Monday, December 19, 2011

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Dog’s Tale

Luis Carlos Montalvan is a decorated war veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a traumatic brain injury (TBI) sustained while serving two tours in Iraq. I spoke with Montalvan at the Pentagon library Nov. 30 where he shared perspectives on PTSD and TBI and his special relationship with Tuesday, his service dog. From that conversation, here’s what I imagined Tuesday might say if he could talk.

My name is Tuesday. I’m currently resting at the feet of former Army Capt. Luis Carlos Montalvan, who’s talking about two subjects that most interest him — bringing veterans’ struggles with PTSD and TBI to the forefront, and me.

Let’s be clear. I’m not really resting. I’m a highly-trained, low-tech asset listening to Montalvan’s breathing, words, inflection and tuning in to any changes in perspiration or scent that might indicate an oncoming anxiety attack. My back is touching his leg. I’ll likely know before he does if he starts to feel unwell and alert him and others. I’ve often heard him say that I’m his litmus test; he looks to me to gauge how he’s feeling.

Getting him here attests to my status and skills. Unlike therapy dogs, I have public access, which includes permission to enter the Pentagon. In its maze of corridors and people, I’m sensitive to Montalvan’s concerns about crowds, so I listen for his “block” command and block out some space between him and others. And though I love people, I keep my focus on assisting his mobility and balance, both of which were compromised as a result of his TBI.

In the Pentagon, as in other venues, everyone wants to approach me until they see the sign on my harness, “Do Not Pet.” If we’re in transit, attention to me could be distracting and potentially dangerous to Montalvan; seeing that sign, most people respect it. They get that I’m doing a job. But, if we’re stationary, Montalvan is comfortable with letting those special human-dog greetings take place.

When we’re at home, a nudge from my wet nose reminds Montalvan to take his medicines for PTSD and TBI. Coping with these issues brought him to me in 2008 when he responded to the non-profit East Coast Assistance Dogs’ public notice of service dogs available for pairing with veterans. Our fate was sealed the day he asked me for a kiss and I offered a reluctant lick. My reserve was familiar to him and through that connection, our bond was formed. Since then, we’ve been inseparable.

Through speaking engagements and media interviews, we advocate for veterans and families coping with the effects of PTSD and TBI. Montalvan shares his insights into living with these concerns and how I help facilitate his healing process as captured in his book, “Until Tuesday.” He recognizes that many veterans suffer silently with post-war effects and struggle with getting help. He wants people with these challenges to know the positive life they can have by reaching out for help, seeking treatment and committing to a journey of healing.

According to Montalvan, service dogs can play a critical role in that journey along with medical care. Further, he says an investment in service dogs for certain types of care and mobility needs gives veterans incentives to get out of bed, leave the house, drink less and be more engaged with less stress; all of which can enable them to pursue interests, education and dreams.

We’re both awaiting results of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) proposed rule and Congressionally-mandated study that would broaden and clarify benefits to veterans in need of service dogs and determine if VA will provide service dogs to veterans with psychological health concerns including PTSD.

Montalvan and I will continue to do what we do best: serve others and try to make a difference.

Montalvan identified resources he feels are particularly helpful to veterans coping with psychological health concerns. "Both and the Real Warriors Campaign are excellent resources,” said Montalvan. “Additionally, Tuesday and I have a particular fondness for The Soldier's Project and believe in their efforts wholeheartedly.”

NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support Sees Increased "Toys for Tots" Donations

By Margaret Kenyon-Ely, Naval Supply Systems Command Public Affairs

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (NNS) -- U.S. Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) Weapon Systems Support leadership thanked employees for their generous donations to the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve "Toys for Tots" drive Dec. 16 in Philadelphia.

The annual drive on the Naval Support Activity (NSA) Philadelphia base ran from Nov. 1 through Dec. 10, resulting in the collection of 624 toys valued at more than $8,000. In 2010, 401 toys valued at $4,000 were donated by base personnel.

"The U.S. Marines always do such a good job, especially this year as the number of donations and value of the toys donated by employees here has increased. We certainly appreciate it as will the young children receiving the toys," said Rear Adm. John G. King, Commander, NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support.

"This is certainly a nice boost for the Philadelphia community as everyone really stepped up and supported the drive this year," said Col. Gary Wiest, Director, NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support Fleet Outfitting, Planning, Support.

The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program's primary goal is to deliver hope in the form of a new, unwrapped toy to as many less fortunate children as possible during the holiday season.

A field activity of the Naval Supply Systems Command, NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support (NAVSUP WSS) is the U.S. Navy's supply chain manager providing worldwide support to the aviation, surface ship, and submarine communities. NAVSUP WSS provides Navy, Marine Corps, joint and allied forces with products and services that deliver combat capability through logistics. There are more than 2,000 civilian and military personnel employed at its two Pennsylvania sites. The NAVSUP WSS Philadelphia site supports aircraft, while its Mechanicsburg site supports ships and submarines.

Wisconsin Air National Guard unit hosts children's North Pole 'flight'

By 1st Sgt. Vaughn R. Larson
Wisconsin National Guard

A flight of fancy brought an early Christmas for 15 families of children with life-threatening illnesses.

The annual "Flight to the North Pole" began 27 years ago at the Wisconsin Air National Guard's 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee, in collaboration with the Silverliners - a group of former Eastern Air Lines flight attendants - and the 128th Community Council. The concept has taken off and is now in 20 cities nationwide.

"How long will the flight take?" asked Torre Engstron, 7, of Milwaukee.

"About 20 minutes," replied one of the volunteers before the families boarded a decorated KC-135 Stratotanker designated "Santa Liner" for the day. "We have a special route."

The "Santa Liner" taxied the families from one part of the 128th Air Refueling Wing base to another. En route, children were given the opportunity to visit the cockpit where they heard a message from Santa Claus via headphone, and could "fly" the aircraft with assistance from one of the pilots. Once at their destination - Sijan Hall decorated as the North Pole - the families were greeted by Santa and Mrs. Claus, ushered inside where dozens of carolers awaited, and taken to tables for a meal and gifts from Santa. Each child received a gift or gifts chosen specifically for them.

"Everything we do is for Mannie," said Michelle Harken, Milwaukee, of her 3-year-old son. "It's always exciting for him to see something new, especially because we can't go anywhere right now. It's nice for him to feel he's going somewhere and to be with other kids."

Nicole Batzko of Milwaukee heard about the program from the chairman of the Milwaukee Against Childhood Cancer Fund.

"I think I'm more excited than they are," she said of her children Isaiah, 13, and Kalyn, 5. "It's really nice having other people doing this for us."

Up to 50 military volunteers and as many as 50 civilian volunteers joined forces for this year's event, and coordinator Senior Master Sgt. Bobbie Coker said it was a team effort.

"We start doing this process in October," Coker said.

Many of the volunteers are seasoned hands at the "Flight to the North Pole," with one volunteer - an elf-garbed Sandy Busalacchi - returning for her 25 year.

"You guys are having more fun than the kids," quipped Lt. Col. Glenn Everson, looking at two volunteer elves playing with one of the children.

"Oh yeah, definitely," they replied.

Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Lychwick, who will take the coordinator reins for the annual event next year, said the appeal is evident.

"Just to see all the smiling faces, how happy they are to be here," she explained. "It's great."

"This is my ninth year," Coker said, adding that she hopes to continue with the program after she retires. "I love doing it for the kids. The feeling of gratitude - this starts my Christmas."

San Diego Service Members Participate in Chargers Pre-game Ceremonies

By Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Joseph M. Buliavac, Navy Region Southwest Public Affairs

SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Fifty-eight Sailors and Marines from the greater San Diego area participated in pre-game festivities at the San Diego Chargers football game Dec. 18.

The service members unfurled a giant American flag during the national anthem at Snapdragon Stadium prior to the start of the National Football League game between the Chargers and the Baltimore Ravens.

"It was an honor to do it," said Seaman Apprentice Josh Farmer. "It's by far the coolest thing I've done since I've been in the Navy."

The crowd of more than 67,000 roared to life as the service members ran onto the field and held the flag that covered more than 75 percent of the field.

"It was a big honor to hold the flag in front of all these people; we couldn't do this without their support," said Hospitalman Alex Madapon, assigned to Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton. "I'm really happy I got to do it."

The participants got to watch the pre-game warm-ups from the field and received free admission to the game.

The Chargers have had a long-standing relationship with the San Diego military community and have partnered up with United Services Automobile Association (USAA) as their military appreciation sponsor this season to salute military members, veterans and their families.

"It was an experience to be out there with all our brothers in arms," said Farmer.

The Chargers defeated the Ravens 34-14 in their final home game of the regular football season.

Panetta Says U.S. Unwavering in Support of South Korea

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19, 2011 – Officials across government have collectively conveyed America’s unwavering commitment to South Korea, Defense Department officials said today.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta spoke with South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin about the death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il in a 15-minute telephone call this morning, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said.

“The secretary conveyed to Mr. Kim the strong commitment of the United States to peninsular stability and to our alliance,” he said. “He made it clear that the United States stands with Korea in this time of uncertainty.”

Little stressed there has been no increase in force protection for U.S. forces in Korea and that there is “no truth” to rumors that U.S. families would be evacuated.

No unusual military movements connected with the death of Kim Jong-il have been detected, Little said. There are 36,000 U.S. service members based in South Korea.

The two defense leaders agreed that it is critical for both countries to remain prudent with respect to all matters related to the security posture on the peninsula. Both promised to consult often in the days and weeks ahead.

U.S. officials would not comment on an announcement from North Korean officials that Kim’s son, Kim Jong-eun, will take over the isolated country.

“I wouldn’t comment on the particulars of succession at this stage,” Little said. “Obviously, we are closely monitoring the succession process. The North Koreans are in a period of mourning at this point, and that being said, the military does exercise a prominent role in North Korea, but I wouldn’t want to speculate at this stage.”

U.S. and South Korean officials believe that a North Korean missile test conducted earlier today was pre-planned and not connected to Kim’s death, a senior Pentagon official said on background.

Panetta was briefed on Kim’s death immediately after word reached the outside world last weekend, Little said.

“He has been closely monitoring the situation ever since,” the press secretary said. “He has been in contact with senior officials here in the department.”

Dempsey: DOD to Stay Engaged, Vigilant in Middle East

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT  – It’s too soon to calculate how the end of U.S. Forces Iraq will affect the region’s military dynamics, but the U.S. focus on the Middle East and its partner countries there is unwavering, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey is traveling with a USO holiday tour and taking time to meet with his counterparts and officials in several countries, including Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Right now I think there are concerns, maybe some that would rise to a level of skepticism about the future [in the region],” he told reporters who are traveling with him.

“But I think that’s why our presence here is so important,” the chairman said, “to help ease those concerns and reduce that skepticism.”

Dempsey added, “We’ve got to make sure we maintain our vigilance, our deterrence and our engagement in the Middle East.”

The focus for the Defense Department in 21 countries that make up the U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility include Afghanistan, Iran and its nuclear aspirations, and regional instability associated with the Arab Spring, the revolutionary wave of protests and violence that erupted Dec. 18, 2010.

The unrest most recently includes a nationwide revolt in Syria, with protesters demanding the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad and the government responding with deadly violence, which according to the United Nations this week has so far taken nearly 5,000 lives.

“We're trying to think ahead about what it will mean to the people when the regime in Syria changes, as we think it will,” Dempsey said.

Related to that, he added, “is the enduring relationship with Turkey and their role. They’re a [U.S. European Command] nation from our perspective but they currently have a positive influence in that part of the Arab world.”

Iran is another critical defense challenge in the region, the chairman said.

“Iran continues to be provocative both in terms of its nuclear aspirations but also the activities of the [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps] Quds Force,” which is said to responsible for operations outside Iran, Dempsey said.

The most recent manifestation of such provocation, he added, was a plot uncovered in October that involved Iranian officials and Iranian-American used car salesman Mansour J. Arbabsiar’s botched attempt to hire assassins to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States.

For DOD, the chairman said, the challenge is “Iran’s hegemonic aspirations and how we can build a consensus within the region and globally that this is unacceptable, and then [determine] what to do about it.”

The U.S. presence in the Middle East is an especially important buffer to the challenge with Iran, Dempsey said, adding, “I do believe that what Iran needs to see in this region is a more coherent Arab world, so their aspirations are tempered.”

But of all the challenges in the region, Afghanistan is a primary focus.

“That’s No. 1 because we have kids in harm’s way,” Dempsey said. “That’s always going to be job No. 1.”

The department is working to review its strategy in Afghanistan with Centcom Commander Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force-Afghanistan and U.S. Forces Afghanistan, and others, the chairman added.

“We know the surge [of combat troops to Afghanistan] will be off-ramped in September 2012,” he said. “That’s when we’re back to the 68,000 [troops] that was kind of the standard at the start.

“The question we’re grappling with is, given the Lisbon objectives, how do we get from September 2012 to December 2014?”

In November 2010 in Lisbon, Portugal, NATO leaders agreed to halt combat operations by international troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon attended the summit of leaders who crafted a transition strategy directing coalition troops to begin this year turning over security responsibility for the nation’s provinces to Afghan security forces.

“What we aspire to over time is to approach the entire issue of engagement differently,” Dempsey said, adding that there are opportunities for the U.S. military services in smaller engagements.

“Most countries don’t want us to be flopping a brigade combat team in and among their population, so I think we have to find a way to think that through too,” the chairman said.

“It’s really about what we have learned in the last 10 years [of war], and how to establish new relationships not only in [the Middle East], but worldwide.”

Fleet Survey Team Completes Barbados Survey Operation

From U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet Public Affairs

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (NNS) -- An eight-member U.S. Navy Fleet Survey Team (FST) departed Bridgetown, Barbados Dec. 16, after completing a month-long survey operation.

The FST is a rapid-response team with capabilities to conduct quick-turnaround hydrographic surveys anywhere in the world.

This survey was specifically requested by U.S. 4th Fleet (C4F) after reports from ships in the fleet had reported discrepancies in depths between printed and digital charts, and their own fathometers.

"The primary survey area was within a deepwater harbor where numerous cruise ships moor," said Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Greeson, senior military officer for the FST. "The deepwater harbor is also the main commercial shipping port. At one time, there were four cruise ships, three commercial vessels, a Dominican Navy ship, and two tugboats all in harbor."

Using a nine meter rigid-hull inflatable boat (RHIB) called "Swamp Fox", the survey team towed a RESON 7125 multibeam sonar system through four different designated priority areas. After data collection was completed in an area it was processed in the field to determine if there were any gaps in coverage or areas that needed additional sonar coverage in order to meet international standards.

The International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) is the authoritative worldwide hydrographic body that sets the standards for hydrographic surveys to ensure maritime safety in coastal environments.

"We are seeking to meet IHO standards for coverage and accuracy," said Greeson. "The IHO requires a full seafloor search in order to meet those standards. The data we collect will then be used to update nautical charts used by all sorts of vessels coming into the harbor."

The FST, part of the Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVOCEANO), conducts about 14 surveys a year around the world. The team uses the Chief of Naval Operations' priority Oceanographic, Hydrographic and Bathymetric (OHB) list, and requests from component commanders like U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command (USNAVSO) to determine where and when they will conduct their surveys. The surveys aid in the safe navigation of U.S. forces and civilian vessels traversing the area.

NAVOCEANO collects and analyzes global ocean and littoral data to provide specialized, operationally significant products and services for military and civilian, national and international customers.

U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and C4F support U.S. Southern Command joint and combined full-spectrum military operations by providing principally sea-based, forward presence to ensure freedom of maneuver in the maritime domain, to foster and sustain cooperative relationships with international partners and to fully exploit the sea as maneuver space in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central and South American regions.

Panetta Promises Continued Support to Libya

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

TRIPOLI, Libya  – Paying tribute to the courage and determination of the Libyan people, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta joined Libyan leaders Saturday in welcoming a new chapter in U.S.-Libyan relations.

Panetta, who made history as the first defense secretary to visit here, said during a joint news conference with Prime Minister Abd al-Raheem al-Keeb that he’s proud of the role the United States played in helping free Libya from Moammar Gadhafi’s regime.

“Even though Operation Unified Protector has ended, I want to stress that the United States … will continue to stand by the Libyan people,” he said, U.S. and Libyan flags behind him.

“To that end” he said, “we are looking forward to building a close partnership with the Libyan government and we stand ready to offer … assistance in the spirit of friendship and the spirit of mutual respect.”

Panetta noted that yesterday the United States lifted most of the sanctions on the Libyan government and released all government and central bank funds within U.S. jurisdiction.

This amounts to about $30 billion. Panetta said the United States didn’t want these funds falling into Gadhafi’s hands, but said he now hopes they will be released soon. “These funds belong to the Libyan people and will now be returned to Libya,” he said.

That means the Libyan government can now access most of its worldwide holdings as the country moves forward with reconstruction and transition.

The secretary said he made clear during his meetings here today with al-Keeb and Defense Minister Usama Al-Jwayli that the United States stands ready to offer security assistance cooperation when the new government identifies its needs.

“I believe that this new and free Libya can become an important security partner of the United States,” he said.

A bloody eight-month civil war now behind it, Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people, the secretary said, and they will chart their future. “They will determine what assistance they require from the United States and the international community,” he said.

The talks did not get into specific forms of support, he told reporters, re-emphasizing that the United States is willing to provide “whatever assistance Libya believes it needs.”

Panetta offered a message to the Libyan people: “The blood that you have spilled has earned you the right to determine your future, to work through the security challenges that you are going to confront.”

Difficult challenges inevitably will be ahead, he recognized. Libya will need to secure weapons stockpiles, confront terrorism, professionalize the army and police, and develop the institutions of a free, representative government.

It also will have to unify the revolutionary forces, an effort Panetta said he feels confident that Libya is taking the right steps to do.

Al-Keeb said he plans to unveil solid programs soon that will attract Libya’s “freedom fighters” and direct their efforts toward fighting now for a better future for Libya.

“It’s not a matter of just saying, ‘Put down your guns and go back to work,’” he said.

Panetta noted that the United States, too, experienced revolution and expressed hope that Libya will continue on its current path to enjoy a future of peace, prosperity and freedom.

“This will be a long and difficult transition, but I have confidence that you will succeed in realizing the dream of a representative government and a more secure and prosperous future,” he said.

Al-Keeb said the unfolding of the “Arab spring” in other parts of the region influenced Libya’s revolution, and said they all share the same aspirations of dignity, freedom and respect for human rights.

Panetta emphasized that there’s no rubber-stamp solution to how each country will advance its efforts to put the institutions of government and representative democracy in place.

What’s important, he said, is that each country makes sure it is responding to “what the people want.”

Al-Keeb called the changes these revolutions have brought about “one good sign of why democracy in the Middle East is something everybody needs to support and stand by.”

As he traveled from the airport to the defense ministry for today’s meetings, Panetta passed reminders of Libya’s past and its appreciation for a new future. Graffiti scribbled on a concrete wall surrounding Gadhafi’s damaged former compound declared, simply, “Thanx US/UK.”

National Guard, Bostwana Defence Force share military intelligence practices for successful missions

By Maj. Matthew Handley
North Carolina National Guard

GABORONE, Botswana  – Two U.S. generals led a team of four other seasoned intelligence and operations officers to meet with the top leaders of the Botswana Defence Force during the AFRICOM Sponsored Intelligence Operations Seminar here.

The seminar was highlighted by the presence of Army Maj. Gen. Gregory Lusk, the adjutant general of the North Carolina National Guard and former commander of the 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, and Army Maj. Gen. Edward Leacock a Maryland National Guard officer and the former Deputy J2 at AFRICOM (Africa Command)now assigned to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.

They were joined by Army Col. Andrew Frank, chief of the Theater Intelligence Group in Molesworth, England; Marine Col. Patrick Looney, the chief of Current Operations in the Logistics Directorate, AFRICOM; Army Lt. Col. Wes Morrison, the executive officer to the adjutant general of the NC NG; and Army Maj. Clay Jackson, former Intelligence officer for the 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team of the NC NG's 2009 deployment to Iraq.

They all shared experiences of how the integration of military intelligence into operations led to successful mission accomplishments and how the U.S. military transitioned a standalone military intelligence apparatus to one that is fully integrated into all operations.

Leacock was working at AFRICOM in 2008 when BDF leadership met to discuss ideas of how they could share experiences. Since then, the BDF has been working diligently with the U.S. Office of Security Cooperation in Gaborone and AFRICOM to train and familiarize soldiers in the basics of intelligence as it relates to military operations.

"It was great for me to be here and see the effort that started several years ago with a vision and today the hard work of the BDF is coming to fruition as they move to improve on their capabilities." Leacock said.

He went on to describe how the U.S. military went through a restructuring of their intelligence force structure around thirty years ago and Leacock said he did not think it would take the BDF the same length of time it took U.S. forces to transition to the standards the U.S. has today.

Lusk observed similarities in BDF current operations to his time as the 30th HBCT Commander in Iraq.

"I see a lot of parallels to the types of operations the BDF conducts and our own counter-insurgency operations in Iraq," Lusk said. "I am honored to be able to engage the senior leadership of the BDF on this topic and believe it will only enhance our State Partnership with Botswana."

The seminar discussions evoked questions from the BDF ground forces commander, air commander and others providing insight to their own experiences and wanting to understand how intelligence played a role in U.S. operations.

Wyatt, former Office of Security cooperation chief and now the Southern Africa Branch South -International Military Engagement Division chief at AFRICOM, helped lead the discussion with BDF assistant chief of staff for intelligence, Brig. Gen. Peter Magosi.

"It was professionally rewarding to have an opportunity to share U.S. operational and intelli-gence successes and failures from recent military operations with senior leadership of the U.S. and Botswana Defence Force," Wyatt said. "On a personnel note it was wonderful for me to once again work with the BDF, one the most professional militaries on the continent."

Following the seminar portion of the event, the delegation had the chance to visit the Basic Tactical Intelligence Course, the Peace Support Training Center, conducted a panel discussion with field grade officers students at the Defence Command and Staff College and visit with troops in the field in southeast Botswana.

Their final day was capped off by participating in the graduation of students from BTIC.

The U.S. Office of Security Cooperation and Botswana have a full calendar of over 20 events for the coming year on a range of subjects to include a hosting the Southern Accord 12 Exercise in August.

USS New Orleans Sailors, Marines Visit Starfish Learning Center in Cambodia

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW/AW) Gabriel Owens, USS New Orleans Public Affairs

SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia (NNS) -- Sailors from amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18), along with Marines from the embarked 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), visited the Starfish Learning Center in Sihanoukville, Cambodia for a community service project, Dec. 19.

Service members applied a fresh coat of paint to the school and spent time teaching the children American games like "duck, duck goose" and "red rover."

Lt. Paul Armstrong, New Orleans' chaplain, said the event was one of five projects the crew of "Big Easy" will participate to bolster U.S. relations during theater security cooperation exercises with Cambodia.

"The children were a little awkward with the new games," said Armstrong. "But kids are kids; they picked up the games quickly and enthusiastically."

As soon as they arrived, the Sailors and Marines were greeted by the children at the school who were anxious to practice their English.

"It was pretty cool," said Operations Specialist 2nd Class Joseph Gossey. "The kids were happy to see us and it was interesting seeing how they teach school here."

After two hours, the Sailors and Marines packed up the paint, said goodbye to the children and left with smiles on their faces.

"I had a lot of fun," said Staff Sgt. Reynaldo Desenganio from the 11th MEU. "It's always great to see happy kids when you're away from your own on deployment."

New Orleans deployed Nov. 14 in support of the nation's maritime strategy and is currently conducting theater security cooperation missions in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR).

New Orleans, amphibious dock landing ship USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52) and amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8), along with the embarked 11th MEU, make up the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG).

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 nation's maritime strategy when forward deployed.

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.

U.S.-South Korean Consults Follow Kim’s Death

By Cheryl Pellerin and Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19, 2011 – U.S. officials are carefully watching the situation on the Korean Peninsula in the wake of news that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il has died.

Kim died Saturday of a massive heart attack, according to a North Korean government release. Kim Jong-eun, the “Dear Leader’s” youngest son, is expected to replace him.

President Barack Obama consulted with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak last night. They discussed the situation on the Korean Peninsula following the death of Kim Jong-il, according to a White House read-out of the call.

“The president reaffirmed the United States’ strong commitment to the stability of the Korean Peninsula and the security of our close ally, the Republic of Korea,” according to the read out. “The two leaders agreed to stay in close touch as the situation develops and agreed they would direct their national security teams to continue close coordination.”

U.S. leaders have been in constant contact with South Korean and Japanese allies since Kim’s death was announced, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters traveling with him in Germany that the allies have not seen any change “in North Korean behavior of a nature that would alarm us.”

Speaking broadly, the general said he is concerned about the transition, but there have been no changes to the alert readiness for U.S. forces on the peninsula. South Korean officials announced their armed forces are on a higher level of alert.

U.S. and South Korean leaders quickly established a network “to discuss this issue and to determine what we could do to contribute to understanding what might happen next,” Dempsey said.

“It is my expectation … that he will be the successor,” the chairman said. “We’ve gone to significant effort to understand, and I would only say at this point that he is young to be put in this position and we will have to see if it, in fact, is him and how he reacts to the burden of governance that he hasn’t had to deal with before.”

Kim Jong-il took over from his father Kim Il-sung in 1994. It was the first case of a son taking over for a father in a communist nation. In 2010, he announced his youngest son would succeed him.
North Korea has developed nuclear weapons and missile technology, U.S. officials have said. It is a pariah among nations in that it has actively sought to export nuclear and missile technology even as up to a million North Koreans are believed to have starved to death.

Obama: Nation Should Emulate Troops’ Service, Sacrifice

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON  – The American military exhibits the best the country has to offer, President Barack Obama said in his weekly address today.

The last U.S. service members are leaving Iraq after almost nine years of combat. They leave a country and citizenry that has a chance to chart its own course in a tough neighborhood.

More than 1.5 million Americans served in Iraq and tens of thousands have been wounded. “Military families have sacrificed greatly -- none more so than the families of those nearly 4,500 Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice,” the president said. “All of them -- our troops, veterans and their families -- will always have the thanks of a grateful nation.”

A safe and stable Iraq with a democratically elected government is an incredible achievement, and it was made possible through the hard work and sacrifices of the American military.

And that military has lessons for the American people. Surveys show the military is the most respected institution in America. “[Service members] don’t see themselves or each other as Democrats first or Republicans first,” Obama said. “They see themselves as Americans first.

“For all our differences and disagreements, they remind us that we are all a part of something bigger; that we are one nation and one people,” the president continued. “And for all our challenges, they remind us that there is nothing we can’t do when we stick together.”

There are 2.2 million Americans in uniform today. Some will remain in the military to serve, while many others will leave and become veterans. Those men and women will continue to serve in their communities.

“After years of rebuilding Iraq, it is time to enlist our veterans and all our people in the work of rebuilding America,” Obama said.

The generation that defeated fascism came home to build the largest middle class in history. They developed computers, built the interstate highway system, faced down communism and put a man on the moon. The 9/11 generation of veterans “is armed with the skills, discipline and leadership to attack the defining challenge of our time: rebuilding an economy where hard work pays off, where responsibility is rewarded, where anyone can make it if they try,” the president said.

Obama called on elected representatives to emulate the military’s spirit, determination and sacrifice. “This cannot be a country where division and discord stand in the way of our progress,” he said. “This is a moment where we must come together to ensure that every American has the chance to work for a decent living, own their own home, send their kids to college and secure a decent retirement.
“This is a moment for us to build a country that lives up to the ideals that so many of our bravest Americans have fought and even died for. That is our highest obligation as citizens. That is the welcome home that our troops deserve.”

America's war in Iraq is over.

Panetta Pays Tribute to Fallen Sailors in Tripoli

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

TRIPOLI, Libya  – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta paused during his historic visit here to lay a wreath on the graves of U.S. sailors lost aboard the USS Intrepid more than 200 years ago.

Panetta, the first defense secretary to set foot in Libya, walked quietly into the tranquil courtyard overlooking Tripoli Harbor, where about two dozen gravestones surrounded an olive tree.

Flanked by Army Gen. Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command, the secretary paused in front of one of the gravesites to bow his head in reflection and prayer. After a moment of silence, he crossed his heart and placed one of his personal coins on the gravestone’s base.

The secretary said he felt honored to pay respects to heroes of the United States’ first overseas wars, interred in Tripoli’s Protestant cemetery.

The crew aboard the Intrepid was on a mission Sept. 4, 1804, to destroy pirate ships moored in Tripoli harbor during the First Barbary War (against the Barbary pirates) when their vessel exploded.

Navy Lt. Richard Somers, its commander, and his dozen officers and sailors were killed.

“These brave sailors from the Intrepid, who died in the service of their country, have our nation’s enduring respect and gratitude,” the secretary said in a statement released after today’s visit.

“Having sailed into harm’s way to secure our nation’s interests, they volunteered for a dangerous mission and paid the ultimate price,” he said. “Their courage, and that of their fallen sailors and Marines, have forever emblazoned the shores of Tripoli in our nation’s conscience.”

The remains were moved to their current location in 1949, and the site underwent a major renovation that was completed in January, just before Libya’s revolution began.

Panetta expressed appreciation that despite differences in U.S.-Libyan relations over the years, the Libyan people have maintained the cemetery with the respect and honor it deserves and designated it a protected historic property.

The United States looks forward to working with the Libyans “to ensure that this very special place remains an honored and protected landmark for both of our nations,” he said.

Panetta called the Libyan people’s efforts to restore the cemetery “a symbol of the values we share, including an appreciation of the need to honor those who have sacrificed their lives in the pursuit of a cause greater than ourselves.”

He reflected on the thousands of Libyans who gave their lives for Libya’s liberation as well. “They sacrificed so that Libya and her people could have a new era of hope and opportunity,” he said. “Because of their sacrifices, the torch of freedom burns brightly here in Libya.”

The 2012 Defense Authorization Act, as passed by the House in December, includes a provision that requires the Defense Department to begin the process of identifying and returning Somers and his sailors to the United States.

Specifically, the bill instructs the secretaries of defense and the Navy to report back to Congress on the feasibility of recovering and positively identifying the missing commandos.

Seabees Honored in El Salvador during Southern Partnership Station 2012

By Spc. Jennifer Grier, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command & U.S. 4th Fleet Public Affairs

LA UNION, El Salvador (NNS) -- A recognition ceremony was held Dec. 15, at Centro Escolar Gregorio Alvarez Nunez in honor of U.S. Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 23 Seabees embarked aboard High Speed Vessel (HSV 2) Swift.

The ceremony was held in appreciation for the completion of a seven-day construction project as part of HSV-Southern Partnership Station 2012 (HSV-SPS 12).

"This ceremony was a great opportunity to bring everyone together and gives a real chance for the communities of El Salvador to interact," said Samuel Iglesias, La Union's representative to the Minister of Education. "This ceremony honors something really wonderful for everyone, especially the kids."

This project was led by project manager Utilities Man 1st Class Patrick Koelle. The team of Seabees completed minor electrical repairs, renovated the school kitchen and an outdoor pavilion, and performed structural and aesthetic maintenance at the site. Seabees painted a basketball backboard and built steps to the basketball court, making a safer environment for the children.

"To see how grateful the teachers and administrators are is really rewarding," said Koelle. "It makes this job all worth it, and I'm very proud of how it all turned out in the end. This shows the hard work my team put into this and leaves a lasting impact with the school that we can all remember."

The team refurbished the school kitchen by building and repairing walls, adding a new roof, and installing a sink, stove vent and brick cooking area. Two-hundred feet of piping was also placed to service the new kitchen sink.

Ricardo Jimenez, the school's principal, attended the ceremony.

"My favorite part of this whole thing is to see a positive response within my community," said Jimenez. "Giving brand new facilities to my school built by U.S. service members, is really an amazing thing to be a part of and upon seeing the final product, I know this will provide for generations to come."

This is the first of two Seabee projects in El Salvador, where U.S. Seabees have been working closely with Salvadoran service members who specialize in construction.

The construction project is one event during the three-week HSV-SPS 12 partnership with El Salvador. Service members from each of the armed services are working with the host nation partners, exchanging information regarding medical and veterinary practices, small unit leadership, and port security.

Southern Partnership Station is an annual deployment of U.S. ships to the U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) area of responsibility in the Caribbean, Central and South America. The mission's primary goal is information sharing with partner nation service members and civilians in the region.

U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet (COMUSNAVSO/C4F) support U.S. Southern Command joint and combined full-spectrum military operations by providing principally sea-based, forward presence to ensure freedom of maneuver in the maritime domain, to foster and sustain cooperative relationships with international partners and to fully exploit the sea as maneuver space in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central and South American regions.