Wednesday, May 30, 2012

PCU Mississippi Sailors Volunteer with Habitat for Humanity in Pascagoula

By Lt. Cmdr. Jennifer Cragg, Commander, Submarine Group 2 Public Affairs

PASCAGOULA, Miss. (NNS) -- Nearly two dozen Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Mississippi (SSN 782) Sailors assisted the local Habitat for Humanity organization in Pascagoula with an ongoing housing project May 29.

PCU Mississippi, a Virginia-class attack submarine arrived in Pascagoula May 25 to prepare for its commissioning June 2.

Capt. John McGrath, PCU Mississippi's commanding officer said his crew was very interested in assisting in volunteer projects while the submarine was in Pascagoula for its commissioning.

"The Sailors of PCU Mississippi are true ambassadors of goodwill for not only the Submarine Force, but the U.S. Navy," said McGrath. "Since the early days of the boat's construction, my crew has diligently shown their volunteer spirit by giving of their off-duty time to various activities in Connecticut. It's only fitting for my crew to do the same in their namesake state of Mississippi."

Adele Lyons, director of development, Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast appreciated the support.

"Since Habitat for Humanity has been involved in an initiative to engage members of the military community, it is a perfect match to get Sailors from the Mississippi involved in one of our projects," said Lyons. "From past experience, we know these Sailors have a work ethic is second to none. We truly appreciate the Sailors wanting to give back to this community through volunteerism."

In December 2011, the submarine received a Navy Community Service/Project Good Neighbor community service award.

"When we were planning events to participate in during the commissioning week, many of my Sailors who regularly volunteered in Connecticut, were the first ones to sign up to participate in volunteer activities," said McGrath.

McGrath also added that since mid-2010, his Sailors assisted with countless projects in Connecticut that range from cooking food for veterans to educating students at John B. Stanton Elementary School.

While in their namesake state, PCU Mississippi Sailors will also volunteer with the local American Red Cross to pack hurricane preparedness materials.

Virginia-class submarines are built under a unique teaming arrangement between General Dynamics Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Industries - Newport News. Construction on the submarine began in February 2007.

Once commissioned in 2012, Mississippi, like all Virginia-class submarines, is designed to dominate both the littorals and deep oceans. It will serve as a valuable asset in supporting the core capabilities of maritime strategy: sea control, power projection, forward presence, maritime security and deterrence.

PCU Mississippi will be commissioned June 2 in Pascagoula, Miss. The ceremony, which begins at 10 a.m. CST, will be streamed live on and available via webcast at

Obamas Host Women Submariners, First Lady Sponsors Sub

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON  – President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama yesterday welcomed the Navy’s first contingent of women submariners to the White House as part of a busy Memorial Day schedule.

The 24 young women visited the White House, along with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, and Navy Adm. Mark Ferguson, vice chief of naval operations, as part of a “Joining Forces” initiative. The first lady and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, started the Joining Forces campaign last year to rally Americans to honor, recognize and serve military families.

As part of the meeting, the first lady accepted Mabus’ invitation to serve as the sponsor of the future USS Illinois (SSN 786), a Virginia-class submarine -- the Navy’s newest class of attack submarine -- being built in Groton, Connecticut and Newport News, Virginia. Illinois is expected to join the fleet in late 2015.

In sponsoring USS Illinois, Obama joins a tradition of first lady sponsorships of Navy submarines. First Lady Laura Bush is USS Texas’ (SSN 775) sponsor and christened it in 2004; First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton is USS Columbia’s (SSN 771) sponsor and christened it in 1994.

“As sponsor, the first lady will establish a special link to Illinois, her sailors, and their families that extends throughout the life of the submarine,” a White House press release says.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to serve as sponsor of the USS Illinois,” the first lady said yesterday. “I’m always inspired by the service and sacrifice of the men and women of the Navy, as well as the families who support them. This submarine is a tribute to the strength, courage, and determination that our Navy families exhibit every day.”

“Naval tradition holds that a sponsor’s spirit and presence guide the ship and her crew throughout the life of the ship,” Mabus said. “Illinois and her crew are blessed to have such a wonderful sponsor and I am grateful Mrs. Obama accepted my invitation to serve as sponsor for this submarine.”

The first lady also serves as the sponsor for the recently commissioned Coast Guard Cutter Stratton, based in Alameda, Calif. The ship is named after Captain Dorothy Stratton, the director of the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve during World War II where she oversaw 10,000 enlisted women and 1,000 commissioned officers.

In 2009, Mabus announced that for the first time in U.S. Navy history, women would be assigned to the operational submarine force.

The 24 women who met with the president and first lady were accepted into the Navy’s nuclear submarine program after completing intensive training. They are serving on ballistic and guided missile submarines throughout the Navy.

Community Service Project Serves as Homecoming for USS Pearl Harbor Sailor

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason J. Behnke, USS Pearl Harbor Public Affairs

CEBU, Philippines (NNS) -- Thirty Sailors from amphibious dock landing ship USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52) and embarked Marines assigned to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) took part in a community service (COMSERV) project at the Children's Shelter of Cebu in Cebu, Philippines, May 28.

During the day-long project, the group of Sailors and Marines helped to clean up and make improvements to the shelter as well as spend time with the 80 children who reside at the shelter.

For Seaman Joy Bonnett, a Sailor assigned to Pearl Harbor, the event was more than just a COMSERV project; it was an emotional homecoming as she had previously lived at the shelter for eight years.

"I didn't think I would cry, but I did," said Bonnett. "Once I saw my house parents that took care of me from when I was five years old to 13 years old, and the aunties that helped take care of me, it was heartwarming. I really felt like I was back home."

Bonnett said she has fond memories of the years she and her five siblings spent at the shelter.

"My mom couldn't raise us and my dad passed away when I was five," said Bonnett. "So she thought it was better for all of us to be together at an orphanage rather than being raised struggling with her."

That's how she came to know her second family at the Children's Shelter.

"We take care of kids who don't have families," said Mitch Ohlendorf, executive director of the Children's Shelter of Cebu. "The kids might be orphaned, they might be abandoned by their parents or they might be neglected to the point that their parents just can't take care of them."

Ohlendorf said Bonnett's story is a familiar one to the employees who run the shelter.

"Hers is a unique story in several ways as well," Ohlendorf said. "Most kids probably don't stay here as long as she did. It's because larger sibling groups often take longer to get adopted. There just aren't a lot of families available willing to adopt older, larger sibling groups."

Ohlendorf said luckily for her and her siblings, two young Minnesotans came into their lives.

"Her adoptive parents came here to work in our school for a couple of years," said Ohlendorf. "Joy and some of her brothers and sisters were students. They got to know the kids and fell in love with them and adopted them."

Bonnett said the couple initially got close with her autistic younger brother and ultimately fell in love with the whole family.

"They were like 27 and 24 at that time," Bonnett said. "That's amazing to have six kids at 24 and 27 years old."

Bonnett said the transition from living on the tropical Island of Cebu to the chilling winters of Middle America brought a few more challenges than just learning how to deal with snow.

"I'd get in trouble sometimes because I wasn't used to somebody telling me what to do," she said. "I remember feeling confined in a family situation. In the orphanage you can do whatever because there are so many kids. It was hard dealing with the rules at first, but I adjusted."

Bonnett said her family in Richfield, Minn., has grown over the years. She now has 10 brothers and sisters. Her parents adopted two more children and had two of their own.

With less than a year in the Navy, Bonnett found it surprising that she was able to accomplish one of her life goals of going back to visit the shelter.

"I was pretty shocked. Out of all the islands or places we could visit we pull into Cebu," said Bonnett I was pretty excited to go back; I've always wanted to go back. That's why I joined the Navy to get money to go back to the Philippines. I'm grateful for it."

Bonnett said she had hoped to visit her birth mother during the visit as well but was not able to due to her mother living on a different island.

"I'll probably go back some day to visit her," said Bonnett. "My family back in Minnesota is my real family now, but I'd still like to meet her some day."

By days end, the group of Sailors and Marines had trimmed a row of overgrown hedges and performed other maintenance at Bonnett's former home. However, the real impact of the COMSERV came from the time they spent with the children.

"Everyone interacted really well with the kids. The kids were having a lot of fun," said Bonnett.

Pearl Harbor and the 11th MEU are part of the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group that is currently deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations.

Sea Services Run in Honor of 9/11 Victims and Fallen Heroes

By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Lacordrick Wilson, Navy Public Affairs Support Element East

NEW YORK (NNS) -- Marines, Sailors, and Coast Guardsmen led the annual Ground Zero Memorial Run through downtown Manhattan May 29 as part of Fleet Week New York 2012.

The 1.7-mile run honoring of the victims of 9/11 and America's fallen heroes started at the North Cove Marina, and ended at the Ground Zero site.

"To finish Fleet Week off at the World Trade Center memorial site and to pay respect to those who have fallen before us, whether they know it or not, defending our nation, we couldn't be more thankful for that opportunity," said Marine Maj. Rob Sucher, operations officer, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force.

The Quantico Marine Band also played during the memorial run on the steps of Federal Hall as the Marines, Sailors and Coast Guardsmen ran past.

At the end of the run, Marines gathered around the 9/11 Memorial to place a wreath in honor of the victims of 9/11.

"This gives me a lot of pride being here with the Sailors and Marines," said Marine Science Technician 2nd Class Kevin Kyles. "It's an honor to commemorate the World Trade Center."

Held nearly every year since 1984, Fleet Week New York is the city's celebration of sea services. Fleet Week New York provides as opportunity for the citizens of New York City and the surrounding tri-state area to meet Sailors, Marines and Coastguardsmen, as well as see, firsthand, the latest capabilities of today's martime services. More than 6,000 service men and women from the U.S. and coalition nations are participating.

This year, Fleet Week New York is one of the signature events around the country commemorating OpSail 2012, the bicentennial of the War of 1812, and the Star-Spangled Banner. The Commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 is a salute to all Sailors and Marines who fought gallantly in that conflict, who served in all our nation's conflicts since then, and who are defending freedom around the world.

Are You inTransition?

By Jayne Davis, DCoE Strategic Communications

“Put me in coach … I’m ready to play!” In sports, that statement shows a player’s determination to succeed. The same could be said for service members who voluntarily access inTransition, a coaching program that helps those being treated for psychological concerns transition between behavioral health care providers or systems as a result of a change in their service status.

Such transitions can pose challenges and create uncertainties for the service member under treatment, sometimes resulting in a retreat from care or behavioral health setbacks. InTransition coaches work one-on-one with service members and veterans to ensure continuity of care and help them feel comfortable with and prepared for a change to a new provider.

Coaching services are performed by licensed, master- or doctoral-level behavioral health experts. The coach doesn’t provide behavioral health care, but helps the user navigate the transition with guidance and resources, such as community services, support groups and crisis intervention services, and motivates the individual to continue pursuing their wellness goals. All of this is done through telephone contact and continues until the service member has been seen by their new mental health provider.

InTransition is a collaboration between the Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and is managed by Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE). The DCoE inTransition team informs behavioral health care providers, service members, veterans and their families about the program through Yellow Ribbon events, conferences and presentations worldwide.

Here are a few further notes on the program:

 ■It is voluntary, free and accessible by self-referral or referral by a current provider or case manager
■Participating service members can expect absolute privacy of personal information other than contact details, and a diagnosis only if the current provider elects to provide it to the coach
■Public service announcements educate interested parties about coaching services and benefits
■A confidential, toll-free number for coaching information is available 24/7 — 800-424-7877
■Resources frequently requested include VA benefits and accessing VA services; Vet Center readjustment counseling services; OEF/OIF/OND programs; community resources and support groups; information on posttraumatic stress disorder and TBI; the GI Bill; and employment links and financial resources

To learn more, read this information sheet about inTransition and this DCoE blog post about one service member’s experiences.