Military News

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Army Reserve Staff Sergeant Pleads Guilty to Bulk Cash Smuggling and Theft of Government Property While Serving in Afghanistan



A Fort Buchanan Army Reserve Staff Sergeant pleaded guilty today to bulk cash smuggling of $113,050 and theft of government property worth $6,302 while serving in Afghanistan.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Rose Emilia Rodriguez-Velez of the District of Puerto Rico, Special Agent in Charge Carlos Cases of the FBI’s San Juan Division Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Gary J. Hartwig of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) Chicago Field Office, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John F. Sopko, Director Frank Robey of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command’s (CID) Major Procurement Fraud Unit, Acting Special Agent in Charge Paul Sternal of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service’s (DCIS) Mid-Atlantic Field Office and Brigadier General Keith M. Givens, Commander of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) made the announcement.

Luis Ramon Casellas, 42, of Canovanas, Puerto Rico, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Camille L. Velez-Rive of the District of Puerto Rico to three counts of bulk cash smuggling and one count of theft of government property.  Sentencing before U.S. District Judge Carmen Consuelo Cerezo of the District of Puerto Rico will be scheduled at a later date.

Since 2009, Casellas has been an Army Reservist Staff Sergeant on active status based at Fort Buchanan in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.  In April 2013, Casellas was deployed by the Army to Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.  As part of his duties, Casellas was responsible for helping to break down smaller bases in preparation for the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan.  These duties included retrieving U.S. government property for future use and selling unsuitable material as scrap to Afghan contractors.

Between June 17 and Aug. 9, 2013, Casellas was the leader of a three-person Army team that went to a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Afghanistan to help break down that base.  In connection with his plea, Casellas admitted that, while this team was at the FOB, he stole tools and equipment, including laptops, belonging to the U.S. Department of Defense.  Casellas also admitted that, in July 2013, Casellas sent approximately eight boxes from the FOB through the U.S. Postal Service addressed to his wife in Puerto Rico, and that the boxes contained some of the stolen government property and undeclared U.S. currency totaling $50,500.

In addition, in August 2013, Casellas sent two boxes from Kandahar through UPS, again addressed to his wife, that were marked as “gifts for family.”  In connection with his plea, Casellas admitted that, although he declared that the items inside the boxes were valued at $700 and $400, respectively, one box contained some of the stolen government property as well as $41,750 in U.S. currency, and the other box contained $20,800 in U.S. currency.  These boxes were intercepted by U.S. Customs in Louisville, Kentucky.

This case was investigated by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the FBI, ICE-HSI, Army CID, DCIS and AFOSI.  This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Daniel P. Butler of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia M. Meconiates of the District of Puerto Rico.

Innovative training benefits Soldiers, community alike



July 15, 2015
Master Sgt. Paul Gorman
115th Fighter Wing

Soldiers from the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 724th Engineer Battalion joined business owners, civic leaders, and community members from the Mosinee, Wisconsin area June 14 to celebrate the start of a construction project more than five years in the making.

As part of the Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training program, the Wisconsin Soldiers will help construct the Mosinee Community Athletic Complex. Scheduled for completion in 2020, the multi-phase construction project will include eight new baseball/softball fields, two football/soccer fields, two tennis courts, a basketball court and concession stands.

Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Army, attended the ceremony to offer his appreciation to the Mosinee community for the opportunity to demonstrate the considerable skills and capabilities the Army National Guard is capable of bringing to bear within the state.

Capt. Benjamin Krall, 229th Horizontal Engineer Company commander, took a moment to recognize the value inherent in community engagement.

“If we didn’t have events like this, we’d wind up getting our training at sites like Fort McCoy, where we’d just push the same dirt over and over,” Krall said. “Here our Soldiers receive excellent training, but also get the chance to interact with both outside agencies and their own communities.”

According to Krall, the greatest benefit may lie in the end result. IRT projects create an end product that military members can take ownership of and pride in, years after the work is done.

“Simply put,” Krall said, “it’s good for morale.”

The roughly $5 million complex was little more than a concept in 2008. According to Wisconsin Air National Guard Master Sgt. Jessica Maple, converting 50-plus acres of field and forest into a local sporting complex seemed a nearly impossible feat.

A member of both the Mosinee school board, Maple discussed the project with her husband, a drill status Soldier himself, before opting to reach out to the Army National Guard for assistance.

Maple’s decision paid off when Capt. Kyle Gruber, 829th Engineer Company commander, recognized the possibility of submitting the request as an Innovative Readiness Training opportunity — a project which enhances unit training and readiness while fulfilling a community need.

Despite delays resulting from multiple military deployments, the combined efforts of the Mosinee School District, Mosinee Community Athletic Association and Midwest Engineering firm REI resulted in the formal submission and ultimate approval of the athletic complex as an IRT project for the Wisconsin National Guard.

Mosinee School Board President Cory Tomczyk, headed up the community athletic association when the project first began. “There was a lot of doubt as to whether the MCAA could make this happen,” he recalled, “and we couldn’t have without the National Guard. There’s simply no way.”
               
Amid the sound of heavy construction equipment, Tomczyk relayed the tremendous benefits the complex will provide.

“I can’t begin to tell you all the things it’s going to do for the sports community,” Tomczyk said, “or the community as a whole.”

Upon its scheduled completion in 2020, construction of the Mosinee Community Athletic Complex will have provided Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers with more than 38,000 man-hours of critical career training over a five-year period, becoming one of the largest examples of Innovative Readiness Training in state history.

Components of the 724th Engineer Battalion contributing to the project include the 949th Engineer Detachment from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin for survey and design support; 229th (Horizontal) Engineer Company from Prairie du Chien and Platteville for earth leveling, parking improvements, roadway construction and general landscaping; 829th (Vertical) Engineer Company out of Chippewa Falls, Richland Center and Ashland to support the blocking, plumbing, electrical and general carpentry of field lights, bleachers, concession facilities and announcement stands; and the 924th Engineer Detachment from Chippewa Falls for project oversight and work schedule management. Additionally, the 1158th Transportation Company from Black River Falls will transport heavy equipment to and from the construction site.

AF rolls out details to improve RPA mission



By Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs , / Published July 15, 2015

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- In response to a critical shortage of remotely piloted aircraft pilots, the Air Force rolled out more details of its plan to fix the problem in both the short and long term. The most recent initiatives include creating bonuses for RPA pilots of $15,000 per year beginning in fiscal year 2016; placing some newly minted pilots in RPA squadrons beginning in August; and investing more than $100 million to buy more ground control stations, simulators and contract instructors.

"In a complex global environment, RPA pilots will always be in demand," said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James. "Remarkable Airmen have ensured the success of the (MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper) programs. We now face a situation where if we don't direct additional resources appropriately, it creates unacceptable risk. We are working hard to put solutions in place to bring needed relief to our Airmen and ensure our actions show their value to our mission."

Bonus pay

The Air Force is looking at special and incentive pays to enhance recruiting and retention, as well as recognize RPA pilot contributions to the mission, according to officials. Under this proposal RPA pilots would be able to choose between a Critical Skills Retention Bonus of five years at $15,000 per year or nine years at $15,000 per year. This bonus is similar in value and commitment to what has been offered to aviators in the past who have similar training and experience. Members who choose either the five- or nine-year option would also be eligible to receive 50 percent payment upfront.

"We will continue to maintain a persistent focus on this mission set and bring about the necessary relief to sustain operations responsibly," James said. "This is a high demand mission set. It is a national security imperative that we get this right."

Undergraduate pilot training graduates to RPA

As another part of the solution, about 80 UPT graduates over the next 12 months will be assigned to RPA positions for one assignment tour to help alleviate growing pressure on overtaxed RPA crews. Air Force pilot training bases are at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi; Laughlin AFB, Texas; Vance AFB; Oklahoma; and Sheppard AFB, Texas. The current plan is to only use the UPT pipeline for one year while the RPA-unique training pipeline increases from approximately 190 to 300 RPA pilot graduates per year. The last time the Air Force placed a UPT graduate directly into the RPA career field was 2011.

“The most critical challenge we face in this mission area is a shortage of RPA pilots and the UPT grads are the fastest way to address that shortfall without sacrificing mission capability in other platforms,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. “Actions we take today will allow the Air Force to continue to provide world-class, strike-ready (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) over the battlefield and enhance overall combat capability."

As part of the get-well plan, the move to place UPT graduates as RPA pilots addresses a constant demand for real-time ISR in support of combatant commander needs. Those UPT graduates selected will get the requisite RPA training for the MQ-1B or MQ-9.

"Those selected for RPA duties will serve one tour and then be placed in manned aircraft if desired after completion of that tour," Welsh said. "This will help the Air Force achieve a healthy steady state for the RPA enterprise as soon as possible."

Additional RPA investments and improvements

In addition to the initiative to place UPT graduates directly into the RPA enterprise, the Air Force increased the use of Guard and Reserve Airmen as well as contractors in order to bring relief to a community in high demand. In April, Air Force leadership worked with the Defense Department to bring relief as the secretary of Defense adjusted the number of required combat air patrols from 65 to 60 by October. Air Force leaders are currently working reprogramming actions within the DOD and Congress to reallocate funding to critical areas like the RPA program.

The $100 million is part of the omnibus and subject to congressional approval. The omnibus is a tool available to move funds to areas identified as critical mission need areas. Initiatives include buying six next-generation ground control stations, more training simulators and associated facilities, improved software tools, and accelerating the development of automatic takeoff and landing capability.

“On average, an MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper pilot flies up to 900 hours per year,” James said. “In comparison, fighter pilots fly an average of 250 hours. Due to the demand for services, the MQ-1/9 enterprise is the second largest in the regular Air Force behind only C-17 (Globemaster III) pilots.”

The Air Force is also turning its attention to ensure appropriate manning deficits are addressed in MQ-1/9 training and at the RPA schoolhouse. The Air Force will increase instructor pilot manning at the MQ-1B and MQ-9 Formal Training Unit from 61 to 100 percent due to the combat air patrol reduction and the Air National Guard assistance.

"We must fully man the MQ-1/9 schoolhouse in order to increase student throughput and replenish the force," Welsh said. "The current demand puts requirements for active-duty RPA pilots at about 300 per year, but our current active-duty training production output is only 180 pilots per year. We are projected to hit 3 million flight hours this fall. We have to get this right."

The first MQ-1 operation occurred in 1995. In August 2011, the Predator surpassed 1 million hours of total development, test, training, and combat. In October 2013, the MQ-1 and MQ-9 RPAs accumulated 2 million flight hours. It took 16 years for the community to reach 1 million hours and a mere 2.5 years to double those flight hours. The Air Force expects the undergraduate RPA pilot pipeline to produce enough RPA pilots to sustain current operations by 2017.