Monday, January 04, 2010

Wisconsin prepares to leave Iraq

By Lt. Col. Tim Donovan

Wisconsin National Guard

(1/2/09) - It's been a long deployment for 3,200-plus soldiers of the Wisconsin National Guard's 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, but it is finally coming to an end.

Sometime in early January, the first of many chartered airliners will touch down at a Wisconsin airfield and Red Arrow soldiers will begin planting their boots back on the ground in their home state after completing their service in Iraq.

As the 32nd Brigade's public affairs officer in Iraq, I've had an opportunity to send a few dozen releases from Baghdad over the past eight months to let Wisconsin know what our troops are doing here.These have all been straightforward, fact-based descriptions of our units' missions and our soldiers' accomplishments.

In this final dispatch, I will be a bit more personal, as some of the things I think Wisconsin should know are less tangible. So opinions and impressions I have formed from my observations here are sprinkled in.

The mobilization--which involved the largest operational deployment of Wisconsin Guard troops since World War II--actually started more than a year before it formally began. Throughout 2008, the brigade's soldiers beefed up their once-a-month weekend training and spent a week longer than normal during annual training in August 2008.

Last January, the brigade's soldiers travelled to Camp Blanding, Fla., for a final three weeks of pre-mobilization training, checking off requirements for weapons qualification, individual warrior tasks, and accomplishing the collective training that would pull them together into effective teams of soldiers, leaders, staffs.

By the time the 32nd arrived for two final months of training at Fort Bliss, Texas, toward the end of February, it may already have been the best trained National Guard brigade ever to report to a mobilization training site.

But Red Arrow soldiers continued to train, now focusing on the specific missions that awaited them in Iraq--missions, in many cases, completely different from the types of things the brigade's units would normally do.

A few years earlier, an infantry brigade in Iraq would likely be engaged in full-spectrum combat operations. But by 2009 U.S. force levels were declining as combat operations shifted to stability operations, so the 32nd Brigade was assigned missions that supported the things that needed to be done in the present rather than the past.

The brigade's missions, though perhaps less glamorous than combat operations, were no less important or difficult. Arguably they were harder and even more essential. The 32nd was assigned not to break Iraq's military forces with combat power, but to work together with government, military and civilian officials to build Iraq up. This is important and difficult work in a combat zone.

When we arrived here in May 2009 we were ready to do our jobs as well as they could be done. And we were committed to leave Iraq a better place than we found it.

In the harsh and challenging environment that greeted them eight months ago, Red Arrow soldiers got right to work.

Spread out across a country about the size of California, they took over the administration of several forward operating bases and the International Zone in central Baghdad, they assumed responsibility for theater internment facilities and treated detainees humanely and with respect, they provided area security and base defense, they secured ground movements, formed quick reaction forces, moved 10,000 detainees without incident, closed the largest detention facility on the planet, trained a corps of professional Iraqi corrections officers, inspected the nation's detention facilities to ensure they met international standards, turned U.S.-controlled International Zone properties to the Iraqi government and kept the IZ safe. And they performed some missions we can't yet talk about.

They did all of these things--they did them as well as they can be done--because they brought with them a rare combination of military training and the civilian education, skills, life experiences, creativity, and maturity that abound in a National Guard comprised of citizen-soldiers. And they also did these things with a Wisconsin work ethic and high standards that reflect our values as an Army and a nation, and as Wisconsin Guard soldiers.

Wisconsin National Guard soldiers here saw dramatic improvements in Iraq's confidence as a sovereign nation and in the growing capability of Iraq to positively influence its own destiny. But we did more than merely stand witness to Iraq's historic progress, Wisconsin troops helped write much of that history by their impressive performance here.

We are leaving Iraq a better place than we found it. And Iraq is, surprisingly, returning the favor.

As we leave Iraq a better nation with a brighter future, we are leaving here as better soldiers, to be sure, because soldiers always grow from the experience of intense soldiering. But most of us are also returning to Wisconsin as better citizens, better leaders, better followers, better employees, better students, better neighbors, better friends.

Most of us will come home, I think, as better people.

The 3,200 Red Arrow soldiers experienced the hardship of a long deployment far from home, endured sandstorms and searing desert heat, were enriched by our exposure to the fascinating Iraqi culture, mastered new and difficult jobs, worked effectively with other services and service members from other nations, formed deep friendships likely to last our lifetimes, and escaped occasional attacks by an ignoble enemy.

You can't help be changed by these experiences. I think they have made us stronger, better.

Our replacements from the Texas Guard's Houston-based 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team arrived a few weeks ago and we wish them well. As we transfer our missions to the Texans who will succeed us here, we will move south to Kuwait to wait for our flights home--the end of a journey that began nearly one year ago. We'll see you soon.

And to Iraq, we say "Farewell."

Nevada Guardsman receives battlefield promotion

By Capt. Tony Wickman
Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team

(1/2/09) - A Nevada National Guardsman received a surprise New Year's Day gift in the form of a battlefield promotion here Jan. 1. Spc. David Ellis, Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team security force gunner and driver deployed from the Nevada National Guard's 1st Squadron, 221st Calvary Regiment, was promoted to the grade of E-5 for demonstrating extraordinary job performance while serving in combat conditions.

"I'm very happy... it's a personal gain," said Ellis, a native of Las Vegas, Nev. "I've had my E-4 rank for close to five years, and it was something I had my mind set on to get my E-5. I've been recognized because I've busted my butt to prove myself."

1st Lt. Stewart Brough, SECFOR platoon leader, relished the chance to recognize one of his soldiers with a battlefield promotion. "It's a really good feeling when you get to stand in front of your troops and recognize one of them for being outstanding," he said. "He (Ellis) is deserving of this recognition."

After helping pin Ellis' new rank on him, Sgt. Brandon Copley, Ellis' supervisor, praised the newest member of the NCO corps.

"Ellis is an exceptional Soldier ... by far one of the best people I've had the pleasure of serving with," said Copley, a native of Las Vegas, Nev. "He deserves this promotion."

The battlefield promotion program started as a one-year trial program in April 2008 and was made a permanent practice in June 2009. Ellis was one of eight Regional Command-East soldiers, out of approximately 25,000, to receive a battlefield promotion on New Year's Day.

"Sgt Ellis is the kind of person you go to get stuff done and he never complains," said U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Samuel West, PRT executive officer and a resident of Phoenix, Ariz. "He always keeps safe and does a great job."

Ellis said a positive, can-do attitude will help soldiers achieve their goals.

"If you do as you're told, don't complain and get the job done, rewards will come to those who do what they're supposed to do," Ellis said.

Ellis said receiving the promotion as a National Guard soldier was satisfying, because it shows the value of each solider, regardless of duty status.

"Being a Guardsman, it was a real honor getting the promotion," Ellis said. "I'm just like every other soldier. I put my uniform and boots on the same way as any other active duty soldier."

Ellis was quick to praise his employer back home, American 5 hotels, for their support.

"I'm head of security for Americana 5 hotel chain back in Las Vegas, and my employer has been very supportive of me doing my Army duty," Ellis said.

The battlefield promotion program gives commanders a special tool to recognize enlisted soldiers for doing their jobs above and beyond what is expected of them under combat conditions. Final approval for these promotions is the commander of U.S. Army Central Command.

Nearly a 1,000 active duty, Reserve and National Guard soldiers have received battlefield promotions to staff sergeant and below since April 2008. To qualify for battlefield promotion, soldiers must be serving in a position and demonstrate the skills of the rank to which they're being promoted.

A soldier is eligible for only one battlefield promotion to an NCO rank, and the promotion must not be used as a reward in lieu of personal commendations or awards.



Boeing Co., Huntington Beach, Calif., was awarded a $34,300,000 contract to implement the following changes to the functionality available for the Family of Advanced Beyond Line-of-Sight Terminals Increment 1: CTRD update version 9.2; Simple Key Loader 6.0 interface to data set manager (DSM) for DSM, flash control station profiles; and implementation of auto broadcast features on XDR. At this time, $500,000 has been obligated. 653rd SNND/PK, Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., is the contracting activity (F19628-02-C-0048-P00180).


General Dynamics, Ordnance and Tactical Systems, Anniston, Ala., is being awarded a $9,840,219 firm-fixed-price indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for the procurement of up to 222 Standoff Land-Attack Missile-Expanded Response (SLAM-ER) titanium warhead housings for the U.S. Navy and various Foreign Military Sales customers. Work will be performed in Anniston, Ala., and is expected to be completed in January 2015. Contract funds in the amount of $568,976 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured. The Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, China Lake, Calif., is the contracting activity (N68936-10-D-0008).

Dyncorp International, LLC, Fort Worth, Texas, is being awarded an $8,737,879 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for management and logistic services in support of the Naval Test Wing Atlantic's research, development, test and evaluation aircraft. Work will be performed at the Naval Air Station, 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. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to DFAR 6.302-1. The Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity (N00421-10-C-0022).

Parsons Infrastructure and Technology Group, Inc., Pasadena, Calif., is being awarded a $7,581,787 modification under a multiple award contract firm-fixed-price task order for the exercise of option period II which provides for program and engineering support of capital improvement projects in the metro San Diego area. The total cumulative task order amount after exercise of this option will be $19,488,548. The task order also contains two unexercised options which, if exercised, would increase cumulative task order value to $35,140,123. Work will be performed in San Diego, Calif., and is expected to be completed by January 2011. Contract funds in the amount of $967,556 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Southwest, San Diego, Calif., is the contracting activity (N00178-05-D-4487-EFE2).

Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Bethpage, N.Y., is being awarded a $6,084,429 firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee delivery order against a previously issued basic ordering agreement to provided engineering, technical and sustaining services in support of Taiwan Air Force E-2C aircraft. Work will be performed in Bethpage, N.Y. (75 percent), and at Pingtung Air Force Base, Taiwan (25 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 (N00421-05-G-0001).

More than 3,000 Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers return from Iraq in January

January 4, 2010: The 3,200 Soldiers from the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and six other Wisconsin Army National Guard units will return to Wisconsin beginning Tuesday. Leading the way will be approximately 115 Soldiers, mostly from the Fort Atkinson-based Troop A, 105th Calvary, followed by the remaining 3,000 Soldiers throughout the month. All are scheduled to return to Volk Field where they will be met by senior National Guard officials, a military band and family members — homecomings are not open to the general public. Following an initial reunion with their families and a brief official "welcome home," ceremony the Soldiers will travel to nearby Fort McCoy to begin about five days of demobilization processing before being released from active duty.

The 32nd Brigade, augmented by six other Wisconsin Army National Guard units, was ordered to active duty Feb. 1, 2009 and deployed to Iraq in April and May following two months of training at Fort Bliss, Texas.

During training and while in Iraq, the brigade was organized into 27 company-sized units. Rather than operating as a brigade, the 32nd was tasked with a variety of missions throughout Iraq. These missions included forward operating base administration, base defense, area security, quick reaction forces, freedom of movement security support, detainee guard force operations at theater internment facilities, closing the largest internment facility in Iraq, transferring detainees, operating an academy to train Iraqi corrections officers, inspecting detention facilities, securing and administering the International Zone in Baghdad, and turning over U.S.-controlled properties back the government of Iraq. The brigade's Soldiers operated around the clock, most of them working at least 12 hours a day — day after day, week after week, for eight full months in Iraq.

Having accomplished their mission, each company began transferring responsibilities to units from the Texas National Guard's 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team at the end of December and will continue to do so as they prepare to return to Wisconsin in January.

Behavioral Health Communications Garner Awards for TRICARE

January 04, 2010: Getting help to military members facing behavioral and mental health issues is a top priority for TRICARE – and so is getting the word out about how to find that help. This effort to reach out to beneficiaries with essential benefit information resulted in TRICARE Management Activity (TMA) receiving several honors recently for mental and behavioral health care communications in the annual League of American Communications Professionals (LACP) 2009 Magellan Awards Communications Campaign Competition. TRICARE received the “Best Campaign on a Limited Budget” award; a gold award in the Community Relations category and was selected for third place in the top 50 campaigns worldwide.

The 2009 Magellan awards included nearly 400 government agencies, major corporations and public relations firms worldwide. The LACP was established to facilitate discussion of best-in-class practices in communications within the public relations industry and recognize those who demonstrate exemplary communications.

“This is a time of great stress for our military service members and families,” said Rear Adm. Christine Hunter, deputy director of TMA. “These Magellan awards show just how serious we are about communicating the availability of mental and behavioral health assistance and reducing the stigma of getting help. This remains one of our top priorities going forward.”

TMA’s Mental/Behavioral Health campaign placed third among the top 50 campaigns with a score of 98 out of a possible 100.

“To be classified in the top three among multi-billion dollar corporations and agencies is remarkable,” said S. Dian Lawhon, director of TMA’s Communications and Customer Service Division (C&CS). “We’re honored to be selected for our comprehensive communications programs and products and in particular, to be cited by the judges for our clear messaging and audience focus.” Office Depot Foundation, ESPN, Hormel Foods, TGI Friday’s and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia were among those also placing in the top 10.

TMA 2009 award winning mental and behavioral health communication products included the development and distribution of the comprehensive TRICARE behavioral health guide and the development of a Mental Health Resource Center on the TRICARE website at

Soldier Returns to Panama Home

By Army Sgt. Alun Thomas
Special to American Forces Press Service

Jan. 4, 2010 - After the U.S. Army invaded Panama in 1989 to oust the dictator Gen. Manuel Noriega, the country's people went on to rebuild their lives. Twenty years after Operation Just Cause, a soldier deployed here who left Panama before the war began to live in the United States had the chance to return to his native country as a U.S. soldier.

Army Sgt. Nicanor Garcia, a crew chief with the 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, said the road back to Panama was worth the long wait.

Garcia, 34, who now calls Kileen, Texas, home, said growing up in Panama was mostly pleasant, with little to worry about in his early years.

"I was living in Panama City in a decent neighborhood," he said. "It wasn't middle class, but it wasn't lower class. It was something in between. Economically, it wasn't so good, but I had the love of my mother and I had a lot of friends, so it wasn't that bad."

Garcia said things remained calm until Noriega's regime began to take hold during the 1980s.

"We had an elected president, [and] things were going well, but slowly it started deteriorating, and a dictatorship was established by General Noriega," Garcia said. "Suddenly, there would be no buses to take us to school, ... so I couldn't go to school because it was too far to walk."

As the move toward war intensified, Garcia said Noriega began to resort to desperate measures to recruit for his army -- even trying to recruit boys as young as 11 -- and that his mother would have none of that.

"I was 13 at that point," Garcia said, "so my mom said 'No, you're not going to be in Noriega's army to defend him.' She wanted to get me out of the country, so we went and applied for a visa, and thankfully I got approved."

In April 1989 Garcia went to live with his grandmother in Brooklyn, N.Y., avoiding the war that would destroy his country.

"God knows what could have happened if I'd stayed," he said. "Back then, there was so much confusion in the country during the hours of the invasion that anything could have happened. Shots fired could have gone through our window or doors, things like that. It could have gone bad. So I'm glad my mother got me out of the country."

Joining the Army was an easy decision after 9/11, Garcia said.

"I love New York City, and I used to see the towers every day. When they came down, I said to myself 'I have to do something,'" he said. "Another reason I joined is this country has given me so much. ... In Panama, I would never be working on Apaches and I would never have the lifestyle the U.S. offered me."

After joining the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, Garcia said, he dreamed of returning to Panama.

"I had to delay going back to Panama in part because of my Army career," he explained. "Also, I wanted to take my mom, who eventually came to the states and became a citizen. I wanted to take my family with me so we could experience it together, because I hadn't been back there for so long."

Garcia took his mother, wife and 5-year-old daughter back to Panama while on leave from Iraq last year, and found himself reliving his childhood.

"From the moment I landed, memories started coming back. ... I remembered leaving that airport, and it looked pretty much the same. I saw the rest of my family that were there to greet me at the airport. A lot of them were older, of course, and I met brand new cousins that I had never seen before."

Garcia said he visited his former neighborhood, and that although Panama City has become modernized, the people remain the same.

"I went back to my old neighborhood where I grew up, and it had totally changed," Garcia said. "There were still a few buildings that were there from when I was young; a mechanic and car repair shop with the same owner."

"I went in and said hello to the owner, and he actually remembered me," he continued. "It was funny and interesting, because the country has changed so much, but the people haven't."

The experience left Garcia realizing things have improved significantly in Panama.

"It has changed for the better, definitely, because if it wasn't for the invasion, there wouldn't be democracy in Panama," Garcia said. "I liked the whole experience, because it brought me back to when I was a kid. But at the same time, [it] reminded me where I came from.

"I wanted to stay, but I had to come back and complete the mission," Garcia said with a laugh.

(Army Sgt. Alun Thomas serves with the 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Air Cavalry Brigade public affairs office.)