Monday, December 12, 2011

Biden Spotlights Military Support at Kids’ Holiday Party

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2011 – Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, invited about 25 elementary school students, a few teachers -- and one special guest in Afghanistan -- to a military-themed holiday party in their home at the U.S. Naval Observatory here today.

Throughout the party, Biden spotlighted the importance of military family support for the children -- a fourth-grade class from nearby White Oaks Elementary School in Burke, Va.

After greeting each of the children -- all dressed in their holiday best -- at the door, she invited them to join her around the Christmas tree in her living room for a discussion about her own experiences as a military mom.

Biden held up a framed picture of her son, Army Maj. Beau Biden of the Delaware National Guard, with his young son, Hunter, in his arms. The picture, she told the children, was taken the day he returned from a yearlong deployment in Iraq. “I know what it’s like to have someone in your family who is deployed,” she said.

She then asked Army Col. Rebecca Porter, a clinical psychologist from the Army Surgeon General’s Office, to talk to the children -- mostly from nonmilitary families -- about the impact deployment has on kids, especially during the holidays, and how students can support military families in their community.

Biden then kicked off her heels and joined the children on the floor in front of the tree to make holiday cards for deployed troops. The card-making event was sponsored by the American Red Cross’ Holiday Mail for Heroes program, which collects and distributes holiday cards to service members, veterans and their families around the world.

But the event’s highlight, especially for one of the students, was the holiday book reading in the next room.

Army Maj. James Blain, deployed in Afghanistan since June, appeared on screen to read the book “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” to his 9-year-old son, Jimmy, and his classmates. Blain earlier recorded the book-reading through United Through Reading, an organization that enables deployed service members to video-record themselves reading books to their children. Deployed troops can read from more than 270 recording stations around the globe, according to an organization fact sheet.

Jimmy listened intently. He’s been in touch with his dad, but mostly over the phone. There’s nothing like seeing him face to face, he said after his dad finished the book.

His mom, Tina Blain, who attended the party with all four of her children, agreed. “Having the DVDs has been a huge bonus for us because we can see Daddy whenever we want.”

Approaching the holidays without Dad is tough on the children, she added. “To see him so positive and so up going into the holidays is good for them,” she said.

Biden also noted the importance of programs such as United Through Reading, which recently pledged to double its commitment to Army and National Guard families in the next two years. Since the program began in 1989, more than 1 million beneficiaries have been served, a news release said.

“It means a lot to children and helps them stay connected with their moms or their dads” while they’re deployed, Biden told American Forces Press Service. “I know in my own family, my son read books to our grandchildren and they loved just hearing their dad’s voice.”

Biden noted that Jimmy’s parents were worried that their 2-year-old son, Matthew, would forget what his dad looked like. This program, however, has set their minds at ease, she said, citing Matthew’s reaction when his father appeared on screen at the party. As soon as he saw his father, Matthew, perched on his mom’s lap, called out, “Daddy, Daddy!”

Biden said the party was intended to raise awareness of military families and the need to support them, which also is the aim of the Joining Forces campaign, a military-support initiative First Lady Michelle Obama and Biden started earlier this year. It’s important for people without a loved one in the military to understand the military experience, she noted.

Particularly around the holidays, “it’s important we remember and commit to an act of kindness,” she said, whether it’s taking cookies to a military family, bringing them dinner, or packing care packages. Biden said she and her family recently packed Christmas stockings for deployed service members together.

“We are ending the war in Iraq … but we still have many, many [service members] deployed in Afghanistan,” Biden said. “We have to remember them and be thankful for their service and what they’ve done for us and this country.”

Eurasia Partnership Capstone 2011 Concludes

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Caitlin Conroy, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Africa/ Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet Public Affairs

VALLETTA, Malta (NNS) -- More than 100 multinational naval and coast guard representatives attended the final days of Eurasia Partnership Capstone (EPC) 2011 after kicking off the weeklong collaboration Dec. 4, in Valletta, Malta.

EPC 2011 was cohosted by the armed forces of Malta and Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, and Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet, and was held in Malta for the second time, it included approximately 100 representatives from Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Malta, Romania, Ukraine and the United States. These nations focused on strengthening maritime relationships between Eurasian partners.

"The U.S. Navy, as well as our partner navies, face many similar issues or threats; which is why it is so important to be able to work together," said U.S. Navy Lt. Giulliana Vellucci, EPC coordinator.

The maritime environmental protection (MEP) workshop covers regional, national and departmental perspectives on any involved agencies from the United Nations and government of Malta.

"I thought the maritime environmental protection workshop was an excellent opportunity to share information with partner navies and coast guards on the importance of environmental protection and the basic requirements for vessels and naval operations," said John Owens, U.S. Navy on-scene coordinator, regional oil spill preparedness coordinator.

"The topics discussed highlighted the basic needs for all groups to ensure that environmental protection is fully integrated into all planning, training, exercise and operational efforts. Overall it was a very well-rounded workshop," Owens said.

In addition to workshops like maritime environmental protection, maritime law enforcement, search and rescue and advanced network-enabled maritime interdiction operations, participants also took part in the non-commissioned officer (NCO) workshop. The NCO workshop seeks to develop leadership in partner navies NCOs and to foster relations between those officers and NCOs. The goal is to orient leaders at all levels to utilize their personnel to their full potential.

"This workshop was very useful for me," said Romanian Chief Petty Officer Pascu Romeo. "I found the information the instructors shared with us from personal experiences very interesting, I think many of the men and women from our navy should go through a workshop like this."

Participants also enjoyed helping out the local community.

Where they volunteered at the 'Dar tal-Providenza' (House of Providence), a local home for persons with disabilities, located on the outskirts of Siggiewi, Malta. Dar tal-Providenza welcomed the volunteers and set them to work cleaning and decorating for the upcoming holiday season.

"It feels good to serve the community and feel like you've given something back," said Greek naval officer Lt. Christos Tasiopoulos, who was cleaning with a group of EPC participants. "The residents were very welcoming, it was very touching."

"Id-Dar tal-Providenza was glad to welcome all those persons who while attending a conference and workshops in Malta found time to do volunteer work at our homes," said Father Martin Michallef, director at Id-Dar tal-Providenza. "This initiative was a true expression of solidarity and I am sure it was very rewarding to all."

The goal of EPC 2011 is to spark collaboration to improve maritime security through workshops that range from maritime law enforcement, maritime search and rescue, maritime environmental protection, leadership development courses for non-commissioned officers and, for the first time during EPC, advanced network-enabled maritime interdiction operations.

Wisconsin Guard brigade takes command of Kosovo mission

Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs Office

CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo — A Wisconsin Army National Guard brigade assumed responsibility of Multinational Battle Group East (MNBG E) during a formal ceremony at Camp Bondsteel Dec. 10.

The 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (MEB), based out of Milwaukee, joined 12 other National Guard units and one Army Reserve unit from throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico as part of Kosovo Forces 15. They assumed responsibility from the New Mexico Army National Guard's 111th MEB, based out of Rio Rancho, N.M., which arrived in April.

The Kosovo Force commander, Maj. Gen. Erhard Drews, transferred responsibility of MNBG E from Col. Michael D. Schwartz, commander of the 111th MEB, to Col. Jeffrey J. Liethen, 157th MEB commander.

"As you know, we are one of many U.S. KFOR rotations," Liethen said at the ceremony. "Through the years, KFOR rotations have changed, just as Kosovo has changed, but one thing remains the same — our collective commitment to maintain a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement throughout Kosovo.

"I want to take this opportunity to emphasize that as commander, my objective is to continue to build upon the work done by the Soldiers of KFOR 14 and their predecessors," he added. "We look forward to working with our multinational partners and continuing to maintain a safe and secure environment for the people of Kosovo."

Schwartz spoke of the outstanding relationship forged between the many nations in the battle group.

"As I have said many times before to our Soldiers, our multinational partners are not part of the battle group — they are the battle group," he said. "Without any one member, our mission would have been much more difficult. Together, as a single organization, we accomplished many remarkable feats. We are truly a more mobile, capable force than ever before."

Drews said he was confident that the future of Multinational Battle Group East would be in capable hands.

"I am more than convinced that you will lead Multinational Battle Group East in the same outstanding manner as did Col. Schwartz," he said to Liethen.

The U.S. contingent of MNBG E is comprised of approximately 700 troops from 10 states and one U.S. territory. Multinational partners in MNBG E include France, Germany, Hellas (Greece), Morocco, Poland, Turkey, Armenia and Ukraine.

KFOR 15's yearlong deployment began in September at Camp Atterbury, Ind. and U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels, Germany, where they received training on the tasks they would perform in Kosovo.

MULTINATIONAL BATTLE GROUP EAST U.S. UNITS: Headquarters Company, 157th MEB, Wisconsin (ARNG); 3rd Squadron, 108th Cavalry Regiment, Georgia (ARNG); 221st Military Intelligence, Georgia (ARNG); 230th Finance Company, Mississippi (ARNG); 3274th U.S. Army Hospital, North Carolina (USAR); 1969th Contingency Contracting Team, Nebraska (ARNG); 172nd Public Affairs Detachment, Vermont (ARNG); 1st Squadron, 112th Aviation Battalion, North Dakota (ARNG); Bravo Company, 1st Squadron, 150th Assault Helicopter Battalion, New Jersey (ARNG); Det. 3, Bravo Company, 777th Aviation Support Battalion, Wyoming (ARNG); Foxtrot Company, 2nd Battalion, 238th Aviation Regiment, Wisconsin (ARNG); Det. 1, Bravo Company, 248th Aviation Support Battalion, Wisconsin (ARNG); 387th Explosive Ordinance Detachment, Massachusetts (ARNG); Puerto Rico Joint Force Headquarters, Puerto Rico (ARNG); 461st Human Resource Command (Postal), Georgia (ARNG).

Naval Air Forces Presents Abraham Lincoln with Battle 'E' Award

By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Zachary S. Welch, USS Abraham Lincoln Public Affairs

SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- The commander of Naval Air Forces (CNAF) visited the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) during the ship's port call in San Diego, Dec. 11.

CNAF Commander Vice Adm. Allen G. Myers met with Rear Adm. Mike Shoemaker, commander, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 9 and Capt. John D. Alexander, Lincoln's commanding officer, to present them with the 2010 CNAF Battle Efficiency Award (Battle "E") and addressed the ship's crew.

During his address, he commended Lincoln Sailors for their high state of readiness heading into the ship's second deployment in the last year, and said the job they are doing is essential to the Navy's overall mission.

"I commend the Sailors aboard this ship for their hard work and dedication," said Myers. "Facing yet another deployment really shows the tremendous character of each and every Sailor aboard."

Myers also told the crew they possess a tremendous responsibility to represent their nation to the people of the world.

"Being overseas, you act as a global deterrent to foreign nations. You're constantly protecting our sea lanes. I wish you luck on your deployment, and I have every confidence you will continue to set the bar for success," he said.

Carrier Strike Group 9, comprised of Abraham Lincoln and embarked Carrier Air Wing 2 and Destroyer Squadron 9, departed Everett, Wash., Dec. 7, on deployment to the 5th and 7th Fleet areas of responsibility.

Abraham Lincoln is changing homeports from Everett, Wash. to Norfolk, Va. following deployment for a periodic refueling complex overhaul.

NECC Units Complete Integrated Exercise

By Chief Mass Communication Specialist Johny Michael, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command Public Affairs

YORKTOWN, Va. (NNS) -- Units from Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) completed training toward certification for deployment after a week-long exercise centered in Yorktown, Va. that wrapped up Dec. 9.

Maritime Security Squadron (MSRON) 4 and Riverine Squadron (RIVRON) 1 completed challenging exercises for more than a month for this final step. Each exercise was tailor-made by Expeditionary Training Group (ETG) to simulate the real-world operating environments that expeditionary units potentially face while deployed.

This final exercise, an NECC Integrated Exercise (NIEX), was held at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, Cheatham Annex and Ft. Eustis. The NIEX was a series of threats which Americans would face in a country which had just had major combat and was now trying to restore normalcy.

"The exercise simulates partnering with a host nation, helping them build their security for cargo handling, port security and protecting waterways," said Capt. Mike Napolitano, commanding officer of ETG. "When NECC deploys to a coastal region, we normally establish a Forward Operating Base (FOB) for our headquarters. One set of skills expeditionary combat forces bring to the Navy's mission is to create security cooperation. We go to our partner nation, and help train their forces so that they can provide security for themselves."

During the exercise MSRON 4 and RIVRON1 provided protection both on land and water. Simulated "terrorists" tried to attack from small boats and jet skis, as well as using small arms and IEDs.

"I'm very happy that ETG is doing these kinds of drills, because these are the kinds of things that we are going to see when we go down range," said Lt. j.g. Harold Saintcloud, anti-terrorism officer for MSRON 4. "We have to expect the unexpected down range. Most of the guys at ETG have been there, and they know what scenarios will best prepare us for our deployment."

During this exercise, ETG planned scenarios with escalating tensions in the host nation and growing threats to Sailors. On the final day of the exercise, Sailors faced a series of attacks on the FOB, starting with sniper and IED attacks, ending in an all-out assault by local militia.

"A lot of these scenarios are based on real events," said Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Raccshi Wilson, a training team assessor with Maritime Expeditionary Security Group 2. "Some of the things they may deal with on a daily basis are covered here, whether its people taking out the trash or coming in to fix a generator, the likelihood of them seeing potential threats here in the training scenario prepares them to see actual threats when they deploy. The small number of Sailors that stand the watch at the FOB Entry Control Point are responsible for protecting the two to three hundred personnel inside the compound."

The final confrontation was hectic and fast paced, combining attacks from all sides of the FOB with simulated IED explosions and constant gunfire. The chaos of that final hour presented an challenge for training participants.

"It was a lot of fun," said Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Samuel Gonzalez of MSRON 4. "It was a good training environment, and we all learned a lot. You have to keep the area that you're protecting, but not lose focus on what's going on around you."

RIVRON 1 is a combat-arms force that performs point defense, fire support and interdiction operations along inland water ways to defeat enemies and support U.S. Marines and coalition forces. MSRON 4 provides rapidly deployable forces to conduct or support anti-terrorism and force protection missions for U.S. and allied nations in ports and canals around the world.

Battaglia Calls Reducing Suicides a Top Priority

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2011 – Military leaders are committed to reducing suicides in the ranks, Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, the Defense Department’s top enlisted leader, said here Dec. 9.

Battaglia, senior enlisted advisor to Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke with Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service reporters after the recent release of a report on military suicides by the Center for a New American Security.

The report concludes that suicide among service members and veterans challenges the health of America’s all-volunteer force. From 2005 to 2010, service members took their own lives at a rate of about one every 36 hours, according to the report. It also states that while only 1 percent of Americans have served during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, former service members represent 20 percent of suicides in the United States. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates 18 veterans die by suicide each day.

“Whether it be [a suicide] every 80 minutes or one every 80 weeks, one is obviously one too many,” Battaglia said. “I’m committed to continuing and exhausting all efforts in order to reduce suicide across the entire total force.”

Military leaders in all the services are committed to reducing suicides, Battaglia said.

“With regards to education, engagement, intervention -- when a service member is feeling down or even possibly falling down, [leaders] need to engage, and they are,” Battaglia noted. “When a service member or family member is struggling, they need to intervene. And they are. Suicide is a total-force issue, and we’re going to continue to work hard in order to make it a total-force solution.”

Since 2000, the military has implemented several initiatives designed to identify those service members at risk for suicide, the sergeant major said.

“We enabled some … tracking methods, to help us better understand suicide; we built some resiliency programs into our system,” he said. “Total Force Fitness, for example, is a program that provides families an enriched factor of resiliency [and] builds toughness.”

Total Force Fitness, a series of best practices to help families build resilience, has gained momentum over the past few years and “has, will and can” help service members, veterans and families to build resilience, Battaglia said.

The sergeant major said commanders and front-line leaders up and down the chain of command must continue to educate and engage service members and family members struggling with weighty personal challenges.

“It’s important for that individual service member to know that there’s no problem so serious … that someone has to decide to take [their] life,” Battaglia said. “We can help solve the problem together.”

Convincing someone suffering from suicidal thoughts to seek help is “a big step,” he acknowledged, both within the military and across society as a whole.

“We have some of the best mental health providers and doctors that the country has to offer,” he added. “They work around-the-clock in providing care and compassion [and] treatment for service members and families.”

Leaders can help people gain the courage to take the first step toward seeking help, Battaglia noted.

“A lot of responsibility lies on the commander for establishing and maintaining a [positive command] climate, [but] all of that commander’s subordinate leaders share a similar responsibility … all in support of the mission and welfare of that organization,” he said.

Battaglia said one important point he wants to share with service members who are struggling with personal issues is that help always is “a fingertip away” -- pushing the buttons on a phone or knocking on a door can be the first step to a better life.

“All of our troops know this -- we care,” he said. “Our men and women have chosen to do what 99 percent of their societal peer group chose not to -- and that’s to serve in uniform as valued members of our armed forces.”

DOD and the VA are also working to reach the veteran population to help those at risk, Battaglia said, while the growing number of American companies seeking to hire veterans can help former service members find stability.

“Sooner or later we’re all going to leave uniform,” he said. “Employment and a good source of income certainly are firm ways to establish a solid lifestyle.”

Veterans are still part of the total force, and “help for them, again, is only a fingertip away,” the sergeant major said.

CSG2, Congressman Present Awards to Nautilus SSN 571 Division Cadets

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

OLD SAYBROOK, Conn. (NNS) -- Rear Adm. Rick Breckenridge, commander, Submarine Group 2 and U.S.Rep. Joe Courtney joined nearly 100 Sea Cadets and their families for their annual holiday party and awards at the VFW Post 1053 in Old Saybrook, Dec. 10.

Nautilus (SSN 571) Division Commanding Officer Lt. Cmdr. Robert Smith, who retired from the U.S. Navy as a chief messs specialist, thanked the families and local community for their support of the Sea Cadet program.

"So many give so much to run a program like this," said Smith. "Your kids make this unit as strong as it is."

Smith added that countless hours are spent by volunteers to better the organization and these volunteers bring nearly 200 years of cumulative military experience.

Breckenridge, a strong supporter for the Sea Cadet program, praised the cadets for their interest and commitment in serving a purpose greater than themselves.

"It's great to see your selfless discipline and personal devotion to our country at such an early point in your lives," said Breckenridge, who also emphasized the values of the program in preserving what is great about America.

Breckenridge impressed upon the group the significance of Courtney's attendance.

"When a congressman with the scope of responsibilities of Joe Courtney invests his extremely limited discretionary time to meet here, it speaks volumes on the importance of our youth and to this program," said Breckenridge.

Courtney and Breckenridge attended the annual awards ceremony to present the Nautilus 571 Division Cadet of the Year and Navy League Cadet Corps Training Ship Nathan Hale Cadet of the Year awards.

Sea Cadet Tulsa Scott, Fitch High School senior, received the Nautilus 571 Cadet of the Year and has been in the program since July 2010. After graduation Scott hopes to attend the U.S. Naval Academy and pursue a naval career in the Submarine Force.

"Both my father and grandfather were submariners and I have been on the water all of my life," said Scott.

During the ceremony Breckenridge presented the 2011 Navy League Cadet Corps of the Year award to Petty Officer 1st Class Jakob Stanton.

Another senior participating in the Sea Cadet program is Sarah Kukich; an East Lyme High School senior was recently accepted into the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

While she has her sight set on the Coast Guard Academy, she is still waiting for acceptance replies from Naval Reserves Officer Training Corps or U.S. Naval Academy.

Kukich is a perfect example of the programs' benefits said Smith who spoke of the benefits of the Cadet Corps by instilling obedience, military bearing and discipline. Captain of her crew team; sailing team, as well as a fierce competitor in pole vaulting and track team, Kukich has also received the coveted Girl Scout Gold Award earlier this year.

"It's a good leadership opportunity and a good introduction program that shows kids about the military," said Kukich.

Melinda Welch, Kukich's mother discussed her daughter's drive. "She has always been very organized and disciplined," said Welch.

During Courtney's speech he emphasized the important role he plays in approving academy nominations and congratulated Kukich on her recent acceptance.

"I get to be involved in the nomination process and a Sea Cadet label on a resume or application is like a stamp of Good Housekeeping," said Courtney.

Wendy Bahner, resident of Clinton, Conn., is another parent whose two sons, 17 and 19, has been involved in the Sea Cadet program for the past eight years collectively and echoed the programs' benefits.

"It teaches them leadership, self discipline, self respect and teamwork, as well as respect for others," said Bahner.

Bahner added that the Navy vs Army annual game will have new meaning in her home when her two sons join the military. Her 19-year old will be leaving for boot camp in January and her 17-year old will enter the U.S. Navy upon graduation from high school next year.

MCPON Sends Holiday Message

Special from Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (SS/SW) Rick D. West

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON)(SS/SW) Rick D. West released the following holiday message to the Fleet Dec. 12.

"Shipmates and Navy families,

Can you believe another year is almost over? It's amazing how quickly time passes when you're staying busy! It seems we were kicking off 2011 just yesterday and here we are, about to usher in 2012.

With the traditional festivities of December upon us, I want to wish you all the happiest possible holidays, and to say thank you for the outstanding service and support you provide to our Navy and nation. I continue to be humbled by your selfless dedication and the outstanding job you do every day around the globe.

We faced some challenges this year and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, but we will get through them together as we have done for the past 236 years. The Navy, after all, is a team sport and in 2011, we enjoyed many operational successes together that are worth celebrating. They are your legacy ... the deployments, the steady presence in difficult places, the helping hand when natural disasters left vulnerable people in their wake.

You and your Shipmates worked hard and sacrificed often. As you visit with loved ones, scour the shopping malls, or hit the ski slopes during these joyous weeks, take a moment to reflect on the special appreciation America has for you and your family. Be proud of your accomplishments, and share sea stories with moms, dads, siblings, aunts, uncles, and old buddies.

Most of all, be safe and enjoy the holiday season to its fullest. Celebrate responsibly: You are important to our Navy family and we need every one of you to return recharged for the next adventure. Don't let bad judgment ruin the New Year or your life. Look out for each other, and keep an eye on your Shipmates who may be having a difficult time.

It's also important that we remember the thousands of our Shipmates who are deployed, on station around the world vigilantly keeping the watch, ready to answer our nation's call. They are there ensuring we have this chance to deck the halls, gather around family dinner tables, and belt out Auld Lang Syne in a storm of confetti.

Thank you again for serving our great Navy and preserving our nation's freedom. Sailors and families, you are truly among this country's greatest gifts.

Happy holidays Shipmates and HOOYAH!

Very Respectfully,

Battaglia Joins Thousands for 'Wreaths Across America'

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, VA  – Placing 100,000 holiday wreaths at the graves where veterans "lie in rest and peace on the hallowed grounds" of Arlington National Cemetery is a tribute to their sacrifices for the nation, the Defense Department’s top enlisted service member, Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia, said here yesterday.

"Our veterans deserve nothing but the best," emphasized Battaglia, senior enlisted adviser to Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta.

Now in its 20th year, "Wreaths Across America" makes sure veterans' graves at national cemeteries are adorned during the holidays with large, evergreen wreaths bearing bright red bows. Thousands of volunteers -- veterans, family members, Boy Scouts and others – place the wreaths on the headstones.

"Isn't it great to to see that?” Battaglia asked. "It's very refreshing as a service member, but also as an American, [to see] our veterans held in such high regard that [people] would volunteer their time to come out here in the cold, as a matter of fact, to perform work in service and honor of our veterans."

Battaglia, accompanied by his wife, Lisa, also laid wreaths at veterans' graves.

“Wreaths Across America not only gives citizens the chance to pay their respects, it allows for the spirit of the holidays for the fallen and their family members," he said.

"To have this privilege and honor in such a dignified way, to spread holiday cheer and spirit," Battaglia said, "shows even though they may have gone before us, our veterans are still a part of our team and family."

This year's largest wreath delivery, at three times its average size, began its six-day journey from Maine to the cemetery in a convoy of more than 20 tractor trailers and other vehicles, also bringing veterans and families. The parade of vehicles made stops at schools, veterans' homes and national cemeteries along its way.

Yesterday began with the wreaths arriving before dawn at the cemetery, amid a parade of backed-up vehicular and foot traffic, creating an early crowd of people vying to attend the ceremonies.

Battaglia said the event spoke for itself.

"You could see by the audience gathered in the amphitheater for the opening ceremony with standing room only," he said, "the number and mixture of folks here, ... who came here on these hallowed grounds to give their respects," he said.

The wreaths covered many sections of the cemetery's grave sites, touching on dignitaries such as President John F. Kennedy, and winding its way from Civil War veterans' grave sites to service members just buried. The day concluded with the wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

"Regardless of conflict, our veterans have given and sacrificed much," he said. "[The least we can do] is what we're doing today."

Battaglia said the family of Morrill and Karen Worcester who began Wreaths Across America made sacrifices, too, to make the annual event possible.

"You really have to admire their motto of 'Remember, Honor and Teach,'" Battaglia said. "Even though a lot of the focus is placed on the children to grow up in the true American spirit, I've learned some very valuable lessons today."

Born from humble beginnings, the National Guard celebrates its 375th birthday

By Bill Boehm
National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. (12/12/11) – The Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded in 1630. More than 5,000 men, women, and children made the two-month voyage to the New World, leaving the relative comfort and safety of England behind in an effort to break free of religious intolerance, and to manage their communities the way they saw fit. In doing so, their actions tread new ground in the country that would become the United States of America.

The military organization we know today as the National Guard came into existence with a direct declaration on December 13, 1636. On this date, the Massachusetts General Court in Salem, for the first time in the history of the North American continent, established that all able-bodied men between the ages of 16 and 60 were required to join the militia. The North, South, and East Regiments were established with this order. The decree excluded ministers and judges. Simply stated, citizen-soldiers who mustered for military training could be and would be called upon to fight when needed.

Laws often evolve from well-intentioned actions, yet sometimes prove themselves to be ineffective. Given such odds, how could this possibly work?

Owing to many failures in the time that English settlers had attempted colonization in the Massachusetts frontier and elsewhere in North America, leaders decided that a proactive and ready state of mind must be kept by all citizens, particularly those training in military tactics. Being part of citizenry in the small villages meant that a price must be paid for the freedoms that could potentially be enjoyed, were the colony to ultimately succeed. That price exacted meant taking responsibility for defending the settlements of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The settlers of the new outposts experienced austere surroundings. With no established or familiar conventions upon which to rely, the colony relied upon male pioneers to provide food, shelter, and defensive protection for the women and children present, as well for themselves. Even with all available hands working, this was a difficult task. Worse, the nearby Pequot Indian tribe proved a restless and unpredictable neighbor, leaving the Massachusetts colonists vulnerable to guerilla-style attacks that could decimate the fledgling settlements. In an environment rife with disease, poor sanitation, and harsh weather conditions, all able-bodied members of the Massachusetts colony pulled together out of necessity.

Self-sufficiency proved instrumental. In a new land, hiring mercenary fighters in the European tradition to ward off Indian attacks would be impossible. For one thing, the colonists had no money. Other foreign interests in the New World such as the French or Spanish, even if they were available for defensive purposes, did not share English views on religion and political matters. They would have seriously undermined the stability of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Governing and policing the settlement would have to be left to the colonists themselves. Therefore, the militia system of self-defense brought from England had the best chance of succeeding for the colonists.

And it did succeed. Soon after the establishment of the militia in Massachusetts, the entire New England region defended itself against the aggression of the Pequot nation (beginning what would be known as the Indian Wars). Other colonies such as Connecticut and Rhode Island mustered militia units to fight the Indian tribe, and succeeded in forcing the Pequots to capitulate in 1638. Ultimately, the militia enlisted from the many small villages proved a strong component in building confidence for the settlement as a whole.

Although other colonial settlements in North America such as those in Florida, Virginia, and New Mexico that would become part of the United States utilized military protection in order to allow settlers safe passage and to defend against aggressors, Massachusetts proved to be the first entity to have its government establish and raise a militia. Nor did these other colonies’ militia service remain continuous. The tie to legal precedent in this manner remains to this day. That record of service has remained continuous and unbroken, no matter the change in each unit’s function as a part of the militia or the National Guard.

This distinction qualifies it as the birthplace of the militia in the United States. With the North, South, and East Regiments established, its exemplary military tradition continues through this day with four Massachusetts National Guard units – the 101st Engineer Battalion, the 101st Field Artillery, the 181st Infantry Regiment, and the 182nd Infantry Regiment. The tradition born in Salem continues today.

Today, Massachusetts’ population numbers 6.5 million people, and the Commonwealth figures prominently as a center of manufacturing, electronics/technology, and finance. Much has changed since 1636, but one thing has not: the National Guard still consists of Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen providing protection from natural disaster, training regularly to uphold high standards of readiness, and also deploying to far-away countries to protect the United States’ national interests abroad. Although the country’s growth and expansion has made it a large military force around the world, the National Guard still remains a community cornerstone – just as it did when it was given birth on December 13, 1636.

Obama: Army-Navy Game Celebrates America’s Best

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON  – President Barack Obama, who attended this weekend’s 112th Army-Navy football game, said the tradition goes far beyond friendly rivalry to showcase the men and women in uniform he said represent America’s best.

The president, along with Vice President Joe Biden, his wife, Jill, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were among almost 81,000 spectators at the game at FedEx Field here.

The president tossed the coin before kickoff and visited with servicemembers, wounded warriors and their families during the game.

Navy led the scoring early on, with the teams tying at one point, before Navy ultimately clinched its 10th consecutive win over Army, 27-21.

The game was rich in tradition and ceremony. Army and Navy uniforms were ever-present among the crowd, and a Navy choir sang the National Anthem to huge cheers and canon fire. Four F-18 Hornet fighter jets, followed by four Apache AH-64 helicopters, conducted a flyover.

Obama called the game a celebration of America’s military. “It’s a reminder that, as much fun as these things are, part of what we celebrate is the dedication and sacrifice that all the young men and women who are in the stands are going to be making for our country, day in and day out,” he said.

The president said his visits to both the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., leave him deeply impressed with the cadets and midshipmen.

“They are remarkable,” he said. “They are smart. They are dedicated. They are tough. They love their country and they are doing an incredible job.”

Obama joked that he had to be careful not to take sides during yesterday’s game, noted that his grandfather served in Army Gen. George S. Patton’s Army and is buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.

The president spent the first half of the game on the Navy side with Panetta and midshipmen, then switching sides at halftime. During a ceremonial half-time exchange, the president walked down the 50-yard line between a row of Army cadets in grey dress coats and capes on one side and Navy midshipmen in black coats and white scarves on the other.

Also during halftime, the Bidens visited 49 soldiers, 18 sailors, an airman and two Marine wounded warriors and their families at the game.

Talking with CBS commentators during the game, the president recalled playing football in the 9th grade before realizing he was built more for basketball. “I was a big kid in the 8th grade, and then in the 9th grade, suddenly everyone started getting a little heavier than me,” he said.

11th MEU Corpsmen Conduct Combat Stress Training aboard USS New Orleans

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro, Amphibious Squadron 5 Public Affairs

USS NEW ORLEANS, At sea (NNS) -- Hospital corpsmen assigned to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conducted combat stress training Dec. 9 while deployed aboard the amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18) as the ship conducted operations in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR).

The training required corpsmen to perform basic medical procedures under a realistic, high-stress scenario.

Chief Hospital Corpsman Patrick Mangaran, assigned to the 11th MEU, said the training was the first of the deployment and would serve as a baseline evaluation.

"We're putting them into an unorthodox, unconventional type of training," said Mangaran. "We wanted to put some mental and physical stress on them, trying to see how they treat patients and how they communicate in chaos."

The corpsmen had to treat multiple patients in a cramped, humid environment under the cover of darkness, while simultaneously being yelled at by their instructors to simulate a real evolution.

"You've got to keep your cool, because the bullets aren't going to stop flying," said Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Quisto Gonzalez. "When you're in your element and no one is yelling at you, it's easy to do an I.V., but when someone is screaming at you and pouring water on you, that same I.V., it's a lot harder to keep your composure."

Some of the simulated wounds treated were amputations, massive hemorrhaging from major arteries, burns and psychological wounds.

Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Stephen Harris emphasized the importance of the training, and said it's important for all corpsmen to keep their basic skills sharp.

"We have very perishable skills, and if I don't do something for awhile and try to pick it back up, it's going to take me awhile," said Harris. "When we train, we want to do it right, we want to make sure we can do our job effectively, it's not practice makes perfect, it's perfect practice makes perfect."

New Orleans is assigned to Amphibious Squadron 5, commanded by Capt. Humberto L. Quintanilla, II, and along with embarked 11th MEU Marines, the ship is deployed as part of 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 7th Fleet AOR includes more than 52 million square miles of the Pacific and Indian oceans, stretching from the international date line to the east coast of Africa, and from the Kuril Islands in the north to the Antarctic in the south.

More than half of the world's population lives within the 7th Fleet AOR. In addition, more than 80 percent of that population lives within 500 miles of the oceans, which means this is an inherently maritime region.