Monday, June 27, 2011

Pacific Partnership 2011 Departs Timor-Leste

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher Farrington, Pacific Partnership 2011 Public Affairs

DILI, Timor-Leste (NNS) -- The Pacific Partnership 2011(PP11) team departed Dili, Timor-Leste after completing the fourth phase of the mission, June 25.

Amphibious transport dock ship USS Cleveland (LPD 7), the flagship for PP11, conducted humanitarian assistance /disaster response (HA/DR) operations in Timor-Leste with civilian volunteers and military representatives from four of the U.S. service branches, as well as servicemembers from Australia, Canada, Spain, Papua New Guinea, and Timor-Leste.

The multinational team engaged in community service, medical, dental, engineering, and veterinary civic action projects. Nearly 11,000 Timorese received treatment at the medical availabilities where host nation medical professionals worked alongside the PP11 team.

President Jose Ramos-Horta attended the departure reception aboard Cleveland, and offered his thanks to the PP11 team for their performance.

"We hope you will return to our country as soon as possible," he said.

The U.S. Pacific Fleet sponsored mission is aimed at improving quality of life for the residents of Timor-Leste and all host nations while enhancing interoperability between host and partner nations.

"Whether we are working together to help disaster victims, or building a prosperous Timor-Leste, the relationships built during Pacific Partnership are the foundation for a peaceful future," said Ambassador Judith R. Fergin, U.S. Ambassador to Timor-Leste.

Timor-Leste has been a Pacific Partnership mission port four out of six years since the mission began in 2006.

"Our repeat visits in Timor-Leste are having a long-lasting impact on the country," said U.S. Navy Capt. Jesse A. Wilson, mission commander of PP11 and Commander, Destroyer Squadron 23, during a talk he had with 150 students who attended a two-day training session provided by the PP11 medical contingent at Universidade de Paz. "Our mission in this part of the world continues to evolve, as we fine-tune our skills, improve interoperability with partner and host nations, engage in sustainable quality of life projects, and continue to build our relationship with countries in this region."

In addition to seeing nearly 11,000 medical and dental patients, the medical contingent filled 9,151 prescriptions, gave out 5,894 pairs of glasses, and cared for 284 animals all during 27 events at six different medical, dental and veterinary civic action projects spanning across eight of the thirteen districts in the island nation.

"We deployed a wide variety of medical experts working together to provide the best medical care possible for the Timorese people," said Cmdr. Michael Smith, director of medical operations for Pacific Partnership. "Personnel and resources were managed efficiently by our leadership; because of that, we were able to provide close to 11,000 people with medical care."

The engineering team, comprised of U.S. Navy Seabees and Australian Sappers, completed two engineering projects including refurbishing the "Gedung Serba Guna Matahari Terbit (GMT)" gym, which is part of the Olympic training center for the island nation.

The team of experts poured new concrete floors, sealed the roof, painted the entire structure, landscaped the exterior of the building, and remodeled the entire electrical system. They also provided Becora, Timor-Leste with a 10,000 liter water tank which will add much-needed increased water capacity to the local village.

"The repairs to the GMT gym will benefit the youth of Timor-Leste by providing them with a safe place for exercise and play," said Lt. Michael Sardone, officer in charge of civil engineering for Pacific Partnership 2011. "It also doubles as an evacuation center in the event of a natural disaster and was ineffective in that capacity until the recent refurbishment."

Multinational servicemembers also had the opportunity to interact with the people of Dili through charity, sports and community service projects, to include participation and support during the second annual Dili City of Peace marathon.

"Taking the time to come see the Timorese people in their element gives our team members an opportunity to see a different side of the people they're helping," said Lt. Phillip Ridley, PP11 Chaplain. "At community service projects, the host nationals aren't just patients who might need a specific treatment. These are people who deserve our care and compassion as human beings."

Pacific Partnership worked together with various charities, including Project Handclasp, the Navy's worldwide outreach program, to deliver more than 70 pallets of medical supplies, sports balls, school supplies, water filters, and personal hygiene items to the people of Timor-Leste.

"The donated items were made available by the generosity of the American people," Ridley said. "However, it was important to ensure that the donated items were things they could replenish on their own or maintain themselves."

By developing sustainable improvements in the quality of life with the Timorese, PP11 is able to enhance Timor-Leste's ability to operate as a partner in times of crisis.

Pacific Partnership is an annual humanitarian assistance initiative sponsored by the U.S. Pacific Fleet, aimed at improving interoperability between host and partner nations. This year, Pacific Partnership has completed its mission in Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and Timor-Leste. It will continue on to the Federated States of Micronesia, the final mission port for PP11.

During the past five years, Pacific Partnership has provided medical, dental, educational, and preventive medicine services to more than 241,000 people and completed more than 150 engineering projects in 15 countries.

Kearsarge FCPOA Lends a Hand to Soup Kitchen

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW/AW) Cristina Gabaldon, USS Kearsarge Public Affairs

RED BANK, N.J. (NNS) -- Eleven members from amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge's First Class Petty Officer Association (FCPOA) took a few hours off from their schedule to volunteer at a local soup kitchen in Red Bank, N.J., June 23.

The FCPOA arrived at Norma Todd's Lunch Break just before lunch, where they led a prayer and recited the Pledge of Allegiance before serving lunch to 54 men, women and children.

Norma Todd's Lunch Break is an organization ran by employees and volunteers who are committed to helping the community. Active since 1983, Norma Todd's Lunch Break is a place where members of the community who are in need can go for a hot meal, food boxes, clothes, and many other services.

"We are so honored to have these Kearsarge Sailors here," said Gwendolyn Love, executive director of Norma Todd's. "We know they just finished deployment and it's amazing to me that not only do they serve our country, defending our freedom, but they also are serving our community."

On average, Norma Todd's Lunch Break serves 80 people a day for lunch, plus home deliveries for those who cannot make their way to the soup kitchen.

"With the recession we are busier than ever," explained Love. "A lot of volunteers and donators we have had over the years are now our patrons coming in daily. With times being so tough, we need more volunteers; that is why we were just thrilled to learn that Sailors from USS Kearsarge were coming to help out."

Aviation Boatswain's Mate (handling) 1st Class Donya Craig, enjoyed the entire afternoon at the soup kitchen.

"We, as an FCPOA, decided to volunteer at the soup kitchen so we can give back to the community, even if it isn't our own," said Craig. "This experience really opened our eyes, and it felt like we really made a difference."

Other volunteers who are regulars to Norma Todd's were also very impressed by the Sailors coming in to help out.

"This is the first time I've seen the Navy come help out here," explained Juan Figueras, a 34-year old Red Bank volunteer. "I came from being homeless and today, being able to work alongside the Navy, helping people, was such an honor. I wish I could do what these people do; I wish I would have joined the Navy!"

As the patrons conversed with the Sailors as they went through the food line and asked questions.

"You see these people with so many struggles and hardships, but they were so appreciative for everything," explained Craig. "This was an awesome experience and I encourage anyone to take the opportunity to do something like this at least one time. As for the FCPOA, we are already planning our next community project and will hopefully be able to make it a monthly event."

Kearsarge arrived in Earle, N.J., June 20, to offload ammunition after a nine-month deployment in support of humanitarian efforts in Pakistan and Operations Odyssey Dawn and Unified Protector in Libya.

Milwaukee Air Guardsmen volunteer with Habitat for Humanity

By Senior Airman Ryan Kuntze
128th Air Refueling Wing

Sixty-five Airmen and family members from the 128th Air Refueling Wing volunteered to help Habitat for Humanity renovate four houses on North First Street on Saturday, June 4.

The Airmen placed drywall in the houses from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m., said 2nd Lt. Gregory Damask, the logistics readiness officer for the 128th Logistics Readiness Squadron.

Damask has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity in the past, and he organized a similar volunteer effort last year.

"Let's find a way to get the 128th's name out there," he explained. "Let's give back to the very community that gives to us."

Damask said the volunteer efforts were experiences that showcased the Wing's teamwork and willingness to come together.

"It was a good feeling to know everyone volunteered their own time," he said. "The home owners were there, and they had nothing but compliments."

The response from Habitat for Humanity has been very positive, too.

"They asked for us to come back every month," he said.

Airmen from the 128th Air Refueling Wing are going to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity in 2012, which will make the event an annual volunteer program that assists local Milwaukee citizens.

"[Volunteering] is in my nature," Damask said. "I was brought up to give. I've been blessed with many benefits, and my personal belief is that if I have the ability to help others, I should."

20 years later: Former Gulf War POW, current Ohio Air National Guard member remembers captivity

Army 1st Lt. Kimberly Snow
Ohio National Guard

COLUMBUS, Ohio (6/24/11) — The Air Force colonel in the olive drab flight suit picks up a remote control lying on his desk, aims it at the television mounted to his office wall and pushes play.

The screen flickers on to a crude black and white video overlaid with numbers and symbols — some fixed to the screen, others tilting with the horizon. A man's breathing, raspy and ragged, pours from the speakers. On the screen, from this bird's-eye view, jets careen through a morbid and magnificent fireworks display as roman candles and bottle rockets race up from below. The horizon tilts sharply as just ahead, a rocket finds its target. "Stroke One took a hit! Stroke One took a hit!" says an adrenaline-laced voice that transports the colonel in the flight suit back 20 years into the cockpit of his F-16 fighter jet. A moment later, another missile finds its mark.

"That's me getting shot," the colonel says softly, matter-of-factly. He continues watching, his tone even, his piercing glacier-blue eyes impassive and calmly describes the action unfolding on screen.

Air Force Capt. Mike Roberts arrived at his new duty station at U.S. Air Base Torrejon, near Madrid, Spain, in June 1990, with his pregnant wife and two stepchildren, 14 and 10 years old, in tow.

Assigned to the 614th Tactical Fighter Squadron there, he had been training for the unit's nuclear alert mission for about two months when on Aug. 2, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's military forces invaded Kuwait — Iraq's oil-rich neighbor to the south — and his mission abruptly changed.

By the end of August, Roberts' squadron had deployed to Qatar, and after tying up some loose ends at Torrejon, he joined them in the beginning of October.

The squadron spent the fall patrolling and defending Saudi Arabia's northern border with Iraq and conducting training missions to prepare for what appeared to be almost certain war with Iraq. Although the U.S. and Soviet Union were nearing the end of their Cold War, the rivalry had long shaped how the American military trained for war.

"We had always thought that the next war was going to be in Germany in the Fulda Gap and everything would be low altitude, trying to stay below the Soviet SAMs [surface-to-air missiles] and Soviet radar. That was how the Air Force was built. That was our training program," Roberts said. "When we got to the desert, we recognized that the real threat down low was going to be triple-A [anti-aircraft artillery], just a huge mass of triple-A that they had."

With a relatively short amount of time to adapt, they immediately adjusted their training to prepare for this new reality. They began incorporating high-altitude release bombs and medium-altitude ingress plans at about 20,000 feet, as opposed to the low-altitude — about 500 feet — plans they had previously trained on.

In November, two months out, the plan for the first few days of the air war was set. Although the air tasking operation document was classified secret and kept in a safe, the pilots were allowed access.

The squadron's first two days of missions were "nothing big," Roberts said—airfields in Talil and Basra. However, the plan for day three — the Republican Guard headquarters building, air defense headquarters building and an oil refinery, all in Baghdad — gave them pause.

"I remember thinking, 'Wow, day three, downtown Baghdad in the daytime. They'll change that by the time we get there,'" he said. "But sure enough, day three came and no changes. Everybody was pretty nervous about it. A lot of guys were writing the letter home to leave in their helmet box when they left. I said, 'I'm not doing that, that's bad luck to be doing that.' So I didn't write a letter."

On day three, Jan. 19, 1991, a fleet of 48 F-16 Fighting Falcons — including the 16 from Torrejon — along with eight F-4G Wild Weasels, eight F-15 Eagles and two EF-111 Ravens, pushed north into Iraq. The first 32 airplanes successfully bombed their target — a nuclear plant about 17 kilometers southeast of Baghdad — then peeled off south, while Roberts' group continued north over downtown Baghdad.

Intermittent clouds partially obscured the city, and because the rules of engagement dictated pilots could not bomb targets in cities unless they could visually identify them, they were forced to call off the mission.

Just as they received the abort order, their warning systems sounded, alerting them to the enemy SAMs racing up from below. Roberts successfully defeated the first missile when an airplane behind him called out another SAM launch. He rolled his F-16 to look for it and saw it coming up beneath him. He maneuvered to avoid it and felt a slight bump in his airplane as the missile exploded. At first, he thought he was safe.

"I remember trying to light the burner on the airplane to get some air speed back, and instead of feeling that kick in the pants from the burner lighting, I felt the motor just dying underneath me," he said. "We have what we call 'Bitching Betty' in the airplane — a voice warning system that starts talking to you when things are going bad — and Betty's bitching and lights are lighting up everywhere and the motor had quit running, the flight controls weren't responding. I was in sort of a negative-G pitch over and I couldn't pick the nose of the airplane back up. Nothing was working."

He glanced back over his left shoulder and saw smoke pouring from beneath the airplane. He tried once more to restart the motor, but nothing happened. It was time to get out.

Roberts felt all of his 195 pounds being pushed up off the seat, watched the canopy eject away, and began falling face first toward the ground. Just as he started to worry about his rapidly-decreasing altitude, his parachute deployed. As he floated down, breaking through the clouds, he saw Baghdad off to his left and a four-lane highway running south out of the city. He used the wind to maneuver away from the city, but as he got closer to the ground, he could see the tracers from rounds being fired at him.
"I'm just thinking about getting skinny, living through the next fifteen seconds at a time," Roberts said. "I could see these cars on the median and the side of the road as I got close, kind of forming up a little welcoming party for me."

After landing about 500 yards east of the highway, he dropped his parachute, grabbed his survival kit and began running away from the highway until a mob of angry AK-47 assault rifle-toting civilians blocked his path, firing off warning rounds. He surrendered and the angry mob stripped him of everything they could, leaving him with his flight suit and survival vest only because they couldn't figure out how the zippers worked.

"Fortunately, within just a few minutes, these military folks came up and they ran off the civilians," he said. "And I say 'fortunately' because the civilians were getting a little rowdy and I don't know what they were planning, but it wasn't anything good, I don't think."

The Iraqi troops loaded Roberts into the back of a station wagon and drove him to a building about a half a mile down the highway, where they blindfolded him and cuffed his hands behind his back. Inside, they began what was to be the first of many interrogations. At first, the young pilot feigned amnesia.

"That worked pretty well for about the first 7 1/2 seconds of it," Roberts said. "After that, if they felt I wasn't answering quick enough or giving the correct answers to the questions, two helpers would just start wailing with some kind of baton or something — hands, fists — you know, just add a little encouragement to the interrogation."

Over the next few days, Roberts was moved several times and interrogated again at each new stop. On the third day, his captors took him to a facility where they had begun consolidating the downed pilots now being held as prisoners of war. Although he remained blindfolded, he could feel and hear other POWs being taken past him into an interrogation room. He could also hear their screams.

When it was Roberts' turn, the Iraqi soldiers escorted him into the room, removed his blindfold and handcuffs and told him they were allowing him to make a video to show his friends and family that he was alive and well. At first, the soldier giving the instructions simply wanted him to identify himself, his unit and his aircraft.

"Then he started on this thing of 'Repeat after me. The innocent people of Iraq are being wrongfully harmed by the people in power in America,'" Roberts said. "You know, all this kind of stuff. Like everybody else in front of me, I said 'Well, I'm not going to say that.' And then the fun and games started again."

After another beating, the soldier who appeared to be running things told the others to take Roberts outside and cut off his leg. They dragged him off, blindfolded and handcuffed him again, knocked him down and beat him even more severely.

"I just remember curling up, my hands behind me, in the fetal position and everybody there just laying in with boots on me, and one guy had a baton and was beating on the back of my head and neck," he said. "For lack of anything better to say, I just said 'Why do you want me to do this? Why do you want me to do this video?' And this guy just wailed on me and said because of this! It was getting pretty serious and I said 'Ok, let's go do the video.'"

Back in the United States and on the U.S. Air Base in Torrejon, little was known about Roberts' fate. His plane had been shot down Jan. 19 and he had not been heard from since. Only one pilot that afternoon thought he might have seen Roberts eject from his airplane, and although Roberts tried to call out on his radio just before he ejected, no message was relayed.

Three days after his F-16 went down over Baghdad, an 8 ½-months-pregnant Patty Roberts sat at the hospital on U.S. Air Base Torrejon awaiting a prenatal checkup. Her fighter pilot husband, Capt. Harry "Mike" Roberts, was listed as DUSTWUN: duty status and whereabouts unknown. She watched the television, tuned to CNN, hungry for news of her husband, when suddenly, he materialized on the screen. He appeared tense and haggard, but he was alive.

"I guess that was my good fortune out of all of that," Roberts said. "Now that the bad guys had showed their hand, all of us — at least that they had videos on — now they had to account for everybody."

After the POWs recorded their videotaped messages, they were loaded onto a bus and taken to a temporary prison facility where they stayed for about a week and an half. It wasn't too bad, Roberts recalled. They were fed and the young Iraqi troops who were guarding them left in the evenings, allowing the POWs to talk among themselves and take an accurate roll call.

"They would bring around in the morning a piece of bread, and in the afternoon, a bowl of rice covered in some boiled onions or something. At nighttime, just before sunset, they would bring around a big bucket that had a bunch of boiled goat meat or something," Roberts said. "I don't know what it was, not great stuff, but enough to keep you alive."

Soon after, on Jan. 31, the prisoners were moved to a prison in the Ba'ath Party intelligence headquarters. "That was not a good place," Roberts said.

The prisoners were kept in solitary confinement and unable to communicate. They were not being fed and the interrogations and beatings began anew. Keeping track of time became a way to occupy his mind and he found a rock on his cell floor and used it to scratch a calendar on his wall and mark off the days. When he began thinking about Vietnam veterans, wondering if he, too, could be kept five, six, seven years, he forced his mind to other topics, and he did a lot of praying.

In early February, a guard told Roberts the ground war had begun and 70,000 Americans had been killed during the invasion. He knew it was a lie. For three weeks, the prisoners had listened to bombs devastating the city night after night, and as time went on, heard Iraqi counter fire less and less. "By the end, you could tell they were getting pounded and there was just nothing they could do about it," he said.

But eventually, those bombs found him. On Feb. 23, three coalition F-117 Stealth bombers dropped four 2,000-pound bombs on the headquarters building. When the first bomb hit, the Iraqis scattered, leaving the prisoners to fend for themselves. It was the first time Roberts thought he might not survive the experience. "It was like being on a boat in the ocean, the building was just rocking," he said. "I was ready to go then. I thought for sure I was done."

When the bombs stopped, the city was eerily quiet. The impact had badly damaged many of the cells, blowing the walls out of some, freeing those occupants while trapping others, including Roberts, in their cells. Miraculously, none of the prisoners was seriously hurt, Roberts said. The bombs had impacted the opposite end of the building from where they were being held.

Several prisoners made their way out into the hallways. They thought about escape, but the night was so black, they couldn't see to move through the rubble, and even if they could, their yellow prison suits and western countenances made them easy targets. They began shouting to one another, exchanging names and stories. They had been in solitary confinement for three weeks and finally had a chance to connect and find out who was there.

"A couple doors down from me I hear 'I'm Bob Simon, CBS News.' You know, the '60-Minutes' dude," Roberts said. Simon and his crew had been picked up on the Kuwait-Iraq border, accused of spying and held with the POWs.

Across the hall from Simon was downed A-10 Thunderbolt pilot Richard Dale Storr, who had been unable to get out a radio call before he ejected. Because his wingman had not seen him eject, Storr was initially categorized as killed in action and his fellow airmen even held a memorial service for him at their base in Saudi Arabia. When Storr realized a CBS correspondent was there, he got excited.

"He said 'Oh yeah! Bob Simon, CBS News, you gotta get my name! This is Dale Storr, I'm Dale Storr! You gotta get my name out, nobody knows I'm here!" Roberts said. "And Bob Simon says, 'Sorry dude, but I'm right here with you.'"

A few hours later, the guards came back and started collecting the prisoners from the rubble. Several remained pinned inside, including Roberts, and were left there until morning. When they finally walked out into the daylight, they saw just how fortunate they had been —– most of their multistory building had collapsed down on top of itself.

The ground war began just a few days later, and for the next couple of weeks the prisoners were moved frequently. Then one day, an Iraqi guard walked from cell to cell and told them the war was over and they'd be going home soon.

"I'm thinking 'Yeah, right, whatever. Just another line of B.S. that some guy's feeding me,'" Roberts said. But that night, for the first time, he heard no bombs. The next morning, the prisoners were moved one last time.

"This Iraqi opens up my cell door and kind of turns his nose up at me, you know, like a 'You stink' kind of look and threw in a new prison suit," Roberts said. "I'd been wearing the previous one for about 40 days or so."

They also finally brought the prisoners some food. Roberts, who carried a healthy 195 pounds on his 6-foot frame when the war started, had dropped to an anemic 160 pounds during his month and a half of captivity. "My only possession during most of this was my one blanket and like a Rubbermaid tub or pail that looked like some Iraqi had been soaking his feet in it for the past few years," he said. "Anytime they would bring a little bit of food or some water, they would just dump it in that thing, but this time, they bring in — on a porcelain plate — a hard-boiled egg, a slice of toast with a little pat of butter and a sprig of parsley sitting on the side."

The guards told the prisoners to clean themselves up and put them all together, allowing them to see and communicate with one another.

"They lined us all up in the hallway to get us on a bus and as we were going out the door I remember this one guy spraying us with a bottle of perfume as we were walking out," Roberts said with a laugh.

Their Iraqi captors put them on a bus, took them to a hotel in downtown Baghdad, turned them over to the International Committee of the Red Cross and drove away. Their ordeal was nearly over. Because a sandstorm grounded their flight out, the prisoners spent one final night at the hotel in Baghdad. The next day, two Swissair C-9s dropped off about 300 Iraqi POWs as part of an initial prisoner exchange. "You could tell they were not real happy about being back home," Roberts said. "But they got off the airplane, we got on, and we flew out, and that was that."

Twenty year later, Roberts' thoughts turn again to Baghdad and captivity. He has just returned from Pensacola, Fla., where he attended his 20-year reunion — not a high school reunion, but a POW reunion. His group has held them at the one-, five-, 10- and now 20-year marks. Not all could make it, but about a dozen showed up this year. He enjoyed the camaraderie and bonding that formed during and as a result of the experience, but downplays the impact it had on his life afterward.

"It was only six weeks, such a short period of time," he says. "Comparing that to what guys went through in Vietnam that went before me … I mean, how much can you be changed in six weeks? We didn't go through the same absolutely brutal torture and abuse that those guys did."

Physically, he has recovered. His busted eardrums, chipped teeth, bumps, scrapes and bruises have all healed or been repaired. He doesn't suffer nightmares. He tries to look at the big picture
these days and tries not to "sweat the small stuff." He tries to remember that things could be a lot worse than they are here, free, in America.

After his release, Roberts stayed on at Torrejon until it closed down in 1992. Following three-year stints as an instructor pilot at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida and Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, he came to the Ohio Air National Guard's 178th Fighter Wing.

In 1997, he returned to southwest Asia and Iraq with the 178th, supporting Operation Northern Watch enforcing the no-fly zone over northern Iraq. "I was a little nervous, admittedly, when I first was going back into Iraq, just hoping I didn't have engine failure or something that put me back in there again," he said.

Roberts, who plans to retire this year, has been with the 178th since landing there 15 years ago, serving as wing commander since January 2008. The unit took on a new mission about a year ago. The F-16s are gone now, making way for a new high-tech mission with the MQ-1 Predator unmanned drone. Perhaps it is just as well for the man who entered the Air Force Academy at 17 and only ever wanted to fly airplanes. His retirement paperwork has been filed, the date has been set. It's time to move on.

The colonel in the olive drab flight suit turns back to the television and the grainy, black-and-white images and powers it down. Watching and remembering, he says simply, is better than being there.

Face of Defense: Pilot Supports Ground Fighters

By Air Force Airman 1st Class Daniel Phelps
20th Fighter Wing

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C., June 27, 2011 – Like many aviators, Air Force Capt. Sarah Eccles, an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot from San Antonio, caught the flying bug at a young age. On her 15th birthday, her father surprised her by taking her to a Wright Flyers Aviation flight school.

As she sat in the cockpit with the instructor, operating the controls and soaring through the air, Eccles said she realized she'd found her passion.

She began taking flying lessons soon after that test run. At age 17, on March 20, 1999, she experienced her first solo flight.

"It was a little intimidating going airborne, being in charge of this machine," Eccles recalled. "It's a huge responsibility, but such a confidence builder. I thought, if I could do this, what's next?"

After her high school graduation, Eccles attended the Air Force Academy and then two years of pilot training, where she fulfilled her dream and earned her wings as an F-16 pilot. After flying the F-16 for four years, she reached a time all Air Force pilots come to: their Air Education and Training Command lead-in fighter training, forward air controller and air liaison officer tour, also known as an "ALFA" tour.

This tour is a time when Air Force pilots take a break from flying to serve in other, career-broadening roles. Fighter pilots may become instructor pilots, operate remotely piloted aircraft or serve as air liaison officers, providing planning, coordination, and execution expertise to multiservice combat operations.

"The tour is designed to bring experienced flyers away from their main weapons system to other jobs to use their experience and to gain some experience," Eccles said. "The point is for pilots to broaden their careers."

ALFA tours generally are assigned to mid- to senior-level captains, but occasionally pilots will take their tours right after pilot training.

Eccles chose to be an air liaison officer for the 682nd Air Support Operations Squadron here because her husband, Air Force Capt. John Eccles, a 15th Airlift Squadron C-17 Globemaster III pilot, is stationed just a few hours away at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C.

Her responsibility as an ALO is to serve as the link between the Air Force and the Army in combat. Whatever the mission, she is trained to help provide close-air support for ground forces.

Eccles was pleasantly surprised as she stepped away from flying an F-16 and into the role of ALO, she said.

"Being an ALO has been the most personally satisfying job I've had in my career," she said. "Working with the enlisted corps is amazing. As a pilot, you generally don't get to interact with them at this level."

The job, she added, also has given her the opportunity to rest, recharge and redirect her energy.

Through her time as an ALO, she’s had the opportunity to see how the Air Force and the Army relate and work with each other.

Eccles recently returned from a deployment in southwest Asia, where she served as an ALO. Her job was to lead a crew responsible for directing fixed-wing, close-air support assets. At times, missions and priorities would change because ground troops were attacked or ambushed.

The ALO would take "911 calls" and have a map out to organize and plan the close-air support, she said. Eccles was in charge of directing the fighters to the troops on the ground who needed help. She said her close-air support experience as an F-16 pilot came in handy during her deployment.

On an average day, Eccles’ air support operation center would receive more than 20 calls from troops in contact needing close-air support, and, during one day, her team received and handled more than 100 calls from troops.

Because of that day and several other successful coordinated missions, her crew received the 2010 Air Combat Command Team of the Year award.

"Our proudest moment there was being able to help out those who were in the thick of it," Eccles said.

The experience gave her a better understanding of the process that goes into providing close-air support, she said. It’s knowledge she will able to take back to her fighter squadron.

The captain said she will miss being an ALO when her tour is over, but she is excited to be back in the air. She wishes it were possible to do both.

"Of course I've missed flying," Eccles said. "I'd be lying if I said it wasn't hard to watch the same planes I used to command fly overhead and hear the jets rattle the windows. I know I've done it before, and I'll do it again. My experience allows me to share my love of flying with the 682nd."

Oak Hill Sailors Participate in Booth Bay Parade

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Brian Goodwin, Commander, U.S. 2nd Fleet Public Affairs

BOOTH BAY HARBOR, Maine (NNS) -- Several Sailors from USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) took part in a town-wide parade in Booth Bay Harbor, Maine, June 22.

For some of the Sailors, it was their first time participating in a parade of this magnitude.

"When the ship's leadership were looking for someone to carry the Navy flag, I jumped at the opportunity because I wanted my first parade to be a memorable one," said Interior Communications Specialist 3rd Class Rebecca Jones, from Gastonia, N.C.

Joining the Oak Hill Sailors in the parade were students from the local schools, the fire departments, and local bands.

"This was amazing to see the bands play Navy cadences while the Sailors were marching to them," said Booth Bay Region Middle School student Nick Burge. "I was throwing candy at the children on the side of the road who were saluting all of them and it was really fun to see."

As the streets became crowded with the town's residents, the Oak Hill Sailors formed up and began marching through the streets of Booth Bay Harbor. They were met with a great reception from the residents.

"We have parades like this once a year," said Daniel Reynolds. "Having the U.S. Navy here was icing on the cake."

Cmdr. David Bauer, Oak Hill commanding officer, sat on the side of the road to watch the civilian populace cheer for his Sailors.

"My crew comprises the finest crew on the waterfront," said Bauer. "I am extremely proud of each and every Sailor of mine and it provides great opportunities for us to interact with the community."

FRUKUS 2011 Sailors Gain Partnerships Through Fitness

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Marie Brindovas, Commander Carrier Strike Group 10 Public Affairs

NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- Sailors participating in FRUKUS 2011 competed in the Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) sponsored "Thank Goodness It's Fitness (TGIF) Challenge" aboard Naval Station Norfolk, Va., June 24.

FRUKUS 2011, scheduled for June 20 through July 1 in Norfolk, Va., is an invitational exercise designed to enhance communication and interoperability between the navies of France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Fitness Challenge gave the sailors a chance to compete against each other in athletic events including relay races, an obstacle course and tug-of-war. Points were awarded not only for performance, but also for appearance with costumes and props, crowd response, command participation, sportsmanship and teamwork.

Quarter Master Seaman Donald Oflutt, a member of a team from Naval Station Norfolk Port Operations, said he was impressed by the motivation shown by participating partner nation teams.

"I think it's cool that our partners could come in and have a good time. We work together, eat together, and play together," said Oflutt.

The first week of FRUKUS 2011 covered many events, including firefighting and bridge resource management, all aimed at building teamwork among the partner nations. Although the fitness challenge was a chance to compete, it maintained the partnership theme.

"I really enjoyed the international cooperation of FRUKUS," said Senior Petty Officer Andrey Kuntzov, of RFS Admiral Chabanenko (DD 650) from Russia. "But the spirit of competition and being able to have fun, made today the most memorable day of the week."

Most of the FRUKUS events focus on seamanship skills and international cooperation in a maritime environment, but sailors also enjoyed the chance to work on relationship building in a less formal setting.

"It is very interesting to work with the other countries," said Master Chief Loic Mallet, assigned to FS Ventose (F 733) from France. "This fitness challenge is a fun way to meet our partners."

U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chris V. Phan, assigned to the Naval Station Norfolk Navy Legal Service Office, said the competition was a fun way to get to know his maritime partners in a more relaxed environment.

"I think this is wonderful," said Phan. "I was fortunate enough to learn a little Russian and share in the camaraderie of the whole event."

The event concluded with a barbecue and a live concert following an awards ceremony for the participants.

The second phase of FRUKUS 2011 begins next week with the ships getting underway to participate in various training events centered on maritime domain awareness, anti-piracy and maritime interdiction operations.

Participating forces from the U.S. Navy include Commander Carrier Strike Group 10, Destroyer Squadron 26, and USS James E. Williams (DDG 95). International participants include the FS Ventose (F 733) from France, RFS Admiral Chabanenko (DD 650) from Russia and HMS Dauntless (D 33) from the United Kingdom.

Today in the Department of Defense, Monday, June 27, 2011

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

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell will conduct a press briefing at 1:30 p.m. EDT 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.