Monday, November 25, 2013

Wounded Warriors Zing Volleyballs at Pentagon Tourney

By J.D. Leipold
Army News Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 25, 2013 – Gung-ho spirits were the norm as wounded warrior athletes from the four services, the U.S. Special Operations Command, and the Department of Veterans Affairs clashed Nov. 21 at the 3rd Annual Joint Services Sitting Volleyball Tournament, in recognition of Warrior Care Month.

Held in the Pentagon Athletic Club and hosted by the Office of Warrior Care Policy, the tourney showcases the services' Warrior Transition units. It also highlights the commitment of wounded, ill and injured service members to their physical and mental well-being through the Military Adaptive Sports Program, begun in 2011.

Before the two final games which pitted the Marine Corps against Air Force and Army against Socom, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Warrior Care Policy Donna Seymour spoke about DOD's commitment to "building a ready and resilient force," the theme for this year's Warrior Care Month.

"Military adaptive sports facilitate stress release and it provides reconditioning and camaraderie between our veterans and our active-duty service members and it improves their overall health and well-being as they adopt an added healthy lifestyle," she said. "To date in the last year, almost 100,000 recovering service members have participated in daily activities including yoga, wheelchair basketball, cycling, track and field, strength conditioning, swimming and sitting volleyball."

Seymour added that as confidence is built in one area such as physical competence, confidence in the emotional domain also increases. DOD Warrior Care Policy intends to expand the number of competitive sports and ultimately allow them to be included in the annual Warrior Games. She said her office also wants to increase participation by female athletes as well as service members with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

A large crowd of supporters cheered for their services. While it was apparent to them who the amputees were on the courts, other players had wounds, illnesses or injuries that were not so obvious. Irrespective of how they came to be members of their service's team, one element all players had in common was their own brand of resilience and fortitude.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Melissa Garcia, 27, was deployed to Spain when one day in January she was diagnosed with breast cancer and returned to her home station at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz.

After seeing an oncologist, she opted for surgery, having her lymph nodes removed, coupled with four rounds of chemo and six weeks of radiation every day. So far, Garcia said, she seems to have beaten the cancer, which never got her down.

"There was nothing I could do about it and I'm the type of person who takes things as they come at me," said Garcia, who serves as a medic. "I have a husband and 7-year-old daughter, and I thought it was important for me to show her that I could be strong even when I was sick."

Garcia was invited by the Air Force to its three-day adaptive sports camp in Las Vegas, which she jumped at. Taking a three-day break from radiation which upset her doctor, Garcia said she wasn't going to pass on the opportunity.

"Sports are my passion and playing in this tournament brings a sense of togetherness for all the services, because yes, each branch takes care of their own wounded warriors, but when we come here and play against each other, [there's] real awareness of togetherness," Garcia said.

On the surface, Army Sgt. 1st Class David Hall appears to be a soldier devoid of physical injuries, but the pain he continued to feel after injuring his lower back and spine in Iraq in 2003 continued to worsen until it was simply unmanageable. He also was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and sent to Walter Reed for psychiatric help and therapy on his back.

So much of soldiering is physical, Hall said, and to have that taken away was tough, especially since he served as a platoon sergeant.

His physical therapist recommended the sitting volleyball team because there's no jumping -- a major rule is that one butt cheek remain on the playing floor at all times -- and that's tough for someone to do who has all their limbs, he said.

"I was able to make the cut and excited to have the opportunity to play alongside some of my brethren who are lower-extremity amputees, but the biggest complication I had was learning to scoop the ball at the floor and to remain on the floor when going for the ball," Hall said. "Being part of a team is really big to me and being able to stay active is also extremely important and gives me the chance to show my fellow soldiers who are amputees that we're in this fight together. I'm just glad to be part of the team."

Army Spc. Samuel Walley lost his right leg and left arm to a remote-controlled improvised explosive device in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in June 2012. He said there was never any time to be depressed or sad over his bad fortune, though he did get a little down when he was worried about his buddies.

As a member of the Warrior Transition Unit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., the 21-year-old Georgia native said when he meets people at Walter Reed, they talk like the patients are depressed and sad, "but if they could hang around for a bit, I think they'd realize we're just the opposite, we're basically the same people we were."

He plans to continue in the Army after he's through therapy and found fit for duty again. Meanwhile he loves playing on the sitting volleyball team, especially the physical fitness part of it.

"There are a lot of things by having two limbs missing that I can't do just going to the gym, but this really gives me a good cardio workout. That's the main portion of it, and also because I'm competitive in nature, so I love getting out here and competing with the other branches," Walley said.

While Brent Petersen hasn't served in the military, he's been coaching the Marine Corps sitting volleyball team for three years and the Marines keep asking him back. He knows all his players' stories. Recently he was talking to one of his guys who kept resisting doing something productive, but eventually he came around and started volleyball and now he's surfing and doing all sorts of things that before he didn't even want to try.

"Adaptive sports re-validates these guys, and rather than a disability, I call it a re-ability because they're re-enabling their bodies to do something different and it puts them back into a unit, back onto a team and gives them hope for the next day," Petersen said. "Hopefully it encourages them to encourage others to be ambassadors in helping get guys out of the darkness."

In the double-elimination battle, the Navy was knocked out of the final competition for the trophy, which the Marine Corps team in red won by defeating Air Force in blue in two of three games. Army in black was upended by Socom in white for third-place honors.

In the end though, the tournament was about showing the strength, togetherness, character and resilience of America’s wounded, ill or injured service members.

November was designated Warrior Care Month by the Defense Department in 2008 to keep service members, their families and communities up-to-date on programs and initiatives being provided through the warrior care system.

Engineers prepare for action downrange

by Airman 1st Class Devante Williams
56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

11/22/2013 - LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- The 56th Civil Engineer Squadron embarked on an annual training exercise to help them prepare for deployments known as Prime BEEF Nov. 13 and 14 at Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field in Arizona.

CES Airmen participated in bivouac training, which included scenarios that challenged their job knowledge, operational capabilities and decision-making skills.

"It's critical that we provide the opportunity for our Airmen to train in real-world environments," said 1st Lt. Benjamin Fink, 56th CES Emergency Management Flight officer. "The austere Gila Bend location helped provide some realism to our training and brought the exercise to the next level."

CES departed Luke Air Force Base and arrived at a dirt lot in Gila Bend to begin the exercise. The engineers' first order of business was to set up an operational base, built from the ground up, running and fully functional before sundown. Their first training scenario took place while building the tents. Simulated terrorists attempted to enter the base. This was one of the new elements added to the bivouac.

CES leadership assigned a group of Airmen to take defensive fighting positions and secure the area while the rest of CES finished building camp.

"This was a chance to test our Airmen's readiness and to make sure they're prepared for anything," said Master Sgt. Robert Dwyer, 56th CES Prime BEEF manager. "You never know what's going to happen when you're downrange, so it's important to prepare now."

The empty dirt lot turned into a temporary encampment in about two hours. The Airmen had an hour to unpack and get situated in their tents before evening formation. After the formation, the Airmen were released, but the camp was on Force Protection Condition Charlie, so they couldn't leave the tents. The camp lights were shut off and Airmen at defensive fighting positions used night-vision goggles to scan the area for potential threats. By 8 p.m. the camp was at Force Protection Condition Alpha and the CES Airmen were able to shower and prepare for the long day ahead.

The exercise began with simulated ground attacks. The Airman at the DFPs defended the base while everyone else went into their tents for protection. There were dedicated runners who would run to different DFPs to deliver information received from the commanding office. The exercise scenario then changed from ground attacks to air attacks. The tents became simulated hard-sheltered buildings and the DFPs were simulated underground bunkers. There were simulated injuries during the attacks and runners used their self-aid and buddy care skills to save the Airmen.

"The bivouac allowed civil engineers to practice our critical wartime tasks," Fink said. "The way our squadron went to work and got the job done once we had 'boots on the ground' was amazing to watch."

After the simulated attacks, they began the last of their exercises - land navigation.

They split the camp into two teams. Each team had four squads. Their mission was to use a digital compass to type in the coordinates and find the locations. There were eight checkpoints total. Each checkpoint had a different event to complete, such as team blindfold course, identifying unexploded ordnance, a Humvee push and more.

"This experience has been great for us as a unit," Dwyer said. "We do the computer-based trainings, but this training was a chance to apply what our Airmen learn online to the real world so they will be able to implement it during deployments."

Luke FS reaches flying hour milestone

by Staff Sgt. Luther Mitchell Jr.
56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

11/22/2013 - LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- The 425th Fighter Squadron celebrated reaching a milestone of 50,000 flying hours at Luke Air Force Base Nov. 13. For the Republic of Singapore air force and Luke, this accomplishment reflects the committed partnership both have shared since the early '90s.

"The partnership and understanding we have enjoyed over the past 20 years has just been spectacular," said Lt. Col. Maxmillion Goh, 425th FS senior ranking officer.

The 425th FS activated on Dec. 30, 1992. It was originally constituted as the 425th Night Fighter Squadron in 1943 then redesignated the 425th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron in 1969 before becoming the 425th FS.

The Black Widows, as they are affectionately known, are a highly decorated squadron with numerous Air Force outstanding unit awards. Aircraft historically flown by the squadron include the YP-61 Black Widow, and P-70 Nighthawk, as well as the F-16 Fighting Falcon currently flown by the squadron.

The unit gets its black widow emblem from its original mission as a night fighter squadron. Its mission today is to support Peace Carvin II, the RSAF F-16 detachment, which provides pilots with continuation training in the F-16A/B.

"Before I came here, I heard a lot of good things about PCII, so I had very high expectation about what I was getting into," Goh said. "When I go back to Singapore, I know those pilots who have gone through PCII are performing at a very high level."

RSAF pilots deploy to Luke to receive upgrade training after being qualified as wingmen.

"As an operational squadron, we work to get pilots through advanced upgrade training," said Lt. Col. Ryan Nudi, 425th FS director of operations. "It typically takes two years and 60 to 70 upgrade sorties, including two upgrades while they're here and typically one upgrade per year. Then they return to the operational squadrons in Singapore."

Pilots receive their two-ship upgrade, which means they can now lead a wingman into combat and their four-ship upgrade certifying they can lead three other aircraft into combat. RSAF pilots rotate through the squadron every two years, with a change-over of 10 pilots every year.

"We typically fly 14 sorties a day," Nudi said. "That's about 280 sorties a month and 1.3 to 1.5 hours per sortie to meet the pilots' training requirements."

In addition to upgrade training, RSAF pilots enjoy many luxuries they can't get back at their home station.

"The weather is beautiful and the airspace is great, which is one of the key things lacking in Singapore," Goh said. "That is why we deploy all the way here. Four thousand flying hours per year is a lot more than RSAF fighter pilots are getting back home."

It's the best of both worlds for RSAF pilots, Nudi said. They receive high-end training in an open environment and access to plenty of ranges, and they are able to bring the block 52 aircraft to America to train.

Overall, the accomplishment of reaching 50,000 flying hours is an achievement that serves to bring together and further cement bilateral relationships.

"For us, it shows how much we have come together as a team to get the training requirements they desire and do it safely," Nudi said. "It's a celebration of 20 years of partnership and teamwork."

Retired Marine praises Illinois Guard members for their post-tornado actions

Click photo for screen-resolution imageBy Sgt. Robert R. Adams
Illinois National Guard

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (11/25/2013) - A retired Marine said two Illinois National Guard members are heroes because of their immediate actions to help victims of a tornado that ripped through Washington, Ill., Nov. 17.

Retired Marine Staff Sgt. Karl Newman of Washington, Ill., said Spc. Justin Brackeen of Washington and Staff Sgt. Joshua Slocum of Roscoe, Ill., both with Company A. 1/178th Infantry Battalion out of Bartonville, Ill., used their military training to evaulate the situation and responded by administering first aid and getting victims to safety.

Both Soldiers were released from drill to check on Brackeen's property because of the storm and drove to Brackeen's neighborhood. When they arrived at Brackeen's apartment complex they discovered it was no longer standing.

"It was hard to tell where the streets were, it was nothing but rubble," said Brackeen. "It struck some chords in me knowing there could be people under the rubble."

Newman said the victims were looking to us for answers and help because they recognized the uniforms we were wearing.

"These two selfless Soldiers immediately responded to their community less than 10 minutes after the tornado passed," said Newman. "I personally witnessed and helped them dig elderly people out of rubble that were trapped beneath."

Newman said Staff Sgt. Slocum used his first aid kit to bandage an elderly man's bleeding head while Brackeen dug the man's wife and brother out of the rubble.

After stabilizing the three elderly victims, Newman said they heard cries for help from across the street. There they found a man stuck under debris with a broken leg and going into shock.

"The two Soliders and myself quickly found anything we could to keep him warm and protect him from the extreme elements," said Newman.

The Soldiers got the attention of the firefighters and called for a stretcher, said Newman.

"While the storm was hammering us with painful rain, hail, and extreme high winds the two Soldiers along with the firemen evacuated the four victims," said Newman.

Newman said he was separated from the Soldiers after about an hour, but continued to see them throughout the evening and the next day rendering aid, preventing looting and searching for survivors.
"It was terrifying digging through the rubble," said Slocum. "The main thing I was terrified of was finding any children beneath the rubble."

Slocum and Brackeen said their military training allowed them to keep a level head during this time.
"The main sound that caught my attention was the hissing sound of the gas lines," said Slocum. "It was extremely loud and was coming from every house."

Beside the threat of fire due the gas leaks, the group feared another tornado was coming and were urged by victims to leave and take cover, but they continued to help.

"You couldn't ask for anything more of their courage and willingness to put themselves in harm's way to help other people," said Newman. "It's beyond words and you can't put price on it."

Slocum said the best advice he could give to fellow Guard members who could be faced with similar situations is, "stay calm and be ready."

Airmen, Soldiers conduct joint training in Sunflower State

by Senior Airman Nicole Leidholm
60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

11/22/2013 - TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Travis Airmen from the 21st Airlift Squadron and Soldiers from the 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division and 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division from Fort Riley, Kan., took part in a Joint Air Force Army Training Nov. 13, at Manhattan Regional Airport in Manhattan, Kan.

Working alongside one another, the off-station trainer provided training for Soldiers and Airmen on loading and unloading procedures for rapid deployment readiness, said Capt. Chad Dugie, 21st AS C-17 Globemaster III aircraft commander.

"The OST provided a training environment for 21st AS loadmasters that had recently graduated C-17A initial qualification," said Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Pickens, 21st AS C-17 instructor loadmaster. "It also provided them an opportunity to work, supervise and explain the loading, offloading and restraining procedures for the C-17 with approximately 30 Army service members."

The training also benefitted some of the younger Airmen, he said.

"Four of the six loadmasters were recent graduates from technical school," Pickens said. "During the training, each of the loadmasters were assigned a specific cargo load to direct and supervise the upload and download."

According to Pickens, the training also proved valuable for Staff Sgt. Christopher Clay, 21st AS C-17 loadmaster.

"This mission gave him an opportunity to teach a few of our younger Airmen how to direct and supervise the loading of some cargo that we normally don't get to see," Pickens said.

Together, the crews loaded and unloaded an M1A2 Abrams tank, a self-propelled howitzer, an OH-58D Kiowa helicopter and two Humvees.

"The mission was very successful for everyone involved," Pickens said. "Our loadmasters were able to spend an extended amount of time working with the Army and explaining in detail how to upload and download specific cargo."

Air Force Chief Tours Dakota Bases, Meets Personnel

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D., Nov. 25, 2013 – Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III arrived here today for a three-day trip through the Dakotas.

Welsh, his wife Betty, and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody will visit the base and then move to Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., to meet with airmen and their families.

Welsh will also meet with civic and congressional leaders at the bases.

“It’s a great chance to meet airmen,” Welsh said aboard his plane en route here. “I love seeing how they are doing. It’s important for us to see how we’re doing on the communications side of the house -- that we’re reaching them and connecting with them.”

The Air Force chief of staff is prepared to discuss all aspects of the service, but expects questions about the future of the service, budget constraints and how airmen will be doing their jobs in five to 10 years.

“Airmen are fairly predictable,” Welsh said. “They want to be the best in the world at what they do and they work hard at it.”

Welsh said he also expects service members to ask questions about education, training, operations and exercises.

“They don’t want to be sitting around doing nothing and wishing they could be doing something to make it better,” the general said.

Airmen are concerned about their ability to keep flying, he said. They also are worried about the future for their career fields.

“They are wondering if we are going to be cutting a lot of people,” Welsh said. “And how that will affect their families.”

Some young airmen are concerned about retirement benefits.

“That’s new to me,” the general said. “That is not something I would have worried about as a young lieutenant in the Air Force. But they do, because they are thinking long range.”

Welsh said the Air Force owes its young men and women answers.

“We’ll get questions from two-stripers that I wouldn’t have thought of until I was a colonel,” he said.

“I love airmen,” he added. “This will be fun.”

Committee Strives to Strengthen Employer Support of Guard, Reserve

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 25, 2013 – After repeatedly releasing their workers who also serve in the reserve and National Guard for more than 900,000 deployments since 9/11, one might expect employers to be growing weary of personnel management issues military departures may create in workplaces.

But Ronald Young, executive director for the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, said he finds it’s just not the case.

“Employers know this is important for the national security of this country,” Young said during an interview with American Forces Press Service.

“The United States has a voluntary force, and the reserve component represents close to 50 percent of the total force,” he said. “Without employers who support their employees during their time in uniform for weekend assemblies, additional training and mobilizations, some might be less likely to serve in the reserve components. So that employer support is critical.”

By law, employers have mandatory obligations to their Guard and reserve employees. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act protects service members’ reemployment rights when returning from military service. It also bans hiring discrimination based on a candidate’s military service or obligation.

“But many employers go above and beyond what the law requires,” Young said. Some employers continue providing pay and other benefits when their employees are mobilized. Others send care packages to their deployed workers and provide support to their families.

“The overwhelming, vast majority of employers tell me they see this as just doing their duty,” Young said. “They say, ‘This is our way of helping to do our duty as our employees go off to war -- by taking care of their families and continuing their benefits.’”

For the past 42 years, ESGR has worked to generate that level of support. Recognizing that a positive employer-employee relationship is a two-way street, ESGR helps ensure employers and reserve component members understand their rights as well as responsibilities under the law, Young explained.

ESGR’s network of 4,900 volunteers in all 50 states, all U.S. territories and the District of Columbia wear a variety of hats to promote the positive employer-employee relationships on which the reserve components depend, he said.

They’re advocates, promoting the importance of employer support and serving as a link between employers and the Defense Department. They’re also educators, offering employers and employees neutral, no-cost information and resources. They serve as champions, administering an extensive awards program that recognizes employers whose human resource personnel policies go above and beyond the spirit of the USERRA law. And when occasional conflicts arise between employers and employees related to military service, these volunteers become mediators who strive to help the parties overcome misunderstandings and resolve their issues.

In one of ESGR’s newest roles, they also help bridge the gap between employers who would like to hire military employees and National Guard members and reservists looking for employment through the Hero2Hired program.

“Over the past year, ESGR has interfaced with about 161,000 employers across the country,” Young reported. “That kind of outreach would be impossible if not for our voluntary committee members.”

“On a day-to-day basis, they meet with employers across the country and go to reserve component unit formations to talk … about the law and their responsibilities, and the services we have,” he said. “Seeing what they do, day in and day out, I know they serve as a readiness enhancer for units out there across the country.”

One of the volunteers’ most rewarding missions, Young said, is to present awards to companies and supervisors who demonstrate outstanding support for their Guard and reserve employees. Last year, more than 11,000 employees nominated their bosses for ESGR’s Patriot Award, which recognizes individual supervisors for their support.

In addition, ESGR state committees present the “Above and Beyond Award” to employers whose support surpasses the legal requirements of the USERRA law. Each year, state committees present the Pro Patria Award to one small, large and public-sector employer in each state or territory that has provided the greatest support to reserve-component employees through leadership practices and personnel policies.

The Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award is the most prestigious ESGR recognition, presented each year to employers who serve as national models for their support for the Guard and reserve.

As a sign of growing support, about 58,000 additional employers signed a formal Statement of Support for the Guard and Reserve last year, affirming their commitment to their employees who serve in the reserve components, Young reported.

This simple act sends a strong message to those employers’ Guardsmen and reservists, but also helps instill a workplace culture that recognizes and values the contributions reserve component members make to U.S. national defense, he said.

This ongoing support will remain critical as operations wind down in Afghanistan and fewer reserve component members are called on to serve combat deployments, he said.

“This nation owes a great debt of gratitude to the employers of the Guard and reserve across this country. Over the past 12 years, they have been phenomenal,” Young said. “Looking to the future, ESGR will continue to leverage that support because the United States will continue to depend on its reserve components.

“The Guard and Reserve are no longer just a strategic force to be put on the shelf to await the next engagement somewhere,” he added. “And because the nation will continue to depend on their service, the support of their employers will remain critical.”