Saturday, July 13, 2013

Amos: Nation, Military Face Challenging Times

By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 11, 2013 – The United States and its military are facing very challenging times, Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, said today.

“I’m not a hand-wringer,” Amos said. “I don’t sit around and ‘woe is me,’ but I just take a look at … the reality of the environment we currently live in.”

Speaking at a forum on the future of maritime forces, the general said that after more than a decade of continuous conflict, he understands that the nation would grow weary of war, particularly during a period of fiscal difficulties.

But after an extended period of fighting, and combined with the drawdown from Afghanistan, the U.S. military must be reset and modernized, he said.

Amos noted that 70 percent of the equipment in Afghanistan came out of Iraq, where it had already been in service for about six years.

“You can’t use the same gear over and over and over again, there has to be a degree of modernization,” the general added.

Internationally, crisis has followed crisis, Amos said, noting that the recent cycle includes Libya, North Korea, Syria and Egypt.

“I think there’s zero peace dividend coming out of Afghanistan,” he said, adding, “I don’t think the world is getting any nicer at all.”

When a crisis occurs somewhere in the world, Amos said, the Joint Chiefs of Staff owe the president the ability to choose from a series of options. And the best way to ensure that options are available, the general said, is to maintain a forward presence around the world.

“We are America’s insurance policy,” he said.

As a leader on the world stage, the United States requires forward presence, Amos said.

“People count on us for stability,” Amos said. “People depend on us for presence. They depend on us for relationships around the world. We have a responsibility.”

Citing the strategic rebalance to the Asia-Pacific as one example of the expectations partner nations hold for the United States, Amos noted that the U.S. has 5 major treaties with countries in the region.
Aside from the diplomatic and economic reasons for engaging with partner nations, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, he said, there’s a moral imperative -- the Navy and Marine Corps are uniquely suited to provide humanitarian assistance in maritime regions. Natural disasters kill 75,000 people each year in the Asia-Pacific, Amos added.

“How do we do that … by coming home? Do we do that by virtual presence? I’ll tell you that virtual presence is actual absence,” he said.

Without actually being present in a particular region of the globe, Amos said, it’s difficult to establish relationships and build trust with that region’s partners and allies.

“When things begin to unravel around the world, you truly cannot surge trust,” the general said.
Sequestration is putting that strategy at risk, he said. The strategy itself is valid, Amos added, but how much of it the nation can afford is still being worked out.

U.S.-China Military Ties Growing, Pacom Commander Says

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 11, 2013 – The military-to-military relationship between the United States and China is deepening in a “quite commendable” way that may help improve overall engagement between the two countries, Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told Pentagon reporters today.

During a news briefing, Locklear said he has spent the week here taking part in security, strategic and economic dialogues with Chinese officials, the last two gatherings hosted by the State Department.
“I think that the progress that we're making between our two militaries is quite commendable,” the admiral said. “It’s commendable because we are able to have very good dialogue on areas where we converge, and there are a lot of places where we converge as two nations, and we're also able to directly address in a matter-of-fact way where we diverge.”

Those divergences are where the friction points occur, he said.

“And friction points are where militaries that understand each other can maybe not solve the friction,” Locklear added, “but they can manage it so that diplomacy can continue to work.”

Locklear said both China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army, and the U.S. military, starting with his own Pacific-based troops, understand that and are committed to it.

“I think that alone is significant progress,” he added.

Locklear said the growing relationship is evident in events such as a large humanitarian relief exercise in which both nations’ navies recently took part.

“U.S. and PLA ships and forces were working side-by-side,” he noted. “That's substantial.”

Locklear noted the Navy’s USS Shiloh, a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser, completed a port visit in China. Pacom, he added, will open port visits for Chinese ships in the future, though dates have not yet been confirmed.

He noted that China has agreed to participate in the Rim of the Pacific exercise in 2014. “That's a big step for the Chinese military, Chinese navy,” Locklear said. “They'll be entering a multinational three-week-long exercise that's basically run by the U.S. from the 3rd Fleet headquarters.”

The Chinese sailors will be near Hawaii for the exercise and thus a long way from home, the admiral noted.

“But they're excited about it,” he said. “They're excited about coming and participating. And we wish them all the success.”

In response to a reporter’s question, Locklear said the two nations’ forces “have been able to conduct operations around each other in a very professional and increasingly professional manner,” especially in areas close to China. As China’s maritime capabilities increase, he said, the ongoing dialogue between it and the United States about rules of the road will become more crucial.

Because relatively young and inexperienced troops from both countries will encounter each other more often as China increases its reach and “the U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific is not going anywhere,” Locklear said, “… we have to manage our ability to operate around each other.”

The admiral acknowledged China has a sophisticated ballistic missile program, and that it will likely acquire increasingly sophisticated military equipment as its reach continues to grow.

“We're already seeing some examples of that,” he said. “We're seeing Chinese operating today in places beyond the first and second island chain that we wouldn't have seen before. We've seen them be able successfully do [anti-piracy] operations alongside of us in the Gulf of Aden. I think it's a natural thing as their global, economic power grows for them to have security interests that go beyond their backyard.”

The Chinese military is not a threat, but an opportunity, Locklear said in response to a question.
“If opportunity is not realized, then, as it would be with any other … growing military, it potentially could become a threat,” he said. “But I certainly view it and approach it as an opportunity. That's really the only best path forward.”

New VA Grants Target Homeless, At-risk Veterans, Families

From a Department of Veterans Affairs News Release

WASHINGTON, July 11, 2013 – Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki today announced the award of nearly $300 million in grants that will help approximately 120,000 homeless and at-risk veterans and their families.

The grants have been awarded to 319 community agencies in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

“With these grants, we are strengthening our partnership with community non-profits across the country to provide veterans and their families with hope, a home, and a future,” Shinseki said. “The work of Supportive Services for Veteran Families program grantees has already helped us prevent and end homelessness among tens of thousands of homeless veterans and their families, but as long as a single veteran lives on our streets, we have work to do.”

Under the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, VA is awarding grants to private non-profit organizations and consumer cooperatives that provide services to very low-income veteran families living in -- or transitioning to -- permanent housing. The SSVF program supports VA’s efforts to prevent at-risk veterans from becoming homeless and rapidly re-house those who have recently fallen into homelessness.

Thanks to the SSVF grants, those community organizations will provide a range of services that promote housing stability and play a key role in connecting veterans and their family members to VA services such as mental health care and other benefits.

Community-based groups can offer temporary financial assistance on behalf of veterans for rent payments, utility payments, security deposits and moving costs.

This is the third year SSVF grants have helped veterans and their families find or remain in their homes. Last year, VA provided about $100 million to assist approximately 50,000 veterans and family members.

In 2009, President Barack Obama and Shinseki announced the federal government’s goal to end veterans’ homelessness in 2015. The grants are intended to help accomplish that goal. According to the 2012 Point-in-Time Estimates of Homelessness, homelessness among veterans has declined 17.2 percent since 2009.

Through the homeless veterans initiative, VA committed over $1 billion in fiscal year 2013 to strengthen programs that prevent and end homelessness among veterans. VA provides a range of services to homeless veterans, including health care, job training, and education.

Centcom Prepares for ‘New Normal’ in Mideast, Central Asia

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

TAMPA, Fla., July 11, 2013 – After 12 years of sustained conflict in their area of responsibility, officials at U.S. Central Command are preparing for what they expect to be the “new normal” -- a strategic environment that albeit unpredictable, supports long-term stability and ultimately, peace.

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While continuing their current mission in Afghanistan, deployed U.S. forces there continue to hone skills U.S. Central Command will count on during future engagements across the Middle East and Central Asia. Here, soldiers from Blackfoot Troop, 6th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team and Task Force Iron Warrior wait for the signal to load personnel onto a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during a training exercise in Kunduz province, Afghanistan, June 22, 2013. U.S. Army photo by 2nd Lt. Charles Morgan

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The 20-nation region that stretches across the Middle East and Central Asian states remains rife with challenges, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. William D. Beydler, Centcom’s director of strategy, plans and policy, said during an interview at the command’s MacDill Air Force Base headquarters.

With combat operations set to wind down in Afghanistan through 2014, Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the Centcom commander, has other destabilizing factors front and center on his radar screen: Iranian activities and influence, the civil war in Syria and the persistent threat of violent extremists backed by Iran or al-Qaeda and its affiliates, among them.

Meanwhile, the Arab Spring continues to unfold, most dramatically in recent days in Egypt. The political and social effects of the movement could take a decade of change and tumult to be realized fully, Beydler noted.

With a clear eye on these and other trouble spots, the Centcom staff is laying the foundation for what many have come to call the “new normal.”

It’s a strategic environment that will require the United States to remain closely aligned with its regional partners and be ready to respond, as needed, said Air Force Brig. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, the command’s deputy operations director.

“As much as we try to get ahead of that and anticipate, we have to be constantly at the ready,” he said. “If something pops, we need to be able offer the commander options to make timely decisions. So we would not be doing our due diligence and our jobs if we weren’t thinking about and planning for the possibilities, and being prepared should our leadership decide we need to act.”

Preparing for potential contingencies, particularly in an era of shrinking budgets and limited resources, will require tough decision-making, Harrigian said.

“We will have to prioritize, focused on our [top] mission sets,” he said. “That is part of what we look at as this ‘new normal’ across the [area of responsibility]. We will continue to look at that to find the right balance and ensure we are not so thin that we are unable to respond, if required.”

In planning for this post-2014 future, Harrigian said there’s likely to be only one “given” within the volatile AOR.

“I’m not sure peace is going to break out in our region and suddenly the pace is going to slow down,” he said. “There will still be areas of concern that we are going to have to work through. So while we hopefully will not be at war, I still see us quite actively engaged to ensure we are able to maintain stability, the free flow of commerce and stability across the global economy.”

“It is clearly in our national interest to ensure that occurs,” Harrigian added. It’s also in the interest of nearly every other country, not only in the region, but around the globe, he said.

So as the United States pursues its goals in the region, the partnerships it has built and strengthened over the past dozen years will remain critical, Beydler said. He cited the continued importance of the broad Centcom engagement strategy in the region: training and education, exchanges, exercises, foreign military sales and other security assistance.

Centcom’s efforts and the forward presence of U.S. forces in the region go far beyond increasing partner capacity, Harrigian said. They also help maintain relationships and trust that have taken time and sacrifice to build.

Without assurance of a continuing U.S. commitment, there would be “significant concern of the perception that America is leaving the region,” he said. “Then you run the risk of those nations looking in other directions for support.”

As Centcom plans for the new normal, Beydler emphasized that the United States has no intention of withdrawing from the region.

“We will continue to engage not only in Afghanistan, but across the entire Centcom AOR. We will be engaged financially. We will be engaged from a training standpoint. We will be engaged from an exercise standpoint,” he said.

“The fact is, we will continue to be engaged across the spectrum,” Beydler said. “And some in areas and in some ways, we will be able to be more engaged than ever before, because after 10 or 12 years of sustained combat operations, we will have the capacity to do so.”

Military Veterans Get ‘Tribute for Heroes’ Honor

From a Defense Finance and Accounting Service News Release

INDIANAPOLIS, July 11, 2013 – Injured Army veteran Jeffrey Mittman and 29 other military veterans will be honored July 16 during Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game held at Citi Field in Queens, home of the New York Mets.

Mittman and the other finalists were chosen by People magazine and MLB in their joint “Tribute for Heroes” campaign. Each finalist was selected after receiving the highest number of votes among other veterans representing their chosen MLB teams. Mittman will represent the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“Right on the heels of the Fourth of July, I couldn’t be more honored to be recognized amongst such a distinguished group of patriots -- at a game of baseball no less,” Mittman said. “You can’t get more American than that.

“My first memory of baseball is watching Pittsburgh in the ’79 World Series,” he continued, “so my connection to the Pirates began very early.”

The heroes will participate in the All-Star pre-game ceremony and All-Star Week festivities. One of the “Tribute for Heroes” winners will be featured in People magazine. The event and subsequent game will be broadcast on the Fox network July 16 at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time and 4:30 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

A roadside bomb left Mittman nearly blind and with severe injuries while he was serving as a U.S. Army advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior on July 7, 2005. Mittman, who was driving a team of soldiers in a Humvee that came under attack from unseen assailants, sustained the brunt of the explosion. He was left without a nose, lips, most of his teeth and the majority of his vision.

After enduring more than 40 operations, Mittman’s face was reconstructed and he successfully adapted to life with limited vision. After retiring from the Army in 2011, Mittman worked for the National Industries for the Blind before joining the Defense Finance and Accounting Service as a public affairs specialist.

“There’s no one I can think of that exemplifies an American hero and deserves recognition more than Jeff,” said Aaron Gillison, the director at DFAS Indianapolis and Executive Champion for the DFAS Hire A Hero Program. “His attitude and uplifting message of perseverance and continuing service despite incredible adversity has inspired not only his co-workers, but thousands of others who have been lucky enough to hear his story.”

Mittman is a nationally sought-after public speaker and regularly advocates on behalf of disabled Americans and veterans. He received three Bronze Star medals, the Purple Heart and numerous other awards for combat actions during his nearly 22-year military career.

Mittman’s non-military national awards include the 2010 Osborne "Oz" Day Award presented by the federal government for increasing public awareness of the federal AbilityOne Program, and the Lighthouse International's 2007 Henry A. Grunwald Award honoring outstanding public service.

Fort Belvoir Hospital Strives for Health Care Excellence

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

FORT BELVOIR, Va., July 9, 2013 – The old adage that “if you build it, they will come” doesn’t necessarily apply to military hospitals, the commander of the new Fort Belvoir Community Hospital recognizes.

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Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Northern Virginia, shown here, is a state-of-the-art military medical facility that opened in August 2011. The hospital, along with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and other military health care facilities in the Washington D.C. area, is part of National Capital Region Medical -- a joint-service organization providing health care for military beneficiaries throughout the region. DOD photo by Marc Barnes

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That’s particularly true in places like the Washington, D.C., area where service members, retirees and family members can choose from an array of top-notch civilian facilities to get their medical care, Army Col. Chuck Callahan told American Forces Press Service.

But with a gleaming 1.3-million-square-foot facility and a strategy centered on taking care of patients and their families, Callahan has set out to attract more of the 164,000 military health care beneficiaries in the region that currently use TRICARE to seek their care at Fort Belvoir.

“Because Fort Belvoir Community Hospital is not the only game in town, we must compete with civilian facilities who also want to care for our patients,” Callahan said. “My opinion is that the way to do that is to build a system that people want to come to.”
The new hospital stands in stark contrast to the 1950s-era DeWitt Army Community Hospital it replaced. Built in compliance with the congressionally mandated 2005 Base Realignment and Closure reorganization plan, the new hospital is part of a sweeping plan to improve the efficiency of military health care in the Washington, D.C., area.

While the renamed Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., serves as the military’s premier referral medical center, Fort Belvoir provides primary and specialty care to a largely regional clientele.

Shortly after assuming command last year, Callahan unveiled an organizational strategy aimed at making the hospital the facility of choice to an estimated half-million eligible beneficiaries in the national capital area.

In the most basic terms, it boils down to economics, he explained. The Defense Department spent $19 billion on health care in 2001 and will spend $49 billion this year. That figure is expected to skyrocket to $92 billion by 2030 -- consuming almost 10 percent of the entire DOD budget.

As Callahan sees it, paying for patients to get care at civilian facilities when military ones can accommodate them doesn’t make financial sense. “We are buying the care twice,” he said, paying for the new $1 billion Fort Belvoir hospital and its staff, but also picking up the tab for 164,000 people enrolled in the regional TRICARE network.

“Something has to change,” Callahan said, particularly with rising health care costs on a collision course with shrinking budgets.

So Callahan has taken matters into his own hands, working to create an environment “where patient- and family-centered care meets evidence-based design in a culture of excellence.” That boils down to a facility where patients and families have hassle-free access to the highest-quality care and services, and where they feel comfortable and welcomed as they receive them, he explained.

Everything about the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital supports this vision. The new facility has greater capabilities than standard community hospitals. It includes 120 single-inpatient rooms, a 10-bed intensive-care unit, 10 state-of-the-art operating rooms, a behavioral health unit, an advanced cancer care center, breast care center, emergency department, pharmacy, diagnostic centers and modular clinic space for outpatient services.

Planners have made getting these services as simple and convenient as possible. Appointments are easy to make and parking is plentiful. Once inside the hospital, patients and their families are treated to a beautiful, calming environment designed to be therapeutic: lots of natural light and outside views, d├ęcor inspired by nature and color-coded wings that help visitors maintain their bearings.

One of the most soothing features is what visitors don’t see. There’s no click-clacking of laundry carts crowding the hallways, and maintenance and other logistics activities are relegated to non-prime operating hours.

The staff took a cue from The Walt Disney Co., instituting its strict standards of “on-stage” and “off-stage” activities, Callahan explained.

“The idea that health care should have at least the same service standards as any other service industry is not the way health care has always looked at itself,” he said. “But this is really evolving, and it is part of the culture of excellence that we are working to establish here.”

It’s all part of a plan to make care at the facility centered on the patient and family, he said. That begins the moment they pick up the phone to make an appointment and continuing when they arrive at the facility and throughout their treatment.

But most importantly, Callahan said it centers on a relationship between patients and the health care providers who make up their “medical home.” Unlike most civilian doctors whose focus is on treating patients when they are sick -- necessitated largely by the way insurance reimburses them for services -- medical home providers concentrate on keeping patients healthy, he explained.

It’s a formula Callahan said the entire Military Health System is embracing, and that makes Fort Belvoir Community Hospital particularly attractive to military health care beneficiaries.

“People like coming here,” he said. “But they also have a choice” about where they get their care.
"As we implement this strategy, we are building a culture of excellence and an [environment] that people will want to come to," he said.

"We know that consistent, predictably accessible, and convenient health care created around the medical home and medical neighborhood will build trust, foster communication and provide opportunities to promote health and well-being for our beneficiaries,” Callahan said. “This is the mission and the vision of the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital."

(Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of two articles on the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Northern Virginia.)

Face of Defense: Army Chaplain Tends to Firefighting Flock

By Army Staff Sgt. Jecca Geffre
Colorado National Guard

PAGOSA SPRINGS, Colo., July 12, 2013 – Army Chaplain (1st Lt.) Justin Cowan said he knew the day he walked out his door in early June to see huge plumes of smoke -- the beginnings of the West Fork Complex fire -- there was a possibility the Colorado National Guard would be called to help his community.

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Army Chaplain (1st Lt.) Justin Cowan prays during a visit to Guard members in the area of the West Fork Complex fire during Colorado National Guard operations, June 30, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Wendy Waldrop

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Cowan, who also is the assistant principal at Pagosa Springs Middle School here, said most residents in his small town have never seen him in his uniform -- because he's never had to wear it at home.

As a chaplain now wearing his Army uniform in his community, Cowan has been going out to checkpoints and talking to soldiers and airmen assigned to the Colorado National Guard's Task Force-Security, checking up on their morale and emotional status.
He said his job is taking care of the troops while they take care of the community.

"Many of these Guard members were manning checkpoints on the Black Forest fire and have returned to duty here, leaving behind jobs and loved ones," Cowan said.

Cowan took along more than 16-dozen, home-baked cookies made by Melanie, his wife of 22 years.
"She loves to be a part of it any way she can," he said, noting the cookies "disappeared pretty fast."
Cowan said the first person he interacted with on-site was also a fellow local, Army Lt. Col. Jesse Morehouse, National Guard liaison officer to incident commanders at the West Fork Complex fire. Morehouse, a teacher at Pagosa Springs High School, was a familiar face for Cowan through both the school system and the National Guard.

After receiving a situational brief, Cowan began attending to the spiritual needs of the rest of the Guardsmen assigned across a four-county area in the mountains of southwestern Colorado. He conducted chapel services, led prayers, and visited with troops and community members.

"The morale is amazing," Cowan said. "These service members come out and do this job and are so happy to do it. It's very moving and does my heart good."

He attended a town meeting where a resident stood up and thanked all the agencies involved, and lastly pointed to Morehouse and said, "Especially that big guy in camouflage."

Cowan says the remark reflects the overall attitude he and his neighbors have of the Guard presence.
He also attributes his past experience teaching and his current position as assistant principal to making valuable contributions in his ability to be a chaplain, because both involve problem solving.

"In my profession you deal with many issues daily," he said. "You have to have a vision of your desired outcome in your head."

Pacom Commander Discusses North Korea Situation

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 12, 2013 – While North Korea’s historic, alternating cycle of provocative attacks and inconclusive negotiations is well known, its continued pursuit of nuclear weapons limits any chance of meaningful international dialogue, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command told reporters yesterday.

Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, who was here this week as part of the U.S. delegation for security, strategic and economic dialogues with Chinese officials, responded to questions on North Korea’s intent.

North and South Korea, whose capitals are Pyongyang and Seoul, respectively, have maintained an uneasy cease-fire since 1953. Communist North Korea is allied with China, but under three generations of Kim family rule and a “military first” policy, its people have suffered widespread hunger and deprivation as North Korea pours its limited resources into its armed forces and nuclear weapons program.

While the United States has provided food to North Korea in times of famine, and assisted U.S. nongovernmental organizations with aid to fight infectious disease outbreaks and supply electricity at provincial hospitals, most other trade and aid is tightly restricted by U.S. and international economic sanctions.

“I don’t have a crystal ball on that one,” Locklear said when asked whether more provocations from Pyongyang are likely in the near future. “History would say that there would likely be one.”

Locklear added, however, that the position of countries in the region as well as the United States is “that North Korea must be committed to the total denuclearization [of the Korean Peninsula], and [present] a complete and verifiable plan to [do] that. And that's kind of the bottom-line entry of how you would get into a broader set of negotiations with North Korea at this time.”

During meetings in June, President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jingpin agreed that North Korea must denuclearize, that neither country will accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state, and that both nations would work to deepen U.S.-China cooperation and dialogue to achieve denuclearization.

Locklear said North Korea has a range of missiles, from short-range to intercontinental, but only the short-range missiles have been demonstrated. North Korea’s medium-range missile and a purported road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile, he said, have not been credibly demonstrated.

North Korea’s leaders announced in December they had successfully launched a satellite. In February, they completed an underground nuclear test, and in subsequent months communications were cut off with South Korea, and Kaesong, a joint North-South business and industrial sector situated on the North Korean side of the border, was shuttered.

“The fact that they were able to successfully do that [launch] was a demonstration to us that they have the ability to put something into a larger ballistic orbit,” Locklear said. “Now, whether they can successfully take that technology and mate it with where they are in their nuclear program has not been demonstrated.”

Indiana Guard Promotes First African-American to General

From an Indiana National Guard News Release

WASHINGTON, July 12, 2013 – Army Col. Wayne Black of the Indiana National Guard will be promoted to brigadier general during a July 13 ceremony held at the Indiana War Memorial here.

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Army Col. Wayne Black of the Indiana National Guard will be promoted to brigadier general. Indiana National Guard photo

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Black is the first African-American to be promoted to brigadier general in the Indiana National Guard. He will be an assistant adjutant general.

The colonel is a 1984 graduate of the Military College of South Carolina -- also known as The Citadel. He has nearly 30 years of military experience.

Black joined the Indiana Army National Guard in 1996. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 as the commander of an embedded training team that provided training, mentorship and oversight to the Afghan National Police and the Border Police.