Thursday, December 03, 2009

Truck Driver Takes Road Toward Chaplaincy

By Ina Stiewitz
Special to American Forces Press Service

Dec. 3, 2009 - For Army Spc. Andrey West, the Lord has worked in mysterious ways. At the age of 40, he found himself enlisting in the Army, something he previously had no intention of doing. And after serving two years as a motor transport operator, he now is on the path to becoming an Army chaplain. When West returned from a 15-month deployment to Iraq with a unit based in Mannheim, he was reassigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, U.S. Army Europe, and was given special duty as a chaplain assistant for the Heidelberg garrison.

This, however, was not West's first encounter with the ministry.

One of the things West and his wife, Judy, shared when they met in Chattanooga, Tenn., was a heart and a desire for a relationship with God. After marrying in 1987, they moved to Oklahoma, where they attended a Bible training center.

"Andy decided that he was going to focus on youth ministry, because that's where he came to know the Lord," said Judy, now the chapel coordinator at Patrick Henry Village Chapel. "I graduated in the teacher's area, and we stayed there for 14 years [and] learned a lot about ministry, the church and how to serve."

With their shared passion, the Wests never stopped thinking about working in a church or maybe starting their own church one day.

After 9/11, the Wests' personal business - offering maintenance services for printers, copy and fax machines - felt the shock economically. Andrey felt he needed to do something with his Bible school degree.

"Things were breaking apart. We got kicked out of our nest, and it was time to do what we have been trying to do, and what was in our hearts to do," his wife said. "We packed up everything with our four kids and moved to Maryland - to the unknown world."

The Wests tried hard to establish a new life in their new home in Annapolis.

"The doors just kept closing and closing," Judy said. "We were really fascinated, though, with the military there in Annapolis. We just loved to go out there and watch the Blue Angels fly. We loved to hear them marching and doing other things."

Lots of local churches ministered to the servicemembers there, and the Wests tried to get involved in one of them. Meanwhile, while checking into other opportunities, Andrey found the Army was accepting recruits up to 42 years old at that time.

"I thought, 'Lord, if I can do ministry, even as enlisted, I'll just do that,'" he said.

In 2007, he enlisted in the Army. Both Wests come from families with military backgrounds, and Judy had been to Germany as a child when her father was stationed in Giessen and Baumholder.

"She always wanted to come back to Germany," West said. "It's just how the Lord worked it out: I enlisted in the Army, we came to Germany, I got assigned in Mannheim, and then we ended up living in Heidelberg."

After almost a year on active duty, West deployed to Camp Liberty, Iraq, for 15 months. While he served downrange, his wife took a position as the Patrick Henry Village Chapel coordinator and got to know Army Chaplain (Capt.) Michael Griffith, Heidelberg's Protestant chaplain, and Army Chaplain (Col.) Jerry Jones, U.S. Army Garrison Baden-W├╝rttemberg chaplain. They guided her in the right direction for her husband to become a chaplain.

"West was downrange, and his wife, Judy, approached me at the candlelight service a year ago at the [Patrick Henry Village] chapel," Jones said. "She told me that her husband was interested in becoming a chaplain."

When he got back from Iraq, stacks of paperwork and a list of steps awaited him, Andrey said.

"I was able to get reassigned to Heidelberg, and the [company] commander was willing to assign me to special duty," he said. "Between everybody being so supportive and everybody working together, kind of made it happen for me."

Andrey now is preparing himself to become a chaplain candidate. To do so, he must have a bachelor's degree. Then he can apply to be commissioned as a second lieutenant and then proceed to the Chaplain Officer Basic Course.

Only after all the requirements are met - a 72-hour master's degree program, ordination in a recognized faith group by the chief of chaplains office, and the Chaplain Officer Basic Course - can he become an official Army chaplain.

He now has 96 hours toward a bachelor of arts in religion and ministry, and is scheduled to complete his degree in May.

West works at Mark Twain Village Chapel and volunteers at Patrick Henry Village Chapel. He supports memorial services or services that happen during the week, supports the chaplain, learns administrative duties and helps with community relations events.

He teaches Sunday school and serves on the parish council at Patrick Henry Village Chapel as the services coordinator. Sometimes, he is an usher or plays music as well, pitching in wherever help is needed.

"Working in the chapel gives me an opportunity to learn how the Army chapel works, because we volunteered in civilian churches all of our lives," Andrey said. "There are similarities and there are differences, and it's good to see those."

Jones said serving as a chaplain assistant will put West ahead of the game when he goes to the chaplain course.

"He'll already have that exposure to what supervising a chaplain assistant is all about, because he'll know everything a chaplain assistant is supposed to do," Jones said.

West said he plans to apply for his ecclesiastical endorsement as well as his chaplain candidacy in the process of finishing his bachelor's degree.

"I think being a chaplain will be a lot of work, but at the same time, it will be fulfilling, because it has always been my desire since I gave my heart to the Lord," he said. "I expect deployments in the Army, and I watched the chaplains in the deployed and in the garrison arenas. I have been around soldiers that needed help, and I helped the guys from my unit coming to me for counsel."

West's story, Jones said, represents what chaplains believe to be a good number of servicemembers who may feel the call of God to come into the ministry.

"If you are a person of faith and you're paying attention, God will put sign posts along the way in your life - could be people, could be circumstances, could be any number of things - and to pay attention to those could direct you into another career," Jones said. "And for the West family, it is going to be the chaplaincy."

(Ina Stiewitz works in the U.S. Army Garrison Baden-Wuerttemberg public affairs office.)

NORAD Tracks Santa!

Department Focuses on F-35 Costs, Fair Tanker Competition

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Dec. 3, 2009 - Pentagon officials are working to halt spiraling costs in the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft program, while ensuring competition for a new refueling tanker remains fair to all contenders, Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III said here yesterday. Lynn told the Aerospace and Defense Conference he's concerned about both "cost and schedule challenges" associated with the next-generation fighter aircraft that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates calls "the heart of the future of our tactical combat aviation."

"We don't like some of the trends we see, and we are determined not to accept those trends," Lynn told the audience of aerospace executives.

Defense Department officials are reviewing the program and exploring ways to get the contractor, Lockheed Martin Corp., to share in the cost of scheduling delays, he said. Meanwhile, they're revising and restructuring the program to make sure it delivers on schedule.

The big question, Lynn told the group, is: "Can we make the test program more robust and more redundant so to ensure the development comes in a timely way?"

Asked about the contentious aerial tanker competition, Lynn said Pentagon officials are striving "to play it right down the middle" to ensure it doesn't favor either Northrop Grumman Corp. or Boeing Co.

"We want a fair competition; we want a balanced competition," Lynn said. "We think that is what will give the best value to the taxpayer."

The issue involves a contract for 179 aerial refuelers estimated at about $35 billion. The new tankers will replace the aging KC-135R Stratotanker fleet.

Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday he wants both contractors vying to build the tanker to remain in the competition. "We believe that both of the principal competitors are highly qualified, and we would like to see competition continue in the process," Gates said.

Northrop-Grumman has threatened to withdraw from the competition if the bidding terms aren't changed, complaining that they favor Boeing. Boeing, on the other hand, contested the initial contract award to a Northrop Grumman/EADS/Airbus consortium in February 2008. The Government Accountability Office reviewed the protest and recommended that the Air Force rebid the contract due to irregularities in the contracting process.

Lynn said yesterday he's not surprised that both contenders, in comments about the new draft request for proposal, "argued for changes that would stress some of the benefits of their individual aircraft."

"We are going to have to play this down the middle, take fair account of any comments that are made by both sides, and move through this," he said. "We very much want to have competition, ... and we can't favor one side over the other."

Lynn said he expects the department to issue a final request for proposals in January.

The Air Force will be the source selection authority for the new tanker, Gates announced during the Air Force Association's Air and Space Conference in September. Defense Department officials are working closely with the Air Force to design the strategy leading up to the selection, Lynn told reporters during a late November Pentagon news conference.

'New Walter Reed' Effort On Track, Officials Say

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

Dec. 3, 2009 - Realignment of military medical facilities in the national capital region ordered by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission is on track to meet the commission's deadline, senior Defense Department officials said here yesterday. Walter Reed Army Medical Center here is consolidating with the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and a new hospital is under construction at Fort Belvoir, Va.

"Recommendations proposed a transition from a legacy service-specific medical infrastructure into a premier, modernized joint operational medicine platform," said Allen W. Middleton, acting principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. "We are making great progress, and I am pleased to report that we are on track to implement the BRAC recommendations by the statutory deadline of Sept. 15, 2011."

Middleton testified before the House Armed Services Committee's joint readiness and military personnel subcommittees that new construction at the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on the Bethesda campus is more than 60 percent complete. New inpatient and outpatient additions are under construction, and work is beginning for wounded warrior lodging, a dining facility, an administrative complex, a gym and a parking garage complex, Middleton said.

Meanwhile, the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital is more than 50 percent complete, and will provide a total replacement of the existing community hospital, he said.

"We acknowledge that completion of construction activities represents only part of the story," Middleton told the lawmakers. "Although our primary focus has been completing BRAC recommendations before the deadline, we understand that 'world-class' health-care facilities is a long-term commitment to improvement beyond BRAC, and that additional investments are required to achieve that end state."

The department is willing to support Joint Task Force Capital Medical Region and the military services in identifying additional non-BRAC requirements and ensuring they're considered in future budget requests, he added.

Another senior Defense Department official noted that in addition to construction being on schedule, the department is on the right track with respect to the new Walter Reed.

"First of all, there was a growing mismatch between the location of eligible beneficiaries, with active duty families concentrating in the southern part of the region, and the location of the major medical facilities to the north," said Dorothy Robyn, deputy under secretary of defense for installations and environment.

With the estimated cost of $500 million to renovate or $700 million to replace the existing Walter Reed facility, and the six to 15 years that would be needed to accomplish that process, the realignment was the right decision, she said. In addition, she noted, the existing facilities at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda and Walter Reed Army Medical Center had excessive inpatient capacity, and Walter Reed's infrastructure was deteriorating from heavy use and chronic underinvestment.

The Defense Health Board Subcommittee recently suggested a possible delay in the construction of the new facilities pending further planning of additional improvements outside the scope of BRAC to make the new Walter Reed "world class," Robyn said.

"We fully agree with the need for additional improvements," she told the panel, "but we think it is not necessary to halt the BRAC construction process, and we think to do so would jeopardize the benefits that this endeavor promises. Most importantly, without the discipline of the BRAC process, we could not have overcome the inertia and the impediments to change that created the problems I described in the first place."

The additional improvements being discussed can be addressed separately and subsequently, she added.

Robyn acknowledged the consolidation is a large and complex undertaking, but said it represents a reasonable and balanced approach. The result, she told the panel, will be a superior health-care delivery system.

Navy Vice Adm. (Dr.) John M. Mateczun, commander of Joint Task Force National Capital Region Medical, agreed. "This transformation will allow the [Defense Department] and the military services to capitalize on their collective strengths, maintain high levels of readiness, [and] provide world-class health care to our armed forces and their families," he said.

The admiral also reassured the lawmakers that patient care remains as his top priority during the consolidation.

"We are committed not just to world-class care, but to the best care that can be provided any time, any place, to the wounded that are coming to us from the theaters in Iraq and Afghanistan," Mateczun said. "We will suffer no diminishment of care or patient safety during this transition to be able to achieve the goals the department has."

In addition to all the BRAC-related construction, the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund is building a National Intrepid Center of Excellence on the Bethesda campus. The center will offer diagnosis, treatment planning, research, family-centered education, and long-term follow-up for military personnel with traumatic brain injury and psychological health conditions.

The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a not-for-profit organization working to support veterans and their families, will pay for the construction and major equipment costs for the center and will donate it to the government upon completion.