Military News

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The AP reports useless facts


The AP reports that a major offensive is underway in Helmand province, Afghanistan. The AP does a reasonably good job of informing the reader as to the situation, letting him know that the offensive is called 'Strike of the Sword', is being conducted by Marines and Afghan Army troops, and is taking place in a Taliban stronghold.

That said, instead of with even more important facts, such as which units are involved, the AP provides us with facts unimportant to the story. The war is called 'once forgotten' which must be news to the American, Canadian, and British troops which took part in the bloody campaigns of 2005 and 2006, Operation Medusa for instance. The AP lets us know that the planned level of 68,000 troops in Afghanistan is still less than half of the number in Iraq. We are also told that there is 'no time table for withdrawal' as if Lincoln set one for Sherman's march to the Sea.
One of the reporters is Lara Jakes. A quick google search finds no Lara Jakes, but a Lara Jakes Jordon, who also writes for the AP. Has she been through a divorce? More likely she dropped the Jordan from her name because it is the surname of her husband, Jim Jordan, a Democrat strategist. The same search reveals Lara Jakes Jordon has in the past been singled out by the conservative News Busters, for problems with her reporting. Here's another critique again from a conservative outfit, World Net Daily.
Incidentally, another quick search reveals the American unit involved to be the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. an AP update says 650 Afghan troops are involved most likelythe commando Kandak either from the 3rd Brigade, or attached to the 205th Corps. The Washington Post new, and saw fit to report it. Why not Ms. Jakes?
Will's book about the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment and the Battle of 73 Easting, is called A Line Through the Desert. It may be purchased at Amazon.

DoD Announces New Defense Policy Board Members

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates today announced the following new members to the Defense Policy Board: Gen. (Ret) Larry Welch, former Air Force chief of staff ; Stephen Biddle, Council on Foreign Relations; Richard Danzig, former secretary of the Navy; Robert Gallucci, former assistant secretary of state; Chuck Hagel, former senator from Nebraska; Robert D. Kaplan, Center for a New American Security; Andrew Krepinevich, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments; Rudy deLeon, former deputy secretary of defense; John Nagl, Center for a New American Security; Sarah Sewall, Harvard University; Wendy Sherman, former special advisor to the President.

These members join the following returning members: John Hamre, chairman; Harold Brown; Adm. (Ret) Vern Clark; J.D. Crouch; Fred Ikle; Gen. (Ret) Jack Keane; Henry Kissinger; Dave McCurdy; Frank Miller; William Perry; James Schlesinger; Marin Strmecki; Vin Weber; Gen. (Ret) Pete Pace.

The Defense Policy Board provides the secretary, deputy secretary and under secretary for policy with independent, informed advice and opinion concerning matters of defense policy.

MILITARY CONTRACTS July 1, 2009

DEFENSE LOGISTICS AGENCY
TW Metals, Inc., Carol Stream, Ill., is being awarded a maximum $96,000,000 fixed price with economic price adjustment contract to be a metals prime vendor for the northeast region of the United States. Other locations of performance are Exton, Pa., and various other locations. Using services are Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Federal Civilian Agencies. There were four proposals originally solicited with four responses. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract has a two-year base and three possible one-year options. The date of performance completion is June 30, 2011. The contracting activity is the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pa., (SPM8EG-09-D-0009).

Tennessee Apparel Corp.,* Tullahoma, Tenn., is being awarded a maximum $22,101,000 firm fixed price, total set aside contract, indefinite quantity and indefinite delivery for camouflage parkas. Other locations of performance are Waynesboro, Tenn., Sparta, Tenn., and Whitwell, Tenn. Using service is the Army. The proposal was originally Web solicited with five responses. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The date of performance completion is Oct. 30, 2010. The contracting activity is the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pa., (SPM1C1-09-D-1067).

AIR FORCE
McDonnell Douglas Corp., a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Boeing Company, Long Beach, Calif., is being awarded a $46,070,000 contract modification for the C-17 Globemaster III Sustainment Partnership contract to increase funding for FY07 Material Improvement Projects for the USAF. At this time, the entire amount has been obligated. MSW/516 AESG/PK, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the contracting activity (FA8614-04-C-2004).

Fatigue Technology Inc., Seattle, Wash., is being awarded a $25,000,000, contract for Wing Pylon Rib Repair for the F-16 aircraft. At this time, no funds have been obligated. 508th ACSG/PK, Hill Air Force Base is the contracting activity (FA8232-09-D-0001).

ITT Corporation, EDO Defense Systems, Amityville, N.Y., is being award a $19,146,918 contract action that will repair the AN/ALQ-161A Radio Frequency Surveillance/Electronic Countermeasures System components; 255 repair contract line items, one contract line item for material, and one contract line item for travel. At this time no funds have been obligated. Warner Robins – Air Logistics Center, Robins AIR Force Base, Ga., is the contracting activity (FA8522-09-D-0006).

Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company-Marietta, Marietta, Ga., is being awarded a $8,000,000 contract for the C-5 repairs/maintenance beyond the capability of the using command. At this time, no funds have been obligated. 330th Aircraft Sustainment Wing, Robins Air Force Base is the contracting activity (FA8525-09-D-0002).

NAVY
DCK North America, LLC, Large, Pa., is being awarded a $37,937,937 firm-fixed-price contract for the design and construction of an Operational Training Facility for Multi-Mission Aircraft (MMA/P-8A) at Naval Air Station Jacksonville. The work to be performed provides for a facility that includes space for 10 Operational Flight Trainers (OFT), eight Weapons Tactics Trainers, four Part Task Trainers, support equipment, bridge cranes over the OFT devices, computer based training stations, internal and external network communication equipment, training media storage, maintenance support shops, administrative offices, student study rooms, briefing areas, communications closets, and Secure Compartmented Information Facilities. Work will be performed in Jacksonville, Fla., and is expected to be completed by June 2011. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via the Navy Electronic Commerce Online website, with 21 proposals received in Phase I and seven Phase I offerors selected to proceed to Phase II. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Southeast, Jacksonville, Fla., is the contracting activity (N69450-09-C-1257).

Honeywell International, Inc., Defense and Space Electronic Systems, Albuquerque, N.M., is being awarded a $26,341,552 modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed price contract (N00019-07-C-0014) to exercise an option for the full-rate production of 498 Advanced Multi-Purpose Displays (AMPD) for Lot 33 F/A-18F and EA/-18G aircraft, and retrofit of Lot 26-28 F/A-18E/F and E/A-18G aircraft for the U.S. Navy (422 units) and the Government of Australia (76 units). Units being procured for the U.S. Navy include 167 five-by-five inch forward; 134 five-by-five inch aft; 64 eight-by-ten inch AMPDs and 57 eight-by-ten inch AMPD High Resolution Recorder Interface kits to upgrade legacy displays with higher resolution capability. Units being procured for the Government of Australia include 30 five-by-five inch forward; 30 five-by-five inch aft; and 16 eight-by-ten inch AMPDs. This contract combines purchases for the U.S. Navy ($21,822,180; 82.8 percent) and the Government of Australia ($4,519,372; 17.2 percent) under the Foreign Military Sales Program. Work will be performed in Albuquerque, N.M., and is expected to be completed in December 2010. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity.

FGM, Reston, Va., is being awarded a potential $21,426,600 indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for Net-Enabled Command Capability (NECC) systems engineering support for the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). NECC provides seamless integration of information for the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, combatant commanders, and the military services, ensuring synchronized joint and multinational operations, as well as joint Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence to support the entire force projection cycle. NECC support services include technical operations, integrated logistics, test and evaluation, training, modeling and simulation, security engineering, and other related systems engineering support. This contract is one of three contracts awarded: all awardees will compete for task orders during the ordering period. This two-year contract includes one three-year option period which, if exercised, would bring the potential, cumulative value of the contract to $60,264,055. Work will be performed at DISA locations in the Washington, D.C. area, and work is expected to be completed June 30, 2011. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via publication on the Federal Business Opportunities website and posting to the SPAWAR e-Commerce Central website, with three viable offers received. The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific) is the contracting activity (N66001-09-D-0114).

Booz Allen Hamilton, McLean, Va., is being awarded a potential $20,414,156 indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for Net-Enabled Command Capability (NECC) systems engineering support for the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). NECC provides seamless integration of information for the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, combatant commanders, and the military services, ensuring synchronized joint and multinational operations, as well as joint Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence (C4I) to support the entire force projection cycle. NECC support services include technical operations, integrated logistics, test and evaluation, training, modeling and simulation, security engineering, and other related systems engineering support. This contract is one of three contracts awarded: all awardees will compete for task orders during the ordering period. This two-year contract includes one three-year option period which, if exercised, would bring the potential, cumulative value of the contract to $56,729,467. Work will be performed at DISA locations in the Washington, D.C. area, and work is expected to be completed June 30, 2011. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via publication on the Federal Business Opportunities website and posting to the SPAWAR e-Commerce Central website, with three viable offers received. The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific) is the contracting activity (N66001-09-D-0113).

Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), San Diego, Calif., is being awarded a potential $20,139,580 indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for Net-Enabled Command Capability (NECC) systems engineering support for the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). NECC provides seamless integration of information for the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, combatant commanders, and the military services, ensuring synchronized joint and multinational operations, as well as joint Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence (C4I) to support the entire force projection cycle. NECC support services include technical operations, integrated logistics, test and evaluation, training, modeling and simulation, security engineering, and other related systems engineering support. This contract is one of three contracts awarded: all awardees will compete for task orders during the ordering period. This two-year contract includes one three-year option period which, if exercised, would bring the potential, cumulative value of the contract to $55,419,565. Work will be performed at DISA locations in the Washington, D.C. area, and work is expected to be completed June 30, 2011. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via publication on the Federal Business Opportunities website and posting to the SPAWAR e-Commerce Central website, with three viable offers received. The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific) is the contracting activity (N66001-09-D-0115).

Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding Inc., Newport News, Va., is being awarded a $9,156,317 modification to previously awarded contract (N00024-06-C-2104) for research and development of advanced submarine technologies for current and future submarine platforms. The contract provides for provision of studies to support the manufacturability, maintainability, producibility, reliability, manning, survivability, hull integrity, performance, structural, weight/margin, stability, arrangements, machinery systems, acoustics, hydrodynamics, ship control, logistics, human factors, materials, weapons handling and stowage, submarine safety, and affordability of current and future submarine platforms. The contract also provides for engineering and technical support for Research and Development efforts associated with designing a future undersea superiority alternative to the reduced submarine program. Focus is on Hull, Mechanical, and Electrical systems, but may also involve C4I and non-propulsion electronic systems. Work will be performed in Newport News, Va., and is expected to be completed by September 2010. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

Northrop Grumman Corp., Integrated Systems, Bethpage, N.Y., is being awarded a $6,359,983 modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-incentive-fee contract (N00019-03-C-0057) for the procurement of NP2000-3 Propellar Systems for three E-2D Advanced Hawkeye Pilot Production Aircraft, and associated spares. Work will be performed in Windsor Locks, Conn., (80 percent) and Bethpage, N.Y., (20 percent), and is expected to be completed in October 2010. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity.

McDonnell Douglas Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of The Boeing Co., St. Louis, Mo., was awarded a $27,856,053 modification on June 30, 2009, to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract (N00019-09-C-0086) for additional time-critical parts in support of EA-18G Full Rate Production Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA) system. Work will be performed in St. Louis, Mo., and is expected to be completed in September 2009. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity.

Correction: The contract awarded June 30, 2009, to DynCorp International LLC, Fort Worth, Texas, (N62742-08-C-1115) should have read that the current total contract amount after exercise of the option would be $205,996,058.

Correction: Contract awarded June 30, 2009, to Douglas E. Barnhart, Inc., San Diego, Calif., (N62473-08-D-8608) should have stated the award amount as $10, 122,318.

Wounded Warrior Diaries: Family Heals Together, Stays Together

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

July 1, 2009 - A retired Army captain who survived third-degree burns over 30 percent of his body while stationed in Iraq believes that through family, faith and a lot of hard work, anything can be overcome. Capt. Alvin Eugene Shell Jr., who served with the 16th Military Police Brigade, credits his wife, Danielle, his three sons, his mother and father, and his wife's parents for helping him recover. They are his heroes.

"You can't define a hero by one act," Shell said. "A hero is a person that laces up his shoelaces every single day and doesn't ask to be recognized, doesn't ask for the accolades, or the rewards, or anything. They do it because of who they are."

Shell originally served as an enlisted soldier and later received his commission through Officer Candidate School. When he arrived in Iraq, he endured some of the toughest battles of the war, including the battle of Fallujah, before being injured.

"When we went to Fallujah, we all did a fair share of fighting," Shell recalled. "Fallujah was the toughest time. And if Fallujah didn't get me, nothing would get me." Or so he thought.

After making it through the battle of Fallujah, Shell's company was sent on a well-earned reprieve to Camp Victory in Baghdad.

"The entire company and platoon made it through pretty well; we didn't have any casualties, and we did an awesome job," he said. "After those four months in Fallujah, they actually sent us in Camp Victory. And to us, it was like a vacation, [yet] that was actually where I happened to get hurt out on a patrol."

Shell recalled that he wasn't supposed to be on patrol the evening he was injured. After agreeing to take his counterpart's patrol, he assumed the duties of the watch officer.

During the patrol, Shell's battle buddy, Staff Sgt. Wesley Spaid, told him he had a sense that something bad would occur. As soon as he said it, a semi truck in the convoy ran over an improvised explosive device, spilling diesel fuel on the road, Shell recalled.

"The shrapnel actually ripped through the gas tank, and it spilled the gasoline all the way down the [military supply route]," he said. "The truck was immobilized. The convoy still had to keep going, and if you know anything about being hit, you ride until the wheels fall off."

Shell and his crew quickly removed the driver from the burning truck and tried to hook a winch from their vehicle to remove the truck from the road to allow the convoy to pass through.

"You have to also imagine that the gas was still running out of this truck as we are pulling it off, and right when they got the winch hooked up, a [rocket propelled grenade] came over my left shoulder," he said. "I could feel the heat from it, and it hit a Humvee, and just a spark from the RPG ignited the road. The entire road caught on fire."

The kick from the RPG propelled him out of the fire a few yards away. After regaining consciousness, Shell recalled, he looked to the road and saw a few people running around, on fire.

"I remember the gas still pouring down, and I remember the fire almost chasing the gasoline down the MSR," he said. "I remember looking through the fire and remember seeing Sergeant Spaid on fire. ... As I saw the gas coming my way, I jumped back on the MSR, and ran through the gas and the fire."

Shell said he went to rescue his sergeant, who was confused and believed he had little hope, and asked Shell to shoot him.

"I yelled at him and said if I would have shot you, I would have done it over there [out of the fire]," he said.

Shell tried everything to extinguish the fire on Spaid, rolling him on the ground and covering him with dirt until the sergeant was able to retreat from the fire. Meanwhile, Shell realized that he, too, was on fire after becoming soaked with diesel fuel.

"I had to make a choice," he said. "I ... put my left hand on my face and my right hand on my rifle, and when I ran through, I lit up like a Christmas tree because I was pretty much soaked in the diesel fuel from my boots to my pants. And when I ran through the other side of the fire, I lit up. And I just remember being on fire, and I rolled and couldn't get the fire out. I remember running to the vehicle to get the fire extinguisher."

While looking for a fire extinguisher, Shell saw members of his company returning incoming fire. Approaching the lead vehicle, and with precious seconds ticking away as he searched for something to put out the flames, he realized the extinguishers had been used on a mission at least a week prior. As he tore the burning clothing off his body, he knew he had to put the flames out. He saw a ditch, jumped in, and extinguished the flames.

Climbing out of the ditch, Shell didn't immediately notice his injuries; his concern was his missing weapon.

"I remember when I got out of the ditch, I still thought I had my weapon in my hand," he said. "I looked down, but my weapon wasn't there. It got so hot that it melted the skin in my hand, and my weapon fell on the ground."

Shell continued to look for his weapon and told his company that no one would leave until 100 percent weapon accountability was performed.

After accounting for all the weapons, Shell and two others injured during the attack were taken back to Camp Victory. During the ride, an officer told him he was a hero. Shell simply replied that "a hero is a sandwich."

"I did anything any other paratrooper would do," he said.

Within a few days, he was sent to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where he remained in a medical-induced coma for a week. He was then transferred to the burn unit at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where his family was waiting for him.

Shell would endure 18 months of rehabilitation and therapy, and more than 30 surgeries. During this time, he relied heavily on his parents, friends and wife.

"My father retired and actually came up and lived with me when I got hurt; he was there constantly," Shell said. "My wife was there constantly. They pretty much moved to Texas and took care of me 24 hours a day.

"I think my family and my friends were pivotal," he continued. "I couldn't have recovered to the point I am right now. I think I would have healed -- my wounds would have healed and scabbed over -- but when you talk about actual recovery or you reach a point of wellness, I don't think I would be that person today."

He said all wounded warriors need someone to bounce their anger off of and properly manage all the complex emotions they have to sort through during the long road of recovery.

Shell said many families have to give up their lives to take care of their wounded soldier.

"They are taking themselves out of what they have done all of their lives, the jobs that they have, to say that they will give all that up to take care of their soldier," he said. He understands the personal sacrifices his wife and parents made. When Shell was injured, he said, his wife took care of their children – ages 6, 9 and 9 months – "and a husband that couldn't feed himself."

"I admire my wife, because she is tough as nails," he said.

Danielle Shell's strength and positive attitude helped her husband learn to walk again. "I would try to be there from when he woke up for breakfast and be there until dinner," she said.

Through nearly five years of recovery, she added, they have come through a more united and connected family.

"As far as the family goes, I think it helped," she said. "We appreciate each other more, and he could have easily died that day. I appreciate him more for the little things he does."

Despite qualifying for 100 percent disability, Shell said, he believes having a purpose every day also assists in the healing process. So, as he continues working 50 to 60 hours a week at his job with the Homeland Security Department, he counts his blessings every day, he said, thankful for his wife, three sons, parents and parents-in-law.

After almost five years, Shell's recovery continues. He will require at least two more surgeries on his right hand, and he may need physical therapy for the rest of his life.

"I don't think that it is in me to accept my 100 percent and not go to work," he said. "I could have accepted that 100 percent disability check, and my wife would have gone to work and would have never complained, but my parents didn't teach me any other way but to work."

(This is the 10th installment of the Wounded Warrior Diaries series. Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg serves in the Defense Media Activity's the emerging media directorate.)

Face of Defense: Soldier Hopes His Story Instills Sense of Reality

By Army Capt. Joseph Sanfilippo
Special to American Forces Press Service

July 1, 2009 - Even as Army Staff Sgt. Conrad Begaye relived the firefight that took the lives of his fellow soldiers, and even as he was awarded the military's third-highest honor for valor yesterday, his thoughts were on his comrades. Begaye, a Navajo from Black Canyon City, Ariz., said he wants the story of his actions in Afghanistan to help younger soldiers understand the importance of training, leadership and motivation. For troops eager to see combat, he said, he hopes his story instills a sense of the reality of war.

"It should open their eyes. A firefight is a life-altering experience - one that I'm still living through," Begaye said following a June 30 ceremony here in which he received the Silver Star. "Soldiers should understand ... this is real life, and people do die."

On Nov. 9, 2007, Begaye, an Airborne Ranger with the 503rd Infantry Regiment's 2nd Battalion, was part of a unit that had just met with local leaders in Afghanistan's Nuristan province. They were hiking along rugged terrain when his squad, his platoon's headquarters sections and a squad of Afghan soldiers began taking fire from enemy positions above.

Pinned down at first, Begaye was struck in the arm while returning fire and directing his men. Begaye bounded over a cliff, calling to his troops to follow him down the rocky slope to find cover.

Keeping his composure against overwhelming odds, Begaye directed and encouraged his fellow soldiers under heavy fire. One paratrooper had been shot in both legs and was still taking fire. Begaye called out to him to play dead, knowing the enemy would shift their fire away if they thought the soldier was killed -- quick thinking that likely helped to save that soldier's life.

Ignoring his own injuries, Begaye moved a wounded soldier to a nearby cave to protect him from enemy fire. Using a radio, he called his higher headquarters and directed mortar fire onto enemy positions - essentially ending the battle. Then he motivated a soldier to organize a defensive perimeter of Afghan soldiers to prevent their unit from being harassed or overrun.

Twenty-one months later, with his comrades standing quietly on the parade ground behind him, Begaye listened as Maj. Gen. William B. Garrett III, commander of U.S. Army Africa, spoke here, where Begaye began his service 10 years ago.

"Today, we honor a noncommissioned officer whose bold actions turned the tide of battle and saved the day, ... [and] whose courage under fire and fierce loyalty to his men still astounds us all," Garrett said. "Outnumbered, wounded, and initially pinned down in the kill zone of an enemy ambush -- he didn't hesitate to leap forward, literally, and take charge of the fight."

Garrett spoke of the "warrior ethos" that guides soldiers: place the mission first, never accept defeat, never quit, and never leave a fallen comrade.

"These are just words to some people," Garrett said. "But the warrior ethos is a way of life to Staff Sergeant Begaye. Amazing acts of bravery and valor were commonplace that grim day. But this morning, we recognize Staff Sergeant Begaye for his courage - and we are thankful for the opportunity to serve with such a man."

After the ceremony, Begaye's wife, Air Force Staff Sgt. Idellia Beletso, a flight medic based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, hugged her husband. Hundreds of red-bereted paratroopers lined up to shake Begaye's hand, many of whom served with him in combat.

"There are people who have passed on that deserve this," said Begaye, who served three combat tours. "There were five men who died. I'll accept and wear it in honor of them, not for my actions, but for theirs."

Begaye said he would have preferred a simple handshake or a pat on the back. After all, he said, infantrymen don't fight for medals, they fight for each other. That's why Begaye felt grateful to have soldiers from his unit, Chosen Company, behind him on the parade field during the ceremony.

"What happened there is something I think about every day," Begaye said. "It's not easy to forget about."

(Army Capt. Joseph Sanfilippo serves with the 503rd Infantry Regiment's 2nd Battalion public affairs office.)

Gates Visits Wounded Warriors, Returns Two to Washington

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

July 1, 2009 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates visited Landstuhl Regional Medical Center here yesterday, meeting with wounded warriors and the staff that treats them and touring a new USO facility that's providing them a better quality of life as they heal. Gates paid a call to the largest U.S. military hospital outside the United States after presiding at change-of-command ceremonies at the U.S. European Command headquarters in Stuttgart.

The secretary toured the center's intensive care unit and the USO Warrior Center that opened in November, and he met with patients wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. The patients represented about a 50-50 split between the two combat zones, reflecting what the staff here calls a trend as battle injuries drop in Iraq but increase in Afghanistan.

Air Force Lt. Col. Raymond Funk, deputy trauma director at Landstuhl, called the fact that many of these patients survived their injuries to be flown here for advanced care a testament to the military medical care system.

Gates has been a champion of improving wounded warrior care at every level from the point of injury. He ordered more field hospitals and medevac helicopters to Afghanistan this spring after learning that many troops there were too far from advanced-level treatment facilities to be treated within 60 minutes — the so-called "golden hour" after being wounded.

Gates told reporters traveling with him yesterday that he has his staff tracking "every single medevac" flight, and that he believes the additional medical assets are making a difference.

"Now, we're down to about 68 minutes" in average medevac time in Afghanistan, he said. But there's still a disparity in the response times – sometimes as little as 20 minutes, sometimes an hour and a half. "I want to equalize that," he said.

In addition to providing more assets, Gates said, he wants to cut through the administrative hurdles required to launch a medevac mission in the first place. "We want to try to get them to the point where they launch the helicopter even if they don't have the full chain of approvals," he said.

As he visited Landstuhl yesterday, the secretary met some of the servicemembers who have benefitted directly from the additional battlefield medical capabilities he ordered and his overall emphasis on wounded warrior care. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Lawrence, platoon sergeant at the Medical Transient Detachment, said he was delighted to see the way the secretary interacted with his troops being treated for "anything from mental health issues to gunshot wounds and everything in-between."

"He's in there with about 55 people, talking to each one and shaking their hands," Lawrence said as he stood outside the new USO center. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Their faces light up, and it makes their day."

Lawrence called working with wounded troops at Landstuhl the most rewarding job he's had in his Army career.

"The patients we take care of here are very deserving," agreed Funk, who has served at Landstuhl since 2004 and keeps asking to extend his duty here. "Everyone who comes here has been doing something for their country."

After Gates' visit, as he lifted off from Ramstein Air Base bound for Washington, he had two of Landstuhl's patients in tow, headed for military treatment facilities in Washington.

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Tracy Morton and Army Spc. Anthony Martinez represent the large percentage of Landstuhl's patients who come to the facility with non-combat-related injuries.

Morton, a Navy corpsman who spent nine months at Forward Operating Base Sharana in Afghanistan's Patika province, was headed to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., to be treated for complications following appendicitis surgery.

Martinez is a Fort Drum, N.Y.-based UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crew chief who spent the past eight months ferrying troops around Iraq. That all came to a screeching halt when he woke up one day – May 4 to be exact – with vertigo, then developed Bell's palsy, a facial paralysis that caused the side of his face to droop. Yesterday he sat alongside Morton in Gates' C-32 aircraft, bound for Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington for additional testing.

Both Morton and Martinez had experienced the full range of combat medicine the military provides deployed combat troops.

Morton, 42, first went to sick call at his forward operating base's Army hospital, where he got first-level care from a forward surgical team that had just arrived. From there, he was taken to Bagram Airfield for surgery.

The plan was to return him back to Sharana after recovery, but Morton began developing blood clots, gall bladder problems and an embolism.

Because troops taking blood thinners aren't permitted to serve in the combat theater – a precaution to safeguard against excessive blood loss in the event of an injury – Morton was again flown to Landstuhl. He spent two days in a ward, then to make room for other inbound troops, two additional days in an outpatient status while undergoing tests. From there, he was set to be transferred to Bethesda for higher-level care.

Martinez, got his initial evaluation by a doctor assigned to Contingency Operating Base Speicher. The 22-year-old 10th Mountain Division soldier was then sent to a combat surgical hospital, where he was diagnosed with vertigo.

He recalled the frustration of being taken off flight status and assigned to office duties as he waited for the symptoms to subside before the Bell's palsy set in. He paid daily visits to the doctor's office, getting evaluated by a neurologist at Balad Air Base who consulted closely with neurologists at Walter Reed.

From there, Martinez was flown to Landstuhl, a stopover on his way to Walter Reed for an MRI and other care.

Neither Morton nor Martinez knows exactly how long they'll be at the capital region medical centers, and both expressed regret that they've left their units behind in the combat zone. They also had nothing but praise for the medical care they've received every step of the way.

"I've been taken care of very well," Martinez said. "Everything has been there for me. They've been awesome."

Morton said his medical issues gave him the chance to experience firsthand the range of care patients he treats receive once they're evacuated from the point of injury.

"We would ship people off and not every really know what would happen to them," he said. But after his experience at Landstuhl, Morton said, he's a believer in the military medical system.

"The people here are really mission-oriented with the wounded warriors," he said. "To see how they handled wounded warriors at Landstuhl was mindboggling. It was obvious that their mission was to take care of us – at any cost."

Yellow Ribbon Fund Keeps Troops' Families Mobile

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

July 1, 2009 - Servicemembers' long-term rehabilitation shouldn't keep them, or their family members, bound to the hospital grounds, and the Yellow Ribbon Fund is working to make sure that doesn't happen. Founded in 2005, the organization was created to assist injured servicemembers and their families while they recuperate at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center here and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Toward that goal, it offers several programs for recovering servicemembers, including a mentor/intern program in which they can learn job skills from a local company.

"The Yellow Ribbon Fund is the only organization that provides free rental cars to the family members of the injured servicemembers at NNMC and WRAMC," said Marie Wood, the group's first vice president and director of communications. "These cars provide transportation away from hospital grounds for our wounded warriors their family members.

"As one wife told me about availability of a car after she had been caring for her husband for months at Walter Reed, 'It's like being released from jail to have car, finally,'" she added.

Family members and friends visiting a recovering servicemember are eligible to a Yellow Ribbon Fund rental car through the Soldier and Family Assistance Center at either medical facility. This ensures that the request is coming from someone legitimately there to visit a servicemember, Wood explained.

Servicemembers are not eligible to rent a car themselves, however, and for good reason, said Diane Shoemaker, Yellow Ribbon Fund's director of housing and transportation.

"We have no way of knowing who is on medication [that might impair the ability to drive]," she said. But the staff at the dealership that provides the cars goes out of its way to be kind to the soldiers and their visiting families, she added.

The dealership, Nextcar Rentals, is owned by Jack Fitzgerald. As of June 29, he had rented 1,032 vehicles, mostly PT Cruisers, to servicemembers' families through Yellow Ribbon Fund. That model seems to work best for those who need to transport wheelchairs, Shoemaker said.

Renters may keep the vehicles for 28 days, at which point they're required to return them. If they need them for longer, they can contact Shoemaker to renew the rental, but they still need to take the cars back to the rental company for servicing, she said.

"The person renting the car is required to furnish the gas, so that when they take the car back to the dealership it's on full," Shoemaker said. "They are also responsible for any parking tickets [and] any damage to the car while they have it. Renters must be 21, a standard rule of car renting, she added.

If there's any doubt about the importance of the program, one need look no further than Danielle Gillon.

Gillon is the manager of Nextcar Rental's Wheaton, Md., location, which supplies the rentals for the Yellow Ribbon Fund program.

"It means a lot -- it means transportation," she said. "Some of [the families] are here with children, and they're here for an extended period of time. They're able to get their children to and from school. They're able to get the patients out of the hospital for awhile, just to get away.

"Without the vehicle," she continued, "they would be stranded at the hospital, whether it's at the Navy base or at Walter Reed. So I know that it means a lot to them, because they say it. They're quite grateful."

Gates, Spanish Defense Minister Discuss Military Relations

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

July 1, 2009 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Spanish Defense Minister Carme Chacon discussed operations in Afghanistan, counter-piracy initiatives and continuing military-to-military ties during a meeting at the Pentagon today. Gates said the relationship between the two NATO allies is excellent. Spain has 780 soldiers in Afghanistan today, according to NATO statistics, and commands the Badghis Provincial Reconstruction Team in western Afghanistan.

"We talked a good bit about Afghanistan," the secretary said during a media availability following the meeting. "I expressed our appreciation for all that Spain is doing there, including the additional troops that were announced last week in time for election security."

Spanish officials have said they will send an additional 532 servicemembers to Afghanistan ahead of the Aug. 20 national elections.

Chacon spoke of the range of military-to-military relations between the United States and Spain. She said Spain agrees with the strategy in Afghanistan and stressed her country's commitment to providing economic and governance support to the nation.

The secretary thanked Chacon for Spain's continuing approval of American access to the navy base at Rota and the air base at Moron.

As for counter-piracy, Gates said, the two talked about "the need for a legal framework to deal with these issues."

"All in all, we had a very broad, wide-ranging conversation," he said. "We look forward to the high-level meetings this fall, and look forward to a bold and ambitious agenda."

U.S. Base in Honduras on Shut-down Following Uprising

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

June 30, 2009 - There are no current threats to U.S. servicemembers serving in Honduras following last week's ouster of the Honduran president, U.S. Southern Command officials said today. The 600 American soldiers, sailors and airmen based at Soto Cano Air Base are staying on the base and not conducting exercises with the Honduran military, said Robert Appin, deputy director for public information and outreach at Southern Command in Miami.

The Honduran military reportedly ousted President Manuel Zelaya on June 28. President Barack Obama has expressed concern over the development and said the Hondurans need to work the problem out.

The last off-base operation was June 26 when U.S. servicemembers concluded a medical readiness exercise, Appin said.

Army Col. Richard A. Juergens, commander of Soto Cano, ordered the air base closed following Zelaya's ouster. "No one is allowed off base except for emergency situations," Appin said. "All travel is restricted."

U.S. forces have served in Honduras since the early 1980s. A mix of active and reserve component servicemembers work with local forces and local institutions. Servicemembers deploy for either six months or a year to Soto Cano, Appin said.