Friday, December 22, 2017

Pence Visits U.S. Troops in Afghanistan; Chairman Continues USO Holiday Tour

By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity

AL-DHAFRA AIR BASE, United Arab Emirates, Dec. 22, 2017 — Vice President Mike Pence delivered America’s holiday wishes to service members in Afghanistan yesterday during an unannounced visit to that nation.

Pence visited troops at Bagram Airfield and met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul.

President’s Message to Troops

“Before I left the Oval Office yesterday I asked the president if he had a message for our troops here in Afghanistan, and he looked at me without hesitation and … he said, ‘Tell them I love them,’” Pence said. “And during this special season, I know President [Donald J.] Trump was speaking for every American.”

There are roughly 13,000 American troops based in Afghanistan. This was the vice president’s first trip to Afghanistan since taking office.

“The old Book says if you owe debts, pay debts; if honor, then honor; if respect, then respect,” the vice president said. “And I am here on behalf of your commander in chief and all of the American people to pay a debt of honor and respect and gratitude to each and every one of you for your service and your sacrifice.”

USO Holiday Tour Continues

Meanwhile, in the United Arab Emirates, Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, brought the USO Holiday Tour to airmen and soldiers taking the fight to the enemy throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. Dunford and Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman, thanked U.S. service members at Al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates for their sacrifices.

Around 2,500 American service members serve at this base and the flight line is crowded with F-22 Raptors, KC-10 refueler aircraft, reconnaissance aircraft, transporters and utility aircraft. Sharing the line are host-nation F-16s and aircraft from a number of coalition partners.

The chairman compared and contrasted the situation in the region two years ago to today. Two years ago, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria had taken vast areas in Syria and Iraq, and declared a caliphate.

“There was also a pretty pessimistic attitude on what was going on in Afghanistan,” Dunford said.

“Tonight, as we gather for this Christmas celebration, 97 percent of the ground ISIS held two years ago has been taken back, and not one piece of ground that Iraqi security forces or the Syrian Democratic Forces have taken was taken back by ISIS,” the chairman added.

Dunford saluted the bravery and sacrifices of Iraqi and Syrian allies.

“I would tell you as I am standing here as the chairman with pride, that the single biggest difference in tonight and two years ago is air power,” he said.

Marine Air Traffic Controllers Conduct ‘Voodoo Magic’ Exercise

By Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Alexia Lythos, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing

IEJIMA ISLAND, Okinawa, Dec. 22, 2017 — Members of Marine Air Control Squadron 4, Marine Air Control Group 18, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, traveled here to practice their air traffic control skills during Exercise Voodoo Magic, Dec. 4-15.

“MACS-4 showed great strengths in the abilities to rapidly establish air traffic control and set up communications architecture,” said Marine Corps 1st Lt. Chris Danforth, an air traffic control officer and native of Redmond, Washington. “They were able to set up appropriate marking patterns to receive various types of aircraft.”

Independent Operations

Marine mobile teams consists of six to eight service members operating in a 72-hour environment by themselves without support. Capabilities such as this are used in field environments where there isn’t an established airfield or when taking over an existing airfield.

During combat, the mobile teams help establish an expeditionary runway to allow aircraft to land and refuel in order to keep the Marines in the fight without having to build permanent structures.

The Marines of MACS-4 were tasked with being able to take all their training and to employ that in an expeditionary environment to test their skills and capabilities.

Mission Success

“In all the prerequisites and everything required of them, MACS-4 accomplished everything,” Danforth said. “The training that they’ve done prior to this shows that they were prepared for it, and they showed true proficiency in all of their required skill sets.”

Every two years, each deployable unit in the Marine Corps' active-duty component is required to conduct a qualification called the Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation. This is the first time MACS-4 has ever been evaluated.

“This exercise gives all the Marines out here the opportunity to prove their skill set, show their knowledge and be able to put foot to pavement to make things happen,” Danforth said. “I feel proud to be able to serve with them.”

Submarine Sailors Get Christmas Spirit With Toys for Tots

By Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Steven Hoskins, Naval Submarine Support Center, New London

GROTON, Conn., Dec. 22, 2017 — Crew members assigned to the Navy’s Virginia-class, fast attack submarine, PCU Colorado, participated in the Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots program Dec. 18-20 here.

The Colorado, which was launched about this time last year, is in precommissioned, or PCU, status. The submarine will become the USS Colorado during its commissioning ceremony in spring 2018.

Contributing to Toys for Tots

Members of Colorado's First Class Petty Officer Association came up with the idea to participate in the Toys for Tots holiday campaign. The crew was able to return to their home port with just a few days left to shop and donate in order to meet the Toys for Tot's delivery deadline for this year's Christmas holiday.

"This is the first time [the] Colorado participated in Toys for Tots," said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Scott Gold, who’s also the Colorado’s FCPOA president. "Colorado is a new vessel; we are getting commissioned in March, so this is just the start of a tradition that will continue throughout Colorado's life span.”

Gold added, “Having the charity event was pretty impressive -- to see the crew come together in a short amount of time. As the season comes around next year we plan to expand our efforts to increase donations.

Gift, Cash Donations

Crew members donated two dozen assorted gifts and a $200 cash donation to the Toys for Tots program through the Marine Corps League’s Thames River Detachment.

The Marine Corps League is a nonprofit organization that’s been chartered by Congress.

“We really appreciate the Colorado's donations and all the donations from Navy families and commands from Naval Sub Base New London,” said Thames River Detachment Commandant Patrick McMahon.

McMahon said the effects of donating one gift helps tremendously in executing the Toys for Tots mission and goal to deliver through a new toy at Christmas a message of hope to economically disadvantaged children.

The Colorado's donations will be distributed to help fulfill the local community’s Toys for Tots request.