Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Veterans, Contemporary Warriors Salute D-Day Landings

By Army Staff Sgt. Rick Scavetta
U.S. European Command

SAINTE-MÈRE-EGLISE, France, June 6, 2012 – When Eugene Cook jumped into Normandy during the predawn hours of June 6, 1944, he landed several miles from his intended drop zone.

Alone in the dark French countryside, the young 101st Airborne Division paratrooper from Georgia assembled his rifle, got his bearings and began looking for other Americans among Normandy’s hedgerows. In the days and weeks that followed, Cook took part in the now-famous battles that began the liberation of France and led to Allied victory over Nazi Germany.

Cook, 87, was among the handful of World War II veterans who attended the 68th anniversary of the D-Day landings here this week. U.S. service members from all the military branches took part in honoring the veterans, something Cook said he was glad to see.

“We have to commemorate the lives of the guys we left here,” Cook said. “They gave their lives for us, and we should show them thanks.”

Known as Operation Overlord, the D-Day landings of June 6, 1944, combined U.S. and Allied air drops with beach landings along Normandy’s coast. U.S. paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st Infantry Divisions dropped onto the Cotenin peninsula to secure bridges, roads and towns vital to allowing the troops landing at nearby Utah Beach to move inland.

“That day, 68 years ago, as American blood mixed with French soil, it cemented even further the strong bonds between our two nations,” said U.S. Army Secretary John McHugh said as visited the La Fiere drop zone.

For the returning veterans there was a mix of feelings -- glad to be alive and sharing good times and sorrowful memories of those who’d died.

Yesterday -- a cold and overcast day -- John Perrozi walked between rows of white marble gravestones at the Normandy American Cemetery, overlooking Omaha Beach. He stopped at one cross and then another, paying his respects to several buddies who died fighting in Normandy. As an 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper, Perozzi fought on D-Day with the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. It was his first trip back since the war.

During a June 3 ceremony at the La Fière drop zone, a battlefield where Perozzi fought, he received France’s highest military medal, the Légion d'Honneur. Before the ceremony, thousands of spectators watched as U.S. and international paratroopers recreate D-Day’s airborne operations -- jumping from U.S. Air Force planes onto the “Iron Mike” drop zone near the La Fière bridge -- at the Mederet River just west of Sainte-Mère-Eglise.

Soldiers from the Fort Bragg, N.C.,-based U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command and the Kaiserslautern, Germany-based 5th Quartermaster Detachment were among the hundreds of paratroopers who took part.

The Liberty Jump Team, which includes veterans from other conflicts and civilian parachutists, also jumped. Dave De Soucy, a retired officer from California who served in combat with the 101st Airborne Division during Vietnam, was one of the first to land in La Fiere’s marshy drop zone -- an area that was flooded on D-Day where several 82nd paratroopers drowned on D-Day, stuck in their chutes and harnesses. Packing up his chute, De Soucy said commemorative jumps honor World War II paratroopers, but also remind people about our current military operations.

“It’s an almost overwhelming experience,” said De Soucy, pausing as emotions welled inside him. “We’ve got to remember the folks who did it and those who still do it -- the one percent who go into harm’s way for the benefit of the [other] 99 percent.”

Afterward, Charles Rivkin, U.S. Ambassador to France, jumped with the Golden Knights, the U.S. Army’s parachute demonstration team. Then spectators, dignitaries, soldiers and veterans gathered on the grassy slope nearby for a series of commemorative speeches and wreath presentations.

John Roman, 87, who came ashore with the 4th Infantry Division, was surprised to hear a German military band at the ceremony, playing “Glory, Glory Hallelujah.” Seeing German troops didn’t bother him, he said.

“You’ve got to forget, some time,” Roman said. “It’s good that they are here. Maybe, the world will be better off.”

Toward the end of the war, Roman met a young French woman, Jacqueline, at a café. They’ve been married 66 years and had six children, she said. Each year, they come back, as Roman wants to remember buddies he lost, she said.

When wind gusts caught the beret of a German soldier, Jacqueline Roman watched in amazement as Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of U.S. Army Europe, walked over and knelt down to pick up the beret off the dirt, then handed it back to the German.

“That’s the American way,” she said. “That was wonderful.”
After World War II, there were 16 million living American veterans. Now, many are reaching their final years. U.S. troops cherished the opportunity to speak with them, to shake their hands and hear their stories.

“You can learn firsthand about history from these veterans,” Hertling said. “Not a lot has changed. They had the same fears and anxiety as they went into combat and the trauma from the things they faced. They teach our soldiers a lot about what that means.”

One older paratrooper hugged Army Staff Sgt. Rachel Medley, 34, of Eureka, Calif., who serves with the Golden Knights. Meeting soldiers from World War II is humbling, she said.

“They paved the path for the way the world is today,” Medley said. “The time is rapidly approaching when it won’t be living history anymore. It will be just something we read about in books because there will be no one who witnessed this. For us to be here and say thank you, it’s a huge honor to be in their presence.”

U.S. troops and veterans marched through Sainte-Mère-Eglise, where they were honored with a banquet in the town square. Similar events were held throughout the area during the days leading up to this year’s D-Day commemoration.

Earlier in the week, on June 2, U.S. Special Operations Forces demonstrated a high altitude, low opening jump near the historic Norman town of Mont Saint Michel. Army Capt. Stephen Cargill, an officer from the Stuttgart, Germany-based 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group, said free falling above Normandy meant a lot to him.

“It’s just amazing to get the opportunity to see something so incredible,” Cargill said. “It hits that much closer to home, to land on hallowed ground.”

One evening, Cargill and fellow Special Forces soldiers relaxed outdoors near the Stop Café, a famous gathering spot in Sainte-Mère-Eglise. Troops mingled with French people wearing old-fashioned uniforms. One Dutch teen, Rob Van Meel, 13, cautiously approached the Green Berets in his authentic World War II uniform of a 101st Airborne Division soldier.

While many French children ask U.S. troops for a souvenir, Van Meel just asked about their patches. Impressed with Van Meel’s detailed uniform, Army Master Sgt. Damon Storey got down and presented Van Meel with a set of combat jump wings -- a treasured possession. Van Meel attended D-Day anniversaries in Normandy every year of his life, he said. In fact, his first costume was as a World War II ammunition box at just 3 months old. He thanked Storey, but said he wouldn’t wear the jump wings on the Screaming Eagles uniform, as it wouldn’t have been historically correct.

A handful of aging U.S. and Allied veterans attended several ceremonies over the course of week. Ellan Levitsky Orkin, 92, and her sister Dorothy, 95, who served together in Normandy as U.S. Army nurses, were offered honorary French citizenship during a June 4 ceremony in Bolleville. They helped unveil a new memorial to World War II medics, near where they served with the 164th Field Hospital. They come back every year, but they don’t quite understand all the excitement, Orkin said.

“We came and had a job to do and we went home,” she said. “When we went home, nobody asked us questions then and we didn’t talk about it. It was too painful.”

Still, some veterans are willing to share their tales. And they don’t mind using newer technology if it means bridging the gap of miles. Milt Staley, 93, of Redding, Calif., waded through chest-deep surf onto Utah Beach on D-Day with the 4th Infantry Division. He first returned in 2011 and has since kept in touch with his French friends on Facebook.

When Staley visits the church at Sainte-Mère-Eglise, he remembers occupying foxholes dug earlier by 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers. Afterward, Staley fought with the 90th Infantry Division and was wounded in combat. Coming back to France is not about reliving the horrors of war, he said. It’s about sharing time with people in France.

“I was never hugged and kissed and thanked so much for what we did,” Staley said. “It amazed and overwhelmed me and I think I’ll never forget it.”

Cook, on the other hand, has returned many times. He also looks forward to seeing people he’s met before, plus reflecting on some of his wartime thoughts, he said.

“This brings back the memories of the guys we were with here,” Cook said. “It’s important that we rededicate ourselves to their sacrifice and D-Day helps us do that.”

Suicide Prevention Conference – Back to Basics

By Robyn Mincher, DCoE Strategic Communications

The fourth annual Suicide Prevention Conference, jointly hosted this year by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), will focus on basic skills in suicide prevention training. Scheduled for June 20–22 in Washington, D.C., the conference will bring together top minds in suicide prevention, military health and family advocacy, to discuss ways to enhance the quality of life for service members, veterans and their families.

“The conference will describe the current state of prevention approaches across the Defense Department and VA,” said Cmdr. Wanda Finch, DCoE family and community program manager in the resilience and prevention directorate. “Attendees will learn strategies for increasing attention to suicide prevention resources and offer vital information for caregivers and families.”

Attendees include Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Jonathan Woodson, and notable leaders across the services and military health care system. Participants at this year’s conference will discuss a wide-range of topics including peer interaction, advances in clinical care and psychological health programs, and the critical role leadership plays in preventing suicide.

“Three conference tracks — clinical, research and practical application — will reinforce skills to reduce the impact of suicide,” said Finch. “We’ll emphasize leadership engagement at all levels and in multiple settings by promoting help-seeking behavior. And we’ll encourage stakeholders to share information on available suicide prevention resources and programs,” she said.

Unique presentations include using mobile applications and interactive text messaging to reduce suicidal ideation, lessons learned from survivors, and a panel discussion with chaplains, as they are often the first resource service members access when reaching out.

The conference marks the progress of a cohesive military and civilian force working together to prevent suicide and advance the psychological well-being of our service members, veterans and families.

“This is a unique experience to bridge the continuum of care,” said Finch. “It will bring together diverse stakeholders and showcase multiple ways to promote help-seeking behavior. Recovery can happen and suicide is preventable. In this way, we are furthering a message of hope by focusing on practical tools and solutions, the latest evidence from research, and collaborative efforts with the VA and other federal partners.”

To learn more and register for the conference, visit the 2012 Suicide Prevention Conference page.

Volk Field opens its doors to the public

By 1st Sgt. Vaughn R. Larson
Wisconsin National Guard

Approximately 2,500 people took advantage of the opportunity to see current and vintage military aircraft - parked on the runway as well as demonstrating aerial capabilities - at the biennial open house at the Wisconsin Air National Guard's Volk Field Saturday (June 2).

The open house provided the public a first-hand view of what Volk Field Air National Guard Base is all about, according to Maj. Chris Hansen, open house chairman.

"We're located in a small community area, so it is important that they not only know what takes place here, but understand why it is such a great location for military training of various facets," Hansen said.

Col. Gary Ebben, base commander, said the open house was a way for Volk Field to give something back to the community.

"One of our primary goals is to be good community partners and neighbors, leveraging our mutual interests," Ebben said. "The open house allows the community to see the types of capabilities we offer — not only for combat operations, but also for all hazards domestic response."

Ebben said the open house was "a home run."

"This past Saturday was a total success," Hansen agreed. "The weather could not have been better. We had the opportunity to educate many members of the general aviation community on different flying practices, as well as offer a great display of aircraft and other military memorabilia to our visitors."

Nearly 40 general aviation aircraft flew in to experience landing at a military base. Seventeen aircraft were on display, to include a B-1 Lancer from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, a KC-135 Stratotanker from the Milwaukee-based 128th Air Refueling Wing, an F-16 Falcon from the Madison-based 115th Fighter Wing, and a UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter from the Madison-based 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Battalion.

An F-86 Sabre, a Korean War-vintage fighter jet that was to be part of the open house's salute to the Korean War, cancelled its appearance due to maintenance issues. The Wisconsin National Guard Museum on post as well as other static displays focused on the Korean War.

The open house featured 22 exhibits, ranging from a vintage military ambulance to a K-9 police dog. The Wisconsin National Guard's 54th Civil Support Team and the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team's Shadow Unmanned Aerial Vehicle were also on hand to explain their missions to the public. L39 Albatros Czechoslovakian trainer jets, stunt planes and a Commemorative Air Force B-25 Mitchell — a World War II-era bomber — took part in flying demonstrations. A "5K on the Runway" run/walk event was also held.

"By all indications, everyone attending had a very enjoyable experience," Ebben said. "However, the success did not happen by chance. Credit goes to a great open house committee chaired by Maj. Chris Hansen. The pride of base personnel in this project was obvious."

Panetta Says U.S.-India Relations Must Deepen, Grow for Peace

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

NEW DELHI, June 6, 2012 – The U.S.-India relationship must deepen and grow to truly provide security for the Asia-Pacific region and the world, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses here today.

Panetta met with Indian leaders to explore ways to expand the defense and security relationship between the two natural allies. His speech at the institute, the oldest Indian defense think tank, was to inform opinion-makers of the background behind the new strategic guidance and why it is important to both countries.

The secretary is building on President Barack Obama’s statement that the relationship between the United States and India “will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.”

The United States is at a turning point, Panetta said, and it is now rebalancing its military forces in the critical Asia-Pacific region. Earlier this week in Singapore, the secretary announced that 60 percent of the U.S. naval fleet would be based in the Asia-Pacific. “In particular, we will expand our military partnerships and our presence in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia,” Panetta said in prepared remarks.

Defense cooperation with India is a linchpin in this strategy, he said. India is one of the largest and most dynamic countries in the region and the world, with one of the most capable militaries. The Indian military has more than 1.3 million members on active service and another 1 million in reserve. In addition, the countries share a set of values.

“We share a commitment to open and free commerce; to open access by all to our shared domains of sea, air, space, and cyberspace; and to resolving disputes without coercion or the use of force, in accordance with international law,” Panetta said.

The two nations also share a commitment to abide by international standards and norms -- “rules of the road” -- that promote international peace and stability, the secretary said.

The two countries also face many of the same threats. Panetta listed the challenges coming from violent extremism and terrorism to piracy on the high seas and from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to regional instability. “Handling these challenges requires a forward-looking vision for our defense partnership, and a plan for advancing it month-by-month and year-by-year,” he said.

The two militaries have built a strong foundation; U.S. and Indian troops from all services routinely exercise together. And Indian forces participate in United Nations missions.

But more should be done. “In particular, I believe our relationship can and should become more strategic, more practical, and more collaborative,” Panetta said.

The U.S.-Indian defense cooperation is strategic in that the two nations consult and share views on all major regional and international security developments. “Our defense policy exchanges are now regular, candid and invaluable,” he said.

The military exercises and exchanges now underway show the relationship is practical and “our defense relationship is growing ever more collaborative as we seek to do more advanced research and development, share new technologies and enter into joint production of defense articles,” the secretary said.

At a strategic level, the United States and India have worked to counter piracy and terrorism. Panetta wants to expand that cooperation. “We can do more to drive the creation of a rules-based order that protects our common interests in new areas like cybersecurity and space,” he said. “We need to develop ‘rules of the road’ in these domains to help confront dangerous activities by states and non-state actors alike.”

Within the region, the U.S. vision is a peaceful Indian Ocean supported by growing Indian military capabilities. “America will do its part through the rotational presence of Marines in Australia, littoral combat ships rotating through Singapore and other U.S. military deployments in the region,” he said.

China is obviously a factor in the region, and Panetta said both India and the United States must do all they can to strengthen relations with China. “We recognize that China has a critical role to play advancing security and prosperity in this region,” he said. “The United States welcomes the rise of a strong, prosperous and a successful China that plays a greater role in global affairs -- and respects and enforces the international norms that have governed this region for six decades.”

Pakistan is another regional player that must be kept in mind. The Indians have fought three major wars with Pakistan since 1947. “India and the United States will need to continue to engage Pakistan, overcoming our respective -- and often deep -- differences with Pakistan to make all of South Asia peaceful and prosperous,” the secretary said.

On a practical aspect, Panetta wants U.S.-Indian military exercises to become more regular and more complex.

India and the United States may not always agree on every aspect of their relationship, Panetta said. But the two nations share so much in common that they are natural partners.

“Our two nations may not agree on the solution to every challenge facing us, and we both face the challenge of political gridlock at home that sometimes prohibits advancing our broader strategic objectives,” he said. “But I am sure that we will continue to draw closer together because we share the same values, the same challenges and threats, and the same vision of a just, stable and peaceful regional order.”