Military News

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Face of Defense: How to Raise Kids ‘Scream Free’

By Kris Gonzalez
Fort Bragg Public Affairs

FORT BRAGG, N.C., Nov. 30, 2011 – Growing up is hard to do -- especially for grown-ups, according to Hal Runkel, founder of the ScreamFree Institute.

And turning up the volume doesn’t make it any easier, said Runkel, as he spoke to Fort Bragg community members Nov. 16-17, as part of two, 90-minute seminars designed to help military families grow strong.

Runkel is a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of the book, “ScreamFree Parenting.” He said he teaches parenting strategies based on the notion that parenting is not about kids -- it’s about parents.

“If it was about kids, then we’d call it kidding,” he joked.

“What parenting isn’t about is controlling kids,” Runkel continued. “The greatest thing parents can do for their kids is to learn how to control -- themselves.”

Runkel described his answer to the complaint he most-often hears from parents around the world: “My kids don’t listen.”

“They listen,” he said. “They hear every word you say. They just don’t obey you. And you don’t know what to do about that. You think, ‘If they heard me, they would do it, so, I need to speak louder so they can hear me.’”

Yelling doesn’t work, and neither does shutting down, which Runkel said, is another form of screaming, only it’s on the inside, but it causes just as much resentment.

“Our definition of screaming is pretty broad,” he said. “It’s any time you let the anxieties of the moment override your thinking; it’s that knee-jerk reaction.”

Runkel uses humor, first-hand accounts and real-life scenarios to help teach parents how to calm their emotional reactions to their children’s behavior.

“ScreamFree Parenting isn’t just about raising children without raising your voice,” said Vanessa Vazquez, a child advocate trainer with Fort Bragg’s Family Advocacy Program. “It’s a revolutionary approach to parenting that focuses on self-control, relationship building and self-care.”

Vazquez was one of about 20 Fort Bragg professionals and trainers who participated in a separate, two-day, train-the-trainer course taught by Runkel. The purpose of the training, she said, was for post family advocacy professionals and trainers to be able to implement the skills they learned with individuals, couples and groups in counseling or in crisis and to gain the ability to teach monthly ScreamFree parenting workshops to parents here beginning in January.

Each monthly, 10-hour workshop provides a forum for parents to not only learn parenting tips, but also to meet other parents and learn from their experiences, Vazquez said.

Participants who attend the workshops will receive workbooks and a DVD to help implement ScreamFree Parenting techniques at home.

Charles Pennington, a family advocacy program specialist, said he thinks the workshop will offer a great opportunity for new fathers to become more involved with their kids, and to help take the load off of moms.

Runkel said he thinks the workshop will be fantastic for any military leader or potential leader to attend, because it can equip them to better coach and mentor fellow service members as well as to provide some valuable skills about stress and anger control when handling conflicts with others.

Naval Academy Spreads Holiday Spirit in Annapolis

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alexia Riveracorrea, U.S. Naval Academy Public Affairs

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (NNS) -- The Naval Academy Brigade of Midshipmen, faculty and staff gathered with representatives from the City of Annapolis and the Salvation Army in Bancroft Hall Nov. 29 for the 21st annual Giving Tree lighting ceremony.

Coordinated by the Midshipmen of 6th Company, the Giving Tree is set up in the rotunda of Bancroft Hall each year and decorated with paper angels, each with the name of an underprivileged child in the local community.

Midshipmen, faculty and staff have the opportunity to spread holiday cheer to hundreds of children by selecting an angel on the tree and purchasing gifts for the children represented by the angel ornaments. Last year, the Academy provided 600 gifts for children. This year, the number of paper ornaments on the tree increased to 1,000.

Each angel includes the age, gender and wish list of the child, giving the purchaser a good idea of what to buy.

"In 21 years of doing the Giving Tree program at the Academy, this is the 14th year that 6th company has been working in conjunction with the Salvation Army," said Midshipman 1st Class Kristen Tellar, event coordinator. "The Midshipmen love to participate and look forward to this event every year. I'm just so honored to be able to work with 6th Company for such a great cause."

After choosing a paper angel, the donor purchases a gift for that child and places it unwrapped under the tree. All of the donations will be picked up by the Salvation Army Dec. 12. The gifts are wrapped and distributed to the children Dec. 22, just in time for Christmas.

"It is certainly a great project because it allows us to give back to the community," said Tellar. "There are children in Annapolis who, if it weren't for projects like the Giving Tree, wouldn't have a Christmas. The happiness and joy we bring to the children represent the true holiday spirit of the season."

"The event is important to the Midshipmen and the community," said Midshipman 2nd Class Ricky Rodriguez.

"The city of Annapolis gives so much to the brigade," he said. "They support us in many ways, and to be able to do this and bring smiles to the children of the community - it's an honor for us to be a part of."

Mortuary Family Call Center Opens at Dover

Air Force News Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30, 2011 – The Air Force recently moved its mortuary affairs call center responsibilities from a temporary call center here to the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center at Dover Air Force Base, Del.

Trained experts will continue to answer calls from the toll-free number 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, to meet the needs of family members.

“We established this call center to answer questions and address potential concerns for families of fallen service members," said Brig. Gen. Eden Murrie, the director of Air Force Services. "It was important that we were prepared and did this right.”

The call center was established following the announcement of results of a year-long investigation of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center in Dover, the point of entry for the remains of U.S. service members who are killed or die overseas.

Investigators found no evidence that anyone intentionally mishandled remains, but the investigation concluded the mortuary staff failed to maintain accountability while processing portions of remains for three service members.

In setting up the Dover call center, the Air Force “ensured there were sufficient phone lines and expertly trained staff so a caller would immediately talk with a person who was able to answer any questions they had,” Murrie said.

Since the call center's establishment on Nov. 8, he said, only eight calls were received from concerned relatives of service members and others from the general public.

"We are committed to keeping this important communication channel open,” Murrie said. “And it makes sense, given the small number of calls, that we transition the function to the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center."

The Air Force is committed to ensuring the mission of AFMAO is carried out with reverence, dignity, honor and respect for the fallen and to providing care, service and support for the families, he said.

Families of fallen service members may contact the Air Force toll free at 1-855-637-2583 or email at dover.pm@pentagon.af.mil if they have questions about the investigation or Air Force mortuary operations.

For more information, media should contact Air Force Public Affairs at 703-695-0640 or after hours at (202) 528-4929.

USS Carl Vinson Strike Group Departs for Deployment

From Commander, Naval Air Forces Pacific Public Affairs

SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Sailors of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 17 departed Naval Air Station North Island, Nov. 30, for a scheduled deployment to the western Pacific and U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

Guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) and guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey (DDG 97) deployed with Vinson as part of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 1, along with the embarked CVW 17 that includes the "Fighting Redcocks" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 22, the "Sunliners" of VFA 81, the "Stingers" of VFA 113, the "First of the Fleet" of VFA 25, the "Garudas" of Electronic Attack Squadron 134, the "Tigertails" of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 125 and the "Red Lions" of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 15.

The mission of the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group will focus on maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts, which help establish conditions for regional stability.

The Carl Vinson CSG will help provide deterrence, promote peace and security, preserve freedom of the sea and humanitarian/disaster response within U.S. 3rd Fleet's 50-million square mile area of responsibility in the eastern Pacific, as well as supporting the nation's maritime strategy when forward deployed.

Caregiver Confronts Husband’s Combat-related Rage

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

SAN ANTONIO, Nov. 30, 2011 – When her soldier husband was injured in Iraq, Catrina Tomsich gave up everything to be with him. She shut down her business, left a support network of friends and uprooted their 5-year-old son, Brayden, to move here to help him recover.

She did so without hesitation, but not without fear.

Her concerns didn’t center on her husband’s recovery -- his injuries weren’t life threatening -- or their uncertain future, but on her own safety and that of her son’s.

Catrina’s husband, Army Sgt. John Tomsich, had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder since 2005. The noncommissioned officer maintained a stoic front for his troops, but barely could contain his rage at home.

“For five years I heard, ‘I hate you; I don’t love you anymore’ every day,” she told American Forces Press Service. “That can definitely take an emotional toll on someone.”

Catrina first noticed a change in her husband after his 2005 deployment in Kosovo, his first since he joined the Army in 1998. He was there during a period of political tension, he recalled, and was out shopping one day with several of his leaders when hostilities broke out around them. Weapons were fired, he said, but no one was seriously injured. They wound up cornered in a hotel, uncertain of what would occur overnight.

“That’s where the anger started,” Tomsich said, “but I didn’t talk about it to anyone.” Noncommissioned officers couldn’t discuss their problems with anger or depression, he believed at the time, or the troops under them would question the integrity of their leadership. Instead, he said, “You try and fight it and not tell anyone you have problems.”

Tomsich returned home after an 18-month tour in 2006 only to deploy again in 2009, this time to Iraq. Although an infantryman by trade, he was pulled to serve on detainee guard duty. About six months into his deployment, he suffered a spinal injury to his neck while on duty that caused him to lose the use of his right arm.

The doctors weren’t equipped to treat him in Iraq, so Tomsich was sent to Brooke Army Medical Center here in April 2010.

Catrina drove from Houston to see her husband every weekend, but she soon realized he needed full-time care after he developed a stomach illness that required surgery. That’s when she shut down the financial education business she had started in 2007, packed up her house and son, and moved here to care for him.

But she did so with trepidation. While he was physically improving and recovering the use of his arm, his PTSD was growing worse. “The anger was awful,” she said. “He was snapping on every little thing. Anything would make him upset and angry.”

“I was even abusive to her in my dreams,” he added. One night, he recalled, he kept yelling at her in his sleep to “Stand down!”

The years of anger and rage were wearing on Catrina. In short, “Our marriage was on the rocks,” she said.

Tomsich had evaded mental health care for years, and dismissed his wife’s urging get help. But after a particularly bad episode one weekend, Catrina took matters into her own hands. “He had so much anger and rage,” she said, “and that weekend our son saw it, and was crying and scared of Daddy.

“I wasn’t about to let that happen anymore. I put my foot down.”

Catrina marched into a trailer where she knew behavioral health specialists worked, and demanded to speak to a counselor. “I had no idea what I was doing,” she said. Yet, a week later, Tomsich was placed in counseling.

Tomsich underwent in-depth psychological testing and evaluation, and was diagnosed with severe PTSD.

Concerned about being perceived as weak, he was resistant to treatment -- a combination of counseling and medication -- but a counselor gave him the “verbal kick in the butt” he needed, he said. She told him she had problems too and the first step to healing was to open up about them. “She told me, ‘Just tell me your issues and we’ll work from there’” he said. “It got worse at first, but then slowly started to get better.”

Catrina noticed a marked improvement over time. Her husband is still not where he was when they got married, she said, but “he’s 100 times better than in 2005.”

Tomsich and his wife now share their story with others to encourage them to seek the help they need without fear of career repercussions. Catrina even has taken women to seek help for their husbands as she did nearly two years ago.

As for Tomsich, “I tell [soldiers], if they don’t seek help, I’m going to have their wives tell on them like mine did,” he joked.

Catrina said she’s seen marriages break under the pressure of a spouse’s physical and emotional wounds. It’s a path she knows she could have taken during her years of emotional abuse.

“But I believe you should never give up,” she said. “Women come and tell me, ‘He’s not the man he used to be.’ I tell them, ‘Never give up.’ If I had, we wouldn’t be here together now.

“No matter what we’re given in life, we can choose how we deal with it,” she added. “And I’m going to choose to have a positive attitude.”

Tomsich will medically retire in January, and the couple plans to move to North Carolina to be near family. Catrina said she and her mother are starting a nonprofit organization called Operation Tranquility that will offer retreats to wounded warriors and Gold Star families.

“Being here for the past two years really inspired me,” she said. “Seeing the changes in my family … I want to help others achieve the same things.”

DCoE Staff Gives Thanks During the Holidays

By Robyn Mincher, DCoE Strategic Communications

Our staff at Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) celebrated Thanksgiving in many ways. Some traveled out of town to be with friends and family, some stayed local to cook for those who couldn’t be with family, and a few enjoyed some much-deserved peace and solitude.

No matter where or how we spent the holiday, all of us are definitely thankful for one major thing: the chance to share with you – our readers! This month we introduced new resources for prevention, resilience and treatment for traumatic brain injury (TBI) and psychological health concerns.

We talked about new gizmos and gadgets from National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2), like the PE Coach mobile app. Although it isn’t released to the public yet, it will help providers treat psychological health concerns of service members through prolonged exposure and help users self-monitor their behavior. We also blogged about the new T2 Technology Enhancement Center, a state-of-the-art usability lab that tests technology products to make sure they’re easy for service members to use.

Military children received a big “thank you!” (and a few high fives from their favorite characters from Sesame Street and The Electric Company) at the Sesame Workshop Military Family Event Nov. 5. New resources that encourage families to connect and communicate with each other, and have fun, were unveiled at the event. For an overview of the new website Military Families Near and Far and Feel Electric! mobile app, we provided 10 ways families can create, communicate and stay connected. Like our page on Facebook to check out our picture album of the event.

We appreciate the sacrifices our military families make, especially during holidays apart from loved ones. Our November webinar discussed how to cope with stress and stay connected during the holidays. Dr. Vladimir Nacev, DCoE, Resilience and Prevention directorate, was joined by Mary Campise, Defense Department, Office of Military Community and Family Policy, and Maggie MacFarland Phillips, Fort Hood Health Promotion. They discussed ways to mitigate emotional stress during the holidays and how families can connect despite being apart.

On Veterans Day, we thanked those who served our nation in a blog post by Navy Capt. Paul S. Hammer, DCoE director. In the post, he shared his thoughts on what the holiday means:

“When I think of Veterans Day, I think of service—service to country, service to my fellow sailors and Marines, as well as my colleagues throughout the military.”

Veterans Day was a topic in a DoDLive bloggers roundtable on Nov. 8, where Real Warriors Campaign Army veteran Maj. Ed Pulido was joined by Dr. Mark Bates, DCoE, Resilience and Prevention directorate director, and Army Maj. Todd Yosick, Resilience and Prevention directorate deputy director, to share information and resources available for those experiencing psychological and physical wounds of war.

While another Thanksgiving has passed and Christmas is right around the corner, DCoE continues to appreciate our readers – and will continue supporting service members, veterans, families and providers during this holiday season.

Now it’s your turn - what are you thankful for?

USS Miami Sailors' Children to Receive 'Operation Gratitude' Gift Boxes

By Lt. Cmdr. Jennifer Cragg, Commander, Submarine Group 2 Public Affairs

GROTON, Conn. (NNS) -- Military children will receive gift boxes from the non-profit organization Operation Gratitude at a local community center in Groton, Nov. 30.

USS Miami (SSN 755) Family Readiness Group President Christy Thomas, a mother of two, and several other Miami spouses have spearheaded an endeavor to have more than 150 children of the deployed Sailors be recognized during National Military Family Appreciation Month.

In addition to receiving Operation Gratitude gift boxes, Miami Ombudsman April Holtmeyer, also a mother of two, held a potluck during the scheduled event to recognize the sacrifice all of the Miami spouses and their children.

"In conjunction with the Operation Gratitude gift boxes we are also hosting a 'We are Thankful potluck dinner' for many of the wives married to Sailors serving aboard USS Miami and their children," said Holtmeyer.

Thomas and other Miami spouses first contacted the organization when the submarine deployed to inquire if the children of deployed Miami Sailors could receive gift boxes. Since the organization is accustomed to working with military personnel assigned to shore and sea units who regularly receive mail, the challenges of working with submarines whose operations prevent regular mail shipments were immense.

"When we contacted Operation Gratitude, it looked like an impossible task because their organization is set up to send boxes to the deployed Sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines and their children during the deployment," said Thomas. "They are not set up to send gift boxes to submarines."

Holtmeyer also assisted with the Operation Gratitude endeavor and was impressed with their ability to adapt.

"The organization was shocked that in a world of iPhones we go long periods of time without hearing from our service members. They stepped up to the challenge to overcome logistics to deliver their boxes to us," said Holtmeyer.

"It was quite a surreal experience to finally get a yes by the organization to help our smallest heroes feel appreciated," said Holtmeyer.

Thomas added with nearly 50 percent of the 134-member crew aboard Miami are married and have children, the support for their loved ones give new meaning for the deployed fathers.

"The kids are the heroes in their dads' eyes because they have thrived in their daily lives while they have been gone," said Thomas.

Holtmeyer said the gift boxes donated by Operation Gratitude and the potluck is just one example of the tight bonds the wives have formed through the deployments.

"We are a family. Often we don't have family that is close by," said Thomas. "We help each other out, and while I don't have any sisters, these other wives are like the sisters I never had."

According to their website, Operation Gratitude sends 100,000 care packages filled with snacks, entertainment items and personal letters of appreciation addressed to individually named U.S. service members deployed and to their children left behind as well as Wounded Warriors recuperating in transition units.

Transition Benefits: Oceana Offers ERB/PTS Transition Course

By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Antonio Turretto Ramos, Naval Air Station Oceana Public Affairs

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (NNS) -- Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) recently began offering a course for Sailors separating from the Navy via Perform to Serve (PTS) or Enlisted Retention Board (ERB) called ERB/PTS Transition Tool Kit.

Two workshops have already been held with the next one to take place Dec. 5 at the Oceana FFSC classroom.

Brian Scott, FFSC employment educator, said the ERB/PTS Transition Tool Kit program draws from a number of the services FFSC offers to offer resources and help meet the needs of Sailors in their transition.

"Knowing ERB results were coming out, we wanted to have the commands be able to provide the service members that are being separated a resource that they can say 'hey these guys are ready for you, go ask them your questions,' and for everything career-related to financial, to relocation, counseling, everything they would need," said Scott.

Scott said the program will be offered every month. The ERB/PTS Transition Tool Kit program is an informational overview of resources offered by FFSC. The intent of the program is to make it possible for service members to schedule appointments for specific one-on-one counseling to aid in their separation from the Navy.

"This is the first time I have attended an FFSC course here at Oceana and I just think that it's a fantastic tool," said Navy Counselor 1st Class Jose Cano of Fleet Composite Squadron (VFC) 12.

Cano attended the class Nov. 18. In his job at VFC-12, he supports Sailors who have been affected by PTS and appreciates how it could benefit Sailors affected by ERB as well. He said the class points Sailors to a wealth of additional sources of information.

"I am very grateful to Fleet and Family Support Center for bringing this together for us," said Cano.

Scott said the class is a resource he and the rest of the staff of Oceana FFSC are proud to offer to Sailors as a way of showing appreciation for their service as they transition out of the Navy.

He said their goal is to have helped Sailors "with getting their next job, making their move back wherever they need to go to, and dealing with their finances."

NAS Oceana Executive Officer Capt. Bob Geis encourages Sailors to attend the workshop.

"PTS and the ERB are products of an almost perfect storm of unprecedented retention rates and historic high recruiting," said Geis. "We are very fortunate to have an FFSC at NAS Oceana that had the foresight to create a targeted program to help Sailors who weren't planning on leaving the Navy."

Currently the pilot program is offered through January. Oceana FFSC encourages commands to send Sailors separating under ERB or PTS.

"Ultimately it's getting the services that we offer on a day-to-day basis and really focusing on those who are being separating," said Scott.

Future scheduled program dates:

Dec. 5, 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Jan. 6, 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Call FFSC Oceana at 757-433-2912 for additional information.

U.S. Commander Condemns Attacks on Kosovo Force

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON  – A senior U.S. military leader in Europe condemned recent violence against NATO troops in Kosovo just as a Wisconsin Army National Guard unit prepares to take command of the 15th rotation of peacekeeping forces there.

Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of Allied Joint Force Command Naples, visited Pristina, Kosovo, today to assess the situation a day after attacks by Serb demonstrators wounded more than two dozen NATO Kosovo Force members. No U.S. troops were wounded in the clashes.

The attacks occurred after the KFOR troops removed blockades that had shut off a main road in northern Kosovo.

“The use of violence against KFOR troops is unacceptable,” Locklear said in a statement released today. “We urge all parties to exercise restraint and cooperate fully with all international actors on the ground to ensure freedom of movement without delay.”

Locklear reiterated NATO’s mandate in Kosovo under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244: to help maintain a safe and secure environment. This, he said, includes ensuring freedom of movement.

KFOR entered Kosovo in June 1999 under the U.N. mandate in the face of mounting ethnic conflict between Federal Republic of Yugoslavia military forces and Kosovo Liberation Army members. At the height of the mission, 39 nations were contributing about 50,000 troops to the mission.

About 180 members of the Wisconsin National Guard’s 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade are now preparing to assume authority for the next KFOR rotation in December. They will serve as the brigade headquarters unit for Multinational Battle Group East, also known as Task Force Falcon. In that role, the 157th will oversee operations for the entire Multinational Battle Group East.

The group includes National Guard and Reserve soldiers from Wisconsin, Mississippi, Georgia, Nebraska, Vermont, North Dakota, New Jersey, Wyoming, Massachusetts and Puerto Rico. It also includes international forces from Armenia, Greece, Poland, Turkey, Romania and the Ukraine.

To prepare for the mission, the KFOR 15 troops trained in realistic scenarios at Camp Atterbury, Ind., and most recently, at U.S. Army Europe’s Joint Multinational Training Center in Hohenfels, Germany.

“It’s a three-pronged mission,” Army Col. Jeffrey Liethen, the KFOR 15 commander, said during training at the Camp Atterbury Joint Training Center in October. “We monitor the pulse of the populace, so to speak, keeping track of the feelings and opinions of the people. We also act as third responders to demonstrations and riots, and maintain freedom of movement for other KFOR forces.”

Observer-controllers at both training sites strived to make the training as realistic as possible, he said, based on tactics, techniques and procedures taking place on the ground.

“Early on in our training, the focus was on a relatively steady state and calm environment in Kosovo,” Liethen said earlier this month at Hohenfels.

“Things have drastically changed,” he said. “It’s very obvious that the training program here at Hohenfels has been modified to replicate what is actually going on in Kosovo right now so that will definitely be a help in us conducting our mission.”

Vice Chief of Naval Operations Visits Naval Forces in Europe and Africa

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stephen Oleksiak, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet Public Affairs

NAPLES, Italy (NNS) -- Adm. Mark Ferguson, vice chief of naval operations (VCNO), visited the Naval Support Activity (NSA) in Naples, Italy, Nov. 28, marking the final stop in a series of visits that included U.S. Central Command, U.S. European Command, and U.S. Africa Command visit over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Other stops included NSA Rota, Spain; NSA Souda Bay, Greece; and Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. During his visits, Ferguson met with senior leadership receiving briefs on current operations and base infrastructure. Accompanied by Chief of Naval Personnel and Navy Total Force Fleet Master Chief Scott Benning, VCNO also held all-hands calls with service members and answered questions at each location.

While in Rota, Ferguson met with Capt. Scott Kraverath, commanding officer of Naval Station Rota, to discuss the plans for stationing four Aegis ships in support of ballistic missile defense there. They also discussed improving the installation to support the ships' crews and their families. "It's important for me to get over here and see the requirements to get [this base ready for the ships' arrival]," said Ferguson.

In Djibouti, VCNO toured Camp Lemonnier and met with Commander, Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, Rear Adm. Mike Franken, and the base commander, Capt. Scott Hurst. He presented five awards and conducted one reenlistment before an all hands call, and then enjoyed a Thanksgiving Day meal with Sailors.

In Souda Bay, he toured the guided-missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) and conducted a reenlistment for six Sailors prior to conducting an all hands call. Samuel B. Roberts' most recent deployment took her along the east coast of Africa in support of Africa Partnership Station 2011, an international security cooperation initiative aimed at strengthening global maritime partnerships through training and collaborative activities in order to improve maritime safety and security in Africa.

"The Navy's never been more relevant, and we see that in our Sailors across the globe...be they in the western Pacific, doing counter drug operations off South America, operating in Africa Partnership Station, or in the Middle East," said Ferguson. "They're performing extraordinarily well and in demand, contributing greatly to the national strategy and defense of the nation."

Ferguson's visit to Naples included meetings with senior leaders from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, and Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet, to discuss strategic issues within the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility.

He wrapped up the visit with one final all-hands call, where he thanked, not just the service members, but their families for all they do.

"I thank all of you for your leadership, for what you do every day and your service to the nation," said Ferguson. "I've been very impressed with the leadership, your attitudes, the facilities that you have, and I think this is a great place to serve. It's been a pleasure to be here, and I'd like to thank you and your families [for what you do]."

Benning answered Sailors' questions about perform-to-serve and the enlisted retention board. He also praised Sailors for their ability to accomplish a variety of tasks outside of their assigned ratings.

"We train across many spectrums and we prepare [ourselves], and honestly it's what the other [military] services love about our individual augmentee Sailors," said Benning. "[Our Sailors] can do more than one thing, and they can do more than one thing at one time, and that makes [our Sailors] a real commodity that they very much desire."

Sailors who attended the all-hands call appreciated the answers they received.

"The answers they gave us were very straight forward and up front," said Hospitalman Nathan Sichone. "I am confident that [Ferguson] will continue to get the job done and represent the Sailors to the best of his ability and meet the needs of the Navy."

This was Ferguson's first visit to Djibouti, Naples, Rota, and Souda Bay, as the vice chief of naval operations.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Face of Defense: Vietnam Vet to Retire From National Guard

From a North Dakota National Guard News Release

FARGO, N.D., Nov. 29, 2011 – The last North Dakota National Guard member to have served in the Vietnam War is slated to retire tomorrow.

Army Master Sgt. Alan K. Peterson of West Fargo, N.D., will be honored during a retirement ceremony at the Armed Forces Reserve Center here. He is the last of many Vietnam veterans to have served in the state’s Army and Air National Guard during the past 30 years, officials said.

Peterson joined the Navy’s delayed entry program shortly before he graduated from Pine River High School in Minnesota in 1970. He served as a plane captain on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk in the Gulf of Tonkin off of the coast of Vietnam, where he maintained and cleaned aircraft, assisted pilots and tracked aircraft work orders.

In July 1972, he was sent to shore for an eight-month stint at Tan Son Nhut Air Base outside of Da Nang. There, he worked with other service members to replace tail hooks, patch holes and repair aircraft landing gear.

Peterson left the Navy in July 1974, but he donned an Army uniform in February 1979 when he joined the North Dakota Army National Guard. He deployed to Iraq in 2003 with the Guard’s 142nd Engineer Combat Battalion.

He also served on seven overseas duty training missions -- three times to Honduras, twice to Korea and once each to Jamaica and Panama.

During his time in the North Dakota National Guard, Peterson worked as a construction specialist, engineer equipment supervisor, motor sergeant, construction equipment repair supervisor, mechanized maintenance operations noncommissioned officer, heavy mobile equipment repairer and maintenance control sergeant.

His most recent assignment was with the 3662nd Maintenance Company in Devils Lake, N.D. The Vietnam veteran also works full-time for the North Dakota National Guard at Field Maintenance Shop No. 2 here.

New Director Aims to Boost Student Achievement

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 29, 2011 – As acting director of the Department of Defense Education Activity, Marilee Fitzgerald set out on a journey more than a year ago to transport Defense Department schools into the 21st century.

It’s an “ambitious agenda,” she acknowledged, but one she intends to keep now that’s she’s been named the activity’s new director.

Fitzgerald accepted the appointment earlier this month, giving her oversight of all DOD schools, both stateside and overseas. The system includes 194 schools in 14 districts that serve more than 87,000 students.

This is Fitzgerald’s second tour at the education activity. She previously served as associate director of management, chief of staff, chief of executive services and chief of recruitment.

Her experience has helped to shape her future vision, she said.

“I believe in ‘boots on the ground’ leadership,” she said. “The heart and soul of our system is our children, our teachers and our principals.”

Fitzgerald said she intends to keep military children at the forefront of every decision she makes as director. “I have a great, deep and abiding respect for our military and a passion for the education of our children,” she said.

With academic excellence in mind, Fitzgerald said, she’ll continue to pursue the goals she set 17 months ago, which are centered on high student achievement and consistent quality standards for DOD schools and their teaching staff.

Among her top priorities, she said, is adopting a 21-century-style, student-centered approach to teaching, rather than the instruction-focused style of the past. In the 20th century, she explained, students all were in the same place, on the same page at the same time, and “students either got it or didn’t get it.”

But today, teachers are shifting to differentiated instruction, she said, meaning they customize learning to the greatest extent possible to meet individual students’ needs.

The director said she is working to adopt common core standards -- a set of academic standards agreed upon by participating states. Dozens of states already have signed up for these standards, which guide what students should know and by when, as well as a common set of assessments.

“This is especially important for children of military families, and actually any groups of students that are mobile,” Fitzgerald said. As children move to a new state, they may arrive at a new school and a completely different curriculum. Depending on the location, they may be ahead or behind the other students.

“By adopting these common standards, that shouldn’t happen anymore,” Fitzgerald said. “I see that as an important strategy for improving student achievement,” along with rigorous instruction and curriculum.

Equally important, Fitzgerald said, is maintaining a consistent quality of education across the schools. Though she’s impressed with the general level of teaching and leadership in DOD schools, Fitzgerald said, more overall consistency is needed.

“Not every school has the same high quality standard,” she said. “My hope is we can become quite consistent, so no matter where a parent or student goes in any one of our schools, there will be the same level of excellence.”

Ongoing professional development also will help to achieve that goal, Fitzgerald noted. The department needs teachers and leaders who understand the latest approaches and teaching techniques, and how to adjust that instruction to meet students’ needs.

“It’s my hope that when you mention DODEA, that one equates it with one of the best school systems in the world,” she said.

As in all sectors of society, technology will play a key role in the days ahead, Fitzgerald said. In the coming months, she’d like to make better use of data and data systems in decision-making, whether it’s the students’ learning process or management systems. Fitzgerald called a new student information system that captures data such as student attendance “world class.”

Fitzgerald also is hoping to create a shared vision with partners, both within the activity and without, to increase the odds for success. She’s met with a variety of stakeholders, she said, such as staff, leadership, teachers unions, parent-teacher associations, and groups such as the Military Child Education Coalition and the National Military Family Association “to help gain a perspective on what is occurring in DODEA and what we might need to emphasize.”

Outside partners are particularly important, the director noted, since the activity educates only about 10 percent of all school-age children from military families. The remaining 90 percent are in public and private schools and in home-school settings.

“My hope during my leadership time is we’ll build much stronger relationships with these school districts, school entities and communities for the benefit of our military families,” she said.

As she focuses on her goals, Fitzgerald said, she’ll also be tackling some of the activity’s more pressing challenges. For example, she’d like to close performance gaps for students in various subgroups, such as minorities, gender and those participating in free or reduced lunch programs.

In many cases, student achievement has been fairly consistent, and in other areas it’s been “dipping a bit,” she said. To help to narrow the gap, Fitzgerald said, she’d like to increase the emphasis on math programs by installing national common core standards and improving students’ options.

“We’re looking discipline by discipline to see where we need to shore up our program so we can close some of these performance gaps,” she said.

Another challenge is student attendance. Military families understandably want their children at home during certain events, such as a parent’s return from deployment, Fitzgerald said, or upon arrival at a new duty station. But she’d like to temper those absences with the potential impact to a student’s progress.

“We fashioned a policy that respects the military lifestyle, but at the same time ensures our children are in school benefiting from the instruction we have to offer,” she said.

Fitzgerald acknowledged the challenges associated with operating in a fiscally constrained environment while still keeping the focus on improvement. The activity already has taken measures to build what she calls a “culture of savings,” she added, working to streamline above-school-level functions so they’re more effective and efficient. For example, the activity is eliminating redundancies in district and headquarters staff and reducing manual processes by leveraging existing technology.

The director said she doesn’t see financial constraints affecting plans for school improvements. The Defense Department has invested $3.8 billion to help in bringing DOD schools up to a uniform quality standard by 2018. This, she said, will enable the activity to build technology-friendly schools while doing away with outdated schools, some operating with leaky roofs or faulty temperature-control systems.

“I believe the department is still strongly committed to ensuring that children of military families receive excellent education,” she noted, “and surely high quality facilities and instruction are essential to that.”

While the activity must remain fiscally responsible, Fitzgerald said, it won’t ever be at the cost of students’ education. Military children, she noted, are the activity’s greatest assets.

“These children come to us with broadened perspectives and a broad range of experiences,” she said. “They’re the closest to being a global citizen that this world will have. To educate children who can draw upon a variety of experiences is really a joy for both teachers and for those of us who plan educational journey that is both exciting and challenging.”

The activity’s teachers and leaders have a deep understanding of military families’ unique needs and requirements, she noted.

“We understand the transitions,” she said. “We understand how to how to help children adjust. We’re often the facilitators, the linchpins and catalysts for helping children adjust to a school environment.

“That in my view has been DODEA’s strength,” she added. “It’s the backbone of this school system.”

People who work within the education activity have adopted a code of sorts, Fitzgerald said. Military families make many sacrifices, she said, but “education for our children will not be among those sacrifices.”

“And I keep that in mind when I walk through this door, and I will continue to take that with me during my years here at DODEA,” she added.

USS San Juan Sailors Provide 'Sweats 4 Vets'

By Lt. Cmdr. Jennifer Cragg, Commander, Submarine Group 2 Public Affairs

SCARBOROUGH, Maine (NNS) -- Sailors from USS San Juan (SSN 751) participated in "Sweats 4 Vets" event at the Maine Veterans' Home in Scarborough, Nov. 27.

Sailors coordinated the event with their sponsoring city of Biddeford, Maine and American Veterans (AMVETS) Post 1 and distributed more than 150 pairs of sweatshirts and sweatpants to veterans.

"The clothing was primarily provided by the AMVETS, and distributed by the USS San Juan Sailors," said San Juan Chief of the Boat, Master Chief Electronics Technician Gaylord Humphries. "This is the second year of the program, which AMVETS hopes will become an annual tradition to provide winter clothing for the veterans."

Humphries added that nine San Juan Sailors volunteered for the event after an invitation from the AMVETS.

There are additional opportunities for San Juan Sailors to volunteer in the community.

"Our next project will be for Toys for Tots, in which USS San Juan Sailors will assist with putting together 30 bicycles that are being donated by the Biddeford AMVETS post," said Humphries.

Earlier this month, 17 Sailors assigned to San Juan participated in the Biddeford-Saco Veterans Day Parade. Humphries highlighted the importance of his Sailors participating in their sponsoring community for the past two years while their submarine underwent maintenance.

"For the past two years we have been at the shipyard, we have volunteered for these types of events," said Humphries. "It's important to give back to the local communities who support the military."

Retired Master Chief Gene Foster, one of the AMVETS leaders and coordinator between the City of Biddeford and San Juan reflected on the value of teamwork.

"Biddeford and AMVETS has thoroughly enjoyed our relationship with the crew of USS San Juan," said Foster. "We'll definitely miss them when they leave, but the interaction between the community, the veterans and civilians alike, has been enriching for us all."

San Juan and its crew of 13 officers and 121 enlisted personnel arrived at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard April 8, 2010. While at the shipyard, the submarine underwent an engineered overhaul consisting of various maintenance work and several system upgrades.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Survey Shows Growing Gap Between Civilians, Military

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 28, 2011 – A new report confirms a concern defense and military leaders have long recognized: There’s a growing disconnect between Americans and their military.

The report, published last week by the Pew Research Center, notes that a smaller share of Americans currently serve in the armed forces than at any time since the peacetime era between World Wars I and II.

Just one-half of 1 percent of Americans served in uniform at any given time during the past decade -- the longest period of sustained conflict in the country’s history -- the report says. Meanwhile, as the military shrinks in size, the connections between military members and the broader civilian population “appear to be growing more distant,” the report says.

The report was based on surveys of more than 2,000 civilian adults and almost 1,900 veterans, more than 700 of whom served after 9/11.

Among the respondents, most said they have family members who are serving in the armed forces or have served in the past. However, older Americans were considerably more likely to have close military ties.

More than three-quarters of civilian adults ages 50 and older reported having an immediate family member -- a spouse, parent, sibling or child -- who served or serves in the military. For many, that service took place before the end of the draft and the introduction of the all-volunteer force in 1973.

Only 57 percent of civilian respondents ages 30 to 49 said they had an immediate family member who served. The percentage dropped to one-third among respondents ages 18 to 29.

The report appears to confirm that for many Americans, military service is a family tradition. Seventy-nine percent of veterans surveyed reported that an immediate family member is serving or has served in the military. That compares to 61 percent among the civilian respondents.

Decisions to serve also appear to be influenced by race, region and political preference, the report showed. Sixty-eight percent of whites, 59 percent of blacks and 30 percent of Hispanic respondents reported having immediate family members who serve or have served in uniform.

Sixty-four percent of Southerners reported immediate family ties to the military. The percentage for those living in the Northeast was 56 percent, and in the West, 57 percent. City dwellers were somewhat less likely than those in the suburbs or rural areas to say a family member served in the military.

Political party also appeared to be an influencing factor. Seventy-three percent of Republicans, 59 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of Independents said an immediate family member served in the military.

The report confirmed perceptions by civilians as well as veterans that the American public doesn’t understand the problems faced by those in the military. Seventy-seven percent of veterans and 71 percent of the general public shared this view.

Retired Navy Adm. Mike Mullen spoke frequently during his tenure as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about what he called a “worrying disconnect” between civilians and the military.

Speaking earlier this year at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Mullen expressed concern that civilians don’t fully understand the sacrifices military members make.

"Our work is appreciated, of that I am certain,” he told members of the 2011 graduating class. “But I fear [civilians] do not know us. I fear they do not comprehend the full weight of the burden we carry or the price we pay when we return from battle.”

This is important, Mullen said, “because a people uninformed about what they are asking the military to endure is a people inevitably unable to fully grasp the scope of the responsibilities our Constitution levies upon them.”

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, speaking last month at the Woodrow Wilson Center, called the tiny percentage of Americans who make up the all-volunteer force the most important ingredient of U.S. national defense.

Panetta praised the “men and women who represent less than 1 percent of our nation, but who have shouldered the burden of protecting the American people and who have shown the strength of the American character in their willingness to put their lives on the line to defend our values, our interests and our freedom.”

The secretary emphasized the need for the country to provide them the support they deserve -- even in the face of budgetary challenges.

“The 1 percent of the country that has served in uniform, and their families, have borne the heavy costs of war for 10 years,” he said. “They cannot be expected to bear the full costs of fiscal austerity as well.”