Wednesday, April 22, 2015

New Tuition Assistance Tool Attuned to Troops’ Educational Needs

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, April 22, 2015 – The Defense Department continues to invest in its service members and has introduced a new online informational tool tailored to their unique school programs and educational needs, the Defense Department’s chief of voluntary education said in a DoD news interview this week.

Dawn Bilodeau discussed a new online tool called “Tuition Assistance DECIDE.”

“Tuition Assistance DECIDE, or TA DECIDE, as we like to call it,” she said, “is a tool tailored to the unique needs of our service members.” It’s designed to support their decision-making in areas such as selecting schools or choosing programs to enroll in, she explained. It came online April 17.

Informing Decisions

“Our military students tend to be part-time students -- they’re not going to school full-time,” Bilodeau said, “and Tuition Assistance DECIDE is really designed to enable them to search through schools that service members are attending just like them.” TA DECIDE can provide information on everything, Bilodeau said, from completion rates -- likelihood of completing a course -- to cost or graduation rates from a particular school.

“The benefit of using this particular tool is that you know that the schools that are in there are trustworthy, because we vetted them,” she said. “They’ve signed an agreement with Department of Defense that they’re going to adhere to certain principles of excellence.”

TA DECIDE is accessible at, the website for the memorandum of understanding that participating education institutions sign. “You can click on ‘Tuition Assistance DECIDE,’ and it will take you right to the tool,” Bilodeau said.

A Comparison Tool

Bilodeau described TA DECIDE as an informative tool for comparing more than 2,600 schools that are eligible for tuition assistance benefits.

“It allows service members to search by a whole host of parameters,” she said. For example, Bilodeau explained, service members interested in an associate’s degree or in a certain program such as accounting or cybersecurity can search by those filters and come up with schools that meet the criteria they see as important.

Tailored to Unique Needs

Bilodeau emphasized TA DECIDE is really tailored toward the unique needs of DoD students. Though the GI Bill Comparison Tool includes 33,000 education and training providers, she said, all of those schools have not agreed to the Defense Department’s terms, as the schools in TA DECIDE have.

While Defense Department officials are “really happy” with the launch of this new tool, Bilodeau said, there’s always room for improvement.

“We definitely want to hear feedback from all service members, as well as counselors or even our school partners that are in the field and other federal interagency partners,” she said. “We do have some planned enhancements to make it better, but we’re always willing to hear some new thoughts as well.”

Valuable Tool for Counselors as Well

Bilodeau, who has more than 15 years of experience in voluntary education, said she would have loved to have had the TA DECIDE Tool as a counselor in the field.

“It allows you to have a one-on-one conversation with that service member about their unique needs,” she said, noting that it helps in navigating the vast amount of information on the Web about schools and universities.

Every year, Bilodeau noted, 300,000 service members go to school using tuition assistance. “Can you imagine having a tool that helps them to facilitate those conversations?” she added.

“The great thing about this tool,” she said, “is it takes and leverages information that is publicly available from federal entities -- recognized sources, we like to say -- so service members can feel confident the information they’re looking at is trustworthy and is the facts.”

AFRL redesigns mock UAV, 'Surrogate Predator'

by Jeanne Dailey
Air Force Research Laboratory

4/22/2015 - KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- The Air Force Research Laboratory's Surrogate Predator program has given the warfighter a way to train in the U.S. before deploying overseas.

AFRL's Directed Energy Directorate at Kirtland modified a Civil Air Patrol Cessna 182 aircraft to be used for military training exercises. The Surrogate Predator has intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensors that provide the capability to mimic a Predator unmanned aerial vehicle.

CAP is the official auxiliary of the Air Force with 60,000 members nationwide, who operate a fleet of 550 aircraft. CAP members perform about 85 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions, as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, which credits CAP with saving an average of 70 lives each year.

CAP members also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies.

AFRL, which has been part of the Surrogate Predator program since 2008, recently completed and delivered the Enhanced Surrogate Predator 3 to CAP, according to program manager J. P. Sena.

"The Enhanced Surrogate Predator 3 is a redesign of the first two surrogate predators, which had a wing-mounted turret," Sena said. "We designed the Cessna 206T with a retractable turret stowed in the belly of the aircraft that allows for longer flight times by reducing drag when the turret is not in operation. The operator station was also designed with ergonomics in mind to allow for more leg room, ease of controls, central location for all the equipment and a plethora of capabilities for the sensor operator."

The Surrogate Predator is used in green flag exercises, where the Air Force and its allied air forces engage in air-land integration combat training exercises.

"With the use of the Surrogate Predator during green flag exercises, troops training for deployment get experience with what they will see overseas while the government can keep the high-value assets overseas to continue to complete missions," said Sena. "Our government saves millions by keeping the assets in theater and completing training using the Surrogate Predators."

In addition to its use as a military training aircraft, CAP has used the Surrogate Predators 1 and 2 in relief efforts for disasters such as Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Kirtland is home to three CAP squadrons.

"The capabilities of the Enhanced Surrogate Predator will far exceed the previous two and I'm sure will be used in countless other ways to support the CAP mission, as well as the U.S. government," Sena said.

IB 3.1: Building capabilities using the Air Force's IT infrastructure

by Justin Oakes
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

4/22/2015 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- The Air Force uses the concept of baselines to describe its IT infrastructure. Three baselines to be precise -- a target baseline, an implementation baseline and an operational baseline.

While all baselines are closely related and dependent upon one another, it is the implementation baseline -- also known as the IB -- that describes the managed platforms of the Air Force and essentially governs the basis for the development, integration and test environments.

Today, a Hanscom AFB team of engineers and program managers responsible for the evolution of the baseline released the latest version, IB 3.1.

"IB 3.1 will allow a limited number of managed platforms, which will help reduce infrastructure redundancy and decrease the time it takes to accredit and deploy capabilities as well as leverage commercial technologies at commoditized prices," said Dr. Tim Rudolph, IB Configuration Control Board chair.

Simply put, it's designed to save a lot of acquisition time and money in the way of accreditation, engineering and product purchases by eliminating needless technical variations across hundreds of programs.

Currently, there are several Air Force programs using the platforms cascading from the standards prescribed by the IB. SMART, an Air Force acquisition reporting tool, and DoctrineNext, which hosts all Air Force doctrine files, are a couple of examples in addition to many other larger business system applications in planning stages.

So what does this mean for other applications, and why should other Air Force programs adopt the IB concept?

Besides being mandated for all IT programs in development and those undertaking incremental upgrades, it all starts with the infrastructure entry point for applications, which is the Managed Services Office or MSO, also located at Hanscom AFB.

Beginning in fiscal year 2015, the Air Force directed the use of a Common Computing Environment, or CCE, for all new and modernizing IT applications. The CCE consists of the approved, funded elements or platforms of the IB the Air Force approved for implementation.

In conjunction with IB development and in an effort to provide application owners access to allowable products and services, the MSO captured those CCE platforms in a service catalog for Air Force applications to use.

Examples of information found within the catalog include computing infrastructure and management services as well as technical consulting services for building, testing, accrediting and administering applications.

This represents a major culture change for the Air Force.

"We shouldn't reinvent implementations for every small project and large program," Rudolph said. "The Air Force can better provide commodity infrastructure as a service by taking advantage of proven, secure, scalable and rapidly-available capabilities leveraging the investment of commercial IT for business and mission systems."

Most of the services listed in IB 3.1 are also offered in the MSO service catalog.

"These products have been initially selected to support a small number of specific Air Force business applications," said Maj. Jesse Hornback, MSO chief engineer and IB Technical Working Group chair. "As the IB matures, it will help guide the evolution of MSO's service catalog. The catalog balances program requirements and budgets and implements a subset of the IB, and will also be the tool that programs and industry draw from to provision IT platforms and services."

The service catalog is growing to include joint content, for example Agile Core Services with the Navy for command and control.

According to the MSO team, this approach will guide future enterprise service offerings or common services, for example, DISA enterprise services. Sample offerings include messaging, web services, security, digital signature and edge caching services.

Ultimately, this will allow Air Force applications to focus on capability development and not infrastructure while positioning the Service to effectively ride the commercial sector's innovative cycle.

"We have the opportunity and the responsibility to support more rapid application development, lower costs and accelerate capabilities to the warfighter," Rudolph said. "IB 3.1 helps us take advantage of this opportunity."

Face of Defense: Percussionist Airman Heats Up Stage

By Air Force Staff Sgt. Rachelle Blake
55th Wing

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb., April 22, 2015 – Known for its ability to make listeners want to get up and move, Latin music is globally recognized for its upbeat tempo and captivating sounds.

"There is something about it that is electrifying," said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tomas Morales, 557th Weather Wing weather training developer. "The rhythms of the percussion section, sounds of the brass, the dialogue between the piano and bass, and the harmony of the voice section, are what give Latin music its unique flavor."

Morales is a percussionist in the Omaha area's only Latin band, Esencia Latina Band, which won the 9th Annual Omaha Entertainment and Arts Award in the “Best Ethnic” category.

Morales, originally from Panama, said music began making an impact in his life from a young age. "Music was everywhere growing up," he said. "In Panama, upbeat music is heard in grocery stores, public transportation and even throughout the cities and neighborhoods." The country celebrates Carnival, an annual four-day party filled with music, he added.

Biggest Inspiration

But his biggest inspiration was his father, Morales said.

"My father always liked the saxophone and did not get the opportunity to learn it," Morales said. "I believe knowing he always wanted to play made me be very passionate about learning. Another factor was the popularity of the El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico. This band started in 1962 and currently has over 65 records. They are still together and are stronger than ever."

Morales said he began with learning the conga drums at age 4. "I always loved playing percussion," he said. "My formal music education began with the saxophone at age 11, and at 18, I played in my first salsa band."

In 2013, he began playing with his current band.

Amazing Energy

"Our band has 13 members and only eight come from Latin backgrounds," Morales said. "We have three singers, three percussionists, five brass, one bass and one piano. It is amazing seeing the energy that comes from band members that are new to this type of music."

The band practices for two hours every Sunday. But Morales credits his band’s audience, more than its hard work, for the group’s success.

"The success of the band relies on the warmth of the people that live in this part of the country," he explained. "People in Nebraska are very open-minded, and they do not hesitate to try new things. There has been a strong salsa dancing scene in Omaha for several years, and there was an immediate connection from the beginning months of the band."

It isn't just the local people who enjoy their music, Morales said. Service members stationed here are often found in the crowd as well.

Fun to Watch

"He is very fun to watch," said Maria Sada, 557th Weather Wing human resource specialist. "He smiles the whole time, is very animated and has high energy. Everyone dances. … Parents, kids, couples -- everyone was dancing. There were people showing others how to dance to the music -- just a good family time.”

Myrna Ramirez, 55th Medical Support Squadron supply technician, said she enjoyed the experience as well.

"His enthusiasm, rhythm and high energy is reflected by his smile and the way he plays his musical instruments and makes you feel like dancing," she said. "[The show] is a great and fun exercise without gym walls. Being a Latina, I grew up listening and dancing to salsa music. I love to go to the shows his band puts together, because it is a lot of fun and makes me remember the 'good old times.'"

Down and Dirty with Contingency Response

by Tech. Sgt. Matthew Hannen
621st Contingency Response Wing Public Affairs

4/21/2015 - FORT HUNTER LIGGET, Calif.  -- More than 130 Airmen from five wings across Air Mobility Command and the Air National Guard participated in a contingency response exercise March 29 through April 3 at three locations in California.

Exercise Golden Hydra was developed by Travis Airmen from the 621st Contingency Response Wing and the 60th Air Mobility Wing to provide expeditionary training for Contingency Response forces and mobility aircrews.

Golden Hydra provided the opportunity for contingency response forces to open and operate airfields for air mobility operations in an austere environment.

"This exercise allowed our teams to replicate a simultaneous deployment to two forward based airfields, rapidly establish operations and coordinate with a staging base to move cargo between the three locations," said Lt Col Jeff Krulick, 570th Global Mobility Squadron director of operations.

Airmen from the 570th Contingency Response Group set up operations at Schoonover Landing Zone, Fort Hunter Ligget, California, while Airmen from the 571st Contingency Response Group operated out of Amedee Army Airfield, Sierra Army Depot, California. They were able to practice rapidly establishing command and control, assault landing zone operations, engine-running cargo onloads and offloads and airlift operations under low-light conditions. At the same time, members of the 615th Contingency Operations Support Group and the 60th AMW, diligently prepared aircrews, aircraft and cargo at Travis for airlift missions to those two locations.

Additionally, aircrews from the 60th AMW, the 152nd Airlift Wing, Nevada Air National Guard, the 62nd AW, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, and the 19th AW, Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, supported the exercise and were able to accomplish tactical airlift training at each of the locations including training at a dirt landing zone. With participation from eight aircraft including the C-17 Globemaster III, C-130 Hercules and KC-10 Extender, the exercise racked up a total of 58 airlift sorties over five days.

"It was both challenging and rewarding to work with all the motivated Airmen to plan and execute this exercise that provided some great training for both our contingency response teams as well as the aircrews," said Maj. Matt Hood, 570th Global Mobility Squadron lead planner for Exercise Golden Hydra.

"It is my hope that this can be a starting point to develop a reoccurring, robust, yet cost effective, expeditionary exercise on the west coast to provide realistic training to both contingency response forces and mobility aircrews," Krulick said.

Top Vietnam ace inspires teamwork at SJAFB

by Senior Airman Ashley J. Thum
4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

4/21/2015 - SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C.  -- The 4th Fighter Wing welcomed a distinguished Vietnam War veteran during the latest iteration of the Leadership Lecture Series, April 16.

Retired Col. Charles "Chuck" DeBellevue imparted his ideals on teamwork and selfless service to the base's Airmen through recounted experiences from his storied career.

DeBellevue is the highest-scoring ace of the Vietnam War with six enemy MiG kills to his name - no small feat considering he was a weapons systems officer in the F-4 Phantom, and not a pilot.

Perhaps his experience as a "backseater," combined with the collaboration between air and ground crews necessary to accomplish flying operations, helped shape his perspective on working toward communal goals.

"If you do everything right, when you get back to the base the first person to climb up that ladder is the crew chief," DeBellevue said on returning from flying missions. "Why? It's their jet."

While serving in Vietnam, DeBellevue was assigned to the famed 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, or "Triple Nickel," Udorn Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand. Although he spent a great deal of time discussing his missions over Southeast Asia where he became the first WSO to achieve ace status, DeBellevue made sure to highlight his time as a member of Team Seymour.

"I spent five and a half years here," DeBellevue said. "I enjoyed every minute of it. You guys and gals are in the best Air Force in the world, and you're in the best unit in the world."

The retired colonel mentioned his year with the 335th Fighter Squadron, along with his time working in the 4th Operations Group.

Continuing with his theme of teamwork, DeBellevue shared the impact his two years working with maintenance Airmen made on him.

"Those years were rewarding because I got to interact with everybody on the team," DeBellevue said. "It's because of what the guys and gals in maintenance did that made us so successful when the IG (Inspector General) drove down from Langley (Air Force Base, Virginia). It was the people on base - not just the air crews - that made us so successful, that made the team unbeatable."

Although DeBellevue retired in the late 1990s, he has not lost touch with his military ties, as he frequents units across the branch, sharing his wisdom gained from three decades of service.

Ironically for one of the nation's heroes whose audience lined up to thank him after his talk ended, DeBellevue delivered his own "thank you" to the men and women currently serving as members of Team Seymour.

"I appreciate you clothing yourself in the cloth of this great country, to protect and defend against all enemies," DeBellevue said. "That's not an easy job. I appreciated it when I was on active duty, and I appreciate it more now. Because of you, and others like you, this country will remain free."

"Marry Me": An artist's reflection on life as a military spouse

by Airman 1st Class Aaron J. Jenne
4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

4/21/2015 - SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- Diala Estela, 4th Fighter Wing key spouse mentor, placed third out of 35 exhibits April 3, at the Visual Art Exchange in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Estala's sculpture, titled "Marry Me," was a dress made from 130 plastic bottles to symbolize the spouses of active-duty service members based on her personal experience as an artist and military spouse.

"My dress represents how I see military spouses and myself as one," Estela said. "Many times we can have a hard time keeping our identities, finding our purpose and seeing our self-worth when we're constantly moving. Sometimes we feel see-through just like the plastic bottles, but like them, we are also flexible and deceptively strong."

Estela cut, molded and tinted each bottle by hand, then riveted each piece in place to create the dress' light blue, translucent figure. Each bottle was collected from the Airman and Family Readiness Center - recycling not only the material but the emotions tied to the bottles into a piece of art.

"Sometimes we get focused on how the military lifestyle affects us and we forget how important our commitment to our spouse is to their way of life," Estela said. "My commitment to my husband is everything. It's to mend all the pieces together; myself, my family and military life. This role is more important than some people realize, and sometimes it gets tough. When it gets tough, I've found the A & FRC to be really helpful. I've heard a lot of success stories since I've been here, and the bottles represent all of this, from the trying times and turmoil to the successes of coming together as one military family."

Arianne Henry-Kroll, 4th FW key spouse mentor said The bottles consolidate to form a fine piece of art with a great meaning.

"She took something that was 'trash' and recycled it into something creative, beautiful and deceptively durable," Henry-Kroll said. "I think that's how I feel about spouses, we're strong and beautiful. When we move, we recycle what we've already experienced and borrow things from the people who are at the next location. You take all the resources you can and create something that can stand the test of time. That is what her dress says to me."

Estela said crafting the dress allowed her to reflect on her journey as an artist and military spouse.

She found joy in art at an early age and knew that's where her dreams lay. She received two bachelor's degrees in psychology and fine arts specializing in sculpture and photography from the University of Montevallo, Alabama, and a master's degree in art education specializing in art therapy from Florida State University.

"In college you think you know who you are," Estela said. "I was successful there. A lot of my stuff was displayed at the school I attended. I've always been an artist. I can draw, paint, I can do whatever, but when I was first introduced to metal sculpting I knew that's what I wanted to do. I found my passion in the fire and flames that manipulated the steel I worked with."

She focused on large scale sculptures, which required a well-ventilated workspace. The material, equipment and final products were heavy and costly to move. None of these qualities lend themselves to a lifestyle which requires moving every couple of years.

She married a young second lieutenant after college and shortly thereafter turned down her dream job as an art therapist at a juvenile detention center in Florida in order to move with her husband.

Several years, moves and children later, the family arrived at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. Estela said throughout that journey she wasn't able to continue pursuing her dreams.

"I volunteered and found ways to keep my inner artist active, but I wasn't able to return to metal sculptures," Estela said. "It took me a long time to find my way again. I thought to myself, 'What can I do? I like to recycle in my art, let's use plastic. It looks like glass and there are so many things I can do with it.'"

In February 2015, Estela found out about an upcoming art competition and decided she would like to participate. She prepared bottles for the sculpture, but she had no idea how to construct her dress and the deadline was rapidly approaching.

"I was frustrated," Estela said. "I had all these pieces and I knew what I wanted to do, I just wasn't sure how to do it. My husband was very supportive and he told me that he knew I was a great artist and I'd figure something out, but if I didn't there would always be another show to look forward to. I was just walking past the pieces a while later and the idea of riveting them together like shingles hit me. I'd used this process before when I was metal sculpting."

In about a week, she created a plan and used the bottles she'd prepared to complete her sculpture in the nick of time - just three days before the competition deadline.

Weeks later, Estela said she's pleased with the dress and the recognition she's received and now intends to turn her single sculpture into a collection of as many as six dresses to represent different aspects of military life and what it takes to be a military spouse.

"You could throw my dress around and it wouldn't break," Estela said. "You can hear it crunch and it bounces right back. Spouses are the same way. We're strong, and we find a way to keep our households together along the way."