Thursday, October 08, 2009

Casey Pledges Continued Effort to Enhance Survivor Support

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 8, 2009 - Providing better care for survivors of fallen servicemembers is a concern near and dear to the hearts of lawmakers and military leaders, but maybe to none more so than the Army chief of staff. Addressing more than 100 parents, spouses and children of fallen soldiers at the 2009 Survivor Summit here yesterday, Gen. George W. Casey Jr. said he knows firsthand the emotional challenges they face. Just before earning his Army commission in 1970, Casey's father, Army Maj. Gen. George Casey Sr., was killed in combat.

"I have a lot of interest in this, as I'm a survivor myself," he said. "I lost my dad in Vietnam when I was 21."

Many improvements in survivor care have been made throughout the past 40 years. But when he became Army chief of staff a little more than two years ago, he wanted to continue that progress.

"I looked around at what the Army was doing after five years of war for survivors, and we were still just doing casualty assistance," the general said. "I thought about what my mother and sisters went through -- we have to do better."

One of his priorities was to develop a survivor program that offers stronger support for families. Survivor care needed to do more than notify the families, assist with funeral arrangements and help understand entitlements -- the Army needed to go beyond just casualty assistance, he said.

Army Survivor Outreach Services, also known as S.O.S, was formed in April 2008. Casey selected a special panel of survivors, and after months of discussion, the new program came to life. Outreach coordinators soon will be working at every Army post, giving survivors another source for support in their communities.

The summit here, which started Oct. 7 and ends tomorrow, is intended to further enhance the program through various work groups. During a question-and-answer session with Casey, a number of concerns were brought to his attention.

Some widows lost their husbands to ailments acquired from the Gulf War and wanted to know what the Pentagon and Congress was doing to improve pre- and post-deployment screenings. Parents wanted to know why they weren't considered part of the Army family; that they also need to be informed and connected. Other survivors in the group simply were unhappy with the overall care they received from the Army.

"There's clearly and rightly a lot of pain in this room, and hopefully what you'll leave here feeling is that we are going to work very hard to take your concerns on to change the way our country deals with survivors," Casey told the group. "It's not going to happen overnight, and it's not going to be just [the Army that improves].

"The stories I'm hearing today are hugely moving, and it just reinforces the whole reason we started this program," he continued. "The more I listen to you, the more it reconfirms what I believe: that we need fundamental change to the way we deal with our survivors."

Casey urged the group to continue sharing their issues and improve on the program's concept. Their input and ideas will have an impact even outside of the Army, he said.

"I think this thing is going to be bigger than I originally thought it was going to be," he said. "It's not just for the Army. I think we're going to have to use this as a forum to really change how we're doing business for survivors throughout the country."

Navy to Commission Guided Missile Destroyer Wayne E. Meyer

The Navy will commission the newest Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer, Wayne E. Meyer, during a 1 p.m. EDT ceremony on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2009, at Penn's Landing, Philadelphia, Pa.

Designated DDG 108, the new destroyer honors the late Navy rear admiral who led the development of Aegis, the first fully integrated combat system built to defend against air, surface and subsurface threats. Meyer was regarded as the father of the Navy's Aegis Weapons System.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will deliver the ceremony's principal address. Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations and the first officer to have commanded both an Aegis cruiser and destroyer, will also deliver remarks. Anna Mae Meyer will serve as sponsor of the ship named for her late husband. The ceremony will be highlighted by a time-honored Navy tradition when she gives the first order to "man our ship and bring her to life!"

Wayne E. Meyer is the 58th of the Arleigh Burke class destroyers and carries the 100th Aegis Combat System built. The ship will be able to conduct a variety of operations, from peacetime presence and crisis management to sea control and power projection. Wayne E. Meyer will be capable of fighting air, surface and subsurface battles simultaneously and contains a myriad of offensive and defensive weapons designed to support maritime warfare in keeping with "A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower," the maritime strategy that postures the sea services to apply maritime power to protect U.S. vital interests in an increasingly interconnected and uncertain world.

Cmdr. Nick A. Sarap Jr., born in Richmond, Va., and raised in Zanesville, Ohio, will become the first commanding officer of the ship and lead the crew of 276 officers and enlisted personnel. The 9,200-ton Wayne E. Meyer was built by Bath Iron Works, a General Dynamics company. The ship is 509 feet in length, has a waterline beam of 59 feet, and a navigational draft of 31 feet. Four gas turbine engines will power the ship to speeds in excess of 30 knots.

For more information on Arleigh Burke class destroyers, visit

New Penetrator Bomb Has 'Important Capability,' DoD Official Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 8, 2009 - The Defense Department is developing an advanced "bunker-buster" bomb that should be ready for deployment in the coming months, senior Pentagon officials said. The department has been "working on technology that allows us to get at deeply buried, hardened targets" since 2004, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters here today.

Development of the bomb has taken longer than originally envisioned because of variables in the budget process, Whitman said, adding that it is now back "on track."

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell yesterday told reporters that the department is developing a massive penetrator bomb designed to pulverize underground facilities that may store weapons of mass destruction and related systems.

At a hefty 30,000 pounds, the new penetrator bomb weighs almost 4 tons more than the U.S. military's former heavyweight champion, the nearly 22,000-pound massive ordnance air blast conventional bomb, known by the acronym MOAB.

The massive penetrator bomb will be in a class by itself and represents a unique capability, Whitman said.

"We don't have any other 30,000-pound bombs," he said.

The late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had used underground facilities to hide and protect some of his military technology, Whitman pointed out to reporters today. Some other countries, he said, have emulated this technique.

The existence of hardened, underground military facilities "is not a new phenomena, but it is a growing one," Whitman said.

Therefore, he said, the department decided to develop a new penetrator bomb, which should be ready by next summer.

Although there was no "urgent" reason to develop the new bomb, defense planners recognized the need to obtain it, Whitman said.


Raytheon Co., of Garland, Texas was awarded a $73,900,000 contract which will provide for the Air Force Distributed Common Ground System Block 10.2 which will provide for net-centric enterprise services, open enterprise service-based architecture, web-based and client-based tools supporting worldwide-distributed operations. At this time, no money has been obligated. 950 ELSC/PK, Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., is the contracting activity (F19628-03-D-0015, P00061).

Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., was awarded a $35,383,382 contract which will exercise the option for the defense on-orbit sustainment for both the defense support program and spacecraft bus. At this time, no money has been obligated. SMC/ISKD, El Segundo, Calif., is the contracting activity (FA8810-09-C-0001, P00019).

Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems of Tewksbury, Mass., was awarded a $11,320,672 contract which will provide for the defense production act/title III program technology investment agreement. At this time, $2,207,500 has been obligated. Det 1 AFRL/PKMD, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio is the contracting activity (FA8650-09-2-5501).

Spacelabs Healthcare, LLC., Issaquah, Wash., is being awarded a maximum $13,460,681 fixed price with economic price adjustment contract for patient monitoring systems, subsystems, accessories, consumables and training. There are no other locations of performance. Using services are Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and federal civilian agencies. There were originally seventeen proposals solicited with nine responses. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The date of performance completion is Oct. 7, 2010. The contracting activity is the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pa., (SPM2D1-09-D-8351).

Northrop Grumman Space and Mission Systems Corp., of Herndon, Va., is being awarded a $5,699,898 firm fixed price level of effort contract for an advanced special operation management system in support of U.S. Special Operations Command. The work will be performed in Sierra Vista, Ariz., and is expected to be completed by Sept. 29, 2010. The delivery order number is H92222-09-F-0192.

USO Gala Honors Troops, Sacrifices

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 8, 2009 - It was a tough act for Hollywood at the annual USO Gala here last night. The stars were out at the black-tie event held in a posh hotel in the popular Adams Morgan area. More than 800 actors, musicians, models, football stars and top politicians mingled over drinks and dinner. But it wasn't the stars or famous athletes who stole the spotlight.

At the night's start, emcee and comedian Lewis Black received a few chuckles and some polite applause; Miss U.S.A. Kristen Dalton drew a warm, but reserved welcome; and even award-winning country music star Trace Adkins' commanding stage presence and deep baritone vocals failed to bring the audience to their feet.

That honor was reserved for the relative unknowns in the crowd who might have otherwise gone unnoticed -- except for their starched military uniforms and the badges of courage pinned to their chests.

Despite the shine put on the event, war wounds showed through: one soldier limped toward the escalator using a prosthetic leg, while another picked at his salad with a prosthetic hand. Some bore the cost of war on their faces, but, for the night, smiles cut through the scars of combat as U.S. servicemembers took center stage.

"Americans may debate and at times disagree over matters of national security, but on one matter there is no debate. When our nation sends our military men and women into harm's way, we all come together as Americans to support our troops," declared Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn, III.

The nation's top military officer, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, recently returned from his fifth USO tour overseas.

"Tonight as we celebrate, please take some time to remember the thousands of young men and women who are out there right now, serving on point and standing watch in [forward operating bases], posts and ships around the globe," Mullen said.

On stage, USO President Sloan Gibson recalled his first visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center here.

"Everywhere you looked, there were men and women missing arms, missing legs, engaged in the toughest, most vigorous physical activity, working out hard," he said. "I can remember my first thought was, there are so many."

Gibson went on to travel to several other military hospitals, talking to troops and families. He asked a handful to join him at the gala -- a Navy SEAL, an Army captain and sergeant, and a Marine sergeant.

"I have been inspired by their spirit, humbled by their drive and determination to overcome every obstacle, awed by their accomplishments in spite of the odds, and moved by the love and support of their families," Gibson said.

The USO's guests of honor were five servicemembers, one from each of the services, selected for their bravery. As each took the stage to standing ovations, the stories of courage and valor seemed almost made for television.

The USO's soldier of the year, Spc. Michael Carter, volunteered for one final mission in Afghanistan before heading home. On that mission, though, Carter's unit was attacked and outnumbered. Carter fought back, exposing himself to a hail of enemy gunfire to rescue a fellow soldier in need of life-saving first aid.

Airman of the year, Staff Sgt. Zachary Rhyner, put himself between his comrades and the enemy after his team was attacked in Afghanistan. The battle lasted more than six hours as sniper and machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades rained on their location. Rhyner managed to call in 50 close-air strikes on the enemy, after being shot twice in the chest and once in the leg. His protective vest saved his life.

The Marine of the year, Sgt. Mark Robinson, single-handedly held off Taliban fighters with gunfire and hand grenades so his fellow troops could escape the attack.

The sailor of the year, Airman 2nd Class William Stevens, stopped a band of pirates that had attacked a civilian cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden.

And the Coast Guardsman of the year, Petty Officer 3rd Class Abram Heller, rescued eight people from freezing and drowning in the icy waters of the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska.

National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell summed it up simply. "What our men and women do around the world is extraordinary," he said.

Even Lewis Black joked about his performance being relegated as he took the stage after the awardees.

"After you hear all of these stories of courage, I'm trying to think what have I ever done that was courageous. The closest I've come is appearing in front of drunks at comedy clubs," Black said. "I find myself in these positions sometimes when I do benefits. These extraordinary stories are told and now 'Here's Lewis Black, or Smuckey the Clown.'"

Two volunteers were recognized as well. One was Army Sgt. Timothy Donovan. Despite his active-duty responsibilities, Donovan devotes his free time to volunteering at the USO in Vicenza, Italy. It doesn't matter what the job is, really. He works the front desk or cleans the center before it closes. He has worked every USO event there since July 2008.

Compared to taking bullets for your buddies, that may not seem like much. But Mullen thanked him by name.

USOs provide a "home away from home" for troops serving around the world, he said, and it is the thousands of volunteers such as Donovan who make that possible.

"That's what tonight is all about -- honoring people around the world who do more than just volunteer to support our troops," he said.

Musician and actor Gary Sinise was the only non-servicemember called to the stage to accept an award – and the only non-servicemember to take the stage and receive a standing ovation.

The USO honored Sinise this year with its Spirit of the USO award. Sinise took his first USO trip in 2003 and has since traveled the world stopping at bases and posts, entertaining and talking to troops. He has trained with Special Forces, flown in a fighter jet, landed on an aircraft carrier and has frequented military hospitals visiting recovering troops.

Sinise has never worn the uniform, but has seen things that the average American hasn't, he said.

"They defend this nation. And if we as a nation are going to make a commitment to send our men and women into combat, then we as a nation must be prepared to give them all of our support and everything they need to succeed in that mission and come home safely," Sinise said. "And once they are home, and reunited with their families, we should be mindful that there are other needs that need to be met as they all too often bring the battle home with them.

"They serve us, and we must in turn serve them back," he said.

But in the end, it wasn't the words in Sinise's speech that summed up the evening's focus. It was pared down to a few words in a simple, unscripted exchange.

As Sinise stepped behind the podium to accept his award, a troop from the crowd called out "Thank you."

Sinise squinted against the lights to see the uniform, pointed back into the crowd and said, "No, thank you."

Army Continues Focus on Suicide Prevention

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 8, 2009 - The Army is making progress in its efforts to prevent suicides despite the increasing number of reports, an Army spokeswoman said in an interview with American Forces Press Service today. So far this year, 117 suicides have been reported among active-duty soldiers, 14 more than what was reported through September in 2008. Of those, 81 are confirmed suicides and 36 are still under investigation, according to a statement released today by the Army.

Also, 35 reserve-component soldier suicides were reported with 25 pending investigation, the report said.

For the month of September, the Army reported one confirmed suicide and six under investigation on the active-duty side with another seven among the reserve force.

The Army's 2008 suicide report tallied 143 for the year, which was an all-time high since the department began recording suicide statistics in 1980. The 2008 statistics also reflected an increase for the fourth consecutive year.

Suicides rates this year are on pace to pass the 2008 numbers, but Army officials aren't considering that a failure. They're basing their progress on the intervention and prevention stories they're hearing from the field, the spokeswoman said.

"You never know how many you save, but we're getting stories from the field about a lot more people seeking help and a lot more interventions, which means that awareness is up [and] people understand," she said. "We have to think that some of those increased interventions we're hearing about have made a difference."

Army officials acknowledged a problem with suicides in January, and in March launched a departmentwide initiative to counter it. More than 40 of this year's suicides occurred in January and February, which account for 35 percent. Officials believe that without the added suicide awareness training, that rate may be more.

"The fact that leadership is focused on [suicide prevention], people are focused on it, people are seeking help [and] we're seeing a lot more intervention; those things to us represent positive signs that those things are making a difference," the spokeswoman said.

Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli told reporters in a roundtable discussion here in January that frequent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan factored into the growing rate of suicide.

The general cited the importance of direct supervisors stepping in and noticing the signs when someone is suicidal.

Chiarelli was not available for comments today, but in a statement released last month, he said, "We recognize that the crucial link in preventing suicides is caring, concerned and decisive small-unit leadership. There will never be a substitute for noncommissioned officers who know their soldiers, know when a soldier is suffering, and have the moral courage to act and get that soldier the help that they need."

The Army implemented several programs to improve prevention efforts, following the publishing of its Army Campaign Plan for Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention in April.

The Army also has established a mandatory stand-down day for units to raise awareness, a five-year partnership with the National Institute of Mental Health to increase national awareness and a Suicide Prevention Task Force and Council to oversee the Army's progress.

"Whether it's additional resources, improved training or ensuring those in our Army community can readily identify the warning signs of suicidal behavior, all our efforts often come down to one soldier caring enough about another soldier to step in when they see something wrong," Brig. Gen. Colleen McGuire, director of the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force, said in the statement released today.

The Army also has launched an effort to help soldiers understand that being depressed and having suicidal thoughts isn't something they should be ashamed of, McGuire said.

"Soldiers will be willing to [seek help] if they know help is available, if they believe there is no stigma attached to asking for that help and if they are certain that Army leaders remain absolutely committed to the resiliency of our entire Army family," she said.

Bob Barker Donates $3Million for Brain Injury Center

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 8, 2009 - The price appears to be right for former game show host and naval aviator Bob Barker, who donated $3 million to help build a premiere Defense Department center for wounded warriors suffering traumatic brain injuries. The donation brings the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund to its $60 million goal to build the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, Bill White, president of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, announced yesterday.

The 72,000-square-foot, two-story facility is expected to open next year next to the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund will pay to build the center and equip it with the most advanced medical equipment for traumatic brain injury research, diagnosis and treatment, White said. Once construction is completed, the fund will turn the center over to the department to operate.

"This amazing gift puts us over the top," White said yesterday in announcing Barker's donation to the effort. "Thousands of Americans have given to this important effort, and Bob Barker has today stepped up to the task. We are immensely grateful for his wonderful generosity and his support for our nation's servicemen and women."

Richard T. Santulli, chairman of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, called reaching the financial milestone to begin construction of the center "a great step forward in our mission." The group raises money to provide financial help for families of U.S. servicemembers killed in the line of duty, and began raising funds for the new treatment center in 2007.

Barker, a naval aviator during World War II who's best known as the long-time host of "The Price is Right" game show until his 2007 retirement, called his donation a way to give back to those who serve or have served in the military.

"I am very happy to do whatever I can to support the brave men and women who have given so much in service to our nation," he said. "They have given so much for us. All Americans owe them a debt of gratitude for their tremendous service and sacrifice."

Army Releases September Suicide Data

The Army today released suicide data for the month of September. Among active-duty soldiers, there were seven potential suicides. One has been confirmed as a suicide, and six are pending determination of the manner of death. For August, the Army reported 11 potential suicides among active-duty soldiers. Since the release of that report, four have been confirmed as suicides and seven remain under investigation.

There were 117 reported active-duty Army suicides from January 2009 through September 2009. Of those, 81 have been confirmed, and 36 are pending determination of manner of death. For the same period in 2008, there were 103 suicides among active-duty soldiers.

During September 2009, among reserve component soldiers who were not on active duty, there were seven potential suicides. Among that same group, from January 2009 through September 2009, there were 35 confirmed suicides. Twenty-five potential suicides are currently under investigation to determine the manner of death. For the same period in 2008, there were 40 suicides among reserve soldiers who were not on active duty.

Over the past year, the Army has engaged in a sustained effort to reduce the rate of suicide within its ranks. This effort has included an Army-wide suicide prevention stand-down and chain teach for every soldier; the implementation of the Army Campaign Plan for Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention; the establishment of both a Suicide Prevention Task Force and Suicide Prevention Council; a long-term partnership with the National Institute of Mental Health to carry out the largest ever study of suicide and behavioral health among military personnel; and more than 160 specific improvements to Army suicide prevention policies, doctrine, training and resources.

"Whether it's additional resources, improved training or ensuring those in our Army community can readily identify the warning signs of suicidal behavior, all our efforts often come down to one soldier caring enough about another soldier to step in when they see something wrong, " said Brig. Gen. Colleen McGuire, Director, Army Suicide Prevention Task Force. "Soldiers will be willing to do that if they know help is available, if they believe there is no stigma attached to asking for that help, and if they are certain that Army leaders remain absolutely committed to the resiliency of our entire Army Family."

Soldiers and families in need of crisis assistance can contact Military OneSource or the Defense Center of Excellence (DCOE) for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Outreach Center. Trained consultants are available from both organizations 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

The Military OneSource toll-free number for those residing in the continental U.S. is 1-800-342-9647, their Web site address is

Overseas personnel should refer to the Military OneSource Web site for dialing instructions for their specific location.

The DCOE Outreach Center can be contacted at 1-866-966-1020, via electronic mail at and at .

The Army's most current suicide prevention information is located at .

Wounded Soldier Refuses to Quit

By Charmain Z. Brackett
Special to American Forces Press Service

Oct. 8, 2009 - A sudden accident may have cost Army Staff Sgt. Luis Elias his hand, but it hasn't stripped him of his positive attitude or impacted his plans for the future. "Hopefully, in about a month or so, I'll be back to being a drill sergeant," said Elias, who is receiving treatment at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center Active Duty Rehabilitation Unit in Augusta, Ga.

On June 30, Elias was training new soldiers at Fort Benning, Ga., when a grenade simulator exploded in his right hand leaving just his thumb. Surgeons at Dwight David Eisenhower Army Medical Center, Ga., amputated his hand.

Since then, Elias has been in physical therapy learning to use a prosthetic hand and preparing for his return to active duty. A state-of-the-art bionic hand called an "i-Limb" is on its way, and once Elias has learned to use it, he will be back to training soldiers.

He's hoping to go back to duty in November, but his physicians have not given him a specific date.

"It all comes down to the Soldier's Creed: 'I will never quit.' I take those words to heart," said Elias, who credits his wife, Claudia, and 4-year-old son, Noah, with providing him strength and support.

Keeping in top physical shape is an important part of his quest to return to duty. Elias can do push-ups with one prosthetic device.

He also competed in the running portion of the ESi Ironman 70.3 triathlon on Sept. 27 in Augusta, finishing his 13.1 miles in two hours and five minutes. He didn't compete in the swim or the bicycle portion of the race, but only because he didn't have a recreational prosthetic, he said.

Elias joined the Army about six years ago, soon after high school graduation. He grew up in bad neighborhood in Miami and saw the Army as a way to provide a better life for himself.

Elias has served two tours in Iraq and submitted his drill sergeant packet after returning from his second tour. The incident occurred just a few months into the job.

"It's nice to see the product from beginning to end. It's one of the joys of being a drill sergeant -- seeing the transition from civilian to soldier," he said.

When he returns to duty, he believes he can be an inspiration to his batch of new recruits.

"These soldiers will end up going to Iraq," he said.

And maybe downrange they will remember their drill sergeant with a prosthetic arm and a never-quit attitude, he said.

(Charmain Z. Brackett works in the Fort Gordon, Ga., public affairs office.)