Friday, September 21, 2012

Obama: Nation Must ‘Never Forget’ Missing Service Members

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 2012 – “As long as members of our Armed Forces remain unaccounted for, America will bring our fullest resources to bear in finding them and bringing them home. It is a promise we make not only to the families of our captured and our missing, but to all who have worn the uniform,” President Barack Obama said in his proclamation declaring today National POW/MIA Recognition Day.

The proclamation reads:

“For more than two centuries, Americans have bravely served our Nation as members of our Armed Forces. Many have made profound sacrifices to uphold the ideals we cherish, carrying wounds that may never fully heal and dark memories that will never fade. Today, we pay solemn tribute to service members who bore war's tragic costs as prisoners of war and those missing in action. We stand with the families who have known the lingering ache of a loved one's uncertain fate. And as a Nation, we reaffirm a most sacred obligation: that we must never forget the men and women who did not come home, and that we must never stop trying to return them to their families and the country they fought to protect.

“As long as members of our Armed Forces remain unaccounted for, America will bring our fullest resources to bear in finding them and bringing them home. It is a promise we make not only to the families of our captured and our missing, but to all who have worn the uniform. Our Nation continues to recover the remains of fallen heroes we lost in the Vietnam War, the Korean War, World War II, and other conflicts. And as these patriots are finally laid to rest, we pray their return brings closure and a measure of peace to those who knew and loved them. During this day of recognition, let us honor their sacrifice once more by expressing our deepest gratitude to our service members, our veterans, our military families, and all those who have given so much to keep our country safe.

“On September 21, 2012, the stark black and white banner symbolizing America's Missing in Action and Prisoners of War will be flown over the White House; the United States Capitol; the Departments of State, Defense, and Veterans Affairs; the Selective Service System Headquarters; the World War II Memorial; the Korean War Veterans Memorial; the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; United States post offices; national cemeteries; and other locations across our country. We raise this flag as a solemn reminder of our obligation to always remember the sacrifices made to defend our Nation.

“NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim September 21, 2012, as National POW/MIA Recognition Day. I urge all Americans to observe this day of honor and remembrance with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”

U.S. Navy Ships Depart For Joint Warrior Exercise 12-2

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW/AW) Foster Bamford, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West

USS GETTYSBURG, At Sea (NNS) -- Two U.S. Navy ships, led by Commander, Destroyer Squadron (COMDESRON) 26, departed from the U.S. for Scotland, Sept. 17.

The ships will take part in the Joint Warrior 12-2 exercise with allied navies. Joint Warrior is a coalition exercise designed and led by the Joint Tactical Exercise Planning Staff (JTEPS) in the United Kingdom.

Sailors from guided-missile destroyer USS Mitscher (DDG 57), guided-missile cruiser USS Gettysburg (CG 64), Helicopter Maritime Strike (HSM) 46 Detachment 2 and U.S. maritime support reconnaissance patrol aircraft from Experimental Evaluation Test Squadron (VX) 1, Patrol Squadron (VP) 9 and VP 10 and fleet replenishment oiler USNS Leroy Grumman (TAO 195) will play a role in the exercise, which is intended to improve interoperability between allied navies and prepare them for possible joint exercises in the real world.

"Allied and coalition operations are the standard when units deploy," said Capt. Nelson Castro, commander of COMDESRON 26. "This exercise provides a venue for our Sailors to practice and learn NATO operating procedures."

Joint Warrior is the United Kingdom's advanced naval certification course and is on par with a U.S. Joint Task Force Exercise. The exercise is a multi-national training event for allies in a maritime environment. It aims to improve interoperability and prepare forces for combined exercises. There are 12 countries participating in Joint Warrior including the U.S. and the United Kingdom. Those countries are Denmark, Netherlands, Estonia, France, Spain, Norway, Brazil, Germany, Canada, Sweden, and Belgium.

"Many of the allied units involved in Joint Warrior exercises will be the same units our ships will see on deployment," said Castro. "This familiarity allows for the development of trust. All nations benefit from open commerce in the maritime common. Our Navy deployed forward supports the movement of goods worldwide, which affects everyone."

Joint Warrior is a two-week exercise that begins in early October. It involves sea, ground and air assets from participating allied and NATO forces and aims to foster a spirit of teamwork between allied nations.

USS Ponce Showcases Capabilities During IMCMEX 12

From U.S. Naval Forces Central Command Public Affairs

MANAMA, Bahrain (NNS) -- The U.S. Navy's first Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15), will showcase its much anticipated capabilities in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR) during International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2012 (IMCMEX 12), Sept. 16-27.

Designated as an amphibious transport dock (LPD) more than 41 years ago, Ponce was converted and reclassified as an AFSB(I) in April and arrived in Bahrain for duty, July 6, to fulfill a longstanding U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) request.

"The hard work of this crew gets just credit for providing Central Command options to maintain maritime security in the region, and the flexibility to support a wide range of contingencies," said Capt. Jon Rodgers, commanding officer of USS Ponce. "As the first dedicated afloat forward staging base, we look forward to integrating this new platform during IMCMEX 12 with all our coalition and regional partners."

During the exercise, Ponce will demonstrate its ability to stage people and equipment, and provide support to surface ship and mine countermeasures operations. Additionally, Ponce will embark, launch and recover helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles and small craft.

"There is no script for this multi-lateral operation in Ponce, given the various equipment and gear from our partners; just an outstanding crew with a firm grasp of basic seamanship and a 'must do' attitude," said Rodgers. "Ponce celebrated her 41st birthday this year, yet with our team and the capable machine and repair facilities, we continue to provide great support to our ship and other naval assets in the region."

IMCMEX 12 brings together more than 30 international partners. The exercise will focus on mine countermeasure (MCM) operations, but will also include MCM support activities; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support; maritime security operations; visit, board, search and seizure events; maritime critical infrastructure protection; explosive ordnance disposal; maritime domain awareness and force protection.

Panetta Honors Past, Present New Zealand Troops

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

AUCKLAND, New Zealand, Sept. 21, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta placed a wreath in memory of New Zealand’s fallen and pinned U.S. medals on five Kiwi Afghanistan veterans during a visit to the Auckland War Memorial Museum today.

In the museum’s Hall of Memories, which has inscribed on its walls the names of all Auckland province service members who died in combat, the sounds of drum and bugle echoed against the marble walls before the wreath laying. The secretary placed a wreath in front of the hall’s central statue, a winged figure atop a globe, then stood with his head bowed for a few moments.

Shortly after the wreath-laying ceremony, Panetta and New Zealand Defense Minister Dr. Jonathan Coleman spoke before a small crowd gathered in another part of the museum to see five New Zealand veterans receive U.S. medals for their service in Afghanistan over the past several years. The five recipients all served at the New Zealand-led Bamiyan Provincial Reconstruction Team.

Coleman welcomed Panetta, saying the secretary’s presence offered “a very special moment for our service people, as well as for their families.”

The secretary thanked the defense minister and said it was “a very profound honor” to visit the museum to pay tribute to New Zealand’s heroes from the past and present.

The U.S. and New Zealand militaries have fought and bled side by side, he said, “in defense of our way of life – whether in Europe or North Africa, in two world wars, in the jungles of Vietnam or the mountains of Afghanistan.”

Those common battles laid the groundwork for an enduring friendship between the two nations’ armed forces, he added.

Now, he said, “a new generation of Americans and Kiwis once again step forward in defense of our way of life.”

The medals he presented today honor the service of New Zealand’s service members in Afghanistan, he said, where that nation’s defense forces “are continuing to make an important difference through their leadership of the Bamiyan Provincial Reconstruction Team.”

Panetta said it was largely through the blood and sweat of New Zealand’s team members that Bamiyan was among the first areas in Afghanistan designated for transition to Afghan security lead. “When the transition is completed there this year, New Zealand will be able to proudly say that it accomplished its mission,” he said.

The secretary presented Army Commendation Medals to Maj. James P. Kaio, Lt. Jason Tinsley, Lt. Karen Joy Bleakley and Capt. M.A. Thomson. Col. Darryl Tracy, now retired, received the Meritorious Service Medal.

The Army Commendation Medal may be presented to members of the U.S. armed forces or the armed forces of a friendly nation who have distinguished themselves by heroism, meritorious achievement or meritorious service. The Meritorious Service Medal may be presented for outstanding service, and typically is reserved for field-grade officers and senior noncommissioned officers.

The secretary is visiting New Zealand through tomorrow on the last leg of a three-country Asia-Pacific tour that also has included stops in Japan and China.

Panetta Visits Chinese Navy Fleet, Tours Vessels

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

QINGDAO, China – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta visited the headquarters of one of China’s three naval fleets on his final stop in China today before heading to New Zealand.

Panetta, the first defense secretary to visit the People’s Liberation Army’s Navy North Sea Fleet headquarters, toured a Chinese frigate and a submarine, according to a defense official traveling with the secretary. Reporters traveling with Panetta were not permitted on the tours.

The secretary met with fleet commander Vice Adm. Tian Zhong, the official said, and the two discussed the importance each country places on its navy, the desirability of increasing engagement and exercises, and the invitation the secretary extended to China to send a ship to the multilateral maritime exercise Rim of the Pacific 2014. The vice admiral seemed pleased at the invitation, the official added.

The official noted that the North Sea Fleet, established in 1960, is based on five installations in northern China and performs a range of missions, including patrolling and protecting the seas in the area, protecting fisheries, conducting rescue missions and supporting scientific research. Fleet activities increasingly focus in international engagement, the official said.

While in Qingdao, the official said, the secretary toured the frigate Yantai, which holds a crew of 172, and recently supported Gulf of Aden counter-piracy operations. Panetta also toured the Great Wall 197 submarine, a conventionally powered sub which holds 55 crews, commissioned in 2003 with torpedo, minelayer and reconnaissance capabilities, the official added.

While the secretary toured the frigate and submarine and attended a command briefing on the fleet, Chinese navy spokesman Sr. Col. Huang Xueping spoke with the traveling press.

He explained the North Sea Fleet is one of three PLA navy fleet headquarters; the others are the East Sea and South Sea fleets.

Generally speaking, Huang said, the fleet’s primary mission is to “safeguard national sovereignty, territory and integrity. Second is to coordinate with other services … [and] third is to participate in national humanitarian [and] disaster relief [efforts].” The fleet also performs other missions as directed by the government, he added.

Asked about his reaction to the secretary’s invitation for the Chinese navy to send a ship to Rimpac 2014, Huang said, “This message is quite positive. So we will staff carefully the request, the invitation, and we will make the response.”

The People’s Liberation Army welcomes the opportunity to participate in international exercises and exchanges, he said. “We think it’s a good chance for us to participate in such kinds of activity, and learn from our colleagues,” he said.

After leaving Qingdao, the secretary flew to New Zealand for the last leg of his third Asia tour, which has also included Japan.