Military News

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

JBER teen nominated for national Air Force honors

by Airman Ty-Rico Lea
JBER Public Affairs


6/5/2013 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Here on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, there are many military youths who are recognized for volunteer efforts that help the community.

One of those youths shone brightest and was honored for his work.

Meet Gage Dabin. Dabin, 17, has been named the Military Youth of the Year for Alaska and Pacific Air Forces.

He has also been nominated for the Air Force Military Youth of the Year award and will head to Washington, D.C., to compete with other military youths from across the United States in September.

"My wife and I have always instilled the principle of "not what you can do for me, but what I can do for you" into our children and have helped them realize that it's a much bigger world outside of their bubble," said Dabin's father, Senior Master Sgt. Tobias Adam, 673d Civil Engineer Squadron. "So I believe Gage has personified this the most."

"Gage is known by many to be a well-versed individual who has done a lot of public speaking at the school he attends and public functions on base," said Seante Banks, 673d Force Support Squadron, teen program coordinator at the Kennecott Youth Center.

"I would spend hours upon hours practicing speeches," Dabin said. "As I'm aware, children in the Lower 48 are provided camps and facilities where they can practice public speaking. I have to rely on my will and those around me to get things done."

Dabin went onto explain why he devotes so much to his craft as a leader.

"I see myself as an individual who just wants to get out there and make a difference in the JBER community," Dabin said. "Most of my extracurricular activities involve school, volunteering and sports."

Like his father, Dabin is an ardent sports player and has been involved in such activities as varsity wrestling, track and field, soccer and Cross Fit physical training.

He said he uses the fundamentals of sports to accomplish his community goals.

"Gage has been volunteering all his life in such places as Texas, Missouri, Illinois and Alaska on various Air Force installations," Adam said.

While in Texas, Dabin contributed to numerous volunteer opportunities. One in particular was Relay For Life, which is dedicated to raising cancer awareness.

Dabin said he feels his involvement with the event made a huge difference in people's perspective of the disease.

Since realizing his mother was diagnosed with cancer, the cause has become more important to him.

Dabin has coordinated base events involving school education and child development, as well as off-base events across the Anchorage area using the organizations he is a part of as a medium to get his message across.

"I've always been the type of person to just do my own thing, to conceive my own ideas and those around me have always called me a thinker," Dabin said. "I'm always careful before I do something and always backtrack before declaring I'm done."

One of the many groups Dabin is a part of is known as Keystone, which is handled through the JBER-Elmendorf Teen Center and promotes local events like an Easter egg hunt at Easter.

He is also associated with the Anchorage Youth Advisory Board. He assists the board by orchestrating Anchorage and JBER events, such as setting up a themed booth for the Teen Expo at the Egan Center for Anchorage's annual Kids Day.

This year, Dabin and his peers decided to tackle the issue of bullying.

"We would have individuals come into the booth, wear a giant pair of headphones connected to a speaker and have an individual speak into the microphone and pay that person compliments," Dabin said. "We used this method of approach to raise the self-esteem of kids and teens to fight bullying."

To further their message, Dabin and his peers are also collecting information from the experiment and assembling a video expressing that it is good to present someone with a compliment because one simple phrase can brighten a person's day.

Thanks to his work around the community, Dabin has also been nominated to be a part of the State Council involving educational opportunity for military children.

Dabin aspires to become a military service member like his father. He would seem to fit right in because, already, he personifies the Air Force core value of "Service Before Self."

Five pilots visit with children at Providence

by Airman Ty-Rico Lea
JBER Public Affairs


6/6/2013 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARSON, Alaska -- Every child has a hero or idol. At Providence Children's Hospital, there are a handful of children who are fond of Air Force pilots in particular. During a recent visit to the hospital, the children were given the opportunity to meet a group of pilots from the 302nd Fighter Squadron, the 517th Airlift Squadron, and the 537th Airlift Squadron.

The pilots and children made paper airplanes, talked about different aircraft the pilots have flown, spoke of different goals the children had in mind, and discussed what it's like to fly planes.

"Having the pilots come to the children's hospital really helps normalize the children's day by allowing them to come down to the art room and engage in activities like paper airplane racing," said Jennifer Booher, child life specialist at the children's hospital. "The smiles on the patients' faces showed how excited they were to have special visitors; one of the patients even jokingly asked, 'Where did they land their plane?'"

Patients and other children who had the opportunity to visit ranged in age from 3 to 7 years old.

According to http://alaska.providence.org, Providence serves Alaskans in eight communities: Anchorage, Cordova, Eagle River, Kodiak Island, Matanuska-Susitna, Seward, Soldotna and Valdez.

Not only did children from various schools around the Anchorage area come out to attend the visit, but children from other parts of Alaska as well.

"We are the only children's hospital in Alaska. All special visitors are arranged through the Child Life Department," Booher said.

Seeing as Providence is known to have the only extensive pediatric clinic in Alaska, children from all across Alaska go there to receive medical treatment. Children from villages such as Napakiak and Napaskiak in the Bethel area are prominent in the clinic.
"The main goal of having special visitors is to provide something unique for our patients, such as allowing them to play various games with those who they admire or just have someone special to hang out with from time to time," Booher said.

Some of the pilots were asked how they felt about the experience of coming out and hanging out with the children.

"I think this has been a very rewarding experience," said Air Force 1st Lt. Isaac Landecker, C-17 Globemaster III pilot. "I can just tell from the look on the kids' faces and spending time with them."

Booher said some of the children at the hospital have been there for an extended period of time.

"Some of these patients are in the hospital for weeks, and just having someone new come in and spend one-on-one time with them helps provide normalcy," Booher said. "These special visits not only benefit our patients but also their parents and siblings."

Booher further expressed how she feels about the significance of having service members come and meet the children.

"I think having our patients see men and women in uniform is always something special," Booher said. "When I first brought up the visit to the children, there were many smiles when I mentioned that pilots were coming in to visit and play, watching these young boys run the hospital halls flying airplanes with pilots provided many smiles, not only to our patients' faces but parents and staff as well."

Although this is one of the first times the hospital has facilitated a visit like this, Booher alluded to the possibility there may be future events such as this one.

"The Children's Hospital is always open to arrange special-group visits," Booher said. "I really feel that if JBER is able to provide the Pilot For a Day Program, that would be a huge success with our patients and families."

Booher said she was eager to have the pilots come to the hospital again.

"It was really an honor coming out and getting the opportunity and spending some time with the kids," said Air Force Capt. Zachary Dorman, 517th AS C-17 pilot. "Just to see their strength and observe what they have to go through was eye-opening and is something I'd like to see continued."

Colombians Partner During Beyond the Horizon


By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

SONSONATE, El Salvador, June 11, 2013 – Capt. Ernesto Santamaria of the Colombian army remembers a scary childhood. The FARC -- Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia -- ran rampant in Colombia, terrorizing citizens with a spate of murders, kidnappings and other activities associated with narcotics trafficking.

Twenty-five years ago, the Colombian police force was corrupt and the military forces were in disarray.


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Capt. Ernesto Santamaria of the Colombian army, left, looks on as Colombian, El Salvadoran and American soldiers work together to build a school in the remote Salvadoran village of Las Marias during Beyond the Horizon 2013 in El Salvador. Colombian engineers deployed to support the mission in both El Salvador and Panama. DOD photo by Donna Miles
  

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Today, thanks to strong Colombian leadership and persistent U.S. support and engagement, Colombia has capable and highly respected security forces that have weakened the FARC and continue to deal it crippling blows.

And as Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, told Congress earlier this year, the nation once on the brink of falling to a powerful insurgency now stands as a regional model, exporting security to its neighbors and beyond.

The Colombians have become leaders in counterinsurgency tactics, and they share this training with their Central American and West African counterparts, Kelly reported. As one example, Colombian air force pilots, operating out of a state-of-the-art training center that includes simulators found nowhere else in Latin America, now train helicopter pilots from the Mexican and other neighboring militaries.

“They have become exporters of [force integration training],” Army Brig. Gen. Sean P. Mulholland, commander of Special Operations Command South, said of Colombia’s regional outreach.

“This is Latins training Latins, and that is a beautiful story,” Mulholland said.

Santamaria, who grew up as the Colombian army was transitioning into a strong, professional force, said he’s proud to be part of that story. He’s among a contingent of Colombian soldiers who deployed here and to Panama for three months to share their engineering experience during the Beyond the Horizon 2013.

U.S. Southern Command’s largest annual humanitarian civic assistance mission in Latin America, Beyond the Horizon includes medical, dental, veterinary services and engineering projects.

At one of the construction sites, in the remote Salvadoran village of Las Marias, the Colombians are working alongside military engineers from the United States, El Salvador, Chile and Canada to build a new schoolhouse.

Army Lt. Col Raymond Valas, commander of Joint Task Force Jaguar, is overseeing the Beyond the Horizon 2013 mission in El Salvador. He called the multinational collaboration one of the most important aspects of the mission, noting that all of the participants are all working together in demanding conditions to accomplish a common goal.

Valas recalled walking the Las Marias construction site and marveling at how easily a U.S. soldier, a Colombian soldier, two Chilean soldiers and a Salvadoran soldier pulled together to pour concrete in sweltering 120-degree temperatures.

“No one put them together in that way. It was just a group of engineers from different countries, getting together to get the mission done,” he said. “And all the differences between us kind of melt away as we focus on the task at hand. You take your motivation from one another, and it has an overall impact on our soldiers that just can’t be measured.”

Only the crème de la crème of Colombia’s engineers got a chance to participate in the mission, Santamaria said. Twenty Colombian engineer units nominated their top candidate, who then underwent rigorous screening, including a written test in construction skills and a psychological battery. The high scorers then went through personal interviews. Officials then selected five engineers for the coveted slots.

For Tomas Vargas, who has served 11 years in the Colombian army, the opportunity to deploy to El Salvador was a career highlight. Despite long hours, hot, sticky conditions and a pressing construction schedule, Vargas said he’s delighted to be able to support a humanitarian project.

“The people here appreciate what we are doing,” he said. “And we are doing it with all of our hearts, which means a lot.”

Vargas, who never before had been outside Colombia, said he has learned more during the deployment than he ever imagined -- about other cultures, about construction techniques and about partner militaries.

“There is always something new to learn here,” he said, emphasizing how much he has gained through the new friendships he has forged. Vargas said he was particularly surprised to see how independently U.S. soldiers operate, carrying out their assigned tasks without someone constantly looking over their shoulder.
Santamaria said he, too, is picking up new insights about everything from construction techniques, planning processes and logistics support to military discipline.

“All of us from different countries have come together, and we all have brought something to support this mission, and that is how the very best work happens,” he said.

Santamaria said he plans to take those lessons back to Colombia to share with his fellow soldiers and senior officers.

“What we are gaining here is experience that we can apply in our own country,” he said. “We are getting to learn about different countries and different cultures and to see other militaries that are very organized and professional.”

When he and his soldiers return to Colombia, Santamaria said, they hope to leave behind a positive impression of their country.

“I want everyone to see that we are good, hard-working, disciplined soldiers,” he added.

But even more important, he said, are the tangible projects they will leave behind for the people of El Salvador.

“The schools we are building will benefit the children who are the future of the country,” he said. “So of all the missions we have ever done, that makes this one the best of all.”

Furl Not Thy Talons.



John Morgan served in the US military for 32 years, first with the Strategic Air Command and then with the US Army and Kentucky National Guard. During his service, he travelled across the world. John Morgan is the author of Furl Not Thy Talons.

According to the book description of Furl Not Thy Talons, “Major Franklin Williamson was the commander of an ultra secret team of soldiers attached to the CIA so deep it was unknown except for a select few in the highest echelons of the government. Faced with the annihilation of his team on a rescue mission he must sacrifice himself in order for them to escape. The terrorists thought they had a bargaining chip they could bend to do their bidding. What they did not count on was the resourcefulness and determination of the major nor the fierce loyalty of the ghost team members.”

More about John G. Morgan

D-M OSI Agent saves drowning child

by Airman 1st Class Christine Griffiths
355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs


6/6/2013 - DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz.,  -- One eight-year-old boy owes his life to an Office of Special Investigations Airman who saved him after four minutes underwater.

Special Agent Christopher Martin was at a pool in Marana, Ariz., talking with his wife and daughter, scanning the pool for his other children, when he noticed something was motionless under the water.

"I didn't really know what it was," Martin said. "I got up and started walking towards the edge of the pool. I walked probably 35-40 meters when I realized that it was a child, a brother of one of my son's friends. I thought to myself, 'This kid is just holding his breath, playing with his friends,' because there were a couple of kids about 10-15 feet from him."

This was not the case; the child wasn't moving, and Martin came to the realization that he needed to jump in to save him.

"When I got him to the top, the lifeguard had arrived and we both checked his pulse," said Martin. "He had a pulse, but wasn't breathing. During that time, another mother came over and asked how she could help."

They found the child had no open airway. The mother assisting literally took matters into her own hands.

"She opened up his mouth with her fingers," Martin said. "It was just enough for him to get his airway open, because about 45 seconds later he began breathing again."

The child had been underwater for approximately four minutes before he was spotted, but is currently released from the hospital and recovering, according to Martin.

"The mother was with a three and four-year-old, while the father was talking to another father," Martin said. "The father must've taken his eyes off his children for five minutes or so just walking around the pool. I guess that was just enough time."

Guard Soldier Takes On ‘Golden Coyote’


By Army Sgt. Coltin Heller
109th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

CAMP RAPID, S.D., June 10, 2013 – Any training exercise presents challenges to soldiers participating in them. Among those challenges, communication is a vital requirement for all soldiers, regardless of their specialty.


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Army Capt. Frank Brown, communication officer with the Pennsylvania National Guard’s Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 213th Regional Support Group, attaches the feed horn to the stabilizing arm of a portable satellite system at Forward Operating Base Custer in Custer State Park, S.D., June 6, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Coltin Heller
  

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Army Capt. Frank Brown, communications officer with the Pennsylvania National Guard’s Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 213th Regional Support Group, faced the challenge of setting up and maintaining the various means of communication for 213th RSG soldiers during Golden Coyote, an annual training exercise held in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The exercise provides service members from 11 states and four foreign nations with training opportunities in logistical and tactical environments, in addition to real-world missions such as bridge construction and humanitarian aid.

“We’re charged with providing voice and data communication assets to the Regional Support Group,” said Brown, who calls Harrisburg, Pa., home. “We’re also pulling voice and data from the signal support elements from the 443rd Signal, providing [classified and unclassified] voice and data through those services.”

Brown accepted the position of brigade signal officer after being approached by Army Lt. Col. Robby Robinson, the 213th RSG’s executive officer.

“I’ve only been in the position for two to three months, so I’m still assessing my soldiers and their capabilities,” Brown said, “and we’re trying to find common ground -- who’s good at what -- and task them accordingly and share that knowledge amongst the soldiers so that we all learn from each other.”

Brown and his soldiers established a working network within their exercise headquarters building before heading out to the field, where they faced several obstacles.

“We have several [forward operating bases] displaced by hundreds of miles, so the communication challenges are going to be unique,” Brown said. “The learning curve of some of the communication assets we’ve had to deploy, due to the displaced locations, is something that some of us haven’t touched in several years.”

Brown helped his soldiers set up equipment such as a radio antenna, a deployed digital training campus and a mobile satellite dish enabling Internet connectivity for units in the field.

Spending time in the field is nothing new to Brown, who enlisted in the Marine Corps after he graduated from high school in 1993.

“I joined the active duty Marine Corps as a parachute rigger, … then I joined the Marine security force in Washington state, served out there for a couple years, and I transferred up to Maine to a cold-weather infantry unit up there,” he said. During his time in Maine, he added, he went to college, majoring in criminology. After spending some years in Maine, he transferred to Pennsylvania to attend Indiana University of Pennsylvania, which he said had one of the better criminology degree programs.

Brown transferred to the Pennsylvania National Guard, and joined the officer corps with a direct commission.

Despite the challenges he and his soldiers faced, such as weather and technical issues, Brown looked forward to the training during Golden Coyote and had confidence in his soldiers.

“I’m looking forward to the challenges out here,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting to collaborate with my soldiers and build a cohesive team there so we can overcome the challenges that the signal community is going to bring us in the future.”

Selfridge Fighter Ops Building Honors Fallen Airmen

by TSgt. Dan Heaton
127th Wing Public Affairs


6/10/2013 - SELFRIDGE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mich.  -- Two former Michigan Air National Guardsmen who gave their life while in service to the nation were remembered during a dedication ceremony at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., June 9, 2013.

The 127th Operations Group building on the base was re-dedicated during the ceremony to the memory of Capt. Robert J. Soderberg and Technical Sgt. Andrew R. Shenton who were both killed in separate incidents while serving with the Michigan Air National Guard. The "Ops" Building on the base was given a $6.6 million overhaul over the last year. The original building was built in the early 1980s and was dedicated to Soderberg and Shenton at that time.

Soderberg was an F-100 Super Sabre pilot with the 107th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Selfridge and was flying in a two-ship formation from Selfridge to Colorado on a mission on Feb. 9, 1979. The two aircraft collided in mid-air and Soderberg was killed in the resulting crash. The pilot of the other aircraft was able to eject and parachute to safety.

Shenton was an F-4 Phantom jet engine mechanic with the 127th Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and was deployed with the unit to Gioja Del Colle, Italy, Sept. 25, 1981. During flight operations, the building Shenton and two other Airmen were working in was destroyed in an explosion. The two other Airmen suffered substantial injuries and Shenton was killed in the blast.

"These two men died while performing their military duty in direct service to their nation," said Major Gen. (ret.) Paul A. Pachmara, who, among other duties in his career with the Michigan Air National Guard, is a former commander of the 107tth Fighter Squadron. "It is good that today's young warriors remember and honor those who served before them."

The re-dedicated ceremony came several months after the official ribbon cutting and beginning of operations in the building. The re-dedication of the building was scheduled to coincide with the final completion of all construction and related activities at the building. A final brick was symbolically mortared into place in the building's façade to signify the building's final completion.

The dedication was attended by Shenton's two sons, Greg and Terry, who were just entering their teenage years when their father was killed, as well as other family members and former members of the 107th Fighter Squadrons. In addition to Pachmara, Brig. Gen. Harold W. Rudolph, who was squadron commander at the time of the Soderberg crash, also attended the ceremony.

The 107th Fighter Squadron is the oldest flying unit assigned to the Michigan Air National Guard, in continuous operation since 1925. Assigned to various types of aircraft and missions over the years, the squadron has been assigned the A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft since 2009. The squadron most recently deployed as a group in 2011-12.

Comprised of approximately 1,600 personnel and flying both the A-10 Thunderbolt II and the KC-135 Stratotanker, the 127th Wing supports Air Mobility Command, Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operations Command by providing highly-skilled Airmen to missions domestically and overseas. The 127th Wing is the host unit at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, which is also home to units of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection.

Air National Guard unit fuels the body and keeps the jets flying

by Tech Sgt. Caycee R. Watson
South Carolina Air National Guard


6/7/2013 - McINTYRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. -- Everyone knows that food fuels the body. This is especially true when the body is worked through a few extra Readiness Exercise hours during those hot South Caroina spring and summer days.

The 169th Force Support Squadron's Services Flight is able to supply flight line and maintenance personnel with easier access to some of that much-needed fuel. The Single Palletized Expeditionary Kitchen (SPEK) is an asset provided by 169th personnel.

It is intended to deliver a hot meal to those who cannot afford the usual amount of time taken for lunch in the base dining facility, during exercise and inspection drill weekends.

"The SPEK is convenient for the flight line personnel and that's who it's mainly for," said Tech. Sgt. Denise Bhola, a food services shift leader.

During the June Unit Training Assembly Readiness Exercise, the 169th Services Flight had a nine-person team set up and operated the SPEK next to the flight line entry control point. Because of the SPEK, aircraft maintainers were able to refuel themselves with a hot meal and minimal disruption from their duties.

"It helps keep them mission oriented and focused on the task at hand," said Bhola. "Everyone's mission on base is to keep the jets flying, so we're doing our part by feeding them over here."

Bhola commented that flight line workers seemed appreciative when they went through the SPEK food line in past exercises.

"If they didn't have the SPEK, who knows when or what they'd have time to eat. It's convenient to them, which is important to keep the jets flying," said Bhola.

"It was definitely convenient," said Airman 1st Class Jessica Burgess, a crew chief with the 169th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. "We can't leave our jet for long periods to go to the dining facility, so it was nice to have hot food and cold drinks available to us right here, and not from an MRE package."

The SPEK is a unit that, once set up, is ready with its own power sources available. This provides services personnel with the tools they need to keep pre-cooked food rations warm and ready to serve. The 169th SVF has had this SPEK for less than a year and they realize how essential its mission is to the 169th Fighter Wing's mission.

During the June United Training Assembly exercise, 169th Services Flight personnel at the SPEK anticipated approximately 50 flight line personnel to go through their chow line in one day but came prepared for more than 100. They were proud to have served a hot meal to 102 hard-working individuals.

Pool memorialization ceremony honors SOF hero

by Senior Airman Alexxis Pons Abascal
27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs


6/3/2013 - CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M.  -- Air Commandos with the 27th Special Operations Wing gathered during the Memorial Holiday weekend for a ceremony to honor a fallen service member at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., May 27.

The DZ Pool was named in remembrance of Daniel L. Zerbe, a pararescueman who formally served under Air Force Special Operations Command and perished in the line of duty.

"We are thankful to have Tech. Sgt. Daniel Zerbe's mother and sister with us here today," said Col. Buck Elton, 27th SOW commander. "We are grateful to the entire Zerbe family for allowing us permission to memorialize this pool in honor of a true hero, an Air Commando and a pararescueman."

Zerbe was born June 27, 1983 in Chambersburg, Pa. After graduating from high school in June 2001, he enlisted in the Air Force and arrived at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in August 2001.

After completing Basic Military Training, he immediately entered the pararescue training course. Over the next 24 months, Zerbe completed numerous Air Force and joint service training schools such as Army Airborne School, Air Force Survival School, Special Forces Combat Dive Course, Special Forces Military Freefall School, Paramedic School, and Air Force Pararescue School.

In June 2004, Zerbe officially completed pararescue training and was assigned to the 38th Rescue Squadron, Moody Air Force Base, Ga. Shortly after his arrival at the squadron, he completed the first of two deployments in support of the Global War on Terror. The pararescueman also served as an astronaut recovery team member in support of NASA's transoceanic abort landing sites and became a static-line jumpmaster and dive supervisor.

"His friends say he was a complete joy to be around because he loved his job and his life," Elton said. "He was smart, funny, caring and courageous. He absolutely loved being a PJ and selflessly serving his nation so that others may live."

On Aug. 6, 2011, Zerbe was assigned to an elite joint special operations team executing a helicopter assault into the Tangi Valley, Wardak Province of Afghanistan. While approaching an objective, the team's CH-47 helicopter was shot down.

Tech. Sgt. Daniel L. Zerbe was killed in action that night, along with fellow military members. He is survived by his parents Terry and Susan Zerbe, his brother Christopher, and his sister Megan.

The NCO's official decorations include the Bronze Star Medal with Valor, the Bronze Star with two oak leaf clusters, the Purple Heart, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal with seven oak leaf clusters, the Aerial Achievement Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Air Force Achievement Medal, and the Air Force Combat Action Medal.

Zerbe was a static-line jumpmaster and dive supervisor; he was named the Air Force Pararescue Noncommissioned Officer of the Year for 2010.

"Today, all around our great nation, we remember the sacrifices of the fallen heroes; including the more than 2,200 service members killed in Afghanistan and the more than 1.2 million American military members who have fallen," Elton said. "Today we honor our PJ hero with this pool memorialization; our nation owes the Zerbe family a debt of gratitude that we will never fully be able to repay. His name on this pool will help all of Cannon's Air Commandos remember those who gave the last full measure of devotion to protect what we cherish the most."

Beyond the Horizon Medics Deliver Care, Smiles in Panama

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

MEDETE, Panama, June 10, 2013 – Army Maj. William Baker and his fellow service members knew they had a successful mission on their hands when hundreds of excited people arrived for the opening of each Beyond the Horizon medical readiness training exercise here. Some had awakened at 2 a.m. and walked six hours in their finest clothing to reach them.


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Army Spc. Souheil Sarrouh gives medication to a child during Beyond the Horizon 2013 in Torti, Panama, June 4, 2013. U.S. Southern Command sponsors the joint field training and humanitarian exercise, which provides engineering, construction and health care services to communities, as well as deployment training for participants. Sarrouh is a combat medic assigned to the 256th Combat Support Hospital. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Walter E. Van Ochten
  

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As medical officer in charge of Beyond the Horizon 2013 Panama, Baker recently wrapped up the last of three medical exercises here, which included 11 days of free services in three remote Panamanian provinces.

Throughout the four-month mission, U.S. soldiers and airmen trained in a broad range of specialties worked hand in hand with medical professionals from Panama’s Health Ministry, delivering care to about 13,000 people.

“It was like being Santa Claus for Christmas,” Baker said of the opportunity to provide the care to people in poor regions with little access to specialized medical care.

The medical exercises, which included general medicine, dentistry, optometry, pediatrics, dermatology, obstetrics and gynecological, and pharmacy services, were part of U.S. Southern Command’s largest annual humanitarian civic assistance mission in Latin America.

Beyond the Horizon Panama also includes veterinary services and construction projects, and a similar four-month mission also is underway in El Salvador.

From its earliest planning stages, Beyond the Horizon 2013 Panama’s medical missions were seen as a win-win for everyone involved, explained Lt. Col. Malcolm Walker, an Army reservist from the Denver-based 244th Engineer Battalion serving as commander of Joint Task Force Panama.

The medical professionals, initially active-duty airmen from Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., followed by Army reservists predominantly from Ohio and Texas for the subsequent rotations, tested out their ability to deploy and set up operations in austere overseas environments, he said. Typically working in schools, clinics and even tents converted into makeshift medical facilities, they treated patients with conditions not commonly seen in the United States: tropical diseases, leishmaniasis and worms, among them.

For the Panamanian government, the exercises dovetailed with a national campaign to extend the reach of medical services provided to citizens in some of the country’s most remote regions, said Dr. Alex Gonzalez Hidalgo, a special advisor to the health minister.

After a successful Beyond the Horizon 2010, also conducted in Panama, the ministry jumped at the opportunity to participate in this year’s mission to provide care in underserved areas. The staff selected eight exercise sites -- most in difficult-to-reach rural locations in the easternmost part of the country -- where populations tend to be poor and health care providers, particularly specialists, are few and far between, Gonzalez said.

Typically operating in schools temporarily converted into medical clinics, the Panamanian medical staff and military members worked side by side to deliver patient care. The Health Ministry workers gave immunizations to everyone who arrived for treatment, and also conducted preventive medicine classes that highlighted hygiene and healthy lifestyle choices.

From there, patients moved into a triage area, where the military specialists identified their medical needs and directed them to the appropriate treatment areas.

For many of the military members providing that care, including those with combat deployments under their belts, it was their first chance to practice medicine during a humanitarian assistance mission. Among them was Army Spc. Matthew Parker, an Army Reserve pharmacy technician from the 256th Combat Support Hospital in Ohio, who said he relished putting his skills to work in such a gratifying way.

Rather than setting up a mock hospital at a training post, issuing candy in lieu of real medications to role-playing patients suffering simulated traumas, Parker said, he’s getting to help real people with real medical needs.

“This is close to the heart,” Parker said. “It makes me extremely proud seeing how much help we can give in such a short amount of time.”

“I love it,” agreed Army Spc. Souheil Sarrouh, a combat medic from the 256th CSH on his first deployment since joining the Army in 2009. “I love this place, and I love what the Army is doing here. We are making a difference in people’s lives.”

Sarrouh said he joined the Army wanting to make that difference -- not just keeping the United States secure, but also demonstrating its heart to the rest of the world.

Their appreciation came in the fruit the local people carried to the sites to present their caregivers, and on the faces of the people they treated, particularly the children.

“They might not have had shoes on, but they were still smiling,” Sarrouh said.

Army Sgt. Geoffrey Erwin, an optometry technician from the Michigan-based 148th Medical Detachment, watched his patients’ faces light up as they tried on their new glasses for the first time.

“You’d see big smiles” as their worlds suddenly come into focus, he said. “It’s amazing what a pair of glasses can do in improving someone’s quality of life.”

For Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Jim Hirsch, a dentist from the Army Reserve’s 965th Dental Company in Texas, the defining moments of the missions came each time he extracted a tooth. One patient came to the clinic with his teeth so rotted that he gladly had 13 pulled in one sitting.

“These people have lives with toothache and chronic pain for years and years,” Hirsch said. “We are relieving them of all that, and they are so appreciative of what we are doing here.”

Army Capt. Sarah Lewis, a critical care nurse from the 256th CSH, said she realized just how much of an impact she was having when a grateful patient informed her that she had named her newborn in her honor.
“Being a part of all this has been amazing,” Lewis said. “With what we have done here, we all gave them a little hope.”

While most of the medical staff treated human patients, Capt. (Dr.) John Turco, an Army Reserve veterinarian from Rhode Island serving in the 719th Medical Detachment Veterinary Services, was part of a four-person team that conducted veterinary services for pets and livestock.

It’s a mission that took them to some of the most remote areas of Panama, requiring them to travel up mountainsides, through cornfields and often far from the nearest roads. They fanned out across the region, providing vaccinations, deworming and parasite control for cattle, horses and other large animals.

“This was a great experience to put what I learned in school to use,” said Army Pfc. Brittany Walton, on her first deployment as a member of the veterinary team. “Being able to help other people is a great feeling.”

Panamanian Health Ministry officials said they, too, are excited about the outreach made during Beyond the Horizon 2013. Their goal, explained Dr. Iritzel Santamaria, a ministry planner and analyst, is to build on the foundation laid to extend more consistent medical services into the regions. By 2015, the government aims to reduce the ratio of medical providers to citizens in these areas from the current 1-to-3,000 to 1-to-500, she said.

In the meantime, she praised the infusion of services the troops provided during Beyond the Horizon -- and the long-term impact it will have. Local communities will benefit, not just from immediate care provided during the exercise, but also because it attracted people so they could get immunizations and preventive health education, she said.

“This mission has had a high positive impact on the population,” she added. “Both teams came together and developed a great working relationship that has been a tremendous benefit to the communities served.”
Participants in Beyond the Horizon said they’re gratified to make a lasting contribution to the Panamanians.
“It’s all about helping people, no matter where we are in the world,” said Turco. “That’s what it is all about.”
“We are here to help,” echoed Baker. “And when you are helping someone, providing something that they need, providing it for free and providing the best care we possibly can, it’s a great feeling.”