Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Army Guard Battles Soldier Suicides

By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
National Guard Bureau

March 30, 2010 - With 2010 suicide numbers slightly above last year's and coming off the worst January on record, the Army National Guard is emphasizing resilience, transition programs and the importance of asking for help. "We are alarmed by the suicide rates we're seeing inside the Army National Guard," Army Maj. Gen. Raymond W. Carpenter, the component's acting director, told the Senate Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on defense in March 24 testimony.

Suicide confounds easy explanation, and deployment might not be the whole answer.

"Almost half of the suicides we're experiencing are from soldiers who haven't even deployed," Carpenter said. "There's more to this than just the mobilization and deployment piece."

Senators and National Guard leaders discussed unemployment, financial distress, a challenging economy and reluctance to ask for help as contributing factors.

Army National Guard suicides increased 75 percent in 2009, according to Sen. Daniel Inouye, the committee chair. Carpenter said 24 suicides are currently being investigated for 2010, a slight increase over the 22 who had taken their own lives during the same period in 2009.

"Our deploying soldiers and airmen are facing challenges that none of us on this panel certainly ever did in our military careers," said Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau. "The stresses, the strains, the financial difficulties, the times we live in, the stress on the family, the fact that we've had continuous rotations, obviously have created an environment where many of our young soldiers and airmen struggle to make ends meet."

The Air National Guard leverages Army National Guard programs and adds its own initiatives, Air Force Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, the director of the Air National Guard, said. Those include existing wing family support coordinators and new behavioral health professionals.

"These individuals will be provided to the adjutants general to be placed within their states at his or her direction," Wyatt explained.

The Guard is making the behavioral health professionals available to all servicemembers. "It's not just exclusively a service provided to the National Guard," Wyatt said. "It's made available to all members of the military."

The Air Guard also is working to assure programs at active duty bases and posts are available to reservists.

"Some of the returning National Guard members are not honest on their post-deployment health assessments, simply because they don't want to be delayed going home," Sen. Patty Murray noted.

Carpenter said the Army is reevaluating those assessments – the first time a study has been done on the Guard and Reserve process in almost three decades.

"The initiative that's being considered at this point is for the soldier to be honest with whatever emotional or physical problems they might have, be allowed to go home and be with their families, and then allow them to return to get the necessary treatment," Carpenter said.

"There's more to this war than just crossing the berm for Baghdad," he said. "The bottom line ... is preparing people for situations that are almost overwhelming. ... We've got to build a resiliency out there to be able to sustain those tough times and to be able to not look at suicide as a viable option."

Army National Guard pieces of the solution include the active duty Army's Soldier Fitness Program and a partnership with the Army Reserve in the Helmets to Hardhats program.

Individual states also have pioneered programs designed to reduce soldier and airman suicides, such as the Kansas National Guard's Flash Forward and the Michigan National Guard's Buddy to Buddy program.



PAE Government Services, Inc., Los Angeles, Calif., is being awarded an $83,868,260 cost-plus-award-fee, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) modification under a previously awarded cost reimbursement and IDIQ contract (N33191-07-D-0207) to exercise Option 3 for base operating support services at Camp Lemonier and forward operating location Manda Bay. The work to be performed provides for, but is not limited to, comprehensive support functions in the following annexes: general information at Annex 1; management and administration at Annex 2; public safety at Annex 4; air operations at Annex 5; ordnance at Annex 7; supply at Annex 10; laundry services at Annex 11; morale, welfare, and recreation at Annex 12; galley at Annex 13; housing at Annex 14; facilities support at Annex 15; utilities at Annex 16; base support vehicles and equipment at Annex 17; and environmental at Annex 18. The total contract amount after exercise of this option will be $295,243,649. Work will be performed in Djibouti, Africa, and Kenya, Africa, and is expected to be completed by April 2011. Contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command Europe and Southwest Asia, Naples, Italy, is the contracting activity.

Raytheon Technical Services Co., Indianapolis, Ind., is being awarded $49,912,663 for delivery order #7130 under a Basic Ordering Agreement contract (N00383-07-G-008D) to repair components for the APG 65/73 radar systems used in support of the F/A-18 aircraft. Work will be performed in Indianapolis, Ind. (55 percent); El Segundo, Calif. (30 percent); Forest, Miss. (12 percent); and Andover, Mass. (3 percent). Work is expected to be completed by December 2012. Contract funds will not expire before the end of the fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured. The Naval Inventory Control Point, Philadelphia, Pa., is the contracting activity.

TEC-AECOM, JV, Charlottesville, Va., was awarded a maximum amount $40,000,000 indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract on March 29 for environmental planning and engineering services for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Executive Order (EO) 12114, "Environmental Effects Abroad of Major Federal Actions - Ship Homeporting Issues," at various Navy and Marine Corps facilities and other government facilities worldwide. The work to be performed provides for the preparation of various documents to support the proposed infrastructure-related actions with respect to ship homeporting issues. The preponderance of documents to be prepared under this contract are NEPA documents including the following: categorical exclusions, environmental assessments, and environmental impact statements, as well as environmental reviews and environmental studies under EO 12114. Examples of tasking may also include homeporting of ships, new construction, renovation, base realignment and closure actions, proposed operational actions, and demolitions. Work will predominantly be performed in Virginia (20 percent), Florida (20 percent), California (20 percent), and Washington (20 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 (20 percent). 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 five proposals received. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Atlantic, Norfolk, Va., is the contracting activity (N62470-10-D-3008).

BAE Systems, Inc., Nashua, N.H., is being awarded a $9,233,109 modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-incentive-fee contract (N00039-09-C-0129) for the production of the first optional compact low frequency active transmit system and spares. This contract includes additional options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to an estimated $29,709,200. Work will be performed in Hudson, N.H., and is expected to be completed by September 2011; if all options are exercised, work will be completed by December 2014. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively. The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, San Diego, Calif., is the contracting activity (N00039-09-C-0129).

Boeing Co., St. Louis, Mo., is being awarded a $6,395,328 firm-fixed-price delivery order against a previously issued Basic Ordering Agreement (N00019-05-G-0026) for 144 retrofit kits under the Engineering Change Proposal 6240R1, "FT 50 18K Main Landing Gear Sidebrace Fitting Failure - Revision for Retrofit" for the F/A-18E/F aircraft. Work will be performed in El Segundo, Calif., and is expected to be completed in October 2014. 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.

Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, Inc., Newport News, Va., is being awarded a $13,200,000 modification for planned and growth supplemental work under a previously awarded contract (N00024-08-C-2100) for the accomplishment of the fiscal 2008 Extended Drydocking Selected Restricted Availability (EDSRA) of USS Enterprise (CVN 65). As a result of this contract modification, the total estimated amount of this contract will be $654,854,987. This contract modification is in accordance with the overall program plan for the CVN 65 EDSRA. EDSRAs are similar to overhauls in that they restore the ship, including all subsystems that affect combat capability and safety, to established performance standards. Additionally, an EDSRA provides an opportunity to perform hull inspections, recoating, and other maintenance related evolutions below the waterline that cannot be accomplished while the ship is waterborne. The EDSRA provides sufficient time to perform more extensive repairs and testing than are possible during an extended selected restricted availability. Work that results from subsystem open and inspects is added to the contract as it is identified. Work will be performed in Newport News, Va., and is expected to be completed in April 2010. Contract funds in the amount of $13,200,000 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington Navy Yard, D.C., is the contracting activity.

Raytheon Co., El Segundo, Calif., is being awarded a $6,223,862 modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract (N00019-06-C-0310) for integrated logistics support of the advanced targeting/forward looking infrared pods for the F/A-18C/D and F/A-18E/F aircraft. Work will be performed in McKinney, Texas (98 percent), and El Segundo, Calif. (2 percent), and is expected to be completed in January 2011. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity.


L-3 Communications Corp., EOS Division, Garland, Texas, is being awarded a two-year indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for the purchase of MX 10160 image intensifier assemblies in support of U.S. Special Operations Command Headquarters Procurement Division. The work will be performed in Tempe, Ariz., and is expected to be completed in 2012. The estimated value of the contract is $30,000,000. The contract number is H92222-10-D-0012.

L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace, LLC, Madison, Miss., is receiving a firm-fixed-price modification of $6,260,514 for exercise of option periods one and two, providing an additional six months of lease services of four helicopters for pilot training in support of U.S. Special Operations Command, Air Force Special Operations Command, beginning on April 1, 2010, and ending Sept. 30, 2010. Work will be performed at Hurlburt Field, Fla. The contract modification number is H92222-09-C-0048-P00005.


Wyle Laboratories, Inc., Huntsville, Ala., was awarded a $23,847,566 contract which provides for the Reliability Information Analysis Center to research, test, develop, and deliver concept recommendations, architecture analysis, ontological models, alternatives analysis, life-cycle costs estimates, prototype development assessments, and prototype tools. At this time, $797,000 has been obligated. 55 CONS/LGCD, Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., is the contracting

Senior Executive Service Appointments and Reassignments

March 30, 2010 - Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates announced the following Department of Defense Senior Executive Service appointments and reassignments:


Donald J. McKenzie has been appointed to the Senior Executive Service and is assigned as assistant director, integrity and quality assurance, Defense Contract Audit Agency, Fort Belvoir, Va. McKenzie previously served as deputy director, field detachment, Defense Contract Audit Agency, Chantilly, Va.

Thomas P. Michelli has been appointed to the Senior Executive Service and is assigned as executive director, enterprise solutions, information operations, Defense Logistics Agency, Fort Belvoir, Va. Michelli previously served as supervisory information technology specialist, information operations, Defense Logistics Agency, Fort Belvoir, Va.

Larnell B. Exum has been appointed to the Senior Executive Service and is assigned as deputy assistant secretary of defense for House affairs, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs, Washington, D.C. Exum previously served as deputy chief, Senate Army liaison for the Department of the Army, Washington, D.C.

Retired Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald has been appointed to the Senior Executive Service and is assigned as director, Office of the Convening Authority, Immediate Office of the Secretary of Defense, Washington, D.C. MacDonald previously served as the judge advocate general of the Navy, Washington, D.C.


David B. Bennett has been assigned as deputy program executive officer, Global Information Grid Enterprise Services, Defense Information Systems Agency, Falls Church, Va. Bennett previously served as deputy program executive officer, command & control capabilities, Defense Information Systems Agency, Falls Church, Va.

Martin R. Gross has been assigned as deputy program executive officer, command & control capabilities, Defense Information Systems Agency, Falls Church, Va. Gross previously served as deputy program executive officer, Global Information Grid Enterprise Services, Defense Information Systems Agency, Falls Church, Va.

Ramona L. Lush has been assigned as deputy director, property, plant, and equipment policy, Office of the Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology and Logistics), Washington, D.C. Lush previously served as the deputy director, acquisition management, Office of the Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology and Logistics), Washington, D.C.

Transcom to Receive 'Unsung Hero' Recognition

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

March 30, 2010 - The U.S. military command responsible for moving troops and cargo around the world will receive recognition for its role as one of the Defense Department's unsung heroes, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is slated to travel to U.S. Transportation Command headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., on April 1 to bestow the Joint Meritorious Unit Award.

"Secretary Gates believes the members of Transcom are among the unsung heroes of our military efforts around the world, and this award allows him to personally thank this dedicated and unheralded team of professionals," Morrell told Pentagon reporters today.

The department award honors organizations that demonstrate outstanding support of the nation's men and women in uniform, Morrell said.

Over the last three years, Transcom has moved more than 5 billion gallons of fuel, 8.5 million short tons of cargo and 5 million passengers, Morrell said, noting that "these numbers only tell part of the story."

"Without their tireless work," he said, "our missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and indeed around the world, would eventually grind to a halt."

A centerpiece of Gates' agenda as defense secretary has been to field mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs, to troops in Iraq, and smaller versions to servicemembers in Afghanistan as quickly as possible. The vehicles, which feature a V-shaped hull that deflects the impact of roadside bombs, has been credited with saving lives and limbs since being adopted downrange.

"Transcom has responded superbly to this urgent requirement and, since late 2007, has delivered roughly 450 vehicles per month," Morrell said.

Beyond the battlefield, Transcom also played an instrumental role in U.S. relief efforts in Haiti following the devastating earthquake there last month.

"In responding to the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti," Morrell said, "Transcom has provided over 2 million meals, more than 5 million liters of water to the island, in ongoing humanitarian and disaster-relief operations."

Joining Gates at the award ceremony will be Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, who oversees operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Transcom, which was established in 1987, has transported tens of thousands of sick or injured troops out of the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Due in large part to the command's efficiency, defense officials have said, a medical evacuation back to the United States takes only a fraction of the amount of time it took in Vietnam.

Clinic Provides Disabled Vets Pathway to Paralympics

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

March 30, 2010 - Air Force veteran Sean Halsted was a decent skier before he fell 40 feet out of a helicopter while on a fast rope during a search-and-rescue training exercise in 1998. Paralyzed from the waist down, he feared his active days were behind him. Three years after his accident, Halsted reluctantly attended his first National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.

"I thought it was crazy for anybody to be in a wheelchair up on the mountains," he said. "I knew how hard it was to walk bi-pedally in the snow. Why would anybody want to do it in a chair?"

But Halsted discovered Nordic skiing and was hooked. "I got to a level where I said, 'Wow, this is fun,'" he said, excited about the chance to once again ski with his brothers in arms.

Halsted soon began skiing competitively, rising to become the world's 10th-ranked adaptive cross-country skier. This year, he returned to the clinic a champion after showing the world his stuff during the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada.

Halsted was among five disabled veterans, two of whom served in Iraq and Afghanistan, represented on the U.S. ski team at the Vancouver games.

Army Staff Sgt. Health Calhoun, who lost both legs to a rocket-propelled grenade attack while serving in Mosul, Iraq, with the 101st Airborne Division, competed in alpine skiing. He also served as the U.S. flag bearer during the opening ceremonies.

Army Sgt. Andrew Soule competed as a biathlete and cross-country skier, winning the bronze medal in the sitting 2.4-kilometer pursuit biathlon. Soule had both legs amputated above the knee after an improvised explosive device detonated beneath his Humvee in Afghanistan in 2005.

Chris Devlin-Young, a Coast Guard veteran, returned for his fourth Paralympics as an alpine skier with four medals – two gold and two silver -- under his belt.

And Army Sgt. Patrick McDonald participated in his first Paralympics games this year, making the team after only two years of wheelchair curling.

All four veteran Paralympic skiers got their first exposure to adaptive skiing at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic here. And as Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki noted March 28 during the opening ceremonies for this year's clinic, the experience changed their lives.

Shinseki, who led the U.S. delegation during the opening ceremony for the Vancouver games, said he was "absolutely blown away" by what he discovered there. Here at the winter sports clinic, he encouraged the 400 participants to take inspiration from their example.

"Life may have changed for these athletes, but they did not. They would not let themselves be handicapped by limitations," he told the disabled veterans, about 150 of whom served in Iraq or Afghanistan. "Life has changed for many of you, but you have not. I hope you are as excited about the experiences and the challenges that lie before you as we are."

Many more disabled veterans have what it takes to follow in the Paralympians' tracks, he said. They're "tough former military people who have been highly disciplined, highly motivated [and] done some of the most difficult missions in the world."

Shinseki said he hopes the winter sports clinic will encourage some to take that capability and "step into the unknown" as their Paralympic comrades did.

Halsted said doing so helped him conquer his personal fears. "What used to be a mountain is now a molehill," he said.

Like Halsted, Devlin-Young said he reluctantly agreed to participate in the first clinic in 1985, three years after a C-130 aircraft crash left him a paraplegic. He was mad at the world at the time about losing use of his legs and had little interest in trying out skiing, he said.

But the first time down the hill, he was hooked. "It gave me adrenaline and control. It gave me my life back," he said.

Shinseki conceded that not every disabled veteran who aims to become a Paralympian will make it. "In fact, the vast majority of them won't," he acknowledged. "But the vast majority of them have a chance to live life differently than they might have had they not had this experience."

Even if they never get selected to the Paralympic team, "if they live the other 51 weeks of their year with the same drive and energy and commitment and discipline about being the best, they are going to live different lives," he told American Forces Press Service. "It is not going to be a life of dependence and regretting what might have been. They will discover that there is a lot of living left to do, and they will go out and get it."

The military Paralympians "are folks who have decided they are not going to let anything stand in their way," Shinseki said. "If we could capture 10 percent of that mental commitment and pass it on to the 400 that are here this week, the result is: I won't see them in hospitals. They won't be lying around in hospital beds or on couches. They are going to be up living life, doing more than they ever thought they could."

The winter sports clinic, called the "Miracle on the Mountainside," offers a window to what's possible, Shinseki said. "For us, Snowmass is about giving folks that opportunity – that rehabilitative, recuperative opportunity – to discover their own miracle," he added.

Several other veteran Paralympians are here at the winter sports clinic helping inspire their fellow disabled veterans. Army veteran Jim Martinson, an Army veteran who also got his first exposure to adaptive skiing at clinic, went on to win the gold medal in downhill skiing at the 1996 Paralympics in Albertville, France.

Earlier this month, as he attended the Vancouver games as a delegate, Martinson said, he recalled his own experience at the winter sports clinic as he watched other military veterans compete.

"I remember getting in that monoski and learning how to ski and coming to this program in the beginning days [of the clinic]," he said. "I can't wait to go to the next Paralympics, and I can't wait to see someone from this group" competing, he said.

Army veteran Chad Colley, who earned two gold medals at the 1996 Paralympics in Albertville, France, said he's not out to make every participant at the winter sports clinic a ski racer. "What we want to do," said the Vietnam veteran who lost both legs and an arm, "is expose them to the potential they might not even know they have."

Also at this year's clinic are Air Force veteran Peter Axelson and Army veteran Russell Wolfe. Axelson competed in the 1986, 1988 and 1990 Paralympics, earning seven medals. Wolfe began competing in archery at the 1999 National Veterans Wheelchair Games. He went on to compete as an archer on the U.S. Paralympics Team in 2004 and 2008.

Sandy Trombetta, founder and director of the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, called these Paralympians' accomplishments an example of "the great things that veterans with disabilities can achieve."

To this year's participants, he posed the question: "Who among you will be the next to break down your personal barriers and represent our country in the next Paralympics?"

Force Structure Actions at Joint Base Lewis-Mcchord, Washington Announced

March 30, 2010 - The Department of the Army announced today the planned activation of the National Center for Telehealth and Technology at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

This stationing action represents an increase of eight military and 67 civilian authorizations and is expected to be completed in April 2010.

The mission of the National Center for Telehealth and Technology is to foster, develop, research, and deploy technology solutions for psychological health and traumatic brain injury and deliver relevant, evidence-based applications for our warriors, veterans, and their families.

This force structure action complies with the recommendations of the President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors (Dole/Shalala Report) and the assistant secretary of defense (health affairs) memorandum, Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.

Point of contact for this notification is Lt. Col. Lee M. Packnett, 703-614-2487, Office of the Chief of Public Affairs, Office of the Secretary of the Army.

Sailor Takes on New Challenges

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

March 30, 2010 - Navy Lt. j.g. Kara Sartain has risen in the ranks and in her career through a combination of hard work and sheer determination. In less than five years, she earned a college degree, went from enlisted sailor to naval officer and tackled a new job that was a 180-degree shift from before.

Her drive, she said, comes from a desire to excel. "I always feel like I could be doing more, giving more," she said. "I don't want to ever peak."

Sartain joined the Navy in 2001, seeking to expand her horizons beyond her small hometown of Woodstock, Conn. She walked into the recruiter's office knowing exactly what she wanted to do in the Navy.

"I told the recruiter, 'Give me something medical,'" she said. Her father had died of cancer when she was 12, sparking her interest in the career field.

"Since I couldn't help my father, my situation, I wanted to help others," Sartain said. "Plus, there's something selfless about serving others."

Sartain was 17 at the time and still in high school. After a year in the delayed enlistment program, she entered the Navy and served as a corpsman at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., for several years, serving in intensive care units.

"I liked the job a lot," she said. "It seemed to come natural for me. I couldn't get enough."

While working in a cardiac intensive care unit, she was selected to serve on the medical team that cares for the president when he comes to Bethesda. "I felt like I got lucky," she said.

She rose in the ranks to petty officer 3rd class, but felt she had stalled at that point and "wanted something more." Then one day she saw some midshipmen in "funny" outfits and found out they were cadets in the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. "I decided I wanted to go there," she said.

Sartain worked on her application package for more than a year. Her SAT scores resulted in her application being turned down, but she didn't take no for an answer. "I took them over and over, and they were finally high enough," she said.

The Navy first sent her to a prep school in Rhode Island to brush up on her academics. She then attended the academy from 2004 to 2008.

"I had to work super hard," Sartain said. "I was surrounded by super smart kids. I worked weekends and nights, and I passed."

Through it all, Sartain found time to fall in love with an enlisted sailor who also went on to become an officer. They married a week after she graduated from the academy.

Unable to gain entry into the academically challenging medical officer career field, Sartain graduated as a surface warfare officer and asked to be stationed on the USS Bainbridge to stay close to her husband. She oversaw a division of 18 sailors who were in charge of boat handling, anchoring and the flight deck. "Here I was, a little blonde girl from Connecticut, in charge of a rowdy group," she said. "But they were awesome."

She next moved on to become an auxiliaries officer, overseeing a division of seven. "We own all of the auxiliary systems on board -- the air conditioning unit, refrigeration systems, galley equipment – anything with a motor," she explained.

The key to success, she said, is "being flexible. It's a fast-paced mission."

Last year, Sartain participated in the highly publicized rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips after Somali pirates attempted to hijack the ship Maersk Alabama.

Always up for new challenges, Sartain said she and her husband would like to be stationed overseas, and she hasn't given up on her quest to enter the medical field.

"I'm working on a package to serve in the medical service corps," she explained, noting that, this time around, she would be serving in administration.

"It's all gone by so fast," she said. "I've been to four or five countries already and work with some awesome people. It sure got me out of my small hometown."

Entertainers Tour with Mullen

American Forces Press Service

March 30, 2010 - Four film, television and football stars are on a seven-day USO tour led by Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Three-time Emmy winner James Gandolfini, actress Rose McGowan, actor Tony Sirico and New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb are touring as part of an ongoing USO tradition of partnering with senior leaders and working with celebrity entertainers to bring a touch of home to troops stationed abroad. Since they began working in a partnership with the office of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2000, the USO officials have worked with four chairmen to deploy a dozen entertainment tours. "I am delighted to once again be traveling with the USO and a great group of entertainers and celebrities who only want to give back to the troops," Mullen said before the trip. "It means a lot to me that they would take time out of their busy schedules to do this, but it means a great deal more to the men and women downrange and in harm's way. It's going to be a great trip."

This trip is the first USO tour for McGowan and Stinchcomb. It's the second for Gandolfini and Sirico, who starred in the acclaimed HBO series "The Sopranos" and traveled to Kuwait and Iraq in 2004, brightening the day for more than 1,700 U.S. troops.

"Having the opportunity to travel on a USO tour with Admiral Mullen and visit our nation's troops was the opportunity of a lifetime," said McGowan, star of "Planet Terror" and "Charmed."

Super Bowl XLIV champion Stinchcomb is continuing an NFL-USO tradition initiated more than 40 years ago. In 1966, the NFL teamed up with the USO and became the first sports organization to send a group of players to Vietnam and other parts of Asia, demonstrating the league's support for America's troops.

"So many of my fellow teammates and friends have gone out on entertainment tours and told me about how great their experience was visiting and uplifting troops," Stinchcomb said. "Now, I can finally relate to them and tell others how important it is to work with the USO and support our troops. War or no war, our soldiers are remarkable and need our support."

Gandolfini is an avid supporter of the U.S. armed forces. He produced an HBO documentary titled "Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq" in 2007. Centered on 10 Iraq veterans wounded in 2000, the program debuted in September.

"Our troops are some of the brightest and bravest men and women I've ever met," Gandolfini said. "Sadly, they don't always get the appreciation and recognition they deserve. The USO allows me the privilege to meet them in person, show them my gratitude and thank them for their service."

Sirico said his first tour was 2004. "I am proud of each and every one of our men and women in uniform who stepped up to the plate," he said. "It's a spiritual thing to me. We play tough guys on TV, but me and Jimmy agree, you don't know tough until you see our troops over there."