Friday, March 27, 2009

Latest Ship Seizures Broaden Counter-Piracy Challenge

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

March 27, 2009 - Two ship seizures in the Indian Ocean in recent days appear to indicate that pirates have broadened their focus beyond the heavily patrolled Gulf of Aden. Pirates hijacked two chemical tankers: the Bahamian-flagged, Norwegian-owned vessel Bowasir on March 25 and the Panamanian-flagged, Greek-owned Nipayia yesterday, a Navy spokesman confirmed.

Bowasir and its 23-member crew were operating more than 380 nautical miles southeast of Kismayo, Somalia. Nipayia and its 19 merchant mariners were pirated 490 nautical miles east of Mogadishu, the official said.

The seizures were the farthest yet from the Gulf of Aden, where the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet and the international community stepped up patrols after piracy soared last year.

"This appears to be a new round of attacks well off the east coast of Somalia vs. in the Gulf of Aden where we had seen the majority of attacks last year and in 2009 to date," the official said.

The latest hijackings expand the pirates' operating area, creating what the official called "a monumental challenge" to those working to prevent piracy.

"To put the challenge into geographic perspective, the area involved off the coast of Somalia and Kenya as well as the Gulf of Aden equals more than 1.1 million square miles," he said. "That is roughly four times the size of the U.S. state of Texas, or the size of the Mediterranean and Red Seas combined."

To better confront the problem, Navy Vice Adm. William E. Gortney, who commands U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces, stood up a multinational, anti-piracy effort known as Combined Task Force 151 on Jan. 1.

Task force members have national mandates to conduct counter-piracy operations and work together "to support our goal of deterring, disrupting and eventually bringing to justice the maritime criminals involved in piracy events," Gortney explained as the task force became fully operational in mid-January.

CTF 151 operates primarily in and around the Gulf of Aden, but also in the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Red Sea.

At any given time, 12 to 16 warships from the task force as well as non-coalition nations are operating in the region. "The international presence there is significant," the Navy official said. "We are working with everybody who is there."

But the vast size of the region would require 61 ships just to control the internationally designated shipping lanes, he said. "And that's a small portion of the area we are talking about."

Despite the geographic challenges, the task force's efforts are showing signs of success.

Pirates seized 42 ships last year, but 80 of the 122 piracy "events" were unsuccessful, the official reported. So far in 2009, 48 "events" have occurred, with 11 hijackings and 37 unsuccessful attempts.

Meanwhile, more commercial shipping crews are applying lessons learned so they can foil pirates' attempts.

Just this week, the vessel Preventor evaded an attack more than 450 nautical miles southeast of Dar el Salam, Tanzania. The ship's crew conducted evasive maneuvering and used charged fire hoses to repel the pirates, the official said.

Face of Defense: Shooter Aims for 2012 Paralympics

By Caroline Gotler
Special to American Forces Press Service

March 27, 2009 - An infantryman for most of his Army career, Army Staff Sgt. Josh Olson never dreamed he would someday become an internationally ranked shooter with the Army's World Class Athlete Program. But everything changed for Olson after losing his right leg in an attack during a deployment to Iraq in 2003.

"I was going to get out of the military," Olson said. "I was an infantryman, and I knew I couldn't do that anymore, so I just wanted to get out. Then this opportunity came up and it gave me a renewed sense of duty and honor."

That opportunity was a call from U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit recruiters to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where Olson was undergoing physical therapy. Olson had been participating in a program that provides hunting, fishing and outdoor sports events to recovering soldiers. When medical center officials asked if any soldiers were interested in an AMU recruiting trip here, Olson jumped at the chance.

"When I found out I could do this, I was like, 'Yeah, absolutely, let's do it!'" he said. "You can't be in the fight, but you have the opportunity to help soldiers who are going to fight. So I'm still contributing, just in a different way."

Since joining the AMU international rifle shooting team in 2005, Olson has risen rapidly through the world of shooting. He competed in the 2006 International Paralympics Committee World Championships and the 2007 Oceanic Games, and earned a spot as an alternate on the 2008 Paralympics team. Today, he's aiming for a spot on the U.S. shooting team at the 2012 Paralympics in London.

"As far as he's come in such a short period of time is amazing," Army Sgt. 1st Class Jason Parker, Olson's AMU teammate, said. "He came to us with no international shooting experience and in three years' time, he was an alternate. We expect him to be up on the medal podium in another three years."

To qualify for the Paralympics, Olson will need to shoot at least three qualifying scores in international matches over the next four years. He expects to have shot at least two by the end of this year.

Olson's dedication and positive attitude have set an example for the entire unit, Parker said.

"He's always had a positive attitude," Parker said. "That's one of the great things about him. You look at him and sometimes you can see that he's not feeling great, but he's out there putting out 100 percent. He's a great motivator. He's contributed to our mission in every possible way."

Olson said that knowing his AMU teammates are counting on him helps keep him motivated during tough times.

"On days I don't want to get up and come to training and I'm kind of feeling sorry for myself, I think, 'Hey look, there are people counting on you, so you need to get out there and work your butt off,'" he said.

He credits his injury with allowing him to serve and represent his country in new ways.

"Without me getting injured, I would have never gotten the opportunity to come here and shoot," he said. "Being wounded might have closed some doors, but it opened others in other places. And this is one of the places it opened up -- for me to be able to compete, shoot and train troops and still be contributing to the war effort.

"Being a disabled veteran, to go out and wear U.S.A. on your jacket and to hear them announce you -- 'Now shooting for the U.S., Josh Olson' -- that's a pretty big deal. I can't represent the U.S. as a deployed soldier, but now I represent them on a whole new battlefield -- the athletic field."

(Caroline Gotler works at the Fort Benning public affairs office.)

Colorado Employers Eager to Hire, Support Army Reservists

By Army Reserve 1st Lt. Olivia Cobiskey
Special to American Forces Press Service

March 27, 2009 - Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. signed on to the Army Reserve Employer Partnership Initiative at a March 20 ceremony here that also drew 11 private-sector employers. The governor is the first to commit all state agencies to working with the Army Reserve to fill critical shortages, officials said.

"It is my pleasure to add Colorado to the list of employers who will proactively seek to hire and retain Army Reserve soldiers when they return home," Ritter said. "This partnership with the Army Reserve expands the opportunities for the men and women who have made great sacrifices on our behalf. It is one more step towards attempting to repay the debt we owe our brave troops and veterans."

In the end, 11 Denver employers and the state of Colorado agreed to work collaboratively with the Army Reserve to enhance job opportunities for America's soldiers and veterans. The Denver-area employers that signed on include Adecco, BC Services, City of Denver, Cicsco, Front Range Airport, Loomis, NorthGlenn Dodge, Pennica Financial Group, Pepsi Bottling Group and Western Freightways.

The alliances launched under the initiative will help to strengthen the community, support Army Reserve soldiers and their families, and maintain a strong economy, Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz, chief of the Army Reserve, said.

The excitement over the program's success, especially at the height of an economic recession, was clear on the faces of Army Reserve Sgt. Gregory S. Ruske and others who attended the event.

"It just demonstrates how much the public supports the military," said Ruske, who serves with the 96th Regional Readiness Command and received the Silver Star, the Army's second-highest award, for valor while deployed in Afghanistan. "You can't help but smile each time a business signs the agreement. Here we are in a struggling economy, and they're willing to put their support in writing and hire Army Reserve soldiers."

Ruske, a juvenile corrections officer at the Mount View Youth Service Center in Denver, said he has found the tools offered by the EPI invaluable.

"I want to find something in law enforcement, security," said Ruske, 29, the fourth Army Reserve soldier to earn the Silver Star for heroic service since Sept. 11, 2001. "I think it's more suited to my personality, and I like to be more active, not confined to a cubicle."

It's also more suited to the skills he learned while an infantry soldier and complements the bachelor's degree in sociology he earned from Colorado State University.

Employers at the ceremony in Denver seemed to agree as Ruske collected a stack of business cards. But that's not the only help he has received from the initiative. Carl Blum from Tip of the Arrow Foundation has been helping Ruske with his resume and networking.

"There are tools out there to help you in your job search, but EPI is like a power tool -- most of the grunt work is done for you, and you can concentrate on the details," Ruske said.

"It's not like the old days where you had to know someone, or play golf, to get a job," Ruske said. "EPI has created this symbiotic relationship that benefits both the Army Reserve and the employers."

Since its inception in April 2008, nearly 300 public and private employers have joined the initiative, including Fortune 500 corporations, hospitals, industry associations, state agencies and local police departments.

"I'm pleased to officially begin an enduring, strategic partnership with so many of Denver's leading employers and the state of Colorado," Army Maj. Gen. Mari K. Eder, deputy chief of the Army Reserve, said during the ceremony. "I look forward to collaborating with our newest valued partners to achieve mutual goals to attract, develop and retain a quality workforce."

(Army 1st Lt. Olivia Cobiskey serves with the Army Reserve.)

Marines to Test New Expeditionary Vehicle in 2010

By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service

March 27, 2009 - The Marine Corps' first expeditionary fighting vehicles –- 17-passenger armored vehicles -- are slated to be delivered to the Marine Corps for testing in May 2010, the vehicle's program manager said. The Marine Corps' EFV program successfully released a critical design review in the first quarter of this fiscal year, allowing it to go into a second system development and demonstration phase.

"We're currently building seven new prototypes to that new design. Those vehicles are currently going through fabrication and machining the hulls at Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, Ohio. They'll begin assembly this summer," Marine Corps Col. Keith Moore said in a "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable March 25.

"The Marine Corps Operational Test and Evaluation Activity will run the vehicle through 10 to 12 mission-profile scenarios to assess the overall performance, as well as the reliability of the vehicle," Moore added.

An analysis of the system reliability was conducted in December 2008 and it projected a 61 hours mean time between operational mission failures, which is significantly above what the requirements were to continue the program forward, Moore explained.

The reliability testing conducted in December involved an overall reassessing of the total ground vehicle structure for the Marine Corps and a critical design review for the redesigned vehicle.

"We'll go back through a reliability growth program of testing those, identifying additional failure modes, and redesigning components to get them up to the required reliability," Moore said.

A result of limited testing and redesign, the failure of the initial SDD phase prototypes to demonstrate acceptable reliability during the 2006 operational assessment was a significant concern driving the 2007 certification and restructure of the program, officials said. This restructure allowed a second SDD-2 phase to be conducted with an updated series of newly manufactured prototypes.

Moore added that the EFV is a critical element of the national security capability.

"There is no other alternative to providing that capability for less or equal cost," Moore said.

During prototype testing in May next year, the Marine Corps will determine if the vehicle meets their expectations.

"We just need the time to get to when we had planned this next demonstration of capability, and then we can revisit, 'Did it meet the expectations?' If it doesn't meet the expectations, is it because of something that's fixable, or is it because this is just too hard to do?" Moore said.

In response to a question about the need for an amphibious capability, Moore said that from 1982 to 2006, the Marine Corps had been involved in 102 amphibious operations.

"This capability is oftentimes more effective, and serves a larger strategic and operational purpose in the employment of it, but you have to have the credible threat of being able to do it," Moore said.

(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg serves in the Defense Media Activity's Emerging Media directorate.)

Veterans Affairs Honors Military Women of Past, Present

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

March 27, 2009 - The women of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion were honored for their morale-boosting efforts during World War II in a ceremony at the Department of Veterans Affairs here yesterday. Alyce Dixon and Mary Ragland, two former members of the battalion, were on hand to accept the accolades and to set the record straight.

"What a monumental challenge [you'd] taken on. That's the kind of can-do spirit that is the hallmark of the American soldier," said John Gingrich, Veterans Affairs' chief of staff. "You cleared out two years [worth] -- 7 million pieces -- of backlogged mail in just three months."
"It was 90,000 pieces of mail," Dixon quipped from the front row, correcting the number of letters she and the other members of her unit cleared through a temporary post office in Birmingham, England.

Working three shifts, seven days a week, the women of the first all-woman, all African-American battalion, cleared the backlog in just three months before they were moved to France to start the same task all over again. They were given six months to complete the job. Again, they did it in three months.

"The women of the 6888 made tremendous sacrifices and endured many injustices," Lucretia McClenney, director of the Center for Minority Veterans, said. "However, they not only prevailed, but they succeeded in their mission, and they created a positive impact on racial integration in the military.

"Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and especially the women veterans, are honored to salute you, the women veterans of the 6888 Central Postal Directory Battalion, and say thanks for answering our nation's call to serve," she said.

The battalion included 832 enlisted members and 31 officers. It was commanded by Army Maj. Charity Adams Earley who, by the end of the war, was the highest-ranking African-American woman in the military.

The ceremony also included the presentation of a painting honoring women veterans to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Though Gingrich said it captures the "heart and spirit of the woman veteran," its creator, Nancy E. Rhodes, is, ironically, a civilian.

The artwork, titled "Women in the Military," holds the distinction of being the nation's first large-scale painting solely dedicated to all women in the military, past, present and future, to be permanently installed in a federal building.

The painting serves to honor the sacrifices generations of women have made for their country.

"Before I started this important work, and especially because I wasn't a veteran, I felt it was essential to interview many veterans, both active and retired," Rhodes said. "After listening to the accounts of veterans spanning World War II up until the Gulf War, I realized that while many women had positive experiences in the military, there were far too many others who were not treated with the dignity and respect they deserved.

"Even sadder, many of these women, especially some of our older veterans, didn't think that they deserved recognition either," she added. "It was astonishing to me that these veterans didn't even know that they could apply for veterans benefits. They didn't consider themselves to be real veterans like the men, even after enlisting and giving up four years of their lives to serve."

Rhodes, born in Philadelphia, has earned degrees from both the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York and Temple University in her hometown. She and her family are currently living in East Lansing, Mich., where she is on the faculty at Lansing Community College.

Congress passed a resolution declaring March Women's History Month in 1981 as an outgrowth of the celebration of Women's History Week, which included International Woman's Day.