Military News

Thursday, February 17, 2011

DOD Strives to Strengthen, Empower Military Families

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 17, 2011 – From education opportunities to spouse employment, Defense Department officials are expanding military family support programs to better meet families’ current needs, as well as to empower them for the challenges that lie ahead, the DOD official who oversees military family programs said today.

“It’s not just about providing fish -- it’s teaching to fish as well,” Robert L. Gordon III, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy, told an audience of politicians, spouses and service organization leaders during the Congressional Military Family Caucus Kickoff in the U.S. Capitol building here.

The caucus’ goal is to educate Congress members and staff about the unique challenges –- including mental health, wounded warrior care, health care, education and disability –- service members and their families face.

The military community is diverse and vast, Gordon said, with more than 2 million service members, 1.59 million military-connected children and nearly 800,000 spouses. “The question is: How do we look at that community and address their needs, but also empower them for the future?” he said.

The nation is an era of “fiscal austerity,” Gordon acknowledged. However, he added, families continue to have the same needs and concerns, including education, behavioral health support, employment and community reintegration.

Gordon called for an increase in DOD partnerships to bolster family support in the years ahead. The department must continue to foster relationships with nonprofit and military spouse groups and the commercial and entertainment sectors, he added.

Leadership also is “absolutely key” when addressing the military community’s most-pressing issues and concerns, he said, but it will take more than just Defense Department leaders to do the job. Government and nonprofit group leaders and senior military spouses, Gordon said, must be “focused like a laser beam on the issues and concerns of our military community.”

Families have a plethora of support programs available to them, but leaders must ensure those programs are effective and adequately address needs, he added. Toward that end, Gordon touched on a few of the programs and initiatives the department is looking at to increase education and career opportunities.

The Defense Department, for example, plans to conduct an education review to ensure a “world-class” education for military children. Of the 1.2 million military-connected children in schools, roughly 85,000 are in DOD schools, about 70,000 are in public schools on military installations and the rest, Gordon noted, attend off-base public schools.

The 172-day review will look at science, technology and engineering, math, early child education and languages, he said, to ensure all 1.2 million military children are being adequately prepared for 21st-century demands.

For younger children, Gordon said the department is working to expand the number of child care slots within communities. The Defense Department has 923 child development centers with 200,000 young children needing care and a shortfall of about 30,000 slots, he said.

To alleviate the shortfall, Gordon said, DOD officials have partnered with 13 states to increase military family access to community-based, quality child care. This focus on community care makes sense, he noted, since roughly 70 percent of families live off base.

“We have to have partnerships where we provide those sorts of resources where the communities are,” he said.

Officials also are focused on improving spouse employment opportunities, Gordon said. Of the 800,000 military spouses, about 77 percent would like work, he said. However, he acknowledged, spouses are hindered by frequent transitions and deployments.

The department is engaging in a spouse education and career opportunity initiative to alleviate some of those employment challenges, Gordon said. The initiative includes expanding the Army Spouse Employment Program into the Military Spouse Employment Program so all spouses can benefit, he said. The Army’s program helps connect spouses with opportunities in Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies.

These are just a few of the programs the department is working on, Gordon said, noting many others are outlined in the White House report, titled: “Strengthening our Military Families: Meeting America’s Commitment.” This report describes the sweeping interagency effort under way to better support military families. Federal agencies, he added, have made nearly 50 commitments in terms of family support.

Moving ahead, Gordon said it will take a mix of innovation and creativity to meet military families’ needs, while ensuring they’re empowered “to be the best they can be.”

This Day in Naval History - Feb. 17

From the Navy News Service

1864 - The Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley sinks USS Housatonic.
1942 - The 1st Construction Battalion (Seabees) arrives at Bora Bora.
1944 - U.S. carrier aircraft strike the Japanese fleet at Truk, sinking ships and destroying aircraft.

Today in the Department of Defense, Friday, February 18, 2011

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

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen hosts an honor cordon to welcome French Chief of Defense Staff Adm. Edouard Guillard to the Pentagon today at   The cordon will be held on the steps of the Pentagon River Entrance.  Journalists without a Pentagon building pass will be picked up at the Pentagon River Parking Entrance only.  Plan to arrive no later than 30 minutes prior to the event; have proof of affiliation and two forms of photo identification.  Please call 703-697-5131 for escort to the cordon.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz will attend the 6th Annual Stars and Stripes Military Tribute at the BEYA Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Global Competitiveness Conference at   BEYA point of contact is Miller Roberts at 410-244-7101 x124.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead delivers remarks at at the Black Engineer of the Year Awards Stars and Stripes Dinner at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, Washington, D.C.  Media interested in attending should contact LT. Laura Stegherr at 571-499-3123.

German Army Maj. Gen. Hans Werner Fritz, RC-N Commander will brief the media live from Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan, at in the Pentagon Briefing Room (2E973) to provide an update on current operations.  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.

A National Capital Region Flyover of Arlington National Cemetery occurs at with two T-6's.

MCPON Designates Bill Cosby Honorary Chief

By By Chief Mass Communication Specialist (SW/AW) Sonya Ansarov, Office of the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON)(SS/SW) Rick D. West, along with Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Ray Mabus recognized celebrity actor/comedian and former Sailor, Bill Cosby, as an honorary chief petty officer in a ceremony held at the U.S. Navy Memorial and Naval Heritage Center Feb. 17.

Cosby began his relationship with the Navy in 1956 when he joined as a hospital corpsman and attended recruit training at Naval Training Center Bainbridge, Md.

During his four-year tour, he was stationed at Marine Corps Base Quantico, National Naval Medical Center Bethesda, Naval Hospital Argentia, Newfoundland, USS Fort Mandan (LSD 21), and Philadelphia Naval Hospital.

During his time at Quantico and Bethesda, Cosby worked in Physical Therapy helping to rehabilitate Korean War veterans, a duty he liked and excelled at.

He was also an athlete for the Navy playing football, basketball, baseball, and running track and field.

Cosby said that the Navy transformed him from an aimless, uneducated kid into a man with drive, discipline and self-respect.

"Bill Cosby is not just a comedian and an actor, although he's pretty good at both, he's also been a tireless advocate for social responsibility and education – and a constant friend to the Navy," said Mabus. "Last year was the highest compliment I've ever received – being made an honorary chief petty officer, and now Dr. Cosby – you're about to get the same honor."

MCPON and SECNAV placed the Chief anchors on Cosby in front of a huge gathering of Chief Petty Officers and Sailors. MCPON helped Cosby don a Chief Hospital Corpsman service dress blue jacket and SECNAV presented Cosby with a Chief's cover.

"I will tell to you like I tell all of our new chiefs … when I pin these anchors on you, your job isn't over and your journey is just beginning," said West. "There is no greater honor than having earned the title "Chief" and the responsibility to our Sailors and our Navy that comes with it and we will expect more of you."

"Thank you all," said Cosby. "The years I spent in the Navy and so many moments remembering that the Navy gave me a wake-up call. The Navy showed me obedience and that's the thing that pushed me to realize the mistakes I had made in my young life at 19-years-old and that I could do something with myself and become somebody."

Cosby was honorably discharged in 1960 as a Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class. His awards included Navy Good Conduct Medal and National Defense Service Medal. He also received the 2010 Lone Sailor Award from the U.S. Navy Memorial.

For more news from Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, visit www.navy.mil/local/mcpon/.

Willard Cites Need for Asia-Pacific Stability

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 17, 2011 – The Asia-Pacific region is the engine of global economic growth now, and the U.S. Pacific Command is a strong force for stability in the area, Navy Adm. Robert F. Willard said at a Foreign Press Center news conference here today.

Willard has been in command of U.S. Pacific Command for 16 months. He said the same issues that confronted the command when he arrived still exist.

Pacom provides security for the Asia-Pacific region, the admiral said, by ensuring international access to sea and air lines of communication and commerce, and fostering good relationships with countries across the area.

The Asia-Pacific region remains the center of gravity for global prosperity and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future,” Willard said.

“I look forward to U.S. Pacific Command continuing to contribute to the security of this critically important part of the world,” he said.

Two nations in the region -– China and India –- are becoming global superpowers. Willard said he is focused on developing military-to-military relations with China, and making those relationships with India –- already good -– closer.

Willard discussed his command’s thinking as part of the Global Posture Review for American forces. The posture review looks at the positioning of all American forces and the means it takes to deliver those forces to trouble spots.

“The posture of U.S. Pacific Command forces is a holistic discussion: It’s more than just the forward basing in Japan and South Korea. It involves a discussion of my deployed forces as well,” the admiral said.

American forces are concentrated in Northeast Asia due to history and necessity, Willard said, noting the United States has pledged to defend Japan. Also, he added, there are 28,000 U.S. forces in South Korea that are a force for stability on the peninsula.

America has vital national interests throughout the Asia-Pacific region, Willard said.

“I am required to be present in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Oceania, and I have to do so through the deployed forces and sustainment of forces at great expense,” the admiral said of Pacom’s presence across the region.

Meanwhile, Pacom is maintaining that presence while it works with U.S. allies in the region, Willard said.

Currently, he said, the U.S. footprint in the Asia-Pacific region has “to do with how to adjust the disposition of where those forces operate from to relive some of the economic and other pressures on U.S. Pacific Command.”

Japan remains a cornerstone for the U.S. efforts in the region, Willard said. The relationship between the U.S. military and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, he said, is long-standing and very close.

“We have discussed and continue to encourage the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to provide for the larger Asia-Pacific region as they can,” the admiral said. “They have supported us in the past during Operation Enduring Freedom in the Indian Ocean region, and they continue to engage with many partners in the Asia-Pacific.”

The admiral also answered questions about Chinese missiles.

“Certainly, they have a formidable missile capability that has continued to grow,” he said. “We watch this very carefully. The idea that, in combination with other [People’s Liberation Army] capabilities, this could constitute a broader anti-access or area denial threat to the region -- be that Japan or the Philippines or Vietnam or the Republic of Korea -- and can become a regional concern.”

Willard said it is important that China “be open with and prepared to dialogue with” the United States and other countries of the region.

'Military Saves Week' Approaches

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (AW) LaTunya Howard, Navy Personnel Command Public Affairs Office

MILLINGTON, Tenn. (NNS) -- "Military Saves Week," Feb. 20-27, is an important part of the Department of Defense (DoD) personal financial readiness campaign in which commands are encouraged to provide training and financial resource information to Sailors and their family members.

According to NAVADMIN 011/11, it is imperative that commands create a culture encouraging savings and financial readiness to better position Sailors in an ever-changing economy. The campaign is designed to alter money-handling behaviors through education on achieving long-term financial fitness.

The theme this year is "Building Wealth, Not Debt." During the financially focused week, Sailors and their families can attend lectures or participate in forums and contests, that promote personal savings, debt reduction and good financial habits.

"At the beginning of each year, many individuals and families reflect on what was accomplished financially in the previous year, and what can be improved upon in the new year," said Stacy Livingstone-Hoyte, Fleet and Family Support Center financial educator, Naval Support Activity Mid-South. "Military Saves Week is an excellent opportunity to allow experts to assist with that annual financial review."

The campaign is a combined effort between the DoD and the Consumer Federation of America.

Command leadership is urged to tap into local organizations such as banks, credit unions, public affairs and Fleet and Family Support Services. Enlisted advisors, installation relief societies, spouse groups, and child and youth programs are also additional resources.

"Self-education is key," said Livingston-Hoyte. "Spending a few minutes each day capturing financial news and headlines can empower anyone to become a better money manager."

"Financial readiness is a decision Sailors make by setting financial goals and working toward them," said Vice Adm. J.M. Bird, director, Navy staff. "Sailors and their families can become military savers by making a personal commitment."

Chairman’s Corner: Ask the Chairman

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

WASHINGTON, Feb. 17, 2011 – I am getting ready to launch my third installment of “Ask the Chairman: A Virtual Town Hall,” and I need your support.

Over the next few weeks, I will be seeking and collecting your questions on any topic you want to raise. This is a great opportunity for troops past and present, their families, and other concerned citizens to get to me directly and in an interactive manner.

For service members, especially those who have served abroad, this is your chance to address the decisions we make here in the Pentagon that affect you on a day-to-day basis. Let me know what’s working, and what’s not. Let me help explain something that may seem confusing to you now.

But, as I said, “Ask the Chairman” is not limited to our troops. I hope to hear from family members, other concerned Americans, and citizens of the world as well, because in these critical times, there are challenges across the globe which demand our attention and our steady focus.

To participate, just send your question via YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, or any other medium from now until the end of the month. I will answer those questions in the next and future segments of “Ask the Chairman.” Send your questions today. I’m waiting to hear from you.

Flag Officer Announcements

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead announced today the following assignments:

Rear Adm. (lower half) Barry L. Bruner will be assigned as commander, Navy Warfare Development Command, Norfolk, Va.  Bruner is currently serving as commander, Submarine Group Ten, Kings Bay, Ga.

Rear Adm. (lower half) Walter E. Carter Jr. will be assigned as commander, Carrier Strike Group Twelve, Norfolk, Va.  Carter is currently serving as commander, Joint Enabling Capabilities Command, U.S. Joint Forces Command, Norfolk, Va.

Rear Adm. (lower half) James D. Cloyd will be assigned as commander, Navy Region Japan / commander, U.S. Naval Forces, Japan / commander, Naval Component, U.S. Forces, Japan, Yokosuka, Japan.  Cloyd is currently serving as commander, Task Force Seven Zero and commander, Carrier Strike Group Five, Yokosuka, Japan.

Rear Adm. (lower half) Michael T. Franken will be assigned as commander, Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, U.S. Africa Command, Camp Lemonier, Djibouti.  Franken is currently serving as vice director, plans and policy, J5B, U.S. Central Command, MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.

Rear Adm. Mark D. Guadagnini will be assigned as director, readiness and training, N4/N7, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, Norfolk, Va.  Guadagnini is currently serving as commander, Carrier Strike Group Nine, Everett, Wash.

Rear Adm. (lower half) John R. Haley will be assigned as commander, Task Force Seven Zero and commander, Carrier Strike Group Five, Yokosuka, Japan.  Haley is currently serving as director, operations and plans, N31, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Washington, D.C.

Rear Adm. Arthur J. Johnson will be assigned as director, Assessment Division, N81, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Washington, D.C.  Johnson is currently serving as commander, Naval Safety Center, Norfolk, Va.

Rear Adm. Brian C. Prindle will be assigned as commander, Naval Safety Center, Norfolk, Va.  Prindle is currently serving as director, Assessment Division, N81, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Washington, D.C.

Capt. Joseph E. Tofalo, who has been selected for promotion to rear admiral (lower half), will be assigned to commander, Submarine Group Ten, Kings Bay, Ga.  Tofalo is currently serving as director, joint operations, N3, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, Norfolk, Va.

The War Within: Preventing Suicides in the Military

The increase in suicides among members of the military has raised concern among policymakers, military leaders, and the population at large – especially over the past few years. While the Defense Department and the military services have had a number of efforts under way to deal with the increase in suicides among their members, in 2008 the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs specifically asked the RAND National Defense Research Institute (NDRI) to identify best practices and determine if the Defense Department and service programs employed such practices. RAND focused on the following research activities:

■Review of the current evidence detailing suicide epidemiology in the military
■Identification of “best-practice” suicide-prevention programs
■Description and catalog of suicide-prevention activities in the Defense Department and across each service
■Recommendations for ways to ensure that the activities in the Defense Department and across each service reflect best practices

“Throughout the Defense Department the issue of suicide is taken very seriously. The RAND study helps us to identify areas that need improvement so that we can continue to provide the most comprehensive health care for our service members – from the inside out,” said Director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Navy Capt. Paul Hammer.

From September 2008 to November 2009, RAND conducted a literature search, reviewed relevant policies, interviewed subject matter experts within the Defense Department and in the field of suicidology, and assessed Defense Department and service programs based on information gathered.

The report contains information on the epidemiology of suicide; reviews of scientific evidence and suicide prevention activities; a summary of funding and responsibilities within the services; an assessment of service prevention programs; and a number of specific recommendations for suicide prevention.

“Suicide is a tragic event, and, although evidence is scant, comments from the experts we interviewed, in addition to the literature we reviewed, suggest that it can be prevented,” said Dr. Rajeev Ramchand, a RAND researcher who led the study. “Our investigation into the suicide-prevention programs in DoD and across the services revealed examples of programs following best practices as well as those lacking in a number of domains. The recommendations we provide represent the ways in which the best available evidence suggests that even more of these untimely deaths could be avoided.”

The report was written for health policy officials and suicide prevention program managers in order to update program managers and to inform program and policy developers regarding suicide prevention strategies in the military. However, the results should also be of interest to health policy officials within the U.S. Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Health and Human Services and the U.S. Congress.

“This report will help inform how Defense Department can improve suicide prevention programming and efforts to prevent further suicides in the military,” said Hammer. For questions, please contact CDR Janet Hawkins at Janet.Hawkins@tma.osd.mil.

General Officer Announcement

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates announced today that the President has nominated Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Conant to serve as deputy commander, U.S. Pacific Command and for appointment to the rank of lieutenant general.  Conant is currently serving as commanding general, 3d Marine Aircraft Wing in Miramar, Calif.

General Officer Announcements

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates announced today that the President has made the following nominations:

Army Maj. Gen. Joseph L. Votel for appointment to the grade of lieutenant general and assignment as commander, Joint Special Operations Command/commander, Joint Special Operations Command Forward, U.S. Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, N.C.  Votel is currently serving as chief of staff, U.S. Special Operations Command, MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.

Army Reserve Col. Kaffia Jones has been nominated for appointment to the grade of brigadier general and assignment as commander, (troop program unit), 359th Signal Brigade, Fort Gordon, Ga.  Jones is currently serving as chief of staff, (troop program unit), 335th Theater Signal Command, East Point, Ga.

Stephen W. Groves, South African Sailors Participate in a Joint COMREL

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class William Jamieson, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Africa/Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet Public Affairs

LOTUS RIVER, South Africa (NNS) -- USS Stephen W. Groves (FFG 29) and South African Sailors participated in a community relations (COMREL) project at the Buck Road Primary School in Lotus River, South Africa, Feb. 15.

During the COMREL the Sailors joined forces to give the school a fresh coat of paint and continue the strong working partnership between South Africa and the United States.

"In the U.S., we have so much to be thankful for," said Cmdr. Matthew S. Rick, USS Stephen W. Groves commanding officer. "It is always a great thing for the ship's crew to be able to extend those blessings to other countries. To work jointly with the South African Navy as a team on this project made the whole experience even more rewarding."

Gurardine Herbet, the school principal, mentioned that the school had faced many difficulties with funding and crime in the area, and that volunteers, such as the Sailors from the South African and United States Navy, help keep the school running.

"They [the South African and United States Navy] have given us the start we need to accomplish more with the facilities we have," said Herbert. "To see the school painted will improve the morale among the teachers, parents and students. Our teachers work tirelessly to ensure our students receive the best possible education. Without volunteers we wouldn't be able to provide the crucial services we now offer, or even upkeep for our facilities."

Buck Road Primary School was opened in 1973 and currently has more than 750 students enrolled from kindergarten to 7th grade.

"I hope people see that the U.S. tries to help their neighbors," said Herbert. "You don't always hear the positive things U.S. troops do around the world, but we are very thankful they came to Buckroad and hope they can visit South Africa again."

For many of the Sailors from Stephen W. Groves, the positive experience of this COMREL event left them wanting to do more.

"This was my first COMREL with the Navy," said Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Christopher M. Neef. "It felt good to be able meet and help the kids. I've already contacted my church, and we are going to try and get more supplies to them. Helping people is why I joined the Navy, and it feels good to get to do something like this where you can see the good you are doing."

USS Stephen W. Groves, an Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate homeported in Mayport, Fla., visited South Africa to strengthen the military partnership between South African and United States naval forces through joint-military exercises and training.

For more news from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/naveur/.

Face of Defense: Marine Plans Rebound From Injuries

By Marine Corps Pfc. Franklin E. Mercado
1st Marine Logistics Group

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C., Feb. 17, 2011Marja, Afghanistan, was the site of many deaths and injuries while Marines and other coalition forces seized the city early last year to rid it of Taliban forces. Even now, a year after the initial assault, the urban center remains a dangerous region of Helmand province.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Brian K. Steele, a native of Paris, Ill., can testify to the still-dangerous environment around Forward Operating Base Hansen, one of the many coalition outposts that now dot the city.

On Jan. 22, Steele, who commander the sixth vehicle in a 17-vehicle convoy, was near Forward Operating Base Hansen when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb.

He was wearing all of his protective equipment, but the blast left him in serious condition. Steele, a combat engineer with the 1st Marine Logistics Group’s 8th Engineer Support Battalion, suffered injuries to his cheekbone and hip joint area, among other fractures.

The experience is something he says he will never forget.

“Getting blown up will stay with me for the rest of my life,” Steele said. “It’s a life-changing experience, obviously, but I’m fine, and that’s what’s important.”

After the explosion, Steele was taken to Camp Bastion. Soon thereafter, he was admitted to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and he subsequently was taken to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Now on convalescent leave, he said he’s taking the rest of his life one step at a time as he continues to recover from his injuries.

Despite his injuries, Steele said, his morale has not been shaken. The self-proclaimed trail blazer, who received the Purple Heart Medal on Feb. 15, said he has a plan and is not going to let something like a combat wound keep him down for long, and that he hopes to make a full recovery and return to duty.

“I like following my own path,” he said. “I make my own decisions. Even growing up, I liked to do my own thing.”

USS GHW Bush Departs Mayport

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Joshua K. Horton, USS George H.W. Bush Public Affairs

MAYPORT, Fla. (NNS) -- USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) completed a successful port visit aboard Naval Station Mayport, Fla., Feb. 11-14.

Prior to arriving in Mayport, George H.W. Bush, the flagship of the GHWB Strike Group, finished its Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX).

The exercise is designed to test the ship's ability to accomplish its mission by simulating real-world events and monitoring reactions to multiple scenarios.

During the three-day port visit to the Jacksonville area, George H.W. Bush Sailors found different ways to take a break from the hectic underway routine.

Some chose to participate in one of the many entertainment options made available to them by the ships Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) department, which included trips to Walt Disney World and the Daytona International Speedway. In all, more than 750 tickets to various events were sold through the ship's MWR office.

Among those traveling with MWR to the race in Daytona, was Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Drevon L. Thompson, who attended a NASCAR race for the first time.

"It was something different, something new. I really liked it," said Thompson.

Others preferred a laid-back night out with friends.

"We went out and got some food, saw some movies, just everyday stuff you do back home," said Intelligence Specialist 3rd Class Andrew H. Masters.

One Sailor in particular took advantage of his time off by spending it with family who lived in the area.

"I got to spend quality time with my daughter. It was great," said Aviation Electronics Technician Airman Erik Salgado.

A group of 23 Sailors spent four hours digging up grass and smoothing soil on the grounds of the Florida Baptist Children's Home, Feb. 12.

"Having volunteers is absolutely critical, and we wouldn't be able to keep up the property grounds or the children's home itself without volunteers," said Luther Scarboro, Florida Baptist Children's Home director of maintenance.

"What a great visit," said Naval Station Mayport Command Master Chief (SW/AW) David L. Anderson. "The crew conducted themselves with pride and professionalism, and were not only great ambassadors for the ship, but for our Navy too."

At the conclusion of the port visit, George H.W. Bush got underway for the final phase of its pre-deployment training, Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX). JTFEX simulates the integration of the George H.W. Bush and other Strike Group ships into a joint task force and tests their ability to operate effectively with other military forces.

During JTFEX, George H.W. Bush and the strike group will have their combat readiness evaluated by Strike Force Training Group Atlantic (SFTL). Following certification by 2nd Fleet, USS George H.W. Bush expects to depart on its initial combat deployment in the spring 2011.

For more news from USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn77/.