Military News

Friday, September 12, 2008

SouthCom Sends Team to Haiti, Kearsarge Delivers Tons of Aid

American Forces Press Service

Sept. 12, 2008 - An eight-member team from U.S. Southern Command, with headquarters in
Miami, will arrive here today to support ongoing U.S. relief efforts in the country. The team -- two Creole translators, three engineers and three operational planners -- will join ongoing U.S. military disaster assistance activities in Haiti carried out by the crew of the USS Kearsarge operating from the Gulf of GonĂ¢ves.

The team will provide technical engineering assistance to the Haitian government, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti and Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance officials for critical infrastructure, bridge and road repair efforts, U.S.
Army Col. Norberto Cintron, SouthCom command engineer, said.

"The distribution of aid has been hampered by the devastation of roads and bridges in Haiti," Cintron said. "We look forward to the challenge of restoring access to isolated communities."

USS Kearsarge continued its support of disaster relief efforts in Haiti yesterday, launching five helicopters and three landing craft to deliver aid to remote areas suffering in the aftermath of recent storms.

Overall, the Kearsarge mission in Haiti has delivered an estimated 350 metric tons of relief supplies in addition to 1,500 gallons of water.

The Caribbean nation was hit hard by tropical storms Fay, Gustav and Hanna and then again by Hurricane Ike, leaving eight of Haiti's 10 geographic departments flooded, destroying bridges and roads and leaving residents desperate for aid.

On the fourth day of operations, CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopter crews flew relief missions to Gonaives, Les Cayes and Port de Paix, delivering about 85 metric tons of pre-packaged food such as flour, beans, rice and high-energy biscuits from the World Food Program, as well as hygiene kits from the U.N. Population Fund.

To date, CH-53E and MH-60S Seahawk pilots have flown a combined 28 missions into the country to deliver supplies. Personnel from Assault Craft Unit 2 have launched landing craft daily, sending supplies and personnel ashore. Kearsarge also continued to send volunteer working parties to Port-au-Prince, to assist in loading and unloading supplies.

"This is truly a team effort," said
Navy Capt. Walter Towns, Kearsarge´s commanding officer. "Everyone from the craftmasters, helicopter pilots, flight deck and well deck crews to the unsung heroes on the working parties carry hundreds of pounds of food and water supplies. They do it all without complaint, because they know their efforts are saving lives."

Kearsarge's capabilities include the fast movement of personnel and cargo by helicopter and landing craft, making it the ideal platform to support urgent humanitarian relief missions, officials said.

(From a U.S. Southern Command news release.)

Guard Members Gear Up for Hurricane Ike

By Army Sgt. S. Patrick McCollum
Special to American Forces Press Service

Sept. 12, 2008 - Although Hurricane Ike is expected to lose power after hitting Texas tonight, National Guardsmen in four other states are preparing for the worst when it becomes a tropical storm later this weekend. Guard members in Oklahoma,
Arkansas
, Kansas and Missouri have anticipated the problems associated with heavy rain and winds and will be ready to respond, state officials said.

Heavy rains of up to 15 inches are projected for the hardest-hit areas and flooding and tornadoes are anticipated.

"Rain is what we're worried about," said Pat Scully, spokesman for the Oklahoma National Guard. Much of the state is under a flood watch, he added, because forecasts indicate that a cold front from the north will join forces with the tropical storm.

"We're confident that if we are called, we'll have the personnel and equipment to handle the situation," Scully said.

The Oklahoma governor has not declared a state of emergency, but more than 1,000 Guard members are standing by as a quick-reaction force, he said.

"We'll be using our quick-reaction force and our follow-on force," Scully said. "After that, we'll have our on-station National Guard soldiers ready to respond, both
Army and Air." The state is now in a "planning mode," but expects to respond to missions ranging from search and rescue to delivering relief supplies.

Scully said the state has more than 2,000 Guard members available for these missions. Several units from the state are deployed or preparing for deployment, including the 45th Brigade Combat Team, a force of about 2,600 soldiers, which is in Iraq; about 800 soldiers from the 45th Fires Brigade, which is training at Fort Hood, Texas, for an upcoming deployment; and 300 airmen from the 138th Fighter Wing in Tulsa, which deployed to Iraq earlier this week.

Flood watches are in effect for more than 50 counties in
Arkansas.

"What Arkansas is looking at is the possibility of the after-effects of the hurricane, which could bring tornadoes into the state,"
Army Capt. Chris Heathscott, spokesman for the Arkansas National Guard, said.

Despite the deployment of Arkansas' 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team to Iraq, Heathscott said, the state has about 6,000 Guard members available.

The
Arkansas Guard has responded to many floods and tornadoes this year, so Ike's effects are nothing new. "2008 has been one of the heaviest years for natural disaster responses for our state," Heathscott said. "It's unfortunately becoming routine business for us."

In
Kansas, the Guard's concern also is flooding "and making sure people are not driving through high water and in need of rescue," said Sharon Watson, a Kansas Guard spokeswoman.

About 5,000 Guard troops are available at the request of
Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, and 2,000 are on alert, she said. Six hundred of those will be well prepared for the experience, since they are returning from hurricane relief duties in Louisiana.

With experience and clear objectives,
Kansas will be well prepared, Watson said.

Experience will also benefit Missouri, where 2,000 Guard members, who are also returning from relief missions in Louisiana, can be called up if needed. The 8,000 Guard members in the state also have experience because of the Mississippi River's flooding in June.

(
Army Sgt. S. Patrick McCollum serves at the National Guard Bureau.)

Marines Anticipate Reaching Five-Year Goal Two Years Early

By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

Sept. 12, 2008 - Even without offering big cash bonuses, promising opportunities for college or assuring a better life after service, the
Marine Corps anticipates meeting its five-year force-growth goal two years early, the commander of Marine recruiting said via teleconference today from his headquarters in Quantico, Va. The Marine recruiting message is dynamically different from that of other services, Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Robert E. Milstead Jr. said as he discussed the current state and contemporary challenges in recruiting Marines.

"Other services may recruit and offer themselves as a means of something else or something better, saying, 'We'll get you a college education,' 'We'll get you financial stability,' or 'You'll improve your lot in life,'" Milstead said. "But the
Marine Corps offers itself as the destination. We don't talk college, we don't talk money, and we don't talk anything else [to recruits]. We only make one promise: that you'll be a United States Marine."

The potential for deployments with the nation's current posture in the Middle East hasn't deterred recruiting and retention, and the likelihood of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan hasn't presented itself as a challenge, Milstead said. Regardless of which branch of service, recruits are fully aware of "what they're walking into" when they meet with recruiters, he added.

"Remember, there is no draft," he continued, "and all these kids join to serve their nation knowing that in the
Marine Corps, and most likely the Army, they're going to move toward the sounds of canons."

Milstead praised the fidelity and commitment of Marines who have served multiple tours and enlistments during the nation's time of need. The
Marine Corps' success in building up its force is credited to retention as well as recruiting, he explained.

"The young men and women today are hanging around, and they may have two or three deployments under their belt," the general said. "They enjoy what they're doing; they feel that the Marines is worth their efforts. And so they're re-enlisting too."

Since 2007, the
Marine Corps has been pushing recruiting and retention goals to grow its active-duty force to 202,000 Marines by 2011, a 27,000-Marine increase in just five years. But with fiscal 2008 coming to a close at the end of the month, the Marine Corps already has about 198,000 active-duty Marines, putting the goal well within reach.

In fact, Milstead said, he anticipates the
Marine Corps will reach the end state of its growth as early as next year without compromising its high standards for recruits.

Milstead noted that 97 percent of Marine recruits this year were high school graduates, well above the Defense Department average.

"We've been very pleased with our ability to meet our recruiting numbers within the
Marine Corps," he added. "But bottom line, what it took to be a Marine, two, three, five and 10 years ago, is what it takes to be a Marine today."

Task Force Recommends New Air Force Nuclear Command

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Sept. 12, 2008 - A Defense Department task force has recommended the Air Force Space Command be re-designated as
Air Force Strategic Command and be home to the service's nuclear mission. ormer Defense Secretary James Schlesinger briefed the press on the task force's conclusions during a Pentagon news conference today.

The new command would be a major command and include all of the service's assets from missiles to bombers. Known as the Schlesinger Panel, the task force came into being as a result of revelations that the
Air Force mistakenly had sent nuclear missile components to Taiwan in 2006, and inadvertently had flown nuclear weapons from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., in 2007.

As a result Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates asked Schlesinger to look into ways to fix the situation. A previous report authored by Navy Adm. Kirkwood Donald said the
Air Force culture needed to be changed to stress the importance of the nuclear mission.

For his part Schlesinger gave a short history lesson to frame the problem.

"The nuclear mission has altered substantially since the days of the Cold War," he said.

During the Cold War, the NATO allies were fearful that the Warsaw Pact countries held a conventional force advantage over the Western allies. The nuclear umbrella America provided deterred the Soviet Union and its allies from attacking.

"That mission has gone by the boards," Schlesinger said. "The nuclear deterrent role today is quite different, and it is much more circumscribed than it was in the days of the Cold War. However, it is no less important, despite the fact that the domain of the nuclear mission has shrunk."

By treaty, the United States still holds the nuclear umbrella over the NATO countries, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand. "The confidence that they have in that umbrella will determine whether or not they themselves may seek to acquire nuclear weapons," Schlesinger said. "Some (nations) have expressed increasing misgivings about whether or not they feel comfortable under the umbrella.

Part of the
Air Force and Defense Department task is to "resuscitate their confidence in the credibility of the nuclear umbrella," he said.

The service has to change its culture, the former secretary said, because
Air Force interest in the nuclear mission has atrophied. "This goes back to the disestablishment of the Strategic Air Command in 1991," he said.

SAC, as it was called, was a specified command reporting directly to the defense secretary. It was the home of the Air Force legs of the strategic triad: the intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear-capable bombers. In 1991, the command split with the missiles going to
Air Force Space Command and the bombers to Air Combat Command.

Both commands had other priorities and the nuclear mission lost money over the years. "As a result, the nuclear mission has been underfunded and this has resulted in a shrinkage of billets for units and even those shrunken billets remain unfilled in many cases," Schlesinger said.

"There is a shortage of security personnel. There is a shortage of maintenance people. There is a shortage of those who supervise the nuclear establishment and there ... has been a very noticeable lack of nuclear expertise," he said.

The
Air Force has moved to change, Schlesinger said. Currently, the service has 180 corrective actions in the works. "It is a highly commendable response on the part of the Air Force," he said. "It has established a solid basis for change, and all of the Air Force leaders are saying the right things. The real question is whether there will be follow through on what is now being said."

Gates Says Recommendations Will Help Air Force's Nuclear Mission

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Sept. 12, 2008 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today praised the "comprehensive" conclusions of a task force he set up to look into the
Air Force's management of nuclear weapons. ates told Pentagon reporters that the recommendations of the Secretary of Defense Task Force on Nuclear Weapons Management "will help ensure the excellence of Air Force stewardship of our most important mission."

In June, Gates asked former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger – who also has served as energy secretary – to lead the task force. He asked for the assessment following revelations that the service mistakenly had sent nuclear missile components to Taiwan in 2006, and inadvertently had flown nuclear weapons from Minot
Air Force Base, N.D., to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., in 2007.

Gates said the task force reinforced the idea that the problems were caused in part by a lack of unity of command and a cultural change that de-emphasized the nuclear mission. No single Air Force organization is responsible or accountable for the overall nuclear mission. The Schlesinger Panel recommends
Air Force nuclear assets merge and come under an Air Force Strategic Command.

"I'm not sure what the right answer is, ... but I think that ... one of the principal actions that needs to be taken is to address this question of unity of command," Gates said. Whether that ends up being a new kind of command is something that acting
Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz will have to address, he said, but "I think that the task force ... makes a strong case in this respect for a new command," he added.

In the short term, the secretary said, he is confident that similar nuclear problems will not recur. "Where I need greater assurance is that some of the longer-term issues that have been identified ... have been addressed, and that we are on the way to resolving those problems in terms of resourcing the mission, both human and financially," Gates said.

Protection and safety of our nuclear arsenal may be the armed forces' most sensitive mission, Gates said. "That arsenal was vital to winning the Cold War, and remains a vital deterrent," he said. "Furthermore, ensuring complete physical control and proper handling of nuclear weapons at all times is critical to maintain the confidence of our friends and allies around the world who rely on U.S. nuclear deterrence, as well."

Gates said the
Air Force already has begun to restore its nuclear mission and is implementing more than 180 corrective actions. The service will take additional measures as required, he said.

Gates asked for the resignations of Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne and Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley in June due to these incidents. "Clearly, I think we have the attention of the
Air Force," the secretary said. "Dealing with this is a very high priority, not just for the secretary and the chief of staff, but for all senior Air Force officers."

The
Air Force will have a senior leader meeting on the nuclear mission beginning Sept. 18 here. The Schlesinger Panel will issue a second report in December on nuclear weapons management throughout the Defense Department

Mets Honor Command, Observe Army Reserve's 100th Anniversary

American Forces Press Service

Sept. 12, 2008 - Major League Baseball's
New York Mets have designated tomorrow as Army Reserve Day at Shea Stadium here to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Army Reserve and to honor the soldiers of the 77th Regional Readiness Command.
The 77th RRC was one of the first units to respond to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and many of its soldiers reported for duty in the days following the attack without having been called.

In the subsequent months, the 77th RRC provided mortuary units, tents, construction equipment, medical services and trucks to aid in the 9/11 aftermath. Six
Army Reserve soldiers from the 77th RRC - five firemen and one lawyer - sacrificed their lives in the disaster.

"As we commemorate the centennial of the Army Reserve this year, I am honored to serve alongside all the brave men and women who have shown their dedication to both the military force as well as the work force for the past 100 years," said
Army Maj. Gen. William Terpeluk, 77th RCC commander. "We are so proud to have served our country, and the people of New York, in the wake of 9/11 and as part of the 77th RRC."

The
New York Mets share a long history with the 77th RRC. During the 1960s, the Mets needed a local command where their Army Reserve team members could practice drilling. 77th RRC drill assemblies included, at various times, Mets players Tug McGraw, Nolan Ryan, Bud Harrelson, Wayne Garret, Ken Boswell and Danny Friscella.

Shortly after the U.S.
Army Reserve was formed by Congress, the 77th Division, National Army, was organized at Camp Upton, Yaphank, N.Y., on Aug. 25, 1917. A unit of 23,000 men, it included Manhattan taxi drivers, Bronx tailors, Brooklyn factory hands, Wall Street executives and first-generation immigrants, all wearing the Statue of Liberty shoulder patch.

After 91 years, the 77th RRC was officially deactivated on Sept. 7, 2008, when a casing-of-colors ceremony was held at the former site of Camp Upton.

(From a U.S.
Army Reserve Command news release.)

Face of Defense: Soldier Serves Fourth Deployment With Same Unit

By Army Pfc. Michael Schuch
Special to American Forces Press Service

Sept. 12, 2008 - A handful of soldiers can say they have served three or more tours in Iraq. Few can say they served those three tours with the same unit.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Cameron Richardson of Palm Springs, Fla., has deployed to Iraq with the 1st Armored Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team three times. In his nearly 15-year Army career, he has three deployments to Iraq and a deployment with the Iron Brigade to Kosovo in 1999 as part of Task Force Falcon – all with the same unit.

"We did security patrols in Kosovo. We either went out dismounted or mounted in Humvees in a peace-keeping operation for seven months," Richardson said.

Following his tour in Kosovo, Richardson returned with the Iron Brigade to the brigade's home in Baumholder, Germany. For the next several years, Richardson trained with the Iron Brigade – ready to be called upon for the next mission. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, it was only a matter of time.

In March 2003, the time came.

Richardson was a staff sergeant in charge of a section of Bradley fighting vehicles in Company C, 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment. When then-5th Corps Commander Lt. Gen. William Scott Wallace tasked the division for a mechanized infantry company for his headquarters security force, Richardson's unit became the first unit in 1st Armored Division to leave its garrisons in Germany and deploy to Kuwait.

In the Kuwaiti heat, the soldiers wore charcoal-lined protective suits and overboots for two weeks as a precaution against possible chemical attack, "which was not a pleasant experience," Richardson said.

"Our mission was to keep a 360-degree perimeter for the 5th Corps Tactical
Army Command to ensure the general was not attacked," he said. "We were bounding up behind the 3rd Infantry Division, which was moving forward so fast. But we had to keep up with them to ensure the general had communications with them. We finally set up at Baghdad International Airport."

After Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed, the
Army's focus shifted to stability operations and securing the country for the Iraqi population. Richardson's unit went to Camp Muleskinner in Rustimayah and operated around what are now Combat Outposts Cashe South and North. "We figured we would be in Iraq for around a year based on our orders," Richardson said.

But the division began a 15-month deployment, which was unprecedented at the time. Richardson and his unit began returning to Germany in March 2004. "As the first unit with boots on the ground in Iraq, we were the first to redeploy back to Germany," Richardson said. But in April 2004, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia began its uprising, and the 1st Armored Division was extended for 120 days of extensive combat.

"We had already redeployed to Baumholder and gone on our 30-day leave," Richardson recalled. "I was back in the States when I got a phone call to return to Baumholder in order to deploy back to Iraq. I was disappointed, thinking I had survived Iraq after a long tough year of combat, and now I had to return."

Richardson deployed with Company C as the master gunner at brigade headquarters. He returned to Baumholder in July and to continue training and improving his own skills and those of the soldiers around him.

"When I got on the plane to return to Baumholder, I said to myself that I never wanted to come back to this place," Richardson said. He was offered an assignment in the United States, having completed more than a full tour in Germany. But rather than starting fresh with new soldiers in a separate unit, Richardson chose to remain an Iron Brigade soldier.

In November 2005, Richardson and his comrades answered their nation's call to duty yet again and deployed to Iraq.

"When they say to go, you have to go," he said. "I was thinking, 'OK this is the last time.'"

That deployment was different from the first. The Iron Brigade deployed as a separate brigade and not with the 1st Armored Division, and as U.S. Central Command's theater reserve force, remained in Kuwait for several months before its units deployed to Iraq.

Upon finishing his second tour in Iraq, Richardson returned to his family and started to consider his career options. He decided to start working toward becoming a platoon sergeant. Shortly thereafter, he was offered the chance to lead the command security detail for the brigade's command sergeant major. Richardson accepted the offer, taking on a new role in the Iron Brigade, and in April, Richardson deployed for his third tour in Iraq.

"This deployment is unique in the fact that I was in the forefront in the first deployment as a Bradley section
leader," he said. "The second deployment, I was the master gunner, a part of the theater reserve, for six months and then moved up to Baghdad to finish the deployment. Now, I have a unique challenge in ensuring that the command sergeant major gets where he needs to go."

As a soldier who has seen the war in Iraq from its very beginning, Richardson said, he has seen tremendous progress in the last five years.

"It has progressively gotten better each time," he said. "The Iraqi
Army seems to have gotten the grasp of what to do and is getting more professional."

Each day in Iraq, Richardson is tasked with route planning, caring for his soldiers' physical and mental health, performing pre-combat checks and inspecting all gear and equipment. Then, once out on a patrol, he ensures the security of
Army Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Eyer, Iron Brigade's command sergeant major.

As Richardson's team maintains the security of the area, he remains no more than an arm's length away from Eyer, acting as the last line of defense between him and any threats.

"We roll out five to six times a week," Richardson said. "Sometimes, the hardest part of the job is just trying to keep up with the sergeant major."

Richardson will remain in Iraq for the duration of this deployment with the Iron Brigade. Upon his return to Baumholder, he said, he plans to request a continuing position with the brigade, though he expects to be sent back to the United States to continue his
Army career.

"I would love to stay if they'd have me," he said. "My wife is German, and she would love to stay in Germany."

Until then, Richardson is taking it one day at a time, as he has done on his previous deployments.

"I want to get myself and my guys all back home safely," he said. "I hope I don't have to come back, but if ordered, I will and complete the mission."

(
Army Pfc. Michael Schuch serves in the 1st Armored Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)

Air Guard Meets End-Strength Goal for First Time Since 2003

By Air Force Master Sgt. Greg Rudl
Special to American Forces Press Service

Sept. 11, 2008 - The Air National Guard has met its fiscal 2008 end-strength goal of 106,700 airmen, the first time it's met its target end strength since 2003, National Guard Bureau officials announced yesterday. Recruiting and retention combined to produce the achievement. The Air Guard recruited 1,194 airmen in August, 107 percent of its goal of 1,116. To date for fiscal 2008, which ends Sept. 30, the Air Guard has retained 16,518 personnel, 107.3 percent of its goal of 15,390.

Air Force Lt. Col. Randy Johnson, chief of Air Guard recruiting and retention, attributed the milestone to several factors, including the hard work of recruiters and retainers and the growth of advertising campaigns and recruiting initiatives.

"A half dozen things come to mind that made this possible," he said. "One reason was the constant
leadership focus on recruiting."

Other reasons he cited include:

-- Administrative assistants working in recruiting offices the past two years have freed up recruiters from paperwork;

-- The Guard Recruiting Assistance Program – a paid referral program in which traditional drill-status Air Guardsmen, officers and retirees earn a "finder's fee" of $2,000 for each new recruit who enlists and reports to basic training -- has given the Air National Guard about 3,000 enlistments;

-- Expanded enlistment incentives and bonuses and personnel initiatives;

-- Robust advertising and outreach programs that include aerobatic pilot John Klatt and the Air Guard's mobile recruiting vehicle; and

-- The new voice of Air National Guard advertising, Nashville country music recording artist Laura Bryna, who has been making appearances showcasing her "Hometown Heroes" music video.

The
Army Guard exceeded its programmed end strength by nearly 1,000 soldiers. It's now at 362,014 soldiers, 103 percent of its 351,133-soldier goal. It met its August monthly goal by recruiting 5,785 soldiers and retained 27,151 soldiers, 95 percent of its goal of 28,694.

Among the
Army Guard's new recruiting programs announced this summer were the launch of a sponsored Indy Car race car and a mobile marketing campaign that lets potential recruits discover their inner "Rock Star" at fairs and music festivals throughout the country.

The
Army Guard also has enlisted two superstars to attract new members and remind those already serving what the Guard is all about through a new nationwide theater advertising campaign that debuted Aug. 22.

The new "Warrior" campaign includes music from Kid Rock and features Dale Earnhardt Jr., the National Guard-sponsored NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. Kid Rock wrote a song specifically for the
Army Guard campaign. The "Warrior" video is appearing in more than 3,000 theaters and on more than 27,000 screens around the country.

(
Air Force Master Sgt. Greg Rudl serves at the National Guard Bureau.)

Guard Couples Strengthen Marriages at 'Strong Bonds' Seminar

By Air Force Master Sgt. Greg Rudl
Special to American Forces Press Service

Sept. 11, 2008 - "Communication saves lives on the battlefield. It saves marriages, too."
That was a major theme that
Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Antonio Daggett stressed at the National Guard Strong Bonds Marriage Seminar in Old Town Alexandria, Va., Sept. 5 to 7. About 20 Guard couples attended the retreat, which was geared to strengthen marriages through improving communication skills. Daggett, who works in the National Guard Bureau's chaplains' office here, facilitated the seminar that equips families with tools to combat the stressors of military service.

On Day 1 of the seminar, Daggett explained the danger signs of marriage communications, such as "escalation," and demonstrated them through videos of actual couples discussing their marital issues.

In one video, a conversation that started with household cleanliness escalated into talk of separation. The chaplain delved into other communication no-no's, such as withdrawal -- "Yes Dear, whatever you say, Dear" – and "invalidation," which he called a $10 word for name-calling.

"Our communications are pretty good, but could use a little tweaking," said Cynthia Cole, wife of
Army Lt. Col. Reyes Cole of the National Guard Bureau's counterdrug office, who attended the weekend retreat.

By their own admission, it's been a stressful year for the Coles and their four young children. Along with recent deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan, the colonel suffered a massive pulmonary embolism last year that almost ended his life.

"This has been a great way for us to decompress and reconnect and find out what we have been doing right and what we can improve on," Cynthia Cole said.

These seminars, held around the country for married
Army and Air National Guard couples, are part of the Strong Bonds Program, which began in 1999 and was formerly known as Building Strong and Ready Families.

Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Ron Martin-Minnich of the National Guard Bureau's chaplain's office said Strong Bond events are expected to take place at 110 Air National Guard and 285 Army National Guard units in 54 states and territories.

As fiscal 2008 wraps up and numbers are still being tallied, his office expected about 8,000 troops and their families to attend Strong Bonds events in the fiscal year. The program is funded at about $8 million annually and includes events for singles and families as well.

"This shows the major success we have made in expanding and increasing support to our families, just like the active duty," Martin-Minnich said.

Martin-Minnich credited the Guard's general officers for supporting his office through the
Army Family Action Plan and their support of joint funding requests with the active duty, the Army Reserve and the Army Chief of Chaplain's Office.

He also credited Air National Guard Director
Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig McKinley for supporting his office in expanding Strong Bonds to the Air Guard.

Daggett's seminar cost couples just a small registration fee and included two nights at the hotel, all meals, handouts and the book "12 Hours to a Great Marriage," as well as a dinner cruise on the Potomac River.

All agreed that Daggett's dynamic speaking style brought the subject matter to life and encouraged participation. Practice makes perfect: He has facilitated nine seminars, including several in the Virgin Islands. "Every time I help a marriage, I help my own," he said.

"Chaplain Daggett can take this material that was designed for civilians and make it mesh with our culture as soldiers and soldiers' families," said Virginia Guardsman
Army Lt. Col. Barry Davis, who attended the weekend with his wife.

The animated, soft-spoken chaplain gripped the microphone with his left hand while his right moved like that of a New York City traffic cop, confirming what he said.

He illustrated many of his points with humor, citing the change in the mindset of the importance of the
military family: "If any of you came into the military when I did in the early '80s, you remember how it was: You'd go up to your sergeant and say: 'Sergeant, I need to take my wife to the hospital.' Your sergeant would say, 'Soldier, the Army didn't issue you a wife.'"

To start the seminar, Daggett asked couples to stand up and introduce themselves and explain what made their marriage unique. The replies drew nods, smiles and some laughter:

-- "We're best friends."

-- "We've been married 37 years."

-- "We're very competitive."

-- "We seem to overcome every challenge thrown our way."

-- "We're not TV people. We like to burn some candles and listen to music."

The chaplain then reciprocated and introduced his wife of 26 years and pointed out that one of the ways his marriage is unique is that the couple has 10 children – "80 percent boys." He described their marriage as a launching pad for his kids into a global and competitive world.

With his pleasant voice and warm smile, he asked couples for expectations they may have had going into the marriage.

He got many replies:

-- "We were so in love and thought it would always be like that."

-- "She would stay home while I go to work."

-- "We didn't have any expectations. We were young, and just wanted to get married."

-- "I expected a fairy tale forever."

"So we all have expectations," Daggett said, wrapping up the lesson. "Some are subtle and unsaid. Some we take as a matter of fact [like] 'Surely he or she is going to be loyal to me.'"

The cuddly body language between Davis and his wife, Trasi, said they're happily married, so why was this couple, married just 15 months, at a marriage enrichment seminar?

"This is [preventive] maintenance," the colonel said. Trasi Davis echoed the thought: "Our marriage, I feel, is really strong, but as our pastor said, 'Marriage is like a house you plan on living in the rest of your life – both need constant maintenance.'"

Both have children from previous marriages. They keep their marriage fresh by laughing a lot and having game nights with the kids – complete with Dad's homemade pizza. They also have date nights, minus the kids.

"It was nice to get a weekend away and have it be with other couples that feel the same way we do about our marriage," Trasi Davis said.

The Coles enjoyed the chance to learn ways to improve their marriage as well. "I think one of the most important things the instructor said today was that the ultimate goal is to save the marriage, ... because the kids and society require it," Colonel Cole said.

He and his wife renewed their wedding vows with several others in the hotel's atrium on Day 2.

"It teaches you that you're a team and in a team there isn't any right person or wrong person," Colonel Cole said. Trasi Davis agreed. "The seminar teaches you to resolve conflict in an amicable way," she said.

"The course is not 'Death by PowerPoint.' It's interactive: you watch a video and everyone talks about it," Colonel Cole said.

To find an upcoming Strong Bonds retreat, visit www.strongbonds.org.

(
Air Force Master Sgt. Greg Rudl serves at the National Guard Bureau.)

School District Partners With Community to Support Guard, Reserve

By Sara Moore
American Forces Press Service

Sept. 11, 2008 - A small school district in
South Dakota is being honored for its partnership with its military employees and the local community. Winner School District, in Winner, S.D., is one of 15 companies chosen to receive the 2008 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, which recognizes employers who provide exceptional support to employees serving in the National Guard or Reserve.

Winner School District always has been family-oriented, so supporting its employees who serve in the
military is like second nature, said Mike Hanson, school district superintendent. "We feel it's our responsibility to offer that support, to let them know we care," he said.

To support its military employees, Winner School District provides a pay supplement for the entire length of a Guard or reserve employee's deployment. Deployed employees also receive care packages from the staff and students and daily e-mails updating them on the latest district news. The district uses the middle school library as a video tele-conference location, where families can talk to deployed relatives.

The school district also focuses on the servicemembers' families while they're deployed. School board members have helped out by mowing lawns, taking children to school athletic events, and even tending to an expectant mother. When deployed employees return from their overseas service, they are placed in the same classroom, teaching the same grade, which aids in their transition to civilian life, Hanson said.

The school district partners with the community as well, hosting a Veterans Day community program that recognizes local veterans and servicemembers in the faculty and student body, Hanson said. The district also works with the local National Guard unit, he said.

Having employees who also serve in the
military benefits the school district because they bring strong organizational skills and initiative to the workplace, said Hanson, who grew up in a military family. "We can get things done with people who have a strong background in the military," he said.

Hanson said he is excited about receiving the Freedom Award, and looks forward to continuing the school district's support of
military employees.

"We want to keep the services we have and improve on them," he said. "We're very proud to be part of this partnership with the
military and the community."

Winner School District will receive the Freedom Award along with 14 other companies in a ceremony Sept. 18 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center here. The Freedom Award was instituted in 1996 under the auspices of the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve to recognize exceptional support from the employer community.

America Supports You: 'Widow Project' Documentary Release Nears

By Sharon Foster
Special to American Forces Press Service

Sept. 11, 2008 - A 75-minute documentary that focuses on the lives of six
military widows from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will start making the rounds this month at military bases and Veterans of Foreign Wars halls across the country. "In the documentary, the women speak about everything from how they met their husbands to when they received that dreaded knock on the door," said Taryn Davis, founder and president of the American Widow Project. "Their stories and experiences have been made into this film."

Davis started filming this documentary a year ago and finished in April. On July 12, 2008, she screened the film for more than 30
military widows from all over the country.

"As I sat in the theater, I heard them cry, cheer and even laugh," Davis said. "I saw the film doing what it was meant to do - allowing them to work through their grief and mourning by hearing the candid stories of those who have and are going through the same thing."

Davis said she completed the documentary to reach out to the widows and widowers who are not aware of the American Widow Project, a home-front group of the Defense Department's America Supports You program, and to raise awareness of the organization as a whole.

"When I lost my husband, Cpl. Michael Davis, on May 21, 2007, I found very few resources that spoke to me," Davis said. "I wanted something that would candidly tell me which obstacles I would face in the next weeks, months and years - something that would tell me what to do with his belongings, how to celebrate anniversaries and inspire me to take on this new world without my husband," she said.

In talking with other widows, Davis said, she realized she was not alone in her feelings and started the American Widow Project to help herself and others like her. The project boasts 140 friends, all
military widows, on its "widows-only" MySpace page.

Davis also hopes, through the American Widow Project, to offer a hotline for widows to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. With other widows taking calls, she envisions the hotline as a networking system to connect widows to people in their communities who would like to volunteer their time and services - whether it be babysitting or counseling - to show their thanks and appreciation for the sacrifice their loved ones made.

The American Widow Project documentary will be sent free of charge to all
military widows and widowers. The public also can buy the DVD, with all the proceeds going back into the organization.

The documentary will be available on the American Widow Project Web site later this month. A preview can be seen on YouTube.