mentorship role, teaching us how to get over hurdles that maybe other Guard units still struggle with.”

With a geographically dispersed brigade such as the 86th IBCT — headquartered in Vermont and composed of Soldiers from five different states — Graves said the trainers/mentors from 4th Cavalry Brigade were essential to success of the command post exercise, known as a CPX.

“They have a lot of experience there,” he concluded. “As trainers, they are very much in tune with doctrine and Department of the Army policies. First Army is using their background to teach us many best practices in various areas, like equipment, strategy, techniques, tactics and procedures, and even communication.”

As the mission in Afghanistan winds down, training to maintain the operational reserve’s high level of readiness becomes essential in ensuring national security decision makers have a trained and ready force to respond to unforeseen contingencies. This CPX is the first of several training exercises the 86th IBCT will complete over a two-week period, explained Lt. Col. Paul Ramsey, deputy commander, 4th Cavalry Brigade, Fort Knox, Ky.

“They’ve come together for their two weeks of annual training to conduct a series of events in order to prepare them to go to the [Joint Readiness Training Center],” said Ramsey. “The overriding event is the platoon situational training lane exercises that will validate their platoon.”

The CPX, Ramsey explained, focuses primarily on the brigade staff. Col. John Boyd, 86th IBCT commander, echoed the importance of validating his staff.

“From my perspective it allows us to exercise the staff, to train the staff, and then to pull each of those war fighting functions together, synchronize them and get those staff officers to understand why their piece of the puzzle is so important and how all of those pieces coming together are what makes that brigade that much more lethal on the battlefield,” Boyd said.

Lt. Col. Paul Ramsey, deputy commander, 4th Cavalry Brigade, Fort Knox, Ky., and Command Sgt. Maj. Carl Fagan, 4th Cavalry Brigade senior enlisted advisor, discuss strategies and future plans during a command post exercise, or CPX, for the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, a National Guard unit out of Vermont. The CPX was one of several training events the 86th will complete over a two-week period to enhance their readiness.(photy by Staff Sgt. Stephen Crofoot)
Lt. Col. Paul Ramsey, deputy commander, 4th Cavalry Brigade, Fort Knox, Ky., and Command Sgt. Maj. Carl Fagan, 4th Cavalry Brigade senior enlisted advisor, discuss strategies and future plans during a command post exercise, or CPX, for the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, a National Guard unit out of Vermont. The CPX was one of several training events the 86th will complete over a two-week period to enhance their readiness.(photy by Staff Sgt. Stephen Crofoot)

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Natick develops holster for M320 grenade launcher

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.

Army News Service contributed to this report.

Darren Bean, an equipment specialist with Product Manager Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment at Natick Soldier Systems Center, Mass., has been working since November 2012 on the M320GL Holster Soldier Enhancement Program. (photo by NSRDEC photographer David Kamm)
Darren Bean, an equipment specialist with Product Manager Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment at Natick Soldier Systems Center, Mass., has been working since November 2012 on the M320GL Holster Soldier Enhancement Program. (photo by NSRDEC photographer David Kamm)