Saturday, August 11, 2012

Schwartz Honored for Exceptional Service as Air Force Chief

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md.  – The Defense Department bid farewell to one of its service chiefs today as Air Force Gen. Norton A. Schwartz was honored for 39 years of service during a retirement ceremony here which also welcomed his successor.

“It is a real honor and a pleasure to be able to have this chance today to pay tribute to General Norty Schwartz [and] four decades of exceptional service to this country,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said at the ceremony.

“Norty is, I believe, one of the finest officers I've had the honor to work with,” Panetta said. “He came at a very critical time in the history of the Air Force, and he responded with incredible leadership in making the Air Force an essential, credible and capable partner in our national defense.”

Schwartz relinquished his position as Air Force chief of staff and will officially retire Oct. 1.

Panetta also welcomed Schwartz’s successor, Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welsh III as the 20th Air Force Chief of Staff. “I'm also thrilled to have the opportunity to welcome Mark Welsh back to Washington and back to work here,” he said. “I was honored to work with Mark when he served as my principal military adviser at the CIA.  And I look forward to continuing that partnership as he begins his new job.” Panetta said America depends on people like Schwartz and Welsh who “choose selflessly to serve this great country of ours.”

The defense secretary described Schwartz as a hardworking Toms River, N.J., native, who grew up in a blue collar world. “As a young man, he understood the importance of hard work and dedication to his country, values that led to his decision to serve this nation in uniform,” Panetta said of Schwartz. “These values have guided him through a distinguished career in both the conventional and special operations communities.”

Panetta highlighted significant moments in Schwartz’s 39-year career, such as his service in a 1975 airlift evacuation during the fall of Saigon [now Ho Chi Minh City], as well as his participation in a joint special operations task force during the Gulf War.

More recently, Panetta said, Schwartz had the “huge task” of leading U.S. Transportation Command as the U.S. military fought wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“As the 19th Air Force chief of staff, Norty has led the Air Force with tremendous judgment, vision and honesty,” the secretary said. “Even though he was planning to retire after his time at Transcom, when he was called upon to help the institution he loves, he accepted the mission. And he always has.”

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey spoke of the absolute pleasure of having Schwartz serve as a member of the Joint Chiefs. “Norty Schwartz has forged an enduring legacy as an airman, a mentor and a leader,” the chairman said. “But I believe that the most important of his achievements is that he inspired trust within the Air Force, among his fellow service chiefs, within and across our government, and with our allies and partners.”

Dempsey also praised Schwartz’s wife, Suzie, for her service as an “equally inspiring, all-in ‘wingman’” who made a difference in the lives of military families.  And, he lauded the quality of the service members under Schwartz’s leadership as Air Force chief of staff.

These men and women, Dempsey said, are in the kind of Air Force that Schwartz and his wife nurtured, encouraged and loved. “On behalf of the Joint Chiefs, I want you to know that it's been a tremendous privilege to serve with you both,” Dempsey said. “We all deeply appreciate how welcoming you've been to us and how deeply we value your wise counsel.”

The chairman also greeted Welsh and his wife, Betty. “I don't know anyone more ready to take the stick from Norty and Suzie; [there’s] nobody better ready than Mark and Betty,” he added. “Our nation has placed its trust in you both, and so have we.”

Challenge Academy candidates transition from kids to cadets

By Capt. Michelle Baer
Wisconsin Army National Guard

For Sabrina Kerr of Fort Atkinson, Wis., the challenge in the Wisconsin National Guard's Challenge Academy program at Fort McCoy came early.

Like other at-risk 16-to-18-year-olds, Kerr agreed to submit to a structured, military-style environment, where state-certified teachers and counselors build participants' academic abilities, character, self-confidence and personal discipline. She exceeded the cadre's expectations during the first 10 days, but struggled with homesickness and left the program three times during the second week.

A-Day, or Acceptance Day, is when Challenge Academy candidates have to make a choice - tough it out, take the oath and become a cadet, or go home.

"They are busy today transforming themselves from candidates to cadets," Peter Blum, Challenge Academy acting director, said Aug. 3, the Acceptance Day for Class 29 candidates. "We are evaluating the candidate's performance within the first two weeks. If they don't conduct themselves like they want to be here, then we ask them to leave."

Kerr was not alone in struggling with being away from family and friends, along with the total change in daily routines or withdrawal from bad habits. She acknowledged that her lifestyle before attending Challenge Academy involved staying up all night, sleeping all day and eating junk food.

"I knew I had to stay," she said. "I wanted to change and go to college. I wanted to be sober and have a relationship with my mom.

Kerr admitted that it was challenging to accept the regimented schedule and the culture shock that comes with building a different lifestyle.

"You have to push yourself through it," she said.

Austin Beoisle of Neenah, Wis., a fellow cadet, has already noticed an improvement in discipline and self-respect. 

"Here, I mean something to somebody, and everybody means something to me," he said. "We help each other with everything."

Kerr said that part of succeeding at Challenge Academy is being able to work past the emotional hardships that will arise from being away from home and learning to make better life choices.

"But I am a strong person, and I can do it," she said. "And that is why I am still here. I feel proud to be here."

"I know that this is who I am going to become for the rest of my life," Beoisle said. "It feels good to have the acceptance of my family. Through this program, I can turn my life around and head in the right direction."

After graduating from the 22-week residential phase of academy training, cadets are paired with hometown mentors who offer guidance and encouragement in pursuing their new direction in life.

Post-9/11 GI Bill Celebrates Start of Fourth Year

From a Department of Veterans Affairs News Release

WASHINGTON  – August marks the third anniversary of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and since it was implemented, the Department of Veterans Affairs has provided educational benefits to 773,000 veterans and their family members, according to a Department of Veterans Affairs news release.

“This is one of the most important programs helping our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans reach their educational goals,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said. “We’re proud this important benefit is making such a big difference in the lives of so many veterans.”

The Post-9/11 GI Bill pays tuition and fees on behalf of veterans or eligible dependents to the school in which they are enrolled. Eligible participants also receive a monthly housing allowance and up to $1,000 annually for books and supplies. The program also allows eligible service members to transfer their benefits to their spouses and children.

The program provides a wide range of educational options, including undergraduate and graduate degrees, vocational/technical training, on-the-job training, flight training, correspondence training, licensing and national testing programs, entrepreneurship training, and tutorial assistance.

“For over 68 years, GI Bill programs have shaped and changed the lives of service members, veterans, their families and survivors by helping them reach their educational goals,” said Allison A. Hickey, Veterans Affairs Undersecretary for Benefits. “Benefits provided under the Post-9/11 GI Bill will continue to shape and change the lives of veterans by helping them build a stronger foundation for their careers.”

The Post-9/11 GI Bill is the most extensive educational assistance program since the original GI Bill was signed into law in 1944. VA has since paid more than $20 billion in benefits to veterans and their family members.
For the 2012-2013 academic year, 1,770 colleges and universities are supplementing Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits by participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program.

Under the Yellow Ribbon Program, degree-granting institutions make additional funds available for a veteran’s educational program without an additional charge to their GI Bill entitlement. To make up the difference for those students whose tuition and fees exceed what the Post-9/11 GI Bill covers, institutions can voluntarily enter into a Yellow Ribbon Agreement with VA to designate an additional amount of funding, and VA will match that amount.

VA is seeking legal authority to trademark the term GI Bill. President Barack Obama signed an executive order on April 26, 2012, directing VA and the Department of Defense to undertake a number of measures to “stop deceptive and misleading” promotional efforts that target the GI Bill educational benefits of service members, veterans, and eligible family members and survivors.

In June, the attorneys general of several states gave VA the rights to the website after the original owners agreed to give up the internet site to settle a lawsuit by the states.

North Carolina Air National Guard returns to MAFFS mission

By Deidre Forster
153rd Air Expeditionary Group

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - The North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing will return to flying Modular Airborne Fire fighting System Aug. 14, six weeks after four of the unit’s Airmen were killed in a C-130 crash during a fire fighting mission in South Dakota.

 “Charlotte’s MAFFS 8 will replace MAFFS 9, from California, for three weeks while the 146th Airlift Wing’s C-130 undergoes required maintenance. We’re excited to have North Carolina back in the fight and look forward to having them fly with us again,” said Air Force Col. Jerry Champlin, 153rd Air Expeditionary Group commander.

On July 1, MAFFS 7, a North Carolina C-130, equipped with a Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System, crashed near Edgemont, S.D., while supporting the White Draw fire. Four of the six crewmembers were killed. That was the first major incident in the 40-year MAFFS mission history. The incident is under investigation.

 “Our folks from Charlotte are ready to re-join our MAFFS brothers and sisters in the fire fighting going on in the Northwest of our country. We all feel it is extremely important for our people to get back to this critical mission and we will carry the memory of MAFFS 7 in our hearts as the wildland fire fighting continues,” said Air Force Col. Roger Williams Jr., 145th Operations Group commander.

MAFFS are operated by four military units: The 153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard; 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard; 145th Airlift Wing, North Carolina Air National Guard; and the 302nd Airlift Wing, U.S. Air Force Reserve Command.

Since being activated June 25, the MAFFS fleet has released more than 1,309,363 gallons of fire retardant during 547 drops on fires in eight states in the Rocky Mountain area. The 302nd Airlift Wing performed the millionth drop on Sunday; the 500th drop was made Wednesday by the same unit. This year’s MAFFS operations are on pace to exceed MAFFS operations in 2008. That year MAFFS units dropped 1,313,900 gallons of retardant.

As a joint Department of Defense and U.S. Forest Service program MAFFS is designed to provide additional aerial firefighting resources when commercial and private airtankers are no longer able to meet the needs of the forest service.

MAFFS is a self-contained aerial firefighting system owned by the U.S. Forest Service that can discharge 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in less than 5 seconds, covering an area one-quarter of a mile long by 100 feet wide. Once the load is discharged, it can be refilled in less than 12 minutes.

Army National Guard announces Best Warrior Competition winners

By Army National Guard Sgt. Darron Salzer
National Guard Bureau

FORT BENNING, Ga. - Competing amongst themselves and against unfavorable environmental elements here, seven Soldiers and seven noncommissioned officers recently came head-to-head during the Army National Guard’s Best Warrior Competition, July 30, to contest who was the best of the best.

When the dust finally settled on August 2, Army Sgt. Mark Fuggiti, a supply specialist with Company C, Recruiting and Retention Battalion, Pennsylvania Army National Guard; and Army Sgt. Matthew Howard, an artillery crewmember with Battery C, 2nd Battalion, 142nd Fires Brigade, Arkansas Army National Guard, rose above the field as the top Soldier and noncommissioned officer of the year.

The road to the top was not easy and competitors had to face a multitude of obstacles that tested them both physically and mentally. Events and tasks included: a physical fitness test, a sergeant major board, a road march with heavy packs, obstacle and challenge courses, and weapons qualifications under stress.

During the second day of the competition, Fuggiti said he was able to draw upon the strength of family and friends back home to help stay motivated.

“Representing our states and just doing the best we can for our families and ourselves has helped to keep me motivated,” he said. “Everyone here is the best from their region that the Guard has to offer, so it [has been] a very good competition.”

Howard agreed.

“My wife and daughter helped me study, but they also are understanding of the time [I need] away from them to compete, time that I’ll never get back, but they [were] there to help me while … training,” he said.  “[My wife] lifts me up… and she’s just been supportive and encouraging – it’s just been great.”

Competitors also received support from a sponsor - who is usually a higher-ranking NCO with competition experience - assigned to assist competitors with any issues that could come up during each level of competition. Those same sponsors help train individuals by setting up mock scenarios where their specific competitor can hone their Soldier skills, both physically and mentally.

But no amount of training or experience could help them to fully prepare for the multitude of events they had to continuously face here, and Fuggiti admitted that this made the level of competition tough.

“One of the things that we really don’t think of coming into this is that all of the tasks that you have to do, you’re put into a stressful situation in order to do it,” he said. “Sitting down at home reading the book and learning what to do does not exactly apply when your heart is beating and you’re in the field and you really need to use [that knowledge].”

Despite it being a competition, several of the competing Guard members said camaraderie among them was surprisingly high.

“I’ve honestly seen a lot of camaraderie,” said NCO first runner-up Army Staff Sgt. Eugene Patton, an intelligence analyst and readiness NCO from the 117th Space Battalion, Colorado Army National Guard.

“In some arenas there is just too much competiveness, but here we all get along and talk and build relationships,” and this kind of an event is important because it helps to build that esprit d├ęcor and camaraderie, he said.

“The camaraderie among the Soldiers has been great,” Howard said.

Winning over other competitors isn’t how each of the 14 Guard members got to the Army Guard level though. They each had to win at local, state and regional competitions in order to make it to the Army Guard competition, but only Fuggiti and Howard will move on to represent the Army National Guard at the Army’s Best Warrior competition scheduled for later this year.

All of these Soldiers and NCOs are already winners, just by the mere fact that they are here, said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Brian S. Sann, the Maryland state senior enlisted leader, illustrating that each of them have won several competitions already.

This year winners were announced at an award ceremony at the end of the final day.

“Our purpose over the past week has been to identify the best warriors to go forward to the Army competition and I think we were successful,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Burch, the Army National Guard command sergeant major, “but we can’t fail to recognize all of the competitors because they’ve come a long way.”

“It’s no mistake that you’re here – you’re here for a specific reason,” he said.

Burch went on to encourage each Soldier to not squander what they have gained from their experiences throughout the competition.

“Take your experiences here from the past week and use them to challenge your own Soldiers,” he said. “You are professional Soldiers, you are masters in your art and you answered your calling … to be part of something bigger than yourself, as evidenced here this week.”

After the ceremony, Howard said he would use his experience to train for the next round.

“This level of the competition has helped me prepare for the next,” he said. “You never know what the next competition will be, but each level helps to prepare you for what may come.”

Fuggiti said to prepare for the Army competition he would begin simultaneously training mentally and physically.

“We did all of our studying on our warrior tasks sitting down at a desk, and when you’re running an obstacle course … and your heart is pounding … and having to perform these tasks, it’s a lot different,” he said. I’ll be putting more of a mix of physical training in with performing my warrior tasks as I train for the next level.

Coincidentally, both Guard members said the road march was the moment of the competition where they each felt like giving up.

That last two miles on that little dirt road, alone with no lights, I was really getting down, Howard said. “I had a heart-to-heart with God, and I just went on and got the strength to finish it up,” he said.

Fuggiti said after he finished the road march and went back to the barracks that a message from a friend back home lifted his spirits.

“It picked me back up and got me back into the fight the next day,” he said.

Humbled and honored by the recognition bestowed upon them, they are both looking forward to the next competition.

“This competition was so tough,” Howard admitted. “Without a doubt, I am honored to be representing the Army Guard. It’s humbling … and it feels great.”
 “This has given me a great starting point for the training going into the [Army level competition,” Fuggiti said smiling. “Even though [Sergeant Howard] is from Arkansas, I won’t hold that against him and we’ll definitely get a game plan together going into the next level.”

Face of Defense: Airman Realizes Dream of Flying

By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chad Thompson
86th Airlift Wing

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany  – An airman with the 86th Airlift Wing Judge Advocate office here has realized his dream of being a pilot, at least for one exciting mission over Germany.

Airman 1st Class Nicholas Fennen, a discharge paralegal, was selected to participate in the Ramstein Daedalians Aviation Incentive Flight program, which gives deserving young airmen the chance to live out a childhood fantasy of flight.

Fennen might spend his days processing administrative discharge paperwork, but he has a history of being close to planes. "My cousin and his dad were both pilots ... and my uncle flew planes during Vietnam," Fennen said.

Flying seems to be in his blood, which might also explain why one of his initial experiences with a plane came when he was young. "My cousin owned his own plane and he would take me flying around the farm all the time," Fennen, a Katy, Texas, native said. "As a child I loved the feeling of flying, the takeoff was the most thrilling experience as a kid."  Those early flights gave him a thirst for being in the clouds.

With two brothers already in the military -- one in the Army, the other in the Air Force -- Fennen said the choice was easy when it came to joining the Air Force. It has always been his dream to be a pilot and a leader. "The drive to become a pilot is more than just the flying aspect," he said. "The leaders of our Air Force are mostly pilots. I want to lead."

With about 15 months in service, Fennen has already proven his dedication to the mission, which is why his supervisor, Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Frank Portillo, submitted him for this opportunity.

Fennen has shown a maturity that normally takes time for a young airman to develop, Portillo said. "He started at legal assistance where he worked at scheduling clients and working power of attorney worksheets," Portillo said. "We felt he was ready to move up because he had the work ethic and attention to detail to move on and do more tasks."

Portillo said Fennen has excelled at every aspect of the job. Submitting him for this incentive flight was just a small thank you for all his hard work and dedication.

When Fennen first heard he was getting the chance to fly, he said he was surprised to be getting the opportunity to fulfill a dream, but for a while it seemed like it wouldn't happen. The flight was plagued by bad weather and cancellations until, after about a month of waiting, he got off the ground June 22.

During his one-hour flight, Fennen took the controls of the Cessna 172 and performed basic maneuvers including climbs, descents, turns and even flew most of the final approach to the runway. "Fennen did fantastic," said Air Force Lt. Col. Rich Radvanyi, pilot and president of the Coleman Aero Club. "This incentive program is designed to give these young airmen a taste of what it's like to fly and show them some basics in navigation."

Radvanyi said a lot of work goes into keeping a small plane on the proper heading when there are strong winds involved and, despite the weather, Fennen was able to keep it on course. "It was bumpy and a little rocky," Fennen said. "It was a lot more work than I thought it would be."

For someone who is only 20, Fennen has already done a lot. He has traveled Europe, has hopes of playing soccer for the base intramural team, and with the right motivation he may one day have his name painted on the side of his favorite aircraft, the A-10 Thunderbolt II.

"It was surreal to be flying over Germany," Fennen said. "When I was a kid I would have never dreamed I would be flying a plane over the Rhine River and castles. It still amazes me ... all the things I'm accomplishing."

General: High Readiness Key to Deter North Korean Threats

By Walter T. Ham IV
8th U.S. Army

SEOUL, South Korea  – Maintaining a high state of military readiness is imperative to deterring North Korean threats in the region, the 8th U.S. Army’s deputy commander said here today.

“North Korea continues to threaten the peninsula and the region with its provocative actions and rhetoric as well as its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction,” Army Maj. Gen. Walter M. Golden Jr. said during his welcoming ceremony on Yongsan Garrison.

The 8th U.S. Army has partnered with South Korea to deter threats from Pyongyang for more than 60 years, the two-star general said.

“As the U.S. military shifts its focus to the Pacific, this mission remains as important as ever,” said Golden, who hails from Salida, Colo. “Deterring aggression requires a very high state of readiness and that is why it is imperative that we train together with our ROK allies as often as possible to maintain that level of readiness.”

Golden reported to 8th Army following his assignment as the deputy commander for police with the NATO training mission in Afghanistan.

Senior officials attended Golden’s welcoming ceremony, including the ROK Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs Park Sung-choon, Dongducheon Mayor Oh Se-chang and Army Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea.

The Dongducheon mayor had named Golden an honorary citizen of his city, which is adjacent to Camp Casey, during Golden’s previous tour of duty when he was the assistant commander for maneuver with the 2nd Infantry Division.

Golden “will play a crucial role on the 8th Army command team as we continue to defend liberty here with our ROK allies,” said Lt. Gen. John D. Johnson, 8th Army’s commanding general.

An Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilot and Harvard graduate, Golden said he jumped at the opportunity to serve in South Korea again.

South Korea “is one of America’s greatest allies and the ROK-U.S. alliance is the strongest military alliance in the world,” Golden said. “Today, this modern, democratic and prosperous nation serves as a great example of what free people can accomplish together.”

New DIA Director Expects Intensified Demands for Intelligence

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON  – The new director of the Defense Intelligence Agency is approaching his dream job with eyes wide open, valuing people over technology and expecting a future that holds more intense demands for intelligence.

Army Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn became DIA director July 24, as well as commander of the collocated joint functional component command for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance that is part of U.S. Strategic Command.

“If there’s a dream job for me, this is it,” Flynn said during an interview with American Forces Press Service.

His vision for the agency, the director added, “is to operationalize the capabilities that DIA brings to bear, for the defense community and specifically in support of our combatant commanders -- [the] commanders and organizations that are spread throughout the globe in support of our nation’s defense.”

DIA personnel are deployed in 139 countries around the world, with more than 500 serving combat forces in Afghanistan.

“People don’t always know that some of the men and women who are out there are even from DIA,” Flynn said. “They show up and they live and breathe with the units they’re [supporting], doing an intelligence analysis mission and helping commanders understand what’s happening in their environment.”

The general began his own career as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C. He has served in command and staff positions, with multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, including as director of intelligence for U.S. Central Command and director of intelligence for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

DIA, Flynn said, “has an enormous responsibility for defense in general and certainly for providing intelligence support to our war-fighting forces. It did quite a bit for me personally and certainly for the units that I was a part of over the last … couple of decades.”

In an open letter to the men and women of DIA, the director said DIA’s analysis must be timely, responsive and relevant to the needs of customers that include the military services, and increasingly international, domestic and private-sector partners.

“We must strengthen our human intelligence collection against strategic defense targets growing more difficult to penetrate, while fully incorporating counterintelligence. We must continue to integrate science and technology to enhance our operations,” he wrote.

Flynn is a graduate of, among other institutions, the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and School of Advanced Military Studies, whose graduates are informally known as Jedi Knights, a reference to lightsaber-wielding members of the Jedi order featured in “Star Wars” films.

He’s also earned an honorary doctorate from the Institute of World Politics and three master’s degrees, including a Master of Business Administration degree in telecommunications. But people are his real focus.

“The best technology to invest in is the technology between the ears,” he said. “Regardless of what we have in terms of technology, we have to invest in the people … so we’re leading technology and technology is not pulling us along.”

Such an investment, Flynn added, has everything to do with innovation -- allowing people to take risks in thinking and in trying new ways to present information, to bring ideas forward, and to allow people freedom of action to try new things.

An innovator himself, Flynn is known in the intelligence community as one of three authors in January 2010 of a report published by the Center for a New American Security that was critical of intelligence in Afghanistan.

“Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan” by Flynn, who at the time was the senior intelligence officer in Afghanistan, Marine Corps Capt. Matt Pottinger, and DIA senior executive Paul D. Batchelor, was based on discussions with hundreds of people inside and outside the intel community.

The report recommended sweeping changes for the intel community, including moving from a focus on the enemy to a focus on the people and culture of Afghanistan, or any country where U.S. forces are deployed.

In the lead-up to writing the report, Flynn said, “what I began to realize is that we’re not seeing the … trees [for] the forest. We’re missing something here.”

What was missing for the intel community, he said, was a focus on the total environment rather than the threat alone.

“There was not a sound understanding of what the environment was like, so I think that in our cultural awareness, our language capabilities, our insight and training … prior to forces entering in this case Afghanistan, we were missing something in a big way,” Flynn said.

“The fact that we have brought laser focus to that issue has made us smarter, more aware, more tuned in” to a process that is also relevant to the pivotal events occurring now in North Africa, Syria, Yemen and in several African countries.

The intelligence community has also matured in other ways, Flynn said, and has come to see in itself a much greater role operationally.

The operational community sees this integration of intelligence and operations in a way that’s much different now from 10 years ago, Flynn said. As DIA goes forward, it will look hard at its integration with the operational community and with the combatant commanders, the general added.

“Intelligence at the edge is better than intelligence at the center. … We have to be in the field, [and] we’re already taking a hard look at how … we place ourselves in a much more operational footprint globally to be more responsive, to be more agile, to be more flexible in the kinds of needs that our nation [will have] here in the coming decade,” he said.

Botswana: Illinois National Guard, Botswana Defense Force combine efforts on engineering projects

By Army National Guard Sgt. James D. Sims
Illinois National Guard

MKANKAKE VILLAGE, Botswana  - The Illinois Army National Guard’s 631st Engineer Support Company, is assisting the Botswana Defense Force engineers with road improvements and a pond restoration project here, as part of Southern Accord 2012.

“This is a five and a half mile stretch of road that leads to Mkankake Range,” said Army 1st Lt. Jera Muder, the platoon leader for the road improvement project with the 631st. “Currently it is unserviceable and our goal is to complete as much of this project as we can before we have to go back to Illinois.”

The road is a natural conduit for rainwater as it flows from high ground and washes out sections of road, rendering it impassable.

“The part of the road we are currently working on has too much sand, so we are removing enough of it to get to a more solid surface,” Muder said. “We will then bring in water trucks to wet the surface, rip it up, grade the surface and flatten it out. This will create a hard surface we can then lay gravel on.”

The 631st will help to complete as much of the road as they can during their time in Botswana. After the engineers leave, the BDF will conclude the project.

“It has been very good working with the Americans,” said Sgt. Lebuse Kobe, a roads technician with the BDF engineers. “We have learned as much from them as we have given them information on how we do our roads. The locals are happy because this is also a road that leads to their village and gives them a better road for travelling.”

Concurrent to the road project is a pond restoration near the village, which is used to water livestock and other small agricultural needs.

“This is a small pond that would essentially dry up halfway through the dry season and the livestock depend on it for water,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class John Jones, with the 631st. “The elders of the village asked the BDF to expand and deepen the pond so it would last longer.”

“We will widen the front of the pond by 20 to 25 meters and increase the depth on the back side by 10 to 15 feet,” said Army Sgt. Galen Dellinger, a heavy equipment operator with the 631st, “tripling the size of the existing pond.”

As the road improvement team passes the pond restoration site, both teams will connect the drainage ditches from the road to the pond so there is more supply to keep the pond from drying up too early.
 Although the team from Illinois will have to leave prior to the completion of the project, they are confident the BDF will see it through to completion, said Muder.
 Southern Accord 2012 is an annual combined, joint exercise which brings together U.S. military personnel with counterparts from the BDF to conduct humanitarian assistance/disaster relief operations, peacekeeping operations and aeromedical evacuation to enhance military capabilities and interoperability.