Military News

Monday, March 16, 2009

Face of Defense: Airman Sheds 115 Pounds to Work on F-22s

By Air Force Staff Sgt. Rhiannon Willard
Special to American Forces Press Service

March 16, 2009 - Air Force Airman Derrick Bell has found that a lot of determination and a little help from his friends helped him meet his goal of returning to military service when it seemed that both his age and weight might have prevented it. The 38-year-old husband and father of two shed more than 115 pounds to meet the Air Force Reserve physical standards of enlistment, astounding his recruiter, family and friends when he enlisted Jan. 15 in the Air Force Reserve here.

Bell and Air Force Lt. Col. Raymond Platt, the 477th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander, met through family and friends over a campfire outing in 2006 at the Bells' cabin in West Beaver Lake, Alaska. They've been friends ever since.

Bell became intrigued when Platt told him about the F-22 Raptor and the 477th Fighter Group at Elmendorf. When Bell expressed interest in the jet and being a member of the 477th FG, Platt made it his personal mission to make that interest a reality.

Platt's research found that his friend wasn't too old to enlist, as they had previously thought. Air Force Reserve regulations state that a prior-service enlistee's adjusted age – actual age minus years of prior service -- must be 40 or less. Bell had served more than four years in the Alaska Army National Guard after he graduated from high school.

"I told Derrick that if he was interested in joining, I would help him get back on track," Platt said. "Derrick jumped at the opportunity."

Losing 115 pounds in 11 months was a journey for Bell. He didn't lose the weight through fad diets. Instead, he worked hard to change his lifestyle while controlling his caloric intake.

Bell got up at 4 a.m. and exercised at the Elmendorf fitness center five days a week, with Platt right next to him much of the time. Bell said he cut his food portions by at least half, and hasn't had a beer for more than a year.

Meanwhile, Bell went to Air Force Master Sgt. Robert Bazor, a recruiter, through the friendship he developed with Platt.

"We knew that he had a long way to go before he could enlist, but we also knew that this was a situation that could be fixed with the right amount of determination," Bazor said. "He called me every month to give me an update on his weight loss."

Platt received the added bonus of enlisting Bell under the Air Force Reserve's "Get One Now" program. The program provides benefits to the Air Force Reserve, the recruit being referred and the person who has recommended the referral.

"I'm always recruiting," Platt said. "Wherever I am in the Alaskan community, I end up talking about the 477th Fighter Group and how great the unit is. The conversation comes natural to me."

Bell's wife, Tricia, their daughter, Brittny, and son, Logan, joined other family members and friends as they witnessed Platt administering the oath of enlistment to Bell.

Bell credits his support system for much of his success.

"I feel like I'm getting a 'do-over,'" he said. "My family and friends are huge supporters. They've been behind me 200 percent since I decided to go for it."

A lifelong resident of Anchorage, Bell works for the Anchorage School District as a senior warehouse specialist Mondays through Fridays. His traditional reservist service commitment to the 477th FG will include working one drill weekend a month and performing 14 days of annual tour per year.

The 477th FG shares and maintains equipment with the regular Air Force's 3rd Wing here. The group is responsible for recruiting, training, developing and retaining citizen-airmen.

Bell will serve as a crew chief on the F-22. He is waiting for a class date to attend technical training at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. When that is completed, he will receive follow-on training at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.

In addition to having the opportunity to work on what he considers to be the world's greatest fighter jet, Bell said, he has regained his youth and his self-esteem.

"I feel young again," he said. "I'm in better shape and weigh less than when I got married almost 18 years ago. I've got back my confidence, and I thought it was gone for good."

(Air Force Staff Sgt. Rhiannon Willard serves with the 477th Fighter Group public affairs office.)

New Pentagon Civilian Personnel System Faces Review

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

March 16, 2009 - The Defense Department will undertake a comprehensive review of the National Security Personnel System to ascertain whether it is fair and transparent to participating employees, a senior Pentagon official said here today. Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III directed the NSPS review, Brad Bunn, the Defense Department's program executive officer for NSPS, told Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service reporters. Lynn is the senior civilian executive overseeing NSPS at the Pentagon.

The Pentagon's review will provide officials the opportunity to "look at the [NSPS] system in a comprehensive manner, to understand how it has been operating, and to chart a path forward for the future of NSPS and how it is going to go forward in the Department of Defense," Bunn said.

The Office of Personnel Management, which co-manages the NSPS program with the Defense Department, will conduct a separate review, Dunn said.

The Pentagon's review, he said, probably will take "several months" to complete.

The scheduled transfer this spring and summer of about 3,000 additional Defense Department civilians into NSPS will be delayed pending the outcome of the review, Bunn said.

"We're going to delay any further conversions of organizations and employees into NSPS while leadership can conduct this review," Bunn said. Members of Congress, other federal agencies, personnel experts, labor organizations and other stakeholders, he said, will be included as part of the review process.

The more than 200,000 Defense Department civilians who have been transferred into NSPS since the system began three years ago, Bunn said, will continue to operate under current NSPS policies and procedures. Most defense civilians who were slated for transfer into NSPS already have done so, he said.

NSPS was developed as part of former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's program to transform the way the efense Department does business to better meet the challenges of the 21st century. NSPS's pay-for-performance system replaced 50-year-old civil service rules that rewarded employees for length of service, rather than performance.

"NSPS is a pretty significant change in how we hire, pay and compensate and reward our civilian employees who support the national security mission in the Department of Defense," Bunn said.

There are "varying viewpoints that exist out there on NSPS," Bunn acknowledged. Internal surveys, he said, indicate that some defense employees are unhappy with NSPS, particularly with regard to performance evaluations.

"There are questions and concerns about the fairness of the system, its transparency, whether it is actually being operated based on the design principles," Bunn said. "So, those kinds of questions are being asked, and those are the concerns that a review will focus on."

The department is committed to operating fair, transparent and effective personnel systems, Bunn said.

"And this review is a demonstration of that commitment," he said.

Soldier Missing From Korean War Is Identified

The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing from the Korean War, have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors. He is Sgt. 1st Class Patrick J. Arthur, U.S. Army, of Broken Bow, Neb. He will be buried on May 1 in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.

Representatives from the Army's Mortuary Office met with Arthur's next-of-kin to explain the recovery and identification process on behalf of the secretary of the Army.

Arthur was a member of Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 38th Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. In mid May 1951, elements of the 2nd ID were securing their positions on the No Name Line south of the Soyang River, South Korea, when the Chinese Army launched a major counter-offensive. The 2nd ID was forced to withdraw south to a more defensible position north and east of the Hongch'on River. During the withdrawal, Arthur was captured by enemy forces on May 18, 1951, and was marched north into North Korea. Arthur died of malnutrition and disease in July, and he was buried at the Suan Mining POW Camp near Pyongyang.

Between 1991-94, North Korea gave the United States 208 boxes of remains believed to contain the remains of 200-400 U.S. servicemen. Accompanying some of the remains were Arthur's military identification tag and a denture fragment bearing his name.

Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also used mitochondrial DNA and dental comparisons in identifying some of the remains as Arthur's.

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) 699-1169.

Military Child Care Takes Top Quality Spots in National Report

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

March 16, 2009 - The Defense Department's stateside military child care system took first place in the categories of quality oversight and standards for a second time as part of a national child care advocacy group's report, a senior official said here today. The National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies recently examined child care practices in 50 states and the District of Columbia for its most-current report and awarded the Defense Department the highest marks for quality for child care oversight and standards, Barbara Thompson, director of the Pentagon's Office of Family Policy, Children and Youth, told Pentagon Channel and American Forces Information Service reporters.

The association twice has reported on child care licensing standards to assess their quality of oversight and standards, Thompson said. The Defense Department also earned the same honors in the group's 2007 report, she said.

"This is the second time that we were No. 1 in both oversight and standards," Thompson said. "No other state has ever reached that, so we're very, very proud of this achievement."

Two-time recognition by the association reinforces the fact that military families can rest assured that the Defense Department provides top-quality child care, Thompson said.

"I think it gives you the satisfaction and the peace of mind that the Department of Defense is very committed to quality and that children who are in our child-development system receive very high quality care across their development," Thompson said.

Military families that enroll their children in [Defense Department]-sponsored child care facilities should know "that your child is safe and is in a learning environment," Thompson said. Such knowledge, she added, helps military members focus on their jobs.

Quality child care is important, Thompson said, because the key formative development years for children takes place between ages 1 through 5.

"When we do the right mix of quality care-giving, learning activities, opportunities for physical play, ... these children are thriving," she said.

Such an environment "really does set the tone for their future in elementary school and further on," Thompson said.

Care-givers employed at Defense Department-sponsored child care facilities receive stringent training and are required to meet the highest standards, Thompson said.

"We lead the way in the country of setting the standards and oversight of what constitutes a good early childhood program," Thompson said.

Reunion Training Helps Soldiers, Families Reconnect

By Eve Meinhardt
Special to American Forces Press Service

March 16, 2009 - Spouses of soldiers in the 18th Airborne Corps have a better idea of how to reconnect with their other halves upon redeployment, thanks to the Army's Battlemind reunion training. "Reunion is not always easy, is it?" Army Chaplain (Col.) Larry McCarty, a Task Force Bragg chaplain, asked at the beginning of the training, which began here March 4.

The Army created Battlemind to help soldiers and families adapt to the changes and difficulties that come with redeployment. While the current training here was for spouses, soldiers receive the training immediately before deployments and after redeployments.

"Even if you've been through multiple deployments, each one is different," said Angie Streets, program manager for mobilization and deployment, Army Community Service. "It is important for you to discuss your expectations and what your spouse's expectations are when he [or she] returns from deployment."

In addition to spouses having different expectations of how things are going to be or what is going to happen when they reunite, soldiers often faces adjustment issues that may affect their ability to sleep, cause a feeling of loss of control and hinder their ability to reconnect or communicate with their families.

With the additional stress of long separations and combat, the resiliency of soldiers and their families is facing additional challenges. McCarty compared a person's ability to bounce back under pressure to a stress ball resuming its shape after being squeezed.

"As soldiers come back home, we're finding that some people are being squeezed and not bouncing back," McCarty said.

Soldiers face different challenges as they reintegrate and reunite at home, no matter what their rank, age or family status. Canadian Brig. Gen. Nicolas Matern, deputy commanding general of 18th Airborne Corps, discussed with the group challenges from a soldier's perspective and from his experience. Martens moved here to become deputy commander of the corps last summer and subsequently deployed with the 18th Airborne to Iraq. He returned from deployment in December.

"It's all about anticipation," Matern said. "You're separated for such a long time, and you have an idea in your head about how things are going to be back home. The problem is, things have evolved back home and changed since you've been gone."

With deployment lengths ranging from three to 18 months, a lot of changes can take place at home.

"The children keep growing up. The spouses at home change, and their roles change," Streets said. "The spouse at home takes on the role of mom and dad as well as additional roles outside the home as they strengthen friendships and become more involved with the Army community through their family readiness group and other support systems."

The Battlemind reunion training helps soldiers and their families learn about actions they can take when they encounter issues, as well as how to restore an emotional balance and where they can compromise on expectations and activities.

They learn about flexibility and about understanding some of the emotions the soldier may be feeling, such as a possible need for order and control or reassurances of their partner's loyalty and commitment.

Spouses learn about recognizing cues in daily life that serve as warning signs that their soldier may need help, including nightmares, anger, substance and alcohol abuse, performance problems, aggressive driving and not making plans.

They also learn to recognize signs that the soldier may need help with problems such as depression, anger, difficulty sleeping, sleeping too much, appetite changes, taking frustrations out on others and isolating themselves.

McCarty broke down the reunion process into what he called the "Big 4."

"Just remember the Big 4 to help you through the changes. No. 1, redeployment is a process, not an event. Everything doesn't go back to normal once your soldier gets off the plane," McCarty said. "No. 2, expect ups and downs. Three, don't over-schedule homecoming activities. And, No. 4, if you need help — ask for it."

He added that couples experiencing problems always can talk to a chaplain confidentially about anything.

"If problems are ignored instead of addressed, they tend to fester and worsen instead of going away," McCarty said. "The most important thing is each other and your relationship."

(Eve Meinhardt writes for Fort Bragg's Paraglide newspaper.)

Gates to Remain in Washington During NATO Summit

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

March 16, 2009 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will remain here to tend to Defense Department budget issues during next month's NATO Summit in Europe, a Pentagon spokesman said today. President Barack Obama and National Security Advisor Jim Jones will represent the United States at the summit in Strasbourg, France, and Kehl, Germany, which takes place on the 60th anniversary of the alliance.

"Given the fact that the U.S. will be well represented, the work that still has to be done back here on what is arguably probably one of the most challenging budget reviews that has taken place in a number of years, he just felt that it's best that he remain here and work on that," Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

"He came to that conclusion and talked to the national security advisor about it, and it was agreed upon that that would probably be the best course to take," Whitman added.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Gates had hoped to join Obama to celebrate the alliance's anniversary, but that work on the 2010 budget will not permit him to leave.

"He simply needs more time to review all of our major weapons programs and assess how they fit into his efforts to strategically rebalance the department's budget to reflect the president's national security priorities," Morrell said today in an e-mail statement.

NATO heads of state and government officials will meet at the summit April 3–4.

DoD and OPM To Review National Security Personnel System

The Department of Defense and the Office of Personnel Management announced today that they will undertake a review of the National Security Personnel System.

The decision by Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn was made after consultation with the Office of Personnel Management. "This administration is committed to operating fair, transparent, and effective personnel systems, and we are undertaking this review to assess whether NSPS meets these objectives," said Lynn. With new leadership under a new administration, DoD and OPM will engage with key stakeholders in examining NSPS. "We recognize that varying viewpoints exist regarding NSPS, and given the scope and complexity of the system, it is important for leadership to conduct its own review of the program," Lynn added.

DoD will delay any further conversions of organizations into NSPS pending the outcome of this review. This affects roughly 2,000 employees in organizations scheduled to convert to NSPS this spring. Those organizations are adjusting their plans accordingly. During the review, organizations already covered by NSPS will continue to operate under current NSPS policies, regulations, and procedures.

DoD and OPM leadership are engaged in discussions with key personnel in the administration to determine the overall framework, scope, and timeline of the review, including identifying an appropriate individual to lead the review. It is expected to take several months for a review team to gather the necessary information and data, reach out to stakeholders, and develop recommendations for leadership consideration.

NSPS implementation began in 2006, changing the way DoD civilians are hired, compensated, promoted, and rewarded. The system currently covers approximately 205,000 DoD employees.