Monday, September 08, 2008

Coast Guard Responds to Influx of Storms

By Navy Seaman William Selby
Special to American Forces Press Service

Sept. 8, 2008 - In the wake of Hurricane Gustav, the
Coast Guard is making preparations for a possible wave of tropical storms and hurricanes, a senior Coast Guard officer said Sept. 5. "We don't have a lot of bench strength, but we're moving forces around in preparation for each one of these operations to position them so that we can respond," Coast Guard Vice Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., commander of the Coast Guard Atlantic Area, told bloggers during a teleconference to address the current storm systems in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

To be ready for the storms, Papp said, his top concern is to make sure the
Coast Guard people are able and primed to do their jobs.

"Just by virtue of where we are located, along the coast, and the fact that one of our most important resources -- aircraft that we use for conducting rescue and recovery operations -- are extremely vulnerable, we spend a lot of time looking where that storm might land," Papp said.

Another concern, Papp said, is making sure all the families of
Coast Guard members are safe.

"If [the families] are in danger, then you've got Coast Guardsmen who have to worry about families as well as worry about doing their jobs," he added. "For instance, as Gustav approached the coast in the Gulf, one of the first things we focused on was evacuating the families, making sure they were taken care of."

With their families safe,
Coast Guard members can then be positioned to follow the storm as well as to conduct post-storm surveys and rescue and recovery operations.

Papp also addressed some of the training that the Coast Guard does in preparation for this weather.

"We actually do dress rehearsals throughout the year," Papp said. "In fact, Atlantic area staff, back a couple of months ago, did what we call a continuity of operation plan, movement out to St. Louis."

In addition to
Coast Guard training and preparation, Papp said one of the things the service stresses the most is public preparation.

"I think the worst thing people can do is perhaps get apathetic because storms turn out to be not as severe as they thought they might be, or they did an awful lot of preparation and then the storm veers elsewhere," he said. "Preparations made for a storm are never wasted, because it gets you in a frame of mind."

Although most of the news has been pleasant and positive in relation to the storms, Papp mentioned that the
Coast Guard lost a four-man crew Sept. 4 while doing an exercise with a small boat about five miles south of Honolulu.

"We just ask that everybody keep our
Coast Guard shipmates in their thoughts and prayers, and it's a stark reminder that the things we do are done in dangerous environments," he said.

Above all, Papp explained that it's constant training and planning that keeps the
Coast Guard sharp.

"Hopefully, regardless of the severity of the storm, we've done enough preparation and training and drills to be prepared for it," Papp said.

Navy Seaman William Selby works for New Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)

Florida National Guard Prepares as Ike Strikes Cuba

By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa
Special to American Forces Press Service

Sept. 8, 2008 - As Hurricane Ike moved westward toward Cuba yesterday, emergency management officials cautioned residents in Key West and South Florida to pay close attention to the hurricane's track in case the storm turned north toward the United States. The storm struck Cuba today, and while its projected path now takes it into the Gulf of Mexico, forecasters at the Florida Division of Emergency Management noted there is still uncertainty in the long-range forecast and that the storm could still pose a threat to Florida.

"It is important that all Floridians and visitors continue to monitor future forecasts from the National Hurricane Center and begin preparations now for any potential impacts," read a statement on the Florida Emergency Response Team's Web site.

All Keys residents and visitors were under a mandatory evacuation order and Florida emergency officials urged residents to heed local warnings in advance of the storm.

In anticipation of flooding, Florida National Guard Special Forces reconnaissance teams were staged in the Florida Keys yesterday to assist first responders and identify potential areas where water and wind damage could occur. The teams were also prepared to conduct immediate post-storm damage assessments.

Throughout the state, Florida National Guard planning cells were activated in the event soldiers and airmen were called for hurricane recovery missions, and 20 liaison officers were activated.

Noting that an earlier storm track showed Ike might hit Miami and the Florida peninsula,
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez reminded citizens that Ike was a powerful hurricane and to remain prepared in case of a dramatic shift in the storm.

"We need to watch it closely over the next couple days," the mayor said during a news conference at the
Miami-Dade Emergency Operations Center yesterday. "As of today, Miami-Dade County is outside of the cone of error and that is extremely good news; however, that does not mean we will not feel its effects."

Less than 100 miles northwest of Miami, local resident James Donnan joined other sportsmen yesterday as he placed his refurbished 13-foot airboat into the waters of Lake Okeechobee. The 730-square-mile lake is the second-largest freshwater lake wholly within the continental United States, and has a drainage basin covering more than 4,600-square-miles in South Florida.

Donnan, a resident of the city of Okeechobee on the massive lake's north end, noted rains from the recent Tropical Storm Fay have flooded parts of the area, and he said he is wary of other storms that could bring more flooding.

"I'm really concerned," Donnan said. "Okeechobee is kind of a low-lying area. With any major rainstorms, we get major flooding."

He said when Tropical Storm Fay drenched the area in late August, his property was badly flooded. "You couldn't see my whole yard," he said. "At the deepest point, it was probably two and a half feet. My trailer house is on stilts, and the only place that didn't have water was underneath the house on the pad."

Donnan, who uses Lake Okeechobee for fishing and recreation, said even though Hurricane Ike is forecast to avoid his area, he still heeds the emergency management warnings and follows the National Hurricane Center tracks.

"You make minor preparations: food and water and gas," he explained. "It's kind of far away now to make any drastic preparations like boarding up [windows] and evacuation, but you still pay attention."

Over the weekend, the Florida National Guard was actively preparing for landfall. Officials said more than 9,000 Guard members are available for call-up.

Guard Special Forces reconnaissance teams staged in Key West and Key Largo for immediate post-storm damage assessments yesterday, said
Army Lt. Col. Ron Tittle, a spokesman for the Florida National Guard. "These teams linked with local officials and located adult living facilities, locations where the homeless live and other areas where Floridians would be vulnerable," he said.

In other actions, the Florida National Guard:

-- Evacuated 20 patients from Key West to an alternate medical center in Statesboro, Ga., aboard a North Carolina National Guard C-130 aircraft.

-- Deployed to Homestead Air Reserve Base, the State Logistics Readiness Center in Orlando, and the Orange County Civic Center to assist with State Emergency Response Team logistics activities.

-- Activated planning cells across the state to be ready to stand up the task forces as needed.

-- Activated 10 State Emergency Response Team liaison officer teams to deploy to affected counties.

-- Prepared 10 Black Hawk and four Chinook helicopters for deployment in South Florida, and coordinated with the National Guard Bureau to pre-position 14 more helicopters in
Savannah, Ga.

"These actions are accomplished out of the abundance of caution so the governor can respond very early," Tittle said.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa serves with the Florida National Guard.)

USS Mount Whitney Concludes DoD's Role in Georgia Aid

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Sept. 8, 2008 - With the off-loading of 17 tons of humanitarian supplies from the USS Mount Whitney over the weekend, the Defense Department's part in providing relief to Georgia is over, Pentagon officials said here today. The Mount Whitney – the flagship of the U.S. fleet in the Mediterranean – delivered the supplies to the Georgian port of Poti over the weekend. The USS McFaul and
Coast Guard Cutter Dallas had previously delivered supplies to the port of Batumi.

DoD delivered 1,145 short tons of relief to Tbilisi via 62 air sorties since Russia invaded the Caucasus republic in early August. Russia also has recognized the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and still maintains troops in Georgia. "Russia is still not in compliance with the cease-fire agreement," Pentagon officials said.

DoD personnel delivered only humanitarian supplies to Georgia. Servicemembers delivered cots, tents, bedding, medical supplies, humanitarian daily rations, water and other relief supplies to help Georgia recover from the invasion. The message behind this aid was "that the United States was going to come to the aid of a close ally in this time of need," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

The end of the DoD humanitarian mission does not mean the U.S. government efforts end. "The [U.S. Agency for International Development] efforts will now continue as they look at what needs need to be fulfilled in the mid-term to longer term," Whitman said.

The next step for DoD personnel will be down the road when a security assessment team will go into the country to "take a look at what their needs might be with respect to that," Whitman said. "It's still premature to get in to any of that at this point."

VA Clarifies Voter Registration Regulations

American Forces Press Service

Sept. 8, 2008 - The Veterans Affairs Department has clarified its policy on assisting veterans' voter registration activities, with particular focus on inpatients and residents of VA community living centers and patients with limited access to community voter-registration resources. State and local election officials and nonpartisan groups will be able to help officials register voters at VA hospitals and outpatient clinics as long as the visits are coordinated in advance to avoid disruptions to patient care.

"VA has always been committed to helping veterans exercise their constitutional right to vote, which they defended for all Americans while serving their nation," Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. James B. Peake said. "We've now established a uniform approach to helping those of our patients who need assistance to register and to vote."

The policy requires that information about the right of VA patients to register and vote, and other patients' rights, be posted in every VA hospital, and that all VA patients be provided a copy of these rights when they are admitted to a VA facility.

Every VA hospital now is also required to publish a written policy on voter assistance, allowing patients to leave the hospital to register and vote, subject to the opinions of their health-care providers. Hospital officials must help patients unable to leave the facility to register and to vote by absentee ballot.

VA hospitals must establish in writing the criteria they will use to evaluate requests from outside agencies to register voters, and to determine where, when, and how such registration activities will be conducted. They also must develop procedures to coordinate offers of assistance from state and local governments and from nonpartisan organizations, and how to work with VA's Regional Counsel offices to determine whether groups offering registration help are nonpartisan, as required by law.

Voluntary service program managers at each of VA's 153 hospitals will be responsible for implementing the new policy, and for providing timely and accurate voting information to veterans cared for at their facilities, officials said. They also will obtain and maintain materials that are needed to assist veterans with voter registration requirements.

(From a Department of Veterans Affairs news release.)

Bush Calls American Volunteers 'Citizens, Not Spectators'

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

Sept. 8, 2008 - President Bush today thanked the nearly 61 million volunteers who support America in myriad ways, including members of the U.S. armed forces and groups that channel support to them. Emphasizing the importance of "answering the nation's call," Bush addressed an audience at the White House that comprised members from a wide swath of American volunteer programs.

"I want to thank all those who are here in the United States
military. Thank you for wearing the uniform of the United States," the president said, drawing applause from the crowd on the South Lawn.

But the desire to serve one's country reaches far beyond the
military, he said, lavishing praise on Americans who have opted "to be citizens, not spectators." Many of such volunteers were spurred on by the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, he added.

"In the midst of chaos and sorrow, Americans responded with characteristic courage and grace. It was a remarkable moment in our country," he said of the nation's response to the terrorist attacks in
New York City, at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa., that killed nearly 3,000 people.

"Rescue workers wrote their Social Security numbers on their arms and then rushed into buildings," he said. "Citizens became members of ambulance teams and people from all across the country poured into
New York City to help."

The White House today issued a presidential statement proclaiming Sept. 11, 2008, as "Patriot Day."

"On Patriot Day," the statement reads, "we cherish the memory of the thousands of innocent victims lost, extend our thoughts and prayers to their families, and honor the heroic men and women who risked and sacrificed their lives so others might survive."
In his remarks, Bush singled out the winner of the 2007 Spirit of Hope Award, which, according to the United States
Navy Web site, recognizes "relentless service to the military and civilian community in the area."

The president welcomed the recipient,
Navy Chief Petty Officer Giovanni Balingit, and congratulated him for being the benefactor of "the military's way of honoring people who have given back to their communities."

Bush also recognized the efforts of Kristen Holloway, who founded Operation Troop Appreciation, which sends DVDs, phone cards, musical instruments and sports gear to deployed troops. The group has sent care packages to more than 40,000 servicemembers to date, he said.

"A soldier who wrote back after getting one of the packages said, 'My heart soars with pride to represent a country filled with such wonderful people as you,'" Bush told the audience. "Well, my heart soars with pride as well to be in the presence of those who are lifting up souls and helping mend hearts."