Sunday, May 30, 2010

'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Review Process Vital, Mullen Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

May 30, 2010 - It's of vital importance that the Pentagon gain input from servicemembers and military families on their views about the repeal of the so-called "don't ask, don't tell" law, the top U.S. military officer said today.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed the proposed repeal of the law, upcoming operations in Afghanistan and the military's support role in the wake of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico during CNN's "State of the Union" news program.

The House of Representatives passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Bill May 27 that would allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly. The Senate Armed Services Committee passed a similar amendment that same night.

Mullen noted that he has said he thinks the law and the policy should change. He also said that both he and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates believe it is "critical to understand the points of view of those it will affect the most as we look at the implementation challenges should the law change."

The current "don't ask, don't tell" law, enacted in 1993, provides only partial protection for gay and lesbian servicemembers, in that commanders may not question military members about their sexual orientation. Under current law, servicemembers may be discharged from the service, if by their actions they're determined to be gay or lesbian.

Gates has directed a military-wide review of the impact of the repeal, including town hall meetings with servicemembers and their families. The review is to be completed by the end of December.

Recent congressional activity to change the law, if completed, would be "legislation involved in a deferred repeal," Gates said in a May 28 message to military members.

"In other words," Gates continued, "it would repeal 'don't ask, don't tell,' but only after - I repeat after - the ongoing Department of Defense high-level review is completed, and only after the president, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and I all can certify that we are ready to make this change without hurting unit cohesion, military readiness, military effectiveness and recruiting and retention."

Mullen said today on "State of the Union" that he would have "preferred that legislation not be brought forward in terms of the change until we are completed with that review." Meanwhile, he said, the review is progressing.

"So we will complete that review and certainly incorporate what we learned from that into implementation when that time comes," Mullen said.

The admiral also addressed Iraq, Afghanistan and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill on the CNN news program.

Iraq trends "are moving in the right direction," Mullen said. The U.S. military in Iraq is on track to drawdown to 50,000 troops by the end of August. The Iraqi election recount has "come out very well," he added, while a recent spate of insurgent-inspired violence hasn't produced sectarian bloodshed.

Meanwhile, it's expected that 100,000 U.S. troops will be deployed in Afghanistan by the fall, Mullen said. Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban, will be a focus of the coming campaign.

"So, what we're doing in Kandahar, what we will do with our Afghan partners and in many cases with them in the lead and our coalition partners over the next several months will really be critical," Mullen said. "And I think by the end of the year, we'll certainly from a trend standpoint know whether this thing is headed in the right direction, or not."

Meanwhile, Mullen said, the U.S. military continues in a support role as part of the response to the ruptured BP oil well deep in the Gulf of Mexico. About 1,400 National Guard members have been deployed to the Gulf to assist in the effort, he noted.

Also, "we have brought thousands of feet of booms in terms of being able to try to contain this," Mullen said. The U.S. military, however, isn't the proper organization to take charge of the oil spill response "because of the technical challenges, quite frankly," the admiral said.

"And, as best as I've been able to understand, the technical lead for this in our country really is the industry," Mullen said. "You can see, obviously, the challenges that they are going through to try to figure out how to stop this."

Obama: Memorial Day Honors Troop, Family Sacrifices

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

May 30, 2010 - Memorial Day is a time for Americans to remember and honor the ultimate sacrifices made by past and present generations of U.S. servicemembers, President Barack Obama said yesterday during his weekly address to the nation.

Each year on Nov. 11, Veterans Day, America honors all of its citizens who've worn a military uniform, Obama said. Yet, Memorial Day is something different, he said.

"On this day," Obama said, "we honor not just those who've worn this country's uniform, but the men and women who've died in its service; who've laid down their lives in defense of their fellow citizens; who've given their last full measure of devotion to protect the United States of America.

"These are the men and women I will be honoring this weekend, and I know many of you are doing the same," said the president, who tomorrow will provide Memorial Day remarks at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Ill.

From the Revolutionary War to the present day, generations of Americans have been willing to take up arms - and die, if necessary - in order to preserve the nation's freedoms, Obama said.

"That commitment – that willingness to lay down their lives so we might inherit the blessings of this nation – is what we honor today," Obama said. "But on this Memorial Day, as on every day, we are called to honor their ultimate sacrifice with more than words. We are called to honor them with deeds."

America also honors its fallen warriors, he said, by supporting the surviving family members who must carry on after their loved ones have passed.

"We are called to honor them by doing our part for the loved ones our fallen heroes have left behind and looking after our military families," Obama said. "By making sure the men and women serving this country around the world have the support they need to achieve their missions and come home safely. By making sure veterans have the care and assistance they need.

"In short," he continued, "by serving all those who have ever worn the uniform of this country – and their families – as well as they have served us."

Obama recalled a post-Civil War incident that occurred April 25, 1866, when a group of women in Columbus, Miss., visited a local cemetery to place flowers on the graves of Confederate soldiers who had died during the Battle of Shiloh.

As the women placed the flowers, he said, they noticed that a nearby group of Union soldier graves was bare of flowers.

"But no one had come to visit those [Union] graves, or place a flower there," Obama said. The women, he said, then "decided to lay a few stems for those men, too, in recognition not of a fallen Confederate or a fallen Union soldier, but a fallen American."

A few years later, he said, a group of Civil War veterans established what eventually became Memorial Day, picking a date when the spring flowers are in bloom.

"So this weekend, as we commemorate Memorial Day, I ask you to hold all our fallen heroes in your hearts, and if you can, to lay a flower where they have come to rest," Obama said.

Carthage Cemetery Honors World War II Fallen

By Vince Crawley
U.S. Africa Command

May 30, 2010 - Less than a mile from the 2,000-year-old ruins of ancient Carthage, Tunisian groundskeepers worked under a bright Mediterranean sun to prepare for Memorial Day observances to honor the 2,841 Americans buried here, as well as the thousands more who gave their lives in the North Africa campaigns of World War II that laid the bloody groundwork for the Allied liberation of Europe. The North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial lies in a quiet open space surrounded by fig, cypress and eucalyptus trees on Roosevelt Road, between the Tunis airport and the tourist beaches, art boutiques and historic ruins of the Tunisian coast.

The grounds total about 27 acres, with a burial area about the size of four football or soccer fields, bounded on one side by the Wall of the Missing that includes 3,724 names. Bells from the cemetery's chapel play patriotic anthems, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "America the Beautiful," while calls to prayer from nearby mosques echo among the graves. The cemetery is easy to spot on Internet satellite maps -- due east of Tunis airport, it is the rectangle of bright green kikuyu grass that stands out against the darker olive-colored vegetation -- zooming in shows the orderly rows of crosses and Stars of David, all facing to the southeast.

Abdallah Lagahre, a stone mason whose job is to tend the grave markers, quietly spent several hours in the afternoon heat earlier this weekend refreshing the gold leaf on the headstone of Army Pvt. Nicholas Minue, the single Medal of Honor recipient buried in Carthage.

Born in Sedden, Poland, Minue has a "typical American story" of an immigrant who serves his adopted country, explained Carlos Castello, superintendant of the North Africa American Cemetery. Castello himself is another variation of the American story -- son of Cuban and Mexican parents, born in the United States, living overseas with a French stepfather, then serving 14 years in the U.S. Army, much of that time in Germany, with wartime service in the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War, though he stresses his military duties were largely administrative.

Minue was with an armored infantry unit assigned to 1st Armored Division on April 28, 1943, when a group of soldiers came under fire from an enemy machine gun nest. For reasons that were never recorded, he ran forward with a bayonet and killed 10 enemy machine gunners and riflemen, then continued attacking other enemy riflemen dug into the hillsides until he was fatally injured. His aggressiveness "was unquestionably the factor that gave his company the offensive spirit that was necessary for advancing and driving the enemy from the entire sector," according to Minue's Medal of Honor citation. The chapel bells happen to be playing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" while Castello retells Minue's story.

"We know a few of the stories," he adds. "It's a shame that we don't know them all."

For instance, there's Foy Draper, who Castello said "began fighting Germans in 1936" as part of the U.S. Olympic team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Those were the Olympic games where Germany's fascist leadership hoped to showcase their physical superiority, only to be bested by upstart Americans, led by African-American Jesse Owens.

The presence of an Olympic gold medalist among the gravesites is evidence that "America really gave her best in the pursuit of freedom," Castello said at Draper's gravesite.

Draper, from California, won gold as one of four members of the U.S. 400-meter relay team, and the cemetery has a photograph of Draper alongside teammates Owens, Ralph Metcalfe and Frank Wykoff. When the war started, Draper became a combat pilot. He and his crew were killed Jan. 4, 1943, after taking off from an airfield in Thelepte, Tunisia, near the Algerian border.

Not everyone honored at the cemetery is an Olympian or Medal of Honor recipient. The burials include 240 unknown Americans, including one headstone that marks the resting place of seven unknowns. Two adjacent headstones and a brass plaque mark the gravesite of four men whose names are known but whose remains could not be separately identified.

Michael Coonce, the cemetery's assistant superintendant, told the story of Alice P. McKinney of Michigan, a private first class in the Women's Army Corps. Her brother had died fighting in Europe, and she was being transferred from West Africa to Europe in the weeks after the war ended, in part to help with his burial arrangements. She is among 18 women soldiers aboard a transport plane that crashed off the African coast whose names are on the cemetery's Wall of the Missing. Her brother is buried at Henri-Chapelle Cemetery in Belgium.

All of those honored at the cemetery died during World War II, in campaigns that began with the Operation Torch landings in North Africa in November 1942, with the fiercest fighting taking place in Tunisia in early 1943. At a time when Germany and Italy occupied much of the European continent and North Africa, the United States and United Kingdom were under intense pressure from their Soviet ally to begin offensive operations against the Axis powers. An attack into Europe was deemed too risky, so the Allies sent a military force into North Africa, where the British were having success against German and Italian tank forces in desert fighting, and where it was unclear how the neutral French Vichy forces occupying the region would respond.

The French forces in North Africa soon sided with the Allies, but Germany and Italy were able to pour reinforcements into Tunisia, led by famed German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. The Battle of Kasserine Pass in early 1943 cost thousands of American lives and resulted in major changes in U.S. tactics and leadership. The Allied forces were able to reverse their setbacks, reorganized and defeated the German-Italian force by May 1943. Tunisia then became a launching point for invading Sicily and southern Italy, followed a year later by the D-Day invasion of Normandy in northern France.

"Without Operation Torch, there probably never would have been a D-Day," said Castello, summing up the historic significance of the North Africa campaign.

The nature of the fighting in Tunisia was described by wartime correspondent Ernie Pyle.

"For four days and nights they have fought hard, eaten little, washed none, and slept hardly at all," Pyle wrote in May 1943, traveling among American infantrymen. "Their nights have been violent with attack, fright, butchery, and their days sleepless and miserable with the crash of artillery. ... They are young men, but the grime and whiskers and exhaustion make them look middle-aged. There is an agony in your heart and you almost feel ashamed to look at them. They are just guys from Broadway and Main Street, but you wouldn't remember them. They are too far away now. They are too tired. Their world can never be known to you, but if you could see them just once, just for an instant, you would know that no matter how hard people work back home they are not keeping pace with these infantrymen in Tunisia."

Today, the people of Tunisia are respectful of the American cemetery, as well as British burial grounds, and a Tunisian military honor guard participates in annual U.S. Memorial Day observances. As the groundskeepers prepared for Memorial Day weekend, small groups of visitors kept stopping by the "Cimetière américain?," often young Tunisian couples who walked in silence among the graves.

"Like other people's, the Tunisian people lived through poignant tragedy of war and through dark hours under the occupation of Axis troops," Tunisia's founder and first president, Habib Bouguiba, said in a message posted on the wall of the cemetery's visitor's center. "Please accept, dear visitor ... the expression of my deep sympathy for the relatives of those who have sacrificed so much for the sake of freedom."

The North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial in Carthage, Tunisia, is one of 24 permanent American military burial grounds on foreign soil administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission. Memorial Day weekend observances in Carthage are expected to include delegations from the government and military of Tunisia, and the U.S. government, including representatives from U.S. Africa Command.

City of Coupeville Honor Veterans

May 30, 2010 - By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Nardel Gervacio, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West, Det. Whidbey Island

Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Nardel Gervacio, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West, Det. Whidbey Island (NNS) -- Hundreds of local residents from Coupeville and Whidbey Island paid their respects for all service members, past and present, during the Coupeville Memorial Day Parade, May 29.

Memorial Day was established shortly after the Civil War as Decoration Day. It is now a day set aside to remember the service members who have given their lives in the service of their country.

Despite a slight drizzle, the parade started at Coupeville's Middle and High school and proceeded down South Main Street with observers waving U.S. flags all along the way and ended at Coupeville Town Park.

With the participants and attendees present at the park after the parade, the Mayor of Coupeville, Nancy Conard spoke a few words, giving the audience a brief history of Memorial Day and what it means to the country and then thanked the crowd for attending regardless of "rain or shine."

After the parading of the colors, Capt. Gerral David, commanding officer of Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island, in his last Memorial Day parade while assigned to the installation, addressed the crowd by remembering those who have given the ultimate sacrifice; describing them as being, "Good strong, capable and patriotic men and women who model what is best in all of us, who measure the value of life by the sacrifices they made and their dedication to the labors of their nation."

"Their lives inspire us, and it is our duty to remember them and not let the memory of their sacrifice fade," said David.

The 56th Army Band, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, played patriotic music throughout the ceremony.

Active-duty service members who participated in the parade said they felt a great sense of appreciation for the support the community gives to its military citizens.

"Today is the day to remember our veterans; it's a day of pride, and it's a great day for our nation," said Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class (AW) Michael Arebalo, from Fort Worth, Texas, a member of the Fleet Readiness Center Northwest color guard who marched in the parade. "I like to show my pride for our veterans and our active-duty personnel. I feel very honored to be a part of Coupeville Memorial Day Parade."

Despite the wet weather, the parade was a success according to Lynda Eccles, executive director of Central Whidbey Chambers of Commerce, the parade's sponsor.

"We had over 80 entries, and there were a lot of people along the parade route. Rain or shine, they all come out for this parade and they come from everywhere, off island as well, as every part of Whidbey to celebrate," said Eccles.

Arkansas Lighthouse for The Blind Hosts Admiral's Visit During Little Rock Navy Week

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Pat Migliaccio, Navy Office of Community Outreach Public Affairs

May 30, 2010 - LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (NNS) -- The Navy enjoyed a warm enthusiastic response during a recent visit to the Arkansas Lighthouse for the Blind, a non-profit agency employing Arkansans who are blind and visually impaired.

Employees of the plant proudly lined up and stood at attention during the arrival of Rear Adm. Wendi B. Carpenter, commander, Navy Warfare Development Command, Norfolk, while one of their own visually impaired workers, Earl McClure played a rousing rendition of the Navy's theme song 'Anchors Aweigh' on his trombone.

"We're extremely pleased to have the Navy and admiral here," said Curtis Chase, director of Industries at Lighthouse. I'm sure it will be a humbling eye-opener to both sides. We appreciate all the Navy does to protect us and by coming here, you help to dispel myths and misconceptions about the blind and impaired. People are blown away when they learn what these individuals can actually do."

The Navy's visit to Arkansas Lighthouse of the Blind coincided with Little Rock Navy Week 2010, one of only 20 Navy Weeks being held across America this year, designed to educate Americans on the importance of naval service, understand the investment they make in their Navy, and to increase awareness of the Navy in cities which might not otherwise see Sailors at work on a regular basis.

Lighthouse employees manufacture diverse products for government clients and the United States Navy. Products of note used specifically by the Navy include T-shirts, notebooks and phone message pads.

During a tour of Little Rock production facilities, Carpenter observed numerous impaired and blind workers manufacturing various paper and clothing products throughout the plant. One of the individuals hard at work in the paper department was McClure, who moments earlier had entertained Carpenter by playing the Navy service song.

McClure, a punch press operator at the agency the past 35 years, caught the Carpenter's attention and was personally presented with her command coin after a friendly chat.

"I never met an admiral before," McClure said. "I'll keep this coin with me and will always cherish it."

The tour concluded with Carpenter giving a short speech to Lighthouse employees, thanking them for what they do for deployed troops. She ended her visit by leading them in the calling of the Hogs, the Arkansas Razorback school cheer.

"This visit was profoundly inspirational," Carpenter said. "It's so important to recognize everyone's contribution to our mission. We often take simple things like T-shirts and note pads for granted. But everything is important and needed to complete the mission. What they create makes our life better and gives us the tools to do my job."

Earl McClure summed it all up best: "Just because we don't have sight doesn't mean we don't have vision or ability."