Friday, December 15, 2017

Guardsmen on Firewatch In California Skies

By Eric Durr New York National Guard

SYRACUSE, N.Y., Dec. 15, 2017 — Nine members of the New York Air National Guard’s 174th Attack Wing have deployed to assist the California Air National Guard’s 163rd Attack Wing in flying the MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft that have been helping local authorities fight the massive Thomas Fire in Southern California.

The New York airmen, who are based at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base here, are trained to fly and operate the MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft, which is used by the military for surveillance and combat air patrol missions.

The California Air National Guard has been employing the MQ-9 as an eye in the sky to support the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and other state agencies responding to the wildfires that have burned 234,000 acres and destroyed more than 1,000 buildings.

The New York airmen will assist California Air National Guardsmen who have been stretched thin during this domestic response operation.

“We have been working this fire since [Dec. 5] and have been working 24-hour operations since then,” said Air Force Maj. Nicholas Edwards, the director of incident awareness and assessment for the California Air National Guard’s 222nd Intelligence Support Squadron. “We want to do everything we can. This is why we join the guard -- to help out our community and our state.”

‘Glad to Help’

According to Air Force Col. Michael Smith, the commander of the 174th Attack Wing, “That’s a horrible incident they are dealing with, and we’re glad to help in any way we can.”
Air National Guard members from the 195th Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Group analyze full-motion video of the Thomas Fire and relay their findings to fire crews on the ground

"New Yorkers always help their neighbors in their time of need, and I thank the members of 174th Attack Wing for representing the very best of the Empire State spirit as they assist our friends in California," New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said. "As California works day and night to stop these fires, New York is proud to provide reinforcements and the use of advanced technology to help identify where to dispatch firefighting efforts to end this tragic event."

The MQ-9s have been providing overhead video to fire managers using sensors that can see through smoke. The aircraft fly at high altitudes and are not affected by high winds, which can keep helicopters from operating over fire areas. They also have the ability to loiter over a given area for over 14 hours.

The full-motion video is used to map the fire lines and observe fire expansion and progression, Edwards said.

This ability to orbit continuously over a geographic area provides the incident commander a much clearer picture of the situation and enables them to make better response decisions, Air National Guard officials said.

“Having an asset in the air providing persistent observation is key to fulfilling the incident commander’s needs and crucial in identifying emerging active fire behavior,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Jason Tyler, chief of incident awareness and assessment for the California Air National Guard’s 234th Intelligence Squadron. “It allows fire departments to get ahead of it and take appropriate actions such as evacuating areas which the fire may affect.”

“We help out with damage assessment by getting the number of destroyed structures out quickly using satellite imagery and comparing it to imagery from the sensored aircraft,” he said. “Getting the numbers allows affected counties to get aid they need whether it's from a federal source or state agencies.”

The 174th Attack Wing deployed three MQ-9 pilots, three sensor operators -- the airmen responsible for operating the state-of-the-art cameras and other sensor systems -- and three imagery analysts Dec. 13. The airmen are due to return home Dec. 22.

This is the first time the wing has deployed its MQ-9 resources in support of civil authorities.

(Editor’s note: Reporting by Air Force Airman 1st Class Tristan Viglianco contributed to this story.)

Fleet Mail Center Sigonella Delivers Joy for the Holidays

By Tia McMillen, Naval Supply Systems Command Fleet Logistics Center Sigonella

NAVAL AIR STATION SIGONELLA, Italy, Dec. 15, 2017 — It’s a chilly morning as far as Sicilian mornings go. Navy Lt. Joseph Green adjusts his cover and shades his eyes from the sun that dances across the postal truck’s exterior. “Back it up. Slowly … Slower … Good!”

And just like that, jolly blue and green camo-clad elves emerge from their workshops and begin unloading and scanning holiday packages as Fleet Mail Center Sigonella ramps up for its most wonderful time -- and most busy time -- of the year.

Green, lead elf and director of the fleet mail center said, “The holidays are the most important time of the year for the FMC. Not because our days are busier and longer, but because the impact of not delivering the mail has vast affects. Whether it’s receiving care packages from your parents, or a card from a friend, receiving mail exponentially increases morale -- and that’s what we do here. We deliver joy by ensuring that the sailors who may not be able to sit down and have sour cream latkes or a Christmas ham or Cajun catfish -- still receive a taste of home.”

Every deployed sailor appreciates the sheer pleasure of receiving mail, especially around the holidays.

Holiday Surge

The fleet mail center routinely services deployed units operating in the Mediterranean and tenant commands here. It supports mail storage and transportation for more than 20 ships throughout the year. An average month will see about 55,000 pounds of mail processed through the center, but during the holidays, the hardworking elves dispatch a skyrocketing 88,000 pounds of mail -- a 60 percent increase!

In order to support the holiday surge, planning begins nearly six months in advance. The base release messages on important mailing dates, the postal team determines holiday hours, and the operations team requests reservists to support during the holiday rush. Between Thanksgiving and before New Year’s, five Navy reservists supported the center from Naval Supply Systems Command Fleet Logistics Center Sigonella’s Reserve unit, which is headquartered out of Navy Operational Support Center Fort Worth, Texas.

“There’s nothing quite like this job,” Green said. “I know that every day I come to work my team is making a difference for so many people, and nothing beats that feeling.”

Face of Defense: Airman Launches Professional Boxing Career

By Air Force Senior Airman Christopher Maldonado 20th Fighter Wing

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C., Dec. 15, 2017 — A Florida native, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Andre Penn, serving with the 20th Civil Engineer Squadron here, has been preparing for more than a decade to achieve his dream of becoming a professional boxer.

“I started boxing when I was 16 years old,” Penn said. “I played basketball, football and track. I did it all, but I loved the individuality of boxing, because in basketball you have a teammate that can miss the ball and it’s their fault. In boxing, it’s all on you.”

Excited by the thought of controlling his own destiny, Penn carried his passion for the sport to his first amateur boxing match at the age of 17.

“My very first fight was almost 17 years ago in Alabama,” Penn said. “I was really nervous and didn’t know what to expect.”

Fortunately, he said, listening to his coach’s insight helped him to be successful in that match, ensuring every command was executed flawlessly.

With the newfound confidence acquired after winning his first match, Penn joined the Air Force.

“After a year of being out of high school, I finally joined,” he said. “My dad was in the Air Force and that was a big reason why I joined the military.”

The Air Force opened up a lot of opportunities for me, Penn said.

In 2006, just two years after enlisting in the Air Force, he joined the Air Force boxing team.

“Joining the team was a goal that I had coming in to the Air Force,” Penn said. “There were a couple of guys at my gym that were on the team, so I knew about the Air Force boxing team prior to joining the military.”

3-Time Champion

Penn quickly established himself as a formidable force, becoming a three-time Air Force Boxing Team middleweight class champion from 2006 to 2008. Penn, however, had his sights even higher and decided to apply his victories to a professional boxing career.

In order to perform his job as an unaccompanied housing manager and find time to train, Penn knew he had to make sacrifices and push his body to the limit and prepare for the first fight of his professional boxing career.

“If you have a passion for something, you will find a way to make it happen,” Penn said. “Sometimes I stay up late at the gym until about 11, sometimes I get up early or, if it’s necessary, I’ll sometimes even have to train during my lunch break. The training leading up to the fight is the hardest part, the running, the sparring -- it takes a toll after working eight or nine hours a day, but once it’s fight night, it’s time to show everyone what all this training was for.”

On top of all the training, Penn needed to lose more than 10 pounds in order to reach the middleweight class of 168 pounds.

Seeing Clearly

Penn’s training hit a roadblock in the form of a possible vision disqualification that delayed his boxing application.

“There was a problem with my eyes that I needed to get cleared before I could finish my application to box,” Penn said. “At the end of the day I needed to get this cleared so I could finally get to the big fight.”

At first he was on edge, but then he went to an optometrist and was cleared to participate in the match.

With a clean bill of health, Penn went immediately back to it, working with multiple trainers to prepare for his first professional match on Nov. 18.

“We have worked on a lot of cardio, strength training, boxing drills and pad work,” said Jerome Robinson, Team Robinson Mixed Martial Arts owner. “He is truly dedicated to training hard and ensuring that he is in tiptop shape.”

Robinson went on to say that Penn traveled to other gyms in Columbia and Florence, South Carolina, to obtain an assortment of training.

As the fight approached, the feeling of accomplishment was nearly in his grasp. Penn cleared his mind before walking down the ramp.

“Be smart, trust your training and dominate your opponent every second of every round,” said Robinson to Penn days before the fight.

After a 66 fight, 17-year amateur boxing career, Penn finally heard from the loudspeaker: “Starting in the red corner, this fighter weighs in at an official 168 pounds. Tonight he wears white trunks with a black trim. He was a three-time all Air Force middleweight champion as a member of the Air Force boxing team ...  introducing Andre ‘The King’ Penn!”

Four rounds and many hits later, Penn began his professional boxing career with a victory and professional 1-0 record. Through excellence in his craft, Penn plans to continue to overcome and battle through any challenges that come his way in and out of the ring.