Friday, October 30, 2009

Exercise Seeks to Reduce Friendly Fire Incidents

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 30, 2009 - Modern technology makes warfare more fast-paced, efficient and deadly, but the ever-present confusion or "fog" of battle still causes inadvertent deaths of friendly forces and civilians. The two-week Bold Quest 2009 exercise that began Oct. 27 at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., seeks to identify emerging technologies that can be used to save military and civilian lives during combat operations.

This year's exercise is looking for ways to better aid combat air crews in differentiating between friendly and enemy forces and civilians during air-to-ground support operations, said Bold Quest coordinator John Miller, a civilian member at Norfolk, Va.,-based U.S. Joint Forces Command that sponsors the annual exercises.

"That means kill the right target and avoid fratricide," Miller said today in an interview with reporters from Camp Lejeune.

Bold Quest also is a coalition affair, Miller said, noting 10 nations are actively participating in this year's exercises with some other countries sending observers.

The coalition component, he said, is an important factor as part of efforts to improve combat identification.

About 1,000 military members are participating in Bold Quest, which includes about 20 U.S. and Canadian aircraft and some 80 U.S. ground vehicles.

Soldiers from the U.S. Army's 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, are heavily involved in all of Bold Quest's ground operations, Miller said.

"The purpose of this is indentifying ground troops with this technology, and we're providing the ground troops," said Army Capt. Bixler Benson, part of the 10th Mountain contingent bivouacked at the exercise's tactical operations center at Camp Lejeune.

Benson's soldiers, he said, are incorporating routine field training as part of their role in the exercise, while interacting with coalition participants.

Coalition partners at Bold Quest demonstrations desire "an early look at what has military utility and what warrants a future investment in further development and fielding," Miller said.

Canada, a long-time participant in Bold Quest, wants "exposure to future technologies to fill capability gaps in combat identification," said Cmdr. R.S. Edwards with the Canadian Forces.

The Canadians also are interested "in exploiting new systems for improved interoperability, particularly with the United States, but also with our coalition partners," Edwards added.

Bold Quest "represents a very safe and testable environment where we can evaluate interoperability for our own systems to make sure that we can cooperate in the field and that we can develop then common procedures in order to operate effectively," said Norwegian Lt. Col. Bjorn Kristiansen.

The exercise, Miller said, seeks to provide "shooters with the tools to help them to sort out the confusion that they confront on a daily basis, whether from the air or the ground."

A variety of sensor equipment is being tested, Miller said. For example, "interrogators" installed on aircraft are designed to enable friendly aviators, through query and response, to identify friendly ground troops that carry "responders" on their vehicles.

Other identification devices being tested, he said, are designed to be carried by friendly soldiers and noncombatant civilians.

Yet, because the potential for human error cannot be totally factored out, it's unlikely that fratricide or civilian casualties will be completely eliminated from warfare, Miller acknowledged.

However, "we can take some steps to try to minimize it," he said.

Survivors Unlikely in Midair Crash, Pentagon Official Says

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 30, 2009 - Search efforts continue after two military aircraft collided off the California coast yesterday, but a Defense Department official said it's unlikely there are survivors among the nine people aboard. The crash occurred about 7 p.m. local time last night some 15 miles east of San Clemente Island, Calif., when a Coast Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft with seven people aboard collided with an AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter containing two pilots, according to the U.S. Coast Guard Web site.

"The search is still on, but it's likely taken the lives of nine individuals," said Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman, calling the collision a "tragic event."

The Coast Guard, Navy and Marine Corps are involved in the search, with Coast Guard assets including two MH-60J Jayhawk helicopters, the Cutters Edisto and Petrel, from San Diego, and the Cutter Blackfin from Santa Barbara, Calif.

The Coast Guard aircraft from Air Station Sacramento was engaged in a search and rescue mission and the Marine helicopter from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing stationed at the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton was conducting a routine training mission at the time of the crash. The Navy reported to the Coast Guard that they observed what appeared to be a midair collision, according to the Coast Guard.

Coast Guard and Navy crews searched through the night amid conditions offering unlimited visibility and "ideal search conditions," the Coast Guard reported.

Efforts are focused on the search for survivors, and the Coast Guard is investigating to determine the cause of the accident.

Chairman Honored for Efforts to End Homelessness

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 30, 2009 - The United States has the values, wealth, and support of its leadership to end homelessness among veterans, the top military officer said last night as he accepted an award for his efforts to stop what he said is a nationwide problem. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was "humbled, thrilled and grateful" to accept the first "Soldier On" award here last night.

"I accept this award but I really do accept it for the 2 million men and women who are serving right now, active and reserve and guard," Mullen said. "[They] make up the best military we've ever had in our country."
The Soldier On award was created as an annual recognition of a person who has made a significant contribution to ending homelessness among veterans. Mullen received a bronze statuette created by internationally acclaimed sculptor Andrew DeVries, who will create statuettes for future honorees, as well.

Homelessness among veterans has been a challenge virtually all of Mullen's adult life, particularly post-Vietnam, he said. It's an issue he's focused on as the country fights two wars.
"Several years ago when these conflicts started, one of the things I promised myself is I'd do everything I could to make sure we didn't generate another generation of homeless veterans, which we did when I was young," Mullen told reporters before accepting the award.

The chairman said he is grateful for all that Jack Downing, founder of Soldier On and all the sponsors have done to curb homelessness among veterans in Massachusetts. But, he said, "the homeless veterans challenge is one that is certainly much broader than the local challenge here. It's a national challenge."
The road ahead to curbing homelessness among veterans is long, but Mullen said he's confident in the leadership, which he described as "committed to making it work."
"It is a great, great privilege to be able to serve with so many who care and then to see how much difference can be made," he said as he accepted the award. "We do have extraordinary support for our young men and women who serve right now.
"I really do believe that we can solve this problem," he added. "We are a rich country. We are a rich people with the values that can make sure that everyone who serves is able to live their American dream. That's who we are as a country."
Soldier On is a Massachusetts-based nonprofit group that serves homeless veterans at shelters in Leeds and Pittsfield, Mass.

Its mission is to end homelessness among veterans by providing permanent, sustainable, safe, and affordable housing with support services that veterans will own and operate.

Earlier today, the group broke ground for the construction of 39 apartments which will be owned, managed, and occupied by formerly homeless veterans. The project, a $6 million dollar venture involving state, federal, and local housing programs, will incorporate green building design and features that will allow veterans to stay in their homes as they age.

Soldier One will continue to provide mental health, vocational and psychological and social services to the veterans in residence.

Because the project is virtually debt-free, the portion of the veteran's rent that would have supported debt service will be deposited in individual development accounts for the veterans to earn equity in their homes.

Weekend Musician Fulfills Duty in Desert

By Army Sgt. Neil Gussman
Special to American Forces Press Service

Oct. 30, 2009 - Army Sgt. Nicholas Raia said it was a sense of duty that made him give up the good life as a full-time Penn State student and weekend National Guard musician to volunteer to come here. After seven years in the Pennsylvania National Guard band, Raia decided to take a year away from performing and volunteer for a combat tour. Since January, Raia has served here as a door gunner on a CH-47 Chinook helicopter with Company B, 2nd Battalion, 104th Aviation Regiment.

"I felt that after seven years in the Guard, it was my turn to do my part overseas," he said.

Raia, of Altoona, Pa., got his start with the Guard when, at 18, he brought his trumpet to an audition for the Guard band. He aced the audition and until last summer was a member of several of the band's performance groups, playing trumpet, baritone and guitar for recruiting events and celebrations, and more formal military ceremonies.

Over the years he was in the band, Raia came to believe he should deploy with a combat unit.

"Our job [in the band] is unique in that we are in the public eye often, and we often get thanked for our service by people in our audiences," Raia said. "I would find myself conflicted, because while it is true that we, as a unit, were serving our country in the way in which we were meant to serve, I also felt as if I should be doing more."

Raia had several friends in the Guard who deployed overseas at least once in their careers. He said he felt those were the soldiers who truly deserved to be thanked.

"I felt that after seven years in the Guard, it was my turn to do my part overseas," he said.

His final decision to deploy was met by his unit with unwavering support.

"My unit could not have been more supportive of my decision," he recalled. "They helped me get everything on the military side of the house in order prior to my deployment and have made it a point to ensure it would not affect me negatively upon my return."

To get ready for the transition from full-time student and weekend band member, Raia volunteered for additional training in weapons. In June 2008, Raia attended the Small Arms Master Gunner course at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa. To prepare for hand-to-hand combat, he completed the weeklong Level One Combatives Course in July. At the end of September, he was one of 10 soldiers in the first class trained in the new live-fire shoot house, also at Fort Indiantown Gap.

But his transition from band member and college student to door gunner had difficulties training could not help.

"It was a decision that I struggled with for a while," he said. "It's one thing to tell your loved ones you are being ordered to leave and a totally different animal entirely when you are trying to explain to them that you are voluntarily leaving."

Raia said his civilian friends did not understand his desire to volunteer for combat in the way his military friends did. "People in the military think a little differently than those who are not and most of the soldiers in the military today could probably easily understand the feeling of responsibility that compelled me to deploy."

His family also wasn't happy with his decision, but has since become very supportive, he said. "My family worried about me and they were not real thrilled that I would volunteer to leave them for a year to go to a combat zone." he said, but added, "Any previous uncertainty or worries has given way to pride in what I am doing."

Before deployment, Raia completed all the requirements for a bachelor's degree at Penn State with a double major in criminal justice and psychology. He plans to become a police officer after deployment — except on National Guard weekends when he will be back on stage or in formation at ceremonies in the 28th Infantry Division Band.

(Army Sgt. Neil Gussman serves with 28th Combat Aviation Brigade public affairs.)