Monday, January 13, 2014

920th Rescue Wing recalls 'Lone Survivor' mission

by 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs

1/11/2014 - KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- For this week's edition of Flashback Friday, we travel to the Hindu Kush mountain range in northeastern Afghanistan's Kunar Province, where a group of 920th Rescue Wing reservists made history.

It was there, in June of 2005, that 25 reservists from the 920th Rescue Wing rescued Marcus Luttrell, a Navy SEAL on the run from the Taliban after all the other members of his SEAL team had been killed in an ambush during a covert operation.

Luttrell documented his ordeal in the bestselling novel "Lone Survivor," the Hollywood movie adaptation of which opened in theaters around the country this week.

Wing members also conducted the recovery operation to retrieve the remains of Luttrell's fallen SEAL team, including Navy Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the operation.

Many of the reservists involved with the rescue and recovery missions are still members of the 920th, including wing commander Col. Jeffrey Macrander, who piloted one of the HH-60G Pave Hawks used to rescue Luttrell.

For the colonel, a command pilot with more than 4,500 hours in five aircraft (including four different helicopters), saving the lives of servicemembers caught behind enemy lines is more than just a job.

"My life goal was to be a combat rescue pilot," said Macrander, who began his career in rescue in 1988 as a C/HH-3E mission pilot at the 38th Rescue Squadron, Osan Air Base, Korea.
In addition to Macrander, seven members of the rescue/recovery team are assigned to the 920th RQW at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. They are:

HH-60G Pave Hawk pilots Lt. Col. Paul Nevius and Lt. Col. John Lowe; assistant director of operations Senior Master Sgt. Stephen Schwarz; special missions aviation support Senior Master Sgt. Randolph Wells; and pararescuemen Senior Master Sgt. Michael Ziegler, Master Sgt. Chris Seinkner and Master Sgt. Daniel Murray.

The book and movie versions of Lone Survivor are not the only media adaptations of Luttrell's story. The 920th Rescue Wing was featured in the Smithsonian Channel television series "Helicopter Wars," in which an entire episode, called "The Taliban Gambit,' was devoted specifically to the wing's role in the rescue mission.

Since 1956, the 920th Rescue Wing has saved more than 3,800 lives, including 850 combat rescues and 3,000 peacetime rescues, such as the 1,043 lives the wing saved during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

For more information on the 920th RQW, log onto: Facebook/920th Rescue Wing (Government Organization) or visit their web site at

914th Airlift Wing Airmen deploy

1/10/2014 - NIAGARA FALLS AIR RESERVE STATION, N.Y. -- More than 100 operations and maintenance Airmen from the 914th Airlift Wing deployed Jan. 9 to Southwest Asia in support of contingency operations.

The reservists will provide aircraft maintenance, medical evacuations and deliver combat cargo such as food, water, ammunition and medical supplies critically necessary to service members fighting in remote areas in that part of the world.

"Our western New York reservists are trained to the same readiness levels as active-duty Airmen," said Col. Walter Gordon, 914th Airlift Wing commander. "They leave fully prepared to maintain and employ our C-130 aircraft in support of USCENTCOM objectives across its broad spectrum of warfighter roles."

Dyess Bowling Program recognized as ACC's best of the year

by Senior Airman Kia Atkins
7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

1/13/2014 - DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- On Dec. 5, the 7th Force Support Squadron's Bowling Program was announced as the best in Air Combat Command and will go on to compete at Air Force Level.

"The award validates that we are providing a good service to our customers," said Stephen Bush, 7th FSS bowling program manager. "It also validates all my employees' hard work to make Dyess Lanes a customer-oriented facility for Team Dyess, so we feel great about it."

One of the reasons Bush attributes Dyess Lanes winning the best bowling program of the year is due to its financial management.

"We try to give our customers what they want and by doing that we have made money ten months in a row," Bush said. "When we make money here at the bowling alley, the money goes back into the overall fund for the base, which goes back to the Airman and Family Readiness Center."

Special events are held at the bowling alley at least once or twice a month and specials on food are presented daily.

"We offer single Airmen bowling, both for enlisted and officers, where they can come in from 9 p.m. until midnight on Friday and bowl for free," Bush said.

For single Airmen living in the dorms, the location of the bowling alley gives them a place to go where they can have an enjoyable time with friends.

"I think Dyess Lanes is great because they offer free bowling on a regular basis," said Airman 1st Class Raphael Gibbs, 317th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron aerospace propulsion apprentice. "The food is good and reasonably priced. Besides the fact that it's close, I choose to bowl so I can hang out with my friends and co-workers."

Dyess Lanes is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. and Saturday from 4 p.m. until midnight. A variety of bowling programs are offered at the bowling alley to include: birthday parties, squadron events, Saturday Thunder Alley, bowling leagues, specialty tournaments and many other programs.

3rd Wing chief shares journey from L.A. gang to Air Force blue

by Randy Roughton
Airman Magazine

1/13/2014 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- As a young teenager, the Los Angeles gang member who would one day become an Air Force command chief was already realizing the inconsistencies in his life. His grandmother confronted him with the differences between his attire and behavior when he visited her compared to how he appeared and acted on the streets.

"You're Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," she told him. "Because when you come see me, you're in your polo shirts and look all clean. But then you go on the street, and you're wearing your Dickies and white T-shirts."

Chief Master Sgt. Jose A. Barraza knew she was right.

"I was an absolute contradiction," he said. "But that's just the way it was."

The contradictions are still quite prevalent in Barraza's life, although they have changed somewhat, along with the shifting of his priorities during his evolution from a street thug into an ultra-energetic and positive Air Force leader. From the moment he arrives at the 3rd Wing headquarters at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, where he serves as command chief, Barraza takes a personal interest in each person he meets. Each one gets a smile, an occasional hug and his characteristic "hooah."

"I have those naysayers who think, 'Oh, brother, here he comes. I don't want your sunshine today, Chief Barraza,'" he said. "'I want it to rain on me today. Just take your sunshine somewhere else.'

"To this day, people still say, 'You're weird. You're crazy.' I had someone tell me, 'You need to turn it down.' I said, 'No, man. You need to turn it up.'"

Every item in Barraza's office is there to teach important values to visitors. He has a lesson for everything, from the poem about the difference between being an eagle or a wolf in life on his wall to the orange reflective vest he wore while cutting grass at the base's Heritage Park. But usually the first thing visitors see is a chessboard with a pawn in the center. To Barraza, the pawn symbolizes the individual Airman, who he strongly believes is the Air Force's most valuable asset.

Most Airmen who know Barraza's story are warmed by his presence, particularly those in the air traffic control tower who remember how he played taps at a memorial service after tragedy struck one of their own. He stood outside in the rain greeting and encouraging mourners as they entered and exited the base chapel.

"Chief Barraza is bottled lightning and infectious energy," said Air Force Master Sgt. Joseph Sollers, the 3rd Wing air traffic control assistant chief controller. "He comes in, and everyone is all smiles, and everybody takes a little break to make sure they get a chance to talk to him and hear his message."

Young Airmen, in particular, find their command chief's personality as infectious as they find his background incredible. He never lets them down, because his story is important to him, partly because it's how he landed in the position he's in today but also because of the influence it has on the Airmen who will one day become the service's leaders.

"We all have a story," he said. "Everybody has a story, and it doesn't matter if you haven't been shot or stabbed. What matters is that you know you have a story and how to share it. The importance of sharing your story is somebody is going to learn from it."


Barraza's story began when he was born to two rival gang members in south central Los Angeles in 1971. His home was the host for many large family celebrations, and the young child admired his father and other family members and noticed the respect they had and wanted it for himself.

"What I noticed over time was the influence of respect," he said. "I didn't know what anybody did. All I knew was when somebody came around, they treated my uncles and father a certain way, and I wanted that same respect."

A huge void was left in Barraza's life when a succession of men failed to become positive male role models for him. Eventually, the "homeboys" the 11-year-old Barraza respected began noticing him. One day, a couple of older gang members confronted him.

"I thought this was an opportunity because, as I assessed them and their influence, I saw that people respected them just like I respected my father, aunts and uncles," he said. "So I wanted to be the same thing. I didn't know what it was going to take, I just knew I wanted it."

One day, near the Vincent Thomas Bridge connecting San Pedro with Long Beach, Barraza thought he was just hanging out with the "homeboys and homegirls" he admired. Cars were parked to block the roads in both directions, and suddenly he was pushed into the center of the crowd and surrounded by three boys, each at least four years older than he. They began whaling on him, and as he tried to hit one of them back, another hit him on the back of the head. As the beating continued, he fell to the ground until he heard someone yell "Stop!"

But soon the fight resumed, and he was on the ground again, with blood streaming down his face and his white shirt now covered with dirt. After several rounds of similar combat, he heard the word "stop" for the final time, followed by the sound of cheering. As they helped him up, they congratulated him. "Stand up, homey," a 22-year-old gang member told him. "You're a man now."

As his eyes began to focus again, the first thing Barraza saw was the Vincent Thomas Bridge.

"That bridge became the symbol of my life," he said. "Because that day, I knew I was now part of something big. After that night, my life changed. At 11 years old, I was never going to be that little boy walking around again."

When he reached home, Barraza didn't have to tell his mother what he'd experienced. From her own gang background, she already knew and just cleaned his face.
"I wanted to cry, but that man couldn't cry," Barraza said. "My mom wanted to cry, but she didn't cry."

About a year after his initiation, Barraza, then 12, got shot for the first time. His new friends wrapped his leg, and he walked home, where his mother took him to the hospital.


Another of the contradictions Barraza remembers from that period of his life was he didn't engage in many of the behaviors his gang brothers and sisters did, such as alcohol and drugs. But he quickly discovered he loved to fight. He was willing to use his fists virtually at any sign of disrespect toward him or his brothers and sisters and soon became known simply as "The Fighter," much like his mother when she was an active gang member.
"When I would kick back with the homeboys on the street, they would be doing their thing," he said. "But any time someone would talk trash about me, I had one result. 'Let's go, homie. Talk trash, throw down.'"

Now, though, his mother tried to get her son away from that life and put him in boxing, where he was just as successful as he was on the streets. Other adults also began planting seeds of hope in the youngster, taking advantages of opportunities the men in his life missed during his childhood. Two teachers, now both deceased, tried to give him more positive outlets than fighting and life on the streets.

"I was conflicted in my own world," Barraza said. "Somebody was trying to educate me to be more, but I still wanted to go back to that world that I've always known. I was a contradiction every day. So I started learning how to shift between the homeboys and the classroom. I had to find ways to control that guy in my new environment."

But then came the day when another fight changed his life yet again. In the middle of a gang fight at a pizza parlor, Barraza was stabbed in his leg, and he responded with a punch that almost killed a rival gang member, resulting in an arrest and his life in the hands of a judge. The judge gave Barraza the option of a felony assault conviction with 2,500 hours of community service and no jail time or rehabilitation time without a felony on his record. However, no matter which option he chose, more charges could be added if the victim didn't recover. As the judge demanded an immediate decision, Barraza turned to look at his mother.

"'Jose, you've got to go away,'" she told him. "'If you come back, you won't have a life.'"
Barraza said he knew his mother was right, and he had to trust her.

"So with hate in my eyes, I took the second option to go away," he said.


Three months before graduating from high school, Barraza got shot for the fifth and final time. As he saw the faces of his mother and sisters at his bedside, he knew his life had to change for their safety.

"If I end up dead, who will take care of my mom?" he asked himself. "It was a defining moment that I could not stay."

The blue dominating the Air Force recruiting office grabbed his attention because blue was a favored color of his gang affiliation, and the recruiter cinched the deal. To this day, Barraza calls that day his Air Force birthday, "the day when I changed my life."

"He told me, 'It's for all our Airmen,'" Barraza said. "I thought he was joking, and I even challenged him on his beliefs of leadership. He reminded me to follow.

"None of this: my motivation, my willingness to change, my hooah, none of it would've ever been known without Tech. Sgt. Tony R. DeMarini," he said. "I credit my change in belief through his leadership. It was he who saw my potential and kept telling me to follow. He taught me to believe in myself and to believe in a positive future. After that day, I followed and learned. So even though I appreciate and honor the stories told by the tattoos on my body, I learned to believe why it was important to cover up."

That is why he wears long sleeves, even when running in 103-degree temperatures in Montgomery, Ala., while there for the Air Force Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy in 2006. Since processing for basic training, Barraza learned to keep his tattoos and background hidden. He has certain tattoos that he wants to keep because they help to tell the story of his life.

In fact, he kept his story to himself until the police officer who arrested him in 1986 came to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to speak about the gang problem. After the officer's talk, the police officer told the wing commander Barraza could connect to young Airmen better than any police officer or other authority figure could.

It took some convincing from the commander and his first sergeant, Barraza said, but he eventually shared his story. Soon after, Barraza said Airmen were calling for one-on-one counseling and mentorship at his house. He later shared his story at the Air Force Senior NCO Academy at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., and again when he returned as an instructor.

The three most influential people in his early life, his former teachers and his mother, are gone now. His mother died of cancer about eight years ago, and Barraza has kept his head shaven to honor her memory and to support anyone who's fighting the disease. The days of fighting for respect in Los Angeles seem like a lifetime ago.

Still, there are still times when the chief admits his grandmother's Dr. Jekyll comparison still bubbles to the surface, mostly when he feels strongly about an issue and makes his point clearly and directly. But for the most part, he's happy spreading his brand of "hooah" sunshine and using his own story to encourage others to share theirs.

"The chance to infect others with positive energy and lift their spirits surrounds us every day," Barraza said. "Chief DeMarini took advantage of that when he was a technical sergeant and I was an Airman. It doesn't matter how many or how few stripes we have on our arms, although our voice gets a little bit louder with each new stripe. There's no contradiction inside me on that - I know I have an opportunity to help them, and I don't ever want to miss it."

Colonel Wounded in Iraq to Speak at Pentagon’s King Observance

By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2014 – During the Pentagon’s annual commemoration of the life of Martin Luther King Jr., a combat veteran wounded in Iraq will explain the inspiration he drew from the civil rights leader.

Army Col. Greg Gadson, garrison commander of Fort Belvoir, Va., said he will spread King’s message of overcoming prejudices and challenges when he speaks at the Pentagon event, which begins at 9 a.m. Jan. 16. The observance will air live on the Pentagon Channel.

On May 7, 2007, Gadson was returning from a memorial service for two fellow soldiers when he was struck by a roadside bomb. Everything changed, he said in an interview with American Forces Press Service.

Gadson lost both legs and suffered serious injury to his right arm, but, seven years later, said he says he can do without the term “wounded warrior.”

“At some point, you have to stop being a wounded warrior,” the colonel said. “Like graduating or getting a promotion or accomplishing anything, it’s tempered in time, so don’t allow yourself to be defined as a wounded warrior, because then you’re always wounded.”

And just as King envisioned decades ago, Gadson said, he wants people to know that prejudices and challenges are things to overcome.

The Chesapeake, Va., native said that in addition to King’s vision, his own family’s story inspired the speech he’ll deliver. His parents lived in the segregated South and picked cotton to eke out a living.

“It has been inspirational for me, not just my relatives, but what many people have had to overcome for me to have the opportunities that I have,” Gadson said. “It’s that effort [and] perseverance that has been a part of my life, helped me reach down and overcome challenges.”

The colonel said King’s legacy not only inspires but also motivates him. “I’ve tried to recognize the progress that has been made, but also recognize that we have a responsibility to carry on his vision.”

Gadson is one of the first military members to use a high-tech prosthetic knee that allows greater mobility and a more natural gait. He played football for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and after his injuries, made his acting debut in the 2012 science-fiction movie “Battleship.”

The colonel said his role as a commander and his frequent visits to medical facilities to spend time with injured service members surprise a great many of the people he encounters.

“People in uniform or people I meet in the streets ask me what I do, and they’re surprised that I’m allowed to stay in the military,” he said.

He said he encourages optimism and often reminds wounded veterans that the very ability to communicate with him typically means the worst is over.

“We all have our challenges, and it’s not just the visible ones, but the invisible ones as well,” Gadson noted. “On a personal level, we all have our prejudices that we have to overcome.”

But the colonel explained the irony of his fight now being on “a different level” from that of King’s.

“Certainly, we have to recognize the military cannot be made up of people in my condition, or it wouldn’t get the job done, but there’s enough capacity for people like me to serve,” he said. “Dr. King reminded us that we shouldn’t define ourselves by our race [or] our social status -- our character is what we should be defined by.”

And while the colonel said it’s tough to hide his condition and its associated societal perceptions, his effort to be of service will continue even after he retires from the military.

“I want to continue to contribute to my community,” he said. “I want to find something that excites me and makes me want to get up and fight hard.”

He admitted to not yet knowing exactly where that path may lead, but one lesson, he said, remains in the forefront since his recovery.

“I’ll try to stay in the present and do the best I can every day,” he said. “That, in itself, will create the opportunities in the future.”