Monday, January 30, 2012

Proposal Would Expand Support for Military Caregivers

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30, 2012 – First Lady Michelle Obama today announced a series of measures intended to increase the nation’s support for caregivers of wounded, ill and injured service members.

Joined by Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis and senior military leaders, Obama announced the Labor Department’s proposal to expand military family leave protections under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

These proposed rules will, in part, enable more military family members to take the time they need to care for their loved ones without fear of career repercussions, the first lady said.

“We want to recognize the extraordinary dedication, sacrifice and service of our nation’s caregivers, not simply with words, but with deeds,” Obama told the audience gathered at the Labor Department here. “These are men and women and children who will do anything for their loved ones, no matter the cost, no matter the sacrifice, no matter the consequences.”

The Labor Department’s proposed expansions of the Family and Medical Leave Act will help more caregivers of troops and veterans tend to their wounded loved ones, Solis explained. FMLA, enacted in 1993, enables eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons.

“Many service members come home stressed, ill and injured,” Solis said. “They need attention, care and support from the people that love them the most. And we’ve got an obligation as a nation to make that possible.”

The proposal will, in part:

-- Extend the 26-week unpaid leave entitlement to family members caring for recent veterans with a serious injury or illness incurred in the line of duty, including conditions that may arise up to five years after leaving the military;

-- Allow family members to take time off from work before, during or after a spouse, child or parent’s deployment to tend to service-related matters, such as military briefings or making financial and legal arrangements; and

-- Increase the amount of time an employee may take to spend with a loved one who is on rest or recuperation leave from five days to up to 15 days.

These proposed rules, the first lady noted, will ease family members’ minds as they care for their wounded loved ones. Caregivers will be able to stay near a loved one in a hospital longer, and will be on hand as they transition home – “all without worrying about whether they will lose their job.”

Obama recalled a story of a mom who became caregiver to her Marine son last summer. The Marine had lost the lower part of both of his legs after stepping on a homemade bomb in Afghanistan. Through his recovery, the first lady said, the Marine’s mother was there, feeding him meals and sleeping by his bedside.

Obama recalled what this mom told her: “All I cared about was knowing he was alive. I knew we could figure the rest out.” The FMLA, the first lady noted, gave this caregiver mom the flexibility and time she needed to “figure it out.”

Another caregiver, RyAnne Noss, was on hand to recount her caregiving journey.

Noss’ husband, Army Sgt. 1st Class Scott Noss, was injured in February 2007 when the Chinook helicopter he was riding in crashed in the mountains of southern Afghanistan. He was on his eighth deployment.

Of the 14 survivors, he was injured the worst, Noss said, suffering a severe traumatic brain injury that left him mentally conscious but semi-comatose.

Noss, who was pursuing a doctorate degree in chemical engineering at the time, dropped everything to be by his side. He was 100 percent dependent on her, she noted. She fed him, administered his medications and became an advocate for his care. “Along the way,” Noss noted, “I learned how important it was to take care of myself.”

With the support of family and friends, Noss completed her degree at Auburn University. The couple is now home in Alabama, she said.

“I’m proud to have been by Scott’s side through his rehabilitation and proud to have him home now with me where he continues to require around-the-clock care,” she said. “I’m proud to be my husband’s caregiver.”

Noss lauded the measures under way to help caregivers like her. “Today is a great day for every caregiver,” she said. “These announcements from the Department of Labor will help us all to insert some more stability and certainty into our lives, and I can tell you from personal experience, we appreciate all the help. Every little bit counts.”

The Labor Department’s proposal is just a few of many steps the Obama administration is taking to support caregivers, the first lady noted, citing legislation the president signed to help caregivers receive stipends, training, counseling and other assistance. The Defense and Labor departments also have strengthened their caregiver support, she said, working together to support caregivers whose loved ones are dealing with TBIs and post-traumatic stress.

Additionally, she added, the VA has helped caregivers receive health insurance and helps connect them with support coordinators who can direct them to resources.

But the government can’t do it alone, she said, citing examples of how other individuals and organizations are stepping up to help.

Building on successful pilot programs at Fort Belvoir, Va., and Fort Carson, Colo., the USO, Hire Heroes USA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce plan to host 14 career opportunity days focused on the employment of wounded, ill and injured warriors, their spouses and caregivers.

The Chamber of Commerce’s new Military Spouse Business Alliance has committed to hosting a career forum and hiring fair exclusively for wounded warriors, their spouses and caregivers at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., in May.

Finally, Operation Homefront and the Semper Fi Fund, both nonprofit organizations, have added volunteer opportunities that support caregivers and their families to the Joining Forces website.

Americans have an obligation to serve service members and their families as well as they’ve served the nation, the first lady noted.

This need for support, Obama said, is what spurred her and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, to launch the Joining Forces initiative last year. The campaign aims to raise awareness of military families and to rally the nation around them.

“I hope everyone in this country will ask themselves one simple question,” she said, ‘What can I do to support these great military families who have given us all so much.’ That’s the one question we all need to ask.”

Obama said she hopes service members, veterans and their families feel the love and support of their nation. And if they haven’t felt it yet, “I promise you that it’s coming, that I promise you.

“We are going to work every day until every last one of you feels the pride and the honor that this entire country feels,” she said. “As long as we all just keep joining forces to support these amazing families, we will be able to serve all of you as well as you've served us.”

Safety Officers Offer Cold-weather Tips

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30, 2012 – Despite an unseasonably mild winter for much of the United States, military safety officials offer a reminder that Old Man Winter still has two months to go as they underscore the importance of winter safety for service members and their families.

“The month of February often packs a big winter punch, and it’s not too late to prepare,” advised April Phillips, public affairs director for the U.S. Naval Safety Center in Norfolk, Va.

The Naval Safety Center, U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., and U.S. Air Force Safety Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., all kicked off winter safety campaigns in the fall, emphasizing that winter conditions require special precautions -- both on and off duty.

They’re increasingly using social media and blogs among other outreach tools to raise awareness and provide tips on everything from how to drive in hazardous blizzard conditions to how to shovel heavy snow.

For example, in addition to advising commanders to build and manage quality winter safety programs for their units, the

Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center also promoted a “Take 5” message that promotes safety awareness to families and Army civilians as well.

It encourages members of the Army community to “Take 5” -- that’s five minutes, five seconds or more or fewer as necessary -- to think situations through to make the right safety decisions, explained Army Brig. Gen. William T. Wolf, the Army center director, in his message to the field.

That brief pause, he said, can make a difference in preventing accidental death and injury.

“Colder months present unique challenges for keeping our soldiers and their family members safe,” Wolf noted. “By working together, we can reduce the risk in all fall and winter activities. Make a plan [and] get the right gear.”

Driving in icy, snowy and dark conditions is among the most dangerous winter activities. Phillips reported, for example, that seven of the nine sailors and Marines killed in off-duty accidents from Dec. 1 to Jan. 19 were involved in motor vehicle and motorcycle accidents.

A Naval Safety Center fact sheet, “Winter, Your Car, and You,” urges service members to ensure their personally owned vehicles are in shape for winter by inspecting the battery, ignition, brakes, wiring, hoses and fan belts; changing and adjusting the spark plugs, ensuring tires have adequate tread; and checking the antifreeze level.

Navy safety officials also recommended keeping a winter survival kit in the trunk, with essential supplies including a working flashlight and spare batteries, first-aid kit, ice scraper and snow brush, blankets and nonperishable, high-energy foods such as nuts and granola bars.

Few military bases in the United States have winter safety awareness programs as active as the one at Joint Base Elmendorf-Fort Richardson, Alaska -- a state that’s been buried in record snowfalls this winter.

Commanders there put out regular guidance to ensure their military members and families are prepared to deal with deep snow, ice, frigid cold and long hours of darkness, said media relations officer Chuck Canterbury.

Among guidance they provide is to wear several layers of clothing for warmth, drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration, keep vehicles stocked with emergency items and make sure school children’s clothing has glow-in-the-dark markings when they walk in winter darkness to and from the on-base school, he said.

The message appears to be resonating with the military community as people look out for each other, Canterbury said. So far this winter, no off-duty fatalities have been reported.

“Service members use the buddy system,” he said. “By [observing] your buddy, you can keep him safe from frostbite and other cold weather dangers.”

According to officials at the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, being able to recognize these dangers is the key to avoid cold-weather injuries. They offer these descriptions of the most common cold-weather injuries:

-- Frostbite. Frostbite is the freezing of skin tissue that can extend through all layers of the skin and freeze muscle and bone. Frozen skin may turn red and then gray-blue with blisters. In the worst cases, the skin dies and turns blue-black, often requiring amputation. Deep frozen skin feels “wooden” to the touch, with zero mobility of the affected body part. Instantaneous frostbite can occur when skin comes into contact with super-cooled liquids including petroleum, oils and lubricants, antifreeze and alcohol, all of which remain liquid at temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

-- Frostnip. Frostnip is the freezing of the top layers of the skin and is considered the first degree of frostbite. Frostnip usually results from short-duration exposure to cold air or contact with a cold object, such as metal. Exposed skin such as the cheeks, ears, fingers and wrists are more likely to develop frostnip.

-- Chilblains. Chilblains is a nonfreezing cold injury that results from repeated, prolonged skin exposure to cold and wet temperatures above freezing. Exposed skin becomes red, tender and hot to the touch and is usually itchy. These symptoms can worsen to an aching, “pins-and-needles” sensation, then numbness. Chilblains can develop in exposed skin in only a few hours. The most commonly affected areas are the ears, nose, fingers and toes.

-- Immersion foot/trench foot. Immersion foot is a nonfreezing injury that results from prolonged exposure to wet conditions between 32 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, or inactivity with damp socks and boots. Immersing feet in cold water, infrequent socks changing, poor hygiene and allowing sweat to accumulate in boots or gloves will soften the skin, causing tissue loss and often infection.

-- Hypothermia. Hypothermia is a potentially life-threatening condition that involves cooling of the body’s core temperature below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Hypothermia occurs when body heat loss exceeds heat production due to prolonged cold exposure. Although hypothermia usually is associated with cold climates, it can occur at temperatures well above freezing, especially when a person is exposed to wet conditions for an extended period of time.

-- Dehydration. Dehydration, most commonly associated with hot weather, is a lack of water in the body. Less understood is that it’s also easy to become dehydrated in cold weather, when many people fail to drink enough liquids and underestimate fluid loss from sweating. Proper hydration is especially important in cold weather because dehydration adversely affects the body’s resistance to the cold, increasing the chance of injury.

Meanwhile, Army safety officials share these American Automobile Association tips for safe winter driving:

-- Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Applying the gas slowly is the best method for maintaining traction and avoiding skids. Also, gradually slow down for stoplights. Remember, it takes longer to slow down on icy roads.

-- Drive slowly. Everything, whether it’s accelerating, stopping or turning, takes longer on snow-covered roads than on dry pavement. Increase your following distance to eight to 10 seconds to provide more room to stop.

-- Know your brakes. Whether or not you have antilock brakes, the best way to stop is threshold braking. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.

-- Don't stop if you can avoid it. It’s a lot harder to overcome the inertia of a stopped vehicle than one that is still slowly rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it.

-- Don't power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let it carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed downhill as slowly as possible.

-- Don't stop while going uphill. There are few things more difficult than trying to get moving uphill on an icy road.

-- If you really don't have to go out, don't. Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can. Don't tempt fate: If you don't have somewhere you have to be, watch the snow from indoors.

The Air Force Safety Center also offers guidance during cold-weather recreation, including skiing, snowboarding, snow-shoeing, ice hockey, snowmobiling and ice skating:

-- Wear sunglasses. Sun reflecting off of snow can sunburn the whites of one's eyes. It's painful and unattractive, in addition to being bad for eye health. Be sure to wear sunglasses, even on partly cloudy days, if you're spending time around snow.

-- Wear sunscreen. The sun reflecting off the snow can cause wicked sunburn.

-- Drink water. Winter sports can be dehydrating, but the lack of heat often causes people to forget to drink enough, which can lead to nausea and faintness. Sufficient water can also help to adjust to higher altitudes.

-- Wear recommended safety gear. Research your activity and follow the recommended guidelines for safety gear. Helmets, pads, eye wear, and more are all worth it.

-- Maintain communication. Groups can be easily separated at ski resorts and in the mountains, so be sure to carry cell phones and walkie-talkies to stay in touch. Remember that cell coverage can be spotty to nonexistent in the places skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers and snowmobilers love, so bring a back up form of communication to keep from getting separated from your group.

-- Adjust to the altitude. If you're coming from a lower altitude to a higher one, be careful to listen to your body. Don't overdo it, and be sure to get plenty of water and rest. If you don't have time to gently adjust for a day or two after arriving in high altitude, then take plenty of breaks and listen carefully to your body.

(Donna Miles of American Forces Press Service contributed to this article.)

Orientation flight links golfers, National Guard Airmen

By Capt. John P. Capra
128th Air Refueling Wing

PGA golfers Jerry Kelly and Steve Stricker joined the Wisconsin Air National Guard's 128th Air Refueling Wing on an orientation flight in Milwaukee Wednesday (Jan. 25).

The Madison-based professional golfers took part in a program that allows civic leaders to observe the mission and better understand the role of the Air National Guard.

"This is one of those experiences where we get to see, you know, the true heroes," Kelly said.

The golfers' experiences on base began with a unit mission briefing, which explained the role of the Wisconsin National Guard and the Guard's dual mission serving both state and nation.

The two-and-a-half-hour sortie departed Mitchell Field early Wednesday morning and flew to a military operating area in northwestern Iowa where the KC-135R Stratotanker hooked up with two F-16C Falcons and engaged in aerial refueling.

"We'll offload about two thousand pounds of fuel in just a few minutes," said Master Sgt. Peter Gauerke, a KC-135R boom operator.

The flight provided valuable training for both Stratotanker and Falcon crewmembers in conducting safe aerial refueling missions.

"It's a force multiplier," Gauerke said. "It allows the fighters to double, even triple, the amount of time they can stay in the air and train, making for a very valuable training experience."

After landing, Kelly and Stricker spent time with the Airmen, who discussed their careers and deployments. Airmen carried cameras to capture the golfers' visit with the 128th.

"It was great to meet the Airmen today," Stricker said. "We thank everybody here and across the country for what they do for us, like I say, to live freely on a daily basis. It doesn't come free, and we know that."

Reserves Critical to U.S. Military Capabilities, Petraeus Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30, 2012 – The reserve components are an integral part of the military in ways that Cold War planners could not have imagined, retired Army Gen. David H. Petraeus said at a Reserve Officers Association meeting here today.

The association inducted Petraeus, now CIA director, into its Minuteman Hall of Fame. Petraeus thanked the group, and said he accepts the honor on behalf of the men and women who so bravely served and sacrificed under his command in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Petraeus said the reserve components are more than the strategic reserve envisioned during the Cold War and have become an essential part of the U.S. military.

“Without our citizen-soldiers, our armed forces simply could not fully carry out America’s global commitments to keep our nation secure,” he said.

Reservists bring warrior and civilians skills to the fight, Petraeus said. “That combination has been particularly important in the complex environments we’ve been facing in the past decade,” he added.

Iraq and Afghanistan required more than just being warriors, he noted. “They needed diplomats, builders, trainers, advisors, service providers, economic developers and mediators,” he said. “Citizen-soldiers have performed these diverse tasks in particularly impressive fashion, and in so doing, they have demonstrated the unique edge, the unique quality that they bring to every military endeavor.”

The experiences that reservists bring from civilian life are particularly helpful in a counterinsurgency environment, Petraeus said, because they are used to working in a community to accomplish things. For example, he added, their civilian jobs make it possible for them to advise a nascent city council on how to set up departments. Also, he said, reservists serve as firefighters in their home communities can advise the best way to set up a fire department and how to train the people.

Petraeus recalled when he was appointed to head the training effort for the Iraqi military and police in 2004. “This was a particularly daunting task -- one that we described as building the world’s biggest aircraft, while in flight, while it’s being designed and while it’s being shot at,” he said.

Petraeus also had to build the Multinational Security Transition Command in Iraq. There was no existing headquarters for it, he said. “So we turned to the 98th Division (Institutional Training) and its more than 3,000 reservists based mostly in the northeastern United States,” he said, noting almost 1,000 members of the 98th, set up the headquarters and mentored Iraqi soldiers and police that first year.

Army Cpl. Eric DeHart is another example of reserve adaptability, the general said. DeHart, an Army Reserve engineer from Wisconsin, invented a device placed in culverts in Afghanistan that allowed water and debris to flow, but didn’t allow enemy fighters to plant improvised explosive devices.

“He even wrote a field manual on how to use it,” said Petraeus, noting that the device is still being used today and has saved countless lives.

Another reservist, Army Master Sgt. Juanita Milligan, is the mother of three and has deployed to Iraq twice. “She was gravely wounded during her second deployment to Iraq, when an improvised explosive device blasted into her Humvee,” the general said. “Seeing the bomb a split-second before it exploded, she jumped across the vehicle to pull her gunner out of the hatch and inside. He was OK, but she sustained severe injuries, including shrapnel throughout her body, the loss of part of her right arm and her femur broken in three places.”

Milligan went through numerous surgeries, therapy and the pain associated with regaining use of her hands. “Master Sergeant Milligan defines the selfless dedication of our citizen-soldiers -- a mother who twice answered the call to military duty, leaving family friends and community,” Petraeus said.

Some 385,000 reserve-component service members have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11, with 30,000 reservists serving today. Since 1990, reservists has been called to serve in every contingency the United States has been involved in, from humanitarian missions and disaster relief to all-out war, Petraeus said.

“Today, reservists serve in more than 70 countries, demonstrating that our citizen-soldiers are not only a strategic reserve, but a key component of our operational forces,” he added.

Panetta Asks Egypt to Lift U.S. Citizen Travel Ban

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30, 2012 – In a weekend call to Egyptian Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta applauded recent elections, asked him to help in lifting a travel ban on U.S. citizens and expressed concern over restrictions on nongovernmental organizations, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said this morning.

The secretary also reaffirmed the importance of the U.S.-Egypt military relationship and congratulated the Egyptian people on completing the People’s Assembly elections and on a safe and successful Jan. 25 anniversary observance of the popular uprising against the regime of long-time leader Hosni Mubarak.

Tantawi is chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the military group that took power Feb. 11 in the wake of the revolt.

“In a discussion covering a range of topics,” Little said, “the secretary asked that Field Marshal Tantawi take steps to lift the travel ban on American citizens wishing to leave Egypt, and expressed concern over restrictions placed on [nongovernmental organizations] operating in Egypt.”

At the State Department on Jan. 26, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said several U.S. citizens working at some international nongovernmental organizations in Cairo “have been questioned by judges in Egypt and … are currently not being allowed to depart Egypt in connection with the government’s investigation of NGOs.”

The State Department, she added, is “working on four or five specific cases at the moment of folks who have tried to leave [Egypt] and have had difficulties,” including some who have gone to the airport and not been allowed to board aircraft.

“We are urging the government of Egypt to lift these restrictions immediately and allow folks to come home as soon as possible,” Nuland said, “and we are hopeful that this issue [soon] will be resolved.”

She declined to name the U.S. citizens, but said their passports had not been confiscated and they were “not in jail or otherwise detained.”

The problems with international and Egyptian nongovernmental organizations began in December, when Egyptian police raided the organizations, confiscating property and interrogating staff members, she said.

“On a daily basis, our embassy is working with the Egyptian government,” Nuland said, adding that the issue has been raised at the presidential level and that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been “very actively engaged.”

On Jan. 20, President Barack Obama called Tantawi to reaffirm the close partnership between the United States and Egypt and to underscore U.S. support for Egypt's transition to democracy.

During the call, White House officials said, Obama reinforced the need to uphold universal principles and emphasized the important role that civil society, including nongovernmental organizations, have in a democratic society.

Obama underscored that nongovernmental organizations should be able to operate freely.

This is not just about nongovernmental organizations, the State Department spokeswoman said. “It’s also about the right of Egyptians and Egyptian civil society to operate freely and to support their democratic process through nongovernmental organizations.”

Nuland added, “We need to keep working on this and keep raising it until it’s fixed.”

Program Supports Ready Reserve Soldiers, Families

By Megan Doyle
Army National Guard

ARLINGTON, Va., Jan. 30, 2012 – The Army Reserve, the Army Human Resources Command and the Army National Guard have joined to provide Individual Ready Reserve soldiers and their families a way to connect with the military community.

By affiliating Individual Ready Reserve soldiers and their families with a local reserve-component unit, the IRR Affiliation Program creates a support network intended to improve readiness and encourage soldiers with valuable skills to continue their service, officials said.

After the Army Reserve initiated the program, Army Lt. Gen. William E. Ingram Jr., director of the Army National Guard, recognized its value and committed the Army Guard as a partner, bringing connections to hundreds of units through armories and family programs in communities nationwide.

“[The IRR Affiliation Program] is a total support network, and the [Army National Guard] wanted to be a part of it to ensure that soldiers and their families are connected to the Army family,” said John Schmidt, a program lead from the Army Guard’s personnel policy division.

A pilot program in several states determined the IRR Affiliation Program’s potential benefits, as well as the impact on each unit's full-time staff and necessary changes to regulations, policies and systems. The five-month test connected more than 4,000 Individual Ready Reserve soldiers with local Army National Guard units.

The pilot program revealed that the program required minimal additional work for states, units, and local commands, because it provides access to networks and resources that already are in place, officials said.

“Most Guard units have a support network already built,” explained Gregory Heffner, a program lead. “The program is simply about maintaining a connection -- it is more of a referral program. If a soldier has an issue, hopefully, they will pick up the phone.”

Army Guard officials announced Jan. 26 that the IRR Affiliation Program will expand nationwide and encouraged all states and territories to participate.

“The director of the Army National Guard recognized that these soldiers are an important part of the Army family,” Schmidt said. “From when the soldier joins the Army on the first day to their eight year re-up, we are going to keep them in touch with the Army family.”

Through the program, soldiers can establish and maintain communications with their affiliated unit, which will be within 50 miles or 90 minutes of travel from their home of record. Soldiers and their families can participate in unit activities and access information and services such as medical readiness resources, employment programs, career counseling, state government and Veterans Affairs information, and family readiness services.

Affiliated soldiers continue to be assigned to Human Resources Command and are not assigned to the National Guard or the Army Reserve, officials said. Individual Ready Reserve soldiers may still receive orders to muster from Human Resources Command, they added, but are not required to participate in any activities, including training, with their affiliated unit.

Also, officials said, soldiers are not required to maintain contact with their affiliated unit. Soldiers who choose not to participate in any events will be required to acknowledge their awareness of the program, their affiliation with a reserve-component unit and their understanding that resources and support always will be available to them while assigned to the Individual Ready Reserve.

“The intent is to have every armory participating, and the expansion of the program will ensure that each soldier has access to a local community,” Heffner said. “We want them to be able to walk into their local armory and ask questions.”

The IRR Affiliation Program connects soldiers with the Army family, and “is their first stop to gain access to services that are their privilege and their right,” Schmidt said.

Bounty Hunters Maintainers Keep Lincoln's Jets in the Air

By Lt. Mitch Cole, Strike Fighter Squadron 2 Public Affairs

USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, At Sea (NNS) -- The Sailors of the maintenance department of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 2, have kept the squadron's jets in full mission capable status throughout the deployment which paid off as they flew training operations in the Arabian Gulf Jan. 28, said the saquadron's mainenance officer.

VFA-2, the "Bounty Hunters," is one of nine squadrons in Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2, embarked on USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), which as a whole is preparing for flight operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in the 5th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR).

"During the transit, VFA-2's maintenance team continued to groom the jets for operations in any area of responsibility to support major combat operations by maintaining their assets in full mission capable status," said Lt. Cmdr. Rich Silva, the squadron's maintenance officer.

After the transit to the 5th Fleet AOR, CVW-2 began a full cycle of flight days. The maintenance team met new challenges with full back-to-back fly days, which put a lot of stress on the aircraft. Despite the demands, VFA-2's maintenance team worked hard to keep the aircraft in flying condition.

"The entire maintenance department really stepped up providing quick turnarounds between flights to address maintenance issues discovered in flight," said Senior Chief Aviation Machinist's Mate Richard Landweer, the Bounty Hunters' Maintenance Control Leading Chief Petty Officer.

Lincoln and CVW-2 are part of the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group (ALCSG), which also includes the guided-missile cruiser USS Cape St. George (CG 71) and embarked Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 9 its ships including guided-missile destroyers USS Momsen (DDG 92) and USS Sterett (DDG 104). ALCSG is deployed to the 5th Fleet AOR conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions as part of OEF.

Flournoy Discusses State of World as She Leaves Office

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30, 2012 – The day Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden was also a long and tense day for Michele Flournoy, the undersecretary of defense for policy.

She was at the White House on May 2 helping then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates make calls to foreign civilian and military leaders. She was among the first to know that the joint special operations mission deep in Pakistan had been successful.

Late that night after President Barack Obama’s announcement that justice had caught up with the 9-11 planner, Flournoy walked out of the White House. “I didn’t know that people had spontaneously gathered outside,” she said. “I could hear them singing but not identify it at first. Then I recognized the ‘Star-Spangled Banner.’ It was an incredible moment.”

Flournoy will leave office this week after serving during three years of incredible change for the department and the world. The president has nominated James Miller, the current principle deputy at the office, to succeed her.

When Flournoy came into office there were still more than 100,000 troops in Iraq and violence was growing in Afghanistan. There was a plan in place to end U.S. involvement in Iraq and a question mark about what to do in Afghanistan.

The bin Laden raid marked a high point for the world in the war on terrorists. Flournoy credits President Barack Obama’s leadership for being key to success. “This was not a slam dunk in terms of an easy judgment call,” she said. “This was something that frankly he had some very senior advisors telling him not to do. He took a calculated risk, but at the end of the day it was an extremely strong decision, and one that meant a lot symbolically in the fight against al-Qaida.”

Flournoy is happy with the progress made against this deadly terror group, but “it’s a project we’re not finished with yet,” she said. “We should be particularly grateful for the contributions of our special operations and intelligence forces.”

The U.S. military left Iraq at the end of 2011, and after a surge of 33,000 American troops into Afghanistan, there is enough progress that a drawdown has begun there.

Some talking heads have said the U.S. military is now in decline, a premise with which Flournoy strongly disagrees. “This is not a military in decline,” she said. “It’s hard to remember a time when the U.S. had more capability, more professional expertise, more people who were battle-tested at the pinnacle of their profession of arms.”

It is only natural, she said, that as one war ends and another draws down that military officials are contemplating a smaller force. “We grew the force to accommodate these two large ground wars,” Flournoy said. “It’s only expected you would examine this drawdown over time.”

Flournoy cited two of Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s guidelines for the new defense strategy. The first was at the end of the process, America would still have the most powerful military in the world. “Second, he said he wanted to learn the lessons of previous drawdowns,” she said.

Previous drawdowns resulted in a hollow force -- meaning typically too much force structure and sacrifices to training, modernization and readiness. “So the force looks good on paper, but it’s not what the country really needs,” she said. “We’ve looked that risk in the eye and we’re doing everything we can to be mindful and avoid a hollow force this time.”

Many service members see the policy position as one that doesn’t have any impact on their lives; however, “policy first and foremost really affects where we focus our attention as an instrument of national policy,” the undersecretary said. “It affects where we’re going in Afghanistan and what we commit to there, [and] our broader global sense of priorities.”

Obama announced a new defense strategy earlier this month that talks about re-balancing the U.S. military to put greater emphasis on Asia. “That, long term, is going to affect the lives of service members as more and more of them will be asked to serve in Asia in support of building partner capacity there, enhancing deterrence, reassuring allies and so forth,” Flournoy said.

Asia is becoming more important to America, she said, noting Asian markets and suppliers drive the U.S. economy. “With the end of the war in Iraq, we have more ‘bandwidth’ to focus on the future. Obviously we will do what we need to to prevail in Afghanistan, but as we think more and more about the future we see both the challenges and opportunities arising out of Asia.”

The rise of China and India as world powers reinforces the trend, but the United States must cultivate other nations in Southeast Asia, Flournoy said. Also important, she noted, is the continued and deep alliances with Japan and South Korea.

“The United States is a Pacific power and has always played a unique role in underwriting the security under which all that dynamism and economic growth has been based,” Flournoy said.

But could Asia remain stable without the United States? “It’s hard to imagine that with so much competition and periods of great tension and even conflict,” she said. “It is something that even countries that are not our allies -- like China and other countries in the region -- all tend to acknowledge that the United States plays a stabilizing influence and they don’t want us to leave.”

The Middle East and Central Asia remain areas of turmoil, but Flournoy feels good about the responsible conclusion in Iraq. “We’ve set Iraq up to be a stable and sovereign and self-reliant country,” she said, “and we’ve set ourselves up to have a very robust security relationship with them going forward.

“And I think we’ve turned around the strategy in Afghanistan,” she continued. “I think there has been a lot of progress there. For the first time in five years, violence is down in Afghanistan.” For the first time in years, the United States has “a shot” at achieving its goals, she added.

The NATO operation to protect civilians in Libya from Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi is a good model for the future, Flournoy noted. The U.S. military played a limited role focused on the unique capabilities that the American military possesses, such as air-to-air refueling; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets; and command–and-control infrastructure.

The United States had important interests, but they were not vital in the country. Other nations had far more at stake. “I actually think this is an interesting model for the future, particularly as we have greater success in building partner and allied capacity and others are capable of stepping in to take a leadership role,” she said.

The actions over Libya and in Afghanistan prove that NATO is an active and vibrant alliance, Flournoy noted. “The question for NATO is as these economic pressures increase on our European allies, how are they going to manage their own defense enterprise? How are they going to keep investing in defense capabilities that enable them to keep contributing to the future?”

NATO needs to take stock of the assets within the alliance and find a smarter and cheaper way to provide capabilities. “How do we leverage each others’ strengths?” she asked. “How do we mitigate the shortfalls that we experience? We need to put our minds together to ensure the sum of the contributions is greater than the ‘eaches.’”

Flournoy saw increased emphasis on cybersecurity and expects operations in cyberspace to become more important in the years to come. Her office gets involved because the domain is so new, and experts are puzzling over what constitutes an attack. What constitutes an act of war? What is an appropriate response?

This past year saw the Arab Awakening and Flournoy sees it as both a challenge and an opportunity. “It’s a number of countries trying to embrace the ideals that have defined the United States since its founding -- democracy, rule of law, open dialogue, a vibrant public square,” she said.

“The challenge comes because this is happening in areas where the societies have really been oppressed so there haven’t been conditions for the development of political parties, free and fair elections and debate and so forth,” she said.

Right now, some of the parties best positioned to exploit the opportunities “are not the most representative or most democratic,” she said. “Long term, I think this will prove to be a positive development in this part of the world.”

After three years of a frenetic pace, Flournoy will take some time to get re-acquainted with her family. But she will miss the job, she said.

“I’ve had the good fortune to work with two extraordinary secretaries of defense, a wonderful team of military counterparts and the chance to interact with the extraordinary men and women who service in uniform,” she said. “In my trips to Afghanistan and Iraq and other operational areas, I was just consistently bowled over by the quality of the people and their dedication to the mission.”