Friday, July 01, 2011

Panetta Pledges ‘No Hollow Force’ on His Watch

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 1, 2011 – New Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta pledged there will be no hollow force on his watch.

The secretary made the commitment in a message to the Defense Department released after he took the oath of office this morning. DOD General Counsel Jeh Johnson administered the oath in the secretary’s office. Taking the oath transferred responsibility for the department from Robert M. Gates.

Panetta also pledged to be a tireless advocate for service members and their families. “You and your families will always be foremost on my mind and at the top of my agenda,” he said.

The secretary will not hesitate to do what needs to be done to defend America. He also will fight for the needs “of the men and women who serve in harm’s way, and the families who support them,” he said. “Even as the United States addresses fiscal challenges at home, there will be no hollow force on my watch. That will require us all to be disciplined in how we manage taxpayer resources.”

Later today, Panetta will meet with Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III, and participate in a “tank” meeting with the members of the Joint Chiefs, said Doug Wilson, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. Panetta and his wife, Sylvia, also will have lunch in his Pentagon office with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife, Deborah.

The secretary, who served as the director of the CIA, has been intimately involved with operations around the world since the beginning of the Obama administration. The nation is at war, he said, and must prevail against its enemies.

“We will persist in our efforts to disrupt, dismantle and ultimately defeat al-Qaida,” he said. “The successful operation that killed Osama Bin Laden -- a mission that showcased American military strength and precision -- is a major step toward that goal.”

In Afghanistan, the secretary said service members must continue to work with Afghan security forces and coalition partners to transition security responsibility to the Afghans by 2014. The goal must be an Afghanistan that never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists, he said.

The transition of American troops in Iraq is well under way with more than 100,000 U.S. service members out of the nation, and 48,000 due to leave by the end of the year.

“As we continue our transition out of Iraq, we must cement a strategic relationship with the Iraqi government, one based not solely on our military footprint there but on a real and lasting partnership,” Panetta said. “It is in America’s interests to help Iraq realize its potential to become a stable democracy in a vitally important region in the world and to reinforce that responsibility, for the future security of Iraq must belong to the Iraqis themselves.”

The secretary has a long public service career that began as an Army intelligence officer in 1964. He also served in the House of Representatives from California, director of the Office of Management and Budget and White House chief of staff in President Clinton’s administration. Throughout his career, he said, he has focused on being disciplined with the taxpayers’ money, but not short-changing security.

“We must preserve the excellence and superiority of our military while looking for ways to identify savings,” he said. “While tough budget choices will need to be made, I do not believe in the false choice between fiscal discipline and a strong national defense. We will all work together to achieve both.”

The secretary noted he is taking office just before Independence Day. He said his parents -- who immigrated to California from Italy -- believed it was important to give something back to their adopted country. “I will never forget my father’s words: ‘to be free, we must also be secure,’” Panetta said. “As Americans come together to commemorate what we and those before us have accomplished, and as I take on my new role, my thoughts are with you and your families.

“You are making personal sacrifices to preserve our liberty, serving on front lines around the world,” he continued. “You are fighting to keep America safe. Rest assured that I will fight with you and for you.”

As he was sworn in this morning, Panetta noted there's "no higher responsibility for a secretary of defense than to protect those who are protecting America."

Panetta said that in the days and weeks ahead he will meet with all levels of military personnel and DOD civilians.

Wisconsin Army Guard unit completes Morocco training

Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs Office

The 1158th Transportation Company, based in Beloit with a detachment in Black River Falls, sent 56 Soldiers over the course of two 19-day annual training sessions to participate in Exercise African Lion 11, a bilateral exercise scheduled by the U.S. African Command. The exercise includes peacekeeping operations, humanitarian civic assistance operations, and construction projects.

According to Capt. Michael Laube, unit commander, preparation for annual training began in April by convoying 10 M1070 Heavy Equipment Transporter (HET) truck systems and supporting vehicles to Norfolk, Va., for shipment to Morocco. Once in Morocco, the 1158th linked up with Army Task Force 24 and took part in a joint logistics effort with Navy and Marine personnel, unloading all vehicles from the transport ship at the Port of Tan Tan and stage them in a base camp at Camp Draa. This involved running convoys over difficult mountain terrain to an austere location in the Saharan Desert.

The 1158th also provided HET system training to Moroccan service members.
"They currently have the trucks, but not the trailers," said Sgt. Brandon Millner. "We're getting them some good training on that."

The exercise itself involved more than 2,000 U.S. troops and 900 members of the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces. The 1158th supported U.S. Marines, hauling a variety of equipment to include M1 Abrams tanks. Following the exercise, the base camp was dismantled and all equipment convoyed back to Tan Tan for the voyage home. The 1158th racked up 44,782 accident-free miles moving 74 pieces of equipment.

"I am extremely proud of the Soldiers' efforts over the past two months," Laube said. "[They completed] a difficult mission with 100 percent success and a high level of professionalism and enthusiasm. The 1158th represented the state of Wisconsin and the National Guard very well."

Millner compared their training environment to Iraq.

"Dusty, sandy, and a long ways away from home," he said. "Didn't have any showers for quite a while."

The 1158th's annual training actually concluded Thursday (June 30) when the unit brought its last remaining HET systems back to Wisconsin from Norfolk.

Officials Continue Arlington Cemetery Investigation

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2011 – The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command will continue its inquiry into any potential crimes or other improprieties committed at Arlington National Cemetery, a spokesman for CID announced yesterday.

“Secretary of the Army John McHugh stated a year ago that the Army was not done investigating problems at Arlington National Cemetery,” Chris Grey, CID’s chief of public affairs, said at a news conference at the cemetery here. “We are vigorously pursuing any wrongdoing, and if criminal conduct is found, the Army will take appropriate action.”

The CID is investigating several allegations involving former employees and activities at Arlington National Cemetery since October 2010, Grey said.

“Army CID currently has ongoing criminal investigations into … the burial of eight sets of cremated remains in one single location at the cemetery, improper burial reservations and possible contract fraud,” he explained.

While CID is the lead agency in the investigation, Grey said the command is working with other agencies to assist with its inquiry into the operation of the national cemetery.

“We have asked for, and are currently working, a joint investigation with the FBI,” he said.
Grey said the investigation does not include current administrators and workers at the national cemetery.

He also discussed efforts to identify the eight sets of cremated remains discovered during the investigation.

“CID, in coordination with ANC … was able to identify three of the cremated remains,” he said, noting that cemetery officials have notified the families.

“Two of the three sets of those remains have been reinterred at the families’ request,” Grey said.
One set of cremated remains is still unknown, he said, and three sets were unidentifiable.

“CID is still investigating and working hard to determine the identity of one set of remaining cremated remains,” he said.

Although placing multiple remains in a single grave site is improper, Grey said it was not a chargeable offense.

“Although we are very upset and concerned about the discovery of multiple urns in one grave, our discussions with an assistant U.S. attorney determined that the burial of multiple cremated remains in one grave site does not constitute a criminal violation,” he explained.

The inquiry also led investigators to a storage facility in Virginia, Grey said.

“More recently, 69 boxes of records related to Arlington National Cemetery were found in a storage facility in Falls Church, Virginia,” he said. “[Of those,] 68 were duplicate copies of existing records, and Army CID kept one box containing contract-related information.”

CID officials do not believe the boxes are linked to any potential criminal conduct. With ongoing investigations into other allegations, Grey said the Army CID would go wherever the investigation leads the organization.

“CID, along with senior Army leadership, to include the secretary of the Army, and the new leadership here at [Arlington National Cemetery], takes these issues very seriously,” he said. “[We] are fully committed to investigating all allegations and evidence … that come to light concerning matters of our nation’s most hallowed ground.”

Guantanamo Bay Youth to Play in Nationwide Rugby Tournament

By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Joe Koerber, Naval Station Guantanamo Bay Public Affairs

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (NNS) -- A rugby team sponsored by the Guantanamo Bay Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) and Child and Youth Program (CYP) departed Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for a nationwide rugby tournament, June 30.

Thirteen students from W.T. Sampson High School will play against top-ranked rugby teams from around the country in the Cape Fear 7s Tournament held in Wilmington, N.C., July 2-3.

Steve Lynch, MWR's rugby team head coach, has played rugby for more than 22 years and will meet the team in North Carolina to coach them for this tournament.

"I think the reason I've got such a great turn out and I've got all of the best athletes on the base is because they see this as an opportunity to really shine," said Lynch.

An Army veteran, Lynch played rugby professionally, collegiately, and while serving in the military. After separating from active duty, he started several rugby programs in Florida and in Guantanamo Bay.

"Rugby is different from anything else most Americans have played," said Lynch. "It brings a sport that people don't understand into a level of consciousness."

Rugby is a mix of intense American football and the endurance of soccer, explained Lynch.

"Rugby is a great sport," said Tim Derepentigny, team member. "I love it and I look forward to playing rugby for a long, long time."