Sunday, May 26, 2013

President Notes Sacrifices of Service Members, Families

By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 25, 2013 – As Americans kick off a long weekend for the May 27 observance of Memorial Day, President Barack Obama today recognized the ultimate sacrifices of U.S. service members, lauding them as heroes who helped to build a free and prosperous nation.
In his weekly address, Obama noted the courage of those willing to fight and even die for America’s success.

“At a time when only about 1 percent of the American people bear the burden of our defense, the service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform isn’t always readily apparent,” the president said. “They risk their lives, and many give their lives, for something larger than themselves or any of us: the ideals of liberty and justice that make America a beacon of hope for the world.”

The president emphasized that Americans must do more than remember the sacrifices of U.S. service members over the nation’s history, from a “tiny band of revolutionaries [who] stood up to an empire” to the 9/11 Generation that continues to serve and sacrifice today.

“We must care for the loved ones that our fallen service members have left behind,” he said. “We must make sure all our veterans have the care and benefits they’ve earned, and the jobs and opportunity they deserve.”

Obama also lauded families whose loved ones are in harm’s way, saying that they, too, serve.
“We must make sure that the men and women of our armed forces have the support they need to achieve their missions safely at home and abroad,” the president said.

Obama called on Americans to help in preserving what service member sacrifices have achieved in pursuit of a fair and free nation.

“It is our obligation,” he said, “and it is our privilege, as the heirs of those who came before us, and as citizens of the United States of America.”

Dempsey Kicks off Memorial Day Weekend with TAPS Families

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 24, 2013 – The nation’s highest-ranking military officer told his audience today at the Crystal City Marriott here that as “The Star-Spangled Banner” plays across the United States this Memorial Day weekend, it will be uniquely their song.

“You’re the ones that sacrificed so we can play that national anthem,” he said.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife, Deanie Dempsey, spent time today with the estimated 2,200 participants gathered here this weekend for the annual Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp. TAPS is an organization for families of service members who died in combat, by suicide, in training or from sudden illness.

“It must be something extraordinary for you to listen to the national anthem, because no one has had the experience of being handed a folded flag,” the chairman said. “You have. And those of us who haven’t experienced that don’t know, really, what that -- I can’t even conceive of what it must be like.”

Dempsey told the adult audience he addressed today -- he also spoke separately to the children -- that he and his wife build their Memorial Day weekend calendar around the seminar “because I find you to be an incredibly inspirational group.”

Hundreds of red-T-shirted men and women gathered in the hotel’s ballroom to listen to the general. The red T-shirts are for TAPS members, but some also had “peer mentor” or “volunteer” written on the back. White T-shirts, for staff members, dotted the room. Outside, the TAPS children assembled for their own time with the chairman.

Each child was accompanied by a blue-T-shirted mentor. Mentors, according to TAPS guidelines, must be current service members or recent veterans and must have lost someone close to them.

The chairman said that while the sense of community in TAPS makes the seminar an event he and his wife look forward to, it’s also a sad occasion.

“You’re here because you’ve suffered some incredible sadness and loss in your life,” the chairman said. He added that unfortunately, the organization is likely to continue growing “for a while.”

“Just before I came over here I signed nine letters of condolence to nine families who are recent members of your community,” he said. “And I hope that at some point, when they’re ready, they’ll join you.”

People who have lost a loved one need to be able to talk to others who understand some of what they’ve been through, Dempsey said.

“And that’s you,” he said. “I appreciate the fact that you’re willing to come here, not just to get something, but to give something. That’s really what makes this such a powerful gathering of men and women -- and children, actually.”

The five-day event began May 22 with training and preparation, and culminates this weekend with activities including camps for younger and older children and workshops on topics from art therapy to “turning hurt into hope,” for adults. The seminar also includes a run/walk, balloon release, sunset parade, Pentagon tour, baseball game and other activities. TAPS staffers pair children one-on-one with a mentor -– 500 for this seminar -- who will stay with them throughout the events.

Amy Neiberger-Miller, who handles the organization’s publicity, explained the organization often seeks to pair children with a service member or veteran who has completed the organization’s mentor training and has a similar occupation to the child’s lost parent.

“If a child’s father was a helicopter pilot, then we can match them with a mentor who is also [one], who can tell them what it’s like to fly,” she said. “Many come back here year after year, from very far away, to be here and support these children.”

Dempsey left the ballroom full of adults, and soon after he went next door to another ballroom, where children of all ages and their mentors sat on the carpeted floor waiting for him. Among those still entering the room before the general arrived, much piggybacking and tickling could be observed.

Army Sgt. James Cunningham, now in the individual ready reserve and about to leave service, sat next to a 7- or 8-year-old boy he introduced as “Ro-ro.” The two whispered and laughed and looked at a smartphone screen together while waiting for the chairman.

When Ro-ro wasn’t paying attention, Cunningham quietly confided that while in the active Army, he had lost a friend to suicide, and later another to a suicide bomber.

“It goes on and on, unfortunately,” he said.

The chairman sang “The Unicorn Song” at the top of the program for the younger children, and a version of Train’s “[Not a] Drive By” for the older ones. Dempsey’s version of the chorus to “Drive By” included:

“Oh I swear to you
We’ll be there for you
This is not a drive-by
Just between us, nothing comes between us …”

Several of the children took part in a question-and-answer period. Many chose to tell the chairman about the parent they had lost, mostly in Afghanistan.

One boy said, “He was at war once in Afghanistan. He really liked to play games with me and my brother … then he had to go back to Afghanistan, and he died. I don’t know how he died.”

Dempsey left the children laughing, ready to keep singing. Minutes earlier, before he left the adult session, he had a final message for everyone in a red T-shirt.

The chairman said, “I promise you that despite all the complexities of life in Washington these days, and all the uncertainty about the future of our budget, and all the things that make headlines and make for good 24/7 news, that we will remember what’s most important about our nation. And that is the care for soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, our veterans, and those who have lost their life in the service of our country and their families.”

129th Airmen Achieve Milestone 1,000th Save

By Air Force Senior Airman Jessica Green
129th Rescue Wing
MOFFETT FEDERAL AIRFIELD, Calif., May 24, 2013 – The 129th Rescue Wing has saved its 1,000th life.

The milestone was reached on May 18, 2013, when aircrews and pararescuemen from the 129th Rescue Wing deployed to Afghanistan rescued an Afghan national policeman who had suffered a gunshot wound, raising the number of lives saved by the unit to 1,000.

Since its inception nearly four decades ago, the 129th RQW has launched countless missions from its home station here and various deployed locations resulting in 1,000 lives saved. The wing is credited with over 400 combat saves and nearly 600 civilian saves. In addition, the wing has assisted in over 600 other saves.

Embracing the motto of the Air Force Rescue community, "That Others May Live," the 129th's federal mission is to "rapidly deploy worldwide to conduct combat search-and-rescue operations, over land or water, in both hostile and permmissive environments." In addition to its combat mission, as a California National Guard asset, the wing provides civilian search-and-rescue support to the governor during times of state emergencies, including earthquakes, hurricanes, fires and floods.

For members of the wing, saving lives is the most honorable and important mission they will undertake. A "save" is defined as a recovered individual in danger of losing his or her life, a limb, or eyesight. Save missions are conducted by highly trained personnel. A pararescueman, also known as a "PJ," makes the final determination of patient's status, and documents that status in the final mission report. Patient status is determined independently of the patient category reported in the initial rescue request, such as urgent, urgent surgical, priority, routine, and convenience. If a 129th RQW member participated in a recovery mission, whether as pickup aircraft, formation partner, or ground team, then a "save" is credited to the wing.

Operating in California since 1955, the 129th was established at Hayward Airport as an Air Resupply Group tasked to airlift personnel and material using Curtiss C-46 Commando aircraft. Not long after its launch, the group underwent a variety of name changes, several aircraft conversions and multiple Air Force major command assignments.

The wing's rescue presence dates back to 1975 when it was designated as the 129th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Group operating HC-130 Hercules cargo aircraft and HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopters.

The 129th ARRG conducted its first rescue mission in 1977 during a Red Flag combat exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. One of the group's Jolly Green Giant helicopters saved a severely injured pilot that ejected from an A-7 attack aircraft before it crashed into a nearby range.

To provide better rescue capability to the state and the nation, the 129th ARRG moved to Naval Air Station Moffett Field. The move was completed in 1984.

The first long-range, over-water rescue mission was completed Oct. 13, 1986 to rescue a crewman with appendicitis from the ship MS Reunion. The 129th ARRG coordinated with local U.S. Coast Guard assets to successfully rescue the patient and transport him to a hospital in Acapulco, Mexico. The rescue mission, resulting in the group's 145th save, covered a total of 4,200 miles, including 1,200 miles flown over water. To date, it is still the furthest distance the wing has traveled to execute a mission.

The 129th ARRG continued its service to the state throughout the late 1980s. During the 1986 flooding in Sonoma, Sutter and Yuba counties in Northern California, 33 lives were saved in five days. In the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, the 129th established command post operations and was chosen to coordinate all military aircraft activities within the Bay Area. By decade's end, the group had saved 190 people.

The first operational night mission was flown Dec. 27, 1991, to rescue a crewman with major facial and bodily injuries onboard the MV Martha Majesty more than 400 miles southwest of San Francisco, resulting in save 207.

Having successfully transitioned from Jolly Green Giant helicopters to more modern Pave Hawk rescue helicopters in 1991, the group was expanded into the 129th Rescue Wing in 1992 and extended its rescue detachments into squadrons, resulting in the current assignments of the 129th, 130th and 131st Rescue Squadrons at the renamed Moffett Federal Airfield. Today, HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft, and Guardian Angel pararescuemen and are assigned to these squadrons, respectively.

Through its transformation years the group remained mission ready and established an impressive pattern that would be followed for years to come.

An impromptu rescue, resulting in the wing's 250th save, was conducted on April 4, 1996 when Combat Shadow aircrews diverted from a routine training mission near Moffett to save a Navy pilot had ejected from his F-18 Hornet fighter aircraft 30 miles off the coast of Big Sur, Calif. The Combat Shadow aircrew dropped a survival kit, including a life raft, medical supplies, food, water and a radio, while Pave Hawk aircrews and Pararescuemen dispatched to the scene, hoisted the pilot to safety and transported him to Stanford Hospital.

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Rescue Wing and 58th Rescue Squadron pararescuemen hoist a passenger off the bow of the Holland America cruise ship, MS Westerdam on May 5, 2013, one of many saves the units have performed. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Miguel Toro

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, citizen-airmen from the 129th RQW deployed to support rescue missions for Operations Northern Watch, Southern Watch, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, setting an unprecedented standard in combat search and rescue efforts, supporting rescue operations in five countries, all while still supporting their stateside mission.

While deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 129th RQW executed the first combat save for any Air National Guard or Reserve unit on April 15, 2003. Pave Hawk aircrews picked up a severely injured Special Forces soldier from an isolated location and transported him across hostile Iraqi territory to a field hospital during inclement nighttime weather, resulting in the wing's 299th save. During the 2003 deployment to Iraq, the wing sustained zero aircraft or personnel losses, injuries or mishaps and executed 15 saves, bringing the wing's total to 310 lives saved. In 2005, more than 230 lives were saved in Afghanistan in support of OEF and in the Gulf of Mexico in response to Hurricane Katrina. While deployed to Kandahar in September, 20 lives were saved during multiple high-altitude combat rescue missions, typically in hostile territory under severe darkness.
On the home front, airmen provided lifesaving rescue operations and disaster relief following the hurricane that devastated the New Orleans and Mississippi Gulf Coast area. As first responders, PJs saved 212 lives while searching for survivors in rescue boats down flooded suburban streets. Similarly, airmen from the wing saved 34 lives in the Texas Gulf Coast area in response to Hurricane Ike in 2008, totaling in 598 lives saved for the wing.

During their four-month deployment to Afghanistan in 2009, 129th RQW aircrews and Pararescuemen saved 307 lives, the largest number of lives saved by the wing during a single deployment. The intense combat deployment saves included rescues of coalition forces, local nationals and sister service members, totaling in 907 lives saved for the wing. The following year, PJs again deployed to Afghanistan, saving an additional 37 lives, increasing the wing's total to 946.

More recently, the 129th RQW has successfully launched an impressive series of complex civilian rescue missions, saving distressed crewmen on international vessels off the golden coast.
129th RQW aircrews and PJs saved the life of an injured crewman onboard a Marshall Islands flagged merchant vessel approximately 300 miles off the coast of Mexico on Nov. 29, 2012. PJs treated the patient during the two-hour flight back to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where the patient was subsequently transported to San Diego for further treatment. This multiday rescue brought the total number of lives saved by the wing to 957.

On May 4, 2013, 129th RQW Airmen, stationed at Moffett and deployed to Afghanistan, collectively saved five lives during two separate missions, despite being more than 7,500 miles apart. While Pave Hawk rescue helicopters here are painted with large hot-pink tails numbers for wildfire season, aircrews were called to rescue a critically ill passenger from a Holland American cruise ship, the MS Westerdam, 300 miles off the coast of Southern California. Meanwhile, deployed helicopter aircrews were called to rescue four distressed individuals in Afghanistan.
Since 1975, the 129th RQW has a long and distinguished record of saving lives for both California and the nation. They continue to dedicate themselves to the personnel recovery mission at home and abroad, resulting in more than 400 combat and nearly 600 civilian rescues, bringing the total number of lives saved to 1,000 and counting.

Face of Defense: Airman Aids Victim of Oklahoma Tornado Strike

By Army Spc. Daniel Nelson
145th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

MOORE, Okla., May 24, 2013 – As a community shatters in the wake of a deadly EF-5 tornado, ordinary citizens become heroes as they give selflessly to those directly affected. Many who answer the call to help are volunteers or first responders, but others are reacting to the Moore tornado as citizen soldiers and airmen serving their communities.

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Sandra Adams and Air Force Tech. Sgt. Drew Stanley after meeting for the first time since Stanley gave his Air Force blouse to her when she was rescued following the May 20 tornado that ripped through Moore, Okla. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Daniel Nelson Jr.

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The lives of two individuals came together May 20 in the midst of the destruction when an Oklahoma Air National Guardsman provided aid to a Moore resident pulled from the rubble and literally gave her the shirt off his back.

Sandra Adams, 65, was in bed when her 88-year-old mother came to get her to take cover in a bathtub along with the family dog, Duke. With wind speeds of more than 200 mph, Adams remembers the sound of the tornado as it passed overhead, tearing up everything it came into contact with.

“It got really loud as the tornado came closer, the lights went out and everything around us began falling inward on top of us,” Adams said. “I could see through some of the debris that there was even more debris flying around overhead. Once all of the chaos was over, I could see some light through the stuff now on top of us. That’s when I knew my house was gone.”

With the tornado now passed, Adams and her mother found themselves buried in their bathtub unable to dig their way out. They had no choice but to wait until someone could make their way through the rubble that once was her neighborhood.

“I had just one oxygen bottle with less than 30 minutes of use left on it when a 13-year old boy found us,” Adams said. “He yelled to me that he was going to have to get some bigger guys to help get me out.”
It took four men to dig Adams and her mother out of their debris-covered bathtub and carry them to a place where they could receive medical treatment and wait for transportation to the nearest hospital. Little did Adams know that she would soon meet a member of the Oklahoma Air National Guard, who would leave a lasting impression.

Fellow Moore resident, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Drew Stanley, was at work at the Will Rogers Air National Guard Base when the reports of the tornado began being televised. Stanley, an air cargo specialist for the logistical readiness squadron, 137th Air Refueling Wing, Oklahoma Air National Guard, watched as local meteorologists projected the tornado would pass over his house.

“I drove home to make sure my roommates and dogs were going to be pulled out of the storm cellar,” Stanley said. “I had been through a tornado a year earlier and knew that police officers would block off the area to people who weren’t first responders.”

Fortunately, his home was not in the direct path of the tornado. So Stanley turned his focus on making sure his family members, who also live in the area, were safe. He then responded to radio broadcasts that the nearby Briarwood Elementary had been hit with children inside.

“I headed that direction to help, but the traffic was so bad I had to pull over and began running to help,” Stanley said. “With power lines down and the neighborhood being completely cut off from vehicle access, getting in to check for people was difficult.”

A police officer on the scene saw Stanley in his Air Force uniform and waved him down to have him help administer aid to victims that were emerging from the rubble and storm cellars. Stanley suddenly found himself in the middle of the chaos, standing on rubble piles that were once occupied houses, and providing first aid.

“I never made it to the school because victims began coming out before I made it there, so I began immediate first aid with the first responders in the area,” Stanley said.

Stanley was about to meet Adams for the first time.

“When I found Sandra, she was shaking so hard,” Stanley recalled. “I gave her my [Air Force] blouse after asking her if she was cold. I then began treating her for shock; everyone was in shock.”

The deadly tornado that ripped through the quiet communities of Newcastle, Moore and southeast Oklahoma City is responsible for more than 20 deaths, including 10 children, just a day after another tornado took the lives of two people in Shawnee 30 miles to the east of Oklahoma City. Damages are estimated to be more than $2 billion.

The lives of many people changed in the aftermath of the deadly tornado, but the two strangers, who would have otherwise never met, were able to leave a positive light on a tragic incident. Adams was determined to find the owner of the Air Force blouse once she was safe and stable in a local hospital. So, she used local media to set up a meeting with her Air Force rescuer.

With a smile on his face and a handful of flowers, Stanley walked into Adams’ hospital room for what would be their second meeting. This time, it was on more pleasant terms, with Adams giving Stanley a big hug in appreciation, his military blouse returned with many thanks.

“It’s great seeing that she is fine,” Stanley said. “I’m glad I could bring a little light on such a devastating situation.”