Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Face of Defense: Airman’s Effort Ensures Continuity for Cadet Honor Guard

By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Andria Allmond, 111th Attack Wing

HORSHAM AIR GUARD STATION, Pa., February 2, 2016 — Michael Leone, the Aerospace Education Officer for Civil Air Patrol Squadron 801 in Allentown, Pennsylvania, said he held back tears while writing an email to thank Air Force Tech. Sgt. Danielle Heidrick.

"I am absolutely speechless," Leone wrote in the email. "I don't even have the words to express my appreciation."

On Jan. 9, Leone and a handful of cadet CAP honor guard members visited 111th Attack Wing Honor Guard here to practice and talk to the Guardsmen. It was during this innocuous event that Leone mentioned troubling news to Heidrick, one of the wing's honor guard members.

"Mr. Leone told us that their unit was being moved to another location, and that location wouldn't be ready for at least six months or more," said Heidrick, who's primary duty is noncommissioned officer in charge of the 111th Force Support Squadron’s fitness assessment cell. "In the meantime, the unit would have to disband and find new ones to train with or not train at all. And I felt that was such a shame for a group of kids who were so passionate about what they do."

Leone expressed similar sentiments about disassembling his honor guard.

"This is personal to me," said Leone, a Navy veteran. "Keeping these kids together is like keeping a family together. And the thought of sending them to separate units or not training at all is heartbreaking."

A Unit in Distress

The CAP Squadron 801 Honor Guard practiced on the second floor of the Liberty Bell Museum located in Zion's United Church of Christ in Allentown. They also utilized local parking lots and open spaces to accommodate larger scale drill maneuvers.

Recently, Leone said, they learned their usual space was no longer available. When they identified an alternate place to practice, he said they were soon informed that it wouldn't be guaranteed for at least six to eight months.

"A few months is a long time for an honor guard to not practice," Leone said. "And that amount of time apart affects morale [and] esprit de corps. These kids worked too hard for us to stand by and let their honor guard be taken away from them."

"These cadets are the future of our military and I don't want us to fail them," he said. "So, I've been desperate to find someone to help us."

Answering the Call

While revealing the plight of his flight to Heidrick, Leone didn't realize that he was speaking to someone who would step up and answer his plea for help.

"My first thought while Mr. Leone was talking was that we have buildings on this base that are not being actively used," Heidrick said. "And we're here -- we're here for drill. So, why not open up a building to them and have them be in this environment with us."

Heidrick explaining that hosting the CAP cadets’ honor guard would not only give them the space they needed to perform their maneuvers, but also lend itself to interaction between Air National Guardsmen and the cadets. She stated that one available building has a classroom attached to provide the setting for the formal education CAP cadets also receive as part of the program.

According to Air Force Instruction 10-2701, Organization and Function of the Civil Air Patrol, the cadet program with the CAP is aimed at supporting the Air Force -- it states that Air Force installations and units are authorized to provide support for aerospace education of cadet members. The instruction also mentions supporting the CAP by introducing American youth to opportunities and careers in the Air Force.

Backed by the AFI, Heidrick said she also feels that she has a personal responsibility to assist the cadets.

"It became very apparent to me early on in my [military] career that what I'm supposed to do here in the Air Force is take care of people in one way or another," said Heidrick, a mother of four. "And I've always done that."

In the Works

In the past, Horsham AGS has hosted CAP members, both cadets and senior leaders, for various training events. Support agreements have been generated to forge a bond between Air National Guardsmen and the volunteer auxiliary of the Air Force.

Currently, Heidrick is drafting up a proposal to allow the CAP Squadron 801 Honor Guard to use the installation during regularly scheduled drills and work alongside their military counterparts. A cursory query into this allocation of assets gained enough positive support from 111th ATKW senior leadership for Heidrick to start the administrative process to make it official.

Leone expressed elation upon receiving news that Heidrick was drafting the paperwork to get his cadets what they needed to continue their mission.

"You have made an old sailor quite happy," Leone said about Heidrick in an email.

And again his emotion was shared by Heidrick, but on happier terms this time.
Upon reading his response, Heidrick smiled and stated, "Doesn't that make [helping someone in need] all worthwhile?"

For the love of dogs - MWDs help MOD worker through personal turmoil

by Gina Randall
100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

2/2/2016 - RAF MILDENHALL, England -- For Ministry of Defence employee Deborah Black, 100th Security Forces Squadron kennel attendant, her passion for her job and the dogs she cares for each day motivated her to overcome the news she had developed a life-threatening illness.

"My world fell apart when I was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago and following extensive treatment, I returned to work. Being here has significantly helped me put that to the back of my mind and focus on getting on with my job," said Black. "It's been a big benefit in aiding my recovery, both physically and psychologically, as it has distracted me from dwelling on my health issues. The exercise and interaction with the dogs and people I work with has definitely played a big part in my recovery, together with the support of my family and friends. Three years later and I'm good. My most recent mammogram last month was all clear."

The exercise and outdoor lifestyle may have helped her mentally and physically, but it was a life-long passion that brought her to RAF Mildenhall nearly 15 years ago. A journey began that would allow her to extend her family to the Service members she works with each day, both human and canine.

"I wanted to work here because I just love dogs," Black laughed. "I've always loved dogs. Prior to this job, I worked at a pet nutrition unit for a food company for seven years which is where I got most of the canine experience. Following redundancy from there, I saw this job advertised, came for an interview and was offered the position. I still had a passion to work with dogs and decided to take the job. And 15 years on I still love it."

No day at work is the same for Black and she knows the dogs better than anyone -- from the day they arrive on base as a young recruit, to the day their "do not pet" leash is hung up for good.

"This job is very unique in terms of working with dogs. I get to see these highly skilled dogs train and develop in their capabilities, improve and become very competent over the years," Black added. "I get to know the dogs' personalities and behaviors very well as I spend so much time with them daily from the time they arrive off the plane, to the day they retire years later."

It's the characters of the dogs that make Black's day brighter, even through her darkest times.

"The dogs definitely all have individual personalities, a real mish-mash of personalities," Black added with a smile. "To give you examples, Gina, she is really loving, quiet and kind. Oorion is a real macho man, 'look at me' kind of dog, with huge drive. Brock is like a grumpy old man (even though he is not very old) - after he's eaten his food, he lies on his bed and says 'I'm not getting up yet!' They all have their own endearing individual traits."

The dogs have a job to do, just like their handlers, but Black gets to spend time and energy caring for the four-legged warriors who serve their country.

"The dogs bring so much to my day, they make me feel happy and give unconditional love," Black reflected fondly. "You go in the kennels first thing in the morning and they are all there looking at you with expectation. I'm there all the time for the dogs whereas the handlers come and go. The handlers move bases and I am with these dogs until the day they are retired. They stay at this base their whole lives and don't go anywhere apart from on missions. In the past they have deployed with their handlers for six months at a time but recently they only go out on missions."

Black also enjoys working with the humans in the work center.

"I think the military people I work with are wonderful," she said. "I've made so many friends over the years, I think I could go and stay in many of the states in America and I would be very welcome. I still keep in touch with a lot of handlers who have served here. We have a really good relationship at the kennels. I'm the only civilian, but I get included in everything, both at work and socially. It's not like, 'you are the kennel attendant, and you aren't involved.' They actually come to me with all sorts of issues both personal and work-related and I help them out."

When the time comes for Black to say a fond farewell to a dog for the final time after years of faithful service, she is happy to know they will be cared for as a hero deserves. All the dogs are sadly missed, but for Black some will stay in her memories forever.

"I feel very sad when they retire. Nice in the fact that they are going to retire and go home with somebody that they know, but sad in the fact that we won't see them here," Black explained. "I try not to have favorites, but in the past there was Ootto. He was a magnificent big dog, our first Belgian Malinois to come to Mildenhall, and he was probably the stand-out dog of all time. He has passed away now at the age of 12. He had a nice, well-earned retirement back in the states with his former handler who adopted him. He enjoyed retirement for about two years before it was his time."

She recalled that for those who worked with him each day, Ootto was the epitome of the type of dog that handlers hope for as they are assigned a partner for duty.

"Ootto was such an amazing dog, such an all-round amazing dog," Black said. "He was brilliant at detection and bite work. When he was getting ready to retire, the handler who adopted him would have his small children around him and he was as gentle as a lamb! He was that good. He was just the ultimate MWD."

The U.S. Air Force entrusts its valuable assets to people who are as dedicated to the dogs as it is to the military members and the Air Force mission. And for Black, her leadership couldn't be prouder of her care of their dogs.

"It was very distressing for the entire kennel staff when we heard the news of Mrs. Black's situation a few years back. Not only is she a work colleague, but a true friend who has a big heart," said Tech. Sgt. Samuel Giordano, 100th SFS kennel master. "As scary as it was, we all knew she would be fine. Additionally, none of us would accept that she wouldn't be back working with the dogs. She is truly an irreplaceable asset with her vast experience working with these animals. Mrs. Black is the true continuity of this section. I like to think I am the boss, but really she is!"

For Black, the people she works with have become her extended family and she never takes the job she loves for granted.

"It's totally changed my outlook on life," Black said about her illness. "I try to make the most of everything, every day. Make every moment as enjoyable as possible as you really don't know what is around the corner."

Learned through blood

by Airman 1st Class Javier Alvarez
JBER Public Affairs

2/2/2016 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska  -- If a person yells "bomb" in a crowded theater, most of the audience will disperse.

As chaos ensues, they will run for the exits with little in mind but to get as far away as possible.

While everyone flees, the explosive ordnance disposal technician approaches the site.

What proved to be a hazard and cause panic among so many is an opportunity for the EOD technician to put into play countless hours of training.

Members of the 673d Civil Engineer Squadron EOD flight train tirelessly and are always on call to serve Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and the surrounding community.

"When some sort of emergency response goes on - [whether it be an] issue with [hung] ordnance on an aircraft; or a suspect package at one of the gates; [or] explosive hazards found -during duty hours, or outside of duty hours, we'll respond," said Tech. Sgt.  Jason Halgren, an EOD Craftsman.

EOD is a career field full of hazards that have the potential for loss of life and property.

There is no simple mistake for an EOD technician. Attention to detail is just as necessary a tool as the bomb suits or robotics utilized.

"There's a sense of urgency because there is something that's dangerous and could potentially hurt people," said Halgren. "That's where the training kicks in and you're in that mindset and getting the job done."

Aside from responding to unexploded ordnance, an improvised explosive device or weapons of mass destruction, some EOD missions include providing Defense Support to Civil Authorities for explosive hazards found off the installation. EOD will also provide support to ensure safety during high-profile events and will assist the Secret Service to ensure the safety of the president, vice president and other heads of state.

Technical training for EOD is tough and demanding, where attrition rates are high, said Senior Airman Joshua Harris, an EOD journeyman.

"[It] was about 10 months long," Harris said. "It's designed to be stressful to help deal with those situations that you are going to be facing out in the real world - in a deployed environment [like] in combat downrange."

But the missions can present themselves at anytime and anywhere.

In 2011, Airmen disposed of a sea mine that washed up on the Alaska shore, north of Sitka.

After X-raying the mine, EOD technicians could see where the explosive material inside was. They then placed the plastic explosive to destroy it.

In 2012, JBER Airmen traveled to the island of Adak in the Aleutian island chain to dispose of three World War II-era bombs. The mission spanned several months due to complications with weather.  But ultimately three bombs were excavated and disposed of.

But learning continues all the time. There are also opportunities for EOD technicians to learn from the actions of Airmen past and present, Halgren said.

"We keep the skill sets we learned through blood from Iraq and Afghanistan," Halgren said. "We've had a lot of people put up on the EOD memorial during the wars. That's what we refer to as 'learned through blood.' We learn from what's happened that got people killed as well as remember their life because they were all skilled, knowledgeable people. And [knowing they were] killed by a device proves that it can happen [to anyone]."

EOD technicians work in a unique field in that their service is not used on a daily basis. And while it is a necessary profession, nobody wants to need them - It means bad things were intended to, or can potentially, happen.

"[We] train near-daily to defeat explosive items, and we trust in our training that we are going to use that skill set to assess the situation and take care of it," Halgren said.

Should they do their job right, countless lives will be saved. Yet, EOD technicians remain faceless figures to the people they protect.

"Some of us get a sense of accomplishment whenever we get a call and prevent something from blowing up because we've protected people," Halgren said. "Not in the way doctors or police officers or medics do, but we've protected life - we've saved life - and people can go about their daily business afterwards."