Friday, December 23, 2011

Families Weather Holiday Separations

By Elaine Sanchez

Molly Blake will unveil a special guest on Christmas, someone who is an even bigger hero to her daughters than Santa Claus: their dad.

She’ll use technology to enable her deployed husband, Marine Corps Lt. Col. Peter Blake, to participate in the morning festivities.

“We’ll prop him up on the fireplace on the computer,” she explained.

From his fireplace perch, their dad’s computer persona, which they’ve dubbed “Digital Daddy,” will be able to watch as his daughters, Leah and Helen, open gifts.

The lieutenant colonel’s deployment to the Pacific marks his fifth in the couple’s 10-year marriage. Molly, like many military family members, is accustomed to relying on creativity, and a heavy dose of technology, to keep her family connected throughout the holidays.

“He’s been gone for more Christmases than he’s been home,” said Molly, whose family is stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. Her husband is the commander of Marine Attack Squadron 311.

To help speed through this separation, Molly used aluminum foil to fashion a bucket in the shape of a chocolate kiss, which she calls a “kiss jar.” The girls counted out one candy kiss for each day of their dad’s six-month deployment and loaded them into the jar. They’ll eat a kiss each day until he comes home, she explained.

Molly also created a “Daddy Journal” for each of them with their picture on the cover. On a recent night when they went out for sushi, they brought the journals along and wrote about the experience. “When he gets home he can relive some of these things,” she said.

Overall, the girls are staying positive. They understand the importance of their dad’s mission, she said.

Molly said she, too, is focusing on the positive. Her husband left for his deployment shortly after Thanksgiving. But while he won’t be home for Christmas, she said she takes comfort knowing other Marines will. “It takes the sting away when someone else will be able to be with their family,” she said.

Cammy Elquist LoRe also is coming to terms with a holiday separation. Her husband, Army Maj. Darren LoRe, has been deployed in Afghanistan since May — his second deployment in four years.

Cammy and her husband rely heavily on technology, such as instant messaging, to keep in touch, she said. She’s also created a YouTube channel where she uploads videos of their 4-year-old son, Sendoa, directly from her smart phone. This way, dad’s been able to watch his son’s first at-bat at T-ball, she added.

The technology will come in particularly handy this weekend, Cammy noted, when phone line connections will be bogged down with families trying to connect with their deployed loved ones. She said she’ll upload several videos on Christmas so her husband, when he has a few minutes off duty, can watch their son open gifts and share family time.

Cammy said she hopes the videos will boost his spirits. “[Deployed troops] have to focus on what they need to do and we tug heart strings every time, but I know it’s appreciated,” she said.

The family also is planning a Christmas encore when Cammy’s husband comes home in January for his mid-tour leave. Cammy said she’ll save some family gifts and leave the tree and house lights up on display. Along with sharing in the festivities, “he’ll get some satisfaction knowing he does the lights better than me,” she joked.

Meanwhile, Cammy is trying to insert special holiday memories for her son between a busy schedule of work and child care. Each morning, she wakes up early to take her son sledding or to bake cookies before their day begins. “The challenge is creating time and the mind-space and purposefulness into the day,” she said. “I still have to work. Finding that time as a solo parent is my biggest challenge.”

Above all, Cammy tries to instill a sense of thankfulness in her son. The holidays can be tough on military families with a deployed loved one, she noted, so it’s important to focus on what’s important.

Kathy Kling said she’s grateful to have her husband home. He missed Thanksgiving this year, but arrived home from his deployment in Kosovo just in time for Christmas with his wife and their 9-year-old daughter, Laurynn. Army Staff Sgt. Jason Kling is a flight medic with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.

Kathy said the anticipation of his arrival was nearly unbearable on Thanksgiving. The family Skyped before and after dinner, but acknowledged, “it was still a little rough because it was so close to his coming home.”

She said she kept her husband close at hand while he was gone by setting a plate for him at the table — something she does every holiday he’s gone.

While he’ll be home for this holiday, her husband has missed many others, Kathy noted, and offered some advice to other families dealing with deployments. She cited the importance of maintaining a sense of normalcy around the holidays.

If you’re used to being with family on the holidays, she said, then take a trip to see them. This support will prove invaluable if the holiday blues come creeping in.

As a National Guard spouse, more than an hour away from her husband’s unit, Kathy can’t easily access the support systems active-duty families have on hand on a military installation. So she’s created them. She said she makes time to get together with other Guard wives, and they enjoyed a recent outing before the busy holiday season kicked in.

“Family is a great support system, but other wives understand what I’m going through as a military wife,” she explained.

Kathy also stressed the importance of communication, especially between husband and wife. They went through a tough time on their first deployment on this regard, but when she opened up, she said things got easier, and “I became happier,” she said.

Staying busy also can help, Kathy added. Take a drive and look at lights or participate in a holiday community activity, she suggested. “Separate from the madness and stress of trying to please everyone. Simplify. Make it about appreciating what’s going right in your life.”

In the midst of the holiday rush, Kathy noted the importance of pausing to appreciate what you have, and to look ahead with a positive outlook.

The holidays aren’t just about presents and gatherings, she said, but also about “leaving the year and entering a new year.”

“The time may pass by slow, but it passes, Kathy said. “No matter how down in the dumps you might feel, this moment in time and what makes you feel down passes, and then we’re on to another moment.

“That day will lead into the next one, and then to the time when your spouse returns to you,” she said. “And you’ll be back together as a family.”

Season's greetings and holiday wishes

Season's greetings and holiday wishes from Gov. Scott Walker, commander-in-chief of the Wisconsin National Guard, and Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, to the 10,000 men and women of the Wisconsin National Guard, as well as their family, friends and employers.

See the video here.

Pretrial Wraps Up for Alleged Document Leaker

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

FORT MEADE, Md.  – The prosecution and defense rested today after delivering their closing statements in the Article 32 hearing of a soldier charged with leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents.

Today’s session, which adjourned at about 10:30 a.m., wrapped up eight days of pre-trial proceedings in the case against Army Pfc. Bradley E. Manning that began Dec. 16.

An Article 32 hearing, often compared to a civilian grand jury, is a pretrial hearing to determine if grounds exist for a general court martial, the most serious of courts martial.

The investigating officer, Army Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, now has until Jan. 16 to issue his recommendations to the Special Court Martial Convening Authority, a Military District of Washington spokesperson told American Forces Press Service.

Alamanza may ask for an extension, if needed, the official said.

His report will recommend that the case be referred to a court martial, or that some or all of the charges against Manning be dismissed.

The Special Court Martial Convening Authority, Army Col. Carl Coffman, will then provide Alamanza’s recommendation to the General Court Martial Convening Authority, and indicate whether he concurs with it, the MDW official said.

Manning, an intelligence analyst, is suspected of leaking military and diplomatic documents to the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks in what officials believe is the biggest intelligence leak in U.S. history.

WikiLeaks, in turn, released thousands of these documents, including classified records about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, on its website last year.

At the time, then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other senior defense officials condemned the organization’s actions, claiming the act put deployed service members at an increased risk.

The Article 32 hearing marked 24-year-old Manning’s first appearance in a military court since his arrest in Iraq in May 2010.

He faces more than 20 charges alleging he introduced unauthorized software onto government computers to extract classified information, unlawfully downloaded it, improperly stored it, and transmitted the data for public release and use by the enemy.

The charge of aiding the enemy under Article 104 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice is a capital offense; however, the prosecution team has said it won’t recommend the death penalty, a legal official said.

If convicted of all charges, Manning would face a maximum punishment of life in prison. He also could be reduced to E-1, the lowest enlisted grade, face a total forfeiture of all pay and allowances and dishonorable discharge, officials said.

(Editors’ Note: Elaine Sanchez contributed to this article.)

NAVSAFECEN Advice to Fatigued Drivers: Get a Room!

By April Phillips, Naval Safety Center Public Affairs

NORFOLK (NNS) -- The Naval Safety Center reminded Sailors and Marines Dec. 22 about the dangers of driving fatigued, and how to avoid it.

Off-duty motor vehicle fatalities continue to be the leading non-combat killer of Sailors and Marines. Fatigue is one of the leading causal factors.

The risk is higher than normal during this time of the year, when many are anxious to get on the road despite spending the previous few weeks sleep-deprived in an effort to complete work and holiday preparations before going on leave or liberty.

Many Sailors and Marines who are deservedly excited about the opportunity to spend the holidays with their families don't count on finding themselves in bumper to bumper holiday traffic, said Dan Dray, a traffic safety specialist at the Naval Safety Center. The flashing brake lights in front of them can cause a hypnotic trance as what should have been a four or five-hour drive stretches into six, seven or eight.

"The biggest problem we see is that people are so excited to go home that they don't stop and take the breaks necessary to keep them alert behind the wheel," said Dray

He said that many Sailors and Marines believe they've learned how to beat fatigue on the highway, but nothing can take the place of actual rest.

"They'll try coffee, calling friends, rolling down the windows or turning up the radio, but it doesn't help. If you're tired, you need to stop," Dray said.

The Naval Safety Center recommends drivers take short breaks every two hours to stretch their legs and just get a break from staring at the highway. However, it's also important to know when fatigue has lowered reflexes to the point that short breaks aren't enough. Sometimes it's necessary to stop and get a hotel room for the night.

"It's much better to get there the next day than not at all," Dray said.

Many Sailors and Marines who just want to get home as quickly as possible are unaware that there are state laws limiting how many miles drivers can log in one day.

"Most states say you can't drive more than 12 hours in one 24-hour period," Dray said. "Here at the Safety Center, we recommend that if you're working and traveling on the same day, both activities should not exceed 12 hours."

That means if a Sailor or Marine puts in a full eight hour workday, he or she shouldn't drive more than four hours. That's something to keep in mind when planning holiday travel. Planning is the key word. A good plan for driving reasonable distances - taking holiday traffic and weather conditions into account - goes a long way toward making sure all occupants of the vehicle reach their destination and return to work in the New Year.

The Naval Safety Center has resources about fatigue and other driving hazards available at There is also a link to the Travel Risk Planning System (TRiPS) - an online survey that helps drivers recognize the risks in their planned travel and manage them. To date, more than 275,000 have traveled on approved TRiPS assessments with zero fatalities.

Department at ‘Turning Point’ Following Historic Year

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON -- The military is at a turning point following a remarkable and historic year, Defense Department officials said today.

“If you look back, you see Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Arab Spring, Operation Tomodachi and many other national security events,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said during a news briefing.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that this year has also seen the demise of Osama bin Laden and the decline of al-Qaida,” he added. “And the increased pressure on [al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula], to include the loss of Anwar al-Awlaki to that terrorist group.”

Such changes led Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta recently to say the department is at a “turning point,” Little noted.

“2012 is likely to bring opportunities for the United States military, and for all Americans,” he said.

The United States is “seeing successful transition efforts in Afghanistan” and “building a new relationship with Iraq” following the departure of the last U.S. combat troops there, Little said. But that doesn’t mean relations end in those areas, he said.

“The secretary [of defense] has made it clear that we are going to maintain a presence in the Middle East … that’s going to protect our interests and those of our allies in the region,” Little said.

Navy Capt. John Kirby, deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations, emphasized no final decisions have been made about troop posture in the Middle East.

“We are still working through what the post-Iraq regional presence is going to be,” he said. “So there’s been no final decisions made about where any residual forces may stay, or for how long they will stay.”

Little lauded Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the final commander of U.S. Forces-Iraq, and his troops for implementing a successful drawdown of forces in Iraq.

“I would note that this was the most successful logistical drawdown in U.S. military history,” he said. “And General Austin and the men and women in uniform who carried that out deserve tremendous praise.”

Little expressed gratitude for service members and their families over the past year.

“The men and women of the U.S. military and their families have done incredible work, have had many successes, and of course, have made sacrifices,” he said. “And to them, especially, we say thank you.”

Seabees Refurbish Kindergarten in El Salvador

By Lt. Matthew Comer, High Speed Vessel-Southern Partnership Station 2012 Public Affairs

LA UNION, El Salvador (NNS) -- Escuela de Educacion "Maria Luisa Marcia" honored U.S. Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 23 Seabees embarked aboard High Speed Vessel (HSV 2) Swift with a celebration ceremony Dec. 20.

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

"The work the Seabees have done will improve the morale of the school," said Elba Martinez, the school's vice principal. "It will encourage the students and teachers to work harder because they will be proud of their school."

Project manager Utilitiesman 1st Class Bruce Nisbet led this project. The team of Seabees completed minor electrical and roofing repairs, refurbished the plumbing system around the school grounds and poured several pads of concrete.

"It's great to be here, helping local communities," said Nisbet. "Working with schools really reaches to the heart of the community and impacts several generations of children and parents."

The team also made repairs to the school playground. The Seabees rebuilt a ladder to the playhouse, reinforced the slide and secured several loose handholds on a climbing wall.

"Playgrounds are part of the kindergarten experience," said Equipment Operator 2nd Class Tyrif Wells. "As soon as we finished working on the structure, kids were swinging on the swings and sliding down the slide."

The Seabee project will affect more than 700 students attending the kindergarten. The students are between four and six years old and spend two years at the school before progressing.

This project was the third Seabee project 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) supports USSOUTHCOM 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.