Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Maintenance Support Group Keeps Air Force Base Employees Safe

June 30, 2020 | BY Kendahl Johnson

Like so many units at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, the 309th Maintenance Support Group has had to adjust its battle rhythm due to COVID-19. The unit is working hard to ensure other teams within the Ogden Air Logistics Complex can continue to support their critical missions while keeping employees safe from the coronavirus.

A contractor inventories COVID-19 cleaning and protective supplies.

Gene Kourtei, the deputy group director for the 309th MXSG, said that although it's been a challenge, his team has been successful in elevating and achieving the three priorities of keeping employees safe, continuing to meet mission demands and exceeding customer expectations.

We have kept and continue to keep our employees safe with robust cleaning plans and protocols. I believe the customers didn’t feel much, if any, impact. Our job moving forward is to maintain it that way."
Gene Kourtei, Deputy Group Director, 309th Maintenance Support Group

"We've worked really hard, and I'm proud of our entire team," Kourtei said. "We've significantly limited the effects of the pandemic to our most important resource while optimizing how we perform business in a constrained environment. I’d like to think a lot of that is due to the deliberate, quick and proactive methodology."

The approach started with using processes already in place to become the central supplier for the entire complex for necessary items such as masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectants.

A contractor fills up spray bottles with cleaning disinfectant.

"We were able to supply everyone in a quick manner," Kourtei said. "We did a great job of purchasing what we could find as fast as we could and distributed those critical items throughout the complex as rapidly as possible."

The unit's engineering team was tasked with developing a response plan in the event of workplace contamination. The team developed a comprehensive checklist that postured the complex to be ready to respond to a multitude of different scenarios. Kourtei said being prepared and transparent at every level has helped employees feel comfortable and safe.

Perhaps the biggest challenge, he said, was developing a teleworking posture.

A contractor loads a hand sanitizer stanchion.

"Historically, we have never teleworked," Kourtei said. "Moving from no telework to full telework was a test of the complex's agility. Our ability to pivot to that environment was as good as you could ask for. We have kept and continue to keep our employees safe with robust cleaning plans and protocols. I believe the customers didn’t feel much, if any, impact. Our job moving forward is to maintain it that way."

Kourtei said they are ready and prepared to support the complex for as long as needed. They've worked hard to improve communications and have developed solid processes for keeping employees and their worksite environment COVID-19 free while ensuring warfighter demands continue to be met.

(Kendahl Johnson is assigned to the 75th Air Base Wing.)

Statement by Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs on U.S. Troop Levels in Germany

June 30, 2020

The Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff briefed the President yesterday on plans to redeploy 9,500 troops from Germany. The proposal that was approved not only meets the President’s directive, it will also enhance Russian deterrence, strengthen NATO, reassure Allies, improve U.S. strategic flexibility and U.S. European Command’s operational flexibility, and take care of our service members and their families. Pentagon leaders look forward to briefing this plan to the congressional defense committees in the coming weeks, followed by consultations with NATO allies on the way forward. We will be providing timely updates to potentially affected personnel, their families and communities as planning progresses.

Missile Defense Chief Looks to Handle Changing Threat

June 30, 2020 | BY JIM GARAMONE , DOD News

Missile defense has gone from pie-in-the-sky Star Wars technology in the 1980s to a proven military capability in the 21st century, and the Missile Defense Agency is looking to extend those capabilities against new threats.

Navy Vice Adm. Jon Hill, the agency's director, told the Hypersonic Weapons Systems webinar in London the agency is looking to adapt current technologies against the hypersonic threat while looking toward new capabilities.

"The sad reality is that many of these threats, regardless of how they're launched and what their profiles are, really do look like hypersonic threats," he said.

Ballistic missiles as they approach impact are hypersonic, as are many maneuverable cruise missiles. "So if you're the sailor on the deck of a ship, they all look the same to you," Hill said. "If you're a soldier manning a land-based battery, it's going to be maneuvering and coming in very quickly at hypersonic speeds. If you're one of the airmen that's manning one of the many sensors that are out there, it's going to look fast, and it's going to be moving quickly."

A ground-launched missile heads skyward.

So, the hypersonic threat already exists. The Missile Defense Agency now must adapt as the threat morphs, Hill said. Right now, the hypersonic threat is almost ancillary to the capabilities of ballistic and cruise missiles, he added, but as competitors test and build, that threat will become more sophisticated. 

"We're defending the United States, our deployed forces, our allies and friends from missile attacks in all phases of flight," Hill said. It is a simple mission statement, but not so simple to execute.

The key to the program is the sensor array. "We leverage all sensors, and many, many countries are in the business of fusing data so that you have a complete track picture," the admiral said. "We call it from … birth-to-death tracking and that is absolutely required. You don't want to lose track of the threats, particularly if [they are] unpredictable and maneuverable."

The agency will leverage space sensors, which is typically how it sees initial launches. "We will fly through ground-based sensors," he said. "We have ships with the sensing capability deployed globally. Another great way that we partner with our allies that sensor architecture is critically important, particularly as the threats become more and more maneuverable over time."

The existing sensing architecture and battle management system and even existing weapons can counter this very formidable threat, but more needs to be done, he said.

So, the bottom line is that just because a weapon is hypersonic doesn't mean it can't be intercepted. "Like all good engineering organizations, we're going to look for where the vulnerabilities are in a hypersonic flight, whether it's a glide vehicle or cruise missile," Hill said.

Soldiers man consoles in operations room.
A building that looks like the bridge of a Navy ship on land.

The glide phase looks to be the most promising place, because it is earlier in a missile's trajectory, Hill said. "We are now investigating what it would take to move into that first part of the glide phase," he added. 

This means evolving the terminal system, "and then looking at how we can change the propulsion as required — change the front end to get to the glider phase," Hill said. "It is a tough regime to operate in. But you have to remember that the hypersonic threat is not invincible — in that phase, it's bleeding off energy, it may be doing a roll, and may be starting its maneuver. But it's a great place to engage."

In addition, the admiral said, the agency is looking to build sensing from space.

This is not the 21st century version of pie-in-the-sky. The Missile Defense Agency is working closely with the services and combatant commands and having discussions with international partners on defending against this threat, Hill said.

Green Light

Air Force pilots fly a C-130J Super Hercules over East Africa, June 28, 2020.

Diving Course

Marines complete an open circuit dive during a diver propulsion device certification course at Camp Schwab, Okinawa, Japan, June 23, 2020.

Marine Maneuvers

Marines patrol through grassy terrain during platoon attack range training as part of Exercise Fuji Viper at Camp Fuji, Japan, June 23, 2020. Fuji Viper focuses on sustaining individual and small unit proficiency and decision making.

Parade Practice

Marines assigned to the Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., conduct a full dress rehearsal in preparation for the upcoming Friday Evening Parade at the Corps' oldest post, June 24, 2020. This year's parades will be different from those of the past. With the COVID-19 concerns, the barracks will conduct smaller ceremonies while adhering to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Defense Department guidelines.

Cadet Formation

Air Force Academy basic cadets undergo restriction-of-movement training in Colorado Springs, Colo., June 29, 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic changed how the more than 1,100 men and women are processed. Medical staff tests each trainee for the coronavirus to ensure the safety and security of the cadets and staff.

Mountain Marines

Marines participate in a 10-mile retrograde hike during the final exercise of mountain-warfare training at Haltdalen Training Facility in Norway, June 26, 2020.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Religious Affairs Teams Support Soldiers During COVID-19 Response


The diverse and ever-changing backdrop of high plains, river basins, vineyards and vibrant groves in the Yakima Valley of central Washington rivals the setting to John Steinbeck’s novel, ''East of Eden.'' Its  beautiful and expansive — yet toilsome — landscapes shape the hopes and burdens of those who live there.

Upon arriving in Pasco, just east of the Yakima Valley region, Army Chaplain (Maj.) Jeffrey Forshee, with the Army National Guard, and Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Robert Boleak of the Air National Guard arrived at one of the 50-plus state food banks supported by Washington National Guardsmen to aid Washingtonians in overcoming food constraints due to the economic fallout triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a place of such abundance, the need for essential sustenance seems to be the greatest.

Guardsmen unload food from a truck.

''We've been visiting a lot of these food banks as we connect to our service members and the civilian staff supporting these important missions,'' Forshee said. ''This is an unexpected need during these unprecedented times.''

Forshee and Boleak are part of Joint Task Force Steelhead's staff, leading the religious affairs team, operating both as spiritual leads and the eyes and ears to the members in the field.

''I found that being able to communicate back to the staff at JTF when we've spent time at one of these spots is incredibly valuable,'' Boleak said. ''Oftentimes, information is not being passed down to our soldiers and airmen at some of our sites, which only adds to some of the distress with our [service] members.''

In many ways, the religious affairs team attempts to encounter this new level of anxiety in which basic and previously held assumptions are challenged due to the sudden shift in conditions. The new normal shows that resilience and perseverance have become sacrosanct.

''There are a variety of concerns that our members have that are directly related to the COVID-19 response,'' Forshee said, detailing some of the underlying concerns and questions by service members. ''If leaders are tracking their questions and concerns, if there are too many or too few soldiers on a site, and what are the current guidelines or updates for a safe workplace.''

You see it instantly on some of the faces when we load a box of food and offer encouragement.''
Army 2nd Lt. Will Stryker

When the religious affairs team arrives at the locations where guardsmen are working, Boleak quickly jumps in to lend a hand, whether it is unloading a food truck or helping to set up tables at mobile distribution sites. It gives him a chance to make an instant connection and get a sense of the team's morale.

''We get out about three or four times a week,'' he said. ''I see it as a way to build camaraderie and letting them know that we're here to support them and any needs they have, as well as someone who cares about their well-being.''

Forshee perceives the site visits as being more genuine and focused than traditional religious services while meeting the guardsmen's needs in real time.

''Going out to meet soldiers and airmen is much more rewarding because when we arrive we can encounter them in many ways,'' Forshee said. ''It could be a group or just one on one, but often in unscripted moments.''

As soldiers and airmen work the food banks, testing locations and other critical COVID-19 response sites, they are personally interacting with communities experiencing economic distress and escalating fears of the virus. Knowing they are making an immediate impact is not lost on them.

A soldier uses a forklift to lift a pallet of food.

''You see it instantly on some of the faces when we load a box of food and offer encouragement,'' said newly commissioned Army 2nd Lt. Will Stryker, the soon-to-be officer in charge of the Wenatchee mission. ''The first day I worked here in early May, we filled up the parking lot, and then it became twice over that within a few weeks, only to have it continue to grow as more and more people needed assistance.''

While attending Central Washington University, Stryker was activated while still a cadet. Now, since his June 12 commissioning, he's ready to take on the added responsibility for his crew, maintaining the demands and tempo for those in his immediate community.

''We've seen that while COVID is continuing along its course, more and more people who have dipped into their reserves are starting to need additional assistance,'' he said, while watching his teammates use forklifts to unload a truckload of potatoes, canned goods and other nonperishable items into the vacant hockey area. ''When I look at these stands and know that they normally would be full of fans cheering on the 'Wenatchee Wild,' it is oddly surprising to be in the center of the floor, and have it be so quiet other than us moving pallets of food in.''

At the end of the day, I think all of us can feel good about lending a hand while doing the people's work.''
Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Robert Boleak

More than 30 soldiers are responsible for this site. Stryker said that he's lucky to have a solid group of noncommissioned officers and a team that is so dedicated to this work.

''There are [military police], truck drivers, cooks, mechanics and infantrymen; it's an awesome crew,'' Stryker said.

As the food bank needs continue, several sites have added and rotated new members into the ranks. By late May, Army Chaplain (Capt.) Michael Johnson swapped places with Forshee, while embracing the same role of intermingling with troops across the state. After the last truck was unloaded at the arena in Wenatchee, the soldiers took part in a barbecue, allowing Johnson an opportunity to address the team while enjoying the camaraderie.

''I definitely got here on the right day,'' Johnson said. ''As a Baptist pastor, potlucks are a really big thing. If there's food, we will be there,'' he said, while jokingly speaking to everyone enjoying a well-deserved break in their hectic schedule.

''Thank you guys for what you are doing. If there's something that we can do for you or your immediate family members, we want to help,'' he said. ''It can be anything, even as a sounding board — we're there for you. Chaplains and assistants, we're here to serve you, and we're so glad to be part of this generous team.''

Johnson said he sees some of the same concerns in his community church in Yakima when he's not in uniform. Yet from a personal perspective, he noted that his path to becoming a chaplain came from financial uncertainty earlier in life.

A soldier uses a portable forklift to move a pallet of food.

''I was married [with] three kids and asked myself, 'What’s going on here?''' Johnson said, explaining how he enlisted in the active duty Army when trying to make a living as a musician.

''The part-time jobs, the gigging musician or being a music teacher, it all wasn't adding up, especially at the end of every month,'' he continued. ''That's when I discovered the Army Band, it was the right fit at the right time, and I went for it.''

After 10 years, he made another leap, leaving his successful music career and the full-time Army life to come back to Washington and follow another new path of ultimately becoming a chaplain.

''My experience in the Army during an uncertain period in life helped me on a personal level, and it provided the means for my family,'' Johnson recalls. ''It's made me realize now that being a chaplain is who I really am, it fits my calling to help soldiers on the religious and spiritual needs: it's the 'whole person approach' to soldier care.''

The demand to support Washington communities as large as Seattle and as small as Touchet seems to be unending, especially in the realm of food sustenance and COVID-19 testing sites across every region of the state. Since March, more than 1,000 Washington National Guardsmen have activated to support the global pandemic response. To date, nearly 28 million pounds of food has been processed, packed and distributed by Evergreen Guardsmen.

''I know for many residents, the ongoing need for these food banks is vital,'' said Claudia Limon, a service coordinator with the Blue Mountain Action Council.

Guardsmen wearing face masks stand next to a table with food on it.

The BMAC is a nonprofit, multipurpose agency, serving residents in Southeastern Washington that helps strengthen self-sufficiency, develop strategies to prevent poverty and leverage community support through volunteerism. They have teamed up with the guardsmen to keep up with the increasing nourishment needs.

A group of a dozen guardsmen have arrived in the town of Touchet, setting up tables and an entry control point as they load car after car with pre-assembled boxes of food.

''We couldn't do this without the help from the National Guard,'' Limon said, directing the long line of cars, amassed along the main roadway leading up to the mobile food bank. ''This has been a terrific partnership, especially with the need being so great.''

As Boleak helps stack boxes from one of the many trucks for this weekly distribution mission, he quietly goes about his routine of jumping in and offering a hand.

''At the end of the day, I think all of us can feel good about lending a hand while doing the people's work,'' he said, ''It all comes down to neighbors helping neighbors.''

(Air Force Master Sgt. John Hughel is assigned to the Washington Air National Guard.)

Cadet Cut

An Air Force basic cadet gets a haircut while following social distancing precautions at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., June 25, 2020, to begin the journey of becoming a commissioned officer.

Air Force Spouse Creates Face Masks for People With Disabilities

June 29, 2020 | BY Nick DeCicco , 60th Air Mobility Wing

A lonely sense of isolation is among the many emotions people feel after months of stay-at-home orders and wearing face masks in public.

Danielle Lee sewing masks created for those with disabilities.

Danielle Lee Loera, the spouse of a technical sergeant at Travis Air Force Base, California, opened a window to a more hopeful perspective. She designed and produced masks with a clear covering that allows the wearer's mouth to be visible, helping them to communicate not only with words, but with emotions as well.

After seeing a friend's social media post of just such a mask, Loera, who has fashioned more than 900 masks since the COVID-19 pandemic began, said she was inspired to make some with a transparent cover over the mouth.

"I loved the idea of a window mask," she said recently via email. "I was immediately enamored with the idea of being able to see facial expressions, and I recognized, in my own life, just how important a smile is."

Her initial motivation was to make masks that allowed lip reading. The high school she attended was the only one in its district for those who are deaf or partially deaf, and she studied American Sign Language. Helping the hearing impaired is an issue she takes to heart, she said.

"I know that facial expressions and lip reading are as much a part of the language of sign as the hands," she added.

A woman wearing a face mask gives the sign for “I love you.”

One recipient of Loera's inclusive masks was Tracy O’Banion, a Fairfield, California, resident, who was eager to share how happy she was to receive the masks. The two connected via social media after Loera posted a photo of herself wearing the window mask. Within days, the two connected, and O’Banion had a fresh supply of masks.

O'Banion said the masks are beneficial in communicating with her husband, who retired as a master chief petty officer after 30 years with the Coast Guard. She said the window mask has also helped at health care appointments and in other situations.

"Hearing people are not as affected by wearing a mask in their daily lives as deaf folks are," she said. "Just imagine people talking behind a mask, and [you] not being aware of anything they are saying. The windowed mask lets me lip read and gauge a person's emotions."

"Also, I like to know if people are smiling or not," O'Banion said via text message, adding a smiley emoji.

O'Banion said her masks help her feel more connected to others.

Masks are displayed on a table.

"I'm so grateful Danielle made these," O'Banion said. "It was so thoughtful, and she really understands the isolation deaf folks feel due to so many people wearing masks these days with the [coronavirus]."

Loera said the masks can also benefit more than just the hearing impaired. Although Loera's initial inspiration was lip reading, she has found that the masks serve a plethora of purposes.

"A very good friend of mine has an autistic son, and, like the hard of hearing, he is learning to read facial expressions," she said. "She has ordered masks, not for her son, but for herself and his teachers to aid him on his learning journey."

Loera said the masks are made with cotton fabric with a heavyweight, vinyl material with anti-fogging technology that is free of bisphenol-A, also known as BPA, an industrial chemical used to make hard, clear plastics. Loera's masks also follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She said each mask takes about seven minutes to make.

A woman wears a face mask with a window over the mouth.

"My pattern conforms to the face and the nose and has a window," she said. "The vinyl window acts as a filter, and it can go all the way around the ears. The straps are important, not only for comfort, but also because many hard-of-hearing and deaf people have hearing aids and implants already there. I wanted to accommodate hearing aids while also keeping it comfortable for the user."

Loera's husband, John, whom she praised for his support, is a flight engineer with the 9th Air Refueling Squadron at Travis Air Force Base.

"He doesn't know how to sew very well, but he has ironed, cut and pinned more masks than I can count," she said. "He's had my back in this, financially, emotionally and physically — because we both have the same goal: help as many people as we can, because we have the ability and drive to do so."

(Nick DeCicco is assigned to the 60th Air Mobility Wing.)

Honor Guard

An honor guard participates in a wreath laying ceremony to pay tribute to those who served in the Korean War at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., June 25, 2020.

Even During a Pandemic, Training in Guam Doesn't Stop

June 29, 2020 | BY ARMY CAPT. MARK SCOTT

They emerge from the 6-foot-high sword grass, one by one, carrying carbine paintball guns and wearing vastly different uniforms. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Celso Leonen, the commandant of the Guam National Guard's 203rd Regional Training Institute, must suppress his urge to make uniformity corrections — for now.

Two officer candidates lie on their backs behind a truck in a field, while one, holding a rifle, kneels beside them.
Officer candidates carry a patient on a litter during a training exercise.

This is a joint exercise between the Guam National Guard's Officer Candidate School, and the University of Guam's ROTC programs. As distinct commissioning sources, the two programs traditionally have separate curricula, training events and uniforms.

Due to restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the normal training events in the mainland United States have been postponed for both OCS and ROTC.

"This doesn't mean we just walk away from our obligations," Leonen said. "The training doesn't just stop. These are our future leaders, and we owe it to them to give them the best training possible."

Under the leadership of Army Lt. Col. Jumar Castro, the commander of the 203rd Regional Training Institute, Leonen and the institute staff worked with the University of Guam ROTC program to combine resources and offer realistic and valuable training. The weeklong training, which took place in the stifling heat of Guam's tropical savanna, included tactical movements, communications and reports, conducting ambushes, reacting to contact, calling for artillery fire, calling for medical evacuation and more.

An officer candidate dressed for combat lies face-down in a grassy field as a helicopter marked with a red cross lands in the background.

In the culminating training event, the trainees called for a live medical evacuation and were treated to a cool ride in a Guam National Guard UH-72 Lakota helicopter.

Army Officer Candidate Steven Cruz, the acting squad leader for the trainees, offered his thoughts on the combined training.

"We come out to the field, and we get missions done as a team," Cruz said. "We have OCS here with our ROTC brothers and sisters, and we're in this fight together. We train to fight, we train to win, and we cannot lose."

(Army Capt. Mark Scott is assigned to the Guam National Guard.)

Jersey Training

Army 1st Sgt. Steve B. Kovacs, left, and Staff Sgt. Julian Londono, both New Jersey National Guardsmen, participate in a training exercise at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., June 25, 2020.

Marine Moves

Marines assigned to the Silent Drill Platoon execute precision rifle drill movements during an evening parade at Marine Barracks Washington, June 26, 2020.

Friday, June 26, 2020

DOD Announces Support to Salute to America 2020

Secretary Esper has approved a Department of the Interior request for DOD support to the 2020 Salute to America. DOD will provide aerial, musical and ceremonial support to this year’s celebration in Washington, D.C. This year’s support will also include a flyover of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, as well an aerial salute to several cities that played roles in the American Revolution.
The highlight of this year’s celebration will be our salute to the Great Cities of the American Revolution. The flyovers will begin in Boston and proceed to New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore. From there they will join other Department of Defense and heritage aircraft in the Salute to America over our nation’s capital.
In all, roughly 1,700 service members will support the celebrations. The exact timing of the flyovers is still being worked and will be announced soon.
The flyovers provide an opportunity for DoD to demonstrate the capabilities and professionalism of the United States Armed Forces. Flying hours are a sunk cost for the Department of Defense, and these aircraft and crews would be using these hours for proficiency and training at other locations if they were not conducting these flyovers.
DoD is proud to help celebrate the nation’s 244th birthday. We are grateful for our nation’s support as we defend our country, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Drill Directives

Sailors receive information about a simulated casualty during a general quarters drill aboard the USS Ronald Reagan in the Philippine Sea, June 22, 2020.

Pulling it In

An Army paratrooper secures equipment after an airborne operation at Rivolto Italian Air Force Base, Udine, Italy, June 24, 2020.

Maintenance Crew

Airmen perform a C-130 Hercules propeller swap Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, June 25, 2020.

Airborne Reup

Army Staff Sgt. O'Connor, a paratrooper assigned to 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade reenlists while performing jumpmaster duties during an airborne operation at Aviano Air Base, Italy, June 24, 2020.

Esper Visits U.S., British Airmen at Base in England

June 26, 2020 | BY Senior Airman Brandon Esau , 100th Air Refueling Wing

Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper visited officers and enlisted airmen at Royal Air Force Mildenhall in England on Thursday, getting updates on missions and discussing the base's role in the European and African theaters.

A man dressed in civilian clothing stands facing three men wearing military uniforms in a hangar with a U.S. flag hanging from the ceiling. All are wearing face masks.

Esper met with Mildenhall airmen and families and toured the installation. He visited the air traffic control tower, static displays of a CV-22 Osprey and RC-135 Rivet Joint, and spent time talking to officers and enlisted personnel during his tour.

People are our greatest assets, and it's my job to ensure they're not only technically sound, but physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually cared for."
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper

Esper spoke about the base's multiple mission sets, modernization of the U.S. military, and the future in promoting social equality and justice around the globe.

"My goal is to help every airman, soldier, sailor and Marine to create the strong balance needed between their professional lives and personal lives," Esper said. "People are our greatest assets, and it's my job to ensure they're not only technically sound, but physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually cared for."

Two men wearing face masks, one dressed in a business suit and one dressed in a military uniform, talk in a small office next to a window overlooking the countryside.

The former secretary of the Army and 27th secretary of defense spoke about the importance of RAF Mildenhall's role in the National Defense Strategy and in the national interests in both the European and African areas of responsibility.

"The various mission sets that call RAF Mildenhall home solidifies this base as one of the best assets the Air Force and the entire U.S. military has around the globe," the secretary stated. "From providing fuel, inserting operators into austere locations, gathering vital intelligence or rapid mobility of personnel and cargo, this installation is fully prepared to get the job done."

A man dressed in a business suit and wearing a face mask stands with his arms folded and looks into the distance.

Air Force Col. S. Troy Pananon, commander of the 100th Air Refueling Wing, spoke about the importance of airmen being able to meet and discuss topics with leaders of Esper's caliber.

"I'm extremely thrilled and proud of how Team Mildenhall went out and executed Secretary Esper’s visit because these opportunities don’t always come, but when it was our time, we were ready," Pananon said. "Being able to meet, interact and present ideas to someone of Esper's stature, someone who makes very high-level decisions, is a chance I'm glad our airmen were able to take part in, and the team once again exceeded my expectations."

China Becoming Concern for U.S. Commanders in Europe

June 26, 2020 | BY JIM GARAMONE , DOD News

It seems counter-intuitive, but China is increasingly a concern for the commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Europe and Africa and NATO's Allied Joint Force Command.

Three men in uniform meet on a flightline.

Navy Adm. James G. Foggo told the participants of a webinar sponsored by the International Institute of Strategic Studies that China is actively working in Europe and Africa to subvert the international rules-based infrastructure that has maintained peace since the end of World War II.

China's whole-of-government approach has expanded out of the Indo-Pacific into the Arctic, Europe and Africa. In this region China is conducting unsafe intercepts of aircraft and ships, he said. It is threatening nations. China has established an overseas military base in the Horn of Africa, and is looking to control other ports. 

China is "purchasing news outlets and entertainment companies to push its propaganda and erase any criticism against its government," he said. Chinese leaders are meddling in elections across the world, "restricting information about the coronavirus and donating equipment and personnel, even in Europe as a way to show that it is a world leader."

The Chinese One Belt, One Road initiative combines economic, diplomatic, military and political arms to change the international rules-based architecture. They are offering financial relief and opportunities to nations, especially in Africa, and then using that to influence the governments. "This type of influence is a security concern, and it could be used to restrict access to key seaports and airport facilities while providing access to sensitive government and military information through the technology of state-owned and state-controlled enterprises," he said.

In the past decade a lot has changed. Ten years ago, it was possible for U.S. officials to envision working with China and Russia. 

A Super Hornet takes off from a carrier.
A person in uniform guides a truck as it backs up to the cargo loading area of an airplane.

But that was before Russia illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine. That was before China started building and fortifying islands in the South China Sea and East China Sea. That was before both nations began a huge military build-up, and before both nations conducted cyber operations against other nations. Finally, that was before Russia and China meddled in domestic politics.

"China has even labeled itself as a 'near Arctic country,'" he said, complicating an already complicated situation as new sea lanes of communication open in the North. "NATO can no longer ignore China's activities in Europe," he said. "Things like 5G — the Trojan horse. Buying port infrastructure, and the One Belt, One Road initiative."

Foggo's responsibility spans from the North Pole to South Africa, from the middle of the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, Black, Barents, Caspian and Baltic seas. There are 93 countries in this region with 23 percent of the world's population. 

The admiral gave a virtual tour of the area of operations beginning with the North. The United States has long been an Arctic nation — it was Navy Rear Adm. Robert Peary who led the first expedition to reach the North Pole. "The diminishing ice coverage is causing competition to emerge in this new area," he said. "The High North is attracting global interest with abundant natural resources and opening maritime routes that have not been navigable before."

Russia, with its long Arctic coast, is aggressively pursuing its interests in the region. They are building new ice breakers and arming them with offensive weaponry. They are re-occupying old Soviet era bases. "We're seeing a new era of maritime competition in the Arctic, and strong navies are needed to protect common interests and ensure the timely flow of trade," he said.

The North Atlantic is an integral part of the name of the most successful military alliance in history. Foggo believes NATO is involved in the Fourth Battle of the Atlantic. The first battle was World War I, the second during World War II and the third being the Cold War.

Last year, unclassified sources indicated there were 10 Russian submarines underway in the North Atlantic. This is a lot even when compared to Cold War sailings, he said. Russia has also already earmarked five new attack submarines for the Northern Fleet. "We still have the competitive advantage in the undersea domain, … but they're pretty good at their tradecraft," he said.

A small boat approaches a Coast Guard cutter.

The U.S. Second Fleet is meant to counter this development. "The North Atlantic is critical to NATO's collective security, and whoever can exert control over this region could either protect or threaten NATO's northern flank," Foggo said. "The North Atlantic is therefore synonymous with our security and our sovereignty."

The Trident Juncture Exercise in the North Atlantic and the High North was in part a demonstration to the Russians of the capabilities the alliance has and can deploy to the area. U.S. and British ships also cruised in the Barents Sea last month to reinforce the point, Foggo said.

The admiral next discussed the Black Sea and upholding international law and norms in that strategic body of water. American and NATO warships routinely conduct patrols in the Black Sea. Last year, there were around 240 days of presence in the Black Sea. "I think that's a wonderful demonstration of our commitment to our Black Sea allies and partners," he said. 

The Eastern Mediterranean "is becoming one of the most kinetic places in the world," Foggo said. Russian forces are propping up the Syrian regime. They have submarines in the region capable of hitting European capitals with little warning, he said. "Routine violations of sovereign airspace and dangerously … unsafe intercepts have become standard operating procedure for Russia," the admiral said.

Russia occupied Crimea and its strategic bases. It has forces in Syria. They have moved forces into Libya, and Foggo sees this as dangerous. "This highlights the need to maintain a vigilant, highly capable naval presence throughout European waters," he said.

The world ignores Africa at its own peril, Foggo said. "Africa is a complex continent of great importance," he said. "By 2050 one in four people in the world will live in Africa — that's 2.5 billion people. The potential African workforce will exceed China's by 2030 [and] exceed India's by 2035."

There is tremendous poverty on the continent and vast amounts of natural resources. Thirty of the top 50 most fragile states in the world are in Africa.

Working with partner nations and organizations like the African Union, U.S. and NATO security experts work to build security capabilities in nations of the continent. They work to promote connectivity among the nations of the continent and intelligence sharing. 

A helicopter has just landed on the deck of a ship.

"I think we're making a difference in Africa," Foggo said. "We saw that with the development of the 2013 Yaounde (Cameroon) Code of Conduct signed by 25 Western and Central African nations as they collectively sought to address matters such as piracy, illegal fishing and illicit maritime activity. The Code of Conduct framework established objectives and improved inter-regional coastal relationships and joint capabilities. The resulting joint efforts have already reduced illegal activities in the Gulf of Guinea."

Moving forward in the entire region, the United States needs to maintain and build the relationships from the High North to the Cape of Good Hope, the admiral said. "You can't surge trust, it has to be developed over time," he said. "We also need to reevaluate our force structure, and we need to champion what we have here in the theater."

There also has to be a re-evaluation of NATO's maritime strategy. The last look came in 2011, before a resurgent Russia and a newly active China. 

"Our collective strength, that ability to project power with the help of our capable NATO allies and partners is what enables us to confidently state that there truly is no competition in this era of great power competition that we cannot overcome," he said.

Cadet Arrival

Basic cadets from the Class of 2024 follow social-distancing precautions during their arrival at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., June 25, 2020. These new steps are the first as they begin their journey to become commissioned officers in the U.S. Air Force.

NATO Chief Talks Nuclear Arms, Burden-sharing, NATO 2030

June 26, 2020 | BY JIM GARAMONE , DOD News

NATO welcomes nuclear arms talks between the United States and Russia, and strongly supports the idea of China's would-be involvement, as well, Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels this week.

The secretary general spoke as part of the Brussels Forum. 

Arms control treaties are the best way "to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, and that will make us all safer and reduce the risk of any use of nuclear weapons," he said. "I welcome that Russia and the United States are now sitting down and talking to each other on arms control. But having said that, I also strongly support that China should be involved. China is … a global power. China has a responsibility to be part of global arms control arrangements."

China is modernizing and enlarging its nuclear arsenal and the means of delivery. "We assess that within a decade, China will have doubled the number of nuclear warheads," Stoltenberg said. "That matters for all of us."

Two men speak together on camera at a television studio.

China is becoming a more important military power with long-range power projection capabilities. The effect of these moves is felt worldwide. Chinese participation in arms control negotiations would help head off an arms race, Stoltenberg said. 

Stoltenberg was asked about the solidarity of the alliance, especially in light of President Donald J. Trump's insistence that allies reach the 2% of gross domestic product invested in defense. 

At the same time, Trump is committed to the alliance, Stoltenberg said. "He has also now publicly, several times, recognized that European allies and Canada are investing more," the secretary general said. 

Eight of the 30 nations in the alliance spend 2% of GDP on defense, but all have increased spending. Since the summit in 2016, European allies have invested $130 billion more than originally planned. "That helps and it strengthens the solidarity within the alliance," he said.

It remains to be seen what effect the coronavirus pandemic will have on the economies of all nations in the alliance, he said.

Russian presence in Libya concerns the secretary general, and NATO allies have also expressed their concern for the development. "There are differences between NATO allies on the situation in Libya, at the same time, all NATO allies agree that we are concerned about the increased Russian presence in Libya," he said. "This is part of a pattern with more Russian presence in the eastern Mediterranean. We see them in Syria. We see them elsewhere."

Russia has deployed fighter jets and other military capabilities — including Russian mercenaries — to the country. "All allies are concerned about the increased Russian presence," he said. "We also agree that we need to monitor and follow this very closely and share intelligence and information on the increased Russian presence."

Stoltenberg discussed his NATO 2030 initiative at the forum saying the reason the alliance has preserved peace is because of its ability to change. 

Two men speak together on the set of a television studio. There is a television camera in the foreground.

"Now we have to change again," he said. "It's about keeping NATO strong militarily, it's about strengthening NATO politically and it's about developing a more global approach to NATO."

Part of that will entail the alliance cooperating more fully with the European Union. It also requires a keen eye on China and an awareness of actions in the Mediterranean and into continental Africa. 

"One of the purposes of NATO 2030, is to make sure that we adapt, that we change, as we see the world is changing," he said. "This is partly about Russia."

But it is also about China, and the effect of new technologies like artificial intelligence, big data, hypersonics and more. 

"We don't regard China as an adversary," he said. "We don't see any threat against any NATO ally. But just the fact that we have such a growing power, which is actually coming closer to us in the Arctic, in Africa, in cyberspace, investing in our infrastructure here in Europe and with weapons systems that can reach all NATO allies, of course matters. That's the reason why this is part of NATO 2030."

Florida Guard Honors Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue Employees

June 26, 2020 | BY Army Maj. Jesse Manzano

As the Florida National Guard continues to support the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, strong partnerships with local agencies have become crucial to the success of the guard's ongoing mission in South Florida.

A soldier presents an award to a civilian.

In recognition of the logistical assistance received from local partners in support of walk-up community-based testing sites in Miami-Dade County, two members of the Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue Department were recently awarded the Florida Commendation Medal.

"Having served in the Florida Guard, I appreciate all that the guard does, and understand the importance of this relationship," said Brandon Webb, battalion chief of Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue's special operations division. "The guard's presence in Miami-Dade has been instrumental in helping us serve our residents."

Two soldiers congratulate a civilian as men wearing Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue T-shirts look on.

Webb served in the Florida Guard as an infantryman in D Company, 1-124th Infantry Battalion from 1991 to 1999, retiring as a noncommissioned officer. Both Webb and Arturo Abreu, the department's logistics manager, received the Florida Commendation Medal from Army Lt. Col. Jeff Moore, commander of the Florida Army National Guard’s 254th Transportation Battalion, during a ceremony held at the South Dade Government Center.

"The leadership and guidance of Chief Webb and Mr. Abreu helped us tremendously throughout our operations in support of the state's COVID-19 response in Miami-Dade," Moore said. "They helped us get what we needed, when we needed it."

A soldier presents an award to a civilian.

Since mid-March, the 50th Regional Support Group has served as the guard's main effort supporting the state's COVID-19 response. Working with federal, state and local authorities throughout Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, the 50th RSG and its subordinate units have provided direct and indirect support to more than a dozen testing locations, helping to administer more than 200,000 sample collections to date. The group’s soldiers also are supporting screening operations at three airports.

(Army Maj. Jesse Manzano is assigned to the 50th Regional Support Group.)

Africom Leaders Recognize Alconbury Airmen for COVID-19 Support


Leaders from U.S. Africa Command's intelligence directorate at Royal Air Force, Molesworth, England, presented coins of excellence to five airmen of the 423rd Medical Squadron at RAF Alconbury, England, as part of a new initiative called "Africom Aces," which recognizes mission partners who have gone above and beyond in their performance.

Hands hold a large recognition coin in the shape of the African continent and inscribed for excellence on behalf of U.S. Africa Command.

"The five public health personnel in the MDS received their coins for doing outstanding work in support of our workforce during the [COVID-19] pandemic," Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Dan Spencer, the intelligence directorate's senior enlisted advisor with Africom, said during the June 11 ceremony at RAF Alconbury.

The airmen sent daily COVID-19 reports to Africom's Joint Operations Center in Stuttgart, Germany. Those figures were relayed to Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, the Africom commander. In return, Africom sent the 423rd MDS updates about their personnel with restricted movement orders, in coordination with the command surgeon general's office in Stuttgart.

Recently, the 423rd MDS advised Africom on how to safely return to work while maintaining physical distancing guidelines.

An airman and a soldier, both wearing face masks, exchange an elbow bump during an awards ceremony.

Since 2019, Spencer has been working with Army Col. Brian Dunmire, multiservice commander with Africom's intelligence directorate, to build a sense of joint cohesion among all U.S. military branches at Alconbury and Molesworth. In February, Africom hosted a Joint Immersion Day in partnership with the 423rd Air Base Group. This was an opportunity for airmen to learn more about the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.

"Africom Aces is yet another example of the things that Colonel Dunmire and I have attempted in the last year to seamlessly integrate our workforces," Spencer said. "Call it: a strategy. This builds on efforts we began with the 423rd MDS last fall for enhancing medical provider access to joint medical systems in support of readiness, volunteering joint personnel to check ID cards at the front gate of Molesworth and Alconbury, February's Joint Immersion Day in partnership with the [501st Combat Support Wing's career assistance advisor] and other continuing efforts."

Dunmire and Spencer said they launched this initiative to recognize the outstanding work of personnel at Africom's mission partners and in the off-base community. The purpose, they explained, is to recognize individuals while showcasing how important mission partners are to Africom's success, for their contributions in meeting the nation's strategic intent on the African continent, and to continue to foster deeper base-community relationships.

Service members wearing face masks stand during an awards ceremony.

"We fully intend to crowd-source Africom Aces among our workforce," Spencer said. "This means that if any member of our workforce notices a mission partner teammate going above and beyond in performance of their job, they can nominate that person for consideration as an Africom Ace to Colonel Dunmire and myself. Then, we'll work with their leadership to recognize that person."

Employees of the 501st Combat Support Wing, 423rd Air Base Group, the Joint Analytic Center, the Battlefield Information Collection and Exploitation System, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the off-base community itself are eligible, he added.

(Air Force Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima is assigned to the 501st Combat Support Wing.)

Standing Watch

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Kelsey O'Keefe stands watch aboard a Mark VI patrol boat during expeditionary training in the Persian Gulf, June 22, 2020.

Expeditionary Training

Sailors assist in the launch and recovery of a combat rubber raiding craft aboard a Mark VI patrol boat during expeditionary training in the Persian Gulf, June 22, 2020.