Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Thousands honor returning WWII veterans at Bastogne

by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden
52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

12/16/2014 - BASTOGNE, Belgium -- More than 40,000 American and European citizens honored the service and legacy of more than 40 surviving World War II veterans as part of a 70th anniversary celebration of the Battle of the Bulge at Bastogne, Belgium, Dec. 13, 2014.

The veterans, who served in the six-week long and costliest campaign in U.S. Army history, received special recognition from Belgian and American distinguished visitors including King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium; Charles Michel, Belgian prime minister; U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe commander; and Thomas Nides, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources and head of the U.S. presidential delegation.

"Just as in the case of 1944 and 1945, there is no better representative of the people of the United States of America than these veterans," said U.S. President Barack Obama in a letter read by Nides. "Our returning veterans are a testament to the American spirit and to our enduring bonds with Belgium. In the streets of Bastogne, Americans and Belgians fought and gave their lives to defend Belgium and liberate Europe. Their shared sacrifices shall never be forgotten."

As part of the day's ceremony, King Philippe laid a wreath at the statue of U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe, who served as the American commander of Bastogne Barracks in the winter of 1944-1945. The king and queen also threw nuts off of a balcony to a crowd below as part of a tradition inspired by McAuliffe's reply of 'Nuts!' to Axis demands that his forces surrender at Bastogne Barracks, Dec. 22, 1944.

"The most important message is to say thank you for coming here," Michel said. "It's very important for us to commemorate this moment and also an occasion for us to see how democracy and peace is very important. It's a very important moment for Belgium."

Throughout the city, Belgians donned vintage World War II American Army uniforms and drove antique military vehicles, giving the city the appearance it had during the siege of Bastogne, even aided by the snowy weather.

"It's emotional to be back," said Victor Cross, former U.S. Army infantryman with the 87th Infantry Division and Flint, Michigan, native. "I wanted to come back for one main reason, originally: I wanted to see what it was going to be like after they put it all together again. I figured they'd probably do the same architecture and same structures would be arranged in the cities and the streets and the buildings -- I wanted to see that. And there were people in the streets, and they were walking and enjoying themselves, they built these outside cafes and people were sitting in them, and that's what I really wanted."

Cross and his fellow veterans toured cities around the Ardennes region that held or are scheduled to conduct memorial ceremonies honoring their sacrifices and contributions leading to the liberation from occupying forces.

"On this 70th anniversary, Americans and Belgians continue to stand together as close friends and allies, not only in remembrance of those who've lost, but in gratitude for the world they helped to create," continued Obama's letter. "Out of the ashes of World War II rose a new Europe and a transatlantic community grounded in democratic values embracing allies and former foes alike. Together, we've forged the strongest alliance in the history of the world.  ... may future generations long remember and cherish the legacy that we commemorate on this historic occasion."

Kidnapping victim shares story during Storytellers

by Airman 1st Class Ryan Conroy
31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

12/15/2014 - AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy  -- An Italian priest who was kidnapped on a mission trip to the Philippines shared his story of adversity and resilience with Team Aviano members during the 3rd annual Storytellers event, Dec. 12, here.

The event that gives individuals a chance to share life-changing events they've been through, allowed Father Giuseppe Pierantoni to speak about an unforgettable experience.

Pierantoni had a dream for his life that may sound unusual - he wanted to live with the poor and live how they live. In 1991, his church granted his wish and sent him to the Philippines, to take part in outreach programs where he spent his next ten years caring for the less fortunate.

During his tenth year in a remote part of the island, Pierantoni became the less fortunate he was emulating, when a group of religious extremists broke into his convent and kidnapped him in the middle of the night.

"One night I heard gunshots and it turns out these men had shot at my companion, another priest from my congregation. Then they took me at gunpoint, put me in handcuffs, ordered me to obey and led me into the jungle," said Pierantoni.

It was one month after 9/11 when the group of Muslim fundamentalists kidnapped him in the middle of the night. Pierantoni was disoriented when they placed him on a boat and sent him off into the sea, far away. Upon his arrival to a remote area, 10 hours away from his convent, Pierantoni's captors handed him over to a new group and left him as a prisoner.

"In the beginning I was extremely scared and confused, and I had no idea what was happening," said Pierantoni. "They assumed I was an American and I remember trying to tell them that I was Italian. They didn't know the difference."

Pierantoni's first days were spent in anguish. All he could think about was how angry he was at these men and that there must be justice for their wickedness.

"On three separate occasions the newspapers reported that I had died and people were calling my family to offer their condolences," said Pierantoni. "My captors used this information to mock me saying, 'No one cares about you, and everyone thinks you are dead.'"

As months went by, Pierantoni said something changed inside him. He started to feel the abduction was his purpose in life.

"I was thinking to myself, 'this was your dream. You wished to be with the poor and although you lived there, you were never truly poor,'" said Pierantoni. "I had food, shelter and money in my pockets every day, but when I was kidnapped I truly lived as a poor man. So, I embraced it and started viewing it as an opportunity to serve God in a peculiar way."

With a new outlook on a horrific situation, Pierantoni began to feel liberated from his hatred for his captors. He started growing close with the men who imprisoned him. The younger men asked him to teach them English, causing the relationship to drastically change for the better.

"I stopped hating and started praying for the men," said Pierantoni. "Something happened - I was able to look back on all the years I had lived. I thought, 'What a beautiful life you have had.' I was able to accept my life and I was reconciled."

After six months of being held captive, Pierantoni was handed over to a police ambulance in the middle of the night. Pierantoni was left a different man.

"After I was released, I felt differently inside. I had changed," said Pierantoni. "Now I hold the utmost gratitude toward God for keeping me safe and staying with me through my tribulations. I'm thankful for my friends who prayed constantly and tried to do everything within their power to get me released. Lastly, I hold gratitude for my enemy because without them, I would never be able to get such a deep understanding of myself."

Each story that was shared at the Storytellers event, allowed attendees to hear extreme situations of adversity, but showed how each individual exhibited resiliency in the face of hardship.

Four Airmen shared their stories which included a master sergeant giving birth to her stillborn child, a senior airman whose friends were murdered and devastated by hurricane Katrina, an airman 1st class who lost her husband in a car accident and a staff sergeant who had suffered years of sexual abuse.

"We hold this every year so that Airmen can see that they can overcome anything no matter how difficult it may seem," said Staff Sgt. Shannon Stewart, Storytellers host. "As the father showed us, you can use the things that have tripped you up as stepping stones. It might not have been the path that you wanted, but it takes you on the paths that lead you here today."

Operation Christmas Drop supplies islands with bundles of joy

by Staff Sgt. Robert Hicks
36th Wing Public Affairs

12/16/2014 - ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam  -- The men and women from Team Andersen and Yokota Air Base, Japan, dropped its last bundle of joy Dec. 13 to the Micronesian Islands as Operation Christmas Drop came to an end just in time for the holiday season.

What started as a small crew packing what they could in a small canister and dropping it down on a parachute during a Pacific sortie in 1952 has turned into Operation Christmas Drop, the Department of Defense's longest running humanitarian mission.

Over a one-week timeframe, residents from 56 islands spread out across 3 million square miles of the Pacific received boxes filled with donations from local and international donors. This year's event set a milestone with more than 51,000 pounds of supplies donated and delivered.

"Having the opportunity to fly over the islands at 300 feet was amazing," said Brig. Gen. Andrew Toth, 36th Wing commander. "I got to see the red flag marking the location where the box was to go and listen to the communication over the radio saying 'Santa 01 is here and Santa's helper is prepared to receive the container.'"

"Watching the aircrew drop the box in the exact location and seeing the islanders swim out to get it and bring it back to shore assures me we didn't only make their day, but we made their entire year. Santa Claus was there to deliver a great gift to each and every one of them."

Throughout the missions Yokota aircrews gave Airmen opportunities of a lifetime and lasting memories they will never forget.

"Being on the plane and seeing how small the islands are was eye opening," said Tech. Sgt. Magen Harger, 36th Medical Support Squadron medical laboratory technician. "Seeing how little the islanders have access to, and how grateful they were to get the packages, was one of the most amazing things I have experienced in the Air Force. Pushing the box from the plane and watching it float down helped me realize just how much I take for granted every day."

The men and women from Andersen and Yokota came together and airdropped a total of 89 bundles of goods, each weighing approximately 500 pounds a piece to the islands, which include Chuuk, Palau, Yap, Marshall Islands and Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The bundles consisted of donated toys, clothing, fishing equipment, sporting goods, food items, tools and other items that would make island life easier.

Six months before the C-130 Hercules soared into the sky to execute Operation Christmas Drop, several agencies from Andersen, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, and Yokota came together to start planning.

"I was getting calls for weeks asking me when Operation Christmas Drop would be happening," said Bruce Best, Pacific program coordinator. "I tell them to hold on, but I know they're just excited because it's such a huge event. It couldn't happen without the Air Force and the benefits of this program are truly lifesaving. In some cases, this is literally the only chance we have all year to get much needed supplies to obscure island nations."

Chaplain's 50-year journey to become bishop of Fairbanks diocese

by Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel
354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

12/15/2014 - EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- "I've always had a committed faith and a love for God, but never really thought of becoming a priest until I was enlisted in the Air Force," said Chaplain (Maj.) Chad Zielinski.

The Michigan native, who currently serves as the 354th Fighter Wing deputy wing chaplain, was ordained bishop of the Fairbanks Catholic diocese in a ceremony Dec. 15. This requires a dedication to an area the size of Texas, much of which isn't accessible by road.

Born in 1964, in Alpena, Michigan, to a school teacher father and social worker mother, Zielinski said his family was very committed to their faith, attending church and religious education every week.

"My parents were very loving and compassionate and invested a lot of time into making sure we were a family unit when it came to church," he said. "My father was always challenging his kids to better themselves and to learn more. Education to him was a way to better your life."

In addition to its commitment to the Church, the family was also involved with of the Boy Scouts of America. This made a huge contribution to Zielinski's decision to join the Air Force in 1983.

"Leadership, organization, relationships, attaching one's self to ideals, challenging you to advance and progress among the ranks were all things instilled by the scouts that drove my interest in the military," he said.

After graduating from high school and spending a summer in Valdez, Alaska, as a commercial salmon fisherman, Zielinski joined the Air Force and was stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, where he worked in the 366th Supply Squadron. Staying committed to his faith, he spent a lot of time with the Catholic chaplain who ultimately encouraged him to join seminary after his enlistment was up.

"Being involved in the chapel program as a young Airman was a huge impetus for me," he said. "The Air Force has a lot of good people and you just push yourself to do the right thing for these great people."

After extensive studies in Oregon and Michigan while serving as a reservist in the Air Force, Zielinski was finally ordained a priest. Logistics forced him to separate completely from being enlisted, so he could become a chaplain candidate.

"I didn't think I'd ever come back to active duty after becoming a priest in 1996, but this wasn't the case," he said.

After serving as a pastor of three parishes for six years, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, changed his outlook on active duty.

"This patriotic sense was immediately rekindled within me," said Zielinski.

There was a great need for chaplains at the time and Zielinski took this as an opportunity for servitude, something he said has been ingrained in the fabric of his being throughout his life, which has been noticed by the people he works with as well.

Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz, the Archbishop of Anchorage, Alaska, who has served as Apostolic Administrator for the Diocese of Fairbanks since November 2013, praised Zielinski's servitude.

"Zielinski exemplifies many of the qualities needed to serve the people of the Diocese of Fairbanks," said Schweitz. "He has learned to work with people from all backgrounds, and do so under the stresses of war. Yet he is also humble and prayerful. I understand why the Holy Father chose him as a servant leader for Fairbanks."

War has marked every servicemember's career for more than a decade and Zielinski is no exception. He deployed to Iraq twice in addition to Afghanistan, working with U.S. Army infantry units during each rotation.

"These were exciting, rewarding and powerful experiences," he said. "I saw some pretty horrific things as an Air Force chaplain working with the Army covering 18 combat outposts. It's a miracle I'm still around today to serve; God obviously has a plan for me."

Working with such a diverse group of people during his active-duty years has culminated in many opportunities for this leader.

"The Air Force has afforded me the opportunity through education and life experiences to really hone in on what it means to be a leader," said Zielinski. "All of those leadership opportunities in 12 years as an active-duty chaplain are priceless; you could never put a dollar value on it."

According to the Pacific Air Forces command chaplain, this is the first time an active-duty Airman has been chosen for a position of this magnitude.

"Chaplain Zielinski is an extraordinary officer who has served in a series of high-profile positions during his career, including ministry to cadets at the United States Air Force Academy and serving as the face of the Chaplain Corps on the Air Force Recruiting Service team," said Chaplain (Col.) Dondi Costin, the Pacific Air Forces command chaplain. "More importantly, he's served alongside warriors in combat when and where our nation needed him the most. Father Zielinski represents the very best our Air Force has to offer, and, although I hate to see him leave active duty, I'm thrilled for those in the Diocese of Fairbanks who will benefit from his humble, visionary servant leadership.

"Thankfully, a large number of those beneficiaries belong to our military family, and I know for certain they'll be in the best of hands," Costin added. "I'm equally grateful that Chaplain Zielinski has been granted the opportunity to continue serving Eielson Airmen as a chaplain in the Air Force Reserve. As Bishop of Fairbanks, he'll have the best of both worlds - and so will we."

Naval Leaders Discuss Bilateral Logistics Partnership between US, Japan

By Sky M. Laron, Naval Supply Systems Command Fleet Logistics Center Yokosuka Corporate Communications

YOKOSUKA, Japan (NNS) -- Naval logistics leaders from the United States and Japan met Dec. 4 at the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) Maritime Staff Office (MSO) in Tokyo for the 7th annual N4-N4 Talks to discuss logistics in action and their bilateral relationship.

Taking care of ships and ensuring parts and supplies are delivered on time to the vessels and Sailors who need them is a priority for naval supply leaders from both the United States and Japan.

Understanding how each service conducts business was an important part of the discussion between the two delegations.

"It is a great honor to host these Navy to Navy talks," said Capt. Tomonori Yokota, director of Logistics Planning and Supplies Division, Logistics Department, MSO. "Understanding each other's logistics systems is invaluable for the U.S. and Japan."

The topics of conversation included everything from port visit processes to the transportation of supplies and equipment, with both sides sharing where they have had successes as well as difficulties in executing their mission.

"With the tyranny of distance in this AOR (area of responsibility) it is absolutely critical that we have the best lines of communication in place to ensure material gets to where it needs to go," said Cmdr. Mark Sheffield, Naval Supply Systems Command Fleet Logistics Center (NAVSUP FLC) Yokosuka, Operations Department director and N4-N4 U.S. presenter. "When you look at NAVSUP's support to operations spanning from the Aleutian Islands to Sydney and Guam to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, understanding what capabilities and material needs to be where and when is vital because ultimately we exist to ensure these ships perform their mission of defending the interests of the United States of America and keeping the sea lanes open."

It is the responsibility of NAVSUP FLC Yokosuka to assist in the smooth movement of ships into and out of the 7th Fleet AOR and to support the forward-deployed naval forces with all of their logistics requirements on a daily basis. Maintaining key alliances with partners and friends is part of that process.

"I think these discussions are important as a means of information sharing and learning from each other," said Capt. Raymond Bichard, NAVSUP FLC Yokosuka commanding officer. "More importantly, these talks strengthen the bond between our two navies and our two countries."

With both teams working toward similar goals of supporting their respective ship customers, the way the work is accomplished is uniquely their own.

"During all of my bilateral engagements, I find it interesting, the differences and similarities between the businesses of our two navies," said Bichard.

The message echoed at the conclusion of this engagement was clear, rest assured, even if the processes used by these logistics leaders can differ, the relationships forged between them is strong and will benefit both organizations well into the future.

As the Western Pacific region's largest U.S. Navy logistics command, just 26 miles due south of Tokyo, the Sailors, Marines, Japanese Master Labor Contract, U.S. Civil Service and contract employees at NAVSUP FLC Yokosuka provide the forward-deployed maritime warfighter with 24/7 operational logistics support integrating an extensive service provider network to deliver fuel, material, mail, and supply chain services across the U.S. Navy's largest geographical AOR.

For more news from Naval Supply Systems Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/navsup/.
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Deadline Nears for Military Child of Year Nominations

DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2014 – A deadline extension means friends, families and mentors still have a few days to nominate children of military families for Operation Homefront’s Military Child of the Year awards program.

The nonprofit organization will accept nominations at http://militarychildoftheyear.org through Dec. 19, officials said.

Resilience, Strength of Character

The Military Child of the Year Award recognizes children who stand out among their peers, Operation Homefront officials said. Ideal candidates demonstrate resilience and strength of character and thrive in the face of the challenges of military life, they added. Each nominee will receive a written commemoration acknowledging his or her nomination.

Family members, teachers, coaches, counselors, clergy, neighbors and friends van nominate military children for the award.

“I’m looking forward to meeting the extraordinary young people who will receive our 2015 award,” said Tim Farrell, chief operating officer for Operation Homefront. “With our nomination period squarely in the holiday season, we know it’s one of the busiest times of the year for military families, teachers and all the other people who might nominate an outstanding military kid.”

Program Expands to National Guard

This award is presented to an outstanding child from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. For the first time in 2015, an outstanding National Guard child will be recognized as well.

The recipients each receive a $10,000 award and a laptop computer, and are flown with a parent or guardian to the nation’s capital for an April 16 awards gala.

Operation Homefront provides emergency financial and other assistance to military families.

Defense.gov Special Report: Battle of the Bulge - 70th Anniversary

DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2014 – Seventy years ago, beginning Dec. 16, 1944, the German army launched its last-ditch effort to thwart allied efforts in a conflict that would be dubbed the "Battle of the Bulge," and would be the Axis powers' final counteroffensive of World War II. The ensuing battle, fought over an 80-mile stretch, from Belgium to Luxembourg, would last close to 40 days and result in an Allied victory. Learn more about the battle in the Defense.gov Special Report: Battle of the Bulge – 70th Anniversary.

Florida aeromedical teams train to bring wounded heroes home

by Tech. Sgt. Peter Dean
927th Wing Public Affairs

12/16/2014 - MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- When most think of a hospital, a spacious high-tech brick and mortar multi story building comes to mind, but for the men and women of the 45th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron here, their "hospital" gives a whole new meaning to the slogan "come fly the friendly skies. "

These highly trained aeromedical professionals have one focus, to bring our wounded warriors home alive. This doesn't come easy, initial and ongoing training is essential to keep these "flying medics" working together as a well-oiled machine. A fully trained aeromedical evacuation technician, not only needs to complete the necessary medical schools but also an array of flight related schools such as Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape.

"Coming in as a flight nurse or a (medical) technician requires much more than drilling once a month and two weeks a year like a typical Reservist" said Capt. Christopher Dorion, flight nurse, 45th AES. "We fly one local mission and one cross country mission a month, so you can pretty much expect on being away from home two weekends a month"

Flying hospitals can be set up in a many different airframes, such as the C-130, a C-17 or a HH-60, but for the 45th AES their recent training mission was aboard a MacDill based KC-135 Stratotanker. The KC-135 is primarily designed as an air-to-air refueling platform, but can be rapidly configured to carry multiple critically injured warfighters.  

"When we need to move a patient, it is essential that we are able to adapt a variety of aircraft quickly and efficiently, lives depend on it," said Senior Master Sgt. Kelly Latham, aeromedical technician, 45th AES.

During the three-day training mission, aeromedical evacuation professionals were put to the test with scenarios ranging from an out-of-control psych patient to an inflight emergency that resulted in a patient going into cardiac arrest.

"Inflight emergencies can be very stressful on patients, they will each react differently, so not only do the techs have to respond to the emergency but they also have to keep close eye on their patient's reactions to it," Dorion said. "They have to be on top of their game"

Scenario after scenario flight nurses and aeromedical technicians stepped up, working together as they were one.

"In each scenario, technicians are expected to react and respond with the appropriate care and answer the "20" questions," said Dorion. "Every year we have to regain our currency and make sure we are still proficient."

The training scenarios start well before takeoff; AES technicians gathered for a comprehensive briefing discussing the care of each patient, their condition, and every drug and piece of equipment that will be needed aboard the aircraft.

"You don't want any surprises when you're at 30,000 feet, you don't have the option to run to the pharmacist for medication, or down the hallway to get a piece of lifesaving equipment," said Master Sgt. Mary Beth Young, aeromedical technician, 45th AES. "If you don't have what you need it could be the difference between life and death."

Today statistics show that injured Soldiers, Seamen, Airmen, and Marines have a 98 percent survival rate once they make it into the skilled hands of an AE team.

"We could and we do run these scenarios back at the squadron, but when you're up here it's a different world," said Latham. "Many more factors come in to play, the noise, cramped space, the motion of the jet and inflight emergencies that we can not simulate back at the office."

And this kind of care in not limited to those who walk upright, military working dogs are extended the same top-notch care.

"I remember one trip we brought back a MWD, he was involved in a blast, but they are treated just like the rest, they are a vital part of the team," said Latham. "Everyone from the flight crew would come back and check on him, his handler ended up adopting him."

The feeling of pride and honor echoes throughout the 45th, and most share the same thoughts.

"I call this the best job I wish I didn't have, knowing that these men and women are out there sacrificing their lives for me, it is an honor, it is a privilege and it is extremely humbling to take care of them," said Young.

"I just returned from a 6 month deployment, very satisfying, bringing our wounded warriors home to their families is so gratifying, there really are no words to describe it," Dorion said.

"A lot of mixed emotions, very very honored to bring these guys back, it can be gut wrenching, but very rewarding," said Latham.

Editor's note: The 45th AES falls under the Air Force Reserve 927th Air Refueling Wing here.