Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Face of Defense: Senior NCO Recalls Army Career

By Army Sgt. Quentin Johnson
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division

PARWAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Oct. 21, 2013 – Stepping down from your last position of responsibility before retiring is a proud moment for most, but for Army Command Sgt. Maj. Philip Chepenik it’s more -- monumental, nostalgic and bittersweet.

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Army Command Sgt. Maj. Philip Chepenik, then command sergeant major of 2nd "Spartan" Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd "Black Jack" Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas, received the U.S. Army Bronze Star award for his deployment to Afghanistan with Black Jack, prior to the Spartan's change of responsibility ceremony on Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, Oct. 18, 2013. Chepenik will retire next year after 30 years of active Army service. U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Roderick Jones from Flint, Mich., replaced Chepenik as the Spartan's command sergeant major. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Quentin Johnson

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Chepenik relinquished responsibility as the senior enlisted advisor for the 2nd “Spartan” Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas, at Bagram Air Field, Oct. 18, 2013, in preparation for his retirement next year after 30 years of Army service.

Army Command Sgt. Maj. Roderick Jones from Flint, Mich., replaces Chepenik as the Spartan’s command sergeant major. Roderick’s previous assignment was with the 249th Engineer Battalion, Fort Belvoir, Va.

Chepenik said he began his career almost 30 years ago, serving with 2nd BCT’s, 8th Brigade Engineer Battalion, and will now retire from the same brigade. A change in life from a career he described as a “journey and unforgettable experience.”

“I acknowledge my time has come to an end. I began my journey in 1984, and the experiences I have had along the way will never leave me,” Chepenik said.

He said his experiences led him to be a better person and leader. Chepenik said he hopes has left a positive impact on those he met throughout his Army career.

“I have had the privilege of meeting individuals from around the world,” he said. “I just hope I have impacted the lives of those soldiers whom I have led throughout my tenure.”

Army Lt. Col. Archie Herndon, Spartan commander, said Chepenik’s impact on soldiers and friends throughout his career couldn’t be overstated.

“Few have had the impact on soldiers that [Chepenik] has had, for as long as he has had it,” Herndon said. “He did everything possible to care for our nation’s treasure, our sons and daughters.”

Herndon said Chepenik cared because he stayed true to the philosophy -- the Army is our family and we train and care for it first.

Chepenik said he was proud to have served and to be able to finish his career with such an amazing group of soldiers, and let each know he will not forget them.

“[Spartan soldiers] are an amazing group of soldiers and leaders that will forever be my family,” Chepenik said. “Whether it’s an e-mail, phone call or ‘hello’ in passing, the Spartan team will always be in my heart.”

Herndon closed with a resolution of thanks and gratitude towards Chepenik.

“Phil, thank you for everything you did for the Spartans, and your exceptional service,” Herndon said. “I look forward to our continued friendship, and a report on life after the Army; Godspeed brother.”

Wild Weasels qualify for combat

by Senior Airman Derek VanHorn
35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

10/22/2013 - MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Six U.S. Air Force pilots stand side-by-side in front of hundreds of watching eyes. For the next two hours, their workspace is no longer the cockpit of a U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon thousands of feet in the sky. Instead, it's center stage under the spotlights, where their performance on the ground determines their future in the air.

All the work through a pilot's young career culminates with a process called verification, where they're assessed by wing leadership to determine if they are combat-ready to fly 35th Fighter Wing missions. For the first time in the wing's history, the briefing was open to the entire wing, and hundreds of Airmen from different career fields tuned in late last month for an inside look at the making of a Wild Weasel pilot.

The verification lasted one week, and took place following months of mission qualification training. It began with a rigorous academic schedule -- three days committed to planning a large-scale mission and studying the many intricate parts and systems of the jet. The next step was putting that preparation into action in a flight simulator that paired up nearly 69 jets in action at one time simultaneously fighting a full-fledged enemy on limited radio communication. On the final day, the pilots - alongside their intelligence and ground control teams - stood before the crowd, briefed the mission and were drilled with detailed questions and scenarios involving the simulation.

"You have the entire wing, including all the guys who have spent 20 or more years doing the very same mission and know everything about it, and their job is to question your every move," said Capt. John Loveman, 14th Fighter Squadron pilot. "That can be intimidating."

Wing leaders asked dozens of questions, with topics ranging from how to most effectively eliminate enemy threats to how to cope with in-air fuel restrictions and emergencies. Admittedly, the majority of the pilot-to-pilot interaction comes off as its own language to untrained ears.

Following the two-hour brief, Col. Stephen Williams, 35 FW commander, issued a "pass" result for the pilots, officially enabling them to fly Wild Weasel combat missions.

"It comes down to a 'pass' or 'fail' to decide if these pilots are ready to go to war," Loveman said. "To be in a position to protect others means a lot."

The decision to pass the pilots is well measured; the simulated mission - created and conducted by Capt. Ryan Worrell, 35 FW weapons and tactics flight commander -- is one of extreme detail and intensity.

Worrell said the typical allocation for airplane missions out of Misawa is eight versus four, and even large scale exercises like Red Flag Alaska fly with around 25 aircraft - nearly only one third what these pilots faced.

"We had a huge strike package behind us," said 1st Lt. Danielle Kangas, a newly-verified14 FS pilot. "The most important thing was to stick to the game plan."

Kangas said the most difficult aspect of the mission was trying to accurately communicate a threat knowing another pilot may have already called it in because there were 69 aircraft in contact at once.

"The simulated mission is more dynamic than normal, but exactly how we would operate," Worrell said. "We fly in a cockpit that has a full 360 degree view of the battlefield and we're getting shot at and shooting back as we would in live combat."

Loveman, who served as a flight lead, said to get that many aircraft in one airspace would be nearly impossible, but that the lofty scenario only served to benefit the pilots.

"Typically when we're training, we can't physically get shot at," Loveman said. "But in these simulations, we can actually assess that a bullet ripped through our jet or that a missile exploded within a certain radius that forces us to react to the effects of it."

Verifications - which occur quarterly -- generally pair up two flight leads who have previously verified years before and two wingmen who are attempting the verification. With more pilots completing MQT in the same time frame this quarter here, one flight lead led five wingmen through the process.

Kangas has been at Misawa for three months, and traded the winters of Minnesota for those of Northern Japan. Growing up, the roar of F-16s with the 148th Fighter Wing in her hometown of Duluth stole her attention and sparked her pursuit of a flying career. She said the verification was more than just earning a personal qualification for her career.

"It's great to be able to talk about our mission, explain what we do and show everyone assigned to the wing how they're integrated," Kangas said. "We couldn't do our job without everyone executing their role."

For all the intoxicating excitement involved with piloting one of the most powerful machines on the planet, there's a sobering seriousness to its purpose and devastating capabilities. The Wild Weasel mission is the Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses, and their motto "First In, Last Out," is not a sugarcoated approach.

"Most of these countries we fight against have very intricate air defense systems, and it's our job to go in there first and take them out," Kangas said. "Every potential war we go in to, we're there to clear the path and get the job done."

Loveman and Kangas lauded their ground control operators and Intel teams as well, noting the importance they play in destroying enemy Surface-to-Air Missile sites.

"They're our eyes and ears out there, tracking threats that could potentially shoot us down," said Kangas. "They analyze and give is real-time assessments of our dangers out there."

Senior Airman Brittany Baker, 14 FS senior intelligence analyst, said the analysts take in-depth looks at the different threats of nations and relay information to pilots based on mission routes.

Worrell said the right to put the mission into action is first earned through many hours in the classroom.

"We take the pilots and teach them every system on the aircraft in intricate detail," Worrell said. "It's why we're the best air force in the world.

"We take it to the point of focusing an entire week on one single mission. We work on every single detail, and not only will they learn it, they'll accurately present it and execute when it matters."

Kangas said flying the Wild Weasel mission is an extreme honor and a job these 35 FW pilots would not give up for anything.

"We go out there to employ the SEAD mission and we put ourselves in harms way a lot more than others do," Kangas said. "To engage the enemy and their threats to keep others alive is a rewarding feeling."

Heartbeat of Eielson: Power plant fuels Iceman mission

by Senior Airman Zachary Perras
354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

10/22/2013 - EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- We turn the lights on when we wake up. We plug our cars in and crank the heat in our homes in the dead of winter. We turn on our computers when we get to work.

All of these actions are second nature, yet it may not be widely known that all of them, and Eielson's capabilities, are made possible thanks to the Central Heat and Power Plant.

The harsh environmental demands of Interior Alaska make Eielson unique. Things taken for granted in the Lower 48 could potentially make or break the daily success here. Because of this, workers at the CHPP do not take their job lightly.

"The power plant truly is the heartbeat of what we do as the Iceman Team, especially going into winter," said Brig. Gen. Mark Kelly, 354th Fighter Wing commander. "What's done here is vital to every single Airman and their families, as well as our overall mission."

There are roughly 6,000 personnel using energy each day on Eielson. Factor in the winter weather - facilities that must be kept heated in order for pipes to stay functional, cars constantly being plugged in - and the importance of the power plant truly shows.

The base's primary source of energy is coal, of which more than 500 tons a day, up to 1,000 in the dead of winter, is used to run the power plant, said Marty Overlin, 354th Civil Engineer Squadron superintendent of heating and power.

The coal is burned in a furnace, which then heats water in a boiler to create steam. The steam turns a turbine, converting energy into electricity through a generator.

At the end of the day, heat and electricity is the framework for mission readiness, Overlin said. Without the power plant running, bad things happen, and they happen fast.

"The plant has to operate each and every single day of the year and it has to operate without any hiccups," he explained. "Eielson relies on us to accomplish our day-to-day functions seamlessly because if we don't, the whole base will feel the impact."

The CHPP is an important asset to the Iceman Team, providing the power and heat needed to overcome Interior Alaska and keeping Eielson Airmen truly ready to go at 50 below.

Samurais edge Black Panthers in weapons load competition

by Senior Airman Derek VanHorn
35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

10/22/2013 - MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Two U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons rested side-by-side as Airmen streamed into a hangar, slowly breaking into two crowds surrounding the jets. One half of the crowd called themselves the "Black Panthers," the other half are known as "Samurais." Before the timer started and three months of bragging rights were earned, everyone's impatiently wondering the same thing: Who's better?

This time, it was the Samurais, as a three-man crew from the 14th Aircraft Maintenance Unit narrowly edged a team from the 13th AMU during a quarterly weapons load crew competition Oct. 18.

Missile load crew competitions pair teams against each other to evaluate who can prepare the aircraft for combat the fastest with the fewest procedural errors. The missiles the crews loaded included an AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile, an AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, and an AIM-9 Sidewinder, a short-range air-to-air missile. The crews are graded on a variety of areas including safety, appearance, speed and accuracy.

While the task at hand is a day-to-day occurrence for these maintainers, the buzz of competition and a cheering crowd brings an added level of intensity.

"As soon as the judges yell 'Crew break', things get pretty competitive," said Airman 1st Class Devin Floyd, 13 AMU load crew member. "It's kind of like being at that football game before the lights turn on and you're preparing to return the opening kickoff."

Floyd's crew fell short, but only by a slim margin. His team, led by Staff Sgt. Ryan Baldwin, 13 AMU weapons load team chief, finished the load in a team-best time just under 16 minutes, but were outdone on overall points.

"It was a close call," Floyd said. "Of course we always think we're going to win, but this time there were some small things we missed the evaluators caught."

Staff Sgt. Gregorio Luis, 14 AMU weapons load team chief, said his only expectation was to win, even though things didn't initially go as smoothly as planned. Luis' team had to improvise with makeshift tools after an equipment malfunction during the first missile load, slowing them down off the get-go.

"I was absolutely worried," Luis laughed. "I expected to finish faster, but when things like that happen you have to adapt and overcome. It was nerve-racking at first, but once our guys got focused in, everything fell into place and we bounced back strong."

Both teams finished with more than 10 minutes to spare on their allotted time, proving why their leadership chose them as the 35th Fighter Wing's top maintainers.

Luis' teammate, first-time competitor Airman 1st Class Jesse Garza, 14 AMU, said while the speed of the load is critical, the execution proved to be the most important facet of the competition.

"You always go in hoping to win, but more importantly want to do the best and most efficient job you can," said Garza.

Both crews swallowed their pride enough to agree the competition was about more than just bragging rights.

"We're all part of the same team in the end," Floyd said. "We need to be able to move as fast, if not faster if called upon in wartime environment."

Joint Task Force-Bravo commander takes to the airwaves

by Capt. Zach Anderson
Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

10/18/2013 - SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras -- The Joint Task Force-Bravo commander took to the airwaves recently here to address several issues currently affecting Joint Task Force-Bravo members.

U.S. Army Col. Thomas Boccardi visited the American Forces Network-Honduras radio studio to discuss topics such as current force protection measures and his responsibility as a commander when it comes to the safety of his service members.

"In order to ensure that safety, we have to make sure we are taking the proper measures," the colonel said. "The force protection measures are not put into place to restrict service members. Rather, they are put into place to ensure their safety and well-being."

The commander also addressed concerns from a recent climate assessment survey that showed some members felt the restrictions limited their ability to have fun on and off base.

"No one is losing privileges," said Boccardi. "I want our people to be able to go out and have a good time. However, I will hold people accountable for their actions. If something is illegal, immoral, unethical or unsafe, there will be consequences. I trust each member of Joint Task Force-Bravo, but service members will be held accountable if they violate that trust."

Col. Boccardi ended his time on air discussing the special nature of Joint Task Force-Bravo and the unique opportunity the members here have to work together as a unified force in a joint environment.

"The heart of Joint Task Force-Bravo is our unity," he said. "We truly are a team of teams--that is our identity. We aren't Army or Air Force; we are a joint team of noble people doing noble deeds. It's that unity, that one-team mentality that makes Joint Task Force-Bravo truly special."

C-17 Ops delivers combat cargo

by Senior Airman Bahja Jones
375th Air Expeditionary Wing

10/21/2013 - SOUTHWEST ASIA -- The members of the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, deployed from Joint Base Charleston, S.C., accomplish the air tasking order via passenger transport, ground and aerial delivery to keep deployed operations moving.

"The C-17 is an incredible platform," said Capt. Erica McCaslin, 816th EAS C-17 pilot and Port Angeles, Wash., native. "It allows us to go into just about any field, from an international airport to a dirt field in the middle of Afghanistan, to deliver cargo to the Army or Marines or any troops who need supplies."

With a maximum payload capacity of 170,900 pounds, the Globemaster III and its crews are able to transport passengers, and all types of cargo to include food, water, supplies and even vehicles. In this rotation, the 816th EAS has flown more than 375 sorties, transported 13.2 million pounds of cargo and nearly 2,400 passengers. Additionally, they have airdropped more than 71,000 pounds of cargo to forward bases throughout the AOR.

"The deliveries we bring in for the troops is pretty crucial, especially in some of the obscure fields we go into - supplies and ways to get them may be limited," McCaslin said. "The roads may be dangerous and airlift is the only way to get those critical supplies to them."

Typically aircrews consist of three pilots, two loadmasters and a flying crew chief.

"The crew compliment is critical," McCaslin said. "From the loadmasters in the back, to [crew members] upstairs ensuring the aircraft is ready for takeoff and safely transporting everybody from stop-to-stop. It really takes a team effort, and without any one of those crew members, the whole thing could fall apart."

As an aircraft commander, McCaslin has a major responsibility within the crew ensuring the mission is executed smoothly.

"[We] manage all the players involved and make decisions as far as safety of the crew and the aircraft, any sort of delays and changes to the mission cut," she said.

Besides the pilots and flying engineer who have the crucial role of keeping the aircraft serviceable and in the air, the loadmasters have a very important role within the aircrew as well.

"Our job as C-17 loadmasters is to ensure all the cargo we take in and out of the AOR is prepared correctly and maintained throughout the flight," said Staff Sgt. Frederick Jordan, an 816th EAS C-17 loadmaster and Panama City, Panama, native. "We make sure the cargo gets to where it needs to go safely and precisely."

They work in tandem with the 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron aerial port technicians who prepare the cargo prior to loading it onto the aircraft.

"Once it comes to the aircraft we are the last line of defense to make sure all the necessary steps were taken in preparation," Jordan said.

Without the loadmasters, they'd have a hard time getting any cargo throughout the AOR and troops wouldn't be able to get the supplies they need to complete their mission, Jordan explained. Before and throughout the flight, loadmasters perform a balancing act to keep aircraft flying safely.

All-in-all, like a well-oiled machine, the Globemaster aircrews work to support ground troops throughout the AOR.

"I get quite a bit of pride from the work that we do and the Airmen we work with across the board," McCaslin said. "It's pretty amazing when you can see from start to finish the pieces that are involved - what it takes to get us airborne and in the end to see those supplies delivered to the troops who actually need it."

Mogadishu Mile: Ruck to remember

by Airman 1st Class Preston Webb
100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

10/9/2013 - RAF MILDENHALL, England -- The 352nd Special Operations Group honored the American lives lost in Somalia Oct. 4, 1993, in a 5km ruck march called the Mogadishu Mile, Oct. 3, 2013, on RAF Mildenhall, England.

The Battle of Mogadishu resulted when U.S. Special Operations personnel in Somalia, including Air Force combat controllers and pararescumen, were conducting a mission to seize two militants loyal to Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid who were meeting in the city. Civilian fighters and militiamen loyal to Aidid took actions into their own hands, raising an assault on the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters - effectively shooting two down during the course of the battle.

When the militants were able to take down the first Blackhawk, the mission to seize the militants quickly changed into a rescue operation.

Originally projected to take an hour, the mission was supposed to be a "down and back" operation, according to U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Christopher Albrandt, 321st Special Tactics Squadron pararescueman. It turned into an overnight standoff.

The U.S. Special Operations personnel had set out with less equipment than normal because they had expected a short operation. While the mission did not go as planned, the result helped create today's level of preparedness, with both improved training and equipment.

"We have new and better gear to avoid situations like that now. (And with improved intelligence information, we) have a better idea of what (we are) facing," said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jacob McPhie, 321st Special Tactics Squadron combat controller.
"We want to make sure we remember the mistakes (of not being prepared), so we don't make them again," Albrandt said. "The ruck march is a way to honor the guys who were out there."

In the special operations community, the Mogadishu Mile is a symbol of perseverance and dedication to the mission.

"They did what they had to do, despite the odds -- despite what was going on," Albrandt said. "It gives testament to their training that they stayed in the fight, regardless of the situation."

During the ruck march, 352nd SOG Airmen wore roughly 60 pounds of equipment on top of the 45-pound ruck sack participants were encouraged to carry, Albrandt said.
"There's camaraderie in shared misery," McPhie said. "If everyone suffers together, you become stronger as a team."

(Information courtesy of www.stateoftactical.com and www.specialops.org.)

Centcom Chief: Middle East Decisions Will Have Wide Impact

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 22, 2013 – Decisions made today regarding the Middle East will have far-reaching impact on future security, not only in the immediate region, but also around the world, the commander of U.S. Central Command said here today.

Speaking here at the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ annual policy-makers conference, Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III emphasized the shared responsibilities in the region.

“Each of us has an undeniable stake and a clear role to play in the universal pursuit of improved stability and sovereignty and greater prosperity and security,” he told the forum.

Conceding the “incredibly dynamic and volatile, and often chaotic” nature of the region, Austin said that “when things go badly there, it has a clear and considerable impact.”

“The past has shown that when the region experiences any degree of strife and bloodshed or increased instability, every country there and others around the globe feel the effects,” he said.

“And of course, security and stability in the Middle East and in South and Central Asia are important to us and to our partners because of the potential impact on our vital interests.”

Those interests include the free flow of resources through key shipping lanes, the defense of the U.S. homeland against the threat of terrorism and extremism, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, he said.

Austin said he’s particularly concerned about the spread of ethno-sectarian violence throughout the region, as well as the growing threat posed by radical Islamists and other extremist groups. “If these activities spark further aggression or if the events become linked, it could lead to a regionwide crisis lasting a decade or more,” he warned.

These challenges are exacerbated by the availability of ungoverned spaces and other adverse conditions that contribute to increased unrest and malign activities, he said.

“And so, as leaders, we must study and understand the unique dynamics at play, along with the trends or currents that connect the various events and crises together,” he said. “Without this knowledge and appreciation of history, we can’t hope to effectively influence outcomes or bring about a peaceful end to conflicts and situations as they arise.”

Since assuming command of Centcom in March, Austin said, he has focused on managing current conflicts, preventing confrontations from escalating and ultimately, promoting conditions that lead to a lasting security and stability.

Doing so depends largely on the might and preparedness of the U.S. military, working in concert with other elements of U.S. power and influence, he said. “Our civilian leadership stands ready to employ all these instruments of power in order to secure our vital interests across the Middle East and beyond,” he added.

Meanwhile, Austin emphasized ongoing efforts to promote partner capacity, largely through joint training exercises, education, foreign military sales and financing programs. The continued U.S. presence in the region and through the strong regional relationships established and strengthened through it is particularly important to this effort, he said.

While focusing on the future, Austin said, decisions made and actions taken today will have a long-term effect. He identified three major challenges now facing the region: the conflict in Afghanistan, the civil war in Syria and activities by Iran.

“The fact is that together we have accomplished a great deal in Afghanistan,” he said. “We have improved the conditions there, and we have given the Afghan people a real chance and hope for a better life.

“That said, there is still more work to be done,” he acknowledged, emphasizing U.S. interest in an enduring relationship with Afghanistan and a security agreement that provides a continued U.S. presence there. “We want to do all we can to help preserve the hard-earned gains achieved over the years by the Afghans and by the U.S. and coalition forces,” he said.

“Afghanistan has the potential to thrive and prosper,” he said, encouraging Afghan leaders to make the decisions needed to ensure the opportunity afforded them isn’t squandered.

Austin called the civil war in Syria one of the most complex and challenging he has seen in his 38 years of military service. The conflict, driven by sectarian issues rather than ideology, is further complicated by the presence of chemical weapons and the proxy activity by Iran and other nation states, he said.
He expressed concern about extremist activity within Syria that threatens to spill beyond its borders and negatively affect the broader region.

Austin said he’s hopeful Syria will make good on its pledge to eliminate its chemical weapons, but emphasized that the military option remains on the table if it doesn’t. “We remain postured and ready to take action if called upon in the event that the regime does not fulfill its obligations during the agreed-upon timeframe,” he said.

Ultimately, the civil war in Syria won’t be resolved militarily, and will require a diplomatic or political solution, Austin said.

Warning that the situation could grow into a long, drawn-out conflict that extends across the region, he said, “all of us have a vested interest in seeing a stable and secure Syria achieved.”

Meanwhile, Austin also expressed hope that a diplomatic solution can be reached regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

President Barack Obama has been clear that the United States will not tolerate Iran’s development or use of nuclear weapons, Austin told the forum. “All options required to enforce this policy remain on the table, to include the military option,” he said. “And we at U.S. Central Command stand ready to support any and all policy decisions made by our president and our civilian leadership.”

But Austin said other malign and destabilizing activity by Iran remains a concern not only by the United States, but also by its partners in the region.

“As I have told our partners in the region, with or without a nuclear threat, the United States has been and will remain a force for stability in the Middle East,” Austin said. Although hopeful that Iran will change its current course, he added, “we, like our friends and allies, will always listen to what Iran says while paying even greater attention to its actions.”

Meanwhile, he said, the United States and its partners will continue to stand ready to respond in the event that Iran poses a threat to the security of their people and their interests.

How the international community responds to these and other challenges in the Middle East will have long-term historical impact, Austin said.

“These are important and historic times,” he said. “The challenges before us are undoubtedly great, and the consequences of failure are significant and lasting.”

Recognizing that some people believe it’s time to disengage from the Middle East to focus elsewhere, Austin said that likely never will be a viable option.

“We must and we will remain present and engaged,” he said. “The Middle East is extremely important, because … what occurs there, good and bad, has shown to have an indelible impact on the global economy and security and stability in other parts of the world, to include here in the U.S.”

New York's 109th Airlift Wing launches annual Antarctic mission

New York National Guard
Click photo for screen-resolution image
SCOTIA, N.Y. (10/22/2013) - The 109th Airlift Wing kicked off its 26th season in support of Operation Deep Freeze on Oct. 18 as Airmen and LC-130 Hercules aircraft began their journey to the South Pole.

Despite the obstacles each season brings with the extreme weather conditions in Antarctica, crews are always prepared to complete the missions they have set out to do in support of the National Science Foundation.

A total of six ski-equipped LC-130 aircraft will be deployed this year from October to February, the typical on-continent Antarctic flying season.

These aircraft will support the National Science Foundation's research, moving supplies and people to field camps across the continent and to the South Pole station.

About 120 Air National Guard members will be deployed at any one time to Operation Deep Freeze, with a total of about 700 personnel rotations occurring over the entire season.

"We fully expect to meet all the mission requirements NSF sets forth for us," said Maj. Steven Slosek, a navigator who will be part of this year's ODF season, his fifth season on the ice. "It's an extremely remote and austere environment, but the best part about being a navigator in Antarctica is the sense of adventure."

Col. Shawn Clouthier, 109th AW commander, said he is confident the Wing will once again provide outstanding support, no matter what the obstacles.

"Due to fiscal constraints we have been tasked with fewer missions for this Antarctic season,” he said. "However, the mission set is still one of the most demanding in the Air National Guard and the Air Force. Through all of the budget restrictions one constant remains, the dedicated and professional men and women of the 109th will serve the National Science Foundation in the outstanding manner to which they have become accustomed."

After the resolution of the government shutdown Thursday, the 109th quickly geared back up to send down just as many aircraft as in previous seasons, and nearly the same number of personnel. As the season continues, additional guidance from the NSF will determine if the lowered mission tasking will continue.

The unit boasts the U.S. military's only ski-equipped aircraft, which has been supporting the NFS's South Pole research since 1988. Since 1999, the unit has been the sole provider of this type of airlift to the NSF and U.S. Antarctic research efforts.

In 1999 a crew from the 109th Airlift Wing made a daring rescue of Dr. Jerri Nielsen, a staff member at the Amundsen-Scott Station at the South Pole who was suffering from breast cancer. An LC-130 from the wing landed in bitter cold, far earlier in the season than they normally fly, to retrieve the doctor.
In 2008, another 109th LC-130 rescued an Australian researcher who had broken his leg in an accident and flew him to Hobart, Australia, from Antarctica.

Gen. Grass returns to Minnesota to sit down with state leaders and visit alma mater

By Master Sgt. Daniel Ewer
Minnesota National Guard
Click photo for screen-resolution image
ST. PAUL, Minn. (10/22/13) - Taking a few days of leave from his federal position as the chief of the National Guard Bureau, four-star Gen. Frank J. Grass returned to meet with the leadership of the Minnesota National Guard and visit his alma mater, Metropolitan State University, on Oct. 17.

The chief's day started at a roundtable breakfast meeting with the Minnesota National Guard's adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Richard C. Nash, and a panel of senior guard officers and civilian leaders known as the Minnesota National Guard Senior Advisory Task Force.

Formed in 2011, these advisors represent state government, education, judiciary, law enforcement, education, employers and clergy. These advisors assist the Minnesota National Guard with its objectives including increased diversity, cyber security, and veteran employment.

Reemploying returning Soldiers is probably the most easily identifiable success of the task force said Don Kerr, executive director, Department of Military Affairs. "Soldiers were returning at a roughly 28% unemployment rate," said Advisory Task Force member Don Shelby. "By the end of our campaign their unemployment rate was not four times the civilian rate, but three points lower."

The chief provided an overview of federal military budget issues and the potential impact of cutbacks on the readiness of the Army and Air National Guard. "One area where we may see some growth is cyber," Grass said.

Cutbacks have been debated in areas like equipment updates, Army aviation and full-time staffing. "You've got to get out and see our troops and our units," Grass said. "They are the best buy for the nation right now. You can't buy the Cadillac that you want. You can't afford it and probably don't need it as the war draws down, but you can buy this really solid force in the Guard and Reserve for less money and you can sustain it for the very unknown world we live in today. So, 'don't take the Guard down' is always my message."

Grass, his wife Patricia, and Nash then met with Gov. Mark Dayton at the Minnesota state capitol to discuss National Guard and veteran issues at state and federal levels. "It was important to have the chief of the National Guard Bureau in Minnesota to discuss the current challenges, priorities and objectives of the National Guard," Nash said.

Later, Metro State officials honored Grass during their annual University Foundation Scholarship Luncheon. He was designated the 2013 Alumnus of the Year. Grass was a Bachelor of Science Graduate in 1985. "We're extremely proud not only to award General Grass as Alumnus of the Year, but also have the opportunity to witness the proclamation of his alma mater as a Yellow Ribbon Company," said Dr. Sue K. Hammersmith, Metropolitan State President. "Our veteran's services department is a robust and active part of who we are, and we couldn't be happier to welcome Gen. Grass and our local elected officials to our campus to recognize the support we provide our military community."

Grass and his wife accompanied by the Minnesota National Guard leadership were introduced to the administrators and student veterans at Metropolitan State University.

The day's culminating event was the ceremony proclaiming Metropolitan State University as a Beyond the Yellow Ribbon organization. In addition to the Metro State officials, the speakers included Grass, Nash, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. Don Shelby was master of ceremonies.