Thursday, August 31, 2017

Air Force Assumes Lead for NATO Baltic Air Policing Mission

By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew 48th Fighter Wing

┼áIAULIAI AIR BASE, Lithuania, Aug. 31, 2017 — The U.S. Air Force assumed control of NATO's Baltic air policing mission from the Polish air force during a handover ceremony here yesterday.

About 140 airmen and seven F-15C Eagles deployed to Lithuania as part of the 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England.

"I'm excited as a NATO air chief and I'm excited as a U.S. citizen to welcome the 493rd from the 48th Fighter Wing, an F-15C squadron, to serve the next rotation of Baltic air policing," said Air Force Gen. Tod D. Wolters, commander of NATO Allied Air Command and U.S. Air Forces in Europe. "It is the U.S.'s fifth opportunity to rotate and serve the region, and I know that all of our maintainers, operators, mission supporters and that beautiful F-15C will do whatever it takes over the next 120 days to protect the beautiful sovereign skies above Lithuania."

Collective Defense Mission

NATO air policing is a peacetime collective defense mission, safeguarding the integrity of the NATO alliance members' airspace. Baltic air policing is part of NATO's "Smart Defense" model, which incorporates allied nations, conducting operations through shared capabilities and coordinated efforts to effectively accomplish missions.

"We know that all of NATO stands alongside us in defense of our shared values and principles," said Vytautas Umbrasas, Lithuania's vice defense minister.

"I speak on behalf of every U.S. airman here, when I say that it is our honor to protect and defend the sovereignty of the Baltic borders," said Air Force Lt. Col. Cody Blake, 493rd EFS detachment commander. The 493rd EFS is slated to continue its current rotation through the end of 2017.

Readout of Secretary Mattis' Call with Japan Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera

Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White provided the following readout:

August 31, 2017

Yesterday, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis spoke by telephone with Japanese Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera to discuss North Korea’s missile launch on August 28.  Secretary Mattis and Minister Onodera both agreed that this launch is an unacceptable act that undermines security and stability in the region.  Secretary Mattis reaffirmed that the United States’ defense commitments to Japan remain ironclad, including its extended deterrence commitment. 

Secretary Mattis also underscored the United States’ commitment to assist Japan in enhancing its ballistic missile defense capabilities in the face of North Korea’s escalatory actions.  Both Secretary Mattis and Minister Onodera agreed on the importance of trilateral cooperation with the Republic of Korea to strengthen deterrence and to maintain the peace and security of Northeast Asia. 

Face of Defense: Army Guard Vocalist Makes National Capital Region Rounds

By Air Force Tech Sgt. Erich B. Smith National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va., Aug. 30, 2017 — Army Maj. Edgar I. Quinones-Marin, a program analyst at the National Guard Bureau, never expected to be the go-to soldier to sing patriotic songs at events and ceremonies in the national capital region. But a promotion ceremony more than 10 years ago started him on that path.

The event's honoree expressed dissatisfaction that the national anthem at the ceremony would be a recorded version. What he really wanted was a live performer, said Quinones-Marin, who had a simple suggestion: "I've sung before in school and church," he said he told the man. "I can hook you up with that."

With little preparation, he belted out the national anthem, and word got around that his talent extended past his military role.

Now, Quinones-Marin said, he averages three engagements per month at locations such as the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery, the National Archives and others.

"The biggest compliment I can get is when people tell me they get goosebumps when I sing, because they know what the song means, and they are feeling what I'm feeling when I sing it," he said.

Maintaining Focus

Quinones-Marin credits his ability to focus when singing to military discipline, as well as to a love for the performing arts he discovered as a 10-year-old in his native Puerto Rico.

"I sang in a church group with some friends, but eventually the musical director realized I stood out," he said. A solo hobby was born, and churches would turn into larger settings, such as the time he sang "God Bless America" as part of a halftime show at a Washington Redskins game in September 2015.

Though the venue was larger than anything he had done on a military installation, Quinones-Marin said, he relies on two methods when preparing for a performance: warming up the throat muscles and focusing on a small fraction of the crowd. "You can only see 20 to 25 people when you are wearing an Army service uniform cap," he explained.

Although singing in a football stadium was a memorable occasion for him, Quinones-Marin said, a chapel was the location of his most important performance.

"A chaplain asked me to sing "Amazing Grace" at Fort Myer's Memorial Chapel for Army Guard and active [component] soldiers who were killed in Iraq," he said. "It was a moment that I felt I was really bringing something to the table, trying to let them know how appreciative we all were for their service."

Spirited Approach

Though he admires a variety of renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner," Quinones-Marin said, a soldier must approach the time-honored national anthem in a spirited, yet conservative way.

"When I sing it, it's simple and to the point," he said. "It's about the story of a battle, and as soldiers we can pretty much identify ourselves with what's going on."

Army Sgt. 1st Class Sylvia Bastian, who coordinates protocol duties for the director of the Army National Guard, said Quinones-Marin is a huge draw for local promotion and retirement ceremonies in the national capital region. "He has that presence, that exuberance when he sings," she said, adding that the Army values of loyalty, duty, respect and honor reflect in his performances.

Goodwill Ambassador

Quinones-Marin said singing at area events is an extension of being a goodwill ambassador, and he encourages younger Guard members to find ways outside of their career fields to represent the National Guard.

"When you're doing what you're getting paid to do, that is to be expected," he said. "But when you are doing the unexpected, you're giving a little part of yourself that shows how great it is to be in the military, as opposed to just saying it."

Quinones-Marin said his calendar is still full, with his most recent high-profile performance being at a minor league baseball game in Woodbridge, Virginia. But one more venue, still eludes him, he added: Nationals Park, home of Major League Baseball's Washington Nationals.

"I was told by my fellow soldiers that you have to go to the minor league first. If they think you're good, then they'll bring you up to the majors," he joked.