Military News

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gates Reflects on Service as Wartime Defense Secretary

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 23, 2008 - Less than three months before the next administration takes office, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he'll leave his post satisfied he made a difference to ensure warfighters have what they need to succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan, with confidence that their
leaders are being held accountable for their actions. Gates said today he feels "quite a bit of satisfaction" as the driving force behind causes he championed to protect troops in combat, bring them new intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, capabilities and care for those wounded on the battlefield.

Speaking to reporters as he returned from Fort Bragg, N.C., Gates said he feels a deep commitment to the men and women in uniform and sense of personal responsibility when he sends them to war.

"It helps that they want to go," he said. "They see the challenge. They want to go. They want to fight the fight. They want to win the fight.

"So one of the things that helps me deal with the fact that I am sending them into harm's way is to do every damn thing I can to give them everything they need to win and to come home safely."

Toward that end, Gates has become something of a maverick, bucking a bureaucracy he believes often stands in its own way. Too many people in the Defense Department, he said, want a "99 percent solution" to a problem, even if it will take years to achieve, rather than settling for a "75 or 80 percent solution" reachable in months.

And Gates has demonstrated repeatedly that he wants solutions that will save warfighters' lives today.

He said he's "very satisfied" with progress in fielding mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs. This was the result of an effort he spearheaded to provide deployed troops better protection against underbelly explosions.

The program represents the first major equipment procurement to go from concept to industrial production in less than a year, he said. Last month, it reached a major milestone as the number of MRAPs delivered to U.S. Central Command reached 10,000.

"They're not impervious, but they are saving lives," Gates said. He noted that just a few days ago, he saw a photograph of an MRAP that had been hit by an explosively formed penetrator – far deadlier than a standard improvised explosive device. "All the kids survived," he said.

As the MRAP program moves forward, Gates said he's "pretty much satisfied" that the Defense Department is beginning to make similar progress in providing ISR assets to support warfighters.

Gates announced in April that he had created a task force to give the ISR issue the same level emphasis as the MRAP program. "My concern is that our services are still not moving aggressively in wartime to provide resources needed now on the battlefield," the secretary said during an April speech to Air War College students. "While we have doubled this capability in recent months, it is still not good enough."

"People are really bending into it now," Gates said today, doubling ISR capability since he announced his initiative.

The fusion of intelligence and operations has created "an insatiable appetite" for the information these systems provide and proof of the need to institutionalize intelligence operations, he said. "I don't want us to ever forget what we have learned in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said.

Gates demands monthly progress reports to ensure both programs stay on track. "I have them come back and report to me every month what they are doing," Gates said. "It kind of holds their concentration."

Another priority for Gates – one he frequently says comes directly after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – is care for wounded troops. Gates said feels good about the turnaround since problems at Walter Reed
Army Medical Center surfaced in February 2007, just months after he took office, through a series of Washington Post news articles.

Gates bristles when he talks about the way
leaders initially brushed off the problem as "just a couple of NCOs not doing their job."

He responded in a tough manner that surprised many at the time, firing
Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey and Army Maj. Gen. George Weightman, the Walter Reed commander.

Gates imposed this tough sense of accountability again in June when he asked
Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne and Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael "Buzz" Moseley to resign over problems in the Air Force nuclear weapons program.

"Too often, I have seen bureaucracy in Washington – and not just in the Department of Defense – that when something goes wrong, it is the men and woman at the bottom of the ladder who get punished, and never anybody high in the ... hierarchy," he said.

"And I just think that's wrong. People in senior positions can't know every problem out there," he said. "But when a problem is brought to your attention and you don't take it seriously enough, that's a problem."

Since the Walter Reed incident, Gates said he's seen a dramatic improvement in care for wounded warriors. "These people deserve to be treated the best of the best, and I really feel that we let them down," he said.

"I feel good about the fact that we are trying to do better," he said. "The services, and especially the
Army and Marine Corps, have really embraced all of this. The senior leadership is very focused on taking good care of wounded warriors and their families."

Meanwhile, Gates said he's seen improvements in how the department reaches out to families of the fallen and said he wants to do more.

He said he was struck earlier this week during the first Pentagon Wounded Warriors Family Summit, when the wife of a soldier killed in combat asked why the bureaucracy made it so difficult for her children to remain in their Department of Defense Dependents School.

Families whose loved one is killed in action face the trauma of the loss itself, the trauma of having to move out of their post housing, then the trauma of having to take their children out of the schools they attend, Gates said today.

"I think we ought to be able to do something about at least the third thing," he said. "So this is an issue that for the next couple of months I am going to push very hard...That's a small thing we can do."

As he looked back over his 23 months as defense secretary, Gates most of the high points have been his experiences with the troops. He recalled an experience at Forward Operating Base Tillman in Afghanistan, listening to a captain he walked with talk about dealing with mayors, negotiating with the local population, fighting the fighting, building roads and partnering with Iraqi security forces.

"I will never forget that as long as I live," he said. "And I think, what an incredible array of responsibilities for – I hesitate to say this... some kid 30 years old."

"At the end of the day, it always comes back to the kids," Gates said.

He recalled his time as president of Texas A&M University, and the personal sense of responsibility he said he felt for each his 46,000 students. "They would walk around in shorts and T-shirts and flip flops and backpacks," he said.

"And then I come to this job and I see kids the same age, 18 to 25, wearing full body armor [and] putting themselves in harm's way," he said. "And if I felt individual responsibility for each of those students at Texas A&M, I feel that responsibility doubly for the people here.

"Making sure that they have everything they need to do their mission and to come home safely is my personal responsibility. I regard them as my own sons and daughters."

National Guard Provides 'Security Blanket' for New Orleans

By Army Sgt. Michael L. Owens
Special to American Forces Press Service

Oct. 23, 2008 - As Joint Task Force Gator continues to help with security in New Orleans, many of the city's residents are becoming comfortable with the attention the soldiers and airmen of the Louisiana National Guard have been giving them. For more than two years, the task force has assisted
New Orleans Police Department and other law enforcement agencies by patrolling the streets and helping to keep the city safe. At first, many residents were nervous about the idea of having the military securing their city, but soon after seeing the Guardsmen working in their neighborhoods, they began to embrace the new guys in town.

"When you hear that the
military is coming to your city, you tend to imagine mean soldiers with big guns, and that was the perception that I had," said New Orleans Lakeview resident Beatrice C. Marconi. "As they began working, and I saw that my previous views were not a reality, it became a joy seeing them in my neighborhood."

As the city began evacuation operations in late August as Hurricane Gustav approached, many citizens remembered that after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, they returned home to see that all of their possessions were stolen. But with the Guardsmen in their neighborhoods, residents were at ease about leaving their belongings in the hands of the National Guard during the Gustav evacuation.

Eastern New Orleans resident Kerry P. Wagener is one of the many people who put their trust in the soldiers.

"Ever since they began patrolling, their presence has made me and my neighbors feel really comfortable about living in our Katrina-ravaged neighborhood," Wagener said. "When I evacuated for Katrina in 2005, I left with the notion that my home would be robbed by looters. When l left for Gustav, I felt safe knowing that the soldiers would be there to protect our little subdivision."

Air Force Brig. Gen. John B. Soileau Jr., the task force's commander, attributes its success to motivation.

"Since most of the soldiers and airmen live either in New Orleans or surrounding areas, they feel a sense of pride knowing that they are protecting something dear to their hearts," he explained. "When you have a group of people with that much pride, it tends to show in their job performance."

After two years of working in the streets of New Orleans, the soldiers have formed strong bonds with the city's residents. Many residents think of the National Guard as a really close friend.

"They are always walking around and talking with everyone," said 72-year-old resident Gertrude Leblanc. "Like all of my good friends, I seriously hope that they never leave."

(
Army Sgt. Michael L. Owens serves with the 241st Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

America Supports You: Game Show Honors Servicemembers

By Air Force Maj. Edwina Walton
Special to American Forces Press Service

Oct. 23, 2008 - Despite having an air show the next day to prepare for,
Air Force Master Sgt. Robin Brooks decided to play the odds of becoming the "next contestant on 'The Price is Right,'" and it paid off. "Having my named called was music to my ears," said Brooks, first sergeant for the Thunderbirds, the Air Force's air demonstration squadron, based at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

Brooks was part of an audience made up of soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines,
military retirees, disabled veterans and family members for a special taping of the CBS daytime game show Sept. 10.

"This is an awesome opportunity to represent the U.S. Air Force and the Thunderbirds," she said of the "Salute to the
military" episode that is scheduled to air on Veterans Day. "I wouldn't have missed this opportunity for the world."

The show's host, comedian Drew Carey, was enthusiastic about hosting Brooks and the rest of the audience members for the special installment of the program, created in conjunction with the Defense Department's Entertainment Media and the
Army and Air Force Exchange Service.

"I think it's important for everyone to show our support to the servicemembers," said Carey, a former
Marine reservist. "We sponsored shows like this before 9/11. And we've even sponsored shows specifically for each the four services in the past. I only wish I could do more."

Carey graciously assigned credit to his production team, but Mike Richards, co-executive producer, said the team had very little to do with it.

"The idea came from Drew," Richards said. "He was very involved in how to lay out this show, down to the prizes being awarded and games selected."

"It was really important for us to make the special 'extra special.' We wanted gifts that were specific to
military servicemembers, and we didn't want anyone to leave empty-handed," said Syd Vinnedge, executive producer. "Thus, we are grateful for the support AAFES has given this show. Without them, we couldn't have made it happen. This has definitely been a 'win-win' for all."

AAFES provided six $1,000 gift certificates for online shopping at aafes.com and six 1,000-minute phone cards for the contestants who made it on stage. Additionally, everyone in the audience received 10-percent-discount coupons.

"When Drew explained the concept of the
military salute show and wanting to provide gifts specifically for the military, I immediately thought of AAFES," said Barbra Brennan, senior merchandizing representative, CBS Promotional Placement and Awards Department. "I heard about the phone cards from a newspaper commentary addressing how any American could help the troops overseas during the holiday season a few years ago.

"I even checked the program out and was able to go to the aafes.com home page to purchase phone cards for my brother,
Marine Maj. Bradley Brennan, while he was deployed to Iraq," she said. "It was a little gesture, but it meant a lot to be able to hear from him on a continuous basis."

Phone cards and gift cards can be purchased at the AAFES Web site for a specific person or any servicemember. It's much more cost-effective than sending packages through the mail, she added, noting that whether you know someone personally or not, a little bit of home makes a world of difference for deployed servicemembers.

While AAFES handled the prizes, Vince Ogilvie, deputy special assistant for entertainment media at the Pentagon, ensured protocol was followed and every service was well represented. The event required Defense Department approval due to the magnitude of support required.

"Drew has always showcased the
military in a positive light in the past, and we were more than happy to assist him with this project, because it also helps highlight DoD's America Supports You program." America Supports You communicates citizen support to the nation's servicemembers and their families.

(
Air Force Maj. Edwina Walton serves at the headquarters of Army and Air Force Exchange Service.)

Gates Visits Fort Bragg to Meet With Soldiers, Spouses

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 23, 2008 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived at the home of the 82nd Airborne Division and
Army Special Operations Command this morning to spend the day meeting troops preparing for or recently returned from combat deployments to get a firsthand update on their operations, requirements and concerns. The secretary was slated to kick off his first visit here at neighboring Pope Air Force Base, where he will preside over a naturalization ceremony for about 40 servicemembers.

"They represent all the services and come from 26 countries on five continents," Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said yesterday. "The melting pot is clearly alive and well in the United States
military, and the country as a whole, for that matter."

Later today, Gates will meet with "All American" Division soldiers who will demonstrate preparations for their upcoming deployment with weapons training, convoy operations and other activities, Morrell said.

The division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team is scheduled to deploy to Iraq in November. The Defense Department announced Sept. 30 that the division's 4th and 1st brigade combat teams will deploy to Iraq during a window that begins this winter and continues through summer.

Gates also will meet with an array of
Army Special Operations Command units that Morrell noted deploy regularly to "Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot spots around the world."

The
Army element of U.S. Special Operations Command, its largest, includes Special Forces, Ranger, special operations aviation, psychological operations, civil affairs, and signal and combat service support troops.

Gates will lunch privately with soldiers, then meet with about a dozen 3rd Brigade Combat Team spouses. The session will be closed to observers and the media, Morrell explained, with Gates in a "receiving mode," soliciting candid views about issues ranging from stress on the force to family support services.

These sessions have proven invaluable in the past, Morrell said, giving the secretary insights he might not get elsewhere. They've valuable in "drawing his attention to problems that they may be having that he may not be aware of," Morrell said yesterday.

They've also been the source of new ideas. For example, Gates first heard a recommendation that Montgomery GI Bill benefits be transferrable to family members during a meeting with a
military spouses' group at Fort Hood, Texas. The secretary then pitched the idea to President Bush, who liked the concept so much he included it in his State of the Union address, and ultimately signed the measure into law.

For Gates, spending time with troops and their families is the best part of his job, Morrell said. During his 23 months as defense secretary, Gates has visited 108 installations, ships, forward operating bases, provincial reconstruction teams, joint security stations and wounded warrior facilities.

Gates regularly seeks out sessions with servicemembers and their families during these visits, preferring smaller forums to promote an open exchange, Morrell said.

"His visits with ... troops and their family members are really very, very valuable for him for a variety of reasons, one of which is they really buoy his spirits and they re-energize him to come back and move this bureaucracy so that it is more responsive to the needs of the warfighter," Morrell said. "Clearly, he is buoyed by the time he spends with the troopers."

Linguists Play Key Threat-Reduction Role, Agency Director Says

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 23, 2008 - For the past 16 years, the United States has worked with
leadership in Eurasian countries to reduce the numbers of weapons of mass destruction left behind in former Soviet-bloc states after the Iron Curtain fell, an achievement made possible in part by America's cadre of skilled foreign linguists, the director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency said in an interview here. "It takes a very special person, in my mind, who can speak Russian, who's willing to live in Kazakhstan for two years and who's willing to build rapport with the community to make the 'cooperative' part of 'cooperative threat reduction' work," James Tegnelia said.

Since 1992, the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, also called the Nunn-Lugar Program after the two U.S. senators behind the initiative, drastically cut the number of leftover weapons, dismantling more than 2,000 intercontinental missiles, eliminating 1,000 missile launchers and deactivating 7,000 nuclear warheads in former Soviet Union states.

U.S. Sens. Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar launched the program amid rising fears that rogue regimes or terrorists sought the remaining stockpiles.

"Maintaining an effective set of threat-reduction activities in former Soviet Union states remains a priority for the United States," according to the DTRA Web site. "These activities are designed to address the proliferation threat stemming from large quantities of Soviet-legacy [weapons of mass destruction] and missile-related expertise and materials remaining in [former Soviet Union] states."

Top graduates from an intensive Russian language and culture course at the Defense Language Institute in
Monterey, Calif., may qualify for employment at DTRA. These practitioners work with their Russian counterparts in overseeing weapons facilities inspections. They act as interpreters and escorts, and often provide useful insights into the lay of the land, Tegnelia said.

"These people not only speak the language, they understand the culture, and they're expected to have read Russian novels and understand something about the Russian history, and know when you're making a social mistake to not cause those kind of problems," he said. "It's one thing to get a
computer to translate your language, but it's another thing to know that you're saying the right thing and that you're not being culturally insensitive."

Under the Nunn-Lugar rubric, the United States and Russia together compelled Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan to eliminate all nuclear weapons from their territories, and in all, the program has disabled more nuclear weapons than exist in the combined arsenals of the United Kingdom, France and China.

Tegnelia credited the language institute for maintaining its high level of Russian proficiency, even as the number of missile silos, warheads and nuclear bombers in those countries has gone down.

"It would have been very easy to let that atrophy," he said. "But they maintain it; my sense is we're going to need it. They've been a very steady hand at the wheel."

The DTRA director said the agency has considered the necessity of expanding programs like the accelerated Russian language training to include other parts of the world, such as Central Asia and sections of U.S. Central Command's area of operations.

Tegnelia said the linguists fulfilling these vital on-site rolls often are young, intrepid, recent post-baccalaureate graduates.

"They've lived in the culture they've tried to learn," he said. "They come back with some real-world experience. They can live in different cultures, they speak different languages, they have a background that not a lot of people have. And oh, by the way, there's not a lot you're going to do in Siberia in the middle of winter, so you end up with some money to pay off your student loans. It's a win-win."

Gates Salutes New Citizens for Service, Sacrifice

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 23, 2008 - Presiding over a naturalization ceremony here today, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates called it an honor "to welcome into citizenship 42 men and women who have served and sacrificed for their country before it officially was their country." Gates kicked off his first visit to Fayetteville, N.C., home to both Pope
Air Force Base and Fort Bragg, presenting citizenship certificates to 42 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who hail from 26 countries, many of whom have served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Jonathan Scharfen, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, administered the oath of citizenship.

"The oath you have just sworn brings a deep sense of pride to you and your families and your comrades-in-arms," Gates told the group as he recognized their contributions to American principles. All are volunteers who "have stepped forward at a difficult and dangerous time for freedom-loving people everywhere," he said, willingly putting themselves in harm's way for causes they believe in.

"Throughout U.S. history, new citizens in every walk of life have made America a better place," he said. "As soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, you give what is invaluable: your skills, talents and courage."

Gates noted that nearly 43,000 men and women in uniform have become U.S. citizens since Sept. 11, 2001. He called it fitting and just that President Bush signed an executive order that makes all foreign-born, active-duty servicemembers immediately eligible for U.S. citizenship.

"This nation that welcomes you with warmth and with pride is very much in your debt, because you have shown your love for this country in the most honorable way possible," the secretary said.

Among the new citizens is
Army Sgt. 1st Class Ulisses Chavez, a native of Honduras serving with the 504th Brigade Special Troops Battalion. With 11 years in the Army, including two deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan, Chavez said, he's proud to now be a U.S. citizen, and particularly proud to have the secretary of defense at his naturalization ceremony.

"It's an honor," he said, citing Gates' "great speech" that drew comparisons between America's founding fathers and those who serve the country today.

"I see this is an accomplishment," Chavez said. "It's the next step forward, and from here I plan to keep moving on and up."

MILITARY CONTRACTS October 23, 2008

DEFENSE LOGISTICS AGENCY

Washington Gas Energy Services, Inc., Herndon, Va. is being awarded a maximum $27,741,396 firm fixed price contract to provide electrical services. Other locations of performance are District of Columbia and Maryland. Using service is Navy. There were originally 100 proposals solicited with 14 responses. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The date of performance completion is December 31, 2010. The contracting activity is the Defense Energy Support Center (DESC), Fort Belvoir, Va. (SP0600-08-D-8035).

Burlington Apparel Fabrics, Greensboro, N.C. is being awarded a maximum $6,410,240 firm fixed price, indefinite delivery contract to provide wool cloth. There are no other locations of performance. Using service is Air Force. There were originally 65 proposals solicited with 2 responses. Contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The date of performance completion is October 29, 2009. The contracting activity is the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia (DSCP), Philadelphia, Pa.(SP0100-05-D-0516).

ARMY

Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company, Oak Brook, Ill., was awarded Oct. 21, 2008, a $27,344,101 firm/ fixed price contract for
Baltimore District maintenance dredging in Baltimore Harbor and Baltimore Channels waterways. Work will be performed in Maryland, Baltimore area waterways in various locations, with an estimated and completion date of April 30, 2009. Bids solicited were via the Web and three bids were received. USA Corp of Engineers, Baltimore, Md., is the contracting activity (W912DR-09-C-0002).

Navy

BAE Systems Land & Armaments, Ground Systems Division, York, Pa., is being awarded a $22,932,814firm-fixed-priced modification to previously awarded delivery order #0004 under contract (M67854-07-D-5025) for Field Service Representatives (FSR) and Instructors to support Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles. Work will be performed in York, Pa., and is expected to be completed by the January 2009. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The
Marine Corps Systems Command, Quantico, Va., is the contracting activity.

Electric Boat Corporation, Groton, Conn. is being awarded a $19,041,627 modification to previously awarded contract (N00024-07-C-2103) for reactor plant planning yard services for nuclear-powered submarines and support yard services for the
Navy's moored training ships. The contractor will furnish, fabricate, or acquire such materials, supplies and services as may be necessary to perform the functions of the planning yard for reactor plants and associated portions of the propulsion plants for nuclear powered submarines. Work will be performed in Groton, Conn. (95 percent) and Charleston, S.C. (5 percent), and is expected to be completed by Sept. 30, 2009. Contract funds in the amount of $17,198,984 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington Navy Yard, D.C., is the contracting activity.

America Supports You: New Jersey Cities to Welcome Units Home in Grand Style

American Forces Press Service

Oct. 22, 2008 - Two units of the 82nd Airborne Division will be treated to a heroes' welcome in November when Holmdel and Middletown, N.J., host a joint homecoming for their "adopted" troops. The units and the cities were paired by America Supporting Americans, a California-based nonprofit group that links
military units with communities across the country.

"The centerpiece of ASA's work is the Adopt-A-Unit Program," said Linda Patterson, the group's president and founder. "Believing that a strong, supportive connection between young men and women of our armed forces and the civilian communities they are ready and willing to serve is crucial to morale, ASA has committed itself to building and strengthening this link."

While the homecoming event is still in the planning stages, it's scheduled to cover three days, Nov. 6 through 8. A Veterans Day parade is expected to be the highlight of the event and will give the cities' residents the opportunity to come out and personally thank their soldiers, Patterson said.

"I'm sure you can imagine the planning that goes into an event such as this, and we are extremely proud of these
New Jersey communities, their city leaders and citizens," she said. "This is going to be an ... event in two outstanding ASA cities who have rallied their citizens' participation, businesses, and schools, young and old to support these soldiers throughout their deployment."

Patterson started America Supporting Americans in 1967 when her brother,
Army Sgt. Joe Artavia, wrote to her from Vietnam and asked her to do something to raise the morale of his unit. She, in turn, convinced her hometown of San Mateo, Calif., to "adopt" her brother's unit. The adoption did the trick and raised the troops' morale "as high as the clouds," Artavia wrote to his sister.

Artavia, 19, was killed three weeks after San Mateo adopted his unit, and Patterson has continued working to raise troops' morale by encouraging communities across the country to adopt
military units.

America Supporting Americans is included on the America Supports You Web site. America Supports You is a Defense Department program that communicates citizen support to servicemembers and their families.

Mullen Continues Talks with Baltic Allies in Lithuania

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 22, 2008 - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff met with officials here today as he continued to reaffirm America's commitment to the collective defense of NATO during meetings with allies in the Baltic republics. A key element of
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen's discussions here was "Article 5" of the NATO treaty, which declares that an attack on any NATO member is an attack on all NATO members.

"From the United States perspective, the Article 5 responsibilities are absolute," Mullen said during a news conference.

The chairman visited the region following a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, in Helsinki, Finland, yesterday. Mullen said all the nations in the region were concerned when Russia invaded Georgia in August, and his presence in the region was to reassure NATO allies of America's continued commitment to mutual defense.

"I believe that Article 5 is not an issue for discussion," Lt. Gen. Valdas Tutkus, Lithuania's chief of defense, said at the news conference. "We in Lithuania strongly believe that the Article 5 is in place. That was one of the reasons for Lithuania to join NATO."

Mullen said he and Tutkus discussed the bilateral
military relationship between the United States and Lithuania, including the exercise program and ways to share lessons learned from combat.

"Warfighting and
technology are changing," he said. "How do we take the lessons we are learning in real combat and translate that to other militaries and countries in other parts of the world?"

Mullen praised Lithuania for its support in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lithuania commands a provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan and has special operations forces working in the southern part of the country. Tutkus said Lithuania will increase its special forces personnel in Afghanistan next year.

The chairman said he also discussed NATO's air policing mission in the Baltic republics with his Lithuanian counterpart. NATO nations have committed to policing the skies over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania through 2011. Mullen said the Baltic states and their NATO allies have time to further discuss the mission and the way forward.

Creative Arts Festival Gives Wounded Warriors Therapeutic Outlet

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 22, 2008 - Veterans of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are among more than 120 disabled veterans from across the country attending the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival this week in
Riverside, Calif. The week-long festival kicked off yesterday, bringing together medal winners in national creative writing, music, dance, drama or visual arts competitions. Each participant edged out more than 3,000 competitors to earn spots at the national festival, Department of Veterans Affairs officials said.

Retired
Army Sgt. Maj. Michael Slatton, a veteran of operations Iraq Freedom, Enduring Freedom and Desert Storm; and retired Air Force Lt. Col. Dennis Linn, a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, are among the participants.

Slatton retired in 2005 at Fort Gordon, Ga., and suffers from post-traumatic
stress disorder and bipolar disorder. He and his VA group, The Heavenly Harmonizers, sang their way to this year's National Veterans Creative Arts Festival -- Slatton's fourth -- by winning a gold medal during a preliminary competition in Houston with their gospel song, "Jesus, You Are the Center of My Joy."

Linn retired in 2004 and suffers from cardiovascular disease. A former military artist who once taught art at the
Air Force Academy, he painted his way to the VA national festival with gold medals for three paintings in three different media: pastel, oil and watercolor.

Veterans Affairs Secretary James B. Peake called the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival an extension of VA's rehabilitative care.

"Creative expression is an important component of healthy living," Peake said. "This annual festival shows that real healing goes well beyond our patients' physical needs. Creative arts therapy has a key role at VA in rehabilitation and recovery."

Slatton was introduced to the benefits of music therapy while undergoing treatment at the VA hospital near his Chicago home. He'd been singing in church since he was young and had his own music group for years, but now sings mostly with groups he's met through the VA.

"It's true what they say: Music really does soothe the savage beast," he said. "It gives me an outlet and a way to express myself in ways other than combat."

Slatton called the festival a great opportunity for veterans to share their love of the arts along with each other's company.

"I love the fellowship of the other veterans. I'm hooked on it," he said. "There's no competition here, because to get here, you've already won. So the atmosphere here is all about camaraderie. It's a real pleasure to be here with all these veterans."

Linn, now a professional artist in Rapid City, S.D., called art an outlet that helps him transcend his physical limitations. "Art has always been therapeutic for me," he said. "It cultivates your imagination and creativity and serves as an avenue for self-expression."

Linn called the festival a valuable experience for veterans that takes their minds off the physical or mental challenges they face. "It helps take away the
stress," he said. "This is a great program for veterans, and I hope more get involved."

Annie Tuttle, the festival's host site coordinator, said a full schedule of rehearsals, workshops, art showings and other activities this week is showcasing the veterans' talents as well as the benefits of the visual and performing arts as therapy.

A grand-finale stage and art show later this week is expected to be a program highlight. The veterans will exhibit their artwork or perform musical, dance, dramatic or original writing selections in a gala variety show.

The National Veterans Creative Arts Festival is sponsored by the VA, Help Hospitalized Veterans and the American Legion Auxiliary, and is hosted by the VA's Loma Linda Healthcare System.

Gates Lauds Improvements in Wounded Warrior Care

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 22, 2008 - The
military has made "some significant steps forward" in caring for wounded warriors, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said during a Pentagon Channel interview broadcast today. Inpatient care provided to wounded warriors always has been world-class, Gates said.

"We've never had a problem with that," he said, "and the medical treatment that our soldiers and Marines and airmen and sailors get from the battlefield to these hospitals has no peer anywhere in the world."

The
military has made "some significant steps forward" over the past year, Gates said, citing the services' creation of wounded warrior transition organizations.

"I think that the services have really taken a lot of forward steps in terms of improving care, having care managers who make sure that appointments get made and that they're sequenced correctly," he said.

Other improvements are under way with the disability evaluation system that's used to determine how much money injured servicemembers receive after they're discharged, Gates said, as DoD and Department of Veterans Affairs officials work together toward streamlining that process.

"We have a pilot [disability rating] program where there is just one exam and one rating between us and the VA, but it is just a pilot program," Gates said.

Gates acknowledged that still more can be achieved in caring for wounded warriors.

"Part of the problem is we make decisions here and we budget money here for things, and it takes awhile, often, for that to trickle down to individual posts and bases and to the individuals involved," Gates said.

"So, while I think we've accomplished a lot and we are headed absolutely in the right direction, there's no question that we still have further to go, and there's still a gap between where we want to be and where we are," he said.

About $900 million in resources have been earmarked for treatment and research of servicemembers suffering from post-traumatic
stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, Gates said, and the Defense Department will establish a Center for Excellence at Bethesda, Md., that will specialize in research and development in finding new treatments for PTSD and TBI.

"It will be a world-class facility at Bethesda, serving all of the services," Gates said. "There's a lot that we don't know about TBI and post-traumatic
stress, so we've got a lot of experiments going on around the country."

To help change the
military culture to accept that psychological injuries are as devastating as physical wounds, Gates supported the initiative to remove a question on the security clearance form that asked servicemembers whether they ever had received psychological counseling or other kinds of mental health treatment. There's no question, Gates said, that more military people of all ranks are seeking care for mental health issues.

"This is another area where we have a strong culture to overcome, where people basically say, 'Suck it up and get on with the job,' and so on," Gates said, "without realizing that people who have PTSD have suffered a wound just like they've been shot and need to be treated."

The secretary credited
Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. with leading his service in promoting the need for soldiers of all ranks to care for their mental health. Noncommissioned officers of all the services, Gates said, play a key role in monitoring young troops' mental health and encouraging them to seek help, if necessary.

Changing
military attitudes about mental health issues will take time, Gates acknowledged.

"I think changing Question 21 to where people don't have to worry about losing their security clearance or have their career affected is an important step," Gates said. "But fundamentally, it's a
leadership issue in terms of setting an example, of senior officers even acknowledging that they may have had to seek help ... and set the example that way."

Gates signs condolence letters for the families of servicemembers who have died in service to their country, and he provides hand-written notes with each one. It's important, he said, for the fallen to be remembered as people and not become statistics.

Shortly after he took office, Gates said, he told his staff he wanted to see photos of each fallen servicemember, as well as the hometown newspaper obituary, attached to the condolence letters he was to sign.

"I want to get to know every one of these people and the sacrifice that they'd made," Gates said.

Though all
military members are expected to do their duty, the secretary said, the sacrifices they make in doing so must not be overlooked. "I think not forgetting the sacrifice that has been made and not letting people become a number is absolutely essential," he said.

With a new administration taking over in January, Gates said, the bonds he has forged with U.S.
military members will make it hard for him to leave the Defense Department.

"The opportunity to serve with our troops and to lead them has been the best thing that's ever happened to me," he said.

Face of Defense: Logistics Agency Employee Rises Above Disability

By Beth Reece
Special to American Forces Press Service

Oct. 22, 2008 - Sasha Puyans is used to getting "The Look." Strangers have gasped, pointed and stared. Some have stopped to take her picture. The attention usually doesn't faze Puyans, who will happily pose for photos with a smile so wide and friendly that observers can't help but see past her short stature and the electric scooter she uses to get around.

"People who've never seen a dwarf before are genuinely shocked when they see me," said Puyans, who has worked with the Defense Logistics Agency's Information Operations Directorate since September 2000.

"Yes, I use a scooter and crutches, but I'm over it, Honey. I'm going to keep on cruising and make the best of things," she said.

Puyans was diagnosed at age 3 with diastrophic dysplasia, a rare cartilage and bone disorder that causes joint pain and restricts movement. Those who have the disorder have a short stature with very short arms and legs, commonly known as dwarfism.

While people with diastrophic dysplasia are protected from discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Puyans said she doesn't feel disabled.

"Since I was little, I always knew I was smart. I knew this was going to get me ahead," she said, pointing to her head.

The 31-year-old is the only one of four siblings to earn a college degree.

"As a disabled person, it's not like I can just go get a construction job. Either I get an education and a professional job doing the best I can, or my options are cut in half."

Puyans' DLA career began with the Workforce Recruitment Program for College Students with Disabilities, a 14-week summer program that gives disabled college students real-world work experience. She was taking classes at
Baltimore City Community College and working part time for the Social Security Administration when a friend recommended she submit a resume.

After turning down seven different job offers she received through the Workforce Recruitment Program, Puyans accepted a position with DLA.

"I could see a future here," she said. "Things have worked out quite well, and there's still room for growth."

Puyans calls DLA a "fabulous place to work." Though she's held various positions in the agency, she said she loves her current job of handling the checkbook and credit-card purchases for the Information Operations Directorate.

When back and leg surgeries and infections kept her in the hospital or homebound for an extended period two years ago, Puyans' supervisors made arrangements for her to work from home when able.

"At that time, I was doing a lot of training database work and spreadsheets. I was really busy, which was wonderful," she said. "A lot of people were like, 'Don't you just want to rest?' But if I sat there with nothing to do, I would have fallen apart. Having my computer, interacting with people from work, it was my way of having some kind of normalcy."

Other employers may not have been as accommodating, Puyans said. "The agency went above and beyond. DLA is really a wonderful place for a disabled person to work."

Puyans is active in Little People of America, a national nonprofit group that provides support and information to people with dwarfism. According to the LPA, more than 80 percent of children born with dwarfism have average-height parents. Puyans' Cuban-born parents are of average height, and only her brother, Brian, shares her genetic condition.

Puyans said she long ago accepted being in the minority in her day-to-day life, so the LPA conventions she attends with Brian always leave her awestruck.

"Rarely do you see even two dwarves in a room, but at these conventions we see 3,000 other people just like ourselves," she said.

Puyans said a recent trip to Mexico for her first Little People of Mexico Convention renewed her appreciation for being a disabled person living in America.

"If you're disabled and live in Mexico, you're not a normal part of society. They don't have the same opportunities for education there, and many of them are reclusive," she said. "But here, I go to work, I have a career. I live a full life."

Even the scooter she relies on doesn't stop Puyans from commuting an hour and a half on a mix of buses and trains from her home in
Baltimore.

"I've had surgeries since I was a month old – from my head to my feet. I could very well be doing nothing, sitting at home collecting a Social Security check. But that's not what I chose," she said.

(Beth Reece works at the Defense Logistics Agency Public Affairs Office.)