Monday, December 14, 2009

South Korea on Track to Assume Defense Lead

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

Dec. 14, 2009 - South Korea's military is on track to assume the lead for its nation's defense as scheduled a little more than two years from now, the top U.S. military officer posted there said here today. Under an agreement with the United States, South Korea is slated to assume wartime operational control of its military forces on April 17, 2012.

The South Korean military possesses the professionalism and capability "to take command of a war fight, if we had to go to war on the peninsula," Army Gen. Walter "Skip" Sharp said today at the Center for Strategy and International Studies, a Washington "think tank."

Sharp has commanded United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces in Korea since June 2008. About 28,500 U.S. forces serve in South Korea, Sharp said, a number that's expected to remain about the same for the foreseeable future.

Exercises to evaluate restructuring of command and control and staffing systems to accommodate the upcoming transition are being conducted, Sharp said.

After the transition occurs in 2012, U.S. ground and naval assets will come under South Korean leadership in the event of war on the peninsula, the general said. However, he added, the United States will maintain command and control of its air assets under the agreement.
The U.S.-South Korean military partnership also will be augmented by an improved staffing system designed to enhance wartime coordination and communications between the leaders of U.S., South Korean, and allied forces.

It only makes sense that South Korea takes responsibility for its national defense, Sharp said, noting senior South Korean officers inherently know important aspects of their native land.

The transfer of the lead to South Korea in wartime military operations on the Korean peninsula also sends a strong signal to North Korea, Sharp said, noting the United States will continue to support and help defend South Korea with all the forces necessary after the transition.

"The Republic of Korea military is professional and strong enough that they will be the lead and we will commit to that alliance," Sharp said. South Korea has more than 600,000 active duty troops, and it has continued efforts to modernize its military since the 1980s.

To delay the transition, he said, would signal to North Korea that: "No, we're really not ready to do this yet, and the military of South Korea is not strong enough."

Meanwhile, the general said, U.S. and South Korean authorities are working to make the transition happen in April 2012.

"And, I really do believe that we're on track to do that," he said.

MILITARY CONTRACTS December 14, 2009

Boeing Co., Wichita, Kan., was awarded a $44,100,000 contract which will provide for the C-130 Avionic Modernization Program. At this time, the entire amount has been obligated. 656 AESS, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the contracting activity (F33657-01-C-0047, P00176).

Wyle Laboratories, Inc., Huntsville, Ala., is being awarded a $30,605,633 modification to a previously awarded indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity multiple award contract (N00421-03-D-0015) to execute an award term for continued E-2C/E-2D/C-2 planning, program and financial services in support of the Navy and the governments of Egypt, France, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan and Canada under the Foreign Military Sales program. Work will be performed in Patuxent River, Md., and is expected to be completed in December 2010. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity.

URSGI-BMDC, a joint venture, San Diego, Calif., is being awarded a maximum $30,000,000 firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity architect-engineering contract for designing complete plans and specifications for various projects at multiple Marine Corps bases within California and Arizona. The work to be performed provides for site investigation, geotechnical investigation, surveying and cost estimating as well as preparation of requests for proposals for design-build projects and preparation of fully designed plans and specifications for invitation for bids projects. Work will be performed at various Marine Corps bases and is expected to be completed by November 2012. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via the Naval Facilities Engineering Command e-solicitation website with 48 proposals received. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Southwest, San Diego, Calif., is the contracting activity (N62473-10-D-0401).

General Dynamics C4 Systems, Scottsdale, Ariz., is being awarded a $15,503,887 modification (#P00193) under a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract (M67854-02-C-2052) to purchase three Capability Set IIIs and eight Capability Set IV Combat Operations Center systems and 12 duct plenum adapter kits as replacement systems for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. Work will be performed in Scottsdale, Ariz., and is expected to be completed by September 2010. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Marine Corps Systems Command, Quantico, Va., is the contracting activity.

Raydiance, Inc.*, Petaluma, Calif., is being awarded a $9,925,000 ceiling priced indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for a Phase III Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program that will expedite necessary ultrafast laser research and development in order to meet both Navy mission and commercial needs by providing funding to both integrate the technology developed and continue pursuing innovations in ultrafast laser technology from Phase I and Phase II. Phase I and Phase II work derives from, extends, or logically concludes efforts performed under prior SBIR/Small Business Technology Transfer program contracts. Work will be performed in Petaluma, Calif., and is expected to be completed in September 2013. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity (N00421-10-D-0002).

Northrop Grumman Corp., Integrated Systems, Bethpage, N.Y., is being awarded a $9,300,000 modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract (N00019-08-C-0027) for non-recurring engineering in support of new supplier qualification and startup in support of E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft low-rate initial production Lot 1 and 2 aircraft. Work will be performed in Bethpage, N.Y. (40.63 percent); Edgewood, N.Y. (22.35 percent); St. Augustine, Fla., (20.86 percent); Aire-sur-l'Adour, France (14.17 percent); and various locations within the continental United States (1.99 percent). Work is expected to be completed in January 2011. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity.

Hamilton Sundstrand Corp., Windsor Locks, Conn., is being awarded a ceiling amount $7,449,273 cost-plus-fixed-fee indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract to furnish services in support of the oxygen generating plant/gas management system/electrolytic chlorine generator/central atmospheric monitoring system/integrated low pressure electrolyzer installed on the SSN-21, SSN-774, SSN-688 and SSN-726 class submarines. Work will be performed in various locations inside and outside the contiguous United States, and is expected to be completed by December 2015. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured. The Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, Ship System Engineering Station, Philadelphia, Pa., is the contracting activity (N65540-10-D-0005).

Moog, Inc., East Aurora, N.Y., is being awarded a maximum $9,171,750 firm-fixed-price, sole-source contract for cylinder assembly. Using service is Army. There was originally one proposal solicited with one response. Contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The date of performance completion is Sept. 20, 2010. The Defense Supply Center Richmond, Redstone Arsenal, Ala., is the contracting activity (SPRAA1-09-D-0033/0002).

General Wants Troops Ready for 'Complex Human Terrain'

American Forces Press Service

Dec. 14, 2009 - U.S. troops need to be prepared to operate in a "complex human terrain" when they arrive in Afghanistan, the commander of International Security Assistance Force Joint Command said here today. Army Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez took over the job just two months ago. He commands U.S. troops assigned to NATO and troops of 42 other nations for daily operations throughout Afghanistan.

"Now that we know where [U.S. troops] are going and when they are coming in, I think we'll be able to make them well-prepared for what they need to do," he said during an interview with reporters traveling with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The general said the long pole in the tent is situational awareness for the troops coming in. "It's tougher to do than the actual training itself," he said.

Over the past eight years, U.S. forces have adapted to stress counterinsurgency operations, as simply clearing an area of insurgents and then moving on proved not to be enough. "We have to synchronize our efforts with civilian and international partners so we can help build the infrastructure and help the national and local governments," Rodriguez said.

What he called "the complex human terrain" is the biggest challenge facing NATO in Afghanistan, the general said.

"Some of the most important things we do is build relationships," he explained. Servicemembers preparing for Afghanistan are looking at all the Afghan units they work with, and civilians as well, he said. They also must be aware of tribal, ethnic and cultural differences, he added.

The command is getting ready for the influx of new personnel that already has begun – Marines from Camp Lejeune are arriving for duty in Helmand province this week. The command is building ramp space, roads and cantonments for the additional troops. Most of the 30,000 troops will be in during the first half of next year, the general said, with the rest coming in within 11 months of the president's Dec. 1 announcement.

Most of the servicemembers will deploy to Regional Command South, he said, and their living conditions will be "austere" to allow local Afghans to build the outposts.

Working with the Afghan security forces is a significant part of the mission. Afghans are in the ISAF operations center, and ISAF liaisons are in Afghan operations centers. NATO trainers working with Afghan forces to train them, and once the Afghan forces are in the field, NATO forces partner with them.

Acknowledging that any new command has growing pains, Rodriguez said ISAF Joint Command is fully operational and capable. "Every day we are getting better; every day we are better able to integrate with the NATO Training Mission Afghanistan," he said.

The Afghan forces in the field are full partners with NATO. "Each commander has a red card, and they can stop an operation if needed," he said. "But when we work together, we find that we agree on 90 percent of things, and we have plenty of common ground to work on and we don't have to worry about the one or two things that people don't agree on."

Servicemembers who served in Afghanistan before also must understand that it's not the same as when they were here last, officials here said. The insurgency flares at different temperatures in different places. In a background briefing, ISAF officials said parts of the country could transition to Afghan control relatively quickly, while other areas will take more time.

The Afghans themselves are the best security for the country, but training them to standard will take time. The Afghan army is the most respected institution in the country, U.S. Army officials in Bagram said on background. The national police, however, have some ground to cover to attain that level of respectability.

"Only 20 percent of the police have the necessary training," Rodriguez said. The 10th Mountain Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team is coming from Fort Drum, N.Y., to train the Afghan police, picking up the effort started by the 82nd Airborne Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team, which has been doing the training mission since summer.

The command is working well with the Pakistani military along the mutual border, Rodriguez said. On a military-to-military basis, the cooperation and coordination is good, he said. Local Pakistani leaders will be traveling to Kabul to meet with NATO and Afghan leaders, he added.

What will success look like in Afghanistan? Rodriguez detailed what it is like in Nawa and Garmshir – two places he recently visited in Regional Command South.

"The Marines have been there for eight to 10 months," he said. "Those places are fairly secure, the people are out, bazaars are open, and they are starting to get a better sense of confidence in the way ahead."

But gaps between the towns need attention, the general said. "What we want to do is connect those areas so they can start to get their goods to market," he explained.

These larger, more secure areas will be what success looks like, he said.

"A lot of it has to do with momentum, and the momentum going forward to continue these improvements," Rodriguez said. "In an ideal world, we hope to be able to begin a drawdown of forces as we move through the summer of 2011."

'Balancing Act' Stresses Reservists, General Says

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

Dec. 14, 2009 - Reservists face unique challenges that may be tipping their stress level over that of their active-duty counterparts, a health affairs official said. The balancing act of multiple job requirements, coupled with geographic isolation, combine to put a strain on the reserve force, said Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Margaret Wilmoth, assistant for mobilization and reserve affairs for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.

"Civilian employment is the highest level of stressors that military [members] report who are in the reserves," the general noted last week at the Trauma Spectrum Disorders Conference here.

"We are trying to juggle two careers," she added. "How do you meet the demand of a civilian employer who wants you 40, 50, 60 hours a week and then your reserve job?"

As a result, "The stress that a reserve-component member feels may be even higher than that of an active-duty member," she said. "We don't know."

Reservists, who make up half of the nation's military force, deploy on a rotational basis along with their active-duty counterparts. They often are required to return to a civilian job following deployment without an opportunity to recharge, Wilmoth said.

"When we come off active duty we may have two weeks of leave built up ... then you're back at work," she said. "That is not much time to reintegrate, refresh, even deal with changing time zones, much less demands on one's time and how one functions."

In turn, the employer also must bear the deployment burden.

"It's important to note that we also have a civilian employer who gets strained when we get deployed," Wilmoth said. Reservists also face geographic isolation because they don't live near a military installation, she added, making it tough for their families to obtain the support they need.

Reservists are "extremely geographically dispersed, and we live in communities that have very little understanding of ... what it's like to wear the uniform," she noted.
And their children go to schools with other children "who don't know what it's like to have mom, dad, or brother or sister deployed," she added.

Wilmoth also pointed out the unique challenges reserve women face.

"Women who are in the reserves are also juggling a civilian job, military job, family responsibilities, and that has a whole lot of stress for women," she said. Women feel that strain when they're in reserve status, she added, and also when activated to deploy.

"Your spouse may live in California, and you're in Georgia, and the family readiness group is meeting in Georgia," she said. "So who do you go to if you're that family member who is taking care of things back home?"

It's no easier for the deployed member. "You're in theater worrying about what's happening back home," Wilmoth said. "And you don't know who to reach out and touch to help family members cope, and then coming back, all of a sudden you're back into being the wife and the mother and the employee if you're working."

Wilmoth emphasized that the stress women experience, particularly in the reserve components, needs to be more heavily addressed. She also called for research that explores the impact of service on reserve-component children.

"There's a lot we don't know for our reserve components," she noted.

Mitigating Pain: From the Battlefield and Back Home

By David Loebsack

Col. Chester Buckenmaier III initially became interested in regional anesthesia as a way to logistically improve the medical response for anesthesiologists on the battlefield. But after successfully using it to treat wounded service members on the battlefield during his deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Buckenmaier realized that he could be holding the keys to a new era of pain management.

It began during his 2003 deployment with the 21st Combat Support Hospital in Iraq, where he applied the first successful continuous peripheral nerve block to a soldier in Iraq who had sustained a severe shrapnel injury. He kept the patient pain free – through an international evacuation process, five surgeries and an amputation – for a period of 16 days.

Normally, a patient with such severe injuries would have been given intense doses of morphine, resulting in a number of unwanted side effects and leaving the patient largely unconscious. Buckenmaier, however, proved that other options were available to mitigate pain and allow patients to remain cognizant and free of side effects.

Since his experience in theater, the 45-year-old Army anesthesiologist has championed a movement in the medical community to shift away from traditional reliance on opioids like morphine, toward a more comprehensive and multimodal approach where acute and chronic pain needs are addressed.

The problem, Buckenmaier said, is not with opioids – which he sees as an important part of pain management – but with the way that the medical community views and deals with pain.

“Opioid use is not bad,” said Buckenmaier. “But opioids are such easy tools to use that we can be lulled into the idea that they are a magic bullet that will just take care of pain.”

Instead, he says, pain should be treated like a fifth vital sign, of equal importance to temperature, blood pressure, pulse and respiratory rate.

“Pain is a disease process and that, in and of itself, is a new idea – that pain is not just a symptom, but that it impacts every aspect of the patient’s rehab and recovery,” said Buckenmaier.

Now, thanks to the dedication and hard work of his research team at the Defense and Veterans Pain Management Initiative – formerly known as the Military Advanced Regional Anesthesia and Analgesia Initiative – Buckenmaier has been able to gain the attention of national leadership.

For starters, the new National Defense Authorization Act for 2010 includes a requirement for the Military Health System to develop a “comprehensive policy on pain management.”

In addition, the Army Surgeon General has chosen Buckenmaier, along with 25 of his colleagues in the medical field, to form a military pain task force that will reevaluate the way pain is treated.

Buckenmaier can sense the tide turning, and anticipates his team’s final recommendations will be completed by March. He says he is excited about the implications this will have on the future of medicine.

“I’ve been working on this for at least half of my career,” said Buckenmaier. “I am more encouraged and enthusiastic now than I’ve ever been. The medical community is finally starting to see that there is an 800-pound gorilla in the room, and its name is pain.”

USA Cares PTSD/TBI Program Hits a Milestone Warrior Treatment Today helps veterans get needed care

Radcliff, KY—Reaching a hundred of anything is usually considered a milestone—whether its years of age or points in a basketball game. USA Cares has just reached such a milestone with the one-hundredth veteran assisted through our Warrior Treatment Today program.

Begun in January 2008, the Warrior Treatment Today program has grown significantly as more and more veterans are coming forward for help with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). USA Cares has helped veterans in over 26 states by providing financial support for basic needs such as mortgage, food, and bills while the veteran attends months of inpatient rehabilitation for PTSD/TBI. Without this support, many veterans simply could not afford to leave jobs and paychecks to get the necessary treatment they have earned and deserve.

Veteran number one hundred has a lot in common with his 99 predecessors. He was active duty Army on his first deployment to Iraq when his HUMMV was attacked. He is from a small town in Michigan where he has dealt with multiple injuries—both visible and invisible. Rated by the Veterans Administration at over 80 per cent disabled, our program participant number one hundred is trying to overcome those invisible wounds that must be healed before a return to normal life can really begin.

USA Cares is proud to offer the Warrior Treatment Today program in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Generous private grant support has allowed us to expend over $160,000 in financial support to date. The sheer number of mental health casualties from combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan represents a formidable health care task that demands both public and private responders working together. Given the selfless service of our veterans—we can do no less.

About USA Cares
USA Cares is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization that helps post 9/11 military families bear the burdens of service with financial and advocacy support. Its mission: To help with basic needs during financial crisis, to assist combat injured Veterans and their families and to prevent private military home foreclosures and evictions. In six years, USA Cares has received over 19,900 requests and responded with more than $6.4 million in grants. Military families anywhere in America can apply for assistance through the USA Cares web site, or by calling 1-800-773-0387. For more information on USA Cares contact John Revell, or call (270) 352-5451 x101.

Services Meet November Active-duty Recruiting Goals

American Forces Press Service

Dec. 14, 2009 - The active-duty services met or exceeded their November recruiting goals, Defense Department officials announced today. Of the six reserve-component services, only the Army Reserve and Army National Guard did not meet their goals; however, officials said, that's because they adjusted their accessions to make up for projections that they would exceed their authorized strength.

Here's the November recruiting breakdown:

-- Army: 7,063 accessions with a goal of 6,858 for 103 percent;

-- Navy: 3,291 accessions with a goal of 3,291 for 100 percent;

-- Marine Corps: 1,789 accessions with a goal of 1,780 for 100 percent;

-- Air Force: 2,894 accessions with a goal of 2,894 for 100 percent.

-- Army National Guard: 3,335 accessions with a goal of 4,322 for 77 percent;

-- Army Reserve: 2,741 accessions with a goal of 2,009 for 136 percent;

-- Navy Reserve: 631 accessions with a goal of 597 for 106 percent;

-- Marine Corps Reserve: 727 accessions with a goal of 579 for 126 percent;

-- Air National Guard: 534 accessions with a goal 700 for 76 percent; and

-- Air Force Reserve: 758 accessions with a goal of 457 for 166 percent.

All of the active-duty services continue to exhibit strong retention over the first two months of fiscal 2010, officials said, and losses in all reserve components are within acceptable limits.

(From a Defense Department news release.)

JMESI Distance Learning Celebrates 10,000th Student

On Dec. 1 the Joint Medical Executive Skills Institute (JMESI) Strategic Communication Distance Learning Program celebrated the enrollment of its 10,000th student! The program began in December of 2001.

The program was developed as a module-based learning environment using content in support of the 39 core competencies required for Military Health System leadership positions. Modules are designed to provide new information and knowledge, enhancement and reinforcement to existing knowledge, and sustainment. They also serve as a desk reference
for just-in-time learning.

Course directors from several traditional face-to-face courses are now using a combination of the modules as a “phase one” for their courses.

Additionally, the modules support the Quadrennial Defense Review 2006 initiatives for leader development and lifelong learning for officers, enlisted and civilian personnel. The Distance Learning Program audience consists of individuals in all three services, both active and reserve; the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Public Health Service, the Coast Guard, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and select International Students.

You can access the JMESI Web site at

Military Study Expands to Include Families

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

Dec. 14, 2009 - A Defense Department study that explores the long-term health effects of military service, including deployments, will expand its scope to military families starting in June. With nearly 150,000 servicemember participants, the Millennium Cohort Study is the largest prospective health project in military history, according to the study's Web site. The study launched in 2001 and will span 21 years by the time it concludes in 2022.

"Researchers have done a good job of studying the impact of deployment on servicemembers beginning with Vietnam, but family members have been pretty much overlooked," William E. Schlenger, principal investigator for the study's family impact component, said last week at the Trauma Spectrum Disorders conference here.

Researchers will remedy that in June, when the study will enroll a new panel of about 62,500 servicemembers. About half will be married, and researchers anticipate that about 65 percent will give permission to contact their spouses, Schlenger said. In the end, researchers hope to have a sample of about 5,000 spouses whose servicemember has deployed one or more times, and about 5,000 spouses whose member has not deployed, he said.

Having their feedback will go a long way toward filling important gaps in information, Schlenger said.

"The objectives of the family component are to answer important health-related questions about military servicemembers and their families in the context of deployment and other occupational exposures," he explained, "and to assess the importance of family support and other factors on the health outcomes."

Experts will ask spouses about their physical and mental health and also about the status of their servicemember, Schlenger said. Both will be asked about the quality of their relationship with each other and, if applicable, about how deployments are affecting their children.

"We'll also ask the spouse about the specific kinds of stressors that have happened in the family that are attributable to deployment," Schlenger added.

Schlenger noted two "active ingredients" of deployments that affect families and their functioning. "No. 1, the servicemember is leaving the family," he said. "Mommy or daddy is leaving, or my spouse whom I've chosen to live my life with is going away -- and it's not for a nontrivial period of time."

And the spouse not only is going away, "but going to a place that's very dangerous," he continued. "That is the part that makes service in the military different from other kinds of occupations."

Experts hope to learn more about the way children of different ages and stages understand and respond to someone leaving. "These are the kinds of active ingredients that need to be examined in some detail, and we're hoping to do so," he said.

Researchers project they'll have some findings by 2012, he added.

The study's expansion marks an important step in military family research, Schlenger said, with other studies soon to follow.

"A number of funded studies will be started soon, so there will be much more information about the effect of deployment on families in the near future," he said.

While the family component is a step in the right direction, Schlenger said, he hopes studies like this will be expanded even more in the future.

"Virtually all of the studies that have been funded, or are soon to be funded, focused largely on married people and on the spouse and the children," he said. About half of the military is married, he added, but the other half is "out completely."

"But those people have families too -- mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, a whole lot of other family members who can be impacted," he said. "We need in the next round to be able to focus on the broader impact on families."

NORAD Flight Exercise Planned for Washington, D.C.

North American Aerospace Defense Command will conduct exercise flights Dec. 15 in the skies over the National Capital Region (Washington, D.C.). The flights will take place beginning around midnight and continue into the early morning hours Tuesday. In the event of inclement weather, the exercise will take place the following day. People can expect to hear and see NORAD fighter aircraft, Civil Air Patrol aircraft, and Coast Guard helicopters as they participate in these exercises.

The exercise has been carefully planned and will be closely controlled to ensure NORAD's rapid response capability. NORAD has conducted exercise flights of this nature throughout the U.S. and Canada since the start of Operation Noble Eagle, the command's response to the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001.

For more information, please contact NORAD Public Affairs at 719-554-6889.

TRICARE Beneficiaries Overseas to See Improved Care and Service

By Marqeis Sparks

The 500,000-plus TRICARE beneficiaries who live outside the United States will soon see changes in the way they access health care as a result of a new contract awarded for the management of the TRICARE Overseas Program (TOP). The changes will lead to consolidations in the program that will improve customer service and access to health care for beneficiaries overseas, said Rear Adm. Christine Hunter, deputy director of TRICARE Management Activity, on a recent episode of the Military Health System’s Dot Mil Docs podcast.

The new contract, awarded to International SOS, will consolidate the current overseas contracts, including those for TRICARE Puerto Rico and TRICARE Global Remote Overseas, into a standardized health care program available to all service members and their families living in other countries.

International SOS will support the TRICARE Overseas Program Office, TRICARE Area Offices and military treatment facility (MTF) commanders, which will essentially combine the resources of the military’s direct medical care system overseas with the contractor’s services in host nations. The transition will take about 10-months to complete.

“We hope to add consistency and continuity to the relationships with the host nation providers, so that both [TRICARE] and International SOS are in a trusted relationship with our valued host nation providers,” said Hunter. The new contract aims to allow beneficiaries, particularly those who may require emergency attention, or a specialist, to have access to adequate care at local medical facilities.

Under previous overseas contracts, claims payments have either been paid in full to the provider at the time services are rendered or billed to the patient weeks, or even months, following their visit. TOP will ensure that all claims are taken care of in a timely matter, said Hunter.

An adjustment to the contract secures a “guarantee of payment” agreement with providers that ensures TOP Prime-enrolled beneficiaries have access to routine, urgent and emergency services without having to pay for services immediately or file claims.

Officials also expect support services to improve substantially after TRICARE Service Center operations are consolidated worldwide, strengthening communication and service stability. Call centers will be available 24-hours-a-day and will offer extensive translation capabilities.

“We’ve been using different contracts, one for enrollment, and another for claims. Everything will process through the single overseas contract,” said Hunter. “That should make it much easier for beneficiaries no matter where their location is, because they are dealing with one entity, and can get the care they need a little bit closer to where they call home, at the time.”

International SOS, has an established relationship with TRICARE as a partner in the TGRO program.

More information on TRICARE is available at

Volunteers Place 16,000 Wreaths at Arlington

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

Dec. 12, 2009 - The Arlington Wreath Project, an unofficial national tradition, prompted about 6,000 volunteers to wake up extra early this morning to help place 16,000 wreaths on graves at Arlington National Cemetery. "It's really nice that America still remembers our troops," said Nikki Bunting, the widow of Army Capt. Brian Bunting, who died in Afghanistan in February 2009. She visited her husband's grave with their children, 2-year-old Connor and 5-week-old Cooper.
"It's a sad sight, but it's really beautiful. It reminds us that people care," she said.

Morrill Worcester, president of Maine-based Worcester Wreath Company, started the tradition in 1992, although the seeds for the idea had been planted 30 years earlier. The cemetery's hallowed ground first impressed Worcester in 1962, when the 12-year-old Bangor [Maine] Daily News paper boy had won a paper-sponsored contest and a trip to Washington.

"It struck me and I just never forgot it," Worcester recently said about the cemetery. "It was just such a big place and the stones are all nice and straight. I saw the Tomb of the Unknown [Soldier] and the changing of the guard."

Fast forward to 1992, when Worcester discovered his company had 5,000 surplus wreaths near the end of the season. He made arrangements to place the wreaths on graves at Arlington National Cemetery.

"The first 13 or 14 years of the Arlington Wreath Project I just did it because I wanted to do it and it was kind of a private thing," Worcester said. "We didn't want any publicity or anything else. We just did it."

For more than a decade, he sponsored the Arlington Wreath Project, with the mission to "Remember, Honor, and Teach," and managed to keep it small and relatively anonymous.

That is until 2005 when an Air Force photographer happened to capture an image of the annual honor. "Things just totally changed," Worcester said.

After the photo hit the Internet and made its way around the world, the tradition grew exponentially. This year 151,000 wreaths were placed in more than 400 cemeteries across the country by 60,000 volunteers as part of Wreaths Across America Day. Individuals and companies sponsored all but 25,000 of the 151,000 wreaths, Worcester said.

"I love seeing the participation," he said. "I'm very proud of the fact that I started it, but it's certainly not me anymore."

Worcester may love seeing the huge numbers of volunteers, but it presents interesting challenges for Wayne Hanson, who volunteers through the Maine State Society of Washington, D.C., to coordinate the Arlington Wreath Project. The Vietnam veteran also sits on the board of Wreaths Across America.

"We started off with just a handful of people helping Mr. Worcester put the wreaths down. It would take us the better part of a good day," Hanson said. "People would hear about it and want to help, so we would end up with 2[00] or 300 volunteers as the years progressed."

Though the mercury started out below 20 degrees and only climbed to the low 40s this year, it didn't deter those wanting to honor the nation's fallen heroes at the holidays.

"The community of surviving families and TAPS [Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors] are very grateful to Wreaths Across America, the USO, and other organizations for their support," said Ami Neiberger-Miller, public affairs officer for TAPS. Her brother, Army Spc. Christopher Neiberger, was killed in action in Iraq in August 2007. "Our families know that their loved ones are not forgotten.

"Many families who bury their loved ones at Arlington National Cemetery do not live nearby, and so it means a great deal to them to know that America cares and is honoring the resting place of their loved ones," she added.

Though Hanson asks for a moment of silence for those who died in recent conflicts and are buried in Section 60, wreaths are not typically placed on those graves. This year, however, the USO asked to sponsor 1,000 wreaths specifically for that section, which is set aside for U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly 300 volunteers, including 125 military family members, helped place the wreaths in less than an hour.

The organization's president noted that the gesture is meant to highlight the sacrifices made by all servicemembers, however.

"This effort is not about just Arlington National Cemetery," said Sloan Gibson, president of the USO. "The USO hopes to encourage Americans to recognize the service and sacrifice of veterans who are interred at veterans cemeteries across the country."

While the day concluded with 16,000 wreaths placed in under two hours, it actually began yesterday at the Pentagon, when Wreaths Across America expanded its mission again.

"We're doing something, which is in addition to what we've done in the past," Worcester said in an earlier interview. "We're placing a wreath for every victim of 9/11 for the first time.

"There's going to be a big decorated area at Battery Park in Lower Manhattan, and there's going to be a wreath-laying ceremony at the Pentagon and another one at the field in Pennsylvania," he added.

Those wreaths were being placed during ceremonies this weekend.