Friday, September 06, 2013

Airmen perform first F-35A weapons load verification

By Lt. j.g. Lisa Lill, 33rd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) -- After months of preparation the weapons troop standardization load crew, or SLC, from the 33rd Maintenance Group performed the first munitions load verification on the F-35A Lightning II here Aug. 27.

"Over the next couple of days, our 33d Fighter Wing maintenance professionals, alongside representatives from the F-35 Program Office and Air Combat Command, will validate weapons loading procedures. This involves loading and unloading laser-guided and GPS-guided bombs, and air-to-air missiles into the weapons bays of the aircraft and ensuring the instructions we provide our load crews are accurate and effective - one more step towards F-35 initial war fighting capability," explained Lt. Col. Ron Huzzard, the deputy commander of the 33rd MXG.

The SLC has been practicing this load verification using a series of tabletop exercises for several months. This marked the first hands-on load verification for the crew.

"Watching our weapons troops verify loading procedures was like getting a glimpse into the future. Ultimately, this will be the work that is performed down range when it counts, and we are laying that foundation here at Eglin," said Navy Capt. Lance Massey II, the commander of the 33rd MXG. "The stealth capability on the F-35 is beyond incredible, but the weapons capability rounds out the whole purpose of the joint strike fighter."

The procedure was overseen by Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Wilbur, the wing weapons manager at the 33rd MXG.

"The Airmen walked through the technical instructions to verify the data is accurate and make adjustments as necessary," Wilbur said about the verification load exercise.

The three-person SLC included Master Sgt. Karen Griffin, Tech. Sgt. Russell Fontaine and Staff Sgt. Steven Dash. Working as a cohesive team, the trio carefully performed several iterations of loading and unloading four different munitions. Once the procedures are verified SLC members will train the weapon troops.

"Getting this step verified in ALIS (the automated logistics information system) for the F-35A is important, so we can move forward and get our 60-plus maintainers trained and working," Griffin said.

Airman helps deliver daughter, deploys same day

by Senior Airman Benjamin Gonsier
2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs

9/6/2013 - BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- Airman 1st Class Timothy Pledger was scheduled to depart for his six month deployment Aug. 30 in the early hours of the morning, but an aircraft malfunction pushed back his departure.

Pledger returned home until the new departure time to be with his pregnant wife, who was expecting any day. Around 9 a.m. his wife's water broke. With no time to spare, Pledger took action.

"I called emergency services when her water broke," Pledger said. "However, the baby was already coming out. I called them back so they could give me step-by-step instructions on how to deliver the baby."

The emergency personnel told him to ensure his wife was fine and to tell her to continue to push while also checking on the baby's condition. When the baby got stuck, Pledger had no idea what to do, but he kept his composure and listened to the emergency personnel's directions. After applying what the emergency personnel told him, a few minutes later his daughter was completely out and breathing normally.

"The moment was magical," Pledger said. "I was all choked up and could barely talk."

After the fire department and ambulance arrived, his wife and daughter were taken to a local hospital where they were stabilized and in good condition.

His daughter, Zoey, weighed in at six pounds, nine ounces, and measured 19 inches long.

"This is definitely a once in a lifetime situation," he added. "With the delayed jet in the beginning, it seems like this was meant to happen."

Later that day, the electronic warfare journeyman was on the plane to Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, to support the Continuous Bomber Presence mission.

"This is a testament to Airmen we have at Barksdale and the Air Force in general," said Master Sgt. Anthony Grubb, 2nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron first sergeant. "To deliver his own daughter early in the morning, when he was supposed to deploy, and not even 12 hours later, go through the processing line and get on a jet to support the mission says a lot about the great Airmen we have here. Family is important and so is the mission, and Pledger was able to successfully support both."

LRS Airman Receives Bronze Star

by Airman 1st Class Malissa Lott
366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

9/6/2013 - MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Tech. Sgt. Makeba Liebert, 366th Logistics Readiness Squadron NCO in charge of individual protection equipment, earned a Bronze Star while facilitating the transfer of responsibilities for supply chains to Afghans.

Liebert was presented the fourth highest combat medal in the U.S. by Lt. Col. Todd Jensen, 366th LRS commander, for her actions while deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan.

Working as the NCO in charge, Liebert played a main role in the logistics analysis and fortification of 25 districts in Afghanistan, helping transition them to full control for local Afghans. She also directly supported the readiness of 62 districts fighting for security.

"We worked 14-hours a day with no days off for the entire deployment," said Liebert. "I never had a day that was the same."

Liebert conducted 60 missions traveling over 1,000 miles outside the wire including key leader engagements in which she cleared supply chain log jams fixing province-wide shortages.

"She has done great things for us," said Master Sgt. John Tristan, 366th LRS Materiel Management superintendent. "It shows younger Airmen we do things that we are not normally tasked to do, and we step outside of our comfort zone to accomplish the mission."

Liebert proved she was willing to go above and beyond to accomplish the mission while deployed.

"I feel very proud to be awarded this medal," she said. "I am glad to be back on American soil and to be with my husband and children."

Obama: Syrian Chemical Attacks Threaten Region, Globe

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 6, 2013 – Chemical weapons attacks in Syria are not just a tragedy in that country, but also pose a threat to regional and global peace and stability, President Barack Obama said in St. Petersburg, Russia, today.

At a news conference following the G-20 summit, Obama said the Syrian regime’s chemical attack on its own people threatens to unravel the almost century-old ban against using such weapons.

The president said the Syrian government’s attack killed civilians, making this more than an esoteric subject. “Over 1,400 people were gassed. Over 400 of them were children,” Obama said. “This is not something we've fabricated. This is not something that we are … using as an excuse for military action.”

The Syrian attack threatens Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Israel, and threatens to further destabilize the Middle East, the president said. The actions also increase the likelihood that these weapons of mass destruction could fall into the hands of terror groups, he added.

“Failing to respond to this breach of this international norm would send a signal to rogue nations, authoritarian regimes and terrorist organizations, that they can develop and use weapons of mass destruction and not pay a consequence,” Obama said. “That’s not the world that we want to live in.”

G-20 leaders were unanimous that there was a chemical weapons attack in Syria on Aug. 21, Obama said, and also were unanimous that the chemical weapons ban is important. Where there is a division in the G-20 has to do with the United Nations, he added.

“You know, there are number of countries that just as a matter of principle believe that if military action is to be taken, it needs to go through the U.N. Security Council,” he said. “It is my view … that given Security Council paralysis on this issue, if we are serious about upholding a ban on chemical weapons use, then an international response is required, and that will not come through Security Council action.”

In a joint statement released today, the leaders of Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom joined with the United States in calling for “a strong international response to this grave violation of the world’s rules and conscience that will send a clear message that this kind of atrocity can never be repeated. Those who perpetrated these crimes must be held accountable.”

Obama said he was elected to end wars, not to start them. “I’ve spent the last four and a half years doing everything I can to reduce our reliance on military power as a means of meeting our international obligations and protecting the American people,” he said. “But what I also know is that there are times where we have to make hard choices if we’re going to stand up for the things that we care about. And I believe that this is one of those times.”

The president announced he will address the American people from the White House about Syria on Sept. 10

Vice Chairman Joins in Opening Wounded Warrior Retreat

By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service

BLUEMONT, Va., Sept. 6, 2013 – On a sprawling, tree-framed landscape, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff joined about 400 guests today for the official grand opening of Boulder Crest Retreat for seriously wounded service members, veterans and their families.

Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr. commended retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Ken Falke and his wife, Julia, who donated the land and realized their vision of providing free use of a lodge, cabins, activities and programs that provide respite and aid in reconnection, recovery and rehabilitation.

“As more than 12 years of war come to a close for the magnificent men and women who have been fighting it, our collective obligation to take care of them will not end,” Winnefeld said. “The majority of the seen and unseen injuries our warriors have endured from Iraq, … Afghanistan and other places are scars they’ll bear for life.”

With medical facilities such as the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and others just a road trip away, Boulder Crest Retreat, Winnefeld said, goes the extra mile to not only be a home away from home, but a home away from clinics and hospitals.

“The severity of many veterans’ physical and emotional trauma suggests long-term care needs that will surpass our publicly available medical capacity well into the future,” the admiral said.

The 37-acre, Americans With Disabilities Act-accessible retreat already has proven popular, with bookings in each of its four private cabins through 2013 and projected recreation and resources for 250 to 500 families each year.

Each cabin accommodates up to six people and is available for two- to 14-day stays, and guests also can gather in the 6,000-square-foot, two-story lodge to connect with other families and participate in programs.

Visitors also can enjoy outdoor amenities such as an archery range, nature trails, a playground, an organic garden, a bird sanctuary and a fishing pond, while recreational activities include nature walks, Shenandoah River kayaking and swimming, and golf and tennis.

In addition to the retreat’s healing offerings of yoga, meditation, massage therapy, journaling, art and music therapy, Winnefeld also noted featured assistance therapy with dogs and horses, which resonates well with wounded warriors who may be weary of sudden noises and movements.

Winnefeld directly addressed wounded warriors, lauding them for their courage and buoyancy. “I’m continually amazed by your grit and resilience [and] your commitment to ability over disability.”
Julia Falke, too, admired the courage not only of her husband, an explosive ordnance disposal technician, but also of fellow military families, which she said ultimately inspired her journey to Boulder Crest Retreat.

The Falkes lived in military family housing in both Scotland and her native England. “We’d always invite the young families stationed there to come and have dinner and feel the comforts of home,” she said. “You could really see the difference it made.”

Thirty years later, the Falkes bought 200 acres of land in rural Virginia, where they took residence in a large, stone farmhouse atop the hilly grass and briar. The couple began visiting wounded warriors and their families at nearby military hospitals, and soon resumed the tradition of inviting guests over for home-cooked meals and relaxation.

But sending the troops back, Julia said, became less and less practical. So when a friend suggested a writer’s retreat for the Falkes’ countryside, Julia thought of something more meaningful.

“The more we started talking about [Boulder Crest Retreat], the more other people would come to us and say, ‘If you start it, we will help you,’” Julia said.

The Falkes soon secured a 501c3 charitable foundation status, and in less than a year, various donors poured more than $5 million into the organization.

Julia said contributors ranged from the Boy Scouts of America to multi-billion-dollar corporations. “There has been every kind of involvement, the outcome has been unbelievable,” she said.

But the nascent project will continue to grow with the ideas and donations of those who support it, Julia said. “I’ve been crying all day long,” she added. “To see it in reality is so amazing.”

Perhaps the most interesting style of arrival to the grand opening was that of wounded warrior Dana Bowman, who parachuted in by way of tandem jump with an American flag in tow.

In 1994, Bowman, a former special operations troop who once served with Falke, lost both of his legs after being injured while serving on the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team.

Standing tall on legs of steel, Bowman didn’t lose his courage, and he became the first double amputee to re-enlist in the U.S. military. So when Ken Falke asked him to attend the Boulder Crest Retreat grand opening, Bowman said, the decision to help his former comrade was easy.

“Absolutely, I said I’d be there to bring the American flag in … and to land on target, and that’s exactly what we did,” Bowman said. “We’re able to come back, bring the whole team and tandem jump a warrior in for this special event and day.”

Bowman said the retreat, at is essence, is about giving back.

“At the end of the day,” he added, “we all bleed the same way, so we have to rally our troops from the different services to come out and make a difference.”

Elected and public officials, corporate and private organization representatives as well as Vietnam veteran and former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rocky Bleier all attended the grand opening.

U.N. Rep: Inaction Would Be More Risky Than Action in Syria

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 6, 2013 – The risks of inaction in response to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons against its own people would be greater than the risks of military action, the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations said here today.

Speaking to an audience at the Center for American Progress, Ambassador Samantha Power characterized Syria as lying at the heart of a region critical to U.S. security -- a region that is home to friends and partners and one of the closest U.S. allies.

The Bashar Assad regime, Power said, has stores of chemical weapons that it recently used on a large scale and that the United States can’t allow to fall into terrorists' hands. The regime also collaborates with Iran and works with thousands of extremist fighters from the militant group Hezbollah.

The ambassador acknowledged that questions are being raised about why the United States should be the world’s police in such brutal situations and how the nation can afford another war in the Middle East.

“Notwithstanding these complexities, notwithstanding the various concerns that we all share,” Power said, “I'm here today to explain why the costs of not taking targeted, limited military action are far greater than the risks of going forward in the manner that President [Barack] Obama has outlined.”

The chemical weapons attack in Damascus on Aug. 21 killed more than 1,400 Syrian men, women and children, she said, and the U.N. assessed that although Assad used more chemical weapons on Aug. 21 than he had before, he’s barely put a dent in his large stockpile.

“Obama, Secretary of State John F. Kerry and many members of Congress have spelled out the consequences of failing to meet this threat, Power said. “If there are more chemical attacks,” she added, “we will see an inevitable spike in the flow of refugees on top of the already 2 million in the region, possibly pushing Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey or Iraq past their breaking points.”

The Zaatari refugee camp is now the fourth-largest city in Jordan, she said, adding that half of Syria’s refugees are children and that such camps are known to become fertile recruiting grounds for violent extremists.

Beyond Syria, the ambassador said, if violating a universal agreement to ban chemical weapons is not met with a meaningful response, other regimes will try to acquire or use them to protect or extend their power, increasing risks to American troops in the future.

“We cannot afford to signal to North Korea and Iran that the international community is unwilling to act to prevent proliferation or willing to tolerate the use of weapons of mass destruction,” Power told the audience.

“People will draw lessons,” she added, “if the world proves unwilling to enforce the norms against chemical weapons use that we have worked so diligently to construct.”

Moving from discussing the risks of inaction to the risks of taking action, Power said the reason nonmilitary tools can’t be used to achieve the same end in Syria is that the alternatives are exhausted.
“For more than a year,” Power said, “we have pursued countless policy tools short of military force to try to dissuade Assad from using chemical weapons.”

The ambassador explained how she and others engaged the Syrians directly and asked the Russians, the U.N. and the Iranians to send similar messages, but when Scud missiles and other weapons didn’t stop the Syrian rebels, Assad used chemical weapons on a small scale several times, as the United States reported in June.

Her group then redoubled its efforts, backing the U.N. diplomatic process and trying to get the parties back to the negotiating table, she said. They provided more humanitarian assistance and on chemical weapons they went public with evidence of the regime's use.

“We worked with the U.N. to create a group of inspectors and then worked for more than 6 months to get them access to the country on the logic that perhaps the presence of an investigative team in the country might deter future attacks. … We expanded and accelerated our assistance to the Syrian opposition. We supported the U.N. Commission of Inquiry,” the ambassador said.

She noted that Russia, often backed by China, blocked every relevant action in the U.N. Security Council, even mild condemnations of the use of chemical weapons that ascribed blame to no particular party. “And on Aug. 21, [Assad] staged the largest chemical weapons attack in a quarter-century while U.N. inspectors were sitting on the other side of town,” Power said.

It was only after the United States pursued such nonmilitary options without deterring chemical weapons use in Syria that Obama concluded that a limited military strike is the only way to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons as if they are a conventional weapon of war, the ambassador added.

“From the start of the Syrian conflict, the president has consistently demonstrated that he will not put American boots on the ground to fight another war in the Middle East,” Power said. “The draft resolution before Congress makes this clear.”

The president is seeking public support to use limited military means to degrade Assad's capacity to use these weapons again and deter others in the world who might seek to use them, the ambassador said. “And the United States has the discipline as a country to maintain these limits,” she added.
Limited military action will not solve the entire Syria problem, Power noted, but the action should reinforce the larger strategy for addressing the crisis in Syria.

“This operation, combined with ongoing efforts to upgrade the military capabilities of the moderate opposition, should reduce the regime's faith that they can kill their way to victory,” the ambassador said.

“We should agree that there are lines in this world that cannot be crossed and limits on murderous behavior -- especially with weapons of mass destruction -- that must be enforced,” Power said. “If we cannot summon the courage to act when the evidence is clear and when the action being contemplated is limited, then our ability to lead in the world is compromised.”

Minnesota Commissioning Carried Live Saturday Morning at 10 (EDT)

NORFOLK (NNS) -- Check out live online coverage of the commissioning of the Navy's newest Virginia-class attack submarine Minnesota (SSN 783) Sept. 7, 2013 at 10 a.m. Eastern Time on the Navy Live Blog.

The broadcast, orginating from Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Va. can be found online at and will feature a hosted, interactive live chat.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus will deliver the ceremony's principal address. Ellen Roughead, wife of former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead and a Minnesota native, will serve as ship's sponsor. In the time-honored Navy tradition she will give the first order to "man our ship and bring her to life!"

Minnesota, the 10th ship of the Virginia class is named in honor of the state's citizens and their continued support to our nation's military. Minnesota has a long tradition of honoring its veterans of wars past and present. The state is proud to be home to 46 Medal of Honor recipients that span from the Civil War to the Vietnam War.

"Minnesota and the success of our Virginia-class submarine program prove that acquisition excellence is a key element of building the future fleet," said Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. "The work of the more than a thousand shipyard craftsmen and engineers who built this boat have helped make the Fleet stronger and our nation safer. Their dedication and expertise led to the delivery of the world's most advanced submarine almost a year ahead of schedule and on budget."

This will be the third ship to bear the state name. The first USS Minnesota, a sailing steam frigate, was commissioned in 1857 and served during the Civil War, remaining in service until her decommissioning in 1898. The second Minnesota was commissioned in 1907. On Dec. 16, 1907 she departed Hampton Roads as one of the 16 battleships of the Great White Fleet sent by then-President Theodore Roosevelt on a voyage around the world. She continued her service through World War I and was decommissioned in 1921.

Minnesota will provide the Navy with the capabilities required to maintain the nation's undersea supremacy well into the 21st century. She will have improved stealth, sophisticated surveillance capabilities and special warfare enhancements that will enable her to meet the Navy's multi-mission requirements.

Designated SSN 783, Minnesota is built to excel in anti-submarine warfare; anti-ship warfare; strike warfare; special operations; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; irregular warfare; and mine warfare missions. Capable of operating in both the world's shallow littoral regions and deep waters, Minnesota will directly enable five of the six Navy maritime strategy core capabilities - sea control, power projection, forward presence, maritime security, and deterrence.

The 7,800-ton Minnesota is built under a teaming arrangement between General Dynamics Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Industries. A crew of approximately 134 officers and enlisted personnel will operate the 377-feet long, 34-foot beam vessel, which will be able to dive to depths of greater than 800 feet and operate at speeds in excess of 25 knots submerged. Minnesota is designed with a nuclear reactor plant that will not require refueling during the planned life of the ship - reducing lifecycle costs while increasing underway time.