Military News

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Defense Department Navigates Language Roadmap

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

Nov. 25, 2008 - The Defense Department has completed more than 90 percent of the tasks it set out to accomplish in a language plan that launched four years ago. Known as the Defense Language Transformation Roadmap, this broad strategy aims to address national shortfalls in foreign language skills in the United States. Current efforts are helping to equip the department and the military with improved language and cultural proficiency skills to better meet today's diverse security demands.

"We believe the department, with help from the Congress, has transformed the way it values, develops, employs and deploys foreign language capability and regional expertise," states a Defense Department news release.

One of the key challenges identified was the need to have more DoD personnel who are proficient or possess some language skills in the strategic languages needed today and in the future. The department responded by creating a culture of learning with greater emphasis on building and sustaining language skills. Efforts focus primarily on pre-accession education, meaning academics undertaken before becoming a
military servicemember, and in-service training, according to the department release.

All three service academies, for example, now feature more robust strategic language and cultural program offerings. As a result, more cadets and midshipmen are studying languages of strategic importance to DoD. ROTC programs also reap the benefits, with students enjoying a wider array of destinations for study abroad.

The department has established centers of excellence in each
military service to oversee and standardize training and impart essential and mission-targeted cultural training. It also increased the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center's funding from a fiscal 2001 budget of $77 million to $270 million this fiscal year. DLIFLC, located in Monterey, Calif., is the department's premiere language and cultural training center.

Meanwhile, DoD is reaching out to the nation's heritage communities and informing them of opportunities to serve. On the civilian side of this effort, National Language Flagship Program initiatives allow students to progress from elementary school through high school with more advanced levels of language proficiency in strategic languages such as Arabic, Hindi and Urdu.

On the
military side, the Army last month activated its first company of native linguists-turned-soldiers, which represent the service's newest job: 09L, referred to as "09 Limas." This new military occupation employs heritage speakers as interpreters and translators, representing a new phase in the service's reinvigorated approach to foreign language.

"We've found it's easier to train a linguist to be a soldier than to train a soldier to be a linguist," Army Brig. Gen. Richard C. Longo, director of training in the Army's Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Plans and Training, said at a Pentagon roundtable last month.

In addition to adding key personnel in areas where language shortfalls exist, DoD is taking a closer look at its own stock. The department has taken steps to identify its current capabilities, a kind of self-assessment to determine and catalog the skills the forces already possess.

The department also has established quarterly reporting of language and cultural requirements. Currently, there are about 141,000 language requirements across the roughly 60 different languages and dialects deemed strategically important, according to the department release.

To ensure that the language transformation occurs smoothly and successfully, the department has appointed senior language authorities in each of the
military services and agencies to conduct oversight, execution and planning. It also created the Defense Language Office to monitor and carry out the tenets of the Language Transformation Roadmap, and to institutionalize the department's commitment to these critical competencies.

"The bottom line [is that] we are creating a framework that will allow us to build a globalized force with the right combination of skills, in the right numbers, that is equipped with the language and cultural proficiency skills to meet the diverse operational demands of the 21st century," the release reads. "This is the beginning of a journey."

Family Liaisons on Frontlines of Wounded Airmen Care

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

Nov. 25, 2008 - When an airman is seriously injured in combat it is not only their life, but also their family's, that is suddenly turned upside down. While the airman is whisked away for critical medical care, it is the family that must juggle the housing, child care and financial arrangements necessary to be by the airman's bedside during recovery. For many, the experience is at best chaotic, and at its worst, a nightmare.

More than 440 airmen have been wounded in combat since the start of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. Of those, about 80 are considered seriously injured. For them and their families, family liaison officers with the
Air Force Survivor Assistance Program are on the front line of wounded warrior care.

"The family liaisons are the key to taking care of the family. That is very critical, especially when the person is first wounded," said John Beckett, the Air Force Survivor Assistance Program manager. "They are the link between the family and the
Air Force."

For example, one airman, deployed to Afghanistan, was badly burned and evacuated to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. But his distraught wife could not get to his bedside.

She was afraid of being deported.

The airman's wife was not a U.S. citizen, and was living in Mexico at the time of his injury.

She had submitted paperwork for entry into the country to be with her husband, but it got lost somewhere in the bureaucracy. Further complicating matters, she didn't speak English, couldn't drive, and had a three-year-old child to care for.

At that point,
Air Force family liaison officers stepped in, found her documents and reunited her with her husband. The liaisons also found her a place to stay, enrolled her in English classes and arranged for child care. Then, they took her to driving school, where she earned her license.

Beckett's office, located near the Pentagon, is the first to begin overwatch of the care of seriously wounded airmen. Airmen and their families fall under the care of the Survivor Assistance Program as soon as they are injured and remain in the program until they are either returned to duty or discharged.


"If You Need to Call Me, Call Me"

Beckett is himself a 20-year veteran of the Air Force. A former senior enlisted man, he is still taking care of airmen nearly two decades after his retirement.

Beckett meets each seriously wounded warrior in the hospital and encourages them to call his cell phone any time. While his office has a toll-free number, Beckett tells them to call him directly.

"I think it's important that they can get a hold of me instantly. I just like them to know that," Beckett said. "I'm not kidding. If you need to call me, call me."

But while Beckett's office oversees the
Air Force's efforts, the practical application of care for the airmen and their families is the result of a nationwide network of commanders, family liaison officers, Airman and Family Readiness Centers and Wounded Warrior Program consultants.

Liaison officers are not full-time staff assigned to an official wounded warrior office. Instead, they come from the ranks of those who are injured, often from the same units and same jobs as those of the injured airmen.

When a liaison officer is needed, commanders simply ask for volunteers who then commit to spending the next several months helping airmen and their families navigate through a bureaucratic and confusing medical and disability system.

A liaison officer is assigned to the family as soon as the airman is evacuated from combat, Beckett said. The officer works on every issue from housing and transportation, to child care, benefits and pay. The first few weeks are intense. But for the liaisons, it's fulfilling work, Beckett said.

"It's a way for them to give back to the
Air Force and to show support for fellow airmen," Beckett said. "It's a sense of duty. It's like being a good wing man for a fellow airman."

Unlike the Army and Marine Corps, which have entire units dedicated solely to the care of wounded servicemembers, airmen remain assigned to the units from which they deployed. And, the Air Force tries as soon as possible to return wounded airmen to the unit's base, or a nearby facility, rather than relocate entire families, which can cause other problems.

For example, one airman owned a home near his base in Arizona. He was hurt by a bomb while deployed and sent to recover at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas. His wife quit her job to be with him during his recovery, even though they relied on her income to pay the mortgage.

She was the airman's primary caregiver, cooking and caring for him and helping him to keep medical appointments.

"There was no place she would rather be," Beckett said. But, the couple faced losing their home.

With the help of the liaison and the Wounded Warrior Program, the Air Force Aid Society stepped up to help with the mortgage payment. A private donor also pitched in alongside several others in the community of Randolph Air Force Base, near where he was recovering. The bills were paid and the house saved.

Returning the wounded to their units and communities also keeps support systems in place for the airmen and families, Beckett said. Most transitional support comes from the local Airman and Family Readiness Center on base.

At the centers, airmen and their families are educated on veterans' benefits, job opportunities and other transitional assistance. Representatives from Veterans Affairs, the Labor Department, Social Security, Tricare and others occupy space at the centers and serve as a one-stop shop.

"There's a lot to be said if you can keep your people assigned to their own units because they still have that connection," Beckett said. "To a lot of airmen, that unit they belong to -- that's their family. That's their
Air Force family."

Planning for the Future

As their initial needs are met and wounded airmen begin working through recovery, liaisons and representatives from readiness centers begin educating them on what happens next in their recovery process and careers.

Air Force
leadership has promised to retain airmen, if possible, and to place them in jobs that accommodate their permanent disabilities. So far, about 60 of the 440 seriously wounded airmen have requested and been allowed to stay on active duty.

Most airmen initially want to stay on active duty, Beckett said.

"Every wounded person I've met, when you ask them, first off, 'What do you see for your future?' they will always tell you, 'I want to stay in. I want to be back with my unit,'" Beckett said.

As time moves on, some have to take a harder look at their options. That's when a wounded warrior representative steps in and "paints a picture" of the airman's work and financial options, Beckett said. Depending on their disability rating and type of discharge, the airmen must weigh the advantages of staying in the service or getting out and getting a job, or going back to school.

"A lot of times, it's more financially advantageous in the short-term and the long-term to take that option (of getting out)," Beckett said.

Wounded warrior representatives do not try to persuade the airmen in any particular direction, Beckett said. They want the airmen and families to have as much information as soon as possible so that, as they heal, they can sort through the details and work toward a decision that best suits their needs.

"We engage early," Beckett said. "If you wait until the person is going through the [board], that's a little late to be giving them information. We want to have them very well educated before that process starts."

The physical evaluation board process begins with a liaison assigned to help the airman through that process.

If an airman decides to separate from the service, or is deemed unfit to return to duty, the case is transferred to the Wounded Warrior Program based out of the Airman, Family and Community Operations Branch at the
Air Force Personnel Center, Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. The program, launched in 2005, was originally named Palace HART, or Helping Airmen Recover Together.

Through the program, the airmen and families gain the support of a wounded warrior consultant who is a toll-free phone call away, in addition to their command and readiness centers already in their support chain.

The four wounded warrior consultants on staff are there to ensure that the airmen and families receive all of their benefits, briefings and other transitional assistance. The consultants ensure Veterans Administration claims are filed before the servicemember's separation and begin helping them find a job, school or other training program.

To assist in the transition, the Labor Department and many civic and private groups partner with the Air Force to provide jobs for those injured and separating from service. Also, the Air Force works with airmen who want to enter the federal civil service, finding them jobs for which they are qualified and helping them through the application and hiring process.

Rebuilding After Service

One of the most critical pieces of the program's oversight comes after the separation from service when the airman's pay and benefits move from active-duty military to Veterans Affairs and they begin their lives as civilians.

The consultants keep in contact with the airmen and families for at least another five years, ensuring that benefits stay in place and helping out when needed. The program now tracks about 300 servicemembers, most of whom have separated.

Problems sometimes arise, usually with pay and benefits, when servicemembers transition into civilian life, said Yvonne Duker, chief of family operations for the Airman, Family and Community Operations Branch at Randolph, who supervises program consultants.

One airman's disability claim was delayed and he subsequently missed making his house payment for a few months, Duker said. His claim was eventually processed and he made up the missed payments. But by then, the mortgage company had moved the home into foreclosure. When the airman contacted the mortgage company, he was told it was too late.

He called his Wounded Warrior Program consultant, who called the mortgage company and explained the problem, and explain that the airman was combat wounded. The mortgage representative called the airman and said, "'We can work this out,'" Duker said.

Most times, once an agency or business learns that the servicemember is a combat veteran, it is eager to work out any problems, Duker said. Often, it's a matter of the servicemember simply not knowing whom to call, she said.

"We don't stop until we make it happen -- until we make that connection," Duker said. "As far as muscle, we're it. We advocate. We're like dogs with a bone -- we don't let go."

Most of the 300 wounded that still are in the program are called monthly, but depending on their needs, they may be called daily or only quarterly, Duker said.

"We just like to follow up to see how their plans are going," Beckett said. "We just want to make sure that they are taking advantage of the services that the country has available to them, and that if we detect a need somewhere ... that we can intercede on their behalf."

For example, one airman was out of the service for four years when the VA denied his claim for handicap modifications to his house. The program consultants contacted the VA and found an alternative program that the airman was eligible for that would fund the modifications.

"Let's face it, the Veterans Administration can be an unwieldy thing for a person to navigate through once they get out," Beckett said.

Sometimes it's not just claims problems that crop up years later. The symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder can take years to manifest, and as many as 70 percent of those tracked by the program show signs of the disorder, Duker said.

"The member goes out thinking 'I'm doing fine. I'm great,'" Duker said. "Then, all of a sudden, they're having nightmares; they feel like they can't handle their job. Then they call our office and say 'I need some help. What are my options?'"

Beckett called his job working with the
Air Force's wounded the most rewarding that he's had, and said that he has never had a bad day – at least not for long.

"If I ever think I'm having a bad day, I think of what some of these folks have gone through," Beckett said.

He said he is inspired by how they confront their adversities.

"When I see somebody who has lost their vision and lost an arm, and who talks about how they can give back to the
Air Force -- that's inspirational," Beckett said. "Look at what he's already given up. And yet he talks to me about wanting to give back to the Air Force. It is amazing that somebody would have that kind of outlook.

"They focus on what they can do. They don't focus on what they can't do. That makes a world of difference in how they approach their recovery."

(Editor's note: This is the latest in a serious of articles about seriously wounded warriors who are returning to active duty).

MILITARY CONTRACTS November 25, 2008

Army

Science Applications International Corp., San Diego, Calif., was awarded on Nov. 25, 2008 a, $97,957,600 firm fixed price contract. This requirement is for the procurement of fifty Militarized Mobile Gamma-Ray Imaging Systems for non-intrusive inspection of vehicles and cargo as well as maintenance of these systems. Work will be performed in San Diego, Calif., with an estimated completion date of Dec. 24, 2010. Number of Offers Solicited via N/A and two bids were received. US
Army Research Development and Engineering Command Acquisition Center, Aberdeen Proving, Md., is the contracting activity (W91CRB-09-F-0003).

Aardvark
Tactical, Inc, Azusa, Calif., was awarded on Nov. 24, 2008, a $46,500,000 firm fixed price contract for Nonlethal Capabilities Set Mission Modules. Maximum quantities are tied to the maximum total dollar value of the contract. Work will be performed in Azusa, Calif., with an estimated completion date of Aug. 24, 2010. One bid was solicited and one bid was received. Army Contracting Command, Joint Munitions & Lethality Contracting Center, Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., is the contracting activity (W15QKN-07-D-0016).

Air Force

The
Air Force is awarding a firm fixed price, cost plus fixed fee contract to McDonnel Douglas Corp., St. Louis, Miss. for $96,000,000. This action will provide Small Diameter Bomb Aircraft Weapon Systems on various objective aircraft. At this time no money has been obligated. 681 ARSS/PK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. is the contracting activity (FA8681-09-D-0062).

The
Air Force is awarding an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract to a variety of contractors for $3 Billion. This contract is primarily for environmental requirements that include completion of a conceptual design, construction, implementation, demolition, repair, and operation and maintenance of installed systems prior to delivery to the government. At this time $60,000 has been obligated. AFCEE/ACV, Brooks City-Base Texas is the contracting activity (FA8903-08-R-8348).

The
Air Force is modifying a requirements contract with Mykotronz, Inc. Torrance, Calif. for $9,981,750. This contract provides for the purchase of a variety of electronic communications security equipment. At his time no money has been obligated. HQ Cryptologic Systems Group, San Antonio, Texas is the contracting activity (FA8309-08-D-0001, Modification P00002).

The
Air Force is modifying a firm fixed price contract with Raytheon Co., Missile Systems Tucson, Ariz. for $6,037,264. This contract will upgrade two guided weapons test Set to AIM-120D Capability, spares, and additional GPS. At this time, all the money has been obligated. 695ARSS, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida is the contracting activity (FA8675-07-C-0055, Modification P00019).

Navy

Raytheon Missile Systems Co., D/B/A Raytheon Systems Co., Tucson, Ariz., is being awarded a $33,934,143 order against a previously awarded firm-fixed-priced indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract (N00019-07-D-0001) for full recertification of up to 165 All-Up-Round (AUR) Tomahawk Missiles for the U. S.
Navy (133) and for the Government of the United Kingdom (32). The order also provides for Systems Engineering Integration Agent support and fixed support for Encanisterization/Decanisterization of MK-14 AUR missiles. This contract combines purchases for the U.S. Navy ($27,688,543; 82 percent) and the United Kingdom ($6,245,600; 18 percent) under the Foreign Military Sales Program. Work will be performed in Tucson, Ariz. (80 percent) and Camden, Ark. (20 percent), and is expected to be completed in April 2010. Contract funds in the amount of $27,688,543 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md. is the contracting activity.

General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products, Burlington, Vt., is being awarded a $15,952,000 modification to a previously awarded firm fixed price contract (N00421-05-C-0110) to exercise an option for the procurement of 64 M61A2 20 mm lightweight Gatling Gun System for the F/A-18E/F aircraft for the U.S.
Navy (36) and the Government of Australia (28). Work will be performed in Burlington, Vt. (50 percent) and Saco, Maine (50 percent), and is expected to be completed in May 2011. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This modification combines purchases for the U.S. Navy ($8,973,000; 56 percent) and the Government of Australia ($6,979,000; 44 percent) under the Foreign Military Sales Program. The Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity.

UNITED STATES TRANSPORTATION COMMAND

Anvicom, Inc. of Vienna, Va., 22182-4043, is being awarded a $5,910,317.90 fixed price contract for Integrated Booking System (IBS) Software Engineering Services and Support. Work will be performed at Vienna, Va., and is expected to be completed September 2013. Contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. Eleven bids were solicited and two were received. The contracting activity is United States Transportation Command, Directorate of Acquisition, Scott
Air Force Base, Ill., 62225 (HTC711-09-F-0011).

Defense Department Prepares to Implement Reserve Changes

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

Nov. 25, 2008 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates yesterday charged his department to develop plans to take action on 64 of the 95 recommendations for changes to the U.S.
military reserves made by a congressionally mandated commission earlier this year. The department already has acted on 18 of the recommendations made in January by the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, which was convened in 2004 to review and recommend changes needed to move the reserve-component force from a Cold War-era strategic reserve to an operational reserve fully integrated with its active-duty counterparts.

In all, the department is working to implement 82 of the 95 recommendations. Gates referred two of the recommendations to other Cabinet departments, and he chose not to act on 11 of the recommendations.

"The Congress, the commission and the department all recognized that the National Guard and Reserves are integral to the total force and have assumed a greater operational role in today's force," Gates wrote in a memorandum he signed yesterday. "The department greatly appreciates the support of Congress and the diligence of the commission for its comprehensive review and recommendations for improving the National Guard and Reserve."

After the release of the commission's report in January, Gates convened a senior-level working group to review the recommendations and render its findings. These proposed actions come from the recommendations of that group, officials said.

The onus now falls mostly on mostly the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the service secretaries, the undersecretaries of defense for policy and for personnel and readiness, the chief of the National Guard Bureau and other senior leaders to develop plans to implement the recommendations. Gates has given them 25 days to come up with their plans.

"I would characterize the timelines as very aggressive, and certainly the secretary wants to turn this over to the next administration with all of the actions in place and moving," Thomas F. Hall, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, said in an interview at the Pentagon last week.

Key actions that will come from the plans will be further clarification of the reserve components' role in homeland defense and civil support, the institutionalization of their operational role in future combat, improved personnel management and enhanced support for Guardsmen and reservists, their families and their employers.

"The Guard and reserve will continue to have their civil defense missions and this is a recognition of the importance of these missions," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters today.

Whitman pointed out that since the global war on terror started, 200 provisions in law have affected the reserve components. "The commission's recommendations are largely in line with what the department broadly was doing on a couple of pretty important fronts," he said. "The commission's report basically validates the direction in which the department has been headed for a number of years."

The first front is changing the reserve components from a strategic reserve to an operational force. "As a result, we have greatly increased funding for the reserve components, and we've rebalanced the Guard and reserves." During the Cold War, for example, there were a large number of artillery battalions in the National Guard. Those soldiers have been shifted into more critical units, such as civil affairs and military
police.

"As part of making the reserves part of the operational force, we've instituted the one-year mobilization with a minimum 90-day notification [of deployment]," Whitman said. In fact, the average notification now is 270 days.

With regard to funding the reserves as an operational force, Gates drew attention to commission recommendations 29 and 43 in his memorandum. Recommendation 29 called for the services to budget for, and Congress to authorize funding for, readiness requirements for both reserve homeland defense and overseas missions. Gates has called on the service chiefs to develop plans for funding reserve component operational readiness requirements not already included in their budgets to be considered in the fiscal 2012 budget review.

Recommendation 43 called for DoD accounting of reserve-component procurement and funding and the ability to track the delivery of equipment to reserve units. Gates said no consensus has been reached on how to add this to the DoD system. He has called on the service chiefs as well as the Defense Department's acquisition, technology and logistics office, the comptroller's office and other senior officials to develop a plan for accounting and tracking reserve-component equipment.

To improve personnel management, the commission recommended that DoD implement a combined pay and personnel system. From the start of its heavy deployments in both wars, the National Guard, especially, has found itself foundering with pay problems and personnel glitches as guardsmen moved from a state-based pay system to the federal pay system and then back.

The department is now in the process of launching the Defense Integrated
military Human Resources System, which promises an integrated, multi-component personnel and pay system. The Army is slated to implement the program in March, followed by the Air Force in October. The date for the Navy transition to DIMHRS has not been set, and the Marine Corps already has an integrated pay and personnel system.

Officials said they hope the system will provide a seamless transition between active-duty and reserve status. Once on line, the Web-based system can be accessed anywhere and will have all personnel data loaded electronically, they said.

To ease those pay problems, the commission proposed slashing the 29 duty status codes reserve forces use to calculate pay and benefits to just two: on or off duty. But, because pay and benefits for reservists are tied to the different status codes, reducing them to only two could cause a pay hardship, officials said.

Streamlining the pay codes has fallen to the Defense Department's office of personnel and readiness, along with the service secretaries, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Guard Bureau chief and other top leaders to resolve. Hall estimated that they likely will be narrowed down to about eight status codes that will not affect pay or benefits for reservists.

"Will we ever get to two – on duty and off-duty? Probably not," Whitman said today. "But certainly, we would like to simplify and make this continuum of service not so complicated."

In health care reform, the secretary has ordered a comprehensive review of customer service and availability of the Defense Department's Tricare health care program, especially the services provided to those who do not live near a major
military hospital. Many reservists live in outlying areas, sometimes hundreds of miles from the nearest military facility. Hall said more local doctors, clinics and hospitals need to accept Tricare as a provider.

Gates also called for the department's personnel and readiness office to assess the feasibility of allowing both active and reserve servicemembers and their families who do not live near a
military hospital the option of enrolling in the Federal Employee Health Benefits plan used by the department's civilian employees. DoD officials also are looking at possibly paying a stipend to the reservist who does not elect to use Tricare as a provider. It likely would not be greater than the cost of providing Tricare access, they noted.

Also, the commission called for, and Gates supported, additional funding for reserve-component family support programs, extended transition assistance, and a standardized reintegration process for all servicemembers returning from deployments.

The two recommendations the Defense Department referred to other departments were 57 and 78. The commission recommended freezing the funds in reservists' flexible spending accounts in the year they are activated through their deployment. Gates said the department supports the recommendation, but referred it to the Treasury Department. The commission also recommended that reservists should have one year to apply for dental care through the Department of Veterans Affairs following a deployment. Again, Gates said, the department supports the recommendation but referred it to VA for action.

The 11 recommendations that Gates did not support dealt primarily with personnel management and accounting.

Hall, who led the DoD working group, called its efforts "exhaustive" as it examined the recommendations that affected reserve component funding, equipping and organizing.

"I'm very pleased with the process," he said. "It was all-encompassing. We took everybody's view and produced a document that is remarkable for its consensus."

Hall said the implementation of these recommendations brings the traditional reserve role of the "weekend warrior" to an end and moves the U.S.
military closer to a true total force.

"It means transition from a strategic reserve to an operational reserve -- mission almost complete," Hall said. "I say it's almost complete because this is a major milestone in that transition."

Hall called the past seven years a historical time for the military, and said more than 200 provisions in the law that affect the reserve components have changed.

"We have truly made our Guard and reserve operational forces working with the active duty. We simply cannot meet the mission of our nation without that 46 percent in the Guard and reserve. They perform magnificently," he said.

The chairman of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, retired Marine Maj. Gen. Arnold L. Punaro, praised the decisions by Gates in statement released yesterday.

"The winners today are the men and women in uniform, their families, their employers, and the citizens of the United States," Punaro said. "All will benefit from Secretary Gates' landmark decisions."

Mannheim Steamroller Spreads Cheer to Troops With CD Giveaway

By Sharon Foster
American Forces Press Service

Nov. 24, 2008 – Mannheim Steamroller, the recording group famous for putting a new twist on traditional Christmas music, is hoping to spread holiday cheer to the military this season by giving away 1 million CDs to troops and their families. The group and its creator, Chip Davis, have started giving away copies of its multiple Christmas CDs to troops at home and abroad. The group also is giving away copies of its children's pop-up book, "My Little Christmas Tree."

"Throughout the years, I have had the opportunity to work with many in the armed services," Davis said. "This is my expression of gratitude for their efforts and sacrifices, especially during this season."

A special effort is being made by the group to distribute CDs and pop-up books to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C.; Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio; National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md. and other facilities that care for wounded troops. Distribution of CDs also will take place at military bases.

CDs already have been distributed to more than 40 USO locations, including the European and Pacific commands -- reaching troops in Germany, Japan and Korea.

In addition to the CD giveaway, several wounded servicemembers and their families will be special guests at Mannheim Steamrollers' Christmas concerts throughout December.

Freedom Alliance, a Virginia-based group that honors military service, has chosen a "veteran family" that will join Davis and his group for an all-expense-paid trip Dec. 6 to Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., for "Grinchmas," a live musical performance of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

Davis, who has been quoted as describing his style of music as "18th century classical rock 'n' roll," has a long history of working with the military. Last year his group partnered with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Foundation to donate Christmas CDs to military servicemembers and their families.

Mannheim Steamroller's "Christmas Live" show will be re-broadcast on the Pentagon Channel this year.

"I am committed to continuing this support of the military," Davis said. "Hopefully our Christmas music will create a sense of home for the holidays for the men and women of the U.S. armed forces. It is also important to us to share the sounds of the season with all those who keep our country safe."