Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ranger’s Salute Strikes Patriotic Chord Across Nation

By Elaine Sanchez
Brooke Army Medical Center

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, Oct. 17, 2013 – A photo of a wounded Army Ranger saluting his commander from a hospital bed in Afghanistan has become a symbol of fortitude, sacrifice and honor.

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Army Cpl. Joshua Hargis, with the 3rd Ranger Battalion, salutes his commander during a Purple Heart presentation in Afghanistan. Courtesy photo

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The photo of Army Cpl. Joshua Hargis, with the 3rd Ranger Battalion, went viral after his wife, Taylor, posted it on her Facebook page. It immediately struck a patriotic chord with people across the nation.

“It moves me to tears,” Taylor said during an interview at Brooke Army Medical Center here, where her husband is now recovering. “I mean I think that’s why it’s gotten so much attention. It’s moving people. It’s just an amazing thing he’s done and that he did it.”

Hargis was injured Oct. 6 when a suicide bomb and several improvised explosive devices detonated during an operation southwest of Kandahar. Four of his fellow soldiers were killed, and several others were injured.

While Hargis was in a hospital in Afghanistan, his commander presented him with a bedside Purple Heart Medal. Those present thought Hargis was unconscious throughout the visit, but then saw his right arm stir in an effort to render the customary military salute.

“Despite his wounds, wrappings, tubes and pain, Josh fought the doctor who was trying to restrain his right arm and rendered the most beautiful salute any person in that room had ever seen,” his commander recalled in a letter to Hargis’ wife.

“Grown men began to weep,” he wrote, “and we were speechless at a gesture that speaks volumes about Josh’s courage and character.”

Filled with pride, Taylor posted the commander’s letter and photo to her Facebook page. “That’s my husband,” she said. “He’s an amazing man.”

The photo since has been circulated on websites and in papers across the nation. The Guardian Valor website dubbed the photo the “salute seen around the world.”

Hargis’ commander called it “the single greatest event I have witnessed in my 10 years in the Army.”
Taylor, who is pregnant, said she’s moved by the photo’s popularity, but is most grateful to have her husband home. “The world should know what is happening overseas,” she wrote on her Facebook site. “The world should know what true heroes and warriors are.”

Face of Defense: Wounded Warrior Makes Good on Vow to Give Back

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 17, 2013 – Four years ago, retired Marine Corps Capt. Dan Moran accepted the keys to a new house presented by a nonprofit veterans organization, telling then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and hundreds of others gathered for the ceremony that he would express his gratitude through the life he would lead.

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Retired Marine Corps Capt. Dan Moran, right, his wife, Teal, and children, Trey, Macy and William, gather in front of the house in Cypress, Texas, donated to them by the Helping a Hero organization that supports wounded warriors and their families. Moran said he is committed to making good on his vow to return the investment made in him by giving back to others. Courtesy photo by Lizette Moran

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“You can rest assured,” Moran told them during an August 2009 ceremony in his new living room in Cypress, Texas, “you made an investment in me and other wounded warriors, and I promise you, you will get a return on your investment.”

The path to Moran’s new threshold had been a rocky one. He received third-degree burns over 50 percent of his body when his platoon was ambushed during his second tour of duty in Ramadi, Iraq. He also suffered a compression fracture to his T-8 vertebrae, herniated discs, a mild traumatic brain injury and an inhalation injury.

He underwent more than 30 surgeries and spent two and a half years recovering at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

Moran had first met Gates when, as president of Texas A&M University, he presented Moran his “Aggie” diploma in 2003. Four years later, then as defense secretary, Gates visited Moran when he was being treated at Brooke. In 2008, Gates and former President George H.W. Bush joined Moran on the field during a Texas A&M football game and awarded him the Navy Commendation Medal with “V” for valor.

In August 2009, Gates presented Moran the keys to a brand-new home in suburban Houston, donated through Helping a Hero. The nonprofit, nonpartisan group funds financial, emotional educational, mentoring, recreational and scholarship support for severely injured military members and their families.

The home was built with special accommodations for Moran’s physical condition. It featured tinted windows, a high-efficiency air conditioner and heating system and other enhanced temperature-control measures, because Moran is no longer able to control his body temperature. The lot was selected to allow the least amount of direct sunlight to enter the home, and the home had an extended covered porch so Moran could spend time outdoors with his family.

“What can I say to people who have given me so much? What can I say? Words don’t do justice,” Moran told the crowd gathered for the presentation ceremony. “So let me tell you right now: It is going to be the way that I live my life. And the way I am going to live my life is by honor, courage and commitment.”

Today, Moran is making good on that commitment in a variety of ways. He’s CEO of Moran Enterprises Inc., a private equity and management consulting firm he founded that promotes veterans employment and veteran causes. He’s been a member of the Texas Veterans Commission since 2011, serving as an advocate for his fellow veterans. He also is a board member for Hope for the Warriors, a national nonprofit organization that helps combat-wounded service members, their families and families of the fallen, and he serves as a spokesman for Helping a Hero.

Moran said the outpouring he received through his own ordeal reaffirmed his faith in the American people and his commitment to serve.

“I was blessed to be the recipient of people’s love and goodwill, and them saying not only ‘Welcome home,’ but ‘Hey, we want to make an investment in you,’” he said during a phone interview from his company headquarters in Houston.

Looking around him, Moran said, he is struck by the generosity and dedication of the American people. It transcends the political fray, bringing them together to support causes larger than themselves, he said.
“The thing that unites all Americans is service,” Moran said. “Regardless of everything else going on in the world, it is something that unites us.”

Moran said he’s proud of the way federal, state and municipal governments, the private sector and nonprofit organizations have come together to demonstrate those core values through their support of wounded warriors and their families.

He said he regularly challenges others, and encourages them to challenge him, by asking, “What have you done today to serve your fellow Americans?” It’s not a slogan, he said, but a core value and a way of life that Americans share.

“There is so much goodness out there, and people want to do right for their fellow Americans,” he said. “I just hope that all the infrastructure that has been put up at this point and all the good that has been done will continue so that men and women who have to go into harm’s way years from now will be able to benefit from that infrastructure.”

Moran said he’s proud to be among the many committed to ensuring the nation will continue to support today’s wounded warriors and veterans and those who will serve in the future.

“I am just one of the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, dedicated to making sure that generations from now, those people are taken care of,” he said.

MWD and trainer triumph in final trial

by Senior Airman Madelyn Brown
60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

10/16/2013 - Travis Air Force Base, Calif. -- The 60th Security Forces Squadron Military Working Dog unit made history Oct. 4 and 5 when they took first place overall in the Western States Police K-9 Association end of year trial in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., an unprecedented win by any other military unit.

The WSPCA sanctions and hosts multiple trials throughout the year for working dogs from various agencies to train and compete from all over the Western United States. The end of year trial is the culmination of the competitions.

"This year there were teams in competition from all across the Western U.S.," said Tech. Sgt. Chris Smith, 60th SFS MWD kennel master. "Out of all of those teams, we were the only military organization."

After taking 5th place in the Yuba County trial a month ago, the kennel master intensified training in order to place better in the final and most important trial for the year, Smith said.

"Our handlers were so motivated to compete at the highest level," he said. "We started training six days a week and created more difficult scenarios for the dogs."

The extensive training included hiding narcotics in places such as ceiling tiles, and behind kitty litter to create a scent barrier.

"The difficult training greatly contributed to the dogs' success in the trial," said Staff Sgt. Zahir Mohammed, 60th SFS K-9 handler.

Extra training days were not the only way the handlers displayed dedication to the competition. Due to the current state of the government shut down, no funding is available to train the MWDs. The handlers divvied up the cost of travel and lodging among themselves to travel to Reno, Calif. and Tahoe, Calif., with dogs in tow in order to compete.

The various law enforcement agencies resulted in more than 30 different dog teams, but one dog stood out among the pack.

At two and a half years old, Borat is the youngest dog at the Travis Air Force Base kennel. He was paired with his handler, Mohammed, about a month ago.

The Belgian malinois' young age along with the trial of learning from a new handler should have created obstacles for Borat, his handler said. When Borat swept the competition and took first place in vehicle competition and second place in building competition he was the unpredicted success of the trial.

For Mohammed, the achievement was a testament to the hard work and training of both the dogs and handlers at Travis.

"This was by far the proudest moment I've had as a handler, and even in my Air Force career," said the Sacramento, Calif. native. "I've been a dog handler for less than three years and I was competing against proficient handlers who have been at it for more than 12 years. To be able to surpass them in competition really shows what Travis military working dogs are bringing to the table."

Borat is referred to as a green dog due to his short time in the field as well as his age and experience. When the kennel master decided to pair Mohammed with Borat a month before the end of year trial, the handler had his work cut out for him.

"Borat had a lot of deficiencies which needed to be fixed," Mohammed said. "He was very difficult at first because he has a very independent or alpha demeanor. He did whatever he wanted whenever he wanted, and it was a challenge for me to get him to realize this is a two way relationship."

Eventually through time, training and effort, the two formed a strong bond between dog and handler.

"We were out training from six to eight hours a day," Mohammed said. "I ate lunch in the field with him, took breaks with him and we trained off base at different agencies together to further advance him."

The disadvantage for military handlers compared to law enforcement handlers is that military handlers are not authorized to take the dogs home with them, so all bonding time has to occur during work hours, Mohammed said.

Judges took note of the great partnership between Borat and Mohammed in their notes when scoring the teams.

Both Smith and Mohammed share the sentiment of hope that taking first overall in the competition will progress the use of Travis MWDs to broader fields.

The Air Force is known to use military working dogs as a psychological defense against bad guys, Smith said. The dogs also get called out year round for explosives detection assistance in the community. The whole team displayed that military working dogs can be the best at narcotics detection as well.

"It puts military working dogs on the map, not only are we good down range, we're good at home too and can be a resource to the community," Mohammed said.

Commissaries honor Vietnam vets with special events

by Sallie Cauthers
DeCA marketing and mass communication specialist

10/17/2013 - FORT LEE, Va. -- During the Veterans Day holiday weekend, commissaries worldwide will honor all veterans, particularly those who served during the Vietnam War, with commemorative events, special sales promotions, giveaways and food demos.

The tribute to Vietnam-era veterans is linked to the introduction of the 50th Anniversary Vietnam War Commemoration Flag, said Rogers E. Campbell, DeCA's executive director of Sales, Marketing and Policy.

"The flag recognizes the service, valor and sacrifice of our military members who made it possible for America to remain strong and safe as a defender of democracy worldwide," Campbell said. "We hope that every time a Vietnam War veteran and their family sees this flag, they will know that a grateful nation remembers, thanks and honors them."

In addition to commemorative events in the stores, commissary customers will find discounts on name-brand items thanks to special promotions that run from Oct. 24 to Nov. 13. Throughout this promotional period, DeCA's industry partners - vendors, suppliers and brokers - are collaborating with commissaries to offer discounts beyond everyday savings.

Companies participating in this super sale include: Lipton, Bertolli, Hellman's, Breyers, Dove, AXE, Country Crock, Kraft Foods, Healthy Choice Frozen Foods, Marie Callenders, Hunts, Gatorade, Quaker Oats, Tropicana, Aunt Jemima, Smuckers', Martha White, Kellogg's, General Mills, Mid-Valley Produce, Ocean Spray, Hormel, Campbell Soup and Del Monte.

"It is with great honor that your local commissary serves our nation's veterans with dignity and gratitude for everything they have done to keep our country safe," Campbell said. "We cannot thank the Vietnam War veterans and all war veterans enough for what they have done for our country, our Constitution and our families."

Customers are asked to check their local commissary for dates and times for the commemorative events and for the specific sales events offered at their store.

Sharpshooter training prepares defenders for demanding AF course

by Tech. Sgt. Parker Gyokeres
621st Contingency Response Wing

10/17/2013 - JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- A truckload of insurgents rolls slowly toward the back side of an airbase where an American cargo plane has just landed to unload food and medical teams. They figure this little dirt road will allow them to sneak up undetected, so they can probe for weaknesses and a find way to stop the relief supplies.

In a patch of vegetation at the edge of the airbase almost a half-kilometer away, two men lie prone. They've been in this spot since well before the sun came up, and are well hidden. One has a radio and a spotting scope, the other, a powerful rifle. The insurgents don't know it yet, but this attack is over before it even started.

"Defender control, this is Shadow," the observer quietly speaks into his throat microphone.

"Go ahead." Replies a slightly garbled voice over his encrypted radio.

"We have six military aged males in a light truck approaching the back fence line. Advise you send a quick response force to their location."

"Copy that Shadow, please observe and keep us posted."

Without a single shot being fired, the 621st Contingency Response Wing's close precision engagement team was able to identify a threat and direct a visible response. If the situation required it, this team of expert sharpshooters would be able to stop the truck in its tracks, and if need be, engage the men in it.

This scenario is fictional, but these airmen's skills are put to the test every time a CRW team needs to establish a security perimeter around one of its operations in a dangerous environment.

"The further out we can see people that may want to hurt us, the more opportunities we may have to discourage them and prevent conflict," said Staff Sgt. Bryan McMullen, close precision engagement team leader assigned to the 818th Global Mobility Readiness Squadron. "The CPE mission is to deliver long-range precision rifle fire, enhanced observation and reporting in support of air base defense and continuous airfield operations. Our skills make us a force multiplier for the defense force commander."

With only a half dozen trained marksmen assigned to the East Coast-based units of the CRW, CPE teams are a valuable resource. The U.S. Air Force only conducts two of the 220-hour, 19-day CPEC courses each year at Fort Bliss, Texas. And class size is limited. There are usually no more than 40 Airmen in each class.

With so few chances to build a vital capability for the CRW, McMullen teamed with the other CPEC graduates in the CRW to create an indoctrination course for sharpshooter candidates.

"When I went to CPEC, my class started out with around 30 students and only graduated 14 of them," he said. "Of these, nearly everyone had attended some type of qualification course before they had arrived at the schoolhouse."

With this in mind, McMullen created a 160-hour, 10-day CPEC preparation course for 621st defenders interested in attending the full CPEC in Texas.

"Every aspect of our curriculum is based on the actual course," he explained. "It educates and familiarizes the candidates with everything they will encounter at the schoolhouse, such as target detection, stalking, range estimation, observation, memory games, physical training and firing."

The unit was also able to accomplish this training at zero cost to the CRW.

"We didn't have to spend a dime to put these Airmen through this training," said McMullen. "Our only expenditure was ammunition, and it was already in our training allotment for the year."

Security forces members in the CRW who were interested in becoming Air Force sharpshooters were encouraged to attend. This year's class was held from Sept. 30 to Oct. 11 and had seven students from the 817th and 818th GMRS.

"I feel pretty drained," said Staff Sgt. Jordan Whitlock, CPEC candidate with the 817th GMRS. He and the other candidates had just run through a known-distance firing exercise where they engaged a target at 100 meters, then ran in full combat load to stations every additional hundred meters back to 600 meters.

"Running with the rucksack and the weapon makes your arms and shoulders cramp up. But the most physically draining part wasn't the running, it was the shooting. My neck and eyes got very tired from looking at the target at such long distances. It's a lot of work to maintain your focus and deliver accurate fire in a fixed time limit."

After 10 days of drills, the students found something unexpected on the other end of their 10x Leopold scopes - confidence.

"This training is awesome and I'm learning something every day," said Airman 1st Class Nicholas Zinner, a CPEC candidate from the 817th GMRS. "This class has definitely prepared us for the main course, and I feel it's even a little bit more rigorous than what we've been told to expect."

McMullen chuckles when he hears this.

"The real course is going to be brutal," he said. "But these guys are ready. I'm proud of what they have already accomplished."

445 AW C-17 hits new milestone

445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

10/16/2013 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- The 445th Airlift Wing hit a historical mark Sept. 30 when its C-17 Globemaster IIIs flew more than 5,000 hours in a single year; an accomplishment last met with a different airframe in 2005.

The wing hit its last 5,000 hour milestone eight years ago when it was still flying the C-141 Starlifter.

Fiscal year 2013 has been a monumental year for the 445th Airlift Wing. It successfully completed an operational readiness inspection and became fully operational capable. Adding to this accomplishment, the wing flew more than 175 missions to six continents. It flew 300 local proficiency sorties; to include aerial refueling, aeromedical evacuation trainers, assault landing fields, and semi-prepared runway operations). This adds up to more than 5,200 flying hours.

With a new airplane and conversion status for the first six months of the year, the wing could have easily been on pace for less than 4,000 hours. However, with each passing month, aircrews got more proficient, and maintainers got more efficient; with each group growing more comfortable and more capable in moving the C-17 aircraft, said Lt. Col. Stephen Schnell, 445th Operations Support Squadron current operations chief.

Having more aircraft commanders allowed the 89th Airlift Squadron to fly more than 50 'downrange' missions. More instructors gave the squadron more current, confident crew members. More seven- and nine-level maintainers increased the wings basic post-flight speed and precision, thereby increasing launch and quick-turn capabilities. After the newness wore off, the wing learned just how reliable and how we could make the most of the new airlifter.

The enthusiasm that has surrounded the 445th and its focus on making the C-17 shine has shown loud and clear in 2013. Back in 2005, the wing had 18 C-141s and highly experienced operations and maintenance groups. Utilizing the wing's nine C-17s, the experience and capability of the aircrew and maintainers continues to grow with each month.

Going forward, Schnell said the wing will start seeing a steady 500+ hours of flying per month (that's more than 6,000 hours annually). The numbers don't lie. These feats do not happen without the tremendous support of every member of this wing, added Schnell.