Saturday, January 25, 2014

423rd ABG community supports family fighting cancer

by Staff Sgt. Brian Stives
501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs

1/23/2014 - ROYAL AIR FORCE ALCONBURY, United Kingdom -- Getting a cancer diagnosis can thrust a person into uncertainty and a world full of unknowns and new experiences.

Some people react with shock, numbness, fear, sadness or anger -- these are all normal experiences. Some find comfort in talking to other people who have been diagnosed with cancer; a counselor or by spending time with friends and family.

For Chief Master Sgt. Michael Ogden, 423rd Air Base Group superintendent, and his wife, Bonnie, they didn't know who they could turn to since they had only been at Royal Air Force  Alconbury for two months when Bonnie was diagnosed with breast cancer Aug. 1, 2013.

"We really wanted to let everyone know what was happening in our family because we realized with Bonnie's diagnosis, we weren't going to be able to dedicate as much time as we wanted to the RAF Alconbury community," said Chief Ogden." We hoped that the community would understand our absences but instead the entire wing reached out and offered an abundance of support to our family."

"We were really overwhelmed by people contacting us and asking how they can help," said Bonnie.

One of the many things the RAF Alconbury and RAF Molesworth communities did was organize a "Food Train," which provided meals after each of Bonnie's chemotherapy sessions.

"We organized a plan for what they were going to need and we thought we could help by providing some dinners throughout her chemotherapy," said Meg Sweeney, one of the organizers and spouse of Col. Steven Sweeney, 423rd ABG commander.

The food train provided more than 40 meals to the Ogdens during Bonnie's six chemotherapy sessions.

"They are in our 423rd ABG family, and I just wanted to do what I could to help them," said Cari Whitehill, the other organizer of the food train and spouse of Lt. Col. Trevor Whitehill, 423rd ABG deputy commander. "I'm sure the emotions they had going on were overwhelming and this was the least we could do to help them."

"Being able to provide those meals was very easy to do and if it eases their mind a little bit, that is great - it's just something we do," said Sweeney.

Even though the 423rd ABG isn't very large in numbers, there were plenty of people looking to step up and help the Ogdens.

"I don't want to say we sought people out, we had people coming up to us and asking, 'How can we help?' said Sweeney. "Everybody did this to let Bonnie focus on what she needs to focus on -- which was not preparing a meal."

Whitehill agreed that it was easy to get volunteers to make food.

"People were very willing to help out," said Whitehill.

Although making food for someone may seem like a small gesture, it can make a world of difference when they are battling cancer.

"It was nice to be able to concentrate on Bonnie and not worry about how the children would be fed each night following Bonnie's treatments," said Chief Ogden.

"Knowing my family was being fed was an awesome feeling," said Bonnie. "Not having to prepare meals after chemotherapy and the days following when I was feeling my worst was a huge relief. It enabled Michael to balance taking care of me and his busy work schedule. We couldn't have made it through this challenge without everyone's help."

Providing meals was not the only kind of support the Ogdens received from throughout the 501st Combat Support Wing.

"Everywhere I would go, whether it was here at RAF Alconbury or RAF Molesworth, RAF Croughton or RAF Menwith Hill, everyone would ask me how Bonnie was doing," said Chief Ogden. "Locally, the clinic staff helped us maneuver the British Healthcare System. One evening at our home, Bonnie and I were having a debate about how to navigate the local health system when Lt. Col. [Vicky] Fair [423rd Medical Squadron commander] showed up at our door to see if we needed anything ... it was great timing! The following day, she put us in touch with the right office to properly negotiate the system."

"The support we received from the 501st CSW and 423rd ABG leadership was phenomenal," said Bonnie. "I knew I was being taken care of which allowed me to focus on getting well."

Support for the Ogdens came from wing and group leadership, base organizations and even individuals, such as AnnaLee Casto and Hadyn Pollard [daughter of Master Sgt. Rocky Casto and son of Mater Sgt. Nathan Pollard, 423rd ABG first sergeants] who presented Bonnie with flowers and chocolate they bought with money they earned by setting up a lemonade stand in their front yard.

Humbled and touched by the outpouring of support, Bonnie is dedicated to continue paying it forward, something she'll have more time for now that she received the news Jan. 9 that she is cancer free.

"This community is extremely tightknit," said Bonnie. "Thank you! I'll never be able to repay everyone for their generosity - I can only promise to pay it forward."

"This really demonstrates that the Air Force is a family ... one team, one fight! Thank you to all for providing support and a shoulder to lean on," said Chief Ogden.

422nd ABG Airmen care for extended family

by Tech. Sgt. Chrissy Best
501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs

1/22/2014 - ROYAL AIR FORCE CROUGHTON, United Kingdom -- When their phone in Washington, D.C., began ringing on the early morning of Aug. 15, Senior Airman Ryan Cureton's parents' life suddenly changed as the voice on the other side told them their son was in the critical care unit at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, United Kingdom, after a car accident.

Cureton, assigned to the 422nd Communications Squadron at Royal Air Force Croughton, would spend the next six weeks at the hospital battling for his life in the intensive care unit with a traumatic brain injury as a result of the accident. From there, he traveled to Germany and then onto Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md., where he completed more tests before being released to the Richmond Veteran's Affairs Polytrauma Rehabilitation Unit, Richmond, Va., where he is scheduled to be released in March.

"Neither of us had current passports, but that was no problem for the 422nd Air Base Group," said Richard Cureton, Cureton's father. "But within 24 hours we had our passports in hand and a scheduled flight to London. The behind-the-scenes uniformed angels were at work helping us to get through the passport process as smoothly as possible."

One of the many people helping make things happen was Lt. Col. Matthew Olson, 422nd Communications Squadron commander.

"There is no higher responsibility or reward than taking care of Airman and their families," said Olson.

When the family arrived, everything had been taken care of for them, so they could immediately go see Ryan at the hospital.

"We arrived in London and were graciously received and taken immediately to the hospital to see our son," said Richard. "The 422nd ABG provided lodging, a vehicle with a driver to escort us from base to the hospital, a full stocked fridge, cooked meals, love and encouragement on a daily basis through prayer and fellowship."

The RAF Croughton members also responded with overwhelming support for Ryan and his family by taking care of powers of attorney, cleaning to turn over his rental property, countless hospital visits, phone calls, e-mails and Facebook messages to show their support -- to include an over-sized squadron get well card.

"We just couldn't believe the news when we heard it - it didn't seem real," said Senior Airman Katie Perry, 422nd CS Postal Clerk and co-worker of Cureton. "We wanted to go see him as soon as possible, to let him know he wasn't alone."

Since going to the Richmond VA Polytrauma Rehabilitation Unit, Cureton has moved from a hospital bed to a wheelchair then from a walker to now being able to walk on his own. He is still trying to regain full control of his left side, balance, vision and short term memory.

"Ryan is running a marathon not a race," said Richard

"Knowing that we all made a tremendous difference to Ryan and his family is difficult to limit in words," said Olsen. "This experience positively touched me and everyone else that volunteered their selfless time."

"All aboard, this train Ryan is still on the track and the engine is fired up - just like everyone would expect from an Airman," said Richard.

Key Spouse Program ramps up at 440th Airlift Wing

by Master Sgt. Steve Staedler
440th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

1/23/2014 - POPE FIELD, N.C. -- Deployments have become a way of life for Air Force reservists. Whether an Airman is gone for one week or one year, it can be a stressful time for everyone involved, especially the spouse staying home.

To help alleviate those stressors for loved ones left behind, the Air Force Reserve Command has created the Key Spouse Program, an initiative that aims to ensure the well being of family and friends of deployed reservists by providing them information, communication and resources.

Organizers are looking for people to volunteer as a Key Spouse for their respective squadrons as the program ramps up in the 440th Airlift Wing here.

"We need to recruit people here at Pope Field to become Key Spouses," said Master Sgt. Barbara Hedman, Airman and Family Readiness NCO in charge. "Our goal is to build awareness of the program, because you never know what's going to happen."

The Key Spouse Program is an outreach tool of the 440th AW commander, Brig. Gen. James Scanlan, who will help ensure the readiness of Pope Field families in preparing for and coping with the demands of deployment. The program is a partnership between the wing commander, Airman and Family Readiness, and the Key Spouse Program volunteer - with the goal of looking after the families of deployed Airmen.

"We want to be able to take care of families by staying in constant contact with them, and to share all the resources and programs available to them throughout the deployment," Hedman said. "The key spouse acts as a liaison between the family and base. If a spouse is experiencing difficulties, the key spouse volunteer can step in and help them out."

Hedman, who is coordinating the program along with Master Sgt. Katrine Guinn and Nancy Schmitkons, key spouse mentor and wife of Col. Karl Schmitkons, 440th AW vice commander, said the program took shape soon after reservists were deployed in large numbers following the 9/11 terrorists attacks.

Some of the responsibilities of a key spouse include:

· Serving as a conduit of information for families
· Regularly call on families to see how things are going
· Providing peer-to-peer support to spouses
· Providing information on local resources and programs

It's not just spouses who are served by the program. Family members and parents can also benefit from the service provided by key spouses.

"We have a lot of single Airmen whose parents may need support as well," Nancy Schmitkons said. "It's not just the military member that's part of this unit, the family is a member, too."

Any military or family member can become a key spouse. Those who volunteer receive ongoing training and support from Airman and Family Readiness.

For more information on the program, or to volunteer, call 910-394-1441 or email

Actor wins green card lottery, enlists to serve his adopted country

by Maj. Khalid Cannon
th Air Expeditionary Wing

1/24/2014 - SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Once every two years, 100,000 Kenyan applicants receive a letter notifying them they are qualified to possibly receive a Green Card, which would allow them to become permanent United States residents.

During the next phase, 55,000 are formally considered to receive a diversity visa and are required to pay for a medical exam and inoculations, and are interviewed in Nairobi.

In March 2010 Kevin Yator, who was then an actor on a Kenyan soap opera, received a congratulatory letter from the U.S. State Department notifying him that he received his Green Card; he was one of only 3,000.

"I was in search of better opportunities and my cousin, who was living in the U.S., encouraged me to pursue a track scholarship," said Yator. "She also said I should apply for the visa lottery. So, in 2009 I went into a cyber café and applied."

Prior to coming to the U.S., Yator described his life as "mayhem."

When Yator was a senior in high school his mother passed away, forcing him and his brothers to find places to live because their father was not a constant presence in their lives.

At the time, Kenya was experiencing post-election violence, recalled Yator. Between 2007 and 2008, different tribes fought each other and 3,000 people were killed.

"I moved in with a friend of mine and started theater acting," said Yator. "I began acting on a popular drama series called 'The Team,' which was created in response to all the violence during the elections."

In 2010, the Public Broadcasting Service produced a segment about the series titled, "Soap Opera for Social Change," and reported that The Team was "a show about a co-ed team of young soccer players in Nairobi. They are all from different tribes. And, in Kenya tribe is a very big deal."

Yator and other cast members toured Kenya and had numerous screenings for large groups of young people. At the end of each screening, they held town hall meetings and discussed the show's diversity, unity, and tolerance messages. The show had a TV audience of more than two million viewers, according to PBS.

After moving to the U.S. in 2010, Yator lived with his cousin in the Washington, D.C. area, and worked two retail jobs while also attending college.

At the end of 2011, another cousin who retired from the U.S. Army spoke with Yator about the benefits of enlisting.

"My cousin told me I could go to school and earn money," said Yator. "He also said the Air Force was more career-oriented and there would be more room for growth."

In March 2012, Yator enlisted in the Air Force. The regimented life at his Kenyan boarding school prepared him for basic training, he said.

"It was fun," Yator said simply.

One of his proudest moments was being named honor graduate at the end of his five-month technical school where he learned how to take care of an installation's water utility and sewer systems, as well as fuel infrastructure.

"Growing up in Kenya, I learned humility, patience, and respect. That has really helped me in the Air Force."

Yator is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in corrosion control, and wants to become a petroleum engineer.

In August 2012, now Airman 1st Class Yator became a U.S. citizen. He's currently deployed to the 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron.

"I haven't been back to Kenya since I left, but I plan on traveling there this year with my other cousins who are in the Army," he said.

Yator, who is stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., reflected on what his new country meant to him growing up.

"We saw America as a place that was welcoming, where there were opportunities and room to grow."

James ceremoniously sworn-in by Hagel

Deborah Lee James, the 23rd secretary of the Air Force, was ceremoniously sworn in by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon Jan 24.

Hagel called James well suited to lead the Air Force as the nation faces an increasingly uncertain security environment.

"The rise of emerging powers, dangerous rogue states, affiliated terrorist organizations, and the proliferation of technology will mean more contested and complicated domains, from space to cyber to sea lanes," he said.

Hagel noted that James has spent the last 30 years serving on the staff of the House Armed Services Committee, at the Pentagon, where she served three secretaries of defense, as well as in the private sector. Her approach, he said, "has been to understand the problems and opportunities, listen carefully, and then act decisively." This, he added, will make her a success leading the Air Force.

At today's ceremony, Hagel said he, James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark. A. Welsh III are deeply concerned "about the overall health and professionalism and discipline of our strategic forces," and called the problems facing the new Air Force secretary daunting. But he credited James with a "swift, decisive and thoughtful response," to the matter after she visited missile bases around the country in recent days. Even so, he said, "restoring confidence in the nuclear mission will be a top priority."

James, who was officially sworn in as secretary last month, thanked her family, friends and mentors for their support along the way.

 “I owe a deep debt of gratitude to everyone who has been a source of support to me,” said James.  “As our former Secretary of State, Senator, and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton famously wrote, ‘It takes a village.’  Well, look around you, for you are the village of my life.  I am humbled and grateful that you are with me. “

From the start, James’ focus has been on people.

“Our Airmen form the foundation of all we do,” said James. “Over the last few weeks, I have been able to look into the eyes of young Airmen who stand sentinel for our country.   I have heard the pride in our Airmen’s voices, the pride they have in their profession and as members of the United States Air Force.”

James pledged to leave the Air Force some years from now on a path toward greater capability and better affordability, but cautioned the service will continue to face difficult challenges and trade-offs brought on by shrinking budgets. She recognized that this is no easy feat, but is optimistic none the less.

 “I have such respect and appreciation for the Air Force’s great leadership team and for the remarkable dedication and boundless energy our Airmen bring to the task every day,” said James. “Clearly, we have a lot of work ahead of us.  But there’s no time to lose, and I’m eager to get started.  It is an honor and a privilege to serve as the 23rd Secretary of the Air Force.”

Officer Blazes Field Artillery Trail for Women

By Army Staff Sgt. Chris McCullough
3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division

FORT IRWIN, Calif., Jan. 24, 2014 – Every walk of life has its pioneers and trailblazers who pave the way for the next generation. The Army is no exception.

The predominately male discipline of field artillery has had a few firsts for women, such as fire direction officers in Mobile Launch Rocket System teams and High Mobility Artillery Rocket System crews. But when Army 2nd Lt. Taylor Cardosi arrived at the 7th Infantry Division’s 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., she became the first woman to serve as a fire direction officer in a M777A1 howitzer cannon unit.

Cardosi, 22, a native of Stillwater, Mass., serves in the 1st Battalion, 37th Artillery Regiment fire direction center.

“We get fire missions from our battalion, which come from the maneuvers section,” she said. “We process the data and send it to the guns.”

Cardosi’s appointment is hot on the heels of the Defense Department’s decision to open all military jobs to women eventually. While some positions remain closed as officials work out details, the fire direction officer field opened to women only days after Cardosi’s Dec. 27, 2012, entry into active duty.

“I was 100 percent surprised when I got here,” she said. “I just showed up, and I immediately went to the field.”

Cardosi’s admission into the male-dominated field probably is no surprise to those who know her. All her life she said, she has strived to succeed in activities not usually associated with young ladies, beginning with her decision to quit ballet.

“I told my mom I hated it and wanted to do karate, like my brother was,” she said. “My parents let me choose whatever I wanted.”

Her perseverance continued into college, where she earned a double major in political science and women in gender studies, and enrolled in the Army ROTC program.

“When I kind of heard about the ROTC aspect, I knew that it was perfect for me,” Cardosi said. “Then I went to school, I got a scholarship and tried to enter the Army. At the time, I didn’t even know what I would be doing in the military. I didn’t have any idea of the jobs that were available or ones that I would be interested in doing, either. I really didn’t decide until my junior year that I wanted to do field artillery.”

While at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, Cardosi was an essential member of her row team. She said that experience translates well to her service in the Army.

“I had a strong team, and the Army is like that,” she said. “You have your squad or your team, your teammates or your buddies. In rowing, there are eight people in a boat. You have to combine them to do your best. Same thing [in the Army]: our guys have to watch each other or people get hurt.”

Cardosi credited her platoon sergeant, Army Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Guerard, with helping her to learn the ropes.

“I think he’s probably one of the best platoon sergeants in the Army,” she said. “He knows his job, and he pretty much took me under his wing, because I really didn’t know anything about artillery units that much. He just treats me like any other officer. It’s not really a male or female thing. He treats me with the same respect.”

Guerard, a native of Worcester, Mass., acknowledged that his platoon was a little apprehensive at first, because the idea of a female artilleryman was something new to them. But Cardosi’s work ethic at Yakima Training Center during the brigade’s training exercise in October, he added, showed him and his soldiers that there is no difference between Cardosi and her male counterparts.

“She strives to do great things,” Guerard said. “She’s already setting herself apart from her peers. Absolutely, there is no difference. She’s just another one of the team.”

Cardosi said she hopes to continue to serve for many years to come.

“I like to think that I want this as a career,” she said. “I’m patient enough to wait and, when that time arrives, prove that I should have been there all along. For now, that’s the plan -- make it a career and become a battalion commander, a brigade commander, a general.”

Hagel Expresses Gratitude for Finland’s Contributions

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24, 2014 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel discussed a range of issues that included Afghanistan, Syria, Nordic cooperation and the Arctic with Finnish Defense Minister Carl Haglund at the Pentagon yesterday, Assistant Pentagon Press Secretary Carl Woog said.

In a statement summarizing the meeting, Woog said Hagel conveyed gratitude for the strong U.S.-Finnish bilateral relationship and noted that Finland also is a valued NATO partner and an important leader in addressing regional and global challenges.

“Secretary Hagel praised Finland's contributions to NATO operations in Afghanistan and its willingness to join the international efforts to destroy the chemical weapons removed from Syria,” he added.

Hagel also applauded Finland's leadership role in enhancing Nordic regional cooperation, the assistant press secretary said, including through increased emphasis on joint training and exercises.

“Secretary Hagel is thankful for the Finnish commitment to global security, and he looks forward to working together in advancing our mutual security interests to meet future challenges,” Woog said, adding that the secretary also looks forward to seeing Haglund at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in February.

AFSOAWC commander relieved of command

by AFSOC Public Affairs

1/9/2014 - Hurlburt Field, Fla. -- Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, relieved Brig. Gen. Jon Weeks from command of the Air Force Special Operations Air Warfare Center Jan. 9 due to a loss of trust and confidence in his leadership.

General Fiel made his decision based on preliminary information from an ongoing Inspector General investigation into an alleged inappropriate personal relationship involving Weeks.

"This was not an easy decision, but I believe it is in the best interest of the men and women of AFSOAWC," Fiel said. "AFSOAWC will continue to train and equip our Air Commandos to effectively conduct special operations missions around the globe."

Col. Royce Lott, AFSOAWC vice commander, will be the interim commander until an assumption of command by Col. David Tabor takes place in the spring.

Weeks, an Air Force Reservist, has been on active duty as the commander of AFSOAWC since February 2013. Pending the results of the investigation, he has been temporarily assigned as the mobilization assistant to the director of operations at AFSOC.

AFSOAWC is headquartered at Hurlburt Field, Fla., with operating locations at Duke Field, Fla., Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. and Robins Air Force Base, Ga. The mission is to organize, train, educate and equip forces to conduct special operations missions, irregular warfare, and special operations test, evaluation and lessons learned programs. AFSOAWC also develops doctrine and tactics, techniques and procedures for Air Force special operations forces.