Military News

Monday, December 13, 2010

Operation Toy Drop Proves ‘Santa is a Paratrooper’

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 2010 – Pouring rain didn’t dampen the holiday spirit as thousands of paratroopers descended over Fort Bragg, N.C., this weekend, kicking off the world’s largest combined airborne operation while ensuring Santa doesn’t overlook a single needy child.

The Army’s Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command launched the Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop on Dec. 11.

The first 1,300 active-duty, Army Reserve and Army National Guard soldiers jumped from over Fort Bragg’s soggy Sicily Drop Zone before heavy clouds moved in, scrubbing the mission for the day. All 4,000 participating paratroopers will get their opportunity to jump – and to earn foreign jump wings – as the operation continues this week.

The toy drop, now in its 13th year, provides valuable joint and combined training, while enabling the military to give back to the local community, said Army Maj. Gen. David M. Blackledge, commander of U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command and host of the event.

The operation involves soldiers from the 18th Airborne Corps, the 82nd Airborne Division and Special Operations Command. Flying them more than a dozen active- and reserve-component C-130 and C-17 aircraft and crews from Pope Air Force Base, N.C.’s 43rd and 440th Airlift Wings, the 437th Airlift Wing from Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., the 815th Airlift Squadron from Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., the 145th Air Wing from Charlotte, N.C., and the 118th Airlift Wing from Nashville, Tenn.

In addition, 26 jumpmasters are participating from nine nations: Botswana, Canada, Chile, Germany, Estonia, Thailand, Poland, Latvia, Ireland. Israel had planned to send jumpmasters, too, but had to cancel due to big fires in northern Israel.

The jumpmasters issue airborne commands in their native language, with a U.S. safety official providing the English translation that sends the paratroopers out the aircraft door, Blackledge explained. Once on the ground, the paratroopers get awarded the allied country’s jump wings.

“This gives everybody the opportunity, not just to get the proficiency training they need as paratroopers and air crews, but also interoperability training with our allies,” he said. “It provides all of us the opportunity to see how our allies conduct the same kind of operations that we do, and learn from each other.”

Meanwhile the complexity of the mission provides valuable preparation for real-world missions.

“There’s a tremendous amount of coordination to get all these different units, all these different planes and all these different paratroopers coming together at the same time to execute an operation,” Blackledge said. “That’s what we do in real-world situations, so this gives us the opportunity to train just as we operate.”

But the biggest bonus of the mission, he said, is the chance to brighten the holidays for needy children who might otherwise not receive a Christmas toy.

“That’s what brings this all together and makes this happen: bringing paratroopers, airmen and our allies together over the holiday period for a great event that supports a great cause,” he said.

Then-Staff Sgt. Randy Oler, a Special Forces soldier and Ranger assigned to U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command, spearheaded the first Operation Toy Drop in 1998. It grew each year until 2004, when Oler died of a heart attack at age 43 while performing jumpmaster duties aboard a C-130 aircraft.

Oler’s spirit lives on through what’s now known as the Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop. This year, it collected more than 6,000 toys, the most ever, to be distributed within the community.

Since its inception, the annual toy drop has collected and distributed more than 40,000 toys in North Carolina and Tennessee, Oler’s home state. Participating paratroopers donate most of the toys.

Every airborne unit at Fort Bragg gets allocated slots for the jump, but not enough for every soldier to participate, Blackledge explained. So to vie for one of several hundred parachutes distributed through a raffle, each paratrooper donates a new, unwrapped toy.

At on Dec. 10, the day of the raffle, Blackledge was amazed to see 1,600 soldiers lined up in 21-degree temperatures, all holding toys with hopes they’d get to participate.

The outpouring was amazing, he said: bikes, dolls, electronic games, even highly coveted X-Box units. One unit arrived with a whole truckload of toys, far surpassing its number of paratroopers.

“American soldiers are some of the most compassionate people in the world, and it sure shows in the toys that are coming in,” Blackledge said. “It’s really neat to be here and see the generosity and outpouring of love.”

Army Pfc. Efren Cassiana, assigned to the 319th Field Artillery Regiment’s Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, said he was “pretty amazed” that he was among the soldiers who won the right to jump through the raffle.

The Operation Toy Drop jump was Cassiana’s first since graduating from Airborne School on Nov. 5. He admitted he “had nerves” as his aircraft approached the drop zone, knowing that with the weather conditions, the jump would be challenging. “But once those doors opened, I felt pretty good waiting for that green light,” he said.

Cassiana said he also felt great earning Chilean jump wings, and knowing that the Lego block set he’d donated would make a difference for a young child.

“Some of them don’t get a lot of stuff, so what we are doing is going to mean a lot,” he said. “It’s a great feeling, knowing that what we are doing is helping someone out.”

Army Spc. Christopher Hubbard, another 82nd Airborne soldier, called the opportunity to earn foreign jump wings a big motivator in signing up for the raffle that earned him a jump slot on the initial manifest.

Proudly bearing his new Polish jump wings, he said Operation Toy Drop “was definitely a rewarding experience, not just for me, but for all the soldiers out here.”

Hubbard said he’s also happy knowing the Transformer toy he donated will make a difference in a little boy’s holiday.

“This is a way to give back and do a good thing for the community, especially for kids that might go otherwise not get anything for Christmas,” he said. “I think all these gifts, even if they’re just little things, will make these kids smile that much more.”

Blackledge called Operation Toy Drop a great way to give back to the community that has stood behind its local units as they conduct some of the highest operational tempos in the military. “This is our way to show thanks to the community by giving back to the kids,” he said. “It’s a neat way of saying we are proud to be members of this community.”

This year, for the first time, some of the young recipients got a chance to watch the airborne operations and receive their toys from volunteers dressed up as Santa and his elves.

“Even though it was cold and rainy, the kids were having a blast watching the paratroopers come down and then talking to them,” Blackledge said. “The children at Fort Bragg know Santa Claus is a paratrooper.”

Coast Guard, Redskins honor Wounded Warriors

Written by: CDR Glynn Smith
Post written by Ademide Adedokun.

This past Sunday, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Bob Papp joined the Washington Redskins, the Metropolitan Area USO and BAE Systems in honoring a group of Wounded Warriors from Walter Reed Medical Center.

In what would be a heart-breaker for ‘Skins fans, but a memorable day for these heroes, Adm. Papp acknowledged their service and sacrifice to the Nation, calling them “today’s Greatest Generation.”

Despite wet and windy conditions, the Wounded Warriors participated in various receptions, the opening coin toss, pre-game ceremonies and at halftime three Warriors were welcomed onto the field with an outpouring of patriotism and thanks from fans and veterans past and present.

“I’m just so proud we are recognizing these heroes and their families today — and it’s wonderful that the Redskins organization and their partners were able to make this event possible,” said Papp.

The Metropolitan USO program partners with BAE Systems for the “Enlist Your Tickets” campaign, allowing Washington Redskins season ticket holders to donate their unused tickets to service members being treated at the nearby Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Despite the Redskins close defeat with a final score of 17-16, the service members and their families had a wonderful time.

Enterprise Carrier Strike Group Completes JTFEX

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Alex R. Forster, USS Enterprise (CVN 65) Public Affairs

USS ENTERPRISE, At Sea (NNS) -- The Enterprise Carrier Strike Group (CSG) completed its Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX) Dec. 12, marking the final step in the carrier's preparation for its upcoming 21st deployment.

The culmination of months of training, the exercise presented scenarios and situations the strike group crew may face while deployed.

"If there was any day to be on top of our game, it was today," said Rear Adm. Terry B. Kraft, commander of the Enterprise CSG on the final day of the exercise.

On this last day of the scenario, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 1 and USS Enterprise (CVN 65) launched 31 aircraft in 36 minutes and, within one hour, had 41 of the air wing's 54 aircraft airborne in support of two massive air strikes for a total of 106 sorties in one day.

"This was the biggest strike, under the worst conditions, against the most simultaneous targets that this air wing has ever accomplished, and it was all organic to Big 'E' (Enterprise) with no outside force support," said Capt. Kenneth Whitesell, commander of CVW 1.

Commander, U.S. 2nd Fleet, Vice Adm. Daniel P. Holloway embarked Enterprise during the exercise. U.S. 2nd Fleet is responsible for grading the strike group's performance.

"I couldn't be more proud of Enterprise Carrier Strike Group men, women, Sailors and Marines, as well as the CSFTL (Commander, Strike Force Training, Atlantic) team who put them through the intense training phases," said Holloway. "The name Enterprise resonates with millions of people around the world due to her storied history and the legacy of her namesakes."

CSFTL, who works for Holloway, is responsible for developing exercise scenarios, assessing strike group's performance and mentoring the strike group leadership to prepare them for deployment. The CSFTL team has worked closely with the Enterprise CSG, both in port and at sea, since the beginning of August 2010.

"We've put this strike group to the test. From anti-submarine warfare and anti-piracy training to air-to-air combat and strike missions, this group worked superbly as a team and is ready for any potential threat," said Rear Adm. Dennis E. FitzPatrick, commander, CSFTL.

The complex scenarios and missions require hard work and dedication from the most senior leadership in the strike group to the youngest Sailors on the deckplates who are experiencing being underway for the first time. The program is designed to involve every warfare area and ensure each Sailor knows his role.

"It was a great opportunity to see how smoothly we could operate in a deployment-like atmosphere," said Cryptologic Technician (Technical) 2nd Class Thomas P. Liddy, watch team supervisor for Enterprise's electronic warfare module. "I think we operated more smoothly and efficiently than we ever have before."

The scenarios also presented CVW 1 and Enterprise's Air Department Sailors more opportunities for training on the ship's 49-year-old flight deck.

"JTFEX allowed us to put our abilities to the test and to perform in the same fast-paced tempo we expect on deployment," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) Airman Keenan J. Ealy, a member of Air Department's V-5 Division, which performs damage control on Air Department's equipment.

Upon return to her homeport of Norfolk, the Enterprise CSG Sailors will take an opportunity to spend time with their families before deploying.

The Enterprise CSG consists of Enterprise, the guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55), the guided-missile destroyers USS Bulkeley (DDG 84), USS Barry (DDG 52) and USS Mason (DDG 87), USNS Arctic (T-AOE 8), CVW 1 and Destroyer Squadron 2.

The Enterprise CSG is conducting JTFEX as part of its work-ups in preparation for an upcoming deployment.

Bataan Brings Holiday Help to Hampton Roads

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW/AW) Christina M. Shaw, USS Bataan (LHD 5) Public Affairs

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (NNS) -- Sailors from the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) teamed up with the Salvation Army Christmas Depot in Virginia Beach, Va., to celebrate the holidays by giving back to the community Dec 11.

The more than 40 volunteers, led by Cmdr. Steven Souders, Bataan's chaplain, and Religious Petty Officer 1st Class Lunar Odhiambo worked with the Salvation Army to fill boxes with food, build ready to go "mommy bags" and stack boxes for the holiday season as part of the annual Salvation Army Christmas Depot.

"This Salvation Army has been active for more than 105 years, and we are always in need of volunteers," said Stephanie Harris, the Virginia Beach Salvation Army's director of development. "It's great to see Sailors coming together to help out. What a lot of people don't realize is that times have changed; you're not just helping out the homeless, you're helping the working poor. That means you could be helping a fellow Sailor or even your neighbor by volunteering here today."

As the director of development, Harris works to find the funding necessary to keep the program running as smoothly as possible.

"It's a lot like organized chaos," said Harris. "We have figured out that in order to feed a family of four, give them 20 additional meals, clothing and food supplies, we need a total of 53 dollars. We get that money and clothing through donations from the community."

Sailors from Bataan are helping ease that gap through their volunteer program on board.

"It's nice to be able to show that the military is here to support our people here at home," said Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Ashley Bianchini, a native of New Orleans.

"We really get the opportunity to give back to our community through this program and show the Navy core values of honor, courage and commitment," said Souders. "Who knows, if we didn't volunteer today maybe these supplies wouldn't get where they are going as quickly or maybe they wouldn't get there at all."

In addition to the volunteer work, Bataan Sailors have set up donation areas throughout the ship to collect toys and clothing. Whether it's the hands-on volunteer work or the donations, Sailors say the rewarding feeling comes in reaching out and helping in any way they can.

"My family volunteers back home around the holidays," said Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class Isabel Pericon, a native of Richmond, Calif. "It's a tradition I want to keep going and pass on to my children."

The crew has high hopes to make this a tradition for the ship as well, but right now the goal is a lot simpler.

"I believe we are making a huge difference through our certification process on board, and now we are getting the chance to make that same difference in the community," said Souders.

Bataan is the fifth ship of the Navy's Wasp-class ships. The ship was commissioned Sept. 20, 1997, and is the second U.S. Navy warship to bear the name.

Deck the Hulls: Boating safety course

Written by: LTJG Stephanie Young
Post co-authored by Michael Baron, USCG Recreational Boating Safety Specialist.

Looking for the perfect gift for the boater on your holiday list? The holiday season is a perfect time to arm your friends and family with safe boating essentials. No matter what the time or temperature, it is always important to encourage your loved ones to “boat responsibly.” Over the next two weeks the Compass will feature gift-giving ideas that every boating enthusiast will love, but more importantly will keep them safe.

Enrolling your loved one in a boating safety course is one of the best gifts to give, because, as the saying goes…knowledge is power.

A knowledgable mariner will teach your favorite boater basic boat handling principles, required and recommended safety equipment, navigational rules and how to deal with boating emergencies. Statistics show that boaters who have taken a boating safety course are far less likely to be involved in a boating accident or fatality.

Boating safety courses are offered nationwide by qualified state and volunteer organizations, such as the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the United States Power Squadrons. There are also private and commercial providers who offer training for all levels of boating proficiency.

Courses can be taken in a traditional classroom setting, or for the busy boater, some courses are internet or computer-based, affording the boater the opportunity to learn in the comfort of their own home and on their own time.

Courses are offered throughout the year with many different pricing options. Some have a nominal fee, and there are even courses available for free, perfect for those on a tight budget during the holiday season.

Another great thing about gifting a boating safety course is that classes are taught for boaters of all ages, so no matter the age of your loved one, you can supply them with the knowledge that may one day save their life.

You can go online to find courses from the Coast Guard Auxiliary here, or the U.S. Power Squadrons here. Also, don’t forget to check with your state’s boating agency to see what courses are offered in you area.

Whether a beginning boater or a seasoned sailor with years on the water, taking a recreational boating safety course will teach them the latest in safe boating. Enrolling someone in a boating safety course also gives you a gift back in return – the peace of mind that your beloved boating enthusiast is more prepared on the water.

The U.S. Coast Guard asks all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to “Boat Responsibly!”

Navy Band Honors Late Seattle Mariners Sportscaster with National Anthem

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Scott Dagendesh, Navy Public Affairs Support Element Detachment Northwest

SEATTLE (NNS) -- Navy Band Northwest (NBNW) sung the National Anthem for hundreds of fans, families and military personnel who gathered at Safeco Field in Seattle to honor the late sportscaster for the Seattle Mariners professional baseball team Dec. 11.
Dave Niehaus was the lead play-by-play announcer for the Seattle Mariners from their inaugural season in 1977 until his death after the 2010 season.

"We were asked by the Mariners since Mr. Niehaus passed away if we'd participate...out of so many people probably thousands who had sung the National Anthem, we were considered his favorite, so out of tribute to him, we were asked," said Chief Musician Nicholas Flores, NBNW Ceremonial Band Unit leader. "The experience, performing for the community, is a good one. I feel like I am right at home."

"It definitely means a lot; it is an honor not only to play for the people of Seattle, to honor Dave Niehaus, but also to represent our country," said Musician 1st Class Karen Fazzini, NBNW leading petty officer. "It is a meaningful day for us. It's just a small part of what we do to pay back the citizens of Seattle and play our Anthem for them and in a small way, honor Dave Niehaus' memory."

For more news from Navy Public Affairs Support Element West, Det. Northwest, visit

Gates Repeats Call for Senate to Repeal ‘Don’t Ask’

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Dec. 10, 2010 – Repeating his warning that the Defense Department would be unable to prepare properly if a court strikes down the law that bans gays from serving openly in the military, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today he hopes the Senate repeals the law before its session ends next week.

Speaking with reporters on the homeward leg of an overseas trip, Gates said he’s disappointed that the Senate has not acted on legislation that would repeal the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law once the president, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that the military is ready to implement the change.

“There’s still roughly a week left in that session, so I would hope that Congress would act to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the secretary said. “If they are unable to do that, then – as I’ve indicated in testimony and talking with you all – my greatest worry would be that we are at the mercy of the courts, and all of the lack of predictability that entails.”

Gates cited what he called a “wake-up call” when a 9th Circuit Court judge struck the law down globally in October. The Justice Department filed an appeal and obtained a stay, but not without turmoil in the meantime.

“So for all practical purposes, from that moment forward, the law was no longer in effect,” he said. “We’d had no training, no preparation, and we weren’t 100 percent certain that the 9th Circuit would give us a stay. And so there was a two-week period there where there was an enormous amount of uncertainty as the courts went back and forth.”

Another problem with the law’s fate being in the hands of the courts, Gates added, is the possibility that an invalidation of the law by one court would apply only within that court’s jurisdiction, resulting in different sets of criteria between that jurisdiction and the rest of the country.

A working group Gates appointed to investigate the potential impact of the law’s repeal and recommend how to implement a change released its report Nov. 30. But the secretary said he doesn’t want to move forward with the training and other measures the group recommended while the law is still on the books. The secretary and other officials have said repeatedly that legislative repeal would give the department time to implement a change properly, while a sudden invalidation of the law by a court decision would not.

“The way we get that time is most assuredly with the legislation that’s before the Congress,” Gates said today. “We do now have a roadmap in terms of implementation in the paper that was prepared by the working group. But I think it would be a serious mistake to start training and preparing before the law is changed, because I feel this confuses the troops. What is the law and what’s not the law? You’re being trained in both directions. So while we have a blueprint and we have a plan, I think it would be a mistake to begin that process until there is action with respect to the law.”

Chairman’s Corner: Happy Birthday National Guard

By Navy Adm. Mike Mullen
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 2010 – As Americans prepare to celebrate and give thanks amidst the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I’d like to take a moment to recognize the 374th birthday of the National Guard and our Citizen-Warriors: those stationed throughout our Nation and those deployed across the globe.

Throughout your long and distinguished history, you have been a unique yet vital part of our Total Force, continually embodying your motto: Always Ready, Always There. From the front lines of the American Revolution to the shadow of the Hindu Kush, you have come from every state and territory, standing shoulder-to-shoulder and flying wingtip-to-wingtip with your brothers and sisters in arms.

The Guard’s contributions to our traditional military roles are vital, but the skill sets you bring to the fight are equally indispensible. From the State Partnership Program that conducts outreach to more than 40 partner nations to Agriculture Development Teams helping farmers in Afghanistan … whenever our Nation has called, the National Guard has answered.

Of course, these unique capabilities are only possible because of the very real service provided by those who support each member of the National Guard. For every Citizen-Warrior who serves, there is a family, an employer and a community who must also make sacrifices. Together, you demonstrate one of our country’s greatest attributes: the shared sense of responsibility and commitment that has enabled our Nation to meets its greatest challenges throughout our history.

On behalf of the Joint Chiefs, I thank the National Guard and its supporting communities for 374 years of service. Happy Birthday!