Saturday, September 20, 2008

Los Angeles Honors Chairman, Reserve-Component Troops

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

Sept. 20, 2008 - During a visit to his hometown here yesterday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, along with several city employees who are reserve-component servicemembers, was honored by the Los Angeles City Council.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen and the citizen-servicemembers were recognized for their contributions within their community and abroad with the military. Most of the servicemembers are full-time Los Angeles police officers, and all are full-time civil servants employed by the city.

"When you look at Admiral Mike Mullen, you can see what a life of service does and can produce," City Council President Eric Garcetti said as he listed a long line of accomplishments during the chairman's 40-year career. "They clearly live their lives to support their country and community, and that's something that should inspire all of us."

Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Christina Aguilera is a chaplain assistant who has served a tour in Afghanistan and another in Iraq. Her full-time job is with the city council as a scheduler for Councilman Tony Cardenas. She said giving back to her community is extremely important to her. Compared to Mullen's 40 years in the military, working within the local community doesn't seem like enough, she said.

"It was an honor to stand before him, knowing the position and the difficult job he has, as well as all the time he takes just to talk to troops," Aguilera said.

Some 350,000 people from Los Angeles serve in either active duty status or in the reserve components. Los Angeles is not often thought of as a
military town, but considering the number of servicemembers the city produces, it signifies the city's dedication to a better future, Mullen said.

"I'm honored and humbled to be here with you all today," Mullen said, noting the spirit represented

Mullen Shares Experiences With Students at Former High School

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

Sept. 20, 2008 - Before heading off to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., in 1964, he'd only left his home state once. And even then, the 17-year old kid from the San Fernando Valley never imagined he'd become a
Navy admiral, let alone the top-ranking officer in the entire military. "I didn't even plan on staying in the Navy very long," Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told students at Notre Dame High School during a visit to his alma mater here yesterday. "When I was sitting where you all are, I had no idea I'd be where I am today."

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke to more than 1,200 students and faculty in the gym where he played basketball during his youth. A lot has changed since those days, he said, as he shared the experience and knowledge he's gained in the 44 years since he graduated from Notre Dame High School.

"You are receiving the underpinning of your future here," he said, crediting his Catholic education for making a difference in his life. "The underpinning I have from my family and community serves me today."

Mullen spoke about his time at the Naval Academy and the discipline, teamwork and appetite for winning that were instilled in him there. He explained the role he plays in the Defense Department and the lessons he has learned as chief of naval operations and then as the principal
military advisor to the Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and President Bush.

Some students were curious about the chairman's role as a diplomat, regularly meeting with foreign
leaders. Several asked questions regarding wars in the Middle East. He stressed the importance of understanding world issues, geography and different cultures in sustaining good relationships with other countries.

"Americans seem to look at other countries' problems and issues through American eyes," he said. "But you have to see their views from their eyes and their perspective in order to fully understand the situation."

Seeing the world through other people's eyes is one of the more important messages Mullen tries to communicate when he speaks to audiences, especially groups of young people, he said. Future generations are going to live and lead in a much more globalized world than now, he noted.

"Understanding different backgrounds and cultures will be mainstream requirements in the future for business, in politics and in diplomacy," he said. "It will be part of every aspect of who we are as a country."

William C. Nick, president of Notre Dame High School, said the messages Mullen was able to share would go far with the students and even the faculty. Mullen's alumnus status and position within the Defense Department mean a great deal to the students as they prepare for college and their lives after education.

"To have a distinguished alum come back and share so personally on everyday life matters from a world perspective, it's just invaluable," Nick said. "A teacher can talk about that day in and day out in the classroom, but it will not have the same impact as when someone comes from the outside, such as Admiral Mullen. It just makes the impact that much greater."

Hawaii Ceremony Commemorates POW/MIA Day

By Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Chlosta
Special to American Forces Press Service

Sept. 20, 2008 - The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command held a ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific here yesterday to commemorate POW/MIA Day. After bright sunshine finally pushed away the grey clouds,
Navy Rear Adm. Donna Crisp, JPAC commander, began the event by pointing out the observance's significance.

"Today, we pause to reflect on the heroism of tens of thousands of Americans who endured the hardship of enemy confinement, and those whose fate in time of war still remain unknown to this day," Crisp said. "POW/MIA Recognition Day events are held all over our nation on this day to remind us of those Americans who have sacrificed so much for their country."

The overflow crowd contained a patriotic mix of war veterans groups, active duty
military members, civilians, tourists and even members of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association's Hawaii Chapter, who rode to the ceremony on their motorcycles in tribute. The dozen or so CVMA members in attendance wore jeans and leather vests with their distinctive "Combat Vets" crest emblazoned on the back.

One CVMA member,
Army Staff Sgt. Jamie Medinger, who served with the 25th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team, said POW/MIA Day means "honoring those lost brothers, those that are no longer with us, those that are gone but not forgotten."

The burly, but soft-spoken Medinger, who served one tour in Afghanistan and two in Iraq, is currently in a warrior transition brigade at Schofield Barracks here. He is in rehabilitation and treatment for injuries he suffered in a roadside-bomb attack in Iraq.

"I came out to honor those fallen brothers and honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice," Medinger said.

In the day's keynote speech, retired
Navy Capt. James Hickerson recounted his time as a prisoner of war in Hanoi.

Hickerson was captured after he ejected from his plane when it was shot down over Vietnam. "As I was floating down in my parachute," he said, "I thought, 'Maybe I've got a problem here.'" He spent five years in a Hanoi prison camp.

After being tortured and sleeping on concrete for five years, he said, he still appreciates something as simple as the softness of a pillow.

"My wife didn't know if I was dead or alive," he said. God, country and his fellow POWs got him through the ordeal, he added.

"The 'Hanoi Hilton' taught me so much [about] what my country means to me," he said. "There was no doubt in my mind that you'd come get me. What a great country we belong to, and we have a great country because of all the names on the walls around us here."

Despite his experience in capitivity, Hickerson said, he considers himself fortunate.

"You're looking at a very, very lucky man -- lucky because I am alive today," he said.

Hickerson spoke to an attentive audience that was full of local veterans groups, easy to distinguish by their distinctive Hawaiian shirts and
military style flight caps. One group, the military Order of the Purple Heart, stood out with distinctive purple hats, lavender flowered-print garments and their exclusive membership criteria: you can only be a member if you've received the Purple Heart.

"Today is the day that I remember some of my buddies that are still back there," Korean War veteran Thomas Tanaka, a MOPH member, said. "It means a lot -- a day we should remember all the veterans. Hopefully, they'll come back one day."

Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Chlosta serves in the Joint POW/MIA Acounting Command Public Affairs Office.)

Officials Promise Smooth Military Leadership Transition

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Sept. 20, 2008 - The Defense Department is doing everything possible to ensure a smooth transition as the next presidential administration takes control of the
military in January, officials assured civilian business, academic and local government leaders. The November election will usher in the United States' first change of administration during wartime in 40 years, Deputy Defense Secretary told participants in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference during the group's orientation visit yesterday.

The business of defending the country and its interests transcends politics, England told the leaders, who visited the Pentagon before setting out for a weeklong trip through the U.S. European Command area of operations.

"This is serious biz that we are about; it is not political," he said. "We have one mission -- protecting and defending the nation -- and that is what everybody does."

The Defense Department has been working for the past year to ensure the political transition goes smoothly so no "hiccups" divert focus from that mission, England said. "We have been focused on it," he said. "We are determined to make this as smooth as we can."

The Joit Staff's director of operations agreed. "We owe that to our troops, and we owe that to the American people, particularly now, with a war going on," Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John M. Paxton said.

Toward that end, transition task forces throughout the department are preparing continuity plans for the new administration, Robert T. Hastings Jr., principal assistant deputy secretary of defense for public affairs, told the group.

"We have gone as far as preparing a budget to hand to the next
leadership of this department," he said. Whether to submit that budget, alter it, or come up with a new one altogether will be up to the new leaders.

"But when they come through the door, the homework is done and they will have available to them all resources they need to make decisions [about their] ... first budget," Hastings said. "We are pretty proud of the fact that the political
leadership of this department will leave it in as good shape as we found it."

Earlier this year, England told department managers their
leadership will be critical in ensuring a smooth transition during the administration change. "Regardless of what administration comes in, there [will be] a disruptive period," he said, with the exodus of current leaders and influx of new ones.

But England said, the department is committed to minimizing any disruption, particularly in light of two ongoing wars and other operations around the world.

"I don't want to hand any bowls of spaghetti over to the next administration," he said at a May conference.

Hastings reiterated that message this week to the JCOC participants. "We haven't had to change the civilian
leadership of this department during wartime since Vietnam, and we are approaching that with all seriousness," he said. "Those troops in the field deserve leadership back here that is not disrupted. And we will continue to provide them that support."

The first U.S. defense secretary, James V. Forrestal, created the JCOC in 1948 to introduce civilian "movers and shakers" with little or no
military exposure to the workings of the armed forces. Nearly six decades later, it remains the Defense Department's premier civic leader program.

Chairman Reaffirms Commitment to Health Care for Veterans

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

Sept. 20, 2008 - As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen worries a great deal about the systems in place for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans transitioning out of the military, he said today during a visit with health care providers and social workers at the Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System here.
"One of the priorities for me is [the welfare of] the wounded coming out this war and the families of the fallen," Mullen said. "These people are so precious to us, and [the
military] doesn't have contact with them any more after they're pushed back into society."

Once servicemembers separate from the
military, they can register with the Veterans Affairs Department, which is responsible for helping them integrate back into society. VA assists veterans with health-care needs, entitled benefits and finding employment.

But what happens to those who don't register and suffer physical injuries? What happens to those who received physical treatment but were too embarrassed to seek mental help?

Some may get on with their lives without any issues. Others may suffer from depression, alcoholism or drug addiction. Many may have difficulties holding a job, and some end up in jail. Post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries have become more and more common for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The single biggest issue Mullen has noticed during visits with wounded servicemembers at polytrauma medical centers, such as Walter Reed
Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., is that they want their lives back, he said. They're eager to get back to their units or shift back into society and just move on with their lives, he added.

Unfortunately, many servicemembers are so eager to separate from the
military that they'll forego seeking psychiatric care for possible PTSD or TBI. For these reasons, there are significant issues with veterans struggling or becoming homeless due to undiagnosed, service-related disabilities, he said.

In the
Los Angeles area, around 35,000 veterans have been treated through VA systems. However, only some veterans took it upon themselves to seek help. Many veterans were sought out in jails and on the streets here by VA social workers, said Bill Daniels, community care chief here.

The relationship and interface with between VA and the Defense Department is a challenge in itself, said Ron Norby, director for the VA Desert Pacific Healthcare Network, which provides services to more than a million veterans across southern California and Nevada.

Norby has been working with veterans and servicemembers since serving in the Vietnam War as a
Navy nurse. The current military-to-civilian transition system is pretty much the same as when he was discharged, he said. Once he finished his paperwork and left his unit, that was it, he added.

But the problem with identifying mental disorders doesn't fall on the
military checking up on people after separation, he said. Rather, the screening process needs to be more extensive to catch PTSD or TBI.

Norby and his staff agree that anyone discharged from the military or who has ever been in a theater of war should have a one-on-one consultation with a physician. Many suggest that everyone returning from deployment should be screened before they get back to the United States, he said.

"The faster we can catch the symptoms, the more we can help," Norby said.

During the chairman's visit here, he met with several veterans being treated for mental disorders. He expressed his gratitude for their service and let them know that taking care of them is a priority of the Defense Department.

One former
Army reservist, who asked not to be identified, has been attending group sessions and speaking to psychiatrists here for a little more than a month for PTSD from combat in Iraq in 2004, he said. He's been battling alcoholism, unemployment and depression since 2005.

"The care is great, and I'm slowly getting back on my feet," the veteran said. "I didn't think talking to a shrink or group therapy would help."

The veteran said he enjoys being part of a group again, and that it's one of the things he misses most about the

"Everyone comes from different situations and have different needs, but we all deal with our anger or depression or alcoholism together," he said.

According to the annual consensus produced by VA homeless centers nationwide in 2007, an estimated 154,000 veterans in the United States are homeless. About 51 percent of those veterans served in the armed forces after the Vietnam War. About 45 percent indicated substance abuse and medical problems. At least 20 percent saw combat.

Mullen said the nation owes its veterans the care they need.

"We as a country have to figure out a way to have a system that is integrated and [in which] we know where everyone is," the admiral said. "We need to make sure those who've sacrificed so much are taken care of."