Monday, March 31, 2014

Alaska Guard, Agencies Test Emergency Response Capabilities

By Army Sgt. Edward Eagerton
Alaska National Guard

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska, March 31, 2014 – More than 1,100 Air and Army National Guard members from Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Arizona, California, Nevada, Idaho, Minnesota, North Dakota and Utah are taking part in exercise Alaska Shield 2014 across the state.

The exercise, which began March 27, involves national, state and local agencies and is designed to test the response and coordination of different agencies in a disaster scenario modeled after the 1964 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that ravaged Alaska.

“With Alaska Shield 2014, we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1964 earthquake by replicating its significant damage and corresponding tsunami in order to educate and prepare participants for potential catastrophic events,” said Army Maj. Gen. Thomas H. Katkus, the adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard and commissioner of the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

The exercise consists of scenario-based events at multiple locations from Anchorage to the Mat-Su Borough, Cordova, Valdez and Fairbanks. The scenarios include hazardous material detection and response, search and rescue, triage, casualty evacuation, communication support and transportation support.

“Alaska Shield 2014 is a highly complex training exercise that integrates federal, state and local emergency participants in a combined response,” Katkus said.

Other agencies participating in the event include the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Army, Air Force, North American Aerospace Defense Command, U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Transportation Command, the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services and many other organizations.

“There is no question that Alaska is an ideal venue for this exercise, which will test our collective ability to share information among federal, state, local, tribal and other community organizations and respond accordingly,” Katkus said.

Hagel Orders Overhaul of POW/MIA Identification Agencies

By Nick Simeone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2014 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced today that he’s ordered an overhaul of the Pentagon agencies responsible for recovering and identifying the remains of America’s war dead.

The reorganization seeks consolidate the mission, improve efficiency and increase the number of remains identified by the two key agencies charged with POW-MIA accounting efforts -- the Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, Hagel told a Pentagon news conference.

Last month, the defense secretary directed Michael Lumpkin, acting undersecretary of defense for policy, to provide him with recommendations on how to reorganize the two organizations into a single, streamlined unit with oversight for the entire mission.

“These steps will help improve the accounting mission, increase the number of identifications of our missing, provide greater transparency for their families and expand our case file system to include all missing personnel,” Hagel said.

An armed forces medical examiner working for the yet-to-be-named agency will be the sole DOD identification authority and will oversee operations of the central identification laboratory in Hawaii as well as those in Omaha, Neb., and Dayton, Ohio.

“By consolidating functions, we will resolve issues of duplication and inefficiency and build a stronger, more transparent and more responsive organization,” Hagel stressed.

In explaining why the reorganization was necessary, Lumpkin told reporters it had become clear that the department needed a “paradigm shift” from what some have called “outdated, institutionalized thinking and behavior that didn’t deliver the number of remains accounted for that we had hoped.”

“As of next year, Congress has mandated the department have the capacity to identify up to 200 sets of remains a year, but last year the DOD agencies only identified 70 sets,” he said.

Lumpkin said the new agency will maintain a single database of records related to missing Americans instead of the multiple databases currently in use. In addition, he said, proposals will be developed for expanding partnerships with private organizations already working to recover and identify remains to “fully embrace progressive science.”

No date has been set for when the new agency will be stood up, but the undersecretary said it would be led by a civilian appointed by the president.

“This is a top priority for the Department of Defense. There is no greater sacrifice a service member can make than by dying for this country and we want to honor these heroes by bringing them home,” Lumpkin said.

Defense Secretary Welcomes Portuguese Minister to Pentagon

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2014 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today welcomed Portuguese Minister of Defense Jose Pedro Aguiar-Branco to the Pentagon, and expressed to the minister his appreciation for Portugal’s many contributions to international security, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a Defense Department news release.

The secretary specifically thanked Portugal for supporting NATO’s Baltic Air Policing rotation later this year, and Portugal’s support in combating piracy and maritime crime in the Gulf of Aden and off Somalia, Kirby said in the release.

Kirby said Hagel also thanked Aguiar-Branco for Portugal’s hospitality towards U.S. airmen at Lajes Field.

The two leaders “discussed the situation in Ukraine and reaffirmed both nations’ steadfast commitment to our collective defense obligations,” Kirby said.

Both men, he said, agreed on the need for Russia to begin discussions with the Ukrainian government, as diplomacy remains the only acceptable means of resolving this crisis.

“Secretary Hagel looks forward to seeing Minister Aguiar-Branco at the NATO Summit in Wales, this September,” Kirby said in the release.

Frozen dangers demand sharpened skillset

by SPC True Thao
364th Press Camp Headquarters

3/31/2014 - VALDEZ, Alaska -- The Valdez Fire Department participated in Alaska Shield 14 by conducting a glacier rescue scenario here March 30, 2014. Alaska Shield 14 is an exercise that involves federal, state, local and military designed to test response and coordination efforts during a disaster and is modeled after the 1964 earthquake.

The exercise began when citizens were trapped in a glacier crevasse early morning. The fire department worked closely with other agencies and the military, to perform a slow and steady glacier rescue scenario to ensure their readiness for future catastrophic events. The local agencies were able to complete the mission using all the resources available.

"We used multi-agencies to accomplish the mission," said Mike Weber, captain of the Valdez Fire Department. "It is very seldom that one agency has all the necessary resources to perform a rescue."

Being part of Alaska Shield 14 allows the Valdez Fire Dept. to reach out to other local and federal agencies in assisting with the rescue efforts. One local agency they worked hand in hand with was the Alaskan State Troopers. Working with the troopers allowed the fire department to have access to a helicopter and other resources that are usually unavailable to them.

"We work really well with the state troopers to coordinate rescue efforts," said Weber. "We coordinate most of our rescues with them."

Part of the Valdez Fire Department's purpose is to provide emergency medical services and rescue as defined by professional standards. Participating in Alaska Shield 14 allowed the local agencies scenario-based training that can help reduce any risk during an emergency rescue. Having more rescue members can also minimize the risk.

"We need as many people as we can get to complete the mission," said Chris Moulton, a firefighter with the Valdez Fire Department. "Working with other agencies is great."

With Alaska Shield 14 continuing through March 31 for the city of Valdez, the local agencies will continue to play their role in the exercise working with federal, state, local and military agencies to help local citizens prepare for catastrophic events similar to the one that occurred 50 years ago.

Volunteer pilots, photographers aid Alaska Shield disaster exercise

by SPC Ryan Swanson
364th Press Camp Headquarters

3/31/2014 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Civil Air Patrol volunteers help ensure Alaska's energy assets are safe and secure during natural disasters by taking pictures and downloading them to federal authorities for analysis.

On March 29, 2014, one such flight took off from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to inspect energy platforms as part of the disaster exercise Alaska Shield 2014.

After an earthquake strikes, volunteer pilots with the Civil Air Patrol immediately get up in the air and fly across the state on a damage assessment mission.

The Civil Air Patrol also trains its own photographers how to take pictures of energy production and transport facilities in the event of a natural emergency and how to send photos to federal authorities for analysis.

This day, Jeff Morton, a Civil Air Patrol mission observer, took several hundred pictures of a dozen oil rigs in Cook Inlet.

"We get different shots from many angles, and make sure they are up to the standards required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency," said Morton.

An earthquake can damage oil platforms by causing footings to slip and from tsunami activity all of which may cause the structures to ignite or cause large oil spills.

"When it comes to a bridge, the damage is not easily seen, with an oil rig, it's there or not," said Ron Preston, a mission pilot with the Alaskan Civil Air Patrol. "There are a cubic million feet in the pipeline [below the rig] at any given moment."

One of the other oil rigs photographed on this mission was a "mono pod-style" rig with a single shaft of steel rising above the water.

"It's a pedestal table that is designed to break the ice around it," said Preston.

The plane then flew along the Aleutian Range to the Drift River Terminal on the Cook Inlet and spun around for more pictures.

Morton and Preston went on to complete their important flight by touching down at a Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson airstrip. Morton then downloaded the pictures to a computer and finalized which pictures to send to FEMA.

Alaska Shield 14 is an exercise that involves state, federal, military, and local agencies, designed to test response and coordination efforts during a disaster and is modeled after the 1964 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that devastated much of South Central Alaska.

AFRCC helps save seven lives after Washington mudslide

By Capt. Jared Scott
601 AOC Public Affairs

3/31/2014 - TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center stepped in to help local authorities after a massive mudslide left several residents injured, trapped or missing in Snohomish County, Wash.

At approximately 3:30 p.m. March 22, the AFRCC received a call from a 911 call center in Darrington, Wash., requesting assistance in the rescue of an unknown number of residents trapped by the mudslide.

"We were already aware of the devastation this mudslide caused the state of Washington from multiple sources, including the news," said Lt. Col. Ian Kemp, AFRCC commander. "Once the call came in, our controllers immediately started to coordinate with the closest and most suitable federal assets available to support Washington's request for a helicopter with hoist capabilities."

The AFRCC coordinated with Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., which launched an MH-60 helicopter to support. In addition, the AFRCC also coordinated with Civil Air Patrol's Washington Wing. They launched a light aircraft to provide relay communication support to rescuers on the ground.

"After Whidbey Island launched, we received word the rescuers located seven residents that were trapped," said Lt. Col. James Woosley, AFRCC Director of Operations. "Three of the residents were injured so the MH-60 crew transported them to a nearby medical facility. The other four were in good condition so they were moved to safety outside of the affected area."

As of March 23, 2014 the AFRCC has coordinated on 124 missions resulting in 40 lives saved.

"Any day of the week, our controllers could be working multiple missions," Kemp said. "On every mission we are aware that person missing or in distress is someone's parent, child or loved one. Every save is a big deal to the men and women of the AFRCC, but it is especially important to the person's family and friends. Many people were affected by this devastating mudslide and our thoughts and prayers are with those affected and the rescuers who are still diligently searching for survivors around the clock."

Search and rescue operations in affected areas are still being conducted by local, state and federal authorities.

The AFRCC, a unit under Air Forces Northern, operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As the United States' Inland Search and Rescue Coordinator, the AFRCC serves as the single agency responsible for coordinating on-land federal search and rescue activities in the continental United States, Mexico and Canada.

CAP performs 85 percent of continental United States inland search missions as tasked by the AFRCC and is credited by the AFRCC with saving an average of 70 lives annually.

Dempsey, Gantz Look to Countering Mideast Threats

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

JERUSALEM , March 31, 2014 – Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Israel’s chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz have met in Jerusalem to discuss countering long term threats to the region and ways to turn them into opportunities.

Speaking to reporters, Gantz said that based on their conversations, “we can definitely cooperate on the challenges and actually try and turn some of the threats that we face into opportunity.”

The Israeli military leader described cooperation with the U.S. military as being very important, very professional, very open and candid.

Dempsey described the meetings as a chance to look further into the future.

“I’m very excited to have that conversation with General Gantz and his team about our common future, common interests, the common security of our two people and to reassure each other on the strength and the enduring nature of our relationship,” the chairman said.

Gantz said the relationship between the two militaries will remain solid.

Dempsey stressed the relationship between the Israeli and U.S. military as being built on trust and candor. “The world is complicated enough without us speaking in parables to each other,” he said. “This is a time for great clarity and great candor and I can always count on our Israeli partners for that.”

Iran is constantly on the mind of Israeli military leaders. Both were asked by reporters if they had the capabilities needed to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

“Obviously we will keep our capabilities to ourself, but we do emphasize that the capability is very much there,” Gantz said.

Dempsey noted that President Barack Obama has made it clear that he will not allow Iran to gain nuclear weapons.

“My role as the senior military officer is to make sure that I provide him with the military options necessary to live up to that commitment, and we will,” he said.

New Family Care Center Set to Open in Bethesda

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2014 – A  new state of the art family care center is set to open at Naval Support Activity Bethesda tomorrow.

The USO and Naval Support Activity Bethesda hosted wounded warriors and their families for a March 28 preview of the facility.  Among the features of the 16,000-square foot complex are a National Football League-sponsored lounge complete with video game stations, a Charlie Sheen-sponsored music room, wireless internet access and a healing garden.

Marine Corps Cpl. Rebecca Fletcher said she enjoyed touring the new building and anticipates it will help build camaraderie at Naval Support Activity Bethesda.

“It’s gorgeous,” she said. “We’ve been watching it go up. It was gorgeous on the outside and coming inside it’s absolutely beautiful in here. It’s really nice.

“I think it’s going to kind of bring us together as like a bigger family,” Fletcher continued. “We’re kind of a big family anyway, but it’ll bring us closer.”

Army Sgt. Kevin Gatson also enjoyed the preview of the new facility, and noted “quite a few people … will definitely get quite a bit of enjoyment out of being here.”

“It means a lot,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a good thing. It’ll give the guys something to do when appointments and things are finished. This place will be someplace to go to have something to do.”

Pamela Horton, director of Warrior and Family Centers for USO Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore, said the new center broke ground in October 2012, after more than three years of planning at an approximate cost of $14 million.

“We picked, unfortunately, the harshest winter we’ve had in recent memory in this area,” she said. “So it kind of put us behind -- especially some of our outside work. We’re still catching up from the 21 days that we lost for weather.”

Horton said the USO believes the new center’s traffic will be similar to the Fort Belvoir center, opened on Feb. 5, 2013, with about 50,000 people using the facility annually.

“They don’t necessarily want to go miles away to go to something. They need something that’s close; they want something that’s comfortable.”

And they want something where they don’t have to feel like they’re being stared at or on display, she said.

“Think of this as your second home,” she said. “This is the way that the American public is thanking you for your service. They donated to build this facility to make it possible for [you] to come here and feel at home.”