Military News

Monday, October 20, 2008

Defense Media Activity Officially Stands Up with Pentagon Ceremony

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

Oct. 20, 2008 - The Defense Media Activity gives public affairs within the Defense Department a new structure to move forward as a consolidated and integrated team, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said during the organization's activation ceremony at the Pentagon today. "This is where jointness really pays off," England said. "But this is an area where jointness has real dividends, and it's hugely important that we do this."

Born out of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission's 2005 conclusions, the Defense Media Activity will unite DoD internal information programs -- the
Army Broadcasting Service, Soldiers Radio and TV, the Soldiers Media Center, the Naval Media Center, the Air Force News Agency, Marine Corps internal information assets and the Army and Air Force Hometown News Service with the American Forces Information Service -- under one roof at Fort Meade, Md., in 2011. Meanwhile, the new activity will operate with its components in place at their current locations.

American Forces Radio and Television Service, American Forces Press Service, the Pentagon Channel, Stars and Stripes and the Joint Combat Camera Center are among the offices that transferred to the new activity.

The activity will work under the direction of the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs.

"[The new structure] helps consolidate organizations to do a better job in terms of the quality [and] timeliness of a product," England said. "Now we have a consolidated organization where we can bring people from all these different functions together in one place, under one organizational structure, and my judgment is that this will be vastly superior to how we have operated in the past."

Army Col. Mike Galloucis, chief of staff for the Defense Media Activity, and Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Al Moore, the activity's senior enlisted advisor, unfurled the new organization's colors, marking the activity's official activation.

Robert T. Hastings Jr., principal deputy assistant defense secretary for public affairs, said the activation is one of the most significant changes to happen to public affairs in a lifetime because of the opportunities for improvements it affords to Defense Department public affairs.

"What we have is the opportunity to fundamentally look at the way we deliver news and information to the men and women of the armed forces and their families, and determine if that's right, and look at how we can make improvements," Hastings said.

The change in how the Defense Department provides news and information "represents the fact that we are one Department of Defense, and we do operate jointly," he said.

The idea is that teams of reporters, photographers, videographers and TV producers will deploy to an area and send command information products back. Experts at the activity can package the reports for distribution by any media. "The DMA is how we will deliver that," he said.

The concept of operations for the new activity is still developing, Hastings said. The activity's focus will be more on information and audience, and less about the medium used.

"[With the DMA], we're able to improve efficiencies in the back office," he said. It'll free up resources to support the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that are delivering. No one can even imagine yet what the DMA can provide.

U.S., Serbian Leaders Discuss New Ways to Cooperate

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 20, 2008 - The
military-to-military relationship between the United States and Serbia is growing closer, the top military officers of both countries said here today. Serbian Army Chief of Defense Gen. Zdravko Ponos and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to reporters following their meeting on the relationship.

Mullen is the highest-ranking U.S. officer to visit Belgrade since General of the
Army Omar Bradley did so in 1951. He said the two men had a good, candid and productive meeting. "I always learn a great deal coming out and meeting someone face to face," Mullen said.

The relationship between the United States and Serbia is difficult. The United States participated in Operation Allied Force – a 72-day NATO bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999 that forced the nation to withdraw
military and paramilitary units out of Kosovo. Following U.S. recognition of Kosovo's independence earlier this year, a mob attacked the U.S. embassy here and burned part of it.

Still, the United States and Serbia must work together for peace in the region and beyond, Mullen said.

"This is a friendship that has weathered many trials and grown stronger and stronger with each additional contact," he said. "We are also partners, and partnerships are very important in the 21st century."

The Serb
Army is seeking to modernize, and the United States can help, the chairman said. Serbian officers are attending U.S. staff and war colleges, and Serbian cadets attend the U.S. military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

Serb
military leaders also are working to establish a modern noncommissioned officer corps, modeled after the U.S. example. But cooperation in the region is most important, Mullen said.

"Serbia's cooperation with [NATO's Kosovo Force] in the Joint Implementation Council has been greatly appreciated, and your interest in modernizing your
military through the Partnership for Peace program is commendable," he said.

The chairman called Ponos a strong partner in a vital region where "security and stability continue to be incredibly important to achieve and sustain."

Both men agreed that their two countries have totally different opinions of Kosovo and that this complicates the relationship. Serbs regard Kosovo as an integral part of their nation, even though only a small number of ethnic Serbs live there.

"These are very complicated political relations in which the
military has to cooperate," Ponos said through an interpreter.

The relations between the two countries have come a long way since the low point of the late 1990s. After the democratically elected government came into power following the fall of Serb strongman Slobodon Milosevic, the United States and Serbia began rebuilding the military-to-military relationship. Now, "there is too big an investment to be pulled down," Ponos said.

"Under such difficult political relations, economic relations between the two nations continue to grow," he said. "Cultural relations continue to grow, too. Why shouldn't
military relations continue to grow, even though those are the most difficult aspect of it all?"

The Serb military chief said that every generation of
leaders must continue to build relations. "Everything they are doing should be putting one more brick into the relationship for the generation to come," he said.

Mullen said that although the nations are separated on Kosovo, they share much common ground.

"We are in complete agreement on the success of the military-to-military engagements," the chairman said, "not just on paper, [but also] on the ground, where we are able to exchange and assist and make a difference for the future.

"Most importantly," he said, "what we continue to agree on is that these developments occur in an environment that does not have violence in it, and we continue to move ahead peacefully with respect to Kosovo and, indeed, in the region."

Mullen said he is not in Serbia to dictate to the Serb
military leaders what they should do. Rather, he said, he is here to listen to the leaders, address their concerns, and find new ways to work together.

Group Helps Military Families Take Flight

By Sharon Foster
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 20, 2008 - While on patrol in northern Iraq last year,
Army Spc. Kevin Hardin of Jupiter, Fla., was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. He suffered injuries to his hands and arms. As a result, some of his fingers were amputated. Shrapnel penetrated his skull, leaving inoperable injuries. Twenty surgeries later, and while recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, Hardin wrote to Luke's Wings, a Washington-based group that provides travel tickets and travel agency services for families of wounded servicemembers. He asked if the group could arrange for his mother and brothers to join his father at his side as he faced yet another operation.

"By purchasing travel agency services and travel tickets for loved ones, Luke's Wings provides an immediate and invaluable service to families of our men and women in the Armed Forces," Fletcher Gill, co-founder of Luke's Wings, said. "We receive about one request per month. I believe once the word gets out, we will see a flood of requests, and we will try to fill all of them."

Recognizing the immediate need for families to be with their loved ones after being wounded in combat, Luke's Wings provides them with the means to visit their servicemembers during hospitalization and rehabilitation at Walter Reed and at the National Naval Medical Center in nearby Bethesda, Md.

Since its inception in December, Luke's Wings has purchased eight tickets and has helped three families travel to the
Washington area to visit servicemembers.

Luke's Wings has raised nearly $30,000 in 10 months, mostly through fundraisers and private and corporate donations. A recent fundraiser, a 1940s-style cocktail party at a local club, attracted some 200 guests who donned period attire and
military uniforms to dance the night away.

"We not only raised enough money to pay for our next family," Gill said, "but had enough left over to finance a minimum of two more families."

The idea to create Luke's Wings came when co-founder Sarah Wingfield, then a
Washington Redskins football team ambassador, visited Walter Reed to sign autographs and entertain veterans receiving treatment. There, she met a soldier she refers to as Luke, a triple amputee struggling to accept what had happened to him.

From talking to him and seeing his need to have his family around for support, she met with Gill, her long-time friend, to create Luke's Wings. Families such as the Hardin's are glad such an organization exists.

"We are so very thankful our son is alive," Terry Hardin said. "We have Luke's Wings to thank for making it possible for us to visit with him this year for yet another surgery. They will never be forgotten for what they have done for us." Her son is still recovering at Walter Reed.

Luke's Wings is included on the America Supports You Web site. America Supports You is a Defense Department program that communicates citizen support to the men and women serving in the nation's armed forces and their families.

Mullen Arrives in Belgrade for Talks With Serb Leaders

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 20, 2008 -
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen today became the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to visit this European capital. The chairman is visiting the largest nation of what once was Yugoslavia to work to improve American military-to-military relations with Serbia.

The United States was part of NATO's bombing campaign against Serbia over Kosovo in 1999. The alliance operated under a U.N. mandate to force the government of Slobodon Milosevic to withdraw all
military and paramilitary forces from Kosovo and allow foreign peacekeepers into the nation.

Buildings in downtown Belgrade still show signs of the bombing campaign.

Mullen arrived aboard an
Air Force C-32 and was whisked to the American embassy, which itself is an example of the tension in U.S.-Serb relations. Following Kosovo's declaration of independence in February, mobs set fire to the older portion of the building. Kosovo has great symbolic meaning to the Serbian people, and is regarded by many of them as an essential part of the nation.

Still, the Serbian
leadership is committed to the West and is seeking to join the European Union. The nation is a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program – usually a steppingstone to alliance membership.

At the embassy, Mullen met with U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter and the American country team. After the briefing, the chairman moved to Topchider Barracks for a full-honors arrival ceremony hosted by Serbia's chief of defense, Gen. Zdravko Ponos. Mullen and Ponos met privately and then continued discussions over lunch.

The admiral then went to the Defense Ministry, where he met Defense Minister Dragan Sutanovac. He is scheduled to have dinner with President Boris Tadic.

Face of Defense: Passion for Teaching Drives Instructor

By Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Trish Freeland
Special to American Forces Press Service

Oct. 20, 2008 - When he graduated from
Air Force basic training six years ago, he knew he'd be back one day, "pushing" his own flight of fledgling airmen through their first military paces. But Air Force Staff Sgt. Matthew Coltrin didn't know he not only would push Air Force basic trainees as a military training instructor, but also would go to Iraq and help Iraqi basic training instructors push their recruits.

Two years into his MTI tour at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, Coltrin is deployed to the 370th Expeditionary Training Squadron here as an air advisor to Iraqi basic
military training instructors.

"I love discipline. I love drill. I love the extreme passion for being the best you can possibly be," the native of Lake Charles, La., said. "I knew it would be tough to come back, but I always knew I'd end up back at Lackland.

Coltrin said his work in Iraq doesn't differ much from his work at his home station.

"We interact with our Iraqi instructor teams here the same as we would young MTIs back at Lackland," he said. "We advise them of the best way to operate, and then let them do things their way. Then if things don't go right, we help them make fixes."

Coltrin has taken advising the Iraqis full throttle by learning not only the Queen's drill movements, the British-style that Iraqi airmen use, but also Arabic drill commands.

"I messed up a few times while calling commands, but they covered for me," he said.

Teaching is Coltrin's passion. One could even say it's a family affair. His mother, Tama Ray, is an assistant principal at J.I. Watson Middle School in
Iowa, La. His sister is a teacher, and his wife, Renee, also teaches.

"For me, teaching and being able to work with people is about being able to mentor and influence someone's life," he said. "It's about making them better than they were before you met them. That's what I get out of this job more than anything."

Before becoming an MTI, Coltrin spent four years as an F-15 Eagle avionics technician. But since earning his distinctive MTI hat, which is adorned with a coveted "blue rope," an honor bestowed on the top 10 percent of the MTI corps.

"When you put that blue rope on your hat, you are the walking example of the MTI. You have to be on your best behavior at all times," Coltrin said. "You've got to lead by example, and you become more focused on the betterment of the corps itself, not just the trainees.

"I always set my standards extremely high," he continued, but any way the
Air Force wants to use me would be outstanding. I just really love the Air Force."

(
Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Trish Freeland serves at U.S. Air Forces Central.)

Virtual Community for Military Families Meets Live in San Antonio

By Jamie Findlater
Special to American Forces Press Service

Oct. 20, 2008 - SpouseBuzz, a support group that connects
military spouses online, held its fifth live conference here over the weekend. SpouseBuzz allows spouses to get advice and find resources that might not be readily available in their surrounding community as part of a growing trend toward online communities and discussion forums that are becoming a staple, especially for next-generation military families, Andi Hurley, the organization's founder, said.

"Essentially, SpouseBuzz is like a virtual family readiness support center," Hurley said during her opening remarks at the live conference. "When we used to [move to a new duty station], we would just get right up and drive -- there was no research online. Now, you can leave information for a spouse that's coming behind you."

One of SpouseBuzz's members, a
military husband who writes by the code name of "Toad," echoed this concern, explaining the need for an increased awareness of online resources in military communities.

"We are dealing with a different demographic of military families," he said. "The first place these kids go to get information about the base is online. They won't come into our facilities. If we don't have information online, we can't reach them."

Another SpouseBuzz "author," Ginger, founder of the troop-support group Sew Much Comfort, agreed.

"Back in the day," she said, "advisors were readily available to talk you through the process of moving to a new base. But these new families want to be able to access all the information about services and groups on the Internet."

Amanda and Amber, 28 and 23 respectively, are
Army wives stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, who represent this new generation of military spouses who rely on the Internet as a primary resource. The two found out about the SpouseBuzz conference from an e-mailed newsletter they received from Military.com, a private-enterprise online news resource for the military.

"I use the Internet to communicate with my husband primarily, so it's just so much easier to find information there," Amanda explained. "Message boards are so much more useful than finding groups on base. I even use online financial calculators to handle the finances while my husband is away."

Amber agreed that the Internet is a vital component of modern life. "I take classes online because I need a career and school that's portable, so it's the best place to find information," she said. "It's a good way to get to know people and find people that are like you instead of only connecting with the people in your family support group."

The live conference, though, is an opportunity to combine the online and physical community, allowing spouses to connect in person.

"Conversations on the blog are now going to take place here, in person," Hurley said. The conference was free to spouses, and topics ranged from humorous accounts of civilian misperceptions of the military life to real-life accounts such as the struggle of caring for a wounded servicemember.

Aside from providing a place for spouses to connect, the event also served as a way to introduce spouses who are less familiar with online resources to what's out there.

"One of the biggest challenges is finding and recruiting the young
military spouses for support groups like the spouses' clubs," said Jeanette Hawk of the Navy Wives Club. "I can't wait to get home and get on the computer and say I'm on a blog."

"I'm trying to get up to speed," another military spouse said. "I don't use the Internet enough. In fact, I found out about the conference from a friend, but I am definitely going to use this blog now."

Online support groups, message boards, and social networks are just a few of the online resources that are becoming second nature to new and old
military spouses, and these resources will continue to grow as the need arises.

"As 'milspouses,' when we see the need, we just automatically move to fill it," Hurley said.

(Jamie Findlater works in the New Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)

MILITARY CONTRACT October 20, 2008

Army

Thales-Raytheon Systems Company LLC,
Fullerton, Calif., was awarded Oct. 17, 2008, a $217,967,106 firm fixed price contract for 60 Reliability Maintainability Improvement production modification kits and 77 power amplifier modules in support of the Firefinder AN/TPQ-37 Reliability Maintainability Improvement Program. Work will be performed in Fullerton, Calif., with an estimated and completion date of May 31, 2013. One bid was solicited and one bid was received. CECOM Acquisition Center, Fort Monmouth, N.J., is the contractW15P7T-06-D-T001).

Rush-Peak Three, Titusville, Fla., was awarded Oct. 16, 2008, a $9,243,000 firm fixed fee price contract for construction of a multi-story parking garage within the headquarters of U.S. Special Operations Command compound at MacDill
Air force Base, Florida. Work will be performed in MacDill Air force Base, Tampa, Fla., with an estimated and completion date of Feb. 27, 2010. Bids solicited were via the FedBizOpps and four bids were received. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District, Mobile, Ala., is the contracting activity (W91278-09-C-0003).

Alliant Lake City Small Caliber Ammunitions Co., LLC., was awarded Oct. 17, 2008, a $5, 545,455 firm fixed price contract for M855 green ammunition Phase IIIA which develops a production capability of six million cartridge per month. Work will be performed in Lake City, Independence, Mo., with an estimated and completion date of Sept. 30, 2009. One bid was solicited and one bid was received. U.S.
Army Sustainment Command, Rock Island, Ill., is the contracting activity (DAAA09-99-D-0016).

DEFENSE LOGISTICS AGENCY

SUEZ Energy Resources NA, Inc,
Houston, Texas, is being awarded a maximum $49,666,373 fixed price contract to provide electricity to Navy installations in Texas. The installations are JRB Navy Reserves, NS Ingleside, NAS Corpus Christi, and NAS Kingsville. The proposal elicited 12 responses. The date of performance completion is Jan. 31, 2011. The contracting activity is the Defense Energy Support Center, Ft. Belvoir, Va. (SP0600-09-D-8003).

TXU Energy, Irving, Texas, is being awarded a $6,573,281.37 fixed price contract to provide electricity to
Air force Space Command, Archer City, Texas, and Army Air Force Exchange Service, Dallas, Texas. The proposal elicited 12 responses. The date of performance completion is Jan. 31, 2011. The contracting activity is the Defense Energy Support Center, Ft. Belvoir, Va. (SP0600-09-D-8005).

NAVY

Science Applications International Corp., San Diego, Calif., is being awarded a $33,273,342 indefinite delivery indefinite quantity contract with a cost plus fixed fee pricing arrangement for emerging technologies and systems for positioning, navigation and timing for Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) Systems. The work includes research, investigation, test and evaluation of emerging navigation technologies, sensors and systems with potential for applicability in the areas of air, ground, and shipboard C4ISR system technologies, and position, navigation and timing systems. This contract includes two options and six award terms, which if exercised/awarded, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $94,788,999. Work will be performed in San Diego, Calif., (89 percent), Robins
Air force Base, Ga., (7 percent), and Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., (4 percent) and is expected to be completed by Oct. 19, 2017. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured with proposals solicited on an unrestricted basis, and one offer was received via the Space and Naval Warfare Systems E-commerce web site. The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, Pacific, Calif. is the contracting activity (N66001-09-D-0020).

Air force

The
Air force is modifying a cost plus fixed fee contract with Raytheon Co., Missile Systems, of Tucson, Ariz., for $12,948,761. This action will provide for 436 propulsion sections (baseline rocket motors) to be installed into AIM-120B Air Vehicles. This effort supports foreign military sales to Turkey, Denmark, and Finland. At this time all funds have been obligated. 695ARSS, Eglin AFB, Fla., is the contracting activity (FA8675-08-C-C=0049 P00005).

DoD Reaches Out to Parents in New Ad Campaign

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 20, 2008 - Defense Department marketers launched a new television and online advertising campaign today, but its primary target is not potential
military recruits – it's their parents. In one of the handful of ads slated to begin airing nationally, a mother and father sit in their car parked outside a convenience store, talking as their teenage son runs inside.

"The
military. I didn't see that coming," the mom comments.

"You're telling me," the dad responds.

"I'm scared, obviously. But kind of impressed, too," says the mom.

"He doesn't want to wait to do something important," the dad replies.

"Wow," the dad says.

"Yeah," the mom agrees.

While this conversation plays out on a TV screen between actors, officials with DoD's Joint Advertising, Market Research and Studies program believe it is a conversation that is happening in kitchens and bedrooms, on ball field sidelines and on couches in living rooms across America. And it is a conversation they want to encourage.

"There are few things as influential as the parents' advice and support. That's why we want parents to know the facts [about
military service]," said Air Force Maj. Michele A. Gill with JAMRS.

JAMRS is a small office located in Arlington, Va., not far from the Pentagon. It places advertising and conducts research for the Defense Department, which it shares with each
military service's recruiting command.

But the program is not a recruiting agency, Gill said, and its primary focus is on educating those influential in the decisions of potential recruits. This ad campaign targets the middle-aged parents of young adults between 17 and 22 years old.

"Our goal ... is to educate the families and give them a reliable, honest look at what the
military has to offer, and even some of the risks that are involved, ... just to help them make a wise decision," Gill said.

In fact, Gill said, it is simply the conversation about
military service they are after, not necessarily an endorsement of military service from the parent. DoD officials want military service to be considered as an option equally with college or vocational training, she said.

"We want the conversation to happen between the parent and the young person regardless of whether the young person decides to join the
military or not," Gill said. "Just the fact that they're having the conversation is 'mission accomplished' for us."

The conversation about
military service between parents and teenagers is a relatively new phenomenon in an era in which parents are now much more involved in their sons' and daughters' decisions, said Tom Jump, a managing partner with Mullen Advertising, the agency that developed the campaign.

"I think the family unit is fundamentally different," Jump said. "Parents have taken a much more collaborative and integrated role in raising their children. It's not just the decision of the child or the parents; it's a family decision.

"They really want to provide a strong foundation and make sure that their children understand all of their options and possibilities, and really have open conversation about what are going to be significant decisions in that child's life," he said.

Also, Gill noted, in past generations it was more common to enlist because many parents served and children often grew up around veterans.

"There are a lot of parents in today's generation who have not served in the
military, so there could be a lack of information out there about what the military has to offer," Gill said. "Maybe the only thing they know about the military is what they see on the movies or in the news."

Executives at Mullen Advertising have worked with JAMRS for six years and helped produced a previous campaign that pushed influencers to "Make it a two-way conversation."

That campaign focused on the decision from the potential recruit's perspective, while this campaign focuses on the decision from the influencer's perspective.

Jump called it an evolution of the previous campaign and said that the agency hopes it models a positive response by the parents. This campaign promotes the theme, "It's a big decision. Talk about it."

"If you've got somebody who has enlisted and has the support of their family members, loved ones and friends, they would have a very positive view going into the service," Jump said. "Our role is to really educate them and make sure they have all the answers they need and give them an unbiased view of what those options and opportunities are."

The ads were directed by a company that also has produced Super Bowl advertisements for the likes of Pepsi and Budweiser. The ads offer diverse environments and family models, and officials hope to connect using what they said are real-life situations and the emotions involved in the discussions.

Each ad directs viewers to the Web site www.todaysmilitary.com for more information on
military service.

"Military service can be a difficult subject to broach. That's why it's important for parents to know the facts," Gill said. "Joining the military is a big decision. We want to encourage parents to really listen to their son or daughter who has talked to them about serving our country and doing something bigger than themselves."

Gill said that an informed family decision can lead to a more qualified lead for
military recruiters.

"They're sure they want to serve. They know what the risks are. They know what the benefits are," she said. "It's not just some quick decision. They've actually thought about the decision. The help of the parents just reinforces the decision."

Gill joined the
Air Force at 17 years old, she said, after talking about it with her parents starting in about the sixth grade. In her junior year of high school, her parents starting taking her desire to serve seriously, Gill said. And, she said, their support was a major factor in her decision.

"My parents were definitely a part of that decision-making process. I wanted their support. I wanted their advice," Gill said. "If they would have highly discouraged it, I probably wouldn't have gone into the
military."

Now raising three small children herself, the career
Air Force officer said she also would want to be a part of their eventual career decisions.

"I'd definitely want my children to come talk to me," she said. "I want to be involved in their life. And I would hope that they would trust me enough to have that conversation with me."

Gates Promises Continued Commitment to Wounded Warrior Care

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 20, 2008 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates assured participants in the first Wounded Warriors Family Summit here today he will "continue to press forward with a sense of urgency" to provide top-level care and support for wounded warriors in a way that lays groundwork for the next administration's
leaders to build on. "I take the issue of wounded warriors personally," Gates told the audience of wounded warriors, families of wounded and fallen troops, and representatives of family support programs and veteran service organizations.

"I will repeat here the pledge I made to myself, to Congress and to countless moms and dads, husbands and wives," Gates told the group. "Other than winning the wars we are in, my highest priority is providing the best possible care for those who are wounded in combat."

As it presses forward, Gates said, his team will "do everything we can to set up the next
leadership team for success" to ensure the work continues without interruption. "As long as there are wounded warriors in our care, we must – and we will – continue to fulfill our obligation to them," he said.

Gates praised the "grit and resilience" of wounded warriors and acknowledged the families of the severely wounded and fallen who "have sacrificed and suffered for our country in the most challenging ways."

He also extended thanks to volunteer groups and individuals who have worked on behalf of the troops and their families.

Gates cited broad strides in treating wounded warriors, including warrior transition units created to help wounded servicemembers navigate the system as they get treatment and return to their units or transition to veteran status. During the last 19 months, the
Army has dedicated more than 3,200 permanent cadre and staff to this effort to help nearly 8,500 soldiers.

In addition, Gates described efforts to merge the Defense Department's and Department of Veterans Affairs' disability evaluation systems so one process will result in one legally binding determination. He noted that a pilot program is under way, and that early indications show the effort will cut by half the time required for veterans to receive full VA compensation.

"We're making progress in improving the disability evaluation system, but we still have a long way to go to make to as easy as it should be," he told the audience.

Gates also cited progress in providing care for traumatic brain injury, combat stress and other mental-health issues, and in eliminating the stigma attached with seeking this care.

He pointed to improved evaluation and screening for anyone affected by blast or blunt trauma in the combat zone to help identify TBI, and the new Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center that centralizes responsibility for consolidating information as it promotes TBI research.

"We've invested $900 million in this effort, which includes $300 million in research," he said. "And while we've learned a lot about how to better care for those with TBI over the past few years, we are poised to learn a great deal more."

Gates also noted elimination of "Question 21" on the federal security clearance form. The question about seeking mental-health care was considered an obstacle by some who thought it might jeopardize their careers.

"Although we have made significant progress in the last year and a half, there is no doubt that we still have a lot of work to do," Gates told the audience.

He cited the frustrating and often confusing paperwork process, incomplete and sometimes contradictory information provided about pay, benefits and compensation, and gaps in information sharing between DoD and the VA.

In lieu of the question-and-answer session scheduled to follow his address, Gates told attendees he wanted to be on the receiving end to hear from them. Participants took turns at the microphone, describing their personal situations and problems they face and recommending fixes. "I take these comments seriously, and we will do everything we can," he told the speakers.

Gates praised the summit organizers for providing a forum where wounded troops and family members could voice their concerns while sharing their experiences and roads to recovery. These conferences are "vital to keeping focus and attention on heroes" and ensuring that the United States stays true to the debt it owes them and their families, he said.

Gates noted that today's Wounded Warriors Family Summit served as a prelude to next month's Warrior Care Month observance.

"It will provide an opportunity to highlight the sacrifices of wounded troops and their families, take stock of how much has been achieved in this area, and reflect on how much more needs to be done," he said.