Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Chaplains Help Provide Perspective on the Grieving Process

From Chief of Navy Chaplains Public Affairs
WASHINGTON (NNS) -- On Sept. 16, the lives of 12 families were forever changed. Countless others were deeply affected by what they witnessed that day at the Washington Navy Yard.

These civilian Sailors were beloved grandmothers and grandfathers, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. Their families and colleagues mourn their loss and have begun walking the road of grief.

Grief is always painful, and sometimes it is pretty straightforward and understandable; sometimes it can be complicated and confusing. For example, if one's ninety-year-old grandmother died peacefully in her sleep, a family would naturally grieve her anticipated loss. However when death is sudden or unexpected, traumatic, senseless, and out of sync with life's natural order, grief can be complicated.

There are certain things that can affect how we grieve:

-How close we are, emotionally and geographically, to the person who died.

-Our belief system and view of death can both influence the grieving process.

-What kind of support we experience from our family, our community, our faith group, and others important to us while we are grieving.

-How we cope with other significant life events, including the death of others we are close to.

Chaplains can help support an individual as they begin the process of grieving. They offer perspective and insight to help an individual understand the difference between grief associated with an anticipated loss and grief associated with a sudden, unanticipated loss.

They can also help validate what an individual is experiencing throughout the grieving process and the time often needed to process one's grief; this includes the fact that there is no set timeframe when grieving. Every individual is different.

Cmdr. Judy Malana, a Navy chaplain, recalls her recent experience providing pastoral support to the Navy Yard families at Nationals' stadium, particularly after some were notified their loved ones were gone. She described the chaplain's involvement in the casualty assistance notification process as a "sacred privilege to be there at that moment for them. It's something that we, as chaplains, are trained to do, and we take that seriously."

When asked specifically how one can comfort someone in the midst of grief, Malana said, "You have to be open, because each individual is different, and you have no way of knowing how the individual is going to react to the news that their loved one is gone. You have to remain open-minded and fully present in the moment to be able to best care for that individual. Being patient and offering a listening ear."

Chaplains can help guide individuals through the grieving and recovery process, especially if they feel stuck in a state of shock, anger or denial. Over time, chaplains can help an individual identify ways to reinvest their emotional energy, finding positive ways to remember and honor their loved ones and move towards a path of healing.

Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC) is providing ongoing support for survivors and families impacted by the Navy Yard shooting. The Emergency Family Assistance Center (EFAC) on Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Building 72, Enterprise Hall, includes a combination of trained counselors, social workers, chaplains and Fleet and Family support services that are available 24/7.

CNIC also established the Employee/Staff Counseling Assistance Center (E-SCAC) at the CNIC Headquarters at the Navy Yard, Building 111 (5th floor). The E-SCAC is providing short-term individual and group grief counseling through the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED) Special Psychiatric Rapid Intervention Team (SPRINT). Navy chaplain support, led by Naval District Washington, is ongoing and counselors from the Department of Health and Human Services are also available.

Call 1-855-677-1755 for more information on these support services.

For more information on the Chaplain Corps, visit

Confidential chaplain support is always available through your command chaplain or through

F-35: New fighter creates new culture for 21st Century and beyond

By Rich Lamance, Air Force News Service

 EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) --She didn’t have a smudge on her. Not a leak found anywhere. She even had that “new jet smell.” Skies were blue, everything was perfect. Those were the conditions on that July day in 2011 when Lt. Col. Eric Smith took off from the Lockheed facilities at Fort Worth, Texas, in the first operational F-35 to fly to its permanent home at Eglin Air Force Base, in the Florida panhandle.  And the rest, according to Smith, who would go on to pick up three of the first six F-35s from the factory, is history.
 “It was just a great day – I was just a little bit nervous because I knew that if I messed it up it would be on the front page of every newspaper in the country,” said Smith. As he approached the runway at Eglin, he found bleachers full of people and a red carpet rolled out to signify the beginning of an era for not only the plane, but for the newly reorganized 33rd Fighter Wing, Eglin Air Force Base and the future of Air Force air superiority for the 21st Century.

The pick of the 33rd Fighter Wing “Nomads” to transition the Air Force’s newest and most lethal fighter into this century and beyond was no accident.  With a history that dates back to World War II when the wing was a pursuit group, the 33rd showcased the F-4 Phantom during Vietnam and the F-15 Eagle through crises such as Grenada, Panama, Desert Storm, and post 9/11,  when the Nomads provided armed over-watch throughout North America for Operation Noble Eagle, securing two presidents of the United States and multiple space shuttle launches.

“On Oct. 1, 2009, we stood up as an F-35 unit,” said Lt. Col. Matt Renbarger, 58th Fighter Squadron commander. “We were handed keys to an empty building, with five pilots, a technical sergeant, two lieutenant colonels and three majors.”

Renbarger and Smith both admitted that those early days, following the arrival of the first F-35, was a whirlwind of planning, creating policy and guidelines and putting together a training program with a syllabus, academics, and a completely new maintenance program.

Smith said that the early days with the first few aircraft were a challenge, not only for the pilots, but for the newly trained crew chiefs as well. “There was a lot of tech data that the technicians needed before they could work on the airplane, so the first six planes we delivered sat for about eight months before we were issued flight clearance.  We didn’t receive our first flight clearance until March of 2012. “

Renbarger said that, like anything brand new and right out of the box, there were a lot of things that had to be learned that weren’t known before.  He said that as a training unit, it was more Air Combat Command versus Air Education and Training Command. “It’s not a different mindset, but it’s more of a different mission.  Here we create new pilots and maintainers, so we don’t have the downrange focus.  Training pilots is our product.

“When test pilots at Edwards find something they tell us, and when we find something we tell them. When software is released they’ll come down here and tell us things they’ve learned. We’ll take new capabilities and bring them into our training syllabus.  The folks at Edwards bring us the latest so we can teach the people who teach the people. We teach the teachers and the teachers teach the students.”

Renbarger said there is a lot to like about the F-35, from the standpoint of the pilot, the maintainer, the trainer, down to the bottom line of mission success. “I’ve never seen a pilot come back from his first sortie without a huge smile on his face. It’s something new, and programs like this only come around every 30 years or so, and to be on the ground floor – it’s the perfect time.

“Most pilots come from the F-16, F-15 and A-10 legacy aircraft.  Sensors on the front of the F-35 allow us to have that 360-degree awareness. That was the big leap forward. Computer technology that is 30 years or more advanced than the legacy aircraft is what makes the F-35 so advanced.”

Lt. Col. Anthony Pelkington is the 33rd FW chief of safety and was one of the first of the legacy pilots selected for the F-35 program. He said that for pilots transitioning from those legacy systems, the F-35 is a huge deal.

“For 10 years in the F-16, I dealt with essentially monochrome cathode ray displays – approximately 6 inch square – and I’ve got two of them.  Now I move up to a contiguous 8 x 20- inch color display that is a huge step forward for the pilot’s situational awareness. Plus, there’s a lot more capability in the display itself.

“In the F-16, I had a radar display with a selectable, like turning pages in a book, something that would show my ordnances like I had a stick figure map with monochrome lines on a black background.  It would try to give us a semblance of where we were to maybe a weapons system. But I had to choose.  Every one of those displays was limited to the confines of that small 6-inch to 8-inch screen. 

“In the F-35, we now have this massive amount of screen real estate. I can now see multiple sensors at once, which is great because I don’t have to pick and choose.  I don’t have to take away my situational awareness with what the radar is telling me in terms of traffic to bring up situational awareness and what the target pod looks like. It’s all there available for me.”

Pelkington added that one of the best aspects of the fifth generation fighter is its ability to communicate with all aspects of the aircraft, as well as customize information to fit each pilot’s needs.  “The displays talk to each other, the sensors talk to each other, and a lot of information is displayed in sensible formats with other sensors in one combined picture.  Now I can bring up large formats on displays so I can see things easier – I can even bring up many formats if I want with a different orientation on how the displays will look. Whatever I want to do to aid my situational awareness I can do and the reality, as a pilot, is that I can customize that setup quite easily to a format that best suits how a pilot understands.”

The wing’s safety chief said that one of the biggest advantages to the F-35 over legacy aircraft is the growth in options. “Choosing between a pilot’s eye and ‘god’s eye are all in the system now and weren’t in the F-16. I had one particular display option for radar format for the F-16 – I couldn’t choose anything else. I had to learn to read it in that manner. Which didn’t necessarily match how somebody looking out on a battlefield could see the picture.  So you always had to do that conversion in your mind.  With the F-35 you can choose the display format that best suits your ability, and there are multiple options to allow you to see things from a ‘god’s eye’ perspective. It allows me to see from a much greater perspective than the F-16 ever allowed.”

The equipment
Tech. Sgt. Andre Baskin is the wing’s aircrew flight equipment NCOIC, responsible for equipping pilots with the specialized gear required to fly the world’s most state-of-the-art aircraft. He and his small staff of specialists agree that the differences between the F-35 helmet and the rest are many.

“One of the biggest differences the F-35 helmet has over the others is that the new helmet encompasses multiple gadgets such as night vision goggles, and for that function you would have to modify the pilot’s flying helmet and add the components on there,” said Baskin.  “With the F-35, it’s all encompassed in the helmet.  The cameras on the jet work in sync with the helmet and whatever the jet picks up visually will be displayed on the visor in the helmet.”

From a pilot’s point of view, Renbarger agrees that the nicest part of the new helmet is that everything is self-contained. “The best thing about the F-35 helmet is that it has a big visor with a big display, and we can display a night vision camera visual on the visor and then a distributor aperture system that is basically a set of cameras that are all over the airplane and work in the infrared spectrum. That can be displayed on our visor as well.
“When we get our helmet fit, there is actually a complicated scan process that takes an image of our heads and provides a laser cut-out foam insert for the helmet that is molded to our heads.  Then there’s ear cups that close the helmet around our head and a custom nape strap in the back that basically locks the helmet down on our heads. There’s very little, if any, motion in the helmet when we move our head around. Very well balanced, a very well fit and it feels great wearing the helmet. It’s very specific to each individual pilot.”

Pelkington also talked about the difference between the traditional G-suit, which offers pilots about a G and a half of protection, to the one used by F-35 pilots. “Some pilots acclimate to the Gs by genetic makeup, some by experience and can develop a tolerance for 5-ish Gs. With the new suit you can now go up to 7 or 8 Gs without ever having to strain.  When you’re focused on pulling Gs  -- on making sure your eyesight doesn’t gray out – your mind isn’t thinking about the adversary or the situation or the awareness of the battlespace. When you can pull 7 or 8 Gs without having to think about it, combined with the fusion of all the systems and the display on the glass set up the way you want to see it…it’s an amazing reduction in pilot workload.”

The maintainers
Senior Master Sgt. Paul Fulkerson is the production superintendent with the 58th Aircraft Maintenance Unit who is on the ground floor of maintenance for the F-35.  He said that for F-35 maintainers, the biggest element that sets them apart is the electronic maintenance program called ALIS. Standing for Autonomic Logistics Information System, ALIS, according to Fulkerson, has all of the forms needed to perform maintenance on the new aircraft.

“With ALIS, there are no paper forms and the system allows maintainers to pretty much manage the fleet with the information on the computer,” said Fulkerson.  “With the F-16s, we had to use paper tech data to perform maintenance, where you followed it step-by-step to do the task. With ALIS, our maintainers us ‘tough books,’ where they read the tech data on the screen.”

While a very young aircraft, Pelkington said the F-35, maintenance-wise, is very stable and makes a lot of information available to both the pilot and maintainer that isn’t available on the legacy aircraft.

“Oftentimes, in a legacy aircraft, you don’t know that something is wrong until you have a major systems failure that generates a warning in the aircraft. The aircraft can no longer perform to spec.  A lot of warnings in the F-35 tend to be advisory, that says ‘this is going to have to be worked on by maintenance when you land.’ In the F-35, there’s no mission degradation. When a pilot gets back, there’s a load of data on every aspect of how the aircraft performs.  From the maintenance standpoint, it gives them an awesome opportunity to catch issues before they become problems.”

Staff Sgt. Michael Sanders is an F-35 crew chief who has been with the program for the past three years and has more than a decade of experience on the F-16 and F-15 as a backshop engine maintainer.  He explained that while maintainers in the legacy aircraft normally specialized in one area, such as engines or avionics, in the F-35, maintainers do it all.

“My job is completely different now from in the past. We would handle all teardown and build-up required for the engine, whereas now, we perform maintenance on the F-35 as a whole. We’re trained on all maintenance tasks, including the engine. I traveled TDY to Connecticut where I performed teardown and buildup for the new aircraft.”

The F-35 Academic Training Center, or ATC, is a sprawling complex responsible for every facet of F-35 training at Eglin. From pilots to maintainers to support Airmen, the ATC has developed, or is in the process of developing, the training syllabuses, procedures, guidelines, certifications and “textbooks” that will become the training standard for decades to come, according to Renbarger.

He said that for pilots, training in the F-35 simulator is by far, the best there is. “I’ve flown in F-16 simulators and F-22 simulators and the F-35 simulator is truly state-of-the-art.  They’ve got the best visuals, full dome coverage, 360-degree views, target set build-up, they have runways and very much replicates flying the airplane. I haven’t heard one pilot say it wasn’t the best simulator they’ve ever been in short of flying the airplane.”

Renbarger added that because the F-35 is a single-seat plane, the first time a pilot flies the F-35, he’s by himself, making the simulator even more critical.  “The operational flight software that runs the airplane – that same software is in the simulator,” said Renbarger. “In other aircraft I have flown, there have been differences between the simulator and the airplane. This is as close as I’ve ever seen between the simulator and airplane. Exact same cockpit.  The cockpit sits on a rail and you sit in the cockpit and it drives forward and raises up inside the dome and the screens you see are the exact same screens you see on the jet.”

On the maintenance side, students are confronted with a similar real-world view, with a weapons load trainer mock-up of the F-35 that contains everything but the tail and the cockpit.  Tech. Sgt. Adam Zakrzewski is an ATC instructor with Detachment 19 of the 372nd Training Squadron. He said that during training on the F-35, students will practice opening and closing doors, checking the hydraulics levels, oil levels, etc., but there’s a big difference between maintenance on legacy aircraft versus the F-35.

“There are a lot more steps in gaining access to the legacy aircraft than there are to accessing the F-35,” said Zakrzewski.  “I’m an old A-10 guy, where you have to unfasten 200 screws to get a door panel open.  On the F-35, there’s one interface connect and click two buttons.”

Tech. Sgt. Justin Weddle is an ATC instructor and flight chief with the field training detachment of the 372nd Training Squadron, who says that in normal maintenance training, instructors would give students a PowerPoint presentation, cover some TOs and give students hands-on training on the aircraft. 

“The maintenance group would have to give up an aircraft or whatever students were training on such as a weapons system, AGE, anything like that.  At the ATC, and in the F-35 training plan, we begin with an EML, or electronic mediated lecture, kind of like the traditional PowerPoint, but it’s done through an electronic system.” Weddle said the student will then transition, in the same classroom and setting, to more self-paced training on the computer.   “It’s just a reinforcement of what the instructor has said during his portion of the training.

“Students will then go through an ASMT, which is an aircraft systems maintenance trainer. It’s essentially an avatar, and from that you go and do whatever task you’re learning about. Whether you are installing a hydraulic pump or some other portion of the aircraft. On one side of the screen, students will have their avatar and on the other they’ll have their joint tech data laptop and they can follow all of the steps exactly. That way the training is not all front-loaded, it can be weaved in and out of the training course.”

F-35: Fighter of the future

In addition to the Air Force’s F-35A, the Marine Corps and the Navy have their own versions of the F-35. The F-35B will give the Marine Corps a short take-off and vertical landing capability, while the Navy’s F-35C will give them a carrier-based capability.  Smith believes that for the future of the F-35, it may not change the way we fly, but it will make the U.S. and its allies the dominant air power for the next 30 to 50 years.

“That’s the beauty of the F-35. There are three variants out there, but all three are going to use the same system software. So as they develop something new for our country, our allies who fly the F-35 will get that same capability. That will make integration much smoother.”

Since Smith’s journey home with the first F-35 in 2011, Air Force, Marine, Navy and U.K. pilots have amassed more than 3,100 flying hours in the three versions, flying more than 2,300 sorties.

To those who have spent the past four or five years learning the intricacies of a new aircraft -- how to fly it, how to fix it and how to create a plan to teach it, the F-35 has become much more than an airplane showcasing state-of-the-art technology.  For the men and women of the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin, responsible for getting the F-35 ready for its grand entrance as the dominant airpower for the 21st Century and beyond, it has spawned a completely new culture and way of life.

Face of Defense: Wounded Warrior Praises Family’s Support

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 25, 2013 – Playing the role of Army Lt. Col. Mick Canales, a combat-wounded double amputee in the 2012 movie, “Battleship,” Army Col. Gregory D. Gadson didn’t flinch for a minute before stepping from his vehicle, one prosthetic leg at a time, and, declaring, “I got it,” before defeating an extraterrestrial invader and ultimately helping to save the world.

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Army Col. Gregory D. Gadson has been through life’s ups and downs: from a life-changing attack in Iraq to a role in a Hollywood movie. Now serving as commander of Fort Belvoir, Va., Gadson credits his family for his recovery. He especially appreciates the support provided by his children -- who he said like all military children demonstrate strength and resilience that enables their parents to focus on the mission at hand. DOD photo by Donna Miles

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Standing up to and overcoming adversity is nothing new to Gadson, who lost both legs above the knee and suffered severe arm and hand injuries during his third deployment to Iraq. Gadson now serves as garrison commander of Fort Belvoir, Va.

He credits his Hollywood screenplay-worthy rebound in large part to his family -- and particularly his children -- who he said stood firmly behind him every step of the way.

Speaking earlier this month at The Boys and Girls Clubs of America’s first Military Youth of the Year awards ceremony, Gadson recalled the celebratory homecomings his family enjoyed following his first two deployments to Iraq. But during his third deployment, as commander of the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery in May 2007, he wasn’t so lucky.

While returning to his base camp from a memorial service for two fallen comrades from his brigade, Gadson’s up-armored Humvee was hit by an improvised explosive device.

This time, his children were taken from their classrooms and his family was put on an airplane to reunite with him at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

“I couldn’t even remember my daughter’s name,” Gadson recalled.

As he struggled through more than 20 surgeries, along with bouts of depression and an occasional temptation to give up, Gadson said he was amazed by the resilience his children demonstrated throughout the ordeal.

“I can tell you, from my perspective, that they held my family together,” he said. “When my world was turned upside down, it was their unconditional love and strength that gave me the courage [and] inspiration to fight through my challenges.”

By every account, Gadson has succeeded in that fight. Committed to “soldiering on,” he remained on active duty and served as director of the Army’s Wounded Warrior Program. In June 2012, became the first double-amputee to assume command of a major military garrison.

His accomplishments and can-do spirit have garnered attention beyond military circles.

Shortly after Gadson was wounded, Tom Coughlin, once his teammate on the U.S. Military Academy football team and now head coach for the New York Giants, invited him to address the then-struggling team. Gadson’s message of service, teamwork, duty and perseverance in the face of adversary is credited with inspiring the Giants to go on to win the 2008 Super Bowl.

Next, Peter Berg, director of “Battleship,” came knocking, inspired by Gadson’s imposing presence and impressive story.

Today, as a military leader and advocate for wounded warriors, Gadson said he recognizes just how much family members bring to the equation.

“Deployment is serious business, and it demands our entire focus,” he said. Knowing that their families have the resiliency to carry on in their absence takes a huge burden from deployed troops, he said, freeing them to concentrate on the mission at hand.

Military children possess courage and wisdom beyond their years, Gadson said.

“They can adapt to almost anything that is tossed before them,” he said. “They possess the traits and responsibility and organization [that enables them] to turn corners and meet and overcome obstacles, winning every step of the way.”

Gadson credited the Boys and Girls Clubs and the vast array of youth programs the military offers that he said help them navigate the unique challenges they face, and to become role models and leaders in their own right.

Honoring six regional finalists in the Military Youth of the Year competition, including the winner, RaShaan Allen, Gadson urged them to embrace the qualities that make them unique.

“As Col. Mick Canales in the movie might challenge you, continue to display the courage that you have,” he said. “That courage will allow you to overcome any of the challenges you face in life. Learn from your failures and always be an ambassador for our military children and your families and your club.”

Airman Embraces Diversity During Hispanic Heritage Month

By Air Force Senior Airman Aubrey White
4th Fighter Wing

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C., Sept. 25, 2013 – "Diversidad estimula la creatividad, facilitando el desarrollo de ideas y soluciones para resolver desafíos complejos. La creatividad es impulsada por nuestras características únicas, apoyadas por experiencias personales, antecedentes sociales y culturales, y nuestra fortaleza educativa y filosófica. Estas características facilitan múltiples puntos de vista, ideas y soluciones; y es lo que nos permite superar cualquier reto."

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Air Force Maj. Nelson AvilesFigueroa, commander of the 4th Communications Squadron at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., grew up on the island of Puerto Rico where he said he developed values like honesty, humility, loyalty and a hard-working mentality, which helped to make him the airman he is today. Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 each year, highlights the achievements and contributions of Hispanic citizens. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Aubrey White

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Translation: "Diversity enables creativity, facilitating the development of ideas and solutions to resolve complex challenges. Creativity is driven by our unique characteristics, supported by personal experiences, social and cultural backgrounds, and educational and philosophical strengths. These characteristics enable multiple perspectives, ideas and solutions, allowing us to overcome any challenge," said Air Force Maj. Nelson AvilesFigueroa, commander of the 4th Communications Squadron here.

As a young man who grew up on the island of Puerto Rico, AvilesFigueroa embraces the values that made him the airman he is today.

"Honesty, humility, loyalty and a hard-working mentality, all values deeply embedded in my culture, make me a better airman," he said. "That foundation has helped me progress in my career and most definitely helped me become the airman I am today."

AvilesFigueroa said he is proud to be Puerto Rican. He employs Hispanic Heritage Month, he said, as a time to reflect on where his career began.

His journey to serve in the Air Force started after he graduated from the University of Puerto Rico. With a degree in mathematics and a wife and two children to care for, he felt his only options for a stable income were to become a math teacher or join the military.

"I grew up in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, and although Puerto Rico is a part of the United States, we don't speak English," he recalled. "My first words in English were actually at Basic Military Training, when the military training instructor was in front of me, yelling at me, as I was trying to digest everything."

Although he somewhat understood simple terminology and instructions, AvilesFigueroa said he had the pleasure of meeting a bilingual Hispanic trainee from New York who was eager to help him.

"BMT was all about teamwork and determination," he said. "When the language barrier made things 'interesting' for me, he translated the more complex instructions and actions [so] I dedicated all of my limited free time during BMT to improving my English skills."

AvilesFigueroa said his determination was essential to completing basic military training in hopes of providing a better life for his family. His family is what drives him to be successful, he said, and he couldn't let them down.

Upon completion of BMT and technical school, AvilesFigueroa entered the communications career field as a radar maintainer. His first assignment was at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., where AvilesFigueroa said he and his family were completely out of their comfort zone.

With a new lifestyle, he found a new way to connect to the people around him using his culture.

"[Hispanic Heritage Month] is an opportunity for me to share my heritage with my co-workers," he said. "I use this month to educate peers about Puerto Rico and about what being Puerto Rican means. A lot of people actually don't know that Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States, or how our economy developed, so I use this opportunity just to share a little bit about the uniqueness of our culture."

He believes it's also important for other airmen to share their heritage because the diversity they bring to the Air Force is integral in finding solutions to daily challenges.

AvilesFigueroa plans to be involved with as many aspects of Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations on base as possible and encourages all to use this time to reflect on the significance of diversity.

Sheppard officer beats cancer, selected to pilot Raptors

by 2nd Lt. Meredith Hein and Staff Sgt. Mike Meares
82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

9/24/2013 - SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas  -- For one new Air Force pilot, "living the dream" is much more than a cheap throwaway line.

To 1st Lt. Rob Hansen of the 80th Flying Training Wing, "living" means surviving stage 2 Hodgkin's lymphoma. "The dream" means graduating at the top of his undergraduate pilot training class and earning a slot flying the world's most advanced fighter. A student in the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program, Hansen completed his first solo in a T-6 Texan II and was five flights into the T-38 stage.  

"Once we'd finished the T-6 phase, I noticed I had a lump on my throat, so I went in to flight medicine to have it checked out," Hansen said.
It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving 2011 when he learned what that lump meant.
"I will never forget that moment," the Minnesota native said. "I was sitting in the doctor's office. It was very abrupt. He just flat out said, 'You have cancer.' I've seen movies where people get bad news and everything starts getting fuzzy and the character doesn't really listen to what is being said; that's pretty much my experience."
Growing up, Hansen said he was a "normal American kid" circling the baseball diamond and having a good time with friends. He was a "motor head" too, who enjoyed working on snow mobiles and dirt bikes year round in Minnesota. His father was a commercial pilot, mom worked in the air traffic control tower and brother was a pilot too.
"As a kid, I always looked up and saw the jets and thought, 'Wow, a fighter pilot is so cool,'" he said. "Aviation was always in the family, but I wanted to be a fighter pilot."
He took flying lessons in high school, but said the "straight and level stuff" wasn't his speed. So he lost interest. After graduating from St. Cloud State in Minnesota in 2006, Hansen went to law school, intending to become a staff judge advocate.  But working as an intern at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, he just couldn't shake the pull of the skies as the F-15 Eagles circled overhead.
"I heard there was a shortage of pilots," he said. "I knew it was now or never. I'd always wanted to be a fighter pilot, but you never expect a childhood dream like that to actually come true. I knew it would be a huge mistake to not at least throw my name in the hat."
With his diagnosis, Hansen and his dream were put on "Do Not Fly" status.
"He was so upset that he didn't get to solo the T-38," said Robin Hansen, his girlfriend at the time. "It ate at him. Watching him deal with that, and watching his class graduate and get their assignments was really hard on him. I just wanted to fix it for him, but there was nothing I could do."
He realized his only hope of ever becoming a pilot was to fight the cancer with all his strength.
"Getting back in the cockpit was my motivating factor," he said. "I never lost hope that I'd get back to 100 percent."
After meeting with the oncologist and coming to terms with the reality of cancer, chemotherapy treatments began two months after his November 2011 diagnosis.
"Once I was comfortable with what was going on and what I had to do, it was time to hit the ground running," he said. "I told the oncologist, 'Hey, I'm ready, let's go to it.'"
Once each week, Hansen traveled more than 125 miles to Dallas for his chemotherapy treatments with his brother and girlfriend. He continued to work with the ENJJPT program as a "casual," doing odd-jobs for the wing and helping out where he could.
"The chemo wasn't all that bad," he said. "I felt sick for a few days after, but I'd bounce back.  It was only toward the end of the whole treatment, when the chemo really started to stay with you, that I got sick."
Following the six weeks of chemo treatments was radiation.  
"At first, it wasn't that bad," he said. "They give you a shot to protect your nodes, but it made me really nauseous. And at first, I didn't really notice the radiation. Then I started to get sick."
He received radiation treatments five-days a week for a month.  Every day, Marlene McElrath, a friend from the wing and a cancer survivor in her own right, drove him.
"This is not something anyone shouldn't have to go through by themselves," McElrath said. "At first he thought, 'I'm a manly man, I can do it myself,' but the more you do it the weaker you get. He was like one of my kids."
"This was a team effort," Hansen said. "I don't think I could have gotten through radiation without Marlene."
"He was awesome. His attitude never changed. He's so strong. He would come out of a treatment and ask, 'Am I glowing?' and I would say, 'Robert, you're always glowing.'"
The truth was not so glamorous.
"When it first started to hurt, it felt like I had strep throat," he said. "Then it was like my whole throat was on fire. That's when I stopped working at the base."
He couldn't eat or drink, and when he did, he was unable to keep anything down. Some nights he would sleep on the bathroom floor with his golden retriever keeping him company.
"There were a couple nights he got so sick he couldn't get back into bed," Robin said. "That was hard because he didn't want me to see him that way. I couldn't fix it. To see someone so strong and so tough be so weak and vulnerable was rough."
Over the next 16 months, Hansen went through a barrage of treatments, testing the limits of his resolve. For those who know him best, they say the truly phenomenal part of his story is how seemingly unafraid he was.
"He was so amazingly positive about it, it kind of inspired me to be positive about it," Robin said. 
Hansen started feeling better once the effects of the radiation started wearing off. Though a Positron Emission Tomography, or PET scan, still showed some remnants of potential cancer, the doctor said the treatments were successful. But, Hansen still wasn't sure if he was out of the woods yet.
"It's the best news on the planet, but honestly it wasn't completely relieving," he said. "The PET scans still show signs of left over radiation. There's always this uncertainty that you still have cancer."
And the next struggle was about to begin - getting back to flying status.
"I couldn't get a waiver to go back to fly because of the cancer," he said. "The doctors at flight medicine kept pushing and pushing and not getting any answer. I'm really fortunate that my commanders and the flight docs fought for me to stay in until they could get a waiver through for me to go back and fly.
"They were all willing to set aside the code to make my dreams possible, when it would have been so easy for them to let me go," he said.
Persistence paid off, and his medical waiver to return to flying came in March 2013.
"I joined ENJJPT class 13-07 and started right back in the T-38. My flight mates accepted me and made me feel like I had never left."
One of the instructor pilots, Lt. Col. Bryan Schrass, was the instructor who flew with Hansen in the T-6 phase before he was diagnosed with cancer. Ironically, Schrass had been diagnosed with colon cancer around the same time as Hansen. He too returned to flying status a few months before Hansen did and was assigned to a new flight - Hansen's new flight.
"It's really unheard of," the lieutenant said. "Instructor pilots don't really switch airframes. He switched over and was assigned to the flight I was joining."
Hansen felt complete again sitting in the cockpit. Schrass and Hansen developed a kinship very few other pilots develop with the instructors who teach them to fly.
"It was a thrill for me," Hansen said. "He was someone who could relate to my story. It was a benefit I might not have gotten from a different instructor."
When assignment night came along, Hansen's dream of getting back in the cockpit was complete as he learned he was the only one in his class selected the to fly the F-22 Raptor. His classmates rushed him from both sides and carried him on their shoulders.
"It was our number one choice. I felt kind of like Rudy," Hansen said. "Everyone fills out their dream sheet. For me, this is the meanest airplane ever. I think there's a great future for that airframe, so it was a no brainer for my wife and me."
As if that weren't enough, at graduation he was named a distinguished graduate and awarded the Daedalian Award for top formation pilot, the Flying Excellence Award for the top overall flying score, and the Commander's Trophy for being the top graduate in his class. It's been nearly two years since his last radiation treatment, which, according to his last scan, wiped out the final traces of Hodgkin's lymphoma. For Hansen, none of these dreams would have been possible without the support of those around him.
"I owe my life and career to everyone in the Sheppard community, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity they have given me," he said. "I'm 30 now.  A year ago, I was battling cancer.  And now it feels like everything is falling into place."
Two days after graduation, he married the love of his life. Hansen will complete Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals at Sheppard before heading to Tyndall AFB, Fla., to train in his dream airplane. The couple has begun a new chapter in their lives, "living the dream."

Carter Details Security Reviews in Navy Yard Aftermath

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 25, 2013 – The Pentagon and the Navy are reviewing security procedures worldwide in the wake of last week’s tragic shootings at the Washington Navy Yard, Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter said today, with the aim of enhancing prevention of and response to any future such incidents.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter announces security reviews at Defense Department installations during a press briefing at the Pentagon, Sept. 25, 2013. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Carter offered his sympathies to everyone affected “by this deplorable act of violence.”

“The Department of Defense is a family. And when a family member's taken from us, it affects us all,” he said in a briefing to Pentagon reporters. “So to those who are grieving, on behalf of the entire department family, please know that our thoughts and our prayers and our strength are with you.”

The deputy secretary said the department is “determined to learn from this tragedy and to take decisive action to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.”

Carter continued, “The bottom line is, we need to know how an employee was able to bring a weapon and ammunition onto a DOD installation, and how warning flags were either missed, ignored, or not addressed in a timely manner.”

The deputy secretary briefed reporters on the two reviews, along with a third examination that will be conducted by an independent panel. Carter said former assistant secretary of defense for homeland security Paul N. Stockton and former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, retired Navy Adm. Eric T. Olson, have agreed to lead the independent review.

Together, Carter said, the efforts will analyze physical security measures at U.S. military installations, security clearance processing procedures and emergency response plans.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has approved two recommendations tightening security management within Navy chains of command. Carter noted the Navy, DOD and independent reviews will all feed into a larger, White-House-led look at physical security and emergency response across government.

“We want to look at the whole system and the whole family of incidents that occur,” Carter said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the three department reviews, Carter said.

Hagel’s “guidance was clear,” Carter said. “The independent panel is to arrive at its own conclusions and make its own recommendations.”

Stockton and Olson are uniquely suited to identifying security shortcomings, Carter said. Stockton, he said, brings knowledge from his work leading the department's internal review and response to the Fort Hood shootings in 2009. And, Carter said, Olson’s “deep knowledge of special operations and intelligence communities, [and] his personal experience evaluating and developing physical security plans, will all be invaluable.”

Together, the efforts are intended to be comprehensive, complementary and mutually reinforcing, Carter said. The department’s internal review will be led by Mike Vickers, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, Carter said.

The department’s synthesized findings will be in Hagel’s hands by Dec. 20, Carter said. Then at Hagel’s direction, he added, “the department will take appropriate actions after carefully considering all of the recommendations put forward.”

In examining security clearance procedures, the department’s internal review will seek to point out “what steps we can take to tighten the standards and procedures for granting and renewing security clearances for DOD employees and contract personnel,” Carter said.

Millions of Americans in this and other departments hold clearances, he said, and overall government-wide handling of security clearances will be one focus of the White House’s study.

“There are many contractors who are central to the accomplishment of the mission of this department,” Carter said. “And they, like our government employees, both civilian and military, all three of those populations contribute to the defense mission, and they're all part of the review.”

Carter echoed Hagel’s remarks last week: “Where there are gaps, we'll close them. Where there are inadequacies, we will address them. And where there are failures, we will correct them. That process is underway. We owe nothing less to the victims, their families, and every member of the Department of Defense community.”

In response to a question, Carter noted that the alleged shooter’s previous record of firearms incidents was “something that jumped out at me” in reports following last week’s incident in which a Navy contractor shot dead 12 civilians working at the Washington Navy Yard.

Carter said he and Hagel are concerned at the existence of such “evidence that there was behavior well before the Washington Navy Yard incident, which had it been spotted and understood to be indicative of this possibility might have led to an intervention that would have prevented [the shootings].”

Carter added, “That's exactly the kind of thing that we need to look at in the review -- exactly.

You are not forgotten

by Steve Brady
21st Space Wing Public Affairs Office

9/24/2013 - PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- A jet cutting through the cool, overcast sky provided a somber backdrop for the Peterson POW/MIA ceremony Sept. 20 at the base chapel.

The guest speaker was retired Col. Paul Robinson, an Air Force pilot taken as a POW in Vietnam July 1, 1972. He was held captive until March 28, 1973, when he was released following the signing of the Paris Peace Treaty in January. He shared his story of being held prisoner.

Robinson was assigned to the 469th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, in January 1972. On July 1, he was flying an F-4 Phantom on a patrol mission over Vietnam when his aircraft was hit by a surface to air missile.

He ejected and landed in a rice paddy north of Hanoi, and was quickly surrounded by farmers and a militia. They stripped him of his uniform, blindfold and beat him, and took him to the infamous Hanoi Hilton for interrogation.

He was held there with hundreds of other POWs - about 700 were held POW during the Vietnam War - in poor conditions. They slept on cement floors with only a rice mat and subsisted on a diet of pumpkin and wheat soup.

"I did come out in relatively good shape," Robinson said, as torturing the POWs had ended in 1969. Robinson credited the "unsung heroines," the POWs' wives who took their plight to Congress and the media, demanding better treatment of their loved ones, as well as the American people who launched a letter-writing campaign demanding that the torture stop.

"Did it make a difference? Yes it did," Robinson said.

The POW group stayed in communication through a system of tapping and hand signals, and kept morale up by playing cards and organizing educational classes.

"We survived by using our Air Force training, teamwork, communicating and living up to our motto 'Return with honor,'" he said.

"Recognizing the POW/MIA week is a unique experience that recognizes our trials as prisoners of war," Robinson said. "It also recognizes that the American people were united on one thing during the war in Vietnam, and that was the treatment of the POWs, and they wanted to get them home."

Robinson said he did not want to forget the MIAs. One of his best friends, Maj. John Overlock, was also a pilot who took off and was never seen again.

"We looked for him and could never find him. We're still not sure what happened to him, but he was a very good friend and I miss him today."

"There are many, many spouses today who have never had their husbands accounted for," Robinson said. "There are still 1,800 missing in Vietnam. Our hearts go out to the families of the MIAs. They don't know how or where their spouse died."

More than 83,000 Americans are missing from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War and the 1991 Gulf War according to the Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office.

You are not forgotten.

Air Component Command commander praises Wolf Pack

by Staff Sgt. Jessica Haas
8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

9/25/2013 - KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea  -- Lt. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas, Republic of Korea and United States Combined Forces Command, Air Component Command commander, paid Kunsan Air Base a visit Sept. 22 - 24, to discuss important topics with members of the Wolf Pack.

During his visit, Jouas toured the base and spoke with young Airmen about their concerns, including possible changes to the Wolf Pack's mission.

"The mission here will probably stay the same," said Jouas. "Fortunately, sequestration has not hit us too badly here and we are going to continue to do what is asked of us - to defend the RoK and if attacked, we will respond appropriately."

Jouas said taking care of Airmen is one of his top priorities, something he said goes hand in hand with carrying out the mission.

"The Airmen are what make the mission happen, which is why it's of the utmost importance for us to listen and ensure we are taking care of them," said Jouas.

The general also showed his appreciation for the families of Kunsan Airmen supporting them from home.

"I think we all know it isn't just the Airmen who serve; it's the families that serve as well, and the Wolf Pack illustrates that," said Jouas. "Everybody here is unaccompanied, so except for Airmen in Afghanistan or other combat zones, this is the only place in the Air Force where everyone is unaccompanied. Because of that, I thank all the families, from the bottom of my heart, for the sacrifices they are making while their loved ones are away."

Even with familial separation, the mission here must go on - a mission that is very important to the 7 AF commander.

"Defend the base, accept follow on forces and take the fight north - everyone knows that is the mission of the Wolf Pack, making it a very unique place in many ways," said the general. "It's part of a much larger air power team that is comprised of U.S., RoK, and allied members. The mission here is to deter, defend and defeat - the Wolf Pack is a big part of that."

JSTARS trains in worldwide exercise from the comfort of home

by Master Sgt. Roger Parsons
116th Air Control Wing Public Affairs

9/25/2013 - ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Team JSTARS spent the week participating in a worldwide training exercise without a single E-8C Joint STARS aircraft leaving the ground.

During the weeklong exercise,known as Coalition Virtual Flag 13-4, aviators from the 461st Air Control Wing and exercise planners from the 116th Air Control Wing, put their skills to the test in a large virtual battlefield along with units from 23 different locations worldwide including Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Working from a simulator housed within the 116th Air Control Wing, JSTARS aviators were linked with other exercise participants on a network maintained and operated at the Distributed Missions Operations Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.

"Coalition Virtual Flag provided the opportunity for us to participate in simulated operational areas and scenarios we aren't normally involved in," said Capt. Rolando, an exercise planner with the 116th Operations Support Squadron, Georgia Air National Guard.

"We were able to practice a wider variety of command and control and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance skill sets while communicating with more assets than we normally experience with other exercises or during our real-world missions," the captain said.

This exercise provided a unique opportunity for JSTARS to operate over a land-based battle space; which has been their mission since the inception of the platform, but to also integrate more in a maritime environment working directly with a strike group from the U.S. Navy's Third Fleet.

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Mike Reed, U.S. Third Fleet liaison officer, spent the week at the base to learn more about how the Navy can benefit from the capabilities of the Joint STARS platform.

"The platform has a lot of capabilities which are completely different than what the Navy uses," Reed said. "I've seen at least four scenarios where JSTARS can easily flow in the maritime environment. Virtual Flag gave us the opportunity to test new tactics, techniques and procedures, learn how to fully integrate JSTARS over water and help us solidify that relationship."

One scenario involved melding the broad area surveillance capability of the JSTARS platform with current Navy radar capabilities. The E-8C operators provided threat and target data during an exercise providing maritime infrastructure protection for four simulated oil platforms.

Many JSTARS operators were fresh out of training or had no previous experience in an exercise of this size and scope.

"For people new to the platform like me, Virtual Flag gave us an opportunity to learn how to do our jobs better and how to integrate better in a coalition environment," said Capt. Titus, 16th Airborne Command and Control Squadron senior director. "It's been a challenge, especially in robust large force scenarios."

A unique aspect of Virtual Flag that enhanced the training opportunity was the execution, planning and debrief process the crewmembers followed.

After each mission, a mass network conference was conducted giving every platform a look at the overall picture followed by local debriefs.

"We would execute our missions, immediately debrief what we did right and wrong, then go straight to mission planning for the next day," said Lt. Toby, 16th Airborne Command and Control Squadron air weapons officer. "The lessons learned and mistakes we made one day, we were able to work on the next day and continually improve as individuals and as a team."

With budget constraints allowing for fewer live opportunities for training,
Coalition Virtual Flag provided a realistic and affordable means for JSTARS operators to prepare for real-world scenarios.

"In live exercises there are many barriers from cost, environment, maintenance and safety issues that affect our planned scenarios," Toby said. With this exercise all those barriers were eliminated and we were able to focus more on training in a safer more cost effective environment."

(Full names of JSTARS aviators withheld for security purposes)

Until They All Come Home: POWs remember their captivity

by Caitlin Kenney
99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

9/25/2013 - NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev -- The Warsaw Uprising. The Battle of Chosin Reservoir. The Chinese Spring Offensive. These were some of the battles that veterans who attended the National Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Recognition Day here fought and lived to pass on their story.

The base held a ceremony at Freedom Park to remember and pay tribute to those who were repatriated after their capture and those still missing, Sept. 20. Veterans from World War II, the Korea War, and the Vietnam War attended along with their family members.

"We just want to make sure that everyone understands how thankful we are for the sacrifices that they've given us, and their families have given us," said Capt. Megan Kell, 561st Joint Tactics Squadron chief of information operations integration and event coordinator. "We can't make up for it, but we can at least show our patriotism, our thankfulness and celebrate their bravery."

George W. Kielak was 15 years old when he took part in the Warsaw Uprising as part of the Polish Underground State. The uprising was a major battle that lasted 63 days in an attempt to wrestle Warsaw back from occupying Nazis. After his unit ran out of medical supplies, food and ammunition, they surrendered to the Nazis on Oct. 2, 1944.

"We were taking it a day at a time," Kielak said. "I was always hungry, looking for food. But being young, I somehow survived."

One of the memories that stands out from his time in the German prisoner camp was the living conditions in the barracks.

"I was wounded, so I stayed in the camp," Kielak said. "I remember bedbugs in our barracks where we slept. They were more of a menace than the Germans. This was the worst."

Kielak, being the youngest, slept on top of a three level bunk bed.

"During the night, [the bedbugs] start dropping like rain on you," he said.

He was liberated by the British April 17, 1945, and while living in the British zone of occupation, he joined the British army. In the 1950s, he immigrated to the United States and joined the U.S. Army, retiring at the rank of Sergeant Major.

Eugene Ramos, of Las Vegas Chapter 7-11 of the American Ex-Prisoners of War post commander, was a machine gunner in the 3rd Infantry Division during the Korean War. In 1950, at age 17, he found himself in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, one of the defining battles of the war.

"I landed in Wonsan [now in North Korea] in the last part of October," Ramos said. "The 3rd Infantry was on its way to relieve the 1st Marine and 7th Infantry because McArthur said those two divisions would be home for Christmas. The 3rd Infantry was going up there to relieve those two off the line, but we never made it. We got as far as the Chosin Reservoir, and the Chinese came across. I think they sent seven or eight divisions at us. We fought our way out of there."

After evacuating by sea at Hungnam in North Korea, they landed in Busan, South Korea and marched for four months to Seoul. They settled down at what is known as the Kansas line on the 38th Parallel. By this time it was April 1951.

"The general said we've got to hold this at all cost," Ramos said. "But I wasn't worried too much because I was going on rest and relaxation the next morning ... never made it."

The Chinese attacked the next morning in what was later called the Chinese Spring Offensive. He was captured along with 50 others and held until August 1953, after the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed.

Ramos and the other prisoners marched to the Korean and Chinese border to a prisoner camp consisting of huts and were then separated into companies. He was made to collect wood in the surrounding hills and attend lectures aimed at brainwashing. Prisoners were killed if they were seen in groups talking, for fear of escape attempts.

From his imprisonment, Ramos learned that relying on others was what got them through their captivity.

"You have to have confidence in your friends," Ramos said. "You have to depend on each other to take care of each other because by yourself you'll never make it. You have to have someone else there with you to give you support because I've seen guys who just gave up. They just died."

After two years, Ramos was traded for Chinese prisoners on what was called Freedom Bridge, but not everyone made it back.

"There are still some guys there," he said.

The Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office website states more that 83,000 Americans are missing from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the 1991 Gulf War.

All gave some, some gave all: 15 Wing Amn honors POW/MIA Day

by Staff Sgt. Terri Paden
15th Wing Public Affairs

9/25/2013 - JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -- "Strong people are harder to kill, and more useful in general."     
                                                                          -Mark Rippetoe 

While this quote may resonate with Airmen in the 96th Airlift Refueling Squadron, for one Eagle in particular it's not only the motto by which he lives, it was also recently the inspiration behind what he calls his greatest physical challenge yet: an attempt to perform a 100 mile remembrance run completed in 24 hours as a personal tribute to fallen servicemembers and those held as prisoners of war or are missing in action.  

"The thought of that flag and what so many of our American heroes have pushed through made me want to challenge my personal limits," said Capt. Michael Kerschbaum, 96 ARS pilot, of his decision to take on the challenge.  "When I think about how hard former POW retired Capt. Guy Gruters, and others like him, had to fight to survive every day for five years, I think how small of a challenge it actually is for me to try to just do my best to honor him and all the POW/MIA servicemembers and those killed in action."   
The idea, however, was not unheard of as Airmen from throughout the 15th Wing participate in a 24 hour run each year in honor of National POW/MIA Recognition Day. The twist came when Kerschbaum waved off the opportunity to do his part by running only one hour, and pledged to run the entire 24.   
He began his run at 6 a.m. on Sept. 19 and continued through the night until 6 a.m. Sept. 20, just before the start of the 15 WG POW/MIA Recognition Day Ceremony. Though falling a little short of his initial goal of 100 miles, he said he could not have been any more proud of the 65 he did complete and the amount of effort he gave over the 24 hours.    
"Looking back at the event, I am absolutely thrilled with what I accomplished," said Kerschbaum. "Going in I thought I would be able to run farther because I had run other long distance runs faster and easier; however, I had never run such long distances in weather that was even close to as hot and sunny as that day was, which really took a lot out of me. It felt like the hottest day of the year!"    
At the end of the day, Kerschbaum said it all came down to personal sacrifice and knowing he gave it his all.    
"In a perfect world, I wouldn't have struggled with the heat so much and logged the 100 miles, but that was not the case," he said. "But it comes down to whether I gave my all or not, and I know without question I gave my all that day. There are many others who may have been able to run farther or faster but nobody could have tried harder. I think that part of what I wanted to show everyone is that effort does not require talent. I may not have set a world record, but I exceeded my personal record for the farthest I have ever run and I am proud of that."    
Kerschbaum, tired of watching life from the sidelines, decided to "become the guy people tell their friends about and stop being the guy talking about him."    
"I got really tired of talking about people I know, read about, or saw on TV who has done some amazing thing. It's not crazy to compete and to set high goals for yourself," he said. "I am not content to set an easy goal and know I did not have to work hard to achieve it. My goal might be extraordinarily high and as a result I might miss it sometimes, but when I get there, that is a feeling that you cannot replicate very easily."    
In leading up to his big run Kerschbaum said he prepared both physically and mentally for the challenge.     
"I trained for this daily by using constantly varied, functional movements performed at high intensity," he said. "I lifted heavy things, ran hard and fast, jumped, pressed, flipped, walked on my hands and any other activities I could think of."    
Though he'd previously completed six marathons, one 50K, one 100K and a number of triathlons and CrossFit competitions, Kerschbaum said he knew this run would require extensive preparation because it was twice as long as any other competition he'd completed before.    
So in addition to his physical preparations, he also began to mentally prepare for the task in front of him.    
"My biggest act to prepare mentally was to make sure I would not be suffering alone in my challenge, he said. "My biggest supporters were my wife Mai and my 11 month old son Tatsuki who were there almost the entire time. I then sought out the help of my fellow brothers and sisters from the 96th to help take turns running with me, keep me going, tell me stories or just spread some positive energy. There is no way I would have gone as far as I did without each and every one of them. There are too many to name but I hope everyone I ran with knows how much I appreciate what they did."    
For their part, the members of the 96th who supported Kerschbaum and the remembrance run, helped bring the total number of miles logged by the unit to 257.    
Surprisingly, Kerschbaum said the most physically challenging part of his run turned out to be staying awake.     
"I have a hard 9 p.m. bedtime even on the weekends," he said. "While this might help getting up to coach 5:30 a.m. workouts, it made the last nine hours of the event really difficult for me. Mentally, I felt great. I felt great the whole event. I was upbeat, positive, and excited to be a part of it."    
However, it still wasn't an easy undertaking. And even with all the support, Kerschbaum said he still had to rely on his own thoughts and mental and physical strength to keep him going.    
As the hours wore past and his momentum continued to propel him forward, Kerschbaum said he kept his eye on the goal by continuously reminding himself of the sacrifices so many who served before him made.     
"I had so many thoughts during those 24 hours," he said. "I think my most prevalent thought was the servicemembers who we [the wing] were honoring with the run."    
Reflecting back on the moment a few days later, Kerschbaum, who is still recovering from hip and knee pain after the run, said the experience reminds him of two important life lessons.    
"The lessons to be learned from this experience are to keep pushing toward your goals, breaking down huge tasks into smaller manageable pieces if needed, and to make sure you're the friend who doesn't let your friends give up on their goals," he said. "Staff Sgt. Jerome Jefferson was never going to let me run alone and fail, not because that was the easiest thing for him, but because he knew how bad I wanted it. Your friends do not let you miss out on your goals. They challenge you when you make decisions that do not align with your goal. Challenge your friends, and do not make it easy for them to miss achieving what they desire. Call them out on maligned actions and do not accept weak excuses. I am so proud I finished the full 24 hours and none of my friends told me 'hey man just go home it would be easier.'"   
Jefferson, 96th ARS boom operator evaluator and Kerschbaum's training mate, said there was never a doubt in his mind Kerschbaum would give his all for the run.   
"Dedicated, motivated and determined are just a few words that describe Captain Kersch," he said. "He is a constant reminder that hard work pays off. He trains every day as if it is his last, leaving it all on the court, field, garage floor, or wherever he is training. When he told me he was going to run 100 miles in 24 hours I never questioned him, knowing if anything he would give it his all. Captain K did an incredible job running the POW/MIA run for 24 hours."  
After having faced his biggest challenge head on, Kerschbaum said his personal victory lies not in how far he ran, but in what he accomplished. 
"I am not an elite athlete in any sense of the word," he said. "But I promise you I worked as hard as possible and I tried my best which is relative to each athlete. I hope people recognize that you do not need to be the athlete who wins to also be the athlete who tried the hardest. If you are not the fastest, it does not negate the positive of what you did. Do not be afraid to put your goals and passions in front of others and show them how good you are today. It may inspire, motivate or awaken something in them too." 

Texas Guard member gives back even more as volunteer firefighter

By Laura Lopez
Texas Military Forces
Click photo for screen-resolution image
CAMP BOWIE, Texas (9/25/13) - The numerous men and women who serve their country and communities go by many names; fathers mothers, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters- and to some, heroes. The Training Center Garrison Command"s camp manager and officer-in-charge at Camp Bowie, in Brownwood, Texas, is a 19-year veteran in the Texas Army National Guard, and proud to call himself a Citizen- Soldier.

Lt. Col. Jamey Creek of Buffalo Gap is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the 9,000-acre site in west-central Texas, which is managed by the Texas Army National Guard. His duties include ensuring mobilization and unit-training requirements are met year round for the more than 25,000 men and women that make up the Texas Military Forces.

After events leading up to a yearlong deployment to Iraq between 2004 and 2005, Creek decided he would 'pay it forward."

"It kind of stemmed from a mobilization, as I was not happy with the training that was provided to us, " said Creek. "So when I mobilized and came back home, I actually volunteered at Fort Hood for a year to help them train outgoing troops before the job [camp manager and officer-in-charge] here became available. At that time, I felt it was a continuation of giving back to the troops and [it was] my destiny."
Those who know Creek were not surprised to hear he is a soldier and have also said his service extends beyond the uniform and into his community.

He also serves as a level-one volunteer firefighter with the Buffalo Gap Volunteer Fire Department, north of Brownwood.

"Jamey is a family man, a leader in the community and a loyal friend," said Fire Chief Dana Sowell of the Buffalo Gap Volunteer Fire Department. "He is always ready to help those in need and often spends extra time at the station to work on equipment."

He joined the department four years ago after learning about large fires across the state and realizing there was a need for firefighters. Creek said he did not hesitate to make the call to join the 17-member department, adding that his skills and experience from the Texas Army National Guard easily translated into his volunteer role.

"Firefighting is very similar to a tactical mission," Creek said. "I can literally apply a five-paragraph operations order in place of a wildland fire briefing and vice-versa. Although, the leadership aspects are somewhat consistent in the training center world to that of firefighting, there is absolutely no substitute for the 'down and dirty" experience gained on each fire."

As a level-one firefighter, Creek has been trained to respond to structure and brush fires, automobile wrecks, extraction and medical calls, and is required to be proficient on all equipment owned by the department. While initially concerned for his safety and their family unit, his wife of 20 years, Kimberly, says she is fully supportive of her husband"s desire to give back to others.

"There is a sacrifice that our family has to make in order for Jamey to do his job and serve on the volunteer fire department," she said. "We understand the importance of serving others and we do our best to make this all work out."

Receiving his Army commission in 1993, as a second lieutenant through Tarleton State University"s Reserve Officers" Training Corps program, in Stephenville, Creek proudly admitted that being able to serve as a Citizen-Soldier and a firefighter is an incredible opportunity.

"I am absolutely honored to serve the citizens of my community and work alongside such incredible people," he said. "I can honestly say there is no better heartfelt satisfaction than serving a person in need."

Humble in demeanor and honored to call Brownwood and the west-central Texas region home, the term "hero" is a thought that does not normally cross his mind.

"I don't consider myself as a hometown hero at all," he said. "I look at my contribution as 'paying it forward" to the time in which my friends or family may need emergency assistance."

However, his wife disagreed.

"We are extremely proud of Jamey"s service to our country and his willingness to serve our community and think he is a hero, our hero," said Kimberly Creek.

Creek, his wife and one daughter have lived in Buffalo Gap for 12 years.