Monday, November 03, 2014

815th AS provides support for Operation Southern Strike

by Master Sgt. Brian Lamar
403rd Wing Public Affairs

10/31/2014 - KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- A large mechanical whir fills the back of the C-130J as the back ramp doors begin to slowly open like a pair of iron jaws. Chief Master Sgt. Troy Peltier, a loadmaster with the 815th Airlift Squadron at Keesler, turns to the 25 paratroopers from the Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment as they peer into the coal-black night, and signals for them to get ready to plunge into darkness.

It's time to jump

A dim green glow fills the cargo bay of the C-130J. All white light sources have been switched to a type of lighting that helps the paratrooper's eyes adjust to the night as they prepare to jump. Screams of commands like, "Stand Up, Hook Up," fill the bay as the first load of paratroopers hook their parachute equipment to a long cable called a static line which will pull their parachute from their packs when they exit the aircraft. With the doors open and the cool, but humid night air churning in the plane, the signal to go is screamed and without hesitation, the first six men step off the end of the ramp one-by-one.

At 1,250 feet, it will take a handful of seconds for the troops to reach the ground as they jump into the night sky at 150 miles per hour. The jump is a small part of a large-scale two-week training exercise called Operation Southern Strike 15, which is taking place over most of South Mississippi and involves more than 50 separate military units.

According to Army 1st Sgt. Shawn Ludwig, a paratrooper with the 160th headquartered at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, only about six paratroopers can jump at one time due to the smallness of the drop zone so the plane made several passes to safely drop all 25 soldiers on target. Making repeated passes over the same area can be a dangerous assignment for aircrew in an active combat zone.

Tactical Insertion

According to the exercise scenario, the 815thAirlift Squadron's task was to take the 160th paratroopers to a specific location over the fictitious country of the People's Bayou Republic, which in reality is the Camp Shelby, National Guard Training Center, to establish and secure a Forward Armed Refueling Point for helicopters to land and fill their fuel tanks during one of the many scenarios of the operation.

"This is great practice. Anytime you jump at night, it refines your capabilities and is extremely worthwhile," said Ludwig, as he checked the troop next to him for deficiencies in his equipment.

The 160th SOAR is an Army special operations unit also known as the Night Stalkers. The 160th provides helicopter aviation support for general purpose forces and special operations forces. Its missions include attack, assault, and reconnaissance, and are usually conducted at night, at high speeds, low altitudes, and on short notice.

According to Maj. William Miller, 815th AS aircraft commander, the mission was considered a success as all 25 special-forces paratroopers safely exited the C-130J and were tactical inserted into the battlefield with no damage to the aircraft.

The 815th mission is to support theater commanders with the ability to resupply the forces, provide airlift requirements within the combat zone or forward areas and provide aeromedical evacuation. The unit performs precision air drop of supplies and paratroopers in all weather conditions either day or night and can perform day or night airlift capabilities in hostile areas.

"You can't measure success [in training] by how things went. Success, in my opinion, is measured on what you learn, and how you are able to implement what you learn from a training mission," said Miller.

Training how you fight

The purpose for Operation Southern Strike is to test the participating Active Army and Air Force Units, as well as, Army and Air National Guard and Reserve unit's ability to Provide cost effective and realistic combat training in a Joint and Multi-national environment.

This exercise provides units with practice in close air support, en-route casualty care, combat search and rescue, special operations forces and suppression/destruction of enemy air defenses in a counter-insurgency scenario.

The goal of the exercise is to provide training opportunities to maintain top combat readiness in all assigned unit tasking code specialties, said Col. Craig Ziemba, the Southern Strike Exercise director with the Mississippi Air National Guard Joint Forces Headquarters in Jackson, Mississippi.

The exercise is designed to use scenarios to simulate what is happening in Russia and Ukraine, said Ziemba.

"What's happening right here on the coast would be similar to if Russia suddenly decided to take some more land space and declare a 'no-fly zone' over it and say, 'it's ours,'" said Ziemba.

The 815th also supported the exercise by flying an aeromedical evacuation mission Oct. 30, to test the en-route patient care methods and technology on the battlefield by transforming their C-130J into a flying hospital.

While, the 815th crew handled their part of the mission of flying injured troops to a medical staging area, the medical personnel in the back of the plane, simulated life-saving techniques used in areas of operation like Afghanistan.

"This was a great opportunity to demonstrate and test our capability," said Lt. Col. Robert Stanton, the 403rd Operations Group deputy commander.

McConnell Airman nominated for Robbie Risner Award

by Airman 1st Class Tara Fadenrecht
22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

10/31/2014 - MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- After surpassing both the wing and Air Mobility Command levels, McConnell's Maj. Derrick Baker, 22nd Operations Support Squadron wing tactics officer, is now in the running to receive the Air Force 2013 Robbie Risner Award.

The award is named after Brig. General Robinson "Robbie" Risner, a highly decorated combat veteran held as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for more than seven years.

It annually recognizes the outstanding U.S. Air Force Weapons School graduate based on performance as a weapons officer following graduation.

Nominees must show excellence in areas of leadership, instructor ability and programs.

Baker attended the USAFWS Jan. 7 through June 1, 2013 and immediately began to put his training to use.

His accomplishments include becoming the aircraft commander for the first ever aerial refueling on multilateral training missions into Jordan and developing a new training program for command and control systems used on deployed KC-135R Stratotankers. His innovation brought the mission effectiveness of the systems up to 99 percent.

"Maj. Baker is a good leader because his focus is on instruction and the development of his students," said Lt. Col. Brian Backman, 22nd Operations Support Squadron commander and Baker's supervisor. "His critical thinking skills have helped him to identify problems, analyze situations and develop solutions, producing meaningful programs for aircrew instruction."

Baker attributed much of his success to the support from his KC-135 instructor community.

"It's very humbling," said Baker. "Individual awards are never possible without an outstanding team supporting each other. I'd like to thank everyone I've worked with at McConnell Air Force Base and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base over the past year."

The 2013 Risner winner will be announced and awarded at the class 14B graduation Dec. 13, 2014.

Organization Honors Community Members for Troop Support

By Shannon Collins
DoD News Features, Defense Media Activity

FORT MEADE, Md., Nov. 3, 2014 – Three individuals and a couple in the national capital region received the 2014 Military Officer Association of America Community Heroes Awards recently for their efforts to support service members, military families and veterans.

“We are privileged to recognize some of the outstanding members of the Washington, D.C., metro area -- military and civilian communities who devote their time and energy to helping wounded service members,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Norb Ryan, MOAA’s president.

This year’s winners are Leah Hernandez, Kristen Querriera, Brendan O’Toole and retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Ken Falke and his wife, Julia.

Leah Hernandez

Growing up with a dad who served in the Army for 20 years, Hernandez said, she saw her mom as a superwoman who held everybody and everything together. So when her husband came back from his third deployment to Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder, her mother was her role model, and Hernandez was there not only for her husband, but for others as well.

“Many of the soldiers in the Warrior Transition Unit were no different than my husband, but they didn’t have the same support,” she said. “These soldiers only had each other while they battled through their PTSD and other problems. It’s only in my nature to help others. I enjoy making other people feel good. Who better to make smile and feel good then the ones who have involuntary disconnected from feeling any emotion due to their medical issues?”

Hernandez has devoted more than 2,500 hours caring for her husband and other soldiers who suffer from combat injuries and are assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. In addition to being her husband’s main caretaker, she cares for other wounded warriors by reminding them of their medical appointments, providing transportation to appointments when needed, providing wake-up calls in the morning, cooking and delivering dinners, ensuring barracks rooms are clean and calling to make sure they are feeling well after a procedure or surgery.

She has taken several wounded warriors under her wing, providing them comfort, lending an ear, a shoulder to cry on, and checking in multiple times during bad days to see if they are in good spirits. She regularly organizes activities specific to soldiers suffering from PTSD, including fishing, going to the movies, going to restaurants and taking bike rides. She also assists them with integrating back into society.

She said she is honored with the award and for representing caregivers.

“These soldiers have given their all. Everybody needs somebody, even if they say they don’t. It doesn’t feel like I should be awarded for helping soldiers in need because I would only hope that if my husband was geographically separated from us, that someone would look out for him the say way,” Hernandez said.

Kristen Querriera

Querriera is the founder, CEO and chair of the board of Operation Troop Appreciation, a Pittsburgh-based all-volunteer organization whose mission is to build and sustain the morale of deployed troops, enabling them to complete their missions with the assurance the American public supports and appreciates their selfless service and daily sacrifices, she said.

For more than 10 years, OTA has solicited monetary and in-kind donations exceeding $1 million, with 98 cents of every dollar donated going directly to fund projects that support service members, such as ballistic eyeglasses, fire-retardant work gloves, sports equipment and musical instruments. The items were shipped to Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East during operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

At the beginning of 2014, OTA launched a “Welcome Home” program that helps at-risk veterans and their families with a fresh start in a new home. The organization provides them with beds, mattresses, bedding, kitchen supplies and other household items to get them started in a new home.

Querriera said she founded OTA to help those who serve.

“Wanting to do something to serve those who spend so much time and energy serving us is what drives me to continue our mission,” she said. “It’s important to have organizations supporting our military so our troops know they aren’t alone, that they know there are people back home remembering, supporting and loving them while they are so far away. They give so much of themselves, work so hard and so long, and just knowing and seeing that people are tangibly supporting them makes a huge difference in their morale.

“The response we receive from our deployed troops is overwhelming,” she continued. “Their emails and letters fill our eyes with happy tears, and the smiles in their pictures are the best paychecks we could ever get. No one at OTA receives compensation -- from the board members to the officers to the volunteers. No one receives a dime for their work. But knowing and seeing the difference we make in our troops’ lives is the best kind of compensation.”

She said she is humbled by the award and encourages others to volunteer.

“I am thrilled and honored to be named a 2014 MOAA Community Hero,” Querriera said. “It’s humbling to be in this lineup of amazing patriotic Americans.

“It’s so important for everyone to do some sort of volunteer or outreach activity, whether it’s for the military, a school, church or charity,” she added. “With a young family myself, I know how important it is to model that kind of behavior to our young children. And the smallest act can mean the world to someone on the receiving end. Whether it’s taking a meal to a disabled veteran, or writing letters to deployed troops, or simply saying ‘Thank you’ to a military member in uniform, it’s vitally important that as civilian Americans, we show our support, love and appreciation to our military.”

Brendan O’Toole

A 25-year-old former Marine Corps sergeant, O’Toole has dedicated himself to increasing public awareness of veterans’ struggles and their incredible strength. After a fellow Marine and friend committed suicide and while struggling with his own transition to civilian life, he said, he decided to make a difference.

With only $500 between him and his friends from T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, O’Toole created The Run for Veterans, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to honor the men and women who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has run cross-country to raise awareness and money to support veterans and their families. To create awareness in local communities, he has spoken with community leaders and citizens across America about how they could make a difference for transitioning veterans.

His organization has raised more than $500,000, which has been donated to three nonprofit organizations that provide mental, physical and social well-being programs for veterans and their families.

Retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Ken Falke and Julia Falke

Falke served in explosive ordnance disposal for 21 years in the Navy. When he retired, he created his own company, and when he and his wife, Julia, began to visit combat-injured explosive ordnance disposal service members in the hospital, they were surprised by how few services were available to wounded veteran families. So the Falkes often would pay to fly family members to Washington to be with their service members. To ensure there was a sustainable organization to support and provide for these service members and their families, they began their nonprofit organization, EOD Warrior Foundation.

They also created the Boulder Crest Retreat for Military and Veteran Wellness, donating 37 acres of their 200-acre estate in Bluemont, Virginia, and giving $1 million of their own money to start the project. Boulder Crest Retreat’s mission is to provide a free, first-class rural wellness retreat dedicated to helping America’s military members and veterans and their families recover from visible and invisible wounds by providing rest and reconnection time, reintegration training and nontraditional and recreational therapies.

Falke said he and his wife donate both time and money to both foundations to ensure they will be around for the future. He also said they receive positive responses from those they help.

“The responses we get from those we help are amazing,” he added. “We also provide emergency financial relief and scholarships. All of this programming is so needed that it is simply is indescribable on the reactions and gratitude we receive from our guests.”

Though they are honored to receive the community hero award, Falke said, he and Julia don’t feel like heroes.

“We do what we do because we love those that we serve,” he added. “We have never wanted any awards or recognition for our work, but we are so appreciative.”

Falke said he encourages others to consider volunteering in their communities.

“Helping out in your community is the second most important thing you can do after firstly, taking care of your family,” he said. “We can solve so many problems at the community level. Get involved in efforts where you can really see that your efforts impact those in need.”

He also encourages volunteering to help veterans.

“I grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, during and after the Vietnam War,” he said. “I remember very clearly how poorly our Vietnam veterans were welcomed home. This has been the longest war in the history of the United States, and our volunteer military is the best in our history. We must take better care of our warfighters than we have in the past. It is our duty as citizens whether we wear the uniform or not.”

Task Group Exercise Comes to a Close, Ends with Success

By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Kole E. Carpenter, USS Nimitz (CVN 68) Public Affairs

PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) -- Canadian, Japanese and U.S. ships completed a two-week long Task Group Exercise (TGEX) Oct. 31 off the coast of Southern California.

The exercise, led by U.S. 3rd Fleet gave Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 15 the opportunity to conduct and evaluate training across multiple warfare areas for Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 11, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 23, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 11, aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), guided-missile cruisers USS Lake Champlain (CG 57) and USS Chosin (CG 65), guided-missile destroyers USS Milius (DDG 69), USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60), USS Kidd (DDG 100), USS Pinckney (DDG 91) and USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110), littoral combat ships USS Independence (LCS 2) and USS Fort Worth (LCS 3), Royal Canadian Navy Halifax-class frigates HMCS Calgary (FFH 335) and HMCS Winnipeg (FFH 338), Kingston-class coastal defense vessels HMCS Brandon (MM 710) and HMCS Yellowknife (MM 706), and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JS) Teruzuki (DD 116)

"The U.S. Navy uses exercises like TGEX to strengthen maritime relationships with partner nations," said Capt. Patrick Keyes, commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet, assistant chief of staff for plans, policy, training and readiness. "Additionally, TGEX gave four independent deployers the opportunity to be assessed across multiple warfare areas and provided an opportunity for ships not getting certified to get valuable training, necessary during their training cycle."

Milius, Paul Hamilton and Fort Worth Crews 103 and 104 used TGEX as their final opportunity to certify prior to deployment.

TGEX was a rare opportunity to cultivate partnerships across Pacific fleets.

"Our goal was to improve tactical skill," Japanese foreign liaison officer Lt. Cmdr. Kohei Sueki said. "We would also like to enhance regional understanding between the Japanese and the U.S. and Canadian Navies."

Sueki added that the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force sought to increase maritime war fighting capability and international relations through their participation in TGEX.

"Japanese, U.S. and Canadian ships coming together is not something that happens often," Lt. Vincent Pellerin, Canadian foreign liaison officer said. "We hoped to foster better international relationships and learn how to work well with other fleets."

Joint, inter agency and international relationships strengthen U.S. 3rd Fleet's ability to respond to crises and protect the collective maritime interests of the U.S. and its allies and partners.

European Distinguished Visitors Embark USS George H.W. Bush

By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Patrick I. Crimmins, USS George H.W. Bush Public Affairs

MEDITERRANEAN SEA (NNS) -- U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa hosted 23 distinguished visitors from multiple European countries aboard aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) as a part of the Navy's Distinguished Visitor (DV) Embark program, Oct. 30.

The DV program is a unique experience that allows civilian and military guests board the ship while underway and experience the Navy's mission and witness carrier operations firsthand.

The DVs included Lithuanian Minister of National Defense, Juozas Olekas; Latvian Minister of Defense, Raimonds Vejonis; Polish Undersecretary of State, Maciej Jankowski; Estonian Defense Forces Commander, Commander, Estonian Defense Forces, Maj. Gen. Riho Terras; and Spanish Fleet Commander in Chief, Adm. Santiago Bolibar.

Bush also hosted DVs the previous day representing Bulgaria, Georgia and Greece including Bulgarian Minister of Defense Dr. Velizar Shalamanov; Georgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Maia Panjikidze; and Commander, NATO Missile Firing Installation Crete, Greece, Maj. Gen. Lazaros Skylakis.

The DVs toured the aircraft carrier and observed flight operations from the flight deck.

"It's important to see the combat power of the United States Navy and to understand our strong support of the NATO alliance," said Adm. Mark Ferguson, who joined the delegation aboard the ship for the day.

The carrier has various capabilities that exhibit more than simply wartime usefulness.

"When we show up somewhere, we bring a heck of a lot of combat power, and we make a pretty big statement," said Capt. Andrew Loiselle, commanding officer of George H. W. Bush. "But, it's not just about combat power. It's about all the other things we bring to the table; everything from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. We've got some fantastic capabilities on board this ship and we're willing to help out."

During the tour, Ferguson also met with Sailors about the ship and thanked them for their service.

"I'd like to congratulate the crew of the Bush on a successful deployment," said Ferguson. "The ship has done everything from engagements to combat operations in Central Command. You all represent the very best of the global U.S. Navy."

During a gift exchange ceremony, Lithuanian Minister of National Defense Juozas Olekas spoke on the importance of working together in a multinational manner with the U.S. and other NATO countries.

"We all know how important our cooperation with the United States is for peace and democracy," said Olekas. "Indeed, it was a very unforgettable day for me being on this carrier, this symbol of freedom. It is a symbol of our efforts for peace."

George H.W. Bush, homeported in Norfolk, Virginia, is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests 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.