Military News

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hagel: Opening Combat Jobs to Women the Right Thing to Do

By Nick Simeone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 20, 2013 – Opening more jobs in the military to women -- in particular lifting the combat exclusion -- is the right thing to do, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said today as he brushed aside any notion that the armed forces would have to lower standards to do so.

Hagel’s comments came during a visit with troops at U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., in response to a question about whether the policy change could affect mission success. On Tuesday, senior defense and military officials unveiled the services’ respective plans for lifting the combat exclusion for women.

“I think everyone understands it’s the right thing,” he said. “It’s not a matter of lowering standards to assist women to get into combat positions.” Hagel added that part of the process will be finding “the right balance of implementation.”

The plan to remove gender-based standards was announced by former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta in January. The branches have a deadline of January 2016 to follow through – including ending the ban on women serving in the Navy SEALs and the Army Rangers -- with any exceptions requiring the approval of the defense secretary and the Joint Chiefs chairman.

“Why shouldn’t [women] have the same opportunities as men?” Hagel responded to his questioner.
Hagel also said increases in cases of sexual assault in the military are a “scourge and a very, very dark mark on all of the success of this institution.” He said “there is no higher priority” he has as defense chief “than to make everybody accountable all the time, up and down the line.”

731st AMS continues peninsula-wide logistics success

by Senior Airman Christopher Mitcham
731st Air Mobility Squadron


6/20/2013 - OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- As winter was winding down in the "Land of the Morning Calm", Airmen from the 731st Air Mobility Squadron stationed at Osan prepared to transition air freight operations to Kunsan Air Base for a projected two-month partial runway closure.

A team of close to 20 aerial porters received their first scheduled 747B cargo aircraft April 29 at Kunsan.

The 731st AMS proved to be masters of logistics operations, ultimately handling 22 cargo aircraft and proving the capability to operate from any location on the Korean peninsula.

The support of the 8th Fighter Wing leadership, transient alert and Air Mobility Command-contracted air terminal and ground handling services personnel, helped make partial runway closure operations successful. The team used a mixture of war reserve material along with their assets to accomplish their mission at the alternate location. Over the course of 30 days, they moved 894 tons of in-transit and terminating cargo through Kunsan including 83 tons of sensitive and hazardous cargo.

Additionally, the team assisted mortuary affairs by providing dignified transfer with distinction and honor. Although it was a very sad moment on the flightline, these Airmen realized the magnitude and scope of their mission as transporters to serve in this capacity. Construction at Osan progressed ahead of schedule, and so the 731st AMS was able to transition operations back a month early.

"I enjoyed the workload and camaraderie among Airman and Korean Nationals," said Yi Sang Pok, 731st AMS load planner. "You could feel that there was a close bond across the team and I think that it's what got us over each obstacle."

Throughout the month there was little slowing down this team as they continually strived for excellence. Always working safely, despite difficulties, the team downloaded and uploaded cargo to maintain the 731st AMS's outstanding 98 percent on-time aircraft departure reliability rate.

"Even when times were tough, we found a way to stay resilient and accomplish the mission at hand," said Airman 1st Class Roberto Rodriguez, 731st AMS aircraft services technician.

Throughout all the chaos and movement, the 731st AMS continued to innovate and save the Air Force money and protect resources, even in a different location. The typical thin plastic cargo pallet cover costs $6 per piece and is used to shelter household goods from inclement weather and insects as service members move to new assignments. By experimenting with prototype cargo pallet covers, 731st AMS Airmen in the runway closure mission alone managed to save the Air Force scarce funds by replacing pallet covers on 114 pallets containing household goods and more importantly, avert damage from the elements due to a lack of covered storage.

"Tracking, applying and moving the prototypes was challenging, but you could tell it was helpful for the environment when we saw the amount of plastic it saved," said Senior Airman David Webster, 731st AMS aircraft services technician.

The 731st AMS showed it's no challenge to move logistic operations at a moment's notice to any location on the peninsula. For these Port Dawgs, runway closures and other difficulties will not interfere with mission success, as they continue to lead the way for all of the Pacific Air Force.

Wounded Warrior Becomes Military Doctor


By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
FORT BELVIOR, Va., June 19, 2013 – Ten years ago, Army Capt. Christian Labra’s spirit was as broken as his body.


Click photo for screen-resolution image
Ten years after being wounded in Iraq, Army Capt. (Dr.) Christian Labra has completed medical school at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and is about to graduate from a three-year residency at the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Virginia. Now he is preparing for his first assignment as a board-certified family physician in Germany. DOD photo by Donna Miles
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
A U.S. Military Academy graduate deployed to Iraq just a few months after the initial invasion, he was pumped up about the importance of the mission and the close camaraderie he felt with his fellow 1st Armored Division soldiers.

All that came crumbling down on him -- literally -- during a night patrol outside Baghdad in late 2003. Labra and another soldier, searching out the source of mortar attacks that had been pummeling U.S. forces, approached a cinder block wall that blocked a known weapons cache.

They pulled a pipe that extended from the wall, suspecting that the insurgents used it to scale the wall and get to the trove. The wall immediately collapsed, breaking both Labra’s legs and his pelvis. He got a personal introduction to battlefield medicine and wounded warrior care as he was whisked from Baghdad to Kuwait and ultimately, to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Looking back to the ordeal, Labra said he was struck by the skill and compassion he encountered from the moment of his injury. He remembered the combat medic who rushed to care for him at the scene. The Humvee driver who did everything within his power, albeit it unsuccessfully, to avoid bumps in the Baghdad streets while hurrying Labra to the combat support hospital. The medic who handed him a satellite phone when he woke up in the middle of the night, one leg now encased in a metal contraption, and urged him to call his worried parents to let them know he was OK.

That was just the beginning of Labra’s exposure to military medicine. He praised the professionalism of medevac crews who braved enemy rockets to ferry him to Baghdad International Airport, then on to Kuwait and Germany. The labor and delivery nurse who stayed beyond her shift when he arrived at Landstuhl to wash his body and give him the first shave he’d had in days. The hospital roommate who, despite his own excruciating injuries, hobbled to Labra’s bedside to comfort him during a particularly fitful nightmare.
“There was so much compassion, so much caring,” he said. “It was just a perfect storm of good care.”
And perhaps most influential of all, Labra remembers the orthopedic doctor, Army Maj. John Friedland. Also a West Point graduate, Friedland treated Labra’s broken bones and helped him realize that he could turn the worst experience of his life into something positive.

“He was exactly the guy I needed at that time in my life,” Labra said.

Labra arrived at Landstuhl feeling like the bottom had fallen out of his world. “One day I was walking through Baghdad. I was in charge of 35 to 40 guys, and I took that very seriously. And the next day I was the guy who was leaving early, before all of them, on a plane to Landstuhl,” he said. “I felt bad for myself. I was depressed. I felt like a failure.” While he struggled to shake the self-loathing, Labra watched the hospital staff tend to a steady stream of combat-wounded troops.

Because his unit was based in Germany at the time, Labra was among the rare patients not quickly transported on to the United States. He became a familiar face at Landstuhl, and the staff took pleasure in getting to see his slow but steady progress.

While coming to terms with his unexpected turn of events, Labra said he found inspiration in his caregivers.
He’d always planned to one day go to law school, then join the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps. But seeing the life-changing care military medical practitioners provide every day, Labra found himself considering a career in medicine.

“I know how thankful I felt toward them, and saw how rewarding it had to be, and I know it had to be a good job,” he said.

Friedland encouraged Labra, inviting him along as he treated the flurry of patients that arrived with wounds from the Fallujah offensive in Iraq. The rest of the Landstuhl staff, recognizing Labra and excited about his new interest in medicine, stoked his ambitions by sharing their own experiences.

“They all wanted to show me how great it was to be doing what they were doing,” he said. “That experience really cemented for me that this was what I wanted to do.”

In many ways, Labra called his decision to go to medical school the key to his own emotional healing. “I had this hole I needed to fill,” he said. “And I realized that by going into medicine, I could take my own experience and make this bad thing that had happened good.”

Labra, who moved on to an assignment as operations officer for a recruiting battalion in Albany, N.Y., started taking night courses to get the prerequisites needed for medical school. Difficult as it was to juggle both, it got him what he wanted: acceptance into the same medical school Friedland had attended, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

The university, on the grounds of Walter Reed National Military Center in Bethesda, Md., is the only school of its kind dedicated to educating military doctors, graduate nurses and other specialized health-care professionals. This past spring, U.S. News & World Report identified the university’s F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine as a top-tier medical school in its “Best Graduate Schools 2014” rankings.

Labra said he chose USU because he knew from the start that he wanted to be a military doctor. His dream, he said, was to become as skillful and compassionate a doctor as Friedland had been to him. “I wanted to emulate this guy I look up to so much,” he said. “I was very indebted to my doctor, and I felt that I didn’t want to squander all this experience that I had gained.”

After four years of medical school, from 2006 to 2010, Labra chose to specialize in family medicine. It’s a field he said will give him an opportunity to build relationships with his patients and to become their ally in addressing their medical needs.

Next week, Labra will complete his three-year residency at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital here. As he reports to his first assignment as a board-certified family physician at Kleber Kaserne in Germany, he recognizes that he has come full circle, from patient to caregiver.

“When I think back on everything, how could I not have gone into medicine?” he said. “From the moment I got hurt, everyone who took such wonderful care of me and motivated me to defy the odds, making this all seem like a foregone conclusion.”

Labra said his only hope is that he can live up their example as he helps patients confront through their own medical challenges.

“I am where I am because people took really, really good care of me, and I am so incredibly grateful,” he said. “Now, as a doctor, I want to be the kind of ally who can lead someone through the dark. To be able to do that is really powerful. It is awesome when it works.”

350 ARS helps raise the roof, provides a home

by Staff Sgt. Jess Lockoski
22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs


6/18/2013 - MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan.  -- While some may argue having a house doesn't essentially mean having a home, active duty Airmen are provided roofs over their heads through their military Basic Allowance for Housing, satisfying the basic necessity.

A group of McConnell Airmen from the 350th Air Refueling Squadron recently "paid it forward" by helping construct a house and a home for a deserving family during a Wichita, Kan., Habitat for Humanity project.

"About 15 Airmen from the squadron participated in the build," said Staff Sgt. Justin Walsh, 350th ARS boom operator. "We started the project about the middle of May when the framing was pretty much up. We put the siding up, and from there, we put basically the roof on."

The Airmen attended the home dedication with other community volunteers, June 17, to see the finished project and watch a single mother of two children receive the keys to her new home.

Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit Christian housing ministry that works in partnership with low-income families to improve their living conditions, where selected families pay closing costs and monthly payments on a no interest, no profit mortgage. Families also work with volunteers to build their Habitat homes.

"Having the Airmen volunteer helps lower the cost of the homes for the families," said Marci Hawks, Wichita Habitat for Humanity development director. "Volunteer labor is equal to around $20,000 in saved paid labor costs per house. It's also encouraging for our organization and the families to have the support of our local Airmen and know they are committed to giving back to the community they are stationed in."

Wichita hasn't been the only location Walsh has built a house in. He first started volunteering for Habitat while stationed at Dyess AFB, Texas.

"I definitely feel a sense of accomplishment being able to help because this isn't a mandatory function," said Walsh, a prior aircraft engine maintainer, who likes to work with his hands and enjoyed the construction work. "(The squadron) rarely leaves people hanging. We said, 'Let's take a shot at it,' and we had a really good turnout."

McConnell Airmen have been volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in large groups since 2009. Hawks said in addition to building houses, they have also worked on special events and have helped the organization relocate.

On average, it takes roughly 20 days of volunteering and hundreds of volunteers to build each house - a house that undoubtedly becomes a true home for most.

"Most tell us it means stability for their family," Hawks said, "which is something they haven't experienced ... also a real sense of home and a feeling that they have accomplished something they never thought they would - owning their own home."

Helping give people that gift is something the Airmen foresee with future construction opportunities.

"I absolutely would do this again in the future," said Walsh. "The community welcomes us with open arms everywhere here, and it's been real nice to be able to help out."

Program fights mosquitoes, trains Airmen

by Maj. Dave Wilson
Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs


6/19/2013 - ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. (AFNS)  -- Air Force Reserve Command is expanding its Innovative Readiness Training, or IRT, program this summer to help communities control mosquitoes.

C-130 Hercules aircrews will spray Williston and Minot in North Dakota June 30-July 3, and York County and the City of Poquoson in Virginia July 22-26. These communities are prone to high mosquito populations due to standing water, flooding and high precipitation.

In addition to drastically decreasing the number of irritations and infections, and the threat of West Nile Virus due to mosquito bites, these IRT missions will provide essential real-world training to aircrews, pest management personnel and maintenance members that they would not have otherwise received.

"From an aircrew perspective, this type of training is necessary for the safe, efficient performance of our assigned duties," said Maj. W. Travis Adams, an aerial spray instructor pilot.

Adams and his fellow citizen Airmen from the 910th Airlift Wing, Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio, perform the Department of Defense's only full-time, fixed-wing aerial spray mission.

They typically conduct a variety of aerial spray missions over military installations, and for federal agencies using four specially modified aircraft equipped with Modular Aerial Spray Systems, or MASS. The MASS equipment sprays insecticides that target biting insects such as mosquitoes, biting midges and filth flies.

The IRT program provides a clear line of authority for the 910th AW to apply aerial spray on non-federal property without the requirement of a host federal entity. That means citizen Airmen can provide aerial spray over much larger urban areas, and receive essential training they don't get from regular operations.

According to Maj. Kerya Reyes, the chief of the IRT program at Headquarters AFRC, the command has used IRT missions successfully in other career fields, including civil engineering and medical squadrons. Citizen Airmen benefit from the training received while building dams, bridges and other community-use structures or working immunization lines and other medical treatments in off-base clinics at little, to no cost to the communities.

Reyes said IRT aerial-spray missions produce highly-qualified military personnel capable of evaluating medical insect-borne threats to troop and public health, as well as establish an appropriately implemented plan to break the cycle of disease transmission, which can result in an epidemic.

Each IRT aerial spray mission trains about 16 to18 reservists. These Airmen can step up to support combatant commander needs, or requests for support from other federal agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Defense Support of Civil Affairs.

The AFRC and the communities it supports mutually benefit from IRT missions. Communities pay for the insecticide, and the command uses training funds to pay for the rest of the costs. The Air Force already designates specific funds for fuel, maintenance and other travel costs for training.

The command took ownership of the aerial spray mission in 1973, but the U.S. military has been flying the mission since 1947.

The 910th AW started flying the aerial spray mission in 1992. Aerial spray teams also use the systems to control vegetation growth on military bombing ranges, and to help disperse oil spills. Since 2005, the wing has responded to three major natural disasters, including post hurricane applications for Katrina and Gustav, and an oil dispersant operation after Deep Water Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico.

New Standing Headquarters Focuses on WMD Elimination

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 19, 2013 – It’s a nightmare scenario: an adversary has assembled a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction with plans to inflict devastation on the United States, its allies and friends, and the world.

A standing headquarters element established in February 2012 and expected to reach full operational capability within the coming year is part of a coordinated U.S. military effort to identify, counter and secure -- and, when necessary, to eliminate -- WMD threats.

The Standing Joint Force Headquarters for Elimination was stood up to provide geographic combatant commanders the planning, intelligence and operational capability required in the event that they need to eliminate a foreign nation’s WMDs and WMD programs, Army Maj. Gen. Lucas N. Polakowski, the organization’s commander, told American Forces Press Service.

The headquarters works in support of the president’s National Security Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction in the hands of hostile states and terrorists, he explained. Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, calls this the No. 1 threat to U.S. national security.
Kehler established the headquarters to provide expert planning, intelligence and operational capability for combating and eliminating WMDs. The goal, he said when announcing the stand-up, is to provide a full-time, trained joint command-and-control element able to integrate into forward headquarters to help manage the elimination mission.

Leveraging the capabilities of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and Stratcom’s Center for Combatting Weapons of Mass Destruction, for which Polakowski serves as deputy director, the SJFHQ-E would deploy to augment a combatant commander’s staff in conducting the mission, Polakowski said.

“It is such a specialized area, so [the combatant commands] don’t have the complete depth of [chemical, biological and radiological] and counter-WMD expertise that we have resident in these three organizations,” he said. “These three entities, under the headquarters mantle, would provide that resource and expertise to the combatant commands and any command underneath them.”

Experts assigned to the SJFHQ-E would provide capabilities needed to command and control operations that involve going into a foreign nation to locate, characterize, secure, and disable or dispose of hostile WMDs and WMD programs so they no longer pose a threat, Polakowski said.

Typically, such missions would be conducted in close coordination with allies and partners, he said.
Having a permanent headquarters trained and ready to act, if needed, improves the Defense Department’s ability to plan, train for and execute highly complex WMD elimination operations, Polakowski said.
“This is another tool in our toolkit, so that if the requirement arises, we as a nation are ready,” he said. “We want to have a deliberative and in-place capability that we have trained upon and are ready to execute if our nation calls on us to do it.”

To prepare for such a mission, the SJFHQ-E works closely with the combatant commands, conducting crisis planning and testing response procedures during major exercises.

“We train and prepare in peace in order to be ready when and if the nation needs to call upon this capability,” Polakowski said.

The SJFHQ-E reached initial operating capability in September 2012, after reaching major milestones during the Ulchi Freedom Guardian 2012 exercise in South Korea.

Polakowski, who assumed command in March, said he hopes to increase the level of support the SJFHQ-E provides to the combatant commands as he continues to build his staff. By design, SJFHQ-E will be a relatively small element that he said probably will top out at fewer than 100 members.

But capabilities -- rather than numbers -- are Polakowski’s priority. He hopes to achieve full operational capability within the next year, which means the SJFHQ-E will have the breadth of capabilities it needs to take on more -- and more demanding -- missions.

The best use of the SJFHQ-E’s capabilities, he said, will be if they are never needed to respond to a real-world crisis.

Ensuring a robust ability to conduct the WMD elimination mission, the standing joint force headquarters and its partner organizations send an important message to potential adversaries who have WMD programs or are working to develop them, he said.

“It puts them on notice,” he said, letting them know that “we, as a standing joint force headquarters, are prepared in case of the need to go in, locate, secure and help with the elimination of a potential foreign adversary’s program.”

“This should serve as a deterrent to those trying to establish their own WMD programs,” he said. “And if they already have one, it should dissuade them from continuing to maintain it.”