Monday, March 21, 2011

Terrorism, Weapons Top Threat List, Gates Says

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, March 21, 2011 – In a nation he spent much of his career studying and a city he last visited at the end of the Cold War, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates answered questions here today from Russian naval officers about the U.S. Defense Department, its problems and its future.

After delivering a speech at the new State Russian Naval Museum, Gates invited questions from his audience of mid-level officers from the Kuznetsov Naval Academy.

“The biggest threats we face are actually those where international cooperation is significantly required,” Gates said. “The first is terrorism, … and the other is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, particularly proliferation in states that have threatened to destroy other states.”

Terrorism sent the United States into Afghanistan and into a difficult fight with al-Qaida, he added.

Nuclear proliferation in Iran brought “all the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain, France -- together to try and bring pressure to bear” on that nation, he said.

“It is certainly my hope,” the secretary added, “that none of us ever have to use military force to deal with these proliferation problems, but rather that we can persuade these countries … to give up these weapons or weapons programs voluntarily.”

One of the biggest U.S. defense problems, Gates said, involves very expensive weapons systems ordered many years ago. Some have ended up costing much more than anticipated, and others “have proven not to be useful in the 21st century,” he told the Russian officers.

The secretary said he’s made progress on the problem, saving American taxpayers $300 billion or more as a result.

“But being able to be more selective about the weapons programs that we have,” he said, “making them relevant to [tomorrow’s] challenges and getting them delivered on time and as budgeted is a challenge that every military in the world faces in the 21st century.”

The world is not going to face the kinds of threats it experienced in the 20th century, the secretary said.

“We will face a range of potential conflicts that slides along a spectrum of lethality,” he explained. “We will confront nonstate actors that potentially have the capabilities of states, whether it’s in the cyber area or in the case of Hezbollah, which has tens of thousands of rockets and missiles -- more than most governments in the world.”

Perhaps the biggest national security and strategic challenge, Gates told the group, is preparing militaries for diverse threats and security challenges under limited budgets and getting the maximum possible flexibility for using those capabilities technologically and in terms of training.

Gates said the way weapons are procured is a major structural change needed in the U.S. military. Most services still buy their own weapons, he added, “but in fact a number of those capabilities can be shared among all of the services.”

“As we have learned to fight jointly and are structured jointly,” he added, “we need to learn how to buy weapons jointly.”

The secretary cited remotely piloted vehicles as an example, noting that each service has its own program for buying them. “And we think we could save a lot of money if they went together in these programs,” he said.

In a discussion of training and education for U.S. service members, Gates acknowledged repeated rotations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cut into full-spectrum training for the whole range of missions that each service is supposed to perform.

Turning to U.S.-Russian cooperation, Gates said he would like to see more effort put into an exchange program for Russian and U.S. military officers and noncommissioned officers.

“We would more than welcome exchanging students between our professional military training and education organizations and Russia’s,” Gates said. The effort would benefit both countries, he said, and he promised to raise the issue with Russian Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov during a meeting tomorrow.

“It would do both of our militaries good to learn from one another and have the experience of spending time together,” he added, noting that the U.S. military services “would be very interested in this at every level, not just the most-senior officers but mid-grade officers and even noncommissioned officers.”

Gates: Common Challenges Deepen U.S.-Russian Ties

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, March 21, 2011 – Common security challenges, a deepening military-to-military relationship and the will to expand cooperation have drawn the United States and Russia together to face emerging issues of the 21st century, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.

Speaking at the new State Russian Naval Museum to mid-level naval officers from the Kuznetsov Naval Academy, Gates said the last time he visited St. Petersburg was as director of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1992.

“The broader purpose of my 1992 visit … was to explore with my Russian counterpart, head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Evgeniy Primakov, opportunities for the American and Russian intelligence services to begin to work together,” Gates said.

At the time, he said, they addressed common threats in the post-Cold-War world, including terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, global organized crime, narcotics trafficking and others.

“No longer enemies,” the secretary said, “we began to look for ways in which we could cooperate and be partners.”

Gates noted that the Russian naval officers and their American counterparts “entered military institutions that were essentially shaped in response to each other.” Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, he said, U.S. and Russian defense organizations still are working to transform themselves to meet evolving threats and opportunities.

In the 21st century, the secretary said, militaries must be agile and adaptable enough to face threats that involve countering terrorism, fighting piracy and responding to natural disasters.

“They might be battling unpredictable insurgents in failing states as well as providing the defense training to help those states defend themselves,” Gates said. “They might be threats from a rogue nation or terrorists who do not attack though conventional channels or obey the laws of war or care about innocent lives, he said, such as those who recently struck at a Moscow airport.

The broadening spectrum of conflict, Gates added, means military leaders must think harder about the range of missions they will be called on to perform and how to balance capabilities.

“I have pushed all of our military services to institutionalize the asymmetric and unconventional warfare capabilities developed in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. The Russian military has had to adapt to similar external threats and internal adjustments, he added.

Gates noted that he and Russian Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov have had a number of conversations commiserating on the challenges of running large, proud and tradition-bound military institutions. Both, he said, strive to “invest limited funds wisely on truly critical capabilities while doing right by our troops and their families.” These and other evolving 21st century challenges, the secretary said, have created new opportunities for cooperation.

Together, he said, the United States and Russia have coordinated and expanded operation of the northern distribution network into Afghanistan, and Russia has offered aid to the Afghan government in developing its helicopter fleet.

The United States and Russia also have worked together through negotiations and sanctions to persuade the Iranian regime to give up the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Russia also restricted arms sales to Iran and backed the United Nations’ expanded efforts toward that nation.

Both nations also ratified the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, Gates said, “a continuation and expansion of arms-control efforts we worked toward even during the darkest days of the Cold War.”

The two militaries always have learned from each other, Gates said, even in less cooperative times.

Today, the secretary said, the militaries exchange best practices and strategies for training, educating and caring for troops; defense technologies such as ways to counter homemade bombs; logistics, such as efforts along the northern distribution network; and maritime cooperation, including counterpiracy efforts.

Even so, Gates said, Russia and the United States won’t always agree. For example, he noted, “Russia still has uncertainties about the European Phased Adaptive Approach, a limited [missile defense] system that poses no challenge to the large Russian nuclear arsenal.”

But the nations have mutually committed to resolving these difficulties to develop a roadmap toward effective anti-ballistic missile collaboration, Gates said.

Collaboration may include exchanging launch information, setting up a joint data fusion center, allowing greater transparency in missile defense plans and exercises, and conducting a joint analysis to determine areas of future cooperation, the secretary said.

Gates told the Russian officers how the U.S. military has gained valuable expertise by operating with international partners ranging “from the Balkans in the 1990s, where the U.S. military worked with Russian forces, to the international military effort in Libya today.”

Despite his work with Serdyukov, Gates said, future progress is not up to the current defense leaders alone.

“It will be up to you, the next generation of leaders,” the secretary said, “to make what you will of our efforts and decide what history you’ll be telling when it’s your turn to stand up here.”

Face of Defense: Army Medic Builds Medical Career

By Army Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod
1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division

FORT BRAGG, N.C., March 21, 2011 – From the ski slopes of Montana to the bomb-laced desert highways of western Iraq to the expert field medical badge course in the pine forests here, an 82nd Airborne Division medic is navigating his own path to a hands-on career in health care.

Army Pfc. Levi Meyer, one of 49 Army medics and health care providers with the division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team who worked to earn the mark of the expert field medic March 7-11, said the pathways and options open to soldiers are many, but he was choosing to take advantage of the military’s nationally recognized Interservice Physician Assistant Program, with the ultimate goal of possibly becoming a neurologist.

“I am applying to IPAP right now,” said the 20-year-old Billings, Mont., native while preparing to navigate the first of three scenario-based testing lanes for the expert field medical badge. As a medic attached to a company of combat engineers, Meyer recently spent a tour in Iraq, traveling the roads between Ramadi and Fallujah hunting for roadside bombs.

Army Capt. Jessica Larson, a physician assistant attached to Meyer’s brigade, said the Army’s PA program is an excellent choice. It rates consistently as one of the country’s top physician assistant programs, she said, and the financial support afforded in exchange for service takes a great burden off students.

“I went to a state school, so my expenses were a third of a normal PA program,” said Larson, a native of Chicago who left a lucrative career in aviation engineering when she was moved by amputees and other service members recovering from wounds received in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“My schooling, housing, books, food and other living expenses cost $106,000 for two and a half years,” she continued, “which included my rotation to Africa. However, without my scholarship, it would have cost around $134,000. PAs who attend private schools are typically coming out with over $200,000 in debt.”

Through the Army’s Health Profession Loan Repayment Program, civilian-trained PAs can have their student loans repaid up to $120,000 in exchange for a three-year additional duty service obligation, which is the route that Larson took. The downside, she said, is that students remain civilians during schooling, so they are not drawing Army pay.

“Meyer is saving a lot if he goes to [the Interservice Physician Assistant Program],” Larson said. “To come from that excellent background with no expenses, while drawing either lieutenant or Officer Candidate School pay for those two years, is a huge stress off the education process.

“However,” she added, “he is giving back with four years of service as an Army PA, and graduates deploy immediately. Being gone from your family for a year is a nonquantifiable cost, too.”

Becoming a physician assistant typically is not a stepping stone to becoming a medical doctor, Larson said, as much of the schooling is redundant. Soldiers considering one or the other should study both career fields and ask lots of questions, she added, because the Army uses physicians and physician assistants in very different ways.

For Meyer, who first treated injuries in Montana as a part-time ski patroller at Red Lodge Ski Resort during high school, a priority is to get more hands-on experience as a provider before committing to the long road into medical school. If Meyer decides to become a physician, he’ll use the Army’s Health Provider Scholarship Program to fund medical school, he said.

“I have had the full support of everyone in my chain of command, and they have been very helpful with writing letters of recommendation and allowing me the time to complete my packet,” Meyer said. “If all else fails, I can still exit the Army with a master’s degree and a useful skill.

“There are a lot of different routes that I can take to arrive at a point where I can start my [scholarship] packet,” he added, “but after doing a bit of research, I feel that [the physician assistant program] is best tuned to my goals.”

Deadline for Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay Extended

The deadline for eligible service members, veterans and their beneficiaries to apply for Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay (RSLSP) has been extended to April 8, 2011, allowing personnel more time to apply for the benefits they’ve earned under the program guidelines.

The deadline extension is included in the continuing resolution signed by President Obama Friday, providing funding for federal government operations through April 8, 2011.

Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay was established to compensate for the hardships military members encountered when their service was involuntarily extended under Stop Loss Authority between Sept. 11, 2001, and Sept. 30, 2009.  Eligible members or their beneficiaries may submit a claim to their respective military service in order to receive the benefit of $500 for each full or partial month served in a Stop Loss status.

When RSLSP began on Oct. 21, 2009, the services estimated 145,000 service members, veterans and beneficiaries were eligible for this benefit.  Because the majority of those eligible had separated from the military, the services have engaged in extensive and persistent outreach efforts to reach them and remind them to apply.  Outreach efforts including direct mail, engaging military and veteran service organizations, social networks and media outlets, will continue through April 8, 2011.

To apply for more information, or to gather more information on RSLSP, including submission requirements and service-specific links, go to

Bataan Amphibious Ready Group Prepares for Deployment

By Chief Mass Communication Specialist (SW/AW) Mary Popejoy, Commander, U.S. 2nd Fleet Public Affairs

NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) is receiving assistance from many organizations to ensure the Sailors, Marines and their familiesis are prepared when the ARG deploys March 23.

The Navy Legal Service Office aboard Naval Station Norfolk provided assistance with powers of attorney aboard USS Bataan (LHD 5) March 16, to support predeployment requirements. Norfolk's Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) and Navy Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS) provided predeployment briefs for Bataan, USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19) and USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41).

"Our briefs are open to Sailors, Marines and their family members, and we discuss all of the programs that are offered by NMCRS; and we talk about how we can help families while their active duty service member is deployed," said Joe Schnurbusch, NMCRS Norfolk shipboard program coordinator.

The deployment readiness briefs provide service members and their families with practical ideas for getting families prepared, emotionally and practically, to support the service members' deployment.

"Our deployment readiness briefs discuss financial planning, communication and coping skills and strategies for both married and unmarried service members and their families," said Darryl Anthony, FFSC work and family life consultant and deployment support specialist. "Parents and siblings are affected by deployments as well. Additionally, we provide information to help families understand how their children may react to a parent deploying."

The Navy Exchange long-term parking program has been assisting service members with storing their vehicles while they are deployed.

"We do what we can to help them out because not everyone on the ship has a place to store their car during the deployment," said Bill Waite, Navy Exchange long-term parking supervisor. "This is one item of concern they don't have to worry about, because we'll take care of their car, and they'll be able to drive it off the lot when they return."

All FFSC programs are geared toward supporting the service member and their families through any transition or deployment demand placed on them. Personal and financial counseling play a vital role in the successful pre-deployment and deployment readiness planning for families.

"The resources we discuss may be just what the family needs to make it through a difficult event during the deployment," said Anthony. "Many of our younger families have never had to adapt to maintaining a relationship from a distance, so the strategies we discuss provide answers to the questions that they are facing. Many families will be missing the presence of one of the parents. How will my children react and what resources are available if my child has difficulties, are common questions from the parent left at home. We are able to address issues like that during our brief to help families adjust to the changes they will be experiencing.
From finances to communication, the organizations are happy to lend a hand, and the Sailors, Marines and their families are grateful for the overwhelming support.

"The amount of work required to set our Sailors up for success on a surge deployment could never be accomplished without the Navy's amazing support system," said USS Bataan Command Master Chief (SW/AW) Brian Collier. "Since we received the order to deploy, not a day has gone by without a phone call from one of a dozen different agencies asking 'how can we help.'"

The Bataan ARG consists of Commander, Amphibious Squadron (CPR) 6, the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit; USS Bataan (LHD 5), USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19) and the USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41).

Wisconsin National Guard aviators earn national honors

Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs Office

A Wisconsin Army National Guard unit currently deployed in Iraq has been named the best aviation unit in the Army National Guard.  The Madison-based 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment - a UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter unit that includes Soldiers in Michigan and Indiana - will receive the 2010 Army Aviation Association of America's John J. Stanko award at next month's AAAA Annual Professional Forum and Exposition in Nashville. This is the first such award for a Wisconsin National Guard helicopter unit.

Lt. Col. Marty Pond, battalion commander, described the award as a great honor.

"It is a reflection of our Soldiers and their families," he said, "[and their] commitment to our nation, our mission and overall excellence in performance."

"We are extremely proud of the leaders and Soldiers of the 147th Aviation Battalion in receiving this award," he said. "It is a recognition of the professionalism and dedication of the entire team."

The award is presented to the Army National Guard aviation unit that has made an outstanding contribution or innovation to the field of Army aviation above and beyond the normal assigned mission.

However, the nature of the 147th's current mission in Iraq is itself outside of normal parameters. Operating with aviation units from Colorado and Kansas as Task Force Ironhawk, the 147th covers all of the United States Division-South - including six bases - performing the highest number of missions of any battalion supporting the 1st Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division (the Big Red One). During a four-month span, the 147th flew 1,986 missions totaling more than 15,000 combat hours without accidents. Three of the aviation battalion companies moved more than 5,600 passengers and 660,000 pounds of cargo in that time frame, while a fourth provides round-the-clock medical evacuation coverage at four locations, conducting 102 missions and transporting 109 patients.

On the ground, aircraft from three units across six bases have been integrated into one maintenance program, with an airframe readiness rate greater than 85 percent. Battalion mechanics have provided expert instruction on the UH-60M to contractors and aviation intermediate maintenance units. Roughly one-third of Company E's Soldiers cross-trained to learn refueling operations, and improved the process so that one refueling point can serve six Black Hawks. Company E dispensed nearly 900,000 gallons of fuel with no environmental mishaps.

Pond said Task Force Ironhawk easily distinguished its leadership in implementing the Black Hawk "Mike" model into the total combat force with the exceptionally high operation tempo.

"Remember, this only accounts for the first four months," he said. "[Things] have not slowed down in any way since."

Prior to deploying, the 147th tackled another daunting task - transforming into the first Army National Guard air assault helicopter battalion, which involved intensive training and fielding new equipment. Flight instructors with the 147th also trained helicopter pilots from numerous other Guard and active Army aviation units, resulting in 25 qualified pilots and eight instructor pilots.

In addition, warrant officers in the 147th from Wisconsin and Michigan formed a communications security team to train up on the new communications system for the UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter. The process they developed became the standard used by the Army.

"Every day they prove themselves with seamless and tireless support," Pond said of the Soldiers of Task Force Ironhawk. "These Soldiers have a well-deserved reputation for excellence."

The 147th reported for active duty last June 17 for their third Middle East deployment. A portion of the battalion first deployed to Iraq in March 2003. The unit also deployed to Kuwait from July 2001 to August 2002 in support of Operation Desert Spring. A portion of the 147th also deployed in support of Task Force Eagle, the NATO peacekeeping operation in Kosovo, in July 2006 for a one-year mission.

The 147th has played an important role in stateside responses, such as the historic mobilization of National Guard units across the country to respond to Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf coast, and the Wisconsin floods of 2008. In 1998 the 147th deployed to Guatemala for several months following Hurricane Mitch.