Monday, March 07, 2011

Face of Defense: Sergeant Defies Odds to Pursue Dream

By Air Force Staff Sgt. Andrea Thacker
23rd Wing

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga., March 7, 2011 – When many people hear the odds are against them, they simply give up. But Air Force Master Sgt. Robert Disney does just the opposite and says, "Challenge accepted."

Nearly 14 years ago, when Disney told an Air Force recruiter he had dreams of becoming a cross between a doctor and a Navy SEAL, the recruiter sent him to the back of the office to a stack of dusty pararescue pamphlets.

“He said, ‘I think I have exactly what you're looking for, but don't get your hopes up, kid. No one I've sent has made the cut, and you probably won't, either,’” Disney recalled.

"That's all I needed to hear and I was hooked," Disney added. "Once I dusted off that flyer and saw a dark-haired, handsome-looking, Italian guy in a maroon beret on the cover, I read through it. I immediately knew it was something I wanted to do. I didn't stop talking about it all summer until I left for basic training."

Of the 86 students in his course, only six had what it took to graduate as a pararescue jumper: Disney was one of the six. That was the first of many challenges he has met.

"I walked into the 38th Rescue Squadron, brand new, two stripes on my arm, and this big, tall, muscular guy walked in, and I recognized him immediately as being the guy from the pamphlet," Disney said. "He said to me in a New York accent, 'Is that Bobby Disney? I hear you're a real goofy guy,' and kind of chuckled to himself for his Disney joke. That's how I met Mike [Maltz]. He was the best."

That was Disney's first encounter with the man who eventually would become his mentor and affect his career in more ways than one.

Disney is the 347th Rescue Group's standards and evaluations superintendent, but he’s also known in the rescue community here as the "Black Cloud," a nickname he got from fellow PJs after what he called the "series of the unfortunate three" incidents.

Rewind to August 2002. In the mountains of Afghanistan, then-staff sergeant Disney was on his second real-world rescue, a mission to pick up two men who had been involved in a firefight and transport them to a tiny post in the middle of nowhere. Since they were at such a high altitude, Disney said, the helicopter had to do a marginal power takeoff. But the crew was asking for more than the helicopter’s engines could handle, as the craft couldn’t gain enough altitude or airspeed to avoid a "brownout" -- decreased visibility resulting from a dust cloud. Disney recalled that he was sitting in the left-side door and began to see the ground racing toward them.

"It felt like we were coming down, and fast," he said, "so I determined it'd be best if I wasn't sitting in the doorway if we did impact the ground. I moved inside the helicopter, then I heard the left gunner yelling 'Stop left, stop left!' About that time, I felt a really hard impact.

"Somehow, I don't know how, … I wasn't in that door when it slammed shut. Angels on my shoulder, right?" he added, referring to the pararescue patch, which features an angel that signifies the help PJs provide from above.

"The rotors were chewing into the ground, and there were no blades on it anymore," Disney said. "The engines [were on] full power, and it was just getting louder and louder, higher-pitched and higher-pitched, and I'm just laying there with everything on me, and it's very, very calm [and] serene. It wasn't a struggle to get out. There wasn't anything I could do. It was just laying there until all the violent motion stopped. Knowing what might have been coming was the worst part."

Finally, the pilots shut down the engines, and Disney said he recalls everything going deathly quiet until the helicopter's team leader snapped everyone back to reality by yelling out, "Sound off by crew position." Once the crew sounded off, the team lead yelled "Get out."

Disney said he thought he'd already survived the worst, and he re-enlisted seven days later. Six weeks later, on a different aircraft and in a different country, Disney witnessed an event that rocked him to the core.

"We starting hearing radio chatter of a boy and girl who fell down a hill," he said. "We started referring to this rescue as ‘Jack and Jill.’ In a C-130 Hercules, we launched out of Uzbekistan, and two helicopters launched out Afghanistan. It was one of the darkest nights I've ever seen through night vision goggles -- dark as can be. … [We] could barely see the ground. We refueled both helicopters by colored light signals because of how dark it was."

As he watched through the C-130’s side window, Disney said, he could see the ground through his night-vision goggles, then he would lose it again as if the aircraft was punching in and out of clouds, even 400 feet above the ground. Then, he said, he felt a familiar tug when the second helicopter disconnected from the refueling hose.

"Not five seconds later, I saw a bright flash of light that flooded out my [night-vision goggles]," he said. "Then, all I heard was a blood-curdling screaming coming from the loadmaster. It looked like an explosion. It lit up the whole countryside. I thought someone had been hit by a surface-to-air missile, and we were next. Then I heard, 'Helicopter crash, .'"

The wheels in the veteran PJ's head began turning. Knowing they were at 400 feet and were configured to jump, Disney said, he was ready. The combat rescue officer aboard the C-130 made the decision not to jump until they knew more, because the second helicopter’s crew already had found three of the six crash victims.

Because the area was unknown and hostile, the crew was recalled to home base, and Disney had to leave the crash site against his will.

"When I got back on the ground, I got the word on the guys who were on the bird," Disney said. "One of them was Mike Maltz. I can't tell you how I will always feel about that night. I mean, the Airmen's Creed says 'I will never leave airman behind,’ … and we had to leave guys behind on the ground that night. Everything in me wishes I could have jumped in, [that] I could have done something.

"It was like losing a father -- losing a mentor and losing a friend all at the same time," a choked-up Disney continued. "It was one of the hardest moments. It was hard."

A few months after losing the iconic figure who graced the cover of his recruiting pamphlet, Disney was back in the mix. He was about to stumble upon the last event in “the unfortunate three.”

"It was April 18, Good Friday," Disney said. "I know the date, because I had been practicing to play my guitar at the Easter Sunday service. We were going on a training mission or exercise. It was about a 45-minute flight to get where we were going. When the pilots said, ‘It's out there,’ I looked out and saw what looked like people."

By the time they were committed to land, the people were gone, Disney said. Then he heard two sounds, the second confirming they were taking gunfire from at least four people.

"I racked my weapon,” he said. “As I moved to sit down, I brought my weapon up, and I can see flashes now coming out the back now, and [with] one of those flashes there was a weird disturbance of air. "Then came a sensation of two things at the same time. It was like someone swung a baseball bat in my face and the other was a shockwave that rippled through my whole body."

Defending the helicopter and killing the people who were shooting at them was his only thought at the time, Disney said.

"I looked over at the guy across from me and yelled 'I'm shot! I'm hit!' and then I moved into a position to return fire. He yells, 'Shoot back, shoot back, shoot back,'" Disney said.

Within seconds of the helicopter touching down, three people were wounded. Through the barrage of gunfire and with a gunshot wound to right side of his cheek, Disney returned fire. By the time the crew left the scene, only 30 seconds had passed since initial contact. All the crew members survived and returned to base to seek medical care.

When he returned to Moody Air Force Base after his deployment, the Purple Heart recipient said, he could focus on getting back to normal and performing with his guitar in clubs around Valdosta. Two years later, the only thing that was missing in his life was a little romance, Disney said. He met a local girl named Tess, and they soon fell in love, he added, but the Air Force had other plans, sending the master sergeant to the Royal Air Force base at Mildenhall, England.

Knowing that Tess was the one, Disney said, he proposed.

"I asked Tess to marry me on Christmas Day over the phone," he said. "I sent her a ring in the mail. The company sent her both of the rings at the same time, and she opened the wedding band first and was like 'Awww.'"

Tess Disney laughed and said, "It was messed up," as she continued the story. "This is a wedding band, this isn't an engagement ring. … I was like, ‘Wait a minute, that's for later on."

Now nearly six years later and back at Moody, the Disneys are living happily with two horses and three dogs.

Tess said she has learned to live with her husband's many deployments and knowing that his nickname is Black Cloud. "I'm a strong wife and I have strong faith,” she said. “Worrying isn't going to help anything.”

She tells people with a laugh that she imagines Robert is off staying at a resort. "I know he has someone watching out for him,” she said. “He's been through all that already. He's here for a reason."

After all that has happened in his life, Disney still has one ongoing challenge to face, and that is living up to his name, he said.

"Someone I looked up to once said to me, "When people meet you, you're either going to be one of two things," Disney said. "You're either going to be a big disappointment -- a dirtbag who got shot in the face -- or you're actually going to be ‘that guy,’ the one people can look up to."

These words changed his life, Disney said. Since then, he added, he hasn't stopped saying, "Challenge accepted."

Marriage Enrichment Workshop Helps Guam-Based Sailors, Spouses

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Gabrielle Blake, USS Frank Cable Public Affairs

POLARIS POINT, Guam (NNS) -- The submarine tender USS Frank Cable (AS 40) Religious Ministries Department along with Naval Base Guam (NBG), Naval Hospital Guam Chaplains and Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) representatives held a Marriage Enrichment Workshop (MEW), Feb. 25.

"This workshop is about teaching a communication strategy for couples, so they can learn how to better handle the difficult situations that sometimes wear down and eventually wreck marriages due to spouses misunderstanding and misinterpreting each other," said Cable's Chaplain Lt. Cmdr. Ronald Rinaldi.

The six-hour workshop included interactive training with practice and communication games intended to give couples tools and skills that could last a lifetime.

"We played the game Taboo, showing us how good and bad we communicate with each other," said Information Systems Technician 3rd Class Eric Gonzales. "We talked with our partners about what we felt we needed them to work on, and then the chaplains helped us refine the words we used, so we don't negatively impact the situation causing it to escalate."

Rinaldi said part of the mission is to help prepare young Sailors for marriage and give couples a much better chance for lasting success in those marriages. He said it can also be an enhancer for Sailors who have been married for a number of years.

"This training can help make good marriages better," said Rinaldi. "This workshop is not designed to put their marriages back together. However, for those couples having challenges, it will provide a much better foundation and skills to work out problems in a better way."

This is the second MEW sponsored by Cable's Religious Ministries Team.

"It is intended to be a quarterly training (event) conducted at the NBG Chapel and in conjunction and cooperation with all naval commands in Guam," said Rinaldi.

"I loved the course," said Gonzales. "The most important thing I learned is how to communicate with my partner without causing a fight, and it got me to understand her and respect her more as a person."

Cable conducts maintenance and support of submarines and surface vessels deployed in the U.S. 7th Fleet Area of Responsibility.

Panel Says Rescind Policy on Women in Combat

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 7, 2011 – A commission established to study diversity among military leaders is recommending that the Defense Department rescind its policy that prevents women from being assigned to ground combat units below the brigade level.

In a report issued today, the Military Leadership Diversity Commission recommends that the department and the services eliminate combat exclusion policies for women, as well as other “barriers and inconsistencies, to create a level playing field for all qualified service members.”

Retired Air Force Gen. Lester L. Lyles, who chaired the commission, said the recommendation –- one of 20 in the report and the only one specific to women –- is one way the congressionally mandated body suggests the military can get more qualified women into its more-senior leadership ranks.

“We know that [the exclusion] hinders women from promotion,” Lyles said in an interview with American Forces Press Service. “We want to take away all the hindrances and cultural biases” in promotions.

The commission was established as part of the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act to evaluate and assess policies that provide opportunities for promotion and advancement of women and racial and ethnic minorities in the armed forces.

The 1994 combat exclusion policy, as written, precludes women from being “assigned” to ground combat units, but women have for years served in ground combat situations by serving in units deemed “attached” to ground units, Lyles said. That distinction keeps them from being recognized for their ground combat experience -- recognition that would enhance their chances for promotion, he said.

“If you look at today’s battlefield -- in Iraq and Afghanistan -- it’s not like it was in the Cold War, when we had a defined battlefield,” Lyles said. “Women serve -– and they lead –- military security, military police units, air defense units, intelligence units –- all of which have to be right there with combat veterans in order to do the job appropriately.”

Women serving in combat environments are being shot at, killed and maimed, Lyles said.

“But they’re not getting the credit for being in combat arms,” he said, “[and] that’s important for their consideration for the most senior flag ranks -- three stars and four stars, primarily.”

In the commission’s outreach to military leaders, Lyles said, at least a couple of service leaders thought there would be little interest among women to serve in combat. But when the commission brought in a panel of commissioned and enlisted women from different services, “that’s certainly not what we picked up” from talking to them, he said.

“I didn’t hear, ‘Rah, rah, we want to be in combat,’” he said, “but I also didn’t hear, ‘We don’t want to be in combat.’ What they want is an equal opportunity to serve where their skills allow them to serve. Removing the barriers for that, and removing the barriers to them getting credit for that, was our No. 1 focus.”

Defense Department spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said department officials "will thoroughly evaluate" the panel’s recommendations as part of their ongoing review of diversity policies.

Meanwhile, she said, "Women will continue to be assigned to units and positions that may necessitate combat actions within the scope of their restricted positioning -- situations for which they are fully trained and equipped to respond."

Women make up about 15 percent of active-duty service members; 18 percent of National Guard and reserves; and ten percent of Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans; and 10 percent of those who have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters, Lainez said.

BRAC Transforms Aberdeen Proving Ground Mission

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md., March 7, 2011 – With just over six months left to implement the Base Closure and Realignment Commission plan, the sweeping transformation it has sparked here is well under way and slated to be completed on time and under budget, officials reported.

The BRAC plan took effect in November 2005, and impacts more than 800 military installations. It involves closing some, consolidating or realigning others, and ultimately relocating some 123,000 military members and civilian employees. By law, all these actions must be completed by Sept. 15, 2011.

The plan is bringing major growth to Aberdeen Proving Ground -- more than 6,500 people and more than $1 billion in new construction to accommodate the new workers, Army Col. Orlando W. Ortiz, the garrison commander, told American Forces Press Service.

But it’s also bringing a fundamental change to the post’s historic mission, and how the Army ensures its warfighters have the most advanced equipment and systems possible to succeed on the battlefield.

The U.S. Army Ordnance Center and School, the major tenant that defined Aberdeen Proving Ground’s very identity for nearly a century, already has moved to Fort Lee, Va. There, it is part of the new Sustainment Center of Excellence, another BRAC initiative.

As officials here closed a page on their post’s legacy, they were busy preparing to open an exciting new one that would transform the installation into a hub of cutting-edge communications and electronics technology.

Aberdeen Proving Ground has long been heavily involved in the Army’s research, development, testing and evaluation mission, explained Army Col. Andrew Nelson, deputy garrison commander for transformation. But by consolidating many disparate and geographically separated organizations that supported those processes here at one post, BRAC is “bringing it to the next level,” he said.

“Aberdeen Proving Ground has been, but will be to a greater extent, one of the Army’s major hubs of research and development of new technologies, and the testing and evaluation of those new technologies that lead to fielding new systems to support the warfighter,” Nelson said.

“This is the center of all of that -- the technology development that is leading to soldiers being better equipped and better supported in the operational environment where they are,” he said. “It’s the clothes they wear, the radios they speak through, the computer system that tracks where individual vehicles and soldiers are on the battlefield, to having [unmanned aerial vehicles] that give them the best intelligence of what the enemy is doing.

“That is what Aberdeen Proving Ground already is, and what it will be about,” Nelson said. “Everything we do here is all about ensuring that the individual soldier and the combat leader have the best possible equipment and systems and technology that is giving them the advantage on the battlefield.”

The biggest group of new arrivals to support this expanded mission is a collection of activities referred to as “the C4ISR materiel enterprise” that focuses on command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

The lion’s share of its 7,200 people are coming from Fort Monmouth, N.J., which is closing under BRAC and transferring most of its functions to Aberdeen. The new arrivals hail from Fort Monmouth’s Communications and Electronics Command and Communications-Electronic Research, Development and Engineering Center and several of their program executive offices. Others are arriving from related activities at Redstone Arsenal, Ala.; Fort Huachuca, Ariz.; and Fort Belvoir, Va.

CECOM established a forward presence at Aberdeen in 2007, and officially uncased its colors here in October 2010. A steady stream of its workforce began arriving this past summer, some directly from Fort Monmouth, some from temporary swing space at Aberdeen and others, new hires replacing workers who chose not to relocate.

Today, about 60 percent of the new C4ISR team already has made the move to Aberdeen Proving Ground, settling into the state-of-the-art research and development campus known as the “C4ISR Center of Excellence.”

Meanwhile, construction crews are putting the finishing touches on the second phase of the C4ISR project, which Nelson said is expected to be completed this month or next. The entire C4ISR complex, once complete, will include 13 buildings and more than 2.5 million square feet of new space.

The next-largest group of newcomers to Aberdeen, numbering just over 600, hails from the Army Test and Evaluation Command headquarters and Army Evaluation Center, both in Alexandria, Va. While construction was wrapping up on its new headquarters, Army Maj. Gen. Genaro Dellarocco opted to move directly to Aberdeen, rather than temporarily to Alexandria, when he assumed command in October. Working in swing space at Aberdeen, he’s paving the way for the rest of the headquarters elements to follow, while supervising subordinate commands that were already based at Aberdeen when the BRAC recommendations were announced.

In addition, BRAC is consolidating a variety of other organizations at Aberdeen. These include the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense from Falls Church, Va.; Air Force Non-Medical Chemical-Biological Defense Development and Acquisition, from Brooks City Base, Texas; the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research from Forest Glen, Md., the Army Research Institute from Fort Knox, Ky., and the Army Research Laboratory’s Vehicle Technology Directorate from Langley, Va., and Glenn, Ohio.

The BRAC initiative also has brought a broad range of defense contractors to Aberdeen Proving Ground, where many are operating in a new 416-acre complex just outside the gate.

Ortiz credited detailed planning that started before the ink had even dried on the BRAC 2005 recommendations with ensuring the post is ready to receive the new arrivals.

The planners worked closely with inbound organizations to identify their exact requirements, and with state and local officials to ensure surrounding communities were prepared for the influx.

And, able to take advantage of an economic slump that made bidding on the 17 major construction projects required at Aberdeen Proving Ground highly competitive, they realized huge cost-savings in implementing BRAC.

“In our fiscal year 2010 program, we were awarding contracts at 60 to 70 percent of what the government estimate was [in 2005],” Nelson said. “That’s a big savings, money the Army didn’t have to invest here.”

The first major construction project, a new gate with five vehicle inspection lanes, was completed in May 2009. As the other projects took shape around the installation, less obvious to casual observers were the tremendous infrastructure improvements required to support them. These included multiple-lane gate accesses, roadways, water, sewer and electrical line and miles and miles of fiber optic cabling.

Exciting as these new developments are, Ortiz said he’s made a concerted effort to ensure Aberdeen’s 70-plus previous tenants don’t get short shrift.

“We don’t want haves and have-nots,” he said.

So the post has undertaken a massive plan to upgrade existing facilities and demolish many of its old World War I- and II-era buildings. Ultimately, plans call for demolishing 188 facilities and 775 housing units over the next five years. As these efforts continue, Nelson said he expects lots of activity at Aberdeen during the spring and summer months as workers move into new or renovated facilities. July is expected to be particularly busy.

With the clock ticking down, Ortiz said he’s confident Aberdeen Proving Ground is on track to fully comply with the Sept. 15 BRAC deadline.

“We’ve already integrated a sizeable number of the new workers and the buildings that aren’t already completed are very far along,” he said. “The conditions are pretty well set.”

The plan is going so well, in fact, that Ortiz expects Sept. 16, the first workday after the BRAC deadline, to be “just another day at work” at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

“I honestly do not believe that on Sept. 16, folks are going to notice anything different,” he said. “As the locals will tell you, for us, BRAC has already happened. The magic of that Sept. 15 date has long come and gone.”

So instead of fixating on the BRAC deadline, Aberdeen Proving Ground is focusing on its new, expanded mission, Ortiz said.

“What we’re focusing on is the future,” he said.”That’s where we really need to go.”

Boxer Amphibious Ready Group Enters 7th Fleet

By Lt. Chad A. Dulac, USS Boxer Public Affairs

PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) -- The Boxer Amphibious Ready Group (BOXARG) entered the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility on March 6, as part of the ship's Western Pacific deployment.

BOXARG arrived in 7th Fleet in support of the Navy's maritime strategy, which includes maritime interdiction operations, counter piracy, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and to promote peace and stability in the region.

"We are entering the Western Pacific area of operation on our transit west with all of our mission capabilities at the ready to support U.S. forces and our regional partners," said Commander, Amphibious Squadron 1 Capt. J. Curtis Shaub. "Our Sailors and Marines continue to train during our passage through 7th Fleet, maintaining their already superb level of proficiency."

The ready group consists of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4), amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20) and the amphibious dock landing ship USS Comstock (LSD 45). The ARG is comprised of more than 4,000 personnel with approximately 1,800 Sailors and 2,200 embarked Marines from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

"The world is seeing a high amount of unrest in multiple locations, and with the enduring sea-based assets of our Navy/Marine Team, deployable to over 80 percent of the earth, we can deliver a multitude of capabilities across the spectrum of kinetic and humanitarian mission sets," said Shaub. "We also partner with nations, training and exercising, to lend additional stability and learn from our global friends, neighbors and allies."

Other elements of the BOXARG include the Fleet Surgical Team 3; Tactical Air Control Squadron 11; Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 23, Det. 5; Assault Craft Unit 1, Det. C; Assault Craft Unit 5, Det. C and Beach Master Unit 1, Det. E.

The 7th Fleet area of responsibility includes more than 48 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean, running from the international date line to the eastern coast of Africa, and from the Antarctic to the Kuril Islands, Northeast of Japan. It contains more than half of the world's population.

U.S. 7th Fleet units take part in as many as 100 bilateral and multilateral exercises each year. In addition to these exercises, ships deployed to the 7th Fleet conduct more than 250 port visits every year, as ambassadors of the United States of America.