Thursday, May 31, 2012

Blue Ridge Departs Pattaya, Thailand

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Mel Orr, USS Blue Ridge Public Affairs

LAEM CHAEBANG, Thailand (NNS) -- Sailors from U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), embarked 7th Fleet staff, and Marines from the Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team Pacific departed from Laem Chaebang, Thailand after a five-day port visit.

The port visit represented an opportunity for Sailors and Marines to serve as goodwill ambassadors from the U.S., promote peace and stability in the Southeast Asia region, to demonstrate commitment to regional partnerships, and foster growing relationships.

The religious program aboard Blue Ridge, led by Blue Ridge Navy chaplain Lt. Donald Baker, arranged community service (COMSERVs) events for Sailors to participate each day during the port visit.

"Our visits to these different sites were of the utmost importance in the grand scheme of things," said Baker. "Probably not much strategic importance or national defense importance, but being able to bring light in some really dark situations from a humanity perspective."

More than 60 Sailors visited Pattaya Children's Home, Child Development and Protection Center, Camillian Civilian Social Center, and Royal Thai Marine Corps Nursery Center as part of a COMSERV where they landscaped, played with children and interacted with local community members.

"Honestly, the experience was life changing," said Ship's Serviceman 3rd Class Krista Stelzner who participated in all four COMSERVs in Thailand. "Going on those COMSERVs made me understand loving people. Every children's home we visited, the kids ran up to us and hugged us without even knowing who we were. All they wanted was love."

Another event involving Blue Ridge Sailors, gave several culinary specialists the opportunity to demonstrate their skill sets, have fun with rival Thai chefs, and reach out to a larger Thai audience through Thailand's Iron Chef television show that was filmed in front of a live audience in Bangkok.

"Iron Chef gives them the chance to go outside the box, show the talent they've learned from [Navy] schools and training and put their own personal touch on it," said Blue Ridge "chow boss" Chief Warrant Officer Brian Ware. "I think it's a great event, great morale booster, and something they'll never forget in their career.

Culinary Specialist 1st Class Frank Medina led a three-man team with Culinary Specialists 2nd Class Nelson Malaxi and Manuelito Belocura, who earned their spots on the team during a ship-wide competition while Blue Ridge was underway.

"I was humbled to take part in the show," said Medina. "I wanted to take this opportunity to learn from a master chef but I brought my best level of competition with my team members."

The U.S. has a longstanding relationship with Thailand going back to the early 19th century. In 1933, the two countries signed Treaty of Amity and Commerce, making Thailand (then called Siam) the 1st Southeast Asian nation to make a formal diplomatic agreement with the U.S.

Panetta Travels to Asia to Discuss Refocus on Region

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta will put meat on the bones of what the refocus on the Asia-Pacific region means to the U.S. military during a week-long trip to Asia that begins today.

Panetta will speak about the new defense strategic guidance with friends and allies, senior defense officials speaking on background told reporters yesterday at the Pentagon.

Panetta will repeat what has become a mantra: that the United States is a Pacific power and will remain one, and that the region’s nations have grown behind the shield of stability and security America has provided in the area, officials said.

This is Panetta’s second trip to the region since taking office. “The core of what we’re trying to do in this swing through Asia is give a comprehensive account to everyone in the region about what the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific [region] will mean in practice,” one senior defense official said.

The secretary will meet with Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, at Pacom’s headquarters in Honolulu. He then will fly to Singapore, where he will present a policy speech on the strategic guidance at the 10th annual “Shangri-La Dialogue,” an annual Asian security conference.

During the conference, the official said, Panetta will have a chance for individual meetings with some of his counterparts. The list of those meetings had yet to be finalized, the official said yesterday, but he added that he anticipates a robust meeting schedule.

Panetta would welcome meetings with Chinese counterparts at the dialogue, but it was unclear whether that would be possible, the official said. Meetings with defense officials from Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and other nations are scheduled, officials said.

From Singapore, the secretary will journey to Vietnam.

“We’ve had a really good trajectory with Vietnam over a number of years,” the official said. “This is a great opportunity to mark the signing last year of a [memorandum of understanding] with Vietnam on defense cooperation.”

The secretary will work with Vietnamese officials to discuss how the two countries can continue strengthening military-to-military ties. He also will thank the Vietnamese for assistance in finding and recovering the remains of Americans missing in action from the Vietnam War, the official said.

Panetta then will fly to Delhi, India, and meet with a host of Indian officials. “The secretary has been eager to visit India since assuming his post last summer,” the official said. “U.S.-India defense ties are extremely important in a whole host of ways. Strategically, we see India as a partner with whom we have a lot of common interests and a lot of areas where we can work well together.”

The secretary will also discuss defense trade with Indian leaders, as well as the implications of the strategic guidance for U.S.-Indian military-to-military relations, the outcome of the NATO summit, and long-term trends in South Asia and the rest of the region, the official said.

“We’re trying to have a relationship with India that is broad, strategic and continual,” the official said. “With India, we are getting to a place where this type of interaction is just part of the norm of the relationship, where we engage on a whole range of issues -- strategic issues, cooperative issues and a whole range of cooperative issues.”

Sailors Remember Fallen Comrades

By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Chris Salisbury USS Frank Cable (AS-40) Public Affairs

BEAVERTON, Ore. (NNS) -- Sailors from submarine tender USS Frank Cable (AS 40)participated in the Memorial Day ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park in Beaverton, Ore. as part of the event coordination and setup team, May 28.

The service included a flyover by the Oregon Air National Guard 142nd Fighter Wing, performances by the 60 piece American Legion Post #185 Band and several speakers including Commander Timothy Sparks, executive officer of Frank Cable, Lee Hankins, retired U.S. Navy captain, and Chris Marshall, director, regional department of Veterans Affairs.

"I was honored to attend the ceremony today," said Hankins. "I was very surprised by the number of people in attendance, but I think it was fantastic that so many took time out from their busy lives to spend a few hours and remember all of the Americans that made the ultimate sacrifice so that we may live free."

Hankins, a 1985 graduate of the University of Southern California, retired in 2011 after 35 years of service in the Navy's submarine force.

"We in the submarine force owe everything to those who came before us; they led the way with their ingenuity, dedication and willingness to sacrifice," said Hankins. "They are the role models for all Sailors today. To the Sailors serving today, it's important to remember that we are all called to a higher order; we are charged with the security of our nation."

Memorial Day was publicly proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed May 30, 1868. Memorial Day is now celebrated annually on the last Monday of May.

Veterans from every branch of the military gathered together to remember lost friends and fellow service members who died protecting the rights and freedoms of American citizens.

"It was heartwarming to see the diversity of the Veterans and service members today from every age and race; one Veteran was 102 years old, while the youngest were the Sailors of our crew that attended," said Sparks. "The community in Portland very much appreciates our service and sacrifices, and that of the Veterans attending today. It was a great experience."

Sailors from the Frank Cable helped set up chairs and tables before the ceremony and placed flags around the park.

"Remembering those who have fallen while serving our country is so very important. All of us who serve now, serve by honoring the traditions carried over through the generations," said Sparks. "I know I joined the Navy to serve, and to be part of their legacy is truly an honor."

Frank Cable Sailors have participated in several community service projects during their ship's dry dock in Portland, Ore. Following the dry-docking and maintenance, sea trials will be conducted prior to Frank Cable transitioning back to Guam.

Frank Cable is temporarily relieved from conducting maintenance of submarines and surface vessels deployed in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility by submarine tender USS Emory S. Land (AS 39).

Frontline Psych with Doc Bender: Time for a Mental Health Checkup

By Dr. James Bender, DCoE psychologist

Dr. James Bender is a former Army psychologist who deployed to Iraq as the brigade psychologist for the 1st Cavalry Division 4th Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Hood, Texas. During his deployment, he traveled through Southern Iraq, from Basra to Baghdad. He writes a monthly post for the DCoE Blog on psychological health concerns related to deployment and being in the military.

When was the last time you had a mental health checkup? As we near the end of Mental Health Awareness Month, take a few minutes to assess your mental well-being. Being mentally healthy is not an all-or-nothing state; there are degrees of mental fitness. Psychologists use the Global Assessment of Functioning, a scale from 1 to 100, to rate a person’s overall mental health. This is a useful tool that ties together all aspects of a person’s life to see how a person is doing from a psychological perspective. You can do the same for yourself — look at different aspects of your life to see what parts are giving you satisfaction or stress. You may be able to expand the areas of your life that are fulfilling (time with friends, hobbies, etc.) and better manage the areas causing you stress or sadness (stressful job, friends who bring you down, etc.).

Of course, there are limits to how much control you have over your situation (most people can’t just quit their job because it’s stressful), but you may be surprised at your ability to do more of what’s satisfying and less of what’s associated with stress or negative emotions. has helpful self-assessments in the areas of posttraumatic stress, substance abuse, optimism, sleep, social support and many other areas that may offer insight to potential problems. Here are a few general questions you can ask yourself to help with your mental health checkup:

 ■What makes me happy or gives me fulfillment? Is it drinking/drugs, or hobbies like working on my motorcycle or working out?
■Do I have a few good friends I can confide in or ask for help if I need it? Am I socially isolated?
■How am I sleeping? Do I generally get 7-8 hours of good sleep per night? Am I generally well-rested or fatigued during the day?
■Realistically, how much do I like or dislike my job? If I really dislike it, what would make me happier at work?
■What specific things give me stress? A bad relationship, social isolation or family issues?

From time to time, everyone experiences problems and struggles that can negatively affect our mental health. But you should be generally fulfilled or happy with life and have certain aspects that give you pleasure. Largely, people should be happy with their personal relationships, get enough sleep to get them through the day with little fatigue, and should definitely not need recreational drugs including alcohol, to feel better. If you feel you’re coming up short in one or more of these categories, consider having a checkup with a professional. Providers can help you identify ways to improve your quality of life, or confirm that the steps you’re taking to maintain your mental health are paying off.

If you do seek help, you should feel good knowing that you’re taking positive steps to improve your quality of life, and your life is definitely worth the effort.

Makin Island Sailors and Marines Help Deliver Food to the Elderly during Hong Kong Port Visit

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class David McKee, USS Makin Island (LHD 8) Public Affairs

HONG KONG (NNS) -- A group of Sailors and Marines from USS Makin Island (LHD 8) and the embarked 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) joined local volunteers to help deliver bags of food to residents of the Kwai-Chung Elderly Center in Hong Kong during a community service project May 26.

A group of 35 Sailors and Marines participated in the event as part of the ship's May 25-28 port visit to Hong Kong.

The project also coincided with local observances of Mother's Day, Father's Day and the upcoming Dragon Boat festival in June.

Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handing) 1st Class Mark Higgenbottom, one of the Sailors volunteered for the project, said that in addition to bringing food and sundry items to the residents he shared his time with men like Cheung Kin Yip.

Through a translator, Higgenbottom said he got to know the 70 year-old man and found out that he enjoys table tennis and the Internet.

"Mr. Yip was hip for an old guy," said Higgenbottom. "The guy had a lot of energy and went out of his way to show us he stayed active playing table tennis and using the Internet to stay in touch with his family and friends."

Yip lives alone in his apartment, which is about the size of a large bedroom in a typical American home and contains a living area, bathroom and kitchen.

Through the translator, he told Higgenbottom that he enjoys a simple life of getting up in the morning and checking the stock market on the Internet and checking his email and Facebook page.

"It's easier to live on my own," said Yip through the translator. "I like my independence."

Lt. Jeff Perry, a chaplain aboard Makin Island who organized the community service project, said he thinks community relations projects like helping the elderly foster good relations in the communities that the Navy and Marine Corps visits.

"Projects like this put a face on the Navy and Marine Corps and helps build a truer and broader image of us and shows another side of the military that isn't often shown by the media," said Perry.

The group of Makin Island Sailors and Marines delivered food to two communities and another group of volunteers spent time at a local dog shelter. More than 2,000 Sailors and Marines were able to experience the Hong Kong culture during the four-day port visit.

Makin Island is the first U.S. Navy ship to deploy using a hybrid-electric propulsion system. By using this unique propulsion system, the Navy expects over the course of the ship's lifecycle, to see fuel savings of more than $250 million, proving the Navy's commitment to energy awareness and conservation.

This initiative is one of many throughout the Navy and Marine Corps that will enable the Department of the Navy to achieve the Secretary of the Navy's energy goals to improve our energy security and efficiency afloat and ashore, increase our energy independence and help lead the nation toward a clean energy economy.

Makin Island is the flagship of the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group that is currently deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations.

The 7th Fleet area of operations includes more than 52 million square miles of the Pacific and Indian oceans, stretching from the international date line to the east coast of Africa, and from the Kuril Islands in the north to the Antarctic in the south.