Monday, June 04, 2012

Dempsey: Allies’ Reaction Shows Asia-Pacific Strategy ‘On Track’

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT  – The United States’ allies and partner nations in the Asia-Pacific region have an “appetite and eagerness for us to remain a Pacific power,” the senior U.S. military officer said today.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, left Singapore today after attending the 11th annual Asia security conference known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, which this year drew delegations from 27 Asia-Pacific nations.

“This was an especially important Shangri-La Dialogue … because it comes on the heels of the publication of a strategy that expresses our intent, over time, to rebalance our strategy to the Asia-Pacific region,” the general told American Forces Press Service.

Dempsey said his assessment of broad support for the U.S. strategy placing more prominence on the Asia-Pacific zone is based on several factors he observed during the dialogue.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s keynote conference speech detailing the U.S. strategy, and the strategy itself, were very well-received, the chairman said. Dempsey added he summarizes the key points of the strategy as “three mores”: more interest, more engagement and more quality.

“We are becoming more interested in the Asia-Pacific after a decade of being more interested in other parts of the world; so, more interest,” the general said.

More engagement will mean not only more exercises, but more leader development exchanges – such as more service members from partner nations attending U.S. military schools, Dempsey said.

“The militaries of the region are all aware that the great strength of our military is actually the quality, the intellect, the education of our leaders,” the chairman said. “Of course they’re interested in exercises, of course they’re interested in equipment, but in a very encouraging way they are actually most interested right now in these exchanges, so that we can increase the ability of our leaders to build relationships.”

The third “more,” quality, means the United States will bring its best technology to the Asia-Pacific, he said.

“The manifestation of the rebalancing is, in a handful of cases, a greater number of ships, potentially,” Dempsey said. “But it’s also the best of our equipment. So, the highest-tech ships, the fifth-generation aircraft, the best of our ballistic missile defense technology.”

“I found that they reacted very positively to that,” he added. 

Two three-way meetings the secretary and chairman participated in during the dialogue involved a senior Japanese minister.The other parties were Australian and South Korean, respectively. Dempsey said the two meetings highlighted a concern for Japanese defense leaders that he is satisfied the U.S. is addressing.

“We have the Northeast Asia trilateral: that’s the Republic of Korea, Japan and us. Then we have the … Southeast Asia trilateral, which included the Australians. What’s important, I think, is that [Japanese leaders] see, in us, a recognition that the Asia-Pacific isn’t [a one-issue region.]”

Allies want to know the U.S. recognizes each part of the Pacific has its own challenges, Dempsey said.

“That’s the purpose of the trilats: so we can recognize that the issues of Northeast Asia are different from the issues of Southeast Asia, which are different again from the South Pacific,” the general said. “We want to make sure they see, in us, a partner who is alert to and cares about what they see as their challenges, and fit ourselves into that.”

Before the dialogue, Dempsey said, there was a certain amount of suspicion on the part of even allied nations, who were uncertain of U.S. intent.

“I think we were able to add fidelity to our message, clarity to our intent, and paint a much clearer picture of what we hope to accomplish in the Asia-Pacific through 2020,” he said.

The dialogue also resulted in a better understanding of the proposed timescale for the U.S. strategy, he noted.

“I think there was this notion that all of these [changes] would happen immediately, and of course they won’t happen immediately,” he said. “They’ll happen over time, and they’ll happen in consultation with our partners. I think that was very reassuring for them.”

Dempsey said he refers to the Asia-Pacific strategy as a rebalancing because it means not only pursuing long-term U.S. interests, goals and objectives there, but also remaining mindful of near-term challenges such as the accelerating security transition in Afghanistan.

“We’re not trying to establish a false dichotomy [that would say] you can either be engaged in the Mideast or you can be engaged in the Pacific,” he said. “We’re a global nation with global interests that span the entire spectrum of activities from economic to diplomatic to commerce to trade to education, promoting our values, and military.”

The “third leg” of that rebalancing is resources, he said, adding, “The current uncertainty with the budget makes that balancing act all the more difficult.”

One Day at a Time: Supporting a Family Member with PTSD

By Corina Notyce, DCoE Strategic Communications

The support of friends and family members is critical for service members experiencing symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), especially when many service members choose not to get the help they need because of the stigma that surrounds psychological health care. Paul Rose, the author of this Navy Medicine Live blog post knows this firsthand. Read about how he helped his brother, a U.S. Army veteran, get the help he needed for his combat-related PTSD. And then explore the resources identified at the end of this post to support military members and those who support them.

When my kid brother left for Iraq he was just that — a kid. He returned home shattered inside. The “dark pit,” as he calls it, was hidden underneath his gruff, infantry-tattooed exterior. No one in our family could have predicted what he would experience or the after-effects that continue to haunt him today.

Many sailors, soldiers, Marines and airmen return from deployments with posttraumatic stress disorder. As a family member of a person suffering from PTSD, we must be strong for them in a variety of ways to help them combat the disorder. I received an up-close and personal look at how it can affect a person, when my younger brother came to live with me after separating from the U.S. Army.

Shortly after graduating from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, Ga., my younger brother found his newly-issued boots on the sandy ground in Mosul, Iraq — during a time that would turn out to be one of the bloodiest during the war. His main duties were to provide infantry support to convoys, security detail, and to locate and apprehend insurgents.

He came home with an inescapable burden on his back. He continually woke up, drenched in sweat, with nightmares so real he could still see the terrifying images in his dark room. His mind was filled with the lives he had to take, the friends he lost — some to the enemy, some to suicide — and the near-misses of death’s cold, bony grip on his own neck.

He talked to no one about the sleepless nights and the recurring feelings of depression and hopelessness. The stigma associated with being diagnosed with PTSD kept him from seeking help. The disorder eventually caused him to exit the Army before his enlistment was up. A short time later he’d be living in my finished basement, as my wife and I adjusted to life with our two kids and a newly discharged war veteran.

My brother would continually become overwhelmed with routine things like paying his bills, getting up for work or dealing with relationships. PTSD was winning the battle against him, and he did not know how to fight back. Even after he hung up his uniform, he still carried himself like an invincible infantry soldier. Deep down he knew he needed help, but was still too afraid, ashamed and overwhelmed to seek it.

The year he spent with us was an extremely trying time. As he was learning how to get better, we were learning how to help him. Being a family member of someone who has been diagnosed with combat-related PTSD can be difficult, but the most important thing we did was to provide a stable support system for him.

There were times my brother could be so frustrating that we would get into screaming matches. He would peel out of the neighborhood, the screech of his car tires echoing through the house, and I would pray he came home that night. His behavior became more erratic. I helped him apply for jobs. He would hold one for a short time and then quit, normally after losing his temper or becoming fed-up with it. All of these actions are a correlation to the internal fight he was struggling with.

After much convincing by my wife and I, he finally overcame his fear of the stigma associated with the disorder and went to the local Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center, where he was evaluated and given a service-connected disability for PTSD, as well as for injuring his back while deployed, but most importantly access to the tools and programs to fight it.

The nightmares still remained. We continued our support. I gathered research on the subject, finding that a mix of therapy, medication and a healthy lifestyle could decrease the effects. He started taking a prescribed medication and spoke with social workers at the VA hospital regularly. I dragged him to workouts with me and created healthy athletic competition for us, including intramural sports, which was something he enjoyed and looked forward to all week. We made sure he remembered his appointments, encouraged him in his work and most importantly, ensured that he knew he was a valuable part of our family dynamic. I tried to keep him from getting overwhelmed by telling him to take things “one day at a time.” It became a mantra for us.

It’s been a few years since my brother was in Iraq with an M4 slung over his shoulder. And he’s a long way from the 8-year-old who dug foxholes in my mother’s backyard while dreaming of being a soldier. He would never take back his time in the Army and believes very much in his mission in Iraq. When he eventually made me one of the few people he shared his experiences with, he confessed with tear-filled eyes of times he came close to taking his own life. He assured me that war is not glorious or heroic. He did what he had to do because the soldiers serving beside him needed him, and each one of them would have done the same thing, he said.

After a year with us, he had gotten his PTSD under control, with help from the VA and support from his family. He continues to maintain his appointments, take his medication, work out on a regular basis and has a steady job. He is living on his own and is still fighting hard.

While there is no clear cut route to helping a family member with combat-related PTSD, the one thing we can do for those close to us who are suffering, is to offer support. Without his family, I don’t know where my brother would be today — if he would even be alive. But I do know that he is winning the war — one day at a time.

This month, the VA is observing PTSD Awareness Month. Visit the National Center for PTSD website to learn about posttraumatic stress disorder and resources available to support service members and families. Additional resources provided by Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury and others are listed below:

■DCoE Outreach Center — 866-966-1020 or
■Veterans Crisis Line — 800-273-Talk (8255) and press “1”
■PTSD Coach mobile app
■About Face
■Real Warriors Campaign
■Military Pathways

Panetta’s Cam Ranh Bay Visit Symbolizes Growing U.S.-Vietnam Ties

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

CAM RANH BAY, Vietnam  – Senior U.S. officials were once a familiar sight at this deep-water port on the South China Sea. But that was during the Vietnam War, which is why Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s visit to an American ship moored in the harbor here is historic.

Panetta touched on history, but spoke of the future to the men and women of the USNS Richard Byrd – a Military Sealift Command supply ship. He spoke of the Vietnam War and the symbolism of the large gray supply ship moored in the harbor today.

On Memorial Day, Panetta spoke at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington to mark the 50th anniversary of the war. Etched in granite on the memorial are the names of all the Americans who died in the war.

Many of those Americans memorialized in the Wall came through Can Ranh Bay. It was a major port, major airfield and major logistics point for American forces during the war.

“Today I stand on a U.S. ship in Cam Ranh Bay to recognize the 17th anniversary of the normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam,” he said.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, Vietnam was a bloody country. Millions of Americans service members served in Vietnam-- 58,282, died and hundreds of thousands were wounded. The Vietnamese military also took horrendous casualties, and Vietnamese civilians often also paid the price of war.

The war ended in 1975, and 20 years later the United States and Vietnam normalized relations between the countries.

“I’m here to take stock of the partnership we are developing with Vietnam,” Panetta told the civilian mariners and sailors of the Byrd.

Since the normalization, the U.S. and Vietnamese militaries have worked to build military-to-military relations. Last year, U.S. and Vietnamese defense officials signed a memorandum of understanding designed to bring the two militaries closer together.

“We’ve come a long way,” Panetta said.

The way American and Vietnamese defense officials have been working together shows the two countries “have a complicated relationship, but we are not bound by that history,” the secretary said. “We want to explore ways that we can expand that relationship.”

The United States wants to expand the relationship in a number of areas, Panetta said. The secretary would like to see growth in high-level exchanges, in the maritime area, in search and rescue, in humanitarian aid and disaster relief and in peacekeeping operations.

“In particular we want to work with Vietnam on critical maritime issues including a code of conduct focusing on the South China Sea, and also working to improve freedom of navigation in our oceans,” he said.

Access for U.S. supply ships to Cam Ranh Bay and its repair facilities is important not only for logistical reasons but for its political implications. This will allow the United States to achieve its objectives in the Asia-Pacific and to take the relationship with Vietnam to the next level, Panetta said.

The secretary made a special mention of Vietnam’s longstanding assistance in identifying and locating the remains of our fallen service members and those Americans missing in action in Vietnam. “This sacred mission will continue until all missing troops are accounted for,” he said. “We stand by our pledge that we leave no one behind.”

The secretary spoke on the flight deck of the Byrd. The equatorial sun beat down on the deck, and behind him rose Vietnam’s jagged, rocky mountains. Immediately behind him flew the U.S. flag on the fantail of the ship. Panetta served as an Army lieutenant in the early 1960s. The names of some of his classmates, friends, fellow soldiers are engraved in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

“We all recall that a great deal of blood was spilled in the war on all sides – by Americans and by Vietnamese,” he said. “A lot of questions were raised on all sides over why the war was fought.

“But if out of all that sacrifice we can build a strong partnership between our countries that looks to the future, then perhaps can we not only begin to heal the wounds of the past, but we can build a better future for all our people in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Statement from George Little on the Exchange of Artifacts Taken During the Vietnam War

 “Today in Hanoi, in the first-of-its-kind joint exchange between American and Vietnamese defense ministers, Secretary Panetta and Vietnamese Minister of Defense Phuong Quang Thanh returned artifacts taken by service members from both nations during the Vietnam War.

 “Secretary Panetta presented the Vu Ðình Ðoàn diary, which was taken by Robert Frazure, United States Marine Corps following Operation Indiana in 1966.  In turn, Minister Quang Thanh presented personal letters of U.S. Army Sergeant Steve Flaherty, who was killed in action in 1969.

 “Both leaders agreed to return these important artifacts to the relatives of the deceased soldiers.

 “This historic exchange of between defense leaders demonstrates the progress and partnership our two nations have made in the 17 years since the normalization of the relationship between the United States and Vietnam.  It is a reflection of the priority the United States places on people-to-people ties with Vietnam.

 “During their bi-lateral meeting, Secretary Panetta thanked Minister Quang Thanh for the government of Vietnam’s support of the Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command (JPAC) mission in Vietnam.

 “Minister Quang Thanh told Secretary Panetta that the government of Vietnam has decided to open three previously restricted sites for future excavation.  The Department of Defense believes these sites are critical to locating missing-in-action troops from the Vietnam War and that JPAC research teams will strongly benefit from access to these sites.  The Department of Defense remains strongly committed to bringing home every fallen service member from this and other wars.”

Background Information on the Artifacts

Sergeant Flaherty Letters
In March 1969, U.S. Army Sergeant Steve Flaherty of Columbia, South Carolina was killed in action in northern South Vietnam while assigned to the 101st Airborne Division.  Vietnamese forces took Flaherty’s letters and used excerpts for propaganda broadcasts during the war.  At that time, Vietnamese Senior Colonel Nguyen Phu Dat retained the letters and following the war, contemplated how to return them to Flaherty’s family.  Decades later, Phu Dat referenced the letters in an August 2011 Vietnamese online publication about documents kept from the war years.

In early 2012, Robert Destatte, a retired Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office employee, found the online publication referencing the letters and brought the issue to the attention of the Department of Defense.  The Department of State and the Department of Defense began work with the Vietnam Office for Seeking Missing Persons (VNOSMP) to assist in returning the letters to the Flaherty family.

Now that Secretary Panetta has received the letters from the Vietnamese government, the Office of the Secretary of Defense will work with the United States Army Casualty office to present the letters to the surviving family.

Vu Ðình Ðoàn Diary
In March 1966, 1st platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, was engaged in a firefight near Quang Ngai during Operation Indiana.  Following the battle, Robert “Ira” Frazure of Walla Walla Washington saw a small red diary on the chest of Vu Ðình Ðoàn, a Vietnamese soldier who was found killed in a machine gun pit. Frazure took the diary and brought it back to the United States.  In November 1966, Frazure was discharged from the Marine Corps following three years of service.

Also in March 1966, a friend of Frazure, Gary E. Scooter was killed in action during Operation Utah. Decades later, Frazure was introduced to Scooter’s sister Marge who was conducting research for a book about Scooter’s life and service in the Marine Corps. Frazure asked Marge for her help to return the diary to the family of Vu Ðình Ðoàn.  In February 2012, Marge Scooter brought the diary to the PBS television program History Detectives to research and find the Vu Ðình Ðoàn family. Last month, after finding the family, History Detectives asked the Department of State and the Department of Defense to help return the diary to the Vietnamese government so it can be returned to the Vu Ðình Ðoàn family.

Panetta Confident Congress Will Act to End Sequestration Threat

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

SINGAPORE  – The U.S. Congress created a self-imposed crisis in the national budget that they must now resolve, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today.

After his keynote address here this morning at the 11th annual Asia security conference known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, the secretary responded to attendees’ questions, some of which challenged the administration’s ability to carry out its Asia-Pacific strategy if sequestration takes effect.

Sequestration refers to a mechanism built into the Budget Control Act that would trigger an additional $500 billion across-the-board cut in defense spending over the next decade if Congress doesn’t identify that level of spending cuts by January.

By building that provision into the act as a first step toward reining in the nation’s debt, Congress put a gun to its own head, the secretary said.

“Sequester is not a real crisis, it’s an artificial crisis,” Panetta said.

Both parties in Congress recognize that doubling cuts to the nation’s defense budget would be a disaster, he added.

“I know of no Republican, no Democrat, who believes that should happen,” the secretary said.

Congress has the responsibility to take action now to end the threat of sequestration, he said.

“I believe that they will work to do that,” he said. “… I’m confident that ultimately, Republicans and Democrats will find a way to de-trigger that artificial crisis that they put in place.”

Panetta said he is confident Congress will deal effectively with the nation’s economic challenges. In his experience as a congressman and as director of the Office of Management and Budget, the secretary added, he learned it was important for both parties to put everything on the table: defense and domestic spending, entitlements and revenues.

“I know the politics of this is difficult … but I ultimately believe that because it is so important to our country and to our economy … they will find the courage that is required here, to be able to develop that kind of approach to deficit reduction,” Panetta said.