Monday, February 09, 2015

Obama, Merkel Discuss Ukraine Situation, ISIL

By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Feb. 9, 2015 – The United States will continue to stand with nations around the world in sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine, President Barack Obama said during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel today.

The two leaders met at the White House, where Merkel briefed the president on her recent discussions on the situation in Ukraine with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Merkel and Obama will continue to seek a diplomatic resolution. “We are in absolute agreement that the 21st century cannot … have us stand idle and simply allow the borders of Europe to be redrawn at the barrel of the gun,” Obama said.

NATO Presence in Central, Eastern Europe

The United States and its NATO allies will continue building up alliance presence in Central and Eastern Europe, he said. The United States has rotated Army units through the Baltic Republics and Poland, sailed ships into the Baltic and Black seas and contributed aircraft to the Baltic Air Policing effort.

The president and Merkel discussed ongoing sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine.

“We agreed that sanctions on Russia need to remain fully in force until Russia complies fully with its obligations,” he said. “Even as we continue to work for a diplomatic solution, we are making it clear again today that if Russia continues on its current course … Russia's isolation will only worsen both politically and economically.”

The two leaders also discussed ongoing coalition air operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant forces in Syria and Iraq. The United States and Germany “remain united in our determination to destroy” ISIL, Obama said.

He thanked Merkel for Germany’s assistance as part of coalition efforts against the terror group.

“In a significant milestone in its foreign policy, Germany has taken the important step of equipping Kurdish forces in Iraq, and Germany is preparing to lead the training mission of local forces in Irbil,” the president said.

Work Departs for Budget, Nuclear Enterprise Trip

By Claudette Roulo
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Feb. 9, 2015 – Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work departed today for a multi-day trip to discuss budget priorities, meet with nuclear enterprise troops and to tour the U.S. Navy’s newest mobile landing platform.

For his first stop, Work is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at the U.S. Naval Institute’s 2015 WEST Conference in San Diego, where he will underscore the department’s three key budgetary themes.

“We feel very strongly that the 2016 president’s budget submission is a strategy-driven, resource informed budget. The choices that we made throughout the fall review were aligned precisely with the 2014 [Quadrennial Defense Review],” he said.

The most efficient way to undermine this effort -- to implement a budget-driven strategy -- is for sequestration to be allowed to return in 2016, Work said.

“Sequestration will prevent us from executing a strategy that we think is in the best interests of the United States at this point in time,” he said.

“For all of the people who say this isn’t a strategy-driven budget, I’d say, ‘Just wait. Wait until you see what happens if we go to sequestration.’”

The president’s budget is about $154 billion over the cap set by sequestration, Work said. But, he added, even at that level, maintaining a balanced defense program is difficult.

The Defense Department needs one to three percent real growth per year in order to maintain balance between personnel, current and future readiness and modernization, the deputy secretary said.

“We’ve had flat budgets for three years. So, because our forces are in high demand, we have to keep force structure … set, and that’s expensive. We’re trying to dig our way out of the readiness hole, and that’s expensive,” Work said.

As a result, he said, modernization budgets have stayed flat over the past three years.

“So, we believe that our technological superiority is eroding, and that’s one of the things we wanted to address in this budget,” the deputy secretary said.

The president’s budget includes an additional $21 billion over last year’s request, he said, almost entirely directed toward advanced capabilities.

Mobile Landing Platform

Following Work’s speech, he will visit the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company shipyard where the Navy’s newest mobile landing platform is under construction.

The ship he will see is configured as an afloat forward staging base and is equipped with a helicopter landing deck and boat bay. The ship’s adjustable ballast tanks facilitate the movement of forces, equipment and vehicles by raising and lowering the ship’s draft as needed.

Mobile landing platforms are intended to become the centerpiece of the sea base mission. The MLP is designed for use across a wide range of military operations, including humanitarian assistance and disaster response, theater security cooperation and major combat operations.

The visit is, in part, aimed at reassuring the defense industry after several years of flat modernization budgets, Work said.

This will be the deputy secretary’s first opportunity to see an MLP in this configuration, he said, adding, “It’s an exciting new capability for our force.”

The configuration is proving to be so capable that the department has added a third ship, expected to be ready in 2017, the deputy secretary said.

The Nuclear Enterprise

Work’s next stop will be Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, the nation’s only nuclear base to host both bombers and nuclear missiles.

As chair of the Nuclear Deterrent Enterprise Review Group, the deputy secretary said he has received a great deal of input from the Air Force and Navy’s nuclear forces as the department seeks to correct the deficiencies uncovered last year.

“So I want to go out and talk with the folks and compare what they’re saying,” he said. “Are they seeing the improvements that I’m being told are happening?”

Work said the members of the nuclear enterprise should know that if any defense mission is growing in importance, it is theirs.

History in the making: 99th GCTS garners first ACC Order of the Shield unit award

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

2/9/2015 - CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nevada -- The 99th Ground Combat Training Squadron received the first Air Combat Command Security Forces Order of the Shield unit award during a ceremony Feb. 6, 2015, at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada.

The ceremony recognizes individuals or ACC units who have made significant contributions to security, training, and ground defense of ACC installations, missions, personnel, and resources. Those being recognized will be presented a shield which represents defenders as the true shield of protection against attacks. In addition to this, for the 99th GCTS, it marks the unit's draw-down and eventual inactivation, slated for March 2015.

"This squadron has an amazing history and has made substantial contributions to the development and training of security forces Airmen for the last three decades," said Maj. Jesse Goens, 99th GCTS commander. "It is an incredible honor to be one of the last Airmen assigned to the 99 GCTS and all of us here are trying to write a strong final chapter that this proud squadron deserves," Goens said.

For 20 years cadre assigned to the 99th GCTS, formally known as the 99th Ground Combat Training Flight, have prepared tens of thousands of defenders for combat using the Silver Flag Alpha training range located south of Creech AFB.

"Silver Flag Alpha has been Air Combat Command's premier regional training center for roughly 33 years," said Senior Master Sgt. James Robbins, 99th GCTS superintendent of operations. "Each year, 3,000 security forces (defenders) were trained at Silver Flag Alpha in twenty-three core combat expeditionary skills, advanced base security operations, and area security operations mission requirements."

The skills taught by the 99th GCTS instructors were comprised of various tactical training courses such as Tactical Automated Sensor Systems, Base Security Operations, M67 Fragmentation Grenade, Mounted Operations, Dismounted Operations, small arms and heavy weapons, Military Working Dog, Tactical Vehicle Training, and more.

Since Silver Flag Alpha stood up in 1981, it has been home to the 4554th Tactical Air Command Combat Arms School, 4554th Ground Combat Training Squadron, 554th Security Police Group, 554th Security Police Operations Flight, 554th Security Police Squadron, 99th GCTF, 99th GCTS, and Ranger Assessment Course. All of which had a part in garnering the unit honor of being presented the Order of the Shield.

Just as each unit had their role, every Airman, cadre, and leader within the units, both current and historical, have worked hard to ensure mission accomplishment.

"Silver Flag Alpha never lost sight of its vision ... to ensure every student received the best training possible," Robbins said. "There was no compromise in training, as doing so could've cost someone his or her life."

Goens said that the 99th GCTS was the most dedicated, diligent, and resilient group of Airmen he has ever seen and he is honored to be a part of the proud unit.

Robbins added the cadre's hard work was reinforced by feedback from the students. Some Airmen said the training at the 99th GCTS was the best Air Force training they had received and the cadre established a great learning environment by going out of their way to answer any questions and provide support to the entire student body.

"Every day, cadre executed the mission with pride and professionalism," Robbins said. "But, it was not just a job to them, it was a way of life. They wanted to ensure every brother and sister returned home safely."

As the squadron draws to a close, the leadership took time to reminisce about their experience while being there.

Goens reflected on some of his most memorable moments to include being a part of Chief Master Sgt. Mike Phillips' promotion ceremony, who was the last chief to promote in the squadron. During the students' training Goens watched one Airman struggle with his weapon who by the end of training finally 'got it'. Another time, he observed an Airman having a hard time with Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle operations, who eventually graduated the course ready for the mission.

"There are a lot of [great memories] and I'm thankful for all of them," Goens said. "Narrowing it down to one, would be impossible."

Robbins said the best part of his time at the 99th GCTS was being able to supervise the most professional and dignified corps of instructors who affected the lives of thousands of security forces members daily, and see the growth in each Airman as they worked to advance each other to match an unknown enemy.

"It's an emotional moment in history," Robbins said. "The memories are engrained forever and we have no regrets."

The 99th GCTS Silver Flag Alpha is one of four regional training locations slated to close as part of a consolidation effort with the U.S. Army. The Silver Flag Alpha training will be relocated to the Headquarters of Security Forces Center Desert Defender at Fort Bliss, Texas, under the 204th Security Forces Squadron.

"The consolidated training location at Ft. Bliss, run by the 204th Security Forces Squadron, will offer a lot of benefits to the Air Force and our career field," Goens said. "
The range capacity at Ft. Bliss is unmatched and the centralized location will allow our career filed to invest in equipment and personnel to provide a one stop clearing house for the development and training of our defenders, tactics, techniques, and procedures."

A centralized location will save the Air Force millions of dollars and provide the opportunity to conduct joint training with the Army, Navy special forces, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, local and state law enforcement and criminal justice affiliates. More importantly it will ensure all defenders are trained to the same standard on all tasks and will be completely interoperable in deployed environments.

"Although we may be closing a chapter, we are opening a new chapter," Robbins said. "We must look at the future to ensure our defenders are offered the most advanced training... We left a legacy, so every defender and ally could return home safely."

At the end of the ceremony, Col. Erik Rundquist, chief of security forces, headquarters ACC, shared some words of gratitude for the devotion to the Airmen of the 99th GCTS.

"I can think of no better fitting tribute then to recognize this organization as its mission has ended here at Creech Air Force Base," Rundquist said. "It is the agility and flexibility of our Airmen to adapt to new missions and meet new threats who have always been the hallmark of Silver Flag Alpha and the 99th GCTS."

25th Air Force leadership visits Offutt

by Staff Sgt. Dallas Edwards
55th Wing Public Affairs

2/9/2015 - OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- The 25th Air Force commander and command chief visited Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., from Jan. 25 - 29.

Maj. Gen. John N.T. Shanahan, 25 AF commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman, 25 AF command chief, met, dined and spoke with Airmen, received multiple briefs, visited U.S. Strategic Command, the Air Force Weather Agency and various 55th Wing units during the four-day visit.

This was the two leaders' first trip to Offutt since the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency was re-designated from a Field Operating Agency to a numbered Air Force Sept. 29.

Shanahan held a commander's call to discuss his vision and expectations for the NAF and to discuss the future of the wing's missions. He also wanted to tell Airmen how valuable the Fightin' Fifty-Fifth is to 25 AF and the Air Force overall.

"You are an incredibly important part of 25th Air Force," Shanahan said. "I was so excited that the 9th Wing and 55th Wing were announced as coming into the 25th Air Force because for the first time we are taking the 'iron' -- the aircraft, the platform, the sensors -- and putting them together with the processing, exploitation and dissemination under one commander."

The general stressed the importance of innovation to accomplish tomorrow's missions, and getting rid old habits and find a better way of doing things.

"Please don't ever use the famous words, 'that's the way we've always done it,'" said Shanahan during a commander's call. "We've got to get away from that."

This visit was also an opportunity to highlight the way Team Offutt embraces innovation and ingenuity, and the general and chief took the opportunity to personally thank many members of Team Offutt for their outstanding support to missions and operations currently underway around the globe.

"It was a fantastic opportunity to share our many successes and discuss some of our challenges with these two senior leaders," said Chief Master Sgt. Matthew Grengs, 55th Wing command chief.  "More importantly, we got to brag about all the amazing Airmen who enable that success and will undoubtedly help find creative and innovative ways to overcome the challenges we face."

The general, the 55th Wing commander from April 2009 to March 2011, also coined several Airmen during his visit.

The 25th AF provides full-spectrum decision advantage to warfighters and national leaders through globally integrated ISR, electronic warfare, information operations, and strategic command and control.

Yokota Airmen learn valuable lessons in Tinian

by Senior Airman Desiree Economides
374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

2/9/2015 - TINIAN, Mariana Islands  -- A team of Airmen from Yokota Air Base, Japan, traveled to Tinian, Mariana Islands, Jan. 28 through 31, to prepare the Baker landing zone for COPE NORTH 2015, a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise.

The intent of the trip was to clear and validate the landing zone, utilizing personnel and equipment from the 36th Civil Engineer Squadron at Anderson Air Base, Guam.

"The Baker landing zone will serve as the spoke for the COPE NORTH exercise, which is conceived by 5th Air Force, the 36th Contingency Response Group and the participant forces," said Capt. Mark Nexon, COPE NORTH mission commander. "The exercise is modeled on the collective experience of personnel who flew and directed missions during Operation Damayan in the Philippines."

Operation Damayan was a humanitarian assistance response to the Philippine government in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013.

Clearing the landing zone took more than simply cutting grass. To complete the project, the team worked together with several local and federal agencies to include Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Commonwealth Northern Marianas Islands, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and local government on the island of Tinian.

The mission, set to be a one or two day endeavor, took three days.

"Tinian is a jungle," said Capt. Keri Morris, 36th Airlift Squadron pilot. "We didn't fully appreciate how much the trees and shrubbery would encroach onto the runway, but CE did an amazing job plowing through it despite the challenge."

"Everything was happening in real time so we had to adjust our aim and our focus," Nexon added. "As we came across problems, we had to increase our coordination with the locals, even to contract a tractor."

While the mission provided an opportunity to build relationships, it also prompted Airmen to work strategically.

"A big challenge in today's Air Force is that resources are limited, which means we need to save money where we can," Nexon said.

As such, the team utilized the mission to also accomplish training. Training included theater indoctrination for a new co-pilot in the 36th AS, a navigator over-seas check ride and the loadmasters operated in a location without Air Mobility Squadron support to load and unload unfamiliar cargo.

But, training won't stop there.

"Clearing this landing zone will make it possible for crews to see an unfamiliar and unimproved landing zone," Morris said. "This is unparalleled training that cannot be replaced by simulating similar landings on larger airfields."

Taking the time to prepare the landing zone will benefit more than this aircrew.

"Our dedication to making sure the landing zone is open not only for ourselves, but also for our partners only emphasizes our commitment to our allies and that their capabilities are just as important to us as our own," Nexon said.

Vietnam vet, POW shares accounts of perseverance

by Airman 1st Class Brittain Crolley
4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

2/9/2015 - SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C.  -- In the 4th Fighter Wing's latest installment of its Leadership Lecture Series, Feb. 4, the wing welcomed retired Lt. Col. Barry Bridger, a Vietnam veteran, prisoner of war, and former member of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, to speak about his trials and tribulations during his more than six years of captivity.

Bridger shared with Airmen the grim details of what happened to him and other POWs while imprisoned at the Hanoi Hilton prison camp and how he overcame years of torture and abuse by sticking to his values.

A native of Bladenboro, North Carolina, Bridger attended the University of North Carolina and earned his bachelor's degree in mathematics. Inspired by his brother, who was a pilot in World War II, Bridger decided to commission through the school's ROTC program.

"[He was a] whale of an aviator," Bridger said of his brother. "It was very much an inspiration for me to follow in his footsteps."

After pilot training, Bridger's focus was on tallying up as many flying hours as possible. He said he would have preferred to go back to the training program to be an instructor, but the Air Force decided his skill set was needed in the fighter world, so he was assigned to the F-4 Phantom.

Bridger spent the next couple of years in the skies of Vietnam, accumulating more than 200 combat flying hours and completing more than 70 combat missions over North Vietnam.

Following the success of a deception-based mission known as Operation Bolo, which placed fighter aircraft in the role of bombers and productively shot down seven enemy MiG-21s, U.S. strategists decided to employ the same scheme again, thinking the North Vietnamese again wouldn't be expecting it. Bridger was selected for round two.

Disastrously, the mission was not afforded the same success as the first. On Jan. 23, 1967, Bridger was shot down by a surface-to-air missile that blew off the tail, right wing and part of the left wing of his F-4. The damage sent him and his wingman into a fiery spiral. He was left no other option than to eject behind enemy lines.

"My backseater was a big guy and he descended faster in his parachute than I did," Bridger joked. "He was in fact being interrogated when I was still floating down to the ground.

"But we were going through all these cloud decks and you couldn't see a thing when you went in one until eventually I came out and I'm about 100 feet above the ground for the last deck and they shot at me. You could feel all of those bullets going by, but I was so low to the ground they didn't have much of a chance to hit anything, and then I hit the ground."

When he hit the ground, Bridger said he just so happened to land in downtown Hanoi, just a few miles outside the prison camp, in the middle of 100 enemy combatants. He was quickly captured and transported to the camp he would call home for the next six years or his life.

Despite the rights owed to him by the Geneva Convention, Bridger and other POWs were severely mistreated. Going without food and water for days on end was common practice in the camp. Physical bondage and torture were a way of life for those noncompliant to the rules. Medical treatment was nonexistent.

In the summer, the 6x6 cells absorbed the sun's heat, creating a sauna-like effect that kept the temperature well into triple digits. The winters were no better. The cold was encased in the brick-and-mortar structures and chilled the rooms below freezing at night. The one thin blanket they were provided was rarely enough.

The sweltering days and the frigid nights were punctuated by torture sessions. American prisoners were beaten excessively, contorted by ropes and chains into tendon-tearing positions, and forced to stay awake for weeks at a time.

"Beginning in 1967, they created a period of what we described as programmed exploitation of the POWs," Bridger said. "They wanted to know our military secrets, extract propaganda, and they wanted us to 'repent our war crimes,' and they would use anything they could to get it out of us."

To combat their captor's attempts to break their spirits, Bridger and the POWs created their own sense of culture, family and laws and committed to a set of values that they refused to violate. They communicated through code to talk about plans of escape, sabotage, and even academic subjects ranging from construction to thermodynamics.

Bridger said their minds were their only toy and they knew how to use them.

"We spent endless hours sharing information on every topic you can imagine," he said. "At the end of the conflict, we had people coming out of the dungeons of North Vietnam returning to the universities all across America, taking the final exams in courses that expanded the sciences, humanities and the arts. All of which they learned by placing their ear against a 3-foot thick concrete wall and tapping to each other. Never underestimate the power of knowledge."

Taking care of each other and bettering themselves is what Bridger said gave them hope throughout their time at the prison.

Their release finally came in March 1973 and the prisoners were returned to U.S. soil and reunited with their families.

Bridger wasted no time getting back to what he loved most. Two weeks following his return, which was mostly filled with medical appointments and debriefs, he returned to the air in the same aircraft he was shot down in.

He was stationed at Seymour Johnson AFB and flew with the 334th and 335th Fighter Squadrons during his 4-year stay. He even served as an instructor pilot for a couple years as he originally wanted to a decade ago.

Bridger retired in October of 1984 after 22 years of service. His awards and decorations include two Purple Heart medals, the Bronze Star with Valor Medal, and the Prisoner of War Medal. In his retirement, he continues to serve by delivering his message of perseverance to today's service members.

"You have two choices by which to live your life," Bridger explained. "You can seek a life of prosperity, and if you do, we can measure how well you're doing by the clothes you wear, the car you drive, or how much money you have in your bank account. On the other hand, you can pursue a life of abundance, which cannot be measured by what you acquire, but rather by what you give, and what you give will be determined by what you value about life, about living, about being."