Face of Defense: Soldier Prepares for Warrior Games

U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command

Army Sgt. 1st Class Katie Kuiper is using adaptive sports as a bridge for her transition to civilian life.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Katie Kuiper takes a moment to study the practice track before an Army Trials cycling practice event at Fort Bliss, Texas, March 24, 2015. About 80 seriously wounded ill and injured service members and veterans from across the country are competing for Army team spots in the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games. (U.S. Army photo by Benny Ontiveros)
Army Sgt. 1st Class Katie Kuiper takes a moment to study the practice track before an Army Trials cycling practice event at Fort Bliss, Texas, March 24, 2015. About 80 seriously wounded ill and injured service members and veterans from across the country are competing for Army team spots in the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games. (U.S. Army photo by Benny Ontiveros)

Kuiper, assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, suffered a head injury that proved to be challenging, but through the Army physical fitness and adaptive sports program, her goals are quickly being reached. She’ll be involved in the Army trials being held March 30 through April 3 at Fort Bliss, Texas, in preparation for the 2015 Warrior Games slated June 19-28 at Quantico Marine Corps Base, Virginia.

The trials are conducted by the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command, based in Alexandria, Virginia. Kuiper is one of about 80 wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and veterans from across the country participating in events including shooting, swimming, archery, sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball, track and field, and Kuiper’s favorite, cycling.

Kuiper is involved in two scheduled training events, but she participated in cycling practice March 24 to “relax my head injury,” she said.

“Cycling is relaxing to me,” Kuiper added, “and I can forget about everything else.”

Focusing Her Energy

Finding ways to recover from injuries can be difficult for wounded service members, but Kuiper focused her energy on cycling, which will prepare her for her other training events such as track and field. She quickly acclimated to cycling and safely stretched her muscles before taking a cycle ride on the approved tank trail.

The challenging part was learning new cycling techniques from the cycling coach. “The cycling lessons are new and insightful,” she said.

Cycling coach Jim Pensereyes, from San Diego, taught Kuiper and other wounded warriors to ride their cycles correctly through the turns on the practice trail.

Better With Each Practice Run

“It’s an honor and absolutely amazing to see these brave individuals cycle through the course and even better to see when they take my advice,” he said. “They just get better and better with each practice run.”

Kuiper and other wounded warriors adjusted to this new method despite the challenges it presented. By the end of the practice, they cycled with ease. Several cycling coaches were on hand to help them learn proper riding techniques.

“Being here is instrumental to my well-being,” Kuiper said, “and by interacting with other wounded warriors, it brings great joy to me and puts a huge smile to my face.”



Dailey to bring Soldiers to Washington to ‘own’ SHARP problem, solution

Army News Service

Since the Army first began its effort to eliminate sexual assault in the ranks, the agenda, the training, and the delivery has been driven by Army senior leadership. Junior Soldiers will soon be given an opportunity to provide input as well.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey will soon kick off a new program, “Not in My Squad, Not in Our Army,” that will offer Soldiers at the lowest levels in the Army an opportunity to take ownership of both the problem of sexual assault in the ranks, as well as the solution.

Part of that initiative will bring Soldiers from around the force – leaders at team and squad level – to Washington, D.C., to meet with Army leaders and experts within the Army’s sexual harassment/assault response and prevention, or SHARP, program and G-1, to wargame their own solutions to sexual assault that they feel might better resonate with the Soldiers they lead worldwide.

Dailey said the idea is “a bottom-up approach to sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention. But not only that, it’s also about everything in regard to the Army profession, and getting our subordinate leaders – those first line-level leaders who have direct influence over their Soldiers every day, to take ownership of this problem – sexual assault.”

Dailey said he is confident that Soldiers know what the Army’s stance is on sexual assault. But he said he has heard from Soldiers that he has talked to that they feel the delivery of the message could be done better. That is why, he said, he feels it would be better to have Soldiers themselves develop a solution.

“We don’t want to design this,” Dailey said. “We want those small unit-level leaders to design this.”

Included will be staff sergeants from around the Army, from different divisions, corps, and theaters. Guiding discussion will be SHARP experts and personnel from the Army’s G-1. But it will be Soldiers themselves who are finding the solutions, and who will make recommendations to Army leadership about those solutions.

“We will present them with problems, challenges associated with sexual assault, and they will engage with our civil leaders here, and then brief myself and the chief of staff of the Army and the vice chief of staff of the Army on how they are going to build this concept of taking this back to the force,” Dailey said. “For them to truly embrace this concept, to truly embrace this initiative, they have to be empowered, and they have to feel like it’s their initiative.”

Dailey’s concept is similar to what the Army began doing last year with captains during what it calls a “solarium.” During the solarium’s events, captains are placed in groups and are assigned various problems that face the Army today, and they work together to develop possible solutions to those problems. Afterward, the captains brief the Army’s chief of staff on their proposed solution.

“I am excited to see what our creative young leaders will come up with and what their approach will be to get at this problem,” Dailey said. “And I think we have to be brave enough to institute some of the recommendations they come up with.”

Soldiers participating in this “Not in My Squad, Not in Our Army” event will also tackle challenges regarding the Army profession in addition to the problems involving sexual assault.

“We have done a lot of work to communicate the Army profession across our force,” he said. “If you want something to happen, it requires leadership. And if you want something to happen from the lowest level up, it requires leadership at the first-line leader. They have the clearest understanding of the issues, the challenges associated with what our Soldiers are facing every day, the stressors of life of being a young Soldier and young Family member throughout our force. I think they are well postured to inform us on those challenges.”

No time or date has yet been set for when Soldiers will come to Washington, D.C., to participate in the event, nor have the Soldiers who will participate been identified.

Additionally, Dailey said, the “Not in My Squad, Not in Our Army” initiative is broader than just one event and one topic. The broader effort is meant to highlight the critical role the non-commissioned officer corps plays in leading and sustaining a values-based organization such as the Army.


This Month in History: March 20, 1945 — Charging foxholes on the Villa Verde Trail

Staff Sgt. Ysmael Villegas was known as “Smiley” by family members and friends in his native Casa Blanca, Calif. The nickname spoke of his easygoing, cheerful demeanor. He was described as an ordinary 20-year-old who enjoyed dancing and tending to his lime green 1937 Buick, which he dubbed the Green Hornet, before joining the Army in July 1944. But Villegas’ actions on March 20, 1945, a day before his 21st birthday, proved him to have extraordinary bravery.

He was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest honor, for displaying valor in the fight to reclaim the Philippines from Japanese forces during World War II. Villegas was an infantryman with F Company, 127th Infantry Regiment of the 32nd Infantry Division. The 32nd ID — known as the Red Arrow Division and no longer active — is famed for its tenacity in stand-up battles with little or no support. The Red Arrow patch signifies the division’s ability to pierce every line it has encountered, including in such momentous conflicts as the Second Battle of the Marne and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in World War I.

However, the battle-hardened division was severely tested in the spring of 1945 as it was bogged down on the northern side of the Philippine island of Luzon.

The 32nd ID was trying to secure the Villa Verde Trail, a vital track through the Caraballo Mountains, in the hopes of stifling the Japanese forces anchored in the Cagayan Valley. By March, the division had engaged in more than a month of heavy fighting. That fighting was done alone, as most supporting units were pledged to XIV Corps as it marched toward Manila. The Red Arrow men headed into the mountains to ensure the Japanese couldn’t regroup.

On March 1, Villegas’ squad came under fire from an enemy machinegun nest. Villegas destroyed the nest, an act that resulted in him being awarded the Silver Star. It was merely a prelude to his most noble moment.

On March 20, Villegas was charged with leading a squad up a hill to gain a vantage point along the trail. The squad confronted enemy forces “strongly entrenched in connected caves and foxholes on commanding ground,” according to Villegas’ Medal of Honor citation. Villegas moved boldly through his ranks, galvanizing his men and imploring them to continue up the hill. The Soldiers pressed forward as bullets whizzed by them and kicked dirt up at their feet. Villegas, displaying a “complete disregard for his own safety,” charged an enemy foxhole, killing the enemy within. Under a hail of gunfire and grenades, Villegas rushed to a second foxhole, nullifying it as well. The enemy gunfire didn’t cease, however, and Villegas charged a third, fourth and fifth foxhole in rapid succession, each time eliminating the enemy within. A sixth enemy entrenchment focused its fire on him, but Villegas didn’t waver and charged toward it. As he neared the position, he was shot and killed.

The bravery Villegas displayed emboldened his men to continue up the hill, sweeping the enemy from the field. American forces eventually secured the trail and took the Cagayan Valley in late June after 119 days of fighting.

Villegas’ surviving family was presented his Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman during a ceremony Oct. 19, 1945. Villegas is the first Medal of Honor recipient from Riverside County, Calif., and the first veteran to be interred at Riverside National Cemetery. He is also honored with a statue, a park, a Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter and a middle school that bear his name.

Compiled by Pablo Villa

NCOs deliver medical training to anti-terrorism group in Chad, Africa

NCO Journal

When Sgt. Gerald Engel got off the plane for the second time in Chad, Africa, his driver ran up, delivering an enthusiastic greeting. The driver had volunteered to escort the group for a second time, thrilled that four American NCOs were returning to teach medical skills to his country’s military.

Engel and two other medics from 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division — the regionally aligned force based in Fort Riley, Kan. — deployed in the spring of 2014 with an operations noncommissioned officer from U.S. Army Africa to teach Tactical Combat Casualty Care, or TCCC, to the Special Anti-terrorism Group in N’Djamena, Chad. The mission was one of many similar deployments throughout western Africa — including ongoing training missions in Nigeria and Burkina Faso.

“As an NCO, it is your job to train and to lead. So, just be prepared to do that at any time. When I joined the Army to be a medic, I joined in a time of war and in a time when we were going on missions to Iraq and Afghanistan,” Engel said. “This isn’t a mission set I ever expected to be on — a small, four-man team in a third-world country, training their military on medical skills. It just shows NCOs need to be confident in their skills and their jobs so that they can be prepared for anything.”

The team trained a group of about 10 Chadian NCOs and officers on the skills needed to deal with the preventable causes of death on the battlefield. From the evaluation of a casualty to hemorrhage control and airway management, the lessons the NCOs presented left the Chadian military better able to care for its soldiers.

“It makes you feel good, because now they have the skills and the knowledge to go forth without you and save lives,” said Sgt. 1st Class Albert Palmer, who was also on the team deployed to Chad. “As a medic, that’s what you want to do — save lives.”

Sharing knowledge

The Chadian soldiers had just come back from an anti-terrorism mission in Mali, where many of their comrades had died because the group was not prepared to provide medical care on the battlefield, Palmer said.

The majority of the individuals participating in the training had never been exposed to basic medical principles and were not aware of even the most rudimentary measures necessary to avoid infection.

“We had to really stress sterilization and maintaining a clean environment when treating injuries,” Palmer said, recalling the dirt that covered everything in the hot classroom. “We could tell in the beginning that they had not really thought about those things before. But as we talked more in-depth about infection, they caught on and realized cleanliness and sterilization were necessary for them to be effective at their job and to prevent infection. It’s something so small that we take for granted that they didn’t really know about.”

Though treating real-life injuries was not part of the mission, one of the Chadian soldiers participating in the training sought help from the NCOs for a cut on his foot.

“It was so badly infected that it was actually going up to his bone,” said 1st Sgt. Richard Russell, a former operations NCO with USARAF’s Surgeon’s Office. “I’d never seen anything like that in the States, because we would have put you on antibiotics. But they just don’t have access to that. We cleaned it the best that we could and dressed it, but chances are he will have to amputate that part of his foot. The gangrene had been so bad for so long.”

The realization that this medical information would improve their lives made the Chadian soldiers even more grateful, Russell said.

“You would see them circled around, taking pictures, taking notes — motivated about the training,” he said. “You feel good as a trainer when you see that type of interaction. And you just feel like, hey, we are making a difference.”

The enthusiasm the NCOs encountered made an impression, Palmer said.

“I had never done a mission like this before. It was an honor representing the Army, going over there, partnering with African soldiers,” he said. “I’ve been teaching 23 years in the military now, but this experience has made me hold my Soldiers at home to a higher standard. The soldiers in Africa are so eager to learn, and I want my Soldiers here to have that same thirst for knowledge.”

In-depth lessons

Teaching the group of Chadian soldiers was similar to teaching U.S. Soldiers with no medical experience, Engel said.

“I relied on my previous experience training infantrymen and other non-medical enlisted personnel who don’t understand the anatomy and physiology of the body,” Engel said. “I just applied a lot of those same techniques to teaching these guys, because they didn’t have that basic knowledge either.”

The goal of the course was to teach the basic principles of TCCC, in addition to training the group on the medical equipment available.

TCCC is divided into three phases: care under fire, given at the scene of an injury while under attack; tactical field care, given once the casualty is no longer under hostile fire but when medical equipment is still limited; and tactical evacuation care, given while the casualty is being moved to a safe location equipped to deliver a higher level of care.

The U.S. team used both classroom instruction — with an interpreter — and hands-on training to teach the African soldiers the basics of each phase. Skill stations were set up to test their knowledge of combat application tourniquets, chest seals and nasopharyngeal airways, and the soldiers practiced inserting IVs and saline locks into one another’s veins. Tactical lanes were then used to solidify the skills they had learned. Some of the soldiers acted as “casualties” in need of various medical interventions. The actors’ maladies included flesh abrasions, amputations, difficulty breathing and unconsciousness. The NCOs did not have access to smoke effects or other things you might expect to see used in testing lanes for U.S. Soldiers, but some of the actors demonstrated confusion and despair to increase the stress of the simulation.

“We were limited with the materials we had,” Palmer said. “But, we put them in lanes where they had to return fire, keep the casualty stable and move them to a safe spot, pull security and treat injuries.”

The hands-on practice was vital to ensuring the soldiers grasped the concepts and became comfortable using the equipment. The more practice they had, the quicker and more confident they became, Palmer said.

“Whenever we brought a hands-on task that they hadn’t seen before, we would challenge them,” Engle said. “The combat application tourniquets, for example — we train to be able to put them on very fast as medics. We would have them race against each other, and then the winner would compete against us. They liked the challenge and were eager to work.”

The soldiers’ motivation allowed the NCOs to give more in-depth lessons than they had originally planned, Palmer said, and they wanted even more.

“I had brought some more advanced slideshows with me, and some of the African soldiers gave me their thumb drives to download the more advanced training,” Palmer said. “They wanted to learn more.”

By the end of the course, the NCOs had chosen four soldiers to be subject-matter experts on the use of tourniquets, nasopharyngeal airways, chest seals and arm splints. They encouraged these soldiers to take charge of the last few classes, as the eventual goal is to develop a self-sustaining training program conducted monthly or quarterly, Russell said.

“Short term, … the training will help them understand the causes of death on the battlefield and how to integrate the appropriate skill to the appropriate situation,” Russell said. “They will also have the confidence to take action when faced with these difficult battlefield situations.

“We are giving them some of that confidence to be able to take care of some of their own issues. If we can be their allies and help them out, and maybe send groups of personnel down there to train them, then we won’t run into anything like what we had in Iraq or Afghanistan where we have to take over everything. We are empowering them to take care of themselves.”

1st Sgt. Richard Russell, former operations NCO with the U.S. Army Africa Surgeon's Office, leads a course on Tactical Combat Casualty Care for soldiers in N'Djamena, Chad, in the spring of 2014. (U.S. Army photo)
1st Sgt. Richard Russell, former operations NCO with the U.S. Army Africa Surgeon’s Office, leads a course on Tactical Combat Casualty Care for soldiers in N’Djamena, Chad, in the spring of 2014. (U.S. Army photo)