Friday, April 02, 2010

Military Continues to Support Recovery in Haiti

By Judith Snyderman
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity

April 2, 2010 - The deputy commander of the military task force set up after a devastating Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti said the U.S. military will continue to support the work of Haiti's government and international agencies after the task force is deactivated at the end of May.

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Simeon G. Trombitas, deputy commanding general of Joint Task Force Haiti, noted during a DoDLive Bloggers Roundtable yesterday that the mission in Haiti is out of the usual military lane.

"In a traditional military mission, we can designate the enemy and do those things easily," he said. "Here, really, the adversaries are the forces of nature and time."

Another difference, Trombitas explained, is that instead of commanding and controlling the mission, the U.S. military has played a support role, "coordinating and collaborating" with lead agencies such as the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, which provided security.

Trombitas said he is impressed by how well combat skills have transferred to the relief mission. He observed that servicemembers' experiences working with civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq have paid off in Haiti.

The general recalled that the Haiti mission started with work to bring "order from chaos" at the airport. He added that the Seabees performed "a Herculean effort in fixing the main pier [and] the south pier, with some underwater engineering there, bolstering the pylons that the pier stands on."

Current efforts are focused on preparing for the coming rainy season by relocating some of the 1.3 million displaced people from camps that are at risk for flooding, Trombitas said. He described the greatest needs as shelter, settlement and sanitation.

"We have the Seabees doing construction projects," he said. "We have the Air Force [helping at] the airfield and one of the hospitals here. We have Marines integrated into the staff, as well as the Coast Guardsmen, and everyone's still doing their share."

At the peak of the crisis, some 20,000 U.S. servicemembers were involved in the mission. A phased withdrawal has reduced that number to 2,400.

"Every soldier, sailor, airmen, Marine and Coast Guardsman that I have had the opportunity to talk to is extremely proud to be a part of this mission," Trombitas said. "And the leadership here is really proud to lead these folks and really even prouder to serve alongside them."

Air Force Veteran Aims for Paralympics

By Air Force Staff Sgt. Mareshah Haynes
Defense Media Activity-San Antonio

April 2, 2010 - In the blink of an eye your life can change forever. That's what happened to Sean Halsted one day when he fell 40 feet to the ground while fast-roping from a helicopter during a training mission at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

"I don't remember what happened," said Halsted, a former combat controller who was stationed at then-McChord Air Force Base, Wash. "I just know one minute I was reaching for the rope, and the next I was on the ground with my back hurting and the guys are telling me to lay still."

Halsted damaged his spinal cord and became a paraplegic as a result of the accident.

"When I got hurt it was like, life is over. Good thing there's the Internet; good thing there's DVD players," Halsted said. "I'll just be sitting in my room passing the time and looking on the Internet. I found out that's not the case. Life goes on. Life is still there."

Halsted didn't give up. His recovery led him to compete as a U.S. Paralympian at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

The Department of Veterans Affairs staff helped Halsted realize he had access to programs to help him get back to living a fuller life.

"The VA is a great insurance company," he said. "We've got one of the best programs that help you out with anything that you've got."

The Washington State University graduate said his training as a combat controller helped him on his road to recovery.

"You can't accept sitting in your room," Halsted said. "It took me a while to get through that because I was stuck in my room. I couldn't do the level of stuff I used to do. The (military) training really did help me because my expectations were a lot higher."

Upon the urging of his physical therapist and the staff at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Halsted discovered a program that met his high physical expectations: the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. He realized he had a passion for adaptive Nordic skiing.

"I went with cross country skiing because I like that endorphin rush and it's fun being out in the woods and it's fun being on the slopes," Halsted said. "I was an Alpine skier before. Racing Alpine just isn't my thing. I just wasn't getting that exertion that I used to get. For me it was just a natural fit to come to Nordic skiing. It just fit everything I wanted."

The training at the winter sports clinic prepared Halsted to compete at the next level.

"Without that exposure, I don't know that I would've tried," Halsted said. "I think it would've taken me a lot more to get out and start doing stuff. I would've just stuck with wheelchair basketball and I wouldn't have been happy."

At the 2010 Vancouver Paralympic Games, Halsted finished in the top 10 in all three of the events he participated in. He is not planning on slowing down anytime soon. Halsted aims to compete at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

"I want to push it as far as I can," Halsted said. What does Halsted have to say to disabled veterans who haven't been to the NDVWSC?

"Get off your (butt) and get out here," he said. "There's a lot of (disabled veterans) who've got their couch potato tickets and they're punching them. Life is still going on; you have to live life."

Gates Presents Transcom with Joint Meritorious Unit Award

By Bob Fehringer
U.S. Transportation Command

April 2, 2010 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates traveled here yesterday to personally present U.S. Transportation Command with the Joint Meritorious Unit Award.

The award is granted to joint activities for meritorious achievement or service, superior to that which is normally expected, for actions in the following situations; combat with an armed enemy of the United States, a declared national emergency or under extraordinary circumstances that involve national interests.

"I am glad to get the chance to be here today to have the opportunity to present the Joint Meritorious Unit Award to the men and women of the United States Transportation Command," Gates said. "You should know that this award is the first and only award that I have personally issued in my eight-plus years as Secretary of Defense."

Gates was joined by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, who oversees operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Air Force Gen. Duncan J. McNabb, commander of U.S. Transcom, and other senior civilian and military officials.

"Mr. Secretary, I want to thank you for personally flying out to Scott Air Force Base today" to present the award to Transcom, Petraeus said. "Nobody deserves this honor more."

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told Pentagon reporters March 30, "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."

Transcom also played an instrumental role in U.S. relief efforts in Haiti following the devastating earthquake, Morrell said.

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

The citation accompanying the award reads: "Headquarters, United States Transportation Command distinguished itself by exceptionally meritorious achievement from 1 March 2007 to 28 February 2010. During this period, the Command consistently displayed exceptional collaborative leadership and execution of wartime missions for United States forces engaged in Operations IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM.

"The Command's three components--Air Mobility Command, Military Sealift Command, and Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command--carried over 5 million passengers, 25 thousand patients, and 7.5 million short tons in support of United States Central Command's two main operations," the citation continued. "USTRANSCOM expedited the delivery of thousands of sets of individual body armor, armored vehicles, and supplemental armor kits, in addition to supporting troop surges in both Iraq and Afghanistan."

McNabb thanked Gates and Petraeus and lauded the efforts of those under his command.

"You have honored us today by your presence and your words," McNabb said. "And we are humbled by the trust you have in us. We will strive to always, always be worthy of that trust."