Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Gates Stresses Need to Prevent North Korean Provocations

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

TOKYO, Jan. 13, 2011 – Preventing another North Korea provocation of South Korea is in everyone’s interest, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.

In the past year, North Korea torpedoed the South Korean ship Cheonan, killing 46 sailors, and shelled the island of Yeongpeong, killing two civilians and two South Korean service members.

“Every country has the right to protect itself and defend itself against an unprovoked attack,” Gates said during a news conference at the Japanese defense ministry. “I think the key on the Korean peninsula, as I discussed in China and here in Japan, is to prevent another provocation from happening.”

The danger of escalation of force exists, the secretary said, and the United States, Japan, China and South Korea must work together to ensure stability and peace on the Korean peninsula.

North Korea has said it is willing to negotiate with South, Gates noted, but he added that the Pyongyang government must demonstrate it will change its behavior.

“This requires that the North cease its belligerent behavior, and its provocations that have killed innocent victims, both military and civilian, in Korea,” Gates said. “We are supportive of negotiations and engagement between North and South but there must be concrete evidence on the part of the North that they are serious about these negotiations.”

Gates has spoken with Chinese leaders about the situation on the peninsula, and his meetings today examined the subject. He will visit Seoul tomorrow to talk with South Korean leaders on the way ahead.

“All four countries have a common interest in a peaceful outcome and stability on the peninsula, and in each place we’ve talked about how to pursue that,” he said.

The secretary said wants to break the cycle of North Korean violence followed by crocodile tears.

“We have seen this cycle over and over again, and I think the objective we all have in common is how to prevent another provocation from taking place. How do we move the process forward on the peninsula in a way that shows the North Koreans are serious about engagement, serious about negotiations and that this is not just a repeat of what we have seen so often in the past after a provocation of trying to re-set the clock back to what it was before?” he said.

In China, he called for concrete North Korean steps, suggesting that a moratorium on nuclear and missile work would be a good place to start.

Gates met with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa. In addition to North Korea, Gates briefed the men on his visit to Beijing and meetings with Chinese leaders.

He also discussed the challenges associated with China’s growing military strength, the U.S.-Japanese collaboration on ballistic missile defense and in furthering U.S.-Japanese cooperation in areas such as counterpiracy, peacekeeping disaster response, humanitarian assistance and other important multinational efforts. These efforts include Japan’s substantial financial contributions to Afghanistan.

The meetings also covered a discussion on new Japanese defense program guidelines. He called the study “a forward-thinking document that reaffirms the importance of our alliance, including the U.S. military presence, to Japan’s defense.”

The leaders also discussed the U.S.-Japan alliance and its new vision statement.

“It has been about five years since the last vision statement, and the world and circumstances in Northeast Asia have evolved a good deal since then,” Gates said. “So it is appropriate to update our alliance at this time.”

The U.S. and Japanese leaders also discussed the relocation of U.S. forces in Okinawa.

Gates is scheduled to make a major speech tomorrow on the U.S-Japanese alliance at Keio University before flying to South Korea.

Operation Taconite

Posted by: LTJG Stephanie Young

When we last checked in with Coast Guard Cutter Mobile Bay they were working day and night to finish up the largest buoy retrieval operation in the nation. There is no rest for the weary though, as Mobile Bay and her crew have made the transition to breaking ice on the St. Mary’s River.

As part of Operation Taconite – a name that is derived from one of the lake’s chief commodities, taconite – Mobile Bay is taking part in the largest domestic icebreaking operation in the United States. Keeping these waterways open is crucial to the transportation of vast amounts of iron ore, needed to meet the demands of steel mills in Lake Erie and Lake Michigan.

On a typical day, Mobile Bay will break ice from sunrise to sunset. While some of their ice breaking duties are scheduled as they maintain winter shipping lanes, the ice breaking can also become a response to escort or assist vessels that are beset in the ice – a risky operation that requires skill and finesse.

“Direct assistance is by far the most dangerous, as it usually requires close-aboard, high-speed passes of vessels that can be more than 1,000 feet in length,” said Lt. Bryan Estell, Mobile Bay’s executive officer. “During these evolutions, the conning officers must be constantly mindful of the weakened ice around the stuck vessel.”

After completing a day of breaking ice, pulling into port is a luxury often denied to the cutter’s crew who more often stay on the river and remain aboard the cutter overnight by finding a portion of strong plate ice away from the established track – a practice known as being “hove to.”

Anyone who has served on an icebreaker quickly learns there is nothing routine about this mission. Crews out on the Great Lakes system know all too well how quickly Mother Nature can affect their work. This past December Mobile Bay was caught in a winter storm and can testify how quickly “ops normal” can become a response.

“We had just anchored in the lower St. Mary’s River before gale force winds, white-out conditions, and bitter cold hit the area,” said Estell. “After the storm subsided, Mobile Bay found itself surrounded by no less than 17 ships that had waited out the storm and were awaiting our assistance to head up the river.”

Weathering winter storms, cutting through ice and maneuvering close to vessels is all in a days work for ice breaking tugs like Mobile Bay. With fellow icebreakers Mackinaw, Katmai Bay, and Biscayne Bay to keep the St. Mary’s River open for commerce, Mobile Bay is in good company, and the Great Lakes communities can be rest assured that Operation Taconite is in full force.

101st Airborne Division Lands Aboard Naval Air Station Jacksonville

By Clark Pierce, Jax Air News

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (NNS) -- Naval Air Station Jacksonville (NAS Jax) provided a secure staging area Jan. 6-8, for 98 helicopters of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) "Screaming Eagles" as they began a rotation from Fort Campbell, Ky., ultimately to Afghanistan.

Capt. Jonathan Carver of the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division is officer in charge of the logistics mission.

"Since space is limited at the piers on Blount Island, we stage our helicopters at the secure infield of NAS Jax. When our people at the Port of Jacksonville are ready for more, we fly aircraft down there two at a time by following the St. Johns River. Army personnel at Blount Island then break the aircraft down so they can roll onto the cargo ship. We hope our unusual aerial activity doesn't disrupt traffic on the Dames Point Bridge," said Carver.

The 101st Airborne Division is deploying four airframes: OH-58D Kiowa Warrior; AH-64D Longbow Apache; CH-47 Chinook and UH-60 Black Hawk. The aircraft and soldiers should be reunited in Afghanistan within 30 to 50 days.

NAS Jax Commanding Officer Capt. Jeffrey Maclay visited the staging area Jan. 7, and was invited to take a close-up look at the UH-60 and AH-64D helicopters. Maclay, who's logged more than 2,800 hours of flight time in the Navy's SH-60 Seahawk helicopter, noted the similarities with the Army Black Hawk.

"The Seahawk's general appearance is similar to that of its Black Hawk brother," said Maclay. "Both variants have been operational since the mid-1980s and share about 75 percent parts commonality. The most obvious differences are the landing gear and the arrangement of windows and doors."

Bill Vanderwege, a quality assurance manager for aircraft maintenance at Fort Campbell, said the Apache is a twin-engine, four-bladed attack helicopter recognized as the most advanced battlefield aerial fighting vehicle in the world.

"With a tandem-seated crew consisting of the pilot in the rear cockpit and the co-pilot gunner, the Apache delivers a lethal array of armaments, including the AGM-114 Hellfire missile carried by most Navy aircraft," said Vanderwege. "The Longbow Fire Control Radar enables the Apache to detect, classify and prioritize stationary and moving targets both on the ground and in the air."

As he inspected his OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, pilot CW2 Mike McClain described his basic mission as reconnaissance and security.

"We're the eyes and ears for battlefield commanders, but can also perform emergency casualty evacuations with our capacity of two litters," said McClain.

Today in the Department of Defense, Wednesday, January 19, 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 Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Army Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz, Chief of the Army Reserve, and Army Maj. Gen. Raymond Carpenter, acting Director of Army National Guard, conduct an on-the-record brief to the Pentagon Press Corps on the 2010 Army suicide statistics at in the Pentagon Briefing Room (2E973).  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 703-697-5343 for escort into the building.

Alaska Ranger: Lessons from Coast Guard’s most challenging rescue

Posted by: Christopher Lagan
Guest post by Kalee Thompson

After the rescue of 42 crewmembers from the fishing vessel Alaska Ranger in 2008, author Kalee Thompson produced an in-depth report on one of the most challenging missions in Coast Guard history. She went on to write a book that examined the sinking, the rescue and the fishing industry. We asked for her thoughts on the recently released report of the Marine Board of Investigation since few have examined the case to the extent she has. All opinions expressed by Ms. Thompson are her own and posting her perspective in no way reflects the opinion of the United States Coast Guard.

When the bottom trawler Alaska Ranger foundered and sank in the Bering Sea in March 2008 the Coast Guard was ready. The 189-foot fishing vessel began taking on water around on Easter morning. By , all 47 people on board had abandoned ship. More than half of them failed to get into life rafts. The first Coast Guard rescue asset-an HH-60 Jayhawk, forward deployed to remote St. Paul Island-arrived on scene at and eventually plucked sixteen fishermen from the waves. More men were saved by the crew of an HH-65 Dolphin while a Kodiak C-130 flew cover and provided a communications platform for the rescuers below.

Dozens of Coasties ultimately contributed to the rescue effort and their work paid off: against all odds, 42 of the 47 crew of the Alaska Ranger were recovered alive from dark, 32˚ seas, twenty of them individually pulled from breaking swells by Coast Guard helicopters and then carefully lowered to the flight deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Munro. In terms of the number of people airlifted directly from the ocean, the rescue was unprecedented in Coast Guard history.

I originally reported on the Alaska Ranger case for Popular Mechanics Magazine and in 2010 published a nonfiction book, Deadliest Sea, on the disaster. From the start, it was obvious that much went right on that Easter morning-which is what makes the story both compelling and inspirational. But within a day of the disaster a team of Coast Guard investigators was tasked with investigating what went wrong. Their comprehensive report was released this week.

One veteran Coast Guard officer explained to me early on in my reporting that casualty investigations can be like peeling an onion. “There’s a limit to how far you can go,” he told me. “You never get to the core.” I was surprised to discover, for instance, that the marine board would not be considering past marine casualties involving the Fishing Company of Alaska, the company that owned the ship. To me, those events seemed entirely relevant to the poor safety culture witnessed onboard the Alaska Ranger. I was also disappointed that the board declined to call the company’s owner, Karena Adler, to testify. In the end, it feels like a company that put profit over safety time and again got off with little more than a slap on the wrist.

The MBI report is much harder on the Coast Guard’s own. The final report devotes dozens of pages to evaluating the multiple shortcomings of the regional ACSA program (Alternative Compliance and Safety Agreement) that governs the Bering Sea Head and Gut fleet and includes several suggestions for how helicopter rescuers might avoid future mishaps like the one that occurred when a hypothermic Alaska Ranger fishermen fell from a rescue basket during a hoist.

During the course of my book research, I spent time with Coast Guard fishing vessel inspectors in both Washington State and Alaska and found them to be deeply committed to their safety mission. But for years they have been fighting an uphill battle against a regulatory environment that protects the financial interests of industry over the safety of fishermen.

Unfortunately, it sometimes takes egregious tragedies to energize public–and Congressional–support for stiffer regulation. New safety standards– like those included in the recently passed Coast Guard Authorization Act — are crucial to providing the Coast Guard with the power to demand and enforce safer conditions in the commercial fishing industry. I hope these new laws will be accompanied soon with funding for more inspectors and resources. Hard-working Coasties and the fishermen they protect deserve nothing less.

Kalee Thompson is a contributing editor at Popular Mechanics Magazine and the author of the book Deadliest Sea: The Untold Story Behind the Greatest Rescue in Coast Guard History.

DOD Announces Vietnam War 50th Anniversary Commemoration Program

The Department of Defense announced today its program to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. The program will:

• Thank and honor veterans of the Vietnam War, including personnel who were held as prisoners of war or listed as missing in action, for their service and sacrifice on behalf of the United States and to thank and honor the families of these veterans.

• Highlight the service of the armed forces during the Vietnam War and the contributions of federal agencies and governmental and non-governmental organizations that served with, or in support of, the armed forces.

• Pay tribute to the contributions made on the home front by the people of the United States during the Vietnam War.

• Highlight the advances in technology, science, and medicine related to the military research conducted during the Vietnam War.

• Recognize the contributions and sacrifices made by the allies of the United States during the Vietnam War.

DoD representatives will coordinate with other federal agencies, veteran groups, state, local government and non-government organizations for their input in Vietnam War commemoration activities. For more information call 877-387-9951 or visit the official website at http://www.vietnamwar50th.com/ .

Naval Base Coronado Sailors Remember Dr. King's Dream

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

SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Sailors and civilian contractors from Fleet Readiness Center Southwest (FRCSW), and guests, marched down the street and sang songs at Naval Base Coronado (NBC) Jan. 13 remembering and honoring the famous marches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The participants marched to the steps of the base theater, and upon entering Dr. King's famous speech "I Have a Dream" could be heard.

"We celebrate the actions of one man [Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.] who fought for diversity and recognized all people should be free," said Capt. John Smajdek, executive officer, FRCSW. "His passion, vision and courageous deeds should help us determine if our actions toward other races need improvement."

"Dr. King molded a vibrant multiracial nation and his actions should not be forgotten," said Smajdek.

Guests enjoyed the musical sounds of gospel recording artist Lanee Battle who sang the national, the black national anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing," and gospel hymns.

The theme of this year's ceremony was "Passing the Torch." Guest speaker Farrell Chiles, chairman of the board of Blacks in Government, said every person that possesses the torch must stand up to the plate, make an impact in their communities and continue to strive for the advancement of civil rights.

"Each generation must carry the torch," said Chiles. "We are not measured by who we are, but by how well we can pave the road for those to come."

As the commemoration ceremony came to an end, audience members joined Battle in singing "You'll Never Walk Alone."

"Anytime we come together to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr., it is encouraging to see that people still remember him," said Aviation Support Equipment Technician 2nd Class (AW) Alice Y. Wingo, an FRCSW Sailor who attended the event.

For more news from Navy Public Affairs Support Element West, visit www.navy.mil/local/pacensandiego/.