Military News

Monday, March 05, 2012

Secretary of the Navy Announces 21st Century Sailor and Marine Initiative

From Secretary of the Navy Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Speaking to the fleet during a worldwide All Hands Call on board USS Bataan (LHD 5) which was televised and web-streamed live to the fleet March 5, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced the establishment of the 21st Century Sailor and Marine initiative.

The secretary explained that the initiative consolidates a set of objectives and policies, new and existing, to maximize Sailor and Marine personal readiness. The programs are divided into five categories, or "areas"; readiness, safety, physical fitness, inclusion, and continuum of service.

"The new defense strategy will put increased responsibilities on the Navy and Marine Corps in the years to come," the secretary said. "You are the department's most essential asset, and it is the duty of the department's leadership to do all we can to provide each individual Sailor and Marine with the resources to maintain that resiliency."

Various programs fall under the readiness area, all of which help ensure we have the most mentally prepared service members and family in department history.

Continued emphasis on the responsible use of alcohol, zero tolerance for drug use, suicide reduction, family and personal preparedness, and financial and family stability all work together to prepare Sailors, Marines and their families for the challenges that they may face and reinforce healthy alternatives on liberty or off-duty. A new initiative will include breathalyzer tests when Sailors stationed onboard ships, submarines and at squadrons report for duty and randomly elsewhere to reduce the occurrence of alcohol related incidents that can end careers and sometimes end lives. This month, the Navy will begin random testing of urine samples for synthetic chemical compounds like Spice.

The initial testing will be conducted by a contracted laboratory, with the Navy Drug Screening Laboratory capable of conducting in-house testing later this year. Every positive result on a urinalysis for synthetic drugs will be sent to NCIS for investigation. Synthetic chemical compound drug use impacts a Sailor's career and family. Sailors found to have positive urinalysis results and possession of synthetic chemical compounds like Spice will be punished under the UCMJ.

"We will enable and support our Sailors and their families. I am extremely proud of our people," said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert. "We have a professional and a moral obligation to lead, to train, to equip and to motivate them. Our personnel programs deliver a high return on investment in readiness."

In addition to ensuring the readiness of our Sailors and Marines, the initiative will aim to make the Navy and Marine Corps the safest and most secure force in the department's history. All personnel in the fleet should expect to work in a safe environment, free from harassment or hazards, and when confronted with these, have the resources available to immediately correct the problem.

The Department of the Navy (DoN) continues to work aggressively to prevent sexual assaults, to support sexual assault victims, and to hold offenders accountable. Part of this effort is implementing new training at multiple levels in both the Navy and Marine Corps.

A recent program, the Bystander Intervention (BI) course, which is part of the Navy's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program, began in January for all A-school students. BI is intended to educate Sailors that, as bystanders, they have the power - and responsibility - to intervene in a potentially harmful situation, regardless of rank. BI training is part of a larger strategy addressing changes in attitudes and behaviors in the Department of the Navy. SAPR training for Navy leadership and the fleet is in development.

Everyday Sailors and Marines do a great job of managing risks on-duty, proven by FY 2011 being recorded as the safest in terms of operational fatalities. Under the 21st Century Sailor and Marine area of safety, DoN will continue stressing to Sailors and Marines that they should apply the same operational risk management (ORM) skills to their off-duty activities.

"All leaders must guard against reckless behavior - it jeopardizes the health, safety, and combat readiness of our entire force" said Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps. "Risk mitigation is one of the best means available as we fight to eliminate senseless and needless loss of life and injury, both on duty and on liberty."

Statistically, the most dangerous thing Sailors and Marines do every day is also one of the most common, driving a personal motor vehicle. While there are a number of factors that make this even more dangerous: driving while fatigued, distracted, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs; the good news is that alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities are down across the fleet. The Naval Safety Center has tools and resources available to help train Sailors and Marines - particularly those under the age of 25 who are statistically much more likely to be killed or injured behind the wheel. One of the tools is the travel risk planning system (TRiPS), an on-line, automated risk-assessment tool that Sailors and Marines use before they go on liberty or leave, driving outside command travel limits. The system helps them recognize-and avoid-the hazards they may face on the highway.

While each of the five areas provide important support for department personnel, physical fitness can be viewed having some of the farthest reaching beneficial effects. Sailors and Marines must be ready to meet the demands of performing in a tactical environment, and physical readiness is a crucial link to ensuring Sailors and Marines are ready to take on the challenges the Navy and Marine Corps faces today, and will face in the future. As part of the 21st Century initiative, Sailors and Marines must maintain the highest level of sustained fitness with the ultimate goal of having the fittest, most deployment-ready force in the history of the Navy and Marine Corps.

"Sound minds and sound bodies are the fundamental elements of successful Sailors and combat readiness," said MCPON (SS/SW) Rick D. West. "The transition from a 'culture of testing' to a 'culture of fitness' means that we deliberately incorporate physical proficiency and holistic health into our daily routines rather than simply doing just enough to get by on tests twice a year. The more we do each day to improve our physical conditioning, the better prepared we are to handle stress, deployments, and unexpected situations.

Sometimes it's difficult to find the time or resources to get in a run or hit the gym, but if leadership and Sailors actively make those things part of their commitment to excellence, the pay-off is significant. We are not a sedentary Force ... we are forward-deployed, we are expeditionary, we are agile ... and we need to be physically ready as Sailors to answer any call at any time."

The Navy continues to build a culture of fitness as part of the physical fitness area, by urging Sailors to incorporate fitness into their daily lives. Adopting the "Fueled to Fight" program fleetwide will provide a nutrition strategy to increase high quality fuel (food, drink) fleetwide to meet the war fighter's nutrition needs. Additionally, Secretary Mabus is moving the DoN to be smoke-free by choice with a continued education campaign on the hazards of smoking, providing easy access to free cessation tools to every Sailor and Marine trying to quit and ending the discounts for cigarettes in Navy Exchanges and Marine Corps Exchanges. Ending the discounts will bring the prices up to 100 percent market pricing.

Ensuring all personnel, regardless of race or gender, are given every opportunity to excel and succeed is the hallmark of the program's forth area, inclusion. In order to operate globally, the Department of the Navy will need diversity of ideas, experiences, areas of expertise, and backgrounds to fulfill a variety of missions, while remaining relevant to the American people. Regardless of mission, in the Navy women are permanently assigned to all types of ships, aviation squadrons, afloat staffs, Naval Construction Force units and certain submarine platforms. The nature of today's ground conflicts is evolving; there are no front lines in Iraq or Afghanistan. Women in the Marine Corps are assigned to units and positions that may necessitate defensive combat actions - situations for which they are fully trained and equipped to respond.

There are many areas in which opportunities can be expanded for women to serve and contribute and the Marine Corps is taking a deliberate approach in identifying those areas.

A new DoN Diversity Office will be established, with the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Manpower and Reserve Affairs) serving as the DoN's Diversity Officer. The Diversity Office will leverage, coordinate and formalize ongoing efforts within the Navy and Marine Corps and will include the heads of the Navy Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Marine Corps Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management and the DoN Office of Civilian Diversity as team members.

"Diversity of Thought - Connectedness with America - Diversity is more important than race, ethnicity, or gender," said Sgt. Maj. Micheal P. Barrett, the 17th sergeant major of the Marine Corps. "We are committed to attracting, mentoring and retaining the most talented men and women who bring a diversity of background, culture and skill in service to our nation."

The final area, continuum of service, aims at ensuring Sailors and Marines are provided the most robust transition support in Department history. Whether retraining wounded warriors, providing voluntary education, or helping achieve civilian credentialing, the department will aim to provide personnel every opportunity for personal and professional growth.

The Navy's Credentialing Opportunities Online (COOL) program offers Sailors the opportunity to earn civilian certifications and licenses corresponding to their Navy ratings, collateral duties, and out-of-rating assignments. COOL is designed to further develop the personal and professional capability of the Navy Total force, enhancing force readiness.

Through each of the areas described in the secretary's address, the 21st Century Sailor and Marine initiative will realign many programs throughout the department and focus their combined efforts to ensure all personnel are not only mentally and physically prepared for the future fight, but that they will also have the knowledge, skills and support needed to succeed for the remainder of their lives.

"The 21st Century Sailor and Marine initiative is focused on the whole life of the individual and their family's lives. When a Sailor's or Marine's time in the military ends whether it is after four years or forty, we want your productive life to continue and for you to leave the service in better health, more trained and better educated than when you came in."

Military Must Examine Barriers to Service, Admiral Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md., March 5, 2012 – The military needs to examine the barriers that can prevent the best people from serving, the director of the Joint Staff said here today.

Navy Vice Adm. William E. Gortney spoke to 1,700 participants in the Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium here in place of Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was scheduled to speak but was called to meetings at the Pentagon and White House.

The admiral, who is President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the next commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, said the military today is far better than when he joined.

“It is a direct result of the leadership and talent pool women bring,” he said. “I would never want to go back in time.”

Gortney noted that debates are going on in Congress and around the military about the correct percentage of women in the military. “My answer is as many we can get and retain, and it is a lot more than we have today,” he said.

But the real issue, he added, is more about leadership than it is about how many women serve.

“Our job in the military is to fight and win our nation’s wars,” he said. “It is the sole purpose of our existence. We also need to provide a credible deterrent so perhaps we won’t have to fight those wars.”

The military, Gortney told the audience, is an experience-based force, with career paths built to prepare service members to lead and succeed in combat. “Ill-prepared leaders not only put our successes in combat at risk. It gets soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and [Coast Guardsmen] killed and injured in both peacetime and combat,” he said.

The command structures in all military services are pyramids, the admiral explained. “In order to move up the pyramid, you must succeed in every one of your tours,” he said, “for our past tours prepare us for our future tours, and this increases in importance the higher you go up the pyramid.”

Accession and retention are keys to creating the force America needs for the future, Gortney said.

“We must recruit into the base of the pyramid larger numbers of the demographics we are seeking, and then we must retain the best qualified as they move up the pyramid in their career paths,” he said. “This is true no matter what your gender, race or religion happens to be.” Growing the force, he added, requires identifying and removing barriers to accession and retention.

And leaders must recognize this will take time, Gortney said. It takes 17 years to train an Army battalion commander or a Navy or Air Force squadron commander, he noted, 24 to 25 years to “build” a brigade or regimental commander or a ship or wing commander, and 27 to 28 years for a leader to be ready for the general and officer ranks.

“Every service and every tribe within a service has similar stages,” he said. “We must recognize this is generational and will take time to correct. Leadership and experience must be grown. There is no quick fix.”

But people can help, Gortney said. In the accessions field, the military needs to identify practices that prevent or discourage “the youth of our nation from wearing the cloth of our nation,” he told the audience.

In retention, he said, leaders need to mentor, teach and lead.

“I mentor officers in every stage,” Gortney said, “and here is what I tell them: It’s not about the flying or the sailing, it’s about the people with whom you serve and the sense of purpose and mission that you share.”

Navy Chaplain (Rear Adm.) Margaret Grun Kibben, chief of chaplains for the Marine Corps and the deputy chief of chaplains for the Navy, delivered the blessing for the awards luncheon. She spoke of the achievements being celebrated and the “underside” that women have had to overcome throughout their careers.

“We stand in the shadows of heroes who have served their country in spite of those who said they couldn’t, and who blazed the trail we so contentedly walk today,” she said. The admiral spoke of the problem of sexual assault and sexual harassment, and the way women still serve.

“Bless all those who serve at sea, in the air, with boots on ground or at home who consistently demonstrate the enduring strength, commitment and faithfulness to preserving our nation’s peace,” she said. “As we celebrate these women -- both named and unnamed -- grant that we who surround them are inspired to live our lives with the same perseverance and enthusiasm wherever you call us.”

USS Constitution Helps Massachusetts Special Olympics Athletes

By Airman Stephen E. Beck, USS Constitution Public Affairs

REVERE, Mass. (NNS) -- USS Constitution Sailors participated in a fundraising event for the Special Olympics Massachusetts (SOMA) at Revere Beach in Revere, Mass. March 3.

Sailors, along with more than 200 other volunteers, supported the 14th annual "Polar Plunge," a fundraiser that helps year-round training and competition for more than 13,000 athletes of SOMA.

"It felt awesome helping to support the event in raising contributions that benefit Special Olympics athletes," said Seaman Apprentice David Duran, Constitution. "We helped set up the food areas and directed plungers in the proper direction. We also doubled as motivators for the plungers as they ran into freezing cold water. It was such a fun and amazing experience. I am proud to say I took part in it."

The Polar Plunge operates with participants raising money for the plunge through the collection of donations from family, friends, and co-workers. This year's plunge raised more than $230,000 in funds.

"It's amazing to see so many people come out and volunteer their time for such a great cause," said Marybeth McMahon, senior vice president, SOMA. "We have over 1,000 plungers, along with over 200 more volunteers helping behind the scenes. With the donations given here today ... we are able to help so many new athletes that want to participate in the Special Olympics."

SOMA aims to provide opportunities for those with intellectual disabilities in developing physical fitness, preparation for entry into school and community programs, and sharing in friendships of other Special Olympic athletes.

"I always love coming out to help with these events," said Sonar Technician Submarine 2nd Class (SS) Thomas Rooney, Constitution's community relations programs manager. "It gives you a connection with the community and helps support a great cause."

Constitution's Sailors participated in 5,021 hours of community service in 2011. The ship is the recipient of the 2011 Commander, Navy Region Middle Atlantic Project Good Neighbor Flagship award for small shore commands, and 2011 President's Volunteer Service Award.

Constitution is the world's oldest commissioned warship afloat and welcomes more than 500,000 visitors per year. She defended the sea lanes against threat from 1797 to 1855, much like the mission of today's Navy.

Constitution's mission today is to offer community outreach and education about the ship's history. Currently, her crew is planning to commemorate bicentennial of the War of 1812 through public demonstrations and educational activities at seven Navy Weeks across the U.S. in 2012. America's Navy: Keeping the sea free for more than 200 years.

For more information about Constitution, visit history.navy.mil/ussconstitution or Facebook.com/ussconstitutionofficial.

USS Constitution Gears up for 'Crews into Shape'

By Seaman Michael Achterling, USS Constitution Public Affairs

CHARLESTOWN, Mass. (NNS) -- The crew of USS Constitution will kick off their participation in the "Crews Into Shape" program from the ship's berth in Charlestown, Mass. March 4-31.

Sponsored by the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center and open to anyone employed by the DoD, Crews into Shape is a workplace-focused initiative that fosters teamwork with daily nutritional and exercise habits.

Constitution's health committee is organizing the event in light of National Nutrition Month.

"You have to fuel the machine that is the human body, and you can only do that through a well-planned and properly executed diet," said Hospital Corpsman 1st Class (FMF) Louis Del Prete, Constitution's leading independent duty corpsman.

The program is divided by fitness teams and awards points to teams who eat two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables per day. Points are also awarded to members who engage in 30 minutes of aerobic exercise daily and meet weekly with their team for a group exercise activity. Points are ultimately compiled and put into an overall database where teams from across the DoD can see where they rank with one another.

Constitution's Crews Into Shape program is divided into six teams.

"It's that team spirit, and you can feed off that energy from other people to sustain long-term good health," said Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Shirley, Constitution's executive officer. Shirley is also an avid runner, having participated in four marathons, including the Boston Marathon. He intends to participate in this year's Boston Marathon, April 16.

Crews Into Shape has been organizing and emphasizing this team-based healthy lifestyle since 2001.

Last year, 1,932 DoD personnel were registered on 276 different teams. Out of the 448 post-challenge survey responses, 80 percent reported an improved daily exercise habit, and more than 86 percent reported an improvement in daily nutritional habits.

"One of the benefits of staying fit and eating right is that you feel better," said Seaman Keith Murray, a registered member of Constitution's "Sweaty Deckies" team. "As a person ages, staying fit becomes a very important priority. The only way to counteract the degradation of aging is to take care of one's self in the proper fashion."

Constitution is the world's oldest commissioned warship afloat and welcomes more than 500,000 visitors per year. She defended the sea lanes against threat from 1797 to 1855, much like the mission of today's Navy.

Constitution's mission today is to offer community outreach and education about the ship's history. Currently, her crew is planning to commemorate bicentennial of the War of 1812 through public demonstrations and educational activities at seven Navy Weeks across the U.S. in 2012. America's Navy: Keeping the sea free for more than 200 years.

For more information about Constitution, visit history.navy.mil/ussconstitution or Facebook.com/ussconstitutionofficial.

Guardsmen Provide Aid to Tornado-stricken Areas

By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va., March 5, 2012 – More than 700 National Guard soldiers and airmen are supporting civilian authorities today in four states recovering from tornadoes and floods.

Civilian authorities in Indiana and Kentucky -- two of the most severely affected states -- noted how fast the National Guard had boots on the ground after the storms hit, and emergency managers attributed the speedy response to years of relationship-building and partnership.

“The deployment of the National Guard was one of the most timely deployments of Guardsmen I’ve ever seen,” said Capt. Scott Miller, a Kentucky state trooper. “The soldiers were ready to go within hours.”

Numbers of Guard members helping civilian authorities peaked at more than 800 yesterday. This morning, 390 Guard members were providing presence patrols and traffic control points in Kentucky, more than 70 were distributing water and conducting presence patrols in Indiana, more than 100 were providing security in Missouri, and more than 140 were removing debris after flooding in West Virginia.

Presence patrols, officials explained, provide security for residents of the devastated communities.

All four states declared states of emergency after tornadoes struck Feb. 29 and March 2 in the Midwest and South and heavy rains impacted West Virginia on Feb. 28. Severe storms affected several states Feb. 28 through March 3, National Guard Bureau officials reported. The storms left severe damage in their wake in numerous counties in the Midwest and the Southeast. At least 39 people died, many more were injured, and entire towns were destroyed, according to media reports.

With warnings of potential deadly tornadoes days before the storms hit, state National Guard leaders were ready to respond.

“I’ve never seen anything as devastating as I saw today,” Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson said after a March 3 damage survey in a Kentucky National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. “I’m very proud of the Kentucky National Guard and how quickly they respond.”

Kentucky National Guard members helped civilian rescuers and firefighters free two employees trapped in a Salyersville, Ky., auto parts store.

“It feels a lot safer having … the Kentucky National Guard provide a presence here in our community,” said Kenna Spears, who works in Salyersville.

“This is one of the things you sign up for -- both defending the country and the citizens of our state,” said Army Sgt. Brandon Lewis, on duty in Missouri after a yearlong tour in Afghanistan.

“The Guard is crucial to what we do,” said Stephanie Robey, manager of the Kentucky Department of Emergency Management’s recovery branch. “Our partnership is crucial to protecting public interest, people and property. You can always depend on the Guard.”

(Compiled from National Guard Bureau and Kentucky and Missouri National Guard reports.)

Navy Reserve Celebrates 97th Anniversary

From Commander, Navy Reserve Forces Public Affairs Command

WASHINGTON. (NNS) -- U.S. Navy personnel attended a birthday celebration honoring the Navy Reserve's 97th year of establishment at the Navy Memorial March 2.

Chief of Navy Reserve (CNR) Vice Adm. Dirk J. Debbink, spoke during the celebration where he retold many key points in the Navy Reserve's history.

"Our Navy Reserve was established 97 years ago on March 3, 1915, and in those 97 years we have served the nation with distinction," Debbink said. "Our nation is free today in part because of those Sailors who went before us and stood the watch with honor in both peace and war. We can take enormous pride in our Navy Reserve heritage."

CNR explained how the role of members of the Navy Reserve had changed throughout the years and how they continued to be there for the Navy and the nation.

"Before now, mobilization was maybe a one-time, once in a career event," Debbink said. "It's been more than 10 years since 9/11. That means that every Sailor has enlisted or re-enlisted since this conflict began, knowing that mobilization is not a question of if, but when."

Navy Reserve Force Master Chief (AW) Chris Wheeler and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON)(SS/SW) Rick D. West also spoke during the celebration.

MCPON led the audience in singing "Happy Birthday" to the Navy Reserve then spoke to the audience about how Sailors embody the "Navy Ethos."

"The "Navy Ethos" is a document that really does identify who we are as an organization and clearly charts a course of character and integrity," West said. "If you read the ethos carefully you will realize you have been living those words since joining the navy for the first time though the spirit of maritime service has been captured and put on paper."

During the celebration employers, DoD civilians, Navy ombudsman, and Reserve Sailors who embody the "Navy Ethos" were presented with awards.

Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs David L. McGinnis presented the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Seven Seals award to United States Department of Agriculture Office of Ethics for their support of Navy Reservists.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy Infrastructure Strategy and Analysis Dennis Biddick presented homecoming statues in recognition of Linda Morton, Michelle Harvey and Sally Guild to recognize their superior support as Navy Operational Support Center Ombudsmen.

"These volunteers have a direct line to the Commanding Officer to address matters of concern regarding families. They are so much more though," Debbink said. "They are trained to help families avoid problems. They know how to get resources when there are problems. And often, they are the first and best friend a new family has coming to a unit."

Debbink also recognized the three ombudsmen with certificates of recognition to express appreciation for their unselfish, faithful, and dedicated service as Navy ombudsman for more than 4,500 Sailors and their families.

As a new addition to being recognized during the Navy Reserve Anniversary Commander, Navy Reserve Forces Command (CNRFC) Junior and Senior Civilians of the Year, Sandra Buchanan and Dawn Moore.

"Our civilian workforce is an essential component of our Navy Total Force - active, Reserve and civilians, all working together, with their own unique contributions to our effort," Debbink said.

Finally medals were presented to five Navy Reserve Sailors who embody the Ready Now spirit of the Navy Reserve.

"Because of the people here today, and people like them all over the world, the Navy Reserve will always be Ready Now. Anytime, Anywhere," Debbink said. "If the Navy Reserve is Ready Now, we can help ensure that our Navy - America's Navy: A Global Force For Good - will be strong in the future."

NBC Show Seeks Military Reunion Stories

By Elaine Sanchez
March 5, 2012

A new NBC show that rewards selfless people for their good deeds is seeking redeploying service members to spotlight in some upcoming episodes.

Casting producers are looking for service members returning home in early to mid-April who would like to surprise their families with a homecoming or reunion. They’re also hoping to connect service members with a loved one they haven’t seen in years because of deployments, finances or other issues. If selected, they’ll experience a “one-of-a-kind reunion on national TV,” producers said.

“The network and producers really want some military stories as no one is more deserving than those who serve our country,” Jackie Topacio, the show’s casting producer, said.

You can apply to be on this show by sending an email to SUBMIT4CASTINGJT@GMAIL.COM with “Military Reunion” in the subject line. The submission deadline is March 9.

You should include your name, age, rank, military branch, contact information, approximate date and location of return, and an explanation of why you want to surprise your family upon your return, why they’re deserving of a surprise reunion and what a surprise homecoming reunion would mean to them. Also include photos — and video links if available — of yourself and the family members you’d like to surprise, along with their names, ages and location.

Since this show involves a surprise, producers are asking people to keep their participation a secret.

Gold Star Wife Grateful for White House Tribute

By Elaine Sanchez
March 5, 2012

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a “solemn tribute” to Iraq war veterans — including those who made the ultimate sacrifice — with a dinner last week at the White House. Among the star-studded generals and troops in formal uniforms was Kim Felts, the only Gold Star wife at the event.

Seated at a table next to the first lady and surrounded by Iraq war veterans and their wives, Kim said she felt humbled and grateful. “I felt like [our nation’s leaders] were saying, ‘We want to honor your husband in this way,’” she said in an interview Friday.

Kim’s husband, Army Col. Thomas H. Felts Sr., was killed Nov. 14, 2006, in Baghdad when an explosive detonated near his vehicle. He was 45 years old.

The dinner, held Feb. 29, included about 80 war veterans and their wives and senior defense officials including Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey. They were there in honor of the more than 1 million U.S. service members who served in Iraq from 2003 to the end of operations in December.

Kim, a Special Forces Command family readiness program specialist at Fort Bragg, N.C, brought her two younger children, Rebekah and Thomas Jr., to the event. The teens were nervous and excited, she said, as they pulled up to the White House that evening.

As people mingled, Kim and her children meandered through several rooms of the White House, fascinated by portraits of past presidents and other elites. Her daughter, a fashion buff, was on the lookout for Jackie Onassis’ picture, while her son was drawn to Benjamin Franklin’s portrait. They then joined a reception line to greet the president and first lady.

Kim shook the president’s hand and received a big hug from the first lady, but it was her daughter who stole the thunder, she said. When the president met Rebekah, he said her dress, with its long organza train, was “spectacular.” “My daughter is such a ‘fashionista,’” Kim said, laughing.

The Felts family took their seats next to the first lady, who immediately put everyone at the table at ease, Kim said. They chatted for a few minutes about family resilience, she said, and Kim’s work with Special Forces’ Gold Star wives back home. “She expressed she cares so much for Gold Star families, and thinks about them and their sacrifice so often,” she recalled.

They also discussed the first lady’s Joining Forces campaign, intended to rally the nation’s support for military families, and how the White House can leverage the initiative to support Gold Star families.

In his remarks, the president honored the sacrifices of all military families, including the families of the fallen.

“You taught us about sacrifice — a love of country so deep, so profound, you’re willing to give your life for it,” he said. “Tonight, we pay solemn tribute to all who did.”

Felts said one of the highlights of her evening was meeting Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John F. Kelly, senior military advisor to the defense secretary, whose son was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. They had an instant connection, she said. “There’s a camaraderie between survivors,” she said. “Not a word needs to be said when you know someone shares the loss of a loved one.”

Felts said the dinner’s concept was honorable, but she’d prefer hold off on further celebrations until all deployed troops – including her son-in-law, who is deployed in Afghanistan – return home.

Still “I did feel the gratitude of the government and that goes a long way,” she said.

National Guard Troops Respond to Midwestern, Southern Tornadoes

By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill and Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Orrell
National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va.  – More than 500 National Guard members are supporting civilian authorities in five states today after the second night this week of devastating tornadoes in the Midwest and the South.

More than 350 Indiana National Guard troops started providing search and rescue, debris removal, traffic control and presence patrols within hours of a tornado strike yesterday afternoon in the southern part of the state, according to National Guard Bureau officials and Army Maj. Shawn Gardner, state public affairs officer.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to the individuals in southern Indiana who have suffered this tragic loss,” Gardner said. “The Indiana National Guard stands ready to help and assist in whatever manner they may need to help them recover from this tragedy.”

At least 10 states were affected by tornadoes that struck Feb. 29 and yesterday. National Guard troops were on the ground this morning or being called out to support civilian authorities in Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri and West Virginia.

In Indiana, Gardner credited the rapid response to state leaders and strong relationships between the National Guard and civilian authorities long before up to 16 tornadoes hit yesterday, killing at least 13 people, injuring others and destroying the town of Maryville, home to 2,166 people.

“The Indiana Department of Homeland Security and the National Guard have a tight working relationship with great leadership who stand ready to respond to any natural or manmade disaster that may happen within the state of Indiana,” Gardner said.

Indiana Guard members also were helping Emergency Medical Service personnel evacuate patients and deliver critically needed medication and providing aviation support, among other missions, Guard Bureau officials reported.

More than 100 Guard members are on duty in Missouri, hit by tornadoes Feb. 29 and yesterday. The Missouri National Guard has focused its continued efforts in Taney County, around Branson in southwestern Missouri.

“We are here to assist the local police department [and] fire department with … debris removal, presence patrols, security to prevent looting and any other assistance that the city would need from us,” said Army Col. Gregory Mason, Missouri’s assistant adjutant general.

"We're glad to be able to help people, said Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Danner, Missouri’s adjutant general. “Our motto – as the governor says – is to help good people through bad times. With 11,600 airmen and soldiers, there's no skill set on the civilian side that you can't find somewhere in the Missouri National Guard. That makes it very valuable when we come in, because if there is a specific mission or specific skill set that is required, we can usually find someone in the Guard to bring in for that.”

The Army Guard’s 35th Engineer Brigade out of Fort Leonard Wood is overseeing the response effort in Missouri.

“We get the mission done,” Danner said. “When lives are at stake, the governor is insistent: He has a four-point plan where he talks about, ‘You've got to come in, and first thing is safety and security, rescue, and then recovery -- and then your after-action reports to improve what you've done.’ Governor Nixon is very insistent that we use a methodical process to ensure that our mission is successful every time. That's what has worked for the Guard.

“It's important that we let the citizens know we are here to assist the local law enforcement, city police and the county – who have done a tremendous job in ensuring the safety of the citizens here, but also the security of their valuables until they're able to retrieve them,” he added.

In Kentucky, about 80 Guard members are assisting local authorities with medical support, security and traffic control.

“The Guard being here means safety,” said Hodgenville, Ky., Mayor Terry L. Cruse, whose community was hit hard Feb. 29. “These people have lost a lot, and to have the security the soldiers provide, it’s one less thing they have to worry about."

In West Virginia, about 20 Guard members were assisting with debris removal after severe weather affected 10 counties Feb. 28, bringing heavy rains that caused flash-flooding.

After up to 16 tornadoes struck Alabama yesterday -- including a near-direct hit on a state prison -- the Alabama National Guard is mobilizing, Guard Bureau officials said today.

The Missouri National Guard’s Army Pfc. Collin Chenoweth said being in the National Guard gives him a chance to help – a chance that most citizens don’t have. “A lot of people want to help and can't,” he said. “Being in the Guard gives me the opportunity.”

(Kentucky and Missouri National Guard officials contributed to this report.)