Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Chairman Discusses Military Operations, Threats, 'People' Issues

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

July 8, 2009 - While devoting much of his National Press Club address today to efforts under way in Afghanistan, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was quizzed on a broad range of other defense issues ranging from the war in Iraq to the defense budget to possible revisions to the military ban on homosexuals. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen focused on three major areas: efforts under way in the broader Middle East, military challenges elsewhere in the world, and the need to reduce stress on the force and take care of wounded warriors and the families.

Here are highlights of his comments and responses during a question-and-answer session:

On Iraq:

Drawdown plans are on track, with the significant decreases to begin early next year, Mullen said, noting that violence is down to the lowest level since 2003 and 2004.
Meanwhile, the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the cities by the June 30 deadline stipulated in the U.S.-Iraq security agreement proceeded smoothly. "That doesn't mean that it isn't a vulnerable time. Times of transition always are," he said. "But I'm confident right now that we've got the strategy right and we're in support of the Iraqi security forces."

On Iran:

Iran's nuclear-weapons development plan – one Mullen said he believes is moving forward – has the potential to cause an "incredibly destabilizing" impact on the region, the admiral told the group. "They still continue to move down the road toward nuclear weapons," he said. "They are state sponsors of terrorism. And they are generally a destabilizing influence in the region, and still are in both Iraq and Afghanistan."

On North Korea:

North Korea's leadership "continues to be a destabilizing force" in the region, he said, as evidenced most recently by its missile launches conducted in defiance of the United Nations Security Council. "I'm actually encouraged by the unity of the international community with respect to continuing to isolate the North Korean leadership," Mullen told the group. "And I think that's important," he said, "and that we need to keep that pressure up."

On China:

Mullen said he's long believed that a rising China is a positive for the world, as long as it rises as a peaceful nation. But he expressed concerns about China's strategic intent, and questions about its increasing investment in defense. "Where is that going?" he asked. "Clarifying that strategic intent over time, I think, is very important."

On cyber security:

While not directly addressing the recent spate of cyber attacks targeting U.S. and South Korean Web sites, Mullen said he's "increasingly concerned" about the threat, whether from individual hackers or state entities. "That's something I think we all need to be concerned about," he said. "It's a growing concern."

The Defense Department is "constantly probed in the cyber world," he conceded, but he added that he's "comfortable that we are on alert."

"We recognize the probes, and we are responding," he said.
Leadership across the board has recognized and is addressing the threat, but Mullen said a corps of cyber-security experts needs to be cultivated to maintain the focus.

"It's a growing concern, and we need to have this as a big part of our focus with respect to [it being] a growing concern, and we need to have this as a big part of our focus with respect to the threat now and in the future."

On balancing military capabilities:

Mullen called it "absolutely critical" that the military build more irregular warfare capability, an emphasis Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has built into the fiscal 2010 defense budget request. The goal is to "move that pendulum" from its current position, in which 60 to 70 percent of defense spending goes to conventional capability, he said.

"For me, it's all about balance," he said. "It isn't about moving the pendulum from one side all the way to the other. It's about balance for the future."

On stress on the force:

Mullen said he sees "growing indicators" -- including rising suicide rates across the military -- that the troops are under stress. Today's troops are the best he's seen throughout his career, Mullen said. "And yet we've asked them to deploy multiple times, for longer periods of time than expected," he added. "And there is extraordinary pressure and stress on them, and not just on the members, but also on the families." The military is addressing those needs, beginning with top-level emphasis, he said, noting that the key, more than anything else, is leadership focus on these great men and women."

On caring for wounded warriors and families of the wounded and fallen:

The United States as a nation owes these troops and their families a huge debt that must be repaid, Mullen said. He noted that their lives have changed dramatically, through wounds or loss of a loved one, but their dreams haven't.
Mullen credited stepped-up cooperation between the Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs with helping to meet their needs and reach toward their aspirations.

But another big part of the equation, he said, comes from the American public. "Communities throughout the country reach out to those who've given so much and touch them where they need support and make a difference that sustains their lives over a period of time," he said.

On possible changes to the military ban on homosexuality:

Mullen said the president wants to change the so-called "Don't, ask, don't tell" policy, which prohibits officials from inquiring into servicemembers' sexual orientation in the absence of disallowed behaviors, but allows action to be taken if a servicemember discloses homosexuality by word or action. But he noted that the policy is a law that's been in effect since 1993, and changing it would require legislation.

In the meantime, Mullen said, the secretary of defense has directed the department's general counsel "to look at a more humane way to execute the policy."

Mullen said he hopes that any policy change is implemented in a way that "recognizes the challenges and the stress that we're under right now."

"Should the law change, certainly we will carry it out," he said. "I'll certainly lead."

Geren Highlights Soldiers, Families as He Prepares to Step Down

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

July 8, 2009 - To Army Secretary Pete Geren, the Army is not some amorphous entity that the country calls on in time of crisis. To him, the Army is people – soldiers and families – serving something larger than themselves. He knows this from visiting soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. He knows this from meeting with families as they cope with long-term and repeated deployments. And he knows this from attending funerals and burials at Arlington National Cemetery's Section 60 for young men and women killed fighting America's wars.

As Geren prepares to step down as secretary, he can look back on solid accomplishments – all centered on soldiers and their families. "They are truly the strength of our nation," he said during a recent interview. President Barack Obama has nominated U.S. Rep. John McHugh of New York to succeed Geren as Army secretary.

Geren, who had been serving as Army undersecretary, took over as acting secretary in March 2007 after the resignation of Francis Harvey, who left office after revelations of systemic shortfalls in outpatient care at military health care facilities. He took office in his own right in four months later, and the Obama administration kept him on when it took office in January.

His tenure has been eventful. In March 2007, the surge in Iraq was continuing, and it featured heavy fighting and casualties. Soldiers sent to the U.S. Central Command region – including those in Afghanistan – served 15-month deployments.

The Army was having problems meeting its recruiting goals. The service had to improve care to wounded warriors, including improving treatment of the signature injuries of the wars – post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries. Support to families had to increase. "On top of this, we needed to take care of the long-term goals for the Army," Geren said.

In short, the Army had to fight today's wars while positioning the service to maintain its edge in the future.

Balance for soldiers is key to maintaining the foremost combat force in the world, Geren said. "This is the first time since we've had an all-volunteer force that we've gone through extended deployments," the secretary said. The Army of World War II, Korea and Vietnam were mostly single, male draftees. The soldiers of today's force are volunteers and are married, and women serve in large numbers.

The stresses and strains on the all-volunteer force became apparent soon after beginning this conflict, Geren said. Over the past several years, the Army has devoted more and more resources to families.

"Soldiers who are married have expectations for their families, and we've been trying to meet those expectations," he said. "Over the past two years, we've doubled the amount of money that goes into family programs – [from] $700 million to $1.4 billion.

In his travels around the Army, Geren said, he has heard a lot of concern about the availability and affordability of quality child care. The Army has stepped up construction and manning of child care centers and is working to reduce the cost for enlisted families.

The service is stressed, Geren acknowledged, but he said soldiers continue to meet the challenges. Many of the soldiers have served three and four deployments, and some are gone as much as they are home. Increasing dwell time – the time soldiers are at home stations with families – is a priority. "The Army is growing, and we hope to meet the 1-to-2 goal [of one year deployed followed by two years at home station] by 2011," the secretary said.

Part of the problem is demand. Some 130,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, and almost 60,000 servicemembers are in Afghanistan. The current dwell ratio is a bit over 1-to-1. "This is a work in progress," Geren said. "We must do more."

The role of reserve-component soldiers and the support provided to them increased during Geren's tenure. "It is clear that the reserves' role in the war has been crucial," he said. "We could not do what we have done without the reserves."

Yet equipping and training Army National Guard and Army Reserve units was far below that of active duty forces. Coordination with Congress has led to a significant increase in equipment funding. National Guard units are receiving the same equipment – often at the same time – as their active duty counterparts. The last "deuce and a half" – the trucks driven by Army forces since World War II – will be out of the service in fiscal 2011, all replaced by medium tactical trucks.

Personal protective equipment, night-vision goggles, communications systems, helicopters and much more are flowing to reserve-component units. Funding for Army National Guard equipment was $1 billion in fiscal 2001. Today, it is $3.9 billion yearly.

The reserves are valuable for another reason: their civilian experiences. Army Reserve and National Guardsmen take lessons learned in their civilian jobs to the battlefield, Geren noted. "We have units of soldiers who are farmers from states in the Midwest," he said. "They are working with Afghan farmers." The units are helping Afghan farmers cope with drought, plant crops other than the poppy that fuels the illicit drug trade and finances terrorist activities, and in keeping livestock alive and producing.

Other reservists are lawyers, city managers, firefighters and police, and they work with Afghan and Iraqi counterparts to build governance and economic bases.

"We need to do better in identifying these skills and putting them to work," Geren said.

But again, he emphasized, families matter.

"We must do a better job getting assistance to the families of our deployed reservists," he said. Reserve-component servicemembers are not centered at a base, as active duty units are. Updating family programs for reservists is important. Making programs available where they live is a priority that the Army is working on, the secretary said.

Caring for the wounded or the families of those killed in service is a promise the Army and the country must fulfill, Geren said. Under Geren's watch, the Army has set up 36 warrior transition units that allow soldiers to focus on getting better, or – if they are not returning to their units– what they will do with the rest of their lives. "We have to get rid of administrative rules that make no sense," he said. "Two years later, I still hear of these."

Transitioning from the Defense Department health care system to the Department of Veterans Affairs system remains a problem, Geren said. "The Army continues to work with VA to streamline the system, and it's better than it was, but it needs to be better [than it is now]," he said.

The service has also established soldier and family assistance centers to centralize services for transition. "If soldiers want educational opportunities, here's the place to get them," he said. "If they need help with housing or getting a job or signing up for VA benefits, it's all there."

The Warrior Care and Transition Program is the way the service will take the hard-won lessons and translate them to results. This past year, the Army spent $751 million on the program, and anticipates spending $1.2 billion this year. "This is the least we can do, given the tremendous sacrifices these soldiers and their families have made for us," Geren said.

The secretary said he appreciates that the American people support their soldiers, "but I don't think they understand the scope of their sacrifices," he said.

"They come up and shake their hands when walking through airports, but they don't fully understand what it is that these soldiers do for us every day," the secretary said. "We need to communicate that better, because just a small percentage of Americans volunteer for military service."

Geren, a former congressman from Texas, first started working at the Defense Department as a special assistant in 2001. "I was just going to spend two years and go home," he said. He served as acting secretary of the Air Force before becoming undersecretary of the Army, and ultimately secretary.

"For nearly eight years, I have watched soldiers go off to war and their families stand with them," he said. "I always will remember that I had the privilege to work for them when our nation was asking so much of them - truly the privilege of a lifetime.”

Air Force Office of Special Investigations

On August 7, 2009, Conversations with American Heroes at the Watering Hole will feature a discussion with Colonel Michael Angley, USAF (ret.), formerly of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

Program Date: August 7, 2009
Program Time: 2100 hours, Pacific
Topic: Air Force Office of Special Investigations
Listen Live:

About the Guest
Colonel Michael Angley, USAF (ret.) is a retired Special Agent of the
Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI). The OSI is the Air Force equivalent of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), was modeled after the FBI, and has dual missions: felony-level criminal investigations and counterintelligence operations.

During Colonel
Michael Angley’s 25-year OSI career, he has literally “seen it all.” When he was a young Special Agent in northern California he worked a number of undercover narcotics operations targeting Air Force jet mechanics that were using, selling, and distributing a variety of narcotics. Following a firm grounding in criminal investigations, to include, murder, arson, and child crime cases, Michael Angley began to specialize in counterintelligence operations. During his career he held thirteen different assignments worldwide, with most of his overseas time in the Far East and Middle East. In 1996 Michael Angley took command of all OSI units in the Middle East where he was responsible for operations in 23 countries. He established groundbreaking concepts for the conduct of counterterrorism programs that led the way to current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. When Michael Angley retired in 2007, he was the Commander of OSI Region 8, Air Force Space Command, Peterson AFB, Colorado. He was responsible for all OSI criminal investigations and counterintelligence operations at thirteen Air Force Space Command locations in the United States. Colonel Michael Angley is the author of Child Finder.

About the Watering Hole
The Watering Hole is
Police slang for a location cops go off-duty to blow off steam and talk about work and life. Sometimes funny; sometimes serious; but, always interesting.

About the Host
Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster was a sworn member of the Los Angeles Police Department for 24 years. He retired in 2003 at the rank of Lieutenant. He holds a bachelor’s from the Union Institute and University in
Criminal Justice Management and a Master’s Degree in Public Financial Management from California State University, Fullerton; and, has completed his doctoral course work. Raymond E. Foster has been a part-time lecturer at California State University, Fullerton and Fresno; and is currently a Criminal Justice Department chair, faculty advisor and lecturer with the Union Institute and University. He has experience teaching upper division courses in Law Enforcement, public policy, Public Safety Technology and leadership. Raymond is an experienced author who has published numerous articles in a wide range of venues including magazines such as Government Technology, Mobile Government, Airborne Law Enforcement Magazine, and Police One. He has appeared on the History Channel and radio programs in the United States and Europe as subject matter expert in technological applications in Law Enforcement.

Listen, call, join us at the Watering Hole:

Program Contact Information
Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster, LAPD (ret.), MPA

Ceremony Commemorates Vietnam War's First Combat Casualties

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

July 8, 2009 - Bright blue skies above the National Mall today belied the solemnity of the ceremony commemorating the first two American combat casualties of the Vietnam War. "On this date 50 years ago, two men lost their lives in a country that most of us here in the United States had never heard of at the time," said Jan C. Scruggs, founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. "The deaths of U.S. Army military advisors Maj. Dale Buis and Master Sgt. Chester Ovnand marked the beginning of a lengthy war, which became a very divisive event for our society."

U.S. involvement in Vietnam ended in 1975. By then, the fighting had claimed the lives of more than 58,000 U.S. servicemembers and nearly 2 million Vietnamese.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Stanley Karnow, a World War II veteran, was there from the beginning, covering Asia for Time and Life magazines. In July 1959, he happened to be in Saigon, then the capital of South Vietnam and now known as Ho Chi Minh City, when he heard about an incident at a South Vietnamese army camp in the small town of Bien Hoa, about 25 miles to the north.

After a taxi ride to the camp, he discovered two Americans had been killed in an ambush as they watched a movie during a break in their duties as part of the U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group.

The movie, "The Tattered Dress," was two reels long, and when Ovnand turned on the lights to change the reel, the enemy, who had surrounded the building and pushed gun muzzles through windows, opened fire.

Buis, 38, of California, had been in Bien Hoa just two days when he died in the hail of bullets. Ovnand, of Texas, was a hair's breadth from retirement and exactly two months shy of his 45th birthday.

Army Capt. Howard Boston of Iowa was seriously wounded in the incident, and two Vietnamese guards were killed.

Karnow wrote in his Time article that if it hadn't been for Army Maj. Jack Hellet of Baton Rouge, La., who turned the lights out again, all six Americans in the room might have died.

"I was quite astonished, but ... I'd been around wars for awhile, so the idea of a couple of guys getting killed in a remote place that nobody's ever heard of in America struck me as an interesting story," Karnow told those gathered for today's ceremony.

His dispatch to Time magazine ended up as a three-paragraph summary when the magazine was published, and as all Time stories were then, it was anonymous.

"It was just a minor incident in a faraway place. Here I was at the beginning of one of America's longest wars," Karnow said, noting that witnesses to history often don't recognize it at the time.

"I have a lot of experience of being at historic occasions, which at the time they occurred, I did not know they were historic," he said.

When Scruggs and his Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund were authorized by Congress in the late 1970s to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the decision was made to list the casualties in chronological order. The question then became where to start.

Retired Army Col. Nathaniel P. Ward III, the advisory group's chief of staff at the time of the Bien Hoa incident, took an active role in ensuring Buis and Ovnand were properly recognized as the first U.S. casualties.

Initially, the Defense Department was considering an Army captain killed in 1961 as the first name to be inscribed on The Wall, retired Army Capt. Nathaniel P. Ward IV said during the ceremony. That didn't set well with his father, who had worked with Buis and Ovnand in Bien Hoa.

"[My father] petitioned for about a year, and they finally agreed to go with Major Buis and Sergeant Ovnand," the younger Ward said.

Ovnand's name appears on The Wall twice. The first time is on the first line of panel 1E, next to Buis's name. It later was re-inscribed on panel 7E, Row 46 because of a misspelling in the original inscription.

The ceremony concluded with the playing of "Taps," and the placing of a wreath at the apex of The Wall, below the names of the first two U.S. combat casualties of the Vietnam War.


Northrop Grumman Space and Mission Systems Corp., Van Nuys, Calif.; Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Co.; and General Dynamic Advanced Information Systems, Dayton, Ohio are awarded a combined $600,000,000 indefinite delivery/quantity contract to support the National Air and Space Intelligence Center's Advanced Technical Exploitation Program. At this time, $64,969 has been obligated to both Northrop Grumman and Ball Aerospace; and $64,919 has been obligated to General Dynamics. ASC/PKESI is the contracting activity (FA8604-09-D-7975; FA5604-09-D-7976; FA8604-09-D-7977).

Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., Stratford, Conn., is being awarded a maximum $52,167,673 firm fixed price, sole source contract for spare parts supply to support numerous aircraft platforms. There are no other locations of performance. Using services are Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. There was originally one proposal solicited with one response. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract is exercising the fourth one-year option period. The date of performance completion is July 7, 2010. The contracting activity is the Defense Supply Center Richmond, Richmond, Va.,

General Atomics, San Diego, Calif., is being awarded a $32,727,170 not to exceed, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for development of a prototype hybrid electric drive (HED) system for a full-scale demonstration. HED is aimed at improving the operating efficiency of the engineering plant on DDG 51 Class Ships and is intended to demonstrate the capability for significant fuel savings by incorporating advanced electric machine technology. This supports the national defense imperative to reduce dependence on foreign non-renewable energy resources. Work will be performed in San Diego, Calif., (50 percent); Milwaukee, Wis., (24 percent), and Hudson, Mass., (26 percent), and is expected to be completed by June 2014. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured under a Broad Agency Announcement, with 23 offers received. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington Navy Yard, D.C., is the contracting activity (N00024-09-C-4222).

General Dynamics, Electric Boat Corp., Groton, Conn., is being awarded a $21,600,000 modification to previously awarded delivery order N00024-08-G-6321 for off-hull fabrication of the port retractable bow plane, and material procurement and off-hull fabrication of the sail for the USS Hartford (SSN 768). Work will be performed in Groton, Conn., (30 percent) and Quonset Point, R.I., (70 percent), and is expected to be completed by January 2010. Contract funds in the amount of $21,600,000 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington Navy Yard, D.C., is the contracting activity.

The Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., Strategic Missile Programs, Sunnyvale, Calif., is being awarded a $13,843,373 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to provide the nuclear weapons security (NWS) equipment installation and maintenance and training services for various NWS projects. Work will be performed in Sunnyvale, Calif., (54 percent); Pittsfield, Mass., (19 percent); Denver, Colo., (2 percent); St. Marys, Ga., (8 percent); Cocoa Beach, Fla., (8 percent); Silverdale, Wash., (8 percent); New York, N.Y., (1 percent), and work is expected to be completed Sept. 30, 2011. Contract funds in the amount of $1,801,239 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured. The Navy's Strategic Systems Programs, Arlington, Va., is the contracting agency (N00030-09-C-0019).

Sippican/GSM Submarine Antenna Joint Venture, LCC, Marion, Mass., is being awarded a $6,925,993 cost-plus-incentive-fee/cost-plus-fixed fee contract (N00039-09-C-0038) for design and development of an Increment 2 capability of the multi-function mast (OE-538) antenna system. SPAWAR awarded the contract on behalf of its organizational partner, the Navy's program executive office for command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence systems. This contract includes options for low rate initial production and full rate production quantities of OE-538 Increment 2 hardware, as well as options for engineering/depot repair services and provisioning item orders, which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to an estimated $57,638,081. Work will be performed in Marion, Mass., (97 percent) and Manchester, N.H., (3 percent), and is expected to be completed by December 2011. If all options are exercised, work could continue until September 2017. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured with one offer received via the Commerce Business Daily's Federal Business Opportunities website, and the SPAWAR e-Commerce Central website. The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, San Diego, Calif., is the contracting activity (N00039-09-C-0038).

Face of Defense: Soldier Prepares for President's Ghana Visit

American Forces Press Service

July 8, 2009 - A North Dakota Army National Guard officer is on the front end of President Barack Obama's visit to the country later this week. Maj. Michael A. Holly is assigned here as the bilateral affairs officer for North Dakota's State Partnership Program with Ghana. He and his family relocated to Ghana last year, and he works out of the U.S. Embassy here in Ghana's capital.

For the past month, he also has served as the deputy arrival and departure contact officer for the upcoming presidential visit.

"This includes everything from meeting the aircraft to coordinating Ghana armed forces' honor guard, 21-gun salute and band," Holly said. "We also work the customs and immigration clearance of all personnel. This includes the press corps and all other affiliated travelers."

It's another unique mission for Holly, who worked as an observer during Ghana's January elections. His main missions directly involve the State Partnership Program, which North Dakota began with Ghana in 2004 as part of a Defense Department-sponsored initiative that aligns states with partner countries to encourage the development of economic, political and military ties.

Building these relationships helps Guardsmen learn to interact within cultures with which they are unfamiliar, an increasingly important skill, while also bringing expertise and knowledge to a country anxious to prosper, Guard officials say.

"Ghanaians are very excited about this event," Holly said of the president's visit. "While it will be short, they consider it a fantastic honor that President Obama has chosen to visit Ghana."

The trip will be the president's first to sub-Saharan Africa. According to a White House news release, the trip to Accra will highlight "the critical role that sound governance and civil society play in promoting lasting development."

"At times my friends kid me about being just a tooth on a cog in a large machine," Holly said. "But from my perspective, being a part of something like this is another way to develop relationships with Ghanaians; and that allows me to better support the programs of our ambassador, Africa Command and North Dakota."

(From a North Dakota National Guard news release.)

Defense Schools Work to Raise Awareness, Prevent Suicides

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

July 8, 2009 - Defense Department schools are taking on the tough topic of suicide to prevent what is a leading cause of death among teens. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among 15- to 19-year-olds, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. That makes it an important topic for the Department of Defense Education Activity, which runs a school system that serves the children of servicemembers and the department's civilian employees overseas and at many stateside locations.

The activity's schools use "SOS Signs of Suicide," a program developed by Screening for Mental Health, a private company that provides age-appropriate materials for students in Grades 6 through 12.

"It's a wonderful program [that] goes through all of the typical things that a student should see in other students when they are considering hurting themselves," said Mary Patton, the activity's pupil personnel service coordinator.

The middle school program teaches students how to identify symptoms of depression, self-injury and suicidal indicators in themselves and friends. The high school program builds on that, educating students that depression is treatable and equipping them to deal with a friend or family member at risk of committing suicide.

Students learn which behaviors signal that a friend or family member might be in trouble, and what to do if they encounter someone exhibiting those behaviors.

"They're now very attuned to what to look for," Patton said. "They don't go looking for it, but if they have a friend that all of a sudden starts giving away all his prized possessions, they know that's an immediate sign. Students learn to notify an adult – a teacher, principal or school counselor – if they notice danger signs.

"A child cannot have that responsibility of doing something," Patton said. "They have to tell somebody who has the skills and the knowledge and the resources to do something for that child [in crisis]."

Patton suggests the same approach if a parent is concerned about a child. Talking to the school nurse, principal or counselor is always the best thing to do, she said.

"You can read all you want, but sitting down and describing it [is more effective]," she said. "I don't think a parent ever needs to be embarrassed that their child has strange behaviors, and if it turns out it's just teenage strange behavior, good."

Officials are making a concerted effort to prevent suicide among the activity's students, Patton said. In addition to the suicide prevention programs, she explained, the Defense Department schools have the nationally recommended number of school counselors and psychologists: a counselor for every 300 students, and a psychologist for every 1,000 students within the system.

"Military family life consultants who work under contract also are part of the effort. "They're licensed social workers and psychologists who rotate in and out of our schools," Patton said.

That rotation allows for fresh perspectives on how to help those who may be struggling with mental health issues, she added. The consultants serve in areas with high deployment rates and other areas where issues that seem to cause mental health problems exist.

Commanders at Fort Campbell, Ky., took three days in May to address the high number of suicides on the post this year, but the schools aren't seeing a correlation between the wars and students' risk for suicide, Patton said.

The education activity doesn't keep statistics on suicides among students, she said, but does track serious-incident reports. Among those, data does not indicate increased suicides among students since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, she said.

While she can't say for certain, Patton said, the lack of increases in student suicides or attempted suicides would lead officials to consider the prevention programs successful.

But that doesn't mean students can't become "at risk," she emphasized.

"Any time there's a change in a student's behavior, that's one of the first indicators," Patton said. "Any time there's a drop in grades, we look at that.

An increase in absences, physical ailments that seem to defy definition or diagnosis, depression of any kind, or a lack of interest in things that usually brought happiness -- all are indicators that a child may be at risk, she added.

Friends and family also should note if a depressed child suddenly becomes cheerful, which could indicate a decision to commit suicide, Patton said.

Defense schools do much to stave off situations that may lead a child to become depressed enough to consider suicide, she said. The schools offer a variety of activities such as sports, clubs and places where students can feel that they fit in.

If they have a place where they belong, Patton said, children feel more secure and are happier.

"I would never minimize the importance of family time," she added, noting that family doesn't have to just be blood relatives. "Kids need a place to belong, and usually the family is the safest place. [But] families don't necessarily include a mom or a dad. A lot of military families have friends that are family members."

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests keeping lines of communication open as another way to prevent suicide. Asking the child's pediatrician for guidance also can be helpful, Patton said.