Wednesday, October 28, 2009

President Signs Defense Authorization Act

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 28, 2009 - President Barack Obama today signed the fiscal 2010 National Defense Authorization Act during a ceremony at the White House. Obama hailed the act, which contains $680.2 billion in military budget authority, as transformational legislation that targets wasteful defense spending. The president was accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, congressional leaders and other senior officials, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"There's still more waste we need to cut; there's still more fights that we need to win," Obama said, noting he and Gates will continue to seek out unnecessary defense spending. Obama said he has ended unnecessary no-bid defense contracts and signed bipartisan legislation to reform defense procurement practices so weapons systems' costs do not spin out of control.

"Even as we have made critical investments in equipment and weapons our troops do need, we're eliminating tens of billions of dollars in waste we don't need," Obama said.

The legislation, Obama said, saves billions by capping production of the Air Force's costly F-22 fighter jet and terminating troubled, over-budget programs such as the Army's Future Combat System and a new presidential helicopter.

"As commander in chief, I will always do whatever it takes to keep the American people safe to defend this nation," Obama said. "That's why this bill provides for the best military in the history of the world."

The authorization act provides for a 3.4 percent pay raise for military members, improves care for wounded warriors and expands family leave rights.

Money also is budgeted to fund programs that address "real and growing threats," Obama said. Such systems, he said, include the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter, the littoral combat ship, and more helicopters and reconnaissance support for deployed U.S. forces.

The authorization act contains $130 billion to fund overseas contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and it also provides $6.7 billion for thousands of all-terrain, mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles now arriving in Afghanistan.

"Secretary Gates and I both know that we can't build the 21st century military we need unless we fundamentality reform the way our defense establishment does business," Obama said. He cited a Government Accountability Office report that found cost overruns totaling $296 billion across 96 major defense projects over the last year. That amount of money, the president said, would have paid for troop salaries and military family benefits for more than a year.

Obama praised Gates and Mullen for their hard work in developing the 2010 defense budget. "I want to thank, publicly, Bob Gates for his service to our nation," he said, and he added that Mullen has "provided wise counsel and stood with us in our efforts to initiate reform."

The authorization act, Gates said, is a bipartisan effort that's the result of countless hours and hard work on Capitol Hill.

"This bill is a necessary step toward reshaping the priorities of America's defense establishment and changing the way the Pentagon does business," Gates said at the signing ceremony. Work already is under way, he said, in development of the 2011 defense budget recommendation.

"And, I can ensure you it will focus on institutionalizing and accelerating many of the priorities and reforms embraced by this legislation," Gates said.

The annual defense authorization bill prepared for the president's approval or veto falls under the House and Senate armed services committees and is one of two bills required for the Defense Department to spend money. The other is the appropriations bill, crafted by the House and Senate appropriations committees, which provides funding to pay for the defense programs specified in the authorization bill.

Although the authorization bill signed today contains funding to develop and produce an alternate engine for the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter that Gates had opposed, the legislators were able to provide that funding without taking resources away from the F-35 program itself, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters later in the day.

Some people, Morrell said, believe that funding a second engine for the F-35 would be an unnecessary waste of taxpayers' money.

"The authorizers have been able to do it in a way that does not seriously disrupt the overall F-35 program; we'll see if the appropriators are able to come up with a way to do it that way," Morrell said. "If they don't -- if they seriously disrupt it -- then the secretary will recommend to the president that he veto the appropriations bill."

The House and Senate appropriations committees are evaluating budget provisions contained within the Defense Authorization Act signed today.

Officials Cite Military's Domestic Response Role

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 28, 2009 - If not for the logistical capability and other unique assets the U.S. military has at its disposal during times of crises, the American population would suffer significantly, federal health officials said. U.S. Public Health Service Rear Adm. (Dr.) W. Craig Vanderwagen, former assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services, underscored the critical role the military plays in responding to catastrophic events domestically.

"In terms of domestic response capability, the most significant logistical capability in this country for response is in the hands of our military personnel," Vanderwagen said in a telephone interview this week. "And if we do not have their engagement in planning and execution, the civilian population would suffer significantly."

Vanderwagen, a physician who is set to retire next month, said part of the military's role in humanitarian and disaster aid is in planning for and responding to potential events.

"What the military has to bring to the fight is a huge and capable logistics experience," he said. "The civilian environment does not have the kind of reserves – the tools and people – that allow for extensive and timely logistical response to events."

In a separate interview, Dr. Kevin Yeskey, deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response and director of the Office of Preparedness and Emergency Operations at HHS, echoed Vanderwagen's conviction.

"We all know [catastrophic events] are going to happen," he said. "You can think of scenarios where there's just a devastating earthquake, a devastating hurricane, a devastating chemical release or accident, or something where there's just an overwhelming number of casualties.

"If we don't plan for them and we don't exercise for them, and we don't understand what's going to happen at the local, state and federal levels and how those responses are going to take, and make sure they're integrated," he continued, "we're not going to have an efficient response. We're not going to have an effective response, and there's going to be lost lives unnecessarily."

Yeskey said the point of thorough planning and exercises is to work out as many of the bugs as possible and to anticipate potential surprises where possible.

"So when the event happens, we're ready to go, and it doesn't take us a long time to get out of the starting blocks and respond," he said in a phone interview this week.

Vanderwagen said the Department of Homeland Security and its components have laid out roughly 15 scenarios – from anthrax exposure to a nuclear attack or accident to hurricanes – on which responders base their preparation.

"What has increasingly begun to occur and is becoming a routine part of business is joint planning between [U.S. Northern Command] and the civilian elements," he said, referring to the military command responsible for anticipating and coordinating responses to domestic events.

Vanderwagen praised Air Force Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., the commander of Northcom, for his level of engagement and similar efforts by Renuart's Northcom predecessor, Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating.

"Renuart has provided great support from the assets that they have within Northcom to do planning for those various scenarios and identify those specific operational and tactical missions where the [Defense Department] elements would be most useful," he said. Such assets, Vanderwagen said, include not only logistic support, but also public health personnel and medical personnel.

"The role of the Northcom as the relevant command here has been an expanding role, and one that's been extraordinarily important in filling gaps that the civilian population just can't deal with in a timely manner," he said.


BAE Systems Applied Technologies, Inc., Rockville, Md., is being awarded a $29,489,406 modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00421-07-C-0013) to exercise an option for approximately 420,000 hours of engineering and technical services in support of the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division's Special Communications Requirements Division's Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I) Communications-Electronics Program. Work will be performed in St. Inigoes, Md., 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 Warfare Center Aircraft Division, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity.

LTM, Inc., Havelock, N.C., is being awarded a $25,843,072 modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract (N00421-01-D-0101) to exercise an option for approximately 431,707 hours of maintenance planning and design interface technical/management support services for the Fleet Readiness Center (FRC) East, Cherry Point, N.C. These services include evaluating initial designs and proposed design changes, maintenance planning, and sustaining maintenance plans. Work will be performed at FRC East, Cherry Point, N.C., (99 percent), and at various locations across the United States (1 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 Warfare Center Aircraft Division, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity.

Frontier Systems Integrators, LLC*, Fairfax, Va., is being awarded a $5,780,879 ($5,745,919 firm-fixed price (FFP) and $34,960 estimated indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (IDIQ)) modification under a previously awarded combination FFP, IDIQ contract (N40080-06-D-0456) to exercise Option 3 for regional security guard services at various locations within Naval District Washington. The work to be performed provides for, but is not limited to, security operations to ensure security and safety for personnel, property, facilities, and assets. The total contract amount after exercise of this option will be $20,986,722. Work will be performed at the Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.; National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md.; Carderock Naval District Washington, West Bethesda, Md.; Defense Information Systems Agency, Arlington, Va.; Naval Research Labs, Chesapeake Beach Detachment, Annapolis, Md., and work is expected to be completed Oct. 2010. Contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Washington, Wash., D.C., is the contracting activity.

McDonnell Douglas Corp., of St. Louis, Missouri was awarded a $72,022,275 contract which will provide for a quantity of 2,925 Lot 14 guided vehicle kits are procured for joint direct attack munition purposes. At this time, the entire amount has been obligated. 678 ARSS/PK, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida is the contracting activity (FA8681-10-C-0072).

Opticomp Corp., of Zephyr Cove, Nevada was awarded a $5,543,337 contract which will develop a semiconductor optical amplifier structure that is integrated monolithically with OptiComp Corporation's prototype antenna demonstration. At this time, $1,974,000 has been obligated. Det 8 AFRL/RVKS, Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico is the contracting activity (FA9453-10-C-0202).

Mrs. Obama, Dr. Biden Praise Troops, Vets, Families

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 28, 2009 - The wives of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden praised servicemembers, veterans and their families today during a visit to a Veterans Affairs hospital in New York City. Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden spoke at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx hours before the scheduled start of the 2009 World Series at nearby Yankee Stadium. Major League Baseball is dedicating Game 1 of the Series in support of "Welcome Back Veterans," an MLB Charities initiative designed to support returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families with mental health treatment and job opportunities.

"One of the first events Michelle and I did together just about a year ago was a roundtable with military spouses," Biden said in her introduction of the first lady. "We have worked together since then to understand the issues faced by our soldiers and their families while they are deployed and when they return home. We have been truly overwhelmed by the courage of our men and women in uniform and inspired by the dignity and sense of patriotism that our military families exhibit every day."

Noting Major League Baseball's decision to salute servicemembers, veterans and their families in conjunction with the opening of this year's Fall Classic, Biden called on all Americans to do the same.

"There is a role for each and every one of us in supporting our military families," she said. "We are asking all Americans to take action and show their thanks through simple acts of kindness to these families and our veterans.

"As a military mom," she continued, "I know how a simple act of kindness can make a difference to a soldier, whether it's troop greeters who are meeting our troopers coming back, a neighbor offering to baby-sit, or a classroom adopting a unit. It is our sacred duty to honor the service of those who sacrifice for our country -- and we can all play a role with a simple act of service. I hope that the millions of viewers watching tonight's game will join us in this effort."

Obama said she visited VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and the department's headquarters staff last week to underscore the importance of their mission and to thank them and VA staff members across the nation for their service.

"And I know that many of you are veterans yourselves -- the people who work at the VA, the people who work at facilities like this -- and your work couldn't be more important," she said.

The first lady said today's visit underscores the fact that for many of the nation's warriors, the battle continues even after they come home.

"But when I talk with these brave men and women, they speak less about themselves and more about the stress that their sacrifice puts on their families who live each day without them and hold everything together in their absence," she said. "That's all these folks think about and worry about. As a nation, we have a responsibility to honor their service by doing everything we can to support our servicemen and women, our veterans, and their families."

Obama pointed out that the president signed legislation into law today that gives the family members of wounded veterans federal family leave protection so they can care for their loved ones without losing their jobs. "But providing our military and their families with the support they deserve requires far more than government can do, as Jill pointed out," she added. "It requires all of us to be very active in this effort."

Business owners, big or small, can help returning servicemembers, veterans or their spouses by helping them get or keep a job, she noted, or people with professional skills can provide their services free to military families who need assistance. But everyday people can help too, the first lady said, by doing things as simple as offering to drive a carpool, baby-sit or make a meal.

"Just so many small things can really make the difference and make sure that our veterans and our men and women in uniform know that we care and that we're thinking about them," she said.

But above all, Obama added, people can simply say, "Thank you," and she expressed the hope that a public service announcement to be shown at the ballpark and during the World Series telecast would hit its mark.

"Each and every one of us is living in a community that has some family who has been touched in some way," she said. "They're in our schools, in our churches. They're walking through the streets at the grocery store. Sometimes they're easily identified, sometimes they're not. But as Jill said, part of why we're here is that we want to urge all Americans who ... get a chance to see our PSA, hear the sound of our voices, to never forget that these folks have made sacrifices. And we owe for what they've done for us."

In pregame ceremonies at Yankee Stadium tonight, the nation's first and second ladies are scheduled escort Yankees legend and World War II veteran Yogi Berra and Tony Odierno, who will be throwing out the first pitch.

Odierno, a U.S. Military Academy graduate who lost his left arm during the war in Iraq, earned the Bronze Star with valor and a Purple Heart and now works for the Yankees in stadium operations. Odierno's father is Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Force Iraq.

"We are looking forward to welcoming the first lady and Dr. Biden to Yankee Stadium and Game 1 of the 2009 World Series," said Baseball Commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Selig. "We hope their presence at both the game and the hospital visit will be an inspiration to the veterans who proudly served our country. The support for, an incredibly important initiative for Major League Baseball, will make a difference as we look to help today's veterans and military families with their transition back to civilian life."

U.S.-Indian Armies Wrap Up Historic Exercise

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 28, 2009 - With a massive display of firepower and teamwork, the U.S. and Indian armies finished their largest joint military exercise to date yesterday. The exercise is dubbed "Yudh Abhyas," loosely translated as "war preparation."

About 250 U.S. soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 14th Cavalry Squadron, based out of Hawaii brought 17 of their Stryker combat vehicles and paired with the Indian army's 7th Mechanized Infantry Battalion here at one of India's premier military training sites.

Since Oct. 12, the two armies have swapped soldiers, shared equipment and traded war stories, officials said.

"That's the most important aspect of this whole exercise -- getting to know each other, getting to appreciate our cultures, and working together as a team," said Army Lt. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, the commander of U.S. Army forces in the Pacific.

Mixon and a host of Indian army generals traveled here Oct. 26 to view a culminating demonstration of firepower that offered up both the conventional battlefield power of the Indian's T-90 tanks with the high-technology precision of the U.S. military's tank killer, the Javelin.

Both infantries brought out their vehicles and weapons for a live-fire demonstration, and Indian helicopters dropped soldiers from both armies to join in the live-fire assault.

This was the largest deployment of the Stryker vehicle outside of deployments for war, and the Indian soldiers were eager to get a peek at its firepower and technical capabilities. The only restrictions were that the Indian soldiers could not drive the Strykers or use the high-tech communications network that manages the crew's weapons.

Both armies traded firing their big guns on the range, and U.S. soldiers rode alongside their Indian counterparts in their infantry vehicle. A handful of Indian troops were allowed to fire the Javelin, a treat that many U.S. troops in the infantry have yet to experience.

The training started two weeks ago with simple handshakes among the soldiers and a display of the each army's equipment. It quickly escalated to the two nations' armies working side by side on complex maneuvers, some scenarios strongly resembling the types of joint operations troops see in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As opposed to joint military operations in which U.S. technology and firepower clearly positions itself as the superior force, the Indian army proved itself a capable force, teaching as much as it was learning, U.S. commanders on the ground said. The Indian army has long been fighting an insurgency, and brought new tactics to the table.

"The Indian army is a professional military force," Mixon said. "I would be comfortable going with the Indian army anywhere, any time."

The 2-14th returned from Iraq six months ago, and is slated to return in about nine months. This exercise is a ramp-up in training, as the unit prepares for larger pre-deployment training exercises such as those at the National Training Facility in California.

But while the U.S. troops leave this week with training under their belts that prepares them for their next deployment, the value of the training was integrating successfully with the Indian army.

"At the end of the day, the important part of the exercise is the future cooperation and the understanding between the two armies," Mixon said.

The United States has sought to increase its military relations with India in recent years. Until now, most of the exercises in that effort have been smaller troop exchanges or command-level exercises using only computer-driven scenarios. This is the first time that a large number of boots on the ground have acted out those scenarios together.

"This is all about training with the Indian army, to enhance relationships so that we gain a greater understanding of each other. That's really what this is all about," the general said.

U.S. Pacific Command works regularly with other militaries on large-scale military operations, especially maritime.

Yudh Abhyas started in 2004 as the first conventional army-to-army training in India since 1962. In 2005, U.S. troops came to train at India's counter-insurgency and jungle warfare school. In 2006, Indian troops went to Hawaii for training, and in 2007, troops traveled to Alaska. The exercise shifted back to Hawaii last year.

"We want to be able to work together as militaries," Mixon said. "By us training together and getting to know each other, if there were a contingency, we would be better prepared to respond to that contingency. You cannot do that training here at the last minute."

Act Ends Controversial Personnel System

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 28, 2009 - With President Barack Obama's signature today on the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, a controversial pay-for-performance personnel system is abolished. About 220,000 Defense Department employees who had come under the National Security Personnel System will transition back to the long-standing General Schedule system, but that will take time, a senior official said.

Tim Curry, acting program executive officer for NSPS, said the department could start transitioning employees in six months. The department has begun a comprehensive planning process, he explained, with the goal of ensuring a smooth and orderly transition of employees and organizations out of NSPS.

"The department is going to proceed deliberately and cautiously without unnecessary delay," Curry said during an interview today. The transition will take place organization by organization, he said to minimize disruption. Meanwhile, employees under NSPS will remain in that system.

"It took three years to bring those 220,000 employees into the system," Curry said. "Congress recognized that it was going to take time ... to do it right."

The new law gives Defense Department officials six months to develop and submit a plan to Congress detailing the transition. The whole transition must be finished by Jan. 1, 2012.

"We will work under NSPS for the time being, while we are working on the transition plan," Curry said. "When we're at the point where employees come out of the system, ... the law ensures that no employee's pay will be reduced when converting out of NSPS."

Employees outside of NSPS are not affected by the change.

Curry's office is also studying the new law's other civilian personnel ramifications. He said these include requirements for performance management, hiring flexibilities, training requirements and the department's ability to go back to Congress for added personnel flexibilities.

"We're looking at what that means and how to proceed,"
Curry said. "We're just assessing the impact and how to move forward."

The major complaint about NSPS was that it was overly complicated and that no employee understood the pay pool process, Curry said, pledging that department officials will take the lessons from the NSPS experience as it moves ahead.

"We'll be particularly mindful of issues surrounding complexity and transparency," he said. "Those are certainly important considerations to ensure employees understand and accept and buy into any rules that will be put in place."

Civilian employees under NSPS finished a rating cycle at the end of September. These workers will receive performance ratings and payouts effective in January under NSPS, Curry said. A provision of the act requires that employees with Level 2 ratings or higher are guaranteed a pay increase in January that's at least equivalent to the pay increase that applies to General Schedule employees.

Willard Looks to Partnerships in Pacific

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 28, 2009 - Navy Adm. Robert F. Willard made his Hollywood debut as the Soviet MiG pilot who challenged Tom Cruise's character – known by the call sign "Mustang" – to an exhilarating dogfight before meeting his demise in the 1986 "Top Gun" blockbuster.
While serving as operations and executive officer at the Navy's "Top Gun" Fighter Weapons School at the time, Willard was aerial coordinator for the movie. That got him a short, but pivotal, on-screen appearance as the pilot of an F-14 fighter jet painted black and embellished for the movie with a MiG-style fin flash on its tail.

"I kept looking back over my shoulder, and another missile was on its way," Willard recalled of the dogfight scene in which he ultimately was shot down. "It was very exciting."

More than two decades later, in his new role as the top U.S. officer in the Pacific, Willard doesn't have the luxury of being able to fixate on a single, Warsaw Pact-type threat. His vast region of responsibility, which stretches across half the world's surface and includes half its population in 36 countries, enjoys a relative peace. But its tensions, like its volatile geology, are bubbling just at or slightly below the surface.

North Korea's missile and nuclear weapons programs and China's military buildup and lack of transparency loom large. Terrorist activity threatens Indonesia, the Philippines and most recently, India. Other challenges range from piracy to the proliferation of technology for weapons of mass destruction.

Willard sat down with reporters last week in Seoul, South Korea, just two days after assuming command, to discuss these and other challenges and his vision for U.S. Pacific Command.

"I love this region of the world," he said. "The Asia-Pacific region, to me, is extremely complex [and] has a great history associated with it."

As he spoke, Willard had yet to set foot into his new headquarters office at Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii, perched on a mountain with a majestic view of Pearl Harbor. After consultative sessions in South Korea last week and an off-site defense chiefs conference in Hawaii this week, Willard said, he was looking forward to getting settled into his new office and getting down to business with his new staff.

North Korea is high on his priority list.

"A nuclear-armed North Korea, and a North Korea that chooses to provoke and ... may be on the brink of succession – all those things make North Korea worthy of our attention now," he said. "North Korea needs to be watched very closely."

Meanwhile, China is expanding its military might at "an unprecedented rate," Willard said, exceeding U.S. intelligence estimates every year for the past decade. Equally troubling, China also has obtained "asymmetric capabilities that are concerning to the region," including anti-access capabilities, ballistic missiles and sophisticated weaponry.

And even the historically rock-solid alliance with Japan is demanding more attention these days, as Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's new government reassesses security agreements made by previous administrations.

Willard told reporters he's intent on strengthening the five U.S. alliances in the region and bringing new partners, including China, into the fold.

China abruptly halted all military-to-military engagement when the United States announced arms sales to Taiwan in October 2008. But now that China has demonstrated a willingness to re-engage, Willard wants to increase the interface and take the relationship to a new level.

"China is not our enemy," he said. "We look forward to a constructive relationship with China and their constructive contribution to the security of the Asia-Pacific region."

Willard said he'll work to promote more multilateralism in a region that historically has been characterized by bilateral relationships with the United States. "Ten years ago, the Asia-Pacific was, by and large, a place where ... countries were very comfortable talking one-on-one with the United States or with other partners, but rarely together," he said.

Although that's been improving, Willard said, current challenges facing the region demand even closer cooperation. He pointed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the power of like-minded nations engaging together, as valuable lessons for the Pacific.

"We are looking for as many partners ... as we can find in the region," he said.

As he takes on these challenges, Willard brings to the job extensive experience in the Pacific, both operationally, as a Navy pilot, and in command positions.

Most recently, he spent two and a half years commanding U.S. Pacific Fleet, the world's largest fleet command, with its 180 ships, 1,500 aircraft and 125,000 sailors and Marines. He previously commanded the Fighter Squadron 51 "Screaming Eagles"; the amphibious flagship USS Tripoli; the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln out of Everett, Wash.; Carrier Group 5 aboard USS Kitty Hawk; and 7th Fleet in Yokosuka, Japan.

While he's already putting his experience to work, Willard conceded that the top Pacom job demands an entirely different focus.

"This is a more strategic level of command than the components are, and as a consequence, it will be a little different level of engagement," he said. "It's a new experience for me, and I very much look forward to it."

To help in preparing himself, Willard spent the past couple months consulting with think-tank and Asia experts and working with a small transition team to ensure a smooth transition to his new post.

He noted during his Oct. 19 assumption of command ceremony the vast changes that have taken place in Asia and the Pacific in recent decades. The one constant, he said, has been Asia's growing importance, not just to the region, but to the world.

Willard said he'll work tirelessly to ensure Pacom lives up to the challenges, and sends an unmistakable message of U.S. commitment to Asia and the Pacific.

"Our nation's interests are here," he said.

Postal Service Announces Holiday Mailing Guidelines

By Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Jung
Special to American Forces Press Service

Oct. 28, 2009 - U.S. Postal Service officials have announced recommended mailing dates for delivery by Christmas to U.S. servicemembers serving in Afghanistan and other overseas locations. First-class and priority mail for servicemembers stationed in Afghanistan should be sent by Dec. 4 for arrival by Christmas. The deadline for parcel airlift mail is Dec. 1, and space-available mail bound for Afghanistan should be sent by Nov. 21.

Officials recommend that parcel post mail to all military overseas locations should be sent by Nov. 13.

A chart with recommended mailing deadlines for all types of mail to various APO and FPO addresses is available at the Postal Service's Web site at

Express mail cannot be used to mail packages to Afghanistan; however priority mail is available.

Priority mail packaging products, including priority mail flat-rate boxes, can be obtained free at any post office, or online at The priority mail large flat-rate box can be used to mail to any overseas military address, no matter the weight of the box, for $11.95.

The Postal Service offers free military care kits, designed for military families sending packages overseas. To order by phone, call 800-610-8734 and ask for the military care kit. Each kit includes two "America Supports You" large priority mail flat-rate boxes, four medium-sized priority mail flat-rate boxes, six priority mail labels, a roll of priority mail tape and six customs forms with envelopes.

"All packages and mail must be addressed to the individual servicemember by name, without rank, in accordance with Department of Defense regulations," said Air Force Master Sgt. Deb LaGrandQuintana, the 455th Expeditionary Communications Squadron official mail manager here.

Military overseas units are assigned an APO or FPO ZIP code, and in many cases, that ZIP code travels with the unit wherever it goes, LaGrandQuintana added.

The Postal Service places APO and FPO mail to overseas military servicemembers on special transportation destined to be delivered as soon as possible.

Mail sent APO and FPO addresses may require customs forms. All mail addressed to military post offices overseas is subject to certain conditions or restrictions regarding content, preparation and handling. For general guidelines on sending mail to servicemembers overseas, visit

Postal Service officials recommend taking the following measures when sending packages:

-- If you use a regular box, use one strong enough to protect the contents with no writing on the outside.

-- Cushion contents with newspaper, bubble wrap, or Styrofoam. Pack tightly to avoid shifting.

-- Package food items like cookies, fudge, candies, etc. securely in leak-proof containers.

-- Use pressure-sensitive or nylon-reinforced packing tape.

-- Do not use wrapping paper, string, masking tape, or cellophane tape outside the package.

-- Print your return address and the servicemember's complete name, without rank, followed by unit and APO or FPO delivery address on one side only of the package.

-- Place a return address label inside the package.

-- Stuff fragile items with newspaper or packing material to avoid damage.

-- Remove batteries from toys and appliances. Wrap and place them next to the items inside.

-- Purchase insurance and delivery confirmation service for reassurance of package delivery.

(Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Jung serves in the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing public affairs office.)

Gates Asks Xu to Help Break 'On-Again, Off-Again' Cycle

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 27, 2009 - Breaking the cycle of "on-again, off-again" military-to-military relations between the United States and China is of primary importance to the two nations, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told his Chinese counterpart here today. Gates met with Chinese Gen. Xu Caihou, the vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the People's Liberation Army, for more than an hour at the Pentagon. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell called the meetings "good and productive."

The two men spoke about the course of U.S.-Chinese relations, the progress made on military-to-military relations and the military-to-military goals for 2010.

Gates emphasized that the military-to-military relationship is key to the overall relationship between the two countries, Morrell said. He listed a number of areas where the United States and China cooperate and operate together. These include humanitarian operations, disaster relief, maritime security, counter-piracy, counter-proliferation and counter-narcotics.

"[Gates] also said there is a need to break the on-again, off-again cycle of our military-to-military relationship," Morrell said.

This often happens as military leaders "make strides, have a good visit, agree to cooperate on certain things and then there will be a hiccup that causes a suspension in mil-to-mil relations," he continued. "[Gates] said that cycle has to end."

Xu said the two countries need to increase cooperation and military exchanges particularly in education opportunities for junior officers and senior noncommissioned officers.

The visit paved the way for the secretary to make a reciprocal visit to China early next year. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also will visit his Chinese counterpart in the coming months.

The secretary praised efforts aimed at transparency in military affairs, Morrell said. The Chinese recently issued a White Paper, which – in part -- explains the justification for the Chinese military build-up.

The two defense leaders discussed Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"The take-away is that there was broad agreement on the importance of and how to deal with the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the need to work together to create a more stable and secure environment in both those places," Morrell said.

There also is an appreciation for the United States and China to work together to prevent Iran and North Korea from pursuing nuclear weapons and proliferating. The Chinese encouraged engagement and diplomacy for these countries.

Gates thanked the Chinese for their help in recovering the remains of U.S. personnel from previous wars.

"We've seen increased cooperation lately, and that was appreciated and noted and the secretary shared that with General Xu," Morrell said.

Tomorrow, Xu will travel to Fort Benning, Ga., and then move on to Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. The general will visit Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., on Oct. 29 and will move on to San Diego where he will tour the USS Ronald Reagan on Oct. 30.

The general then will tour U.S. bases in the Pacific region as the guest of the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, before returning to Beijing on Nov. 3.

'Af-Pak Hands' Strives for Continuity in U.S. Mission

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 27, 2009 - The U.S. military is building a cadre of officers who each will serve a multi-year assignment dedicated to a narrow piece of the U.S. strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Known as "Af-Pak Hands," the program steeps officers in the language and culture of the region, and limits the range of their duties and focus on a single area for a four-to-five-year cycle. Officers will serve in a similar job at home and downrange, an aspect of the program military officials say will enable them to create and maintain relationships with the local populace abroad, a lynchpin of counterinsurgency doctrine.

"They'll be a group of experts that will learn to speak the local languages, understand the dialects, become attuned to the culture and remain focused on the problem for an extended period, rather than just on a rotation basis," a military official said, speaking on background.

In a normal rotation cycle, troops returning to the United States from deployment would likely occupy a different job from the one they held downrange. But the continuity of Af-Pak Hands would reduce the learning curve usually attendant to fresh boots on the ground, with officers building on their knowledge of local culture, language and tribal dynamics upon each of multiple, relatively short deployments.

"The idea is that you're not reinventing the wheel each time a new servicemember replaces an old one," another defense official speaking on background said of the program. The department has identified 300 billets that will comprise Af-Pak Hands personnel, including 121 new positions created as part of the initiative.

Af-Pak Hands training began recently, with about 30 officers enrolled in courses taught by the Defense Language Institute, the department's flagship language and cultural training center. Dari, Pashto and Urdu – the region's three dominant tongues – make up the 16-week language curriculum.

The initiative comes to fruition as President Barack Obama and his advisors weigh decisions on the next phase of the Afghan war. The debate is said to cover a spectrum of proposals ranging from deploying more troops to a narrower, scaled-down approach that moves away from the counterinsurgency model.

Counterinsurgency is a form of warfare in which a civilian population is in the center of a tug-of-war between an insurgency and the forces attempting to stop it. The Army and Marine Corps in late 2006 published a counterinsurgency strategy written by a host of contributors, and its implementation is credited with helping to reverse violence in Iraq.

"If the strategy remains a counterinsurgency strategy and that's where the White House takes us, then [Af-Pak Hands] will be critical in the 'clear, hold and build' classic counterinsurgency strategy," the military official said. "You want to get to the point where you relate to the general populace and you've built the trust, so that it's more the population pushing the Taliban out than you trying to pull them out."

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, established the program, which has garnered support from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who took command of forces in Afghanistan earlier this year. Career fields that apply include intelligence, special operations, combat arms and engineering, and could include civil-military operators, a military official said.

"The program goes back to a focus that both Admiral Mullen and General McChrystal had on wanting to maintain some continuity, and understanding that the key to the counterinsurgency effort is building the relationships," the official said.

"And your best opportunity to build those relationships is to have the same faces and the same understanding of the language and culture. If you're going to nurture that relationship and really build the trust that you need, it's got to be a sustained effort."

Tours of duty, which are expected to be primarily in the contentious southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan, will last six to 12 months, the official said. Duty stations domestically include the Joint Staff's Pakistan-Afghanistan coordination cell in the Pentagon; U.S. Central Command's Center of Excellence or U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla.; and the Joint Special Operations Command in North Carolina, among other possible locations.

The program is being coordinated through the U.S. Central Command, NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, U.S. Joint Forces Command and the military services. Service branches are identifying officers for participation in the program, which will comprise a joint force with members of all branches and possibly a civilian component, a military official said.