Military News

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Adopt-a-Sailor Program Benefits Recruits During Holidays

By Sue Krawczyk, Recruit Training Command Public Affairs

NAVAL STATION GREAT LAKES, Ill. (NNS) -- More than 3,000 Recruit Training Command (RTC) recruits took part in the Adopt-a-Sailor program, Dec. 25.

As part of RTC's annual involvement in the program, the recruits were afforded the opportunity to spend the day off base with their families or with a local civic organization.

"The Adopt-a-Sailor program allows RTC to get involved with the community over the holidays," said Capt. Steven G. Bethke, RTC commanding officer. "Many recruits are spending their first Thanksgiving or Christmas away from home, so phone calls, good company and food help lift their spirits."

The program affords recruits the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas Day with their families or with locals. Eligible Christmas Adopt-a-Sailor recruits included those scheduled to graduate Jan. 7 and Jan. 14.

This year, 213 families arrived Christmas morning to meet their recruits with whom they haven't seen since they left for RTC. At the USS Yorktown visitor center, the families reunited with their recruits who shared smiles, laughter, hugs and tears as they spotted one another. Recruits were allowed to bring one fellow recruit from their training group to accompany them for the day.

For one parent, this was not an opportunity to be missed no matter how far he had to travel. Joseph Starling, originally from Dallas, Texas, flew in from Nigeria to see his son, Seaman Recruit Jordan Starling for one day.

"I'm excited about seeing my boy," Starling said. "When I heard about this opportunity I knew I had enough frequent flyer points to fly over. I rescue orphans in Nigeria, and they would all be here if they could be, to see Jordan. He's got a whole group of African orphans cheering him on."

Thanks to generous friends, newlyweds Linnea Allen and Seaman Recruit Jack Allen, of Pinon Hills, Calif., were able to spend the day together.

"I didn't have the funds to make the trip here," Linnea Allen said. "I put something up on Facebook about possibly not being able to come out, and friends were sending me e-mails within hours. They took up a collection for me to come here and paid for the entire trip. A bunch of them donated, including some people I don't even know."

For recruits whose families were unable to visit RTC, they went in groups of 25 to 200 with organizations from local churches, Veterans of Foreign Wars or American Legion posts. The majority of organizations and volunteers have continually supported the program throughout the years by providing a day of food, movies, video games, music and phone calls home. In all, 12 organizations adopted more than 1,000 recruits for Christmas, and more than 1,200 recruits were adopted by 19 organizations during Thanksgiving.

For the past 10 years, 30 volunteers with a local Chicago pub have worked to provide an average of 100 recruits with a day filled with activities.

"The original owners started participating 10 years ago and then we took over about seven years ago," said Leisa Hancock, co-owner. "Once we saw what a good thing it was to bring them all in and treat them to Christmas and how grateful they all were, we knew we would continue the tradition."

The recruits arrived on tour buses and were treated to a day of food, pastries donated by a local bakery, movies, video games, computer access and phone calls.

"For a few years, a corporation donated phones for the recruits to use, but they stopped doing that," said Ken Hancock, co-owner of the pub. "So we just put out the word in the neighborhood and to friends, relatives and (the local) police department, that we needed cell phones for the recruits to use. Everyone comes by to lend their phones. Sometimes the phones are here for an hour, sometimes, eight hours."

Seaman Recruit David Harvey, 19, of Denver, Colo., was grateful for the phone access as he called his mother.

"It was one of those feel-good moments for me to hear my mom's voice," said Harvey. "Back home, I used to wake up early in the morning on Christmas and hang stockings with my family and now at boot camp it's totally different."

Aside from standing in line for phone usage, the recruits also lined up to use laptops so they could access their Facebook accounts.

"Hopefully, I can get online and leave a message for my brother on Facebook," said Seaman Recruit Ian Yates, 23, of Bellevue, Neb. "We are real close even though I didn't live by him. We'd always text or call one another, but now at boot camp, I have to go back to writing and he's not much of a writer. It takes days for letters to go back and forth. Leaving a message on Facebook is instant."

The Adopt-a-Sailor program tends to bring much of an organization's community together as hundreds of volunteers spend months planning the event and raising the necessary funds to feed the recruits.

For the past 11 years, the Morton Grove American Legion Post 134 in Morton Grove, Ill., has never had any issues finding enough support from the community. The post adopted 50 recruits at Thanksgiving.

"Our village loves the promotion," said Casey Bachara, Post 134 Adopt-a-Sailor committee chairman. "Our post has been invited to village board meetings to help promote this more to help make it bigger. It's a fun day, and we've gotten some response back from some of the families. We create a DVD of photos we've taken and then send it to every family if the recruits provide their home address."

Many volunteers are veterans themselves who can empathize with the recruits who are away from their families for the holidays including Richard Bollig, of Chicago, who has assisted with the program for the past four years.

"I'm an Army vet, and I was in the same boat at one point and far away from home," Bollig said. "I want to do something for our country."

"I'm a Marine vet," said Bob Brieskey, of Chicago. "I spent two Christmases away from home so I know what it's like. We bring our phones here so the recruits can use them to phone home."

While the phone calls may have appeared to be the most popular part of the recruits' day, for many it was those who made it all possible that impressed them the most.

"The highlight of the day has been the volunteers," Yates said. "Honestly, I thought we were going to spend the day in the barracks shining shoes and hanging out. All the support the volunteers are giving us is incredible. Words can't describe what this means to us."

Evelia Luna, of Chicago, who has volunteered with the program for 10 years, said it's all about the recruits.

"I find meaning in doing something different on Christmas," Luna said. "I have four children and eight grandchildren, and Christmas d` ay is for the Sailors. My family gets Thanksgiving and New Years'; the Sailors get Christmas. It's a home for them for one day to eat and have fun with each other."

And at the end of day, before the recruits returned to base, they give the gift of music to more than 30 volunteers.

"They all sang 'Anchors Aweigh'," Leisa Hancock said. "More than 100 men and women singing at once sends shivers through us. They're great. When they leave, we feel like we're so close to them."

Suicide Prevention Alliance Focuses on Troops, Veterans

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 3, 2011 – A suicide prevention task force for troops and veterans has been added to a national alliance that officials hope will help bring more attention to the issues and offer solutions in the future.

The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention last week announced that troops and veterans -– identified as a high-risk group –- were added because of their increased suicide rates.

“Combined with initiatives already under way by the Department of Defense and the [Department of Veterans Affairs], this task force will further strengthen prevention, bringing together the best minds in the public and private sectors,” said Army Secretary John McHugh, co-chair of the alliance.

The alliance was launched last year by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, with input and support of many public- and private-sector stakeholders, including the National Council for Suicide Prevention and VA.

Speaking Sept. 10, 2010 at the launch of the alliance -- a public-private partnership -- Gates emphasized the importance of a nationwide approach to suicide prevention. The alliance’s strategy pools federal and private-sector research and resources to work on addressing the national suicide rate.

"In everything we do, we must remember that every soldier, sailor, airman, or marine is part, not just of the military, but also a larger community. Their families, their hometowns, their civilian employers, their places of worship –- all must be involved in the solution," Gates said at the launch of the alliance held at the National Press Club here.

The military suicide rate has increased steadily over the past five years, exceeding the national average of 11.1 suicides per 100,000 people. The military last year averaged 12.5 suicides per 100,000, according DOD reports.

The leaders of the alliance’s Military and Veterans Task Force are Dr. Jan Kemp, national director of VA’s suicide prevention program, and Maggie Haynes, director of combat stress for the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit organization.

In addition to the task force for service members and veterans, the alliance also established suicide-prevention task forces for other groups it determined are at high risk: American Indians and Alaska natives, and youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

Today in the Department of Defense, Wednesday, January 05, 2011

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

Army Col. Andrew Poppas, commander of Task Force Bastogne and 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, will brief the media live from Forward Operating Base Fenty, Nangahar Province, Afghanistan, at , in the Pentagon Briefing Room (2E973) to provide an update on current operations in Nuristan, Nangahar and Kunar Provinces, including the Pech Valley.  Journalists without a Pentagon building pass will be picked up at the River Entrance only.  Plan to arrive no later than 45 minutes prior to the event; have proof of affiliation and two forms of photo identification.  Please call 703-697-5131 for escort into the building.

USAFRICOM Sergeant Major Visits Seabees in Horn of Africa

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael Lindsey, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 74 Public Affairs

CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti (NNS) -- U.S. Africa Command's (AFRICOM) senior enlisted leader personally recognized several Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 74 during a visit to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Dec. 20-24.

U.S. AFRICOM Command Sgt. Maj. Mark S. Ripka met with many Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen and Marines attached to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) during his trip, including the Seabees of NMCB 74.

"I always make time to see what the Seabees are building," said Ripka. "If there is one organization in the Department of Defense that helps accomplish the U.S. Africa Command mission and the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa mission, it has to be our U.S. Navy Seabees. They do more to build and provide for basic needs through not only their construction projects, but their direct interaction with the people around them."

A schoolhouse project in Kontali, Djibouti, was Ripka's first site visit. He arrived by convoy and was greeted by the crew working there. During his project tour Ripka presented his command sergeant major coin to some well-deserving Seabees, and then escorted the entire crew back to Camp Lemonnier to enjoy a dinner with other distinguished guests, including CJTF-HOA Commander Rear Adm. Brian Losey.

Ripka spoke to the dinner guests concerning their role as U.S. military members in the U.S. AFRICOM area of operation, emphasizing the fact that they are U.S. ambassadors in the eyes of the local population. Chief Builder Manuel Segura, NMCB 74 Detatchment HOA's operations chief, was in attendance.

"He (Ripka) simplified the big picture of what we are doing here and how everything we do has a purpose," said Segura. "We are ambassadors to the United States in and out of uniform whether we are out building a school or on liberty; our actions affect the way people perceive us."

The following day, Command Sgt. Maj. Scott Mykoo, CJTF-HOA's senior enlisted leader, and three members of the U.S. Embassy Country Coordination Element joined Ripka in Djibouti to visit a primary school under construction, where the crew there has been working 12 labor-intensive hours per day, six days a week. Ripka toured the project site and once again presented his command sergeant major coins to a hard-working few.

Ripka's final interaction with Seabees of NMCB 74 concluded with a non-commissioned officer (NCO) call for personnel assigned to Camp Lemonnier and CJTF-HOA where he shared some of his own experiences from 36 years of military service. He spoke of the role of NCOs in today's military, and with the assistance of Mykoo, tackled the troop's toughest questions, ranging from the effect of the riots in Sudan to how NCOs will have to adapt and support the changes in the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal.

This Day in Naval History - Jan. 04

From the Navy News Service

1863 - Blockading ship USS Quaker City captures sloop Mercury carrying despatches, emphasizing the desperate plight of the South.
1910 - Commissioning of USS Michigan (BB 27), the first U.S. dreadnought battleship.
1989 - F-14 Tomcats from Fighter Squadron 32 embarked aboard USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) shoot down two hostile Libyan MiGs.

Families Give USS Nebraska (Gold) New Year's Welcome Home

By Lt. Ed Early, Commander, Submarine Group 9 Public Affairs

BANGOR, Wash. (NNS) -- Trident ballistic missile submarine USS Nebraska (SSBN 739) and its Gold Crew returned to Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor on Jan. 1 following an 88-day strategic deterrent patrol.

Capt. Paul Skarpness, commander of Submarine Squadron (SUBRON) 17, was among those on hand as Nebraska – with a bright red lei draped over its sail – arrived pierside carrying the Gold Crew, as well as a number of dependents who got to spend a few hours aboard during the transit to Bangor.

"We still have a lot of work to do, getting ready for our crew turnover, but it's great to be home," said Electronics Technician 2nd Class (SS) Giancarlo Locandro after reuniting with his wife on the pier. "We did what we had to do out there."

Earlier in the day, Nebraska learned that it had earned the Battle Effectiveness Award, or Battle "E," for SUBRON 17.

"My crew did an outstanding job out there – absolutely phenomenal," said Cmdr. Mike Fisher, commanding officer of Nebraska's Gold Crew. "The crew is jazzed that we won the Battle 'E.'"

During Nebraska's patrol, which began Oct. 6, a total of 14 Sailors from the Gold Crew – 10 enlisted and four officers – earned their submarine qualifications and the right to wear the coveted submariner's "dolphins."

In addition, five Nebraska Sailors became fathers during the patrol.

"Just like the rest of my guys, I'm excited and energized to be back home," said the Gold Crew's chief of the boat, Senior Chief Electronics Technician (SS) David Turley.

The 14th of 18 Ohio-class SSBNs, Nebraska is one of eight ballistic missile submarines homeported at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, providing the survivable leg of the nation's strategic forces.

Navy Medicine Goes Smoke Free

By Valerie A. Kremer, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED) became a tobacco-free compound, Jan. 1, in time for the start of the new year.

The use of tobacco products, including all forms of smokeless tobacco are now strictly prohibited on the Potomac Annex property, including electronic nicotine delivery devices (e-cigarettes).

"E-cigarettes, which are not approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), are not an acceptable substitute for tobacco cessation," said Navy Surgeon General Vice Adm. Adam M. Robinson, Jr.

Robinson outlined guidance to all Navy medical personnel regarding the safety of e-cigarettes in policy memo 6200 dated Oct. 1, 2010.

"Those wishing to quit their tobacco use and wish to use medications should use FDA-approved nicotine replacement products such as nicotine gum, skin patches, lozenges, oral inhaled products, or nasal sprays," said Robinson. "These products are available to aid in a successful tobacco cessation program."

Leading up to the campus-wide smoking cessation, BUMED employees attended town hall meetings on the topic, which provided a variety of options and information to aid in quitting tobacco use.

During the past several months, several Navy Medicine facilities have gone smoke free, an action applauded by Robinson in alignment with establishing a fit and healthy force.

"As Navy health care providers, we can evoke positive and meaningful change through our own actions," said Robinson. "Implementation of tobacco-free environments sends a powerful and effective message encouraging our Sailors, Marines, retirees, family members, staff, and community to be healthy."

For more information on smoking cessation, go to the Naval Medical Public Health Center site at http://www-nehc.med.navy.mil or contact a smoking cessation program available at many Navy Medicine medical treatment facilities (MTFs).

Fisher House Program Still Growing After 20 Years

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

BETHESDA, Md., Jan. 4, 2011 – The Fisher House Foundation isn’t basking in past achievements as it prepares to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the opening of its first home on the grounds of the National Naval Medical Center here.

As the first military families move this week into one of three new Fisher Houses just across the street from the original, the foundation is moving full steam ahead on nine more being built nationwide, many to be completed by the year’s end.

The Fisher House program started as a relatively modest endeavor, with Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher donating a home to provide free temporary lodging for military families while their loved ones received care at the Navy’s flagship medical center, foundation president Dave Coker told American Forces Press Service. That original Fisher House, perched on a hillside overlooking the towering hospital, opened its doors June 24, 1991.

Soon the Fishers presented the second Fisher House, which opened a month later on the grounds of the Army’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Within a few short months, the third opened at the Air Force’s Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio.

The project snowballed, Coker said. Three Fisher Houses led to five, then 10. By the time of Zachary Fisher’s death in 1999, he and his wife had personally financed more than 20 Fisher Houses.

The Fisher House Foundation, led by the Fishers’ grandnephew, Ken Fisher, is keeping their vision alive.

Today, 53 Fisher Houses grace the grounds of dozens of major military and Veterans Affairs medical facilities in the United States and in Landstuhl, Germany. Collectively, they have served more than 142,000 families since the program’s inception. During 2010, their 651 guest suites accommodated 12,000 families.

With the last of 10 Fisher Houses donated in late 2010 about to begin receiving families, and more houses under construction, Coker said, he hopes to see capacity increase to 16,000 families this year.

Among the newest Fisher Houses is one at Dover Air Force Base, Del. Coker called it “one of our greatest achievements,” because of its impact on families of the fallen. Unlike other Fisher Houses that accommodate families of hospitalized service members and veterans, the Dover house serves grieving families as they prepare to witness the dignified transfer of their loved ones.

“Having the house there lets us how these families how much we appreciate their loved one’s sacrifice. That’s No. 1,” Coker said. “Hopefully, it provides an environment where they can receive a little bit of comfort.”

Loving comfort always has been at the heart of the Fisher House mission.

“When you have a loved one who is catastrophically injured or has died, your world turns upside down,” Coker said. “So if we can help provide a little stability during that time, something to make these families’ loads a little lighter, that’s our priority.

“This isn’t charity,” Coker said, borrowing Ken Fisher’s mantra. “It’s our duty, our way of giving back for all that the military has enabled us to do, and for protecting our freedoms.”

For the Fisher House Foundation, that mission requires always looking ahead so it’s ready to respond to military families’ needs. For example, three new Fisher Houses were built here to accommodate an expected surge in demand as the hospital merges with Walter Reed Army Medical Center later this year.

“It was very important for us to have these open before Walter Reed closed,” Coker said. “[Washington] D.C. has always been underserved, and we wanted to get ahead of the game.”

One of the new Bethesda houses already is accommodating families, and another is expected to accept its first families this week. The third, to be dedicated to families whose loved ones are being treated at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence for Traumatic Brain Injuries and Psychological Health Problems, will house its first families soon.

Meanwhile, a new Fisher House is being built at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. The foundation will be laid as soon as the weather allows so the project can be completed by year’s end, Coker said.

Another new Fisher House, under construction at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, will replace the Nightingale House, which is scheduled to be torn down along with the aging family housing that surrounds it. Coker said he hopes to see the new house finished by late March and dedicated in April.

In addition, several Fisher House projects are under way at VA medical facilities. While they weren’t part of the Fisher House Foundation’s original vision, Coker said, he called the VA houses a natural extension of the support provided at military hospitals.

“What we didn’t foresee in the beginning was the continuity that exists between DOD and the VA,” he said. “DOD focuses on saving the lives, and VA is rehabbing, giving these veterans back their life and regaining and optimizing their potential for recovery.

“These young people getting hurt are going to need care throughout their lives,” he continued. “And so we have a chance to support them through the VA health care system.”

The Minneapolis VA Medical Center in Minnesota will receive its second Fisher House in the spring to accommodate families whose loved ones are receiving Level 1 polytrauma care.

The initial Fisher House there has eight suites. “But we understand that on any given night, there are 30 families making do in hotels,” Coker said. “So getting a house like this one will better allow them to meet the needs of the community. We’re going to open it as soon as we get it furnished.”

Also in the April-May time frame, other Fisher Houses are expected to open at VA medical centers in Washington, D.C., and Augusta, Ga.

As these houses take shape, construction is expected to begin on new Fisher Houses at VA medical centers in Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, and Murfreesboro, Tenn.

The Fisher House Foundation also is looking into building a replacement house in the fall at Fort Bragg, N.C.

While numbers tell the story of the Fisher House Foundation’s growth, one has to step inside a Fisher House to appreciate fully just how well it delivers on its pledge to support military families in their time of need.

Fisher Houses aren’t simply cozy. They’re upscale. When you open the door, your eyes go in every direction trying to take it all in: the magazine-quality d├ęcor, the gleaming stainless-steel-and-granite kitchens, the attention to detail in every nook and cranny.

“When somebody walks through the door, we want them to know there are others who care about them in their time of need, and we think we achieve that,” Coker said as walked through one of the new Bethesda houses. “If they walk in and they can inhale twice, it is going to hopefully make it a little more manageable when life starts beating them down. And if there is one thing we have learned, it’s that life happens.”

Each new Fisher House incorporates lessons learned from other houses. Coker remembers visiting one facility and overhearing several wives discussing using a sheet to carry a husband who had been released from the hospital to his wife’s upstairs room just long enough to see where she had been staying.

“You hear that once and you recognize that we can do better,” Coker said, “and that the right thing is to put in an elevator and make all the rooms handicapped-accessible.”

Today, all new Fisher Houses now have elevators as well as wheelchair-accessible rooms and kitchen facilities. The military services and VA, who manage the facilities after the Fisher House Foundation turns them over, have renovated many of the original Fisher Houses to accommodate wheelchairs.

Coker called their dedicated staffs, along with armies of volunteers, the unsung heroes who maintain what the Fisher House Foundation set out to accomplish. They ensure the pantries and refrigerators are stocked, the rooms are clean and the washing machines are in working order, complete with complimentary laundry soap.

And as families gather to share morning coffee or a quick dinner between hospital visits, they’re close at hand, ready to provide an understanding ear or, when needed, a shoulder to cry on.

Even after passing control of the Fisher Houses at the dedication ceremonies, the Fisher House Foundation quietly maintains contact with its houses by picking up the $10 per night fee the services must charge by regulation for families to stay in a Fisher House. This year alone, the foundation will pay more than $1 million to cover that cost.

The idea, Coker said, is to enable families to forget everything else and focus on what’s most important: their loved one’s recovery.

“I believe Fisher House is something that improved the quality of health care,” he said. “And the reason it improves it is you [as a patient] are not concerned about your family. [Patients] are getting the same world-class health care, but because they know their families are being taken care of, the quality of care, in the eye of the patient and the family, has just increased.”

As the Fisher House Foundation looks ahead to future projects, Coker said it’s working closely with the military surgeons general and VA to ensure it builds where the long-term need is greatest.

And as many charities have struggled since the economic downturn, Coker reports that the Fisher House Foundation has weathered the storm intact. The foundation doesn’t do direct-mail marketing, yet receives more than $40 million a year in donations. Last month, its online donations averaged $400 to $500.

“The American public has been phenomenal,” Coker said. “Part of it is the model. We are always going to new communities and bringing something exciting to town. That inspires giving.

“But the other thing is the tremendous respect that the American people have for those who serve,” he continued. “We have a program that focuses on helping people when they need to most, when their world is turned upside down. And people appreciate the opportunity to be able to support people at that point.”

Becky Wood, manager of the five Bethesda Fisher Houses, sees the families’ appreciation firsthand every day.

“Over and over, I have heard families say, ‘I can’t believe somebody who doesn’t know us has done this for us’ – from the Fisher House itself, to the bakery items and home-cooked meals volunteers bring to the families,” Wood said.

“They just can’t believe that they are staying here, at no cost to themselves,” she said. “They’re overwhelmed by the beauty of the home and the spirit of generosity that’s here.”

Wood said she gets tremendous gratification knowing that Fisher House Foundation and the Fisher House staff and volunteers are helping fulfill Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher’s dream.

“There’s great satisfaction in knowing that we have provided these families comfort at what might for many of them be the hardest time they will every have in their life, and hearing them say thank you over and over again, and know that in some way, we’ve made a difference,” she said.

Face of Defense: Marine Balances Service, Music

By Marine Corps Cpl. Juan D. Alfonso
Marine Forces Pacific

CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii, Jan. 4, 2011 – When most people see a tattoo-covered, heavy-metal-shirt-wearing, guitar-playing rock front man, “U.S. Marine” might not be the first thing that pops into their minds.

But Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Clinton W. Walker, supply chief for Headquarters and Service Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific, has spent the last 20 years balancing his career as an active-duty Marine with his love for music.

The Texas native came from humble beginnings. His father, a mechanic, taught Walker about cars and engines. But his love for music began at the age of 12.

“My cousin took out a guitar one day and said, ‘Clint, check this out,’” Walker said. “I learned what he taught me pretty quickly, and I just fell in love with it. I remember just jamming for hours and hours, playing the same thing over and over again. It just grew from there.”

Inspired by artists such as Ozzy Osbourne, Kiss, Motley Crue and Quiet Riot, Walker honed his skills while attending high school. But unlike many aspiring rock stars, Walker never wanted to make a music video or tour the country making millions of dollars. For him, it was and has remained about the music.

“There used to be this band that came down maybe once or twice a month to my town, and they always played the latest songs on the radio,” Walker said. “If the song played for the first time that morning, they had already learned it and were playing it on the same night. They were a big inspiration to me. At 15, I realized I just wanted to be that local band. I didn’t want to go any further than that.”

Despite his humble dreams, growing up in a relatively small town made it difficult for Walker to pursue his ambitions.

“There just weren’t enough people my age who wanted to do the same thing I wanted to,” he said.

That’s when the Marine Corps recruiters began to call.

“I was always the rebellious kid,” Walker said. “I was always pushing the envelope. I wore ripped jeans, drove the fastest car, and I was ready for a new challenge in my life, so when the recruiter asked me what job I wanted, I told him I didn’t care, I just want to be a Marine. I just wanted to do something different”

On Dec. 7, 1990, Walker graduated from Marine Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif. After he graduated from supply school, he was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, where he was shocked to find the local music scene suited him.

“Okinawan musicians really know how to throw down with some rock ’n’ roll,” he said with a laugh.

In 1992, Walker was stationed in Michigan, where his musical inspirations turned to artists such as Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, BB King, Robert Cray and Stevie Ray Vaughan, which led to him from playing rock metal to “good old blues,” he said.

Always looking for a new hobby and with a knack for building things, Walker began modifying guitars, which eventually led to building guitars.

In 1996, Walker was stationed in Albany, Ga., where he was exposed to a new aspect of the Marine Corps Band.

“I found out there was more to the Marine Corps Band than the traditional drum and bugle corps or ceremonial events,” Walker said. “I saw their rock and show bands perform and just started talking to one of their guitar players after the show.”

The guitarist invited Walker to a blues jam at a local bar. What began as a casual jazz and blues session turned into a five-piece band of musicians calling themselves Clint Walker and the Blues Raiders, named after the band’s front man, lead guitarist and singer, a trend that followed Walker with his later bands.

In 1999, Walker transferred back to Okinawa, where he decided to create another band, Clint Walker and the Groove Cats, named after the Japanese bar where they performed, The Groove.

In 2002, Walker transferred to Albuquerque, N.M., where he initially had reservations about his new assignment.

“I was scared there wasn’t going to be a music scene,” he said. “So I went to the music store -- which by the way, is a great place to get info about the local music scene pretty much everywhere you go -- and there turned out to be at least 20 bands with a good mix of musicians out there.”

Walker began attending open mike nights and eventually fell in with the Breakers, a band that had lost its lead singer. He spent a year as the Breakers’ front man before his participation began to interfere with his family life. Like many artists, Walker became consumed with his music and had to choose between it and his family.

“I wanted to be a better parent,” the 39-year old father of five said. “I wasn’t just performing. I was practicing with my band, writing songs, jamming -- something had to give. So I sold off my guitars and quit playing. … Six months later, my wife told me I was driving them crazy and to buy a guitar.”

In 2006, Walker returned to Okinawa and the Groove Cats. With his love for music and performing rekindled, Walker began to experiment as the bassist for his band. Once again fully engaged in the music scene, Walker began to cover a whole new spectrum of rock and punk music, finding new inspiration from artists such as Billy Idol, AC/DC, Green Day and many more.

But after returning from a short deployment, Walker said, he was disappointed to see the band’s skills had slipped in his absence and that his bandmates had more interest in partying than they did in the music.

It was the beginning of the second time Walker gave up his music.

“I had two really expensive hobbies,” Walker said. “On top of being a father, a husband and a musician, I was also building custom guitars and custom [motorcycles.]”

Walker’s life took a rock star-like crash shortly after. His mother had recently died, his marriage needed work, and to make matters worse, his son was admitted to the emergency room for an unknown condition.

“Life just happened,” the soft spoken, humble Marine said.

The Walkers were transferred to Hawaii so his son could receive the medical care he needed. A short surgery later, his son was in perfect health, and the Walkers have made their new home here. But the life of a Marine, mechanic and family man couldn’t keep the musician from what he loved.

“He just gets that itch, and if he doesn’t play, he’ll drive everybody crazy,” his wife said. “He’s so multi-talented. If he’s not building something, he needs to be playing.

“He’ll sit there and play the same tune over and over again for hours. and then when he performs, we’re just in awe,” she continued. “He plays with such feeling that every time I go to see a live band, I’m constantly comparing them to him. And a lot of times, they just don’t play the way my husband does.”

After attending a jam night at a bar in Kailua, Walker’s musical career came full circle when he met Marine Corps Master Sgt. Stephen Jeremiah, Marine Forces Pacific bandmaster.

“I threw out a couple names from the band in Albany, and he invited me to come out and play the [2010] Great Aloha Run gig with them. After the show, he said ‘Well dang, Gunny, you want to go to Samoa?’ Next thing I knew, I was part of the … show band.”

Walker joined the band just in the nick of time, said Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Chazz Harbison, a bassist and a member of Walker’s current band.

“We were short on guitar players, and he really was a pleasant surprise,” Harbison said. “This guy is a rock star. It’s the best way to describe him. He knows how to work a crowd; he always has a smile on his face. He’s one of those guys that will text me if he’s having a bad day and be like, ‘I need to rock. Let’s jam.’”

Since he began performing with the Marine Forces Pacific Band, Walker has played at least 20 gigs and traveled as a Marine musician to Samoa, Mongolia and Canada. And he received an unexpected surprise when he traveled to Cambodia.

“There were giant banners with photos of me,” he said chuckling as he recalled the memory. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Today, Walker is known as the Marine Forces Pacific rock star by many of the Marines in the command, and he is more involved in music than ever before. After nearly 20 years of service, he said, he’s finally found a balance between his music, family, career and his numerous other hobbies.

With retirement around the corner, Walker and his family plan to move back to Albuquerque, where he said the warm, dry weather provides the perfect conditions for him to do metal work and where he can become the small-town front man he has wanted to be since he was 15.

Wisconsin National Guard supports governor's inauguration

Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs Office

Continuing a tradition dating back more than eight decades, members of the Wisconsin National Guard and the state Department of Military Affairs played an important role in preparing for and helping execute the inauguration ceremony Monday (Jan. 3) for its new commander in chief, Gov. Scott Walker.

"Thanks go out to all who are participants in our ceremony today," Walker said. "I'm particularly grateful to the members of the 132nd Army Band and all other members of the Wisconsin National Guard - not only for their services today, but for the ongoing support of our many brave men and women who are deployed even as we speak. Our prayers go out to all of you."

The 132nd Army Band helped frame the ceremony with introductory music, trumpet fanfares and flourishes, and recessional music. They punctuated the inauguration with a performance of "On, Wisconsin" after Walker completed his oath of office.

"The professionalism is always important - the intensity is high," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Brad Anderson, the 132nd Army Band's director, who has led the band in three inauguration ceremonies. "This type of ceremony isn't repeated often. There isn't room for error - you have to get it right."

Brig. Gen. Don Dunbar, the adjutant general of Wisconsin, was part of the ceremony in leading Gov. Walker and his family, as well as outgoing Gov. Jim Doyle and Jessica Doyle, to the stage. The adjutant general has historically provided guidance and assistance to the incoming governor regarding the inauguration.

Walker expressed his gratitude to Dunbar in his opening remarks, as well as all members of the Armed Forces.

Wisconsin National Guard members also presented the colors during the ceremony. Senior Master Sgt. Jeff Statz, of the Volk Field Base Honor Guard, was one of four Guard members - two Air and two Army - on the team.

"It went very well," he said after the ceremony, noting that even though this was his first inauguration, he and Master Sgt. Angela Kaverle - another Volk Field Honor Guard member - have plenty of experience with various color guard presentations.

"We're usually pretty good at changes on the fly," he said. "It's never the same thing twice."

This was the first inauguration ceremony for color guard members Sgt. Nathan Jump and Sgt. Kristine Stuhlmacher, both with Joint Force Headquarters.

"It's a bit exciting, but a bit nerve-wracking," Stuhlmacher said.

The Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs Office worked closely with Walker's transition team on various aspects of the ceremony, ranging from the programs and tickets to protocol matters and coordination with the band and color guard.

The Wisconsin National Guard's 54th Civil Support Team supported public safety for the inauguration by assisting the Joint Hazardous Assessment Team, which included the Capitol Police, State Patrol, the Governor's Protection Detail, Dane County Sheriff's Department, Madison Police, UW-Madison Police and Dane County Communications. The 54th provided 21 members and six vehicles to collect air samples and conduct sweeps of the state Capitol Building and Monona Terrace. All samples taken returned negative results.