Monday, July 07, 2014

Vella Gulf Conducts Underway Engagement with Turkish Navy

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Edward Guttierrez III, USS Vella Gulf Public Affairs

AEGEAN SEA (NNS) -- The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) conducted joint maritime operations with the Turkish navy fast attack craft TCG Dogan (P 340) and TCG Marti (P 341) after departing Kusadasi, Turkey on July 6.

Vella Gulf, Dogan and Marti conducted a surface exercise and a flag communication exercise during the engagements. U.S. Navy ships regularly hold similar events with partners and allies to foster relationships and strengthen interoperability.

"Vella Gulf was pleased to conduct another in a series of exercises with our NATO ally Turkey," said Capt. Robert Katz, Vella Gulf's commanding officer. "Our interactions with the Turkish Navy during our deployment have shown them to be highly proficient and professional; this exercise was no different. We look forward to working with them again during Exercise Breeze in the Black Sea."

The surface exercise required the participants to repel a simulated attack by small fast attack / fast inland attack craft. The second part of the exercise required the ships to communicate only via the use of signal flags.

Vella Gulf, homeported in Norfolk, Virginia, is conducting naval operations with partners and allies in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in order to advance security and stability in Europe.

U.S. 6th Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied, joint, and interagency partners, in order to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa.

Former U.S. Navy Officer Pleads Guilty in International Bribery Scandal

Defendant Admits Overcharging Navy by up to $2.5 Million for Port Services in Japan

A retired Navy official who started a second career working for defense contractor Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA) pleaded guilty in federal court today, admitting that he and others overcharged the Navy by up to $2.5 million for port services to American ships and then used some of the proceeds to treat Navy officials to lavish dinners, cocktails and entertainment.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy for the Southern District of California, Director Andrew L. Traver of Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and Acting Deputy Inspector General of Investigations James R. Ives of the Department of Defense (DCIS) made the announcement.

“There is an old Navy saying: ‘Not self, but country.’  Edmond Aruffo instead put self before country when he stole from the U.S. Navy as part of a massive fraud and bribery scheme that cost the U.S. Navy more than $20 million ,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.

“This corruption scandal continues to lead us in new directions, and we continue to marvel at the extent of it,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. “If there are others who, like Edmond Aruffo, have traded integrity and honesty for greed and profit, we will find them and prosecute them.”

“Retired U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Edmond A. Aruffo, who previously held a position of trust and responsibility conferred on him by the Navy, betrayed his former service for personal gain by rigging invoices and deserves to be held accountable for his criminal actions,” said Director Traver.   “NCIS will continue to work with DCIS and the Department of Justice in vigorously investigating and prosecuting these crimes of corruption and fraud.”

“The guilty plea of Edward Aruffo is part of an ongoing effort by the DCIS and its law enforcement partners to bring to justice individuals who seek to illegally enrich themselves at the expense of U.S. taxpayers,” said Acting Deputy Inspector General Ives.   “While the vast majority of DOD contractors engage in lawful business practices, a few are driven by greed to break the law.   Those who do will be caught and punished.   American taxpayers will accept nothing less.”

Edmond A. Aruffo, who retired in 2007 at the rank of lieutenant commander after a military career spanning more than 20 years, is the seventh defendant charged – and the fourth to plead guilty – in the expanding corruption scandal involving GDMA’s illicit relationships with Navy officials.  GDMA is a Singapore-based contractor that has serviced Navy ships and submarines in the Pacific for decades.

Aruffo, who became manager of GDMA’s Japan operations in 2009, entered his plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen S. Crawford of the Southern District of California to a single count of conspiracy to defraud the United States.  Aruffo’s bond was set at $40,000; however, he indicated to the court he not post bond and immediate self-surrender.  A sentencing hearing was scheduled for Oct. 3, 2014, at 9 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Janis L. Sammartino of the Southern District of California.

According to court documents, GDMA owner and CEO Leonard Francis enlisted the clandestine assistance of Navy personnel – including Commander Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz, Commander Jose Luis Sanchez, NCIS Special Agent John Beliveau and Petty Officer First Class Daniel Layug – to provide classified ship schedules and other sensitive information about an ongoing criminal investigation of GDMA.   Court documents also allege that Francis and his cousin, GDMA executive Alex Wisidagama, conspired to defraud the United States through a number of overbilling schemes.  In total, GDMA allegedly overcharged the Navy under its contracts and submitted bogus invoices for more than $20 million.  Wisidagama, Beliveau and Layug have pleaded guilty while the others are awaiting trial.

According to Aruffo’s plea agreement, Aruffo was hired by GDMA’s Francis, who is accused of bribing Navy personnel with cash, luxury travel, expensive meals, consumer electronics and prostitutes in exchange for classified and proprietary information to win contracts and favorable treatment for his company.

According to the plea agreement, Aruffo was serving as the operations officer of the USS Blue Ridge when he met Francis.  GDMA was providing “husbanding” services, such as tug boats, harbor pilots, trash removal, line handlers and transportation to that ship and numerous others.

In the plea agreement, Aruffo admitted that he and others defrauded the U.S. Navy in connection with charges for port services provided to nearly every Navy ship that came to port in Japan from July 2009 to September 2010.

As part of its contract with the Navy, GDMA was required to coordinate various vendors to provide port services for the Navy ships.  Those vendors were to submit invoices directly to the Navy, rather than through GDMA.

The plea agreement said that Aruffo and others obtained letterhead from the Japanese vendors and used it to prepare bogus invoices which inflated the cost for services by tens of thousands of dollars.  Aruffo admitted he arranged kickbacks to GDMA from the vendors, once they were paid by the Navy.

For example, according to the plea agreement, in February of 2010 the USS Lake Erie visited the port of Sukomo, Japan.  Aruffo arranged for a Japanese vendor to provide a variety of husbanding services.  The vendor invoiced the Navy $145,229.77 – an amount inflated by about $50,000, which the vendor ultimately gave to GDMA as a kickback.

A few days later, Aruffo arranged for another Japanese vendor to provide such services to the USS Blue Ridge at the port of Otaru, Japan, the plea agreement said.  The vendor billed the Navy in the amount of $432,476.14 and then kicked back $204,961.20 to GDMA.

The ongoing investigation is being conducted by NCIS, DCIS and the Defense Contract Audit Agency.   The case is being prosecuted by Director of Procurement Fraud Catherine Votaw and Trial Attorneys Brian Young and Wade Weems of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark Pletcher and Robert Huie of the Southern District of California.

Sailor Steps Up as Volunteer Soccer Coach

By Army Staff Sgt. Carmen Steinbach
Joint Task Force Guantanamo

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, July 7, 2014 – Several service members here have taken to the soccer field to boost their fitness and relieve stress. Their new coach, a fellow member of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, has the skills to help the local female soccer team, Barcelona, to the next level.

Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Peter Bergum, with JTF Engineering, has coached his children’s soccer teams for many years back home. In fact, he has a U.S. soccer coaching certification, called an e-license, and coaches in Iowa. When word of his experience reached a Barcelona player, he was recruited to help bring them together and unite a team that includes both experienced and inexperienced players.

“They’re great. They’re fun,” Bergum said. “It’s fun to practice and see an improvement in the couple of games we’ve had together.”

Most recently, the team has been working on foot skills and run drills to improve passing, shooting and ball-handling.

“We’re trying to get everybody a little bit better, because we have all different experience levels on the team -- those that have played for years and years, and those that have never played before getting here,” Bergum said, “so that’s kind of a fun challenge.”

Army Sgt. Rebecca Rickrode, a soldier with the 420th Military Police Company who plays forward for Barcelona, brings a lot of experience to the table. She said training with those who have never played before has been an interesting challenge, but she has seen a vast improvement in the team as a whole since Bergum has come on board as coach.

“He is a very positive coach, and he’s very helpful,” she said. “He’s encouraging, but he also teaches us a lot of good techniques and helps out people who play at all different levels.”

While the female soccer league ends next week, the women of team Barcelona will never forget the skills they learned and the feeling of camaraderie they felt during the season, and for a brief moment enjoyed a positive distraction from being away from their loved ones.

“[Playing] just brings a little bit of home back to deployments,” Rickrode said. “You can do something that’s fun and not just do PT all the time.”

Total Force effort helps ensure mission effectiveness at McConnell

by Capt. Zach Anderson
931st Air Refueling Group Public Affairs

7/7/2014 - MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- In the world of aircrew operations, it's essential that the men and women conducting the mission are able to perform when called upon. The job of ensuring aircrews are ready and effective at all times falls on the men and women of the McConnell Air Force Base Standard/Evaluation Office.

"Our mission is to validate aircrew mission effectiveness and readiness," said Lt. Col. Travis Clark, 931st Air Refueling Group Chief of Standard/Evaluation. "That is our basic tasking. We work directly for the commander and we feed that information back to him. He needs to know his troops can accomplish their assigned mission effectively and properly while maintaining the highest standards of mission readiness."

According to Clark, getting that information is done in a variety of manners, including annual evaluations of aircrew members that involve both testing for book knowledge as well as "check rides" to evaluate flying and operational skills.

"We look to see if they can get the job done, and if they can do it by the book," said Clark. "We also measure trends so if we notice a positive or a negative trend, we relay that information to the commander to give him a pulse on how his crews are doing. It's all about making sure our aircrews are meeting the set requirements when operating the jets."

When it comes to meeting those requirements, the same standards apply to active duty as well as reserve aircrews. For that reason, the Air Force Reserve 931 ARG and the active duty 22nd Air Refueling Wing have found it beneficial to work together as a Total Force team to maximize the capabilities of both standard/evaluation programs. The two offices co-located in December 2013, and Clark said the initiative is paying large dividends.

"The Total Force Initiative for our offices really helps us both," said Clark. "One of the biggest things we as reservists can provide for our active duty counterparts is continuity. The active duty is constantly changing personnel, and we are a bit more stable. With us being here, we help by maintaining vital program elements to ensure consistency. This in turn provides a more efficient 'spin up' time for new office personnel. In essence, they don't constantly have to reinvent the wheel."

Maj. Scot Stewart, 22 ARW Chief of Standard/Evaluation, said the Total Force effort is invaluable for the base program.

"It provides for better overall mission effectiveness for McConnell as a whole," said Stewart. "The whole point of standard/evaluation is to standardize processes and give the crew the tools they need to safely execute the mission. The more experience we have to draw from, the better we are able to accomplish that. By leveraging both the active duty and the reserve resources, we are able to make the entire operation better."

One of the largest Total Force Initiatives undertaken by the offices was the electronic flight bag program. The 931 ARG took the lead in transitioning required aircrew publications and regulations to electronic tablets, which means aircrew members no longer have to carry large volumes of publications in their flight bags.

"They have completely taken over that program," said Stewart. "They take care of it for us, and it's a huge thing they've taken off our plate. On top of that, they assist us with our flight crew information files, on setting up testing and computer's really been a beneficial partnership all around."

Clark said the entire idea of the Total Force Initiative between the two offices is to make the aircrews of both the reserve and active duty components better able to accomplish the mission of McConnell.

"This program works because we are both willing to help each other out in all aspects of standards and evaluations," said Clark. "We can provide experience and continuity, and the active duty can provide support and manpower as needed. We've really become so valuable to each other that if one of us were to pull out and no longer support the other, it would have an immediate detrimental impact to things here. What we are doing is definitely making the overall program better for the entire base."

Annual ANGRC picnic celebrate families

by Master Sgt. Marvin Preston
Air National Guard Readiness Center Public Affairs

7/7/2014 - ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Airmen and civilians assigned to the Air National Guard Readiness Center at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, gathered with their families for the annual ANGRC picnic at Fort Hunt Park here July 3.

The event was hosted by Air Force Brig. Gen. Michael R. Taheri, commander of the ANGRC, and provides an opportunity to build morale, teamwork as well as recognize the sacrifices and contributions of ANG families to the Total Force mission.

"Having this opportunity to get everyone together here is spectacular," said Taheri. "This gives your families a chance to see the great people who drive the engine of the 105,400 Air National Guardsmen out there. Being in the field and coming back to Washington, D.C. I've gained an appreciation for all the hard work everyone does all year long to make the mission happen, for the Air Force and the Air National Guard."

Attendees of all ages enjoyed activities that included a sack race, kickball, softball, volleyball, and face painting.

Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Harmony Thomas, section chief of Knowledge Operations at the ANGRC and event organizer, echoed Taheri's thoughts on the importance of the day.

"The 4th of July is a time of remembrance and thanks to all those who created our freedoms," said Thomas. "There's no better way to celebrate that than to celebrate together with the people who are making that happen today."

Fort Hunt Park is located near the shores of the Potomac River and was originally part of George Washington's Mount Vernon estate. The parks open fields and forests provided a great venue for ANGRC members and their families to get together for team building and morale events.

Alaska pilot reaches 1,000 F-22 flight hours

by Maj. Ashley Conner
477th Fighter Group Public Affairs

7/3/2014 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Maj. Jonathan Gration, Reserve F-22 pilot assigned to the 302nd Fighter Squadron, is the fourth pilot to reach 1,000 flight hours in the F-22. He accomplished the feat during a sortie here July 3.

"This flight is not only a milestone for me, but for the Raptor community as well," said Gration. "It's a testament to how far we've come with this airplane."

Prior to joining Alaska's only Reserve unit Gration was an active duty F-15 and F-22 pilot and graduated from Weapon School, the Air Force's most advanced pilot training course.

"My proudest moment in the F-22 was graduating from the first class of the F-22 Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. It was the most challenging and grueling six months of my flying career and also the most rewarding," he said.

In addition to Gration, the unit is also home to Col. David Piffarerio, 477th Fighter Group deputy commander, and the first 1,000-hour F-22 pilot.

"Having another 1,000-hour pilot in the Reserve speaks volumes to the level of experience we have in the Air Reserve Component," said Piffarerio. "We are a valuable, experienced asset able to carry out our nation's objectives."

Both pilots have been involved with the F-22 program for more than10 years and Gration has some advice for younger F-22 pilots.

"Enjoy every flight, because you never know what you will be doing in your next assignment," he said. "Also, treat each flight with the same tenacity as your first -- from mission preparation to the end of the debrief. There is always room for improvement, no matter how well the sortie went."

JS Kunisaki Arrives in Tacloban for Pacific Partnership 2014

From From Pacific Partnership Public Affairs

TACLOBAN, Philippines (NNS) -- The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force's JS Kunisaki (LST 4003), carrying a multinational crew of U.S., Australian, Malaysian and Japanese personnel, arrived in Tacloban July 4 as part of Pacific Partnership 2014 (PP14).

The ship and its roughly 300 embarked personnel arrived nearly eight months after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the region.

Arriving on Independence Day, the U.S. personnel assigned to the mission had a special meal to commemorate the occasion before beginning a 10-day operation consisting of professional medical exchanges, including providing basic medical, dental, and optometry clinics; several professional medical knowledge exchange seminars; and veterinary surgical and vaccination services.

Seabees from Amphibious Construction Battalion One and Naval Mobile Construction Battalion One have already begun working with members from the Armed Forces Philippines on four construction projects at three separate sites, and the U.S. Pacific Fleet Band will conduct several public performances.

Pacific Partnership is the largest annual multinational humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. Although the U.S. Pacific Fleet-led mission provides tangible assistance to the local community, by definition its intention and purpose is to better prepare for emergencies and disaster situations such as was experienced less than a year ago by the city of Tacloban during Typhoon Haiyan.

"I remember seeing the images of the devastation from the typhoon all over the news and now that I'm here and I see the scars left from that storm, it's a confirmation of why missions such as this are so important," said PP14 Mission Commander, U.S. Navy Capt. Brian Shipman.

"It was because we practice these things, because we have a presence in the region, and because of our cooperation with our friends and allies that we were able to coordinate and provide rapid, effective humanitarian assistance and disaster relief when it was needed," he added.

As personnel arrived ashore, Shipman pointed out how much the world had changed, as American service members disembarked from a Japanese landing craft a short distance from where U.S. General Douglas MacArthur made his historic return to the Philippines some 70 years ago.

At the invitation of host nations, PP14 teams working with local authorities determine how to best serve the communities they have been invited to, given the duration and resources available for the mission.

"It's obvious to see why we were invited to Tacloban given what they've been through. There is a lot of work to be done here, but many different organizations and nations are currently doing some great work," said U.S. Navy Lt. Ron Piramide, PP14 Philippine team officer in charge.

"I'm honored to be able to be part of something that is contributing to the overall work being done in the area and I look forward to seeing the great work our team will accomplish."

While training in simulated crisis-conditions, Pacific Partnership missions to date have provided real-world medical care to approximately 250,000 patients, veterinary services to more than 37,000 animals, accomplished more than 170 engineering projects, and enabled critical infrastructure development in Cambodia, Federated States of Micronesia, Indonesia, Kiribati, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Philippines, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Vanuatu and Vietnam.

"Pacific Partnership forms bonds between nations and organizations who share a common interest in maintaining a stable and secure Pacific region," said PP14 Chief of Staff, Australian Army Lt. Col. John Cronin.

Kunisaki has already visited Vietnam and Cambodia, and the Republic of the Philippines is the last stop for this year's mission. The Southern portion of Pacific Partnership, conducted by Task Force Forager, an expeditionary command element from the Navy's 30th Naval Construction Regiment and led by Capt. Rod Moore, provided assistance to the host nations of Indonesia and Timor-Leste.

Pacific Partnership is in its ninth iteration and is the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Asia-Pacific region.