Military News

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Staying Power: Soldier's Recovery Delivers Perspective, Contentment

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

Nov. 5, 2008 - Spend the day with
Army Capt. D.J. Skelton and you may just get a little jealous. Skelton lives near the beach in northern California and spends his off-duty time camping, rock climbing and learning to surf.

His sunrise runs take him five miles along the beautiful coastline here.

He speaks fluent traditional Chinese and, at 30, Skelton is a company commander with a promising future that includes graduate school and a tour in China as a foreign area officer.

Life is short, Skelton says, and he feels blessed for a second chance. His first chance ended in November 2004, when a rocket-propelled grenade smashed into his chest during a patrol in Fallujah, Iraq.

It was the coalition's second battle for the city, and Skelton, an infantry platoon leader, was hit on the first day of the offensive when his 50-man patrol was ambushed. Skelton had dismounted the vehicle when the RPG struck. Instead of exploding, it shattered, sending shards of shrapnel into his face and body.

Before his body even hit the ground, Skelton was sprayed with rounds from an enemy AK-47 assault rifle. He doesn't know how many bullets hit him – he didn't count them, he jokes now.

Skelton's left eye was blinded as it served as an exit point for the pieces of metal that blasted through the roof of his mouth. Shrapnel nearly amputated his left arm. As he faded out of consciousness, Skelton said, he heard the voices of his platoon's radio man and medic.

"Oh my God, the lieutenant's dead! The lieutenant's dead!" they shouted.

Accepting His Disabilities

But Skelton wasn't dead. He awoke weeks later at Walter Reed
Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He could bend his left arm, but could not control his left hand. His left eye was destroyed, as was the roof of his mouth, and he had no bone between his right knee and ankle.

The doctors worked to rebuild his body, repairing muscles, replacing his eye and mouth with prostheses and rebuilding the lower half of his leg.

"It was like being a real-life version of Mr. Potato Head," Skelton said.

But the limitations of Skelton's body didn't hold back his recovery, he said, as much as the damage to his attitude did. For the next five months Skelton would not leave his hospital bed, and he went to physical therapy only the week before he left the hospital, he said

While he was at the hospital, Skelton said, a soldier from his company who had lost both of his legs in the war visited him in his room to try to motivate him.

"I just didn't want to hear it," Skelton said. "I didn't want to accept the fact that our lives were forever changed, and what I used to think was true was not."

Skelton now admits he couldn't accept being disabled, because it didn't equate with his ideas of success and good looks.

"I spent 27 years looking the other way from the same population that I was now a part of -- the disabled population," Skelton said. "When was the last time that someone said 'Hey, that person with one arm is good looking?'"

Skelton said his mother asked his comrade one day how he could be so happy after suffering the loss of both legs. The soldier responded, "At least I didn't lose an eye. I don't know what I would do," Skelton recalled.

"And here's a kid that lost both his of legs," Skelton said. "It kind of grounds you. The situation might not be ideal [for you], but there is always something worse. So let's be grateful for what we do have."

The lessons from that soldier and others at Walter Reed shifted Skelton's perspective and left him feeling somewhat ashamed, he said.

"Here I am supposed to be a leader in the United States
Army, and I'm learning lessons from all ranks," he said. "From young Americans who don't have a lot of experience in life, but who have learned some amazing lessons right off the bat."

Still, Skelton said, he struggled with the idea of being disabled until the examples of those around him finally sank in.

"I woke up one day and was like, 'What am I doing?'" he said. "Why am I so negative, and why can't I look at the positives of what I do have? I still have life. I still have my family who was there the whole time. And friends that came and visited me, and strangers that came and took care of my family."

But while Skelton's attitude toward recovery began shifting, what he didn't know was another struggle loomed ahead.


Taking Notes on Wounded Warriors


Skelton began his recovery early in the war, when Walter Reed was getting flooded with wounded. The support systems were overloaded and, eventually, all but ineffective, he said.

"There was really nobody there to help out my family outside of the family and communities that I had created," Skelton said.

For most of the time that Skelton was in the hospital, he couldn't write, because both of his arms were being operated on. He couldn't speak, because his mouth was being repaired. So for months, he said, he sat quietly, just listening and taking mental notes as families talked about their problems.

Skelton left Walter Reed in April 2005 to return to his home post of Fort Lewis, Wash., where he checked into the rear detachment because his unit was still deployed. All he knew about the medical board process was that it took a long time, Skelton said, so he volunteered to help at the unit.

"I could still function. I still wanted to contribute," he said. "I didn't want to sit in a hospital for six months or a year and do a medical board and just sit there. At least I could have that sense that I was contributing, that I was helping my unit."

Skelton learned to walk and talk again. When he wasn't in therapy, he helped out the rear detachment with whatever was needed. He also used the time to create a program for the brigade to track its wounded soldiers. With his remaining down time, he began writing down all of the mental notes he had taken at Walter Reed.

One day, Skelton said, one of the wives from the family readiness group approached him and asked what the group could to do to help the troops. They were tired of bake sales and fundraisers, she told him, and the group wanted to do something that would really make an impact.

In response, Skelton gave her the list he'd compiled from the conversations he'd heard at Walter Reed. "Here's 500 questions," he told the family readiness group representative. "Help me answer them."

At the end of the project, the group had developed the "Hero Handbook," the first comprehensive consolidation of material explaining how to traverse the
Army's recovery system and transition process. The group has since distributed 50,000 copies and made the handbook available electronically.

'Too Broken' for Service?

By then, Skelton was into his medical board process, and his prospects didn't look good.

"Everyone along the way said, 'Thanks for playing, but you're too broken. There's no way you can stay in the
Army,'" he said. But during his recovery, Skelton said he had met many injured troops who were going on to do amazing things in the civilian sector after being discharged.

Skelton said he knows the Army "isn't a charitable organization" and that it can't keep people in uniform if they're physically incapable of being soldiers. But, he added, capable wounded warriors were being discharged.

"I was frustrated that we weren't trying to keep soldiers in," he said.

Skelton had crossed paths with others who were seriously injured, but stayed on active duty and continued highly successful careers. Skelton points to soldiers such as Retired
Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, a partial-foot amputee, who served as the Army's 34th chief of staff, and Army Gen. Frederick Franks, who commanded the Gulf War coalition's 7th Corps and is a below-the-knee amputee.

But they and others had simply found ways to stay in, Skelton said, because the
Army had no system in place for seriously injured soldiers to petition to stay on active duty.

Skelton's evaluation board determined he could not be retained, and he couldn't understand why.

"I want someone to explain to me why I can't contribute to any mission in the U.S. Army," Skelton said he told officials. "I'll go wherever you want me to go. I'll do whatever job you want me to do. But the last I checked, I do have a degree. ... I do have a good
military career, and I speak Chinese fluently. How can you tell me that you're going to invest this much time, effort and money in training me and then you're going to let me go?

"No one could answer that," he said.

Buying Time and Turning Heads

Not yet ready to leave the
Army, Skelton said, he found a commander in missile defense who would give him a job. He drove to Alaska, checked into Camp Greeley, called Department of Army officials and told them he was there. It wasn't the infantry, so it wasn't a perfect solution, but Skelton knew it would buy him some time, he said.

At that point he dug into learning how the Army works, Skelton said. He started studying policy and regulations and the relationship between the Defense Department and the
Army. He also studied congressional procedures and how they relate to the military.

Skelton started writing recommendations on how to keep soldiers on active duty and how to improve wounded warrior care, and began e-mailing them to everyone he had met during his recovery. He also was becoming well versed on the medical board process, the relationship between unit commanders and hospitals and the transition between active-duty care and the Department of Veterans Affairs care system, Skelton said.

Then, an opportunity opened for him to travel to the Pentagon and talk with then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. His homework had paid off.

"I could very effectively point to where some of these issues were," Skelton said. "If we didn't act on it then, it was just going to grow worse, because our population was not dwindling any time soon."

After the meeting, Skelton was offered a job in Rumsfeld's office as the first person at his level to look hard at the gaps in care. Skelton sat on multiple committees and served as a
military advisor to Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England.

Skelton had a front-row seat to history-making changes in wounded warrior care that swept across the Defense Department and, to an extent, the Veterans Administration. He regularly spoke with top DoD and congressional leaders, and even the president.

Improving Himself – and the Army

Skelton said officials appreciated his blunt, educated, straightforward recommendations. But he still had no promise of a career. For all of his efforts, Skelton said, he was still on borrowed time. Army officials had not said he could stay on active duty.

"There was no plan," Skelton said of his career. "I would do whatever it took to buy more time." Though he thought that eventually he would be forced out of the
Army, he said, "I wasn't ready to quit."

And, he added, he was giving back to an organization he loved.

"I couldn't give back as a platoon leader in the infantry ... so this is one way, indirectly, that I could fulfill the obligation that I had and those promises that I made when I was first commissioned," he said.

While helping DoD improve its care for wounded warriors, Skelton continued to adapt on a personal level. He learned how to resume his life-long passion for rock-climbing using only one arm.

"I realized ... that I'm not going to be able to do the things that I used to in the way that I did them. Things change," Skelton said. "It doesn't mean I'm going to have to put those dreams aside. I'm just going to have to go about them a little differently."

He went on to host a rock-climbing clinic for other amputees. Leap-frogging from that idea, Skelton formed a nonprofit group that helps wounded warriors participate in extreme sports.

But despite his successes, Skelton said, he woke up in October 2007, looked at his life, and felt kind of down. He regularly spoke to groups about reaching goals and chasing passions, Skelton said, but he still was not meeting any of his own goals.

"I really wanted to [stay] in the Army and continue with my career," he said.

With his physical limitations, Skelton said, he knew he couldn't return to the infantry. He was a former enlisted interrogator and had a passion for American-Chinese relations, so he decided he wanted to return to the
Army in the foreign area officer program. He could continue his education and learn advanced Chinese.

When Skelton approached Army
leadership about staying on active duty this time, he received a different response. The request was granted almost overnight.

"It wasn't a charity decision. It wasn't 'Give the wounded guy a break and put him over there to make him feel good,'" Skelton said. "It made sense."

Seeing Clearly – Through One Eye

The
Army's new attitude of care is more reflective of its values, Skelton said.

"The Army ethos is to never leave a fallen comrade behind. What better way to live that ethos than to show the force out there in the fight that, God forbid, if something happens to you ... we will not leave you?" he said.

Skelton now commands Company E, 229th Military Intelligence Battalion, at the Defense Language Institute's Foreign Language Center here. When Skelton finishes his command, he said, he likely will move on to study advanced Chinese, or learn another language, and then go on to in-country training. From there, he said, it will probably be graduate school and then he will qualify as a foreign area officer.

Skelton said he still feels the pain of his injuries every day. He has to have a neighbor or a friend button his sleeve, because his left hand will never improve. He doesn't wear an eye patch, he said, because he wants people to see the scars of war.

Still, life is good, Skelton said.

"I'm having fun. I'm being challenged intellectually. I'm being challenged physically and mentally," he said. "I look forward every morning to putting on the uniform and coming to work."

Also, Skelton said, he has found that fellow soldiers are inspired by his continued service and are more inclined to come to him with their problems, knowing he has had to work through his own.

"We all go through struggles in life," he said. "And none are more severe or bigger than others. They're just different."

Despite his positive outlook, Skelton said he is not sure he would want to go through the experience again. But, then again, he wouldn't rule it out. It has given him a perspective that promises hope and contentment in life, he said.

"Someone once said to me, 'You see things more clearly with one eye than I do with two,'" Skelton said. "I believe that each and every one of us should do what we love to do. And if you wake up one day and you don't love what you're doing, think about changing."

(Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of articles about wounded warriors who are returning to active duty).

MILITARY CONTRACTS November 5, 2008

U.S. TRANSPORTATION COMMAND

American Auto Logistics, LP of Park Ridge, NJ 07656-1878, is being awarded a $192,080,529.00 firm fixed price modification for an earned award term under a previously awarded contract (DAMT01-03-D-0184) to provide continuing services for the transportation and storage of privately owned vehicles. Work will be performed at worldwide locations and is expected to be completed Oct 31, 2009. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The contracting activity is United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), Directorate of Acquisition, Scott AFB, IL 62225.

NAVY

BAE Systems Land & Armaments, Ground Systems Division, York, Pa., is being awarded a $31,682,880firm-fixed-priced modification to previously awarded delivery order #0005 under contract M67854-07-D-5025 for field service representatives and instructors to support Mine Resistant Ambush Protected 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.

BAE Systems Land & Armaments, Ground Systems Division, York, Pa., is being awarded an $8,738,992firm-fixed-priced modification to previously awarded delivery order #0004 under contract M67854-07-D-5025 for field service representatives to support Mine Resistant Ambush Protected 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.

Hawaiian Dredging Construction Co., Inc., Honolulu, Hawaii, is being awarded $7,385,000 for firm-fixed-price task order #0009 under a previously awarded multiple award construction contract (N62742-04-D-1302) for the wharf repairs at Naval Station, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. This project includes repairs and preservation to the pier superstructure, fender system, concrete supporting piles and concrete decking. The project also includes replacement of all mooring hardware and repair of all mechanical, electrical, and communications systems. Work will be performed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and is expected to be completed by February, 2010. Contract funds in the amount of $7,385,000 will expire at the end of the fiscal year. Three proposals were received for this task order. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Hawaii, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, is the contracting activity.

Precon Marine, Inc.*, Chesapeake, Va., is being awarded a $6,796,845 firm-fixed-price contract for bulkhead repairs at Naval Station, Norfolk, Va. The work to be performed provides for bulkhead repairs, and includes provision of sheet pile in front of the existing bulkhead with concrete in–fill, provision of a jet-grouted soil curtain wall behind the existing bulkhead, provision of additional fill material with a geo-textile grout matt overlay for sheet pile toe stabilization; seawall repairs, tie rod repairs, repair of existing fender system, and related work behind the existing bulkhead. Work will be performed in Norfolk, Va., and is expected to be completed by November 2009. Contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via the
Navy Electronic Commerce Online website, with nine bids received. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command Mid-Atlantic, Norfolk, Va., is the contracting activity (N40085-09-C-4202).

Army

BAE System Land & Armaments Inc.,
Minneapolis, M.N., was awarded on Nov. 3, 2008, a $17,177,205 firm/fee/contract. To procure the vehicle emergency egress windshield kit for the M1151 Up-Armored High Mobility Multi-purpose wheeled vehicle for a quantity of 4,702 kits. Work will be performed in Minneapolis, M.N., with an estimated completion date of Oct. 22, 2009. One bid was solicited and one bid was received. US Army TACOM Contracting Center, Warren, Mich., is the contracting activity (W56HZV-08-C-0353).

King Fisher Marine Service LP, Port Lavaca, Texas, was awarded on Nov 3, 2008, a $13,906,620 firm/fix /fee contract. The work consists of dredging approximately
2,000,000 cubic yards of new material dredging with a deep draft pipeline dredge. Work will be performed in Galveston County, Texas, with an estimated completion date of Sept. 30, 2009. Bids were solicited via the Web and three bids were received. USA Engineer District, Galveston, Texas, is the contracting activity (W912HY-09-C-0002).

Air Force

Science Applications International Corp., Technology Services Co., of San Diego, Calif., is being awarded an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract for $16,000,000. This action will provide research and development under BAA entitled "Electro Magnetic Effects Research and Development." This effort is to search for new opportunities in all aspects of high power EM lethality, as well as to develop new solutions and enhance present capabilities. Missions such as survivability of DoD assets to high power microwave (HPM) environments, the development of HPM weapons and the refinement of HPM-predictive modeling for inclusion into engagement and campaign-level models will be supported. The intent is for the contractor to make optimum use of available AFRL/RDH capital assets and to augment or complement AFRL/RDH capabilities. At this time no funds have been obligated.
Air Force Research Laboratory/RDKP, Det 8 Directorate of Contracting, Kirtland AFB, N.M., is the contracting activity (FA9451-06-D-0222, P00009).

Cobham Defense/Continental Microwave Division of Exeter, N.H., is being awarded a requirements contract for $13,875,000. This action will provide for repair of the antenna assembly array board and network pieces in support of the F-16 Aircraft. At this time no funds have been obligated. 448 SCMG/PKAB, Commodities/Aircraft Branch, Hill AFB, Utah, is the contracting activity (FA8251-09-D-0001)

Warrior Care: Defense Department Highlights Efforts in November

American Forces Press Service

Nov. 5, 2008 - Citing Warrior Care as both a top priority and a solemn obligation, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates designated November as "Warrior Care Month" to communicate the Defense Department's commitment to quality care to the nation's servicemembers and their families.

Through the department's Warrior Care Web portal at www.WarriorCare.mil, Warrior Care Month is aimed at increasing awareness of programs and resources available to wounded, ill and injured servicemembers, their families, and those who care about them, and reinforcing servicemembers' trust in DoD's commitment to their well-being, officials said.

Pentagon officials cited four principles of Warrior Care Month:

-- A Pledge to Our Servicemembers and Their Families. The Department of Defense will provide the highest quality of care to all wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers and their families for as long as necessary, regardless of location.

-- A Commitment to Quality Care. Consistent and quality care is provided by the Department of Defense to servicemembers throughout the continuum of care (recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration) in conjunction with other government entities. Each service has also instituted programs to provide personalized medical and non-medical assistance to wounded, ill and injured servicemembers and their families.

-- Transforming Warrior Care. Warrior Care today includes new facilities, skilled and dedicated care providers, training and career opportunities to assist in the transition to new roles in the
military or to civilian life, and a new partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs to launch pilot programs to align medical records and establish a single Disability Evaluation System.

-- Simplifying Access and Establishing Channels for Reporting Problems. The Web site www.WarriorCare.mil is the gateway to the department's Warrior Care resources through which visitors can easily identify and access individual programs and resources to meet their needs.

-- In addition, the Wounded Warrior Resource Center was established for servicemembers and their families who encounter difficulties during their recovery process to receive the assistance they need immediately.

The WWRC is accessible by calling 800-342-9647 toll free, via e-mail at wwrc@militaryonesource.com, or on the Web at www.woundedwarriorresourcecenter.com, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Officials noted several key changes that have improved Warrior Care:

-- New partnerships have been developed with the Department of Veterans Affairs to streamline the transition between DoD and VA.

-- New programs to care for and support wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers have been instituted.

-- The department has implemented new approaches in the treatment of psychological health and the challenge of traumatic brain injury.

-- A concerted effort has been made in improving customer care.

In the future, officials said, the Defense Department will continue to work with VA to craft improvements tailored for those grievously wounded in combat, make rapid improvements in dealing with TBI and psychological health, improve service quality and consistency to the families of the wounded and the fallen, and support the Guard and Reserve with the same quality and consistency provided to active forces and their families.

Warrior Care: Giving Wounded What They Need, Deserve

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Nov. 5, 2008 -
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen didn't like the way wounded Vietnam veterans were treated when he first entered the service in 1968, and he is working to ensure that America's wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan get the care and help they need and deserve. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said during a Pentagon Channel podcast interview yesterday that as one of the leaders of the U.S. military, he is passionate "about seeing to the needs of those who are wounded – who have sacrificed so much, whose lives have been changed so dramatically."

Mullen said he also wants to help the families of the fallen. He wants "to make sure we are doing everything we can in the positions of
leadership to make sure people understand what those families have sacrificed, and that we reach out to them and in every way possible and meet their needs for the rest of their lives," he said.

The chairman spoke about meeting a homeless Operation Enduring Freedom veteran at the Veterans Affairs hospital in
Los Angeles recently. "He said to me 'I gave 100 percent. I'd really like 100 percent in return,'" Mullen said.

Medical care for wounded servicemembers has improved tremendously, Mullen said. Those who reach a field hospital within the first hour after being wounded – the so-called "Golden Hour" – have a 92 percent chance of survival. Medical professionals undoubtedly are saving the lives of many who would have died in previous wars, the chairman said.

"More than anything else, it's remarkable medical personnel who have adapted and moved to the leading edge of medical care," he said. "I can't say enough for them."

The whole process is one of speed, with those wounded in the combat theater quickly transferred to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and then further transported to wherever they need to go in the United States. But while much has been done, Mullen said, much more remains to be done, and this is especially true for long-term treatment and care, as the servicemembers and their families still want to live life and contribute to America.

"What we find out in my interaction with them and my wife's interaction with them is their dreams haven't changed," Mullen said.

The servicemembers still want to "own a piece of the rock," the chairman said. They still want to go to school, own a home, have good jobs and leave their children better off than they are. Realizing those dreams may be changed by the injuries, but the dreams remain, he said.

The question then becomes how the nation – through the Defense Department, the Department of Veterans Affairs and communities throughout the country – "reach out to meet the needs of these people who have given so much," he said.

Many programs are available, Mullen said, but he added he is not convinced they are doing what they should. He said he wants to study the programs to ensure they are producing for the servicemembers – giving them the needed mix to realize their dreams.

The chairman also said the department has a long way to go in the handling of post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

"
leaders have to step forward to set the example," he said. "A big part of that is the challenge of the stigma of asking for mental help."

From his perspective, the admiral said, asking for mental-health help is the same as asking for help for a physical problem, and it is a readiness issue. "Being on your game mentally" is as important as being physically ready to accomplish the mission, he said.

"We've taken some steps with respect to removing the stigma, but we've got a long way to go," the chairman acknowledged.

Connecting wounded servicemembers to communities also is extremely important, Mullen said.

"There is a sea of goodwill out there in our communities that will reach out and support those who are wounded and their families, and the families of the fallen," he said. "Where we are struggling a bit is connecting those resources in communities throughout the land to those who need it. We've got to work on it structurally and organizationally to connect that sea of goodwill to those who have these needs."

The needs of the wounded vary by family and individual. They also vary by point in the healing or rehabilitation process, the chairman said. "It can be very difficult to figure out what is needed, [and] when. But I know there are communities that are doing this and want to do this."

All Americans need to ensure these veterans and families receive what they need, and have to ensure this support is sustained over time, the nation's top
military officer said.

Michael Jordan Teams Up with National Guard

By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
Special to American Forces Press Service

Nov. 5, 2008 - Basketball legend and avid motorcyclist Michael Jordan is the latest high-profile celebrity to team up with the National Guard. Jordan and Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, director of the
Army National Guard, unveiled the 2009 No. 23 National Guard Michael Jordan Motor Sports Superbike to more than 2,100 cheering citizen-soldiers gathered for a training workshop here last month.

Music star Kid Rock, who also appeared at the recruiting event, joked about Jordan's celebrity stature. "Who decided to put me on after Michael Jordan?" he demanded to know, before explaining the celebrity pecking order. "It goes like this: Actors. Sports stars. Rock stars. Michael Jordan."

The professional closed-course motorcycle road racing team that Jordan has owned since 2004 competes in the American Motorcyclist Association's superbike class. Jordan joins a National Guard celebrity "A" list that also includes Kid Rock, NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the rock group 3 Doors Down.

"These people associate themselves with the 'best-in' categories, and that talks about what the National Guard is," said
Army Col. Mike Jones, chief of the Army Guard's strength maintenance division, who has presided over a historic recruiting surge that motivated other services to adopt the Army Guard's recruiting methods when the component's numbers eclipsed its congressionally authorized end-strength.

When Michael Jordan's older brother, James, retired in 2006 as command sergeant major of the 18th Airborne Corps' 35th Signal Brigade – the only airborne signal brigade – he told the Associated Press, "The Army was my life. That's why I dedicated myself to it. I felt I could be very successful in it. It didn't require me to be [six feet tall]. It just required me to be physically fit."

James Jordan's career increases Michael Jordan's empathy with citizen-soldiers, the basketball legend said. "He's spoken very highly about the armed services," Michael Jordan said. "Some of the lessons he's learned, he's passed on not just to me, but to my brothers and sisters and everybody that has come into contact with him. I live vicariously through him."

Michael Jordan's been a motorcycle enthusiast since he rode his first dirt bike at about the age of 6. He committed to AMA racing after his third retirement as a professional athlete. "Once I saw it, I became a great fan," he said.

Aaron Yates joined Michael Jordan Motor Sports in 2007, and on Aug. 31 handed the basketball superstar his first AMA Superstock championship.

"Winning means a lot," Jordan said. "You put forth a lot of hard work and dedication. You start the season off with a lot of goals. You go through disappointments in the course of the season, and at the end of the year when you finally step up to that podium and win the championship, nothing's more gratifying."

Jordan looked out at the 2,100 citizen-soldiers who gave him a standing ovation here. "I've represented my country a couple of times," he told the soldiers. "And you guys have represented me."

(
Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill serves at the National Guard Bureau.)

Armed Forces Inaugural Committee Prepares to Welcome New President

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

Nov. 5, 2008 - Members of the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee are preparing to welcome President-elect Barack Obama when the nation's 44th chief executive takes the oath of office Jan. 20. AFIC is a joint-service organization that coordinates all
military ceremonial support for presidential inaugurals, according to the committee's Web site. The committee falls under Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region, commanded by Army Maj. Gen. Richard J. Rowe Jr., who wears a dual hat as the committee's chairman. The committee, he said, will grow to about 700 members prior to Inauguration Day.

Inauguration Day will mark the 56th time the U.S.
military has welcomed the incoming commander in chief with fanfare, music and parades, Rowe said, a tradition that goes back to the first U.S. chief executive, George Washington.

"We're very excited about it," Rowe said.

AFIC works with the Joint Congressional Committee on Inauguration Ceremonies and the Presidential Inaugural Committee, said
Marine Corps Col. Tim Cole, AFIC's chief of staff. The JCCIC is made up of key congressional leaders and is responsible for the swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol and the congressional luncheon. The PIC is a nonprofit organization representing the president-elect that's responsible for organizing and funding many inaugural events.

Supporting the inaugural "is quite an honor," Cole said, citing the historical importance of yesterday's election, which selected America's first African-American president as the nation remains at war with global terrorism.

Cole saluted America's servicemen and women, including the half-million troops stationed overseas – many of whom are serving in harm's way in Afghanistan and Iraq -- as well as
military retirees and veterans.

"We in uniform today represent them at this nation's inauguration," Cole said.

AFIC's
military composition "is purple all the way," said Navy Capt. Benjamin Yates, the committee's director of personnel. The color purple, he explained, signifies the blending of the different-hued uniforms worn by members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard who serve on the AFIC. Yates is a retired Navy officer who was recalled to active duty to serve on the committee.

"It's a major operation," Yates said of AFIC's mission. "No matter what inauguration you're going through, it's a piece of history." Following the inaugural, he said, the committee should finish closing up shop sometime in April.

Today, the day after Election Day, about 70 servicemembers reporting to the AFIC were involved in various in-processing actions at the committee's offices in downtown Washington.

AFIC members
Army Capt. Sam Kieffer, Coast Guard Lt. Kishia Mills and Air Force Staff Sgt. Olayinka Olatunji issued building and other credentials to the new arrivals.

"It's great to be in a joint environment and working with the other services," said Mills, 27, who hails from New York City.

Working on the AFIC is an "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Lancaster, Pa., native Kieffer, citing the significance of U.S. presidential inaugurations. "It is history in the making, and obviously this one is special," Kieffer said of Obama's upcoming inauguration.

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Serafico, a 34-year-old administration specialist from Reno, Nev., said he is inspired to be part of the AFIC.

"It's truly an honor and a privilege to be here to be taking part in this very historical event. ... To just be part of history is truly amazing and something I'll truly remember," Serafico said.

Navy Reserve Petty Officer 2nd Class Lisa Daniels, 42, heard about the opportunity to join AFIC months ago during a duty tour in Bahrain. "I applied for the program, ... and fortunately I got selected," said Daniels, who hails from Warren, Ark. "I am glad to be here."

Daniels, who will serve with the committee as a duty driver, said she recognizes that Obama's journey to the White House is a notable event in U.S. history.

"I support any president," she said. "It's all about the support of our government and sticking together as a team and forming unity for our nation."

Marines Missing From Vietnam War Are Identified

The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of four U.S. servicemen, missing from the Vietnam War, have been identified and will be returned to their families for burial with full military honors.

They are Lance Cpl. Kurt E. La Plant, of Lenexa, Kan., and Lance Cpl. Luis F. Palacios, of
Los Angeles, Calif. Remains that could not be individually identified are included in a group. Among the group remains are Lance Cpl. Ralph L. Harper, of Indianapolis, Ind., and Pfc. Jose R. Sanchez, of Brooklyn, N.Y. All men were U.S. Marine Corps. Palacios will be buried Friday in Bellflower, Calif., and the other Marines will be buried as a group in the spring in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.

On June 6, 1968, these men were aboard a CH-46A Sea Knight helicopter that was attempting an emergency extraction of elements of the 1st Battalion, 4th Regiment, 3rd Marine Division then engaged against hostile forces in the mountains southwest of Khe Sanh, Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam. The helicopter was struck by enemy ground fire and crashed, killing 12 of the 23 crewmen and passengers on board. All but four of the men who died were subsequently recovered and identified.

Between 1993 and 2005, joint U.S./Socialist Republic of Vietnam (S.R.V.) teams, led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), investigated the incident in Quang Tri Province, interviewed witnesses and surveyed the crash site three times. The team found a U.S.
military boot fragment and wreckage consistent with that of a CH-46 helicopter.

In 2006, a team began excavating the site and recovered human remains and non-biological material evidence including La Plant's identification tag. While at the site, a Vietnamese citizen turned over to the team human remains the he claimed to have found amid the wreckage. In 2007, another team completed the excavation and recovered additional human remains, life support material and aircraft wreckage.

Among other
forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also used mitochondrial DNA and dental comparisons in the identification of the remains.

For additional information on the Defense Department's mission to account for missing Americans, visit the DPMO web site at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/ or call (703) 699-1420.

Russian Threats Miss Point of Proposed Missile Defenses, Official Says

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Nov. 5, 2008 - Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev's threat today to deploy missiles targeting proposed U.S. missile defenses in Eastern Europe misses the point that the system will be purely defensive and will pose no threat to Russia, a Pentagon spokesman said today. "These are interceptors," Bryan Whitman said of the system that will include 10 missile silos in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic. "And they are designed to protect our European allies as well as the ... United States from an emerging ballistic missile threat from the Middle East."

Medvedev made headlines during his annual address to the Federal Assembly today, announcing that Russia will deploy short-range missiles in the Baltic Sea region in response to plans to build the missile defense system.

Russia also will develop jamming capabilities to counter the system, and cancel its plans to decommission a missile division in Kozelsk by 2010, Medvedev said.

The Russian president said Russia's conflict with Georgia in the Caucasus served as "a pretext for the appearance of NATO's warships and then, for the accelerated enforcement of America's missile defense systems on Europe."

Whitman emphasized that the United States has gone out of its way to reassure the Russians that the proposed missile defense system "is not a system that threatens them."

"We have offered any number of transparency arrangements [and] briefings to try to mitigate their concerns,... and nothing in today's news changes our position with respect to trying to collaborate [and] cooperate with our European partners," he said.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates expressed similar sentiments last week, telling a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace audience he's confident the Russians know the proposed system doesn't threaten them. He called objections that 10 missile-defense interceptors would jeopardize Russia's arsenal "laughable."

"I think we've leaned forward pretty far and have been open with them about what we intend to do," Gates said. "I think we have gone a long way toward providing the necessary assurances to Russia that this system is not aimed at them, but is aimed at a very limited threat coming from Iran."

Gates noted proposals the United States has offered to help reassure Russia. One would allow Russia to have representatives at each site, if the host nation agreed, to provide technical monitoring of activities. Another would be to base a common-data-sharing center in Moscow.

Gates said he assured Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin when Putin was president that the United States would not make the sites operational until the Iranians had tested a missile that could reach most of Western Europe, including parts of Russia.

"We have provided transparency in a number of ways," Gates said. While the Russian
military "has shown some interest in this," Russians have "chosen to make an issue of the notion" for political reasons, he said.

Navy Commissions First Littoral Combat Ship Freedom

The Navy's first littoral combat ship (LCS) Freedom will be commissioned Saturday, Nov. 8, 2008, during a 10 a.m. EST ceremony at Veterans Park, Milwaukee, Wis.

Secretary of the
Navy Donald Winter will deliver the ceremony's principal address. Birgit Smith, the ship's sponsor, is the widow of Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith, who was killed in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. The commissioning ceremony will be highlighted by a time-honored Navy tradition when Smith gives the first order to "man our ship and bring her to life!"

The name of the new ship acknowledges the enduring foundation of our nation and honors all American communities which bear the name Freedom to include towns in California, Indiana, Maine, New Hampshire, New York,
Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

As the initial LCS, the 378-foot Freedom will be the first to carry this class designation. Freedom (LCS 1) is one of two LCS seaframes being produced. Independence (LCS 2) was christened by the
Navy on Oct. 4, 2008.

A fast, agile, and high-
technology surface combatant, Freedom will be a platform for launch and recovery of manned and unmanned vehicles. Its modular design will support interchangeable mission packages, allowing the ship to be reconfigured for antisubmarine warfare, mine warfare, or surface warfare missions on an as-needed basis. The LCS will be able to swap out mission packages pierside in a matter of days, adapting as the tactical situation demands. These ships will also feature advanced networking capability to share tactical information with other Navy aircraft, ships, submarines and joint units.

Freedom is an innovative combatant designed to operate quickly in shallow water environments to counter challenging threats in coastal regions, specifically mines, submarines and fast surface craft. The LCS is capable of speeds in excess of 40 knots and can operate in water less than 20 feet deep.

Freedom will be manned by one of two rotational crews, Blue and Gold, similar to the rotational crews assigned to Trident submarines. The crews will be augmented by one of three mission package crews during focused mission assignments. The Blue Crew commanding officer is Cmdr. Donald Gabrielson, a native of Hibbing, Minn. The Gold Crew commanding officer is Cmdr. Michael Doran, a native of Harrisonville, Mo. Freedom will be homeported at Naval Station San Diego, Calif., as part of the Pacific Fleet.

In May 2004, the Department of Defense awarded both Lockheed Martin Corp., Maritime Systems & Sensors in Moorestown, N.J., and General Dynamics-Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine, separate contract options for final system design, with options for detail design and construction of up to two flight 0 LCS ships.

In December 2004, the
Navy awarded Lockheed Martin Corp. the contract for detail design and construction of the first LCS. Lockheed Martin's teammates include Gibbs & Cox in Arlington, Va.; Marinette Marine Corp. in Marinette, Wis., where the ship was built; and Bollinger Shipyards in Lockport, La.

Additional information on the LCS is available online at http://peoships.crane.navy.mil/lcs/ .

Warrior Care: DoD, VA Share Records to Benefit Wounded Warriors, Veterans

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

Nov. 5, 2008 - The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are making good progress in sharing information to the benefit of wounded warriors and veterans, a senior DoD official said. One of the chief goals of DoD-VA interoperability efforts is to supply computerized health data so providers in both departments "will have the necessary health information background to be able to provide better-quality care," Dr. Steven L. Jones, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said here Oct. 30.

For example, DoD's medical information on 4.5 million
military patients now has been shared with VA, Jones said. "Of course, that continues to grow every day," he said, adding that about 68,000 inquiries for medical information are conducted weekly between DoD and VA.

As DoD and VA continue their efforts to share more information, care is taken to preserve the security of patients' medical records, Jones said.

DoD and VA have worked to improve administrative procedures related to assisting wounded troops and veterans, Jones said. He also cited improvements in providing medical information from DoD health care providers to VA case workers who assist disabled veterans.

The
military Health System, which encompasses all of the armed services, also strives to make life easier for wounded warriors and their families, Jones said. One recent initiative, he said, features teleconferences between pre-discharged military patients and families and caregivers at destination VA medical facilities.

DoD and VA also have established an interagency program office that will assist both agencies to share even more information and to work together to meet common goals, Jones said.

The
military Health System invests millions of dollars each year to upgrade its information technology capabilities so as to provide servicemembers and families the best medical care available, Jones said.

"We want to provide world-class treatment," he said.

November is Warrior Care Month

The Secretary of Defense Robert F. Gates announced that November is Warrior Care Month today. Warrior Care Month is a DoD wide effort aimed at increasing awareness of programs and resources available to wounded, ill, and injured service members, their families, and those who care about them.

“I am pleased we have made significant strides to improve treatment for our service members. But frankly, much work remains to be done. We need to make it easier for our troops and their families to take advantage of all the assistance now available to them," said Gates.

The department offers myriad resources to service members and their families, from prevention to injury-specific treatments, to ensure
military well-being.

In addition, each
military service has instituted programs to provide personalized medical and non-medical assistance to wounded, ill and injured service members and their families. These include:

U.S.
Army Warrior Care and Transition Program and the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2)
U.S.
Navy Safe Harbor
U.S.
Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment
U.S.
Air Force Wounded Warrior

To simplify access to care the department has created
http://www.WarriorCare.mil to serve as a portal to all warrior care resources. This site describes available resources and links users to the correct sources for additional information. Through it, service members, their families, and those who care about them can easily identify and access care.

Throughout November numerous events and educational activities will focus on educating the
military community about the different aspects of the continuum of care provided to service members during the recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration process.