Monday, December 10, 2012

Plumber's plan to become pilot is no pipe dream

by Tech. Sgt. Elizabeth Moody
446th Airlift Wing, Public Affairs

12/7/2012 - MCCHORD FIELD, Wash. -- With a lot of hard work and a little patience, the dream of becoming a pilot with the Air Force Reserve is beginning to become a reality for a plumber assigned to the 446th Civil Engineering Squadron, here.

Tech. Sgt. Lazare Quintana, 446th CES utilities system assistant, was sponsored by the 313th Airlift Squadron for a position as a C-17 Globemaster III pilot. With his transfer approved by Air Force Reserve Command Dec. 7, Quintana is turning in his pipe wrench and planning to head off to Officer Training School in March, bringing him one step closer to his dream of flying the friendly skies.

"I knew I wanted to be a pilot in high school," said Quintana. "But I knew my family couldn't afford to send me to school. I enlisted in the Air Force so I could become associated with the culture of the Air Force and grow from there."

Taking advantage of tuition assistance, Quintana said he began taking college courses right after basic training.

"I earned a bachelor of science degree in professional aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in April 2012," said Quintana. "I got the entire degree with tuition assistance and a lot of Reservists forget they have that benefit."

Quintana said he's always loved what he does, whether fixing pipes or learning to fly.

"I've always wanted to push myself to do the best I could do," said the Albuquerque, N. M. native.

Quintana said many people throughout the 446th Airlift Wing have helped him achieve his goal, however, his wife's support was most cherished.

"I wouldn't be here without my wife's support, she is everything," said Qunitana, who resides in Spokane, Wash.

"Qunitana's the one to support because he's done so much for this squadron," said Chief Master Sgt. William Markgraf, 446th CES, chief enlisted manager here. "Anything he gets involved with, Quintana does an absolutely stellar job. We hate to see him go but this is the opportunity of a lifetime. This is his dream. "

Airmen reminded to get TDAP

by Airman 1st Class R. Alex Durbin
633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

12/10/2012 - LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. -- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of Nov. 17, 2012, more than 36,000 cases of pertussis and 16 pertussis-related deaths were reported this year.

The Department of the Air Force mandated all personnel to receive the tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis, or TDAP, vaccine as part of every Airman's individual medical readiness in June, 2012.

The TDAP vaccine was licensed in 2005, and is the first vaccine to protect against pertussis as well as tetanus and diphtheria.

All Airmen who have not received their TDAP vaccination by Jan 1, 2012 will be considered overdue, and therefore ineligible to deploy.

"It was discovered that immunity to these diseases, pertussis in particular, waned after time," said Dr. [Lt. Col.] Teresa Nesselroad, 633rd Medical Operations Squadron allergist. "The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices made a recommendation that all American citizens get the TDAP vaccine."

The ACIP provides advice and guidance on effective control of vaccine-preventable diseases, and develops written recommendations for routine administration of vaccines.

Although the extent of tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis may not be common knowledge, they can be very serious diseases.

All three diseases are caused by bacteria. Diphtheria and pertussis are spread from person to person. Tetanus enters the body through cuts, scratches or wounds.

· Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, causes painful muscle spasms and stiffness. It can lead to tightening of muscles in the head and neck, leaving the victim unable open the mouth or swallow, and can kill about one out of every five individuals infected.

· Diphtheria can cause a thick membrane to cover the back of the throat, leading to problems breathing, paralysis, heart failure and even death.

· Pertussis is a common disease often referred to as the whooping cough. It causes severe coughing spells, which can lead to difficulty breathing, vomiting and disturbed sleep. It can lead to weight loss, incontinence and rib fractures. Two in 100 adolescents and five in 100 adults with pertussis are hospitalized or have complications - including pneumonia or death.

Pertussis can also cause serious illness in infants, children and adults. The disease begins like the common cold, with congestion, sneezing and a possible mild cough or fever. But severe coughing can start after one to two weeks.
Unlike the common cold, pertussis can become a series of coughing fits that can continue for weeks, causing violent and rapid coughing. The fits can go on until the air is gone from the lungs and those infected are forced to inhale with a loud "whooping" sound. In infants, the cough can be minimal. They may instead have life-threatening pauses in breathing.

Pertussis is usually spread by coughing or sneezing while in close contact. Many infants who get pertussis are infected by parents, siblings or other caregivers who may be unaware they have the disease, further demonstrating the importance of the TDAP vaccine.

"This vaccine is recommended not only to protect your health, but the health of those around you," said Nesselroad.

For more information on the TDAP vaccine, visit the CDC website at To get vaccinated, visit your local immunizations office.

Hickam's heroes: Airmen to return to flagpole

by Staff Sgt. Mike Meares
Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Public Affairs

12/7/2012 - JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii  -- As the years pass, fewer men and women who survived the horrific events of Dec. 7, 1941, return to the place where their lives changed forever.

For the 71st time, Airmen, civilians, family and friends will gather around the flagpole Dec. 7 to salute and remember the ones who gave their lives on that infamous day. Among the crowd, several men will be honored for their role in surviving the attacks and fighting for their country.

"As these men get older, their tales die with them," said Jessie Higa, Hickam History Club president. "Those who remain can't travel the distance from their home town any longer because of their age and variety of health issues."

Among the guest, and oldest at 98 years old, Col. (Ret.) Andrew Kowalski, of Honolulu, is a native of Pittsburg. He enlisted in the Army in 1934, sum 78 years ago. He arrived to Hickam Field in 1939 and quickly rose through the enlisted ranks. On the morning of Dec. 7, then a master sergeant, fell asleep at friend's house in Hickam housing having stayed up late playing poker. At approximately 7:55 a.m., he was awakened by loud explosions and immediately reported for duty at the wing headquarters building where he was the assistant to the commander.

"When I heard the explosions, I bee-lined it to the headquarters building," Kowalski said.

For the next several hours, his job was to answer the phone and maintain the official list of Hickam casualties. A few months later he was recommended for Officer Training School.

"I had to man the commander's telephone to receive the names of all the casualties as they were being called in," he said. "I handled the casualties list when we set up a command post in the Aliamanu Crater. Those lists were then transferred to the morgue in preparation for burials."

He maintained the entire lists of casualties for the Army department, which including Wheeler Field, Bellows Field, Schofield Barracks and Fort Shafter.

Another of the Hickam Field survivors who returned to Hawaii and made it his home is Master Sgt. (Ret.) Kenneth Ford, of Honolulu. In 1940, the Kentucky native lied about his age and enlisted in the Army at age 15.

"It's the best thing that ever happened to me, because it saved my life," Ford said. "If I hadn't gone into the military, I would have probably been killed or led a life of crime."

On Dec. 6th, while en-route to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, he had a lay-over at Hickam Field and spent the night in the consolidated barracks. Early Sunday morning, he was taking a shower when the first bomb exploded. While running out of the bathroom the nearest place to seek cover was under on office desk.

"Machine gun bullets came through the windows of the shower room I was in while the Japanese was strafing the parade grounds," he said. "That's why I hid under a desk, it was a big thick desk. When I finally looked up, I could see the Zeros attacking the flightline and blowing up hangars."

He then ran outside in his underwear where he could see smoke rising into the sky all over the area. Dead and wounded littered the grounds. Later that afternoon he was issued a WWI Springfield rifle and five rounds of ammo to man the beach at Fort Kamehameha against possible Japanese invaders.

"The first sergeant said to me 'After you shoot five, use the bayonet,"' Ford said, who was 16 years old at the time of the attacks. "So, I waited on the beach for three days for them to land, and they never landed."

Months later, he arrived in Alaska, but found himself again at war with enemy Japanese forces, surviving yet again. When he was transfered to Europe to fight the Germans, he was captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp in Italy. After spending 14 months in captivity, his unit was saved by Japanese-Americans soldiers of the 442nd Regiment Combat Team, made up of Soldiers from Hawaii. He continued his military career and is also a combat veteran having fought in both Korea and active combat fighting during the Tet Offensive in Vietnam.

"Anyone who says they weren't scared is probably the biggest liar in the world," Ford said. "Everybody's got a breaking point. Today, more than 70 years later, I still have nightmares. It stays with you and you never really get over it."

A third WWII veteran will be in the crowd and among fellow Airmen, but he wasn't at Hickam during the attacks, even though he was assigned there. Col. (Ret.) Roy Bright, was a B-17 navigator assigned to Hickam Field, but at the time of the attack was at Hamilton Field, California, with his crew preparing to fly a new B-17E model back to base. The radar operator reported a large group of airplanes coming in, but the Japanese were mistaken for the B-17s, who were late.

A few days later his crew would make the trans-Pacific flight. The aircrew endured the bird's eye view of the unimaginable destruction and devastation inflicted on the island of Oahu. Bright might have missed the attacks, but he has never missed a Dec. 7 ceremony since 1946. At age 98, he celebrates 65 years of perfect attendance.

A final guest of honor making his last trip to the islands, Senior Master Sgt. (Ret.) Raymond Perry, of Arizona, will join the ranks at the ceremony. Elizabeth Perry, his widow, and other members of his family, will bring the urn containing his remains, to be scattered in a private ceremony after the remembrance.

Then an Army Air Force private first class, Perry, of the 29th Car Company, was on temporary duty at Fort Armstrong in downtown Honolulu when the first attack occurred. Everyone was scrambling around trying to get away from the anti-aircraft shells that were raining down all over. The shell contained contact fuses, which explode on impact of anything. Perry said he was "tired of getting shot at" so he volunteered to take trucks to Hickam to transport wounded to Tripler.

"I went over to our first sergeant and said, 'I'm volunteering,"' Perry remembers telling his first sergeant. "'You don't even know what I want volunteers for.' I said, 'I don't care. I just want to get out of here.'"

The 14-bed Hickam Clinic had wounded lining the halls inside and the sidewalk and grassy areas outside. He said Hickam had asked volunteers to help pick up wounded and get them to Tripler.

Two military motorcycle policemen escorted their convoy of five trucks to Hickam Field. They proceeded along Hangar Avenue, past the consolidated barracks, and pulled into the area between Hangars 9 and 13. With the help of Army Air Forces personnel, they began loading wounded men into their trucks. One of the men took white sheets and painted a large red cross on them and draped it over the trucks.

Then at 8:45 a.m., someone nearby shouted, "Here they come again!" People scattered from plain view and ducked inside the closest hangar door well. After the explosions and firing subsided, they went out and found all their trucks completely demolished. Of the 17 men they had picked up, only three were still alive as the red crosses proved to be targets for the attackers.

Perry went on in his Air Force career to be known as a master parachutist and become one of the founding members of the Air Force Special Operations Forces pararescue career.

For 71 years, different men and women who witnessed the attacks and lived to tell their tale have returned to the spot it all started. Even the flagpole took a barrage of bombs and bullets to topple it from waving proudly in the Trade Winds, never giving up its position in the sky. The scarred buildings tell many stories without saying a single word of survival and heroism. Once the last of their generation passes, their legacy will endure in the continued service of Airmen.

(Jessie Higa contributed historical information to this story)

Dobbins joins Operation Toy Drop

by Senior Airman Elizabeth Van Patten
94th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

12/10/2012 - DOBBINS AIR RESERVE BASE, Ga. -- Aircrews and C-130s took off from here Dec. 7 to join up to eight other aircrews and approximately 6,000 paratroopers from around the world as part of the 15th Annual Randy Oler Operation Toy Drop over Fort Bragg, N.C.

The operation is hailed as the world's largest combined airborne operation, according to Maj. James Light, 700th Aerial Squadron, 94th Airlift Wing C-130 instructor pilot and mission commander. Airframes from multiple bases will drop hundreds of paratroopers and distribute an estimated 20,000 toys to children in need Dec. 7-8.

"It's a great feeling to be able to help children in need out, especially during the holiday season," said Light. "For us, we get a lot of training out of it. We will be flying multi-ship formations with Guard, Reserve and Active Duty. We have some young Airmen who have never dropped personnel before."

For the 94th AW and Light, this will be their third year participating in the toy drop. The wing's aircrews have a diverse group as far as toy drop experience goes. Capt. Jonathan Lester, 700 AS C-130 pilot will be an aircraft commander for one of the Dobbins airframes and will be completing his first toy drop.

"Overall, there will be about 6,000 paratroopers, and we hope to be able to drop about 2,000 of them," said Lester "Not only is this a great opportunity for our guys, but it's also an opportunity for the paratroopers to jump with foreign jump masters and earn foreign jump wings."

Seven nations are participating in the 2012 Operation Toy Drop: Italy, Germany, Canada, Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, and the Netherlands, according to Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command officials. Operation Toy Drop combines thousands of toys, Army paratroopers, hundreds of volunteers, dozens of allied military personnel, and more than a dozen Air Force aircraft.

New Process Improves Household Goods Shipments

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill., Dec. 10, 2012 – A system being implemented at U.S. Transportation Command is making permanent-change-of-station moves more convenient, while reducing lost and damaged shipments and saving the government money.

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The Defense Personal Property System is making permanent-change-of-station moves more convenient, reducing lost and damaged shipments and saving the government money. Here, a moving truck is unloaded as a military family moves into a new home at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Courtesy photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The Defense Personal Property System, introduced in 2009 as a pilot program at 17 installations, now supports 90 percent of all military moves, Jill Smith, personal property division chief at Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, told American Forces Press Service.
The Web-based system automates many of the steps involved in military moves: pre-move counseling, scheduling, tracking, invoicing and claims filing for household goods shipments.

“The beauty of DPS is that customers can do all this from the comfort of their own homes. They can do it early in the morning or at 11 o’clock at night, whatever works best for them,” Smith said. “Plus, all the information they might want – whether it’s about gypsy moths or weight allowances, or just tips about how they can have a smoother move – is right at their fingertips, a click away, and available 24/7.”

DPS also gives customers the opportunity to track their shipments online. If their shipment is lost or damaged, they can file a claim online and settle directly with the moving company.

Moves not yet covered by DPS – generally those involving long-term storage or moves within an overseas theater – will be included as new features are added to make the system fully operational by September 2017, Smith said.

Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, Transcom’s Army component, processes about 600,000 personal property moves each year for soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, Defense Department civilian employees and their families, Smith reported. About one-third of these moves take place during the summer, and almost 70,000 include privately owned vehicle shipments.

Collectively, they cost the Defense Department about $2.2 billion a year, Smith said. But with DPS, she projects between $117 million and $136 million in annual savings – while providing customers with better service.

That’s because rather than relying on “low-bid” transportation providers to conduct military moves, DPS provides “best value” services. This, Smith explained, factors in not just cost, but also variables such as timeliness, reliability, the incidence of lost or damaged shipments and ease in providing reimbursement for claims.

“We want to provide carriers that are not only qualified, but fully capable of making sure that they protect the members’ household goods, provide a great quality move and communicate with that customer,” she said. “The bottom line for us is that we want to do business with carriers that pick up the household goods on time and deliver them on time, with no or the least amount of damage – whether [that carrier] happens to be cheaper or a little bit more expensive.”

Those determinations are based directly on customer satisfaction surveys that help ensure the best movers get singled out for DOD business. “We rely on these surveys because [customers] get to evaluate the [transportation service provider’s] performance, and that ties directly into the best-value score,” Smith said. “The higher the customer satisfaction, the higher the score and the more opportunity that [carrier] gets to participate in future traffic.”

As an additional incentive for moving companies to apply extra care while handling DOD shipments, carriers are now required to pay full replacement value for anything lost or broken. Before that change was introduced about five years ago, transportation carriers paid a depreciated value on all claims.

The result has been a dramatic reduction in claims.

“If they break your $500 china, that means they have to replace or repair it. So carriers have a tendency to be more careful,” Smith said. “That is a good thing, because it helps make service members feel a little bit more comfortable about turning over their prized possessions, knowing that the carriers are going to be held responsible for it.”

Smith said she’s looking forward to the complete rollout of DPS and the convenience it will provide DOD customers throughout the move process.

“This will be a brand new era,” she said. “Customers will have a centralized one-stop shop that gives them all the tools they need to plan and manage their moves, that provides them best-value service and uses their feedback to ensure other service members will, too.”

ADC prioritizes client's "best interest"

by Airman 1st Class Marianique Santos
36th Wing Public Affairs

12/9/2012 - ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- Under investigation, facing an Article 15, letter of reprimand or other adverse actions? There is a place where you can seek confidential help.

The Area Defense Counsel program was set in place to eliminate the stigma that defense counsels worked in some way for the accused's chain of command.

Under the provisions of Article 31 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Compulsory self-incrimination prohibited, an Air Force member suspected of committing a criminal offense has the right to remain silent and the right to consult with a military defense counsel free of charge prior to making any statements.

"I'm not rated by anyone on base; my only loyalty is to my client," said Captain Ian Holzhauer, Andersen's Area Defense Counsel. "This is so I can freely advocate for the Airmen. If an Airman comes through my door and I see a legal problem with why and how their command wants them out of the service, I can fight for them. My job is to do what's in the best interest of my clients."

Established in 1974, the Area Defense Counsel's prime responsibility is to vigorously and ethically represent Airmen facing adverse military actions and to make sure that Airmen are properly advised on their situation and the UCMJ.

"My goal is for 100 percent of Article 15 recipients to come by," said Captain Holzhauer. "We advertise with our posters all over the base and speak with First Term Airmen Center students. We also let the command know that it's in their best interest to make sure an Airman comes and talks to us before they respond to an Article 15 or any adverse military action they are faced with. It doesn't help anyone if the process is not fair and someone is punished too harshly for something that has not been proven."

Prior to being nominated for the ADC position, judge advocates start off at base legal offices where they hone their skills as prosecutors in cases, including court martials. Exceptional JAGs at the legal office get nominated to be ADCs, usually after two base legal office tours. This process is in place to ensure that JAGs appointed to become ADCs have the experience and skill set to assist the Airmen in need of counsel.

Upon assuming the role of ADC, the JAG no longer works under any unit or chain on base; instead, they fall under the Air Force Legal Operation Agency in Washington, D.C.

"The JAG Corps set up the ADC structure to get special permission to have our assignments completely separate from the commands in the bases we're located," said Captain Holzhauer. "My boss is a senior defense counsel who is at Kadena Air Base, Japan. My chain of command is separate from the 36th Wing."

Alongside ADCs are the defense paralegals who help the Airmen prior to their meeting with the ADC. They schedule appointments, review cases and give Airmen a general idea of what they could be facing.

"I sit down and talk to them about the situation," said Tech. Sgt. Tara Padua, Andersen's defense paralegal. "A lot of young Airmen don't know how the system works."

"Before they leave here I make sure they're mentally okay," she continued. "I have seen people distraught because they feel like they hit rock bottom. I would either call mental health, a chaplain or a supervisor. If they don't prefer any of those, we stay here and talk with them. They can vent freely because they have 100 percent confidentiality."

Similar to civilian law, attorney-client privilege is afforded to Airmen in their discussions with ADCs and defense paralegals. Information given within the ADC office by a military member seeking advice is held in strict confidence unless disclosed as part of the defense during the case with the permission of the client.

"They could tell me what they're thinking and have a full frank discussion," said Captain Holzhauer. "Without my client's permission I will never talk to their commander, spouse or anybody else about what they told me."

From providing information and advice to keeping confidentiality and advocating in court, the ADC is one among many avenues the Air Force offers to uphold Airmen's rights and ensure that the accused are considered innocent until proven guilty.

199th, 19th Fighter Squadrons team up to retake ACA mission

by Staff Sgt. Nathan Allen
15th Wing Public Affairs

12/10/2012 - JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -- F-22 Raptor pilots from the 19th and 199th Fighter Squadrons here brought home a familiar mission Dec. 6 when they retook the responsibility of guarding Hawaii's skies through the Aerospace Control Alert mission.

On Aug. 6, 2010, the Montana Air National Guard's 186th Fighter Squadron from the 120th Fighter Wing based in Great Falls, gave the Hawaii Air National Guard's 199th FS a "breather" as they transitioned from the F-15 Eagle to the F-22 Raptor. Since then, the 199th FS has worked to posture itself to retake the mission, with the help of a total force integration partnership with the recently stood-up 19th FS owned and operated by active duty Airmen of the 15th Wing.

To fulfill the ACA mission, the squadrons will have pilots, maintainers, and weapons crews on call 24/7 ready to respond at a moment's notice against threats to the Hawaiian Islands. The squadrons and the aircraft they operate are considered "initially operationally capable," meaning they are fully qualified and manned to fulfill alert requirements as well as Pacific Command objectives to deploy anywhere worldwide with a limited number of assets.

Lt. Col. Mark Ladtkow, 199th FS commander, said the down time during the transition from the F-15 to the F-22 has been "bittersweet."

"It's our mission ... we work and live here in Hawaii, so to not be able to perform your state mission, homeland defense, is a little bit saddening. But it was sweet because (after switching to the F-22) we can now stand up our capability with the F-22 and regain that homeland defense mission."

Lt. Col. Robert Jackson, 19th FS commander, said choosing 1200 Zulu on Dec. 7 as the time in which to retake the ACA mission was no coincidence.

"As an American, I know that date, 7 December, is important not only for Hawaii but for the United States. It'll be a proud day as Americans and as members of the military in Hawaii to take back over that responsibility for top cover for the state of Hawaii."

As with many units within the 154th and 15th Wings, the two fighter squadrons have employed a TFI structure to get to where they are today. As such, the two commanders credit many accomplishments to their units' ability to work together seamlessly.

"We've had a number of significant milestones," Ladtkow said. "We've had the successful delivery of all 18 of our aircraft. We've been able to show throughout multiple exercises the ability to generate and mobilize the aircraft and its associated equipment, as well as operate from a temporary duty location and then be able to return with all those personnel ... we have the best total force integration organization in the United States Air Force."

Pilot Calls F-35 ‘Big Leap’ in Fighter Capability

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 10, 2012 – The F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter jet will be a strategic deterrent for the nation because of its "huge leap in capability," a Marine Corps pilot said.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Scott, commander of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing’s Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., recently told the Pentagon Channel the F-35 will allow Marines to perform missions in high-threat areas, unlike existing aircraft.

The F-35 will be able to do every mission now performed by the AV-8 Harrier does now, but will be able to do it in more situations, said Scott, who is involved with flying and testing the new aircraft. The new fighter will provide access to more areas, he explained, and will allow more time for rolling back enemy defenses.

The Defense Department and Lockheed Martin reached an agreement in principle last week to manufacture 32 F-35s in the Pentagon’s largest weapons program. Lockheed Martin will produce 22 F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variants for the Air Force, three F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing variants for the Marine Corps, and seven F-35C carrier variants for the Navy.
Scott said flying the F-35 is an easy transition from the Harrier, and that it did exceptionally well, during a recent trial at sea.

“The sensors and systems are the big leap deploying the aircraft in terms of tactics,” he said.
“The Lightning will fulfill a lot of the functions of Marine Corps aviation -- such as [our] air support role, antiair, targeting enemy ground locations and supporting the troops on the ground -- as Harriers and [F/A-18] Hornets do now,” he added. “But it brings more in one aircraft in its ability to protect itself from the enemy.”

Scott said the F-35 will give the military “a huge leap in capability, probably five or six steps beyond what we now have.”

“We're going to have this aircraft for a long time,” he said. “As we get more and more of these aircraft in all of the services, we’re going to see a lot of the benefits that the aircraft has in terms of commonality. As we start operating tactically, some of the communications [and] capabilities will become more and more valuable to the services, … and it will be in demand to combatant commanders around the world.”

Face of Defense: Twins Complete Recruit Training Together

By Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Bridget Keane
Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego

SAN DIEGO, Dec. 10, 2012 – Born four minutes apart, Marine Corps Pvts. Shaun and Gabe Vanderwall, Platoon 1035, Company B, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, grew up nearly inseparable.

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Marine Corps Pvts. Shaun and Gabe Vanderwall are identical twins who went through recruit training together at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Bridget Keane

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The 21-year-old identical twins from Ludington, Mich., were always together and enrolled in the same activities since they were children. “I guess it made it easier for our mother so she didn’t have to be in two places at once,” Shaun said. “That’s where our competitiveness came from.”

The twins would hold “friendly competitions” with each other during sporting events, trying to beat each other’s times and scores. As they moved on to high school, they both joined track and swim and continued in their competitive nature.

Although the boys’ friendly rivalry was taken light-heartedly, they still pushed each other to excel in any activity.

“We’re brothers, we wouldn’t want to see each other fail at anything,” Shaun said.

After graduating from Ludington High School in 2009 and receiving scholarships for their performance in track and swim, both soon realized how expensive college would be even with scholarships.

“Since we were good at swimming, we decided it would be a good idea to join the Coast Guard,” Shaun said. “We wanted to do something in search and rescue.”

The two went to speak with a recruiter, but were discouraged by the news they received.

“We were told that we’d have to wait two years before we could join,” Shaun said. “We decided we were going to wait.”

But the Vanderwall twins grew tired of their work at a local retirement home as servers and cooks. Gabe said they didn’t want to wait any longer and went back to the recruiting center to look at a different branch of service. He spoke with a Marine Corps recruiter and was pleased to hear that he and his brother would be able to leave sooner. He returned home with the good news to Shaun, and the two enlisted in April.
“We both wanted to get on with our lives, and the Marine Corps gave us so many options with jobs and benefits,” said Gabe.

The brothers shipped off to recruit training here Sept. 10 and were placed in the same platoon. Like most recruits, they had a hard time adjusting to the first few weeks of recruit training, they said, but the one thing they had was each other.

The brothers said they motivated each other when times became tough and even kept up with their competitive games during training events such as the combat fitness test.

“We both received a 300 on our CFTs and our times were close,” Gabe said. “We both did 100 ammunition can lifts, our 880 was 2 minutes 29 seconds, but I beat Shaun by seven seconds on the maneuver under fire -- I got a minute 50 seconds and he got 57 seconds.”

Knowing that they could always rely on each other, they continued to push through training and were noticed individually in the platoon.

“Shaun was more of a natural leader when he arrived, and Gabe was more reserved and quiet,” said Marine Corps Sgt. Brandon Rogers, drill instructor. “Gabe is actually the most improved recruit in our platoon.”

Rogers, a 25-year-old Fairfield, Calif., native, explained that while Gabe struggled in the beginning but soon started to volunteer more and take charge, both developed into good leaders, morally and physically.

“They motivated the platoon through their actions,” he said. “When there was a task that needed to be done, they’d always get it taken care of.”

Though the Vanderwall twins now hold the title Marine, their Marine Corps journey isn’t over yet. They are scheduled to continue Marine Combat Training at the School of Infantry at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Jan 8.

Once they finish training there, they will go separate ways for the first time in their lives. It’s going to be a big change in their lives, they said, but they’re ready to experience it.

“I think it will be a good experience for them,” Rogers said. “I’m confident that they’ll be fine on their own.”