Monday, February 13, 2012

MCPON Tours Norfolk Commands, Visits with Sailors

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Thomas L. Rosprim, Office of the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy

NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Rick D. West finished a three-day fleet engagement trip to Norfolk, Va., and surrounding area commands Feb. 9.

During the visit, West toured commands and spoke with Sailors stationed at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, Norfolk Navy Yard, Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Naval Station Norfolk, Naval Air Station Oceana, and Marine Corps Intelligence Training Center.

"I'm jealous of the young Sailors in this area," said West. "You have exciting times headed your way and I would start my career over if I could to have the opportunities you will have during your time. As Sailors in our great Navy, you are working day and night to keep us moving forward and I appreciate everything you do."

During the trip, Sailors had the opportunity to ask questions and receive answers from the Navy's highest ranking enlisted member. Questions ranged from Perform-To-Serve (PTS) and Enlisted Retention Board (ERB) to rumors of extended deployments.

"PTS is a big deal and it does not begin nine months before you change commands, it starts the day you arrive on board," said West. "As Sailors in the Navy today, you have to trust but verify. Trust that your command submitted your annual evaluation but verify it made it in to your record."

MCPON also sat down with chief petty officers from the various commands during the trip to receive feedback from the Navy's enlisted leaders on the ground. Many expressed concerns for their Sailors' futures in the Navy.

"The CNO (Chief of Naval Operations) has made it clear to leadership and Congress the most important asset the Navy has is our Sailors, and I assure you this is fact," said West. "Some of our Sailors face a challenging future, and as chiefs, it is our duty and privilege to assist these individuals toward success."

Fleet engagements are intended to provide senior leadership with a frontline assessment of Sailors and what they are doing in the Fleet.

Hollywood Visits Navy Ships

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jose Lopez, Jr., Navy Public
Affairs Support Element West

SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Actors, writers and producers from the television and motion picture industries visited a guided-missile destroyer and attack submarine Feb. 11 as part of the Hollywood to the Navy program to interact with Sailors and learn how the Navy operates.

"We bring them to ships and submarines and show them the hard work Sailors perform with the hopes that they will communicate that to the American people through their craft," said Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Bernardi, officer-in-charge, Navy Reserve NAVINFO West. "Even in a Hollywood film, we want the American people to see that their Navy is forward deployed, ready to serve."

Hollywood has had a long relationship with the Armed Forces. At the beginning of World War II, the film industry produced classic films like "Sergeant York" and "A Yank in the R.A.F." as morale boosters to assist the war effort. The Navy has been involved with several projects over the years, with television shows such as "JAG" and "NCIS," as well as films like the upcoming release "Battleship."

An important goal of the Hollywood to the Navy program is to ensure an accurate portrayal of life in the sea service by having production crews and actors visit active-duty ships and interact with Sailors to bring their roles to life on the big screen.

"If you see a ship or an aircraft in a film or television show, there is a very good chance that it was coordinated through our office," Bernardi said. "At the office, they'll read over their scripts and make sure they have the culture right. It is often simple stuff like which uniforms we wear in what situations and how ribbons are worn."

During their recent visit, Hollywood professionals toured the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Asheville (SSN 758) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Spruance (DDG 111). They visited working and berthing spaces, including seeing how Sailors "hot rack" in the torpedo room of a submarine.

"I've always wanted to visit a submarine, this was an amazing opportunity," said Kris Selvidge, television production coordinator for the show "Melissa & Joey."

"I'm learning a lot about the Navy," said Selvidge. "We all knew that submarines were small. I just never realized how tight it was. Then I heard that there are 150 people who live here."

The group also had the opportunity to visit USS Spruance's cramped main engineering spaces, and the bridge, where most decisions are made aboard ship. Several visitors had questions, such as "Does the captain drive the ship?" And "How old is the ship?"

"It's not as glamorous as it comes across in television or film," said David Valliere, script coordinator for "Melissa & Joey." "It's much more real."

USDA Tennessee Office Welcomes Wounded Warriors

Kevin Hart, NRCS District Conservationist, Clarksville, Tennessee

Volunteers for U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) come from all walks of life. In Tennessee, we’ve been lucky enough to have U.S. Army soldiers, who were injured while serving our nation, volunteer at the Clarksville NRCS Field Office.

Clarksville is only eight miles from Fort Campbell, Ky., a large Army base which straddles the Kentucky and Tennessee border. Fort Campbell is the home of the 101st Airborne Division, Special Forces units, a combat support hospital and sizeable medical facilities.

Fort Campbell soldiers have been seeing a lot of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. That means there are many combat-wounded needing treatment and time to heal.

Earth Team, NRCS’ volunteer workforce, seems to be a great fit for many of these vets. It gives them an opportunity to be productive and contribute during their recovery. We can accommodate most physical limitations they might have, and they have the flexibility to go to medical appointments when needed. And hopefully with time many of them are able to return to their regular military jobs.

Shontel Lawrence, Ft. Campbell Army Wounded Warrior Advocate, works with me and my staff to place recovering soldiers as Earth Team volunteers. We tailor our jobs to the participants’ preferences and abilities. Soldiers get to learn new skills, try out being conservationists and gain a civilian work reference.

The leadership skills and self-reliance these soldiers possess ensures that they are self-starters.  Many are technologically savvy and able to immediately contribute with computer-oriented tasks, due to the skills they gained in the military. Others assist with field work, including surveying and inspecting conservation practices, that occurs during the planning and implementation of putting conservation on the ground.

One young man told me that his time spent volunteering was as beneficial to his emotional healing as it was to his physical healing. And at NRCS, we are very grateful for these soldiers’ help.

I am very proud of the fact that when these soldiers leave us and return to active duty or civilian life, they leave with healed bodies and new skills, knowing they have helped us help the land.

In fiscal year 2011, more than 22,000 Earth Team volunteers donated 435,653 hours of service to NRCS estimated to be worth $9.3 million. Since Earth Team was formed in 1985, over half a million volunteers have helped NRCS with its conservation mission.

Find out how to become an Earth Team volunteer in your community.

Dempsey Discusses Issues With Egypt’s Defense Leaders

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

CAIRO  – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff met here today with Egypt’s top defense officials to discuss a wide range of issues related to the long-standing security relationship between the two countries, said Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan, the chairman’s spokesman.

The meetings occur on day three of Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey’s second visit to the region, which included a stop in Afghanistan.

The chairman met here with his counterpart, Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Enan, chief of staff of the Egyptian armed forces. He also met with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and with other officials this afternoon at the Ministry of Defense in Cairo.

Discussions included Egypt’s investigation into the allegedly illegal foreign funding of pro-democracy nongovernmental organizations by more than 40 Egyptian and American activists, including 19 U.S. citizens.

Officials of the Cairo Criminal Court have prevented some Americans involved in the investigation from leaving the country, including Sam LaHood, son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. He and several others have taken refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. So far no trial date is set.

Lapan declined to give details of Dempsey’s “private” discussions with Egyptian defense officials.

The chairman also visited the U.S. Embassy, where he met with Ambassador Anne W. Patterson and was briefed by the Egypt country team. Afterward he posed for photographs with members of the Marine Corps detachment assigned to the embassy.

Later, after a wild motorcade ride through the Saturday streets of Cairo, Dempsey arrived at the Ministry of Defense with Patterson.

There he met with Enan and Tantawi. He also met with Maj. Gen. Mohamed el-Assar, assistant minister of defense and a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces; Maj. Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, director of military intelligence; Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Mohamed Noshy, chief of the Egyptian Army’s training authority; and others.

During a seven-course official lunch with the Egyptian military leadership, Dempsey sat between Enan and el-Assar at the head table. During lunch he asked to thank the chef, who came out of the kitchen for a handshake and a coin from the chairman.

Dempsey also thanked and gave coins to a group of local musicians who played during the meal.
This afternoon, Dempsey participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the pyramid-shaped monument on the site of the Unknown Soldier Memorial and the Anwar Sadat Tomb in Cairo.

Face of Defense: Former Israeli Soldier Serves in Guard

By Army Capt. Kyle Key
National Guard Bureau

LITTLE ROCK  – Last summer, near the Sea of Galilee in the northern Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Adi, Daniel J. Houten finished up routine repairs on an Israeli Army M113 armored personnel carrier. As he shut the hood, he also closed the door on another chapter in his life.

Born to a successful Orthodox Jewish family in Brooklyn, N.Y., Houten was afforded many advantages. His father, Dr. John K. Houten, director of spinal services for Montefiore Medical Center and one of the top-rated neurosurgeons in New York, sent him to the finest boarding schools in the metropolitan area. By the time he reached high school, however, Houten's sense of purpose had been tested. He lost his motivation, focus and ambition.

Eventually he withdrew from school altogether and set off by himself for the "Gold Coast" of California.

There, Houten wandered aimlessly. While he often thought about his future, he did not find any answers. In search of direction and purpose, he wanted to join the U.S. Army -- but without a GED and 15 hours of college credit, he was ineligible. His next move came by accident.

An acquaintance told Houten the Israeli army recruited new soldiers simply because they were Jewish. Houten investigated and found out he didn't need to be a citizen or have a diploma to serve in the Israel defense forces. Although his religious faith had diminished somewhat, he said, he still identified himself as a Jew and felt strong connections to Israel, the homeland of his people, culture and religion. He decided this should be his next step in life.

Houten flew to Tel Aviv in September 2009. His paperwork and in-processing for the Israeli defense forces took nearly two and a half months. While waiting on clearance, Houten served at Kibbutz Ein Harod (Ichud), a collective farm near Nahariya in northern Israel.

"I loved my time there," said Houten, who prior to serving at Ein Harod, had rarely seen a farm, much less worked on one. "It was centered around an old crusader basilica that had been rebuilt by the Ottomans after it was destroyed by the Mamelukes. It was later used as a stronghold during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence for the people of [the] kibbutz and took some heavy attacks. It's a beautiful place full of history."

Houten left Kibbutz Ein Harod and was sworn into the Isreali forces Dec. 21, 2009, at age 18. Before long, he found himself face-down, sucking up sand, as he and his fellow recruits were initiated into one of the best armies in the world.

"We did a lot of pushups," Houten said. "It was tough, and our drill instructors were intimidating."

Houten's class was composed of Jewish men and women from all over the globe. He and his fellow recruits completed Course Ivrit, a combination of a Hebrew language course and basic training.

"We couldn't speak English," Houten said. "The commanders wouldn't speak anything but Hebrew to us. It was a good transition though, because there I was serving in the Israeli military, and I was immersed in Hebrew."

It didn't take Houten long to become fluent in Hebrew, and proficient in reading and writing. After basic training, he went to school to learn an occupational skill as an armored personnel carrier M113 mechanic in the Nachal Infantry Brigade's 933rd Battalion. He quickly made friends and moved into a group apartment in Haifa, a city in northern Israel.

During his first few days on the job, Houten found a mentor who took him under his wing for the next year and a half.

"My commander, an outstanding Israel army non-ommissioned officer named Yoni, taught me a lot, and not just about M113s," Houten said. "I don't know if he realized it, but a lot of my self-confidence I gained from him as a role model."

As he matured professionally, the young man who had lost faith in his faith also experienced a religious awakening.

"Being in Israel brought me back a little closer to Judaism," he said. "I had gone to California because I was having arguments with my parents. I had really pushed myself about as far away from Judaism as I could."

In Israel, Houten prayed often with his fellow soldiers and also at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, one of the most sacred sites for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

"Being in Israel and the homeland of my religion, ethnicity of my people and going to all sorts of holy and incredible places was amazing to see," Houten said. "Since then, I would definitely say I'm a much more spiritual Jew."

When his enlistment period was up, Houten was asked to make Aliya, the process in which Jews from other nations become Israeli citizens based on the Israeli Law of Return.

"I wanted to sign on more time to my obligation," he said. "But I decided not to get dual citizenship until I was absolutely sure that I am ready. As much as I feel a great affinity for Israel, I was born in Brooklyn. I'm an American boy, but I do miss Israel."

According to the Israeli defense forces, more than 650 American Jews serve in the Israeli military and possess dual citizenship. Houten said hundreds, if not thousands, of American Jews serve each year without making Aliya.

Houten returned to the United States last summer and moved in with one of his friends from Israel.

"I was living with one of my friends in Georgia," Houten said. "We started in the Israeli army at the same time, roomed together in Haifa, and we were honorably discharged at the same time. It was great, but at the same time, my life was going nowhere."

Again, Houten was moved to do something with his life and answered that urge by calling the local Army National Guard recruiting office. Houten joined the Georgia Army National Guard's 121st Infantry Regiment. But before he could begin basic combat training, he needed his GED.

His next step took him to the heart of the South, to the National Guard's GED Plus Program in North Little Rock, Ark.

"I know there are people out there who look down on a GED as something less, but I think that's ridiculous. If anything, a GED is harder to get," Houten said passionately. "Because that means instead of going to school like everyone else, you have to get yourself motivated and go out and do it. Here, you have eight days of classes to prepare yourself."

Houten also continued his spiritual journey during his time at GED Plus. He read the Torah daily, observed the Jewish Sabbath and broke the traditional Sabbath challah bread with his fellow student warriors.

Houten credits his instructors and military leaders for his success at Camp Robinson.

"It was the teachers and the cadre that made the biggest difference for me," he said. "The teachers are smart, and they realize that we're here because we want to be here, and it's not because we're in high school and we have to be. So they actually keep the information flowing fast enough that we don't get bored.

"My teachers, Mr. Bryan Stell and Mr. Brent Dycus, taught us stuff in eight days that takes a couple of years in high school," he continued. "I think that's what really helped me, along with the cadre who were there to motivate us."

On graduation day, Houten's family, like those of most soldiers, was not able to be there in person to watch their future soldier walk across the stage to get their diplomas. However, thanks to video streaming over the Internet, the GED Plus Program became the first initial entry training program in the entire Defense Department live-stream a graduation ceremony for families and loved ones.

Houten's family logged onto the GED Plus Facebook page and watched Pvt. Daniel Houten open yet another door in life as he received his diploma. He also received special recognition for graduating in the top 10 percent of his class academically, a feat he never imagined.

Although Houten did well on the initial placement exams for math, critical thinking and writing, he didn't expect his scores to jump by an average of 100 points across the board on testing day to land him at the top.

Although Houten took a different path in life than he or his parents expected, they are happy with his current direction.

"Every parent wants their child to be successful and find fulfillment," his father said. "Daniel had a more difficult time during his high school years compared to other students, and struggled to find his direction. I'm so pleased he has found that direction and is fulfilling his dreams. It's a very laudatory thing to serve this great country."

Houten is enjoying his family's contentment.

"My mom is really proud, but I think my dad always wanted me to go into medicine," he said. "At the same time, I think he understands that I'm doing something that means a lot to me. I think he likes that serving our nation is something that I am passionate about."

Houten arrived at Fort Benning, Ga., Jan. 30 and reported for basic and advanced individual training to become an infantryman. After graduation, he said, his next goal is to complete Army Ranger School.

Giffords Has Navy Ship Named in Her Honor

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON  – Former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords today heard Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announce that the newest ship in the Navy inventory will be named in her honor.

The Navy’s fifth Independence-variant littoral combat ship, 10th in the LCS series, will be commissioned as the USS Gabrielle Giffords, Mabus said during a ceremony in the Pentagon’s center courtyard.

“You make this occasion special by your presence,” Mabus told Giffords. “What you did in Congress for our military, and for those who serve in it, gave substance to what America feels for those in uniform.”

Littoral combat ships are a major part of the Navy’s future, capable of “an amazing variety of missions,” and one of the sea service’s most versatile, valuable ships, the secretary said.

“The name this ship bears, and the story represented by that name, will inspire all those who come in contact with her,” he said, noting that Giffords serves as a living example of the Navy’s motto of “Semper Fortis” -- “Always Courageous.”

“Unwavering courage has defined the Navy for 236 years, and it is what we expect and what we demand from our sailors every single day,” Mabus said. “So it’s very appropriate that LCS 10 be named for someone who has become synonymous with courage, who has inspired the nation … and showed the possibilities of the human spirit.”

Giffords was shot in the head in an apparent assassination attempt during a public event in Tucson, Ariz., in January 2011. She was one of 13 people wounded, while six others were killed.

She is a Navy spouse whose husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, retired from the Navy in 2011. Giffords stepped down from her seat representing Arizona’s 8th congressional district in January, saying she needed time to recover.

Mabus also announced today the ship’s sponsor will be Roxanna Green. Green, who also attended the ceremony, is the mother of Christina-Taylor Green, a 9-year-old girl who was killed at the event where Giffords was shot.

Mabus explained that a ship’s sponsor christens the vessel with champagne at its launch and gives the order to bring the ship to life when it is commissioned.

Christina-Taylor Green had just been elected to the student council and wanted to become “a more active participant in our democracy,” the secretary said.

“Roxanna Green continues to express her daughter’s hope for the future,” Mabus added, “and as the president said, of ‘a nation as good as she imagined.’”

Giffords and Green “will be a part of the life of this ship, and our Navy’s history,” he said.

Kelly and former Missouri Rep. Ike Skelton, former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, also were present at today’s ceremony. They, along with Giffords and Green, met with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and other DOD leaders before the event.

"The secretary was delighted to meet with Gabby Giffords at the Pentagon earlier today," Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said. "The new ship, which will bear her name, will stand as a testament to courage and resilience, inspiring all those who serve our nation. He wished her all the best as she continues to recover from the tragedy that injured her and took the lives of others."

Earlier today, President Barack Obama signed into law Giffords’ last piece of legislation, the Ultralight Aircraft Smuggling Prevention Act of 2012.

“This bill gives our nation’s law enforcement expanded authority to combat illicit drug trafficking on our Northern and Southern borders,” Obama said. “Being able to sign it next to my friend Gabby Giffords gives me enormous pride.”

The president added while the legislation may have been her last act as a congresswoman, “it will not be her last act of public service.”

The LCS 10 is part of a dual block buy of LCS-class ships Mabus announced in December 2010. The ship will be 419 feet long, have a waterline beam of 103 feet, displace about 3,000 tons, and will make speed in excess of 40 knots.

Littoral combat ships are designed to operate in near-shore environments against “anti-access” threats such as mines, quiet diesel submarines and fast surface craft. The ships are also capable of open-ocean operation.

The LCS class consists of two variants, the Freedom and the Independence, designed and built by teams led, respectively, by Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics.