Saturday, June 16, 2012

Biden Salutes Military Families at High School Graduation

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON – Vice President Joe Biden yesterday paid tribute to military families at a high school graduation ceremony in Virginia Beach, Va., where many students and staff are connected to the services.

At least 37 graduates of Tallwood High School’s 2012 graduating class plan to enlist, Biden said as he gave the commencement address.

“It’s great to be in a town that has such respect for our military and such great tradition, and such a wonderful group of graduates,” Biden said. He asked the graduates who have military family members to raise their hands and be recognized, then asked those in the audience to stand if they served in the military and served overseas. “We owe you,” he said as they stood, “we owe you.”

The vice president noted that more than 2.8 million Americans have served in the military since 9/11. More than half “have been in and out of Afghanistan and Iraq, many of them multiple times,” he said. “Your parents and siblings put their lives on the line for this country. And they were asked to do so much more than just fight.”

“You’re inheriting an incredible tradition, because they were asked to take on responsibilities beyond their base or battlefield,” he continued. “Young men and women that I have witnessed more than two dozen times, steeped in military doctrine, have had to master the intricacies of tribal politics, deal with issues ranging from lack of electricity to unemployment, to currency exchange to taxation.”

Biden saluted the “remarkable, remarkable group of military men and women we have today -- the finest generation of warriors in the history of not only the United States, but the history of the world. So thank you all who have served. "

Biden also thanked the families of those who deployed for their service. He quoted the 17th century British poet, John Milton, who wrote, “They also serve who only stand and wait,” and noted his son Beau Biden’s year-long deployment to Iraq. “I watched the impact on my grandchildren -- the games missed, the birthdays missed, the Christmases missed, the empty seat at Thanksgiving dinner,” he said.

“So from the bottom of my heart, on behalf of a grateful nation, I thank all of you who are the brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, spouses of those who have put themselves in harm’s way in the last decade and beyond,” the vice president said. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Biden told the graduates that the school, which houses a Global Studies and World Languages Academy, prepared them for more than “just mastering their studies.” One thing the students learned, he said, “is that in order for this nation to lead the world and you to be leaders in the world, you have to understand the world. You have to participate in the world.”

Biden said he was impressed that 76 graduates took part in the academy, and learned to speak at least one foreign language. “You’ve had a chance to put those language skills to the test by video-conferencing with others halfway around the world,” he said. “And I guarantee you most of you will have a chance to put it to the test on the foreign soil of the language you’ve mastered. We will need you there.”

The graduates studied global governments and cultures, people and their backgrounds, and learned to respect different viewpoints, Biden said. “Most of all, you’ve gained perspective, whether it’s in the service of your family or in participating in a program. And that matters,” he said.

“No one can tell you how small the world has become better than those who raised their hands a few moments ago who served abroad,” Biden said. “As this world of ours continues to shrink, what happens in a remote province in Pakistan, Nigeria, Brazil, is known around the world in a matter of minutes.”

Biden said he had simple advice for the graduates: Think big and imagine. Their greatest challenge, he said, will be in learning how to deploy emerging technologies wisely.

“Deploying it wisely means infusing technology with our oldest values -- values that you have learned here,” he said. “The values of tolerance, respect, understanding. These are not some obsolete, old notions that don’t matter anymore. The more advanced and shrunk the world becomes, the more critical those values become. They mean more than ever.”

The vice president said he is confident in the graduates’ abilities to meet U.S. and global challenges head on.

“I am absolutely confident in your ability to meet the challenges I have laid out head on, and to bend them -- to bend them -- to your will in your and our moral precepts,” he said. “I’m confident of that because of where you come from, how you were raised, what you learned at this fine school, but most of all because who you are.”

Amphibious Ready Group Early Move Announced

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced today that the first amphibious ready group (ARG) ship scheduled to shift homeport to Naval Station Mayport, Fla., will arrive in the last quarter of 2013.

The USS New York, the USS Iwo Jima and the USS Fort McHenry, will shift from their current homeport of Norfolk, Va., to Mayport.  The USS New York will be the first to change homeport, followed by the USS Iwo Jima and the USS Fort McHenry in 2014.

Mabus originally announced Feb. 28 that the ARG would arrive no later than 2015.

The accelerated timeline ensures continued viability of the Mayport ship repair industrial base and maintains the capabilities of the Jacksonville fleet concentration area, thereby preserving surge capability and reducing risk to fleet resources in the event of natural or man-made contingencies.

“I am very pleased that the Navy is able condense the time horizon for the arrival of the Mayport ARG,” stated Mabus.  “The move underscores just how important Jacksonville and Naval Station Mayport are to our national defense, and how committed we are to strategic dispersal on the east coast.”

For more information, contact Secretary of the Navy Public Affairs at 703-697-7491.

DOD Tightens Spending on Travel, Conferences

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON – In response to a May 11 call to action from the Office of Management and Budget, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter has directed DOD officials and managers to reduce spending on travel, conferences and other agency operations.

“DOD consistently strives to be an excellent steward of taxpayer dollars and has focused on these issues for a number of years,” Carter said in a June 3 memo.

Such efforts, he added, include the 2010 Secretary’s Efficiency Initiative and implementation of President Barack Obama’s June 2011 Campaign to Cut Waste.

In his memo, Carter directs the DOD comptroller to reduce travel expenses for fiscal year 2013 by 30 percent from DOD’s fiscal 2010 baseline, excluding national security exemptions and without harming agency missions.

The deputy secretary also directs the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness to work with DOD components and services to implement a conference policy that establishes standard, tiered approval levels for conference spending.

Effective immediately, Carter is directing a review of upcoming conferences and temporarily suspending new conference obligations. The deputy secretary will personally review conferences that will cost more than $500,000. The department’s Deputy Chief Management Officer Elizabeth McGrath will review conferences whose costs exceed $100,000.

DOD will report back to OMB, the deputy secretary said, on proposed reductions in these areas within 90 days, and in some cases 180 days, of the May 11 memo.

Carter said McGrath would coordinate DOD implementation of OMB’s Executive-Branch-wide policies and practices involving travel, conferences, real estate and fleet management.

“Increased scrutiny is being applied to DOD spending,” McGrath told American Forces Press Service, “which makes it more important than ever that we continue to instill a culture of cost consciousness and accountability across the Defense enterprise.”

The department has always taken its duty to be an excellent steward of taxpayer dollars very seriously, she added.

“The appropriate offices for each of the areas discussed in the memorandum -- travel, conferences, real estate, and fleet management -- will work together to ensure that we are fully complying with the deputy secretary’s direction,” McGrath said, “and that we are making the best use of government funds.”

The deputy chief management officer added, “It is important for us to assess our travel costs and practices to ensure that we maximize alternatives to travel, such as teleconferencing, that we combine trips when possible to minimize the frequency of travel, and that we send the right people to the right events.”

McGrath said conferences can serve many important purposes, including training, professional development and continuing education opportunities required for professional accreditation.

As the increased spending efficiencies are put in place, she added, “we must ensure that these cuts do not lead to degradation of mission effectiveness.”

Locklear Backs Law of the Sea Treaty

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON – The Law of the Sea Convention is one avenue toward peacefully resolving competing maritime claims that could otherwise lead to conflict, the leader of U.S. Pacific Command said here today.

Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III spoke to Pentagon reporters following his testimony yesterday as part of a military panel addressing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the Law of the Sea Convention.

The United Nations treaty opened for signature in December 1982 and took effect in November 1994, after 60 countries had signed. The United States has not ratified the treaty, but the nation’s military leaders have in recent months urged U.S. accession to the agreement.

Locklear told the committee yesterday the convention “is essential to locking in a stable, legal framework for the maritime domain that is favorable to our national interest and preserves our access to this critical region.”

As a Pacific power, the United States has defended freedom, enabled prosperity and protected peace in the region for more than six decades, and it must continue to lead security efforts, the admiral said in testimony.

He told senators, “The convention specifically codifies the rights, the freedoms and the uses of the sea that are critical for our forces to transit through and operate in the waters of the Asia-Pacific region.”

Population and economic growth in the Asia-Pacific make competing maritime claims both more numerous and more contentious, he said.

“Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the South China Sea, where claimants have asserted broad territorial and sovereignty rights over land features, sea space and resources in the area,” Locklear noted.

“The convention is an important component of a rules-based approach that encourages peaceful resolution of these maritime disputes,” he said in testimony. “Moreover, the convention codifies an effective balance of coastal state and maritime state rights, a stable legal framework that we help to negotiate that is favorable to our interests and that we should leverage as a check on states that attempt to assert excessive maritime claims.”

Because the United States is not a party to the convention, he said, “Our challenges are less credible than they might otherwise be.”

Joining the convention would place the United States “in a much stronger position to demand adherence to the rules contained in it -- rules that we have been protecting from the outside since the '80s and before,” he said.

Locklear told reporters today the convention and “customary law” set standards for military vessels’ passage through territorial waters, archipelagos and major straits.

“There are a number of countries in the world -- I think China being one of them -- who from our perspective place excessive claims and excessive restrictions that are not consistent with international [law] and aren't consistent with Law of the Sea,” he added.

Those restrictions, if added together and enacted, would limit international use of roughly a third of the world’s ocean area, Locklear said, and would affect every major strait and every “sea line of communication” -- the primary maritime trade, logistics and naval routes between ports.

All nations concerned with shipping access will be “further at risk if these excessive claims aren't resolved,” the admiral said.

The Law of the Sea Convention could form the basis for an international forum allowing countries to express competing claims, he noted.

“Then there will have to be some compromise,” he added, “because you can't just have continually competing claims that end up causing miscalculation at some point in time, which would lead us to conflict.”

Locklear said there are enough maritime resources “for everybody in the world,” and competing claims should be resolved peacefully.

Responding to a question on U.S.-China military relations, the PACOM commander said he has been encouraged by the receptiveness he has seen from his Chinese counterparts.

“I look forward to continuing our dialogue and to doing some visits,” he added. “I plan to visit [China] within the next several weeks, at their invitation.”

That visit will involve discussions about “military claims and all of the other issues that surround that,” he said.

A productive partnership between the two nations is “very important” to Asia-Pacific security, the admiral said.

“I think the good news is that … we're in a position in the coming months and years to continue to have a productive dialogue,” he added.

Cold War Hero Powers Receives Posthumous Silver Star

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON  – More than half a century after his plane was shot down over the Soviet Union, the heroism Air Force Capt. Francis Gary Powers displayed while piloting his U-2 aircraft was finally recognized during a Pentagon ceremony today.

Powers, who died in a helicopter crash in 1977, was posthumously awarded the Silver Star -- the nation’s third-highest award for combat valor. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz presented the medal to Powers’ grandson, Francis Gary “Trey” Powers and granddaughter Lindsey Berry.

The downing of his plane on May 1, 1960 was one of the most famous incidents of the Cold War. Powers was flying a clandestine mission in a U-2 over the former Soviet Union. The program, a Joint Air Force and Central Intelligence Agency mission, was a top-secret effort to monitor Soviet nuclear and missile programs.

Powers took off from Peshawar, Pakistan, and headed over the Central Asian Soviet republics. The U-2 cameras gathered invaluable information for the United States and its allies at a time when the Soviet Bear seemed to be on the ascent.

The Soviets had launched Sputnik -- the world’s first satellite -- in 1957. John F. Kennedy -- then running for president -- deplored the “missile gap” between the United States and Soviet Union. It was the height of the Cold War with schoolchildren conducting “duck and cover” drills in case of nuclear attack. Most buildings had signs indicating the location of fallout shelters, rooms designed to protect against radiation contamination.

Powers’ mission was to overfly Soviet missile sites, nuclear plants and rocket-launching facilities. Over Sverdlovsk his plane -- flying at more than 70,000 feet -- was hit by a SA-2 missile and brought down. Soviet forces captured Powers and he was held by the Soviet secret police, the KGB, in Lubyanka Prison in Moscow.

The shoot down sharply increased tensions between Washington and Moscow. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had to admit that the United States was flying over another sovereign nation. Protests over this broke out in Japan and Europe. Relations with Pakistan deteriorated. A Big-4 Summit -- leaders of the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France and the United States -- scheduled for Paris was canceled. The Soviet Union made propaganda of the incident at the United Nations.

And the Soviets wanted more. Teams of KGB interrogators worked on Powers to get him to give up information or turn against his country. While they never beat him, they constantly threatened him with death, said his son Gary Francis Powers Jr.

Powers spent 21 months in a Moscow prison, Schwartz said. “For nearly 107 days, Captain Powers was interrogated and harassed by numerous Soviet secret police interrogation teams,” the chief said. Powers also was held in solitary confinement.

“Although weakened by lack of food and denial of sleep and mental anguish of constant interrogation, Captain Powers refused all attempts to glean from him sensitive information that would have proved harmful to the defense and security of the United States,” Schwartz said.

In February 1962, the Soviets exchanged Powers for Soviet spy KGB Col. Rudolph Abel. The handover was conducted on “The Bridge of Spies” in Berlin.

It was a sign of the times that Powers’ return home was fraught with uncertainty and questions. A teacher told Dee Powers, the captain’s daughter, that her father should have killed himself rather than getting captured. The program was still top secret and what Powers went through was classified. The captain received the CIA Intelligence Star for Valor in 1965 and the Senate Armed Services Committee declared that Powers had conducted himself, “as a fine man under dangerous circumstances.”

The younger Powers started researching his father’s case in the late 1980s. Much of it was classified. “I would speak about the U-2 incident at classes and people would think I was talking about the rock group,” he said.

It wasn’t until 1998, seven years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, that the CIA declassified records of the program and Powers’ full heroism became known, said young Gary. At that point, the captain posthumously received the CIA Director’s Award for Extreme Fidelity and Courage, the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross and the Prisoner of War Medal.

Today’s award of the Silver Star puts to rest the idea that somehow the captain behaved poorly in captivity, his son said.

“He loved his family, he loved flying and he loved his country,” he said.