Monday, February 06, 2012

Families Foster Future Military Working Dogs

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

SAN ANTONIO, Feb. 6, 2012 – Navy veteran Hector Hernandez leans down to hug his dog as she pants noisily from her most recent dash around the living room. She nuzzles into his hand -- a momentary calm in the storm of activity that’s Bella.

 “She’s a good girl,” Hernandez said affectionately as he throws the ball she’s already fetched several times from across the room. But this time, she bounds to his wife and two daughters, pausing to lick each member of her new family.

Although they already have a dog and weren’t looking for another, the Hernandez family took Bella in about three months ago -- not out of a sense of obligation because she needed a home, but due to a deep desire to serve.

Like Hernandez, who retired from the Navy, Bella is destined for a lifetime of service. She is one of several future military working dogs placed with foster families across town. These families, all volunteers, raise these dogs for about five months before returning them for an intensive training program at the Defense Department’s Military Working Dog Breeding Program at Lackland Air Force Base here.

This program, administered by the 341st Training Squadron, breeds, trains and raises Belgian Malinois to serve alongside other military working dogs, a select group used by DOD and other government agencies for patrol, drug and explosive detection, and in specialized missions both stateside and overseas, explained Bernadine Green, the program’s deputy director.

The program solely breeds Belgian Malinois, since that breed tends to make outstanding working dogs, able to carry out a mission equally well on an installation or in a combat zone, she said.

Puppies spend their first months of life in the breeding center, where experts begin assessing them for signs of future promise. The puppies that show potential are placed with foster families -- a mix of active duty, veterans and community members -- starting at about 8 weeks old.

“Families love to do it,” Green said. “It’s their way of giving back to the community and the military, and also for the sheer pleasure of caring for a puppy.”

Hernandez, a training instructor for Naval Technical Training Center Lackland, said a sense of service was the driving force behind his decision to take in Bella. After he arrived at work one day, he saw the puppies walking outside and asked one of the trainers about the program. After a facility tour, he was hooked.

He’d been searching for a way to serve since he retired in January 2011, he said. “I miss the military,” he said. “I feel like I have a lot of good fight in me. I want to serve further.”

He came home that night and told his wife and daughters that he wanted to take in a future working dog. The family already had a full plate. Hernandez and his wife, Anita, are full-time students, caregivers of Herndandez’ mother, and also homeschool their two daughters, 17-year-old Tiffany and 10-year-old Brianna. Plus, they already have a dog, Rosie.

At first, Anita said she was taken aback. “I thought, ‘Really, another dog?’ But then I wanted to see what the breed looked like. I had to let it sink in. But the minute I saw her, I fell in love with her.”

Hernandez brought Bella home Sept. 1. While they’ll admit to a few rough spots, mainly between Bella and Rosie, who is used to being top dog in the house -- it’s been smooth sailing since.

The family has trained her to sit and fetch, and helps to develop skills that will serve her well in her military future. They’ll have her bite on a rag, Hernandez explained, which will later progress to bite training at school.

The family also ensures her well-being, keeping an eye on her eating, exercise and health. This day, the family entered crisis mode when they noticed Bella was bleeding slightly, but otherwise was fine. They did a brief examination and determined she had lost a baby tooth. “What a relief,” Hernandez said, holding the tooth in his hand.

To foster her social skills, Hernandez takes her with him everywhere he goes, whether it’s to run, to work or to meet with other foster families on base for “play dates” with other dogs, many of which are Bella’s littermates.

Hernandez is right on track, Green said, noting the importance of exposing the dogs to a variety of environments.

The foster phase serves several purposes, she explained. By living in a home, versus an austere kennel, foster families “broaden the puppy’s horizon.”

“This phase is probably the most integral part of the program,” Green added. “Without these foster parents raising puppies, … we don’t get well-rounded dogs.”

The families are offered help in basic puppy rearing and instructed on basic obedience. However, the biggest challenge for foster families isn’t the puppy care, Green noted, it’s when the time comes to return their now-beloved dog.

“We have a lady who fostered 13 puppies and one of the brood bitches,” she recalled. Each time she returns a puppy, “she cries a blue streak.”

Upon her return to the breeding program in about a month, Bella will move on to puppy training, which will last until she’s about a year old. At that time, if she’s up to the task, she’ll progress to the 341st Training Squadron’s Military Working Dog Training Program here, which is about 120 days and teaches the dogs how to patrol and detect drugs and bombs worldwide. As with her classmates, Bella will be assigned to a military unit stateside or overseas, where she’ll carry out patrol and detection missions.

While DOD dogs become part of the military working dog population scattered across the services, they always can be distinguished by their names. All DOD dogs have a double letter at the start of their names -- for example, Bella’s birth name is Bbella, Green said.

Hernandez said he hopes he can track her career and catch up with her someday when her career winds down.

“If they retired her at Lackland, I would be elated to adopt her,” he said, smiling at Bella, who finally had tired out and was sitting by his feet.

Meanwhile, Hernandez is determined to enjoy the brief time he has left with Bella. While he’ll be sad to see her go, Hernandez said, the thought of her future mission eases his pain.

“It’s going to be tough on the family, but she’s going to go do a job, and it’s a very important job, and I’m contributing,” he said.

Hernandez’ 10-year-old daughter, Brianna, echoed her father’s pride. “I feel like I’m helping the military because I’m fostering their dog and they’re going to be … keeping America safe,” she said. “I feel like they’re blessings [and] should be treated with a lot of respect.”

Tiffany sat quietly as her sister spoke. She later noted her concern about Bella’s welfare. “I don’t want her to get hurt,” she said, staring affectionately at Bella.

Hernandez said he’d like to take in another dog since the program has an ongoing need for foster families, but will have to give it some time after he returns Bella. “A heartache needs healing,” he said.

Japanese Family Thanks U.S. 7th Fleet

From U.S. 7th Fleet Public Affairs

TOMAKOMAI, Japan (NNS) -- The owner and family members of a Japanese fishing vessel, found missing by the U.S. Navy during Operation Tomodachi, visited the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) to say "thank you," in Tomakomai, Japan, Feb. 5.

Shiho Orikasa and her family visited the crew to show their appreciation and gratitude for their help in locating their missing boat and helping Japan during the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami.

"Thank you for inviting my family and I. I am happy to see you. We are appreciative of all your efforts in Japan," said Shiho.

During Operation Tomodachi, Shiho sent an e-mail entitled "I am a 14-year-old Japanese," to the 7th Fleet public affairs office asking for help in locating her father's fishing ship, after seeing images of the ship named HOUKI MARU NO.23 on the 7th Fleet website,

Lt. Cmdr. Mike Morley, the public affairs officer for Commander Task Force 73, volunteered to help the 7th Fleet public affairs office on board Blue Ridge during Operation Tomodachi, replied to Shiho's email.

Morley said 7th Fleet would look into getting details of the latitude, longitude and exact time the photographs were taken.

"We are also researching to see if there is more current information on where the ship may be now," Morley wrote back. "We will keep you informed of what we find."

Sailors aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) had encountered the missing ship March 13, 2011. The coordinates of the ship's location from that day were given to the family to use with the help of the Japan Coast Guard to locate the ship.

Two weeks after Curtis Wilbur's crew saw the missing the ship, Shiho emailed Morley that the Japan Coast Guard had located and retrieved the fishing vessel.

"It was fantastic to hear the Japanese Coast Guard had found the ship. It was a fortunate series of events that all started when Shiho had the courage to send that first e-mail, asking for help in finding her family's ship," said Morley.

While on board Blue Ridge, the Orikasa family received a tour of the ship's spaces and presented crewmembers with flowers. With the help of a translator, Yoshie Ushimaru, Shiho's father also expressed his appreciation for the Navy's help.

"At the time when he thought he had lost his ship, he didn't have any hope, but he ended up finding the ship and now he is able to (continue fishing), so once again he really wants to thank the U.S. Navy," stated Ushimaru.

Capt. Charles Williams, 7th Fleet chief of staff, also presented a thank you gift to the family for coming aboard the ship and expressed what a privilege it was to help them.

"It was a pleasure and certainly an honor to be of any help to you and of course to Japan," said Williams.

USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), embarked U.S. 7th Fleet staff and Marines from Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team-Pacific (FAST-PAC) are in Tomakomai for a port visit to participate in the 63rd Sapporo Snow Festival.

Community packs sendoff ceremony for 1157th Transportation Company

By 1st Sgt. Vaughn R. Larson
112th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Gov. Scott Walker and senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders joined several hundred family members and friends at the Experimental Aircraft Association's Eagle Hangar in Oshkosh Feb. 4 to bid farewell to the 1157th Transportation Company.

Capt. Christian Menden, commander of the Oshkosh-based unit, said the 1157th was ready to continue its training at Camp Shelby, Miss.

"Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers have a great reputation as highly dedicated workers, and now it's time to prove that once again" Menden said. "I know the road ahead will be challenging and there may be many changes, but we will complete the mission."

State Command Sgt. Maj. George Stopper urged the Soldiers who had deployed before to support those who are entering their first deployment.

"You'll go forth and show the world what we already know," Stopper said, "that the best Soldiers in the inventory today are part of the Wisconsin Army National Guard."

Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, expressed his pride in the 1157th.

"I am absolutely confident from the top down that you are going to do a phenomenal job," Anderson said, "because you are Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers, and I know that's the caliber of Soldiers we have in our formation."

Anderson also thanked the families for their support of the 1157th.

"They could not do what they do without the support and love you provide for your Soldier," he said.

U.S. Rep. Tom Petri quoted President Theodore Roosevelt in saying that character is the decisive factor in the lives of individuals and nations.

"We've been blessed that men and women have stepped forward again and again to make sure that our freedoms endure and that our country is strong," Petri said. "You embody the spirit of Citizen-Soldiers that makes our country great."

Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, noted that the 1157th traces its origins to a rifle company that was formed April 8, 1880 - a legacy that has seen Guardsmen from Oshkosh in the Spanish-American War as well as both world wars. The commitment endures as the current unit will soon begin its fourth deployment to southwest Asia. He also commended the large turnout for the ceremony.

"This doesn't happen everywhere," Dunbar said. "It means a lot to the Soldiers and their families."

Gov. Scott Walker also praised the 1157th.

"You need to remember that you are the best of the best," he said. "You are well trained and well equipped. You're ready for this mission."

Walker noted that the 1157th deployed in support of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990, and supported Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in 2005, as well as deployed to Fort Bragg in 2002 - with some serving in the Central Command area of operations - and Iraq in 2006. He recalled Wisconsin's veterans from previous wars, and said the members of the 1157th would continue their fine tradition of representing the state.

Pfc. Brian Johnson may reflect that tradition. The 41-year-old from Green Bay, Wis., joined the Wisconsin Army National Guard in 2008 for the challenge and for a rewarding experience. He said that people who experience a thrill upon hearing the National Anthem played will understand why he enlisted at age 38. He also said he expects an enriching experience and strong friendships from his first deployment.

"Helping out the people in their country and also supporting our Soldiers over there," he said.

Spc. William Betzlaff of Oshkosh has been with the 1157th for 14 years, and deployed three times. He said he plans to share his experiences with younger Soldiers.

"Just how things go," he explained. "Where to be when we get over there, how to do things, how to take care of things so that after a month or so they're going it as good as I can do it."

Menden agreed, citing Vince Lombardi's quote about individual commitment to a group effort.

"That's what makes a team work, a company work, a society work and a civilization work," Menden said. "And it's commitment that will allow the 1157th to continue its success."

Wounded Warriors Enjoy Super Bowl Party

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

BETHESDA, Md., Feb. 6, 2012 – Super Bowl festivities were in full swing last night at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center here, as hundreds of wounded warriors and their families gathered for the big game.

The party, the largest since the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and the National Naval Medical Center here merged in September, featured live entertainment, celebrity guests, door prizes and other giveaways, activities for the kids and all the traditional Super Bowl fare.

Wounded warriors and their families gathered around tables in the new wounded warrior barracks complex to cheer on their favorite team and enjoy the entertainment, both on and off the TV screens positioned around the hall.

Actor Jon Voight, former NFL stars Roy Jefferson and Carlton Kammerer and Washington Redskins cheerleaders mingled among them, shaking hands, posing for photos and thanking them for their sacrifices.

Professional impersonators brought the personas of Lady Gaga, Bette Midler, Elvis Presley and other stars to the party, and members of the New York Fire Department crooned the national anthem and other selections.

Meanwhile, a balloon artist entertained the kids, who also got a chance to do handicraft projects between visits to an egg cream soda station.

Other goodies served up during the party included pulled pork and chicken, as well as side fixings and finger foods ranging from Buffalo wings to pizza and nachos.

The event, hosted by Rolling Thunder, the Yellow Ribbon Fund, the USO and the New York City Fire Department, was designed to ensure every wounded warrior felt special, said Gary Scheffmeyer, national president for the Rolling Thunder veterans organization.

Rolling Thunder hosted Super Bowl parties at the now-closed Walter Reed Army Medical Center for the past six or seven years, he said, and joined this year with other groups to throw the biggest Super Bowl bash yet at the integrated Bethesda facility.

“Our major goal with these parties is to make sure these troops get what we didn’t,” explained Scheffmeyer, who recalled the poor reception he and his fellow Vietnam veterans received when they returned home from that conflict. “The bottom line is, this is good for the troops.”

Scheffmeyer said the Super Bowl is a particularly special time to celebrate. “Whether you are a Giants fan or a Patriots fan, this is the Super Bowl,” he said. “These troops get to watch it. They get to party. They get a break from their medical treatments. So it’s a really good reason to have a party.”

“The Super Bowl is real American tradition, one of the biggest events of the year in America,” agreed Navy Rear Adm. (Dr.) Alton L. Stocks, the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center commander. “So it’s a particularly important time for us to be able to say ‘Welcome home’ to these service members and make them feel at home.

“It’s a lot of fun for everyone, but it’s also a big part of the healing process,” Stocks said. “As these wounded warriors physically heal, events like this help them heal emotionally as well.”

Marine Cpl. Jesse Fletcher, a sniper wounded in Kajaki, Afghanistan, in October, said the Super Bowl party offered far more than the chance to cheer his New York Giants on to victory.

“The socializing here is great for us,” he said. “It’s great for our state of mind and outlook, and a great way for us to work on our recovery.”

Marine Sgt. John Peck, a quadruple amputee who was wounded two years ago in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, sported a New England Patriots jersey for the party. And although his team ultimately lost to the Giants, 21-17, the Super Bowl party made him and his fellow wounded warriors feel like winners. “It means people still care and show their support,” he said. “That means a lot.”

Army Sgt. Kevin Gatson, a 101st Airborne Division soldier wounded in Afghanistan in July, wasn’t going to let the fact that his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers weren’t playing keep him from wearing their team colors to the party. It’s the same attire he wore to last year’s Super Bowl, which Gatson watched at the White House with a personal invitation from President Barack Obama.

For Super Bowl XLVI, Gatson declared himself an “honorary Giants fan” and said he planned to spend the night rooting for a Patriots defeat.

But regardless of which team would win or lose, Gatson said, he was up for a good time. “This a fun time, getting everyone together and rooting for their teams and enjoying good camaraderie and good food,” he said.

Voight, who gave the wounded warriors autographed photos with notes of appreciation, said he wouldn’t miss the chance to share the Super Bowl with them.

“These guys are the reason we are living in peace and freedom,” he said. “All of us are in their debt, and every free American should find a way to do whatever they can to support these great heroes and their families.”

“Lindsay A,” as one of the Redskins cheerleaders is known, said she developed a soft spot for military members spending time with them during a goodwill tour to Iraq.

“I’m really excited about seeing them home and in such good spirits,” she said. She said she hoped her squad’s presence, along with the other Super Bowl festivities, would help give them an emotional boost.

Diane Shoemaker, a volunteer for the Yellow Ribbon Fund, which assists families as their loved ones are receiving care here, said throwing a big-scale party sends a strong message to the wounded warriors. “We want the injured service members to know that they are cared about,” she said. “So for me, being a part of this is very personal. I feel like they are my own family. I love them all.”

Former Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Colts and Washington Redskins player Roy Jefferson said he felt honored to be able to join in the party. “For me, it’s a no-brainer. I want to do as much as I can for them, because they have all given me so much,” he said.

About 30 members of the New York City Fire Department knew they had plenty of options for watching their home team take a Super Bowl victory, but elected to spend it hosting wounded warriors.

“This is a way to give back, and to thank them for their service,” said Bill Rautenstrauch. “I feel honored to be in their presence.”

USS California Culinary Specialist Learns California Cuisine from Five-Star Chef

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

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (NNS) -- A USS California (SSN 781) culinary specialist participated in an once-in-a-lifetime cooking experience during a one-week understudy here, beginning Feb. 4.

The week-long culinary understudy at the Crowne Plaza Hotel was provided by the Santa Barbara Navy League. Culinary Specialist Seaman Apprentice Justin Cramer, of Moore, Okla., reflected on this opportunity to expound on his skills and how the training will benefit the boat's crew.

"This opportunity presents overwhelming joy to me," said Cramer. "I was speechless when I found out and for me it was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I never imagined I would participate in something like this when I joined the U.S. Navy."

Patricia Westberg, vice president, Santa Barbara Navy League reflected on this opportunity for the young chef.

"The Santa Barbara Navy League is honored to have CSSN Justin Cramer visit Santa Barbara and we hope that through his California cuisine training at the Crowne Plaza, he will be able to create a west coast climate on board the boat through menu planning and selections, so the crew will have a taste of our great state several times a month," said Westberg.

Executive Chef Luis Martinez will teach Cramer a variety of cooking-related skill sets, such as culinary arts and advanced food preparation.

"For the next three years I will have the opportunity to apply what I learned in Santa Barbara, bringing back valuable skills to benefit myself and my boat," said Cramer.

Cramer joined the Navy at the age of 23 in January 2011. He chose the culinary specialist rating from years of experience watching his parents enjoy the art of cooking.

"We have had a generation of five-star cooks in our family; it made sense for me to come into the U.S. Navy as a culinary specialist," said Cramer.

Lt. Angus McCallum, supply officer aboard USS California reflected on Cramer's selection.

"Seaman Cramer is going to be the bridge between the recently commissioned California and the Santa Barbara community," said McCallum. "With so much of the country between the boat and the city, this first opportunity forms a tangible bond between California and her home state."

McCallum added that Cramer is a valuable asset to their team. Despite being the most junior culinary specialist in California's Supply Department, Cramer was chosen to participate in the understudy based solely on his stellar performance since arriving aboard the newest Virginia-class attack submarine, said McCallum.

"After being on board for one month, Cramer qualified in all culinary specialist watch stations, which led to the selection as the culinary specialist of the fourth quarter in 2011," said McCallum.