Friday, May 04, 2018

U.S. Protests Chinese Interference With U.S. Planes in Djibouti

By Jim Garamone, DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON -- The United States has protested to China after repeated instances of lasers interfering with U.S. military aircraft landing in Djibouti, chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana W. White said here today.

In her weekly news conference, White confirmed that two Air Force crewmen were slightly injured in one incident.

“They are very serious incidents,” White said. “There have been two minor injuries. This activity poses a true … threat to our airmen.”

The United States has formally “demarched” the Chinese government, and requested that the Chinese investigate the incidents. Demarche is a diplomatic term used when a nation protests or objects to policies or actions of another government.

Djibouti – on the Horn of Africa – is a strategic U.S. ally, and the nation has hosted a U.S. presence since 2002. Last year, the country also agreed to host China’s first overseas military outpost, and that facility is located near the American base.

FAA Issues Notice to Airmen

Over the last couple of weeks, in at least two and perhaps as many as 10 incidents, U.S. aircraft landing at the base were hit by laser beams. The Federal Aviation Administration has issued a Notice to Airmen on the danger, telling aircrews to “use caution for unauthorized laser activity.” U.S. officials said the beam is coming from a military grade laser, and that they are confident the Chinese are behind the incidents.

Firing lasers at aircraft can blind aircrew members during critical moments of landing. In the incident where the minor injuries occurred, a C-130 was landing at the base when it was painted by a laser beam. The aircraft managed to land safely, and the two aircrew members are recovering, Pentagon officials said.

“Our concern is the safety of our service members,” White said. “And so we raised the issue with China, and we expect China to investigate it thoroughly.”

Navy Engineers in Malaysia Build Friendships During Pacific Partnership 18

By Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua Fulton, Logistics Group Western Pacific

TAWAU, Malaysia -- Navy engineers, also known as Seabees, from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5 and Amphibious Construction Battalion 1 completed three civil engineering projects May 3 in Tawau, Malaysia, as a part of exercise Pacific Partnership 2018.

The Seabees and Malaysian service members worked together on the three projects, exchanging skills and best practices while developing camaraderie.

“Working with the Malaysians was amazing, as all of their different personalities intertwined with ours and created a really fun working environment,” said Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Emily Manley.

‘We Learned How to Work Together’

She added, “It was a very unique experience because we had the opportunity to get hands-on experience with our host-nation partners; we learned from them, they learned from us and most importantly, we learned how to work together.”

At SK Kampung Jawa and SK Kebangsaan Taman schools, NMCB 5 Seabees constructed three open-air halls that will allow students to sit and gather for lunch or outdoor learning, with protection from the heat and rain.

Meanwhile, Seabees from ACB 1 and their Malaysian counterparts painted outdoor walls and welded together water tank stands at the Merotia Clinic near here.

The combined efforts the Pacific Partnership 2018 engineering team and their Malaysian colleagues demonstrate how the exercise generates the ability to foster friendships based on trust, unity and cooperation.

‘We Are Building Lasting Relationships’

“We are building lasting relationships that, years down the road, if we get the opportunity to come back and work with them again, they will still probably remember our names and we will be able to pick up right where we left off, working side by side,” Manley said. “It is truly such a blessing to be out here and be given this opportunity.”

Pacific Partnership, now in its 13th iteration, is an annual multinational humanitarian assistance/disaster relief preparedness exercise conducted in the Indo-Pacific region. The exercise’s mission objective is to enhance regional coordination in areas such as medical readiness and preparedness for man-made and natural disasters.

Pacific Partnership 2018 consists of more than 800 U.S. military personnel, working side by side with host-nation counterparts to be better prepared for potential humanitarian aid and disaster response situations.

Face of Defense: Soldier Looks Toward Reunion With Canine Friend From Iraq

By Ken Scar, U.S. Army Cadet Command

IRBIL, Iraq -- Army Reserve Sgt. Tracy McKithern loves dogs.

Last year, when McKithern found a little female white stray dog sniffing around camp here during her yearlong deployment to Iraq -- only one thing was going to happen.

“I fell in love with her immediately,” she said.

McKithern, a combat photographer from Tampa, Florida, with the 982nd Combat Camera Company (Airborne), was stationed at the Kurdistan Training Coordination Center, a multinational military organization responsible for the training of peshmerga and Iraqi security forces in and around Irbil, from April 2017 to January 2018.

The little dog and her mother had been wandering around the base for weeks, McKithern found out. Stray dogs are common in Iraq, and the culture is not kind to them. Erby and her mom were kicked and hit with rocks daily and starving. Her brother and sister had disappeared before McKithern arrived.

‘Sweetest Little Soul’

Despite her rough experiences with humans to that point, Erby ran right up to McKithern the first time she held out her hand to the shaky little pup covered in scratches and dirt.

“She loved everyone,” McKithern said of Erby. “She is the sweetest little soul. She came up to me immediately -- probably hungry, but gentle. I think she was looking for love more than anything else.”

McKithern, together with soldiers from the Italian and German armies her unit was partnered with, started caring for the little dog. They named her Erby Kasima, after nearby Irbil, the largest city in northern Iraq, and “Kasima” being the Arabic name for beauty and elegance.

The coalition soldiers would go on convoys into the surrounding countryside to train Iraqi army units six days a week, with McKithern documenting the missions. Every time they returned to the base, Erby was waiting.

“She ran up to our convoy every day,” McKithern recalled. “She was so tiny she would fall and trip all over herself to get to us.”

Getting Healthy

It didn’t take long for Erby and her mom to realize that, not only were they safe around McKithern and her Italian and German friends, but these humans would feed them, too. As the weeks went by, the dogs’ wounds began to heal and they started putting on weight.

Eventually, the growing pup took to sleeping on the step outside McKithern’s quarters.

As the end of her deployment approached, McKithern started to wonder how she could ever leave Erby behind when she went back to the states and lamented about it on her Facebook page.

“One night I posted a pic of us on Facebook, with a caption that read something like, ‘I wish I could take her home,’” McKithern recalled. “I went to sleep, woke up and my friends and family had posted links to various rescue groups. I reached out to one of them, the nonprofit Puppy Rescue Mission, and they responded immediately. We sent them $1,000 and they set up a crowd fund to get the rest. We needed an additional $3,500.”

Generous Donors, Friends’ Help

The immediate outpouring of generosity was astounding, McKithern said.

“We raised the rest of the money very quickly, and most of it was from complete strangers!” she said.

McKithern had many preparations to make before she left Iraq so Erby could eventually follow her. Vaccinations, documentation, travel arrangements -- all had to be done somehow, in a war zone, while she fulfilled her military duties. It seemed like an overwhelming task in an already overwhelming situation. Even though she now had the funding, McKithern began to lose hope that she’d have the time and energy to complete needed details so Erby could join her in the states.

That’s when several Kurdish and German officers that McKithern knew stepped in to help. They offered to complete anything she couldn’t get done and get Erby onto the plane. With their help, McKithern returned home and Erby was set to follow her several weeks later.

Change in Plans

McKithern had only been home in Florida for about a month when she received orders for a 67-day mission to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. She was to depart March 11, the very day Erby was scheduled to arrive at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.

“I couldn’t believe it!” McKithern said. “But I’m a soldier first, and my commander received an email looking for volunteers.” McKithern said the gunnery exercise at Fort McCoy was an important mission and so she deployed to Wisconsin.


However, McKithern’s husband, Army Sgt. Wes McKithern, who’s also a combat cameraman for the 982nd, met Erby at the airport in New York and drove her home to Tampa, where she’s waiting patiently to be reunited with her rescuer.

In a few short weeks, McKithern will fly home from Fort McCoy to be with Erby at last. It will be the end of a 16-month journey that’s taken her across the world to find a little dog in a war zone -- and with the help of generous strangers, a nonprofit dog rescue, and soldiers from three different armies -- bring her all the way back to become part of a family.

“I can’t believe it,” McKithern said. “It feels like a miracle is happening.”