Military News

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

POTFF to help Air Commandos, families

by Airman 1st Class Andrea Posey
1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

10/9/2013 - HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Editor's note: This article is the first in a series intended to introduce and explain the Preservation of the Force and Family, which is a Special Operations Command initiative.

Preservation of the Force and Family is a Special Operations Command initiative focused on helping special operations forces and their families.

Adm. William McRaven, SOCOM commander, said he researched the additional pressures Air Commandos face due to the nature of working in Special Operations. He said he wanted to help alleviate some of these pressures.

As a result, POTFF was born.

One of the many ways POTFF helps Air Commandos and their families is that it adds predictability into deployment cycles, McRaven said.

"The amounts of deployment which special operation career fields are sent on did not leave room for them to make plans," he said in an email to SOF members. "[Before POTFF], they constantly had to be ready to go or they were going."

POTFF also focuses on the mental, physical and spiritual aspects of health, according to Sue Nelson, 1st Special Operations Wing community support coordinator.

For example, clinical psychologist and licensed clinical social workers have recently been embedded into SOF units as part of the mental pillar, Nelson said. These providers are available on a walk-in basis for service members and their families.

"We've tried to focus on unit-level issues and providing pre-deployment, post-deployment and mid-deployment workshops that are specific to a unit," she said. "The unit commander and the first sergeant can come together with their [units] key spouse and say, 'When our unit gets back from deployment, I want to have this type of activity.'"

"These activities include courses in mental health, family and readiness, and the chapel," Nelson said.

Several classes such as "No more nightmares," "How to improve your sleep," and "Stress relief" are available.

Although POTFF is a relatively new initiative, it is rapidly expanding.

"Over the past 12 months, we've made tremendous progress toward strengthening the force, taking care of families, and maximizing readiness," McRaven said as he concluded the email. "The POTFF Initiative is critical to the future of SOCOM and I remain committed to making it as accessible and beneficial as possible [to Air Commandos and their families]."

The next article in this series will focus on POTFF's future initiatives over the next year at Hurlburt Field.

In this uniform we will fight

by Craig Denton
21st Space Wing Public Affairs

10/16/2013 - PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The First Term Airmen Center held its hand-off lunch Sept. 19 at the Aragon Dining Facility.

The luncheon is held monthly at the end of the FTAC course. The course provides new Airmen with briefings on financial responsibility, standards and discipline, educational opportunities and more to prepare them for duty.

"I gained a proper transition into the operational Air Force and the ability to ask questions and explore the functions of Peterson Air Force Base," Airman 1st Class Alexander Smalldon, 21st Security Forces Squadron, said about attending FTAC. "The FTAC course also enabled me to meet other new Airmen and begin to network on base."

During the lunch, Smalldon read a speech he wrote explaining what the uniform means to him as a first-term Airman.

The room was still as Smalldon shared his patriotic speech. The group reflected quietly on the words of "In this uniform we will fight," and were reminded of those who gave their lives wearing the uniform.

Here is the speech Smalldon shared.

"During the birth of our great country, many men and women gave their lives in the hopes that one day their ancestors would be free and independent. As the British stormed our beaches and invaded the humble beginnings of our nation, Americans took up arms to protect their families, neighbors and lands they called their home. Although these early troops were quickly assembled, at a considerable disadvantage and possessed no proper uniforms, their sacrifice paved the way for generations of immigrants who sought refuge and prosperity in the arms of America. From the first Army uniform to the high speed multi-cam worn today in combat, every ensemble has been worn by a service member who has sworn to protect the continuation of the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

"Many of those heroes have paid the ultimate price while protecting freedom and justice across the globe. As first term Airmen of today departing on the beginning of a long journey, we realize the enormous boots we must fill.

"Although the colors and patterns have changed, this uniform is the bonding that transcends time. It connects us to our brothers and sisters fighting in the Middle East, our parents who fought in Vietnam, our grandparents who liberated the world and even General Washington who led our nation to independence. This uniform is paramount to any one individual. Each Soldier, Sailor, Marine and Airman has worn different stripes but have all fought for the same lineage of unity. To us this uniform is the representation of our basic rights, the ever long fight for liberty, the blood that gives us life, the charisma that makes us altruistic, the serenity of the silence when we honor the flag and the appreciation of our beloved American way of life.

"It would be an injustice to the men and women before us if our dedication to the service of our country was not heartfelt and unwavering. This uniform we have chosen to wear, these values we have promised to live by, and our Constitution we have sworn to defend, requires the dedication, discipline and commitment one must possess every hour of every day. The example of the selfless service our fallen comrades have displayed must be built upon and continued. Although they breathed their last breath fighting the good fight for freedom across the globe, their legacy will live on forever. They will never be forgotten. And in this uniform we will fight."

Face of Defense: Cancer Survivor Earns Chance to Fly Fighters

By Air Force 2nd Lt. Meredith Hein
82nd Training Wing

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas, Oct. 16, 2013 – For one new Air Force pilot, living the dream is much more than a cheap throwaway line.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force 1st Lt. Rob Hansen overcame Hodgkin lymphoma to earn a chance to fly the F-22 Raptor. U.S Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Mike Meares

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
For Air Force 1st Lt. Rob Hansen of the 80th Flying Training Wing, living means surviving stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma. The dream was 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 flight 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," he said.

It was the day 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, he said, who enjoyed working on snow mobiles and dirt bikes. His father was a commercial pilot, his mother worked in the air traffic control tower, and his 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 University in Minnesota in 2006, Hansen went to law school, intending to become a staff judge advocate. But while working as an intern at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, he said, he just couldn't shake the pull of the sky 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 and now his wife. "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 Hansen met with the oncologist and came 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 in casual status, 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."

Radiation treatments followed the six weeks of chemotherapy.

"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 also a cancer survivor, drove him.

"This is not something anyone should 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."

McElrath said Hansen was like one of her kids.

"This was a team effort," Hansen said. "I don't think I could have gotten through radiation without Marlene."

Hansen was awesome and kept fighting, McElrath said.

"His attitude never changed," she said. "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.'"

However, 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 whether he was out of the woods.

"It's the best news on the planet, but honestly it wasn't completely relieving," he said. "The PET scans still show signs of leftover radiation. There's always this uncertainty that you still have cancer."
And the next struggle was just 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," he said. "My flight mates accepted me and made me feel like I had never left."

Air Force Lt. Col. Bryan Schrass the instructor pilot who flew with Hansen in the T-6 before his diagnosis, 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 he 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 into the cockpit was complete as he learned he was the only one in his class selected to fly the F-22 Raptor. His classmates rushed him from both sides and carried him on their shoulders.

"It was our No. 1 choice. I felt kind of like Rudy," Hansen said, referring to the protagonist in a movie about an undersized Notre Dame football player. "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."

Hansen was named a distinguished graduate and received 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 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 here before heading to Tyndall AFB, Fla., to train in his dream fighter.

(Air Force Staff Sgt. Mike Meares contributed to this story.)

21st LRS can send you anywhere

by Michael Golembesky
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer

10/15/2013 - COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The U.S. Air Force is unmatched in its airlift capabilities to deploy troops and equipment anywhere in the world, all with the assistance and hard work of its air transportation team.

The Fort Carson Arrival/Departure Airfield Control Group located at the southern end of the Colorado Springs Municipal Airport is the gateway for every deploying and returning unit from Fort Carson and surrounding military installations in the Pikes Peak region - and it is staffed by a team of 21st Logistics Readiness Squadron Airmen.

"They can't move without us -- our sole purpose is to move people and equipment, it is what we do," said Tech Sgt. Allan Skelton, 21st LRS NCOIC for air terminal operations.

The mission is executed by a small team of 15 Airmen from Peterson's 21st LRS air terminal operations unit, which is also responsible for running the Peterson passenger terminal and scheduling space-available flights for active duty and retired service members in the area.

"We are the embarkation handlers for all military units in the Colorado Springs area. Our Airmen are outstanding -- 10 active duty and five active Reserve. They are resilient, flexible and good at what they do -- moving America's military force," said Skelton.

The work of transporting personnel and equipment begins long before the aircraft lands on the runway and is designed to be as efficient as possible.

"We are the middle man; the Army is our customer and we get them to where they need to go. The Army relies on us to inspect their cargo, manifest the shipment and load it onto the aircraft," said Skelton.

Another key responsibility of the 21st LRS air terminal team is to develop a load plan for the cargo. This helps the loadmasters aboard the aircraft and makes for quicker turnaround times on the tarmac.

"When building the load plan, we ensure all of the weights are correct, proper center of balance on the vehicles and configure them for flight," said Skelton. "It's like a game of Tetris, but the aircraft's loadmasters have the final say, they know their aircraft better than we do."

The Peterson air terminal team is already in position when the aircraft -- normally a C-17 Globemaster III -- lands and is taxied into position for loading.

"Attention to detail is key in everything we do," said Skelton. "Safety is the most important thing here. When we have a lot of loading vehicles out there it can get a little squirrelly. Everyone has to know where they are at and what everyone else is doing."

With such an emphasis on safety, the air terminal team must be confident in the skills and experience of their fellow wingmen.

"We train everyone on our crews to be able to function in any of the roles needed, from operating the forklifts to securing the cargo. You have to know how to do everything if you are going to be effective at getting the troops to where they need to be," said Skelton.

One of the last steps of the loading process is securing the cargo to the aircraft, which is by-far the most important step when it comes to the safety of the aircraft and crew when in flight.

"It is a critical step; it's not like loading a flatbed truck. The cargo can be subjected to four and a half Gs (force of gravity) of turbulence; it has to be restrained from moving in any direction," said Skelton.

"When you get really heavy vehicles, all of the chains may look like overkill but they are needed to keep the load from shifting and endangering the aircraft and its crew."

A lot goes into the embarkation process and can sometimes be a frustrating event for deploying units. As for the 21st LRS air terminal team, remaining flexible and focused is a necessity.

"You have to have good customer relations with everyone you are dealing with, from the units to the flight crews. It's movement with a purpose," said Skelton. "You have to be able to deal with problems on-the-fly and explain to people that we are loading stuff onto a million-dollar aircraft and must keep everyone onboard safe so they can accomplish their mission."

Former Army Captain Inducted Into Pentagon Hall of Heroes

By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 16, 2013 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Army Secretary John M. McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno inducted former Army Capt. William D. Swenson into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes today during a ceremony at the Pentagon.

President Barack Obama presented Swenson with the Medal of Honor at the White House yesterday. He was nominated for his actions while serving as an embedded trainer for the 1st Zone Afghan National Border Police. Swenson is the first Army officer to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War and the sixth living recipient from the war in Afghanistan.

Hagel said he could not improve on what has been said about Swenson over the past few days, but "one particular point that President Obama made yesterday was that at a time in our country when we need more unifying dimensions and dynamics to remind us who we are … the Will Swenson story does that."
While taking part in an operation that included U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, Afghan National Army and Afghan National Border Police elements, Swenson repeatedly risked his life to rescue his comrades -- Afghan and American -- during an enemy ambush in the Ganjgal valley.

This is a time of mixed emotions, McHugh said. "A time when we pay tribute to uncommon valor, but at the same time we mourn and remember the horrible loss of comrades and friends.”

As dawn broke on Sept. 8, 2009, the combined element departed their vehicles and made their way up the valley on foot toward Ganjgal village, the site of a planned leader engagement mission. The column consisted of 106 personnel: 60 Afghan soldiers; 14 U.S. Marine Corps embedded training team mentors; 30 Afghan border police officers; and Swenson and Army Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook, both advisors to the border police. The dismounted patrol was made necessary by the terrain and by reports of improvised explosive devices along the road.

Perched high in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar Province, Ganjgal village lies near the head of a U-shaped valley lined with loose rocks and boulders washed down from the steep, terraced slopes. A narrow, ungraded road -- not wide enough for heavy military vehicles -- snakes through the valley, which ends at the border with Pakistan.

The operation that morning, dubbed Buri Booza II, was being conducted at the behest of village leaders, who had visited the local forward operating base, FOB Joyce, a few days earlier and invited the Afghan and coalition forces there to come assess repairs needed on the Ganjgal mosque.

Intelligence reports indicated that the operation was unlikely to encounter a large or heavily-armed force. However, patrols entering Ganjgal valley were regularly engaged by small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades, usually from small groups taking advantage of the high ground, and the combined force was prepared for that prospect.

Instead, they walked into a three-sided ambush by at least 60 enemy armed with RPGs, mortars, PKM machine guns and AK-47s.

As sunlight crept its way into the valley, the patrol broke into three elements. Swenson, Westbrook and their Afghan Border Patrol counterparts walked up the center of the wash at the bottom of the valley with two small elements from the embedded training team leading the way, while the remaining Marines and their Afghan army counterparts took up support positions to the north and south of the column.

Hidden in trenches and buildings and positioned on the slopes above the village, the Taliban fighters opened fire as the Marines and Afghan soldiers at the head of the column crested a rise in the wash about 100 meters from the village. The steep terrain made it difficult for the patrol elements to maintain visual and audio contact as they sought cover, but Swenson was able to call for artillery to disrupt the enemy’s attack.

Despite the incoming artillery fire, the insurgents were able to gain the initiative due to a combination of the complicated terrain and proximity to the village. After about an hour of fighting, they had drawn to within 50 meters of Swenson’s men. Unable to re-establish contact with the patrol’s lead elements, with wounded troops accumulating, Swenson coordinated for combat aviation and helicopter support to evacuate the wounded.

Learning that Westbrook had been shot, Swenson and Marine Corps 1st Lt. Ademola D. Fabayo and 1st Sgt. Christopher Garza -- also seriously wounded -- exposed themselves to enemy fire by maneuvering through open areas to Westbrook’s position and began administering first aid.

After more than an hour and a half of fighting, two OH-58D Kiowa Scout helicopters arrived and began engaging the enemy under the direction of Swenson. The helicopters provided the distraction Swenson, Fabayo, Garza and Jonathan Landay, a reporter embedded with the Marines, needed to carry Westbrook to an evacuation point. Westbrook later died of his injuries.

Swenson and Fabayo returned to the battlefield twice again in an unarmored Afghan border police vehicle to evacuate the wounded. Unable to establish contact with the lead element of three Marines, a Navy corpsman and their Afghan army counterparts, Swenson worked with the air support pilot in an effort to locate the missing men. An the same time, Marine Staff Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez and Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer were engaging in a similar effort to recover wounded troops.

After two trips up the valley, Swenson and Fabayo’s vehicle became too damaged to return to the kill zone a third time, but enemy fire was making it impossible for a combat search and rescue helicopter to land. So, Swenson returned to where the patrol had left their vehicles and brought back four armored vehicles, stopping to pick up Meyer on the way back to the battlefield.

The convoy succeeded in extracting several more wounded Afghan troops, but was unable to find the missing lead element -- even after a dismounted search. After several hours of searching, the fallen men were finally located from the air, and their position was marked with smoke.

With the help of air support, Swenson, Fabayo, Rodriguez-Chavez, Meyer and several Afghan soldiers once again battled their way through enemy fire toward the now-marked position. They found their comrades at the bottom of a deep trench that had been impossible to see during their earlier ground searches. The rescue team recovered the bodies of their fallen comrades and returned to the evacuation point. Swenson went immediately afterward to verify with the Afghan forces that there were no remaining missing personnel.

Five Americans and nine Afghans died as a result of the fighting. Rodriguez-Chavez and Fabayo received the Navy Cross for their actions. Meyer as well, received the Medal of Honor in 2011 for his role in the same battle. In addition, a Silver Star and nine Bronze Stars with “V” devices were awarded out of the battle.

Swenson proved his heroism over and over again through his actions that day, Hagel said. And Swenson continued to prove it even after the battle, when “he dared to question the institution that he was faithful to and loyal to. Mistakes were made in his case. Now, that’s courage, and that’s integrity and that’s character.”

Swenson’s biggest contribution to the nation will most likely come later, as he serves as a role model for generations to come, the defense secretary said.

“That is our biggest, most significant responsibility -- to improve upon the inheritance that we were each given. ... make it better, inspire, uplift our people, our families, our countries and the world," the secretary said.