Friday, December 09, 2011

Biden Welcomes Sailors Home From Deployment

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON  – Alongside hundreds of military family members and friends, Vice President Joe Biden today welcomed about 350 sailors home as the USS Gettysburg returned to Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, Fla., after a seven-month deployment.

"You did a great job,” Biden told the sailors. “We're proud of you." The vice president personally thanked each sailor, shook hands, and handed out vice presidential coins to everyone on the ship.

The guided missile cruiser and its crew were deployed with the George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group. While deployed, the strike group supported military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with maritime security operations in the Mediterranean and Arabian seas.

Hundreds of family members and friends turned out to welcome the sailors home. Some held up homemade welcome home signs and others danced to the beat of a New Orleans-style jazz band to keep warm as they waited in the chilly weather.

The vice president greeted the sailors’ family and friends, and also thanked them for their sacrifice and service. "It's an honor to be with you today to welcome home your sailors," Biden said.

"They've missed weddings. They have missed funerals. They have missed holidays," he added. "And let me tell you, you've missed it with them."

Seven sailors would be meeting their new infants for the first time today, the vice president noted. "I've spoken to each one of them,” he said. “They're brilliant.

“They all said the same thing: Beat Army Saturday," joked Biden, referring to the fierce rivalry between the Army Black Knights and the Navy Midshipmen, who will square off Dec. 10 on FedEx Field here.

Biden kept his remarks brief. He said he understands from personal experience not to stand in the way of a family reunion. He recalled when his son, Army Maj. Beau Biden of the Delaware Army National Guard, would return home after a military-related absence.

"I learned early, early on, if anyone got -- no matter who it was, the president, the Lord almighty -- got between his mother and him or his wife and him as he was getting off that bus and on a ship, they would have been trampled,” Biden said. “I promise I'm not going to get between you and that ship coming in here."

Also sailing into Mayport was the USS George H.W. Bush, which was on its first deployment since being commissioned. Nearly 6,000 sailors aboard the carrier strike group’s ships, including the George H.W. Bush, are scheduled to return to their homeport in Norfolk, Va., Dec. 10.

Navy Rear Admiral Nora Tyson, the commander of the carrier strike group, joined Biden in thanking each sailor who exited the Gettysburg.

Family Matters Blog: Scholarship Paves Way to Better Future for Army Spouse

By Alicia Brown
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON  – Army Sgt. 1st Class Lizandro Mateo-Ortiz suffered serious injuries when he was run over while serving in Iraq in 2007. At the time, he was the family's sole breadwinner, supporting his wife and two teenage daughters.

Suddenly, Milena Mateo-Ortiz found her life changed. She now had to find a way to support her family, and knew education was the answer. Their daughter, Stephanie, decided to postpone her college experience so that her mom could earn a degree.

Milena now has a bachelor's degree in health administration, and is working on her master's degree, thanks to the generosity of companies and organizations such as Dominion Virginia Power, which recently presented $250,000 to the National Military Family Association. NMFA provides scholarships to military spouses like Milena, who wish to improve their education and become more employable.

Military spouses don’t always fare well against the civilian workforce. According to the Defense Department’s Military Spouse Employment Partnership, 85 percent of military spouses want or need to work, and military wives earn 25 percent less than their civilian counterparts. The program is one of many that experts encourage spouses to seek out for guidance, information and empowerment.

Without the assistance, Milena said, she couldn't have afforded to pursue a degree that will land her a good enough job to support her daughters and her husband, who remains on a feeding tube. Now she's also well on her way to what will be a proud accomplishment when she graduates in 2013.

New Brace Salvages Limbs, Mobility, Morale

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

SAN ANTONIO  – A wounded warrior limped into Ryan Blanck’s office at the Center for the Intrepid here one day with a plea for help.

The doctors at San Antonio Military Medical Center had saved the service member’s leg after a combat injury, but due to the pain, he couldn’t walk comfortably, let alone run.

Blanck, a leading prosthetist at the state-of-the-art rehab center, found himself in an unfamiliar position: at a loss. “There wasn’t a go-to option,” he said, referring to devices for wounded warriors with lower leg injuries.

So Blanck created one. He designed the Intrepid Dynamic Exoskeletal Orthosis, or IDEO, a streamlined, energy-storing brace that delivers nearly instantaneous results. Now, most troops with salvaged limbs who wheel or limp into his office walk out a short time later, pain and limp-free.

The injured warriors are impressed by the results. When they strap on the brace for the first time and start walking, Blanck said, some stumble midway across the room, but not due to discomfort.

“They’re uncontrollably weeping,” he said. “It’s the first time they’ve walked without pain in two or three, or seven years in one guy’s case.”

Brace Proves to be ‘Game-Changer’

Blanck’s creation is a lightweight, streamlined carbon-fiber device that can be tucked under a pant leg and into a boot or sneaker. It comprises a cuff that wraps around the leg just under the knee connected to a footplate by carbon-fiber rods.

The brace works by offloading the limb and allowing the patient to operate the lower limb in a way that avoids pain, he explained. When a service member’s heel strikes, the device stores energy through the gait cycle, then delivers it back to propel the foot forward.

“That’s the concept behind it all; energy storage and power,” he said.

Prior to IDEO, Blanck noted, “there wasn’t a combination device that would allow offloading, adequate range restriction and then power generation.”

The device is proving a “game-changer” for service members with salvaged limbs, said Johnny Owens, a CFI physical therapist who is working hand-in-hand with Blanck in treating IDEO-fitted warriors. “We’re seeing immediate changes we don’t usually see,” he said.

Owens said the device also is singlehandedly helping to turn the tide on a trend of wounded warriors opting for delayed amputations -- amputations several months after injury. He attributes the trend to the slow, and sometimes frustrating, recovery for troops with lower leg injuries.

“Prior to all this, limb salvage was a little bit of an unknown,” Blanck explained. “You couldn’t tell a patient, ‘you’re going to run.’”

But amputees -- depending on the situation and barring other injuries -- can regain significant functions about six months after amputation, he noted. Meanwhile, limb salvage patients sit on the sidelines watching their amputee battle buddies walking or running as their own progress proceeds painfully slow.

Frustrated by their limitations, some troops with salvaged limbs opted for late amputations.

“It’s enticing,” Owens said. “You’re in pain, but if you cut your leg off, you can run. Many invested a year or two in recovery and then decided to cut [a limb] off. It was psychologically frustrating to see these guys work so hard and then just cut it off.”

Thanks to IDEO, these troops now have another option, he said, that enables them to not only walk, but run, sprint and jump.

Returning to Service

Word is spreading of IDEO and its astounding results, and Blanck now is fitting troops from around the country with his device. After hearing of Blanck’s and Owens’ success, Army 1st Lt. Matthew Anderson traveled here from his unit at Fort Carson, Colo., hoping for similar results.

Anderson, an infantry platoon leader, was injured in October 2010 while on a dismounted combat patrol in Kandahar, Afghanistan. As his unit cleared a building, he stepped on a landmine. “It felt like a jackhammer hitting my ankle,” he recalled. The explosive shattered his heel into a dozen pieces.

The doctors salvaged his limb, but the injury left Anderson in pain and with a pronounced limp. While he was able to start walking again after about six months, this strapping, lifelong athlete figured his running days were over.

It took Blanck just a few minutes to prove him wrong. With the IDEO, Anderson was walking comfortably within minutes and running within days.

“It put the biggest smile on my face,” the infantry platoon leader said. He had stopped by the CFI early one morning so Blanck could make adjustments to his device and fit him for another.

“I went from walking with a severe gait issue and a limp to walking normally,” Anderson said.

Blanck finished his adjustments, and Anderson pulled a sneaker over the foot plate and walked across the office with a smooth stride.

Once he got the brace, “I could run on it, jump vertically, laterally shuffle,” Anderson said. “Things that there’s no way I’d be doing with that much speed, efficiency or lack of pain.

“For a guy that’s in his late 20s that’s always been a jock athlete, being hampered by these injuries is pretty tough mentally,” he continued. “When you’re given the option to get back into it, it’s huge; it means a lot to me.”

Anderson soon will return to duty at Fort Carson. Of the nearly 200 cases they’ve seen, Owens noted, more than 30 have returned to service and 11 have combat deployed.

As they test and improve the current design, Blanck and Owens also are looking into what they call a “widespread potential” for people with issues such as ankle arthritis, strokes and head, back and other injuries.

The program’s success has one limitation: space. Between amputees and warriors with salvaged limbs, the CFI can get crowded at times. The pair would like to see a rehab center like the CFI, but devoted to wounded warriors with salvaged limbs. There would be no shortage of demand, Owens said, noting that for every one amputee, there are about 10 limb salvage patients.

Meanwhile, they have no plans to cut back, no matter how great the demand. Just seeing the joy in a wounded warrior’s face at walking again pain-free, they said, makes every extra hour at work worthwhile.

“I never thought I’d come to work and get hugged by a 220-pound, 6-foot-4, Special Forces guy,” said Blanck with a smile, “but I’ve had a few hugs.

“I loved my job before this, but this is a whole new level.”

Dempsey Accepts USO Award on Behalf of Military Members

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

NEW YORK  – Last night turned out to be a family affair for Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey as he accepted the USO’s Distinguished Service award on behalf of 2.2 million men and women in uniform, along with his wife, Deanie, who he said has served alongside him for the past 35 years.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was honored here at the 50th USO Armed Forces Gala, where he and Albert P. Carey, CEO of PepsiCo American Beverages, received the USO’s award for service in support of the armed forces.

Lance B. Boxer, chairman of the board for the USO of Metropolitan New York, saluted Dempsey and Carey for earning the prestigious award. “Their outstanding service to our country epitomizes the standard of selfless commitment to others we seek to live by each day,” he said.

Introduced by his son, Army Capt. Christopher Dempsey, a history instructor at the U.S. Military Academy, the chairman expressed pride in his family’s military tradition. All three Dempsey children followed their father into Army service. Dempsey also praised his wife for the key role she has played in helping military families deal with challenging times and become stronger as a result.

Last night’s USO gala proved to be a special treat for Dempsey, who got his first opportunity to meet his month-old granddaughter. “I can’t think of a better place to meet her,” he told the group. Pausing, he added with a laugh, “I hope it makes it into the baby book.”

Turning serious, Dempsey recognized the USO’s establishment 70 years ago and its continued support to the military through many milestones, including the Pearl Harbor attack 70 years ago, Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm 20 years ago, and the 9/11 attacks 10 years ago.

He noted the USO support he and his family have experienced during his career and thanked the organization and its legion of volunteers for their work that benefits all military members and their families. “Keep it up, and thanks for doing it, because it does make a difference,” he said.

Dempsey noted the demands U.S. service members are facing around the world, many of them far from their loved ones and in harm’s way, working to protect the United States and its interests.

Looking to the future, he said he doesn’t expect that requirement to go away.

“We should probably expect to be challenged because of what we stand for, because of who we are,” he said. “We stand for what’s right. And as we stand for what’s right, those that don’t stand for the same things as us will often challenge us. And when we are challenged, we will respond.”

With that response, Dempsey said Americans will strive, in the words of Will Rogers, “to leave the woodpile a little higher than we found it.”

Dempsey said he’s proud of the entire military team -- troops on the ground, carrier battle groups at sea with their embarked Marine expeditionary units, tactical air squadrons, logisticians maintaining and sustaining the force -- who exemplify Will Rogers’ standard.

“It’s a remarkable enterprise, and I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of it, and I couldn’t be more proud of all the services for what they do,” he said. “So I am honored to accept this award on their behalf.”

While acknowledging that he doesn’t know what the future holds, Dempsey said he’s confident that America’s military members will be up to anything that’s asked of them.

“Whatever is next, that group of young men and women … they are out there, and we’ll be OK,” he said.

Transition Benefits: OCHR Launches Civilian Careers Campaign

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class (SW) Mikelle D. Smith, Defense Media Activity - Navy

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The Department of the Navy's (DoN) Office of Civilian Human Resources (OCHR) held a leadership conference at the Admiral Gooding Center on board Washington Navy Yard, Dec. 8.

Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Manpower and Reserve Affairs) Juan M. Garcia III., a speaker at the event, announced DoN's official launch of the new Civilian Careers campaign.

The campaign, developed as a response after OCHR recognized the changing environments that currently exist in the DoN, will address and modernize tools and processes in recruiting non-military personnel and veterans to the civilian component of the Navy.

"The Department of the Navy is one of the largest most complex organizations in the world," said Garcia. "We need the best talent we can get, so we go from corner to corner in the country searching for the best of the best ... if they have the desire to serve we can use their talents."

During the event, Garcia touched on a variety of discussion topics, including Enlisted Retention Boards (ERB), Perform-to-Serve (PTS), and Selective Early Retirement Boards (SERB).

"With an unprecedented level of retention [in the Navy] we had to make some very tough decisions," said Garcia. "We had to ask a lot of great Americans and exceptional Sailors to leave the active component. But, it is important to know that over 50 percent of our civilian teammates are veterans, and we need more of those folks to go from shipmates to workmates."

Former Sailor and Civilian Careers spokesperson Connie Vitiello, said she decided to rejoin the ranks of the military when she applied for a position with the Marine Corps.

"The sense of urgency and pride that I felt while I was in the Navy was my motivation for pursuing a civilian career with the military," said Vitiello. "In the Navy I valued the camaraderie and the work ethic that I found while I served ... I found what I was looking for when I realized I could still feel that and support the active duty military while continuing to be with my family."

A web site has been setup to help encourage Sailors who may be affected by ERB, PTS and SERB to consider continuing their service to country in the civilian sector of the DoN. Visit the site at

"We hope the Sailors we had to ask to leave active duty will consider bringing those talents and training they received in the Navy over to the civilian side," said Garcia. "If we [the Navy] are going to ask the private sector to hire our Sailors it only makes sense that we lead from the front and transition those individuals that want to stay Navy to our civilian services."

George H.W. Bush CSG Homecoming Goes Social: Streamed Live on Internet

From U.S. Fleet Forces Public Affairs

NORFOLK (NNS) -- When the nearly 6,000 Sailors of the George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group (GHWB CSG) return from a seven month deployment to their homeport of Norfolk Dec. 10, Navy friends and families will be able to see it live on the internet.

To enhance the homecoming experience, the Navy is using social media to allow individuals to participate virtually, while encouraging those present to share their experience from the pier.

Navy family, friends and fans may view the homecoming of USS George H.W. Bush live via the U.S. Navy Facebook page ( or on the Navy Livestream channel directly at on Saturday beginning at 10 am EST.

Livestream is a web based platform that the Navy and other government agencies use for real time audience engagement by streaming live video and chat over their social media properties. The Navy has found this type of technology useful in sharing events and experiences predominantly located near the coast with interested viewers who are unable to attend in person.

A Foursquare event entitled "George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group Homecoming" has also been created for in-person attendees to "check-in" to. Foursquare, is a location-based social networking site for mobile devices where users "check-in" at events or venues by selecting from a list the program locates nearby. The Navy intends to use this type of engagement platform for fleet events like deployments and homecomings as well as community outreach events like Navy and Fleet Weeks during its upcoming bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812.

The homecoming, as well as the seven-month deployment supporting operations with the U.S. Navy's 5th and 6th Fleets, will be highlighted and discussed on Navy and command specific Facebook and Twitter accounts as well. The Twitter hashtag for this event will be #GHWBCSG.