Military News

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Former Army Ranger Bank Robber Sentenced to an Additional 20 Years in Prison for Assault and Trying to Hire a Hit Man

Man Dual Canadian and U.S. Citizen Now Sentenced to 44 Years in Prison

March 9, 2010 - LUKE ELLIOTT SOMMER, 23, formerly of Peachland, British Columbia, Canada, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to an additional 20 years in prison and a $25,000 fine for assault with a deadly weapon and solicitation of a crime of violence. SOMMER’s total sentence in now 44 years in prison. SOMMER asked U.S. District Judge James L. Robart to recommend treaty transfer, so that SOMMER could serve his time in Canada. However Judge Robart noted that he plays no role in determining whether a defendant is eligible for treaty transfer.

According to the plea agreement, on two occasions in March 2009, SOMMER offered an undercover FBI task force officer as much as $20,000 for murdering an Assistant United States Attorney. Law enforcement was alerted to SOMMER’s interest in hiring a hit man in January 2009, barely a month after SOMMER was sentenced. SOMMER moved forward with the plot in March 2009, when he tried to hire the undercover officer telling him he wanted news reports of the hit to reflect that it was “murder not an accident.”

Additionally, on January 23, 2009, SOMMER used a prison-made knife to attack a co-defendant in the bank robbery case. The two men were to be housed separately at the Federal Detention Center at SeaTac, but SOMMER schemed to get to the other man’s prison unit with the weapon. SOMMER attacked the other inmate, fighting until the two were pulled apart by staff. SOMMER continued to yell and threaten the safety of the victim. Although the victim suffered a minor stab wound and multiple abrasions, neither man had to be hospitalized.

“There is no doubt that the defendant is a very dangerous man and needs to be locked up to protect society,” said Assistant United States Attorney Gregory A. Gruber. “This was an assault not just on the individual victims, but on the heart of the criminal justice system.”

LUKE SOMMER was sentenced to 24 years in prison on December 12, 2008, for Conspiracy to Commit Armed Bank Robbery, Armed Bank Robbery, Brandishing a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence, and Possession of an Unregistered Destructive Device – Hand Grenade. SOMMER was the mastermind of the August 7, 2006, robbery of a Tacoma branch of Bank of America. Five men, including SOMMER, participated in the robbery. Two were armed with fully automatic AK-47 machine guns. SOMMER and another man carried loaded semi-automatic hand guns. The men wore soft body armor to protect themselves in case of a shoot-out with police and carried hundreds of rounds of extra ammunition. SOMMER told the others that he wanted to use the proceeds of the robbery to start a crime family to rival the Hell’s Angels in British Columbia, Canada. The men escaped with more than $50,000, but were quickly tracked down and arrested thanks to an alert citizen who noted the license plate of the getaway car.

The FBI investigated the current charges. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Gregory A. Gruber.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110 or Emily.Langlie@USDOJ.Gov.

MILITARY CONTRACTS March 9, 2010

NAVY

Ecology and Environment, Inc., Lancaster, N.Y., is being awarded a maximum amount $40,000,000 indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for environmental planning and engineering services for National Environmental Policy Act and Executive Order 12114, Environmental Effects Abroad of Major Federal Actions – Aircraft Homebasing Issues. Work will predominantly be performed in Virginia (25 percent), North Carolina (25 percent), Florida (15 percent), California (15 percent), and Washington (15 percent). Work may also be performed within the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Atlantic area of responsibility and the adjacent waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, including the continental United States, the Caribbean, Europe, and North Africa (5 percent). However, tasks associated with this contract may be assigned anywhere in the world. The term of the contract is not to exceed 60 months, with an expected completion date of March 2015. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via the Navy Electronic Commerce Online Web site, with four proposals received. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Atlantic, Norfolk, Va., is the contracting activity (N62470-10-D-3003).

CKY, Inc.*, Honolulu, Hawaii (N62742-10-D-1805); EATC, JV*, Honolulu, Hawaii (N62742-10-D-1806); FOPCO, Inc.*, Kapolei, Hawaii (N62742-10-D-1807); and WCP-Zapata, JV, LLC*, Honolulu, Hawaii (N62742-10-D-1808), are each being awarded a firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity multiple award contract in support of the Environmental Remedial Action Program at various sites in the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), Pacific area of responsibility (AOR). The maximum dollar value, including the base period and four option years, for all four contracts combined is $30,000,000. Work will be performed at various sites predominantly in Oahu, Hawaii (55 percent); however, work may also be performed at any site within the NAVFAC Pacific AOR, including Guam (15 percent), Japan (5 percent), Okinawa (15 percent), Diego Garcia (5 percent), and other areas in the Pacific and Indian Oceans (5 percent). The term of the contract is not to exceed 60 months, with an expected completion date of March 2015. Contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via the Navy Electronic Commerce Online Web site, with 10 proposals received. These four contractors may compete for task orders under the terms and conditions of the awarded contracts. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Pacific, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, is the contracting activity.

BAE Systems Technology Solutions & Services, Inc., Rockville, Md., is being awarded a $23,237,133 modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee term, level of effort contract (N00421-06-C-0085) to exercise an option for maintenance, logistics, and life cycle services in support of communication-electronic equipment/systems and subsystems for various Navy, Army, Air Force, special operations forces and other federal agencies. The estimated level of effort for this option period is 342,000 man-hours. These services are in support of the Special Communications Requirements Division of the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division. Work will be performed in Chesapeake, Va. (32 percent); Fayetteville, N.C. (28 percent); California, Md. (22 percent); San Diego, Calif. (6 percent); Fort Bliss, Texas (4 percent); Fort Walton Beach, Fla. (2 percent); Panzer Kaserne, Germany (2 percent); Homestead, Fla. (2 percent); Tampa, Fla. (1 percent); and the District of Columbia (1 percent). Work is expected to be completed in March 2011. 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.

DCK Pacific Guam, LLC, Barrigada, Guam, is being awarded an $18,394,000 firm-fixed-price contract for design and construction of the Guam Army National Guard Readiness Center at the Guam Army National Guard Complex. The work to be performed provides for the design and construction of a permanent masonry type construction, with standing seam roof, concrete floors, and mechanical and electrical equipment with emergency power generator backup. Work will be performed in Barrigada, Guam, and is expected to be completed by Jan. 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 Web site, with seven proposals received. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Marianas, Guam, is the contracting activity (N40192-10-C-1335).

CATLIN Engineers and Scientists, Inc.*, Wilmington, N.C., is being awarded a maximum amount $7,500,000 firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity architect-engineering contract for civil A-E services at Marine Corps installations at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. The work to be performed provides for civil design projects that include, but are not limited to, providing/replacing/upgrading sanitary collection and treatment systems; installation of security fencing and entry control facilities; design of new and resurfacing of existing airfields, roads and parking lots; and facility site work to include demolition, etc. Work will be performed in Jacksonville, N.C. (85 percent), and Havelock, N.C. (15 percent), and is expected to be completed by March 2015. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured through the Navy Electronic Commerce Online Web site, with 20 proposals received. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Mid-Atlantic, Norfolk, Va., is the contracting activity (N40085-10-D-5303).

U.S. TRANSPORTATION COMMAND

Presidential Airways, Inc., an Aviation Worldwide Services Co., Camden, N.C., is being awarded a $39,084,532 task order for rotary wing aircraft, personnel, equipment, tools, material, maintenance, and supervision necessary to perform passenger and cargo air transportation services. Work will be performed in Afghanistan and the task order will start March 5, 2010, to be completed by Nov. 30, 2010. This contract was a competitive acquisition. U.S. Transportation Command, Directorate of Acquisition, Scott Air Force Base, Ill., is the contracting activity (HTC711-09-D-0021).

Canadian Commercial Corp., subcontracting services to Canadian Helicopters, Ltd., Toronto, Canada, is being awarded a $20,472,000 task order for rotary wing aircraft, personnel, equipment, tools, material, maintenance, and supervision necessary to perform passenger and cargo air transportation services. Work will be performed in Afghanistan and the task order will start March 5, 2010, to be completed by Nov. 30, 2010. This contract was a competitive acquisition. U.S. Transportation Command, Directorate of Acquisition, Scott Air Force Base, Ill., is the contracting activity (HTC711-09-D-0022).

Evergreen Helicopters, Inc., McMinnville, Ore., is being awarded a $20,094,000 task order modification for rotary wing aircraft, personnel, equipment, tools, material, maintenance, and supervision necessary to perform passenger and cargo air transportation services. Work will be performed in Afghanistan and the task order will start March 5, 2010, to be completed by Nov. 30, 2010. This contract was a competitive acquisition. U.S. Transportation Command, Directorate of Acquisition, Scott Air Force Base, Ill., is the contracting activity (HTC711-09-D-0023).

Air Force Medical Team Deploys to Chile

American Forces Press Service

March 9, 2010 - An Air Force expeditionary medical support team from Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, will arrive here today to help people impacted by a magnitude 8.8 earthquake that struck the nation Feb. 27. The team, consisting of more than 80 airmen, including 63 medical personnel, will conduct humanitarian assistance operations in the city of Angol, southeast of Concepcion, an area that suffered considerable damage as a result of the historic seismic event.

The deployment is being funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance as part of a multiagency relief effort by the U.S. government in Chile. The medical team will join other relief activities already under way.

The medical team is equipped and staffed to provide surgical, primary care, pediatric, radiological, gynecological, laboratory, pharmaceutical and dental services. The airmen will work alongside Chilean civilian medical personnel during their deployment. On March 7, U.S. Southern Command deployed a 10-person

command-and-control team here to assist the U.S. military group overseeing U.S. military assistance to Chile in the earthquake's aftermath.

On March 6, two Air Force C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft and a team of about 50 airmen from the Missouri Air National Guard's 139th Airlift Wing arrived here to support and augment a Chilean air force-led airlift relief operation delivering aid to affected communities near the earthquake's epicenter.

(From a U.S. Southern Command news release.)

Global Threats Demand Broad Response, Admiral Says

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

March 9, 2010 - Increasing global threats such as those to computer networks and growing hostilities from Iran are prompting more NATO expeditionary operations, NATO's top military officer said today. "The demands of these nontraditional, transported threats are moving [European member nations] into this direction," Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, NATO's supreme allied commander for Europe and commander of U.S. European Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Stavridis noted that 100,000 NATO troops are involved in expeditionary operations on three continents, including operations in Afghanistan, off the coast of Africa, and in Bosnia. "The nature of threats in this 21st century [is] going to demand more than just sitting behind our borders," he said.

Among the greatest concerns that impacts both military and civilian realms, the admiral said, is cybersecurity. "Today, we have a billion devices that are accessing the Internet," he said. "Our economies are entangled in this Internet sea, and it's an outlaw sea. Nothing exists in the norms of behavior. There is a military aspect to it, but it's all of society. At some point, there needs to be a very global conversation on this challenge."

European Command, as well as other U.S. commands, trains for widespread computer network attacks, and NATO last year opened a center in Estonia to deal with cyber threats, Stavridis said.

"We're all grappling with this, and the more we cross-communicate and share our efforts, the more successful we will be," he said. "This needs to be taken to a higher level among the nations that want to work on this."

And European nations increasingly have a watchful eye on Iran, Stavridis said. "I find Iran alarming in any number of dimensions," he told the senators, including its state-sponsored terrorism, nuclear proliferation and political outreach into Latin America. "It's fair to say we're seeing a growing appreciation of it in Europe," he added.

Stavridis called the new phased-in approach for European missile defense "timely and flexible," and said it will provide "capability that we can step up and be adaptive, as the Iranian capability to use ballistic missiles goes forward."

The admiral said he is very confident in the first stage of the program, which is sea-based with the Aegis weapons system and "reasonably confident" in the second phase, which is shore-based.

Stavridis also said the missile defense program offers opportunities to partner with Russia on the possible use of its radar for the system, and with Israel on perhaps adapting the Medium Extended Air Defense System to work with existing technologies.

"We in the United States do not have the market cornered on all of the smart technology, and we would be well-served to reach out to our allies about integrating, and MEADS is a player in that," he said.

Turning to other operations, Stavridis called the NATO mission in the Balkans "a real success story" that gets little publicity. The operations have kept the peace in Kosovo even while decreasing troops from 30,000 10 years ago to 1,200 today, he said.

The next step in Balkan operations is to determine how the drawdown should proceed, Stavridis said, adding that tensions still exist in Serbia about Kosovo, which the Serbian government views as a breakaway province, but which 63 nations, including the United States, view as sovereign.

"We need to move carefully in the Balkans so we don't fall back," Stavridis said. "This process has been extraordinary. We don't want to let it go, but it requires watchful service."

Africom Assists Security, Stability Efforts

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

March 9, 2010 - The Africa Partnership Station, a U.S.-led response to requests by African nations for maritime training, is now in its fifth deployment as it expands its scope along the African coastline, the commander of U.S. Africa Command said today. While its initial focus was on West African nations near the Gulf of Guinea, the program -- which comprises ships that serve as mobile training centers -- has extended its reach to the eastern coast of a continent plagued by problems on both coasts, Army Gen. William E. "Kip" Ward told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"The Africa Partnership Station, which includes our European and African partners as members of its staff, is now on its fifth deployment and has expanded from its initial focus on the Gulf of Guinea to other African coastal nations," Ward said in a progress update to Congress.

An estimated 80 percent of Europe's cocaine supply transits through West Africa. Much of it originates in Latin America before being shipped across the Atlantic Ocean. In sub-Saharan Africa, roughly $1 billion is lost annually to illegal fishing.

Meanwhile, both the western and eastern coasts continue to be troubled by piracy – specifically in Nigeria and Somalia, which accounted for nearly 70 percent of the worldwide total in 2008, the most recent data available on Africom's Web site.

Visits by the Africa Partnership Station are designed to support and strengthen regional capabilities on the continent and represent one means for building comprehensive maritime security in Africa. The program is inspired by the belief that maritime safety and security will contribute to development, economic prosperity and security ashore, defense officials said.

Training focuses on a broad range of areas, including maritime law enforcement, search and rescue capabilities, civil engineering and logistics, and navigation. Crew members also participate in humanitarian assistance efforts led by interagency and nongovernmental organizations focusing on health care, education and other projects..

The Africa Partnership Station is part of a list of initiatives carried out by Africom, the Defense Department's newest unified combatant command, which oversees security and stability operations in the bulk of the African continent.

Describing other components of the U.S. mission on the continent, Ward said Africom personnel are assisting African partners in building their capacities to counter transnational threats from violent extremist organizations, to stem illicit drug trafficking, to support peacekeeping operations and to prepare for natural disasters.

"Supporting the development of professional and capable militaries contributes to increased security and stability in Africa, [and] allows African nations and regional organizations to promote good governance, expand development and provide for their common defense and better serve their people," he said.

Ward said the United States promotes its interests by helping African states build capable and professional militaries that respect human rights, adhere to the rule of law and more effectively contribute to stability in Africa.

"We do what we do in Africom to protect American lives and to promote American interests," he said. "We do it by supporting security and stability programs in Africa and its island nations."

Future Units Need Balanced Capabilities

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

March 9, 2010 - Although many of the U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are deployed in a mentorship and training role, they're still capable of taking the fight to the enemy, the commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command said today.

Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee and explained that such units are still configured to retain combat power, and that their multifaceted capabilities herald the future for the U.S. military.

"The theme that we're seeing more and more now is the troops going in must have the ability to fight in a coalition atmosphere and be able to partner," Mattis said.

He explained that this shift in unit capabilities is part of a larger policy directed by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for the entire military.

"The entire military force is becoming more attuned to this 'advise and assist' effort, whether it's in Africa, Afghanistan or Iraq," the general said.

The first of the designated advise-and-assist brigades began arriving in Iraq over the summer. They've done well to empower Iraqi security forces and to help ensure the gradual drawdown of U.S. troops, Mattis said.

"When those troops go in, they will focus on the train-and-assist [mission]," he said. "But it would be ill-advised to the enemy to mess with them. They will still have their abilities to fight, and these forces are quite capable of rocking the enemy back on their heels.

"The troops are trained and adjusted to the advise-and-assist mission in Iraq, and from our perspective, these troops are exactly the right thing at the right time," Mattis added.

The Iraq model is adaptive, and is being used by U.S. troops in Afghanistan as well, said Mattis, whose command is responsible for providing efficient training programs to combatant commanders.

U.S. forces in Afghanistan are focusing more on improving the capabilities of Afghan soldiers through training and mentorship. Rather than U.S. forces being the sole tip of the spear in combat operations in the volatile south, U.S. and Afghan forces consistently fight side by side, he said.

"I'd go so far as in saying now that the troops that are going into southern Afghanistan are completely capable on their own as combat units or in partnering with the Afghans," Mattis said.

Military officials in Afghanistan's Helmand province estimate that there is one Afghan soldier per every three American troops rooting out Taliban in the Marja offensive. Only months ago, that ratio was estimated at one Afghan soldier for at least 10 Americans.

Mattis explained that the behavior of the U.S. troops in this capacity is just as important as the shift in their capabilities, shining light on the need to expand advisor and mentorship training to all combat units. Units must be organized to have the best-possible components and elements to execute any mission, he said, and must be tailored to provide maximum flexibility to deal with a wide range of conflicts and contingencies.

"While we cannot accurately predict the type of warfare in which we must be ready to engage in the future, we recognize that we cannot adopt a single, preclusive view of war," he said. "Balance is key. We are learning, [and] we've got it right this time. We are using lessons learned to change the very makeup of the unit training."

USNS Comfort Completes Haiti Mission

American Forces Press Service

March 9, 2010 - The hospital ship USNS Comfort will leave Haiti tomorrow, as U.S. Southern Command officials have determined its crew has completed its humanitarian relief mission in the aftermath of the Jan. 12 earthquake that devastated the Caribbean nation. Medical facilities and field hospitals in Haiti have assumed a greater role in addressing the health-care needs of Haitians, and the need for urgent, life-saving medical care steadily declined, officials explained.

"Over the last 10 days, we've seen over a 65 percent reduction in patients on board the [Comfort], as they have been appropriately transferred to local hospitals for follow-on care," Army Col. (Dr.) Jennifer Menetrez, Joint Task Force Haiti's command surgeon, said during a "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable March 4. The last patient treated for earthquake-related injuries aboard the Comfort was discharged from the ship on Feb. 27, Menetrez added.

The hospital ship began supporting humanitarian relief efforts in Haiti after receiving its first patients a day before anchoring off Port-au-Prince on Jan. 20. Over the course of seven weeks, the ship's U.S military and civilian medical personnel treated 871 patients, receiving one patient every six to nine minutes at the height of the recovery effort, officials said.

Comfort's medical staff also performed 843 surgeries aboard the ship during the mission, treating more than 540 critically injured earthquake survivors within the first 10 days.

The hospital ship ran 10 operating rooms at full capacity to care for injured Haitian and U.S. earthquake survivors requiring surgical care. Comfort's medics also treated U.S. and international military personnel transferred to the ship by physicians on the ground for surgical and nonsurgical care.

Volunteer experts from the Orthopedic Trauma Association, Project Hope, Operation Smile, National Nurses United, Johns Hopkins Emergency Medicine and other nongovernmental organizations provided the ship's medical team with orthopedic trauma, surgical, nursing and anesthesia support.

"We are immensely proud of the contributions made by everyone who helped treat critically injured earthquake survivors aboard [the] Comfort," said Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander of U.S. Southern Command. "Their efforts saved the lives of many patients and helped everyone treated begin the important process of recovery.

"Their rapid response and contribution to the international relief efforts in Haiti helped the country overcome an urgent medical crisis at a time when access to surgical care on the ground was very limited," the general added.

Comfort's crew worked closely with Haiti's health ministry and health care professionals from the U.S. Agency for International Development, international relief organizations and nongovernmental organizations to secure follow-on care for patients in recovery.

By early February, as relief efforts in the areas near the earthquake's epicenter gained momentum and medical treatment facilities began or resumed operations in those areas, the numbers of patients with earthquake-related injuries arriving aboard Comfort gradually declined. By Feb. 28, Comfort was no longer treating patients with earthquake-related injuries, officials said.

Comfort is scheduled to return to its home port in Baltimore on March 14.

USNS Comfort previously deployed here for 12 days in April as part of Operation Continuing Promise 2009 -- a four-month humanitarian and civic assistance deployment to seven countries in the Caribbean and in Central and South America. During the Haiti segment of the mission, Comfort's medical staff treated 6,731 patients, performed 161 surgeries and filled 15,504 prescriptions.

(From a U.S. Southern Command news release.)

Flag Officer Announcement

March 9, 2010 - Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates announced today that the President has made the following nomination:

Navy Rear Adm. Carol M. Pottenger has been nominated for appointment to the rank of vice admiral and assignment as deputy chief of staff for capability development, Supreme Allied Command Transformation, Norfolk, Va. Pottenger is currently serving as commander, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, Norfolk, Va.

Mortuary Staff Prepares Uniforms for Fallen


By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

March 9, 2010 - Army Sgt. 1st Class Jimmy Toro slides ribbons onto a rack, then clips the rack onto a brand-new dress uniform, the finishing touch on a lengthy process to ensure the proper medals and decorations are in place. He smiles as he admires his handiwork, lifting the jacket to ensure each medal and insignia is perfectly spaced and no wrinkles have invaded the carefully pressed surface.

Toro has put an inordinate amount of time and effort into this uniform, even though it's not one he'll ever wear. This uniform is for a servicemember who has been killed in combat.

Toro works in the uniform shop of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center here, and it's his job to prepare the uniforms that will clothe soldiers' remains. His job, he said, is a labor of love.

"Soldiers take pride in their uniforms, and we ensure that pride is sustained even after they pass away," he said.

Toro's focus is on uniforms for soldiers, but Navy, Air Force and Marine representatives also are on hand to prepare uniforms for their service colleagues. All U.S. servicemembers who die in support of a combat operation will come through the operations center here, where their remains are prepared for final disposition.

Marine Corps Cpl. Adam Knebler said it's tough to describe the satisfaction he gets from doing this job.

"I find my work very rewarding," he said while sliding a belt buckle onto a strap. He is building several uniforms for Marines who had arrived the night prior. "This is probably one of the most important things we can do."

Knebler is surrounded by hundreds of uniforms and walls covered with neat rows of new ribbons and insignia from every service branch. The readily available stock helps the staff turn around the uniforms quickly. Their task must be completed by the time the remains are ready for departure home, which can take from 24 hours up to several days.

The staff's job starts when the remains first arrive at the mortuary. It's their job to obtain measurements, then have the uniform custom-tailored on base to ensure the perfect fit. Most families request burial in the service's dress uniform, but the staff also has accommodated other requests.

"We've purchased civilian attire, such as a suit or even jeans and a shirt," Toro said. "We'll do our best to fulfill any request."

For uniform requests, which make up the bulk of their work, their next step is to gather ribbons and medals; even those that have been posthumously awarded will make it onto the uniform. If needed, they will special-order a ribbon or medal, such as a state-specific one for a National Guard member, and have it shipped overnight. The name tag is the finishing touch, with a machine on hand to make them on the spot.

Once complete, the uniform will undergo a quality check. "If it's not right, if the sleeve is too long, for instance, we'll start over," Toro said. Another quality check will take place after modifications, and then a third at shipping.

These extensive efforts all are aimed at making sure the uniform is perfect for the families.

"Families are going through a tough enough time. We want them to have the least stress and worry possible," said Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Richard Mitchell. When they see the uniform, he added, "we want the families to see perfection; we want the uniform to shine."

Wounded Warriors Conquer Liberty Mountain


By: Army Lt. Col. Tom Hall
March 09, 2010

Some of the best snow conditions in recent memory greeted a very special group of skiers during the weekend of February 27-28 at Liberty Mountain in Southern Pennsylvania. The Fourth Annual Wounded Warriors weekend saw 15 soldiers from Ft. Belvoir, Ft. Meade, and Walter Reed Army Medical Center enjoy two days of skiing and snowboarding with their families.

The weekend’s events also included sponsored dinners in Gettysburg on Friday and Saturday evenings, thanks to generous contributions from the Quality Inn and the Best Western Gettysburg Hotel.

However, the highlight of the weekend was almost certainly the surprise visit by First Lady Michelle Obama, who was coincidentally skiing at Liberty on Sunday. During lunch, the First Lady, for whom advocacy of military families is a signature cause, came through and shook hands with warriors and instructors alike, and thanked the soldiers for their service and sacrifice.

The skiers and snowboarders who signed up for the event through their Warrior Transition Units had the opportunity to receive lessons from the instructional staff at Blue Ridge Adaptive Snow Sports (BRASS), a nonprofit organization that links up ski and snowboard instructors from Liberty Mountain with skiers for specialized instruction geared toward individual disabilities.

First-year instructor Bruce Bennett noted the irony in the warriors calling the instructors “heroes,” while his student for the weekend was able to ski without physical support, following a traumatic brain injury that has resulted in three years of physical therapy and requiring a cane to walk.

The warriors’ disabilities ranged from extensive shrapnel wounds and a shattered humerous to amputated legs and traumatic brain injuries, but that stopped no one from enjoying the great snow conditions and warm weather. Depending on the nature of the injury, BRASS is equipped with specialized equipment that can also make the warriors experience

The biggest goal of the weekend is to provide an opportunity to be outside and break the routine of physical therapy, while still getting valuable exercise. Many of the warriors skied and snowboarded prior to their injuries. This program allows them to return to an activity they loved while giving them the tools to adapt to their new physical condition.

Instructor Beth Troutman’s student, who had only skied once before her injury, was so excited that she showed up one hour early. She enjoyed the experience so much that she now hopes to become an instructor herself.

One of the best examples for them to emulate, is one of the BRASS instructors. Manny Pina, who lost a leg in a motor vehicle accident after returning from Iraq. Since then, he has learned to ski without his prosthetic – what is called “three-tracking” – and has been instructing other adaptive skiers for the past two years. During the weekend he skied a double-black diamond (skier lingo for the most difficult terrain) for the first time, while one of the warriors with whom he was skiing made her first trip down an intermediate level trail for the first time since her injury, which had left her knees extremely weak.

Instructor Cheryl Monroe noticed that, while everyone was nervous at the outset on Saturday morning, she saw changes in everyone’s confidence by the afternoon and following day, reflective of the since of accomplishment that came from conquering individual fears and the physical challenge presented by the mountain.

Although the program for wounded warriors has focused on one weekend per season for the last four years, organizers are hopeful that this winter’s record attendance will lead to more regular participation in the future. Ft. Meade Warrior Transition Unit coordinator Sandra Santos called this a worthwhile goal, as her desire, consistent among all the coordinators, was that she could bring the Ft. Meade warriors more often throughout the season.

Adaptive Program Supervisor Leslie White also felt that the very successful weekend made her look forward to a more sustained program for the next season by working directly with the Warrior Transition Units.

The author is a volunteer instructor in the adaptive program and an active duty lieutenant colonel in the Army.