Tuesday, October 18, 2011

U.S., Italian Defense Leaders Reaffirm Partnership

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

WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta met today with Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa to further their relationship as NATO partners while discussing important issues both countries face.

“It was my honor to be able to welcome Minister La Russa from Italy here,” Panetta said to the Pentagon reporters and Italian media. “As a fellow Italian, it’s nice to have another Italian visit in that capacity.”

The secretary noted he met with La Russa in Brussels at a recent NATO defense ministers conference. “I think we enjoy a very warm friendship,” he added, calling Italy one of the United States’ most important partners and allies.

“I think it’s obvious by virtue of the missions that they’ve helped us with time and time again,” Panetta noted. “They have a large presence in [Regional Command West] in Afghanistan. They’ve done a remarkable job there. They continue to provide security and training in that part of Afghanistan, and we view them as one of our NATO partners that has really assumed responsibility, hopefully, for ensuring that Afghanistan heads in the right direction.”

The defense secretary also expressed his gratitude to Italy for the sacrifices it has made.

“We know that lives have been lost, and we share in the agony of those lost lives,” he said.

La Russa, speaking through an interpreter, shared his appreciation for the defense secretary and his efforts to continue building their partnership.

“My most heartfelt thanks to Secretary Panetta,” he said. “We have confirmed how close our relationship is also in several other fields. We want to strengthen this collaboration in both the political and military field, and, if possible, … we want to take a positive approach to several problems on the table – namely Libya and Afghanistan.”

Panetta cited Italy’s support to NATO missions in Libya.

“We really appreciate the mission that they’re conducting in Libya,” he said. “Frankly, if it were not for the Italians, we really don’t feel that we could have completed this mission. They provided important bases – Aviano, Sigonella, and Naples and elsewhere. As a result of that, NATO was able to conduct important missions into Libya.

“So Italy has been, again, a very good partner with regards to that effort as well,” he added.

La Russa said another issue he and Panetta discussed was the mission in Afghanistan.

“We have considered putting an end to our military operations in Afghanistan by 2014, also, based on the conditions in the field,” he said. “But we’ve [also] examined the possibility to continue our presence in the area under other forms – namely training and other forms of nonmilitary support.”

Panetta said he expressed his “greatest thanks” to Italy for the support it provided during a recent visit to the country.

“Bottom line here is Italy is a good partner, good friend and a good ally,” he said. “We continue to work together to try to make sure that we can advance the common causes that we’re involved with.”

Wounded Warrior ‘Dances With the Stars’ for Troops

If you enjoy Dancing With the Stars you'll like getting the newest and best celebrity news on the web!

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 17, 2011 – At 28, J.R. Martinez already has experienced life as a soldier wounded in combat, as a motivational speaker and as a soap opera actor.

This season, he added another entry to his resume as a contestant in the hit ABC television series “Dancing with the Stars.”

Martinez dances on the show to call attention to the work of U.S. service members and veterans to keep alive their sacrifices, he said in a recent Pentagon Channel interview.

“I was injured, but able to turn it around into something positive to use as a voice for our service members and veterans,” he said.

Whether Martinez and his partner dance a lively jive number or a passionate rumba, he said, he keeps one thought in mind. “Because I want to inspire and move people, I want to do it in such a big way,” he said. “I have to make that impact.”

And to deliver that impact, Martinez gives audiences everything he’s got.

“I have to expose myself and be willing to share who I am -- my struggles and not just the joys, the laughter and the jokes,” he said.

Television appearances and a career as a motivational speaker likely weren’t on his mind when Martinez enlisted in the Army in 2002 and joined the 101st Airborne Division’s “Strike” brigade at Fort Campbell, Ky.

He was deployed to Iraq in 2003 when the left front tire of the Humvee he was driving hit a landmine. Three soldiers were thrown from the burning vehicle, but Martinez was trapped inside. With severe burns over 40 percent of his body, Martinez spent the next 34 months recovering at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, where he endured more than 33 skin grafts and reconstructive surgeries.

During his hospital recovery, Martinez had a chance conversation that would change the course of his life. A hospital staff member asked Martinez to share some of his experience to help another service member who had been admitted with burn injuries.

“I didn’t know what I was going to say to the young man,” Martinez said. “I was somewhat intimidated, but after talking to him about 45 minutes, I realized I was able to help him -- give him insight and hope -- which is something we all want in life.”

That conversation left Martinez wanting to help other people, and he became a motivational speaker in 2004. Fluent in Spanish and English, he traveled the country, sharing his experiences and encouraging resilience and optimism to audiences as varied as veterans’ groups, schools and corporations.

Martinez also became active in a variety of nonprofit veterans organizations. He serves as national spokesman for the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes, which promotes and supports programs for wounded warriors. News of his work spread quickly, leading to appearances on “Oprah,” “60 Minutes” and CNN.

His career was progressing rapidly, and in 2008, he landed an acting role on the daytime drama “All My Children” playing combat veteran Brot Monroe after a nationwide search to find a real-life soldier to play the part. After Martinez was hired, the character’s injuries were created to match his own.

Martinez continues to balance motivational speaking, charity work and acting, and has begun writing his memoir, according to ABC.

“I think the courage is within me,” Martinez said of his experiences and his successes. “It’s no different than the men and women who go into the military and choose that life. It’s just something that’s instilled in us, and we just do it.”

The “Dancing the Stars” celebrity competition continues for Martinez and dance partner Karina Smirnoff tonight and tomorrow on ABC.

NEXCOM Further Commits to Military Spouse Employment

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By Kathleen Martin, Navy Exchange Service Command Public Affairs Officer

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va (NNS) -- Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM) become one of the newest partners in the Department of Defense Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP), officials announced Oct. 17.

Since the program launched in June with 24 partners, it has now grown to include 96 partners, all pledging support to provide career opportunities for military spouses.

"NEXCOM is proud to be part of this program, which matches qualified military spouses with meaningful employment opportunities," said Michael Good, NEXCOM chief operating officer. "We have both Navy Exchanges and Navy Lodges around the world, and we are committed to providing jobs for spouses as they move with their military spouse."

NEXCOM joins a group of corporate partners including Microsoft, Starbucks, Armed Forces Bank, Navy Federal Credit Union, EURPAC Services, H&R Block as well as other military resale organizations such as AAFES and Defense Commissary Agency, all committed to assisting military spouses. Pledging support to spouses through this program further solidifies NEXCOM's commitment to military spouses.

"Assisting military spouses and families with employment opportunities has always been a priority for NEXCOM," said Good. "Twenty-seven percent of our associates are military family members. We value their service and are committed to providing career opportunities through our Continuity of Employment Program."

NEXCOM's Continuity of Employment Program helps ease the stress of a military move by taking the worry out of finding a new job when they are relocated by the military. Since the program's inception in 1998, over 1,300 associates in Navy Exchange System have been placed in positions at the associates' new duty station.