Story and photo by Sgt. Christopher Jelle
3rd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office, 4th Infantry Division
Senior officials from the Department of Defense visited Fort Carson Sept. 20 as part of the Senior Executive Services Advanced Professional Exchange program, which allows senior civilians and political appointees to gain a broader perspective on current challenges and opportunities facing DOD leaders.
APEX is a two-week orientation program designed to provide newly-appointed DOD senior executives — holding civilian positions comparable to a brigadier general — with a comprehensive understanding of the structure and processes of the nation’s military at key levels.
While the first week of the program is spent in Washington, D.C., the second week is dedicated to visiting combatant commands and various military installations. During their time at Fort Carson, the APEX group received a welcome brief from Brig. Gen. James H. Doty, acting senior commander, 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson, outlining the role of Fort Carson and its relationship with the surrounding community.
The group had the opportunity to participate in some of the training exercises and drills commonly performed by Fort Carson Soldiers. From vehicular enemy engagement simulators to medical training, the senior level executives got a taste of what type of actions the everyday Soldier is expected to perform.
“I am amazed at the resiliency of the Soldiers and their Families,” said Craig Wheldon, executive director of Marine Forces Pacific and a retired major general with 30 years of Army service. “It’s great to be back inside the wire — having been on the outside for seven years — because the Army is family to me.”
The APEX group also got a chance to interact with Soldiers and learn about some of the specific equipment and different types of vehicles used in deployed environments, such as tanks, explosive detection and removal equipment and unmanned aerial aircraft.
“It’s important to let them know from our perspective,” said Sgt. Jonathan Winterhall, an explosives technician with 748th Ordnance Company, 242nd Explosive Ordnance Disposal Battalion, 71st Ord. Group (EOD). “A lot of times they only get to see things from outside of the bubble and they seem really motivated to know more.”
Not all of the equipment was entirely unfamiliar to members of the group. Alvin Thornton, director of engineering at the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, helped design some of the equipment employed by EOD.
“I’ve observed how some of the things we do directly impact the warfighter,” said Thornton. “It does me a world of good to see how some of the things that we considered small and insignificant make such a dramatic difference to the Soldiers.”
Many of the participants considered the experience to be an eye-opener as they learned about how many of the policies and decisions made at the higher level trickle down to affect the Soldiers and Families at the lowest levels.
“What I learned here today, that I did not know before coming here, is that some of our troops have deployed as much as six times over the past 10 years,” said Angela Rogers, associate director of Contingency Operations.
Rogers said she was also impressed with what the military is doing to support those Soldiers and their Families.
While the senior executives were more than willing to learn all they could during their visit, the Soldiers they talked to were more than happy to share their experiences with these future leaders.
“It feels good to know that I can pass on my knowledge of what I do to people that actually show an interest in wanting to know,” said Spc. Jacob Lathem, military policeman assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Inf. Div.