Friday, August 31, 2012

Canada: Pennsylvania Army Guard transportation unit on the road as part of training exercise Steadfast Warrior

By Army Sgt. Matthew Keeler
109th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

CANADIAN FORCES BASE PETAWAWA, Ontario - Soldiers from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s 131st Transportation Company, transported Canadian Army vehicles from Petawawa, Ont., to Toronto as part of Steadfast Warrior, a training exercise between the Pennsylvania Guard and the Canadian Army’s 32nd Canadian Brigade Group.

“I know in theatre we do a lot of blended operations,” said Canadian Army Capt. Jacquie Field, a logistics officer with the 32nd CBG, and a Sudbury, Ontario native. “For the central region, or where we are from, I don’t know that we have ever had Americans lift-stuff for us before. So, to me that was an inaugural kind of thing.”

But for many of the Soldiers of the 131st Trans. Co., transporting the trucks was business as usual, said Army Sgt. Jorge Aviles, a team leader with the unit.

“The 131st is often tasked to transport large equipment like Humvees and Bradleys across Pennsylvania that made this mission very similar,” he said.

On arrival to Petawawa the 131st Trans. Co. trucks carried equipment for the Pennsylvania Army Guard Soldiers training with Canadians.

The preparation not only for the movement to Canada, but to get clearance for the trucks to move to Toronto needed approval not only through the American side, but the Canadian side too, said Field.

 Field said she worked through her higher headquarters and alerted all the individuals needed to help support the movement.

“Then it was dealing with people repairing our vehicles to make sure that they were ready to lift,” she said. “And, then when that kind of stuff was taken care of, [the Pennsylvania Army Guard] did their business and we stayed out of the way.”

Securing the Canadian Army’s Light Support Vehicle Wheeled to the trailers they would be transported on gave newer members of the unit a chance to gain experience with different vehicles, said Aviles.

“There are a few different ways to chain equipment down to a trailer,” he said.
But,  no matter the vehicle being chained down, there are common techniques that Aviles stressed to his Soldiers.

“I prefer to harness the vehicle by its axle to eliminate the chance that the vehicle will bounce or move and loosen the chain,” he said, explaining one of those techniques.

 For Staff Sgt. Kelly Eitreim, acting convoy commander for the Toronto mission and a squad leader with the 131st Trans. Co., the mission’s success was based on the time element too. Arriving in Toronto on Sunday evening and leaving before rush hour prevented the trucks from getting bogged down in traffic.

The Soldiers arrived back at Petawawa from Toronto in under six-hours, and received high praise from their Canadian counterparts.

“They are consummate professionals, very positive and energetic,’” said Field. “You can tell that they are specialists in their field. I believe 28 minutes is what…it took to unload their trucks.”

With their trucks unloaded and more work to be done back in the States, the Soldiers from the 131st Trans. Co. boarded their trucks and made the journey back to the United States set to return to collect the equipment upon completion of the exercise.

Mississippi National Guard distributes food, assists with high-water rescues in Isaac’s aftermath

By Army Sgt. Scott Tynes
102nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

GULFPORT, Miss. - The storm surge and rising flood waters of a lingering Hurricane Isaac have had a telling effect on those along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and more than 1500 Mississippi National Guard members have assisting local and state agencies presence patrols, search, food and water distribution and search and rescue operations.

That includes rescuing residents from high water and flooded areas.

“Our search and rescue teams have been extremely effective,” said Army Brig. Gen. Robert Thomas, commander of Joint Task Force Magnolia. “Our force has rescued approximately 50 individuals in Hancock County and numerous pets that were stranded in flooded areas. Mississippi National Guard search and rescue efforts have also expanded into Jackson County. The need to help residents there is present as well.”

On Wednesday, members of the Mississippi Guard assisted the American Red Cross with distributing food, water and other items in areas affected by the storm. 

“Many of the shelters began running out of food early this morning,” said Tech. Sgt. Domingo Rodriguez of the 47th Civil Support Team. “The American Red Cross called the National Guard for help in transporting food from storage areas out to where they needed most in the shelters.”

Mississippi Guard elements positioned along the coast sent convoys through the swirling winds and deluge of rain to Red Cross distribution centers to pick up food for delivery to shelters in their area of operation.

“We have more than 2,000 residents in our shelters now and more than 36,000 meals on hand,” said Jay Huffstatler, chapter executive for the South Mississippi Chapter of the Red Cross. “The Guard is helping us to get those out to the three coastal counties.”

Mississippi Guard members used high-clearance trucks to navigated flooded roadways and other areas to get to areas to distribute the food items to the shelters in need.
“Right now, people need food and that is what we are doing,” Army 1st Lt. Jessica Lee, of Company E, 106th Brigade Support Battalion.
 Many of the relief efforts would not be possible without the assistance of the Mississippi Guard, said Windy Swetman, Harrison County District 1 supervisor, adding that he appreciated the efforts of the Soldiers and Airmen.

“We know you have families and we appreciate the sacrifices being made,” he said.

 The Mississippi Guard will continue to provide additional support to local agencies through presence patrols and with search and rescue and other operations as needed.

VR-57 Conquistadors Provide Support for Hurricane Isaac Relief Efforts

By Lt. j. g. Wesley Holzapfel, Commander Fleet Logistics Support Wing Public Affairs

NAVAL AIR STATION OCEANA, Va. (NNS) -- Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VR) 57 at Naval Air Station Oceana provided support for Hurricane Isaac relief efforts, Aug. 29.

A crew of the VR-57 'Conquistadors,' with their C-40A Clipper, quickly, and in the middle of their own mission, jumped into the support for Hurricane Isaac relief efforts by transporting a group of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 9 aircrew and maintenance personnel from Norfolk to Dothan Regional Airport, in Alabama. This last-minute transport gave HSC-9 some much-needed manpower to begin preparations for the NORTHCOM-tasked Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief missions along the Gulf Coast.

The Conquistador crew was preparing to return to its home base at Naval Air Station North Island, in San Diego, when the Navy Air Logistics Office (NALO) scheduled the support.

"NALO and the VR-57 crew easily coordinated the no-notice mission which allowed for same-day execution and completion," said Cmdr. Tim Rascoll, transport aircraft requirements officer for the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.

VR-57 is one of 15 squadrons within Fleet Logistics Support Wing (FLSW) headquartered at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, Fort Worth, Texas. FLSW, the largest functioning air wing in the Navy, was established to operate Navy-unique essential airlift aircraft on a worldwide basis. Its mission is to provide responsive, flexible, and rapid deployable air logistics support.

Dempsey Honors Legacy of Paralympics

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

LONDON  – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today honored the legacy of the U.S. Paralympics and expressed his gratitude to the supporters of wounded warriors and disabled veterans.

The venue was Great Britain’s historic Hospital Club, which became a facility for treating the injured during the first world war and is now a venue for high profile events in London.  There, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey joined the U.S. Paralympics Committee and several of its sponsors to celebrate the legacy of Paralympics.

“There’s a bit of history that you all are more familiar with then I was initially,” he said. “As you know, in World War I, women doctors – Doctors Flora Murray and Louisa Garret Anderson – wanted to start a hospital for the wounded.”

“But, because they were women, they couldn’t do it,” Dempsey explained. “The British government wouldn’t recognize them. I don’t think any government would have at that time. It was long before women had achieved their rightful status in society.”

The chairman said the two women were not deterred and went to France and successfully established a hospital.

“It worked so well that the British government brought them back,” Dempsey said. “And in this building, they set up a 550-bed hospital to care for the wounded in that tragic war.”

The general described Murray and Anderson as pioneers, groundbreakers, innovators and agents of change.

“They were people that wanted to make a difference, and that’s who you all are, by the way,” Dempsey told the audience. “[Yes], that’s what the Paralympics Committee [is]. You’re pioneers, you’re change agents, [and] you’re difference makers in people’s lives.”

“For that, I couldn’t tell you how proud we are to be here today to see that,” he added.

Dempsey also made clear that wounded warriors, disabled veterans and the military were honored to be involved with their supporters and the Paralympics.

“One of the things I’m going to tell you – you’ve got to stop thanking us for being here,” the general said. “People are very kind about that. They’ll say ‘we’re so honored to have you here.’ And I’m thinking to myself ‘no, no you’ve got it backwards.’  I was honored to be asked to lead the delegation and to have the privilege, really, of getting to meet you, those of you that enable and empower these incredible young people to do everything they can do to live their lives,” he said. “Not against their disability, but to their ability. And that’s a distinction I think is incredibly important – one that we all ought to learn from.”

The chairman also pointed out how meaningful it is to him to have wounded warriors taking part in this event.
“[There are] 225 or so athletes, 20 of them, I’m very proud to say, are wounded warriors, veterans in the armed forces of the United States,” Dempsey said. “I think that it’s a match made in heaven. Sadly, we continue to have additional members added to the rolls of wounded warriors. But having something like this, and a partnership that … can actually inspire them is just terrific.”

“[The] inspiration that those physically disabled, but not unable, young men and women demonstrated out there is just extraordinary,” he said. “It is one of those places that you come across in your life where you say ‘you know, it really doesn’t matter who wins, because their all winners.’”

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Military Advisors Reflect on Vietnam War Experiences

By John Valceanu
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 29, 2012 – Two former military advisors who served with Vietnamese units during the Vietnam War spoke about their experiences in the Pentagon yesterday and shared their thoughts on advisory programs and counterinsurgency operations.

Retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni and retired Army Lt. Col. James Willbanks took part in a panel discussion on “Advisors in the Vietnam War,” along with Andrew Birtle, chief of the Military Operations Branch at the Army Center of Military History. The panel was part of the Historical Speakers Series sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense Historical Office.

Birtle opened the program with an overview of the U.S. advisory effort in Vietnam. An expert on counterinsurgency operations doctrine who authored books on the subject, Birtle outlined the development of the military advisor program from the first U.S. advisors in 1950 until end of the war in the early 1970s.

“Perhaps the most common emotion advisors experienced in Vietnam was the frustration of being held responsible for something they could not control,” Birtle said. “Nothing was more frustrating than the feelings that one’s efforts were falling on fallow ground.”

Zinni spoke after Birtle, sharing his experiences as an advisor to a Vietnamese Marine unit in 1967. The general, who eventually rose through the ranks to lead U.S. Central Command, said his primary duties as an advisor in Vietnam were to help coordinate fire support, air capability and operations with U.S. units. Working, living and eating with the Vietnamese – and operating all over South Vietnam -- gave him an insight into the conflict that he said he wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

“Those who saw that war from inside a U.S. unit – despite the fact that certainly they saw plenty of combat, as we did – they saw a different war than I did,” Zinni said.

“I saw the war through the eyes of the Vietnamese people. I saw the war through the eyes of villagers that I lived with. I saw the war through the eyes of Vietnamese soldiers and Marines there weren’t there on one-year tours, but were there for the duration,” he said. “I saw the war from the Delta to the DMZ. I saw the war from Cambodia to the coastal plains in the east. And it was a totally different perspective than I was hearing from my counterparts.”

Zinni said he saw the most benefits result from Vietnamese units that built relationships with U.S. units over time, in which U.S. and Vietnamese soldiers could get to know and trust each other over time. He said it worked well with relatively small Marine Corps units, as well as with Army airborne and Ranger units.

“One of the strengths of the advisor unit, besides the fact that we didn’t have advisory teams and we sort of immersed ourselves into their organization and culture, is that we connected to the Vietnamese Marines very closely,” Zinni said.

But Zinni said there was a price to pay for being that close to the local forces.

“The advisory effort, when you were totally immersed in the culture, took a toll on you. By the time my advisory tour was coming neat to its end… I had contracted malaria, mononucleosis, dysentery and hepatitis,” Zinni said. “I was down to 123 pounds.”

This was not an uncommon phenomenon for service members in advisory roles.

“Most of the advisors suffered health issues and very few advisors finished a whole tour without a significant health problem or eventually being evacuated because of a health problem,” Zinni said.

Despite the physical hardships,  Zinni said the experience gave him “a sense of what this war was all about” and made him realize that the U.S. was failing to give the South Vietnamese people a good enough reason to put their lives on the line.

“If we didn’t capture the hearts of the people, if we couldn’t give them something to fight for, if we weren’t willing to ensure that the government was responsible to people, and we weren’t willing to cut off a base of supply that was endless, we eventually could not win that conflict, despite all the victories on the battlefield,” he said.

Zinni said he felt military leaders did not pay enough attention to knowledge gained in Vietnam, as attention shifted elsewhere after the war ended.

“Vietnam was rich in the lessons we never learned,” he said.

“The enemy beat us strategically; they didn’t beat us tactically,” Zinni said. “They didn’t beat us in terms of what we were able to develop in military capability with the South Vietnamese, but they beat us psychologically, and they beat us strategically. That lesson was never carried over.”

Willbanks spoke after Zinni. Now the director of the Department of Military History at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Willbanks arrived in Vietnam as an advisor in 1971, when only four U.S. Army infantry battalions and a total of fewer than 125,000 U.S. troops were left in the country. He was assigned to an advisory team supporting an Army of the Republic of Vietnam, or ARVN, division.

“I was a captain with two and a half years in service, on my first combat tour,” Willbanks said. “I was being asked to advise a 40-year-old ARVN battalion commander, a lieutenant colonel who had been fighting most of his adult life. “

Because of his lower rank and relative inexperience, Willbanks said he sometimes had difficulty in getting the battalion commanders to listen to his advice. His duties during the early part of his tour involved assisting and training the Vietnamese in staff operations, acting as liaison to the remaining U.S. units in the area, helping with combat operations planning and accompanying the battalions on combat operations in the field.

Willbanks said everything changed when the North Vietnamese launched the “Easter Offensive” on March 31, 1972. He volunteered to replace a wounded advisor in provincial capital city of An Loc, where a battle raged day and night for the next two and a half months.

“At this point, the focus of my efforts shifted to coordinating U.S. combat support,” Willbanks said. “I spent all my time adjusting artillery – at least in the beginning, and pretty soon we had no artillery to adjust – air strikes, and also coordinating attack helicopters and fixed-wing gunships, calling for dustoff medical evacuation and coordinating aerial resupply.”

Willbanks said being in An Lac at that time was an experience different than anything he had ever conceived.

“It was a desperate battle that seesawed back and forth as the North Vietnamese and the South Vietnamese forces fought each other, sometimes house to house, block to block, room to room,” he said.

The South Vietnamese forces held out, and the battle began to die down as the summer wore on, but Willbanks was wounded for a second time and evacuated from the city. Once he was released from the hospital, he spent the rest of his time helping the ARVN recover from the Easter Offensive. He said he left the country at the end of his tour “feeling pretty good” about what he’d been able to accomplish in helping the South Vietnamese forces.

Speaking generally about advisory efforts, Willbanks said there was less of an emphasis on the advisory effort and a shift away from it once U.S. ground troops started arriving in Vietnam. This eventually meant that not all advisors had the right qualifications, training or ability for the job. The advisory tours were often less than 12 months, which created turbulence hampered the ability to form a bond between Vietnamese troops and their U.S. advisors.

Eventually, the emphasis began to shift back to the advisors, as combat troops left Vietnam, but Willbanks said he thought it was too late by that point.

“From a personal perspective, I found the advisory duty very difficult. The duty required decisiveness and aggressive pursuit of the mission, but it also called for patience and restraint – a conflicted mix, to say the least,” he said. “The reality on the ground often flew in the face of the need to report progress.”

Willbanks said advisors “walked a tightrope” when it came to their duties. They had to be involved and proactive without stifling the initiative of the Vietnamese commanders. They had to be empathetic to their counterparts and understand their culture while being honest about the units and their leaders.

Perhaps most importantly, Willbanks said, advisors had to find a way to build a relationship with their counterparts without making them too dependent on the advisor and on U.S. combat and service support.  This proved to be a problem when the U.S. withdrew and the Vietnamese were left on their own.

“I have to say, even with all the difficulties involved, and even knowing how it all turned out, I’m proud of what I did as an advisor in Vietnam, and I only wish we could have done more,” Willbanks said. “The South Vietnamese were good people, and they deserved better than they got.”