Saturday, April 10, 2010

Pirates Captured

USS Ashland Captures Pirates
From U.S. FIFTH Fleet Public Affairs

April 10, 2010 - USS ASHLAND, Gulf of Aden (NNS) -- During the attack, the Ashland received small arms fire on the port side from the six man crew of suspected pirates aboard the skiff. The Ashland, in accordance with her rules of engagement, returned fire.

USS Ashland fired two rounds at the skiff from her MK-38 Mod 2, 25mm gun. The skiff caught fire and the suspected pirates abandoned the skiff. The Ashland deployed her rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) to assist the pirates who were in the water near their skiff.

Once it was verified that the suspected pirates no longer had weapons on their person, all six were brought on board the Ashland where they received medical care. There is no apparent damage to the USS Ashland and there were no injuries to any members of her crew.

Captain John Bruening, commanding officer, Nassau Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), expressed the commitment of the ships in the Nassau ARG to ensuring the success of creating a stable and secure maritime environment.

"This is why we are here," said Bruening. "It is so much more than just putting a stop to the illegal activities of only one pirate skiff. It is about fostering an environment that will give every nation the freedom to navigate the seas without fear of attack."

Three events over the past ten days have allowed the U.S. Navy to capture a total of 21 suspected pirates. Two of these events were precipitated by attacks on the U.S. vessels, while the third was in response to a fellow mariner's call for help. USS Nicholas (FFG 47) was attacked late in the evening by pirates on March 31, resulting in the capture of five, while today's attack on USS Ashland netted an additional six. The third event, USS McFaul (DDG 74) responded to the distress call from M/V Rising Sun on April 5, helping thwart the attack and capture an additional ten suspected pirates. The U.S. Navy is now reviewing multiple options regarding these suspected pirates' legal dispositions.

Ashland was conducting routine Maritime Security Operations in the Gulf of Aden, when the ship was attacked. Currently, Ashland is supporting 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit sustainment operations in Djibouti.

The Nassau ARG is comprised of ships from Amphibious Squadron Eight (PHIBRON 8) including the Tarawa-class multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Nassau (LHA 4), the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19) and the Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48). Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (24 MEU) complete the group.

U.S. Forces in Korea Gear Up for Anniversary

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

April 9, 2010 - U.S. Forces Korea is gearing up for a full range of activities to begin this summer commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, and the strong U.S.-South Korea alliance that continues to maintain stability on the Korean peninsula.

South Korea will take the lead in the anniversary events, to kick off with a ceremony at Seoul's Jamsil Olympic Stadium on June 25, the day North Korean forces invaded at 4 a.m. in 1950.

Other key events will include Sept. 3 ceremonies in Da Bu Dong commemorating the Battle of Pusan Perimeter, in which the 25th Infantry Division's 27th Infantry Regiment fought in August and September 1950.

About 100 U.S. Marines, along with their counterparts from South Korea, the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, will reenact the Inchon landing Sept. 15.

Ceremonies in Seoul on Sept. 28 will mark the anniversary of the city's liberation in 1950.

Plans also call for a military festival Oct. 1-5 at South Korea's military headquarters near Deajeon; an Air Operations Day observance Oct. 15 and 16 at Kangnung Air Base, home of the South Korean air force's 18th Wing; and Nov. 10 ceremonies at the War Memorial in Seoul commemorating the Northern Campaigns.

Additional commemorations are slated in the United States, to be funded by the South Korean government.

"The Republic of Korea government is really working hard to make this a great set of events," Army Gen. Walter "Skip" Sharp, commander of U.S. Force Korea, Combined Forces Korea and United Nations Command, said during an interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service.

While highlighting key events of the Korean War, the commemoration will recognize the Korean War veterans who sacrificed to protect South Korea from aggression, Sharp said.

Hundreds of Korean War veterans are expected to return to Korea for the ceremonies, many of them through the South Korean-run and –funded Korea Revisit Program. Sharp noted that for many, the visit will be their first since they left a poor, war-torn country that has developed over the last six decades to become one of the world's most prosperous and technologically advanced nations.

"[This is] the Republic of Korea saying 'Thank you for all that you did 60 years ago in order for our country to get where it is today,'" Sharp said. The returning veterans "will really see that the sacrifices they made were worthwhile, from a personal perspective."

The commemoration activities also will pay tribute to the role the United Nations, particularly the United States, have continued to play in maintaining stability on the Korean peninsula since the armistice agreement was signed July 27, 1953.

"If you look back at all the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have served during that whole time, ... to begin with the fighting and defeat of North Korea, to the point where they [have maintained] stability and security through many different provocations from North Korea, I think the 60th anniversary is very important," Sharp said.

The commemoration will be personal for Sharp, whose father was fighting in Korea when he was born in Morgantown, W.Va. The senior Sharp was an infantry platoon leader with the 40th Division, and later, part of the regimental operations staff.

When he learned that he had been selected for the top U.S. military post in South Korea, Sharp said he dug through a cedar chest at his mother's house to find old pictures of his father in Korea, and later shared them with his Korean counterparts.

"I am honored to be able to follow in his footsteps, and to be able to continue to see the progress of Korea as we move forward from what it was back then to today, to the future with so many changes going on," he said.

Sharp called the 60th anniversary of the war "a great time to visit, and a great time to serve in Korea."

Automation to Improve Post-9/11 GI Bill Processing

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

April 9, 2010 - With 153,000 veterans enrolled in the Post-9/11 GI Bill this semester, and new automation tools to arrive this month to improve processing procedures, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki declared the program "on track" and headed toward greater efficiency.

Shinseki acknowledged during an interview with American Forces Press Service that the Post-9/11 GI Bill got off to a rocky start after it took effect Aug. 1.

He said he was surprised when many colleges and universities took months to submit the student enrollment certificates VA needed to begin cutting checks to the schools as well as enrollees.

"They must be well-endowed," he said of schools that covered the up-front costs of students' tuition, room and board without seeking prompt reimbursement. "But because I don't have that certificate, I haven't paid them tuition. But neither have I paid kids their monthly living stipend or their books, because they are all tied together."

By the second week of December, the end of the fall semester, VA was still receiving 1,500 to 2,000 certificates of enrollment a day for students who had been attending schools since August, he said. In fact, some are still trickling in to VA.

"We learned a lot. We learned we had to talk to 6,500 schools and say, 'We have got to do better,'" Shinseki said. "We needed to work with them and explain to them that 'Whether you think it is important or not, the veteran doesn't get paid until you send us this certificate of enrollment.' So for the veteran's sake, we need to do better."

Shinseki credited the VA staff with stepping up to the plate, contacting schools directly to solicit those enrollment certificates, then going into overdrive to manually process thousands of certificates a day. He convened a late-night meeting in November, bringing together the education directors from VA's regional offices to come up with ways to further speed up the processing.

"We took out steps that were redundant," he said. "In the process, we have simplified and reengineered the business process. ... We have worked the bugs out of an imperfect system."

By the end of the fall semester, he said, all 173,000 enrollees were being paid through this new process.

As of Feb. 1, 131,000 of the 153,000 students enrolled in the system were being paid, and VA was "knocking down" the remaining certificates at the rate of about 7,000 a day, he noted.

"So I feel pretty good about how this is going," Shinseki said. "Our numbers are up and our payments are up, and we still don't have an automated tool."

The first of those new tools is set to come online this month, with more capabilities to follow in July, November and December. By the year's end, Shinseki said, the system will be fully automated.

"I think we are on a good track," he said. "Now, when automation comes, we are going to have a tremendous gain."

Shinseki said he's counting on lessons learned implementing the Post-9/11 GI Bill to carry over as VA tackles its major challenge this year: reducing the disability claims backlog.

Shinseki called the Post 9/11 GI Bill a generous investment in the future of veterans who have served the country in uniform since 9/11.

"I feel good about the GI Bill. That is an accomplishment," he said. "I think that, long-term, this is going to be a huge return for the country. And it is a huge step for [veterans] and their lives."

The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides veterans seeking an undergraduate degree a full ride at any state institution at the highest in-state tuition rate, by state, along with a semester stipend for books and a monthly living stipend.

For the first time in history, servicemembers enrolled in the Post-9/11 GI Bill program can transfer unused educational benefits to their spouses or children.

The living stipend does not extend to active-duty servicemembers receiving Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.

General Officer Assignment

April 9, 2010 - The chief of staff, Air Force announced today the following assignment:

Brig. Gen. Margaret H. Woodward, vice commander, 18th Air Force, Air Mobility Command, Scott Air Force Base, Ill., to commander, 17th Air Force and U.S. Air Forces Africa, U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Ramstein Air Base, Germany.