Military News

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Face of Defense: Extended Family Trains Together at Fort Lee

By Terrance Bell U.S. Army Garrison Fort Lee

FORT LEE, Va., Nov. 28, 2017 — Enlisting in the Army with a childhood friend or relative is a generations-old practice meant to bring familiarity and comfort to an experience fraught with stress and uncertainty.

So, does signing up with more than one recruit further ease the difficulties associated with initial military training?

The answer is an emphatic "yes" as it relates to members of a Samoan family with a decidedly large footprint here. There are 41 of them enrolled in various Sustainment Center of Excellence courses here, twisting the old adage "strength in numbers."

"This is good for us," said 30-year-old Army Spc. Joseph Tauiliili, assigned to Papa Company, 244th Quartermaster Battalion, and the oldest among relatives in various stages of advanced individual training. "We come from American Samoa, and we're basically thousands of miles away from home. Seeing them by my side keeps me motivated every day."

American Samoa is a U.S. territory and part of the Samoan Islands, an archipelago that also includes the independent nation of Samoa. It is located in the Pacific Ocean roughly 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii and a little over 2,000 miles northeast of New Zealand.

The Samoans in training here -- first, second, third and fourth cousins -- hail from Poloa, an area near the capital city of Pago Pago. All are related to the same malietoa, or chieftain. Their decision to join in close proximity was partly based on strong familial and cultural ties, said Army Pvt. Siiva Tuiolemotu, assigned to Whiskey Company, 244th Quartermaster Battalion.

"We wanted to stick together in training," the 20-year-old said, noting her country's communal culture.

Various Courses

Most of the Samoans are training in the Unit Supply Specialist Course taught at the Quartermaster School. A few are enrolled in courses for other quartermaster military occupational specialties, and at least one attends the Ordnance School.

American Samoa, which has struggled economically, boasts strong traditions of military service, Tuiolemotu said. In 2014, a local Army recruiting station was the most productive in the world, according to the Samoa News website. Still, kinship is what drives most to take the oath of service.

"The thing we care about is supporting our families," she said. "If that means [sacrificing] our lives, yes, we have to fight for them."

It also is legacy. Many of the soldiers are the latest to uphold family traditions.

"Most of my siblings are in the military, and I'm the youngest, so I wanted to follow in their footsteps," said 25-year-old Army Pfc. Vasait Saua, Whiskey Company, 244th Quartermaster Battalion.

Army Pvt. Talalelei Ames said his parents also spent time in uniform and that his father is a retiree. Enduring long periods of separation while they served, he said, his military ties were not strong, but that has changed since he took the oath.

"Wearing the uniform makes me feel I am more connected to them," the 19-year-old soldier said. "I think it's pretty awesome. I never had this much fun in my life and never had this much responsibility. Now, I know what my parents went through to protect the country."

Close-Knit Family

The question of whether the Samoans are a close-knit clan or a loose group of relatives was answered during a recent photo session. Army Sgt. Maj. Micheal Lambert, sergeant major for the Quartermaster School's logistics training department, organized the gathering. He said there were smiles, hugs and kisses reminiscent of a family reunion. To top it all off, he added, they postured as if performing a traditional dance complete with contorted facial expressions.

"They are definitely a family," he said.

At some point during their training, the Samoans must face an inherent component of Army life: family separation. The sheer number of Samoans wearing uniforms, however, along with the richness of Samoan culture, is comforting in light of the prospect, Tuiolemotu said.
"I'm the first one who will leave the group," she said, noting a pending assignment to Fort Riley, Kansas. "I'm not worried, because there are a lot of us out there. I'm bound to meet another relative somewhere. That's for sure."

King Neptune Cleanses USS Wasp Sailors as They Cross Equator

By Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jessica Bidwell, USS WASP

AT SEA ABOARD USS WASP, Nov. 28, 2017 — Nearly 900 sailors aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp were "cleansed of their slime" Nov. 25 after participating in the age-old ceremony of crossing the equator.

The "crossing-the-line" ceremony is an exclusive maritime experience from the days of hardened sailors aboard wooden ships courageously venturing out into the unforgiving environment of the open ocean.

The tradition holds that King Neptune, a mythical god of the sea, detects an infestation of "pollywogs" -- those who have not crossed the equator before -- he deems it necessary to take control of the ship to rid it of this plagued condition. A "shellback" is a sailor who has previously crossed the line, and the most senior shellback aboard the ship plays the role of King Neptune in the ceremony.

Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Thomas Kreindheder, who earned the title of shellback in 1993, was King Neptune for the Nov. 25 ceremony.

Ceremony Has Evolved

"The ceremony has changed a lot since I went through," he said. "Our ceremony lasted 48 hours, and it was more of an initiation than a camaraderie event. Our goal with this ceremony was to make sure the sailors were challenged both mentally and physically, but were also smiling and laughing the whole way through. The photos of the event prove that we accomplished that goal."

Wasp pollywogs were guided through a series of physically and mentally challenging obstacles, led by the 137 shellbacks aboard. Upon completion, pollywogs were summoned by King Neptune and his royal court and relieved of their slime, successfully completing their journey to shellback.

'A Cool Experience'

"It was a cool experience," said Navy Airman Apprentice Skyler Senteno. "I was skeptical at first. But there were a lot more events than I thought, and I really enjoyed it. It was an honor to be part of the tradition and become a shellback."

The crossing-the-line ceremony traces its origin to a time when such a feat was a grave undertaking. Today's technology allows sailors to be more at ease with their sea travels, the time away from family, especially around the holidays, can take its toll.

"Ceremonies like crossing the line are invaluable for the crew. They instill pride and a sense of accomplishment that links Sailor to those that have gone before us," said USS Wasp Command Master Chief Petty Officer Greg Carlson. "The ceremony has evolved to over the years to one of teamwork and unity, which allows sailors to craft memories that they will cherish forever."

Wasp is transiting to Sasebo, Japan, to conduct a turnover with the USS Bonhomme Richard as the forward-deployed flagship of the amphibious forces in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations.

U.S. Forces Ready to Fight, Win, Says Chairman’s Enlisted Advisor

By Lisa Ferdinando DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Nov. 27, 2017 — The military’s top enlisted advisor said today that on the worst day of his military career, he knew he was in good hands with the U.S. armed forces.

“We were pinned down, under fire, and when [we] called for a quick reaction force, I was not worried about what race, what gender, or who the other person was on the other end,” Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell recalled about the events of July 19, 2007.

That day, his patrol came under attack in Iraq; one of his soldiers, Army Cpl. Brandon Craig, was killed, and another was severely wounded.

“I just knew there was an American voice on the other end that said ‘sergeant major, we’re coming to get you’ -- and that’s the bottom line, and that’s why the U.S. armed forces is what it is today,” he said.

Troxell and the enlisted service chiefs spoke at a Pentagon press briefing following the first day of meetings for the Defense Senior Enlisted Council -- an annual executive-level conference to address issues impacting the joint enlisted force.

Discussions on Enlisted Force

Troxell was joined by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey; Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Ronald L. Green; Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Steven S. Giordano; Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright; and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven W. Cantrell.

“It’s an incredible opportunity for all of us to be here today all at one time to talk about the backbone of our armed forces -- that being our enlisted force,” he said.

Discussions included policy, enlisted leader development and personnel readiness, which includes the manning, equipping and training of forces, especially under the ongoing budgetary constraints, he said.

Despite budgetary and other challenges, the U.S. armed forces remain the world’s premier fighting force, the sergeant major said.

“From an overall perspective, we can say that our U.S. armed forces are always ready to fight and win our nation’s wars,” Troxell said, “but readiness under a resource-constrained environment takes its toll over the years.”

Members across the total force feel the budget constraints, he said. A takeaway from his conversations with troops around the globe is that consistency and predictability -- whether in pay and entitlements, or training and operational deployments -- are factors in keeping morale high.

Despite the challenges, the military is always ready to fulfil its commitments to the nation, he said.

“We absolutely still, as a U.S. armed force, can defend our homeland and our way of life. We can absolutely meet our alliance commitments and support our partners,” Troxell said. “We absolutely have warfighting advantages in every warfighting domain, specifically in the human domain.”

The services are tasked with the monumental job of manning, training and equipping the force to perform warfighting, peacekeeping and humanitarian tasks, he said.

“Our nation depends on our ability to be in the right place at the right time with the right qualities and capacities to protect our nation,” he said.

Human Domain Advantage

The men and women who serve, Troxell said, are the most important aspect of the armed forces.

“We know that without a doubt our people are not only our most valuable resource but they are also our greatest competitive advantage when it comes to fighting and winning our nation's wars,” he said.

Further, how the military educates, develops and empowers its enlisted leaders will be the decisive factor in accomplishing the missions the country asks of the military, the sergeant major said.

Troxell and the combatant command senior enlisted leaders are scheduled to hold a news briefing tomorrow, with a focus on joint operations, global integration and international partnerships.