Thursday, May 17, 2012

Eucom Humanitarian Assistance Enhances Security Aims

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

STUTTGART, Germany, May 17, 2012 – A robust humanitarian assistance program in Europe is helping to provide essential services while bolstering bilateral relationships and setting conditions for future cooperation in a crisis, U.S. European Command officials reported.

Eucom’s program, conducted in close coordination with the U.S. Agency for International Development, is providing health, education, water and sanitation and transportation assistance in 17 countries in Eastern Europe and the Baltics, Navy Rear Adm. Andy Brown, the command’s logistics director, told American Forces Press Service.

The assistance runs the gamut, from donating excess equipment to providing disaster preparedness to schools, medical facilities and roads. All contribute to the command’s mission of improving living conditions for partner nations, Brown said, but also serve a larger role in enhancing U.S. national security.

“It’s building trust. As you help people, they learn to trust you,” Brown said. “And you never know when you will need to have that trust in a security situation.”

Providing essential services and disaster response capabilities, particularly for Eastern European nations still recovering from military conflicts and rebellions, sets them on a trajectory toward long-term, self-sustaining capability, he said. And in the meantime, Brown said, it builds goodwill toward the United States as it prepares host nations to respond to a disaster or crisis.

“We have to do good things, but we also have to do them for strategic reasons,” said Ame Stormer, who manages Eucom’s humanitarian assistance program.

Brown cited the need in Eastern Europe, where some towns still have no running water and children walk along dirt roads to attend schools without electricity or even bathrooms. “The need is definitely there, and it’s a lot more than we have the money to provide,” he said.

So projects are chosen selectively, he explained, with strategic considerations that promote Eucom’s mission and the respective ambassador’s goals. Ambassadors have “lots of tools to get things done, but we are one of the tools in his toolbox to help his country.”

Some of the aid comes in the form of excess school desks and other equipment from U.S. military facilities being closed. One unique donation last year provided 11 pianos to a Polish music school for the blind that had been flooded, Brown said.

The command also donated more than $1 million in excess humanitarian and disaster-response supplies and firefighting equipment to Georgia’s Red Cross to replace items depleted following recent forest fires and the 2008 conflict there.

Sometimes, U.S. forces deliver the emergency aid personally. Earlier this year, for example, U.S. Army Europe soldiers distributed supplies when record snowfalls hit Montenegro and helped many snowbound people get the medical care they needed.

Other longer-term Eucom projects focus on renovating substandard medical facilities, schools and other infrastructure, or building new ones.

One current project, being conducted in Macedonia with USAID, begins by training teachers and school administrators how to incorporate lessons on ethnic tolerance into school curricula, Stormer explained. USAID recommends schools for renovation when they reach specific performance levels in their training program. Eucom then funds the projects through local contractors, creating local jobs while providing a tangible reward for reinforcing values that Brown said will help ensure long-term stability.

The command expects to renovate about 10 schools per year in Macedonia through the program.

Another new project, strategically located near Azerbaijan’s border with Iran, involves establishing a vocational school for several hundred Muslim girls. That project, Stormer explained, is being conducted in partnership with the local government and a foundation run by Azerbaijan’s first lady to provide job skills to young women.

With more than a half-million dollars in funding just awarded, the Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of identifying property in Astara, Azerbaijan, and drawing up a design for the school, the fifth that Eucom will have built from the ground up. The Corps of Engineers then will subcontract the project to local contractors, shooting for a fall 2013 opening.

Yet another project, in Gagouzia, Moldova, is completing a highway project that will connect the strongly pro-Russian region with neighboring Romania. As Eucom and the Millennium Challenge Corp. partner in that effort, the U.S. Office of Defense Cooperation in Moldova is identifying humanitarian assistance projects in communities along that road, including water and sanitation facilities in schools.

“In some cases, we are providing schools with flush toilets for the first time in 20 years,” as facilities have declined since the Soviet Union fell and its financial support dried up, Stormer said.

A series of school projects in Sevastopol, Ukraine, also aims to help turn around anti-American sentiment at the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s homeport. Five school renovations are under way there, all at the request of the embassy’s Office of Defense Cooperation. One, now complete, has become the most-photographed building in town, Stormer said, with bridal couples frequently seen posing at its entry.

Emphasizing the program’s value in projecting a positive U.S. image and promoting closer partnerships in the region, Brown said he recognizes that funding constraints could cause Eucom to scale back or reassess how it conducts it. “I think the program will continue, but we have to be pretty selective and creative to make our dollars go further,” he said.

He’s exploring ways to stimulate more public-private partnerships in the region and to piggyback on more military exercises -- particularly those involving engineers -- to conduct humanitarian civic assistance projects.

Last year, for example, the Marine Corps’ Black Sea Rotational Force in Europe built a medical evacuation landing pad at a Romanian hospital about 12 miles from their forward operating base. This year, Stormer is hoping the Marines will complete nine projects, from school renovations to lavatories and health clinics, in Romania, Bulgaria and Lithuania.

Stormer emphasized that these types of projects involving uniformed U.S. troops must be directly linked to their training.

“The fact that it is humanitarian is nice to have, but it really has to be about what skill sets the troops are getting,” she said. “Sometimes it’s working in an austere environment, sometimes it’s that interoperability piece, working with another military, and sometimes it’s the actual skills they are learning.”

Particularly during medical support missions, Stormer said, U.S. troops get exposure to health problems or medical equipment they simply don’t see in the United States.

Brown said he’s seen firsthand the dynamic that comes from having U.S. military members work side by side with their host-national counterparts on a project to benefit the local community.

“You see a wonderful sense of cooperation,” he said. “As they work together, they know that what they are doing will be very impactful for that community.”

Joining Forces Grants Military Free Access to National Treasures

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class (SW/AW) Desiree D. Green, Navy Public Affairs Support Element East

YORKTOWN, Va. (NNS) -- The U.S. Secretary of Interior visited the Yorktown Victory Monument to speak at a "Joining Forces" initiative ceremony in Yorktown, Va., May 15.

During the ceremony, Ken Salazar announced to more than 300 service members that an annual pass would grant free access to more than 2,000 national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests, and other public lands around the nation to active duty service members and their dependents.

The Joining Forces initiative was established in April 2011, by First Lady Michelle Obama and second lady Dr. Jill Biden, in an effort to mobilize all sectors of society to better provide support to service members and their families.

"As we celebrate military appreciation week, it is important that we honor our military service men and women," said Salazar. "Joining Forces has traveled the world over to let the world know what you do. Less than one percent of Americans serve in the military, so it is our mission to get one hundred percent of America to support our military. I want to say thank you because without your efforts and sacrifices, we would not be here today."

Members of the Department of Interior, National Parks Services and Army Corps of Engineers partnered with the Joining Forces national initiative to expand the opportunities for service members, veterans and their dependants, outlined in the initiative.

"This program and our partnership will bring a lot of visibility to our nations' natural treasures, but most importantly get the kids outside," said Jo-Ellen Darcy, the honorable assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works.

Boatswain's Mate 1st Class (SW/AW) Heather Havunen, from Port Operations Department, Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, was one of the first recipients to receive a national park access pass.

"I feel extremely special," said Havunen. "I am very humbled and honored to have been the first to receive it."

As the ceremony concluded, John Jarvis, director of National Park Services encouraged the use of the passes in hopes it would strengthen families and communities.

"Today is very special because we have the opportunity to give our military men and woman, and their families access to more than 397 parks and recreation areas," said Jarvis. "It's a small token to express our appreciation to you and your families. This pass provides access to what makes us America. It's opportunity to vacation, learn, have fun and be inspired. Once you have it, I want you to wear it out and then come back and we'll give you another one."

No One Injured as USS Essex, USNS Yukon Collide at Sea

From U.S. 3rd Fleet Public Affairs

SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- At approximately 9:20 a.m. PST, USS Essex (LHD 2) collided with USNS Yukon (T-AO 202) during an approach for a routine underway replenishment approximately 120 miles off the coast of Southern California due to an apparent steering malfunction aboard Essex.

While both ships reported some damage, no one was injured, there was no fuel spilled and the ships' fuel tanks and systems were not compromised.

The Navy will conduct a thorough investigation into the cause of the collision, and a full assessment of any damage is ongoing.

Essex is scheduled to return to San Diego May 17 after completing 12 years as the Navy's only permanently forward-deployed amphibious assault ship in Sasebo, Japan. The crew of USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) took over Essex April 23, during a planned hull swap. USNS Yukon is a Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler operating out of San Diego.

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Panetta Honors Marine Corps Aviation’s Centennial

By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 17, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta spoke of spirit and history here last night at an event commemorating the 100th anniversary of Marine Corps Aviation.

In remarks delivered at the foot of the Iwo Jima Memorial, Panetta lauded the efforts of 1st Lt. Alfred Cunningham, the first Marine detailed to aviation as a pilot for the B-1, the Navy’s initial purchase from the Wright Brothers.

“From the very beginning, the spirit of courage and determination exemplified by Alfred Cunningham has been the legacy of Marine Aviation,” Panetta said. “It is a spirit driven by a mission to project power from ship to shore and support Marines on the ground. It is a spirit that has guided Marine pilots to achieve the unthinkable and dare the impossible with their aircraft.”

Since Cunningham’s day, Panetta said, the Marine Corps has secured a place in Defense Department chronology, including its pivotal role in the conclusion of World War I, its strafing runs across the Pacific in World War II, its night defenses in Korea and its daring rescues in Vietnam.

Panetta also acknowledged the Corps’ current missions in Afghanistan.

“We thank God for the Marine pilots from Camp Leatherneck who support our troops on the ground and deal the enemy a heavy blow,” the secretary said. “From one generation to the next, Marine pilots pass down their legendary fighting spirit from one pilot to another, telling them, ‘If you are not getting mud on your windshield, you’re flying too high!’”

The secretary shared accounts of his MV-22 Osprey rides that brought him to the shores of Camp Pendleton in California, near ground zero in lower Manhattan on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and to the dusty plains of Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

“That unique aircraft embodies the agility, flexibility, and innovation that are at the heart of Marine Aviation,” he said.
Panetta also discussed the F-35 joint strike fighter, the world’s first supersonic stealth aircraft with short takeoff and vertical landing capabilities.

“The Marines need a fifth-generation fighter for the future, and they will have it,” he said.

Gen. James F. Amos, the 35th Marine Corps commandant, noted that the Marine Aviation centennial provides a distinct opportunity to both reflect and look forward.

“For nearly 100 years, Marine Aviation has demonstrated the adaptability, agility and unique ethos that come with the title ‘Marine,’” Amos said. “Supporting our ground and logistics brothers and sisters, Marine Aviation has forged a lasting legacy of professionalism, innovation and transformation.”

Sailors Support Caps for Kids during Spokane Navy Week

By Mass Communication Specialist Kathryn E. Macdonald, USS Constitution Public Affairs

SPOKANE, Wash. (NNS) -- Sailors assigned to USS Constitution, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 74) and Navy Operational Support Center (NOSC) Spokane gave Navy ball caps to children during a Caps for Kids event at Shriners Hospital for Children in Spokane, Wash. May 15.

Culinary Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Kevin Linney, assigned to Constitution, Quartermaster 3rd Class (SW/AW) Jennifer Boyle and Operations Specialist Seaman Greg Masters, assigned to Ronald Reagan, and Master-at-Arms 2nd Class (SW) Thomas Gowing and Quartermaster 2nd Class Brandon Pockell, assigned to NOSC Spokane, participated in the Navy Office of Community Outreach-sponsored event as part of Spokane Navy Week, May 14-20.

"We are so grateful the Sailors took time out of their day to visit our patients," said Kristin Monasmith, public relations specialist for Shriners Hospital for Children. "It's such a great treat for the kids. They absolutely love having the Sailors visit."

The idea for the Caps for Kids program originated at Children's Hospital, New Orleans in 1993 by Dr. Stephen Heinrich, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon.

"You can see the impact our presence makes on the smiling faces of the children we have the privilege to interact with," said Pockell. "The simple act of handing a ball cap and having a conversation with them makes a world of difference to these kids."

Caps for Kids became a national outreach effort in 2000. Since then, more than 500 commands and thousands of Sailors have donated ball caps to hospitals across the U.S. Most of the children who were given ball caps are dealing with long-term or lifelong health issues.

"When I handed the ball caps to the children, it gave me a great sense of pride," said Linney. "I hope that these ball caps will stay with these children for most of their lives and gives them pride in their military. They're just as important to us as what is going on in the world around us."

Spokane is the third of eight Navy Weeks Constitution Sailors are scheduled to participate in during 2012, celebrating the bicentennial of the War of 1812. The primary purpose of Navy Week is to increase Navy awareness by presenting the Navy to Americans who live in cities that normally do not have a significant naval presence. Spokane Navy Week will showcase the mission, capabilities and achievements of the U.S. Navy and provide residents the opportunity to meet Sailors firsthand.

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. America's Navy: Keeping the sea free for more than 200 years.

Constitution's mission today is to offer community outreach and education about the ship's history.