Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Panetta Shares Perspectives From Latest Trip

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 26, 2012 – In a message to the men and women of the Defense Department, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta shared his perspectives from his recent trip to the Asia-Pacific region.

Here is the secretary’s message:

This week I returned from a week-long trip to Japan, China, and New Zealand, my third trip to the Asia-Pacific region as Secretary of Defense.

The underlying purpose of the trip was to support our new defense strategy, which calls for the Department of Defense to increase our focus on the Asia-Pacific region. This strategy is part of a government-wide effort that includes increased economic, diplomatic, development, and security efforts – all in order to renew and revitalize America’s role in a region that is becoming more critical to our future security and prosperity.

My first stop was Tokyo, a city that I have visited a number of times in previous capacities, and on my first trip to Asia as Secretary of Defense last year. I am always appreciative of the warm hospitality and genuine friendship that the people of Japan extend to me and all their American visitors. It reflects the fact that Japan is a very close ally in the region, and that our Alliance has served as the cornerstone of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific for more than 50 years.

This trip took place during a time of increased tensions between China and Japan over competing claims to the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea – an episode that serves as a reminder of the important role the United States military continues to play in ensuring peace and security in the region. My message to the Government of Japan, which I would later repeat in China, was simple: the United States doesn’t take a position on competing sovereignty claims but we urge both sides to exercise calm and restraint, and we have an interest in seeing this dispute resolved peacefully and through diplomatic means.

While in Japan, I had very productive meetings with Foreign Minister Gemba and Defense Minister Morimoto that allowed us to make progress on two key issues for our Alliance. First, we agreed to pursue an additional ballistic missile defense radar, directed at protecting the people of Japan, U.S. forward-deployed forces, and the U.S. homeland, from the North Korean missile threat. Second, we set the stage for an agreement, announced later in the week that reconfirmed the safety of the MV-22 Osprey aircraft, enabled the commencement of flight operations, and paved the way for the deployment of the aircraft to in Okinawa. The Osprey is an important new capability that will greatly enhance our ability to defend Japan and respond to crises in the region – with twice the speed, three times the payload, and four times the range of the platform it replaces.

Before departing Tokyo, I had the opportunity to visit with several hundred American service members stationed at Yokota Air Base – a critical hub for our activities in the region. I had the chance to describe our new defense strategy and point out that the key to our strength rests with them – the men and women in uniform serving our Nation. It’s always a highlight for me to have the opportunity to interact with service members wherever I travel in the world.

My next stop was Beijing, a visit that marked my first trip to China as Secretary of Defense. The goal of this visit was to build on the progress we have made toward establishing a military-to-military relationship with China that is healthy, stable, reliable, and continuous. Our two nations have had a series of high-level interactions this year – from the visit of Vice President Xi to the Pentagon earlier in the year to General Liang’s visit in May – that have helped to build sustained and substantive interactions between our leaders. My visit continued this trend. One of the highlights was an elaborate welcome banquet General Liang hosted in my honor at the State Guest House in Beijing, which even included a magic show and a few hundred toasts that we all survived.

In my discussions with key military and civilian leaders, the thing that most impressed me is that we are building the kind of relationship where we can talk openly and candidly about our disagreements. At the same time, we are increasingly able to identify areas where our militaries can cooperate more – such as counterpiracy and maritime security, humanitarian relief and disaster assistance, and peacekeeping operations. In that spirit, I invited China to send a ship to RIMPAC 2014 – the world’s largest multilateral Naval exercise.

I was also encouraged by my interactions with young officers and cadets at the Engineering Academy of PLA Armored Forces, where I gave a speech focusing on the United States rebalance to Asia-Pacific region and had the opportunity to join students for lunch in the cafeteria. The questions that I got from the young cadets were candid and thoughtful, and it was clear that they appreciated my message that a stronger defense relationship between the U.S. and China is critically important to security and prosperity in the 21st century.

On my third and final day in China, I was able to fly to the coastal city of Qingdao and visit the headquarters of the North Sea fleet. There, I toured a PLA frigate and a diesel powered submarine. I was impressed with the professionalism and discipline of the PLA sailors, and it is clear that they are working to modernize their military. Throughout my visit, I stressed the importance of increasing their transparency as they undergo this modernization, so it was a positive step for me to be given a tour of these ships.

From Qingdao, we boarded our plane for the final time in China and took an overnight flight down to Auckland, New Zealand, the final stop on this trip.

It was the first visit I’ve ever made to New Zealand, and I was struck by the similarities in landscape between Auckland and my native Northern California. It was a special honor to be in Auckland because I was the first United States Secretary of Defense to visit New Zealand in 30 years.

Soon after I arrived, New Zealand’s Defence Forces hosted a welcome ceremony for me that befitted the historic nature of this visit. During the ceremony, a group of Maori tribesman approached me with a ceremonial challenge. My job was to pick up a dagger while not smiling and maintaining eye contact in order to signal that I came in peace. Luckily, I passed the test.

My broader purpose in traveling to New Zealand was first and foremost to recognize that New Zealand has been a stalwart friend over the past decade of war. In Afghanistan, New Zealand has made a variety of contributions to the war effort and continues to lead the Bamiyan provincial reconstruction team. During my visit, I paid tribute to New Zealand’s war heroes at their National War Memorial Museum, and I had the opportunity to recognize five individual soldiers from the New Zealand Defence Forces with Army Commendation Medals.

New Zealand also plays an important role as a provider of security in the South Pacific, and as the United States rebalances to the Asia-Pacific region we are looking for new ways to partner together to enhance regional security. To that end, I was pleased to be able to announce while in New Zealand that the U.S. government is changing some policies that govern interactions with New Zealand’s military, which were put into effect after New Zealand passed nuclear-free legislation in the mid-1980s. Specifically, we have eliminated restrictions on discussions and exercises between our two militaries, and we have established a mechanism to authorize individual visits by ships of New Zealand’s Royal Navy to U.S. military and coast guard facilities, both in the United States and around the world.

These changes sent a strong signal that we are entering into a new era of defense cooperation with New Zealand. More broadly, my entire week-long trip sent the message that the United States is following through with our strategy to rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific region. Throughout the week, it was heartening to hear Allies, friends and partners in the region welcome the Department’s renewed focus on Asia-Pacific. The high regard they have for the U.S. military is a reflection of the dedication and professionalism of all our men and women in uniform, and the civilians who support them. I am proud of what we have accomplished together and grateful for your continued service to a strong and secure America.

NBK Hosts Personal Readiness Summit

By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Chris Brown, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West, Det. Northwest

SILVERDALE, Wash. (NNS) -- More than 100 senior enlisted and junior officers attended a personal readiness summit at Naval Base Kitsap (NBK) Bangor plaza ballroom, Sept. 24-25.

The personal readiness summit featured presentations on drug and alcohol, behavioral health, physical readiness program and suicide prevention.

"The bottom line on why we do this summit is to equip us better to help our Sailors," said NBK Executive Officer Cmdr. C.J. Carter. "Helping our Sailors is the key to preventing bad things that happen to them."

With September being suicide prevention month, the summit brought in guest speaker Kevin Hines to speak with the attendees on how to spot symptoms of suicidal behavior and how to help someone in need.

Hines is just one of 33 people to survive a suicide attempt from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, and it was important to him to share his story to the attendees.

"It's important for any group, especially in the military, to hear a story of triumph over adversity, a story of success over pain, and that's what I hope to share today," said Hines. "With the growing number of suicides it's important we do everything we can to reduce that trend."

Speaking to the senior enlisted attendees, Hines wanted to point out that suicidal thoughts and depression can happen to anyone at anytime and it is important for the people who are in charge to be able to recognize the people at danger and get them the help they need.

"It's important to help these young enlisted Sailors and guide them to hope," said Hines. "Just because you are having a hard time now, doesn't mean you always will."

During the presentation Hines helped point out symptoms of suicidal thoughts, how to help the individuals and shared some of his own techniques that help him out when he is feeling depressed.

"It's important for the senior enlisted to get another perspective such as the one Mr. Hines provided with us today," said Chief Fire Control Technical Christopher Howard, attached to USS Michigan Blue crew. "We have to be able to pick up on the little things that will be able to help our Sailors out."

Webinar Set to Discuss Managing Suicidal Behaviors

Since 2004, the number of suicides among active-duty service members has increased dramatically. The rise in military suicide rates may be associated with psychological health problems and/or interpersonal and family stressors. Research has suggested that of those who commit suicide many had visited a health care provider within the month prior to their death.

On Sept. 27 from 1 to 2:30 p.m., the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury will host the webinar, "Managing Suicidal Behaviors.”

This 90-minute training event will educate health care providers about their role in identifying and managing suicidal behaviors. This webinar will:

    Review the public health significance of suicide
     Describe screening and assessment methods for identifying suicidal patients
     Identify interventions for managing suicidal behaviors

Continuing education units and continuing medical education credits are available.

Face of Defense: Military Couple Extends Family From Africa

By Army Sgt. Adrianna Barnes
16th Combat Aviation Brigade

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash., Sept. 26, 2012 – Adoptions can be both challenging and rewarding, but the challenges military couples face can be uniquely different due to frequent changes of duty station. For Army Maj. Peter Hathaway, 1st Battalion, 229th Aviation Regiment, and his wife, Kristen, overcoming those challenges was a must in completing their family.

Both Kristen and Peter wanted to adopt a child even before they met. When the couple first began dating, they said, one of the things that attracted them to one another was their desire to adopt a child with a special need for a family.

“We knew there were a lot of kids out there that need a family, and we just want to provide a family for a child,” Peter said. “We were lucky enough to find someone to fill that need for.”

Choosing the right time to take on the many challenges of adopting was essential. With their biological daughter, Amelia, now 2 years old, Kristen and Peter decided they were ready to adopt.

“So when we were married, we prayed about when the right time would be, and about seven months ago, we felt like God opened the doors and we began the process,” Kristen said.

While there is great need of families for children both domestically and internationally, the couple decided to adopt from Ethiopia, because Kristen had done missionary work in Kenya for seven months. She fell in love with the people and culture there, she said, and saw an immense need for adoption due to the orphan crisis in many African countries.

In Africa, a large majority of the children are orphans due to poverty or illness -- the most prominent being HIV and AIDS. Ethiopia has more than 100,000 orphans in the capital city, Addis Ababa, and more than 5 million in the country. About 800,000 are AIDS orphans.

“At that time [during missionary work], I knew Africa would be where I chose to adopt,” Kristen said. “Pete felt the same way about Africa, so it was natural for us to move in that direction when considering adoption.”

The couple began researching adoption agencies and identifying which programs they were eligible for, which brought on its own set of challenges due to Peter being in the military and the family moving so frequently. “Although all adoptions have some significant loss or grieving process, we felt the international route might be a better match for a military family,” Peter said.

After deciding on an agency, the couple began the adoption process with what many adoptive parents affectionately refer to as the “paper chase.” Essentially, they laid their lives out in paper form. Documents included birth certificates, marriage licenses, financial worksheets, letters of reference, and background checks from every state in which they had lived for the preceding five years.

A licensed social worker met with Kristen and Peter three times to assess them as prospective adoptive parents. Findings from the home study were put into a document that was sent to Ethiopia. Once the dossier was approved by the agency, the couple then waited for a referral.

For couples requesting to adopt an infant from Ethiopia, the waiting time is two to four years. For families wishing to adopt a child who is older or who has special needs, the wait ranges from one month to four years. The fastest way to adopt a child is to choose a child from a “waiting child list.”

Kristen and Peter said they chose to adopt a child from the list because they felt those children were most in need of a family. They chose an 8-year-old girl named Tshion, pronounced “See-on.” Once the referral was received and accepted, a court date was set to award them custody of the child. The court date was the couple’s first chance to meet their new daughter.

“She is a bright, funny, vivacious, caring, kind 8-year-old that has been through more things than most people can imagine,” Kristen said. “She is athletic and has a dream right now of becoming a supermodel. Seriously, she has her own runway walk made up. She is so excited to have a family, and we feel honored that we are going to be that family.”

When the Hathaways met Tshion, one of her first questions was “Where’s my sister?” Peter said Tshion and Amelia both seem very interested in being a sister. “She had a little pair of sunglasses she wanted us to give to Amelia,” he added.

The Hathaways’ process has been simple and easy compared to what some families have experienced, they said. Their biggest challenge was the quick time frame -- from the start of the process to bringing her home will be right at nine months, they said.

Going through the process so rapidly has created some financial strain, they acknowledged, but they said they receive support from their family and friends, and had set aside savings just for the fees associated with adoption.

“Right now, the hardest part is the waiting. We will hopefully have her home by the end of October,” Kristen said. “It is hard being away from a child that is legally yours. It is hard not being able to care for her when she is sick and not being able to remind her every night of how loved and desired she is.”

At 8 years old, Tshion is very aware of her situation and circumstances. She speaks little English, so Kristen and Peter want to keep her close to home for a while before sending her off to school. They said they are as eager to teach their new daughter English and American culture as they are to learn and embrace her Ethiopian culture.

“Family is not just about blood, color or anything else that we like to separate ourselves by,” Kristen said. “It is about loving another human being. It is about living out your life sacrificially for another person so that they might see their worth or beauty.”