Sunday, January 09, 2011

Holly Petraeus to Lead Office of Servicemember Affairs

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2011 – The wife of the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan will head up an office devoted to strengthening consumer financial protection for service members and their families, an official announced today.

In a White House blog, Elizabeth Warren, assistant to the president and special advisor to the secretary of the treasury on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, formally welcomed Holly Petraeus, wife of Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, to the bureau’s implementation team, where she’ll direct efforts to establish an Office of Servicemember Affairs.

“She is the kind of leader we need,” Warren wrote in her blog. “Military families have unique challenges, and now they have a unique advocate to ensure that their special concerns get the attention they deserve.”

The Office of Servicemember Affairs will work closely with the Defense Department to help in ensuring that military families receive the financial education needed to make wise financial decisions, to monitor and respond to complaints and questions from military families, and to ensure that federal and state agencies coordinate their activities to improve consumer protection measures for military families, Warren explained.

Later this month, Warren and Petraeus will travel to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio to hear from service members and financial counselors about “the unique lending circumstances and challenges facing military communities,” Warren wrote.

“In this and in our later trips, we will ask many questions, listen to our troops and apply what we learn directly to our efforts,” she added.

Warren outlined some of the “unique” challenges military members and their families face, particularly when new to the military. Newly enlisted members, some of whom are receiving their first steady paycheck, may be lured in by easy credit offers and “far too many also get tangled in debt traps,” she said.

“Regrettably, the evidence is clear,” she wrote. “Service members and their families are sometimes easy targets for unscrupulous lenders. Even families that stay with mainstream lenders can struggle as the impact of separation and frequent moving takes a financial toll, leaving a family mired in debt and trying to digest reams of fine print.”

Financial issues can be a “dangerous distraction” for troops, she noted. Surveys have shown that finances trail only behind work and career concerns as a source of increasing stress, and ahead of deployments, health, life events, family relationships and war. Financial issues also can cause troops to lose often essential security clearances, Warren noted. In 2007, the Navy reported that financial management issues accounted for 78 percent of security clearance revocations and denials for Navy personnel, she added.

“Those who serve in the military should be able to focus on their jobs and their families without having to worry about getting trapped by abusive financial practices,” she said. “America’s national security depends on that basic premise.”

Warren expressed confidence that Petraeus was the right fit for the job of protecting military families from financial woes, and said she was impressed by her from their first meeting. At the time, Petraeus was serving as the director of Better Business Bureau Military Line, a partnership between the BBB and the Defense Department’s Financial Readiness Campaign that provides consumer education and advocacy for service members and their families.

“After we introduced ourselves, she got straight to the point: despite strong efforts by the Department of Defense and others, too many military families find themselves in financial trouble, scrambling hard to deal with mounting debts or falling into the arms of a predatory lender,” Warren said. “‘Wow,’ I thought. ‘This woman is fired up.’

“It soon became clear that Holly would be the perfect person to guide the establishment of the office,” she said.

Africa Strategy Encourages Democracy, Development

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 8, 2011 – The United States is pursuing a strategy that aims to foster stability and good, cooperative relationships with nations on the African continent, said Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy.

“That strategy puts a premium on supporting democratization and the emergence of democracies in Africa, supporting economic growth and development and building capacity,” Flournoy said during a recent interview in the Pentagon.

U.S. government agencies work closely with each other in Africa. The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development have the lead in the nations of the continent. The Defense Department and U.S. Africa Command are in support of these lead federal agencies.

Much of the defense work in the nation is building partner capacity. This can range from small unit tactics to medical training to peacekeeping skills to humanitarian assistance operations.

“It may be just general military training or it may be training them in a specialty area like medical evacuation,” the undersecretary said. “We also use our military forces to do a lot of civil affairs type of work where we are supporting the interagency process and working with militaries and communities writ large, again particularly in humanitarian operations.”

U.S. Africa Command is the Defense Department’s newest geographic command, and its establishment has given more coherence to defense support of U.S. strategy on the continent, she said. Previously, the African continent was split between three geographic commands: U.S. European Command, U.S. Central Command and U.S. Pacific Command.

“This led to somewhat uneven levels of focus, energy, resourcing, projects and so forth,” Flournoy said. “Pulling it all together under U.S. Africa Command gives it a more stable strategic perspective on what we’re doing across the continent. It also gives a greater ability to prioritize effort and resources towards things that really will make the greatest difference.”

Africa has some increasingly strong regional alliances, including the African Union and Economic Community of Western African States. “DOD works very much by, with and through these regional alliances,” the undersecretary said. “We are working closely with the African Union and ECOWAS to develop peacekeeping capacity.”

One example of this work is the peacekeeping mission in Somalia. U.S. trainers worked with military personnel from Uganda, Etyhiopia and other countries to train them for the mission. These are not large missions, but small teams training the trainers.

The department is also learning more about the cultural and linguistic and ethnic make-up of the continent.

“We are understanding the sub-regional dynamics of the continent,” Flournoy said. “The issues that you deal with in the north are different than those in the south. We are dealing with violent extremist groups in North Africa – al-Qaida in the Mahgreb for example – that have used ungoverned or under-governed spaces to try to gain a foothold. We’re also seeing organizations in Somalia –al Shabab, al-Qaida on the Arabia Peninsula.”

There is a growth in piracy centered in Somalia and spreading throughout the Indian Ocean, she noted. “We are taking a more challenge-oriented approach and a more sub-regional approach that really looks at how we can take a common challenge and work with a group of countries to build their capacities to be more effective in dealing with that with us in support,” she said. “In 10 years, we hope these countries will have the capacity and they will be more able to respond to crises, and also get ahead of them and prevent them.”

Much of the progress posited depends on the progress of democratization and development. “So many of these crises in Africa come from very weak experiences with democracy and peaceful changeovers in power – we’re seeing that right now in Cote d’Ivoire,” Flournoy said. “Every time you have a situation that becomes a full-time crisis, you are essentially setting back the development effort for a period of time as well.”

The creation of peaceful political processes that set the conditions for development to occur “is the name of the game in Africa,” she said.

Flournoy said there are many that have had peaceful transitions and are experiencing the growth that such peace and stability brings.

The U.S. is also working with other nations outside Africa to make best use of resources. For example he U.S. is collaborating with France to combat terrorism in North Africa. American leaders are also cooperating with ships from China, India, Russia, Singapore and the European Union to combat piracy.

One constant in U.S. strategy in Africa is reducing the ungoverned or under-governed pockets on the continent. The AIDS epidemic, problems of poverty and corruption and little or no infrastructure in many areas hampers progress, and that can mean dangers to Americans.

“Violent extremism grows from not fulfilling the needs of the people,” Flournoy said.

The undersecretary praised the National Guard’s state partner program for its work not only in Africa, but globally. The Guard teams come from a state and team with a country to foster collaboration and understanding. “We have these all over the world,” she said. “We see in so many of these situations how long-term relationships are so important to build trust and build capacity.”

This is not a one-time deal for the teams and the nations participating in the program, Flournoy pointed out. “They come again, and again, and again and the relationships are built, the trust is built and over time real capacity is built,” she said. “At a time when the active force is so heavily engaged in Iraq and in Afghanistan, having the National Guard teams that can provide consistent focus and work within the countries with which they are paired.”

Coast Guard Commandant addresses future officers

Posted by: Christopher Lagan

Earlier this week, cadets at the United States Coast Guard Academy were given insight on what it means to be a military officer from none other than Adm. Bob Papp, Commandant of the Coast Guard.

Papp’s speech to the service’s future leaders focused on the oath of office each cadet will take when four years of academy life ends and their careers begin in earnest as commissioned Coast Guard officers.

Papp told the Corps “your oath is sacred, your commission is timeless” while noting that the wording of his commission is virtually identical to the 1791 commission of Hopley Yeaton — the first Coast Guard Officer.

Cadet 1st Class Meghan Zehringer, chosen by her peers to lead the 1,030-strong corps of cadets as regimental commander for the spring semester, was inspired by Papp’s message.

“With graduation approaching and my class about to take the oath to serve in the Coast Guard as junior officers, I found Admiral Papp’s address to be very eye opening and informative. I have never truly looked at the oath and the fact that he was able to analyze and explain each part of it increased not only my awareness of the importance of understanding the words that I pledge to live by but also that of the entire Corps of Cadets, the [Officer Candidate School] students, and all others present [at the speech].”

As the most junior members at the academy, 4th class cadets gained perspective on their chosen profession from the commandant’s words.

“I was humbled by Admiral Papp’s presence and how someone of his ranking could take the time to talk to the corps. He even stayed after for anyone who wanted to personally talk with him. His speech on commitment to the oath really made me appreciate what I am doing and gave me something to look forward to after my time at the Academy.” – Cadet 4th Class Devin Fellman

“Admiral Papp’s speech provoked a sense of unpretentious kinship between his self and the corps, blending perfectly with his message that we are all shipmates. I believe that this sense of kinship has inspired the corps to a greater trust of and willingness to follow the Commandant of the Coast Guard.” – Cadet 4th Class Laura Carts

“I stayed behind after and talked a little bit with the admiral, and what was awesome was the fact that he was able to relate to what I was going through as a 4th class cadet. He asked me how the school year was going and some goals I was going to set for myself. He provided words of encouragement and support. Also, even though the admiral is in such a high position of power, he doesn’t let that change his attitude or how he acts. He honestly acts like he is one of our shipmates. In other words, he is very down to earth and an approachable guy.” – Cadet 4th Class John Ramirez

Canadian Member of Parliament Visits Makin Island

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kellie Abedzadeh, USS Makin Island (LHD 8) Public Affairs

SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Canadian Member of Parliament for Edmonton Centre and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence toured USS Makin Island (LHD 8) during a visit to Naval Base San Diego Jan. 6.

While aboard Makin Island, the Honourable Laurie Hawn toured a number of the ship's operational spaces, including the hangar bay, medical facilities, command information center, flight deck and upper vehicle stowage.

The visit to Makin Island was Hawn's first tour of an amphibious assault ship. Hawn said he was impressed with the multioperational capabilities of Makin Island, and called the crew very "focused and professional."

"Canada is looking at similar types of ships, so the tour and visit to San Diego's naval base helps Canada better understand what the U.S. Navy is doing," Hawn said.

Hawn also emphasized the importance for both Canadian and American militaries to maintain close relationships. "Wherever we are, Americans are," he said. "So it's critical to both countries that we maintain close ties as allies."

As a retired lieutenant colonel who served more than 30 years in the Royal Canadian Air Force, Hawn is a strong supporter of military members worldwide. Hawn currently serves as a member of the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan and the Standing Committee of National Defence.

Makin Island, the Navy's first hybrid-electric amphibious assault ship, is currently undergoing a maintenance availability period in preparation for its maiden deployment later this year.

Statement by Secretary of Defense Gates on Tucson Shooting

“I am saddened to hear of the attack on Congresswoman Giffords and members of her staff earlier today in Tucson, Arizona.   I have had an opportunity to interact with Congresswoman Giffords in her capacity as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, where she served on the Readiness and Air and Land Forces subcommittees.    She is a strong supporter of America’s national defense, cares deeply about our men and women in uniform, and has pursued her oversight responsibilities with dedication.  Our thoughts are also with her husband, Navy Captain Mark Kelly, an aviator and astronaut of great distinction, as well as the families of the other victims of this attack.  Ms. Giffords represents a new generation of principled and thoughtful political leaders that have come to Washington in recent years.  We will miss her strong character and good judgment in the Congress during these important days ahead, and we are praying for her full recovery.”

Today in the Department of Defense, Monday, January 10, 2011

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates is traveling.

Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn has no public or media events on his schedule.