Thursday, September 05, 2013

KC-46 critical design review officially closed

from Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

9/5/2013 - WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The Air Force officially closed the KC-46 Weapon System Critical Design Review (CDR) on August 21, one month ahead of the Sept. 24 contractual date.

This formal closure of the July Weapon System Design Review represents the culmination of more than 10 months of component and sub-system design reviews, resolution of all resulting action items and completion of all CDR criteria established in the Air Force's contract with Boeing.

Closure of CDR formally establishes the KC-46 design and now allows the program to progress into its manufacturing and development test phases.

The KC-46 is based on the Boeing 767-200ER commercial aircraft. Design review activities blended best practices of commercial and Department of Defense frameworks, leading to overall improvements.

Boeing will now proceed with integration, verification, and production of four engineering and manufacturing development aircraft to support flight testing, scheduled to begin in mid-2014. The first fully equipped KC-46 tanker is projected to fly in early 2015.

"This build and test phase is another critical step toward meeting the KC-46 contractual Required Assets Available date -- a milestone requiring 18 KC-46 aircraft and all necessary support to be on the ramp, ready to support warfighter needs by the August 2017 timeframe," said Maj. Gen. John Thompson, Air Force program executive officer for tankers. "To succeed will require the focused efforts from all members of the team."

The Air Force contracted with Boeing in February 2011 to acquire 179 KC-46 refueling tankers to begin recapitalizing the more than 50-year old KC-135 fleet. Production will ramp up to deliver 179 tankers by 2028.

U.S., Russia Can Make Bilateral Progress, DOD Official Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 5, 2013 – The United States and Russia disagree on some aspects of their bilateral relations, but there are many areas where the countries can and do cooperate, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia told the Heritage Foundation yesterday.
The relationship has been marked by ups and downs, Evelyn N. Farkas said, and that is normal. The idea, she added, is to work through these disagreements.

“We will continue to work with Russia to find mutually acceptable solutions,” Farkas said in her prepared remarks. “We’ve been managing a significant disagreement with the Russians over Syria.”
Still, Farkas said, American officials want to bolster defense cooperation. The United States wants to work on counterproliferation issues with Iran, North Korea, and on counterterrorism and counternarcotics in regions adjacent to Russia.

“Our level of interaction with Russia has increased substantially with the establishment of the Defense Relations Working Group in September 2010,” she said. “The working group is intended to create mechanisms for discussion and exchange at the policy level between defense professionals on a range of issues, including defense reform and modernization, missile defense cooperation, defense technology cooperation, and global and regional security issues of mutual interest.”

Increased cooperation on Afghanistan tops the U.S. wish list, Farkas said. “Working to bring improved stability to Afghanistan is clearly in U.S. and Russian interests, and Russia continues to be supportive by expanding the Northern Distribution Network and allowing for diversification in the types of cargo that can pass through its territory,” she explained. “The U.S. and Russia continue working together to disrupt al-Qaida’s and other terrorist groups’ operational networks and undermine their access to financial resources.”

Continued cooperation to combat piracy off the Horn of Africa also is a U.S. goal, Farkas said.
Even in areas of disagreement there must be conversations, Farkas said. Both Russia and the United States agree that the civil war in Syria should end, she noted, but Russia supports the regime of Bashar Assad. “Both of our countries have been adamant that we remain committed to working with each other to bring the parties together to negotiate a political settlement,” she said.

Russia continues to express concern that U.S. and NATO missile defenses could pose a threat to Russia’s strategic deterrent, Farkas said, and Russian leaders also question whether Iran really poses a threat.

“We continue to assure Russia that our missile defense efforts are not directed against Russia, nor do they pose a threat to its strategic nuclear deterrent,” she said. “And we continue to make the case that the transparency and cooperation we are offering are the best way for Russia to gain the confidence it seeks that our missile defenses do not threaten Russia’s strategic deterrent.”

Continuing talks on nuclear arms reductions also is important, Farkas said. “We have made clear our willingness to discuss the full range of strategic stability issues of concern to both our countries, and we will continue to seek opportunities to make progress on this agenda,” she added.

Farkas echoed a statement President Barack Obama made yesterday in Stockholm on U.S.-Russian relations, citing areas in which U.S. and Russian interests overlap.

The president pointed to progress the two nations have made in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, in Russia joining the World Trade Organization, and in close cooperation on counterterrorism issues. Russia has also provided logistical support to U.S. and NATO forces based in Afghanistan.

Still, the president acknowledged, relations have cooled recently over Syria and over Russia granting asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden. “But I have not written off the idea that the United States and Russia are going to continue to have common interests even as we have some very profound differences on some other issues,” Obama said. “And where our interests overlap, we should pursue common action. Where we’ve got differences, we should be candid about them --try to manage those differences, but not sugarcoat them.”

Forest Service Ends Military Firefighting Aircraft Activation

From a U.S. Northern Command News Release

BOISE, Idaho, Sept. 5, 2013 – The U.S. Forest Service, through the National Interagency Fire Center here, has decided to end current military C-130 Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System operations as of the end of the day today.

MAFFS aircraft and crews remain available for recall if the wildland fire situation dictates, U.S. Northern Command officials said.

In a notice to the Defense Department of Defense issued Sept. 3, the Forest Service said wildland fire activity had begun to moderate. That, along with the increased availability of civilian air tankers, has allowed the release of the military aircraft, their crews and ground support personnel.

Two MAFFS C-130s, both from the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing, had remained on duty at McClellan Air Tanker Base outside of Sacramento, Calif., following the release of three others by the Forest Service. Those aircraft -- one from the Wyoming Air National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing based in Cheyenne, Wyo., was slated to fly home yesterday. The other two, from the California Air National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing, will stand down at their home airfield at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, Port Hueneme, Calif., where they had operated in recent days.
Since the year’s initial activation June 11, MAFFS crews have flown 572 missions and made 535 drops using 1,375,981 gallons of fire retardant. This summer, they have fought fires in Idaho, Oregon, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, California and Nevada.

MAFFS is a self-contained aerial firefighting system owned by the Forest Service. MAFFS modules are loaded into the cargo bays of military C-130 aircraft. Following Forest Service lead 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 and cover 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.

An interagency Defense Department and Forest Service program, MAFFS provides aerial firefighting resources when commercial and private air tankers are no longer able to meet the needs of the Forest Service. A military air expeditionary group exercises control over MAFFS resources at the Forest Service’s direction.

Libraries Remain Centerpieces of Morale, Welfare Programs

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 5, 2013 – During World War I, troops deployed to Europe found they wanted more than just the beans and bullets the military logistics effort provided. The American Library Association stepped in, delivering books and magazines paid for through the war bond program to entertain and give them a slice of home.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
A service member passes the time reading during a long flight to a military deployment. Courtesy photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The association’s war service committee raised a whopping $5 million in public donations, distributing more than 7 million books and magazines, erecting 36 camp libraries and providing library collections to over 500 sites, including military hospitals.

In the process, it laid the foundation for the Defense Department’s first and longest-running morale, welfare and recreation program.

The Navy established the first official military library program in 1919, Nellie Moffitt, the Navy’s general library program manager, told American Forces Press Service. The Army followed with its own program in 1920, and the Air Force quickly stood up its own library program when it was established as a separate service in 1947.

By World War II, the service library programs had developed “an incredible operation,” Moffitt said. The Navy alone had 275 permanent libraries ashore and 961 afloat, as well as 281 extension services in remote sites.

“Historically, reading has been an integral part of the morale effort across DOD,” she said. “That remains as true today as at any time in history.”

Most major military installation house a library, and the Navy outfits every new ship with a library while providing library services aboard every ship in the fleet.

And just as troops have enjoyed library services while deployed to every conflict since World War I, MWR officials take pains to provide those same services in Afghanistan, even at the most remote forward operating bases. The Army set up formalized library programs at the largest bases in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Air Force maintains seven learning resource centers across the U.S. Central Command region, Moffitt said.

While books and magazines remain popular, military libraries have stayed current with evolving technology. Through the years, military libraries have offered cassette tapes, phonograph records, compact disks and DVDs. Downloadable audio books were introduced in 2005, and e-books in 2007.
“We are no different than any other industry. If we don’t keep up with the times and what our customers want, we won’t be around very long,” Moffitt said.

Stop by any installation library, and it’s clear that hasn’t happened. Statistics show usage at the brick-and-mortar libraries has remained strong, and even experienced a slight increase, Moffitt said. Meanwhile, use of downloadable audio books, e-books and online databases has skyrocketed.

Last year alone, the services spent $12 million for digital library materials, Moffitt reported. Based on usage statics, those funds provided $725 million in materials and services.

“That’s a huge return on investment, $60 in value for every dollar spent,” Moffitt said.

That savings, and the fact that many military members who live on base aren’t entitled to use most local public libraries, makes installation libraries magnets for many service members and their families.

“A lot of different people use libraries for a lot of different reasons,” Moffitt said. “Some people may be coming into the libraries to enjoy the actual books and programs offered,” including storytelling sessions for military children and popular summer reading programs.

Others seek out references on everything from weight loss or auto repairs to recorded music and audio books, all provided to users at no cost.

“But an awful lot of military members are using our materials for professional reading and their professional military education,” Moffitt said.

Military members and their families tap their libraries to get transitional assistance, bone up on details about spouse employment and tuition assistance, and prepare for standardized tests, she said.

Online test preparation services are among the most popular offerings at many military libraries. Some use these programs to increase their Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery scores so they can change their military career fields, Moffitt said. Others use them to prepare for the GRE, SAT and other standardized college boards.

Based on the appetite, DOD invested more than a half-million dollars in digital test preparation services in 2012, Moffitt reported. This educational portal collectively saved library users more than $10 million in out-of-pocket costs, including $19 or $20 they would have paid for every practice test, she noted. But the true value of the library programs, officials agree, is their link to troops’ mental and emotional fitness and resilience.

“People get their energy and bounce back from problems in many different ways,” Moffitt said. “Some kayak or run triathlons. But others prefer to read a mystery novel and absolutely fade away, or listen to music they can get through the library by borrowing a CD. I believe the library program is an integral part of wellness and overall wellbeing, and that contributes to readiness.”

Air Force Col. Thomas Joyce, services director at the Air Force Personnel Center, agrees. When Air Force officials evaluated their MWR programs to identify the core activities that most directly impact readiness, libraries ranked among the top six.

“This is one of the hidden gems that don’t get talked about much, but that are a huge contributor to life-long learning and overall resilience,” he said.

“Libraries have long been one of our most forward thinking, professionally oriented programs,” noted Ed Miles, DOD’s morale, welfare and recreation policy director. “From installation level to headquarters staff, taking care of library customers has always been at the forefront of everything they do.

“That is evidenced in the high usage and outstanding customer satisfaction ratings we see in MWR customer service surveys year in and year out,” Miles said. “They always get high marks.”

Yet with budget cuts striking across the board and taking a big chunk out of many MWR programs, officials recognize that libraries aren’t immune.

“Like everybody else, we are going to have to take cuts, whether that is in hours, staffing or our materials budgets,” Moffitt said. “We know we are going to be taking cuts, but we will try to minimize the impact on the customer and if at all possible, try to maintain the services we provide.”

The service libraries have pooled their resources for decades to maximize what they can provide.

“We are a very cooperative program,” Moffitt said. A joint MWR library forum established in 1996 sets standards for all military libraries and policies to improve efficiencies. Five years ago, the services stood up a joint purchasing program so they could purchase digital databases together and share them among all their users.

“We try to do things jointly so we can be more efficient and more effective,” Moffitt said. “If somebody has a great idea, we will borrow it.”

Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., for example, runs DOD’s only bookmobile, purchased with profits from the base recycling center to better serve Marines and their families. Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., plans to roll out an experimental library that does away with the Dewey decimal classification system and is organized like a retail bookstore.

Meanwhile, the military library programs continue to operate as they always have – quietly rolling out incremental improvements to better serve their customers, Moffitt said.

Those are services she said she’s confident will continue, regardless of what new budget challenges libraries face. “Just because you don’t have a lot of money doesn’t mean you can’t do a stellar job,” she said. “Military libraries stand as a testament to that.”

Breedlove Urges NATO to Tap NCO Corps Capabilities

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 5, 2013 – As new challenges and budget realities loom, the officer who serves as NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe and commander of U.S. European Command has challenged those in his charge to tap the “vast reservoir of untapped potential” within the noncommissioned officer corps.

“NATO and our partner nations are standing atop a gold mine of capability,” Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove wrote today in his command blog. “We need to get better at mining it and refining it.”

Breedlove shared his own experience as NCOs shared their tactical and technical skills and leadership abilities with him throughout his Air Force career. “As I’ve risen through the ranks as a leader and commander, I’ve benefitted from the support, trust and wise counsel of my NCOs,” he said.

Now, he said, he continues to rely on the knowledge and insights of his command senior enlisted leaders at NATO and Eucom: Air Force Command Chief Master Sgt. Todd Small and Air Force Command Chief Master Sgt. Craig Adams.

“I believe our alliance abounds in NCOs like these two leaders,” he said. “And I believe we must fully engage our NCOs’ unique capabilities to strengthen NATO’s collective defense and assist its transformation.”

NATO has been made progress in better developing and engaging its NCOs, Breedlove noted. The alliance established command senior enlisted leader position across the NATO structure and published the alliance’s first NCO strategy and guidelines.

In addition, the NATO School and Swiss Armed Forces Professional NCO School joined forces to design and teach NCO education courses, he said. Allied Command Operations and Eucom command senior enlisted leaders also partnered with the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies to organize the annual International Senior Enlisted Seminar.

Meanwhile, Belgium, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Turkey and other allies established senior enlisted leadership positions, Breedlove reported. Other nations such as Slovenia and Croatia developed their own multinational NCO education and outreach programs.

“These efforts have proven beneficial by creating an NCO corps that is increasingly empowered and responsible for individual training, discipline and the health and welfare of their service members,” Breedlove said.

“In this era of fiscal belt-tightening, we must look for opportunities to better develop and employ the assets we already have, in particularly our NCOs,” he said. “When we sharpen our NCOs’ capability through exercises, training, experience and professional education, we sharpen our nations’ combat edge.”

Asian Leaders Welcome U.S. Rebalance, Official Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 5, 2013 – As leaders across Asia welcomed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during his recent trip there, they also welcomed the U.S. rebalance to Asia, the acting assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs told reporters here today.

In a meeting with reporters to discuss the trip, Peter R. Lavoy noted that the secretary visited Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines during his nine-day trip. He also participated in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations defense ministers conference in Brunei. Joining the ASEAN ministers for a “plus” session were defense ministers from China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, India, New Zealand, Australia and the United States.

“Each of his interlocutors was extremely positive about the rebalance,” Lavoy said.

All of the nations appreciated the fact that the rebalance is a whole-of-government approach to the Asia-Pacific region that is not limited to the military sphere, Lavoy said, but focuses on trade, investment, diplomacy, political engagement and defense. “It’s important that we have balance within the rebalance as well,” he added.

Asian leaders also showed satisfaction in the way the United States is resourcing and operating the rebalance, Lavoy said.

President Barack Obama, Hagel and Secretary of State John F. Kerry all have spent significant time in the region. Hagel is returning to Asia next month, as is the president.

Hagel’s trip also demonstrated U.S. global reach to the defense ministers, Lavoy said. As the secretary was in Asia, the Syria situation was heating up, he noted. The secretary held a full schedule of activities during the day with Asian leaders and also spent the nights dealing with interagency partners on Syria.

“He was doing Syria by night and Asia by day,” Lavoy said. “It really impressed upon his interlocutors that the U.S. really brings incredible capacity wherever it goes. We’re able to walk and chew gum at the same time.”

In Malaysia, the secretary discussed the deepening defense relationship, including possible sales of F-18s to the nation. They also discussed competing claims over the South China Sea. Malaysia is leading an effort to create a code of conduct for the region that would include China. Lavoy said the United States strongly supports the effort.

In Indonesia, the secretary discussed the close military-to-military relationship between the two nations. The United States is selling AH-64 Apache helicopters to Indonesia, and one example of the closeness of the relationship is the creation of an alumni association for Indonesian and U.S. military personnel who attended each country’s military schools, Lavoy told reporters. This includes the president, who graduated from the Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

In the Philippines, Lavoy said, Hagel discussed progress in the framework agreement to provide U.S. forces the opportunity to operate on a rotational basis on Philippine territory. This, he explained, will allow U.S. and Philippine forces to train together.

“There have been two rounds of negotiations on the framework agreement, and we have two more rounds,” he said. “Our expectation … is we would try to get this done in the next few weeks.”

Military working dogs wag their tails and sharpen their skills at JBER

by Air Force 2nd Lt. Michael Trent Harrington
JBER Public Affairs

9/5/2013 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska  -- The sun hung low over the morning horizon. The rumble of traffic melted into a muffled rustle of grass, damp and short, then of footfalls rushing closer and faster, faster, faster. The jangle of brass clinked in the chill air, punctuation marks for panted breaths. A single bark echoed, then another, pushed before the quickening paces like a sound wave of compressed air as it leaves a muzzle--here not a rifle but the slobbery, snarling muzzle of a dog.

A third bark was swallowed in a growl, the unmistakable, guttural vibration of a dog nearing its prey. The animal leapt and, ferocious and inescapable, closed the final yards in the air.

The target toppled to the ground in a flurry of sharp white canine teeth and sleek brown canine fur. He kicked. He flailed and struggled. The dog remained clamped, jaw shaking, eyes widened, as loyal to the task at hand as to his keeper. He ripped and pulled until a shouted "OUT" rang out. The dog obeyed on cue and instantly released its grip. The animal sat on its back haunches and waited patiently, tail wagging, tongue hanging to one side.

Dog handlers with the 673d Security Forces Squadron volunteer for a particularly ruff--rough, even--line of work. The road to becoming a military working dog handler is lengthy. Airmen must possess three years of experience in security forces and must be accepted for work with canines. Yet the road for the dogs themselves is nothing to wag a tail at, either.

A military working dog starts its Air Force life just like any other basic recruit, as a bouncy, helpless puppy at sunny Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. There, the 341st Training Squadron administers the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Program, raising German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois breeds. Before being paired with a handler, the puppies are given to foster families who help the animal adjust to various social settings. Then they are monitored through various stages of readiness and training.

The initial period for a dog-and-handler team on base, known as the rapport phase, essentially involves military working dogs re-learning their most fundamental talent, and the one oftentimes most critical downrange--serving as (air-) man's best friend.

"The first phase involves taking the dogs around, playing with them, then working up towards mission-oriented tasks like explosives detection and building searches," said Senior Airman Shawn Witcher, 673d SFS MWD handler. "Everything we do starts--has to start, really--with mutual trust."

All the repetition and shared time helps mesh the two personalities. A well-trained dog can smell, hear and see better than any human under most circumstances. Teaching the dog to detect specific stimuli and communicate that information to a handler is equal parts art and psychology.

The threats facing them are as varied as the dogs themselves. Some are playful and loud, others more reserved. Witcher's military working dog, Ajax, is a curious seven-year-old German Shepherd, and has been on station at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson for five years. But even dogs as social as Ajax share an uncommonly large responsibility for the safety of their teams. Early every morning, a handler runs his or her dog through a series of obedience tasks, obstacles and scenarios.

"One of the most rewarding things is to take a brand-new dog and watch them develop and improve," said Staff Sgt. Stacy Glass, 673d SFS MWD handler.

In a combat or crisis scenario, a handler must be able to trust his or her dog from the very first moment. Indeed, dogs tend to deploy frequently precisely because they can do what even the most sophisticated technology often cannot in terms of explosive detection, tracking and threat mitigation. The dogs do it all with an acute awareness of their surroundings and an anxious desire to protect their handlers that computerized equipment has not yet been able to replicate. Recently, a Belgian Malinois dog became the first military working dog to be awarded a medal for valor after she subdued a would-be ambusher in Afghanistan, despite receiving several bullet wounds at close range.

"The dogs themselves serve as a psychological deterrent, at the gate, around base, and while out on missions," Witcher said.

Thus, the dogs are oftentimes better at detecting potential hazards than, say, an electronic explosives "sniffer" and more likely to deter an incident from occurring in the first place.

Military working dogs and their handlers play hard and train harder. The four-legged guardians of the base community embody the best in all service members--loyalty, dedication, determination--and do it all without a paycheck.

Few would say no, however, to the occasional tennis ball.

Army Soldier Pleads Guilty in Denver to Bribery Charges for Facilitating Thefts of Fuel in Afghanistan

Former U.S. Army Specialist Stephanie Charboneau pleaded guilty today to bribery charges for her role in the theft of fuel at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Fenty, near Jalalabad, Afghanistan, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

Charboneau, 34, of Fountain, Colo., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Phillip A. Brimmer in the District of Colorado to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and one substantive count of bribery.
According to court documents, from approximately February through May 2010, Charboneau was involved in overseeing the delivery of fuel from FOB Fenty to other military bases.  As part of this process, documents generally described as transportation movement requests (TMRs) were created to authorize the movement of fuel.

Court documents state that Charboneau created fraudulent TMRs that purported to authorize the transport of fuel from FOB Fenty to other military bases, even though no legitimate fuel transportation was required.  After the trucks were filled with fuel, the fraudulent TMRs were used by the drivers of the fuel trucks at FOB Fenty’s departure checkpoint in order to justify the trucks’ departures from FOB Fenty.  In truth, the fuel was simply stolen.

Charboneau pleaded guilty to receiving payments from a representative of the trucking company in exchange for facilitating the theft of approximately 90 fuel trucks.  According to court documents, the loss to the United States as a result of the theft was in excess of $1.5 million.

At sentencing, scheduled for Dec. 12, 2013, Charboneau faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison for conspiracy and 15 years in prison for bribery.

Charboneau’s plea is the fourth guilty plea arising from this investigation of fuel thefts at FOB Fenty.  On Aug. 3, 2012, Jonathan Hightower, a civilian employee of a military contractor who had conspired with Charboneau, pleaded guilty to similar charges.  On Oct.10, 2012, Christopher Weaver, who also conspired with Charboneau, pleaded guilty to fuel theft charges.  Both Weaver and Hightower pleaded guilty in the District Court of Colorado.   On Aug. 29, 2013, Sergeant Bilal Kevin Abduallah, who succeeded Charboneau at FOB Fenty, pleaded guilty in the Western District of Kentucky to fuel theft related charges.

This case was investigated by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction; Department of the Army, Criminal Investigations Division; Defense Criminal Investigative Service; and FBI. This case is being prosecuted by Fraud Section Trial Attorney Mark H. Dubester of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.      

33rd RQS Airmen awarded Distinguished Flying Cross with valor

by Tech. Sgt. Amanda Savannah
18th Wing Public Affairs

9/5/2013 - KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Five 33rd Rescue Squadron Airmen were recently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with valor for their heroic actions during a deployment mission in 2012.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III presented Capts. Michael Kingry, Gavin Johnson and Matthew Pfarr, Tech. Sgt. Scott Lagerveld and Staff Sgt. Robert Wells with the award Aug. 20 during his visit to Kadena.

Capts. Matthew Carlisle and John Larson, former Kadena members, were also awarded the DFC with valor for the mission before permanently changing stations.

According to their citations, the members of PEDRO 83 and 84 distinguished themselves by heroism while participating in a two-ship HH-60G Pave Hawk combat rescue mission in Afghanistan on Aug. 4, 2012. On that day, the team demonstrated heroic actions during a seven hour, 320-mile rescue mission under direct enemy gunfire.

According to Pfarr, it wasn't just the mission that was different.

"The whole day started differently," he said. "There's a set time when we'd go preposition all of our gear (each day). We actually got the scramble call during that time. It was a little bit of a strange day."

On a typical day during their deployment to Bagram Air Base, Kingry said the team would show up, put their gear on their helicopters, receive update and mission briefs on the current status, and would then be on standby, waiting for the call.

"As I put my gear on the aircraft, I was halfway getting all my stuff situated when the call came in," Kingry said. "The call we listen for comes across the radio as 'Attention on the net, attention on the net, scramble, scramble, scramble.' As soon as you hear that scramble call, you know there's somebody out there who's basically in a life or death situation, and we've got to get off the ground as quickly as possible."

Two New Zealand coalition forces members had sustained gunshot wounds.

Again the day would prove "strange," as the pickup location was farther than usual and was nestled within a steep mountain range, which the HH-60s could not climb because of the weight of the aircraft. Kingry had to first plot a course through valley passes, making the trip longer.

The lead officer, in PEDRO 83, contacted the operations center and requested an HC-130 for refueling support, realizing the team would need fuel during the extended mission.

"About halfway there we got an update from our operations center that was saying it's now five total patients," Kingry said. "Our understanding was, 'Ok, the area is probably still hot, still sustaining casualties. There's an ongoing firefight.' So that definitely led us to step up our game."

The operations center also advised there was a B-1 providing close air support overhead and gave Kingry the frequencies to contact the aircraft.

"We were about 30 minutes out, and I was able to coordinate with him for what the picture looked like on the ground," Kingry said. "He was in contact with the JTAC (joint terminal air controller) on the ground. The story we got from him was they had five casualties all located in the same spot that had sustained gunshot wounds and were in an ongoing firefight from multiple points of origin."

Kingry developed a game plan with the B-1 and JTAC for the team to get in and get the casualties out. As they got closer, they got another update -- the casualty number was now seven.

As the team arrived, they located the patients within a valley flanked by very steep cliffs. Kingry and Pfarr remained overhead to provide watch while PEDRO 84 landed and picked up three patients. Kingry then landed PEDRO 83 in the same spot to pick up the other four before the team left the location.

They were too low on fuel and the patients were too critical for the team to return to Bagram. They had to fly to the nearest forward operating base.

The operations center notified the FOB to be ready with facilities and gas. Kingry said he landed PEDRO 83 with about 300 pounds of gas, the lowest he'd ever seen. The team had a few moments to reflect on what had happened, when another call came in.

There were three more casualties at the same site and the site's observation post. The team gassed up and returned to the location.

Now covered overhead by an F-16, the team returned to the site.

"It was taking a while to package this patient just due to the fact that it was very difficult terrain. They were under fire, and basically the slope of that terrain made it difficult," Kingry said. "It was starting to take more and more time, and we were burning more and more gas. So at that point I instructed my wingman to land at the other site and pick up the remaining patient."

As PEDRO 83 and 84 were picking up their patients, they came under fire.

"As we came to a hover over the incident site and started the hoist down, the copilot came on the radio and said, 'Muzzle flashes at 10 o'clock.' I was holding the aircraft in a hover and looked out to my 10 o'clock and basically I saw five or six just bright, flashes of light all aimed at our aircraft," Kingry said. "I immediately started pulling the power in to go around and my first call to the gunner ... was '10 o'clock, 300 meters burst.' I said it again, '10 o'clock, 300 meters burst.' Finally I said 'Shoot 'em, shoot 'em, shoot 'em,' so that he ... just started pouring 50-cal back into their position.

"At that point PEDRO 84 was still on the ground ... so I immediately called to them the weapons pattern, that we needed weapons support, and probably the best thing I heard the whole time as we came into the weapons pattern was 'PEDRO 84 calling in hot.'"

Kingry said the two aircraft spent about 500 rounds combined covering the area, with Lagerveld and Wells delivering most of the rounds.

Though the enemy threat was suppressed, the aircraft were then facing the threat of "bingo" fuel, meaning they had the lowest amount of gas possible to complete the mission, and the pararescue men were still on the ground with the casualties. Kingry maneuvered PEDRO 83 to pick up the PJs and the casualties, while PEDRO 84 called for the tanker to move as close as possible.

Soon the tanker met up with the team. The next mission would be to perform helicopter air-to-air refueling, which is done by the tanker aircraft dragging a hose with a small basket behind it, which the receiving pilot then directs his or her probe into, Kingry said.

"It was high altitude so it (the basket) was bouncing around quite a bit," Kingry said. "I remember taking the controls and looking at the fuel gauge and seeing that we had about 300 pounds of fuel. Previously we had landed with 300 pounds, and we were still about 20 to 30 minutes out. We had to get gas or we weren't going to make it back. Luckily for me ... it kind of got calm, the basket just kind of sat there in front of me, (and) I was able to make a run in on the first try and get gas."

PEDRO 84 wasn't so lucky. The turbulence returned, and the aircraft failed at a few attempts to connect to the hose.

"I could see how much gas they had; I knew that they weren't going to be able to make it back unless they were able to plug," Kingry said. He began discussing a plan to land PEDRO 84, move some of the crew to PEDRO 83 and return to the FOB, but finally Johnson was able to pilot the aircraft and connect to the tanker.

"The time that I was most afraid was ... waiting for our wingman to take fuel," Pfarr said. "We were thinking about how to PL -- precautionary land -- that aircraft in the middle of Afghanistan, and then PEDRO 83 would have to ferry crew members and patients out of there. That was a very real possibility that we had begun to look at, and fortunately right before we had to make that decision they were able to get the fuel they needed. That was the scaredest I felt during that day."

The team returned to the FOB, unloaded their patients and waited for more news before returning to Bagram.

Reflecting on the day, Pfarr said it was the type of day he expected when joining the Air Force.

DOD Focuses on Ending Assad Regime’s Chemical Weapons Use

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 5, 2013 – The Defense Department leadership is focused on what President Barack Obama has defined as the objective of a proposed military operation in Syria: ending Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said here today.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Pentagon Press Secretary George Little answers reporters' questions regarding possible U.S. military intervention in Syria at the Pentagon, Sept. 5, 2013. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Little spoke with reporters after two days of Senate and House foreign affairs committee hearings and testimony before both panels by Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E Dempsey.

Obama favors limited military action against Syria, but wants Congress to decide if the nation will stand behind it. That process is underway.

“We're focused right now on what the president and others have said about what this military operation -- if it takes place -- would try to achieve,” Little told the reporters. “And that is a clear objective of stopping the Assad regime using chemical weapons [and] deterring and degrading the ability of this regime to murder innocent Syrian men, women and children.”

The operation would be of limited scope and duration, and there would be no boots -- of American or allied troops -- on the ground, he added, describing the scope of the proposed operation.

But more broadly in Syria, others have been working on a track beyond the military part of the equation, Little said.

“The State Department, in particular, has been heavily involved in diplomatic efforts with the Syrian opposition to try to move toward an ultimate political solution in Syria that's driven by the Syrians,” he explained. “That's what we want at the end of the day. That's what the Syrians want.”

In terms of getting help with Syria from the international community, Little said the department believes some countries will provide support if the United States takes military action.

“But international participation does not need to be vast in order for us to succeed,” he added.

Little was unable to offer details on the cost of an incomplete and so far unapproved Syrian military operation, but he did respond to questions about continuing budget constraints in the upcoming fiscal year.

“We have said that this is in the national security interests of the United States. And if this operation goes forward, if we're asked by the president to conduct a military mission, we will conduct it,” the press secretary said.

“When it comes to sequestration and budget uncertainty,” he added, “when this country decides to come together and take military action for a just cause that's rooted in the legitimacy of a very strong international norm, then we'll find a way to fund it.”

During Hagel’s recent four-country trip to Asia, during which he engaged in bilateral meetings with several counterparts from the region, including South Korea, Little said the defense secretary learned about North Korean stockpiles of chemical weapons, underscoring this week’s discussions about Syria’s use of chemical weapons on its own citizens.

“If we sit idly by and allow the Syrian regime to perpetrate atrocities the likes of which we've seen recently, then what signal does that send to countries like North Korea?” Little said.

If the Syrians are allowed to get away with it, then perhaps that sends a signal that others might be able to get away with it, the press secretary added -- not just North Korea, but Iran, Hezbollah and other rogue actors in the international community.

“This is very serious business,” Little said. “And it is very important not just for the United States, but for other countries, to step up and say this international norm is worth defending.”

In response to a question about whether the long U.S. discussion about such a military strike would give the Syrian army an advantage during such an attack, Little said the United States is the strongest military power in the world and one of the most flexible and adaptable, with access to information that will enable it to take effective action at the appropriate time, if called upon.

“No one in the Syrian regime should take solace from the deliberative process that we're undertaking right now with the United States Congress,” he observed.

Little said there will be time to adjust, given conditions on the ground and given what the Syrian regime may or may not do in terms of moving equipment.

“So the Syrian regime does not get a strategic or a tactical advantage from the time we, if called upon, will carry out a military mission effectively,” he added, “and we will meet our objective of deterring and degrading their chemical weapons use.”