Military News

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Officials Dedicate Humanitarian Relief Corridor in Pentagon

By John Valceanu
American Forces Press Service

May 19, 2009 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates helped to dedicate a Pentagon corridor here today that recognizes the efforts of America's men and women in uniform to bring hope to people in need of help around the world. The "Humanitarian Relief Efforts at Home and Abroad" corridor has exhibits highlighting 27 major events, from the late 1940s to the present day, in which Defense Department personnel brought aid and comfort to those in need.

"The U.S. military is the greatest fighting force in the world – but there is another side to what they do," Gates said. "That side is represented in this exhibit. The suffering caused by war and natural disaster prompts a compassionate nation to respond."

The exhibit's displays include photographs from the operations, written words explaining what happened, and three-dimensional objects such as simulated mud, snow, debris, trees and containers with food and supplies.

"These vivid displays take us around the world, and back in time, to understand more about the relief operations of our military," Gates said. "Some of these missions of mercy have been carried out on foreign soil, others here in the United States. Some are legendary; many more deserve to be."

Gates mentioned the 462-day Berlin Airlift in 1948-49, in which U.S. and allied forces dropped food and supplies to a city blockaded by the Soviet Union. Many Berliners' lives may have been saved by the U.S. forces' actions, and 31 American servicemen gave their lives in the process.

Gates also spoke about the help U.S. forces provided Hungarians fleeing Soviet forces in 1956. He noted that the military has been increasingly involved in different types of humanitarian operations and has become more active in delivering humanitarian aid during disasters around the world.

"The scale and scope of these missions has widened over the decades," Gates said. "Our servicemen and women have responded to natural disasters on our own shores, from forest fires and blizzards to Hurricane Katrina, and have gone to every corner of the globe in the wake of tsunamis, earthquakes, mudslides and floods."

The secretary pointed out that military humanitarian operations are part of a broader effort that requires cooperation with other branches of government.

"In all of these missions, the military plays an important role – not necessarily in the lead, but in support of and partnership with the civilian agencies of our government," Gates said. "Today's broad range of activities requires close cooperation between civil and military institutions, whether we are talking about a hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, which has provided health care to thousands of people in Latin America and the Caribbean, or civil affairs teams in eastern Africa."

While the military's "fancy technology and lift capability" help to make humanitarian operations possible, Gates credited the men and women in uniform and "their desire to make something good and decent happen, even amid situations of chaos and destruction" for also helping to accomplish the missions.

As an example of this desire to help people, Gates pointed to Air Force Col. Gail S. Halvorsen, who earned worldwide acclaim as the "Candy Bomber" during the Berlin Airlift. While flying missions during the airlift, Halvorsen began dropping chocolate bars with tiny parachutes to Berlin's children. His actions earned him the love and gratitude of Berliners and the acclaim of people in the United States and throughout the free world.

Halvorsen was on hand to help to dedicate the corridor, and he also spoke during the ceremony. He reminisced about his experiences and how he was inspired by some German children he met at the Berlin fence in 1948 who told him, "Someday, we'll have enough to eat. But if we lose our freedom, we'll never have it back."

Feeling the need to do something extra to help Berlin's children, Halvorsen began dropping candy to them, and his deeds earned him his Candy Bomber nickname, along with others such as "Chocolate Pilot" and "Uncle Wiggly Wings."

Halvorsen spoke of a visit back to Europe in 1998, when he was approached by a man who remembered being a boy in Berlin and having one of the chocolates drop out of the clouds on a parachute. "It wasn't the chocolate that was important," the man told Halvorsen. "What was important was that someone in America knew that I was in trouble. Somebody cared. ... I can live on thin rations, but not without hope. Without hope, the soul dies."

Halvorsen said the efforts of those who took part in the Berlin airlift not only resulted in gaining the gratitude of the German people, but also helped to fulfill the U.S. forces who had an opportunity to be of service to others and put service before themselves.

"That's what this wall is; that's what this exhibit is," Halvorsen said. "It's service before self, and we see that today in our men and women serving right now."

In addition to Gates and Halvorsen, Michael L. Rhodes, acting director of administration and management in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, spoke during the ceremony.

"This is truly a special day," he said. "It's a day when we pay tribute to the men and women who have carried out the mission of the department during times of need. These men and women have displayed good will assisting civilians not only in our great nation but around the world."

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also attended the ceremony. Rumsfeld had the initial idea for the corridor in November 2005.

Students Find Connection to Central Asia Through Book, Army Colonel

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

, May 19, 2009 - In a quest to expand their understanding of the world they live in, a group of California high school seniors turned away from their textbooks to indulge in "Three Cups of Tea" and a video conference with an Army colonel. Reading "Three Cups of Tea," which tells of author Greg Mortenson's dedication to bringing education to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was part of what officials at Olympian High School in Chula Vista, Calif., call the Senior Common Experience. Every senior read the book in English class and discussed it in other classes.

"Reading the book for the Olympian Senior Common Experience was designed to help develop a spirit of giving and a greater sense of global awareness among our seniors," said Steve Rodriguez, one of the school's English teachers. "The senior class has tackled the project with great enthusiasm throughout the year."

One part of the project was an ongoing effort to raise $12,000, the amount needed for Mortenson's Central Asia Institute to build a school in Afghanistan. The students raised $3,000 toward that goal.

The check will be presented and students will get to show off other book-related special projects they've been working on all year when the project culminates tomorrow night with the Senior Showcase. Before making their presentations, however, there was one final opportunity yesterday to gather as much first-hand knowledge as possible in a video conference with Army Col. Christopher Kolenda.

Kolenda was a task force commander in Afghanistan from May 2007 through July 2008. He read the book on his wife's suggestion. Kolenda said he'd seen much of what Mortenson details in the book firsthand. He was so impressed that he contacted the Central Asia Institute, never expecting to hear back, he told the students during the video conference.

"A couple weeks later, I got a note back from Greg Mortenson," Kolenda said. "We began a dialogue which resulted in two schools being constructed while I was there, and then he's got two more schools going into that area right now."

That area is the difficult terrain of the Kush Mountains, a rural part of Afghanistan, about 150 miles north of Jalalabad near the Pakistan border.

"There were no paved roads, no cell phones, no flush toilets, no running water, no telephones, no television, very little electricity and no health care system," he told the students. "Things that we take for granted in terms of school buildings with great libraries and computers and teachers, they just didn't have that."

More than 90 percent of the schools in the area of about 190,000 people were open-air schools, which meant they had class outside, underneath a tree, in the open air or underneath a tarp, he added.

The situation was compounded by a lack of school supplies. Teachers were writing on a single chalkboard propped against a tree or even in the dirt, he said.

But this also gave Kolenda and his soldiers a means to reach out and build bridges. The children wanted to go to school, and the village elders wanted to rebuild their communities.

"We recognize that [with] the past 30 years of warfare, education has really suffered in Afghanistan," he said. "It's part of the reason why you have radicalism, why you have insurgency in that area.

"I'm convinced that an educated society tends to be more peaceful," Kolenda added. "Educated young men tend not to resort to violence to solve problems. Communities that educate their women tend to have lower infant mortality [and] tend to be more peaceful societies."

To work toward that goal, Kolenda first reached out to the elders in the village of Saw. In the summer of 2007, it had been a hostile village where attacks against coalition forces were originating.

"The Afghan army went to the village of Saw and met with the elders and they came back and told me how the elders really wanted schools [and] really wanted an education for their children," he said.

On the next visit to the village, the Afghan army rolled in with truckloads of school supplies. The elders then presented Kolenda with 100 thank you notes from the children for the supplies. They also reiterated how important educating their children was and that they lacked a school, he said. So when Mortenson asked Kolenda for possible locations to build a school, Kolenda had no trouble answering the question.

One of the neat things about Mortenson's schools is that the local people are in charge, he added.

Too often, he explained, aid organizations will plop down a structure using outside labor and without really coordinating with the local people. "In a place like Afghanistan," he said, "where being able to protect your village and having control of your village [is important], a lot of [people] will resent that outside effort at development.

"The Afghans have a saying: 'If you sweat for it, you will protect it,'" he added.

When local residents make it their project, the villages feel a great sense of ownership, he said. And in every village where Mortenson has built a school, he added, violence has decreased, because development of the villages beginning with the schools creates a new sense of hope.

Before, the elders had lost credibility because they couldn't bring jobs, money and services to their villages. The radicals, however, could bring in money. But they also brought violence.

"By working together with the elders and bringing development and jobs and benefits to the village, the elders began to [regain] credibility in the eyes of their people," Kolenda said. "A young man could now be presented with a choice: you can make money by building your community, or you can make money by destroying it."

More often than not, they chose the first option, he added. These gains then allowed Kolenda and his team to work with the elders on security and governance issues.

What Kolenda's team and Mortenson helped the villagers achieve by reaching out and helping them build schools was hope for a brighter future.

"Education is one of those key things ... that brings a community together where the elders can pass a brighter future to their children and grandchildren," Kolenda said.

Rodriguez said he is proud of his advanced-placement English students who kept Kolenda hopping with an hour's worth of meticulous questions.

"I thought my students did a great job this past week using their intellectual curiosity and analysis skills to develop questions for the video conference," he said. "And I thought they demonstrated poise during the actual video conference."

Joint Chiefs Chairman Lists Top Priorities

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

May 19, 2009 - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff identified increasing Middle East security, revitalizing U.S. forces and focusing on global challenges as his top priorities in remarks at the Brookings Institution here yesterday. Detailing his priority list, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen defined the broader Middle East as stretching from Lebanon to Iran and even including parts of South Asia.

Mullen cited the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy President Barack Obama's administration unveiled in March as an example of the regional approach that's needed. "Certainly, our president and the new administration has put together a comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan," he said. "And I felt this was vital -- to focus on the region, not just focus on one country or the other but, in fact, have a comprehensive strategy for the entire region."

The military contribution to security is necessary, Mullen said, but not sufficient. He emphasized the need for increased presence of nonmilitary U.S. agencies, and he called for better resourcing of the State Department and the rest of the American government, which he characterized as increasingly "expeditionary."

"I think it's an absolute priority that we resource our State Department and other agencies to do this, not just for the near term -- and we clearly need those resources in Afghanistan -- but also for the long term," he said.

The chairman said that in Iraq – where roughly 140,000 U.S. troops are deployed – the situation is "fragile" as forces began to draw down in accordance with agreements between Washington and Baghdad.

"And at the same time, we see the strategic growth of required forces in Afghanistan and, again, a focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan," he said. Mullen added that like Iraq, security in Afghanistan will depend on its own national security forces gaining momentum and responsibility.

"So [there is a] heavy focus, obviously, in my life and with my staff, in engagement on the broader Middle East. But a lot of what's going on there also applies to other parts of the world," he said.

Another of Mullen's priorities – focusing on the health of U.S. forces – also occupies much of his time, he said.

"There's a resilience in that force, a skip in their step, a capability that is truly extraordinary in its evolution, and really revolution, to become what I believe is the best counterinsurgency force in the world, and in doing so has set a standard about how quickly we can change, given the strategy is put in the right place," he said.

But despite their counterinsurgency progress in Iraq, he said, the U.S. military is under the strain of multiple deployments and combat stress. He said both the Army and Marine Corps are at their newly increased end strength, but that it will take some time before new troops are trained and can relieve current forces.

"Over the next 18 to 24 months, that stress is going to continue," he said. "And then after that, I can start to see a time where dwell time [at home stations between deployments] will increase, and we can start to bring the pressure down, based on what I understand right now."

The chairman also stressed the need to take care of injured troops – including those suffering from traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress -- and their families, and to care for the spouses and children of those killed.

"And when I say, 'take care of them,' I really mean take care of them for the rest of their lives," he said. "These are young people who have gone out, done what our country has asked them to do, and they should be well taken care of, not just by the Department of Defense or [Veterans Affairs], but by America -- communities throughout the land, reaching out to these young people, whose dreams haven't changed.

"They want their kids to go to school. They'd like to go to school. And they'd like to own a piece of the rock," he continued. "It's just the path has been altered. And as far as I'm concerned, we owe them that debt."

Mullen said the Defense Department budget should reflect its care for the people who commit to military service.

"We're going through a big debate right now about systems, major acquisition programs, what we should buy for the future," he said. "What we should buy for the future is to make sure we get it right for our people. That's health care, that's housing, that's benefits, that's the compensation package, that's bonuses -- all those kinds of things."

Mullen said his other priority is to make sure the United States is adequately engaged in parts of the world that don't fall under the U.S. Central Command, where American forces are engaged in both Iraq in Afghanistan.

"It's not a small globe," he said. "There are challenges that exist throughout the world, and [I'm] making sure right now, with so many of my forces focused in the Central Command area, that I have enough forces that are engaged in other parts of the world."

The chairman underscored how interwoven the world is – as evidenced by the global financial crisis – and said countries are "very dependent on each other."

"Stability is a key for the future in that regard," he said. "And along those lines, that stability -- again, not unlike Iraq and not unlike Afghanistan -- that stability is going to be a necessary condition, but not sufficient, because we need education development, we need economic development, we need good governance. Those are also key to progress, not [only] in the current conflicts, but progress in the future as well."

America Needs Service, Petraeus Tells VMI Grads

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

May 19, 2009 - The commander of U.S. Central Command told graduates of the Virginia Military Institute during their commencement ceremony yesterday that America needs their service. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus told the 249 graduates to recall the wisdom of President Theodore Roosevelt, who said that "far and away, the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing."

A total of 131 graduates in the class were commissioned into the various services. Many, undoubtedly, will serve in U.S. Central Command. Petraeus spoke before more than 5,000 "keydets" and family members at Cameron Hall on campus.

"In choosing to attend VMI, you have demonstrated a clear understanding of the concept of work that is worth doing," the general said. "Such work is ... characterized by commitment to something larger than self, to a greater good, to the service of others."

This has been the hallmark of graduates since the school's founding in 1839. "I would submit that now more than ever, our nation and our world need leaders like those developed here — disciplined, intelligent, innovative and courageous leaders who are committed to service," he said. "Whether in the deserts of Iraq or the mountains of Afghanistan, in the commercial sector or in the domestic political arena, there is much work worth doing."

Petraeus said the graduates will face frustrations as they move to new fields. "To the new lieutenants in this graduating class: you've chosen a unique and wonderful profession, but one in which, again, few tasks are ever simple," he said. "The frustration of many of the situations with which leaders deal in combat is real and constant.

"For those who will serve in other ways, the challenges will be no less real," he added, "even though they may be found not on a battlefield, but in a boardroom or a lab, a town hall meeting or a classroom."

No matter where the graduates go, the general said, the values they have learned at VMI will "prompt you to be relentless and determined in the pursuit of worthwhile work."

Season Approaches for Severe Weather Awareness

By Army Spc. John Crosby
Special to American Forces Press Service

May 19, 2009 - As tornado season approaches it is time to be more aware of the possible dangers these violent storms can pose. More than 3,500 people were on this installation in Edinburgh, Ind., when a tornado struck the camp in June. National Weather Service officials said wind gusts reached upward of 135 miles an hour. The damage extended to military and civilian vehicles, power and gas lines, fences and more than 50 buildings.

The tornado caused about $50 million in damage, including the cost of repairs and construction.

The damage from tornadoes comes from the strong winds they contain. It is generally believed that the most violent tornadoes can produce wind speeds of up to 300 mph, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Wind speeds that high can cause automobiles to become airborne, rip ordinary homes to shreds and turn broken glass and other debris into lethal missiles.

Despite all of the damage and devastation here, the tornado caused no injuries. This success can be directly credited to the Camp Atterbury command and the 205th Infantry Brigade, officials said.

Army Col. Barry Richmond and Army Col. Christopher M. Holden -- the post and 205th Infantry Brigade commanders, respectively, when the tornado struck -- spent hours before the storm preparing for the worst by adjusting training and moving servicemembers to safe areas, according to a news article written after the tornado by Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Bell, a public affairs soldier here.

"We mitigated the effects of the thunderstorm by finishing up our outside transportation training early," Holden said. "We got [servicemembers] in hardstand buildings prior to the storms due to the installation's severe storm warnings, which were truly the primary reason we were able to successfully prevent any injuries."

Severe weather advisories come in two categories: watches and warnings. A tornado watch means that conditions are favorable for tornadoes to form. A tornado warning means that one has been spotted or computers have indicated rotation in the storm.

Beyond warnings issued via radio, television and disaster sirens, there are several things to look for. Be prepared to take shelter immediately. Be aware of dark, often greenish sky and large hail or a large, dark, low-lying cloud, especially if there is rotation accompanied by a loud roar, similar to a freight train.

In a structured building such as a brick-walled barracks, a hospital, a school or a shopping center, go to a pre-designated shelter area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar or the lowest building level if a tornado approaches. If there is no basement, go to the center of an interior hallway or closet or a room on the lowest level away from corners, windows, doors, and outside walls. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside.

If there is no hallway or closet, get under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head and neck. Do not open windows.

If you are in a vehicle, trailer or mobile home, get out immediately and go to the lowest floor of a sturdy, nearby building or a storm shelter. Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes. If there are no nearby structures that will provide good cover from flying debris, lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands.

Be aware of the potential for flooding. Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location. Never try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas in a car or truck. Instead, leave the vehicle immediately for safe shelter and watch out for flying debris.

In the event of a tornado, said Army Maj. Kenneth Knight, installation safety and occupational health director here, commanders and soldiers should think about accountability and moving to a safer location, but only after a safe amount of time, which is about 30 to 45 minutes after a storm.

"Accountability needs to be aggressive," he said. "All ... leaders must have the whereabouts of each individual soldier and report up their proper chains."

Though last year's storm reinforced safety measure, Knight said, "there are always things we can improve on."

"Everybody is more aware now," he said. "The more knowledge we have, the more appropriate action can be taken to prevent loss of life while training here so units can deploy with maximum fighting capacity downrange."

(Army Spc. John Crosby serves in the 205th Infantry Brigade public affairs office.)