Monday, November 10, 2014

Injured EOD Airman returns to fuller life

by Staff Sgt. Staci Miller
56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

11/10/2014 - LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- In an instant, he went from living his dream to being utterly destroyed on a dusty road in Iraq. An improvised explosive device exploded about two feet from his face, throwing him about 20 feet and leaving him unrecognizable. As his arm dangled to his side, he stumbled up and yelled for the medic. His teammates raced to begin the long battle to save his life.

Retired Tech. Sgt. Matthew Slaydon, an explosive ordnance disposal technician from the 56th Civil Engineer Squadron at Luke Air Force Base, was critically injured Oct. 24, 2007, while serving to protect convoy routes in Iraq. The explosion left him completely blind. His left eye was gone. Doctors amputated his left arm above the elbow. He also suffered a collapsed lung and numerous facial fractures and lacerations in the attack.

His military career began in 1989 when he enlisted in the Air Force as an A-10 Thunderbolt ll and F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft armament systems technician. He was stationed at Nellis AFB, Nevada, Osan Air Base, South Korea and Luke AFB. It was at Nellis that he first learned about EOD.

"My supervisor at the time was a huge fan of EOD and it made me wonder what those guys were about," Slaydon said. "I took a tour of the EOD shop and thought to myself, how did I not know this existed?"

Unfortunately, no cross-training opportunities existed at that time. After serving for nine years on the flightline, Slaydon took a three-year break in service. He worked at Boeing and General Dynamics but disliked the civilian life and couldn't shake the thought of being an EOD technician.

"I despised being a civilian," Slaydon said. "So, I joined the Reserve and applied to the local EOD unit and got accepted."

In 2002, he joined the Air Force Reserve and began a year-and-a-half of EOD training, graduating second in his class. Following training, Slaydon was stationed with the 944th Civil Engineer Squadron EOD flight.

As an active reservist he completed two tours in Iraq.

"Before my second deployment, I decided I wanted to go back on active duty,"Slaydon said. "I was home for a month from Iraq and still had to go back through the military entrance processing station, but finally got back to where I wanted to be."

About a year later, Slaydon deployed for the third time to Iraq.

He worked in Baghdad for about four months before going to Kirkuk for an additional assignment.

"About three weeks into my deployment, I was out disarming a roadside bomb 20 miles outside of the city. While I was in the process of isolating it, it blew up in my face," Slaydon said. "I was kneeling right down on top of it with my hand over it. It blew my arm off and crushed in my face."

Slaydon doesn't remember anything from the day that changed his life.

"I don't remember any of it," he said. "I lost the whole day. I vaguely remember the night before and woke up a month and a half later in an intensive care unit."

He suffered amputation of his left arm above the elbow. His left eye was damaged beyond repair and was removed. His right eye was severely damaged. He is now totally blind without light perception. Additionally, Slaydon suffered multiple facial fractures, shattered orbits, fractured sinuses, two jaw fractures, tooth loss and a collapsed lung.

A bomb blew Slaydon's body apart that day, but a lot of people helped keep his life together.

Four days after the attack, Slaydon's wife of more than eight years, Annette, made the difficult flight to meet her badly injured and unconscious husband at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington. A family liaison officer from Slaydon's EOD shop at Luke AFB, Staff Sgt. Ryan Winger, accompanied her on the flight to see her husband for the first time.

"It was an emotional roller coaster," Annette said. "I was really glad to have Ryan with me."

Overall, the 56th CES's command did everything they could to help the Slaydons.

"If you're going to take a page from someone's notebook, pay attention to what my command did for me and my family," Slaydon said.

It's been a little more than seven years since the day Slaydon earned his Purple Heart in Iraq. He's spent his days focusing on his recovery, hanging out with his guide dog, Legend, and sharing his story to inspire others.

"I didn't have any goals," Slaydon said. "I had this massive skillset and no way to apply it. When the opportunity to do public speaking showed up, I took it."

Slaydon has given more than 100 speeches in locations all over the world.

"I found that speaking and staying involved gave me an easier transition back to civilian life," Slaydon said. "Being separated from the military felt like another limb had been severed. Speaking gave my sacrifice value."

Despite his injuries, he doesn't regret his time as an EOD technician.

"I regret nothing except getting blown up," Slaydon said. "Was it worth it? Yes, absolutely. I never got so much satisfaction out of anything in my life as disarming roadside bombs. Knowing that there are sons and daughters at home with their families because I did my job is what allows me to carry the weight."

During his three tours, Slaydon was credited with four enemy kills and more than 200 combat missions. He disarmed more than 100 IEDs and destroyed more than 150,000 pounds of captured enemy ordnance.

Slaydon was medically retired from the Air Force Aug. 27, 2009, as a technical sergeant.

'Band of Brothers' veteran visits Columbus AFB

by 1st Lt. Joshua Benedetti
14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

11/7/2014 - COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Veterans Day is an opportunity to honor those who have served. The stories of those who have fought and sacrificed for our great nation are all around us, but only if we listen.

Bradford Freeman, World War II veteran and original member of the renowned "Band of Brothers," recently paid a visit to Columbus Air Force Base. Freeman is one of the just 18 surviving members of Easy Company of the United States Army's 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.

The unit was made famous by the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers," based on the New York Times bestselling book of the same name by historian Stephen Ambrose. It chronicled the wartime experiences of Easy Company as they fought through Europe. Freeman, a current resident of nearby Caledonia, Mississippi, lived and fought through it all.

Born in Artesia, Mississippi, in 1925, it did not take Freeman long before he realized he wanted to leave the farm for a life in the military; one that involved a new type of warfare: the airborne paratroopers.

"My brother and I had read about the German paratroopers in school. We used to jump out of the eight-foot loft in the barn holding a cap over our heads," Freeman recalled.

Before long, their confidence soared and Freeman and his brother hatched a plan to borrow their mother's umbrella and attempt a two-man jump from a more challenging obstacle.

"My brother said 'It looks like that thing might hold both of us if we jump from the twelve-foot loft,'" Freeman said. "That umbrella turned bottom side up on us."
Freeman's dream of being an airborne paratrooper came true following his enlistment in the U.S. Army Dec. 12, 1942, and subsequent graduation from jump training at Camp Mackall, North Carolina.

Not long after, Freeman found himself flying over enemy-controlled France on June 6, 1944, better known as D-Day. He, along with the rest of Easy Company and the 501st were about to jump behind enemy lines in support of the largest amphibious assault in history.

Freeman recalled his aircraft taking heavy anti-aircraft fire.

"It was rattling those planes pretty good," he said. "The bullets were coming through the plane if they were low enough."

As he was readying for his first combat jump, Freeman said he may not have known exactly what to expect, but he was sure he wanted out of that flying bullet magnet.

"I was glad to get out. I thought every rivet was coming out of that plane the way it was rattling, and then it just dropped," Freeman said. "We knew we were in it then."

Once on the ground, it did not take Freeman long to realize he had badly missed his landing zone. Bad weather had pushed the aircraft off target and caused the members of the 501st to be scattered all over the French countryside.

"I was way off in the pasture," Freeman said. "We found each other with little clickers; you would click and respond to their click."

Easy Company eventually regrouped and began the slow inland push through France, eventually crossing into Germany itself. Freeman fought in every major conflict including Operation Market Garden, the Battle of Bastone, and he played a key role in the cross-river rescue of 125 British paratroopers and five American pilots in Holland. Freeman's commander recruited him for the special mission.

"I told him I couldn't swim," Freeman recalls saying to his commander, to which his commander responded, "Freeman, there isn't a boy in Mississippi that can't swim."
Despite his lack of swimming expertise, Freeman and the other men of Easy Company liberated the stranded allied troops and returned them safely to their units.

Freeman and the rest of the 501st fought their way through the war, all the way to Hitler's mountain fortress known as the Eagle's Nest. Not long after, victory in Europe was declared on May 8, 1945. With Nazi Germany defeated, the U.S. military shifted its full attention to the fight against the empire of Japan in Pacific.

"We were training to go to Japan and then the bomb fell on Japan and we didn't have to go," Freeman recalled.

The war was over for Freeman and he returned to Mississippi to start life over again. Little did he know, more than 50 years later he would be sitting in a theater, viewing the premiere of a TV miniseries about Easy Company called "Band of Brothers."

"I was sitting in the theater with Bill Guarnere sitting on my left and Babe Heffron on my right," Freeman said. "Then Tom Hanks came and sat down next to me."

Freeman was a narrator for "Band of Brothers" and served as an advisor for its production. What the movie became -- the scenes, characters and dialogue -- closely resembled what Freeman lived through.

"What I was in, that's just the way it was," Freeman said. "It was just business. That is what we were there for. They kept us busy over there."

Not all America veterans' stories are retold on the big screen, but that does not make them less heroic or significant. All veterans have a proud heritage to share, so this Veteran's Day make sure to take time to listen.

USSTRATCOM commander visits Whiteman

by Maj. John Severns
509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

11/10/2014 - WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Admiral Cecil D. Haney, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, visited Whiteman Air Force Base Oct. 30-31 to chair the Bomber Stakeholders Conference, one of several stakeholders meetings held by the command this year.

These forums are designed to assess the health and direction of the Nation's strategic forces, including bomber, intercontinental ballistic missile and submarine forces, as well as the communication networks and sensors that tie them all together. The meeting at Whiteman drew several dozen senior leaders from across the Department of Defense to examine the health and requirements of the strategic bomber fleet, which includes the B-2 Spirit Bomber, based at Whiteman Air Force Base, and the B-52 Stratofortress.

During his visit, Admiral Haney met with Airmen from the 509th and 131st Bomb Wings. He also sat down with local reporters to discuss his responsibilities as the USSTRATCOM commander, the role of strategic deterrence in America's defense, and the importance of deterrence in a world filled with increasingly unpredictable and evolving threats.

Bombers make up one-third of America's nuclear triad, with land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and sea-based ballistic missile submarines comprising the other two elements. Aging equipment and constrained budgets present leadership challenges such as modernization, procurement and sustainment, that are addressed during such forums, the admiral said.

"The newest of the B-52s came off the assembly line in 1962. The B-2s are 20, 21 years old," Haney said. "Quite frankly, we have to have a replacement for [them] in order to carry out both strategic and conventional missions."

The Air Force has started work on the next generation bomber, the Long Range Strike Bomber, but it is not expected to be fielded for many years to come.

Although the triad was developed in response to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, it remains relevant and critical to our nation's defense, Haney said.

"The strategic arsenal we have today is not about the Cold War," he said. "We're not hanging on to Cold War apparatuses. This is about 21st century deterrence."

Chairman Opens Commitment to Service Week in New York

By Claudette Roulo
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Nov. 10, 2014 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff marked the start of Commitment to Service week -- a week of special emphasis on community service -- with a visit to New York City's Harvest food rescue organization Nov. 6.

Building on the NBA’s decade-old Hoops for Troops program, Commitment to Service pairs basketball players and service members in community service programs around the country.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said that the effort to give back to local communities should go on year-round.

“This week the focus is on this because of Veterans Day, but it can't be just about this week,” he said.

Military-NBA Partnership

“City Harvest ... is kind of the culmination of an idea that the [NBA] commissioner, Adam Silver, and I had ... to find a way to link the best athletes in the world with the best military in the world, and collectively think about what we could do to give back to the communities that embrace us so warmly,” Dempsey said.

“What we decided is, in addition to honoring the men and women of our military, that it was critically important that people see hands-on service -- together NBA [players] with members of the military -- so we could set an example for everyone else and do good at the same time,” Silver said. “I think it's been an incredible program.”

Participating in Community Service

At City Harvest, the chairman worked side-by-side with Silver, service members from all five branches of the armed forces, players from the Brooklyn Nets and other NBA employees as they bagged apples that would be distributed throughout New York.

“We take food that would otherwise go to waste in one part of the city and we deliver it to another part of the city, quite often on the same day,” said Jilly Stephens, executive director of City Harvest. The organization’s volunteers serve 1.4 million New Yorkers every year, she noted.

Service defines the military profession, Dempsey said.

“And it's not just about service when you're in combat ... it's actually a mindset,” he added. “It's about living your life with a servant's soul.”

Dempsey told the players and troops that he hopes they can help pass on the desire to give back in communities around the country.

“I hope you feel this experience as much as just think about it,” the chairman said. “If you feel the experience, it'll catch on. And then ... you guys have incredible [social media] networks, and if you can leverage those networks to get this idea and let it go viral.”

“I hope this thing, literally, this has a potential to go viral. ... Imagine if it did, if the idea of service went viral, what a different country we'd live in,” Dempsey said.

Americans freed by North Korea reunite with families at JBLM

by Staff Sgt. Russ Jackson
62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

11/10/2014 - JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- The long wait for the families of Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller officially ended November 8th, 2014, when the two men stepped off their plane onto the tarmac at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after being imprisoned in North Korea.

James Clapper, U.S. Director of National Intelligence went to Pyongyang, North Korea and secured the release of the two men after meeting with North Korean officials. Together, Bae and Miller flew back to the United States arriving at JBLM where they were received by their families.

After the plane touched down, Bae exited first and was met by his mother who immediately embraced him. Then, other members of his family welcomed him home with hugs, kisses and tears of joy. Col David Kumashiro, 62nd Airlift Wing commander, escorted Bae and his family into the McChord Field Passenger Terminal.

"It's been an amazing two years. I learned a lot. I grew a lot. I lost a lot of weight in a good way," Bae said with a smile. "But I am standing strong because of you."

Bae is from Lynnwood, Wash., and had been running a tourism company in China. As part of a tour in November of 2012, he led a group of tourists into North Korea where he was arrested and accused of trying to overthrow the government. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

After a short reunion, Bae and his family addressed the media expressing their gratitude and relief that the ordeal had finally ended.

"We're finally here, my brother is home. All of our hopes and prayers for this moment have finally come true. We are so thankful," said Terri Chung, Bae's sister. "As we celebrate tonight, as we are together, we know there are many people in North Korea locked up like Kenneth was, and they remain apart from their families tonight. Please don't forget them. We will not."

Bae was very gracious to all those who helped bring him home, including to North Korea.

"I'd like to thank the DPRK North Korean government [for] allowing me to come home and be united with our family," Bae said.

He then spoke of his appreciation to the American public.

"Thank you for all your support and prayers and your love," he said.

After Bae and his family were inside McChord Field's Passenger Terminal, Miller's family members approached the aircraft to greet him as he deplaned. Kumashiro welcomed Miller home and escorted him into the terminal. Miller, a native from Bakersfield, Calif., and his family chose not to address the media and quietly exited the base.

Miller served about seven months in a North Korean prison after being sentenced to six years hard labor for espionage after allegedly ripping up his passport and seeking asylum upon his entry into North Korea.

As soon as JBLM leaders discovered they would be hosting the arrival of Bae and Miller, they quickly sprang into action alerting Airmen to prepare for their return home. While the day was long for many of the Airmen, most were happy to be part of such a momentous occasion.

"This is amazing," said Staff Sgt. Reuben McClendon, 62nd Airlift Wing protocol. "We're all a part of history."

Bae and Miller were the last two American's being held in North Korea.

International Partner Visits Dahlgren Training Center

By Kimberly M. Lansdale, Center for Surface Combat Systems

DAHLGREN, Va. (NNS) -- The Royal Australian Navy's (RAN) Director of General Maritime Development visited the Center for Surface Combat Systems (CSCS) and AEGIS Training and Readiness Center (ATRC), co-located at Naval Support Facility Dahlgren, Nov. 4.

The 2013 Australian Defence White Paper, released May 3 2013 by former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Defence Minister Stephen Smith, stressed the importance of RAN's future fleet capability and need for upgraded technology to ensure the success of its navy in an age of advancing technology.

The paper addressed in detail the implications of these developments for Australia's national security and defense settings, outlined Australia's strategy for maintaining a highly capable and credible navy, their contribution to the region's long-term security, and how Australia will seize opportunities and manage challenges in the current strategic environment.

Commodoere R.H. Elliott is responsible for developing and gaining government approval for these future RAN capabilities and visited CSCS and ATRC to discuss training and see firsthand how the U.S. Navy is training the RAN Sailors manning the new Hobart class of air warfare destroyers (AWD).

CSCS Commanding Officer Capt. Bill McKinley hosted Elliott during AWD discussions.

"This visit was not only important to illustrate to Commodore Elliott our training capabilities and processes, but to also re-emphasize our partnership with RAN. Our relationship has produced a resilient, global naval presence in support of the maritime strategy and will continue to do so in the future," McKinley said.

ATRC Commanding Officer Capt. Pete Galluch hosted Elliott during a tour of the schoolhouse.

"Commodore Elliott observed a blended learning solution that includes standard classrooms, hands-on labs, simulations, as well as computer-based and interactive courseware training," Galluch explained. "Training commenced in January of this year and the last course will conclude before the New Year. We are confident that these Sailors will apply their knowledge and skills and help their Navy implement and execute Aegis."

Elliott, who was appointed his current role in November 2011, said he appreciated his discussions with CSCS and ATRC and was impressed with the quality of training he observed.

"I have been very impressed with what has been discussed and shown to me today," he said. "The RAN's future upgrades to the Hobart-Class DDG and its associated Combat System are in safe hands with the impressive array of capabilities available at CSCS and ATRC."

CSCS' international training is coordinated through the command's Security Assistance and International Programs directorate.

"The mission of CSCS International Programs is to provide allied forces quality training to enable them to develop ready teams capable of operations that maintain and expertly employ surface combatants," said Dr. Darrell Tatro, director, CSCS International Programs. "We partner with U.S. training, readiness, and policy organizations, as well as other government agencies and industry to support international missions. While the USN has more than 30 years of Aegis experience to share with the RAN, we are gaining much through lessons learned from this global partner as we progress with the Air Warfare Destroyer program."

USS Rodney M. Davis Arrives in Brunei for CARAT Brunei 2014

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Derek A. Harkins, USS Rodney M. Davis Public Affairs

MAURA, Brunei (NNS) -- The Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigate USS Rodney M. Davis (FFG 60) arrived Nov. 9 to participate in the 20th iteration of the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise with the Royal Brunei Navy (RBN).

The ship's crew will conduct training afloat and ashore with their Brunei Navy counterparts to enhance interoperability and build maritime partnerships.

Rodney M. Davis has been on patrol in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility since August in support of maritime security and stability in the Indo-Asia Pacific region. The ship has conducted operations in the Western Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, and South China Sea.

Rodney M. Davis has worked with foreign partners throughout the patrol. In August, the ship participated in a 50-ship parade of sail in Sail Raja Ampat, Indonesia. More recently, the ship performed Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure training with the Maldives National Defense Force and maneuvering exercises with the Indonesian Navy.

During CARAT Brunei, sailors from Rodney M. Davis will participate in training events afloat and ashore. In port Muara, the ship will meet with sailors from RBN to conduct training in medical practices, aviation maintenance, damage control techniques, and other areas. At sea, Rodney M. Davis and the RBN will conduct flight operations, boardings, and live gunnery exercises

"We joined ships from the Royal Brunei Navy during Rim of the Pacific 2014, so we look forward to strengthening our partnership during CARAT Brunei," said Cmdr. Todd Whalen, the commanding officer of Rodney M. Davis.

CARAT is part of an annual bilateral exercise series with the U.S. Navy and the armed forces of nine partner nations including Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Timor-Leste.