Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Senior Enlisted Leaders Meet to Tackle Troop, Family Issues

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 27, 2012 – The military’s top enlisted leaders and their spouses gathered here today to discuss the most pressing issues affecting service members’ lives, and to identify possible solutions.

On the first day of the Defense Senior Enlisted Leaders Conference, leaders touched on a wide range of issues including pay and benefits, suicide prevention, community awareness and outreach, and transitions from military to civilian life, Army Master Sgt. Terrence Hayes, public affairs chief for the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman, told American Forces Press Service.

“This conference brings our senior leaders’ experience and knowledge to the table,” he said, noting the venue serves as both an idea exchange and an avenue for practical solutions.

The Defense Department’s most senior service member, Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, is leading the conference. Battaglia serves as the senior enlisted advisor to Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Joining him for a series of roundtable discussions are Sgt. Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Roy, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Michael P. Leavitt, Command Chief Master Sgt. Denise Jelinski-Hall of the National Guard Bureau, and nine combatant command senior enlisted leaders.

Earlier today, the spouses broke away to meet with First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House to discuss issues impacting military families. Seated around a table in the Pentagon, the leaders focused their attention on suicide prevention.

Battaglia stressed the need to combat this universal problem. “We need to work extra hard and put in some midnight oil just to try to crack the code on it and where this is coming from,” he said, stressing the need for a “significant reduction” in suicides.

Navy Fleet Master Chief Petty Officer Roy M. Maddocks Jr. of U.S. European Command noted a need to address the three primary behavioral health risk factors: broken relationships, financial problems and legal issues, which he said often overlap.

The military should be getting ahead of these problems starting from a service member’s first day of service, Maddocks said. They need education on retirement planning, financial management and investments, such as the military’s Thrift Savings Plan, he said.

“We have, traditionally, taught these things to officers from the time they come into service, but haven’t, traditionally, done it that well for enlisted,” Maddocks said. “We’re starting to do it more, but I don’t think we’re doing it well enough.”

Later in the day, the focus shifted to community awareness and outreach. Army Col. David Sutherland, special assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for warrior and family support, explained the DOD’s efforts to raise community awareness and support for troops, veterans and their families. His staff, he said, travels across the nation to support community-based efforts to aid troops and their families with transition and reintegration.

Troops don’t come home to government programs, he stressed -- they come home to their families, neighbors and communities.

Communities must step up to embrace troops and veterans, particularly once their battle buddies are no longer by their side, the colonel said. They need new battle buddies, he added, but this time from their communities -- people who can assist them in translating their skills, knowledge and attributes into civilian life and organizations.

Government programs can’t do it alone, but independent organizations working together at a community level can, he told the leaders.

The leaders and their spouses will continue their discussions tomorrow at the Pentagon, Hayes said, and will follow up throughout the year to discuss progress and steps toward solutions.

Officials Seek Construction Funds, More BRAC in Budget Hearing

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 27, 2012 – The Defense Department’s request for $11.2 billion for military construction and family housing in the fiscal 2013 budget would balance the armed forces’ needs with the nation’s economic situation, the Pentagon’s chief financial officer told the Senate Armed Forces Committee here today.

Comptroller Robert F. Hale also requested more rounds of base realignments and closures in fiscal 2013 and 2015.

“Even with planned force cuts, … BRAC is the only effective means to meet that goal,” he told the senators.

“We recognize the political difficulty of providing [that] authority,” Hale added, “but we need your support to help us hold down long-term costs.”

Hale cited the Budget Control Act as the impetus for defense spending reductions already in place, noting that projected funding for fiscal 2016 and 2017 is $259 billion less than last year’s plan.

“After these changes, we asked for $525.4 billion in the discretionary budget authorization for fiscal 2013,” he said. Adjusted for inflation, he told the panel, that’s a 2.5-percent decline, the third straight year of real decline in defense budgets.

In a new spending strategy, Hale told committee members, the reduced defense spending would be accommodated by resource cuts and efforts to stretch defense dollars. This would include “substantial rephasing of military construction [by] pushing off projects [until] we know the nature and location of force cuts, which we don’t in a number of cases,” he said.

Hale said the new defense strategy provides other opportunities for savings.

“We’re planning for a smaller, leaner force,” he explained, “where ground forces are no longer sized for prolonged stability operations. … We’re reducing active duty end-strength by 102,000 between the end of 2012 and fiscal 2017, and it’s mostly 90 percent in our ground forces [in the] Army and the Marine Corps.”

Another strategic goal is to rebalance U.S. forces toward the Asian-Pacific region and the Middle East, which would involve increasing U.S. presence in areas such as Singapore and Australia, he said.

“We’re working to … relocate Marines from Okinawa to Guam in a manner consistent with our larger Asia-Pacific strategy," he said.

Other initiatives in the Asia-Pacific area include forward deployment of combat ships in Singapore and rotation and presence of U.S. military personnel in Australia. “No military construction funding is planned for U.S. rotational presence in Australia, but we’ll continue environmental studies and facility assessments,” he added.

Other planning investments involve high-priority initiatives such as special operations forces, unmanned aerial vehicle sites and cybersecurity, along with judicious reductions in weapons programs, Hale said.

Military construction has been reduced by 17 to 63 percent between fiscal 2012 and 2013 in some areas, he said, but defensewide military construction is expected to grow by 6 percent during that time.

“The growth reflects support for high-priority improvements in hospitals and DOD dependent schools,” he said.

The Defense Department will continue to support the all-volunteer force, Hale told the Senate panel, but would propose to slow the growth in selected aspects of military pay and benefits to gain control over personnel costs.

Touching on recently announced reductions in U.S. troops stationed in Europe, Hale told the committee DOD would remove from Europe an Army headquarters, two heavy combat brigades, an attack air squadron, an air control squadron and other enablers.

“Despite these changes, the U.S. will maintain a strong presence in Europe with greater emphasis on joint exercises, and training,” he said. “But the changes will lead to a reduction in our overseas infrastructure, and we will take those into account … in tandem with our two rounds of BRAC, which will be aimed at domestic infrastructure.”

Dorothy Robyn, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, echoed support for two more rounds of BRAC.

“Force reductions produce excess capacity,” she said. “[That] is a drain on resources. Only through BRAC can we align our infrastructure strategy.

“With the recently announced force changes in Europe, we can do more to consolidate our infrastructure,” Robyn continued. “We have a BRAC-like process that my office is working on closely on with the [U.S. European Command] theater commander. But even if we make significant cuts in our footprint in Europe, we still need a domestic BRAC.”

Robyn said the 2005 round of base realignments and closures is different from the new rounds of BRAC the Defense Department seeks.

“The 2005 BRAC was not about savings,” she said. “It was about eliminating excess capacity carried out in a post-9/11 environment, when the DOD was at war and the military was growing. It was about transforming installations to better support the warfighter.”

Robyn also discussed a $4 billion request in the defense budget for environmental programs.

“One common theme across energy and environment efforts is the technological innovation [that] has been DOD’s comparative advantage for 200 years,” she said. “We tend to talk about it in terms of weapons systems and combat operations, [but] it’s important to harness that advantage for what trying to do with respect to energy and the environment.”

Harnessing emerging technologies in energy and the environment are a way to significantly reduce DOD’s cost, and improve its performance, she said.

“We should take full advantage of market mechanism and competition to do that, and we should leverage our extraordinary talent for driving technological change,” Robyn said.

New Navy Barracks Open for Junior Shipboard Sailors

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Josh Cassatt, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West

SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- The Navy officially opened the doors of a new combined bachelor housing complex at Naval Base Coronado (NBC) during an afternoon ribbon-cutting ceremony, March 26.

John W. Finn Hall, a 262-room billeting facility for junior enlisted aircraft carrier and squadron personnel, will provide housing for 1,051 Sailors whose commands will be berthed on the island of Coronado.

"Today marks a very important day for the Navy and Naval Base Coronado," said Commander, Navy Region Southwest, Rear Adm. Dixon Smith. "We opened up another thousand beds for our Sailors who are assigned to our ships."

The completion of John W. Finn Hall marks the first time since 1976 that a new barracks facility has been built at NBC.

"This is a fantastic facility constructed to give our young Sailors on the Navy and Marine Corps team a break," said Capt. David Lepard, the force weapons officer at Navy Region Southwest. "They will be able to come ashore, to come home every night to a facility like this, knowing they have a place to relax."

For Sailors stationed aboard aircraft carriers, like Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Blanca McKnight of USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), the availability of off-ship housing is welcomed and appreciated.

"I think having these barracks will help me feel happier and it will definitely feel more homely," McKnight said. "It's somewhere I can go at the end of the day and take my mind off work."

The barracks facility was named after John W. Finn, a decorated World War II veteran who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Finn manned a .50-caliber machine gun in an exposed area and returned fire, despite suffering injuries, during the attack by Japanese airplanes.

"John Finn was a remarkable role model, and to name this complex after him, there is no better choice," Smith said. "He was a native of San Diego County, he was stationed here as a young Sailor, retired and came back here, passed away here, and buried here. He is part of San Diego, and there is no better thing we can do to recognize him and his history than 'Finn Hall.'"

With a price tag of $66 million, the new facility features dual occupancy rooms with a kitchenette, laundry area, and community rooms and recreation areas. The grounds have basketball and volleyball courts, exercise areas, and barbecue and picnic areas.

"It's so much better," McKnight said. "You come home at night and have a washer and dryer, double sinks, a full bath, and a stove. You can cook and do laundry at the same time. It's like your own apartment in there."

The construction of the barracks is part of the Navy's Homeport Ashore Initiative, which is designed to improve the quality of life for Sailors by giving them a place to live ashore when their ships are in port.

U.S., Pakistan Need to ‘Get it Right,’ Obama Says

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 27, 2012 – President Barack Obama today met with Pakistan’s prime minister and said he welcomes the Pakistani parliament’s review of the countries’ bilateral relationship.

Obama met with Yousuf Raza Gilani in Seoul, South Korea, where the two are participating in an international nuclear security summit.

“I want to express my appreciation to Prime Minister Gilani for the work that he’s done in trying to strengthen the relationship between our two countries,” Obama said. “There have been times -- I think we should be frank -- over the last several months where those relations have experienced strains.”

The United States has had increasingly tense relations with Pakistan over terrorist safe havens in Pakistan’s western border region with Afghanistan. The situation worsened in May when U.S. forces killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan, then bottomed out in November when U.S. forces killed 24 Pakistani troops along the border in what was described as a miscommunication about returning fire.

Pakistan responded by closing its overland supply route to NATO forces in Afghanistan and called for an assessment of U.S.-Pakistani relations.

“I welcome the fact that the parliament in Pakistan is reviewing, after some extensive study, the nature of this relationship,” Obama said before his meeting with Gilani. “I think that it’s important for us to get it right. I think it’s important for us to have candid dialogue to work through these issues in a constructive fashion and a transparent fashion.”

With that review and work by U.S. officials, Obama said, he expects to achieve a balanced approach that respects Pakistan’s sovereignty and U.S. national security concerns, as well as the need to battle terrorists.

Gilani said he appreciated Obama’s comments about Pakistan’s sovereignty, and that the Pakistani parliament would take up discussion of the relationship April 1.

“We are committed to fight against extremism and terrorism,” Gilani said. “It is in the interest of Pakistan for a stable, peaceful, prosperous, independent, sovereign Afghanistan. We want stability in Afghanistan. If there is a stability in Afghanistan, it's a stability in Pakistan.

“We want to work together with you to have all the peace, prosperity and progress of the whole world,” he added. “And we want to work together.”

Obama spoke of the two countries’ mutual interests of combating terrorism, creating economic development, nuclear security, and a stable and secure Afghanistan “that will benefit not only Pakistan, but also the entire world.”

“I want to express to the prime minister my appreciation for his recognition that it’s in both of our interests, and indeed in all of our interests, to see an Afghan-led reconciliation process,” the president said.

Obama also thanked Gilani for taking part in the nuclear security summit.

“I think that we all agree that given the threats that have been directed in Pakistan, the terrorism that has taken place on their own soil, and obviously our experiences with terrorism, we can’t afford to have non-state actors -- terrorists -- get their hands on nuclear weapons that could end up destroying our cities or harming our citizens,” he said.