Monday, June 17, 2013

McConnell Total Force Team prepares for Iowa bike race

by Staff Sgt. Abigail Klein
931st Air Refueling Group Public Affairs

6/15/2013 - MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- For most people, the thought of biking hundreds of miles through unfamiliar rugged territory is not only daunting, it's exhausting. For four McConnell Airmen, this is how they will spend their Saturday mornings for the next four weeks.

The Airmen are participating in the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. For the Air Force, the RAGBRAI gives Airmen a chance to showcase the service's fitness culture and recruit for enlisted and civilian positions in the Reserve, guard and active duty. When the McConnell Team crosses the starting line July 21, 2013, it will mark the 19th year the Air Force has participated in the event, which originated in 1973.

For Senior Master Sgt. Joseph Salomon, 931st Maintenance Squadron Fabrication Flight chief, the race is a labor of love. Salomon has been cycling for 12 years, and this is his second time participating on the McConnell team.

"[I began when] I was active duty in the Army in the late 1980s, and it continued when I joined the Reserve program [in San Antonio].  In 2003 I met up with some guys who were cycling," he said. "I was out riding one day and the team captain from there mentioned the Air Force Cycling team to me. "

During his first year on the cycling team, Salomon provided team support, which gave him exposure to the RAGBRAI. The following year, he rode with the team as a member. Despite a couple of medical setbacks in the years following, Salomon later rode later with the Scott Air Force Base, Ill., team, eventually ending up at McConnell, where he again established a cycling team. Like his previous teams, the McConnell team began through a mutual love of cycling.

"I met Tech. Sgt. Noel Heyer at a Christmas party when I got here in 2003," said Salomon. "He was excited and talked about getting a McConnell team started."

Heyer, a support section technician assigned to the 931st, said his love of cycling predates his military career.

"I got a bike when I was 4 or 5 years old, and before I even went outside, I took the training wheels off," he said. "I think my parents were surprised, but I rode it that very first day and I've pretty much been riding ever since."

Over the years, Heyer's hobby has led him all over the country. This is his first time to participate in the RAGBRAI.

In addition to individual cycling, the team, which also includes Tech. Sgts. Paul Shattuck, 931st MXS Hydraulics Section Chief and Christopher Peterson, 22nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron KC-135 Instrument and Flight Control Systems specialist, the team performs a long distance training ride each Saturday leading up to the event in July.

"We average 30 miles per day for a daily ride," said Salomon. "You have to average 100 to 175 miles per week so when you get to the RAGBRAI and you're doing 500 miles across Iowa over seven continuous days, it won't be an issue because your body will be conditioned."

The mileage and challenge of finishing the race is part of what drew in Shattuck, who has been cycling since the early 1980s.

"The biggest challenge for me will be the 100-mile day," he said. "I'm looking forward to the challenge."

The logistics of the actual event are also important to consider, said Salomon.

"A lot of people think, 'Oh, we'll stay in a hotel.' That's not how it is," he said. "You are going to break down your own camp and set it up, while also prepping for your daily ride."

The team is also 100 percent responsible for providing their uniforms, entry fees, food, equipment, and transportation.

Despite the physical demands and the fees associated with the competition, the team is more focused on the actual experience.

"I'm excited," said Heyer. "I'm proud to wear the uniform as it is, but to be able to wear the AF bicycling kit, I'm very excited and just very proud to do it."

The chance to showcase the Air Force's wingman culture also motivates the team.

"That's what we are all about when we are out there; helping people and showing people that the Air Force is really a bunch of great people," said Salomon. "I look forward to the camaraderie and being around the AF cycling team members from other bases, as well as interacting with all the people out there."

The RAGBRAI begins July 21, 2013, in Des Moines, Iowa. Since its inception in 1973, more than 275,650 cyclists have participated in the event.

Scholarships for the Military Dependent

Going to a civilian college prep workshop can be disheartening for military parents who seek to further the dependent child's education. Information provided at these meetings can be aimed at less mobile families. The military parent may think that a scholarship for their dependent is beyond their reach. It is not that the scholarships do not exist. The presenter may not be aware of the grant and loan opportunities available to military children.

All branches of service offer dependent scholarships and educational loan opportunities specific to military service. Qualifications for these opportunities include military support organizations like the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society and Air Force Aid Society. Some, such as the Scholarship for Air Force Enlisted Member's Dependent Children requires academic achievement, community service, character and writing ability. For children whose parents have made the ultimate sacrifice, each branch offers a scholarship. In addition to these military scholarships, many states offer financial aid and grant programs specific to the military dependent.

Information Shortfall
Civilian school counselors may not have knowledge of the many financial aid venues that are only available to military personnel. Locating these, loans, grants and scholarships can be a dizzying experience. There is help available. Every base has an educational counselor who is an expert at locating financial assistance for the college bound dependent. Like the civilian counterpart, this counselor will know about financial aid available to all students. Unlike the civilian counterpart, they will also be an expert on the
available financial opportunities open only to military dependents.

Military Friendly College
Another solid source of information is the financial aid office of a
military friendly college. To facilitate the overseas and deployed student, these colleges offer online programs. By selecting a college that understands the military environment, the dependent child can start their education while still living abroad.

Get An Early Start
The best method for obtaining financial assistance through grants, loans and scholarships for military dependents is to start early. Talk to the base educational counselor before the child enters high school to begin work toward these opportunities. This is also a good time to identify colleges that will support the distance learner. The educational counselor working with military friendly colleges can help create a plan of attack that will result in a college degree for the military dependent.

Command group for national airborne fire fighting system activates

by Lt. Col. Robert Carver
Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

6/14/2013 - BOISE, Idaho -- The national command headquarters for military air tanker aircraft assigned to fight wild land forest fires activated at the National Interagency Fire Center here June 13.

"Our first priority is protecting the lives and property of Americans threatened by wild land forest fires," said Air Force Col. Charles Davis, North Carolina Air National Guard, commander of the Air Expeditionary Group, which oversees the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System mission. "Our team is utilized across local, state and federal agency boundaries. It's a real-time interagency mission."

MAFFS activated June 11 to assist in fighting forest fires in Southern Colorado after the U.S. Forest Service sent a request for assistance to the Department of Defense. The U.S. Air Force Reserve's 302nd Airlift Wing, based at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., responded immediately.

MAFFS is a self-contained aerial firefighting system owned by the USFS. MAFFS modules are loaded into the cargo bays of military C-130 aircraft. Led by small USFS planes, military aircrews can discharge 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant from the MAFFS modules along the leading edge of a forest fire in less than five seconds covering an area a quarter of a mile long by 100 feet wide. Once the load is discharged, ground crews at a MAFFS tanker base can refill the modules in less than 12 minutes.

A joint DOD and USFS program, MAFFS provides aerial firefighting resources when commercial and private air tankers are no longer able to meet the needs of the Forest Service.

Four C-130 units perform the MAFFS mission, each providing two MAFFS-capable aircraft and the air and ground crews needed to operate them. They are the 145th Airlift Wing, North Carolina Air National Guard; 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard; 153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard; and the 302nd in Colorado.

The AEG is staffed by Airmen from all four units. The units trade off AEG command responsibility each year. Davis, a North Carolina National Guard officer, is a command pilot who is also trained as a dual-status commander, a designation that allows him to direct National Guard, Reserve and active-duty military forces if that becomes necessary.

Since June 11, MAFFS aircraft have flown 19 missions and made 14 drops over Colorado's Black Forest fire. Airmen have dropped more than 37,500 gallons of retardant thus far.

Zombie attack boosts squadron morale

by Airman 1st Class Brittany A. Chase
366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

6/17/2013 - MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- A peaceful summer day ended abruptly for members of the 366th Logistic Readiness Squadron June 5, 2013, when their compound went under lockdown due to zombies in the area.

The 'Humans versus Zombies' invasion was the first event kicking off the squadron's 101 Critical Days of Summer Olympics.

"This is a unique opportunity to team-build within the unit while at the same time reinforcing the important concepts of resiliency and wingman culture," said Lt. Col. Todd Jensen, 366th LRS commander. "We have a large organization of truly great people and this is an excellent chance for us to break away from occupational specialties in order to foster broader interaction."

The Olympics is a morale booster for Airman rewarding them for the work they do during the day-to-day mission.

"We did a unit climate assessment and one of the things the members identified was that we don't do a lot of squadron activities," said 1st Lt. Todd Gamiles, 366th LRS deployment distribution flight commander. "We were really looking for a fun and constructive way to respond to the feedback we received while also building an overall LRS team concept."

After much discussion, the LRS team decided to hold a series of events broken down into eight weeks ranging from physical to mental team-building tasks.

"Humans versus Zombies was the first event and we battled with Nerf guns," said Tech. Sgt. Miriam Pestilos, noncommissioned officer-in-charge of vehicle management and analysis. "Some upcoming events will be water balloon fights, obstacle courses and many others incorporating not only physical but also mental challenges.

"I think this kind of an esprit-de-corps building competition is very important and it says a lot about our commander and senior leadership for noticing how hard we've been working to accomplish the mission," she continued. "Now it's time to let some steam out and reward the people who have been working so hard with something fun to do."

So far, seven LRS teams have signed up to participate in the future challenges, all battling to obtain the ultimate prize, a trophy donated by Gamiles and of course bragging rights.

Face of Defense: Soldier Shares Perspective on Humanitarian Aid

By Army Sgt. Richard Frost
U.S. Army South

SONSONATE, El Salvador, June 17, 2013 – A water purification engineer participating in a humanitarian mission here has witnessed firsthand the effects that humanitarian missions can have on a country, including his own, and he is determined to share his experience with the world.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Sgt. Francis Buor, a Wisconsin National Guard water purification engineer, monitors pressures on a filter system June 13, 2013, during Beyond the Horizon-El Salvador 2013, a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored, Army South-led, joint foreign military interaction and humanitarian exercise. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Richard Frost

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army Sgt. Francis Buor is originally from Liberia. Assigned to the 753rd Quartermaster Company, Green Bay, Wis., he is participating in Beyond the Horizon-El Salvador, a humanitarian mission in which U.S. service members, along with soldiers from Canada, Chile, Colombia and El Salvador, are providing medical expertise and building schools to improve lives of residents here.

Buor’s perspective is giving him the opportunity to help bring peace and stability to regions that need these attributes, he said.

“This is my first opportunity to deploy with the Army,” he said. “I’m really excited about it. When I was in the schools here, I couldn’t help but think, ‘Is someone great going to come out of one of these schools?’ It’s inspiring to be doing this work.”

Buor’s parents are both from Ghana, but they moved with their family to Liberia to provide a better life for their children. He returned to Ghana to attend school there, and not long after, a civil war broke out in Liberia that would last for many years.

A multinational Western African armed force called the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group soon began providing transportation for those wishing to leave Liberia, including most of his family, back to Ghana, he said. This intervention made a significant impact on his family, he added, and motivated him to begin a life of service that continues to this day.

In the early 1990s, Buor sought employment at a water treatment facility in Ghana, where he worked as a treatment specialist and provided drinking water to several communities. The work was fulfilling, he said, but in 2009, he decided to seek a new life in the United States, serving with what he calls “the greatest Army in the world.”

Buor earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology in Ghana and moved to Wisconsin, where he joined the Army. His history with water treatment and sociology directed him to the Wisconsin National Guard’s 753rd Quartermaster Battalion, where he has been able to exercise his skills to help others, he said.

“Everything I’ve done before, I’ve had the chance to practice it here,” Buor said. “It gives me a se
nse of accomplishment. I’m putting to use something I’ve learned before.”

His unit’s participation in this humanitarian mission is his first chance to leave the United States as a Guardsman. Contributing to this effort allows him to provide services he has been practicing his entire life, he said.

“My motivation was from seeing what goes on around the world,” he added. “Sometimes you ask yourself, ‘If we don’t do what we’re doing, what would the life of these people be like?’ So you want to look at the greater picture.”

His unit’s contributions here have made about 6,000 gallons of potable water per day available for the local people.

“I’m kind of excited,” Buor said. “We’re doing something meaningful. But the reward comes when you see the children’s smiles, and how much they appreciate what we’re doing here. It comes from making these children happy.”