Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Obama Praises Fox for Service as Acting Deputy Defense Secretary

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 7, 2014 – President Barack Obama today praised Christine H. Fox, who served as acting deputy secretary of defense to bridge the transition period between Ash Carter’s retirement in December and Bob Work taking office yesterday as deputy defense secretary.

“I want to acknowledge her dedicated service to our nation and to the men and women of our armed forces,” the president said of Fox in a statement.

“Last year, she graciously agreed to return to the Department of Defense shortly after she had officially retired in order to ensure that [Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel] and I had the support we needed in a challenging time,” the president said. “She provided steady leadership in the wake of sequester and developed an approach to the budget that puts our military on a path toward restored readiness.”

Obama also expressed his gratitude and best wishes. “I am grateful to Christine for her willingness to step in and serve her nation once again -- as the highest-ranking woman ever to serve at the Department of Defense -- and wish her the very best in her future endeavors,” he said.

Navy Region Southeast Begins HURREX Citadel Gale 2014

By Twilla Smith, Navy Region Southeast Public Affairs

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (NNS) -- Hurricane season is right around the corner and Navy Region Southeast (NRSE) is gearing up for the 2014 HURREX Citadel Gale training exercise. The exercise will run May 5-15 in preparation for the upcoming hurricane season.

The purpose of HURREX Citadel Gale 2014 is to prepare regions Navy-wide to respond to weather threats to U.S. coastal regions, and to maintain the ability to deploy forces even under the most adverse weather conditions. Tropical storms have the potential to cause great damage as they pass, and the Navy prepares every year to mitigate that damage.

"HURREX Citadel Gale 14 is the annual U.S. Fleet Forces Command hurricane preparedness exercise and Commander, Navy Installations Command natural disaster restoration and recovery exercise that provides evacuation, disaster preparedness and consequence management training to afloat and shore based commands," said John Hunczak, NRSE Regional Operation Assessment and Assistance Program (ROAAP) exercise planner.

"This is a great training opportunity and focusing event for the Navy Region Southeast team in preparation for the 2014 hurricane season," continued Hunczak.

For exercise preparation, NRSE will review disaster preparedness plans and conduct individual and team training. NRSE will also conduct pre-exercise and pre-tropical cyclone season discussions with disaster preparedness officers of subordinate commands to address exercise scenarios, emergency plans, and recovery efforts.

The destruction and devastation caused by storms reinforce the need for proper training and preparedness prior to the threat of a real world natural disaster. NRSE has endured severe storms in the recent past to include hurricanes Sandy and Katrina. Being prepared for the potential issues associated with a storm can only be successful with proper training, which is why this type of exercise is necessary on an annual basis.

Navy Region Southeast remains committed to the safety, security, and well-being of its Sailors, civilians, and their family members.

Reserve civil engineers sustain Warrior base

by 1st Lt Denise Haeussler
433rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

5/6/2014 - JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- Sunshine and blue skies brought smiles to faces of the 433rd Civil Engineer Squadron as they moved from bare base bed-down to sustainment in support of Exercise Patriot Warrior 2014 at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin May 3 through 7.

"Once bed down is complete, we move into the sustainment phase which entails being readily available for whatever is needed at the FOB CE-wise as the main body builds up for the exercise," said Capt. David Shaw, 433rd CE Operations Flight commander.

According to Shaw, sustainment involves upkeep and maintenance of the FOB to make it livable. The CES Airmen are able to do beautification and upgrades, install boilers for hot water. Laundry facilities are set up. Hot meals in the flight kitchen become more available, and services can move into providing morale, welfare and recreation activities to boost and maintain morale.

Also during sustainment, CES has more free time for training they would not be able to get at home station.

"During bed down, I honed my skills in power production and trained on driving heavy equipment that I would not do back at Lackland," said electrician Master Sgt. Curtis Wilson. "The sustainment phase gave me an opportunity to broaden my skills and learn other avenues of CE."

"This is my first experience with bare base operations," said Senior Airman Lloyd Watkins, an operations journeyman. "If I do deploy for a contingency operation, I will know what to expect, and how to operate the unit control center once bed down is done."

Sustainment also frees Airman up to meet real-world needs in and around the FOB. Several reservists volunteered to help build and level out the road at a nearby quarry. Others helped redo the siding, windows and doors on the morale, welfare, and recreation building at the Pine View Camping Grounds on the west side of the fort. 

"Helping out real world is a troop labor project. It's the best of both worlds because this is what CE would be doing for normal annual training. Not only are they training in bare base operations, they are also keeping up with annual requirements.

"This has been an ideal opportunity for my Airmen to train," said Shaw. "I'm grateful for this experience for myself and my team."

Reserve 'Defenders' return from Kyrgyzstan deployment

by Tech. Sgt. Stephen J. Collier
310th Space Wing Public Affairs

5/6/2014 - SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Streaming tears, grinning faces and a patriotic fervor greeted a contingent of 310th Security Forces Squadron members May 3, as they redeployed from Southwest Asia in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

The Air Force Reservists, together with members of the Peterson AFB-based 302nd SFS, arrived at the Colorado Springs Airport to family members and their fellow Citizen Airmen alike, something Senior Airman Levi Milstead didn't expect.

"It feels good to be back, I'm enjoying it," said Milstead while holding his infant son. "He's definitely grown, that's for sure. It just feels good to be back."

The Airmen were deployed to the Transit Center at Manas, located in the Kyrgyz Republic. While deployed, the Airmen provided for the location's integrated base defense systems. They also provided for the Center's physical security as well as its antiterrorism and force protection measures.

The Transit Center is scheduled to close July 2014, marking more than 12 years of operations in support of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As a lead up to their deployment, the Airmen attended Silver Flag Alpha, a specialized two-week security training course at Nellis AFB, Nevada. The Airmen deployed January 15, which was long enough for Alexis Stewart, the wife of Senior Airman Trevor Stewart.

"I'm excited (to have him back) obviously, but we all get into our routine and (his return has) been making me antsy," she said. "I just want to go home and relax and have him back in my life. He's the sweetest and most caring man I've ever met."

Milstead's father, retired Chief Master Sgt. Robert Milstead, said he and his family were also excited to have his son back.

"It's fantastic! We missed him," he said. "We were glad he got the opportunity to deploy, but we're just happy to have him back safe and sound. Once we get home, we've got ribs and shrimp gumbo for him. We're just proud that he wanted to follow in the family's footsteps about serving their country."

Alaska Air Force Reserve unit flies milestone sortie

by Capt. Ashley Conner
477th Fighter Group Public Affairs

5/6/2014 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- F-22 pilots from the 477th Fighter Group, Alaska's only Air Force Reserve unit, made history during the Unit Training Assembly weekend May 3.

With a combined total of 4,000 flight hours, Col. David Piffarerio, Majs. Jonathan Gration, Ryan Pelkola and Chad Newkirk flew the most experienced four-ship flight in the history of the F-22.

"This is a milestone because it is the first time that pilots with this much experience have flown together making it a significant event for the maturation of the F-22 program but also for the 477th Fighter Group," said Piffarerio, 477th Fighter Group deputy group commander. "It is also a testament to the role the Air Force Reserve plays in defense of our country."

Typically active duty pilots will serve one or two assignments in a flying squadron before going to a non-flying assignment. In contrast, the Reserve is organized to allow Airmen to remain in place to train and bank experience while also maintaining civilian careers.

"The Air Force Reserve afforded me the opportunity to stay in Alaska and continue to fly the F-22," said Pelkola, 302nd Fighter Squadron F-22 pilot. "It really is the best of both worlds."

During the sortie, four pilots flew as "blue air" or good guys against four other "red air" or bad guys to defend the airspace. The eight strong sortie wouldn't have been possible without the meticulous oversight and dedication of the maintainers.

"Despite being at a base where the weather conditions can be harsh and create maintenance challenges, the F-22's at JBER have one of the best sortie generation rates in the combat Air Force," said Lt. Col. Aaron Heick, 477th Fighter Group deputy commander for maintenance. "The Reserve maintainers are a big piece of that since many of them have been taking care of the same planes since the unit stood up in 2007 and years of active duty experience before that."

The Reserve has a tremendous wealth of experience that is being leveraged in partnership with the active duty to ensure the Alaska F-22's are employed to meet U.S. objectives.

"It is an exciting time to see a weapon system mature to the point that we see the level of experience found in the pilots of the 477th Fighter Group," said Col. Tyler Otten, 477th Fighter Group commander. "The Raptor plays a crucial role in our national interests. The 477th Fighter Group stands ready in our partnership with the active duty's 3rd Wing to defend those interests."

U.S. Military to Assist in Search for Missing Nigerian Girls

By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 7, 2014 – About 10 U.S. Africa Command military personnel will be part of a U.S. team assisting the Nigerian government in their efforts to find more than 250 schoolgirls kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said today.

President Barack Obama directed the formation of an interagency coordination and assessment cell after Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan accepted a U.S. offer of assistance, the colonel told reporters.

“The Defense Department stands firmly with the people of Nigeria in their efforts to bring the terrorist violence perpetrated by Boko Haram to an end while ensuring civilian protection and respect for human rights,” Warren said.

About three weeks ago, members of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram raided a girls secondary school in Chibok, Nigeria, located about 500 miles east of Abuja, the national capital.

According to news reports, the school had been closed due to terrorist threats, but reopened to allow some students to take graduation exams. The terrorists reportedly attempted to kidnap more than 300 girls, but about 50 managed to escape.

The interagency team will include representatives from the departments of State and Justice and other law enforcement elements, Warren said. The team is expected to begin arriving “within days” at the U.S. embassy in Abuja, he added.

There are no plans for broader military operations, Warren said.

“The personnel that we're sending to Nigeria now, … their purpose is to coordinate with the Nigerian government and assess what assistance we can provide them,” the colonel said.

The military personnel will provide a wide range of expertise in support of the Nigerian government’s search efforts, including communications, logistics and intelligence, he said.

Official: DOD Values Civilian Employees’ Contributions

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 7, 2014 – The Defense Department greatly appreciates the contributions of its civilian employees as it works toward achieving more efficiency across the workforce, a senior personnel official told a Senate homeland security and governmental affairs panel yesterday.

Paige Hinkle-Bowles, deputy assistant secretary of defense for civilian personnel policy, appeared before a subcommittee hearing on efficiency and effectiveness of federal programs and the federal workforce.

“We are wholly committed to the readiness, capability and efficiency of our total force to accomplish [DOD’s] mission,” she said. “Our people, to include our valued civilian workforce, are a central element of the department’s ability to serve the nation.”

While the nation has faced challenging times in the past few years, DOD’s civilian employees continue to demonstrate resilience and a staunch commitment to DOD’s mission, she noted.

One of the more recent high-profile impacts on the workforce was the involuntary furlough of civilian employees last year as a means to garner savings to meet sequestration mandates, Hinkle-Bowles said. But based on a 2013 Office of Personnel Management survey, she added, DOD leadership confirmed that the morale of its civilian workforce had been declining before the furloughs, likely due to continued pay freezes and limited budgets.

“Survey responses indicated that our workforce’s satisfaction with pay, opportunities for growth and advancement, and the resources available to get the job done have declined from previous years,” Hinkle-Bowles said.

But news from the survey was not entirely negative, she said.

“[DOD civilian employees] continue to be strong in personal commitment to achieving the mission, looking for ways to do the job better, work/life balance and job satisfaction,” Hinkle-Bowles said.

While DOD has in place strategies and systems to enhance its civilian personnel workforce, officials are concerned that about 13 percent of its civilians are eligible to retire and another 30 percent are expected to be eligible to retire within the next five years, Hinkle-Bowles said.

“We are closely monitoring these trends, recognizing the potential loss of critical skills and knowledge,” she said. “To mitigate long-term consequences, we continue to use available resources and authorities to hire into critical skills. We also continue to lead the federal government in new veteran hires, retaining their capabilities and valuable skill sets within the department.”

The Defense Department “values the work our civilians perform in support of our military,” she added, noting that department officials recognize civilians’ commitment to getting the job done, even during challenging times.

“Going forward, [DOD] is engaging and shaping our civilian workforce to increase efficiencies, ensuring that the workforce is motivated and has the skills needed for the future,” Hinkle-Bowles said.

563d RQG rescues, flies injured sailors to California

by by Staff Sgt. Adam Grant

5/7/2014 - DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Airmen from the 563rd Rescue Group responded to a real world rescue mission, while preparing for the world's largest Combat Search and Rescue Exercise, ANGEL THUNDER, May 2.

After being notified of a Venezuelan fishing boat 1,100 nautical miles off the Pacific Coast of Mexico with two critically injured Chinese sailors, Airmen from the 563rd RQG were tasked to execute a real world rescue mission.

"We were preparing for the training exercise when we were notified of what was going on. As a Guardian Angel, this is what we are trained and equipped to do, so there is no better way to show our capabilities," said 1st Lt. Ben Schmidt, 48th Rescue Squadron Combat Rescue Officer.

The Chinese vessel came under distress after a fire injured four personnel and left six sailors missing. The remaining sailors boarded a life raft as their vessel sank and were later recovered by a Venezuelan fishing vessel. Seven of the Chinese fishermen were in good condition. They were transferred with two of their fellow sailors, who succumbed to their injuries, to a Chinese-flagged ship in the area, returning to China.

"We are prepared to rescue anyone, anytime, anywhere, when tasked by the Air Force," said Col. Sean Choquette, 563rd RQG Commander. "Our Airmen train diligently to execute difficult missions like this one."

Airmen from the 563rd RQG flew in a 79th Rescue Squadron HC-130J Combat King II for nearly 11 hours, to parachute Guardian Angel teams near the ship. The GA teams parachuted with two inflatable zodiac boat packages and medical equipment, so that they could board the vessel and stabilize the injured sailors.

"At first glance before I parachuted down into the Pacific Ocean my only thought was 'That others may live,'" said Staff Sgt. Chris Peters, a 48th RQS Pararescueman.

After ensuring all of the jumpers landed safely in the water and had accounted for their gear, the GA team used their inflatable vessels to reach the patients, Schmidt said.

On May 5, the 48th RQS Pararescuemen and the two injured fishermen were hoisted off the Venezuelan skiff into two 55th RQS HH-60G Pavehawk helicopters. The HH-60G Pavehawks and a HC-130J Combat King II flew nine hours over the Pacific Ocean to recover the GA personnel and patients, and conducted four refueling operations on the roundtrip flight from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. After returning to Cabo San Lucas that evening, the patients were transferred to a 79th RQS HC-130J Combat King II for transport to Naval Air Station North Island, California.

"The amount of personnel involved in this rescue mission is standard, in terms of deploying a package capable of maintaining operations in a non-military location, and performing maintenance and logistics operations for the Airmen and aircraft involved," said Lt. Col. Peter White, an HC-130J Combat King II pilot with the 563rd RQG. "The real challenge of this rescue is in the communication realm, in which critical medical and country coordination information needs are complicated with the language barriers."

The Pararescuemen were aboard the Venezuelan fishing boat for two days while the boat traveled to toward land, Schmidt said.

"We tried to get within the 600 mile mark, at least for safety [of the aircraft], so that just gave us more time to stabilize them on the ship," Schmidt said.

The Pararescuemen provided life-saving medical care to the patients and stabilized them for transport to NAS North Island, then on to the University of California, San Diego, Regional Burn Unit.

While missions like this are multifaceted, the GA team is trained to handle them. The GA is the U.S. Air Force's human-centric and equipment-based weapon system that executes all five tasks of personnel recovery: report, locate, support, recover and reintegrate. The GA team consists of Combat Rescue Officers, Pararescuemen, and Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape Specialists.

"Water rescues are highly complex and the distance, which required multiple aerial refueling operations, present more challenges in this rescue," said Maj. Scott Rein, 563rd RQG Operations Center planner. "Everyone has complicated tasks in this mission; from the Guardian Angels treating injured sailors with equipment they had to parachute in with, aviators who are flying very long missions and support personnel who are executing their roles at a remote airfield in Mexico, everyone is rising to the occasion."

The GA is considered the ground component within the USAF rescue triad, with the other two components comprising the HC-130J Combat King II and the HH-60G Pavehawk. As such, CROs and PJs deploy as teams into uncertain or hostile environments. They are trained to operate independently, or in conjunction with rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft, watercraft and overland vehicles, in order to locate, authenticate, and recover isolated personnel for return to friendly control. In addition to preparing personnel at risk of isolation, SERE Specialists conduct planning and execution operations across the full spectrum of personnel recovery.

"We have three factors that are in our favor, for this particular mission," Choquette said. "The 563rd RQG was ready for Exercise ANGEL THUNDER, which trains Rescue personnel for situations very similar to this mission. The 79th RQS has the HC-130J Combat King IIs, the newest C-130 models in the Air Force, that are capable of aerial refueling, enabling them to travel farther and deliver lifesaving care faster. Finally, the 161st Air Refueling Wing was already part of the ANGEL THUNDER team, and with a telephone call from the exercise director, Mr. Brett Hartnett, immediately supported our need for refueling over the Pacific Ocean."

Airmen from intelligence, communications, maintenance, logistics, operations and special mission aviators from the 563rd RQG executed this civil rescue mission due to an AFRCC tasking received May 2. The Rescue Group is part of the 23rd Wing, out of Moody Air Force Base, Georgia.

"It was amazing to see the value of life and despite different nationalities or the language barriers, when human beings were in distress, everyone worked together to save lives," Schmidt said.

(Airman 1st Class Betty R. Chevalier and Maj. Sarah Schwennesen contributed to this story)

Naval Forces Europe Sailors Support Black Sea Rotational Forces in Romania

By U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet Public Affairs

BADABAG, Romania (NNS) -- Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe Detachment Maritime Ashore Support Team (CNE DET MAST), a 10-man expeditionary communications unit, is providing critical communications support to the Black Sea Rotational Forces (BSRF-14) in Badabag, Romania, May 7.

The support comes as part of Exercise Platinum Eagle 2014, a multilateral exercise involving several NATO allies and partners including Romania, Bulgaria, Armenia and Macedonia.

BSRF-14 is a contingent of Marines and Sailors in the Black Sea, Balkans, and Caucasus regions currently maintaining proven partnerships, building military capacity, promoting regional stability, and providing the capability for rapid crisis response, as directed by U.S. European Command, and U.S. Marine Corps Forces (USMC) Europe and Africa.

During the exercise, Marines and Sailors will conduct basic infantry training, advanced marksmanship, company-level command and control training, and both static and squad/platoon live fires with their regional partners over the next several weeks.

According to Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Elsass, CNE DET MAST Officer in Charge (OIC), the team's "footprint" consists of all communications services to include classified and unclassified networks, secure voice, secure terminal equipment (STE), LINK 16, Air Defense System Integrator (ADSI) and video teleconference.

"All of this technology is housed within a large CNE DET MAST tent city that consists of five tents sustained with our diesel generators. We also provide the environmental controls, and all hotel services for this team consisting of CNE DET MAST personnel only," said Elsass.

These services provide administrative work areas for U.S., NATO, and coalition forces to operate. Over the course of the exercise, the spaces have been used for all-nation staff officer training; USMC planning and training for current and upcoming exercise evolutions; and daily video teleconferences and communications between BSRF Forward Operating Base Stingray and Mihail Kogalniceanu (MK) Airbase USMC command staff.

The CNE DET MAST is scheduled to return to Sigonella, Italy, in mid-May.