Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Technological Dominance Threatened By Fiscal Uncertainty

By Claudette Roulo
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Oct. 28, 2014 – The Defense Department is passionate about technological superiority, but this longtime advantage is now being challenged by factors including budget uncertainty and complacency, the assistant secretary of defense for acquisitions said today.

"Our superiority has been eroding, because the world has been studying us. And it's adapted to what we have delivered or are developing," Katrina McFarland told an audience at the TechAmerica Foundation's Vision Forecast Conference here.

Ongoing budget uncertainty is threatening research and development programs that might find new ways of technological dominance, she said. "Our superiority is directly related to the level of R&D in our investment pipeline," McFarland explained, and the current budget climate makes it difficult to keep this pipeline open.

The nation's technological superiority is not assured if R&D is treated as a variable cost and more time is lost to budgetary delays, the assistant secretary told the audience. "Time is not recoverable," she added.

A global competition

The United States is now in a global technological competition for human resources, financial resources and basic research resources, McFarland said, a climate fraught with incredible challenges in this area of technology.

"We've become complacent and risk-averse," she said. "We rely on history, and we believe that … we're OK because we've been dominant for decades. The problem is that is no longer factual, and we are seeing clear evidence that we have a challenge in front of us, [and] what we must do is meet it head-on."

The country relies on offset strategies -- technological solutions to challenges that might otherwise be overwhelming, McFarland said. In the 1950s, the Eisenhower administration relied on nuclear weapons and long-range airpower instead of trying to match the Soviets weapon for weapon and troop for troop. More recently, precision-guided munitions, stealth aircraft and GPS have shaped conflicts from the Gulf War to today's campaigns in Iraq and Syria.

"So what's our next offset strategy?" she asked. "How are we going to address this future?"

At the same time the nation's technological dominance is being threatened, budgets are increasingly restricted, McFarland said.

"We're in a period of uncertainty, and it's reflected everywhere around us," the assistant secretary said, noting that sequestration spending cuts will resume in fiscal year 2016 unless Congress changes the law.

"Sequestration for us is horrendous. … This isn't rhetoric. This is real for us. Funding for the accounts that exercise our design engineers [has] declined nearly 50 percent in the last five years. That's not trivial. That's engineers -- that's the basic foundation of innovation."

Invest to survive

History has shown that investment in the future during lean times -- in R&D, specifically -- is a predictor of who will best survive a budgetary downturn, McFarland said. So to guarantee the nation is prepared when the world emerges from the current period of fiscal uncertainty, she added, the Defense Department must first address the existing challenges to national security, "or we will not be reality in future -- they will be."

Then, she said, "we need to address affordability in current and future systems, and we must develop a technological surprise."

The eight focus areas of the Defense Department’s Better Buying Power 3.0 initiative have technological dominance as a common goal, McFarland said. BBP 3.0 seeks to develop technical excellence and innovation, she added.

"It doesn't eliminate 1.0 or 2.0, it builds upon it, narrowing its scope to focus on our future," the assistant secretary said.

The acquisition community is concentrated on the future in addition to today, she said. "Our defense markets are cyclical, but we must have an upturn. It's eventual, but it will happen. History has shown us.

"This country is renowned throughout the world for [its innovation],” the assistant secretary continued, “and we need to continue that in order to retain where we are and our freedoms."

And that includes taking more research risks, McFarland said.

"If we want to continue to be the superior force, we need to take chances, and taking risks is not optional," she added.

Spokesman: No DoD Decision on Monitoring Returning Troops

By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Oct. 28, 2014 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has not made a decision on a Joint Chiefs of Staff recommendation for how to handle troops returning from areas affected by Ebola in West Africa, a Pentagon spokesman said today.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey and the rest of the chiefs have recommended “a regimented program of 21 days of controlled, supervised monitoring for all troops returning from Ebola response efforts in West Africa,” Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said during a news conference.

Hagel has the recommendation, Kirby said, but has made no decision. “The secretary shares the concerns by the chiefs about the safety and well-being not only of our troops, but also of their families,” he added, “and he appreciates the thoughtfulness and the gravity of the recommendations Chairman Dempsey sent to him.”

When the secretary makes a decision, Kirby said, he will announce it.

In the meantime, he added, Hagel supports the decision made by Army leadership to place Maj. Gen. Darryl Williams and his team from U.S. Army Africa under the same “quarantine-like” program.

The secretary received the recommendation today, Kirby said. “I don't have any specifics for you on how that would work,” the admiral said, noting that a lot of work remains to be done should the secretary decide to implement it throughout the Defense Department.

Airmen lead the way in last pre Ranger course

by Airman 1st Class Christian Clausen
432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

10/28/2014 - CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nevada --
Twenty-one Airmen from around the Air Force were put to the test both physically and mentally in their pursuits to attend the U.S. Army Ranger school during the Ranger Assessment Course Oct. 2-16, 2014, at Silver Flag Alpha range, Nevada. The course has existed in Nevada since the early 1980s, and this was the last class at this location.

The RAC is a two week-long leadership course designed to prepare Airmen of all Air Force Specialty Codes for Ranger school. Airmen endure and are evaluated on extreme physical, mental and emotional stress, while coping with demanding conditions, 23 hours a day.

"They're constantly being evaluated and not just by us but by their peers as well," said Lt. Col. Larry Wood, Chief Individual Mobilization Augmentation of Security Forces for Air Combat Command. "We evaluate how well they lead and how well they follow."

Since 1955, only 263 Airmen have been Ranger qualified. In order for them to join this exclusive group, Airmen must be able to complete the physical requirements, food and sleep deprivation, while performing in leadership and followership roles. Once they receive their coveted 'go' rating and complete the RAC, they can continue to attend the U.S. Army Ranger school.

On average, only 35-50 percent of participating Airmen complete this course. Students can't actually fail the RAC but are given the option to quit on their own account.

If they quit, they will not be permitted to attend the course again. However, if students are medically eliminated due to injuries sustained during the course, they will be allowed to return at a later date.

"Typically [students quit] due to lack of preparation," said Master Sergeant Dzajic Martinez, 99th Ground Combat Training Squadron NCO in charge of operations. "They come out not expecting what they got themselves into, and it's the shock of the sleep and food deprivation and stress that gets them."

The rigorous training course includes an Army Ranger physical assessment test, 12-mile ruck march, land navigation, weapons maintenance and employment, combat water survival, small unit tactics and foot patrols.

"We bombard them with information, we demonstrate it for them, and then expect them to be able to perform it," Wood said.

All of the assessments are challenging, but perhaps the most difficult for the students are the foot patrols. Exhaustion from sleep and food deprivation overwhelms the students as they attempt to navigate map points while undergoing ambushes.

"Patrolling is the hardest [part]," Wood said. "A lot of them have never done these types of patrols before, so it's a very steep learning curve."

While students agreed the patrols were difficult, each had their own reason why the course was challenging.

"The most challenging thing for me, aside from the physical stress, was the mental stress," said Senior Airman Clifford Abner, 799th Security Forces Squadron member from Creech AFB.

Senior Airman Zachary Baldridge from the 20th Security Forces Squadron at Shaw AFB, South Carolina, explained that the most challenging part for him was being sleep-deprived and hungry while performing at 110 percent.

Although a number of students may graduate from the course, not all are given the 'go' rating to attend U.S. Army Ranger School.

During this final class at the Silver Flag Alpha range, 15 out of 21 Airmen graduated with six having earned the opportunity to go Ranger school.

"This class's [attrition rate] was about 20 percent," said Wood. "One quit and the rest were medical drops. This is highly unusual. We have an above 80 percent success rate for Airmen chosen from this course who go on to earn their tab at Ranger school. The ones that don't make it are usually due to medical issues."

To most Airmen who attend this course, the leadership skills are highly beneficial.
"For those who go through, there's no additional pay, but it's not about that," Martinez said. "It's about what you can bring back to your units."

The students agreed. Even though some may not go to Ranger school, they can take what they have learned back to their home units.

"I feel like I've gained a lot of knowledge and experience as far as leadership abilities go," Baldridge said. "We learned a lot of things than definitely can be applied to our home stations and used as tools and in our own personal lives as well"

The Airmen who pass the RAC and earn their Ranger tab return to their assigned AFSC and home station.

"Each one who has a Ranger tab is responsible for their core AFSC, but what an Airman brings back from Ranger school is leadership that you cannot teach anywhere else," Wood said.

With the recent change to AFI 36-2903, Ranger-qualified Airmen may now wear their tab on their uniforms and more recognition is expected to come.

"We've just designed a special experience identifier that will come out on the 30th of April, 2015, and now we can tag Ranger-qualified individuals and use them where we actually need them," said Chief Master Sgt. Benjamin Del Mar, Air Force Personnel Center chief of Security Forces enlisted assignments.

Airmen interested in attending RAC should contact the RAC point of contact MSgt. Dzajic Martinez, 99th Ground Combat Training Squadron NCO in charge of operations. He can be reached at dzajic.martinez@us.af.mil or at DSN 702-384-0012 or commercial 702-404-0012.

Face of Defense: Chaplain Fights Cancer on Own Terms

By Army Staff Sgt. Mary Junell
North Carolina National Guard

RALEIGH, N.C., Oct. 28, 2014 – On Oct. 12, Army Chaplain (Maj.) Melissa Culbreth sat laughing and joking in a chair on the front porch of the farm where she works in Franklinton, North Carolina. The North Carolina National Guard chaplain’s signature red hair was styled into five braids.

The porch was full of friends, family and fellow soldiers watching and waiting for the braids to be cut off and collected.

Army Sgt. 1st Class John Setera, who had deployed to Iraq with Culbreth in 2009, draped a black hairdresser's cape around her and grabbed the clippers. Chunks of Culbreth's hair fell down the front of the cape and onto the floor at her feet.

"I wanted to take my hair on my own terms," Culbreth said, “instead of letting the chemo take it."

This was the second party the chaplain has held to shave her head shortly after starting chemotherapy for breast cancer. The first was in March 2010, when she was less than two months home from a deployment to Iraq with the 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team.

"I'm not sure which is going to be harder -- not knowing what is going to happen over the next 18 weeks, or knowing what is going to happen over the next 18 weeks," she said.

Third diagnosis

Culbreth, who now serves as the brigade chaplain for North Carolina National Guard's 449th Theater Aviation Brigade, began her most recent round of chemotherapy the week before her party. This is her third diagnosis and her third round of chemotherapy.

"I know what chemo is like, because I've done it," Culbreth said. "To know I'm going to be doing that again, and going through all the side effects. Again. Right now, that's probably the hardest part."

At the head-shaving party Culbreth had in 2010, some 17 people shaved their heads to show their support. At this party, four people shaved their heads, and many had a strip of their hair dyed pink. Culbreth said she has lost track of the total number of people who were not able to make it to the party who have done the same.

"It's been cool," she said. "It's been people from a girl I went to middle school with and high school with, to soldiers I deployed with to Iraq, to present-day folks that I served with in Charis Foundation and worked with as therapists."

About 30 people gathered at the farm to celebrate Culbreth and support her in her fight, including Army Sgt. Carrie MacCollum of the 1132nd Military Police Company, another of the soldiers who deployed with Culbreth, in 2009.

The boss of the situation

"She's being the boss of the situation," MacCollum said. "She's not letting cancer beat her; she's beating cancer. She took it upon herself to shave her head, and she's taking her hair, not cancer. So she's beating this, and we're all here to support her with that. We're beating it with her."

Culbreth spent the evening surrounded by her family of friends and soldiers she draws on for support.

"The military is my family," Culbreth said. "That's who I have depended on since I got in, in 2006. They are my brothers and sisters. I wouldn't know what to do. Some of the first people I told were buddies that I deployed with. My unit, my brothers and sisters in the Guard, my participation in the 30th Infantry Division Association, those are the people I depend on. The whole ‘Guard is family’ thing seems like a pithy saying, but I'm living proof that it's more than that -- that it’s true and it’s honest, or there wouldn't be so many people here tonight."

Culbreth has spent eight years in the North Carolina National Guard as a chaplain, being part of the support system for other soldiers. Sometimes being a chaplain feels as if she is invisible, she said, but at the party, she added, she realized how many people care.

"You're the fire extinguisher -- break in case of emergency. When [life gets hard], everybody wants you there, but sometimes you wonder if people notice in the meantime, and the answer to that is yes, because tonight shows people care. And that's really important to me."