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The Perfect JBLM Fourth of July Party

Servicemembers we'd most like at our Fourth of July picnic table

Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, I Corps commanding general, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, pitches in on the Humvee push during the Team Courage Challenge, for I Corps Senior officers and enlisted, May 2, 2013. Photo credit: Sidney Lee

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When we think of holiday picnics, we think of backyard parties filled with good food, interesting people and fascinating conversation. The food and drink are important, but successful mingling is paramount in my mind. We believe these types of experiences are to be valued. Holiday gatherings are not about how much money is spent, or how complicated of a menu one serves, but rather about the delightfully unexpected chemistry that occurs between new acquaintances over a shared meal. They're about unforeseen events that derail best-laid plans and become afternoon, and hopefully nights, to remember.

Therefore, Northwest Military - home of The Ranger, Northwest Airlifter and Weekly Volcano newspapers - is throwing an imaginary Fourth of July picnic Thursday. The guests? We're inviting honored and fascinating servicemembers who have made a difference this past year at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. What follows is the guest list, with bio and story excerpts from our newspapers this past year. What will we discuss over sweet potato gnocchi and blanched asparagus with a balsamic reduction, perhaps? Could we decide the future over a bangin' Sangiovese? The conversation is going to be awesome. For the sake of printed paper, our guest list must be kept short. Who did we leave off the list? Add your suggestions in the comments section. - Ron Swarner, editor

July 2012

Lt. Gen. Robert Brown

Commanding general, I Corps

"I am a caring soldier," Maj. Gen. Robert Brown told Ranger reporter J.M. Simpson in July 2012 as he sat in his makeshift office on the day before his promotion to Lt. Gen. and his assumption of command of I Corps.

"I was raised by parents who taught me to care."

Brown added he very aware of how much more he owes those he commands.

"I love the Army, and I am fortunate to be serving."

Brown looks at you directly. He makes eye contact. As to his hands, they are in constant motion - as though trying to catch his thoughts.

"I am proud to be on the Joint Base Lewis-McChord team," he explained. "Together we can achieve more." - J.M. Simpson

Capt. Eleanor "Ellie" Morgan

2012 Federally Employed Women Military Meritorious Service Award

Air Force officials selected Capt. Eleanor "Ellie" Morgan, a C-17 Globemaster III pilot assigned to the 4th Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, as the winner of the 2012 Federally Employed Women Military Meritorious Service Award in July 2012.

"This award means the world to me," said Morgan, a Bethlehem, Penn., native. "I feel truly honored to have been nominated and hope that I can continue to help provide learning and growth opportunities for other women."

According to her nomination package, Morgan was instrumental in the 4th Airlift Squadron's Pilot for a Day program for children with terminal illnesses, which raised more than $5,000 and ultimately provided the opportunity for 12 children and their families to participate in an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Morgan counts her involvement in this program as one of her most proud accomplishments. - Capt. Tawny M. Dotson, 62nd PAO

Sgt. Dariusz Krzywonos

4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division

FORSCOM 2012 NCO of the year

At the end of a four-day competition during which nine noncommissioned officers battled for the title of U.S. Army Forces Command Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, a Joint Base Lewis-McChord field artillery NCO emerged as the face of FORSCOM's finest. Sgt. Dariusz Krzywonos, assigned to the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, has earned the coveted title of FORSCOM 2012 NCO of the year. Having first earned local distinction at Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 12th Field Artillery Regiment, Krzywonos continued to win top honor battles as he progressed through the competitive gauntlet of events.

"These people really embodied the stereotypical passages of the NCO Creed. It was wonderful," said Krzywonos. - Sgt. Mark A. Cloutier, 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

August 2012

Sgt. Trina M. Billett

657th Forward Support Company

308th Brigade Support Battalion, 17th Fires Brigade

Sgt. Trina M. Billett with 657th Forward Support Company, 308th Brigade Support Battalion, 17th Fires Brigade, was the regimental host unit NCOIC for the 11th Regiment with Warrior Forge at Joint Base Lewis-McChord last summer. That means she handled a lot of the logistics requirements of cadets in Leader Development and Assessment Course, also known as Operation Warrior Forge, for their U.S. Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps training.

Throughout Warrior Forge, cadets lived in barracks and tents while training under the supervision of active-duty soldiers. It was Billett's job to ensure they have necessities like food, bedding and a host of services.

What made Billett stand out as more than just an overseer behind the scenes was her rapport with the cadets. Outside the dining facility she talks with cadets lining up for dinner. She asks them how their training is going and how they're doing in general. Her voice is warm and enthusiastic. - Spc. Nathan Goodall

Col. Thomas Brittain

Garrison commander, Joint Base Lewis-McChord

How to run a city wasn't in the curriculum at West Point, or part of Col. Thomas Brittain's 23-year infantry-heavy Army experience before his arrival at Fort Lewis. Yet at the end of his three-year joint base command, as the de facto mayor of the sixth-largest city in Washington, he departed in early August 2012 with the satisfaction that comes with tackling a hard job, achieving key milestones and knowing that he's made an important difference to a rapidly growing military community. Brittain relinquished command of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, one of 12 joint bases created by the 2005 Department of Defense's Base Realignment Committee. He left crediting a diverse team of professionals with the progress he oversaw.  - Don Kramer, JBLM PAO

Bruce McKenty

National commander

Order of the Military Order of the Purple Heart

Elected as the National Commander of the Order of the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) in 2012, Bruce McKenty is the volunteer manager of the American Lake Veterans Golf Course at the Veterans Administration complex on American Lake. Formed in 1932 and chartered by Congress in 1958, the MOPH advocates for the protection and mutual interests of all combat wounded veterans and active-duty men and women who have received the decoration. The Order is unique among veteran service organizations in its membership is comprised of combat wounded. A retired Army officer, McKenty received two Purple Hearts during the Vietnam War as an AH-1G Cobra attack helicopter pilot.

"One of my goals is to help the Secretary Shinseki eliminate veteran homelessness by 2016," he added. - J.M. Simpson

Capt. Christina Payne

Headquarters and Headquarters Battery

1st Battalion, 377th Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Brigade

Capt. Christina Payne was the first female commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 377th Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Brigade. She was able to earn this position through hard work and a new policy the Department of Defense released May 14, 2012 that opened up 14,000 combat-related jobs to females.

"I don't look at it as a gender position," Payne said in August 2012. "I look at it as a job that the Army needed to fill and anyone could fill it."

She was a part of UNC's Reserve Officer Training Program and saw the military as a way to establish a stable career. - Staff Sgt. Antwaun J. Parrish, 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Col. H. Charles "Chuck" Hodges

Garrison commander

Col. H. Charles "Chuck" Hodges returned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord (he was a battalion S-3, executive officer and brigade S-3 before taking command of the "Tomahawk Battalion," 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, in 2007) in July 2012 from the Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pa. and took command Aug. 7. Throughout his career, his values haven't changed.

"The command philosophy I've had for years has always been the golden rule, treat people with dignity and respect, and stay calm," he said.

In his town hall remarks Aug. 22, 2012, he added more bullets to his command philosophy: discipline is not an option; keep it simple, simple's hard enough; don't limit yourself - there is no box to think outside of; this is a team sport. We're not artists, fencers, or tennis players; before decisions, think of second-, third- and fourth order effects; hunt elk, not rabbits - tell me where the elk are; and finally, if you hate change, you will love irrelevancy. - Don Kramer, JBLM PAO

September 2012

Master Sgt. Michael Hunter

Master Sgt. Michael Hunter is a quiet professional. In a valor awards ceremony September 2012 in front of the 1st Special Force Group (Airborne) Memorial Wall, Hunter, a 17-year veteran and Green Beret, received a Silver Star and Bronze Star with "V" device. The awards are in recognition for his actions during more than one intense engagement with enemy fighters during a deployment to Operation Enduring Freedom - Afghanistan. While Hunter had little to say, his actions during two engagements with Taliban fighters spoke volumes. For his actions resulting in the award of the Silver Star, he led four Special Forces soldiers and 28 Afghan commandos in a 10-firefight in Baghdis Province. - J.M. Simpson

October 2012

Staff Sgt. Alexander Folsom

Madigan Army Medical Center

Staff Sgt. Alexander Folsom representing the Western Regional Medical Command won the 2012 Best Medic Competition in October 2012. Staff Sgt. Andrew Balha and Staff Sgt. Alexander Folsom, both Afghanistan veterans, beat out 31 other two-soldier teams during the grueling 72-hour competition to be named the Army's best medics. Balha, of Fort Carson, Colo., and Folsom, of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, each received the Meritorious Service Medal, the combat medic statue, and other prizes for their efforts.  - Army Times

November 2012

Linda Dawson

Operations Group secretary

62nd OG Commander

College student Linda Dawson sat in class stunned - the "new computer" that spanned the entire classroom wall was the same one her professor just declared would one-day be smaller and in homes and offices worldwide. "Not in my lifetime," she told The Ranger newspaper in November 2012. Decades later, as the Operations Group (OG) secretary for Col. Paul Eberhart, the 62nd OG Commander, she's not only PC literate but is Facebook savvy and knows her way around technology. "Such is the career that I've led over the last 30-years," she said. "And I loved working for the military. It has been a part of my life from early on, too. I've been at this desk for 19-years, but I started out as a Navy summer aid (on Whidbey Island) before I married a Marine. My daughters grew up here on JBLM." Dawson retired in January 2013. "It makes me so proud and grateful to be a part of what the military does," Dawson said. - Corinne Lincoln-Pinheiro

December 2012

Chief Master Sergeant Drake

62nd Airlift Wing command

An engine run on a F-4 convinced Gordon Drake to join the Air Force. "The recruiter took me out, let me climb into the back seat and experience an engine run," the 62nd Airlift Wing's highest ranking enlisted Airmen at McChord Field said.  "I was hooked." Trained as an aircraft mechanic, 62nd Airlift Wing Command Chief Master Sergeant Drake came to his current assignment with 27 years of experience and a desire to take care of the field's Airmen and their families. Drake pointed out that he has worked on F-4s, F-111s, F-15s, F-16s and A-10s.  "I liked doing the dirty work, and I still miss the flight line," he said before meeting a group of non commissioned officers preparing to attend the Non Commissioned Officers Academy. "What I really liked was seeing my name on the fuselage of the aircraft I was responsible for. I was proud of that." - J.M. Simpson

January 2013

U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Lourdes E. "Alfie" Alvarado-Ramos (Ret.)

Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs director

As a child growing up in Puerto Rico, Lourdes E. "Alfie" Alvarado-Ramos used to admire her dad's uniform, his mess kit and the pride with which he spoke of serving in the National Guard during the Korean War. It left such as impression that she enlisted in the Army after high school. She never thought that one day she'd become an advocate for veterans such as her dad, or that while doing so she'd make history as the first female director at the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA). On Jan. 16, Alvarado-Ramos became the new WDVA director, taking over from John Lee, who served with the agency for 22 years. "It feels absolutely wonderful," she said in an interview just minutes after her appointment was announced. "I'm very ready after having served in the agency for 19 years. I've served and taken care of troops, and this is basically the same except without the uniform. Veterans and their families' welfare, their morale, and doing this job with heart is what drives me." - Ken Swarner

February 2013

Capt. Ashley Urick

Madigan Army Medical Center

As a resident in training at Madigan Army Medical Center, Ashley Urick works 60 to 80 hours a week. Despite her ambitious schedule, the JBLM Army captain makes time to run. While it's a challenge to train with a demanding work schedule, her dedication to her sport continues to pay off. Urick led the JBLM Army Ten-Miler women's team to its first Commander's Cup victory last October in Washington D.C., in February she helped the All-Army women's team win gold at the 2013 Armed Forces Cross-Country Championships in St. Louis., Mo. - Somer Breeze-Hanson, JBLM PAO

March 2013

Senior Master Sergeant and Chief Loadmaster Terry Philon

313th Airlift Squadron, 446th Airlift Wing

Senior Master Sergeant and Chief Loadmaster Terry Philon is 59-years old. He's also the oldest person still flying on JBLM, and only one of three remaining servicemembers at McChord that has experienced firsthand the C-141 A-model. Philon has been at McChord since 1976, and joined the Air Force right out of high-school. He served 10 years active-duty and has been in the Reserves since. In December, the Ohio native will finally retire from the 313th Airlift Squadron, 446th Airlift Wing at McChord Field. "I joined because my brother served 17-years in the Air Force," said Philon. "I stayed because I loved it. I'm lucky to have the most fantastic job - I get to do things people see on the news - from humanitarian efforts such as Katrina to worldwide emergencies. Faith, family and friends have kept me going, too. Career-wise, I have no regrets and wouldn't have done any of it differently - it's been a great ride." - Corinne Lincoln-Pinheiro

April 2013

Sgt. 1st Class Thomas A. Robinson

1st Battalion, 377th Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Brigade

Sgt. 1st Class Thomas A. Robinson, a Newport News, Va., native, and the fire control chief and digital master gunner with 1st Battalion, 377th Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Brigade, was presented with the Edmund L. Gruber Award during a ceremony outside 17th Fires Bde. Headquarters, April 30. Robinson performed his duties in Afghanistan for only about a month before a platoon sergeant position became available, and the Battery C first sergeant asked him to become the new platoon sergeant. "Traditionally a platoon sergeant of a firing battery platoon is a (cannon crewmember), because three of the four sections are composed of cannon crewmembers, the fourth section is composed of fire directions controllers," Robinson said. "It's very odd to have a (fire directions chief) as a platoon sergeant." While he was out of his element, Robinson conducted heavy research on his new leadership position to ensure he would perform his tasks properly and give his soldiers everything they deserved from a professional leader. "From there on out, we put over 600 rounds downrange effectively on targets, and we didn't have any safety incidents or violations," Robinson said. In between fire missions, Battery C played a large role in training soldiers with the Afghan National Army. - 17th Fires Brigade

Staff Sgt. Stephen Ryan

951st Maintenance Company

Staff Sgt. Stephen Ryan, 951st Maintenance Company, received Pierce County's 32nd Annual Howard O. Scott Citizen-Soldier of the Year Award at the Kiwanis Club of Tacoma luncheon on April 16 at the La Quinta Inn & Suites in Tacoma. Ryan is a valued NCO who has served the Washington army National Guard with distinction for more than 12 years. During the last six years, Ryan has volunteered countless hours with the Pierce County Friends and Athletes (PCFA) organization. Ryan assists with the bowling and track and field events in preparation for the Washington State Special Olympics. - Gary Lott

May 2103

Capt. Richard Kresser

3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division

Ultra long distance runners are strong-minded individuals. Capt. Richard Kresser fits this description. An engineer assigned to 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Kresser said he was an average track and cross-country runner in high school. But since 2010, he has blossomed into a formidable ultra distance runner who has posted some remarkable results. Kresser plans on running the annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, a six-day race held during the last full week in July. Bikers - and distance runner Kresser - will move from one town to another.  The longest distance to be covered in one day is 83 miles." I plan to attempt to run the entire route this year, and I will be running to raise money and show support of the Iowa Veterans Home." - J.M. Simpson

Sgt. Joshua Andrew

Warrior Transition Battalion

Sgt. Joshua Andrew, 26, a member of Joint Base Lewis-McChord's Warrior Transition Battalion - who over the course of his time downrange from 2008-2009, suffered several dislocations to his right knee and incurred a traumatic brain injury, which compromised his memory - competed at the 4th annual Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo. He walk away with the gold medal for shot put (open), throwing it 14.49 meters. The JBLM Warrior also finished with a silver medal in the men's discus (open) event, throwing it 35.46 meters. - Melissa Renahan

June 2013

1st Sgt. Eric Olsen

HHC, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division

U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Eric Olsen, a Muskegon, Mich., native, with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, distinguished himself from his peers by earning the 1st Sgt. John Ordway award, an annual award recognizing one outstanding first sergeant out of more than 100 in I Corps. As the senior noncommissioned officer at the company level, the first sergeant is responsible for overseeing the training and welfare of his soldiers as well as maintaining good order and discipline of his unit. When Olsen joined the Army as an infantryman 17 years ago, he did not have big plans for his career. He was not even sure he wanted to make it past the rank of sergeant first class, but with the support of family and friends, he decided to push his career as far as he could. Olsen, an Airborne Ranger and former first sergeant of a Ranger training company, deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. He returned from his most recent deployment less than a year ago. While his family provides him with the support he needs, it is his soldiers who shape him as a leader. "I'll always say that I thank my soldiers because they constantly give me challenges that I have to overcome to better myself," said Olsen. "There is always something new." The first sergeant is often the most experienced soldier in a company, making them a valuable resource to a company commander. - Sgt. James Bunn, 17th Public Affair Detachment

Sgt. William Duran

42nd Military Police Brigade

Sgt. Nicholas Bogert

4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment

Soldiers from across the country migrated to Joint Base Lewis-McChord to compete for the title of I Corp's Best Soldier and Best Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, June 10-13. Representatives from Colorado, California, Kansas and JBLM came ready to see who was going to be the best and move on to represent the corps at the Forces Command Best Soldier and NCO of the Year. During the competition, soldiers were stressed both mentally and physically through a series of ruck marches, land navigation courses, grueling physical training and more events, to see who of the 14 competitors that started this journey, would come out on top. On the final day, the competitors tightened up their dress uniforms and put all their studying to the test as they faced Command Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell, I Corps command sergeant major, and his fellow board members. During the board soldiers were evaluated on their military knowledge and professional appearance. Following the board the final scores were tallied from each event and the winners were announced. Sgt. William Duran, 42nd Military Police Brigade, was named the Best Soldier of the Year and Sgt. Nicholas Bogert, 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, was named Best NCO of the Year. "Get comfortable during those mock boards," said Bogert. "There are a lot of scary things in life. Unless you actually face them and challenge it, you're never going to advance in life or your career. Face challenges head on." - Staff Sgt. David Chapman, 5th Mobile Public Affairs detachment

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