Military News

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Today in the Department of Defense, Friday, June 17, 2011

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates has no public or media events on his schedule.

Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn is traveling.

A National Capital Region Flyover of Arlington National Cemetery occurs at 11:55 a.m. EDT with four F-15C's.

This Day in Naval History - June 16

From the Navy News Service

1898 - U.S. squadron bombards Santiago, Cuba.
1965 - Navy Department schedules reactivation of hospital ship Repose (AH 16), first hospital ship activated for Vietnam conflict.

Gates Thanks Media for Critical Watchdog Role

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2011 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today thanked reporters for their service as watchdogs for the American public and for bringing to light some problems that hadn’t been raised by the Pentagon’s vast bureaucracy.

Gates came to office in December 2006 proclaiming that the media “is not the enemy” and vowing to work to improve the Pentagon’s relationship with the press.

“When I first took office, I worried that relations between the Pentagon, the military and the press, while always difficult, mostly were characterized by mutual suspicion and resentment,” he said. “So I made it a point when speaking to military officers -- from cadets to generals -- to remind them that a vigorous, inquisitive and even skeptical press was a critically important guarantor of freedom under the Constitution, and not to be treated as the enemy.”

During his first commencement address as defense secretary to the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2007, Gates urged graduates to “remember the importance of two pillars of our freedom under the Constitution: the Congress and the press.”

“The press is not the enemy and to treat it as such is self-defeating,” he told the graduates in May 2007, calling the media “a critically important guarantor of our freedom.”

Gates told reporters today he came to truly appreciate the media’s accountability role early in his tenure after newspaper reports exposed two “glaring bureaucratic shortcomings.” One involved outpatient treatment of wounded warriors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here and the other, resistance to purchasing life-saving mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles for deployed troops.

“Responding to both of these critical issues, which only came to my attention through the media, became my top priority and two of my earliest and most-significant management decisions,” Gates said.

The secretary conceded that he hasn’t always liked the media reporters he has read over the past four-and-a-half years and he still hates leaks -- perhaps even more than others in government.

“But I have great respect for your role as a watchdog on behalf of the American people and as a means for me to learn of problems that the building was not telling me about,” he told the reporters.

“I know we don’t always make it easy to do your jobs here,” he recognized. “Gaining timely and usable information out of the bureaucracy and their gatekeepers is always a challenge -- a challenge that I’ve shared with you on occasion. So thanks again for your professional, tough questions and hard work.”

Merchant Marine Reserve Program becomes Strategic Sealift Officer Program

From Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Strategic Mobility and Combat Logistics Division

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The deputy chief of naval operations for Fleet Readiness and Logistics approved revisions to the latest CNO Instruction (OPNAVINST 1534.lD), transitioning the Merchant Marine Reserve (MMR) Program into the Strategic Sealift Officer Program (SSOP) June 10.

Extensive coordination with several Navy organizations and the U.S. Maritime Administration helped with the program change.

The SSOP supports national defense sealift requirements and capabilities, which are executed by Military Sealift Command (MSC). The program provides the Navy with officers that possess sealift, maritime operations, and logistics subject matter expertise, and further hold U.S. Coast Guard credentials as merchant marine officers.

"These changes will help align and improve support to Military Sealift Command and numerous other Joint and Navy commands," said Vice Adm. Bill Burke, Deputy CNO for Fleet Readiness and Logistics, who is the SSOP program sponsor. "This revision improves stewardship, integration, and opportunities for about 2,400 Navy Reserve officers."

The SSOP, like the old MMR Program, will continue to provide the capability for emergency crewing of sealift ships and shoreside support to Navy commands that require unique maritime expertise. Further, this change provides opportunities for greater operational support to the Navy by expanding selected Reserve (SELRES) billets and active duty recalls to SSOP officers.

"The improved program aligns strategic sealift officers under MSC to provide the best use for their training as both Navy officers and licensed Merchant Marine officers," said Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, commander, MSC, and Flag sponsor of the program. "It also expands training requirements to ensure that these officers are best ready for mobilization."

"Both the Navy and the officers in the SSOP will benefit from improvements such as increased opportunities to serve, better alignment of name to its military purpose, streamlining to a single designator, and improved training consistent with other Navy communities" said Rear Adm. Buzz Little, commander, Navy Reserve Forces Command. "This new SSOP builds upon the tradition of the MMR, by becoming more ready, relevant, visible, and providing greater opportunities for service."

Family Matters Blog: Obama Salutes Military Dads

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2011 – With Father’s Day nearly at hand, President Barack Obama took time to single out military dads yesterday, thanking them for their service to the nation.

“Thank you for your dedication,” he told the dads gathered for a special screening of the Disney-Pixar Hollywood movie “Cars 2” on the White House complex. “And when I say thank you, it’s not just to those in uniform; it’s to the families as well who are also serving.

“We could not be more proud of you,” he added, “and we are grateful because you help not only to keep us secure, but also keep us free.”

The movie screening marked the start of a summer-long partnership between First Lady Michelle Obama’s Joining Forces military support campaign and the Walt Disney Co. Disney will host movie screenings at military bases across the country, Obama said.

“This partnership with Disney will give an opportunity for military families to spend some time together, have fun, and provide a brief respite from all the incredible responsibilities you guys carry out,” he said.

The president wished the dads an early Happy Father’s Day. “For the families, please know that we understand that you’re serving right alongside anybody in uniform, and that’s why the first lady and Dr. Jill Biden have made such a big priority on military families,” he said. “This is just one small way that we can say thank you to all of you."

The bottom line is, the president told them, “We’re proud of you. We are grateful to you.”

Obama also used the opportunity to stress the importance of fatherhood, and announced the launch of “Year of Strong Fathers and Strong Families,” an initiative to help connect dads with their kids in “simple, meaningful” ways, such as bowling or trips to the zoo. People can find out more and search for activity discounts at Fatherhood.gov, he said.

For more family-related posts, visit Family Matters blog or check out Family Matters on Facebook and Twitter.

Some Navy Transportation Service Providers Fully Booked

From Naval Supply Systems Command Corporate Communications

MECHANICSBURG, Pa. (NNS) -- A Navy general administrative message (GENADMIN), released June 15, advises Sailors and civilians not to schedule any household goods (HHG) pack and pickup dates now through July 15.

According to Naval Supply Systems Command's GENADMIN MIL-STD-6040(SERIES)/B.0.01.00, the Navy's current transportation service providers (TSPs) are fully booked to and from Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.

Customers who are projected to move by July 15 and have not yet scheduled their pack-out, should immediately log into the Defense Personal Property System (DPS), get a user name, and complete their self-counseling, or go to their local personal property office to get a face-to-face counseling session. Sailors and civilians can register with DPS at www.move.mil.

"If you can avoid this period, we advise you to do so," said Frank Piacine, Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) Navy Household Goods director. "However, if you must move during this time frame, please understand that short-notice delays or cancellations may occur due to lack of TSP personnel or equipment."

The GENADMIN notes, "…Sailors/Employees are cautioned not to plan, cancel, or enter into rental agreements or leases , or buy/sell their homes until local transportation offices and/or TSP confirms your requested HHG pack, pick-up, and delivery dates.

There are many factors that could impact whether or not a pack out or move could be cancelled, including the location being moved from, the location being move to, the weight of the goods to be moved, the specific dates the move must be made, and others.

"Overall, less than one percent of moves will be impacted," Piacine said. "However, in an area where we experience a 'perfect storm' and many of these factors impact a base or bases, the actual numbers for that area could be higher.

Piacine said planning, preparation and flexibility are keys to success. Customers need to get their shipment requests into the system as soon as they receive their orders. Procrastination hurts the customer's chances of getting a moving company during this timeframe. The customer can benefit substantially from paying attention to their counseling, asking questions and staying in contact with their moving company once they have been contacted.

"Members who are separating, retiring, vacating government quarters or have a date that cannot be changed, will need to work closely with their local personal property office to reschedule the move or have their goods stored at the current location until transportation becomes available," Piacine said. "Alternatively, customers can choose to perform a Personally Procured Move (PPM) and move as scheduled to meet their report date or have a family member remain behind to conduct the move."

"If you have been contacted by a moving company, we recommend you maintain communications with their personnel and call them several times, including the day before the scheduled pick up to help avoid delay," Piacine said. "If you have not been contacted by a company and your move is fast approaching we recommend you contact your local Department of Defense personal property office for assistance."

Piacine said service members who have their scheduled pack out cancelled, need to contact their local personal property office immediately. There are some different options available depending on individual circumstances.

For more information, contact a local personal property office or send questions to householdgoods@navy.mil.

NAVSUP's primary mission is to provide U.S. naval forces with quality supplies and services. With headquarters in Mechanicsburg, Pa., and employing a diverse, worldwide workforce of more than 22,500 military and civilian personnel, NAVSUP oversees logistics programs in the areas of supply operations, conventional ordnance, contracting, resale, fuel, transportation, and security assistance. In addition, NAVSUP is responsible for quality of life issues for our naval forces, including food service, postal services, Navy Exchanges, and movement of household goods.

My Discovery of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

Posted by Heather Marsh, DCoE Strategic Communications on June 16, 2011

If it was a snake, it would have bit me
The phrase, “can’t see the forest through the trees” seems to describe a bout of “cluelessness” I recently experienced. Or perhaps, the more common “if it was a snake, it would have bit me” is truly the best fit. Either way, the fact is I work at Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) with top subject matter experts in the field of traumatic brain injury and I couldn’t even recognize that the weird symptoms I had, after a recent good bump to the head, were symptoms of a concussion. How’s that for irony?

Put a name to the pain
In March, I spent about 10 days of feeling a little disoriented and helpless—having no clue as to what was going on with me. After a few conversations with a variety of military health care providers, to include an emergency room resident and former chief of neurology, I was finally able to “put a name to the pain.” It turns out, I had sustained a mild TBI as a result of a recent fall (hardwood floor, meet Heather’s face…it wasn’t a pleasant introduction and resulted in five stitches and a severely bruised ego).

With a huge sigh of relief and several deep breaths later, I began my recovery process by talking to friends and family, and combing through resources and facts. The first tidbit that jumped off one factsheet (courtesy of Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center) was that falls are the leading cause of a traumatic brain injury. I didn’t know that, did you?

I know much more about mild TBI now, like the fact that you should give yourself a little slack and let your brain heal—which can take one to three months in most cases. But, as my neurologist insists, that doesn’t mean you should stop doing routine tasks, like reading. He reminded me how amazing the brain is and it’s important to keep working it because, in time, it will learn new “tricks” to help self-correct.

Gratitude
I also have a newfound appreciation for deployed service members who have sustained not one, but multiple concussions, and yet they still continue to put themselves in harm’s way when they’ve recovered. This gratitude was even more apparent during a recent commute.

I was driving home from work one day, not too long after my diagnosis, taking my usual route along a scenic parkway. I drove along my curvy path and watched the sunlight flicker through the trees and shimmer off the flanking river crests—this sounds like a tranquil moment until I mention that the flickering light quickly caused my brain to hiccup and feel overloaded—like someone pushed the pause button. I felt a sudden rush of panic as if I was intoxicated; I felt disoriented and blinded all at once. Luckily, I was able to pull over to the side of the road (thank goodness for a nearby outlet) and regroup.

Almost as quickly as I thought that maybe I shouldn’t be driving, my thoughts shifted to our nation’s warriors. (As a patriot and veteran, I feel a connection to our service members and their families frequently—I’ve lived the life and still do as a military spouse.) I had visions of uniformed service members and wondered what it must be like to have the responsibilities they have down range. I imagined them walking around on patrol, on high alert, charged with keeping their unit, local civilians and themselves safe in the middle of an unfamiliar, war-torn city meanwhile, catching glimpses of sparkling metal or debris that just seemed “off.”

Sound like an intense scenario? Let’s make it more realistic by mentioning that the group of service members performing this “job” experienced a jarring blast from an improvised explosive device during a convoy to deliver supplies a few days prior. Oh, and it’s the third blast this month. Wow.

So, I’m pulled over on the side of a picturesque road worried about driving impaired while there are men and women, with guns, fighting to keep my family safe who may be experiencing the symptoms I have right at this moment? Again, wow. Another TBI fact: In the military, the leading causes of TBI are bullets, fragments and blasts.

Lessons learned
Fortunately, my story has a happy ending—and I learned some stuff too. I made it home safely that day and as I write this, almost all of my concussion symptoms are gone. I learned that people use different words to describe the way they feel, so it’s important to talk to someone who can help decipher when a response or feeling is normal and when it's not. I also know a lot more about the human brain than I ever thought I would, which is pretty cool.

I’ve found among all that I have learned, the two things I want to share from my experience are:

1) I discovered simply knowing what was wrong with me (putting a name to the pain as I prefer to describe it) offered such relief and comfort—proof that it’s crucial to talk to others and reach out for help.

2) Because of the amazing people I work with at DCoE, things are changing on the battlefield for men and women who experience TBIs—new guidance and research are helping health care providers ensure injured service members get the right treatment at the right time, when it’s absolutely critical to their mission, the lives of others and themselves.

I feel I can’t end without offering a sincere “thank you” to those who continue to fight. I’m thankful for the men and women who sacrifice their lives to fight for freedom—and just as importantly, for the people at home who fight to ensure deployed service members, returning veterans and their families have access to high-quality treatment, support and information. Thank you and keep fighting!

Face of Defense: Air Force Officer Seeks New Challenges

By Air Force 1st Lt. Scott Ghiringhelli
Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center

MONTEREY, Calif., June 16, 2011 – After completing his reserve officers' training and earning a bachelor and master of science in aerospace engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Air Force 1st Lt. Ryan Castonia could well have gone on to a career as an engineer in the Air Force.

That would have been a success story by anyone's standards, but he was not content to stop there.

While still an Air Force ROTC cadet at MIT, Castonia sought out different opportunities for his future. Beyond the natural career path as an engineer, he was slotted to be a pilot, and finally settled on a combat rescue officer position. He also attended the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center here as part of the Air Force's new Language Enabled Airman Program, despite having no prior language proficiency.

"The LEAP program was created while I was still in ROTC, and the announcement came out through our cadre," Castonia explained. "I've always wanted to learn a foreign language; I just didn't feel like I was in a good time or place to ever do it [before]."

Air Force Culture and Language Center officials launched LEAP last year. The program is designed to identify airmen with foreign language abilities and foster those skills throughout their careers. Though Castonia was not already proficient in a foreign language, he applied for LEAP based on his high Defense Language Aptitude Battery score and 4.0 grade point average, both of which indicated his likelihood for success. Success, it seems, is no stranger to Castonia.

Castonia applied for a pilot trainee slot to become an Air Force pilot and was one of the select few to be accepted. But before he was to put on his gold bars, yet another opportunity caught his attention. After hearing about the CRO mission, Castonia fell in love with it.

He endured the mental, physical and psychological challenges of the dual-phase selection process and was one of only 11 chosen to become a part of this relatively new special operations career field initiated in 2000.

"I've always worked really hard to try to maintain a good balance between academics and athletics," he said. "My parents have always pushed that, and so I felt like the military was a good place where you can maintain that balance."

CROs parallel the Air Force's elite pararescue career field, open only to enlisted service members, and provide an officer cadre to lead pararescue teams and survival evasion resistance and escape specialists.

It would seem with all these accomplishments and opportunities, there was nothing more for this cadet to strive for. Not so.

Castonia applied for and was accepted into LEAP. He is among the first five Air Force lieutenants to come to the foreign language center and participate in LEAP. Once service members achieve a certain level of proficiency, they receive incentive pay for their chosen language. But LEAP requires them to maintain that proficiency in addition to the daily duties of their primary Air Force specialty. Castonia, however, sees that commitment as a privilege rather than a burden.

"I just think having the possibility of coming to DLI as a young officer is an amazing opportunity," he said.

After completing his language training, Castonia will start the grueling nine-week program designed to weed out those CRO trainees who are not able or willing to meet the challenge. Once completed, he will receive training that includes airborne school, combat diver's school, survival evasion resistance escape training and emergency medical technician training, among other classes.

What might seem daunting to some is referred to in child-like anticipation by Castonia. He is motivated not only by his love of learning and being challenged, but an obvious sense of duty.

"My junior year in high school I started to realize that I wanted to serve in some way, the reason being I just feel really blessed," he said. "I feel I've had a lot of opportunities, even at that point in my life, and wanted to give back in some way."

Castonia's enthusiasm and accomplishments as an Air Force ROTC cadet did not go unnoticed. He received a multitude of military and academic awards at MIT, and ultimately was named Air Force Cadet of the Year for 2009, an award sponsored by the Air Squadron of the United Kingdom. The honor is awarded to one person each year, selected from all of the Air Force cadets working towards a commission in AFROTC, the Air Force Academy or officer training school.

Castonia will graduate from the language center’s Arabic-language program in July.

Typical of his predilection for seeking out challenge and opportunity, Arabic is classified as a category IV language, one of the most difficult for English speakers to learn.

Castonia said he is looking forward to a successful military career and a career-long language experience in LEAP.

"There's a lot of ways you can give back to your country,” he said, “and I just felt like military service was something that fit with me."

Fort Belvoir Hospital Nears Completion

By Julia LeDoux, Fort Belvoir Public Affairs

FORT BELVOIR, Va. (NNS) -- Fort Belvoir announced June 16, construction of the new hospital on board the base is nearly complete and still on time for facility's Aug. 10 opening date.

The inpatient tower is the only part of the hospital still under major construction.

"Over the past six months, it's gone from looking like a construction site to looking like a hospital," said Col. Braden A. Shoupe, FBCH deputy commander for health care operations and strategic planning. "They really have been going full steam. I think 'max' at one time on the site they had 1,400 to 1,500 people working. Now, we're down to basically the finishing work."

The $1 billion facility is being constructed on the site of an old golf course.

"By putting it on the golf course, it allows you to build the facility you wanted to build, because you don't have to worry about underground utilities," Shoupe explained.

Shoupe said the hospital is designed to incorporate natural lighting and outside views. The natural theme has also been carried through to the naming of its wings - Eagle, River, Sunrise and Meadow. He noted the facility's reception areas border outside atriums.

"They broke ground on this hospital before it was totally designed," he said. "They started working on the landscaping and plotting it out."

Exam rooms feature colorful murals of flowers, boats, or water on their walls.

"You're not going to be sitting around long before you're escorted back to receive the care you're here for," said Shoupe. "Each provider has two offices they will work out of, so they will be much more efficient at moving patients through while giving them the time their medical conditions require."

Inpatient rooms are also outfitted with the latest in Smart Suite technology. Each room is equipped with a special TV screen that will display the name of the person who just walked in to the room. Patients will also be able to control the rooms' temperature themselves. The layout of both inpatient and exam rooms also promote such activities as frequent hand-washing, which should help cut down on the spread of germs in the building.

A device known as a "room wizard" can be found outside each inpatient room. The electronic device will inform medical providers, family members and visitors about what's happening inside the room. It will also display information about patient allergies.

The hospital will also have a facility for treating teenagers with anxiety or depression that are not ready for inpatient care, but require more help than outpatient treatment can provide.

"They will come here for eight hours, Monday through Friday for schooling, individual and group therapy," said Shoupe.

An indoor pool is also available to provide physical therapy, and two DaVinci robots will assist with surgery. Housing for wounded warriors is also being built on the hospital campus.

Truxtun Sailors Experience History, Culture of Cyprus

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kevin J. Steinberg, USS George H.W. Bush Public Affairs

LIMASSOL, Cyprus (NNS) -- Guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun (DDG 103) departed Limassol, Cyprus, after a successful port visit, June 13.

The visit gave the crew an opportunity to explore the traditions of the region.

"I think the visit to Cyprus was a fantastic opportunity for Truxtun Sailors to go ashore and learn about the culture and history of the region," said Cmdr. John H. Ferguson, commanding officer for Truxtun.

Sailors had the opportunity to explore Cyprus's historical background with tours provided by the ship's Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) program. Trips to archeological sites, House of Dionysos and the rock of Aphrodite, were available.

"It was fun to interact with different people from different cultures and see the historical landscape," said Logistics Specialist 3rd Class Mohammed M. Yakubu. "It was beautiful and different compared to what I'm used to. It gave me a brighter picture of the places I've read about in books."

Ferguson expressed the mission of port visits.

"We approach every port visit like any other military operation," Ferguson said.

After three days in port, Truxtun departed Limassol.

"On a ship with so many young people who have never left the U.S., these opportunities are very important to reminding us that the world is a big place with many diverse cultures with rich histories," said Ferguson.

Truxtun is deployed as part of the George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group, comprised of Carrier Strike Group 2 staff, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8, Destroyer Squadron 22 staff, USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), guided-missile cruisers USS Gettysburg (CG 64) and USS Anzio (CG 68), and guided-missile destroyers Truxtun and USS Mitscher (DDG 57).

More Vets Gain Federal Employment

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2011 – Thanks to President Barack Obama’s Veterans Employment Initiative, more veterans are now federal employees.

Federal agencies hired 72,133 veterans in fiscal 2010, about 2,000 more than in 2009, U.S. Office of Personnel Management officials said in a news release.

“Through the president’s Veterans Employment Initiative, OPM and our agency partners are helping tens of thousands of veterans and their families continue their legacy of service,” OPM Director John Berry said.

The OPM report, Employment of Veterans in the Federal Executive Branch for Fiscal Year 2010, also states that 25.6 percent of new hires across the federal government in fiscal 2010 were veterans. This is a 1.6 percent increase from fiscal 2009.

Of the veterans hired in fiscal 2010, 23,140 are disabled veterans, compared to 20,448 in fiscal 2009. This is a 1.2 percent increase.

“These are some of the best, brightest and hardest-working Americans in the federal government,” Berry said. “While we’ve accomplished a lot in the first year, too many veterans are still unemployed, and we’re going to keep pushing to do even better going forward.”

NAS Oceana Promotes Motorcycle Safety

By Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Indra Bosko, Naval Air Station Oceana Public Affairs

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (NNS) -- The 3rd annual Motorcycle Rodeo and Safety Fair was held aboard Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana June 10, to encourage riders to be safe, wear the right gear and have fun when they ride their motorcycles.

The prevailing message to the attendees was, "Don't get picked on."

"Motorcyclists feel like they get picked on because they get inspected the most," said Donald Borkoski, from the Naval Safety Center, an organization that develops traffic safety policies for the U.S. Navy.

Compared to drivers, Sailors are constantly getting inspected on wearing the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) as they ride through the front gates of a military installation, Borkoski said.

"The reason why you get picked on is (because) about 10 percent of all the Sailors and Marines that own vehicles drive motorcycles," said Borkoski. "That is why we need to keep you safe."

The one-day event featured guest speakers and activities including riding contests, demonstrations from safety experts and a bike show. The rodeo also included booths from various motorcycle vendors, non-profit organizations and the local fire department.

"We are hosting the motorcycle rodeo to inform riders to stay safe, give the options for safety equipment and places to ride," said Dave Ruhl, NAS Oceana Safety department.

During the motorcycle rodeo Sailors were encouraged to sign up for motorcycle safety courses. Naval Safety Center offers various levels of motorcycle safety training classes for military members.

"Motorcyclists are expected to get trained," said Borkoski. "The Basic Rider Course (BRC) offers the fundamentals on how to ride a motorcycle. The rodeo educates Sailors so that they know what to do if someone else does something stupid. These kids don't have mom and dad around, so we have to help them out."

Taking the motorcycle safety training classes is part of the rodeo's safety campaign to help bikers prevent future fatalities.

"We can't afford to lose trained people," said Borkoski "Some of the most ambitious people are motorcycle riders."

NAS Oceana Commanding Officer Capt. Jim Webb noted the loss of two Sailors from Oceana during the past year due to motorcycle accidents.

"So what do those Sailors have in common?" asked Webb. "They weren't drinking and driving, they just weren't very experienced and in both cases, had not taken the Basic Rider Course."

Experts at the event said since the Motorcycle Rodeo and Safety Fair was first introduced three years ago, safety programs such as the motorcycle rodeo as well as other motorcycle training programs have significantly influenced the reduction in motorcycle accidents.

"Since we started getting more involved in the motorcycle program, in one year's time we have cut fatalities in half," said Borkoski. "We went from 36 fatalities per year to 13 or 14 per year," said Borkoski. "Over the last two years, all the motorcyclists who don't have training are part of the fatalities. So the training is working."

Aviation Structural Mechanic 1st Class Bruce Yates, Training Support Center Hampton Roads, praised the rider courses at the Naval Safety Center.

"I've been through all the courses," said Yates, 39. "I think the training is a good idea because they teach older motorcyclists like me how to ride."

Younger Sailors such as Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) Airman Dustin Meeker from USS Harry S. Truman (CVN75), said the courses trained him to learn the proper techniques in bike riding.

"I learned a lot about control from stopping to slowing down," said Meeker. "The way the classes help Sailors is that they build you up from the basics, and by the time you leave, it is muscle memory."

Other factors of concern also include the fact that the rise in motorcycle sales in Hampton Roads comes more from military members than civilians, said Borkoski.

"When the gas prices go up, we find more Sailors riding motorcycles; even those returning from overseas," said Borkoski. "That's why we want them to get training."

Virginia State Police troopers entertained the audience with safety demonstrations and gave tips on proper bike riding and handling.

Quoting the Virginia State Police motto of "Ride Smart, Arrive Alive," Senior Trooper Ross Thompson said that out of all the reasons why Sailors get into a motorcycle accident, "riding too fast is the main reason."

In another effort to save lives, the chief operating officer of Richmond Ambulance Authority, Rob Lawrence, introduced the Rider Alert program which provides free identification cards and stickers for motorcyclists.

The cards are meant to inform and aid first responders to provide better treatment for bikers in case of an emergency or accident. Riders were also advised to put their command's contact information on the card and were given a demonstration on how to properly place the Rider Alert card inside their helmets.

"That way we can inform your next of kin or command," said Lawrence. "We hope there will be a military version of the card."

Gates Calls for Superb Military, Not Hollow Force

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 15, 2011 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he’d rather have a smaller “superbly capable” military than a hollow force.

Gates told the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee today that even as the department looks for savings there has to be an admission that reductions will increase risks. It was the secretary’s last appearance before Congress before his retirement June 30.

“This process must be about identifying options for the president and for you, the Congress, to ensure that the nation consciously acknowledges and accepts additional risk in exchange for reduced investment in the military,” Gates said. “Above all, if we are to avoid a hollowing effect, this process must address force structure, with the overarching goal to preserve a U.S. military capable of meeting crucial national-security priorities even if fiscal pressure requires reductions in that force’s size.”

But, he said, if force structure is reduced the consequences are that a smaller military -- no matter how superb -- “will be able to go fewer places and be able to do fewer things.”

Even as the Defense Department looks for efficiencies and cuts, the world remains a dangerous place, the secretary said, and those looking for savings would do well to remember that.

“Our military must remain strong and agile enough to face a diverse range of threats -- from nonstate actors attempting to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction and sophisticated missiles, to the more traditional threats of other states both building up their conventional forces and developing new capabilities that target our traditional strategies,” he said.

Gates discussed areas that will be studied for savings. The first is the planned future reductions in the size of the ground forces, the second is the proposed reforms and savings to the TRICARE military health plan program for working-age retirees, and the third is the budget and the strategy choices required to meet the savings targets recently laid out by President Barack Obama.

In 2006, one of the secretary’s first acts was to increase the size of the Army and Marines. He said at the time, and maintains today, that the ground forces were being stretched by the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the surge into Iraq threatened to break the forces. The Army grew by 65,000 to 547,000 and the Marines by 27,000 to 202,000. He further authorized the Army a temporary increase of 22,000, which will end in fiscal 2013.

“The objective was to reduce stress on the force, limit and eventually end the practice of stop-loss, and to increase troops’ home-station dwell time,” he said. “This has worked. And I can tell you that those stop-lossed in the Army is now over. There are no Army soldiers stop-lossed.”

Army and Marine Corps leaders believe that by fiscal 2015, they can begin drawing down end strength with minimal risk -- reducing Army active-duty end strength by 27,000 and the Marine Corps by somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000.

“These projections assume that the number of troops in Afghanistan will be significantly reduced by the end of 2014 in accordance with the president’s and NATO’s strategy,” the secretary said. “If our assumptions prove incorrect, there's plenty of time to adjust the size and schedule of this change.”

Reforming TRICARE is another priority for the department, Gates said. DOD health care costs have climbed from $19 billion in fiscal 2001 to $52.5 billion in fiscal 2012. The fiscal 2012 budget calls for modest increases to TRICARE enrollment fees for working-age retirees, which later would be indexed to national health expenditures. “All six members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have strongly endorsed these and other cost-saving TRICARE reforms in a letter to the Congress,” Gates said.

This must happen because the current TRICARE arrangement cannot be sustained, he said. “If allowed to continue, the Department of Defense risks the fate of other corporate and government bureaucracies that were ultimately crippled by personnel costs, and in particular their retiree benefit packages,” he said. He urged the senators to approve the change.

The president called on DOD to find $400 billion in savings. An earlier effort netted $100 billion in savings over five years. “The goal was and is to sustain the U.S. military's size and strength over the long term by reinvesting efficiency savings in force structure and other key combat capabilities,” Gates said.

He called the results mixed saying the services did a good job of locating savings and making tough choices, with defense agencies doing less well. “I believe there are more savings to be found by culling more overhead and better accounting for, and thus better managing the funds and people we have,” he said. “But one thing is quite clear. The efficiencies efforts the department has undertaken will not come close to meeting the $400 billion in savings laid out by the president.”

Meeting those goals will require real cuts and real choices, Gates said.

“Here I would leave you with a word of caution,” the secretary said. “We must not repeat the mistakes of the past, where budget targets were met mostly by taking a percentage off the top of everything, the simplest and most politically expedient approach, both inside the Pentagon and outside of it.”

He called that approach salami-slicing and while it maintains force structure on paper, it results in hollowing out the force from a lack of proper training, maintenance of equipment and manpower. “That’s what happened in the 1970s, a disastrous period for our military, and to a lesser extent during the late 1990s,” he said.

Gates has launched a comprehensive review to ensure that future spending decisions “are focused on priorities, strategy and risks and are not simply a math and accounting exercise.”

The secretary wants congressional support for a leaner, more efficient Pentagon and continued sustainable, robust investments in troops and future capabilities.

“Our troops have done more than their part; now it’s time for us in Washington to do ours,” he said.

All together now: 32nd Brigade assembles for annual training

By Staff Sgt. Andy Poquette
Wisconsin Army National Guard

For the first time in nearly eight years, the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) is conducting annual training as a whole brigade this month at Fort McCoy.

The 32nd, which includes units ranging from engineers and infantry to military intelligence and medics, has deployed in part or in total to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom between 2005 and 2010. Some of those deployments have required Soldiers to perform missions other than what they normally train for, such as convoy escort, base security or detainee operations.

"We haven't been able to be together as an entire brigade since 2003," said Col. Martin D. Seifer, 32nd IBCT commander. "When I took command, I promised we would do our mission, and we are training to function as an IBCT that performs full spectrum operations. We plan for the most difficult mission, and adjust as necessary."

Seifer, who took command of the Red Arrow Brigade in July of 2010, stressed that with the brigade coming home from a long deployment and several changes in personnel across the nearly 3,200-Soldier-strong brigade, training together as a brigade was an important step.

"It means a lot to an individual Soldier because you raise your hand and take an oath to fulfill a specific job," Seifer explained. "Infantry wants to be infantry, engineers want to be engineers. It's a great feeling to be able to do what you signed up to do."

Pfc. Tonlithed Vang, a signal systems support specialist with Company C, Brigade Special Troops Battalion (BSTB), agreed.

"This is my second annual training," said Vang, "but this is the first time I've been able to do my job. I'm cross-training with other positions and learning new equipment. It makes me more confident in my mission."

Master Sgt. James S. Fowler, also of Company C, BSTB, explained the difficulty of training on the BSTB's unique equipment.

"You can't set up this equipment on a drill weekend," Fowler said. "There simply isn't enough space. Out here we can set up our satellite trailers and our line-of-sight systems. Every system we employ requires a mix of jobs to be able to properly set up. This is the first time we've been able to do so."

Fowler, a recent transfer from the Nevada National Guard, has served in the Army National Guard for 19 years and said that he has seen the shift in the past few years to a more focused, Soldier-caring leadership plan.

"The leadership of the Guard since 2001 has become more administrative, more focused on planning," Fowler said. "It seems like they are asking, 'What will be best for our Soldiers?' when they develop the training plan."

The 32nd IBCT will be spending the better part of the month at Fort McCoy conducting training in everything from warrior tasks and squad weapon systems to field artillery missions.

"This is the first time that the 120th [Field Artillery Battalion] will be able to put steel on target since 2005," Seifer observed. "Everyone is excited about being able to do their mission."