Sunday, March 11, 2012

Willard Passes Pacific Command’s Reins to Locklear

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON  – The approximately 330,000 troops in U.S. Pacific Command have a new commander today, as their former top leader relinquished command.

Navy Adm. Robert F. Willard passed leadership of Pacom to Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III at Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii. Willard retired after nearly four decades of naval service.

“I can’t possibly express my full appreciation to U.S. Pacific Command’s 330,000 uniformed and civilian personnel who have supported our effort here and across half the world the past two-and-a-half years,” Willard said.

The command’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines and special operators “are really the forward face of the Asia-Pacific and Pacific Command,” Willard said. “And who for more than a decade shared rotations into and out of Iraq and Afghanistan with the rest of our nation’s joint forces, it’s been my profound honor to serve you.”

Willard expressed sorrow for the sacrifice of the men and women that lost their lives during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and reflected upon the words of comfort he provided to their families.

“In the last two years, two-and-a-half years, hardly a week passed that I didn’t sign letter of condolence to families of these brave service members,” he said. “I signed seven on Wednesday, and for that no words can express what they sacrificed.”

Willard said he noted the importance of the Asia-Pacific region when he assumed command of Pacom.

“When I assumed command of U.S. Pacific Command in 2009, the Asia-Pacific was a complicated place containing the largest economies, populations, militaries and diversities in the world,” he said. “In the intervening time, it’s grown more complex not less.”

Willard cited the sometimes rocky relationship between the U.S. and North Korea and concern about China’s military modernization among the complex regional issues.

“President Obama’s and Secretary Panetta’s new defense priorities rightly focus on the Asia-Pacific,” Willard said. “No other region in the world holds so much promise amidst its challenges.”

The incoming commander declared his intent to stay the course with current Pacom methods as he described his new assignment as a “dream come true.”

“Well, in my case, let me say I’m extremely privileged to assume this command that is well-led, well-organized and is a superbly purposed combatant command,” Locklear said. “A command that has a clear strategic intent and clear direction from our nation’s leadership.”

Admiral Willard “has masterfully charted a course to help us navigate the dynamic 21st-century security environment,” he added. “And as any good naval officer, I expect a smooth transition from his hand on the helm to mine … the last thing you do is put the rudder over hard and make significant changes overnight.”

Locklear expressed his gratitude to the nation’s leadership and lauded the service members in his new command.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank President Obama, [Defense] Secretary [Leon E.] Panetta and General [Martin E.] Dempsey for this opportunity and the privilege to lead the outstanding men and women of Pacom,” Locklear said.

“I’m deeply appreciative of your trust and confidence in me,” he added, “and well, I guarantee you we’ll take this vast and critically important Asia-Pacific region forward in the right way.”

Willard stated his confidence in his successor and the future of Pacom and the region.

“No one in the U.S. military is as well suited and prepared to face up to the challenges and opportunities as Admiral Sam Locklear,” Willard said. “And we’re thrilled for Pacific Command and the nation that our president and our secretary have postured the finest U.S. commander and spouse team possible in the Asia-Pacific.”

Health System Seeks Savings While Retaining Excellence

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON – Iraq and Afghanistan have been dangerous places over the past decade, but deployed troops often passed a saying on to new arrivals: “If you’ve got to get shot, this is the best place to do it.”

The saying spread because the medical care for wounded service members was state-of-the-art, with the survival rates significantly higher than in previous conflicts.

Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, told the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee yesterday that he wants to retain this excellence while controlling spiraling costs.

“Over the last 10 years, the men and women of the Military Health System have performed with great skill and undeniable courage in combat,” Woodson said. “Their contributions to advancing military and American medicine are immense. The Military Health System’s ability to perform this mission and be able to respond to humanitarian crises around the globe is unique among all military and nonmilitary organizations on this globe.”

All department leaders are committed to sustaining this precious resource, Woodson said. But he acknowledged that military health care is now more than $51 billion of the yearly defense budget. The 2011 Budget Control Act calls for $487 billion in defense cuts over the next 10 years, and the health care system is not immune, he said.

Military health System officials are taking four roads to savings, Woodson told the panel. The first is to find efficiencies inside the system. The second is a continuation of efforts to appropriately pay for private-sector providers. A third initiative promotes healthy lifestyle choices while seeking to reduce illnesses, injuries and hospitalizations. The last is proposed changes to beneficiary cost-sharing under the TRICARE military health plan.

The fiscal 2013 defense budget request includes this recommended path to reorganize the military health system, Woodson said. “We have learned a great deal from our joint medical operations over the last 10 years,” he added, “and we recognize that there is much opportunity for introducing even a more agile headquarters operation that shares common services and institutes common clinical and business practices across our system of care.”

Woodson noted that the recommended changes to TRICARE fees came about only after officials had explored other avenues of potential savings. “Before we even considered TRICARE fees, there were a number of initiatives and considerations taken,” he told the committee.

DOD health affairs is looking to control headquarters costs, Woodson said, and it has had some success eliminating 780 full-time equivalent positions from the headquarters. Other efforts, he added yielded further savings.

“We put in a number of management reforms that have yielded very positive results in reducing costs, including a robust fraud and recuperative program that has yielded $2.6 billion over the last four years,” he said.

In addition, Woodson said, a pharmacy management program has saved $ 3.4 billion, medical supply and acquisition standardization has saved $31 million, and an amalgamation of other efficiencies that saved about $1 billion.