Military News

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

San Diego Fleet Week Foundation Honors Enlisted Service Members

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eva-Marie Ramsaran, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West

SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- More than 220 Sailors, Marines and Coastguardsmen attended an enlisted recognition luncheon Tuesday hosted by San Diego Fleet Week Foundation at Sea World San Diego.

The luncheon honored enlisted service members who distinguished themselves in their service and within their command.

"It's an annual luncheon where we seek the best and brightest from the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard," said Alexandra Squires, executive director Fleet Week San Diego Foundation. "We have the largest concentration of military in the world so we try to do stuff for those who are serving our community here in San Diego."

The service members sat with civic and corporate sponsors, giving them a chance to interact, find out what they do for their service and thank the military members face to face.

During the luncheon, Karen Jones of TriWest Healthcare Alliance presented the "Making a Difference" Award to Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Geraldine Kirk, Naval Medical Center San Diego leading petty officer, for her outstanding performance of duties in supporting the healthcare needs of the Navy and Marine Corps team in San Diego.

"I am very proud of the work I do at Naval Medical Center San Diego," said Kirk. "It's an honor to serve and take care of the sick, ill or injured patients as a hospital corpsman."

After the award presentation, raffle tickets were drawn for prizes sponsored by General Dynamics and Southwest Airlines. Service members received prizes such as round trip airfare to anywhere Southwest Airlines flies and two night hotel stays at the Hyatt in San Diego. Each member in uniform received envelopes with San Diego Padres game tickets and gift cards.

"It feels good that people notice what we do every day, regardless of where we work," said Kirk. "The fact that we are in uniform serving daily is an honor for us and it's a great feeling to see that people appreciate what we do."

The mission of Fleet Week San Diego is to honor and celebrate the men and women of the military through public events that entertain and alliances that support and thank these heroes. Fleet Week San Diego continues for one more week.

For more information on Fleet Week San Diego, visit http://www.fleetweeksandiego.org/.

Today in the Department of Defense, Thursday, September 23, 2010

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn have no public or media events on their schedules.

Commander, U.S. Cyber Command, Army Gen. Keith B. Alexander testifies at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee on U.S. Cyber Command: organizing for cyberspace operations at 10 a.m. EDT in room 2118, Rayburn House Office Building.

Use Pick a Day to go to a different day. Check Other Events for additional listings, including air shows, band concerts, Congressional hearings, reunions and much more.

Missing WWII Soldier is Identified

The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing in action from World War II, have been identified and are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors.

U.S. Army Pfc. James C. Konyud, of Cleveland, will be buried on Sept. 25 in his hometown. From mid-September 1944 to early February 1945, the U.S. Army was engaged against German forces in the Hürtgen Forest, along the Germany/Belgium border, in the longest continuously fought battle in American history.  In early January 1945, elements of the 121st Infantry Regiment, 8th Infantry Division were deployed defensively in the area southeast of Aachen.  Konyud, a member of K Company, 121st Infantry Regiment, was reported missing near the location on January 1.

In 2007, a German Explosive Ordnance Disposal team working in an agricultural field between Vossenack and Hürtgen, found human remains and military-related equipment, including Konyud’s military identification tag.  The remains and items were turned over to U.S. Army Memorial Affairs Activity-Europe officials for further analysis.

Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command teams traveled to excavate the crash site twice in 2007 and once in 2008, recovering additional remains and crew-related equipment—including a second identification tag for Konyud.

Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used mitochondrial DNA – which matched that of Konyud’s brother and niece -- in the identification of his remains. 

More than 400,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II died.  At the end of the war, the U.S. government was unable to recover, identify and bury approximately 79,000 as known persons. Today, more than 72,000 Americans remain unaccounted-for from the conflict.

For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for missing Americans, visit the DPMO Website at www.dtic.mil/dpmo or call 703-699-1420.

VADM Currier Presents AMT3 Wise with "Wings of Gold"

By DCMS Log

VADM John Currier, Chief of Staff, presents a leather flight jacket to AMT3 Joey Wise at an all hands at Coast Guards Air Station San Francisco. AMT3 was the most recent qualified flight mechanic at the unit earning his coveted "wings of gold."

USCGC Escanaba Trains with Colombian and Honduran Navy

Written by: LT Connie Braesch

USCGC Escanaba recently participated in a multilateral naval exercise with the Colombian and Honduran Navies. The goal of the multilateral exercise was to compare drug interdiction policy, practice pursuit tactics and techniques, and improve communication as a whole between our respective units. Over the course of the three day exercise the U.S., Colombian, and Honduran forces did just that.

The exercise involved the Honduran Patrol Vessel, Tegucigalpa, Colombian patrol boats, the Escanaba and our small boat. Working together with so many units in such close proximity required good communication and planning, which was accomplished and augmented throughout the successful exercise. The international teams were able to practice and train with each other’s vessels, increasing familiarity among the different maritime services – a quality that will be incredibly valuable should the need arise to work together in actual operations.

“It was really interesting to see that [the Colombian Navy] used similar small boat tactics to the ones we use,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Kline, an Escanaba small boat team member.

The exercise was a great opportunity not only for us to practice our tactics and strategies with other nations but also to share efforts to stem of the flow of drugs in the Caribbean.

In the period leading up to the actual exercise there was ample time for the respective forces to meet and exchange information as well as pleasantries. Several crew members and members of the command were able to tour the Colombian and Honduran vessels and stations.

During a shore side visit, our Captain, Commander Edward Westfall, was interviewed by the local Colombian media. The press release can be read in English here and in Spanish here.

Essex ESG Completes Valiant Shield 2010

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Andrew Smith, USS Essex (LHD 2) Public Affairs

USS ESSEX, At Sea (NNS) -- The Essex Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) completed its participation in exercise Valiant Shield 2010 (VS10) Sept. 22, ending the 11-day joint U.S. military operation off the coast of Palau and Guam.

VS10 was an integrated, joint-training exercise among U.S. military forces, including the George Washington Carrier Strike Group (CSG) and Essex ESG.

Both strike groups worked in coordination with a forward-deployed Air Force air expeditionary wing during the exercise.

During VS10, Marines practiced airborne assault maneuvers and ESG ships took part in anti-submarine and anti-surface combatant exercises.

"A big part of Valiant Shield was the anti-submarine warfare exercises," said Rear Adm. Richard Landolt, commander, Amphibious Force, 7th Fleet. "It allowed Essex to work together with cruisers and destroyers assigned to Task Force 70 and that led to integration between the two groups."

It was the third exercise named Valiant Shield conducted by the United States since 2006 and was designed to enhance real-world proficiency in sustaining joint forces' ability to detect, locate, track and engage units at sea, in the air, on land and in cyberspace.

"Valiant Shield was an excellent opportunity for the Essex and the Essex Expeditionary Strike Group to work along side the George Washington Carrier Strike Group," said Capt. Troy Hart, commanding officer of the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2). "We were exposed to a lot of surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare we normally don't get to play a part in, and it was a good opportunity to work with the escort ships."

Pilots assigned to the task force were also given the opportunity to sink a decommissioned Navy ship.

"We had a SINKEX (sink exercises) of the former USS Acadia (AD 42) and everybody participated," said Landolt. "Harriers and an MH-60S (Sea Hawks) from Essex, F/A-18 Hornets from USS George Washington (CVN 73) and a P-3C Orion were all involved, as well as Air Force aircraft. It was very much a joint exercise with cooperation between different services, and I have to applaud all the Sailors and Marines involved because they all did a great job."

Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) performed an amphibious beach raid, aerial assault operations, and a visit, board, search and seizure exercise. They also helped the residents of Guam during a community service project.

"This is the first exercise that we have had to coordinate and deconflict amphibious operations from other warfare responsibilities like [anti-submarine warfare,]" said Col. Andrew MacMannis, commanding officer of the 31st MEU. "The integration of the MEU and Navy went extremely well."

The Essex ESG is led by Commander, Amphibious Force 7th Fleet and is composed of Amphibious Squadron 11, Essex, USS Denver (LPD 9) and the dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49). The 31st MEU, consisting of more than 2,000 Marines in ground, command, air and combat support elements, is embarked.

USS Helena is Waterborne Again at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard

By Lt. j.g. Garry Ferguson, USS Helena (SSN 725) Public Affairs

KITTERY, Maine (NNS) -- Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Helena (SSN 725) made the seamless transition from the dry dock at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNS) in Portsmouth, N.H., to the waters of the Piscataqua River with the help of their shipyard project team Sept. 9.

Shipyard workers, submariners and others gathered at the Shipyard Mall at PNS to celebrate Helena's departure from dry dock.

During the gathering, PNS Commander Capt. Bryant Fuller congratulated Helena's team and PNS employees.

"Helena is an example of people, standards and processes," said Fuller, referring to the shipyard's current maxim. "It has been the model for the way forward."

Scott Kimmel, project superintendent for Helena, personified Fuller's statement by giving the submarine's dry dock keys to the dry dock's next occupant, USS Virginia (SSN 774), which arrived at PHS Sept. 1.

Helena arrived at the shipyard Sept. 2, 2009, for extended maintenance, including several system upgrades. Helena is currently homeported in San Diego. The boat is projected to change homeports to Naval Station Norfolk in the spring of 2010.

Helena was commissioned July 11, 1987. The boat's motto is "Proud and Fearless."

USS Nebraska Sailors Parade Colors at Cornhusker Football Game

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gretchen M. Albrecht, USS Nebraska (SSBN 739) Public Affairs

SEATTLE (NNS) -- USS Nebraska (SSBN 739) (Gold) Sailors paraded the colors before the kickoff of the University of Washington versus University of Nebraska college football game in Seattle Sept. 18.

The crowd gave a standing ovation as Sailors were introduced.

On hand for the event was Nebraska (Gold) Commanding Officer Cmdr. Mike Fisher.

"It is great to see everyone stand up and cheer for my Sailors, because they truly deserve the recognition," said Fisher. "It is a great opportunity to strengthen the bonds with our namesake state of Nebraska and our homeport state of Washington."

More than 40 crew members attended the game courtesy of the command's state sponsors, the Big Red Sub Club, and the University of Washington, who donated tickets to the Sailors.

Nebraska won the game 56-21.

"This is just another example of how the Big Red Sub Club and our local community appreciate our Sailors and all that they do," said Senior Chief Electronics Technician David Turley, Nebraska (Gold) chief of the boat.

NMITC Staffers Run for Others in Rock 'n' Roll Half-Marathon

By Lt. j.g. Sergio Wooden, Center for Naval Intelligence Public Affairs

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (NNS) -- Runners from support units at the Navy and Marine Intelligence Training Center (NMITC) participated in the 10th annual Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon Sept. 5, as teams helping disabled athletes run the race.

Marine Capt. Kim Rossiter, enlisted training company commander, NMITC Marine Detachment; Gunnery Sgt. Rebecca Jo Zahrndt, assistant operations chief for the Marine Corps Intelligence Schools (MCIS); Lance Cpl. Andrew Juarez, assistant course coordinator for the Air Intelligence Officer Course and Letty Marino, MCIS curriculum coordinator, all ran as 'pushers' with teams that included disabled individuals riding in tri-wheeled carts.

The NMITC staffers were running in support of the Virginia Beach chapter of Team Hoyt -- a nationally recognized organization that strives to help those who are physically disabled become active members of the community. This year's Rock and Roll Half Marathon included 55 'pushers' and 35 rider-athletes from Team Hoyt.

Zahrndt, a sixteen-year veteran of the Marine Corps who recently started running, loved the thought of running for someone who couldn't. "To help someone do something that they otherwise would not be able to do is an honor and something that more able-bodied people should do," said Zahrndt. "When I see peoples' reaction to these athletes and the motivation they provide -- it's awe-inspiring."

For Rossiter, the run hit close to home, as he was pushing his six-year-old daughter Ainsley, whose battle with Infantile Neuroaxonal Dystrophy (INAD) has left her paralyzed and wheelchair bound. Ainsley is one of seven children in the U.S. that is stricken with this terminal illness. Rossiter decided that at the first opportunity, he would run with his daughter and let her experience the joy of being in a race and crossing the finish line. Running together in multiple 5K and 8K races over the last two years, Rossiter and his daughter increased their distance by running the half marathon.

Juarez needed only to hear the call for help from a fellow Marine and he came running, literally. "I considered it an honor to run with Capt. Rossiter and to run for his daughter Ainsley," said Juarez. "She is some kind of special and kept me motivated the whole time we were running. I look forward to helping with events like this as long as I can."

Zahrndt and Marino were on the team pushing Rebecca Rollick, a member of the Team Hoyt Virginia Beach chapter. Marino, a participant in each of the previous nine Rock 'n' Roll marathons, was eager to be involved, having seen and heard about Team Hoyt over the years.

"It was a huge boost to me to see Rebecca's response to everything around her," said Marino. "It was heartwarming to feel a connection with her as we raced through the crowd and headed toward the finish line. These riders, like all the other athletes, look forward to the race, finishing and getting their medals. It's something I want to be a part of for a long time."

For more information on the Navy and Marine Intelligence Training Center (NMITC), visit: https://www.netc.navy.mil/centers/cennavintel/Sites.aspx?ID=0&DID=4.

NMCSD's Face to Face Program Virtually Brings Families Together

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Chelsea A. Radford, Naval Medical Center San Diego Public Affairs

SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- One deployed service member was able to meet his son for the first time utilizing Naval Medical Center San Diego's (NMCSD) Face to Face program, Sept. 10.

Using the Face to Face program, a service that connects family members with their hospitalized loved ones, Marine Corps Sgt. Jesse A. Schneider, currently deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan, was able to sit virtually in the delivery room as his son, Caiden A. Schneider, was born.

"It was amazing," said Tiffany A. Schneider, Schneider's wife. "I think about it, and it brings tears to my eyes. Although he wasn't here in person, it made our family complete."

"He loved it," said Tiffany of her husband. "He wants to help as much as possible, and being in Afghanistan he feels it's really hard to do. He was able to be supportive and get to see his son before the rest of the world did."

Face to Face is available for a broad spectrum of patient needs, from pregnant women with a deployed significant other to service members who are facing medical emergencies.

Face to Face utilizes a video teleconference system called Defense Connect Online that permits the use of streaming video and audio from a secure feed.

"This program helps families by uniting them at a stressful time," said Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Charles M. Powers, Face to Face program coordinator. He went on to explain how technology allows a visual and audio connection that was previously unavailable.

The program was established in 2007, with only 26 participants to date. NMCSD Patient Relations hopes to raise awareness so more beneficiaries will utilize this service.

"If we did one Face to Face a year, gave one service member and their family the opportunity to either welcome a baby while deployed, or even to say goodbye one last time, this program would be a success," said Powers. "That would give the service member a peace of mind and help allow them to concentrate on the task at hand."

Patients using the program can use the teleconference system in the privacy of their own room, for up to an hour. Face to Face is typically conducted during normal business hours, but special cases may be granted after working hours. The program works on a first come first served basis, but is available for multiple patients in a single day.

For more information on NMCSD or the Face to Face program, visit www.navy.mil/local/sd or contact Patient Relations Department at 619-532-6418.

Medal of Honor Recipient Joins Hall of Heroes

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2010 – The nation’s latest Medal of Honor recipient was inducted into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes during a ceremony here today.

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Roy welcomed the brother, sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger, who was posthumously awarded the medal during a White House ceremony yesterday, to today’s event.

Adding Etchberger’s name to the Hall of Heroes, where the names of all Medal of Honor recipients are inscribed, marks two firsts, Roy said.

Etchberger is the first combat support airman and the first servicemember in the top enlisted grade to receive the Medal of Honor.

“Since Congress created the E-8 and E-9 pay grades in 1958, no other E-9, in any of our military services, has ever been awarded the Medal of Honor,” Roy said. “Chief Etchberger is the first.”

Roy summarized the 1968 events for which Etchberger received the nation’s highest award for military valor 42 years later. While he was serving as a ground radar superintendent for a secret installation in Laos as part of a covert CIA-Air Force operation, Etchberger and his unit came under attack.

With two of his four-member crew dead and the two others injured, Etchberger single-handedly held off the enemy from the men’s precarious perch on a cliffside ledge while calling for air strikes and air rescue throughout the night.

The next morning, a rescue helicopter arrived. Etchberger braved heavy enemy fire to load his wounded compatriots and another surviving airman into slings dangling from a rescue helicopter. As the helicopter prepared to leave, Etchberger was shot, and he died while in flight.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz said Etchberger’s legend will inspire generations of airmen.

“Valor has no expiration date,” he said. “Courage is timeless. And the discovery of truth, no matter how long it is delayed, sets the record straight.”

Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley also spoke at the ceremony, emphasizing Etchberger’s significance representing Vietnam veterans.

“To a younger generation, Vietnam is a faraway place indeed, present only in the history books, old movies and photographs, and through the stories of aging veterans,” Donley said.

“But for his family, and for our nation, for the Air Force he loved and served, for generations of airmen yet to come, Chief Etchberger’s story … will never fade in our memory,” he continued. “Once lost beneath impenetrable layers of security, the story of Lima Site 85 -- Dick Etchberger’s example of integrity, service and excellence [and] of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty -- is assured of its future.”

Cory Etchberger, the chief’s youngest son, shared memories of his father as they’d been related to him by his father’s fellow airmen. He was 9 when his father died, he said, and his own memories are “few, fuzzy and fleeting.” But a series of commanding officers the chief served with, he said, characterized his father in his annual evaluations as “a born leader,” “bursting with enthusiasm – he gets the job done while he’s still talking about it,” and “the top [noncommissioned officer] in the United States Air Force.”

“Ladies and gentlemen here today, and especially the fine young airmen and women who now serve, or who have served, in our great Air Force: I hope this has given you a better idea of who Chief Master Sgt. Richard Etchberger was, from the perspective of the people who knew him best,” Etchberger’s son said.

“At Amherst College in 1963,” he continued, “President John F. Kennedy said the following: ‘A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.’ To everybody here, thank you so much from the entire Etchberger family – for honoring, and remembering.”

Official Urges Protection Against Identity Theft

By Heather Forsgren Weaver
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2010 – Defense Department officials are urging servicemembers to be aware of identity theft and are providing ways for them to protect themselves, the director of DOD’s personal finance office said.

Dave Julian noted that officials take the problem very seriously. “We equate it to service readiness,” he said.

Servicemembers dealing with financial issues, he explained, are less likely to be ready to fully perform their missions. Identity theft can cause financial stress, he added.

Young servicemembers who have grown up in the digital world sometimes take a casual approach to divulging information that can be useful to identity thieves, Julian said.

“Our force is part of the digital generation. Our force lives online,” he said. “We see that they are very forthcoming with their personal information.”

Additionally, he said, members of the military get a steady paycheck, and companies want to show their patriotism by extending credit to them. But that makes it easier for thieves to use servicemembers’ stolen identities and profit quickly.

To help servicemembers protect against identity theft, DOD has joined with the Federal Trade Commission on its “Deter, Detect and Defend” campaign, Julian said. While the campaign is aimed at the general public, a brochure has been developed especially for the military.

One of the key suggestions for deploying servicemembers is activating “an active-duty alert,” which requires creditors to obtain specific permission from a servicemember or an official representative before extending credit. There is no charge for active-duty alerts, he noted, and they last for one year and can be extended.

Active-duty alerts can be activated by calling the toll-free fraud telephone number for one of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies. That company is required to notify the other two companies that a servicemember has activated a duty alert.

Another option servicemembers can use to protect themselves is putting a “freeze” on their credit report to restrict access to it. Once a freeze is in place, potential creditors and other third parties will not be able to get access to a credit report unless the freeze is lifted.

Credit-freeze laws vary from state to state. In some states, only identity-theft victims can freeze their credit. The cost of placing, temporarily lifting or removing a credit freeze also varies. Many states make credit freezes free for identity theft victims, but depending upon where they live, others may pay a fee of typically $10 to each of the three credit-reporting agencies.

Since spouses left at home often handle deployed servicemembers’ finances, they should be aware of identity theft and how to protect against it, Julian said, so identity theft usually is covered in predeployment briefings that servicemembers and their spouses are encouraged to attend.

Single deployed servicemembers can be at a disadvantage, Julian acknowledged, because they need to watch out for identity theft themselves or have a trusted agent, such as a parent, keep track of their accounts.

But whether single or married, he said, servicemembers who choose to watch their finances while they are deployed need to remember that common-use computers are dangerous things. It’s important, he explained, to log off -- completely back out -– if they are monitoring their personal information on a common-use computer or in an Internet café.

Servicemembers should request a copy of their credit report every year from each credit-reporting agency, Julian said. Since there are three credit-reporting agencies, he suggested requesting a different copy from a separate agency every four months.

Identity theft affecting deployed servicemembers is an ongoing problem, said Gary McAlum, senior vice president for enterprise security for USAA, an insurance and financial services company. USAA has worked quickly to lock down the accounts of known victims and of servicemembers whose information had been stolen but whose accounts had yet to be targeted, he said.

A recent case involved servicemembers victimized by a criminal ring that collected personal information and then used that information to open credit card accounts and drain savings accounts, McAlum said.

Identity thieves sometimes use “social engineering” to obtain information, McAlum said, using an “authoritative-voice” tactic to get someone to offer personal information over the telephone. The thief then uses the same tactic with creditors to get credit. A thief who doesn’t have all of the information required by the creditor, he added, often will “sound dumb” to creditors to obtain the information.

Deploying servicemembers “are obviously not going to be as vigilant as they deploy, get ready to deploy or are coming home from a deployment, so it is important that they use online resources” to make sure everything is in order, said Mike Kelly, USAA spokesman.

McAlum stressed that identity theft is a significant problem for the nation. “The fact that it is exploiting our servicemembers just makes it worse,” he added.

Veteran Recalls Battle Leading to Medal of Honor

By Air Force Senior Master Sgt. David Byron
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2010 – In 1968, a battle raged where heroes arose only to be unacknowledged for 18 years. Proper recognition occurred during a White House ceremony Sept. 21 when Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Richard Etchberger was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor after saving three of his men in a battle that failed to make headlines at the time due to its then-highly classified nature.

Retired Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Daniel was one of the airmen Etchberger saved during the battle at the Lima 85 radar site.

The mission, named Heavy Green, was to provide radar information and assistance to U.S. aircraft bombing military targets in Hanoi, Vietnam, its surrounding areas and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The radar site, located on a hilltop in Laos, was not officially acknowledged until 1986 because Laos was considered a neutral country during the Vietnam War, despite U.S. and North Vietnamese forces often operating there.

Daniel said that although the mission was to guide bombers on long-range strikes, as time went on the radar crews were forced to direct an increasing number of bombing runs closer to their own location.

The North Vietnamese army had discovered the site’s location and made a concerted push, including building roads to bring in heavy artillery, to launch attacks against the site.

On the evening of March 10, 1968, the radar crew experienced a lull in guiding bomber missions and decided to take a dinner break. Daniel had the additional duty as cook for his shift.

"I asked them what they wanted for dinner, and they all said steaks, so we went down to the barbecue pit and fired up the grill," he said. "We hadn't started cooking yet, and [Air Force Lt. Col.] Bill Blanton came up and said, ‘Fellows, we need to have a little get-together up in the equipment.'"

Blanton told the team that the North Vietnamese army had surrounded them and the situation looked dire, Daniel said. While calling in evacuation helicopters was a possibility, that option was rapidly disappearing as darkness approached. A flight out the following morning would be more likely.

"We took a straw poll of everybody that was there," Daniel said. "We decided to just go ahead and drop bombs all night, and in the morning, detonate all the equipment and get out on choppers at first light."

As it turned out, they didn't have as much time as they’d thought. During the meeting, the North Vietnamese army began its attack. The first artillery round hit the barbecue shack.

"It was a good thing we were at that meeting and not having dinner," Daniel said.

The radar team split into two crews. One team would pull the first shift manning the equipment, the other would return to the sleeping quarters, rest and prepare to relieve the first team. The sleeping quarters and bunker were located next to the barbecue shack.

"I said I wasn't going to stay in quarters or the bunker,” Daniel said. “They already hit there and had the range down on that. I said we should go down over the side of the hill, where we went to write letters. Nobody would find us down there."

On one side of the hill was a ledge where the airmen often sat to compose letters or tapes to send home. It was 10 to 15 feet below the top of the hill, with a nearly 3,000-foot straight drop below. The five-man crew decided to take cover there.

The five airmen started hearing small-arms fire and grenades going off on the hilltop, Daniel said. "Shortly thereafter,” he added, “someone caught a glimpse of us and started emptying their rifles at us."

In the first volley of gunfire, two members of the team were hit, one fatally. The crew returned fire with their M-16s. After the next exchange, two were dead and two others had been wounded. Etchberger was the only one not wounded.

During lulls in the gun battle, the enemy began tossing grenades down on the ledge.

"If I could reach them, I'd pick them up and throw them back on top of the hill," Daniel said. "If I couldn't reach them, I'd take the butt of my rifle and kick them off over the edge of the mountain."

When one grenade landed outside both his own reach and the reach of his rifle, Daniel said, he rolled the dead body of a comrade over on top of it.

Roughly 15 yards separated Daniel and Etchberger. Daniel had a radio near him, and as the attack continued, the chief directed him to call in an air strike on the top of the hill. Throughout the night, a succession of aircraft unloaded their ordnance, both bombs and bullets, on the hill.

At daylight, three members of the team still survived on the ledge. An Air America helicopter spotted them and hovered, lowering a sling. Etchberger broke cover, exposing himself to the enemy, and closed the gap between himself and his wounded colleagues.

"[Etchberger] scooted me on over and got me on that sling," Daniel said. "After I was up, he got [Capt. Stan Sliz] up on the sling."

After the two survivors were aboard the helicopter, the chief began to secure himself to the sling. Before he could go up, Staff Sgt. Bill Husband, who had been playing dead atop the hill, dashed to the ledge. The chief locked arms with him, and they rode the sling together and boarded the helicopter.

As the helicopter began to climb, a North Vietnamese soldier emptied his weapon into the underside of the aircraft. Etchberger was mortally wounded and died during the evacuation flight.

"[Etchberger] was one hell of an NCO,” Daniel said. “He knew the equipment. … He knew how to handle people. … He knew what to do and how to do it. You were eager to follow the man, to do what he wanted you to do."

The Heavy Green mission began with volunteers, briefings and sworn statements of secrecy at the Pentagon in 1967. For those involved, the White House Medal of Honor presentation and the Pentagon Hall of Heroes induction ceremony today will provide closure to the mission.

"It's only fitting," Daniel said, "that we're back in the Pentagon to finish it up and put an end to it, right where it started, 43 years ago."

Face of Defense: Former Warfighter Continues to Serve

By Mary Ostroski
Tobyhanna Army Depot

TOBYHANNA ARMY DEPOT, Pa., Sept. 22, 2010 – As Michael Verton helps employees here work more efficiently, it's hard to imagine that this cheerful, fun-loving and very young-looking "kid" was a full-time warfighter only a short while ago.

A combat injury in July 2008 ended Verton's career as a soldier, but not his desire to serve his country. As a process improvement specialist here, he's able to help employees save time and money by streamlining business practices that have a direct effect on the warfighter.

Verton grew up in the small town of Lake Ariel, Pa. Following high school, he earned a degree in psychology and took a job working with autistic children. But Sept. 11, 2001, changed everything.

Even before he went to speak to an Army recruiter, he said, he knew he was going to join the ranks of the 82nd Airborne Division as an infantry soldier. He served in Iraq from 2005 to 2006 and in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2008. While there, he said, he used and depended on equipment repaired by depot employees.

"Serving with my brothers in arms has brought more pride to me than nearly anything else in my life,” Verton said. “I truly was able to serve with America's heroes. Working here makes it feel as though I'm serving with my brother, who is deployed to Afghanistan, and my unit, which is also deployed."

Verton works with a team of specialists who support the communications systems directorate, which repairs combat radios and other equipment he used while deployed.

"His ability and insight as a former customer and now as a challenge solver enables him to express new concepts and ideas that lead to positive outcomes for our employees and to the organization," said Tony Rubin, chief of the communications security division.

Verton helps to return equipment in a timely and cost-effective manner to warfighters in the field.

"The soldiers depend on Tobyhanna -- I depended on Tobyhanna -- to provide quality, working equipment and get it to us in a timely manner," Verton said.

Tobyhanna Army Depot is the Defense Department's largest center for the repair, overhaul and fabrication of a wide variety of electronics systems and components, from tactical field radios to the ground terminals for the defense satellite communications network. Tobyhanna's missions support all branches of the armed forces.

Military Progresses in Identifying, Treating Brain, Mental Injuries

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2010 – Nine years of conflict has revolutionized the way the military treats its combat wounded, Vice Adm. Adam M. Robinson Jr., the Navy surgeon general, told American Forces Press Service.

The past years of conflict have witnessed improved battlefield care and well-oiled medical evacuation and trauma-care networks that are saving lives that in past wars would have been lost. There’ve also been huge advances in treating amputations and spinal-cord injuries.

Just as dramatic, Robinson said, are the cutting-edge developments in identifying and treating brain injuries, including the mental and psychological effects of war.

“We have finally, as a military and as a medical service – Army, Navy and Air Force – come to grips with the fact that war creates injuries that are not seen, injuries that are just as life-changing and as devastating as amputations and other physical injuries that come back,” Robinson said in a sun-lit conference room here at his Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery headquarters.

“And we have done tremendous work in assessing and treating and giving stability and a context to men and women who have been injured in the war and suffered these unseen injuries – the ones you can’t make out, the ones the X-rays don’t show, the ones for which the blood work doesn’t show the differences, but that certainly are there,” he said.

Exposure to roadside bombs and other blasts causes physical changes in the brain, and as a result, how it functions, Robinson said.

“When you are in a blast, there are actually neuron-cognitive changes that occur in how the brain and the synapses and the brain connections – the wiring of the brain – actually work,” he explained.

Robinson said hormone and chemical levels fluctuate as well, often resulting in emotional and behavioral changes.

“This is not just about being disoriented,” he said. “You are not just disoriented from the blast. You are disoriented because you are in the blast, and then the blast causes a change in how your brain functions. People have been very, very slow to come to that conclusion, but it’s true.”

But except in the case of severe traumatic brain injury -- defined as a penetrating head wound -- these wounds can be difficult to diagnose, and symptoms often aren’t immediate.

“When you break your arm, I can do an X-ray and can show you the break,” Robinson said. But for troops with moderate or mild TBI, “we are finding that there may be changes in the neural psychological and neural cognitive pathways that we are just beginning to learn and understand.”

Robinson touted tremendous strides in addressing severe TBIs, with life-saving physiological, chemical and operative advancements. “All of that has come together … [so that] many of the severe traumatic brain-injured patients who heretofore we did not think were capable of surviving have, in fact, come back and are now leading productive lives,” he said.

Dr. David Williamson is on the front line of these advances as director of the psychological heath and traumatic brain injury team at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

“This is a dedicated team of professionals who have a mission to serve just one category of medical disorder,” he said. “Instead of breaking the staff up by medical specialties, we are a team broken into the category of a clinical problem: the psychological health and brain-injury effects of combat.”

Operating from within a wing of the National Naval Medical Center known as “7 East,” the team includes a combination of brain specialists: Williamson, a neuropsychiatrist; as well as a neuropsychologist who conducts highly detailed memory, speech, calculation, concentration and other cognitive tests.

Specialists in psychology and social work round out the team, which works hand-in-hand with trauma surgeons to assess every single wounded warrior treated at the hospital, and intervene immediately when they diagnose brain injuries or mental-health complications.

Williamson cited the increase in craniectomies -- surgical procedures to remove part orall of the skull to allow the brain room to swell without being squeezed – as one of the biggest game-changers in treating traumatic brain injuries.

Historically, many people with brain injuries ended up dying because their brain got squeezed when it swelled, ultimately killing the brain tissue, he explained. Now, forward-deployed surgical services often can prevent this through life-saving craniectomies.

“That means we have more severe brain injury patients that are surviving,” Williamson said. “So the challenge for us is treating more severely brain-injured patients through rehabilitation and later phases of care.”

As it works with the hospital’s trauma team to identify brain injuries in combat casualties and determine their severity, the PHTBI team increasingly relies on vestibular testing to flag problems within the part of the inner ear that controls balance, Williamson said.

This semi-circular canal system, made of three fluid-filled donut-shaped voids of bone, can get damaged by blast waves, he explained. “Nothing physically hits your head, but a pressure wave through the skull can rupture these fluid-filled sacs inside bones in the skull,” he said. “It causes dizziness, coordination and balance problems and sometimes, double vision. And all that leads to headache and slows rehabilitation.”

Patients diagnosed with vestibular problems work closely with physical therapists to “reset the equilibrium of those systems and get them working properly” through exercises focused on head movements, balance and hand-eye coordination, Williamson said.

“That’s an injury that’s frequently been missed,” he said. “This therapy has proven very helpful.”

Meanwhile cognitive rehabilitation is helping patients restore brain function. “If you train brain systems that are only partially functioning, you can build up their strength and efficiency just like a weakened arm if you do weight training on it,” Williamson explained.

Cognitive therapy consists of a series of drills – memory tasks, reading tasks, analytical reasoning tasks – all focused on retraining the brain, he said.

“In addition, brain injury treatment programs are using the virtual environment to extend what we can challenge brains with,” Williamson said. Specialized video games and other computer-based programs provide visual, spatial, language and coordination tasks. A driving simulator enables them to hone their driving skills under the watchful eyes of a trained therapist.

The PHTBI team also uses specialized equipment to monitor electrical activity within the brain and identify a frequent complication of brain injuries: seizures.

“Everyone recognizes when seizures make you go unconscious or you are convulsing,” Williamson said. “But you can have partial seizures where you have changes in your ability to think or your emotional regulation or your general level of alertness, caused by a little area of electrical abnormality.”

So the team conducts electroencephalography, continuously over the course of five days, to test for those abnormalities. Patients who exhibit them typically are treated through medication.

But the PHTBI team hasn’t limited its efforts to drugs and conventional medicine. “Our physical medicine rehabilitation team is open to all holistic therapies and alternative therapies as well,” he said. “We refer people for acupuncture for pain management. We do various types of non-medical pain interventions, nerve stimulation, nerve blocks and so on.”

The biggest challenge in treating moderate and mild TBI, Robinson said, is that there’s typically no outward sign of injury, making it difficult to identify.

“With mild TBI, you know you are different. You feel different, but you look absolutely the same to those around you,” he said. “You may act differently to those who know you really well, but you can take tests and do all sorts of different objective instruments and you don’t necessarily see the differences.”

Often it’s a family member or loved one who picks up on personality or behavioral changes and sends up the red flag. “We’ve had spouses come in and say, ‘The person I sent to Iraq or Afghanistan is not the person who came back,’” Robinson said.

Robinson said he believes that nobody returns home from combat without at least some degree of post-traumatic stress.

“If you are involved in combat and combat operations, you have post-traumatic stress,” he said.

Even those not physically involved in combat, but operating within the combat theater, are at risk, he said. “If you are exposed to the tension and to the stress of a deployment, you are a candidate to develop post-traumatic stress,” he said.

“I did not say you have a disorder,” Robinson emphasized. “So when I talk about PTS, I don’t add the ‘D’ for ‘disorder.’ Because we know that if we treat it and treat it effectively, we can actually obviate the disorder. If we can stave off the ‘D,’ we are ahead of the game.”

(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of four articles about the military’s revolutionary new approaches to treating patients with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress.)

USS New York Receives Piece of World Trade Center

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Corey Lewis, USS New York Public Affairs

NORFOLK (NNS) -- World Trade Center Steel Foundation Vice President Ken Senter, along with Oak Ridge, Tenn. high school students, presented USS New York (LPD 21) with a piece of steel from the World Trade Center Sept. 17 in Norfolk.

Cmdr. Curt Jones, USS New York commanding officer, accepted the 42-pound piece of steel on behalf of the crew during a brief ceremony in the ship's pilothouse.

"Events like these renew the ties between the ship, the state of New York and the nation," Jones said. "It's important we keep it fresh in our minds to reinforce bonds with people not on the ship, and that's what today's ceremony was about."

The event is part of an ongoing effort for Oak Ridge High School student council members who took on the challenge of delivering a piece of the steel column to all 50 States.

"It's important for the kids to bring this piece of steel to show their support and the support of [the] city," Senter said.

Senter explained how the steel illustrated what happened on 9/11. The piece presented to the ship included support bolts that had been bent and sheared off from the weight of the building as it collapsed.

The column was given to the school by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"This is an amazing project, and I am so pound to be a part of it," said Calvin Cummings, Oak Ridge High School Student Council vice president. "It shows that we have not lost sight of what happened."

Working Group Unaffected by Senate Vote, Spokesman Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2010 – Yesterday’s Senate vote that failed to begin debate on the defense authorization bill was an internal legislative procedural matter and does not change the Defense Department’s process on the possible repeal of the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, a Pentagon spokesman said here today.

The bill includes an amendment for the repeal of the law that bans gays from serving openly in the military.

Jeh C. Johnson, DOD’s general counsel, and Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, commander of U.S. Army Europe, lead the department’s comprehensive review of the issues associated with repeal of the law. They also assess the effects that repeal of the law would have on military readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting, retention and family readiness, Marine Corps Col. David Lapan said.

Officials will use the information gathered by the Johnson-Carter group to plan implementation guidelines if the repeal happens, Lapan added, and Johnson and Carter are to submit a report to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Dec. 1.

“Nothing from yesterday changes what the working group is going to do in the report they give to the secretary,” Lapan said.

The working group has sent surveys to servicemembers and their family members. A total of 115,000 servicemembers have returned their surveys – designed to gauge their feelings on the issue – for a 29 percent response rate. To date, 38,000 family members have returned their surveys. Family members have until Sept. 27 to return their completed forms.

Polling professionals said the response rate is above the norm, Lapan noted.

Johnson and Ham have conducted numerous information exchange sessions with more than 20,000 servicemembers and their families. In addition, more than 65,000 comments have been e-mailed to the working group.