Wednesday, February 26, 2014

U.S.-Lebanese Engagement Remains Important, Official Says

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

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2014 – Despite impacts from the Syrian conflict, Lebanon is making progress in security and stability, but continued U.S. engagement is crucial, the Defense Department’s principal director for Middle East policy said here yesterday.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael T. Plehn testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Near Eastern and South and Central Asia Affairs subcommittee on the security situation in Lebanon.

“Our continued engagement and assistance to Lebanon and the Lebanese armed forces is all the more important in this time of increased challenges to Lebanon’s security,” he said.

The Lebanese have just agreed upon a new government, Plehn noted. “This important step provides us with an opportunity to increase our engagements,” he said, “both with Lebanon’s government as a whole and the Lebanese armed forces, in particular.”

The general said the Syrian conflict’s impact on Lebanon has been “acute.”

“The Syrian conflict is also attracting foreign fighters from across the region and around the world,” Plehn said. “Those foreign fighters are becoming battle-hardened and gaining experience that could have destabilizing effects in years to come. Of great concern, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, in particular, has exploited the growing governing vacuum in eastern Syria to carve out territory to train its fighters, recruit more fighters, and plan attacks.”

Plehn said both ISIL and Al Nusrah Front have established a presence in Lebanon and are seeking to increase their cooperation with Sunni extremists groups already operating in Lebanon.

Sunni terrorist attacks are on the rise in Lebanon, he said, noting that seven attacks against Shiia population centers have been executed in 2014. “Approximately 10 individuals have died and more than 120 have been wounded in those attacks,” Plehn added.

The general said the Lebanese armed forces have taken “bold measures” to maintain stability and counter the destabilizing effects the Syrian conflict risks to Lebanon’s security.

“The increased operational tempo of Lebanese armed forces deployments over the past few months reflects their commitment to Lebanon’s security,” Plehn said.

“In fact, the LAF's willingness to exercise its role as the sole legitimate defense force in Lebanon has made it a target as well,” he added. Lebanese troops, he said, were killed last weekend in a suicide bombing near a checkpoint.

Since 2005, the United States has been Lebanon’s key partner in security cooperation, Plehn noted, having allocated nearly $1 billion to support the Lebanese armed forces and the country’s internal security forces.

“For fiscal year 2014, we have provided approximately $71 million in foreign military financing … and $8.7 million in fiscal year 2013 [counterterrorism] funding,” he said. Since 2006, the United States has provided more than $100 million in counterterrorism funding to the Lebanese armed forces, he added.

“[This] assistance has enabled the LAF to monitor, secure, and protect Lebanon’s borders against terrorist threats and the illicit transfer of goods,” Plehn said.

The general said both foreign military funding and counterterrorism funding strengthen the Lebanese armed forces and support their mission to secure Lebanon’s borders, defend the country’s sovereignty and implement U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701.

Plehn also outlined assistance from international partners seeking to strengthen Lebanon’s security and stability situation. In December, the general said, Lebanese President Michel Sleiman announced that Saudi Arabia will grant Lebanon $3 billion to purchase defense items from France.

Working with international partners such as the French and the International Support Group for Lebanon, he said, the United States fully supports strengthening the Lebanese armed forces and ensuring its efforts are complementary and used effectively to meet these growing challenges.

Plehn also highlighted the International Military Education and Training program with Lebanon, noting that it’s the fourth-largest such program in the world.

“It builds strong ties between the U.S. and Lebanon by bringing Lebanese officers to the United States,” he said. “In [fiscal 2013], Lebanon received $2.9 million under the IMET program that allowed 67 Lebanese military students to attend education and training classes in the United States.” Since 1985, he added, this program has brought more than 1,000 Lebanese military students to the United States for education and training.

The general also said the Defense Department is focused on the Lebanese armed forces’ desire for institutional reform.

“The DOD has just instituted a Defense Institution Reform Initiative with the LAF,” he said. “This initiative complements a U.S. ‘whole-of-government’ effort supporting Lebanese security sector reform.”

With the current progress in strengthening Lebanon’s security and stability, it is critical to continue engagement with the country’s government and military, Plehn said.

San Antonio reservist competes in regional Golden Gloves tourney

by Tech Sgt. Carlos J. Trevino
433rd AW

2/26/2014 - JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- When Senior Airman Dustin "Spydaman" Southichack is not busting bugs, he's throwing punches in the ring as the only reservist on the Air Force Boxing Team.

Like the superhero Spiderman, the 433rd Civil Engineer Squadron pest management specialist is weaving a web that will carry him to the next level in boxing.

Southichack's 2-1 win over John Van Meter from Uvalde, Texas, helped the Air Force team finish second out of 20-plus teams at the San Antonio Regional Golden Gloves Tournament, Feb. 18-22.

This year, Southichack added new tactics and raised his conditioning level to fight in the super lightweight class at 141 pounds.

"I used a different style and came forward, using counter punches." Southichack said. "I mixed it up." Coaches Bobby Deleon and Steven Franco had us running more."

"He has gotten better. From long-range and from the outside, his combinations have improved. He has gotten better. As a southpaw (left handed), he is slick, said Steven Franco, Air Force Boxing coach. "That is an advantage he has over his opponents."

"He is going to be a Golden Gloves champion," said Franco, a San Antonio Regional Golden Gloves Hall of Fame coach.

In the semifinals, Southichack lost a 3-0 decision to Henry Arredondo from the Parks and Recreation Boxing Team.

"That (loss) will make me train twice as hard; it was a learning experience," he said.

On the national level, most fighters have at least eight years of amateur experience. Southichack, who has been boxing for three years, vowed to come back next year.

Last year, the team used the local Golden Gloves tournament as a warm-up prior to going to the Armed Forces meet, where they will take on other service's champions. Southichack has two years left on his enlistment, and plans to reenlist in the Air Force Reserve and eventually earn a professional boxing contract as well.

Charleston reserve wing hosts AFSO-21 training

by Michael Dukes
315th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

2/26/2014 - JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The 315th Airlift Wing hosted an Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century Green Belt Academics Course here this week and organizers say there's plenty of interest from people looking to help improve their work environments.

"We have a cross-section of ranks and career fields from the 315 AW members and one member from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.," said Maj. Kimberly Champagne, 315th AW performance planer.

Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century is a dedicated effort to maximize value and minimize waste in its processes. The training's objective is to establish a community of continuous process improvement that leverages the benefits of the collective experience, expertise, tools, and best practices.

In the course, attendees learned the AFSO-21 philosophy and tools for its practice. They also learned about other organizations using quality improvement programs similar to AFSO-21. Participants broke into work groups and chose a process relevant to them and their coworkers. They next identified the steps involved to complete that process and wrote them down on sticky notes to hang on the wall to create the overall picture.

"The goal is not to solve any problems here with these processes," said Matthew Arens, an Air Force Reserve Command contractor teaching AFSO-21. He said the focus was to use something attendees were familiar with to give them the building blocks and to better understand AFSO-21 methods. Once they return to their work areas they can then use the tools they learned to work with their coworkers to start making improvements.

As a retired colonel who served almost 30 years on active duty, Arens is well versed in the Air Force quality improvement programs and has seen them evolve over the years - especially in the early days of the movement with Total Quality Management was a strange new buzz word that leaders were trying to sell to Air Force members in the 1990s.

The goal of the course is produce green belt certified cadre' of members well versed in the process improvement tools. "So members can increase productivity of our most valued asset- People," Champagne said.

The training also helps identify gaps, with a goal to get results and it develops an Air Force-tailored model of continuous process improvement to fit Airmen culture.

"This is the first class we offered. I was overwhelmed by the response and now have to schedule 3 more classes just to meet the demand," Champagne added. "That tells me people want to improve their work environments and that is a huge win for the wing."

Nominee Pledges to Continue Meeting DOD’s Fiscal Challenges

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2014 – The Defense Department has faced many funding challenges and stands ready to meet those ahead, the man nominated to be the Pentagon’s next chief financial officer said at a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing here yesterday.

If confirmed by the Senate, Michael J. McCord would succeed Robert F. Hale, who is retiring, as undersecretary of defense (comptroller). He now serves as Hale’s principal deputy.

The Defense Department will continue to meet its obligations despite budgetary constraints, McCord said.

“These past few years have been especially challenging as we work through the longest continuing resolutions in the department's history, the sequester, a shutdown and furloughs -- all while supporting the demands of our wartime operations,” he told the senators.

“We face many challenging challenges going forward in this era of dynamic security changes and constrained resources,” McCord said, but I'm confident we'll continue to meet those challenges.”

DOD respects the work of its warfighters, but must tighten budgetary strings, he said, noting that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel previewed the department’s fiscal year 2015 budget request, which includes personnel-related proposals to slow military costs, earlier this week.

“We are just trying to restrain the growth a little bit,” McCord explained. “The compensation of our military is about a third of our budget. Including military and civilian, it's about half.”

“We cannot leave that area completely untouched,” he continued. “However, as has been the case every year that we have made some proposals in this area, they are proportionately small. We are relatively protecting compensation, [and DOD is] just recognizing the need that we have to make some savings there to do what we need to do.”

Overall, the Senate committee and the Defense Department have a shared goal in military budgetary matters, McCord noted.

“We have a goal [then-Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta] set for the 2014 statement of budgetary resources, and we have a larger goal for 2017,” he said. “I believe that we're on track.” If he’s confirmed, McCord added, he plans to continue the existing DOD plan to reach those goals.

“We're making progress,” he said.

In written testimony he submitted to the committee in advance of the hearing, McCord noted that including his five years as the Defense Department’s deputy comptroller, he has more than 29 years of experience in defense budget and financial management analysis. This includes:

-- 21 years as a Senate Armed Services Committee staff member overseeing the DOD budget and providing expert analysis on issues such as funding overseas contingency operations, the fiscal impact of legislation, reprogramming of funds to meet emerging needs, questions of fiscal law and financial management, the analysis of alternative courses of action with respect to specific programs, and knowledge of the federal budget process;

-- Two years at the Congressional Budget Office analyzing military pay and benefits, including military retirement, and force structure costs; and

-- Service on the staff of the House Budget Committee working topline funding issues pertaining to both defense and veterans issues, which he said enhances his understanding of benefit issues and the areas of interaction between the two departments, as well as the analysis of the cost of contingency operations and the overall federal budget process.

School is out, 358th FS Inactivates

by Senior Airman Camilla Elizeu
355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

2/26/2014 - DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz., -  -- The 358th Fighter Squadron officially switched to inactive status Feb. 21, here.

The squadron is inactivating due to Total Force Integration, an Air Force wide active duty, guard and reserve-initiative designed to maintain the combat effectiveness of our forces, while reducing the operational burden in some areas.

The 358th FS was first activated as part of the 355th Fighter Group at Orlando Army Air Field, Fl., Nov. 12, 1942. The unit was trained and equipped with P-47 Thunderbolts and then transferred to Steeple Morden, England, July 8, 1943. The squadron participated in the Vietnam War until January 1972, when it was inactivated.

"The unit was reactivated here June 1, 1972 as part of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing," said Lt. Col. Stephen Stzan, 358th Fighter Squadron commander. "It was designated the 358th Tactical Fighter Squadron and was changed from an operational fighter squadron to a training one, Jan. 1, 1976."

The squadron was one of two formal A-10 training squadrons in the Air Force, which trains initial qualification A-10 pilots, A-10 instructor pilots and re-qualifies pilots in the A-10.

"On average each training squadron graduated 40 pilots a year," said Stzan.

The mission of the A-10 Thunderbolt will remain the same and pilots will continue to be produced.

"The important take-away from this is that it's just a transition from an active to a reserve squadron," said Lt. Col. Terry W. McClain, 47th Fighter Squadron commander.

In Dec. 13, the responsibility of the training, educating and mentoring A-10 Thunderbolt pilots fell into the hands of the 47th FS.

"The same product will come out of the active duty unit and the reserve unit," said McClain.

Some of the benefits of this transition are continuity and cost effectiveness.

"Active-duty personnel rotate every three years, in the reserves, we show up and we stay," said McClain. "Also there are less training costs and a smaller footprint."

Although this transition is a part of a larger Air Force goal, D-M Airmen will only see minor changes.

"The base will see different marking on the planes and difference tail flashes but the mission is still the same," said McClain.

The 358th finished it's time at D-M by completing 120,591 flying hours, with more than 60,606 sorties from 2000-2014. Additionally, the squadron trained approximately 750 new pilots and re-qualified nearly 175 pilots.

Tough Budget Choices Protect Security Interests, Fox Says

By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2014 – The Defense Department’s proposed fiscal year 2015 budget protects the department’s two most important constituencies: troops and taxpayers, Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine H. Fox said today in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute.

In doing so, the department’s leaders recognized that they must make tough decisions in order to navigate this period of fiscal austerity, Fox said.

“Making spending choices that will be portrayed as having more losers than winners due to the fact that budgets are tight and could get even tighter is no way to win a popularity contest,” she said. “In many respects, there was something in this package to set off just about everybody's alarm bells and umbrage meters.”

The defense priorities laid out by President Barack Obama in 2010 weighed heavily on the department’s budget choices, the acting deputy secretary said.

Those priorities are not a short list, Fox said, noting they include “shifting operational focus and forces to the Asia-Pacific, sustaining commitments to key allies in the Middle East, being prepared to defeat a major adversary in one part of the world while denying victory to an opportunistic adversary elsewhere, reducing the force planning requirement to conduct large, prolonged counterinsurgency and stability operations, aggressively pursuing terrorist networks and countering weapons proliferation that threaten the homeland, enhancing capabilities in cyber, space and missile defense, maintaining a smaller but credible nuclear deterrent and continuing a military presence and pursuing security cooperation in multiple regions -- Europe, Africa and South America -- though at reduced size and frequency.”

The list makes it clear that, despite the budget uncertainty at home, the military must still be prepared to counter a wide variety of threats while embracing new opportunities around the world, Fox said. The world is no less dangerous, turbulent or in need of American leadership, the acting deputy secretary added. And without a repeat of the peace dividend that followed the Cold War, Fox said, “resources for national defense may not reach the levels envisioned to fully support the president's strategy.”

Even before the sequester provision was triggered, the Budget Control Act of 2011 reduced projected defense spending by $487 billion over 10 years, she said.

“The next two defense budgets submitted by the president stayed generally on this fiscal course, though last year’s request added another $150 billion in reductions back-loaded towards the end of the BCA period. … Then, of course, the department, along with the rest of the executive branch, got hit with sequester just under one year ago,” Fox said.

Some relief arrived in the form of the Bipartisan Budget Act, she said. But, the act still cuts defense spending by more than $75 billion in fiscal years 2014 and 2015 relative to the president’s budget plan. And sequestration is scheduled to return in FY 2016 and cut defense by more than $50 billion annually through 2021, Fox added.

“With our leadership's stern warnings about sequestration appearing to fall mostly on deaf ears in the Congress last year, one of secretary Hagel's top priorities is to prepare the department for an era when defense budgets could be significantly lower than expected, wanted or needed,” the acting deputy secretary said.

The budget proposal announced Feb. 24 would provide $115 billion more funding over the next five years than would sequestration, she said.

“We think it is a realistic proposal that reflects strategic imperatives as well as the resources the department might reasonably expect to receive. … In all, the budget plan and associated proposals provide a sustainable path towards shaping a force able to protect the nation and fulfill the president's defense strategy, albeit with some additional risk,” Fox continued.

One place the department chose to assume risk was in shrinking the overall size of the force to protect funding for military technology and acquisitions, the acting deputy secretary said, acknowledging that a smaller force can go to fewer places and do fewer things.

“However, attempting to retain a larger force in the face of potential sequester-level cuts would create, in effect, a decade-long modernization holiday on top of the program cancellations and delays already made,” she said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel drew upon lessons learned from previous drawdowns to ensure military forces would be properly trained and superior in arms and equipment, Fox said.

“In [previous drawdowns], the U.S. military kept more force structure than could be adequately trained, maintained and equipped, given defense budgets at the time,” she noted.

During last year's Strategic Choices and Management Review, the department also looked for places to trim the Pentagon’s bureaucracy and found that some savings were possible, the acting deputy secretary said.

“However, achieving savings in the military's proverbial tail takes several years and produces significantly less in bankable savings than is commonly believed,” Fox said. DOD's headquarters structures account for just over 2 percent of its personnel and 1 percent of its budget, she noted, making it impossible to achieve the savings demanded by sequestration solely by cutting personnel.

The services also are making significant cuts, she said. For example, the Navy has reduced its support contracts, cut its fleet size and pursued better pricing initiatives.

The department’s proposed budget assumes a certain amount of risk, the acting deputy secretary said.

“Crafting a strategy totally devoid of risk and totally disencumbered from resources is a logical fallacy and historical fiction,” Fox said. “For starters, a relevant strategy is not a set of goals and preferences put together on the assumption or hope that the money will just follow. In reality, strategy requires a symbiotic relationship between resources, outcomes and courses of action. … Each strategic element informs one another on the path to final decisions.”

The result, she said, is a strategy that is neither budget-driven nor budget-blind.

“Remember that even the largest defense budgets will have limits, as will our knowledge and ability to predict the future, so they always contain some measure of risk,” Fox said.

That said, the return of sequestration would bring unacceptable levels of risk to the nation, the acting deputy secretary said.

“As a result of the last few months of analysis, we were able to identify with some precision what the post-sequestration military would look like over the next decade,” she said.

The consequences included an even smaller Navy fleet, an Army with just 400,000 active-duty soldiers, delayed or curtailed purchases of F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft and other platforms critical to air superiority, and combat units short of spare parts and unable to conduct complex, realistic training, Fox said.

In addition, “our forces could not deploy quickly and in strength to respond to disasters overseas or other contingencies that require America's leadership,” she said. “Some allies and partners would be more likely to hedge their bets and cut side deals with their larger and more aggressive neighbors. And finally, America would remain the world's leading military power, but would no longer be the guarantor of global security that can be counted on to protect our values, interests and allies.

“Pretending that a return to sequester is not harmful is the most harmful thing that we can do,” Fox said.

Officials Testify on Links Between Suicide, PTSD, Sexual Assault

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

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2014 – Defense Department officials testified today before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s personnel subcommittee on the relationship between military sexual assault survivors and the subsequent development of suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dr. Karen S. Guice, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, was joined by Jacqueline Garrick, director of DOD’s suicide prevention program, and Nathan Galbreath, senior executive advisor for DOD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.

“We know from civilian population research that sexual assault is associated with an increased risk of suicidal ideation, attempts and completions,” Guice said. “Furthermore, this association appears to be independent of gender.

“Sexual assault is also associated with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and PTSD,” she continued. “Likewise, these mental health conditions are associated with suicidal ideation, attempts and completions.”

Guice said for military populations, the evidence is less well defined than that in the civilian population.

“Between 2008 and 2011,” she said, “the number of individuals who attempted or completed suicide and reported either sexual abuse or harassment in DOD ranged from six to 14 per year -- or 45 in total.”

Only nine of those individuals also had PTSD, Guice said, an association similar to prior studies in civilians.

“The data does not, however, describe causation, the nature of the association, its directionality or potential influence of additional comorbidity factors,” she said.

DOD has a variety of research initiatives, Guice said, directed to better understand the range of issues associated with suicide, including risk factors, the impact of deployment and possible precursors.

Guice also addressed DOD’s services and programs available to trauma survivors.

“Sexual assault survivors are at an increased risk for developing sexually transmitted infections, depression, anxiety and PTSD,” Guice said. “[These are] conditions that can have a long-lasting effect on well-being and future functioning, and can precipitate suicidal thought.”

To address these and other potential risks, she said, DOD has policy, guidelines and procedures in place to provide access to a structured, competent and coordinated continuum of care, and support for survivors of sexual trauma.

This is regardless of whether the survivor is male or female, Guice said, or whether the sexual assault occurred prior to joining the military or during service, and it doesn’t matter if the manifestations are physical or emotional.

Guice noted this continuum begins when the individual seeks care and extends through the transition from military service to the Veterans Affairs health care system or care in their communities.

“DOD has issued comprehensive guidance on medical management for survivors of sexual assault for all military treatment facilities and service personnel who provide or coordinate medical care for sexual assault survivors,” she said.

Guice said this guidance also includes the requirement that the care is “gender-responsive, culturally competent and recovery-oriented.”

Any sexual assault survivor who goes to a military treatment facility is treated as a medical emergency” she added.

“Treatment of any and all immediate life-threatening conditions takes priority,” Guice said. Survivors are offered testing and prophylactic treatment options, and women are advised of the risk for pregnancy and information on emergency contraception, she said.

Before being released from treatment, Guice noted, survivors are provided referrals for additional medical services, behavioral health evaluation and counseling tailored to the patient’s preferences for care.

“In locations where DOD does not have the needed specialized care,” she said, “including emergency care within a given military treatment facility, patients are referred to providers in the local community.”

Guice said Dr. Jonathan Woodson, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, issued a memorandum last spring to the services on reporting compliance with these standards.

“The services returned detailed implementation plans,” she said. “The first of a yearly reporting requirement is due this summer from each of them.”

DOD also has an in-transition program, Guice said, designed to meet the needs of service members who transition from active duty to civilian life. “This program assigns service members to a support coach to bridge between health care systems and providers,” she said.

Guice reaffirmed the department’s commitment to assisting sexual assault survivors, and lauded the committee for examining this “very important issue.”

“Our policies within DOD are designed to ensure that all trauma survivors, and particularly those subjected to sexual assault, have access to a full range of medical and behavioral health programs to optimize recovery,” she said, “and that their transition from military service to civilian life is supported.”