Military News

Monday, November 21, 2011

Face of Defense: Former Airman Saves Dog, Saves Himself

By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mareshah Haynes
Defense Media Activity

ARLINGTON, Va., Nov. 21, 2011 – When former Air Force Senior Airman David Sharpe adopted a pit bull puppy from a rescue shelter 10 years ago, he thought he was saving her life. In a dramatic twist of events just a few months later, she ended up saving his.

Sharpe was on the verge of taking his life.

As he sat on the kitchen floor of his apartment with a .45 caliber handgun in his hand -- "ready to finish the fight with the demons that followed me back from the war" -- that pit bull puppy, named Cheyenne, sat down on the floor next to Sharpe and licked his ear. It made him laugh -- something he hadn't done much. Something clicked for him, he said, and his reason for living became clear at that moment: to care for Cheyenne.

Sharpe had been suffering from an undiagnosed case of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. As a security forces airman stationed at Langley Air Force Base, Va., he went on his first deployment in December 2001 to Saudi Arabia, where he came face to face with a Taliban sympathizer who would change his life.

Sharpe said he had been working with the man for a while, though he was mostly quiet and kept to himself. One day he found the man laughing hysterically in the guard shack and asked what was so funny. The local man pointed to a picture in an Arabic newspaper of the planes crashing into the twin towers and he said he praised Allah the day this happened. Sharpe said he got angry with the man and told him to stop talking like that. Then he turned to walk away.

"I turned around and I heard a couple of 'clicks' and 'clacks' and this little guy is pointing his [submachine gun] right at me," Sharpe said. "I froze for a few seconds, but it felt like days. I looked at him and pulled my M-16 up and charged it. We were yelling at each other and then a [British] guard came in and pointed his weapon at the guy, and then a French guard came in the side door and pointed his weapon at the British guard."

Once the incident de-escalated, Sharpe had to recount it to his unit leaders numerous times. With the official procedures for debriefing such an incident completed, Sharpe was referred to the chaplain.

"I went and saw the chaplain, and that lasted for all of about two minutes," Sharpe said. "[The chaplain said], 'Tell me what happened, Airman Sharpe.' I said, 'I don't even want to talk to you right now, sir. No offense -- I just want to be left alone.'"

Sharpe said the chaplain told him to come back when he was ready, but Sharpe never went back. He finished the rest of his deployment without incident and returned home to Virginia, but things did not go back to "normal" for Sharpe.

"I started having nightmares about this guy taking his weapon and pointing it in my face," he said. "I had visions of the bullet going through my head and coming out the other side. I woke and I started crying, and then I started calling myself a bunch of names and saying to myself, 'Suck it up.' 'What's wrong with you?'"

Sharpe said he began having violent outbursts with his family and friends over the simplest of questions, especially about his deployment. He began starting fights with strangers and even turned on his friends. One friend in particular continued to reach out to Sharpe.

"One of my friends came to check up on me and said, 'Hey, there's this pit bull rescue I want to check out. Do you want to come with me?'" Sharpe said. "I said, 'Absolutely. I want to get a fighting dog -- I'm a fighter.' So I went, and there were about eight puppies running around in a pen, and all of them were all over me. But there was one that was off in the corner, and that was the one I chose."

Sharpe said when he took Cheyenne home he felt better immediately. Though he was happier since he had gotten his new companion, he said, he continued to have violent outbursts. During one outburst in the kitchen of their apartment, Cheyenne watched and waited for Sharpe to calm down.

"I picked her up and took her back to my bed, and I just lost it -- started crying, bawling," Sharpe said. "She didn't say anything. She inched her way up [to my face]. She knew something was wrong. She just started licking the tears off my cheek. It makes you laugh, it tickles, and I immediately starting feeling relief, because I didn't have anyone [saying] to me, 'How do you feel now? Are you glad you got that off your chest?' She never asked. I told her on my own terms."

Sharpe didn't realize it at the time, but he and Cheyenne were engaging in a form of pet therapy. She would be his confidant on the road from that lonely night on the cold linoleum floor when he considered suicide to being a champion for other veterans with the same struggles.

"Pet therapy helps people who have PTSD to reconnect with the world,” said Megan O'Connell, a clinical nurse specialist at Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center at Fort George G. Meade, Md. "It helps to create a routine, a sense of connection, when you have to feed the dog and make sure the dog is watered, that it has all of its shots. It helps you. It forces you to become part of this world and to start to reintegrate.

"Especially dogs -- they react to body language," O'Connell continued. "If your body language is stressed, they want to come over, because they want you to stop being stressed, so they pay a lot of attention to you. It makes you feel like they care and they're listening, and that makes you feel comfortable to want to open up more."

In the meantime, Sharpe separated from the Air Force after six years of service. A few months later, after watching a TV news special about service animals, Sharpe came up with the idea to pair up shelter animals with veterans living with PTSD. He called the program Pets 2 Vets.

Sharpe took $3,500 of his personal savings to get started. Unlike other programs, P2V provided companion animals to veterans versus other programs that provided service animals to perform physical tasks for disabled veterans.

Initially, Sharpe would pick up veterans who were recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and take them to local shelters to interact with the animals. As the program grew, P2V provided an avenue for veterans to adopt their own companion animals as well as give veterans at Walter Reed an opportunity to visit shelter animals during their recovery.

About a year after Sharpe founded P2V, he reached a milestone. He was finally ready to talk to a human about his experiences while deployed. After meeting with doctors from the Veterans Affairs Department, Sharpe was diagnosed with PTSD and depression -- five years after he separated from the military, and nine years after the incident in Saudi Arabia.

"One of the problems with PTSD is that it really destroys people's trust," O'Connell said. "They feel disconnected. One of the things a dog can do is help to be that bridge to trust. Unless you've had a bad experience, most people have very positive feelings toward pets, so people are more willing in a lot of ways to talk to the dog or relate to the dog than they are to another person, especially if they've been through a traumatic experience."

Although the battle with PTSD is never over, P2V has placed more than 50 shelter animals with veterans, and Sharpe is now married to his long-time friend, the former Jenny Fritcher. Later this year, David, Jenny and Cheyenne will welcome a baby boy into their family.

"I always say Cheyenne brought me to Jenny," Sharpe said. "If it wasn't for Cheyenne, I wouldn't have this beautiful wife and beautiful life. She saved me."

Logistics Agency Provides Thanksgiving Meals

By Nick Sistrun
Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support

PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 21, 2011 – Service members deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as U.S. State Department employees serving there, will be able to savor the familiar taste of home on Thanksgiving Day thanks to the efforts of Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support workers here.

More than 270 dining facilities have received their food deliveries and are postured to serve the special Thanksgiving holiday fare.

Deliveries included 168,000 pounds of turkey, 37,800 pounds of stuffing, 93,876 pounds of beef, 43,560 pounds of sweet potatoes, 24,000 pounds of shrimp, 34,560 pies and 25,800 pounds of cranberry sauce, along with other holiday treats.

“America’s military is a special group of heroic men and women who continually make sacrifices for our freedom,” said Navy Rear Adm. David Baucom, DLA Troop Support commander. “It is our duty and covenant to show our gratitude by providing them the very best our country has to offer for the holidays.”

As the U.S. military mission winds down in Iraq, the State Department has been increasing its personnel there and using DOD’s food supply chain infrastructure. As a part of the arrangement, State Department employees and service members eat together in the same dining facilities.

DLA Troop Support has a team of employees dedicated to ensuring that deployed service members can experience a memorable holiday meal each Thanksgiving.

As a DOD combat support agency, DLA provides the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, other federal agencies, and joint and allied forces with a variety of logistics, acquisition and technical services. The agency sources and provides nearly 100 percent of the consumable items America’s military forces need to operate, from food, fuel and energy, to uniforms, medical supplies, and construction and barrier equipment. DLA also supplies more than 80 percent of the military’s spare parts.

With headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Va., DLA has about 27,000 employees worldwide and supports more than 2,178 weapon systems.

28 Sailors Investigated for Illegally Using Spice

From Commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet Public Affairs

SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Twenty-eight Sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) have recently been involved in investigations for illegally using the designer drug Spice.

The use of synthetic drugs in the Navy, to include Spice, is illegal, and the Navy continues to aggressively investigate the use of synthetic drugs and hold those in violation accountable.

The 28 Sailors have been identified as part of six different investigations throughout the past month. All personnel who have been found to have been using illegal substances will be processed for administrative separation in accordance with Navy policy. Violations of the Navy's substance abuse policies include use and possession, and Sailors will be held accountable and separated if appropriate.

"The Navy's policy on drug abuse is simple and clear - zero tolerance," Vice Adm. Gerald R. Beaman, commander U.S. 3rd Fleet, reiterated after a similar event occurred in October. "Drug abuse puts lives and missions at risk and undercuts unit readiness and morale. The use of synthetic drugs, to include Spice, is illegal and the Navy continues to aggressively investigate the use of synthetic drugs and hold those in violation accountable."

The Navy has a series of measures in place to educate Sailors about the perils of drug use and dependency; to deter them from ruining their professional careers and personal lives by choosing to use drugs; and an aggressive program to detect drugs in the unlikely event a Sailor decides to use them.

By holding Sailors accountable for drug abuse, the Navy better protects and retains the overwhelming majority of Sailors who conduct themselves honorably. The Navy continues to actively investigate suspected illicit and designer drug use and possession. If it is determined that additional Sailors have used drugs, those Sailors will be held accountable and if appropriate, processed for separation.

On March 1, 2011, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) exercised its emergency scheduling authority to control five chemicals used to make Spice and other "fake-pot" type products.

Donilon: Obama Calls for ‘All-in’ Asia Strategy

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON – National Security Advisor Tom Donilon discussed the administration’s “all-in” Asia strategy during a press conference in Indonesia today.

Donilon said the president’s weeklong engagements with Asian leaders culminating in the East Asia Summit “is the implementation of a substantial and important reorientation in American global strategy.”

The summit has occurred annually since 2005, with the United States and Russia participating for the first time this year along with Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, the Philippines, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Vietnam, India and China.

Donilon noted that from the president’s hosting of the 19th annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting in Honolulu through a trip to Canberra and Darwin in Australia and culminating with the summit in Bali, Obama worked this week with 25 nations “in the fastest-growing economic region in the world,” and attended formal bilateral meetings with 10 countries’ heads of state.

A White House fact sheet on the summit noted while the gathering’s traditional agenda includes regional concerns such as education, finance, energy and the environment, Obama called for discussions on security topics including maritime cooperation and nuclear nonproliferation. The president also pledged support to advance humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the region.

Donilon said the administration has worked for three years on a strategic rebalancing of what officials viewed as an “underweighted” U.S. involvement in Asia.

“We set about, through three lines of quite specific work, to address that underweighting,” he said.

Donilon outlined those approaches: strengthening alliances and security partnerships; engaging with emerging regional power centers such as China, India and Indonesia; and participating in and helping to form regional, multilateral economic, diplomatic and security institutions.

The president has given “clear guidance” that the United States will allocate the resources to maintain a strong security presence in Asia, Donilon said, in the midst of what he described as a $489 billion spending reduction over 10 years.

“With Asia, that means being all in, and doing the things that are required here with the resources that are necessary,” the national security advisor said.

“From our perspective, we've been able to positively advance each of the key goals that we had for the course of this trip,” he added. “And I think that's been in the U.S. interest.”

Defense-related announcements during Obama’s Asia trip included an agreement with Australia to establish a rotational deployment of Marines to train with Australian military forces and a transfer and upgrade of 24 Excess Defense Article F-16s to the Indonesian air force.

Press Secretary Cites Concerns of Sexual Assault in Ranks

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON  – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta will issue “very direct guidance” in the coming months about how the department should respond to sexual assaults within the ranks, the Pentagon press secretary told reporters today.

George Little cited public commentary from Capitol Hill and elsewhere on the military’s sexual assault problem, and he said Panetta finds it “totally unacceptable.”

Panetta “had zero tolerance for this at the CIA when I worked with him there,” Little said, “and he believes that it’s no longer acceptable that we say we can just ‘do better’ on this. We need to take action.”

Potential actions are being discussed, but no final decisions have been made, he said.

The defense secretary is “troubled by what he understands are sexual assault problems inside the military,” Little said.

“In the coming months,” he continued, “you will see him issue very direct guidance to the department on this very important issue and problem.”

USS George H.W. Bush Arrives in 6th Fleet

By Mass Communication Specialist Third Class (SW/AW) Greg Wilhelmi, USS George H.W. Bush Public Affairs

MEDITERRANEAN SEA (NNS) -- Aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), along with embarked squadrons and staffs of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8 and Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 22, arrived in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR), Nov. 20.

George H.W. Bush completed five months of combat operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet AOR and was relieved by USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74).

While in the Mediterranean Sea, George H.W. Bush will conduct a full range of maritime operations and theater security cooperation efforts in concert with coalition, joint, interagency and other partners to improve operational proficiency, and maintain maritime safety and security.

The ship will continue through the Mediterranean Sea and make its seventh scheduled port visit on its return to homeport in Norfolk.

George H.W. Bush departed from Norfolk May 11, for a regularly scheduled deployment as part of the ongoing rotation of forward-deployed forces to support maritime security operations and operate in international waters across the globe, along with other coalition maritime forces.
George H. W. Bush is the flag ship of George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group (GHWB CSG). Additional ships deployed with the strike group are guided-missile cruisers USS Gettysburg (CG 64) and USS Anzio (CG 68), and the guided-missile destroyers of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 22 - USS Truxtun (DDG 103) and USS Mitscher (DDG 57).

USS New Orleans Kicks Off 'United Through Reading' Program

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dominique Pineiro, Amphibious Squadron 5 Public Affairs

USS NEW ORLEANS, At Sea (NNS) -- The religious ministries team aboard amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18) launched its "United Through Reading" (UTR) program Nov. 16, for Sailors and Marines to use throughout the ship's deployment.

UTR provides the opportunity to keep an open line on communication with loved ones and help relieve the stress of deployment by having deployed service members read aloud to children via DVD.

The program is available to any service member, including those who do not have children but would like to send a message or read a book to someone special in their lives.

"Just taking the 10 or 15 minutes to refocus on the home front helps us stay balanced and keep our perspective on what we're actually fighting for; the freedoms of our friends and family members at home," said Lt. Paul Armstrong, USS New Orleans chaplain. "It's also a great way to say 'I love you' in a way that will really connect with a child's heart."

Personnel Specialist 3rd Class Marilyn Smith expressed her excitement with the program and said she plans to record a DVD at least once a month throughout the deployment.

"My daughter just started to read before I left, and this is a great way for me to continue being there," she said. "It's very tough, but the technology we have today helps us bridge the gap and bring us closer to our family, even if we aren't (physically) there."

While the child watches the DVD, his or her reaction is recorded and sent to the service member via e-mail or through the mail.

"I know what her reaction will be, she'll be happy, probably clap and point to the screen and say 'that's my mommy!'" Smith said. "It's tough being away from her, but this helps me stay connected."

According to the program's official website, UTR is a nonprofit organization founded in 1989 that has united families facing physical separation by facilitating the bonding experience of reading aloud together

USS New Orleans is assigned to Amphibious Squadron 5, and along with embarked Marines assigned to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, the ship deployed as part of the Makin Island Amphibious Readiness Group, Nov. 14.

Commissioned in 2007, USS New Orleans is the second of the San Antonio-class transport dock ships. Its warfighting capabilities include a state-of-the-art command and control suite, substantially increased vehicle lift capacity, a large flight deck, and advanced ship survivability features that enhance its ability to operate in the littoral environment.