Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Military Family Appreciation Day in South Carolina

Sgt. David Patrick, of Lake City S.C., helps Grant Spafford of Summerville, explore a M109 Paladin during the South Carolina National Guard Family Appreciation Day held April 2, 2011 at McEntire Joint National Guard Base. Spafford was attending the family day with his cousins and uncle, Major Robert Spafford, of the S.C. Army National Guard. (SC Air National Guard Photo by: Tech. Sgt. Caycee Cook, 2 April 2011 – RELEASED)

Puget Sound, Norfolk Naval Shipyard Workers Depart USS George Washington

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Juan Pinalez, USS George Washington Public Affairs

SASEBO, Japan (NNS) -- Puget Sound and Norfolk Naval Shipyard workers began departing USS George Washington (CVN 73), during a brief port visit to Sasebo, Japan, April 5, after conducting routine maintenance during a two-week period while underway.

"We are dropping off 300 hundred shipyard workers because their work here is done," said Ken Koemmpel, the civilian maintenance project superintendent. "About 150 workers will remain to finish miscellaneous jobs, but most projects have been completed."

The shipyard workers have been aboard George Washington since the ship pulled out of her forward operating port of Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan, March 21. Washington pulled out to sea to continue routine maintenance due to the complex nature of the natural disaster that struck Japan March 11.

The decision to conduct the maintenance at sea, something many consider a "historic first" for the Navy, proved to be challenging, but the shipyard workers were confident in their ability to get the job done.

"There were approximately 600 individual jobs accomplished in the past few weeks - which equates to about 10,000 man-days, and that's quite a lot of work in a short amount of time," said Koemmpel. "It would normally take us about five weeks in port to get the same job done, and we did it in two weeks at sea with limited resources."

"We worked on the main engines, replaced lagging, upgraded electrical wiring and performed maintenance from bow to stern," said Joel Winborne, Norfolk Naval shipyard painter. "We painted more than I could imagine; we must have gone through three hundred gallons. I've done my job, and now it's time to go home."

While some of the shipyard workers are prior enlisted Sailors, the majority have never been to sea despite their decades of experience as shipbuilders. The two weeks underway aboard George Washington gave some of them a new found respect for the men and women who serve in the Navy.

"I've had a great time being deployed," said Michael Hagstrom, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard ship fitter. "I have a brother that's in the Navy, and I signed up to do a Tiger Cruise with him on the Lincoln—after my work in Japan was to be over. After the disasters stuck Japan, I'm glad to have gone underway with George Washington instead. I got the full Navy experience instead of a Tiger 'Fun' Cruise. I've gotten to see what it means to be a Sailor."

For many of the maintenance projects, George Washington Sailors worked side-by-side with their civilian counterparts, coming together as one team. On many of those projects, the craftsmen of Puget Sound and Norfolk Naval Shipyard served as teachers to their younger students.

"I'm responsible for every one of the workers on board, and I really appreciate the support the crew has shown, especially the senior leadership," said Koemmpel. "It's been a unique opportunity to do something that hasn't been done before, and for us to be able to support the crew and the ship in a time of crisis in Japan, really means a lot."

"What this past couple of weeks has shown is that whenever there is a crisis, the shipyard workers can come together and get the job done and on time, no matter what," said William Dewhirst, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard electrician.

George Washington is the Navy's only permanently forward-deployed aircraft carrier, ensuring security and stability across the western Pacific Ocean.

Gates, Shinseki Agree to Joint Electronic Records

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 5, 2011 – Two years after they joined President Barack Obama in announcing plans to create a Joint Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki have agreed to create a joint common platform for their departments’ electronic medical records.

Gates and Shinseki agreed in concept to create the joint common platform during a March 17 session, giving their staffs an early May deadline to come up with an implementation plan, VA Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould told American Forces Press Service.

“They slapped the table and said, ‘Okay, in concept we agree,’” Gould said during an interview while attending the 25th National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, Colo.

Now DOD and VA are at work to determine if a joint e-platform will support their separate processes. DOD currently uses the Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application, or AHLTA system, and is transitioning to the more comprehensive, real-time Electronic Health Record Way Ahead system. VA uses the 20-plus-year-old Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, or VistA.

Gould expressed confidence that a joint system will work for both the Defense Department and VA.

“And the reasoning is pretty sound,” he said. “Ninety percent of the medicine in DoD and VA is the same. So why shouldn’t we have one system, and only have the taxpayer pay to build it once?”

The 2010 Defense-VA Interagency Program Office report to Congress noted that the two departments share nine of the 13 core functional capabilities for an electronic health record, Gould said.

“This shows the kind of leadership that both Secretary Shinseki and Secretary Gates bring to the table,” he said. “They are committed. They want to make a difference. And they are challenging both their deputies and their entire organizations to cut through the red tape and get it done. And [Deputy Defense Secretary] Bill Lynn and I are hard at work to make that happen.”

Shinseki told a Senate Appropriations Committee subcommittee March 31 the deal followed about two years of discussions. He said DOD is “looking for new direction” for its own electronics record system, while noting the need to update VA’s own aging system.

"We have a terrific electronic health record, but again, it's about 20 years in being,” Shinseki said of VA’s VistA system. “So, we're going to have to adjust also to ensure the sustainability of that system. It's a great opportunity for both of us to put our heads together.”

Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford L. Stanley called the initiative an example of closer inter-departmental cooperation that’s improving efficiencies and providing better patient care.

“We are working even ever more closely with our colleagues in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to ensure our activities are better coordinated to include the disability evaluation process, the sharing of personnel and health information, and collaboration on our future electronic health record,” Stanley told the House Armed Service Committee’s Military Personnel Subcommittee March 15.

During the same hearing Army Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, Army surgeon general, said that creating a single electronic health record will increase information-sharing between the two departments and provide a better way to transfer patient data.

“No two health organizations in the nation share more non-billable health information than the DOD and the VA,” Schoomaker noted. “The departments continue to standardize this sharing activity under delivering information technology solutions that will significantly improve the sharing of appropriate electronic health information.”

The agreement to pursue a joint common platform for their electronic medical records follows the two departments’ decision in April 2009 to create a Joint Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record to smooth the flow of medical records between the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments.

Five pilot programs are up and running to test out the initiative before it goes nationwide, Gould said.

Obama, in announcing the joint initiative, described the advantages of a common joint lifetime record.

“When a member of the armed forces separates from the military, he or she will no longer have to walk paperwork from a [Defense Department] duty station to a local VA health center,” the president said. “Their electronic records will transition along with them and remain with them forever.”

Obama explained that the new system will include both administrative and medical information from the day recruits enter military service, throughout their military careers, and after they retire or leave the military.

“This would represent a huge step toward modernizing the way health care is delivered and benefits are administered for our nation's veterans," Obama added. “It would cut through red tape and reduce the number of administrative mistakes.”

IKE Awarded 2010 CNO Afloat Safety Award

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nathan Parde,
USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Public Affairs

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (NNS) -- Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (IKE) was announced as a winner of the 2010 Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Afloat Safety Award April 1.

The award marks IKE as having the top safety program of Atlantic-based aircraft carriers.

During the prior calendar year, the ship deployed to th eU.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility in support of U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan.

During the time, IKE and embarked Carrier Air Wing 8 safely executed more than 17,300 aircraft launches and recoveries in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, while receiving the 2010 Safety Battle E award, said IKE's Safety Officer, Cmdr. Thomas Stanley.

IKE's safety record is most notable in the fact that while the number of sorties rose 30 percent in 2010 from their 2009 deployment, there was a decrease in the number of personnel injuries.

The decrease in the rate of injuries can be attributed to an enhanced safety culture as well as procedures and engineering controls that instituted throughout the command, said Stanley.

IKE's Commanding Officer, Capt. Marcus Hitchcock, said the CNO Safety Award could not have been earned without every Sailor on the ship taking measures to build a safety-minded climate.

"This was an all hands effort, and you should be proud of your record," said Hitchcock. "Thanks to your continued focus on doing the job right, on time and safely."

Nothing is more important than safety in the workplace, and no mission is so urgent that it could ever justify endangering personnel by cutting corners on health or safety, said Aviation Ordnanceman 1st Class Fredrick Harden, leading petty officer of IKE's Safety Department.

"When it comes down to it, safety comes first, and the mission second," said Harden. "You must first ensure the safety of an operation before you are able to carry it out."

One of the smallest departments on the ship, IKE's Safety Department relies on the assistance of departmental representatives to review and address their individual department's safety concerns.

"Each department has its own safety risks and challenges, so we rely on our departmental safety officers to make sure that we are all synced and prepared to meet these challenges safely," said Stanley.

According to Stanley, the award board looked for a proactive safety stance and measures from candidates.

"The board looks for aggressive safety programs that contribute to the prevention of injury and benefit of the community," said Stanley. "Our package was comprehensive, highlighting the fact that we served back-to-back deployments; since we've been in [planned incremental availability], we have picked up the pace on our audits and maintained the use of proper safety equipment, demonstrating that we have aggressive safety programs."

With those programs now in place, IKE will be competing for the 2010 Secretary of the Navy Excellence in Safety Award in the category of safest large-deck combatant ship over the next several months, said Stanley.

In the meantime, IKE will receive a plaque and a citation to represent the award and will proudly be able to display a green safety "S" on IKE's bulwark when the ship returns to sea.

U.S., Philippine Forces to Kick Off Annual Exercise

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 4, 2011U.S. and Philippine forces will kick off Balikatan, their annual bilateral training exercise, tomorrow in the Philippines, though in a slightly scaled-down form.

The 10-day exercise will proceed “despite a reduction in the number of participating U.S. troops, many of whom are in Japan to assist in relief efforts there in the wake of the recent earthquake and tsunami,” officials at the U.S. Embassy in Manila announced today.

About 6,500 U.S. service members will join their Philippine armed forces counterparts to conduct combined staff exercises, field training and humanitarian assistance projects to improve interoperability, contingency planning, and their capability to respond to natural disasters and other crises, U.S. Army Pacific officials said.

The 8th U.S. Army, with headquarters at Yongsan Garrison in South Korea, announced it would deploy about 500 soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Division’s 4th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, to augment 6,000 U.S. forces already slated to participate.

The goal, officials said, is to increase the two militaries’ ability to respond quickly and work together effectively to provide relief and assistance in the event of natural disasters and other crises that threaten public safety and health.

U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas Jr. called the bilateral training vital to both armed forces’ readiness capabilities.

“Balikatan is all about our partnership and friendship,” he said. “Our forces train together to help communities where assistance is needed and I look forward to visiting the communities they will serve.”

This year’s exercise, the 27th in the series, will feature four events, officials said. The first, which began before the official exercise start date, involves a series of humanitarian and civic assistance initiatives, including medical, dental, veterinary and engineering projects throughout the country.

Also planned is a scenario-based command-post exercise that practices joint and combined force planning at the headquarters level, and field training exercises that promote cross-training and increase interoperability. In addition, U.S. and Philippine explosive disposal teams will conduct combined-forces training.

The term “Balikatan,” a Tagalog word that means “shoulder to shoulder,” symbolizes the partnership between the two countries as they work together toward a common goal. The annual Balikatan exercise is conducted under the auspices of the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951 and Visiting Forces Agreement, with U.S. Army Pacific serving as executive agent.

Naval Postgraduate School Welcomes Former Astronaut as New Dean of Students

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Leonardo Carrillo, Naval Postgraduate School Public Affairs

MONTEREY, Calif. (NNS) -- A former astronaut and Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) alumnus presided over the school's graduation ceremony as the school's new dean of students March 25.

The graduation was the first under command of Capt. Alan Poindexter.

During the ceremony, Poindexter reflected on his new position and the opportunity he'll have to shape Navy leaders.

"I'm very glad to be back serving in this position," said Poindexter. "I think it's a great opportunity for me to lead and influence officers as they're going to school here. I think I have a lot to offer them and I hope I can serve them and help them make their way through the school."

A veteran NASA astronaut who commanded the STS-131 mission, one of five final space shuttle missions, Poindexter attributed part of his success to the technical education he received at NPS.

"The technical knowledge and the technical education certainly assisted me," said Poindexter. "I learned about systems management, systems engineering and it allowed me to be more analytical in my thought process. So when I became a project officer and then an astronaut, I was able to think through problems and find a solution. My NPS education was instrumental in my follow-on tours."

Poindexter considers education to be an important part of an officer's career path and summed up his thoughts on that subject in one word -- critical.

"Critical," he stated. "I think it's critical. Graduate education is one of the key items in an officer's bag of tools as he or she progresses in their career. Whether it be in engineering, management, business or one of the many other great degrees we offer here, it will serve the individual and the Navy or their service very well to have that capability and that background."

Poindexter affirmed that his strategic goal is to continue to serve the student population. He said that it was his job to ensure that the students reach their educational goals and succeed, while at the same time making sure that their families are taken care of.

"My job is leadership," said Poindexter. "I have to make sure that students make it through the school successfully and graduate on the other end with a diploma in their hand. But it's also important not to forget to take care of your family and enjoy Monterey. We're really blessed to be in such a great area, and so while we're focused a lot on our academic future, we also need to remember that we're in Monterey and can take some time off and enjoy where we are."

In addition to the educational and auxiliary benefits NPS offers, Poindexter said that the school also offers a unique environment, an environment in which students get to interact with officers from different backgrounds.

Poindexter suggested that students make use of this unique environment by participating in courses outside of their curriculum, as well as the Enrichment Week activities, and also to get to know their classmates from other services and countries. This is one of many ways in which NPS has evolved, Poindexter said, while the school is a naval institution, it has greatly expanded its student base.

"Take advantage of the opportunity to interface with people from all over the world and from our other services," said Poindexter. "Learn from their experiences as well as your own and broaden your network … you can learn a lot from them.

I'm really honored to be back here in this job working for the school and working for the students," he continued. "I have an open door policy and I would be glad to talk with or counsel anyone, and I hope that I can influence them in some small way."

USS Robert G. Bradley Begins Third Africa Partnership Station Hub

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Darryl Wood, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/ Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet Public Affairs

LAGOS, Nigeria (NNS) -- USS Robert G. Bradley (FFG 49) Sailors, Naval Forces Africa staff members and Africa Partnership Station (APS) West international staff members arrived in Lagos, Nigeria, during the third "Hub", as part of APS West, April 4.

Bradley Sailors will conduct maritime training, participate in military-to-military sporting events, and host community relation (COMREL) projects during their port visit.

"COMREL helps strengthen our relationships with our African partners and allow us to interact with host nation's civilians and military," said Chief Logistics Specialist Ed Lafond, USS Robert G. Bradley COMREL coordinator. "For some of the Sailors this is the first time for them to interact with the host nation civilians and is an opportunity for them to have a good time helping others, and see sights other than what they would see on a tour."

APS training conducted with the Nigerian navy will cover areas in visit, board, search and seizure team operations; search and rescue planning; damage control and signals familiarization. These areas of training were selected with the assistance of Nigerian officials to better enhance maritime safety and security, along the coast of West and Central Africa.

"We have started to really see the impact of our training on our partner navies," said Lt. William Pollak, USS Robert G. Bradley operations officer. "They inspire our Sailors to keep up their energy level, knowing that what we are doing here is well received."

APS is an international security cooperation initiative, facilitated by Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, aimed at strengthening global maritime partnerships through training and collaborative activities in order to improve maritime safety and security in Africa.

Robert G. Bradley, an Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate, is homeported out of Mayport, Fla., and is on a scheduled deployment to the U.S. Naval Forces Africa area of responsibility.

Wisconsin National Guard names Soldier, NCO of Year

By Sgt. Eric Liesse
112th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Two Soldiers from the same battalion of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat team will represent the Wisconsin Army National Guard at next month's regional Soldier of the Year and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year competition.

Sgt. Steven Dahl of Oconto, a member of Company A, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry in Menomonee, was named Soldier of the Year from a field of six competitors representing Wisconsin National Guard units across the state. Though recently promoted, he competed in the junior enlisted category.

Sgt. Brandon Swanson of St. Croix Falls, a member of Detachment 1, Headquarter Company, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry in Chippewa Falls, was named NCO of the Year from a field of nine competitors.

The three-day competition, which began April 1, tested Soldiers' abilities in marksmanship, physical fitness, land navigation, Soldier task knowledge and military bearing.

Wisconsin Army National Guard State Command Sgt. Maj. George Stopper, who directed the event, praised each competitor.

"Our state-level competition is a pretty grueling process," Stopper said. "Unfortunately, there can be only one Soldier of the Year, and only one NCO of the Year."

"I'm relieved all the hard work paid off," Swanson said after the closing ceremony. "If you give it everything you've got, no one can take that away from you if you don't win."

"I learned there are other people who can compete at this level, people you wouldn't expect," Dahl said.

Both competitors hold high expectations for themselves.

"We're probably going to start training this week," Swanson said.

"[I'll do] the same thing," Dahl said of his training for May. "I'll go in pretty confident and not get down when the competition gets a little tougher."

That echoed Stopper's guidance to competitors the night before Friday's first event.

"The one tip I have for you is never give up," Stopper said Thursday night. "You'll fail at something, and that's when you need to know to step back and reload."

Command Sgt. Maj. Brad Shields, of the Milwaukee-based 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, offered the same advice prior to the obstacle course on Saturday.

"We understand that you may not be able to complete each obstacle," Shields said. "But what matters the most is that you give it your all."

Events included a physical fitness test, pistol and rifle marksmanship under normal and stress conditions, combatives (hand-to-hand combat based on mixed martial arts), land navigation in daylight and at night, combat water survival, an obstacle course, common Soldier skills, a written exam, simulation grenade course, a nine mile road march and an appearance board.

The combat water survival event was new this year, and required competitors to complete a 15-meter swim while holding their weapon above water, a blindfolded jump, and removing a load-bearing vest while submerged. Soldiers completed these tasks while in their PT uniforms, including running shoes.

"They aren't flippers, that's for sure," said Sgt. John Eckert, St. Francis, a member of Racine's Battery A, 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery.

Wisconsin's fickle spring weather factored into the competition: snow fell during Friday's marksmanship and land navigation events, and a cold rain saturated Sunday's road march.

During the closing ceremony, Stopper lauded each competitor's sponsor - another Soldier tasked with preparing and assisting the competitors - and singled one out for special recognition.

"You know I'm pretty adamant with this being a purely enlisted event," Stopper said. "And 99.9 percent of it was."

But one sponsor, officer candidate Randy Fendryk, represented the Wisconsin Army National Guard as a finalist at last year's National Guard Bureau's Best Warrior Competition as a private first class.

"I wanted him to bring that skill set back and share it with the other Soldiers," Stopper explained. "You'll never see another cadet here, all right?"

Spc. Kimberly Gass of Wausau, a member of the 106th Engineer Detachment in Tomah, was promoted to sergeant during the closing ceremony.

Stopper also mentioned the many units that supported the competition. "It was because of you that these competitors had an outstanding experience," he said. "A dog-tired experience, but an outstanding experience."

Stopper kept the grueling weekend competition in perspective.

"At the end, it does boil down to great and wonderful Soldiers."

Spc. Joseph Wong of Milwaukee, a member of Troop A, 105th Cavalry in Fort Atkinson was named 1st Alternate for Soldier of the Year. Staff Sgt. Jason Kirch of Prairie Du Sac, a member of the 106th Quarry Team in Tomah, was named 1st Alternate for NCO of the Year.

Today in the Department of Defense, Tuesday, April 05, 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 delivers remarks at at a community town hall at Marquette University,
1324 W. Wisconsin Ave, Milwaukee, Wis.

Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley participates in the Defense Writers Group at at the Fairmont Washington Hotel, Washington, D.C.  Media interested in attending should contact the Center for Media and Security at 914-762-4603.

Commander, U.S Northern Command/Commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., and Commander, U.S. Southern Command, Air Force Gen. Douglas M. Fraser testify at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee in review of the fiscal 2012 budget at in room SD-G50, Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell will conduct a press briefing 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 703-697-5131 for escort into the building.

Commander, Transportation Command, Air Force Gen. Duncan J. McNabb and Commander, Africa Command, Army Gen. Carter F. Ham testify at a hearing of the House Armed Services Command at on the fiscal 2012 budget in room 2118, Rayburn House Office Building.

This Day in Naval History - April 04

From the Navy News Service

1776 - The Continental Navy frigate Columbus captures HM Tender Hawke; this is the first American capture of a British armed vessel.
1854 - Sailors and Marines from sailing sloop Plymouth, protect U.S. citizens at Shanghai.
1898 - Appointment of the first Civil Engineering Corps officer, Rear Adm. Mordecai Endicott, as chief of Bureau of Yards and Docks.
1949 - NATO is established.