Monday, July 16, 2012

Panetta Accelerates Stennis Carrier Strike Group Deployment

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 16, 2012 – The Navy will deploy the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis and its strike group four months early and shift its destination to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, DOD officials said here today.

The deployment late this summer is in response to Central Command’s requirement for an extended carrier presence, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said. The move affects 5,500 sailors aboard the Stennis and the Aegis cruiser USS Mobile Bay.

Last week, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta approved a request from Central Command commander Marine Corps General James N. Mattis to accelerate Stennis’ deployment. “The decision will help support existing naval force requirements in the Middle East and reduce the gap caused by the upcoming departure of the USS Enterprise Strike Group,” Little said. “It is in keeping with our long-standing commitments to the region.”

Aircraft carrier strike groups provide commanders with ample and flexible air assets to enhance interoperability with partner nations and maintain strong military-to-military relations as well as respond to a wide variety of contingencies, Little said.

The Bremerton, Wash.-based Stennis strike group was due to deploy at the end of the year to U.S. Pacific Command. The group returned from duty in the Middle East in March.

The accelerated deployment to the Central Command area of responsibility is not aimed at any specific threat. “In keeping with Centcom’s requirements, this is a very important region for our defense strategy,” Little said. “We’ve had a presence in the region for decades and we have a range of interests that this extension of our capabilities will support.”

Nor, he said, is the deployment a direct response to tensions with Iran. The U.S. military is “always mindful of the challenges posed by Iran, but … this is not a decision based solely on the challenges posed by Iran,” Little said.

Currently the USS Enterprise and USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike groups are deployed to U.S. Central Command. The USS Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group is due to relieve the Lincoln group shortly. The Stennis group will relieve Enterprise.

The Navy continues to operate at a high operational tempo in order to meet U.S. security needs around the world,. “Our deployment strain is as great as or greater today than it has been at any time in the past 10 years,” a Navy official said.

Sailors and their families have been informed of the change, Little said. Navy officials looked at a wide range of options to ensure Navy commitments and combatant commander mission requirements are met and to lessen the impact of schedule changes.

The carrier strike group will be ready to deploy even given the accelerated timeline, Little said. “The U.S. Navy is well-equipped to ensure our sailors are trained and ready for this deployment,” he said.

Navy leaders understand the operational and personnel impacts this accelerated deployment will have. These include training cycle adjustments, crew and family uncertainty and reductions to quality of life port visits.

As more information becomes available, the Navy will release it, officials said, noting defense leaders are “committed to keeping sailors and their families informed about current and future deployments to the best of our ability.”

Sailors, Marines Have New Safety Advocate

By April Phillips, Naval Safety Center Public Affairs

NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- In a Change of Charge ceremony at the Naval Safety Center (NAVSAFECEN) July 6 day, Command Master Chief (AW/SW) Susan Whitman took over for Command Master Chief (AW/SW) Dominick Torchia as the enlisted liaison to Rear Adm. Brian Prindle, Commander, NAVSAFECEN, and as the go-to safety advisor for all Sailors and Marines.

Prindle noted the important role of the command master chief (CMC) during the ceremony.

"In the person of the CMC, there is someone committed to the key responsibility of telling the commanding officer what he or she needs to hear, whether or not they want to hear it," he said.

In noting Torchia's unique accomplishments during his role, Prindle said the renewed focus on safety and risk management throughout the fleet tops the list.

"He has made this position and integral part of what the master chief petty officer of the Navy and the Fleet master chiefs think about on a daily basis."

In his remarks to NAVSAFECEN military and civilian staff members, Torchia, who is now the Navy Region Mid-Atlantic CMC, said the command's mission is an important one for the nation's defense.

"This command plays the most important role in saving the resources and lives that allow mission readiness and the preservation of our great nation's freedom," Torchia said. "It the mishaps that don't occur that show our impact."

Whitman, who reported to NAVSAFECEN after serving as CMC onboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) said she is excited to be in the safety business.

"Safety is finally making headway," she said. "It's an important focus in the Secretary of the Navy's 21st Century Sailor and Marine initiative and this gives us the teeth needed to continue building a culture of safety throughout the Navy and Marine Corps."

Whitman said she is looking forward to meeting Sailors and Marines around the fleet and being their advocate in all matters regarding safety and risk management.

"I will work very hard to ensure safety is a part of every conversation I am engaged in," she said.

Take Action Now to Nominate Outstanding Female Physicians

The nomination process is underway for the 2013 “Building Stronger Female Physician Leaders in the Military Health System” awards program.  Now in its fourth year, the awards program is a great way to raise the public profile of women in military medicine, to recognize individuals for their outstanding accomplishments and to identify role models who will inspire and lead the next generation of female physicians.

Last year, six military doctors were honored. The senior award winner, Army Col. (Dr.) Anne Naclerio, currently heads the Army’s Women's Health Task Force. After receiving her award, Naclerio spoke to and said when it comes to leadership, actions speak louder than words.

“I think a lot of leadership and mentoring is not what you say, but what you do. I have found that I have grown in leadership and mentorship through example.”

The time to take action to nominate the next group of female physicians from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Public Health Services is now.  Applications are due to the appropriate service branch point of contact by Sept. 7, 2012. After reviewing nomination candidate packages, each service may forward up to five junior and three senior packages to the MHS Chief Human Capital Office. One junior winner per service and one overall MHS-wide senior winner will be selected. 

Learn more about the selection criteria and process.

Download the nomination form at

Face of Defense: Reserve Officer Recalls Journey to Freedom

By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 16, 2012 – Air Force Col. Josie Fernandez credits providence as much as persistence for her journey from Cuban refugee to the duel-hatted role she has today with the Air Force Reserve and the National Park Service.

Fernandez attended school in the rural town of Agua Dulce, near Havana, close to the national baseball stadium and even closer to the Plaza de la Revolucion, where, to this day, she said Fidel Castro still holds his “infernal rallies.”

“I dreamed about living in freedom,” said Fernandez, currently working as a public affairs officer for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We were poor as church mice, but nothing was taken away from us, other than the ability to pursue our dreams while living in Cuba.”

As Castro’s decades-long dictatorship seemed to tighten its grip on its nation’s citizens, she said, President Lyndon B. Johnson developed Freedom Flights, a program that enabled more than 250,000 Cubans to come to the United States between 1965 and 1973.

Fernandez said her parents jumped at the chance to participate in a program that facilitated U.S. access and citizenship to refugees, provided they had stateside family members willing and able to sponsor them.

Fernandez left Cuba with her brother and parents when she was 12 years old.

“It became painfully clear to my parents that in order for their children to have a meaningful life, they had to leave and start anew,” Fernandez said of her parents’ struggle as factory workers after they arrived in Miami on June 27, 1969.

Fernandez set her sights on school and went on to college while awaiting to be granted American citizenship which came, memorably, on July 4, 1976.

She met Air Force Col. Sam Johnson, at the time the commander of Florida’s Homestead Air Force Base. Fernandez found herself intrigued by the colonel’s history as a Vietnam War veteran who’d endured nearly seven years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi, including 42 months in solitary confinement. The native Texan is now a member of Congress representing the state’s 3rd District and is among the few lawmakers to have fought in combat.

“When I met him, I decided I wanted to be part of an organization with leadership as great as he was,” Fernandez said.  So in 1976, she enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.

Her work and life experiences catapulted her to recognition and promotion, and her travels would take her from Florida to Aviano Air Base, Italy, to a stint with the Hurricane Hunters at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., and even to Russia.

“Living in America really affirmed that my parents had done well for me,” Fernandez said.

Her career with the National Park Service also began to blossom as she took on civilian positions, among them in Seneca Falls, N.Y., and her regular civilian job as superintendent of Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas.

Her earliest memories in pursuit of freedom, she said, spurred a conversation with her father, specifically about what America meant to him.

“Like a good Cuban, he said, ‘Baseball, the Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell and the Grand Canyon,’” Fernandez said. “In a funny way, I’ve managed to take all that on and make it what I do.”

On June 27, 43 years to the day after she arrived in the United States, Fernandez coordinated a park pass giveaway for military members and their families through the America the Beautiful series.
In just one day, nearly a thousand people showed up at her Pentagon office to take advantage of the program, which grants free access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites, national parks and wildlife refuges to active duty service members, activated Guardsmen, reservists and their families.
“I’ve been surrounded by wonderful people who inspire me and somehow I’ve been able to blend passions of mine -- nature, history and the military -- all while protecting and preserving our nation’s cultural and natural resources,” Fernandez said. “I’m part of a journey in which we’re sharing and educating people about the beauty and history of this country.”

DOD Approves $180 Million for the Federal Highway Administration to Begin U.S. Route 1 Expansion at Fort Belvoir

The Department of Defense and the Department of Transportation today announced the approval of $180 million from the Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA) for the Federal Highway Administration to widen U.S. Route 1 through Fort Belvoir, Va.  The expansion of U.S. Route 1 will facilitate a safer and easier commute for patients, service members, and civilian employees of the new Fort Belvoir Community Hospital.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said, “Fort Belvoir is a premier military installation with a growing importance in our defense community and the community of Fairfax County.  The expansion of Route 1 will improve the quality of life for all service members and civilians serving at this key post.”

 “This project will create jobs, ease congestion, and improve safety and accessibility along a critical route for the area’s military personnel and others driving in Fairfax County,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  “Road projects like this one are what President Obama was talking about when he called for an America built to last.”

The funds will be used to widen -- from four to six lanes -- 3.5 miles of U.S. Route 1 from Telegraph Road north to Mount Vernon Memorial Highway.  The project will include new bike lanes, pedestrian facilities, drainage and utility improvements.  It will also preserve a corridor for future transit needs. 

In addition, the project will improve access to Fort Belvoir at Tully Gate and Pence Gate, which serve as the main access point to the new Fort Belvoir Community Hospital.  The hospital receives more than 574,000 outpatients and 10,000 inpatients per year and impacts Fort Belvoir access for 23,000 military and civilian personnel in the area.

Acting through an interagency agreement, the Federal Highway Administration Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division will complete the project in coordination with Fairfax County, the Virginia Department of Transportation, and the command at Fort Belvoir.  Groundbreaking for the project may commence once all environmental requirements have been met.

This announcement marks the first funding approved under the $300 million program authorized by Section 8110 of Public Law 112-10, The DoD and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011, which enabled the Department of Defense to finance projects for transportation infrastructure improvements associated with medical facilities related to the 2005 round of the Base Closure and Realignment process.  In November 2011, OEA invited Fairfax County to apply for these funds after a selection panel comprised of Defense and Transportation officials reviewed concepts to improve access to medical facilities across the nation.