Meet Your Military
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LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan, April 10, 2018 — by Sgt. Sean J. Berry
“I’d rather take lessons from the past than learn lessons the hard way,” said Marine Corps Sgt. John Verhage III, who hails from South Brunswick, New Jersey, and is a surveillance sensor operator with Task Force Southwest here.
“It’s better to use something like ground sensors now, rather than something happening and wishing we would have employed measures like this beforehand,” Verhage said.
Verhage leads the ground sensor operations in Helmand province, which helps employ remote sensors as general surveillance and early warning systems to aid the Afghan National Defense and security forces.
Supporting Afghan Forces
The constant management of the remote sensors systems helps Afghan forces maintain a high level of awareness during combat operations.
“We’re all working together here; we’re protecting ourselves and the [Afghan National Police] at the same time with these sensors,” said Verhage, who has logged numerous security patrols — both mounted and dismounted — to help boost the Afghan’s defense capabilities through sensor emplacement.
“If I do my job, the police feel safer, which in turn makes us all feel safer,” he said. “Every life matters out here, and I’m just doing my part.”
Providing Warning of Enemy Activity
The ability to detect enemy activity through remote surveillance is nothing new. The Marines’ sensor control and management platoons employed unmanned remote sensor systems since 1967 during the Vietnam War.
Read more: Meet Your Military: Marine Leads Surveillance Sensor Ops
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., March 26, 2018 — by Robert Lingley
It’s quite possible, if you’re at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station here in the near future, that you’ll come across identical twins working for the 721st Civil Engineer Squadron. You may think you’ve seen one of them but it could be the other.
The twins were born Sept. 1, 1982. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chris Engelke was born first, one minute ahead of his brother, Air Force 1st Lt. Cody Engelke. They’re both highly competitive with each other and love sports and academics. Coincidentally, they were born on the same day that Air Force Space Command opened at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.
“I absolutely love being in the Air Force,” said Chris, the regional dispatch center superintendent here for the 721st Civil Engineer Squadron. “Personally I think it’s great having the structure above you to make sure you’re taken care of, but at the same time you’re developed and you’re doing it voluntarily 100-percent of the time for the national needs. It’s a humbling experience.”
Chris and Cody previously served together in South Korea, but at different bases, and for a short period of time they served together at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, where Cody pinned on staff sergeant, joining Chris at the same rank.
“That was fun for the commander, having twins, both staff sergeants, both in the same unit,” said Cody, who now serves as the deputy commander of training for the 18th Space Control Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
Read more: Meet Your Military: Identical Twins Serve in Same Air Force Squadron
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By Army Spc. Charlton Pope, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team
VICENZA, Italy, Feb. 13, 2018 — Army Staff Sgts. Zachary and Michelle Evans have spent almost their entire military careers together.
They met while in-processing with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in December 2010, after both had completed Airborne School. They were placed in the same company and platoon. Michelle jokes about Zach having to ask her out on a date three different times before she finally said yes. They have been practically inseparable since.
They deployed together to Afghanistan in 2012 with the 82nd Airborne in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, both earning a Combat Action Badge. The couple were married soon after returning from the deployment.
Both soldiers came into the Army as privates and have risen through the enlisted ranks together. While Zach beat Michelle to private first class, Michelle has beat him to every rank since; however, he has never been far behind her. This competitive spirit has kept them both striving to get to the next level and to be better than they were before.
Deployments to Afghanistan
In 2014, the couple were rotated back overseas for their second deployment together with the 82nd to Afghanistan. During this deployment, Michelle won the Sgt. Audie Murphy Board.
After returning from the deployment, the couple were posted to Italy with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, heading to the Brigade Support Battalion. While serving in Italy, they both attended Jumpmaster School, failing together the first time. They were able to attend again soon after; this time, Michelle passed, but Zach would have to attend one more time.
Read more: Meet Your Military: Married Army Paratroopers Serve Together
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ORLANDO, Fla., March 7, 2018 —
An airman from McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, took home the top prize in the Air Force’s first-ever Spark Tank innovation competition at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium here Feb. 22.
Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda, an aircraft refueling boom operator with the 22nd Air Refueling Wing, won the inaugural Air Force Spark Tank Competition Cup for his proposal to reengineer the boom operator platform position for the entire KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft refueler fleet. He asked the Air Force for $1.5 million to implement his innovation.
“It’s refreshing to see [leaders] encouraging airmen to innovate,” Bachleda said. “It’s really cool!”
Better Boom Operator Platform
Bachleda’s winning idea is designed to provide a more stable and ergonomically correct platform for all KC-135 instructor boom operators. The proposed innovation aims to both reduce back and neck injuries and save the Air Force $132 million each year in this critical aircrew specialty.
“We were getting neck and back injuries, and it’s been happening since the 1950s,” he said.
A panel comprised of Air Force senior leaders, including the secretary of the Air Force, the Air Force’s chief of staff and industry partners, judged six innovative finalists.
After Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson heard Bachleda’s idea, she gave firm direction to the Air Force’s acquisitions lead.
“Before we leave tonight, I want you to talk to this guy, figure out his [system] and get this [out] to the airmen,” she said.
Read more: Meet Your Military: Airman Earns First ‘Spark Tank’ Innovation Award
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JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, Feb. 12, 2018 —
When Air Force Airman 1st Class Gisella Panchana graduates from the Medical Education and Training Campus here, Jan. 30.
The graduation will start the next phase of Panchana’s service in the Air Force, continuing her training as a radiology technician at Travis Air Force Base, California.
Even though Panchana, 26, is excited about continuing her military career, her graduation means she will no longer be able to be around her younger sister, Navy Seaman Michelle Panchana, 21, a Navy hospitalman who is also a student at METC.
While the two sisters will be separated from each other, Gisella said she’ll keep in touch with Michelle.
“It’s another chapter in my life,” Gisella said. “Even though I won’t see her as much, I can still talk to her on the phone. It will definitely be a different experience without her.”
The two sisters appreciated the time they were students together at METC for six months, from August 2017 to January 2018. Michelle was the first sister to arrive at METC in June 2017, beginning her classes in the pharmacy program. Two months later, Gisella arrived at the campus to start her training in the METC radiology program.
Michelle found out that her older sister would be joining her at METC during a phone call with Gisella, who was finishing up basic training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.
Read more: Meet Your Military: Sisters in Different Services Train Together