Military News

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

National Guard (In Federal Status) and Reserve Activated as of March 9, 2010

This week the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard announced a decrease in activated reservists, while the Marine Corps announced an increase. The net collective result is 1,999 fewer reservists activated than last week.

At any given time, services may activate some units and individuals while deactivating others, making it possible for these figures to either increase or decrease. The total number currently on active duty from the Army National Guard and Army Reserve is 108,647; Navy Reserve, 6,275; Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve, 16,080; Marine Corps Reserve, 6,517; and the Coast Guard Reserve, 698. This brings the total National Guard and Reserve personnel who have been activated to 138,217, including both units and individual augmentees.

A cumulative roster of all National Guard and Reserve personnel who are currently activated may be found at http://www.defense.gov/news/d20100309ngr.pdf.

Review Drops Two-War Force Size Paradigm

By Jordan Reimer
American Forces Press Service

March 10, 2010 - The model used to determine the appropriate size of the United States military is being replaced following the Quadrennial Defense Review process, a senior defense official said here today. Speaking on background at a two-day seminar on the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review hosted by the National Defense University, the official said the theory that U.S. forces should be sized based on the need to fight two major wars simultaneously no longer is appropriate.

"We're looking for the broadest range of capabilities to deal with the broadest range of scenarios," he stated. "It's not as easy to talk about ... as the two major theater war paradigm, but it's important, and it's essential to our preparation for future conflict."

The 2010 QDR, released Feb. 1, is a comprehensive review of Defense Department strategy and priorities, closely tied to the defense budget. The report identified several key goals for the department in the next decade.

The QDR's overarching themes are two-fold: rebalancing U.S. military capabilities and reforming defense processes and institutions. This, the report states, will enable the military to prevail in today's wars, prevent and deter future conflict, prepare to defeat potential adversaries, and preserve and enhance the all-volunteer force.

Rather than focusing on preparing to fight two major wars at the same time to achieve these goals, the military instead must prepare to "succeed in a wide range of contingencies," the official said.

While this decision signals a major change in a policy that has been the staple of U.S. force planning since the 1990s, the official emphasized that this new direction was, in fact, a continuation of the previous administration's work in the 2006 QDR.

"I want to give credit to the previous QDR and its alternative force planning construct," the official said. "We were able to build off of that [for this review]."

The new force-sizing paradigm for the short term accounts for ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as "foundational activities" to prevent and deter conflict from both transnational terrorist threats and potential state adversaries. In addition, the military will be outfitted with sufficient forces to support civilian authorities for emergency relief missions.

"The forces required to do operations in Haiti obviously present a challenge given the strains on the force, but we've already demonstrated since the QDR's [release] that despite the ongoing operations, the Department of Defense is capable of bringing additional capabilities to bear to deal with emerging challenges," he said.

In trying to determine an appropriate force-sizing model for the mid-to-long term, the review team considered various combinations of operations that the military could face at any one time, the official said. These included stabilization operations, defeating a state with anti-access capabilities, supporting civil authorities, and combinations of those possibilities, along with other possible contingencies.

The QDR group then looked to "mix and match" from those categories to determine likely scenarios with which the military might be confronted, and determined force structure based on requirements needed to meet those challenges.

One of the scenarios, defeating two regional aggressors along with heightened alert posture in or around the United States, probably is the "closest to our old planning program," the official noted. However, "it's only one of a number of options that were considered."

Recognizing that this new construct didn't convert simply into a numerical equation, the official nonetheless remained confident in its efficacy.

"It's intended to be a realistic assessment of the type of demands our forces may face in the future," he said.

Rising Personnel Costs Could Affect Readiness, Official Says

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

March 10, 2010 - Maintaining good compensation and benefits helped to give the military a record recruiting year in fiscal 2009, but rising personnel costs could affect readiness in the future, the department's new undersecretary for personnel and readiness told a Senate panel today. The military in fiscal 2009 had its most successful recruiting year in the four decades of the all-volunteer force, Clifford L. Stanley told the Senate Armed Services Committee's personnel subcommittee. To continue that trend, "the department must provide a compensation package comparable and competitive to the private sector," he said. "At the same time, we must balance the demands of the all-volunteer force in the context of growing equipment and operations costs."

The department continues its commitment to troops by including a 1.4 percent military pay increase – an amount that equals earnings increases in the private sector as measured by the Employment Cost Index -- in its fiscal 2010 budget request, Stanley said. Since 2002, military pay has risen 42 percent, and the housing allowance has grown 83 percent, while private-sector wages and salaries rose only 32 percent, he said.

"While there is little question that those increases were necessary in the past, rising personnel costs could dramatically affect the readiness of the department," Stanley told the senators. He added that discretionary spending such as special pay and bonuses offers the best ability to attract and keep the right quantity and quality of people with specific skill sets the military needs.

Though the services maintain an "exceptionally high level" of readiness, Stanley said, multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have increased the stress on servicemembers and their families.

The Defense Department has a number of initiatives to address the stress on the force, including increasing time at home between deployments, Stanley said. The department capped deployment time to one year with a year at home – with a goal for two years -- for active duty servicemembers and strives to give reserve component members three years at home between deployments, he said.

Also, the department holds the care of wounded warriors as its highest priority behind winning the wars, Stanley said, echoing remarks by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. Initiatives under way to allow a smoother transition into veteran status and to increase cooperation and record-sharing between the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs will help, he said.

Stanley noted, however, that the department's popular new program to help military spouses with employment, the "My Career Advancement Account," was halted Feb. 16, the day he was sworn into office. "Due to an unforeseen, unprecedented -- but welcome – demand in enrollments that overwhelmed the infrastructure, we nearly reached the budget threshold," he explained, adding that the pause of the program is considered temporary.

"While it was necessary to pause the program immediately, we failed to communicate properly the reasons for the pause," Stanley said. "Over the past few weeks, [the Defense Department] has worked tirelessly on mapping out solutions for both the short and long term that honors our commitment to our military spouses while accounting for fiscal realities.

"Our proposals are in the final stage of approval and we hope to restart the program very soon," he added. "We know we must make a concerted effort to restore our credibility and confidence with our military spouses, servicemembers and the American public."

President Honors Troops for Haiti Service

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

March 10, 2010 - President Barack Obama recognized nine military members along with other federal, state and nongovernment relief workers here today for their service to earthquake-ravaged Haiti. "Today I want to thank all of them for leading a swift and coordinated response during one of the most complex humanitarian efforts ever attempted," Obama said. "I think you represent what's best in America, and I could not be prouder of the response that all of you engaged in during this humanitarian crisis."

Haitian President Rene Preval attended the Rose Garden ceremony to thank Obama and his administration for their quick response. The United States was part of global response that arrived in Haiti almost immediately after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12.

An estimated 8 million Haitians lost their homes, and thousands of others died in the wreckage. Relief efforts included conducting search-and-rescue missions, treating life-threatening injuries and providing food, water and shelter.

Navy Lt. Sheila Almendras-Flaherty was deployed to Haiti for almost two months aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort, where she served as a pediatric nurse. Her experience, although rewarding, was not easy, having to see so many injured children on her medical floor, she said.

"I treated them as if they were my own kids," she said. "The numbers were pretty significant, and it was really difficult. The experience is very just very difficult to put into words."

Air Force Senior Airman Justin York served with the Tennessee Air National Guard's 24th Air Expeditionary Group. Haiti was his first deployment, he said.

He shared Almendras-Flaherty's sentiments and expressed the difficulties of searching for survivors amid the rubble and damage.

"It's a really sad situation, but I'm happy I was able to help," he said.

For Navy Chief Warrant Officer Wilfred Bossous, serving in Haiti also was difficult. Wilfred was born in Haiti and came to the United States in 1984 when he was 14 years old. Bossou said he lost 10 family members to the earthquake.

"Going back and seeing all the devastation, I was taken aback by it," he said. "But being in the position to help my natives, I felt blessed. I pride myself on being professional and not being too emotional, but being able to go back to my homeland was very gratifying, and it's a blessing to have had the opportunity to do so."

The military honorees followed their meeting with Obama with a tour of the White House and the Pentagon. The servicemembers have completed their tour in Haiti and are back at their home stations.

MILITARY CONTRACTS March 10, 2010

NAVY

Guam Pacific International, LLC*, Barrigada, Guam (N40192-10-D-2800); Bulltrack-Watts, JV*, Marysville, Calif. (N40192-10-D-2801); Niking Corp.*, Pearl City, Hawaii (N40192-10-D-2802); Overland Corp.*, Ardmore, Okla. (N40192-10-D-2803); P&S Construction Inc.*, Lowell, Mass. (N40192-10-D-2804); and Pacific West Builders*, National City, Calif. (N40192-10-D-2810), are each being awarded an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity, multiple award construction contract for new construction, renovation/modernization and routine repair/maintenance of government shore-based facilities in Guam. The dollar value for all six contracts combined is $100,000,000. The contract also contains four unexercised option periods which, if exercised, would increase cumulative contract value to $500,000,000. Guam Pacific International, LLC, is being awarded task order 0001 at $12,959,699 for the complete design and construction of a combat support vehicle maintenance facility at the northwest field area of Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Work for this task order is expected to be completed by July 2011. All work on this contract will be performed in Guam, with an expected completion date of March 2015. Contract funds for task order 0001 will not expire at the end the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via the Navy Electronic Commerce Online Web site, with 13 proposals received. These six contractors will compete for task orders under the terms and conditions of the awarded contract. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Marianas, Guam, is the contracting activity.

Raytheon Co., Integrated Defense Systems, Tewksbury, Mass., is being awarded an $81,491,000 contract for DDG 1002 diminishing manufacturing sources (DMS) materials and long-lead/advanced procurement items, DDG 1000 class training equipment and curriculum, and associated DDG 1000 class engineering services. These DMS materials and long-lead/advanced procurement items will be incorporated into the mission systems equipment for DDG 1002. The DDG 1000 class training equipment and associated DDG 1000 class engineering services include continuation efforts to complete DDG 1000 Class combat system training course requirements, data center items, and long-lead training equipment material. Work will be performed in Portsmouth, R.I. (79.1 percent); Falls Church, Va. (14.5 percent); and Andover, Mass. (6.4 percent), and is expected to be completed by March 2012. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity (N00024-10-C-5126).

The Boeing Co., Ridley Park, Pa., is being awarded an $11,433,264 cost-plus-fixed-fee/firm-fixed-price delivery order against a previously issued basic ordering agreement (N00019-05-G-0012) for the procurement of 58 each overhead (OH) panel kits and main distribution panel (MDP) kits for the CH-46E helicopter. In addition, this order provides for updates to the drawings that define the OH and MDP panels, the item unique identification marking on the panels, and required field support services. Work will be performed in Salisbury, Md. (90 percent), and Ridley Park, Pa. (10 percent), and is expected to be completed in June 2012. 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.

Marvin Engineering Co., Inc.*, Inglewood, Calif., is being awarded a $9,895,746 modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract (N00421-06-C-0050) to exercise an option for 324 production BRU-32 B/A ejector bomb racks and three periodic production samples for the F/A-18 E/F/G aircraft. Work will be performed in Inglewood, Calif., and is expected to be completed in May 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.

DEFENSE LOGISTICS AGENCY

BAE Systems Specialty Defense Systems of Pennsylvania, Inc., Jessup, Pa. is being awarded a maximum $27,973,542 firm-fixed-price contract for lightweight helmets. There are no other locations of performance. Using service is Marine Corps. There were originally two proposals solicited with two responses. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The date of performance completion is Nov. 30, 2011. The Defense Supply Center Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pa., is the contracting activity (SPM1C1-10-C-0011).

River Trading Co., Ltd. *, Cincinnati, Ohio, is being awarded a maximum $16,909,258 firm-fixed-price contract for delivery of bituminous coal. Other location of performance is West Virginia. Using services are Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and federal civilian agencies. There were originally 171 proposals solicited with 13 responses. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The date of performance completion is May 31, 2011. The Defense Energy Support Center, Fort Belvoir, Va., is the contracting activity (SP0600-10-D-0653).

Delta Coals, LLC*, Nashville, Tenn., is being awarded a maximum $6,700,248 firm-fixed-price, total set-aside contract for delivery of bituminous coal. Other location of performance is Virginia. Using services are Army and Marine Corps. There were originally 171 proposals solicited with 13 responses. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The date of performance completion is May 31, 2011. The Defense Energy Support Center, Fort Belvoir, Va., is the contracting activity (SP0600-10-D-0651).

AAR Parts Trading, Inc., Wood Dale, Ill., is being awarded a maximum $6,439,950 fixed-price with economic price adjustment, sole-source contract for control assembly and difuser. There are no other locations of performance. Using service is Army. There were originally two proposals solicited with one response. Contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The date of performance completion is March 2, 2015. The Defense Logistics Agency, Redstone Arsenal, Ala., is the contracting activity (SPRRA1-10-D-0004).

AIR FORCE

Universal Technology Corp., Dayton, Ohio, was awarded a $24,500,000 contract which will provide for short term research and development in key technology areas for the air vehicles director, Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. At this time, $50,000 has been obligated. AFRL/PKVC, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the contracting activity (FA8650-10-D-3037).

McDonnell Douglas Corp., St. Louis, Mo., was awarded an $8,823,078 contract which purchase 100 focused lethality munitions-small diameter bomb I variant. At this time, the entire amount has been obligated. 681 ARSS, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity (FA8672-10-C-0013, P00002).

Kuhana Associates, Honolulu, Hawaii, was awarded a $7,149,646 contract which will provide a full range of clinical support services in the form of health care workers. At this time, $2,186,000 has been obligated. 355 CONS, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., is the contracting activity. (FA4877-10-D-0001)

Policy to Mandate Head Injury Evaluations

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

March 10, 2010 - Defense Department officials expect to launch a new policy in the coming months that will make head-injury evaluations mandatory for all troops who suffer possible concussions, a senior official with the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury said. The current guidelines for treating troops with such injuries allows for them to come forward on their own. Troops in combat and in close contact with explosions or blasts make the decision on whether they need to be evaluated for concussions or head injuries.

But under the new policy, every servicemember exposed to such an incident will be required to seek attention. Those troops also will be required to rest and will be excluded from their unit's mission cycle for at least 24 hours, Kathy Helmick, the senior director for traumatic brain injury at the center, said yesterday in an interview with American Forces Press Service.

"What is getting ready to become policy is a paradigm shift from a servicemember coming forward and saying, 'I have a complaint' to an incident-based protocol," Helmick said. "When those events happen, you don't get to say, 'I'm having symptoms.' You go to medical, and you get checked out, regardless of whether you have symptoms or not."

Early detection and treatment is the cornerstone of the new policy, she said. The guidelines will help health care providers and researchers track such occurrences as well as expand their knowledge in treatment. The policy also will help to ensure unit readiness and longevity in the afflicted troops, Helmick noted.

The policy is intended to addresses the culture of troops who are so dedicated to their mission that they often shrug off their symptoms and simply learn to deal with them, she said. However, she added, failing to get treatment and education about their possible conditions may do more harm than good, not only for the troop in question but the unit as well.

Avoiding evaluations and treatment can be troublesome once the mission is complete and the servicemember returns home, Helmick said, because concussion indicators are not limited solely to concussions. They actually can be confused with symptoms troops may have in their readjustment period after a deployment.

"The premise here is that we know folks were so mission-focused that sometimes they weren't being evaluated," Helmick said. "If troops don't come forward and simply 'will it away' and carry on with their mission, by the time they get home, those symptoms could be confused with readjusting to life back home.

"This is really an effort to provide state-of-the-art, up-front care quickly to the time of injury," she continued. "If you had a sprained ankle, you wouldn't be hobbling around on your ankle for eight months before you received care."

Since 2006, servicemembers exposed to roadside bombs, sports injuries and other incidents that could result in head injuries have participated in the military acute concussion evaluation. The evaluation is done in theater and is flexible enough to be done while "bullets are flying," Helmick said.

Line medics and Navy corpsmen can give the evaluation on the spot or at the base camp in about 10 to 15 minutes without troops having to be transported to a field hospital. Studies have shown that troops recover quicker when they're close to their unit, she said.

Troops are asked a series of questions that help the medics determine the severity of the concussion. Afterward, the troop is required to rest for 24 hours, and then participate in a follow-up evaluation. If the symptoms persist, more evaluations will be done to determine if the troop needs to be evacuated to a larger medical facility. If not, the troop will get back in the fight.

"You can almost do the evaluation with bullets flying," she said. "It's not supposed to be done in a controlled environment, but will identify red flags, tell the medics about the symptoms and give a very gross overview of the servicemember's cognitive state."

Making the evaluation mandatory for all troops in question was a request from troops on the front lines, and has drawn much attention from senior defense officials here, Helmick said.

She noted that Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has "really taken the stance" in not leaving the evaluation to subjective reporting by the individual servicemember. Leadership realizes the culture of mission focus and the demanding set of actions that servicemembers need to make, she said.

"If you lay it out for servicemembers, and they understand their conditions, you decrease the symptoms and you get better faster," she said. "If you don't detect it, you can't educate about it, [and] you lose that opportunity to provide an educational intervention.

"What we hope to do is save lives from the serious injuries and decrease chronic symptoms of having problems with concussions," she continued. "With policy change, we're going to treat quicker and return troops to duty faster in full capacity."

The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury was created in November 2007, and assesses, validates, oversees and facilitates prevention, resilience, identification, treatment, outreach, rehabilitation and reintegration for psychological health and brain injury for the Defense Department, military members and their families, according to its Web site.

The center also works closely with the Veterans Affairs Department to ensure veterans suffering from psychological health issues and traumatic brain injury receive the most up-to-date care.

Hurt Locker: Blowing their Cover?

By Terese Schlachter, Pentagon Channel Producer

March 10, 2010 - Film director, Kathryn Bigelow heard a story worth telling and ran with it. That’s how she came to be standing on the stage Sunday night at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, holding two Oscars for the movie, “The Hurt Locker”.

“I’d just like to dedicate this to the women and men in the military who risk their lives on a daily basis in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world. May they come home safe,” Bigelow said to her well teased, Botoxed and collagen audience.

Bigelow became the first female director to win the Oscar. It was a low budget film. It was in no more than 525 movie theaters at once. Most people had never heard of “The Hurt Locker” until Oscar started buzzing. I thought it was cool that no one asked “who” she was wearing.

For those of you who’ve been deployed under rocks and such, The Hurt Locker is the story of an Explosives Ordnance Disposal team, headed up by Sgt. Will James, played by actor Jeremy Renner. The movie is intense. Sgt James is a hot dog. He engages explosives in a contest for survival: the first to be dismembered looses. James is flanked by two much more safety conscious and back-home minded people, JT Sanborn, played by Anthony Mackie and Owen Eldridge played by Brian Geraghty. They both want James to knock it off.

“Stolen valor”, is what Master Sergeant and EOD technician Jack Canady calls Bigelow’s new found fame. “The techs that are out there doing this right now are the ones who deserve the recognition, not Mr. Renner, not Ms. Bigelow. They didn’t put themselves in harm’s way. They used a camera. They created a product.”

“His character was outlandish for the way we work,” says Petty Officer 1st Class, Mark Faloon, also an EOD tech. “We are a team….we are quiet professionals.”

The movie irked a number of EOD technicians, but I wonder, is it less about stolen recognition and more about anonymity gone? To a group of private, stealth Macgyvers of the desert, perhaps it seems as if Kathryn Bigelow has gone and blown their cover.

“Everyone wants to be in our business right now because of this whole IED war that’s happening and I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” says Canady.

When I had the chance to speak with Bigelow several months ago, she talked about trying to “unpack” the psychology of an EOD tech. “What makes them walk toward something you and I and the rest of the world would run from?” she asked.

Problem is, most EOD techs I’ve met over the past couple of years don’t want to be unpacked. Their conversations about their jobs are as fragmented as the stuff they scoop up post- boom. Showing the world what they do on a 30 x 70 foot screen may have felt like an invasion of privacy.

Bigelow told me that she and her crew felt a “heightened degree of responsibility” and were glad to have “an opportunity to honor these… heroic individuals.” She says EOD techs have “arguably, the most dangerous job in the world” and she hoped they felt her portrayal was done “with some care and compassion and sensitivity.”

Everyone would agree the James character was mostly Hollywood. One tech, Air Force Staff Sergeant Wayne Widner told me that sort of personality would not exist, or at least not for very long. “He’d be killed, or asked to change the way he does things.”

But that’s what makes people go to movies. And the Oscar will make more people see this movie. And the average plumber, lawyer, lobbyist, politician, beautician, mom or shop owner will know a little bit more about what’s at stake, how close the calls, and what sort of enemy the members of our armed services are facing.

Music Inspired by Art

By Staff Sgt. Thomas Dell’Omo

March 10, 2010 - Last week, on Fort Myer, the U.S. Army Ceremonial Band performed a concert unlike any they had previously performed. It came from a seedling of an idea, really: to perform music that was inspired by art. I was tasked with using this general idea and doing something with it, something larger, and something that would get folks to attend who don’t normally come to an Army Band concert. My mind reeled. I learned early on in my study of music that I loved collaboration with other musicians and artists of other disciplines. Being on stage alone, while mesmerizing in it’s own way, is truly a death-defying act: life under the lights is only for thrill seekers and those of their ilk. Not me.

I decided to seek out local artists. People who, similar to the members of the Army Band, hail from all over the US but who create here in Northern Virginia and who serve our local community. A few cold calls later and I had some interested parties. Four local artists (don’t laugh) actually agreed to create new works inspired only by the music I would supply. At our event on March 4th, the live music would unfold and the works would be unveiled. Perhaps, through this collaboration, we could shed light on the elusive “muse”, explore that guiding spirit, dare I say….celebrate it?

The artists all create at The Torpedo Factory in Old Town Alexandria. They rent space, create art and sell it all right there under one roof. It’s hardly a gallery, mostly a place where things are fabricated: where nothing becomes something. That’s fitting because it’s actually an old torpedo-making factory. When you walk in, it still has that “cold war feel”. One of the goals of this concert was to draw from their membership (or any art-loving membership for that matter) and bring them to us. People who go to art museums, who mingle with the artists, who discuss the concepts I want to explore, should attend an Army Band function. But the reality is that our events are held on Ft. Myer and drawing a crowd willing to be searched upon entrance requires a firm commitment. I understand that coming onto a military instillation is weird for most people. Military folks are used to it, but to civilians, their desire to be artistically quenched is easily squelched by the car search. It doesn’t feel like a nice night out. It doesn’t feel like a place for music. It feels stifling. Honestly.

One important outgrowth of this partnership is our recital to be held at The Torpedo Factory on April 22, 2010. It’s important for as ambassadors of the Army to meet our prospective audience halfway. That’s what the recital at the Torpedo Factory is all about. It’s also about communion with other artists and being in an artistically charged environment.

So what’s the point of the collaboration? I wanted to track that which the Greeks first called the “muse” and to see how the muse morphs from music to art. Our mediums share terms and concepts like texture, density, color, saturation and use devices that define our structure. It was also a chance to show the normal gallery go-ers that Ft. Myer IS a place for music.

Music is fickle. Its lack of transparency and permanence both contribute and detract from my enjoyment of participating in it. Live music takes place in the moment and it exists only for those who witness it first hand. You can’t DVR it for further scrutiny and the very nature of recording often fails to capture much of what is translated. Everyone knows this. That’s why great artists have waiting lists, exorbitant ticket prices: indeed their own benefactors and subscribers. Those that go to see live music are usually addicted to it. I would argue that the live experience and the recorded artifact are two distinct events that may have little to do with each other. This is the tragedy and beauty of music: you’d better prepare your self for the inevitable let down after it’s done. I’ve compared it to the thanksgiving meal, prepared with care the day of, planned for for weeks or months and done for in 20 minutes: everyone looking at each other blankly five hours later for the next meal. Freeloading. Savages. The nerve.

This event was different because of the very phenomenon of painting. I’m not afraid to tell you that it’s a difference that I have always envied. THEY get to make SOMETHING. THEY have this artifact that remains behind after the music has faded from the hall and every last clap has been squeezed out. They have these works and they last. It’s not a copy of the painting that remains, no. Not the representation of the object, but the very object indeed. It’s what he French philosopher Jean Baudrillard referred to as “simulacra and simulation” which is the philosophical idea that the copy of the object can, through time, replace the very object it was intended to represent. Even worse for our transparent media, the CD remains, the live performance gone and you missed it. Evidence of this is all around us, a preacher who replaces nearness to God, an “authentic” Tuscan restaurant in a city mall for many people who never have gone to Tuscany IS Tuscany. To my point, we weren’t left with a copy of what Ann Barbieri, Connie Slack, Gloria Logan, and Betsy Anderson did. As I look at them now, I am thankful that I am close to something that was made with our collective purpose for this event. Not to get tongue tied, but if I were to really be a stickler, couldn’t the art represent the EVENT and now perhaps the EVENT itself is really the art? Enough.

Lastly, to the question of why I went through all this. I have a mission statement and I won’t reveal the bulk of it here. I sat and wrote it just after I arrived at the FT Myer, a new young member of “Pershing’s Own.” I can boil it down to one simple statement: I want to be a part of something great. I don’t consider any single part of my duty here my job. I consider it my life’s work and I think there’s only one way to go about that. I could never be casual about my work here. I’m just not built that way.

Top Army Cooks Face Off During 35th Culinary Arts Competition at Fort Lee

March 10, 2010 - Considered the Super Bowl for the food specialists, it is the largest culinary competition in the U.S., and brings together more than 200 competitors from 26 military installations, who will be “bringing it to the table” to be named the best of the best of military food specialists.

From ice sculptures, seafood, wild game, pastries, and amazing centerpieces made from chocolate, the competition has it all. There will be cold food displays, ice carving, and live cooking demonstrations daily, including demonstrations by the Original “Grill Sergeant,” Army Sgt. 1st Class Brad Turner Jr., and TV personality, restaurateur, and home d├ęcor authority, B. Smith.

Sanctioned by the American Culinary Federation, the competition is open to military members from of all services, Department of Defense Civilians, and United States Army Reserve and National Guard personnel. It has taken place every year since 1973, with the exception of 1991 during Desert Storm and 2003 during the Iraq war kickoff, according to information from the U.S. Quartermaster School, Fort Lee.

“This year’s event is special because all of the military services, including the Coast Guard, are competing. We are a joint activity and need all branches of the military to fight the war today,” said Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Robert Sparks, Joint Culinary Center of Excellence division chief, responsible for organizing and coordinating the competition. “This is a great opportunity where everyone can come together and showcase their military food service skills and exchange ideas. It also gives the competitors a chance to learn advanced culinary skills that can’t be gotten anywhere else.”

Besides recognizing the skills and talents of the competitors, it also serves as a unique opportunity for food service personnel to interact with world-class culinary professionals. Judges and instructors from England, Sweden, and other countries are brought in to provide valuable feedback to the participants. Many of the judges belong to the American Culinary Federation and World Association of Chefs societies.

“It’s an honor to be on the team. Knowing that I was chosen to represent the entire base is a humbling experience,” said Army Sgt. Scott D. Criddle, a first time team member and soldier with the 583rd Forward Support Company, Fort Bragg, N.C. “Cooking is my passion–I have been cooking since I was six years old. Most of my family has been associated with the military; so being in the food service field with the Army is a natural fit.

According to Criddle, military cooks don’t always get the recognition they deserve. “This competition will let their peers see that there is a lot more effort and responsibility to being a food specialist-more than what they see at a dining facility at a stateside or field location or in the hills and mountains in Afghanistan or Iraq.”

The general public is being allowed to experience the high quality meals that will be prepared by the competitors. As part of the competition, two teams will square off daily, in field kitchens. They will be responsible for preparing and plating 75 five-star meals which will be available to ticket holders for $4.25.

Featuring more than 500 judged events, participants will fight for trophies and special awards in the following categories: Best Team Exhibit; Best Exhibit; Special Judges Award, Most Artistic Piece; Best Overall Table Exhibit in the Competition; Best Entry, Contemporary; Nutritional Hot Food Challenge Team of the Year; Best Centerpiece in Ice; Field Cooking Team Competition; Junior Chef of the Year; Culinary Knowledge Bowl Champions; Chef of the Year; National Culinary Champion of the United States Military; National Pastry Champion of the United states Military; and Installation of the Year.

Medals received from federation entries can be used towards certification as a chef.

Among the teams competing this year are teams from Fort Carson, Colo., which took the top honor last year, followed by Team Korea and Fort Bragg, N.C.

Winner will be announced at the awards ceremony on the 12th of March.

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By Lt. Gen. Ken Keen,
U.S. Army Commander Joint Task Force – Haiti

March 10, 2010 - I had an opportunity the other day to pay one final visit to the USNS Comfort before she was to set sail and return home to the United States. For nearly two months, the Comfort has been parked in the waters just off-shore of the capital of Haiti supporting the humanitarian assistance and disaster response efforts. The ship’s white hull with its distinctive red cross has been, and will always be a reminder of the enduring bonds of friendship and solidarity the United States has with this Caribbean nation. For many survivors of the earthquake who were treated on the Comfort, I am sure they too will never forget the care and compassion they received.

During her time here in Haiti, the crew has saved lives, healed the sick and injured and, as embodied in her name, comforted not only the patients, but their families too. Even before the Comfort arrived in Port-au-Prince Bay on January 20 in support of Operation Unified Response, she was already treating some of the most urgent cases, ferried to her by helicopter while she was still under way. Her mission was to provide emergency surgical intensive treatment for the victims of the earthquake. The flow of patients began in earnest once the Comfort dropped anchor. From broken bones to spinal injuries, the ship had become Port-au-Prince’s primary emergency trauma center.

The wave of patients would continue for weeks to come. Overall, the Comfort performed more than 900 surgical procedures and conducted nearly 10,000 patient encounters that included primary care, pediatrics and dental. The last of Haiti’s patients was transferred at the end of February to medical facilities in Port-au-Prince; it’s a testament that progress is occurring. With gifts of supplies and equipment from the Comfort herself, as well as a major influx of material from the U.S. and other donors, the Haitian Government and the international community will continue their work to permanently strengthen Haiti’s health care system to meet the long-term needs of the people.

The current situation in Haiti is still fragile. The Government of Haiti, with the support of the international community, has a long road ahead. It won’t be easy, but the resolve of the Haitian people cannot be questioned. The same can be said about the level of health care. It’s improving, but like many aspects of Haiti’s recovery, change will be slow and will require much effort from all of us, Haitians and Haiti’s friends, laboring together. I am often asked, “General, how is progress coming in Haiti?” My response is generally the same every time, “It’s better today than yesterday, and tomorrow will be better than today.”

This oil tanker reborn as a floating hospital and its embarked medical crew of doctors and nurses, military and civilians know that they answered their nation’s call when it needed them most. They did their duty but even more, they performed a labor of love and friendship. For the Haitians who have seen America’s emissary anchored in its waters during times of emergency and those less dire, the Comfort will always be a symbol of the bonds of solidarity between our two countries.

Guard Members Skate in Roller Derby

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Darren D. Heusel
Special to American Forces Press Service

March 10, 2010 - Some soldiers will do almost anything to stay in shape. Three soldiers from the Oklahoma Army National Guard are lacing up their roller skates, strapping on elbow and knee pads and taking to the rink as members of the Oklahoma City Red Dirt Rebellion Rollergirls.

For those new to the sport, this isn't the roller derby of the 1970s, when practically every move was choreographed as in professional wrestling.

No, this is the real deal -- as evidenced by the bruised and battered bodies of 1st Lt. Jessica duMonceau, 1st Lt. Kristin Sloan and Sgt. Karli Wahkahquah.

All are members of the military intelligence community and became interested in roller derby after attending an evening contest between the Oklahoma City Red Dirt Rebellion and a team from Amarillo.

"We all went to our first bout together, and Kristin and I looked at Karli and said, 'We have to do this!'" said duMonceau, who attended high school in Foley, Minn., before moving to Oklahoma City six years ago. "We can be pretty persuasive like that sometimes."

Wahkahquah said it has been at least 10 years since she donned a pair of roller skates, but she was up to the challenge.

"I'm sure I must have looked like a baby giraffe on skates out there at first," said Wahkahquah, who also hails from Oklahoma City. "There were a lot of bumps and bruises initially, but it's proven to be a lot of fun."

Sloan, a native of Mustang, Okla., said one of the clinchers for her was when "Energizer Honey," a member of the Red Dirt Rebellion, was sent flying over the railing, landed on her feet and got right back into the action without ever batting an eyelash.

"She jumped right up like she knew what she was doing," Sloan recalled. "The crowd went wild, and we knew right then this was the sport for us."

Founded in July 2007 by a group of women with previous flat-track experience, the Red Dirt Rebellion Rollergirls are members of Oklahoma's only all-female banked-track roller derby league.

While flat-track roller derby has taken the nation by storm in recent years, the Red Dirt Rebellion is one of only 11 elite banked-track roller derby teams in the country.

In its heyday, roller derby was one of the most popular sports broadcast on TV. The late 1970s brought viewers professional wrestling-style derby with mixed teams, heated fist fights and dramatic moves.

Then, as if overnight, roller derby disappeared from public view, only to re-emerge 20 years later with a totally revamped attitude. You won't often see men on the derby track any more, unless they're sporting a black-and-white striped jersey and a whistle.

You also won't see any overly dramatic "scripted" behavior on the rink. What you will see are short skirts, fishnet stockings, tattoos and smash-mouth roller derby action.

All the hits, spills, falls and breaks are real, and they're revered in the roller derby community.

Named after the infamous "red dirt" of Oklahoma and their wild "rebellious" spirits, members of the Red Dirt Rebellion Rollergirls come from all different lifestyles and backgrounds, from graphic designers and nurses, to stay-at-home moms and soldiers.

The ladies get together at least three nights a week, and for a few bone-crushing hours, they fly around the track hurling themselves at each other as they participate in their own version of ultimate fighting.

They like to have fun, and they like to play rough, as their motto, "Skate Fast and Kick Butt," states. Once the ladies step onto the rink, they immediately transform into their "alter egos."

Wahkahquah, or "Rolling Death," as she is known by her Red Dirt Rebellion sisters, bulldozes her way through a crowded pack of five girls as she makes her way for the "jammer."

Sloan, or "Bruise Clues" as she is known in roller derby circles, finds the gap through the pack and darts in and out as she bursts her way through, dodging opposing "blockers" as they lunge at her.

The jammers, duMonceau or "La Fleur de Mort" among them, claw their way through what seems like a school of piranhas, while the blockers seek to catch an opposing skater off guard and send her skidding across the floor.

Belly flops, bruised jaws, bloody noses and twisted ankles come with the territory. But these ladies say, "Bring it on!"

After an intense bout, the skaters may seek treatment for their wounds. But, you won't see a single unhappy skater in the bunch. They'll limp out with a grin on their face and glints of roller derby glory in their eyes, eager to live on and to fight another day.

"There are definitely some dedicated people on our team," duMonceaux said.

What makes the trio so successful on the banked track is the same tenacious attitude and "can-do" spirit that helps them thrive and survive in the Guard.

"For me, the organization and the planning are huge," said Sloan. "There was no real structure when we first got started. We used troop-leading procedures to make it go a lot smoother."

Wahkahquah said she noticed the team's method of notifying people about an upcoming practice or bout was broken when she first was involved. One person was contacting everyone on the team, and it was taking hours to get people notified. So she instituted a procedure similar to a military recall roster to help speed up the process.

"Now, all is well," she said. "Roller derby has definitely taught me to be a better leader. When we first got here, it was like herding cats. Now, it's like herding sheep. It's a lot more organized."

"I'm definitely developing my communication skills," duMonceau said. "I'm very direct these days and that helps transition over to the Guard."

The women all claim to have been standout athletes in high school. All said roller derby has helped them elevate their physical fitness.

"We're guaranteed at least three practices per week, even more than that, if we have a 'bout' coming up," Wahkahquah said.

Sloan said their experience has helped with recruiting as well.

Sporting a baby blue Thunderbird on their right shoulder that's symbolic of the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team with which they serve, Sloan said some of the other women will come up to them and ask about the National Guard.

Choosing the perfect roller derby nickname is important, the women said, because it becomes registered and is theirs forever. "Someone can call and ask to create a version of your name, but they have to get your permission," Wahkahquah said.

Wahkahquah's last name in Comanche means "riding death." So, in keeping with the Native American theme, she chose "Rolling Death" as her alter ego.

In French, duMonceaux's name means "the mound." So, she "just went a little darker," as she put it, with "La Fleur de Mort," which means "the flower of death."

Sloan said the nickname she arrived at, "Bruise Clues," is probably the least exciting of the three.

"That's just the one I ended up liking," she shrugged. "It was an original."

As for the reaction the Guardsmen get from people when they discover they are members of the Red Dirt Rebellion, they said most people at first don't realize Oklahoma has a team.

Second, they said, people will ask, "Is that real?"

"I tell them everything about it is definitely real," Wahkahquah said, pointing to the bruises on her left arm.

Meanwhile, the Guard members are slated to deploy to Afghanistan next year. Yet, the women will have each other to lean on, just as duMonceaux and Wahkahquah did when they were deployed together to Afghanistan in 2002.

"We're all pretty tight," said Wahkahquah. "We pretty much became mutual friends after that first deployment. We like to mountain bike, rock climb -- just about anything you might consider extreme."

Some might consider roller derby extreme. But for Oklahoma's Guard trio, sustaining a few more bumps and bruises in the rugged, mountainous terrain of Afghanistan might just make them feel right at home.

(Army Sgt. 1st Class Darren D. Heusel serves with the Oklahoma National Guard.)

Soldier Serves in Family's Homeland


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

March 9, 2010 - When he was a child, visiting the Philippines was all about vacationing and fun with the family for C.J. Rueda. But now, at 25, the U.S. Army sergeant views his time in the underprivileged nation as an opportunity to improve his ancestors' country, he said. "Being here now, I have a job and mission, and it has a very emotional and deep impact on me," said Rueda, a Filipino-American soldier with 5th Psychological Operations Group from Fort Bragg, N.C. "This is where my family's from -- my heritage, my origins. I want to help everyone here as much as I can."

Rueda arrived here in November. His psychological operations team is part of the American military task force charged with training Philippine counterterrorism forces and providing humanitarian assistance in the southern Philippines. The San Diego native said he expects to be deployed here for at least eight months.

Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines has maintained a U.S. presence here since December 2001, advising and assisting the Philippine armed forces in their fight against terrorism. However, the U.S. military here is prohibited from engaging in direct combat against would-be terrorists, according the Philippine constitution.

Therefore, the majority of the U.S. military focus here works on quality-of-life improvements for Filipinos in the south. American troops help local governments and security forces with infrastructure projects, the development of anti-terrorism education programs and coordination for much-needed health care services. The goal is to gain support for the Philippine government and its security forces, Rueda said.

"The goal is to increase support for the government in areas known to be heavy in terrorist recruitment and in drug trafficking," he said. "Poor countries are a breeding ground for terrorists, and that's why we're here -- to enlighten the population, support security forces and educate the children to make their country better."

Rueda said he longed to be a part of the mission here for many years. He has tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, but rather than possibly going back to the Middle East, he wanted the opportunity to serve in the Philippines, he said. In fact, he enlisted in the Army six years ago as an artilleryman, but changed his military occupation to psychological operations three years ago primarily to improve his chances of deploying here, he said.

"I was in artillery for a while, but wanted to come to [psychological operations] because I knew there'd be a chance to deploy to the Philippines," he said. "I wanted to experience something new, plus, this is my family's heritage."

Rueda, who wasn't fluent in Tagalog before switching to psychological operations, was selected to learn the native language. Following his initial training and language school, he was assigned to a unit that specializes in support for military operations in Southeast Asia, he said.

Because of his ability to speak Tagalog as well as his understanding of the culture, Rueda said, his team's deployment has gone very smoothly. He noted his relationship with Philippine national police in Iligan City here, describing their partnership as "equally committed."

Rueda works closely with police in their outreach efforts to promote good citizenship among the local school children and educate them on the negative effects of terrorism. Security forces, government officials and even local residents seem to be more supportive and trusting because of Rueda's background, he said.

"Being a U.S. soldier, the Filipinos respect you," he said. "But being Filipino and being able to relate, speak to them in their language and know their culture means a lot to them. The relationship with my team and the Filipinos here is much stronger because of that."

Rueda admits that he's often troubled by the poverty and lack of opportunity for the population here, he said. He described his formative years growing up in San Diego as a blessing that he once took for granted.

"People here walk five or six miles to get water just to take a shower or cook," he said. "The effort many people take here just to live their lives is far beyond how we live in America. It's difficult sometimes to be here and see how hard life is for some of these people You want to do so much, but you can only do a very little."

Still, Rueda said, his dedication to the mission keeps him motivated. As he and his team continue to aid the Filipinos, they're still focused on the main reason for their efforts here, he added.

"We're here to help, and it's easy to get caught up in the humanitarian aspect of the mission," he said. "But you just can't forget about the environment we're in. Terrorists are here training recruits and planning for bad things. Helping [Philippine] forces bring security and eliminate terrorist safe havens is the best way we can really help the people here towards a better future."

Women Pilots of WWII Inspired Generations


By Carol L. Bowers
American Forces Press Service

March 9, 2010 - Under clear blue skies, beneath the spires of the U.S. Air Force Memorial here, military aviators gathered today to pay homage to the achievements of the first women to fly military aircraft during World War II. The memorial service and wreath-laying ceremony, with a reception afterward, was a prelude to the March 10 presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to the 1,102 pilots who served as Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II.

Retired U.S. Coast Guard Vice Adm. Vivien Crea, the keynote speaker at the service, told those assembled that by answering America's call to duty in 1942, they gave birth to a fledgling service that would become the WASPs with achievements that would go on to inspire another generation of women in the military.

"As aviators, you possessed an invaluable capability that our nation desperately wanted," Crea said. "You joined not because you were great pioneers, but because of your great sense of duty. You served America in its time of peril."

Nearly 200 of the surviving women pilots attended the ceremonies with family and friends, and family members represented other pilots.

Thirty-eight of those women were honored with roses during the memorial ceremony for having made the ultimate sacrifice for their country during their service, and the 20th Figher Wing from Shaw Air Force Base, Ill., performed a flyover in the "mission man" formation.

The WASPs' service, and their ability to fly every type of aircraft, Crea noted, prompted U.S. Air Force Gen. Henry Harley "Hap" Arnold to declare, " 'We have not been able to build an airplane that you can't handle. It is on the record that women can fly as well as men.' "

Crea herself is an accomplished aviator, inspired by the WASPs' service, serving for 36 years of active duty, most recently as the 25th vice commandant of the Coast Guard. She became the 21st and only female Ancient Albatross, a designation given to the longest serving active duty Coast Guard aviator.

"It has taken over six decades for our nation to recognize the unique service and valor of the WASPs with the Congressional Gold Medal you shall receive tomorrow," Crea said. "But your true legacy is much more vital, enduring and transformational than that honored piece of gold. It is in the young women and men, from your peers and your own children to today's youngest generation that you have inspired with your patriotism."

Crea said that because of the WASPs, there is a new generation of women fighter pilots, lifesavers and warriors "who enjoy the absence of any conception that they can't do something because of a coincident of birth...that women are equal partners in war as they are in peace."

From 1942 to 1944, more than 25,000 women applied to the WASP program, which was an experimental Army Air Corps program to explore the opportunity for women to serve as pilots and relieve men for overseas duty; 1,102 women were accepted. The WASP were not granted military status until 1977.

At a reception at the Womens Memorial at Arlington National Cemetary after the service at Air Force Memorial, Gen. Norton Schwartz, U.S. Air Force chief of staff, said that this week's special events, "takes us back to another era, and not merely to honor the past, but truly in a larger sense, also to correct some of its errors. The well deserved respect for the WASPs is long overdue."

Schwartz said it is important to celebrate the WASPs' contributions, not only in wartime service, but for their pivotal roles as women pioneers blazing a trail to the military cockpit.

"Pioneers like you often had to endure persistent criticism, which made your efforts ever more courageous, and your achievements ever more substantial," Schwartz told the WASPs.

The legacy of the WASPs, he said, is that these accomplished women went on to become leaders in civilian life "continuing their noble efforts to vanquish societal limitations and subtle forms of descrimination" and living the example of what diversity can mean.

"You demonstrated that our great nations beneifts most when it rightly harnesses the abundent energy, the generosity, the talents of all of its citizens, and you proved that far our far greater strengths and vitality lie in inclusiveness," Schwartz said. For Jan Nicolai, whose late aunt, Helen Jo Severson, was in WASP Class 43-5, the days of celebration of the WASPs' contributions is very special. She carried roses and a photo of her aunt to the memorial servcie.

"When she was inducted into the South Dakota Air Hall of Fame, and in 2007 she received her star on her grave site, we thought that was it," Nicolai said at the start of the memorial service. "But this, this is magnificent."

For many of the women who became WASPs it was their love of flying, as much as love of country, that set them on a course that would change their lives.

"When Lindbergh flew over the ocean I was seven years old, and I thought, 'I want to be a pilot some day,''" recalled Dolores Reed, 92, WASP Class 44-1. "Not long after, my Dad spent a dollar and put me in the back of a plane. That was a lot of money in the Depression. I could barely see over the seat. And when we landed, I said 'I'm going to fly.'"

When she started working, Reed said she paid $8 an hour for flying lessons, and with 35 hours of flying under her belt, she applied to be a WASP. "I did aerial gunnery. I flew targets four hours a day while the boys sharpened their skills," she said.

She also set her sites on her squadron commander – marrying him and raising three children. She continued flying after the WASP was disbanded, taking up air racing.

Her friend Josephine Swift, 92, also Class 44-1, said she was hooked on flying after her brother, a Navy pilot, took her up. She got her private license and worked for a flying service and jumped at the chance to be a WASP. "I just applied and they accepted - that was the secret, getting accepted," she said.

For Swift, the two days of ceremonies marked an opportunity to reminisce with old friends, and miss the ones who had passed on.

Carol Brinton Selfridge, 92, Class 44-5, said that flying was something she just had to do after following the achievements of Amelia Earhart and test pilot Jaqueline "Jackie" Cochran as a child. Sibling rivalry played its part as well, she recalled. "My brother flew, and I don't let my brother get ahead of me," Selfridge said.

When she joined the WASPs, she had two children, who were cared for by her mother while she flew. Her husband, who worked for Lockheed, could not serve, and Selfridge recalls he told her "I can't go, so you might as well."

After the WASPs disbanded, she went on to have two more children, and she now has a granddaughter in the U.S. Air Force

"It means a lot to me to see them recognized," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Christy Kayser-Cook, Selfridge's granddaughter, who is assigned to Scott Air Force Base, Ill. "I got interested in flying because of my grandmother's experience, but I think a lot of people have't heard of the WASPs before."

Selfridge, however, remains modest about her own achievements and instead conveys pride in her granddaughter's accomplishment. "I don't know why they're making so much of us because I loved every minute of the flying," Selfridge said.

For Jeannette Goodrum, Class 43-8, the service, reception and anticipation of the March 10 award ceremony were "exhilirating."

"It's the greatest story of all to see young people who graduated from the Air Force Academy because of what we did in 1942," she said.

One of those young people was U.S. Air Force Maj. Nicole Malachowski, the first female Thunderbird pilot, who was among the guest speakers at the reception.

Malachowski, who was one of the leaders of the movement to have the WASPs awarded a Congressional Gold Medal, said the WASPs' story "helped write my story."

As a child, she said, she wanted to be a fighter pilot, but few took her seriously. In 1986, her parents took her to the Smithsonian, where there "was a small display in a dusty back room" about the WASPs, and proof that she could achieve her own dreams. As a Thunderbird performing in her third air show, Malachowski recalled how five WASPs elbowed their way to the front of the line to meet her and get her autograph.

"I made a beeline for them, and before I could get a word out of my mouth, they were thanking me for my service," she said. "Here are my heroes, and they're thanking me. They redefined what's possible for women who want to serve their country."

Regional Issues Top Gates' Saudi Arabia Agenda

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

March 10, 2010 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will discuss Iran, Afghanistan and military-to-military contacts with Saudi officials here today. Gates, who arrived here after a three-day visit to Afghanistan, is scheduled to meet with King Abdallah and Crown Prince Sultan.

The Saudis are worried about Iran's nuclear ambitions and the affect that Iran's Shiia government can have on the significant Shiia minorities in some of the Gulf states, senior defense officials speaking on background said.

Many of the Gulf states are building up air-defense capabilities in response to Iranian uranium research and continued Iranian missile development. And the threat Iran poses also is causing many of the Gulf States – who don't necessarily get along – to look for ways to cooperate.

"Secretary Gates has said many times that continued Iranian nuclear development doesn't make them safe," Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said. The fact that many states in the region are examining ways to share intelligence and radar information and considering other potential forms of cooperation, he added, shows that Gates' contention is correct.

The United States and Saudi Arabia have had excellent military-to-military relations since World War II. U.S. advisors continue to help in training the Saudi military and National Guard.

Saudi Arabia is one of the largest customers for U.S. defense goods, and officials said they expect that all of these matters and more will be on the table during the meetings.

Center Offers Respite for Families of Fallen

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

March 10, 2010 - Robin Raine walked through the plush, richly appointed room with purpose, her eyes fixed on a lampshade that was askew, a flaw in the otherwise immaculate sitting area. She was intent on ensuring all was perfect for the families who would arrive shortly. They may not notice a speck of dust or a crooked lampshade, but to Raine, the spotless surroundings are the least she can do to honor their loss.

Raine is the director of the Center for Families of the Fallen, a place where grieving families can wait in comfort for their fallen servicemember to arrive home. All servicemembers who die in support of a combat operation come through the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center here, and their return is marked with what officials call a dignified transfer -- a respectful movement of the remains from the aircraft to a waiting vehicle, then to the port mortuary.

The center opened just a few months ago, but already has hosted hundreds of family members. The 6,000-square-foot building is equipped with sitting areas configured to offer privacy, a meditation room, play areas for children and babies, a fully equipped and stocked kitchen, and a separate room available for families' needs.

"Every detail here was thought about with the comfort of the family in mind," Raine said. "We wanted to offer families a serene environment with all of the creature comforts we could possibly provide to them."

Before the center was built, families waited for a dignified transfer in a chapel annex borrowed from the base, a sparsely furnished area with folding chairs and stark, white walls that offered little privacy to families.

"It just wasn't set up for hosting people, although it was generous of the base to offer its facilities," Raine said. "It just wasn't ever made for that."

Still, the space had worked until recently, because few families traveled to attend the dignified transfer event. But a Defense Department policy change in April created an influx of family members. The new policy offers families an option of media coverage of dignified transfers and funds for up to three family members to travel here for the event.

Since the policy change, "we've had over 1,700 family members come here, and we've only been doing this for 10 months," said Air Force Col. Robert H. Edmondson, commander of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center. "A tremendous amount of family members want to come."

Leaders recognized the need for a bigger, better-equipped facility, and a visit from Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz and his wife clinched the deal.

"They recognized we had to do something better, something designated for the families," Edmondson said. "They championed the cause and really made it happen." The center was built in an existing building in just 90 days.

Todd Rose, director of the mortuary affairs division and a licensed funeral director, and his staff infused lessons learned and private-sector knowledge into designing the center. The furniture, for instance, is purposefully situated in seating groups to optimize privacy.

"We wanted to create an environment that would allow families to be together, but also allow them separation if they should need to be maintained as a family," Rose said.

As families arrive, they're encouraged to make themselves at home. Raine and her two-person staff drift through the center, providing everything from fresh coffee to child care. Raine recently watched four children under age 5 in the nursery so their parents could attend the dignified transfer without worrying about their children being exposed to the rain and cold.

"We do anything we can to make families comfortable," she said.

Also at the center are a family liaison and a family support team that comprises a funeral director, chaplain, chaplain's assistant and mental health specialist. The family liaison, who is a member of the same service as the fallen servicemember, takes care of travel arrangements and serves as a focal point for any questions or concerns.

"When the families get here, they don't see the time and energy that's been put in by the center's staff," Rose said. "Their commitment is amazing."

The family support team travels with the families to attend the dignified transfer on the flightline. The families then head back to hotels or home.

But every morning, without fail, Raine or one of her staff is back to set cushions and chairs back in place, straighten up the play area and ensure the center is as immaculate as possible. More families may be arriving, and Raine won't accept anything less than perfection for them.