Friday, May 18, 2012

Wisconsin unit ready to respond to natural disaster, WMD scenarios

By Tech. Sgt. Jon LaDue
Wisconsin National Guard

If there was one unit that could symbolize the Wisconsin National Guard's domestic operations role, an argument could be made for the 54th Civil Support Team, which held a change-of-command ceremony Wednesday (May 16) at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Madison. 

The 54th CST is a joint unit - encompassing Wisconsin Soldiers and Airmen - that is a round-the-clock team postured for response to natural disasters, toxic industrial chemical incidents and terrorists situations with an emphasis on weapons of mass destruction.

The CST is also joint in the aspect that it frequently coordinates, trains and responds with local, state and federal organizations. The unit is often looked to for initial reports and analysis of unknown materials which could potentially pose a threat to the public's safety.

"Their ability to analyze materials and respond, both from their training standpoint and equipment standpoint, far exceeds what we have here locally," said FBI supervisory agent Christopher Cole. "So in an incident we're going to rely heavily upon them." 

The FBI and the CST share the domestic WMD mission and the partnership between the two agencies is extremely important, Cole said.

The 54th works with more than just the FBI, however, having trained and worked with more than 90 civil agencies. And according to Col. Paul Russell, commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 64th Troop Command, the CST has responded 100 percent of the time they've been requested.
"On average you spend one-third of the fiscal year away from your friends and family. Remember the importance of what you do," Russell said. "We are counting on you, Wisconsin is counting on you - as are the citizens of our great nation."

Air Guard Lt. Col. David May assumed command of the 54th CST, from Army Guard Lt. Col. Timothy Covington during the formal ceremony. May becomes the first Air National Guard officer to lead the unit, which is part of the Department of Defense's program to assist local authorities in any WMD event.

"This is an incredibly exciting and humbling day for me," May said. "While I never could have foreseen a unique opportunity such as this one … I consider it a dream come true to be at this particular unit.

"Today starts a new chapter for us and it will be a chapter we will write together," May continued. "I can only come to the conclusion that as we build on the many successes of the past, this CST team is destined for continued greatness and a well deserved place in the top tier of CSTs across the nation."

Commander Seeks Better Military-to-Military Relations With China

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON  – Chinese and American officials recognize the importance of good, uninterrupted military-to-military relations, and the commander of U.S. Pacific Command will do what he can to further that goal.

Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III spoke about his new command and the importance he places in building the U.S. military relationship with China during a recent interview.

“The last thing you want to have is miscalculation between large militaries,” the admiral said. “You want diplomacy to work. Militaries should only come into play when diplomacy fails, and then they should work hard to get you back into a diplomatic dialogue where real peace lies.”

The U.S.-China military relationship has been rocky. China broke off military-to-military relations with the United States in January 2010, when the United States announced it would sell arms to Taiwan. For months, military relations were frozen, then they slowly warmed. In 2011, the military-to-military relationship resumed. Then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates stressed that it was particularly in times of stress between the nations that such ties were important.

Gates visited China in January 2011, and his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Liang Guanglie, just finished a visit to the United States. The visit went forward even as arms sales to Taiwan again hit the news.

Chinese government officials face many decisions as the country moves forward. The nation has had stupendous growth over the past 30 years, and year-to-year growth in gross domestic product remains high. The Chinese army is benefiting from the booming economy, and Chinese officials are modernizing the military.

“They are an emerging power, and we are a mature power,” Locklear said. “How they emerge, and how we encourage them will be an important key to both China and the United States.”

The Chinese have many choices to make, and better military-to-military communications will allow both nations to understand why officials are making these choices. All this is “for the good of the global security environment,” Locklear said.

The on-again, off-again nature of communications between the militaries doesn’t help. “I think we may be reaching a turning point in that,” he said. “Both nations realize that it’s not in the best interests of anyone in the world for the U.S. and China to not have a favorable relationship with each other, and that good military-to-military relations [are] critical to that.”

Military-to-military contacts are one way to build trust between the nations, the admiral said. “You learn to operate together, you learn to cooperate, you learn about each other’s families -- you get a personal view of each other.” So when things happen, he added, commanders can reach out to one another.

Sometimes it’s impossible for capitals to talk to each other, the admiral said, and military commanders, with these types of contacts, sometimes can calm things down a bit.

Locklear had just returned from a visit to Beijing, and said he came away encouraged by the progress. “I’m hopeful that we can continue to have a dialogue and just talk together,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.”

The United States and its closest allies don’t agree on everything, he noted. “But I do believe we should not allow those disagreements prevent us from understanding each other in the places that we can, and allow us to control our appetite for disagreement,” he said.

The South China Sea is an area of contention, with China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Cambodia asserting jurisdiction in various parts of the waterway, which covers an area from Singapore to Taiwan.

“The United States doesn’t take sides on competing territorial claims,” Locklear said. “But we have an opinion on how we want those disputes to be resolved. First, we want them resolved by peaceful means and in accordance with customary law and by the things like the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. There are ways to deal with this.”

Additionally, the United States calls upon all claimants to clarify their claims.

The South China Sea is crucial to trade in the region and with the United States. Half of the trade for the United States flows through the region. Almost all of the oil for China and Japan flow through the waterway.

There are competing claims to islands and seamounts in the sea, and how this plays out is of concern to the United States. “The way to deal with this is to settle in a forum where there can be as much win-win as possible,” the admiral said. “But we want it done in a peaceful environment and we don’t want a heavy hand from any side to enforce the process.”

While not taking sides, the United States has a national interest in the freedom of the seas -- including the South China Sea -- and has consistently opposed excessive maritime claims. U.S. forces will continue to preserve the rights, freedoms and uses of the sea guaranteed to all nations by conducting freedom of navigation missions in the area.

While China is important to the U.S. strategy in the region, Locklear said, Korea is one area that keeps him awake at night. North Korea has a new leader, and more than half the population survives on fewer than 800 calories a day. The regime spent an inordinate amount of money to try to launch an ICBM, and there are rumblings that North Korea may continue to develop nuclear weapons. With the money that North Korea spent on its failed missile, “you could have fed 20 million people for one year,” the admiral said.

Transnational threats also are a growing concern. Locklear said the cyber threat is the greatest transnational threat in the region, followed by terrorism. U.S. Pacific Command has an office dedicated to protecting its own networks and working with allies to combat cyber attacks. Locklear said he wants regional and international organizations to work together to define the rules of the Internet road.

“In the area of violent terror organizations, we are seeing … a transition,” the admiral said. “In the terror world, as you squeeze on one side of the balloon, it pops out somewhere else. Terrorists look for areas to exploit.”

Terror groups are drawn to areas where people are disenfranchised and poor. “We’re seeing more of that in some areas of Asia and we are going to have to adapt our forces to deal with that,” Locklear said. “But in the long run, I think the solution is prosperity, and a general sense of security that makes it so these terror networks can’t survive.”

But the bottom line, the admiral said, is that the American people have to understand that the United States is a Pacific nation, with national interests that must be secured.

“For six decades, the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific has provided the security infrastructure that basically underpins the prosperity in the region,” he added. “This will continue.”

USS George H.W. Bush Receives Fleet's Top Honors

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Timothy Daughton, USS George H.W. Bush Public Affairs

NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77) received the fleet's highest recognition for superior operational performance and excellence in safety during an awards ceremony in the ship's hangar bay, May 16.

Adm. John C. Harvey, commander, U.S. Fleet Forces (USFF), Rear Adm. Ted N. Branch, commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic and Rear Adm. Brian C. Prindle, commander, Naval Safety Center, presented the Battenberg Cup Award, 2011 Battle "E" Award and the Admiral Flatley Memorial Award, respectively, to CVN 77.

Prindle presented the Admiral Flatley award to Electronics Technician 3rd Class Thomas Ackerson, Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Nieswand, from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8, and Cmdr. Patrick Honeck, command safety officer, who accepted the award on the behalf of CVN 77 and CVW-8 for their overall safety performance.

In 2011, the CVN 77 and CVW-8 team logged more than 250 days underway, 30,000 flight hours, 14,000 sorties launched including 11,000 catapults shot, 15,000 aircraft recoveries and zero mishaps.

"The Bush and CVW-8 team, integrated professional execution of risk management in all you did and results, remarkably, speak for themselves," Prindle said.

The award is based on the overall safety record, including the number of Class A and B mishaps experienced by the ship and air wing, their exposure to hazards during the year, and a type commander assessment of the ship's safety program; including an evaluation of Operational Risk Management (ORM) readiness.

"A lot of safety is ORM driven," Honeck said. "Along with ORM, we also monitor 18 different Navy Safety and Occupational Health programs on board; everything from eye hazards, hearing protection, electrical safety and heat stress, to inspections of all of the ladders, trunks, hatches and non-skid aboard the ship."

Branch presented the 2011 Battle "E" award to Operations Specialist 1st Class Shanika Simms and Lt. Eric Andrews, as CVN 77 was selected as the top carrier in the Atlantic Fleet in the 2011 Commander Naval Air Force Carrier Battle Efficiency and Departmental Awards Program.

"The Battle 'E' award means that you have done everything not just well, but you have done everything the best," Branch said. "You have demonstrated excellence in all your warfighting capabilities and mission sets. In the short span of time that you have had to become operational and go to the tip of the spear to exercise your mission set and accomplishing the Navy's mission and doing it with such precision and such great results, is just simply incredible."

The Battle Efficiency Award, or Battle "E", recognizes superior operational performance, an assessment of the crew of George H.W. Bush who won the honors on the heels of the ship's first combat deployment. It was a clean sweep for the Navy's newest aircraft carrier, earning all 13 departmental awards and an additional nod to the combined George H.W. Bush and CVW-8 carrier maintenance team, making CVN 77 the only operational carrier to win honors in all categories.

"Winning the Battle 'E' is a great accomplishment and a testament to the skill of any crew, but it's all the more meaningful when you consider the fact that our crew earned it during the ship's maiden deployment, the first deployment ever for 40 percent of our Sailors," said George H.W. Bush Commanding Officer Capt. Brian E. Luther.

"I think the very essence of our success was teamwork. We had a common goal and we worked together to achieve that," said CVN 77 Command Master Chief (SW/AW) David Colton. "A key element is leadership. We train ourselves and we train our subordinates, and that's culminated in the clean sweep. I'm exceptionally proud of every member of this crew, because every one of them played a role in this, from the Sailors launching the aircraft up on deck to the Sailors working in the ship's laundry, it was truly an all hands effort that paid off."

Harvey presented the Battenberg Cup Award to Electrician's Mate 1st Class Daniel Kliche and Chief Navy Counselor Aaron Jackson, recognizing the George H.W. Bush crew as the top unit in USFF. The award is presented to the premier vessel among aircraft carriers, surface ships and submarines where they are ranked for "Battle Efficiency" and achievements in other areas such as operations, administration and leadership.

The Battenberg Cup, also known as the British Challenge Cup, was initiated by Rear Adm. Prince Louis of Battenberg. Under his command in 1905, four armored cruisers from the British Second Cruiser Squadron made a goodwill cruise to Annapolis, Md. Washington, D.C. and New York. The visit was hosted by then-Rear Adm. Robley D. Evans, commander in chief of the Atlantic Fleet. After returning to Great Britain, he created the cup to recognize the "good fellowship and wonderful entertainments" he and his men experienced in their visit to the United States. The large silver trophy he made stood three feet high and 11 inches in diameter at the top.

Battenberg mailed the cup to Evans, with an accompanying letter stating the cup was intended for the enlisted men under Evans' command. The letter also requested the cup to become a challenge cup. In accordance with Battenberg's wishes, Evans subsequently set up racing rules so that British sailors would compete with American Sailors in using U.S. Navy standard racing cutters.

From 1906 until 1940, competitions were held until the war years disrupted them and they never resumed until 1978. That year Adm. Isaac C. Kidd Jr., commander in chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet; reinstated the Battenberg Cup Award, not for racing cutters, but as a symbol of operational excellence within the Atlantic Fleet.

"You have institutionalized excellence and the right way to do business in the United States Navy, taking the might and mission of the Unites States on deployment," Harvey said. "That's what you have done and you have done it better than anybody else in the Navy."

Other ships in the Battenberg Cup competition included the guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55) representing Naval Surface Forces Atlantic; and the nuclear submarine USS New Hampshire (SSN 778) representing Submarine Force Atlantic.

"Today, I join my father in thanking you for not only serving this nation but for making sure the Avenger rises to the top. The Battenberg Cup and Admiral Flatley Memorial Awards are the result of your passion, your commitment to the Navy, to serving others, to safety and to quite simply, being the best the Atlantic fleet has to offer," Koch said. "The 'E' in the Battle 'E' stands for efficiency, but I know it represents many more attributes all of you process; excellence, experience, expertise and elite. My dad is honored and humbled by the work and dedication of each of you, the elite leaders and crew of this ship."

"This is a perfect example of hard work being recognized and I am honored to be the commanding officer to the crew. Receiving these awards shows the relentless dedication and superior performance the crew on this warship displays on a continuous basis to keep it maintained at the highest levels of excellence," said Luther.

Canadian Military Embarks Mercy for Pacific Partnership 2012

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Stephen M. Votaw, Pacific Partnership 2012

PEARL HARBOR (NNS) -- Canadian armed forces medical personnel embarked Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) during its scheduled port visit in Pearl Harbor May 15, to participate in Pacific Partnership 2012 (PP12).

The group of 30 Canadian service members will be divided into two teams with each covering half of the deployment to work with the host nations to provide medical care in the mission ports of Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia.

"We are here aboard Mercy to support PP12," said Cpl. Benjamin Fournier, from British Columbia, Canada. "We have a team of medical technicians, nurses and a doctor that will provide aid at the medical civil action programs."

The medical civil action programs (MEDCAPs) are designed to offer a variety of medical treatments by leveraging the expertise of host nation, partner nation and NGO medical personnel.

"We will help in every way we can, from checking vitals and assessments, to working hands-on with the treatment of the patients," said Fournier.

Fournier said PP12 provides the team an opportunity to work with a multitude of experts from a range of organizations and countries.

"It's very important to us to train with other militaries," said Fournier. "If a natural disaster should occur again, we want to be prepared; it will take all of our combined efforts."

For some of the Canadian team this is the first time they have ever traveled outside their home country.

"I have never (had) the chance to travel before, and can't wait to see these places we are going," said Fournier. "I'm very fortunate to be one of only 30 service members in the whole country to be chosen to take part in PP12."

The service members were chosen from some of the best medical personnel in all of the Canadian armed forces.

"I was at home on leave when I heard the news," said Fournier. "I got a call from my command telling me that I was going to be part of PP12; I almost jumped through the roof."

In addition to the mission, working aboard a hospital ship is something he has never before experienced.

"Being aboard a ship is new to me," said Fournier. "There have been a whole lot of 'firsts' for me; from learning the proper terms, to finding my way around, it has been a very interesting experience."

"This ship is much bigger than the ships I have been on," said Master Seaman John Fillis, from British Columbia, Canada. "When I was on the HMCS Algonquian we had only 300 people and could walk from one end of the ship to the other in two minutes."

Fillis said all of the Canadian personnel have received an amazing reception from the crew since coming on board.

"Not only are people taking time out of their day to help us, but they truly seem to want to get to know us and where we come from," he said. "It is one of the most humbling experiences I can imagine, and I can't wait to get out there and start seeing patients and being an ambassador for my home country."

Now in its seventh year, Pacific Partnership is an annual U.S. Pacific Fleet humanitarian and civic assistance mission designed to work by, with and through host and partner nations, non-governmental organizations and international agencies to build partnerships and a collective ability to respond to natural disasters.