Monday, September 28, 2015

U.S., Japan Sign Environmental Clarification of Status of Forces Agreement

By Lisa Ferdinando DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, September 28, 2015 — Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida signed a clarification today on environmental stewardship related to U.S. forces in Japan.

The agreement is an "important clarification" that strengthens cooperation on environmental stewardship in relation to U.S. armed forces in Japan, Carter said at the Pentagon signing ceremony.

"This agreement is a testament to the enduring strength of the U.S.-Japan alliance, and comes at a time when the U.S. armed forces and Japan Self-Defense Forces have found new opportunities to cooperate around the world and in frontiers such as space and cyberspace," he said.

U.S. Mindful of Being ‘Good Neighbors’

The United States is mindful about being "good neighbors," Carter said. He said that includes realigning bases and being aware of the concerns local communities have about U.S. operations. The agreement is a "big step forward for our alliance," Carter said.

The agreement includes clarification that Japanese officials will have access to a facility after a spill, and will have access to an area prior to the U.S. returning it to Japan.

Kishida said the agreement includes requests from local communities for the access to U.S. facilities and applies stricter environmental standards. He welcomed the agreement, saying it will enhance the confidence of local communities and build support in Japan for future security arrangements with the United States.

"I'm extremely pleased that today efforts on both sides have come into fruition and that we are able to sign this agreement," Kishida said through an interpreter.

The agreement comprises two documents: a binding international agreement and a U.S.-Japan Joint Committee memorandum.  

Unit strives for excellence despite low retention

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

9/28/2015 - CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nevada  -- The 432nd Maintenance Group has members from 20 different Air Force Specialty Codes and is responsible for maintaining the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper. The increasing demand for remotely piloted aircraft has placed significant stressors on the people who make it all work.

For some, the fast-paced deployment rotation, constant shift work, time away from family, limited assignment options and struggle of daily process changes are more than enough to make some choose not to reenlist.

Instead, a number of Airmen choose to separate from the military entirely and go to work for a Department of Defense contractor doing the same job.

In a recent study by Air Combat Command, it was discovered the MQ-1 and MQ-9 maintenance retention rates were lower than in any other maintenance career fields. About 32 percent of first-time MQ-1 and MQ-9 maintenance enlistees and 14 percent of second-term enlistees are reenlisting.

These rates are roughly 15 percent lower for first-term and 36 percent lower for second-term enlistees compared to the rates of the next aircraft platform with the lowest retention.

"We're definitely seeing some issues with retention here in RPA maintenance as well as the rest of the Air Force," said Chief Master Sgt. John Burks, 432nd MXG chief enlisted manager. "There are a lot of job opportunities where the Airmen can continue to do great work in the RPA enterprise but through DoD contractors. At the end of the day, these Airmen are going to choose what's best for them and their families."

Some Airmen within the 432nd MXG said it's hard to want to stay in the military when they could take their degree to a civilian company and have a more stable schedule, workload, and higher pay.

"Most of the Airmen leaving the military are senior airmen and staff sergeants at the end of their first enlistments and they can take their military training and apply it relatively quickly in a contracting job," said Chief Master Sgt. Stacy Dent, 432nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron chief enlisted manager.

According to Hill, the loss of the young Airmen and non-commissioned officers takes a toll on the rest of the force and creates an environment where it's challenging to keep a high experience level within the career field.

"A lot of skills and techniques take time to acquire," Hill said. "It takes doing the job over and over, and if we don't have the people doing that and you lose that expertise, mistakes will happen eventually, and we don't ever want to get to that point."

The struggles are not going unnoticed. Leadership from the top down is taking action.

"There is a lot that the Air Force, [Air Combat Command], wing and squadron leadership is doing," Burks said. "The commander of Air Combat Command implemented the Cultural Process Improvement Program which is an initiative to assemble subject matter experts across the Air Force for base visits and interviews so we can take actionable ways to improve the RPA enterprise."

Burks went on to say the wing leadership is also continuing to argue for selective reenlistment bonuses for RPA maintenance to help with retention.

Leadership also tries to make sure the Airmen know how they are making an impact in the world, no matter how monotonous or mundane a task may seem.

"These Airmen are saving lives every single day and enabling others to save lives," Hill said. "The maintainer who thinks they're just fixing a maintenance stand is actually fixing the stand so that a crew chief can get the plane to fly, so the aircrew can train and gain experience flying, so they can keep someone on the ground safe downrange and be able to return home to their families."

Not only are the 432nd MXG maintainers saving lives, , they are laying the foundation of remotely piloted airpower for the future.

Despite the challenges of the 432 MXG, they continue to complete the mission and pass inspections with over 90 percent mission capability rates.

"I have never been with a more skilled, disciplined, professional group of warriors than here at the 432nd Maintenance Group," Burks said. "Every day they are phenomenal and I could not be more proud to serve with the men and women of the 432nd."

U.S. bomber fleet unifies under Eighth Air Force, Air Force Global Strike Command leadership

by Maj. Phil Ventura
2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs

9/28/2015 - BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, Louisiana -- Two bomb wings from the U.S. Air Force's Air Combat Command ceremonially realigned to Air Force Global Strike Command's Eighth Air Force today, bringing all of the Service's bomber fleet under a single command.

The move, official Oct. 1, joins B-1B Lancers from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas' 7th Bomb Wing and Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota's 28th BW with B-52H Stratofortresses and B-2 Spirits already residing within Eighth Air Force, strengthening the U.S. Air Force's entire long range strike fleet.

"All five bomb wings and the long range strike capability they provide to our nation are stronger today as a result of this homecoming," said Maj. Gen. Richard Clark, Eighth Air Force commander.

While the transfer of authority involves 63 aircraft and approximately 7,000 personnel, most Airmen will not perceive an immediate change to the way they do business, according to the general. Instead, benefits will be realized over time as crosstalk increases and new opportunities arise for aviators and maintainers in the bomber community.

Still, as a career B-1B command pilot with more than 4,000 hours in the airframe and multiple assignments across the bomber community, Clark realizes that the transfer of commands has caused some apprehension.

"Change of any kind can be tough at first," Clark said. "However, this realignment makes practical sense and is grounded in our past as an air force."

Re-enforcing the general's point, both the 7th and 28th BWs have been assigned to the "Mighty Eighth" at several points - the first time in the late 1940s and most recently as 2002, according to Eighth Air Force Historian Lane Callaway.

At the strategic level, the consolidation will "provide a unified voice to maintain the high standards necessary in stewardship of our nation's bomber forces," according to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James in a release announcing the move from April 2015.

In addition to the consolidation of the bomber fleet at Eighth Air Force, AFGSC is also taking lead on the Long Range Strike Bomber program from ACC and, with the arrival of Gen. Robin Rand in July, was elevated from a three to four star-led command.

Reflecting on all of these changes, Clark said, "Whether it is in the B-1, B-2, or B-52, it is a great time to be a bomber Airman. We are standing on the shoulders of giants and have great days ahead."

USS Gladiator Sailor Dies at NSA Bahrain

By U.S. Naval Forces Central Command public affairs

MANAMA, Bahrain (NNS) -- A Sailor assigned to USS Gladiator (MCM 11) died Sept. 27, of a non-hostile fire related injury while the ship was in port at Naval Support Activity Bahrain.

The ship's personnel immediately responded to the scene and the Sailor was transported to a nearby hospital where the service member was pronounced dead at approximately 5:20 a.m., local time.

The Navy is investigating the circumstances of the death. In accordance with Department of Defense policy, the identity of the Sailor will be released 24 hours following notification of family members.

USS Gladiator is an Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship forward deployed to Bahrain.

74th EFS weapons bring thunder to Estonia

by Andrea Jenkins
23d Wing Public Affairs

9/28/2015 - AMARI AIR BASE, Estonia -- When a pilot locks in on a target and fires, the mission is complete. Whether that mission takes place during training at home or in a deployed location, the Airmen responsible for loading those weapons know it's all about teamwork, trust and cohesion.

It is that mentality the 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron Aircraft Armament System specialists plan to share with their NATO counterparts during theater security package deployments in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve.

These Airmen work in three-person teams to load munitions on the 12 A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft that are deployed from the 23rd Wing, Moody Air Force Base, Georgia.  They will spend the next several months working alongside their NATO allies to further develop interoperability.

"Your three-man is your family no matter where you're at," said Airman 1st Class Austin Kobus, 74th EFS weapons load crew team member. "If you're stateside or deployed and you need help, they are there for you -- whether it is with family or work, your team is there for you."

"The team chief is like a father figure, he's the one that keeps everyone in check and makes sure everyone's staying out of trouble and being safe. While at work you can't do the job without each other," Kobus said.

This TSP deployment is a first for Moody's A-10s and a first for both Kobus and his load crew team chief and each agree that at times it can be stressful but they rely on each other.

"This is awesome but there are some unique challenges operating here," said Staff Sgt. Josh Stephenson, 74th EFS weapons load crew team chief. "The weather, having our equipment geographically separated, operating out of a unique airfield and just being in a foreign country in general bring a different set of stressors that you don't experience at home station."

"It has to be cohesive. We have to work together as a unit. Being on the crew that I am on currently -- this is the first time loading together. You have to be able to flexible, very adaptive to the situation and to the other two members of your team and learn to build that team communication."

But what makes for an exciting first deployment brings with new stressors, added Stephenson who leads a three-man load crew in loading and configuring munitions on A-10s to prepare for the next training mission.

"I think it's fantastic to deploy here, learn from and work with foreign NATO allies - it's not something you get to do a lot at home station," said Stephenson. "Just seeing how the Estonians operate, the different languages, the culture - it's just an exciting opportunity to work alongside someone you normally would never get to."

From their aircraft and munition preparation to post load checks, the job doesn't change for these Airmen. They hope not only to get the job done and further interoperability, but to make friends and exchange some best practices with their Estonian counterparts in the process.

"This is just a great way to make a tie between us," said Kobus. "Since we came in, we have been working side-by-side and now were on a first-name basis. It seems to me there are a few things they are a little bit behind on compared to us. But there are things they do that we wouldn't have even thought to do - like some of their equipment can do our job better than our equipment - so we have been exchanging ideas on how they do a typical load and how they work through their issues."

The relationship may have started at work but Kobus says a group of Estonian airmen have already taken him around to different cultural sites, shown him where to get groceries and do laundry.

No matter the location, these Airmen love what they do and gain a sense of accomplishment when a pilot expends the munitions they loaded.

"Whether it is here or home station, there is a sense of pride knowing you sent something up there and it came back empty," said Stephenson. "It is pretty cool to watch the stations you loaded come back with nothing on it."

"This is our first deployment, so it is very unique, exciting and it's been nothing but an awesome experience so far and we have only been here a few days," Stephenson added. "I hope this not only strengthens our NATO alliance, but maybe we will work more with them in the future. It builds their confidence in us that we have their back and we can work together cohesively in the future."