Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Whidbey Island Search-and-Rescue Sailors Safeguard Lives

By Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Ignacio D. Perez, DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. -- The smell of pine trees and the peacefulness of rushing rivers in the high country is evident across much of the state of Washington.

The region is a hiker’s dream.

However, this beautiful landscape has a potentially lethal side that can claim the lives of even the most-experienced hikers. Luckily, sailors from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island’s Search and Rescue team are on 24-hour duty.

Saving People

“Our job is to go out and save people, whether it's pulling them out from the water or from the side of a mountain,” said Navy Lt. Chris Pitcher, the air station’s SAR operations officer, “and we train almost every day for those different scenarios. So when those scenarios do pop up, we're not surprised, and we can get the job done and get that person to a higher level of care."

Although the opportunity to be able to focus on saving lives makes NAWSI SAR a choice assignment for most naval aircrew members and pilots, the opportunity to live in an area like the Pacific Northwest makes the billet just as coveted.

“This is definitely the place to be,” said aircrew member Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Cody Wall. “There’s just so much to do here if you like being in the outdoors, whether it’s hiking, snowboarding, camping or climbing. But it’s not just the area that makes this place nice. This is one of the most fulfilling jobs I’ve ever had, whether it’s going out during a night rescue or being able to fly over parts of Washington few people have ever been to.”

The unit has performed rescues in Washington state’s Cascades and Olympic National Parks, as well as in Idaho, Oregon and Canada. Constant training is necessary, due to the region’s unforgiving terrain.

"The terrain here is pretty diverse,” Pitcher said. You have mountain ranges that can have some of the densest forests with 200-foot firs, to some the rockiest sheer cliff faces that you can imagine.”

Despite the harrowing flying conditions, many search-and-rescue sailors say that when they look back at their careers, they will consider their time at Whidbey to be some of the best years they have had.
"Looking back at my four years here, I'll tell you this is the best command I've been at,” said Navy Chief Petty Officer Wayne Papalski, a senior hospital corpsman. “It's just been an amazing and humbling experience, getting to do what I got to do up here, and what some of my brothers and sisters in the other room got to do to help people.”

Face of Defense: Soldier, Student, Trailblazer

By Army Spc. Alec Dionne, 122nd Public Affairs Operations Center

CAMP MURRAY, Wash. -- Army Spc. Arshia Gill is one of the many new female soldiers stepping into combat military occupational specialties previously closed to women.

But, for Gill, she's more than just a trailblazer -- she's an engineer, a student and a soldier all wrapped into one. Gill is a combat engineer with the Washington Army National Guard’s Alpha Company, 898th Brigade Engineer Battalion.

"If a I had an opportunity to do this all over again, even though it's really difficult managing it, I definitely would; it's a cool experience," Gill said.

"She's always the first one wanting to learn and go do something," said Sgt. Jason Longmire, with Alpha Company, 898th Brigade Engineer Battalion. "We were doing urban breaching [training] yesterday and she was right there, right next to the door, maybe five or 10 feet away holding the blast blanket so that no one got hurt."

Gill's company commander, Capt. Brandon Buehler, describes her as a warrior and a true combat engineer. Combat engineers are expected to be able to build structures, operate explosives and do the appropriate mathematics to ensure that both are done correctly.

Double Life

When she's not at drill, Gill is a full-time student at the University of Puget Sound. The two lifestyles are night and day. Her school's trim and manicured campus is a world away from the hot and dusty field training at the Yakima Training Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, and she said transitioning back and forth can be challenging.

"If I have a weekend off, I usually visit home and my family," she said. "That usually puts me back on my feet if I'm having a tough time."

Family is a big motivator for Gill.

"Most of the men in my family have served in different armies around the world, and I am the first in my generation, and also the first female [soldier] in my family."

In January 2016, the Defense Department opened all military occupational specialties to women.

"I was a little scared after basic because drill sergeants try to freak you out about being one of the first women in a combat MOS that just opened up," Gill said. "[I heard] a lot about being able to carry your own weight, and I pride myself in being able to do that."

She said she was nervous about arriving in her first unit, but that concern went away when she got to know her new teammates.

"I honestly feel blessed to be in this unit," Gill said. "I'm just really happy that I got placed with some of the men that are in this unit because they're very respectful and the transition was very easy. I didn't feel like there were any bumps in the road or anything like that."

U.S. Forces Korea Opens New Headquarters

CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea -- U.S. Forces Korea and United Nations Command opened a new headquarters building here June 29.

Army Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commander of USFK and United Nations Command, hosted the opening ceremony and dedicated the headquarters building to Army Gen. John William Vessey Jr., the first commander of Combined Forces Command. Vessey’s son, David, was in attendance, and thanked the command for the honor bestowed on his father. June 29 would have been Vessey’s 95th birthday.

The move from Seoul to Camp Humphreys signifies a transition for the two commands, which have been based at U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan since the end of hostilities in the Korean War. It is a major milestone in the $10.7 billion transformation and relocation effort of the command, officials said, as it means the majority of USFK troops have moved out of Seoul.

In attendance were dignitaries from the 17 sending states to the United Nations Command and South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo.

Following the ceremony, the command dedicated an auditorium to the first four-star general in the South Korean military, Gen. Paik Sun-yup. Paik successfully executed Operation Rat Killer in March 1952, a task to eliminate opposing forces in the southern mountain region of Jirisan, South Korea.
He was appointed as the Army Chief of Staff in July 1952, at age 32. Six months later, he was promoted to the rank of general, making him the first four-star general in the South Korean military. He later was named as the chairman for the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff and retired in 1960.