Friday, June 24, 2011

Obama Visits Fort Drum, Thanks First to Deploy

By Steve Ghiringhelli, Fort Drum Public Affairs Office
American Forces Press Service

FORT DRUM, N.Y. , June 23, 2011 – The day after announcing a drawdown of troops from Afghanistan, President Barack Obama visited Fort Drum to thank members of an Army division that was among the first to deploy units following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"I don't want to give a long speech, because I want to spend most of my time just shaking hands and thanking all of you," Obama told a small gathering of 10th Mountain Division soldiersJune 23, 2011, during his first official visit to Fort Drum.

The soldiers of 1st Brigade Combat Team, which returned earlier this year from its deployment to northern Afghanistan, sat in complete silence as they awaited the commander in chief's arrival at the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade dining facility. It was soldiers from the brigade's 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, who provided a quick reaction force in Afghanistan immediately following 9/11, ultimately helping to overthrow the Taliban-run regime that harbored al-Qaida terrorists.

Once the president was announced, he was introduced to the 150 soldiers by the brigade's commander, Col. Willard "Bill" Burleson.

"Sir, it's a great privilege to share these great soldiers here with you today," Burleson said. "They represent about 4,000 of the first elements of (last year's surge) in Afghanistan."

The president thanked Burleson for his hard work and leadership and then spoke about his decision last year to deploy an additional 30,000 troops into Afghanistan, calling it one of the toughest decisions he has made as president.

"The only reason I was able to make that decision was because I knew that we had the finest fighting force in the world, and that if I gave a command to our troops, they would be able to accomplish that mission," the president said. "The 10th Mountain Division … (were) the first folks to go in after that order was given.

"And that's not surprising," he added, "because you guys were also some of the first folks to go in right after 9/11."

During his televised address to the nation Wednesday night, Obama announced that 10,000 troops will redeploy to the U.S. this year and that a total of 33,000 -- roughly the number of troops sent to Afghanistan last year -- will return by next summer. As Afghan security forces move into the lead, the president said, American troops will continue steadily coming home until 2014, when the U.S. mission completes its transition from combat to support.

He also stated that it was time for America to rethink some of its national security policies, cautioning that the U.S. is in need of some "nation building" of its own.

"Already, this decade of war has caused many to question the nature of America’s engagement around the world," he said during his primetime speech. "Some would have America retreat from our responsibility as an anchor of global security and embrace an isolation that ignores the very real threats that we face. Others would have America over-extended, confronting every evil that can be found abroad.

"We must chart a more centered course," the president noted.

Currently, the 10th Mountain Division's headquarters leads coalition forces in Regional Command - South in Kandahar, Afghanistan. In addition, three of the division's six brigades are deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom -- 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Brigade Combat Team and 10th Combat Aviation Brigade.

It brings the total number of 10th Mountain Division soldiers serving in Afghanistan to more than 10,000.

Meanwhile, the 10th Sustainment Brigade is readying to deploy to Afghanistan this fall.

Obama said his respect for the 10th Mountain Division's storied past goes back to his days at the U.S. Senate.

"I've always run into you guys -- and for some reason, it's always in some rough spots," he said. "You guys have always been there in the toughest fights. The fact that you are continuing, even as we speak, and that many of your comrades are there right now under some very tough circumstances, (demonstrates) your dedication and your patriotism."

In order to sustain their accomplishments so far in the war-torn country, the president assured soldiers that his plan to decrease the number of troops in Afghanistan would not be done "precipitously."

"Because of what you have done, areas like Kandahar are more secure than they have been in years," Obama said. "Because of you, we are now taking the fight to the Taliban, instead of the Taliban bringing the fight to us. Because of you, there are signs that the Taliban may be interested in figuring out political settlements.

"It's also because of you that we have a platform to be able to go after bin Laden and al-Qaida, and we have decimated their ranks," he said.

Obama said even with his planned drawdown, tough work lies ahead.

"The American people understand the sacrifices you are making; they understand the sacrifices that your Families are making," he said. "But there's still some fighting to be done. And frankly, the 10th Mountain Division is still going to be represented there until we have fully transferred to the Afghan military and security forces.

"You guys are the tip of the spear," Obama continued. "You guys are the ones that keep us safe each and every day. For all of the sacrifices you have made, I want to say thank you. For all of the sacrifices your Families have made, I want to say thank you.

"I have no greater job -- nothing gives me more honor -- than serving as your commander in chief. To all of you who are potentially going to be (deployed again), just know that your commander in chief has your back."

Before boarding Air Force One at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield, Obama met privately inside the Rapid Deployment Facility with family members of fallen soldiers.

Face of Defense: Sergeant Tops Push-up Record

By Army Staff Sgt. Brad Staggs
Camp Atterbury Public Affairs

BUTLERVILLE, Ind., June 23, 2011 – Have you ever wanted to break a world record? Army Staff Sgt. John Halsey didn't know that he wanted to -- until he discovered that he had something to prove to his student soldiers.

Halsey, an assistant platoon sergeant in Bravo Company for the Patriot Academy at Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex, Ind., noticed that the students under his watch were being a bit lethargic on their day off.

"I challenged them to go do something productive, go break a world record," Halsey said. "They laughed about it and told me to go break a world record.”

Halsey said he replied, “I will,” to the students.

Halsey set his sights on the record for most push-ups in one minute with a 40-pound pack -- a record that was then held by Britain’s Paddy Doyle, who’d performed 51 push-ups in one minute with a 40-pound pack on his back Oct. 11, 2010.

Halsey said he felt that he needed to not only break the record, but to beat it decisively to show his soldiers that anything is possible.

The barrel-chested Halsey trained every day for two months.

The rules for breaking a world record are specific and include having witnesses present who aren’t affiliated with the attempted record breaker or the organization. Shana Richmond of North Vernon; Connie Rayburn, North Vernon city councilor; and North Vernon's First Lady Joanne Campbell all volunteered to witness the event and act as unbiased judges.

With more than 100 Patriot Academy students present in the old school house gymnasium, a 40-pound kettle bell weight was placed in a three-pound backpack, more than tipping the mandatory weight of 40 pounds as it was officially weighed and documented.

When Halsey was told to go, he was more than ready. By the time 30 seconds had elapsed, the students were out of their seats and pounding the gymnasium floor, cheering louder and louder for Halsey until it was nearly impossible to hear the time keeper over the public address system.

As soon as the members of the crowd, who were counting the number of Halsey’s push-ups, shouted "52," everybody started cheering.

But Halsey didn't stop. He wasn't satisfied with simply breaking the record.

Stop was called at 60 seconds and the official final count was 60 push-ups. Halsey had performed 60 push-ups in one minute while wearing a 43-pound backpack -- an average of one push-up every second.

Rayburn was in charge of counting the number of push-ups using a hand counter.

"I was so excited, and I was looking at how much time was left. I knew where I was at on the count and kept thinking, 'This is too cool, but remember to focus on what you're doing,’" she said.

"I knew the previous record was 51," said Richmond, the other official counter. "So the second I hit 51, I was cheering as hard as the soldiers behind me. I can't wait to tell my kids at school. They are going to think it's the greatest thing that's ever happened."

Campbell said she was excited to be present at the breaking of a world record.

"I have never done anything like this before. What an experience," she said. "I'm so proud of him and his motivation. It's awesome."

After his record-breaking performance, Halsey didn't appear any worse for wear.

"I'm just glad it's over with," he said. "My goal behind this was to show the students it can be done. I have a feeling a lot of them will be gunning for this record just because it was me who broke it. I want to watch them do it, because any time they are trying that hard, they are just becoming better soldiers."

It may take as long as six weeks for the Guinness World Record committee to verify Halsey's record, at which point he will be sent a certificate to commemorate the achievement.

But, for Halsey, the true accomplishment is the example he set for his soldiers.

Walter Reed Planning Smooth Transition for Wounded Warriors

By Rob McIlvaine, Army News Service

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Many of the approximately 430 wounded warriors, along with their family members and staff, visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) June 22 to hear about their upcoming move to one of two refurbished medical centers in the National Capital Region.

During the weekends of August 12 and 19, patients now at Walter Reed will move to either the newly named Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., or the new Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Virginia.

The existing WRAMC, which has been active since 1909, will close its doors Sept. 15. Some of the 113 acres of that facility will be transferred to the Department of State; the rest will go to the District of Columbia.

The new names of the medical campuses will become effective when the last patient is transferred from the old Walter Reed Army Medical Center to Walter Reed Bethesda.

"We (have been) planning, training and rehearsing to ensure patient safety and quality of care are maintained at the highest levels during transition," said Vice Adm. John Mateczun, commander of Joint Task Force, National Capital Region Medical, on its website. "We will do everything we must for the wounded, ill and injured and all the beneficiaries that we are privileged to care for."

Also helping with the "town hall" at the medical center were Col. Jim Larsen, commander of Walter Reed's Warrior Transition Brigade; Brig. Gen. Steve Jones, deputy commander of Joint Task Force, National Capital Region Medical; and representatives from both medical campuses.

"We've been working on the process for three years," said Mateczun. "We've rehearsed this in table-top exercises and then we rehearsed the move on August 12 with ambulances and simulated moving of patients from here over to Bethesda. Then we'll have a more detailed practice before we actually do the move."

About $2.5 billion has been spent doing construction and outfitting for the two new hospitals.

"For the Bethesda campus, very large new buildings on either side of the tower, one's outpatient -- that's the largest outpatient building in the Military Health System. The other is one of the largest inpatient pavilions with 50 intensive patient care beds that sits against the inpatient tower now," Mateczun said.

In addition, at the Bethesda campus, three new parking garages will be ready to open about Aug. 1, wounded warrior lodging is going up, a new administration building is going up, the National Intrepid Center of Excellence for Traumatic Brain Injury is up and running, and three new Fisher Houses -- with 22 units -- are up and running.

One of the priorities of the Task Force is making sure that the wounded warriors have the capabilities and support they need.

"Over the last couple of months, we met with the vice chiefs from all of the services to make sure that we're not leaving any seams," Mateczun said. "They asked about the wounded warrior support programs from our services -- because you have the Warrior Transition Brigade, Wounded Warrior Regiment from the Marines, Safe Harbor from the Navy, Air Force's programs and we have to make sure they're able to cover all of the needs of the individuals at both of these locations."

The Joint Task Force funds the hospital care and also funds the lodging facilities at Bethesda. One-fourth of the entire inpatient military health service is done in the National Capital Region. In terms of the Warrior Transition Brigade and the Wounded Warrior Regiment, those are service-funded issues.

"The Bethesda medical center is where the most complex patients and rehabilitation go, so they'll be doing the prosthetics rehabilitation, for instance, the traumatic brain injuries, and if somebody is more ambulatory, than they don't need to be on that campus. So they'll get plenty of space and excellent care down at the Fort Belvoir hospital," Mateczun said.

Also, rather than being at one of the medical campuses, many Soldiers in the area are spread out in family housing at Fort Meade, for instance. If they need more than one appointment a week, they'll be at the medical center.

"When I visited Walter Reed Bethesda, I was shocked when I saw a 37-inch, flat screen TV that doubles as a computer monitor in the room, and the rooms at Bethesda. I thought I'm living in squalor compared to the rooms here," said Spc. Steven McDonald, who's been a patient at WRAMC for the past year after leaving Iraq with extensive injuries. While at the facility, he's endured multiple surgeries and a lot of physical therapy. And recently, he started the medical board process to determine if he's fit or unfit for duty.

McDonald and his squad leader, Staff Sgt. Nicholas B. Suhling, said the rooms at Bethesda are all designed to accommodate Soldiers in wheelchairs. This allows for wheelchairs to easily move through doorways. The showers allow for the patient to roll right in, all the toilets are accessible, and the sinks and mirrors are able to accommodate those in wheelchairs as well as those able to stand.

"I was very jealous that I wasn't there yet," said McDonald, who believes he might have to retire from the service because of his injuries. He was also able to see his regular doctors at Bethesda and was able to get his final surgery scheduled sooner, rather than waiting a month.

Suhling has been the squad leader with the Warrior Transition Brigade for the past year.

"Some guys are here for a couple of weeks. But I've had one guy who has been here since 2007. Some guys are just single amputees, some are double, triple, quadruple amps, some guys take a little bit longer to heal than others, and some are here for two, three, four, five years 'cause you can't get your head right," Suhling said.

Suhling is responsible for the health, welfare, and morale of multiple Warriors in Transition in medical treatment and rehabilitation status.

"I also give the Soldiers a chance to get away from the monotonous physical therapy and doctors' appointments they have every day by getting them out on fishing and hunting outings and showing them that even though they have disabilities there is still a life full of activities, new and old, that can be performed with their current disabilities," Suhling said.

He said he has guys who donate charter boats so six or seven guys can go out for some deep sea fishing. He has also taken patients up to Pennsylvania to hunt deer, wild turkey and black bear.

Asked if he enjoys this job, Suhling shares what he many never have to think about.

"Honestly, coming from the infantry, I would have loved to stay oblivious to the amount of carnage that war brings," he said. "I guess I was kind of ignorant to the fact that Walter Reed even existed, because when I went to Afghanistan and Iraq twice, I always thought you die or you don't get hurt. I never really thought about anything happening in between. I never really thought about losing a leg or an arm, but then I got here and everybody has lost a leg or an arm."

For more information on the Joint Task Force National Capital Region Medical, visit

USS Constitution Wins 2011 President's Volunteer Service Award

From USS Constitution Public Affairs

CHARLESTOWN, Mass. (NNS) -- USS Constitution won the gold level 2011 President's Volunteer Service Award (PVSA) for community service in Charlestown, Mass., June 22.

The PVSA is divided into three levels: bronze, silver and gold. Groups must volunteer a minimum of 1,000 hours of community service to qualify for the gold level.

"Community service is a large part of what we do here on board USS Constitution, and our Sailors thoroughly enjoy it," said Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Shirley, USS Constitution executive officer. "Most community service events are completely voluntary, which validates the caring and dedication our Sailors put forth each and every day. We are honored to be recognized with this award for helping those in our community that need that little extra assistance."

Constitution Sailors qualified for the 2011 PVSA four months after winning the gold level 2010 PVSA, Feb. 22. The ship also won the 2009 PVSA for gold level.

"It's amazing how fast we qualified for this year's award, only a few months after winning the 2010 one," said Cryptologic Technician (Technical) 2nd Class Jacob Wallace, Constitution's volunteer program coordinator. "But we're constantly moving around the country at Navy Weeks, moving around Boston, helping out where we can. Some people might be surprised how easy it is to find organizations in need of assistance. That's what I do; seek them out and it's more rewarding personally than anything else."

Established in 2003, the PVSA is available on an annual basis to individuals, groups and families who have met or exceeded requirements for volunteer service and have demonstrated exemplary citizenship through volunteering.

The PVSA is issued by the President's Council on Service and Civic Participation on behalf of the president of the United States to recognize the best in the American spirit, and to encourage all Americans to improve their communities through volunteer service and civic participation.

"I just like helping people," said Aviation Electrician's Mate Airman Matthew DeAngelo, who has volunteered the most hours in 2011. "There's something to helping someone and the feeling you get from it. It doesn't matter how tired I am or even if I don't feel well. When I'm helping out and I see the impact it has, it makes me forget whatever problem I'm having."

Constitution also won the Commander, Navy Region (COMNAVREG) Middle Atlantic (MIDLANT) Good Neighbor Flagship award for small shore commands in 2010. COMNAVREG MIDLANT gives the award to commands that have the best year-round community service program or special project that encourages activities to provide humanitarian assistance to the less fortunate.

The ship is located in the Charlestown Navy Yard of Boston Harbor. She is the world's oldest
commissioned warship afloat and welcomes more than 500,000 visitors a year.

Today in the Department of Defense, Friday, June 24, 2011

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

This Day in Naval History - June 23

From the Navy News Service

1933 - Commissioning of USS Macon, Navy's last dirigible.
1961 - Navy's first major low frequency radio station commissioned at Cutler, Maine.
1972 - Navy helicopter squadron aids flood-stricken residents in Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, and Pittstown area of Pennsylvania.