Saturday, November 26, 2011

Panetta Congratulates ‘Dancing with the Stars’ Champion

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON  – The injured Army Iraqi War veteran who earned first place with his partner on the television show “Dancing with the Stars” symbolizes the strength and tenacity possessed by the nation’s wounded warriors, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said.

“I am writing to extend my most sincere congratulations on your ‘Dancing with The Stars’ victory,” Panetta wrote in a recent letter addressed to Jose Rene “J.R.” Martinez.

“Over the course of this competition,” the secretary added, “your spirit captivated the nation and your victory sends a powerful message about the strength and resilience of our wounded warriors.”

Martinez and partner Karina Smirnoff were crowned champions on the ABC reality program after a final dancing competition against other contestants Nov. 22 in Los Angeles.

Panetta also made a phone call to Martinez today, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby said. Panetta again congratulated Martinez on his victory and reiterated his conviction that Martinez stands as testament to the strength and the resilience of wounded warriors.

During his call to Martinez, Panetta also expressed his admiration for the effort expended by the dancers in preparing for each routine, Kirby said.

During his phone conversation with Panetta, Martinez credited his military training and experience for his performance and his ability to prepare for the show, Kirby said.

The Iraq veteran also reaffirmed his pride at having served in uniform, Kirby said.

Panetta concluded the 10-minute call by inviting Martinez to the Pentagon for a personal meeting. Plans are now in the works to arrange that meeting in the very near future, Kirby said.

On “Dancing with the Stars,” celebrities are paired with professional dancers and over several months perform predetermined dances and compete against other dancers for judges' points and audience votes.

In 2003, Martinez was a 19-year-old Army infantryman assigned to Company D, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq. He was driving a Humvee there when the vehicle hit a roadside bomb.

Martinez suffered smoke inhalation and severe burns to more than 40 percent of his body, including his face and hands.

He was evacuated to Landstuhl, Germany, and later transferred to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, where he spent 34 months. He has undergone 33 cosmetic and skin-graft surgeries.

While in recovery, the former infantryman began to visit other patients in the hospital, sharing his story and listening to theirs. Since then, Martinez has spoken to audiences at corporations, veterans groups, nonprofits and schools.

In 2009, Martinez was honored by the nonprofit Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America with the Veterans Leadership Award, given in recognition of his dedication to the nation's newest generation of veterans.

“In the eight years since your injury,” Panetta wrote in his letter to Martinez, “you have done extraordinary work assisting other wounded warriors and raising public awareness of the challenges our service members and their families face when they return home, and I would like to commend you for your tireless efforts in this arena.”

The secretary added, “You represent an entire generation -- what I call the next greatest generation -- that has been willing to put their lives on the line for our country.”

In 2008, Martinez landed a role as an Iraq war veteran on the ABC soap opera, “All My Children,” which led to his “Dancing with the Stars” appearances this year.

In his letter to Martinez, Panetta wrote of his belief that the Army veteran would “continue to be a passionate advocate for our wounded warriors and all our veterans in the years ahead.”

“So, thank you for your continuing service, for your sacrifice,” the secretary added, “and please accept my warmest wishes for a joyous holiday season for you and your family.”

U.S. Groton SUBVETS Provide Thanksgiving Meals to Sailors, Guardians in Blue

By Lt. Cmdr. Jennifer Cragg, Commander, Submarine Group 2 Public Affairs

GROTON, Conn. (NNS) -- U.S. Groton Submarine Veterans provided nearly 900 meals on wheels complete with turkey, stuffing and all of the associated fixings to Sailors and local police standing the watch, Nov. 24.

For the past four months local military leaders, members of U.S. Groton SUBVETS and community leaders have met to plan this annual Thanksgiving meal.

"This is a community-wide effort that is coordinated by SUBVETS Groton Base. It involves a tremendous amount of donations, and support from our membership, active-duty Sailors, local merchants, business and people in the community to plan, coordinate, and execute this program," said John Carcioppolo, Groton SUBVETS base commander.

Carcioppolo said with help from the Naval Submarine Base New London galley and students from Naval Submarine School the SUBVETS mashed about 500 pounds of potatoes and squash; prepared enough stuffing for 900 people, and prepared at least 150 turkeys to feed everyone.

"The overall support from everyone has been outstanding. The bottom line is that it's about taking care of policemen, Sailors, their families and submarine veterans who need our help to make Thanksgiving a meaningful family holiday. The Sailors are embraced by the SUBVETS family and I ensure each Sailor who comes through the doors that they will leave well fed, and with no less than six grandmothers," Carcioppolo said.

SUBVETS members and their volunteers delivered meals on wheels to the following police and fire departments in the area this Thanksgiving: Groton, Groton Long Point, Groton City, Ledyard, Montville, Troop E, Waterford, East Lyme, Old Lyme and Electric Boat Fire Department. The volunteers also delivered meals to the following boats and other Naval Submarine Base New London commands: USS Providence (SSN 719); USS Pittsburgh (SSN 720), Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Mississippi (SSN 782), NSSC Watch Team; Port Operations; SUBASE Security; and SUBASE BCT 2.

Machinist's Mate 1st Class (SS/SW) James Pearson, of Owensboro, Ky., serves as the volunteer coordinator for the Virginia-class submarine PCU Mississippi. Pearson said this year marks the second year for the crew members to assist with the annual Thanksgiving dinner.

"As the PCU Mississippi coordinator for this event, it's my responsibility to ensure that all active-duty military and Electric Boat employees on watch receive a Thanksgiving meal," said Pearson.

In addition to organizing meals, he also helped prepare the traditional meal at the SUBVETS clubhouse.

USS New Orleans Sailors, Marines Volunteer at Pearl City School

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

PEARL CITY, Hawaii (NNS) -- Fourteen Sailors and Marines from the amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18) visited a Pearl City, Hawaii, elementary school, Nov. 21, to lend a hand during a scheduled two-day port visit to the "Aloha State."

The Nov. 21-23 port visit was the first stop for the ship, which departed its homeport of San Diego, Nov. 14, for a scheduled deployment in support of the Navy's Maritime Strategy.

While in Hawaii, the ship's chaplain, Lt. Paul Armstrong, set up an opportunity for New Orleans' Sailors and Marines to help out Pearl City Elementary School with painting and gardening.

Armstrong said the team did some much needed priming around different parts of the school in preparation for painting. Additionally, USS New Orleans Sailors and Marines performed landscaping and gardening work to improve the overall appearance of the school.

"It's important when we visit ports to show the Navy spirit of friendship and camaraderie," said Interior Communications Electrician 3rd Class Krystal Pennock. "Being able to help out, even just a little bit, goes a long way."

After their work was done, the Sailors and Marines had a chance to meet and talk with the kids of the school and the staff, who expressed gratitude for the work that they did.

New Orleans deployed in support of the Navy's Maritime Strategy, along with the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8) and the dock landing ship USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52), which make up the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG).

Commissioned in 2007, 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.

The mission of the Makin Island ARG is to help provide deterrence, promote peace and security, preserve freedom of the seas and provide humanitarian/disaster response as well as supporting the Navy's Maritime Strategy when forward deployed.