Thursday, June 28, 2012

World War II African-American Marines Receive Congressional Gold Medal

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2012 – A group of African-American Marines who broke the Marine Corps’ color barrier during World War II received the Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol yesterday.

The medal is the nation’s highest civilian award given by Congress. The “Montford Point Marines” received the award for serving with valor during the war, even as they were subjected to discrimination.

In 1942, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt allowed African-Americans to join the Marine Corps, they were not sent to the traditional boot camps. Instead, this group of Marines was segregated and completed basic training at Montford Point on Camp Lejeune, N.C.

“African-Americans were not allowed to serve in any wars until World War II in 1942,” said William McDowell, a former Montford Point Marine who accepted the medal on behalf of his fellow Marines and family members in Emancipation Hall at the Capitol. “Unfortunately it took a world war to make it happen, but it happened. I don’t think any of us ever imagined that something like this would ever happen in our lifetime.”

McDowell said it was a “privilege and an honor to stand before [the audience] and receive the Congressional Gold Medal for [them] and 18,700 other brothers who served this nation and the corps, with courage and commitment. This award belongs to them because collectively, [we] did what we thought was impossible … [and] made history.”

Several congressional leaders also addressed the audience. California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, House minority leader, spoke of the Montford Point Marines’ toughness and determination.

“In the time of these Marines – in an age of inequality – breaking the color barrier in the Marine Corps took nothing less than perseverance, patriotism and courage of extraordinary proportions,” she said.

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, Senate minority leader, noted that many of the Montfort Marines seized the opportunity to defend their country in combat.

“Restricted to training for support roles, African-American Marines had to wait for their chance to prove themselves on the battlefield. But the chance finally came in the Pacific Theater, where many saw combat in some of the bloodiest battles of World War II, including Iwo Jima, Saipan and Okinawa, and carried out their duties with great courage and heroism,” he said.

Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, Senate majority leader, told the audience that while the African-American Marines fought for the rights of others overseas, the injustice of discrimination still prevailed on their home fronts.

“They were trained to fight injustice overseas; meanwhile, they suffered discrimination every day,” he said. “They were trained to fight tyranny abroad, while their friends and family suffered oppression here at home … Although they were assigned support roles in the Pacific Theater, many had the chance to prove themselves in battle as well … Some cleaned up the ash after the bomb was dropped over Nagasaki.”

House Speaker Rep. John Boehner of Ohio said African-Americans gained respect as full-fledged Marines.

“Letting [African-Americans] serve in the Marine Corps was called an experiment … which didn’t last very long,” Boehner said. “Toward the end of the war, the Marine Corps commandant said the experiment was over, [and] that the men who trained at Montford Point were ‘Marines, period.’”

Comedian Bo Irvine talks to Sailors about Risk Management

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason Howard,

Navy Public Affairs Support Element-East Detachment Europe

NAPLES, Italy (NNS) -- Comedian Bo Irvine spoke with Sailors at Naval Support Activity (NSA) Naples about risk management and personal safety, June 26.

During his two-day visit to NSA Naples, Irvine conducted four safety briefs on risk management and occupational health as the community prepared for the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

"Every job in the military is risky, so the military recruits people willing to take that risk," said Irvine. "That's why there will always be safety briefs to remind members about weighing the risks involved on the job and off."

Irvine used his renowned comedic humor to add a new spin to routine safety briefs.

"I enjoyed the presentation," said Intelligence Specialist 3rd Class Jessica Angelo, a Sailor assigned to Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Africa. "More people would pay attention during safety briefs if they were presented like this more often."

Sailors in attendance learned about being responsible in everyday situations including vehicle safety, situational awareness and watching out for your fellow shipmates.

"Life is risk, and how we judge the levels of risk day to day is risk management," said Irvine. "It bothers me so much to see young people die because someone got behind the wheel while intoxicated. Telling a shipmate who is about to make a mistake that they are doing something stupid isn't stupid. It's actually pretty smart."

Irvine travels all over the world spreading the message about risk management and safety.

"I learned a lot from Irvine," said Intelligence Specialist 3rd Class Eileen Sempa, also assigned to Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Africa. "I think if the Navy wanted more Sailors to pay attention during safety briefs, they should get rid of the Powerpoints and bring in the comedians."

Army Reserve Vets Make House Calls in Guatemala

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

CHICOJL, Guatemala, June 28, 2012 – Army Reserve Capt. (Dr.) Daniel Skirvin’s civilian career may have gone to the dogs, but at least during his mission here in support of Beyond the Horizon 2012, his military career has taken more of a turn toward bulls, pigs and chickens.

Skirvin, a veterinarian who typically treats pets in his civilian life, is part of a three-soldier team from the 1019th Medical Detachment in Garden Grove, Calif., immunizing and treating farm animals for disease.

It’s a mission that takes him, Army Staff Sgt. Jorge Gomez-Rangel and Army Spc. Christopher Bryan to some of the most remote areas of Central Guatemala. They travel up mountainsides, through cornfields and sometimes as far as an hour’s walk from the nearest road to as many as 60 homes and farmyards every day. Skirvin estimates that by the end of their two-week deployment here next week, they will have made as many as 600 house calls.

“What we’re doing is really important, because for these people, these animals are what they have, financially,” he said. “If we can make these animals a little more healthy, that will give them a little more protein in their diets and also a little more that they can sell. And that is a big deal in terms of making their lives a little better.”

Providing that service – particularly when the patients are less-than-willing – requires a special touch. Skirvin’s team works hand in hand with Guatemalan veterinary technicians to steady the animals, tie bulls to trees when possible, and steer clear of angry kicks. “Sometimes, especially when there are no trees, it can be a little like a rodeo,” Skirvin said.

The team also depends on local officials to translate for them as they give farmers supplies of powdered vitamins and medications.

Bryan, a military food inspector, said he enjoys the experience he’s gaining during his first veterinary medical readiness training exercise here. “We’re helping the people keep their animals healthy so they have a better food supply, and they’re really grateful,” he said.

Gomez-Wrangle, with 27 years of military service under his belt, said he can’t imagine a more gratifying mission. “I see the results,” he said. “It helps, and I like helping people.”

Providing that outreach is a major objective of the Beyond the Horizon mission, one of U.S. Southern Command’s largest annual humanitarian and civic assistance efforts.

One Soldier Killed, Two Wounded in Fort Bragg Shooting

Fort Bragg Public Affairs

FORT BRAGG, N.C., June 28, 2012 – A soldier is dead and two others are wounded following a shooting incident here today.

During a 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade unit safety briefing, a soldier shot another member of the unit and then turned the weapon on himself. The shooter was injured and is in custody. A third soldier who was in the area was also slightly wounded in the shooting.

"This is a tragedy for our community. We don't yet know the reasons for the shooting, but are working with the unit and the affected Families to help them through this difficult period," said Col. Kevin Arata, 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg Public Affairs Officer.

"Our prayers are with those who have been affected by this terrible incident," Arata said.

Fort Bragg law enforcement and emergency responders secured the scene within minutes. Special agents from the Army Criminal Investigation Command are conducting an investigation.

Notification of the next of kin is underway.

‘Beyond the Horizons’ Clinic Fosters Health, Goodwill

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

POCOLA, Guatemala, June 28, 2012 – Thousands of local residents in this remote mountain village are getting what for many is one of their first experiences seeing a doctor, nurse or dentist during a five-day medical readiness training exercise being conducted here during Beyond the Horizons 2012.

U.S. service members, working hand in hand with Guatemalan doctors and health and agricultural officials and several Canadian and Colombian medical officers, are sponsoring the clinic as part of U.S. Southern Command’s largest annual humanitarian civic assistance mission. This week’s exercise is the third in Guatemala since Beyond the Horizons kicked off in April.

The crowds began assembling yesterday hours before the clinic moved into its third day, forming a line that extended miles beyond the tiny school that had been temporarily converted into a medical clinic. Young and old, all clamored to receive one of the 700 coveted tickets that served as the price of admission to preventive medical classes and sessions with military medical professionals specializing in internal medicine, women’s health, pediatrics, dentistry or optometry.

“We try to increase it each day, to give as much chance for as many people to get seen as possible,” said Army Capt. Sherry Kwon, an Army reservist from the 352nd Combat Support Hospital serving as officer in charge of the clinic. “When you have people willing to come and wait hours and hours for a bag of vitamins, it’s so humbling that you want to do everything you can to help as many as possible.”

The first stop for all patients was a preventive medicine class, where Army Capt. Gloria Graham, a 352nd CSH nurse, reviewed along with a Colombian military doctor the basics about washing hands, boiling water to sanitize it, keeping food, utensils and toilet facilities covered to keep insects away, and practicing oral hygiene.

These lessons are critical in a region where periodontal disease and intestinal parasites are the leading killers, explained Army Sgt. 1st Class John Williams, the 35th Engineer Brigade’s operations noncommissioned officer for the clinic.

Graham periodically strolled to the back of the room to chat in her native Spanish with children seated around a table with sheets torn from a coloring book and crayons in hand. Holding up a poster of a smiling girl, she gave each a chance to demonstrate how to use the toothbrushes she had given them, drawing shy giggles as she gestured the techniques herself.

Across the courtyard, Army Col. Theresa Mercados-Sconzo, a nurse administrator and 352nd CSH battalion commander, and Army Maj. (Dr.) Mike Crownover, an emergency room physician, consulted with a steady flow of patients suffering from vitamin deficiencies, abdominal issues, worms and other ailments.

Meanwhile, dozens of people waited outside the busiest clinic, where a team of dentists from the 133rd Medical Company in Colorado and dental technicians from the 185th Dental Company in California performed extractions and minor dental surgeries.

Studying the mouth of an elderly woman, Army Maj. (Dr.) Ricky Harrell, a professor of orthodontics at the University of Colorado, prepared to extract the tooth that had caused the woman so much pain for so long.

In an adjoining room, Army Maj. (Dr.) Jennifer Fiatreau, an active-duty optometrist from Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii, evaluated eye tests. In the adjoining room, Army Capt. Brian Kuruc from the 256th CSH kept the pharmacy humming to keep up with the demand for medications.

As they treated one patient after another, the service members said they were overwhelmed by the need for medical care and the appreciation patients extended for care they received.

“What we are seeing here is like nothing we see at home,” said Army Maj. Wayne Musgrove, a registered nurse. “Many of these people have had no or minimal medical care, so they really appreciate what we provide them. You can see how happy they are that we are here.”

“They are simply ecstatic to be getting this care,” echoed Mercados-Sconzo. “They couldn’t be more thankful.”

While providing a vital need, medical readiness training exercises serve as a learning experience for everyone involved, she said.

“They’re getting valuable training, similar to what they would get during a deployment,” she explained, as the exercises involve preparing for the mission and setting up operations in austere conditions. “But it’s also a learning experience across cultures. That’s one of the biggest takeaways: developing understanding and respect for other cultures.”

For Army Spc. Riyaz Jahn, a 352nd CSH medic, knowing the impact he and his fellow service members are able to make on people’s lives makes the mission one of the most satisfying he’s ever experienced.

“This is absolutely awesome. I love this,” he said. “It’s helping out the locals who need help and can’t afford it, and you have the gratification of knowing what this means to the people. You can see it in the kids’ smiles.”

“These missions are very important, and all of us are enthusiastic about coming because we feel like we are making a difference,” agreed Graham. “There’s no question that people appreciate what we are doing.”

Harrell, who joined the military at age 52 and has since deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, said being able to provide a desperately needed service gives him a new perspective on life. “Being a part of this, I know that I’ve helped a few hundred people who wouldn’t otherwise have gotten help,” he said.

Kuruc, who deployed for similar missions in El Salvador in 2004 and Peru in 2007, said he shot up his hand to volunteer to participate in this one. “It’s very humbling to know we are here on a mission that is providing so much for so many people,” he said. “It may be a small band-aid to a big problem, but it’s very rewarding, and that’s why I came back.”

As they take pride in helping others, participants in the medical readiness training exercise said they recognize that they also are conveying an important message about the United States and the U.S. military.

Entertaining the local children as their parents awaited their medical care, Army Master Sgt. Gary Adamek of the Missouri National Guard’s force protection element blew up latex gloves into balloons and drew funny faces on them. He also staged a contest, giving the children plastic trash bags and challenging each to bring back the biggest load of trash strewn across the nearby hillsides to win the loose change Adamek and his fellow soldiers had thrown into a kitty.

“We realize that in everything we do here, we are ambassadors for the United States,” he said. “That’s everything we do -- whether it’s helping get rid of trash, or something as simple as blowing up a balloon.”

“I feel good knowing I am representing the United States,” said Army Spc. Scott Doney, a member of the 304th Engineers who volunteered to support the medical clinic because most of the engineering projects for Beyond the Horizons are now complete. “When I leave here, I want to be able to say that I came here and helped make a difference.”

Army Capt. Kwon said that difference will go a long way in U.S. Southern Command’s efforts to forge a closer, long-term partnership between the United States and Guatemala. “We’re forming a relationship between our two countries, and showing that we are friendly forces,” she said. “We are here to help, working together, united.”