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April 2, 2015 at 11:20am

Washington National Guard hosted its annual menu board selection and food demonstration

Washington National Guard’s Aviation Readiness Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord played host to this year’s Washington National Guard FY15 WA Guard Food Service Menu Board Event. Photo credit: Gary Lott

The Washington National Guard hosted its annual menu board selection and food demonstration event March 27 in its Aviation Readiness Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord with the goal of selecting this year's new menu items for drilling service members.

"Servicemembers need to learn new skills, and those skill sets play a role in our ability to do more from scratch, to feed more and still stay within the budget," said the Guard's Food Program Manager Master Sgt. Darrell DeGroff.

The purpose of the event was to allow servicemembers an opportunity to learn more and help decide on the menu items that they will see during their drill/AT weekends in the coming year.

Along with selecting meals, attendees also had the opportunity to enjoy a wide variety of different food samplings from dozens of food vendors like Sysco, PepsiCo and US Foods.

While the taste testing of the latest and greatest food items was occurring downstairs, culinary competitions took place upstairs with various local schools and colleges.

"Our high school is so military centric because we have so many military kids that go through our school," said Lakes High School sophomore Anna Short, who participated in the day's culinary competition.

Lakes High, Steilacoom High and Bates Technical Culinary students all had to use the same primary ingredients to create a meal that cost no less or no more than $4.09 per person.

"Conceptualization was the most difficult part of today's meal," said Bates Technical culinary student Anthony Brooks.  "It's important how these plates look as well, and we wanted to take the budget and meal choice and make it more exciting."

>>> A Culinary Arts Program student from Bates Technical College communicates on what techniques they used to craft the vegetable portion of his presented meal.  Command members of the Washington National Guard were the official judges for the culinary competition that took place during this year's FY15 WA Guard Food Service Menu Board Event. Photo credit: Gary Lott

The chefs also had to ensure that the total amount of their ingredients could feed 100 servicemembers.

Short gave a familiar-sounding description of how resiliency fits into her cooking career, similar to the military.

"We have to learn how to work together really well," she said. "You've got to learn how to listen to others, work together and check up on each other to see how everyone's doing."

Food brings people together, and that message is one that should resonate with every FY15 Menu Board attendee.

In other words, food isn't just about eating.

"The Army is coming to understand that food means more than eating," DeGroff said. "It is, as we say, feeding the soul, the mind, the body and the spirit.  It's a part of our big Army cycle of physical fitness."

>>> These Culinary Arts Program students from Bates Technical College show off their FY15 Outstanding College Culinary Arts Team award for winning this year's college culinary competition.  Each group had to spend a $4.09 budget per servicemember to prepare a lasagna and salad plate. Photo credit: Gary Lott

Involving the servicemembers that actually eat the food to become a part of selecting the food that they eat sounds like a reasonable idea and is something that remains a focus of the Washington National Guard.

"The fact that we are reaching out to our customers to get them in, so they can have an influence, is impactful for all of us," DeGroff said.

Anyone who has had a really good meal probably agrees with the fact that food has many feelings of endearment associated with it.

"We care about each other, and it's demonstrated in food here," DeGroff added.  "These menu boards allow for training and (food) demos to remind these soldiers that they just don't come here to throw a meal out and go home."

>>> The Washington National Guard's 81st HBCT Annual First Place Trophy for the Philip A. Connelly Award for Excellence in Field Kitchen Competition was on display for this year's FY15 WA Guard Food Service Menu Board Event. Photo credit: Gary Lott

The biggest addition this year from last was the inclusion of the Washington Restaurant Association. 

"The troops have to be healthy and vibrant to protect us, so food safety is critical," said guest judge and Washington Restaurant Association Director of Education Lyle Hildahl. 

Hildahl provided constructive criticism to the students throughout the competition.

With servicemembers relaxed and full of savory snacks, the FY 15 WA Food Service Menu Board also provided resiliency support resources.

"The number of younger soldiers that we have that leave our drill weekend that don't have a place to live, that don't have a job, are unfortunately increasing dramatically," added DeGroff.

Suicide Prevention, Family Programs and Employment Transition Services representatives from the Joint Services Support Directorate-Washington National Guard were present throughout the day for servicemembers to utilize as well.

"If you provide hope, if you provide a challenge, then you lift them, you get them engaged," DeGroff said.  "Getting them to go to these people is very difficult, but bringing these people to them in a place like this, where they are away from their family and just relaxing, is very beneficial.

"They let down their guard and become more willing to pull someone to the side and have that conversation than they would back in their unit."

February 10, 2015 at 10:07am

Washington National Guard 351st Aviation Support Battalion deploying to Kuwait

351st Aviation Support Battalion was honored in a deployment ceremony at the Washington National Guard Army Aviation Sustainment Facility #1 on JBLM, Feb. 8. Photo credit: Gary Lott

Dozens of military helicopters were the background for an important ceremony that took place last weekend at the Washington National Guard's Flight Facility on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

That's because all eyes were on Washington National Guard soldiers from Detachment 1, B Company of the 351st Aviation Support Battalion.

Last summer, these servicemembers had an important role in Washington state by assisting with battling wildfires that plagued Central Washington. 

Bravo Company provided critical maintenance operations for the Guard's helicopters as they dropped 2.5 million gallons of water over the Carlton Complex and Chiwaukum Complex fires. The unit ensured the helicopters continued to operate by working long hours into the night.

This summer, these servicemembers will be tasked with another important role, but this time thousands of miles away in Kuwait.

The unit of more than 35 Washington National Guardsmen will perform aviation maintenance support operations while deployed.

During last weekend's ceremony, the deploying servicemembers were surrounded by their fellow service members, friends and family, who were shown a special slideshow of some of the many recent accomplishments of the 351st. Attendees were also treated to the national anthem and Army Song performed by the 133rd Army Band, and of course, cake!

The 351st cased its colors during the deployment ceremony as part of its preparation to deploy to Kuwait in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

This is the first deployment for the 351st and will be the first under the command of Capt. Daniel Clemons.

Along with the traditional casing of the colors and remarks from the commander, deployment ceremonies are also important venues to connect with the families of the deploying soldiers.

Military families serve, too, and are left to maintain their households and communities while their service member is deployed.

>>> Pfc. Aaron Hamrick cherishes a hug from his daughter during a deployment ceremony for members of the 351st Aviation Support Battalion, Feb. 8. Hamrick will be joined by more than 30 other members of his battalion for a deployment to Kuwait to perform aviation maintenance support operations. Photo credit: Gary Lott

Although families may initially feel as if they are being left behind, the reality is these families receive support and training before, during and even after deployments, as well as the security of 24/7 support throughout.

These are just a few of the major impacts that make Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Programs & Family Programs across the nation so crucial and impactful for those still serving from home.

Spouses and significant others were provided with various resources and contacts and given the opportunity to connect with and ask questions of Washington National Guard Family Programs staff members. Military youth were given USO deployment bears that allow them to insert a photo of their deploying parent.

The adjutant general for the Washington National Guard, Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, joined other general officers and commanders for the departure ceremony.

This ceremony not only provided support from their peers and bosses, but also provided service members with the security of knowing that their families will be taken care of during their deployment.

December 22, 2014 at 2:16pm

"Holiday Magic" at Tacoma VFW Post #91

"Holiday Magic" at Tacoma VFW Post #91 / photo credit: Gary Lott

"Christmas this year has been hard on us, especially Thanksgiving," a young Washington National Guard specialist stated while gripping a holiday meal in the main room of the Tacoma VFW Post #91. "We haven't had enough funds to buy our 2-month-old son any gifts."

The holidays cause financial stress: shocking holiday credit card statements, elaborate holiday meals, late-night runs to grab last minute tape or name cards for or a slew of other stressful reasons.

The stress can be harder for that young servicemember who has returned from deployment with a growing young family.

That soldier is on the minds of the dozens who run this year's Washington National Guard's Family Programs' "Holiday Magic" service. Family Programs spends hundreds of hours distributing donated holiday meals, hams and, of course, toys at the Tacoma VFW Post #91 at 2000 South Union Ave. in central Tacoma. Post #91 members donate their post location and hours of volunteer time - often spent cleaning and sorting toys - to the Joint Services Support Family Programs, which primarily assists the servicemembers of the Washington National Guard and Reserves, as well as servicemembers from other branches. This year's "Holiday Magic" program sets aside a day to serve active-duty servicemembers, veterans and wounded veterans.

"The 'Holiday Magic' program has been an amazing gift," said the spouse of a deployed servicemember. "It has given me the joy and stress relief of knowing that I can give to my kids with a happy and relieving heart."

Although Pierce County residents make up the majority of the program's users, "Holiday Magic" volunteers have received requests from outside the county - and meals and toys were bagged, sorted and delivered by Family Assistance Specialists (FAS) who are stationed throughout the state near Washington National Guard unit locations such as Spokane, Vancouver, Everett, Port Orchard and Marysville. These FAS are also available to provide assistance throughout the year in forms of emergency grants, education assistance, employment assistance, resiliency matters and more.

"The program that is being ran by you is amazing," a private first class stationed on Joint Base Lewis-McChord stated to the volunteers at Tacoma VFW Post #91. "It has been a real tough year on me and I have been really stressed the last couple of months on what I was going to do for Christmas. The fact that this is available has been a huge relief and has helped very much. Thank you and everyone involved with this program very much. Merry Christmas!"

December 13, 2014 at 9:32am

Words & Photos: National Guard Birthday Run at Camp Murray

Washington National Guard's Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, left, finishes the final bend of a 5K run around Camp Murray with Family Programs Director Lt. Col. Don Brewer to honor the National Guard's 378th birthday. Photo credit: Gary Lott

"It is important to celebrate the birthday of the Army National Guard in order to take a little time to remember that we are part of an enduring, professional organization built on irreplaceable values with a unified purpose," said Lt. Col. Don Brewer, Washington National Guard Family Programs director. "Sometimes, it is easy to take for granted very important things and in the process, forget who we are and where we have come from. Celebrating the birthday of the Army National Guard gives us an opportunity to remember and be grateful."

Then, everyone went on a run.

Dozens of servicemembers and their families braved the high-wind storms and cold morning weather to join together and run the perimeter of Camp Murray for a National Guard Birthday Run Dec. 12. The event had two goals:to honor the many contributions of the National Guard, as well as to provide senior leadership with the opportunity to join their enlisted servicemembers - and their families - to stress the importance of morale, resiliency and fitness.

"These types of events are extremely important because they help build confidence, trust and friendship between people who might not normally spend time together outside of the workplace," said Brewer.

>>> The Washington National Guard's Family Programs Director, Lt. Col. Don Brewer, shares with the crowd of servicemembers the importance of "never forgetting" the accomplishments of those servicemembers that came before. 

>>> Members of the Washington National Guard participated in a Camp Murray Fun Run Dec. 12 to honor and build awareness for the National Guard's 378th birthday, which will take place Dec. 13. Photo credit: Gary Lott

>>> A line of Washington National Guard servicemember runners start their 5k trek around the perimeter of Camp Murray in front of the iconic minuteman statue that sits affront the Washington National Guard headquarters. Photo credit: Gary Lott

National Guard History

Founded in 1630, the Massachusetts Bay Colony - comprised of more than 5,000 European men, women and children - made the long voyage to the New World, or now called United States of America. With the long and uncertain move away from their homeland, the leaders of the New World wanted a ready, willing and able group of citizens that were ready at a moment's notice to protect and serve the new continent. Thus, the National Guard was formed into existence with a direct declaration signed into law on Dec. 13, 1636.

The National Guard is the longest serving military branch, and was in place even before the United States was "officially" a country. These community warriors became the "Always Ready, Always There" force structure that to this day are still protecting the homes of the communities they serve.

Just in the past year, the Washington National Guard became a "savior" for many Washingtonians, by assisting with the plaguing wildfires that hit Eastern and Central Washington, as well as assisting with the devastation caused by the SR 530 landslide.

These two emergencies are perfect examples again of how the National Guard may serve in many of the same capacities that our active-duty military branches do, but in a much different and impactful light.

>>> Sgt. 1st Class Robert Chinneth of the Washington National Guard was running faster than the five miles per hour speed limit sign through the RV Park next to American Lake. Photo credit: Gary Lott

>>> The Assistant Operations NCO of G1, 1st Sgt. Berndt, runs besides the barbed-wire fences along the perimeter of Camp Murray.

National Guard Component

The National Guard may be viewed upon as similar to all the other military branches, and in many ways that statement is correct. The servicemembers deploy, attend basic training, conduct regular physical training and sacrifice their lives for this country. The major difference between the National Guard and other branches, is the majority of guardsmembers were born in, serve in and, one day will die in the same state that they serve. All servicemembers serve this nation, but only one branch gets the opportunity to defend and constantly support the places they have always and may always call home.

National Guard Birthday Run

Joint Services Support Directorate for the Washington National Guard (JSS), Employer Support of the Guard & Reserve (ESGR), Recruiting & Retention Battalion (RRB) and the National Guard Association of Washington (NGAW) held the National Guard Birthday Run to honor the sacrifices of those before and to raise awareness and pride for those serving today.

"Being willing to come out and run on a cold, wet and dreary morning with a handful of other soldiers and airmen portrays a positive message that the Adjutant General of Washington still enjoys the camaraderie that happens when you get out and work hard with your people," said Brewer. "It is a positive message of no leader being above his or her people."

The Washington National Guard's Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, joined the run to help stress the importance of the National Guard's accomplishments, as well as to emphasize the importance of soldier morale, fitness and resiliency overall.

"The older I get the more I understand how important it is to never forget our history," said Daugherty. "Forgetting the history of our organization can facilitate forgetting our values and our purpose. Conversely, remembering the history of our organization can help us to remember our values and purpose."

It seems apparent that the Washington National Guard will not forget those that have gone before them; those service members who have shed blood, sweat and tears in order to make the organization what it is today.

"Taking a few minutes to remember our history can ultimately produce a renewed sense of pride and gratitude that just might make a difference in the way that we approach our jobs and our families on any given day," added Daugherty.

>>> Sgt. 1st Class Robert Chinneth was the first place male finisher for the Camp Murray National Guard Run Dec. 12. Chinneth finished the 5k-plus run around Camp Murray in just over 20 minutes. Photo credit: Gary Lott

>>> Sgt. 1st Class Hopkins, Staff Sgt. Murray and Spc. Gines finish the final stretch of the Washington National Guard's National Guard Birthday Run. Photo credit: Gary Lott

>>> The Washington National Guard's Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, left, receives support from his servicemembers while crossing the finish line of the 5K run around Camp Murray. Daugherty ran alongside the Joint Services Support and Family Programs Director Lt. Col. Don Brewer to honor the National Guard's 378th birthday. Photo credit: Gary Lott

>>> The spouse of a Washington National Guard servicemember shows off the Recruiting and Retention Battalion "Swag Bag" that she received for finishing with the top female time.

>>> The Washington National Guard's Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, reiterates the importance of National Guard history and the impacts of the guard throughout the centuries following a National Guard Birthday Run around the perimeter of Camp Murray Dec. 12. Photo by Gary Lott

>>> The youngest attendee of the National Guard Birthday Run, held by the Joint Services Support Directorate Dec. 12, joins the Washington National Guard's Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, to conduct the official National Guard 378th birthday cake cutting ceremony. Photo credit: Gary Lott

November 21, 2014 at 2:10pm

Washington National Guard 2014 Turkey Trot results, bearded woman spotted

Washington National Guard held a "Hunting Gear" themed Turkey Trot at Camp Murray Nov. 21. Photo credit: Gary Lott

Financial stress comes almost as easily as the joy and happiness holidays bring to families. Reducing financial stress was the primary reason dozens of members of the Washington National Guard and Washington Military Department came together this morning at Camp Murray to get some exercise and help provide meals to accompany the turkeys arriving at Murray next week. Operation Turkey Drop provides complimentary holiday turkeys to servicemembers during the Thanksgiving week. The Washington National Guard's Family Programs has been a major recipient for this program and, for the third year in a row, has once again added in all the "fixings" - with the help from their guardsmen. The annual Turkey Trot 5K run for the Washington National Guard encourages all participants to bring a non-perishable food item to the run.

After this morning's run, the Family Programs staff staged bags with the donated food items as "sides" to accompany the forthcoming Operation Turkey Drop turkeys.

"The event is a great way to start Friday off on the right foot and it truly is amazing to see all of the canned goods piling up," said the Turkey Trot's NCOIC and Washington National Guard Suicide Prevention Program manager, Staff Sgt. Adam Zangenberg. "I know the soldiers really enjoyed dressing up in their hunting gear as well."

"Wear Your Favorite Hunting Gear" was this morning's theme - and there were plenty of outfits that weren't hard to miss, even if they did blend in to the scenery. These ongoing themed-runs are a low-pressure way to encourage physical fitness and assist in building the morale of the Washington National Guard.

"There were plenty of smiles from the sergeant majors down to the specialists," said Zangenberg. "I even had one civilian, who retired a while ago, tell me he hasn't ran this long in years."

With plenty of hunting outfits and even a break in the morning rain during the run, the Camp Murray Turkey Trot provided the perfect venue to conduct physical fitness in a fun setting, all for a meaningful cause.

"Military families will get to benefit from all the food collected and even just one can of food makes the run worthwhile," Zangenberg said. "We support our service members throughout the year and this was a great way of saying thanks during the Thanksgiving holiday season."


5K around the perimeter of Camp Murray


1st: Sgt. 1st Class Sappington - 18:34

2nd: Sgt. 1st Class Rushing - 18:35

3rd: Capt. Goertzen - 20:35


1st: Sgt. Waponoski

2nd: Sgt, 1st Class Schlueb

3rd: Master Sgt. Bluff

November 10, 2014 at 2:52pm

Words & Photos: Auburn Veterans Day Parade 2014

JBLM Explosive Ordnance Disposal Battalion blew people's minds at the 49th Annual Auburn veterans Day Parade. Photo credit: Gary Lott

Veterans Day is always officially observed on Nov. 11, the anniversary of the signing of the treaty that ended World War I in 1918. Originally called Armistice Day, it was renamed Veterans Day in 1954 to honor all American military veterans and their service.

On Saturday, the city of Auburn held its annual Veterans Day Parade. This year, the observance paid special tribute to the Military Order of the Purple Heart while also recognizing the 49 years that Auburn has honored veterans with its celebration and parade.

"It's very important for us to be here and show the community that we are both soldiers and citizens," said Sgt. 1st Class Duane Cruz, marketing manager for the Washington National Guard's Recruiting and Retention Battalion. "All of these guys who come out and dedicate their time are volunteers and eagerly do these events to show their own support, inform the public of what they do, and thank the community for all of their continued support."

Auburn has been designated by the Veterans Day National Committee and the U.S.  Department of Veterans Affairs as a regional site for celebrating Veterans Day. The parade has been hosted in Auburn since 1965 and is now one of the largest Veterans Day parades in the United States.

It focuses on honoring the country's veterans and active-duty military personnel, as well as honoring their military missions defending freedom around the world, such as World War I.

The 2014 Auburn Veterans Day Parade wasn't just about military vehicles traveling down a mile strip, however. The celebration was a daylong event and included an American Legion breakfast, static displays and seven exhibit showcases, a Remembrance Ceremony and the traditional Lighting of the Flame, the parade, a marching band competition, a veteran's luncheon and the Auburn VFW Post #1741 Open House. The day's celebrations concluded with Sweet Swing! A Tribute to Veterans, a one-of-a-kind show held in the Auburn Avenue Theater.

Before the actual parade started, a pancake breakfast was provided by American Legion Post #78, and a Remembrance Ceremony and Lighting of the Flame event took place at Veterans Memorial Park. 

Jim Sims of the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) was the parade's grand marshal. This year's parade theme was the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

With more than 200 individual military units participating and more than 20,000 spectators, it is apparent that the event continues to grow in the Pacific Northwest. The general public even had an opportunity to walk down a street loaded with military vehicles and equipment and could even climb a rock wall courtesy of the Washington National Guard.

Later in the day, during the Auburn Noon Lions Club Luncheon, the Joint Services Support Directorate of the Washington National Guard received the 2014 Service Team Award from the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs for, "Outstanding Service to Veterans and their Families."

Along with the team award, four Distinguished Service Awards were given to individuals who excelled in supporting veterans, one of whom was Robin Baker, manager of the Joint Base Lewis-McChord's Army Career and Alumni Program.

"A lot of people don't really know what we do, so it's nice to share some information about what we do and the equipment we use," said Spec. Justin Near from the 110th Chemical Battalion at JBLM. The unit conducts site exploitation, which is when service members use detector equipment to determine what exactly is on any particular site.

"We have detector information here used to detect radiation and chemical warfare agents. That way we can keep ourselves and our sites safe," Near said. "I think it gives the public a sense of security to see us out here, and we're honored to assist."

LINK: More photos from the 49th Annual Auburn Veterans Day Parade

November 8, 2014 at 11:11pm

Seahawks mural unveiled at new USO Northwest Center at SeaTac Airport

Servicemembers from local military branches posed in front of a large-scale 12th Man flag that hid a new Seattle Seahawks mural for an unveiling at the new USO Northwest SeaTac Center Nov. 7. Photo credit: Gary Lott

At Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Sgt. 1st Class Bryant Hargrove spends long days recruiting new members for the U.S. Army.

At home, Hargrove's wife spends long nights trying to recruit the soldier into the 12th Man army.

"It's always a great experience going to Seahawks games and I'm coming along," said Hargrove. "I may not be a fully-converted fan just yet, but I've been supporting the 12th man a little more than my friends and family expect."

He was one of the dozens of servicemembers from all branches present for the Seahawks mural unveiling at the new USO Northwest Center at the SeaTac International Airport Center Friday, Nov. 7.

>>> Sgt. 1st Class Bryant Hargrove, a U.S. army recruiter based at JBLM, shows off some of the new Bose speakers and other Seahawks swag donated for the Internet Café inside the new USO Northwest SeaTac Airport Center. Photo credit: Gary Lott

It's hard to ignore the excitement of Seahawks football.

"It just shows support. I remember when I was in Iraq and my XO was still the biggest Seahawks supporter," said Hargrove. "Knowing that we get all that support back and that the entire organization recognizes the military and all that we do, is truly special."

The theme of community, bonding and support is front and center in the halls of the new USO center.

>>> A U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Northwest member takes a moment to reflect on the USO "Every Moment Counts" campaign at USO Northwest SeaTac Center Nov. 7. The campaign honors servicemembers and highlight the moments that matter most for troops and their loved ones. Photo credit: Gary Lott

>>> Each tile on this wall represents some form of remembrance and/or contribution made to the new 7,500 sq. ft. USO Northwest SeaTac Airport Center. Photo credit: Gary Lott

"It's a community bonding event," said Staff Sgt. Charles Spencer of the Washington National Guard while tightly gripping a signed Doug Baldwin football. "There are a lot of fans in this area and a lot of military members, so it's nice to overlap the two and see the outpouring level of support for the military and local community."

These types of high-exposure events work well at shining some light on military efforts.

"It highlights some of the important things that just a small portion of our United States military does for us," said Spencer. "The Seahawks constantly help to bring those to the forefront."

>>> Staff Sgt. Charles Spencer of the Washington National Guard joins Seagal cheerleaders in front of a 12s Seahawks-supporting flag. Photo credit: Gary Lott

>>> Servicemembers from local military branches posed in front of a large-scale 12th Man flag that hid a new Seattle Seahawks mural for an unveiling at the new USO Northwest SeaTac Center Nov. 7. Photo credit: Gary Lott

If it were up to the USO Northwest Center staff, they would've had thousands of people attend the mural unveiling, but decided to keep some of the surprises for the grand opening in February 2015.

"We were debating on if we should have 3,000 or just 300 people here for this event, but we decided to stick with 300 since we will be unveiling the whole center here in a couple of months."

>>> Tech Sgt. Conner Welborn of Joint Base Lewis-McChord smiles with his two little Seahawk supporters during a Seahawks mural unveiling event at the USO Northwest SeaTac Airport Center Nov. 7. Photo credit: Gary Lott

USO Northwest at SeaTac International Airport Center will host a grand opening celebration in February 2015.

"I'm standing here with Blitz (the Seahawks Mascot) and it's a wonderful moment for the USO," said USO Northwest Executive Director Don Leingang. "When we moved here, we knew that we are never moving again."

Liengang was referring to the new USO Northwest Center down the hall from the existing one at SeaTac Airport.

"We're gonna be here forever and forever happens only because you have great partners," he added.

The USO staff was ready to upgrade in size.

"We were busting at the seams," said Bill Baker, Service Center manager for the USO Northwest Center.  

Through an agreement and donation from the Port of Seattle, the center will open up in a new, 7,500 square foot center to better support the movements and travels of more than 100,000 servicemembers every year.

>>> A Super Bowl ring magically finds its way on a Coast Guard servicemember's finger at the new USO Northwest SeaTac Center. The Seahawks adopted the U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Northwest as their military service branch for 2014. Photo credit: Gary Lott

"(Seattle Seahawks) is an organization that supports the troops," said Baker. "Their Salute to Service campaign for this month is providing 10 percent of all proceeds from Salute to Service clothing wear back to the USO Northwest. It's just a way for them to say thank you for the service that our servicemembers do - day in and day out. They know that we will be here to do that 24/7 and that this community really does value and support the service that they do for our country, day in and day out."

Filed under: USO, Army, National Guard, Ceremony, Sports,

September 6, 2014 at 1:30pm

Armed Forces help Seattle Seahawks kick off the 2014-15 NFL Season

Washington National Guard receives high-fives before unveiling the Seattle Seahawks' new 80-foot Vince Lombardi Super Bowl banner. Photo credit: Gary Lott

The Seattle Seahawks are World Champions, and now, in part with the military's help, have the banners up in CenturyLink Field to prove it.

The team made the military an integral part of its NFL Kickoff celebration Thursday as members from each branch took part in the National Anthem and the Super Bowl banner presentation as well as reenlistment and promotion ceremonies.

"The Seahawks and our fans recognize the essential role and amazing service provided by America's military personnel," said Seattle Seahawks Community Relations Vice President Mike Flood. "We're proud to feature service members from all branches as we display the World Championship banner and begin the 2014 NFL season."

The amount of inquiries for support has increased significantly with the Seahawks' super success. However, the organization continues to involve the military throughout the year - even in one of the most popular games of the entire NFL season. In fact, support is increasing.

"That effort will continue every year because it's our opportunity and duty to give back," Flood said. "Our coaches, players and staff have a year-round dedication to partnering (with) service members and supportive causes."

>>> U.S. Navy member LCDR Jay Hyler shows off the Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl Championship Ring before his on-field promotion ceremony before the NFL Kickoff game against the Green Bay Packers Sept. 4. Photo credit: Gary Lott

>>> Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ballesteros is all smiles during his re-enlistment ceremony on the field of the Seattle Seahawks during their military pre-game celebration Thursday. Photo credit: Gary Lott

Flood and Seahawks Fan Development Assistant Director Armando Mejia lead the critical relationship between the Seahawks organization and the military. They work with bases throughout the Pacific Northwest to create new ideas every year, such as the 80-feet high Super Bowl banner, which was held by members of the Washington National Guard during the Seahawks NFL Kickoff game against the Green Bay Packers Sept. 4.

"It was really neat to see them unfold the Super Bowl banner in rehearsal, and it sent the message that we finally did it," said Spc. Josh Medford, JFHQ, 2-146 Artillery, Washington National Guard, prior to the game. "I've got a pretty critical role in the presentation, as I'm the one who grabs the flag by the top and walks it all the way down to the bottom."

>>> Fireworks burst into the sky as 50 members of the Washington National Guard hold a brand new 80-foot Vince Lombardi Super Bowl Trophy banner during the Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl celebration. Photo credit: Gary Lott

>>>Pop sensation Ariana Grande joins members of every service branch to sing the National Anthem before the Seattle Seahawks took on the Green Bay Packers. Photo credit: Gary Lott

Along with an on-the-field presence of the military this season, the Seahawks are also implementing a #SeahawksSalute campaign, which will feature photos of deployed service members demonstrating their "12th Man" spirit.

>>> Various members of military branches hold up a camouflage "12s" Flag during various military pre-game ceremonies. Photo credit: Gary Lott

The Seahawks organization is using the popularity of social media to enhance its connection between "12s" and the team, to include the military.

"One of our most recent programs is the Seahawks adopted military unit," Flood explained. "The Army was our first, in 2012, then the Air Force was last year, and now the Coast Guard will carry the football and "12 Flag" for 2014."

The selected unit participates in special team events and carries the "12 Flag" to locales worldwide throughout the season.

During the summer, the Seahawks made it a priority to bring the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the "Heroes of 12 Tour" to bases across Washington state, to include last year's adopted unit at the 446thAirlift Wing.

"We made it a point to begin the Lombardi Trophy tour at military bases to demonstrate our appreciation for the selfless service they give to America," Flood said. "It was a pleasure for us to see the smiles of thousands of service members at every base on the trophy visit."

A large part of the #SeahawksSalute program success relies on servicemembers.

Medford said the Seahawks Salute is both important and fun. Thursday's game was Medford's first Seahawks event, but he's done similar salute ceremonies for both the Sounders and Mariners.

A variety of military involved events took place throughout the NFL Kickoff game.

"During our break ... we actually got a chance to watch Pharrell during his rehearsal," said Medford.  "He actually came right over and gave us high-fives and posed in several pictures for us."

Entertainment wasn't the only thing taking place on the field before the big game, however.

Now Navy Lt. Comdr. Jay Hyler was promoted directly on the field before the game and even had the honor of having his daughter pin on his new rank.

"It was such an honor to have my daughter alongside of me while I get promoted," Hyler said. "It's her first game ever, and she even got to try on a Super Bowl Ring.  How amazing is that?"

Along with Hyler's promotion, Army Capt. Paul Ballesteros re-enlisted during the pregame ceremonies.

"This is my home state, so it means a lot to me to re-enlist indefinitely," said Ballesteros, who has been a Seahawks fan since wearing a Steve Largent jersey when he was only 5 years old.

"I feel great about this event," he added. "This shows me that the Seahawks work well with the Army by providing amazing opportunities for a homegrown soldier such as myself to do something like this."

It's hard to forget one's first-ever NFL game.  It will be especially hard for Tech Sgt. Matt McKenna, who's stationed on the McChord side of Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

It was his first Seahawks game, and he found himself standing only a few feet from pop sensation Ariana Grande while she performed the National Anthem.

McKenna recently received a Silver Star and a Bronze Star for his ground combat heroics in Afghanistan in 2012.

"It's incredibly humbling to receive this honor," he said of being awarded the medals. "It's really recognition of the team's work and combined efforts with the Army on one pretty tough day."

Stories such as McKenna's show the importance of supporting, showcasing and allowing the military to be a part of every Seattle Seahawks home game.

"We may not be able to touch everyone through Seahawks programs, but we will do our best to honor those who have given so much for the freedoms we enjoy," Flood said.  "We remain committed to dozens of programs that strive to help military personnel, veterans and their families."

September 4, 2014 at 7:39am

Thursday Morning Joe: ISIS defector speaks, Al Qaeda craves attention, National Guard shortfall, ice bucket fails ...

The U.S. Army NATO Brigade’s Allied Forces South Battalion throws practice coffee pots during familiarization training at the Grafenwoehr Training Area in Grafenwoehr, Germany. Original photo by Sgt. 1st Class John Wollaston


A senior White House official today signaled the United States is already gathering support from countries in the Middle East for a united front against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The family of Steven Sotloff, the second American journalist beheaded by Islamic State militants, said he was "a gentle soul", and challenged the group's leader to a debate on the peaceful teachings of the Muslim holy book, the Koran

In the cities and towns across the desert plains of northeast Syria, the ultra-hardline al Qaeda offshoot Islamic State has insinuated itself into nearly every aspect of daily life.

ISIS Defector: ISIS plans to take over the Arab world and then "go to other countries."

David Cameron says that in going after ISIS inside Syria, the West does not need an invitation from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, insisting that Assad's government is not legitimate.

A roiling national debate over how to deal with the radical Islamic State and other global hot spots has prompted a sudden shift in Republican politics, putting a halt to the anti-interventionist mood that had been gaining credence in the party.

Former Cuban President Fidel Castro accused Sen. John McCain and Israel of conspiring to create the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria

Even Terrorist Groups Crave Attention: Al Qaeda opens new front in India.

Ukraine's President announced progress on a ceasefire agreement yesterday with Russia, but U.S. President Barack Obama is skeptical and even Moscow downplayed it.

Russia's foreign minister said any future efforts by Ukraine to join NATO would "derail" peace talks to solve the crisis in Ukraine.

In 2013, 57 Army Reserve Soldiers decided the only way out of their particular situation was to take their own life. That year was the most deadly since 2009.

Training for tens of thousands of Army National Guard soldiers will be canceled this month as the reserve component hits a $101 million shortfall in the final weeks of this fiscal year.

The Pentagon is pushing its strategy to develop new technologies and capabilities alongside allies to drive down costs and foster innovation, the assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering said on Wednesday.

Budget: The Army is spending far too little to equip its soldiers.

The adversary is looking to exploit vulnerabilities in Army computer systems, said the chief of the Army's Cyberspace and Information Operations Division.

A Pentagon advisory panel on wounded servicemembers is recommending that the Defense Department scrap the disability evaluation system it rolled out across the military just three years ago.

Government Shutdown: The U.S. Senate's embattled top Republican is predicting Congress will pass a funding measure that the president would not veto.

The Pentagon will expand its use of prototyping as the U.S. Defense Department's budget tightens, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday.

The Defense Department has agreed to reconsider the bad-paper discharges for thousands of Vietnam-era veterans who may have suffered from combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder but were kicked out of the military in the era before that became a diagnosable condition.

Dangerous Bag: A ball girl at the U.S. Open shows she has the skills to track down whatever crosses her court.

In Overdrive: This is what you get when you put a pug in a ball pit for the first time.

Headbanging: Metal in inappropriate places.

Oh No: Hollywood will make a CHiPs movie.

Jimmy Kimmel Live! hit the streets of Hollywood asking a multiple guys whether they'd looked up the nude photos.

You knew it was coming ... failed ice bucket challenges ...

LINK: Original photo by Sgt. 1st Class John Wollaston

August 26, 2014 at 11:56am

I Corps mechanics assist 191st Inf. Bde. and Idaho Army National Guard at the Orchard Combat Training Center

Spc. Mark R Richards, a mechanic with 1st Corps’ headquarters support company, removes a starter from a Humvee during a during an exercise at the Orchard Combat Training Center, Id., on Aug. 15, 2014. Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Adam C. Keith

Mechanics from 1st Corps' Headquarters Support Company are spending the month of August supporting the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team, an Idaho Army National Guard unit, and the 191st Infantry Brigade, based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, during a training rotation at the Orchard Combat Training Center, located just outside of Boise, Idaho.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jose A. Yanes, the 191st Brigade's maintenance technician, said the mechanics were needed to help augment his unit's maintenance capabilities.

"When the 1st Corps' soldiers arrived, we really didn't know what to expect, but they have been nothing but a great help to us," he said.

Yanes said the mechanics work has been vital because the units at the training areas are running 24-hour operations, so they have been working 12-hour shifts keeping the brigade's vehicles in working order.

"The Humvees are the main means of transportation for the observers, coaches, and trainers out here. They use these vehicles up to 20 hours a day and they have limited time to refit," he said. "When they come in here we have to fix any issues and get (the Humvees) on the way as quickly as possible."

>>> Spc. Chris J. Vetter, a mechanic with 1st Corps' headquarters support company, removes a starter from a Humvee during a during an exercise at the Orchard Combat Training Center, Id., Aug. 15, 2014. Vetter is part of a group of 1st Corps mechanics working around the clock to support the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team, an Idaho Army National Guard unit, and the 191st Infantry Brigade during their training rotation at the OCTC. Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Adam C. Keith

Sgt. Carlos Villa Jr., a heating and air conditioning technician with HSC 1st Corps, said the mechanics have also had the chance to perform six recovery operations while at the training area as well as cross train with each other.

"To be honest, I think I learn a lot more from my soldiers out here than they learn from me," he said. "Tomorrow we are going to swap out an engine in a Humvee and that's something I've always wanted to learn how to do; so I'm excited about that."

Villa said he also appreciates the time that being out in the field gives him to get to learn more about the soldiers he works with on a daily basis.

"One of the biggest things out here is the time we have to bond with other soldiers in our unit," said Villa. "Back in garrison you don't really have that opportunity all of the time, but over here you have 12 hours to talk and get to know each other."

Yanes said thanks to the efforts of the mechanics, the operational readiness rate for the 191st has been steady at over 98 percent.

"The 191st would be dead in the water if they weren't here; they are a great asset to have," added Yanes. "They are well motivated and have been doing nothing but great work."

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