Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Panetta Visits 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

NEW YORK, Sept. 6, 2011 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta today toured the National September 11 Memorial and Museum site here.

“This Sunday, the nation marks the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in the history of the United States,” the secretary told reporters. “We will honor those who died at the Pentagon, 184 of them, but I thought it was also appropriate to come here and honor those, nearly 3,000, who died here in New York City.”

Panetta is the first Cabinet officer to visit the site. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg welcomed the secretary to the site and accompanied him during his visit.

Lower Manhattan’s ground zero is still a construction zone, with hard-hatted workers, cranes and heavy equipment all busy on new buildings near the former site of the two towers.

The area where the towers stood, however, will open as part of the memorial to the public this Sept. 11, -- the tenth anniversary of the attacks that killed 2,996 people after terrorist hijackers crashed four passenger jets: one into each of the towers, one into the Pentagon, and one into a field near Shanksville, Pa., short of its likely Washington, D.C., target.

The 8-acre memorial centers on the sites of the former towers, now transformed to square, granite reflecting pools, each about an acre in size. Each pool is fed by 4 30-foot waterfalls that descend from ground level, and the pools drain into what memorial staff members describe as a “center void” at the bottom of each.

The theme the pools represent is “reflecting absence,” according to memorial officials.

The waterfalls are edged with bronze ledges about waist-high, inscribed with the names of all the victims who died in the 2001 attacks, as well as the six people killed during the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

The terrorist attacks of a decade ago brought the nation together in a commitment that such horror “will never happen again,” Panetta said.

“As tragic as 9/11 was, we have drawn tremendous inspiration [from it],” he said, adding that those who attacked the United States in an attempt to weaken the country actually made it stronger.

The day of the attacks, Panetta said, he was on Capitol Hill briefing members of Congress on ocean issues. After remaining in Washington for a few days, he rented a car and drove across the country to his home in California.

“It ... was an interesting drive,” Panetta said. “It gave me a chance to see how the rest of the country came together after 9/11.”

Driving through the Midwest, he saw “God bless America” signs. “It just told you a lot about what this country’s made of,” he said.

Contrasting ground zero today with the devastation he viewed shortly after the attacks, Panetta said, shows the resilience of the country and the city.

“I think this is going to be a special place,” he said of New York City’s 9/11 memorial and museum, “for people to … come to and remind themselves not only of the sacrifice that was made, but also the great strength the American people have in coming back.”

During his visit to ground zero, Panetta also toured the Memorial Museum, which is scheduled to open next year on Sept. 11. Seven of the museum’s 10 stories are underground, and part of the above-ground structure will display structural components recovered after the towers fell.

Sarah Lippman, a member of the memorial staff, told reporters the site will also feature 400 swamp white oak trees, more than 200 of which already are in place. The leaves of swamp white oaks typically start changing color around the time of the anniversary, she said, and the trees are expected to grow from their current height of about 25 feet to an eventual 60 feet.

Also on the site is the “survivor tree,” a pear tree found alive at the site after the attacks and nursed back to health at a nearby nursery, Lippman said.

Five service members who enlisted since 9/11 accompanied Panetta on today’s visit. They are:

-- Army Staff Sgt. Ryan M. Celko, who enlisted in the Army in 2004 and deployed twice with the 10th Mountain Division’s 4th Base Support Team Battalion out of Fort Polk, La. He is from Middlesex, N.J.

-- Navy Lt. Adam C. Jones enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy in 2002 and earned his commission in 2006. His was the first class to enroll after 9/11. He is from Annapolis, Md.

-- Marine Corps Sgt. Carlos A. Tovar enlisted in March 2008. Originally from Caracas, Venezuela, he became a U.S. citizen while serving in the Marine Corps. He is from Orlando, Fla.

-- Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Gutierrez Jr. enlisted in 2002 following graduation from Southwestern Community College. He was wounded by enemy fire on his second deployment. He is from Chula Vista, Calif.

-- Coast Guard Lt. Nikea L. Natteal graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 2006 as part of the first class to enroll following 9/11. She is from Yuma, Ariz.

Gutierrez told reporters the visit to ground zero “reminded me why I enlisted.”

Gutierrez said he tried to enlist the day after the attacks, but the recruiting stations were closed. When they reopened, a waiting list quickly formed because of the rush of people wanting to sign up for the military, he said, and his own enlistment was final about six months after the attacks.

America’s greatest strength is highlighted by its service members, Panetta said. And the young people in uniform traveling with him today, he added, represent the service they and their fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen have given to the nation.

“Since 9/11, we have achieved significant success going after al-Qaida and …[its] leadership,” Panetta said, adding that, nevertheless, it’s critical to maintain pressure on the terrorist organization.

The secretary was scheduled to travel from New York to Shanksville, Pa., and the Flight 93 Memorial there, also set to open Sunday. That segment of his travel was cancelled due to weather.

Faces of Freedom concert reveals voices of wounded warriors

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. – Austin based singer-songwriter and recording artist Darden Smith helped to give wounded warriors a voice with the Soldier Songwriting Project in July. Now, songs written during the three-day retreat will be performed at the Faces of Freedom concert at the World Arena in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Sunday, Sept. 11 at 4 p.m.

“I’ve had this idea for some time,” says Smith. “To bring professional writers together with soldiers to help turn their stories into songs. This project was the first time we tried it at this level, and hopefully we’ll be doing more.”

The retreat, which was July 28-Aug. 1 in Edwards, Colo., aimed to help soldiers see validity and merit in telling their stories, and to inspire them to continue through songwriting. Ten servicemen and women participated in the retreat, ranging from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marines, U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force.

Smith, along with songwriters Radney Foster and Jay Clementi who joined him on the retreat, later recorded six of the songs in Nashville. The songs, which include “God Challenged Me” and “Hell On My Heart” among others, will be available on iTunes in time for the Faces of Freedom concert, where Smith, Foster and Clementi will be performing the songs.

“Over the course of that weekend retreat, collaboration happened in all sorts of combinations,” says Smith. “I even wrote a song with the wives of two of the soldiers.”

The concert is sponsored by LifeQuest Transitions, a non-profit offering transition programs to soldiers and families.

Visit and listen: and

More about Darden Smith
Darden Smith is from central Texas. Throughout his 25-year career, he has released a dozen critically acclaimed albums that have achieved broad appeal in both the American and British music scenes. Praised by All Music Guide and Rolling Stone, his songs have climbed the charts in pop, country and rock genres. Hit singles include “Little Maggie” [1988-Darden Smith], “Midnight Train” [1990-Trouble No More], “Loving Arms” [1993-Little Victories] and “After All This Time” [2002-Sunflower]. Weaving together interests in music, education and community involvement, Smith promotes creativity through the art of songwriting through his “Be An Artist Program.” Expanding from a series of student workshops, he has adapted the program to be used for conflict resolution and cultural bonding, working with managers on corporate retreats, entrepreneurs at business schools, and U.S. combat soldiers. Smith continues to record under his own record label, Darden Music, his latest releases including After All This Time: The Best of Darden Smith (2009) and Marathon (2010). His latest collaboration with photographer Kate Breakey pairs the Marathon lyrics with stunning photographs in a 32-page, special edition book, now available for pre-order.

Media Contact:
Jessica Kiefer & Andy Wilson
Ph: 317-602-7137 ext. 228

Leap Frogs Jump to Support Cincinnati Navy Week

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (PJ) Michelle Turner

CINCINNATI (NNS) -- The U.S. Navy parachute demonstration team, the Leap Frogs, performed several aerial parachute demonstrations across Cincinnati in support of the city's Navy Week, Sept. 1-4.

Navy Weeks raise awareness about the Navy in cities that do not have a significant Navy presence. They give communities across America the chance to see the investment they have made in their Navy and the chance to talk to Sailors face to face.

Chief of Navy Reserve Vice Adm. Dirk Debbink and Rear Adm. Anatolio Cruz, III, deputy commander, U.S. 4th Fleet, also participated in Cincinnati Navy Week, in addition to the U.S. Navy Band Washington D.C. "Cruisers", Sailors from guided-missile submarine USS Ohio (SSGN 726), Navy divers, and personnel from Navy Recruiting District (NRD) Ohio and Naval Operational Support Center.

Sailors attended a Cincinnati Reds vs. Philadelphia Phillies baseball game Sept. 1, giving spectators a chance to talk to them and ask questions about Navy life. Cmdr. Michael Hudson, commanding officer of NRD Ohio gave the oath of enlistment to 10 new Sailors on the field moments before the Leap Frogs began their performance.

A trail of smoke called an "early burn" indicated that the jumpers were ready to go and five jumpers launched themselves one by one from a Missouri Air National Guard C-130H cargo aircraft above the ballpark. Seconds later, their blue-and-gold canopies popped open and they began swirling colored smoke across the sky. The crowd cheered as each member approached the field wearing Cincinnati Reds jerseys.

With military members deployed worldwide, having the Leap Frogs participate in the opening ceremony was a huge honor, said Phillip J. Castellini, chief operating officer of the Cincinnati Reds.

"It's clearly one of the most interesting things we do in terms of pre-game ceremonies and we couldn't be more proud to have the SEALs here," said Castellini. "It's at the front of your mind more today than any time in my lifetime, how appreciative we are [of the military] and how many folks we have in harm's way all over the world. To be able to celebrate that before a game for us is special."

The team also performed at two high schools, Cincinnati Museum Center, Coney Island amusement park and River Fest Cincinnati, the cornerstone event for Cincinnati Navy Week.

"It's probably one of the cooler experiences I've ever had," said James Sansone, a spectator at River Fest. "You get shaky when you come up to someone who is this talented... I never thought I would ever meet a Navy SEAL, I never even thought I would see one! It was pretty incredible."

The Leap Frogs are based in San Diego and perform aerial parachute demonstrations across America in support of naval special warfare and Navy recruiting as a global force for good. The team is composed of parachuting experts from Naval Special Warfare including Navy SEALs, special warfare combatant-craft crewmen, and an NSW parachute rigger, in addition to support personnel.

For more information about the Leap Frogs, visit: For more information about NSW programs and opportunities visit: For more news from U.S. Navy Parachute Team, visit

9/11 Teen Recalls Father With Pride

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 6, 2011 – Nine-year-old Zachary Laychak walked into his house after school one day to a house full of family and friends.

A fire had broken out at the Pentagon, they told him calmly, and they were waiting to hear from his father, who worked there as a civilian budget analyst for the Army. He felt a twinge of concern, but quickly dismissed the thought that something bad had happened.

“He’ll be fine,” Laychak thought. “He always is.”

Two days later, two men came to deliver the devastating news: 40-year-old David Laychak was one of the 184 people who had died Sept. 11, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. It was nearly a decade ago, he said, but the moment remains vivid.

His mother sat him and his 7-year-old sister down and told them their father had been killed. They screamed and sobbed as the news sunk in.

“I remember my mom saying it was the hardest thing she’d ever had to tell,” said Laychak, now a 19-year-old college student. “For me, at least initially, I felt disbelief. I couldn’t understand how it could happen.”

As Laychak struggled to come to terms with his loss, Americans struggled to comprehend the extent of damage to the nation. Terrorists had taken nearly 3,000 innocent lives here and in New York and Pennsylvania. They destroyed and damaged buildings and shook the nation’s sense of security to its core.

But to a 9-year-old who had just lost his dad, the attacks weren’t a national incident; they were a personal affront.

“I couldn’t understand what would make someone want to do this to my dad,” Laychak said. “I was just angry, so mad.” The attacks, he added, changed the course of his life forever.

He lost, not only his father, he said, but also his best friend. Bonded by a love of sports, his father, a former college football player, would rush home each day so they could toss a football out in the front yard. His dad coached every sport he played, he added, whether it was basketball, baseball or lacrosse.

Laychak could hardly believe his strong, capable father was gone, he said. He recalled leaving his house that afternoon and heading over to a friend’s house across the street for a sleepover. He woke up at around 6 a.m. and peeked out the window at his house. Relief washed over him when he saw his dad’s car parked in the driveway. He later found out his aunt had driven his dad’s car home.

In the wake of his dad’s death, Laychak tucked his feelings aside to focus on his family. He assumed the “man of the house” role to take care of his mother and sister, he said.
“It definitely made me mature a lot quicker,” he said. “I figured things out on my own and tried to just be there for my mom and sister.”

But along with this maturity came a growing sense of isolation. He felt like an oddity at school and was flooded with questions upon his return. Close friends shielded him, he said, in a surprising show of maturity for a group of 4th graders he had met less than a year earlier.

As time passed, his initial anger evolved into a deep sense of patriotism -- born of resentment against those who dared to attack his nation and his family.

“I became a fan of us fighting these battles overseas,” Laychak said. “It made me proud that America didn’t just let the attacks happen [without responding].”

He also focused on keeping his father’s memory alive. He bought a silver bracelet engraved with his father’s name, which he rarely takes off. And whatever sport he plays, he wears the No. 4 in honor of his father, who wore that number when he played football at Brown University.

His house is strewn with pictures of his dad in his college uniform, along with a framed No. 4 jersey given to him from his dad’s alma mater.

Laychak now is establishing college memories of his own. He’s studying communications at the University of Arizona and plans to pursue a job with a sports organization. He even chose the college in memory of his father, he said, who took him to sports events when they lived in the area.

He’s also heavily involved with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, an organization for military families of the fallen, as well as Tuesday’s Children, an organization that provides support for children of 9/11 and others impacted by global terrorism.

Laychak’s uncle, Jim Laychak, also is intent on keeping alive the memory of his brother, as well as all victims of the Pentagon attack. He spearheaded the fundraising and creation of the Pentagon Memorial, a serene spot next to the Pentagon that features an engraved bench for each of the 184 people killed there.

The years have soothed much of his anger related to that day, Zach Laychak said. Still, he rejoices in each victory in the war on terrorism.

One of the happiest moments he’s had since his father’s death, he said, was when Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, was killed in May.

“I felt pure joy and happiness,” he said. “I had friends from high school calling me. Even they knew it was something important to me.”

As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 draws near, Laycheck said he’ll remember his father with love and pride.

“As terrible as this whole situation was, I know he was a very patriotic person and that he died serving his country,” he said. “That’s a way he would have been proud to go.”

Today in the Department of Defense, Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta delivers remarks at the change of responsibility ceremony at 9 a.m. EDT as Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, 37th Chief of Staff, United States Army, transitions responsibility to Gen. Raymond T. Odierno at Summerall Field, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va. In the event of inclement weather, the ceremony will be conducted in Conmy Hall. Media interested in covering the ceremony should report to Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall’s main entrance, Hatfield Gate, between 7:30 a.m. and 8:15 a.m. EDT.

Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn has no public or media events on his schedule.