Military News

Friday, December 16, 2011

Face of Defense: Ballerinas Perform in ‘The Nutcracker’

By Army Sgt. Chris Harper
82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs Office

FORT BRAGG, N.C., Dec. 16, 2011 – Many of the 60 dancers who perform in a local production of “The Nutcracker” ballet are the daughters of service members stationed here.

The ballet, performed by the North Carolina State Ballet troupe, has in recent weeks entertained thousands at the Crown Center in nearby Fayetteville.

Ashley Watters, daughter of the 82nd Airborne Division’s chaplain, Army Lt. Col. Jeff Watters, who is now deployed to Afghanistan, has danced ballet for more than 11 years. This is her second seasonal appearance in the state ballet’s “Nutcracker” production.

Ashley began her dancing journey right here.

“I began dancing at a little place on-post at Tolson Youth Center,” Ashley said.

Erin Rafferty, 11, daughter of Lt. Col. John Rafferty, commander of the 1st Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, has danced with the state ballet troupe for nearly two years.

Erin also played multiple roles in the “Nutcracker” production, including the head mouse, a child and as one of the clowns, which she admits was her favorite.

“I liked doing all of the cartwheels!” Erin said.

Erin’s father said he was impressed with the ballet troupe’s performance on Dec. 4.

“I got to be backstage tonight, and what I didn’t realize was how everything runs so precisely,” said Rafferty, noting he’d expected that backstage goings-on would be more hectic. But operations, he noted, went like clockwork, and the performers knew where to be, and when to change their costumes.

Also featured in “The Nutcracker” performance, which was directed and choreographed by Charlotte Blume, was Anne Talkington, 17, an 11-year member of the North Carolina State Ballet, and the daughter of Mark Talkington, a retired Army colonel.

“It was getting the opportunity to perform with the “Prince” from the Carolina Ballet in Raleigh,” Anne said about the evening’s highlight for her. “He’s professional.”

Sarah Middleton, 13, daughter of Lt. Col. Dan Middleton of the XVIII Airborne Corps based at Fort Bragg, danced the ‘Spanish Variation’ and the ‘Waltz of the Flowers’. Smiling following the opening show, Sarah said her dancing was enhanced by the adrenaline rush she received by performing in front of friends and family.

Paris Sullivan and Lauryn Meehl, both age 11, and Rebekah St. Cyr, 13, account for more than 18 years of dance experience between them. Each is the daughter of Fort Bragg soldiers and each danced to the delight of the audience.

USS Miami Returns From Five-Month Deployment

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

GROTON, Conn. (NNS) -- The families of Sailors assigned to the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Miami (SSN 755) received an early holiday gift this year when the submarine returned to Naval Submarine Base New London, Dec. 15, following a regularly scheduled five-month deployment.

Miami, which departed for deployment July 14, conducted maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility.

Commanded by Cmdr. Roger Meyer, Miami visited ports in Haakonsvern, Norway; Faslane, Scotland; Portsmouth, England and Rota, Spain.

"The entire crew of USS Miami fully embraced their role as ambassadors for our Navy and country," said Meyer, a native of Blue Grass, Iowa, who assumed command of USS Miami in September 2010.

Throughout their deployment, the crew fine-tuned their skill sets, becoming true undersea warriors.

"Our team integrated the talents of multiple commands into one cohesive team, developing undersea warriors with the skills necessary to be competent and disciplined operators and maintainers while executing missions vital to national security," said Meyer.

Recognizing their contributions to the submarine force, several crew members aboard Miami were advanced to the next rank and earned warfare qualifications during a ceremony on Nov. 30 while in port Portsmouth, England.

During that ceremony, five Sailors received their enlisted submarine warfare qualification pins, and eight others were advanced to the rank of Petty Officer 3rd Class aboard the historic British Royal Navy ship HMS Victory, which is the oldest commissioned warship in the world.

Other Sailors had reasons to celebrate. During their deployment seven babies were born. One of the lucky fathers was Senior Chief Electrician's Mate Ryan Rolfe, who was able to hold his three-month old son, Joseph, for the first time.

During the Miami's deployment, Rolfe's wife Lillian was chosen to participate in a group baby shower with 19 other military wives. The event, sponsored by the non-profit organization Operation Shower and Birdies for the Brave, marked the first time it was held in Connecticut and for wives of submariners.

"As military spouses, we forget how different our lives are. We are used to having an empty bed to crawl into and end of the day, making big decisions, planning birthday parties, attending school events, and finding housing on our own," said Rolfe.

USS Miami Ombudsman April Holtmeyer, a mother of two, expressed her excitement for the reunion of Sailors and their families, as well as the remaining crew members just in time for the holidays.

"Holiday Homecomings add an extra special sense of reunion. Our families exemplified strength during this deployment by utilizing the greatest asset - each other. This sisterhood was essential in the success of maintaining normal," said Holtmeyer.

As the Sailors departed the submarine and reunited with their families, the fathers recognized their children by presenting them with medals as a token of their appreciation.

With nearly 50 percent of the 134-member crew aboard Miami being married with children, support for families had new meaning for the deployed fathers, said USS Miami Family Readiness Group President Christy Thomas, a mother of two.

"The kids are the heroes in their dads' eyes because they have thrived in their daily lives while they have been gone," said Thomas.

During the submarine's deployment, Thomas, Holtmeyer and other wives coordinated with the non-profit organization Operation Gratitude to receive gift boxes. More than 150 children of the deployed Sailors were recognized during National Military Family Appreciation Month, which occurs in November every year.

Miami's family-focused homecoming included Santa riding aboard Miami as the submarine pulled into Naval Submarine Base New London. In addition, the Steve Elci & Friends band performed, a first for the Connecticut performers, best known for writing the song, "Submarine Town."

The submarine, built by Newport News Shipbuilding and General Dynamics Electric Boat Division, is the third Navy vessel to bear the name of the city of Miami, Florida. The submarine's crew compliment includes 133 officers and enlisted Sailors.

Miami's return was preceeded by Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Dallas (SSN 700) Dec. 14.

Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over

By April Phillips, Naval Safety Center Public Affairs

NORFOLK (NNS) -- A nationwide crackdown on impaired driving led by the Department of Transportation is timed to reduce the number of alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes during the holiday season.

The campaign, known as "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over," will run through Jan. 2 and will involve thousands of law enforcement officers across the country.

Nationwide there has been a reduction in alcohol-related crashes and fatalities. This positive trend is also evident in the Navy, where alcohol-related incidents have been declining for several years.

Nonetheless, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 10,228 people were killed by drunk drivers in 2010, including 415 during the second half of December alone.

The campaign's timing is purposeful. There are many opportunities for Sailors to over imbibe during the holiday season.

"It could be the result of family get-togethers or command parties," said Dan Dray, a traffic safety specialist at the Naval Safety Center. "Either way, it's important to plan for a safe ride home."

He also said that it's important to make that plan before taking the first sip of alcohol. The best of intentions can fall apart as alcohol impairs judgment.

"Young service members may be at increased risk for driving impaired," Dray said. "Many are away from home for the first time and may be unaware of their personal alcohol limits."

"We know that the young Sailors are going to go out and have fun, but the biggest asset they have in terms of safety is their peers. Everyone carries a cell phone these days, so if you've had too much to drink, call a friend to come pick you up or take advantage of the safe ride programs that many ships offer," Dray said.

These safe ride programs are usually sponsored by a command's Morale, Welfare and Recreation department. They involve "no questions asked" rides back to the ship and Dray said there is no punishment for using the service.

"The only thing is you'll be asked to pay the taxi bill later," he said. "It's a lot cheaper than the fines, lawyer bills, community service, and career ramifications that come with a DUI charge."

Drunk driving doesn't just affect one Sailor and his or her career. The ramifications ripple through the unit and the surrounding community.

"When a shipmate is lost, it's not just a military member," said Bonnie Revell, also a traffic safety specialist. "That person is also a father, mother, brother, sister, son or daughter."

Revell has also talked to members of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and said she's seen the anguish in the faces of those who have lost children as a result of an intoxicated driver.

"The heartbreak is intense. Knowing they will never hear 'I love you' again, or that they will never have grandchildren because they lost their only child. It's just devastating," she said.

She said that Sailors who are pulled over for DUI during the "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" campaign are actually the lucky ones. While they may face severe personal and professional ramifications, those are mild in comparison to what could have happened - a crash killing themselves or an innocent motorist.

Writing Therapy to Foster Wounded Warriors’ Recovery

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

BETHESDA, MD.  – At a major medical center where troops are healing from the most severe of traumatic brain injuries and psychological issues, officials are adding a key ingredient to their comprehensive care: expressive writing workshops.

Announced Dec. 13 at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, on the campus of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center here, the center has partnered with the National Endowment for the Arts’ Operation Homecoming for a yearlong pilot program that’s slated to begin in January, said Navy Rear Adm. (Dr.) Alton L. Stocks, the medical center’s commander.

"Through our arts program, we’ve been able to measure the impact the arts has had on our troops who have unique and complex health conditions,” said Stocks, who also is commander of Navy Medicine National Capital Area.

The Operation Homecoming writing instructor will be Ron Capps, a 25-year veteran Army officer and founder of the Veterans Writing Project for veterans, active and reserve military members, and military family members.

At the NICoE, however, Capps’ newest project will focus on service members’ traumatic war experiences. He’ll use “expressive writing” to help them deal with that trauma through writing stories, in journals and even poetry.

Capps’ goal, based on his lengthy military career, is to get the troops to confront their fears and learn to cope with them. A central focus of his writing career includes care for returning veterans, particularly those in need of mental health care, and writing as therapy.

“Writing [allows you] to take a memory that might be stuck in the back of your mind, make it physical and shape it,” he explained. “Eventually you understand it’s a memory and it can’t hurt you anymore.”

Health conditions such as traumatic brain injuries and psychological health issues are now known as the “signature wounds” of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, officials said. The NICoE’s healing program is for active-duty service members with these signature wounds who might return to duty.

The writing workshop, as part of the overall healing protocol at NICoE, is expected to complement the center’s existing arts programs, which also encourage troops to express themselves by making masks and montage creations, and through music programs.

When service members leave NICoE treatment, the writing doesn’t necessarily stop there. The partnership, with help from Boeing Co., will offer an optional four-week writing program for troops and their families at the medical center’s Fisher House. Fisher House provides temporary homes to family members so they can stay near their injured or ill loved ones as they recover in the hospital or a rehab center.

“Art is fundamental to health and to humanity,” said Rocco Landsman, NEA chairman, here yesterday.

Landsman said in addition to the NICoE partnership, the NEA has begun a related task force with the Health and Human Services Department.

There, he said, “joint forces of more than a dozen health and research agencies and departments will push for more and better research on the arts and human development.”

Following the 2012 pilot phase, Operation Homecoming at NICoE will be assessed for potential replication at other rehabilitation centers around the country, Stocks said.

Reflecting on a recent healing arts summit at the medical center, Stocks recalled the response of military officials, medical and therapy professionals, and wounded warriors when asked about “the relevancy” of arts in the NICoE program.

"The bottom line is creative solutions and innovative thinking are the way forward," Stocks said of the group consensus.

Navy Updates Purple Heart Award Policy

From Secretary of the Navy Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- In response to advances in the diagnosis and treatment of mild traumatic brain injuries, the secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) discussed updates to the standards and procedures for awarding the Purple Heart Dec. 15, one of the military's most recognized awards.

"In light of recent research, military neurologists have discovered the scope of mild traumatic brain injuries is wider than previously thought," said SECNAV Ray Mabus. "Wounds suffered while defending our nation, whether seen or unseen, deserve our utmost gratitude and respect."

The standards provided in the ALNAV message are consistent with historic standards and previous awards of the Purple Heart since World War II, when the award was first authorized for the Navy and Marine Corps.

"Sailors and Marines may be awarded the Purple Heart for certain mild traumatic brain injuries that were caused by enemy action" explained Jim Nierle, president, Navy Department Board of Decorations and Medals. "If they suffered a loss of consciousness, or had to be given the disposition of 'not fit for full duty' by a medical officer for a period greater than 48 hours after a concussive event, they may qualify for the Purple Heart."

Purple Hearts awarded for MTBI will continue to meet the historical standards of severity applied to all types of wounds, ensuring the prestige of the award is maintained. Applying these standards to MTBI, the concussive event must have been caused either directly or indirectly by an enemy action with intent to kill or maim.

To learn more about Purple Heart award standards and procedures, read ALNAV 079/11.