Monday, February 27, 2012

This Day in Naval History - Feb. 27

From the Navy News Service

1861 - Congress approves the construction of seven steam sloops.
1928 - A packtrain escorted by 35 Marines is ambushed by 600 Sandinastas near Bromaderos, Nicaragua. The Marines fight off the repeated attacks and are relieved the next day.
1942 - During the Battle of the Java Sea, an allied naval force attacks a Japanese invasion convoy.

Nigerian man serves his new country in the Missouri National Guard

By Jennifer Archdekin
Missouri National Guard

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (2/27/12) - The unique journey of one Missouri Guard member begins more than 6,500 miles away in Nigeria.

New recruit, Army Pvt. Precious Abraham, spent his first 22 years in Nigeria before coming to America to embark on a journey setting him up for success. In 2010 he left the only life he knew in Africa, along with his Family, in search of a better future.

“For me, to be an American citizen, it is a very great thing I have achieved,” Abraham said. “Everywhere I go in the world I know that I’m proud to be an American citizen. America is the best country, unlike my country where there is corruption and illegality down there.

“In the United States everything is so organized. I love to be a citizen of a country that is good,” he said.

Abraham came to Missouri to study nursing at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg. It is there he met and married his wife, Margaret. She, too, is a foreign national who happens to be from Sierra Leone, about 1,400 miles from his home country. Margaret is a student at UCM and is slated to graduate with a biology degree this spring.

The huge transition did not come without sacrifice. Abraham had to give up his Nigerian citizenship, but does not regret the trade-off.

“Most people in Africa want the best,” he said. “The United States is the best, best in education, best in everything. I come to the United States for the best.”

Once in Missouri, Abraham began to consider what opportunities awaited him in the National Guard.

“I discussed joining with my parents and they approved of it because I told them all of the benefits, like paying for my school tuition,” Abraham said. “They believed in what I wanted to do.”

Serving in the military was always something Abraham had been interested in, but said he never had the right guidance to follow through with it.

“When I was young I was always passionate about joining the force,” he said. “I had nobody to encourage me or to push me through. When I came to the United States, the encouragement and the support was there. I was like, wow, this is a great opportunity for me to go ahead and join.”

Abraham’s recruiter, Army Sgt. 1st Class Jim Neighbors, met him through a referral. Neighbors was very impressed with the bright, young man, and his eagerness to serve. Once his training is complete, Abraham will be a cannon crewmember with Battery D, 1-129th Field Artillery in Independence.

“He’s really amazed at how together our country is—how organized the United States is and how cool it is,” Neighbors said. “He loves it here and wants to be a part of it. He has a different perspective on this than a lot of people. Delta Battery is excited to have him.”

It goes without saying Abraham may have more obstacles before him at basic training than most recruits, but Neighbors is confident he will do well. He said Abraham grew up bilingual and has always spoke English, so the language barrier should not be too difficult.

“I think the cultural differences will probably be the biggest hurdle,” Neighbors said.

The decision to serve as a citizen-Soldier wasn’t just for practical reasons - though what Abraham stands to gain is substantial - he also wants to give back to the country that is doing so much for him.

“When I enlisted I was very happy,” Abraham said. “I’m happy I’m supporting the U.S. government. It brings great joy to me.”

With the 2012 presidential election not too far off in the distance, Abraham anxiously awaits to have his voice heard and cast his ballot as a new citizen—one of the very liberties he now defends for all Americans. He cannot help but grin from ear to ear when talking about it.

“I will be very happy for me to vote,” he said. “I’ll be very, very happy.”

DOD and VA Secretaries Meet at Pentagon

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta welcomed Secretary of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki today to the Pentagon for the latest in a series of regular meetings the two secretaries have held on issues of common interest to both departments.

Today's session included discussions with disabled veterans, two of whom are now athletes with the United States Paralympic team, about their experiences as they left active service and transitioned to veterans’ status.  The paralympic athletes  told the two cabinet members how DoD and VA adaptive sports programs helped them in their recovery from their injuries and gave them new purpose in their lives after the military.

 “It is clear that there is a lot of good work being done to help our service members have the smoothest transition possible to veteran status and civilian life,” said Panetta.  “But there are still too many stories of programs that are poorly connected between our departments and that are time-consuming and plain confusing for our service members and veterans.”

“The vision Secretary Panetta and I share is to provide an integrated, seamless experience to our people across their lifetime -- from when they raise their hand to take the oath, to when they leave active service and join the veteran ranks, to when they are laid to rest with final honors,” said Shinseki.   “Over the past three years, VA and DoD have made significant progress, but more work remains.”

At today’s meeting, Panetta and Shinseki focused on five areas where the two departments have joined efforts on behalf of the nation's service members and veterans: the Disability Evaluation System, Electronic Health Records, transition programs, joint pharmacy initiatives, and recovery coordination for the wounded, ill, and injured.

The two secretaries were pleased with the status of the development of plans to implement the President's directive to develop a new model for the Transition Assistance Program to ensure that all service members are “career-ready” when they depart the military.  They also discussed the improvements to the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) as a result of the $400 million recently added to the Defense Department budget over the next five years and VA’s commitment to increase the number of personnel in support of administering the system.  With more than 24,300 service members currently being evaluated for disability ratings through IDES, the secretaries stressed the importance they are attaching to additional personnel helping to shorten the time service members spend waiting for their ratings before they can complete their transition from active duty to veterans’ status.

Panetta and Shinseki also discussed steps forward on electronic health records, noting that the Interagency Program Office established by the two departments to provide leadership in building the joint integrated electronic health records system now has new leadership.

The secretaries were also updated on development of the graphical user interface program, reporting that doctors at the James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center at North Chicago can now view both VA and DoD patient records simultaneously on a single monitor.  The Lovell Center is a first-of-its-kind partnership between VA and DoD to provide integrated care to service members and veterans in the same facility and has been a testing ground for the departments’ efforts to deliver a fully integrated electronic health record for all service members and veterans.  

Panetta and Shinseki are expected to meet again this May in Chicago, to visit the Lovell Center and to review progress on deliverables the two departments have committed to achieve by the end of the year, including: a detailed implementation plan for the revised transition assistance program; spurring development of electronic transfer of patient files, to reduce both the processing and mailing costs incurred by paper transfer and disability evaluation processing times; and finalizing a contract for joint pharmacy capability at the Lovell Center.

Kosovo: Georgia Guard members, Kosovo soldiers remove northern roadblock

By Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class James Wagner
Vermont National Guard

JARINGE, Kosovo (2/27/12) -- Soldiers from Multinational Battle Group East - specifically Georgia National Guard members - and Kosovo forces cleared a roadblock at the most northern official crossing point between Kosovo and Serbia Feb. 17 to Feb.18, near here.

Gate 1 is the official crossing point between the two territories and is manned by customs and border management officials from the European Union Law Enforcement Mission. The roadblock was setup last year by Serbians protesting the Kosovo government, which declared its independence from Serbia in 2008.

Since September 2011, people traveling near the border crossing have relied on alternate crossing points between Kosovo and Serbia, which were not safe once weather conditions worsened, according to U.S. Army Lt. Col. Joe Lynch, commander of the Georgia Army National Guard's 3rd Squadron, 108th Cavalry Regiment, who led the mission to clear the roadblock.

“Over the past several weeks, the weather conditions have made the bypasses that people of northern Kosovo have been using dangerous,” Lynch said. “KFOR is tasked to ensure freedom of movement for all people within the territory of Kosovo and the debris piles blocking the road were within the boundaries of Kosovo; so removing the debris blocking this roadway is part of our mandate.”

The importance of freedom of movement for all Kosovo residents, one of KFOR's responsibilities under United Nations Resolution 1244, was highlighted by the recent avalanches in southern Kosovo and throughout Europe, which has claimed the lives of many people in the region. Clear roads are an essential part of getting humanitarian and emergency response crews to any location that has seen a record level of snowfall this season.

The mission, directed by German Army Maj. Gen. Erhard Drews, KFOR commander, also sought to re-establish the administrative boundary line at the crossing point between Kosovo and Serbia. Coordinating with the Serbian armed forces, members of MNBG E's Joint Implementation Commission provided documentation showing the roadblock was located on Kosovo territory, not Serbian, and thus was KFOR's responsibility to remove.

The snowfall this winter prompted military planners to expect the roadblock removal mission to last several days. The weather the night before reinforced that perception, with several inches of snow blanketing the northern portion of Kosovo. Despite the newly-dropped snow, MNBG E officials were able to remove the debris and snow within hours when the next day dawned sunny and relatively warm.

Assisting MNBG E in removing the snow were members of KFOR's Swiss and Austrian contingents. Chainsaws and snow plows aided manpower to accomplish the mission.

According to military officials, there are currently 13 roadblocks in northern Kosovo, although only two of them completely block traffic. Most are one-lane checkpoints manned by local Kosovo Serbians to control traffic.

When MNBG E arrived late last year, there were more than 20 roadblocks, but the Gate 1 roadblock is the first the U.S.-led forces have had to physically remove.

“MNBG E has been successfully creating an environment within the north Kosovo region where the roadblocks are not needed,” Lynch said.

“There has been a great deal of dialogue between representatives of MNBG E, Joint Regional Detachment North [JRD N] and KFOR with local leaders, in order to get their cooperation in either removing the roadblocks completely or reducing their size,” he said.

Reception Prior to White House Dinner to Honor Veterans of Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn

Media are invited to a small reception with service members who will be attending the Feb. 29 White House dinner hosted by President and Mrs. Obama to express the nation’s gratitude to, and recognize the significant contributions of, the men and women in uniform who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and/or Operation New Dawn, and the families who supported them.

The reception will be held at the DoubleTree Hotel in Crystal City, Va.  Media will be able to talk with service members from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 29.  Following the reception, the service members will depart for the White House dinner.

PLEASE NOTE:  No interviews will be conducted at the White House.

Media who wish to attend the reception should RSVP no later than 4:30 p.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, Feb. 28 by calling Nick Simeone at 703-614-8056.

For information about coverage of the event at the White House contact Tanya Bradsher at 202-456-9275/9271.

Service members who will attend come from across America; from diverse backgrounds, ranks, and from all services, including Guard and Reserve.  Most remain on active duty, while some are veterans.  These service members and family members represent more than a million Americans and their families who served and made personal sacrifices in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.  The names, ranks and home states of the participating service members can be obtained via the following Defense Department Press Release:

Panetta, Portuguese Defense Minister Discuss Common Challenges

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta met with Portuguese Defense Minister Jose Pedro Aguiar-Branco here today to discuss a range of common challenges, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said.

 “Secretary Panetta thanked Minister Aguiar-Branco for Portugal's steadfast support in Afghanistan and other NATO missions,” Little added. “He also stressed Portugal's indispensible role as a strategic ally.”

The military leaders discussed enhancing and deepening the U.S.-Portuguese defense relationship, and Panetta confirmed that the United States will remain at Lajes Field in the Azores. The secretary said the United States will consult with Portugal on the modalities of the continued U.S. force posture at Lajes, the Little said.

“Secretary Panetta thanked Minister Aguiar-Branco for the warm hospitality U.S. troops have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy on Portuguese soil,” he added.

Looking forward, he said, Panetta and Aguiar-Branco will work together with other alliance defense leaders to prepare for the NATO Chicago summit in May, building on what was accomplished at the 2010 summit in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon.

Panetta and Aguiar-Branco directed their staffs to develop options for enhancing the U.S.-Portuguese defense relationship, Little said, and will follow up in April at a NATO meeting in Brussels. The defense leaders also agreed to have their staffs meet at bilateral political-military talks scheduled here for June, he said.

Wisconsin National Guard Airman part of White House tribute to Iraq vets

Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs Office

A member of the Wisconsin Air NationalGuard's 115th Fighter Wing Security Forces Squadron will be among the 78 service members attending Wednesday's (Feb. 29) White House dinner, hosted by President and Mrs. Obama, to express the nation's gratitude to - and recognize the significant contributions of - the men and women in uniform who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and or Operation New Dawn, and the families who supported them.

Tech. Sgt. Cristian Bennett, of Evansville, Wis., a fighter team leader who has served for nine and one-half years with the Wisconsin Air National Guard, will be one of nine National Guard members - and one of only three Air National Guard members - invited to the dinner.

Bennett said words were insufficient to describe how he felt about the invitation.

"There's no bigger honor than to be invited to the White House to have dinner with the president and his wife," he said. "Ultimately, it's about everybody who served in Iraq. I'm floored that I have the opportunity to represent them, the Wisconsin National Guard and the 115th Fighter Wing."

Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, said he was proud Bennett was selected for this honor.

"I am pleased that he will represent the thousands of Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers and Airmen who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn," Dunbar said. "He represents the dedication and selfless service demonstrated every day by our men and women in uniform."

Dunbar was also grateful to the president and other national leaders for recognizing and honoring veterans of the war in Iraq.

"It's probably the most humbling experience I've ever had," Bennett said. "It's something I'll be able to tell my kids and my grandchildren about. It's one of the proudest moments of my military career - I can't think of anything that would top this."

Bennett served alongside Airmen from other Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units in charge of the Iraqi Police Academy at the Mosul Public Service Academy from December 2005 through June 2006.

"More than anything, you really learn how to trust one another," Bennett said of the deployment. "You really learn how to come together as a team. It taught me leadership and how to effectively convey messages."

The service members invited to attend the White House dinner come from across America, from diverse backgrounds and ranks, and from all branches of service. They and their families represent more than one million Americans and their families who served and made personal sacrifices in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and the chiefs of the five services and National Guard and Reserve will also attend the dinner.

First Lady Urges Governors to Aid Spouse Employment

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2012 – First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, today urged the nation’s governors to remove employment barriers for military spouses with professional licenses.

 “What we are asking is for a level playing field,” the first lady said during the National Governors Association’s winter meeting at the White House. “We … want to make sure that these spouses have a fair shot to pursue their careers and support their families.”

Speaking to the governors and their spouses, Obama and Biden explained that the lack of license portability -- the ability to transfer an existing license to a new state with minimal application requirements -- is the No. 1 frustration they hear from military spouses.

More than one in every three spouses -- or 35 percent of military spouses in the workforce -- has a job that requires a professional license or certification. Frequent military moves and varying and lengthy state licensure requirements combine to create ongoing employment headaches for job-seeking spouses, Obama noted.

“More than 100,000 military spouses are affected by this maze of credentialing and requirements – 100,000 men and women,” she said.

The first lady cited Army wife and nurse Kelly Crowley, also an expectant mother, as an example. Crowley, she explained, has moved three times in four years of marriage. And in each new state, she takes on the lengthy and expensive process of applying for a license.

“She estimates that the constant moves have cost her about six months of paychecks,” Obama said. “Six months of paychecks from a woman who wants to work, a woman serving our country.

“And the whole process can be so cumbersome that she’s not even sure that she’s going to go through it again for her family’s next assignment,” she added. “She’s ready to walk away from her career, because the burdens are so great.”

This is a frustration not only for nurses, the first lady said, but also for teachers, child care providers, accountants, real estate brokers, dental hygienists, social workers and thousands of other spouses in careers that require licenses. “And the vast majority of these spouses are clearly qualified,” she noted.

Obama assured the governors this effort isn’t intended to lower professional standards or to set a lower bar for military spouses. They just want an equal shot at employment, she said.

“That’s where all of you come in,” she told the governors. “Each of you has a unique opportunity to make a real difference for these families that have given all of us so much.”

The first lady recognized the efforts of state officials who already have stepped up to help, noting a dozen governors have signed legislation to fix military spouses’ licensing issues.

These officials have come up with their own creative solutions, she said. Some are granting temporary licenses so spouses can work while they fulfill state requirements. Others have given state licensing boards or agencies increased flexibility to grant licenses to spouses who can clearly demonstrate their competence. And still others are granting licenses to spouses upon application pending documentation verification.

Some states are working on legislation, Obama noted, citing states – including California, Louisiana, Illinois and Wyoming -- that have introduced bills in the past two weeks.

Still, she added, “roughly half of the country still hasn’t taken this issue on.”

Obama said officials have set “an ambitious, but achievable” goal: By 2014, they want to see all 50 states pass legislation to address licensing issues. This goal is a priority for the nation’s top leaders, she added, including the president, vice president, defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“But the people who have the biggest impact are right here in this room,” she told the governors and their spouses.

Obama encouraged them to refer to the new spouse employment report, produced by the Defense and Treasury departments, for tips and best practices. Alongside senior defense officials, Obama and Biden unveiled this report Feb. 16 to offer states a roadmap they can use to streamline or expedite licensing procedures.

As several governors paged through this report, Obama also noted the presence of DOD state liaisons at the meeting to help governors craft legislation.

The first lady said she and Biden will continue to shine a light on this issue through their Joining Forces initiative, a national campaign intended to rally support for troops, veterans and their families.

In their Joining Forces travels, they’ve already seen an outpouring of support for troops and their families, Biden noted.

“Americans are stepping up because they appreciate how much our military spouses and families do for our country every day,” she said. “What we have seen since launching Joining Forces has been truly gratifying, because it has shown our military families that all of us appreciate their sacrifices on their behalf.”

Taking on the spouse licensure issue is a perfect way to honor these families, the first lady noted. “If we fix this, we don't just support our military spouses as they advance in their careers, which is important, but we’ll also be supporting their families who really depend on these incomes,” she said.

Military families do so much for their nation, yet ask very little in return, Obama said. “When they call on us, we have a solemn obligation to answer that call,” she added.

“In two years, what I hope we are able to say -- we can look these men and women in the eye and say, ‘We heard you and we acted,’” she said. “We all stepped up as a nation to make it happen.”

USS Germantown Builds Relationship with Thai School

By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Raul Moreno Jr., Commander Amphibious Squadron 11 Public Affairs

LAEM CHABANG, Kingdom of Thailand (NNS) -- Sailors assigned to the forward-deployed amphibious dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42) participated in a community service (COMSERV) project at a local school, Feb. 23, during a scheduled port visit to Laem Chabang.

Twenty Sailors visited Ban Ronghip School to interact with local children and deliver school supplies and sporting goods such as soccer balls, volleyballs, and badminton equipment.

Germantown Chaplain Lt. j.g. Robert Hecox said the project was a great way for Sailors to lend a helping hand, meet locals, and experience the culture.

"In a big way, our COMSERV helped communicate to the Thai people of this area our commitment to their recovery after the flooding that happened last year," said Hecox. "7th Fleet had committed that we would be back to give help and give resources, and this is just one element of keeping that promise."

The Sailors who participated in the event read books, played soccer, volleyball, and played singing games like "Ring Around the Rosie," and "London Bridge is Falling Down."

The Thai children and the Sailors equally shared in the enjoyment of the visit. Quartermaster Seaman Aldannuvia Domiguez left no doubt as to whether she would participate in another community service project.

"My personal experience at the COMSERV was just breathtaking," said Dominguez. "I absolutely loved it."

Dominguez worked at a children's hospital before joining the Navy, and the COMSERV reminded her of being home.

"To be able to bring joy to somebody just makes me feel really good, and when you do it purely and from the heart, they see it ten times more," said Dominguez.

Germantown, with embarked elements of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, is currently underway after participating in exercise Cobra Gold 2012, an annual Thai-U.S. co-sponsored joint and multinational exercise designed to advance security throughout the Asia-Pacific region and enhance interoperability with participating nations.

Germantown, commanded by Cmdr. Carol McKenzie, was commissioned Feb. 8, 1986 and is capable of carrying more than 721 Sailors and Marines.

Face of Defense: Grandmother Inspires Soldier to Volunteer

By Army Capt. Marvin J. Baker
120th Infantry Brigade, Division West

FORT HOOD, Texas, Feb. 27, 2012 – When Army Captain Latoya James of the 120th Infantry Brigade received the Volunteer of the Quarter award during a Feb. 16 ceremony here, it was a family affair.

James’ mother and grandmother were at the ceremony, and so was her 5-month-old daughter.

“My mother and grandmother are the most giving people I know. It means a lot to me that they are all here,” James said. “I want to teach my daughter that when you give you are blessed, and you can bless others.”

James said her grandmother, who still volunteers regularly, inspired her to give back.

“When I was 8 years old, my grandmother loaded up her car … near Thanksgiving time with [dinners] of spaghetti, corn, bread and salad. Then she took me to the Salvation Army shelter in Fort Worth, Texas, where we served meals to people in a line that seemed to go forever,” James said.

“From that point on, I was inspired,” she added. “I saw the expressions on their faces and said to myself, ‘When I get old enough, I will follow in my grandmother’s footsteps and help others.’”

Over the past several years, James has traveled to the Fort Worth Salvation Army at least annually to serve meals, but now spends much of her volunteer time with the Central Texas Youth Service Option House in Killeen, Texas.

“I was afraid the first time to go to the shelter, but I learned that people aren’t born homeless,” she said. “When I put myself in their shoes, it helps me see that they are no different than I am. I think to myself, ‘That could be me.’ I would want someone to help me if they could.”

The Hood Hero awards ceremony recognizes Fort Hood soldiers, civilians and organizations for their volunteerism.

U.S., ROK Sailors Join Forces To Bestow Goodwill

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Timmy Wakefield, USS Blue Ridge Public Affairs

BUSAN, Republic of Korea (NNS) -- Sixty Sailors from USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), U.S. 7th Fleet flagship; embarked 7th Fleet staff; and Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy came together as one team participating in a community service (COMSERV) project at a children's home during a scheduled port visit to Busan, Republic of Korea, Feb. 25

Blue Ridge Chaplain Lt. Donald Baker coordinated the visit with Hee-Rak-Won Children's Home Director Park Hyo-il, and ROK Navy liaison, Kim Jong-Soon. This community service event was established to strengthen the friendship of both militaries and the children's home while bringing happiness to the children.

Hyo-il said that the children enjoyed the interaction with U.S. Navy Sailors because of the interesting and unique opportunity presented to them. This event builds on the United States' partnership with the Republic of Korea and its people.

The children performed drum cadences and played games with Sailors from both nations. Sailors also helped clean up the outside of the children's home.

Despite the fact participants were challenged with a language barrier, the event was still a memorable experience for those involved. Aerographer's Mate 1st Class Amy Kellans said that friendship was the universal bond that linked the Sailors and school children.

For Yeoman Third Class Jesse Welsh, the experience was more than volunteering his time for the children.

"After visiting with the children and realizing how little they have, it helped me put my life into perspective," said Welsh. "It's amazing to realize how we impacted the children positively with our presence."

Blue Ridge is under the command of Commanding Officer Capt. Daniel Grieco and is the flagship of the U.S. 7th Fleet. Blue Ridge is under the purview of Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet Vice Adm. Scott Swift and Commander, Amphibious Forces 7th Fleet, Rear Adm. Scott Jones.