Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Miracles on a Mountainside

Snowmass Village, Colorado
Sunday March 25 - Friday, March 30, 2012
The National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic is a life-changing event that promotes rehabilitation to more than 350 disabled veterans from across the country. The Clinic offers a unique media opportunity to tell the heroic stories of courage and determination, as told first-hand by disabled veterans from Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Especially relevant are the stories of newly injured OIF/OEF and Afghanistan veterans fighting a new war, one to win back their independence. Veterans with traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, amputations, visual impairments and neurological challenges will take the slopes using the latest adaptive ski equipment. We invite you to witness “Miracles on a Mountainside.”

To coordinate interviews, acquire b-roll or photographs of the event, contact Anthony Hardman at 734.845.5059.

Panetta: U.S.-Israel Partnership Will Become Closer

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 6, 2012 – Defense cooperation between the U.S. and Israel is already close, and it will get closer as both countries face the threats of the future, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today.

Panetta spoke to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee here and said the United States and Israel will work closely together in the face of the dangers that confront both countries.

“The security bonds between Israel and the United States will only grow as America goes through a historic turning point after a decade of war,” he said.

In fact, defense cooperation will grow even with U.S. defense budget reductions. Panetta delivered “an ironclad pledge” that the United States will provide whatever support is necessary so Israel maintains military superiority over any state or coalition of states, as well as non-state actors, in the region.

“Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged wars against it,” he said. “The Israeli people have been subjected to rocket attacks, to terrorism, and they live in a world where larger nations have threatened to wipe them off the map.”

Supporting Israel is the right thing to do and isin America’s best interests, Panetta said.

“We have no better ally in this critical region of the world,” he said. “A strong Israel deters potential aggressors. A strong Israel sends a message to the region and to the world that America will not waver in defense of our allies.”

The U.S. has increased security assistance to Israel substantially. This year, the budget calls for $31 billion in assistance to the nation, up from $2.5 billion in fiscal 2009.

“This is part of a 10-year, $30 billion commitment to Israel’s security,” Panetta said. “Over and above this commitment, the President has committed more than $650 million in DOD funding for Israeli missile defense.”

The U.S. is working with Israel to develop an anti-missile system to address the threat from all levels. The system will deal with short-range defense to counter the continued threat of rocket barrages from Gaza. The United States provided more than $200 million for the Iron Dome rocket defense system.

“Iron Dome is fielded, it is operational, and this new system has already saved the lives of Israeli civilians with over 30 real world successful hit-to-kill intercepts in 2011,” Panetta said.

The two nations are also working on medium range missile defense, developing David’s Sling, and upper tier ballistic missile defense with the Arrow-3 system.

“We are also working to upgrade Israel’s Patriot missile system and batteries,” he said. “We are committed to moving forward with all of these systems and more -- because as the Prime Minister told me -- these missile shields do not start wars, they prevent wars.”

The secretary noted the Israeli air force will receive the world’s most sophisticated warplane -- the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

“The F-35 is the future of tactical aviation for the United States military, and providing Israel with this advanced fighter makes it the only country in the Middle East with a true fifth-generation fighter capacity, upholding Israel’s edge not just now but for many years to come,” the secretary said.

The two militaries will not only share equipment, but also operational concepts. U.S. and Israeli service members will build greater capability and improve partnership through realistic exercises, joint training and personnel exchanges, Panetta said.

“Each year, U.S. and Israeli forces take part in numerous exercises,” he said. One example is missile defense exercise Austere Challenge that this year will include more than 3,000 U.S. troops.

“This kind of cooperation is mutually beneficial to both the United States and Israel. It has made both of our militaries stronger,” Panetta said.

The secretary pointed out that cooperation is not just a one-way street. It was an Israeli company that met the call to help protect American soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan by surging production of up-armor kits for Humvees and mine-resistant vehicles.

“The kits were made in an Israeli kibbutz, and they saved the lives of our men and women in uniform,” Panetta said.

National Patient Safety Week Kickoff Highlights Safe Patient Care at NHB

By Douglas H. Stutz, Naval Hospital Bremerton Public Affairs

BREMERTON, Wash. (NNS) -- Naval Hospital Bremerton (NHB) officially commenced National Patient Safety Week of March 4-10 with a kickoff celebration March 5.

The annual weeklong event focuses on enhancing, improving and increasing awareness on a wide range of patient-related safety topics for beneficiaries, staff and command visitors.

"By engaging our staff and engaging our patients with such tools as these at work and at home, we'll make where we work and live that much safer. The more we know about our health and safety, the better off we will be. "Be aware for safe care" is our theme this year. We want to ensure that we have safe patient care every day," said Cmdr. Sarah Butler, NHB Quality Management department head.

Butler shared that some things patients can do to "Be aware for safe care" include; seeking information and questions; keeping track of their family (medical) history; knowing and writing down personal health care history; exploring healthcare options and selecting a hospital, doctor and pharmacy that fit their needs; choosing a family or friend as a health care advocate; following up on test results; and evaluating their environment (at home, work, away) to assess (any) risk of falling.

The kickoff ceremony also included NHB's Quality Management staff re-launching the Staff Safety Handbook campaign. "We've always meant to have this program in place and this kickoff gives us the perfect opportunity to pass on to everyone that this booklet is a great all-around training tool," Butler said, noting that the basic safety tips in the pocket-sized books are also a convenient way to teach and share with others in the departments and clinics.

"We'll put these handbooks to good use in ICU (Intensive Care Unit) to help increase our readiness in patient safety," said Hospitalman Gregory Anderson, of NHB's ICU/Critical Care.

The most visual and popular event throughout the week was the "Patient Safety Seek and Find" static and interactive display on the quarterdeck, where anyone could check their situational awareness (SA) for patient safety. The display featured a bed-ridden manikin patient, with associated medical and hospital props that may or may not be conducive to proper patient care. The goal was for each participant to try and find the 15 errors associated with the display.

"This display is for everyone, but especially our staff. We're hoping to get as many staff members involved as we can throughout the week and increase their awareness. Our overall goal is for everyone to take a moment to try and see how many things they can find in the display that put the patient at risk," said Mayda Schaefer, patient safety analyst, adding that this is the eighth consecutive year NHB has highlighted National Patient Safety Week with a kickoff ceremony.

Butler stressed that patients and family are a key part of the healthcare team. "We want them to realize there are good questions for their good health that they should address and discuss with their doctor, nurse and pharmacist every time we see them during a visit. "What is my main problem?" "What do I need to do?" "Why is it important for me to do this?" All these are legitimate questions that are in their right to ask," said Butler.

Butler also shared NHB'S usage of the Department of Defense Patient Safety Program theme of TEAM UP to actively promote getting patients involved as partners with their healthcare team.

"T is for 'team together.' E is for 'educate yourself.' A is for 'ask questions.' M is for 'manage your medications.' U is for understand changes in the game plan.' P is for provide perspective," Butler said.

According to Butler, the 2012 National Patient Safety Goals for hospital staff and leaders will focus improving identifying patients correctly such as using at least 2-ways to identifying the patient; improving staff communications by getting important test results to the right staff person on time; improving infection prevention with such measures as advocating hand-cleansing guidelines; using medication safely by labeling medicines and medication containers not already labeled; and identifying patient safety risks correctly by identifying any patient who may be at risk for committing suicide.

There were also learning lads organized by NHB's risk manager, patient safety expert and others.

"We're highlighting one week for something we do year-round, but we feel the added emphasis is important not only for our patients, but also for our staff," said Butler.

Troops, Veterans Will Benefit From Housing Settlement, Obama Says

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 6, 2012 – Thousands of service members and veterans whose mortgages were wrongfully foreclosed on, or who were improperly denied lower mortgage interest rates in the national housing crisis, can receive “significant relief,” President Barack Obama announced today.

“It is unconscionable that members of our armed forces and their families are among those who were most susceptible to losing their homes due to the unscrupulous acts of banks and mortgage lenders,” Obama said during a White House news briefing.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta issued a statement, applauding the announcement. “These new steps are the result of an extensive interagency effort made by this administration to protect and support service members and veterans, and this initiative will help military families overcome obstacles to purchasing and maintaining a home,” Panetta said.

Helping military families achieve personal and financial security “is a vital part of maintaining a strong national defense, just as home ownership is a vital part of fulfilling the American dream,” Panetta said.

“I thank the president for ensuring that our service members receive the support they need so they and their families can pursue their dreams while carrying out their vital missions around the world,” he said.

Federal and state officials announced Feb. 9 that the nation’s five largest mortgage lenders – Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Ally Financial [formerly GMAC] – agreed to pay $26 billion to settle a government lawsuit claiming mortgage loan and foreclosure abuses. At least $20 billion is to be returned to aggrieved homeowners, according to White House and Housing and Urban Development Department news releases.

“If you are a member of the armed forces whose home was wrongfully foreclosed, you will be substantially compensated,” the president said.

The settlement also restores lower interest rates and reduces fees for Federal Housing Administration borrowers for those who were wrongly given higher rates and fees.

Under the agreement, lenders will:

--Review the records of every service member whose home was foreclosed upon since 2006 and provide any who were wrongly foreclosed upon with compensation equal to a minimum of lost equity, plus interest and at least $116,785;

--Refund to service members money lost because they were wrongfully denied the opportunity to reduce their mortgage payments through lower interest rates;

--Provide relief for service members who are forced to sell their homes for less than the amount they owe on their mortgage due to a permanent change in station;

--Pay $10 million into the Veterans Affairs fund that guarantees loans on favorable terms for veterans; and

--Extend certain foreclosure protections afforded under the Servicemember Civil Relief Act to those serving in harm’s way.

Obama also announced that the FHA will cut its fees for refinancing loans already insured by the FHA. Two- to three million Americans could save about $1,000 annually under today’s fee structure, he said.

Still, Obama said, “No amount of money is going to be enough for a family who has wrongfully had their piece of the American dream taken away from them.”

Later on a conference call with reporters, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said it was shameful of financial institutions to wrongfully foreclose on service members homes or not provide them the full financial protections that the law allows. In many cases, he said, lenders “did not review or even read the foreclosure documents they were processing.”

“That’s not only wrong, it’s not who we are as Americans,” Donovan said. The settlement, he added, “ensures that the men and women risking their lives for our country get treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Military families “won’t just be compensated,” Donovan said, explaining that they will be eligible for modifications to their mortgages even for homes in which they are not living.

Holly Petraeus, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s head of servicemember affairs, said the former regulation requiring service members to live a home to have a mortgage lowered, as well as the difficulty of selling a home quickly for a change of duty station, has caused many military families to live separately. Emphasizing the frequency of military moves, she told reporters she and her husband, retired Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, who currently is serving as the CIA Director, moved 24 times in 37 years.

With the “unique challenges” of deployments and frequent forced relocations, Petraeus said, “many see no other solution than to go it alone in military barracks while leaving their families behind” in their homes.

Petraeus said she would urge all financial institutions to understand the Servicemember Civil Relief Act. She also warned service members against a possible “cottage industry” of people who will claim to help them receive help under the new settlement.

Service members and veterans who believe they can take part in the settlement are encouraged to call the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743.

Todd Perez, assistant attorney general for Justice’s civil rights division, told reporters that under the settlement, lenders must have court approval to foreclose on the home of a deployed service member; anyone who was wrongly charged an interest rate above 6 percent can receive four times that back in damages; and all negative entries to credit agencies will be repaired.

Also, Perez said, victims in the housing crisis don’t have to contact the government; the settlement requires the banks to contact them.

As for service members and veterans, he said, “they have our backs and they need to know that we have theirs.”

Wisconsin Army Guard overall winner in Army evaluation

Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs Office

Wisconsin might be considered the big cheese in the Army National Guard community this year.

The Wisconsin Army National Guard was named the overall winner in its category for the Army Chief of Staff Army Communities of Excellence Award - ACOE for short. Wisconsin was last named the overall winner in 2001.

The ACOE program in the Army National Guard is described as a holistic integrated business management approach used to measure organizational performance. This approach helps Joint Force Headquarters - the headquarters for the National Guard in each state - assess performance and develop improvement initiatives to set the strategic direction.

The Pentagon announcement caps a series of recent top ACOE finishes by the Wisconsin Army National Guard. Last year it received the Gold First Place award as first runner up. In 2010 Wisconsin received a Silver Second Place finish - sixth in the Army National Guard. The state earned a Gold Third Place award in 2009 (fourth overall) and a Silver First Place award (fifth overall) in 2008. Wisconsin has been involved in the ACOE program since 1989.

Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, said the award underscores the collective effort of Wisconsin Guard Soldiers to achieve and maintain excellence.

"Hats off to the entire team," Anderson said. "The ACOE program is all about continued improvement in management processes that result in higher unit readiness and better care for our Soldiers and their families. This award doesn't mean that we have won and now we can rest, because winning isn't what it's about - but it does mean that we are succeeding in our goal."

Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, praised the efforts that led to the award.

"In the Guard we pride ourselves on being 'always ready, always there,'" Dunbar said, "and this ACOE process ensures that our leadership remains focused on supporting our Soldiers. We support them by constantly seeking to improve our processes, which ensures readiness.

"This award reflects the superb leadership of the Wisconsin Army National Guard," Dunbar continued. "I congratulate the entire team for this significant achievement."

The ACOE Awards program follows a 12-month evaluation in which Army, National Guard and Reserve installations are judged against Army priorities and the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Program criteria. Participants are not judged against each other. The assessment considers the overall quality of military environments, facilities and services.

The Wisconsin Army National Guard will receive a monetary award - as yet to be determined - for being the overall winner. Luanne Sleger, Wisconsin Army National Guard strategic planner and quality advisor, said that the award would be used for improvements at armories across the state.

"The benefits of the ACOE program far outweigh any monetary gains that we might receive for winning," she said.

All ACOE winners will be honored during a May 1 ceremony at the Pentagon.

U.S. Will Act to Prevent Iran from Developing Nuclear Weapons, Panetta Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 6, 2012 – Iran is America’s greatest concern in the Middle East, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee today.

“No greater threat exists to the security of Israel and to the entire region -- and indeed to the United States -- than a nuclear-armed Iran,” Panetta told the group. He noted the United States “is determined to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

Panetta is the first sitting defense secretary to address the group in 20 years. He spoke about the closeness of the U.S.-Israeli relationship, calling it a partnership. But he kept going back to the danger Iran’s nuclear program poses for the region and the world.

“Let me be clear: we do not have a policy of containment. We have a policy of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons,” Panetta said.

He detailed the “unprecedented pressure” the Obama administration and international allies have placed on Tehran. The Iranian regime faces crippling sanctions and growing isolation. Its closest ally -- the Asad regime in Syria -- is tottering and the Iranians face a choice, he said. The regime can “either meet their international obligations and rejoin the community of nations, or violate their international obligations, and face the consequences,” he said.

The United States would rather see a solution come about without the use military force, Panetta said.

“We want diplomacy to work. We will back this diplomacy with strong and increasing pressure … and we will keep all options -- including military action -- on the table to prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” he said.

Panetta said Iranian leaders must understand that President Barack Obama is not bluffing when he says all options are on the table. He noted the president has made it clear that the United States does not bluff.

“In this town it’s easy to talk tough,” Panetta said. “Acting tough is a helluva lot more difficult.”

He pointed out that Obama ordered 30,000 additional troops into battle in Afghanistan to confront a resurgent Taliban. The president also launched a comprehensive precision bombing campaign to protect the Libyan people, and ultimately toppled a brutal dictator.

“He has ordered U.S. warships to pass through the Strait of Hormuz despite the threats we have received from Iran,” the secretary said. “He has been the driving force behind the most successful and lethal counterterrorism campaign in U.S. history, culminating in the bold decision to send U.S. special operations forces hundreds of miles into Pakistan to take down Bin Laden.”

Panetta said the president has shown he is willing to do whatever is necessary to protect the United States, its allies and its interests, and Iranian leaders should not doubt his determination.

“Military action is the last alternative when all else fails,” Panetta said. “But make no mistake, when all else fails, we will act.”

Dempsey: Military Contracting Costs Must Shrink

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 6, 2012 – Contracted operational support to the military -- essentially, wartime contracting -- has expanded from a ratio of six troops per contractor during the Revolutionary War to fewer than one service member per contractor in Afghanistan, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.

Speaking at the fifth annual Joint Operational Contract Support Leaders Conference held at the Women In Military Service for America memorial here, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said “it can’t keep going that way.”

Dempsey said large defense budgets over recent years have contributed to the rise in contracted employee numbers, while the military services also rely on contract support for several logistics and life support functions service members used to perform.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group analyzed what DOD spent on contracting from 1990 to 2010. In a report released last May, the group noted defense contract dollars more than doubled from 2001 to 2010.

“Contract spending far outpaced growth in other DOD outlays,” the report noted. “This growth was concentrated in products and services, which experienced a compound annual growth rate of 8.4 percent and 9.4 percent, respectively, compared to the [research and development] category’s 5.4 percent annual growth.”

Now, as the services reshape for waning conflicts and shrinking budgets, there is an opportunity to determine what level of contract support the military needs, the chairman said.

“You can see where the trend line is going,” he said, noting that the trend cannot keep moving in that direction.

Contractors are part of the total military forces, Dempsey said. As with active and reserve component service members, he noted, it’s important to identify both the right number of employees and the essential skills they must have.

“We’re shrinking back to what we can afford” in the number of troops, Dempsey said. The 2013 budget request reduces overall troop numbers 5.5 percent over five years, mostly through cuts to the Army and Marine Corps.

Defense contract spending dollars must shrink as well, the chairman said. He said such cuts must reflect the experience gained over the last decade’s conflicts, so “the body of knowledge we didn’t have [before Afghanistan and Iraq]” won’t be lost in future conflicts.

Dempsey said the Defense Department’s goal should be to use contracted support to provide key options, and to balance the uniformed services’ capabilities, while never forgetting to ask, “What can the nation afford?”

The chairman acknowledged military members need to get better at contract oversight.

There is a broad variety of kinds and costs of contracted support, and often similar tasks are priced far differently, he said.

“There’s no doctrine I’m aware of that would help me make sense of [cost variance],” the general said.

The military must take responsibility for better oversight, and will need “input to close those gaps,” he said.

Dempsey noted defense leaders now accept that even company commanders need the skills to supervise contract support, and the Army, for example, is teaching captains some of those lessons during their branch career courses.

“When resources become scarce, we have to start thinking,” he said. “My message is -- this is an opportunity.”

Dempsey Reaffirms U.S.-Japan Alliance at Earthquake Anniversary Event

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 6, 2012 – As the first anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Japan’s northeast region approaches, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff yesterday reaffirmed the U.S.-Japan partnership, saying it grew stronger in the face of adversity.

“We have a saying: adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it,” Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said at a reception at the Japanese Embassy here last night. The event was held to thank Americans for their support following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and to highlight reconstruction efforts.

“The character that has been revealed in the Japanese people and the Japanese defense forces -- it’s probably the best thing that could come out of that kind of disaster,” Dempsey said. The chairman noted that, “while we recognize the goodness that comes out of these shared trials, there also is the sadness of all the people lost.”

Dempsey thanked Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki and the Japanese people for their enduring partnership and friendship, following a flutist playing the Star Spangled Banner and the showing of a video of the earthquake and reconstruction efforts.

“I have the real privilege of representing all the American armed forces and their family members who, really on this day, just want to tell the Japanese people -- our long-term partners and friends -- that we are so proud of you, after going through that kind of disaster,” Dempsey said. “It’s hard to imagine, really, the strength and resilience you have shown.”

The chairman said he spoke earlier this week with his Japanese counterpart to express his condolences for the earthquake and reaffirm the bilateral partnership.

“It’s to all of you who have been involved in the Pacific … that I will tell you, ‘thanks,’” he said. “And, to our Japanese brothers and sisters, we simply say the word that best defines us in this moment, and that is, tomodachi.”

Tomodachi, or friend, is the name of a nonprofit organization the U.S. and Japanese governments created following “Operation Tomodachi,” the U.S.-Japanese military relief efforts following the earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

The disaster killed more than 15,400 people and destroyed coastal villages, towns and cities in the Tohoku region. The U.S. military sent 20 ships, including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, almost 20,000 personnel, and huge amounts of supplies and heavy equipment.

Face of Defense: Former Marine Gets Medal For Heroism

By Lance Cpl. Sarah Wolff
Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CAMP PENDLETON, Calif., March 6, 2012 – With some prodding from his son, Charles P. Barrett Jr. finally received the recognition the Marine Corps says he was due for his actions 60 years ago.

On May 13, 1951 during the Korean War, then Marine Corps Cpl. Barrett was on refueling duties for a night combat operation when his fuel truck caught fire.

Rather than jump out of the burning truck, Barrett successfully drove it off the airfield, through a construction barrier and clear of all munitions before exiting the vehicle.

“His loyal devotion to duty in the face of great personal risk was in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service,” according to the Navy and Marine Corps Medal citation signed by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

Barrett’s prompt action and courage was recognized because of his son’s diligence.

“Three years ago, I found his service records in his shed, and saw that he had all these medals and awards,” said Charles P. Barrett III. “I finally said, ‘Dad, you have to tell me what you went through.’”

Among other stories, Barrett told his son that paperwork had been completed saying he rated the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, but it was missing from his service record. His son began writing to Headquarters Marine Corps and military historians to track down a copy of a citation found in a storage box indicating he did rate it.

“By his prompt action and courage, he avoided the disaster which would undoubtedly have resulted from the subsequent explosion of the truck’s cargo of gasoline which, due to his foresight, occurred without injury to aircraft or personnel,” according to the citation.

Closing the award ceremony, Barrett passed on words of wisdom to the attending Marines.

“We had a good, tight group of people that knew the seriousness of our mission and lived it safely,” Barrett said. “I have it in my mind that the Marine Corps is that way today. I see it and nobody’s going to tell me any different.”