Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Cultural Support Team Women Served With Distinction

By Terri Moon Cronk
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, April 29, 2015 – Three women who served overseas on cultural support teams in battle alongside U.S. special operators shared their experiences during a panel discussion at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace here April 27.

The trio -- an Air Force officer, an Army noncommissioned officer, and a former Army NCO -- participated in a daylong review of the roles of women in combat, following the 2013 repeal of the Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule, which had excluded women from serving in combat since 1994.

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, author of the recently released book titled “Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Operations Battlefield,” was the panel’s moderator.

The cultural support team pilot program was underway when Army 1st Lt. Ashley White-Stumpf was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province during an Oct. 22, 2011, night raid while her unit was embedded with the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment.

“These women were bonded and had a sisterhood like none other,” Tzemach Lemmon said. The story of cultural support teams, she said, is “one of purpose; a heroes’ story we haven’t heard as a country … and about people who wanted to do something with a real-value mission as the women who served alongside the best of best.”

Women Warriors

Servicewomen who have served on cultural support teams have been hailed as warriors by senior military leadership, said Tzemach Lemmon, adding that through her book research, she learned doing a job in combat comes down to the best person who could do it.

“So many leaders would say, ‘I know what the regulations are, but this is a war we’re fighting. We have to be innovative and use the best people,’” she said.

Women came into the program after special operations officials discussed its legality with military lawyers, Tzemach Lemmon learned. “They said, ‘Yes, you can attach [women] to special operations units. It’s perfectly legal,’” she said.

Those Who Served Gained

Army Sgt. 1st Class Meghan Malloy, Air Force Capt. Annie Yu Kleiman and Army Sgt. Janiece Marquez served with White. All attended the cultural support team school at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to learn about medical civic action programs, searches and seizures, humanitarian assistance and civil-military operations, basic human behavior, tribalism, Islamic and Afghan cultures, and the role of women in Afghanistan.

Malloy was an Army medic with three deployments when she learned of the CST program and felt driven to become a part of it. “I jumped on it and would do it again in a heartbeat,” she said.

Kleiman’s husband flew reconnaissance aircraft providing over watch for the teams who encouraged her to apply to the CST school. She didn’t believe woman in battle existed, she said.

“I had this weird cognitive dissonance going on,” said Kleiman, who recalled thinking, “I’m not going to be in combat. The objective is going to be secured before they bring us in.”

During training, the women thought they would walk with the platoon leader and be separate from the assault element, Kleiman added.

“We all bought into the combat exclusion thing and thought we wouldn’t be in combat,” she said. Now, Kleiman recalls bullets zipping past her from distances of 50 to 100 feet.

A Role with a Purpose

With the support of a superior, Marquez said, she fought her way up the chain of command to gain acceptance into the program.

“I finally had a purpose,” she said of her new role on the cultural support team. “It wasn’t just being in the military following everyone else. I was able to be a pioneer in a program that hadn’t started yet … a brand-new concept of putting women on these teams and being able to fight on the front lines. It was exciting.”

The women rehearsed with the special operations forces, Marquez said. “And there were times when I was the gunner. [That’s what] I did the entire last three months of my deployment,” she added.

Malloy and her female cultural support team partner worked hard at performing better.

“We’d wonder, ‘What can we do for this team?’” she said. “How can we gather intel? How can we gain a bond with the women and children so they’re willing to give us this info that would potentially help out the team?”

Malloy said that kind of thinking has helped in her career, because she looks at issues from a leadership perspective.

Confidence in Performance

Serving on the cultural support team has provided “through the roof” confidence to Marquez, she said.

“A lot more doors are open that wouldn’t be if I didn’t have the combat experience,” said Marquez, who’s now working in South America.

Marquez said senior leaders put their confidence in her because she was willing to put herself up front to fight and learn.

“Foreign military commanders invite me into their offices and talk about how to fix their programs because of what I’ve done,” Marquez said. “Had I not been a CST [member] and fought on the front lines, I wouldn’t have the clout that I do.”

Women in the cultural support team program learn things that are completely new to them, Marquez said.

“And you go out there and put your best foot forward,” she said.

477th AMXS Welcomes new commander

by Tech. Sgt. Dana Rosso
477th Fighter Group Public Affairs

4/29/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Maj. Jessica Pisano became the 477th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander during a change of command ceremony here on JBER, April 12.

Pisano accepted the reins of leadership from Lt. Col. Timothy Pemberton who will move on to be the deputy chief of maintenance here in the 477th Fighter Group.

"Under Lt. Col. Pemberton's leadership, the AMXS has been recognized for numerous awards and decorations" said Col. David Piffarerio, 477th Fighter Group Commander. "The AMXS flew the most flying hours in a year; in fact we doubled flying hours and sorties over unit training assembly ops during his command."

Pisano came to the came 477th Fighter Group in October 2014 from Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ where she served as the Executive Officer for the 924th Fighter Group. Most recently Pisano served as Maintenance Operations Office in the 477th AMXS.

"This unit has overcome tremendous challenges and has a proven record of success through standing up a unit, deployments, exercises, TFI milestones, furlough and fiscal constraints... and continues to execute the mission with poise and professionalism everyday" said Maj. Jessica Pisano. "I look forward to embarking on this journey with you over the next few years and the challenges we will surmount together."

Face of Defense: Airman Mentors Adaptive Sports Athletes

By Kevin Gaddie
Eglin Air Force Base

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla., April 28, 2015 – Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ryan Delaney said he was happy to be a mentor for fellow wounded warriors that participated in an introductory adaptive sports and rehabilitation camp held here April 13-22.

Delaney, a flight chief with the 412th Security Forces Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base, California, helped prepare approximately 45 participants in the camp and training events.

He said the experience he gained through participation in two prior adaptive sports camps allowed him to relate to his fellow athletes' triumphs and to offer a listening, compassionate ear in their tough times.

"I know how beneficial the camps can be to athletes, if he or she accepts what they offer," Delaney said. "Athletes get pushed here. When they hit that wall and say 'I can't do it,' I help them remember they can do it. When they accomplish a goal and they come back to me and say, 'You were right, and I did it,' it's always a good feeling. That sense of accomplishment is important in their recovery process."

Confronting Personal Challenges

Being a leader and motivator is nothing new to the 18-year Air Force veteran.

"I'm in charge of 43 airmen at my regular job," Delaney said. "My job consists of day-to-day patrol duties, ensuring everything runs smoothly at Edwards' gates, and supervising the patrol sergeants, the desk sergeant and all day shift personnel. I make sure law and order is maintained at Edwards."

On this assignment, however, Delaney has personal experiences to share with his fellow warriors -- ones that don't involve traffic stops and police reports.

Before he could help other wounded warriors with their unique challenges, he first had to learn to confront and manage his own.

The first life-changing event that started the law enforcer's journey to an adaptive camp mentor role happened during a 2007 deployment to Baghdad in Iraq. Delaney was serving as the criminal investigator and intelligence officer for the joint area security group.

"I contracted a skin disease on my head there, which got progressively worse over the next two years," Delaney said.

According to his doctors, the diagnosis closest to Delaney's condition is dissecting cellulitis of the scalp -- a rare issue where blockage of hair follicles leads to the growth of cysts. There’s currently no cure. It causes constant pain and intermittent draining of the cysts, and it requires medication.

"Sometimes it's hard to go to sleep, because I can't find a comfortable place to lay my head," Delaney said. "However, I have made up my mind to not let it physically control me. It's just another chapter in my book."

Dealing With Depression

He recalled one incident during a base hospital visit that rivaled any pain the disease has caused.

"I was picking up some medication at the pharmacy and a little kid pointed at me and told his mother, 'He's got owwies.' His mom replied, 'Yes, son, that's why you'll never join the military.'”

The incident “got to me,” Delaney acknowledged.

Delaney was also initially diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2008, after returning from his third Iraq deployment. He was diagnosed with increased symptoms in 2012, after completing a Saudi Arabia deployment. Issues in his work and personal lives had come to a head.

"I became severely depressed," he said. "I wasn't sleeping or eating. A good friend of mine pushed me to get help."

The airman was sent to the Salt Lake Behavioral Unit in Salt Lake City, where he underwent two months of treatment with the Freedom Care Program, a specialty inpatient program structured to meet the needs of active-duty service members, veterans, retirees and their families.

Accepting Help

The program was the first step toward tackling his challenges, Delaney said.

"I learned how to face my problems and deal with them, instead of letting them compound themselves," he said. "The program helped me cope with the depression, not sleeping, not eating, which were all brought on by PTSD."

Next came follow-on counseling and additional assistance, which Delaney said have helped him make a huge turnaround in his life.

"The help I've received equipped me to deal with my issues," he said. "Now, I can relate to people with similar issues. I can take an issue I may perceive as a negative and not let it compound itself. I can now deal with a negative issue before it gets beyond my control."

Delaney also suffers from minor curvature of the spine, brought on by years of carrying gear in his security forces job. However, he won't allow anything take his eye off the endgame.

Staying Positive

"I can't let any of that control who I am," Delaney said. "I have a goal. I want to retire from my Air Force career with 20 years of service."

Delaney said when he feels he's at a low point, he's comforted to know he has resources to rely on for strength, comfort and perspective.

"I'm thankful to have the support of my brothers and sisters in security forces and in the wounded warriors program," he said. "Even if I'm not at camp, no matter how bad a day I'm having, I can pick up the phone and call a peer at a base, or I can call a warrior teammate. It's been amazing."

Delaney has encouraged many of the athletes at the camp to go beyond their perceived limits. He showed one wheelchair basketball participant, a stroke victim who lost the use of his right hand, how to maneuver his wheelchair and shoot a basketball, left-handed.

"When we got into the scrimmage, he went from 'I can't do it,' to an enthusiastic, 'I'm doing it,'" Delaney said. "That made a real impact on me."

Family-like Camaraderie

The father of two said he has found a sense of family through camaraderie with his fellow wounded warriors.

"Within five minutes of walking around this camp environment, anyone can see the special connection we have," he said. "If one person falls down, we're all there to pick them up."

Though feeling better, Delaney also said he still has good days and bad days. Over the last two years, he said, things have slowly fallen into place. He points to the adaptive camps as playing a major role in getting his life back on track.

From where he was in 2007 to now, Delaney said he's glad for all the good fortune that has come his way.

"I'm happy and healthy as much as I can be," he said. "Now that I'm at the twilight of my career, I'm thankful to for the opportunity to serve my fellow wounded warriors as a mentor."

Face of Defense: Airman Comes Home During Operation Balikatan

From an Exercise Balikatan News Release

CLARK AIR BASE, Philippines, April 29, 2015 – Air Force Staff Sgt. Andre Garrucho, a C-130 Hercules aircraft flight engineer, has a knack for surprising people.

Garrucho’s ebony black hair is laced with just a few traces of gray, despite a nearly 12-year career ensuring C-130s take off, land and fly safely. Now nearly 40 years old, Garrucho’s jovial nature and youthful complexion might mislead one to thinking he is 10 years younger.

“I look so young, people would think I don’t have the maturity to be a flight engineer,” Garrucho said. “Whoever doesn’t know my background, … how many kids I’ve raised, would definitely be surprised at what I’m capable of doing.”

Also surprising are the circumstances of Garrucho’s job. He sits in the center of the flight deck, elevated above all others, despite his certainty that he will always be outranked by the pilots and navigators with whom he shares the aircraft’s metallic perch.

“I need to see what’s going on everywhere, … how the pilots are performing, and have a feel for the flight,” he said. “If something goes wrong, an engine shuts down, we strike a bird, et cetera, you will definitely feel something. Sitting in that chair, I like to think of myself as [Star Trek’s] Captain Kirk.”

Hand-selected for Balikatan Exercise

It was no accident Garrucho was hand-selected to participate in the Balikatan exercise, making the relatively short flight to the Philippines from his home unit, the 36th Airlift Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan. His selection was based on his unique skill set, not only inside the aircraft, but outside as well.

Garrucho is a Filipino-American. He is from Manila, the country’s capital. He speaks fluent Tagalog and English, two of the most widespread languages in the Philippines. He married his high-school sweetheart and has four children ranging in age from 16 to 21.

His oldest son, also an American airman, works on avionics for the F-15E Strike Eagle. His oldest daughter attends college in the Philippines, his second daughter lives with him at his home in Yokota and attends high school there. His youngest daughter was unable to travel with him to Yokota due to being diagnosed with Turner’s syndrome -- a chromosomal condition that affects development in females. She lives in the Philippines with his parents, where she can receive treatment.

A Homecoming for Garrucho

That is why, in contrast most others who traveled to the Philippines for Exercise Balikatan 2015, it was a homecoming for Garrucho.

“I’ve gotten to see my mom and kids a lot, and my other family members have come to visit me while I’m here. It’s such a great opportunity to see family members who have driven to see me from my hometown two-and-a-half hours north of here,” he said. “Since I’m here, I’m in a position where I can clear up any misunderstandings between the two forces during Balikatan. … I can relate to them both.”

Balikatan is an annual bilateral exercise between the U.S. military and the Philippine armed forces in which the two forces team up to share best practices, strengthen relationships, and reinforce cooperation in the spirit of the Filipino term “Balikatan” -- the “shoulder-to-shoulder” mentality for which the exercise is named.

“I’ve talked to pilots in the Philippine air force since I’ve been here … they were wondering how I got into the [U.S.] Air Force,” Garrucho said. “Now that I’m back, I get to show them what we’re capable of doing. We can learn from them side by side and help them learn what they can do with the things they have.”

Pre-flight Checklist

For now, Garrucho sits alone, perched on his metal throne. The harsh noonday sun shines through the flight deck windows, enveloping his silhouette in a blinding halo. Undeterred, Garrucho continues to go through his pre-flight checklist, ensuring that Balikatan and his aircraft’s role in it continue undeterred toward success.

As he calculates engine performance data and inscribes landing and takeoff distances, an American flag sits comfortably alongside a Philippine flag on the left shoulder of his flight suit. He can operate in both worlds concurrently, and those around him say he is predisposed to professionalism, diplomacy and amicability.

This amicability was on display a half hour earlier, as Garrucho relaxed in the shade under a sparsely leafed tree on the outskirts of the tarmac here, postponing entering the heat of an unpowered C-130 until the last possible moment.

This time was not wasted, however, as he took care to gift a warm, enthusiastic wave to passing helicopters, colleagues and even strangers, all of whom were sharing in the Balikatan experience.