Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Face of Defense: Resilience Helps Military Family Persevere

By Air Force Airman Michael S. Murphy 11th Wing

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md., March 20, 2018 — Robyn Kramer listened to the dull and tiresome beep from a heart monitor in a dark hospital room in the Southeast Alabama Medical Center in Dothan, Alabama, March 12, 2014. Light cut into the room as the door opened and a doctor walked in, waking her and her husband, Kyle Kramer.

The doctor informed them their newborn son, Jack, was in worse shape than they’d thought.

“The doctor had tears in her eyes, and that’s when she told us that she had a bad feeling about [his heart],” Robyn said.

That night, the doctor called in an echo cardiogram technician to perform a scan that revealed Jack had hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a congenital condition causing the heart to improperly pump blood to the body. Their son was going to need at least three open heart surgeries.

“I remember asking her straight up, ‘Is he going to die?’” Robyn said. “She just had the saddest look on her face, and she said she didn’t know. That was a question from then on that I constantly asked the doctors, and always got the same sad face.”

Fighting for Life

From that day on, she and her husband, an Air Force captain and now a pilot with the 1st Helicopter Squadron here, found themselves fighting a battle to fix their baby boy’s malformed heart. And to make it more difficult, the diagnosis came as a surprise.

“I had all of the proper prenatal care,” Robyn said. “There is no history of heart disease in our family. The second he came out, the doctor hadn’t even cut the cord yet, and he said, ‘Something is wrong with him.’”

The nurses and doctors originally told them the problem was baby Jack’s lungs. He was taken to the neonatal intensive care unit at the SAMC and was projected to return to his family about 12 hours later. Kyle and Robyn felt there was no need to worry.

After additional testing, the hospital decided to send Jack to the Children’s of Alabama hospital in Birmingham.

“They ended up flying Jack out [to Birmingham] because they couldn’t take care of him,” Robyn explained. “We went down to see Jack one last time and the flight nurse was putting him onto a stretcher. The flight nurse told Kyle to kiss him goodbye, and I started crying.”

In the coming months, Jack would receive multiple heart surgeries, beginning at Children’s of Alabama hospital and ending at Boston Children’s Hospital in Boston.

By the time Jack was 2, he had received medical operations costing more than $2 million dollars.

Support Builds Resilience

Kyle, who had been an Air Force combat controller, said his previous military experience helped him tackle the issues his family was facing.

“You can sit and wallow in self-pity or you can pick yourself up and continue on,” he said. “We did everything that we could. We brought him to the hospital as the best option that we had at the moment, and there was nothing else but to have faith that he would come out fine. That kind of kept me going, and I never worried about him dying.”

The Kramers didn’t have to go through it alone. Kyle and Robyn both said they received overwhelming support from his leadership and unit and remained resilient and hopeful in the face of Jack’s rare heart condition. Anytime Jack was in the hospital, Kyle was released to go take care of him.

“I know that, no matter what happens, that his work lets him go, whenever it may be,” Robyn said. “I don’t know if there would be any other job that would be so cool with it. It’s so funny, because Kyle was two weeks from separating years ago, and he got picked up to be a pilot. If we had any other job, things would be so different.”

And it wasn’t just colleagues and leaders. Kyle said the kindness received from others made an unforeseen impact in his life.

“I will forever be in their debt,” he said. “That has been the most humbling thing I have come across. It’s when they say, ‘Go take care of your kid’ and that’s it. I don’t even know how to say thank you.”


Robyn said Jack has far exceeded the medical standard set by doctors for children with HLHS for intellectual development and physical growth.

“He just got cleared a month ago for the first time ever,” Robyn added. “He doesn’t have to go back to the cardiologist for one year, and before that it was every three months.”

The Kramers have taken up the task of making others aware of the rare heart defect by maintaining a social media presence about Jack and his heart defect.

“They appropriately went all-in,” said Air Force Maj. Katy Tenpenny, a helicopter pilot instructor at Fort Rucker, Alabama, while Kyle was there, and now the Air Force District of Washington chief of helicopter operations here. “First is understanding and taking care of him, so I think that was their immediate thought, but I think they are also trying to raise awareness.”

With his health now better than ever, the Kramers have high hopes for Jack’s future and what he will accomplish.
“He is going to go to Harvard,” Kyle said with a grin. “Harvard is the medical school for Boston Children’s Hospital, so all his doctors are from Harvard. We always joke that he is going to end up back there.”

Stratcom Chief Testifies on Command’s Readiness to Deter, Respond

By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chuck Broadway DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, March 20, 2018 — U.S. Strategic Command forces are prepared to deter strategic attack and employ forces, as directed, to guarantee the security of the nation and its allies, the Stratcom commander told the Senate Armed Services Committee here today.

“The most important message I want to deliver today is that the forces under my command are fully ready to deter our adversaries and respond decisively, should deterrence ever fail,” Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten said. “We are ready for all threats.”

Ever-Changing, Global Warfighting Command

Stratcom personnel are positioned across the world, and are responsible for multiple domains, including air, land, sea and space. The command sets conditions across the globe as the ultimate guarantor of national and allied security, Hyten said.

“Our forces and capabilities underpin and enable all other joint force operations, he said. “[Stratcom] truly is a global warfighting command, and the strength of its command is its people,” the general told the senators. “The soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and civilians of this enterprise have the most important mission in our entire department, in our entire nation. Their hard work and dedication ensures our nation’s strategic capabilities remain safe, secure, reliable, and ready.”

Stratcom’s responsibilities include strategic deterrence, nuclear operations, space operations, joint electromagnetic spectrum operations, global strike missile defense analysis and targeting and current cyberspace operations. The general said the country is challenged by adversaries who continue to expand their range of capabilities across all of these domains, and that Stratcom must continue to develop capabilities to defeat those adversaries.

“To maintain military superiority in this multipolar, all-domain world, we must out-think, out-maneuver, out-partner and out-innovate our adversaries,” he said. “Deterrence in the 21st century requires the integration of all our capabilities, across all domains, enabling us to respond to adversary aggression any time, anywhere.”

Nuclear Deterrence, Readiness

The recently completed 2018 Nuclear Posture Review reinforces and clearly defines long-standing national objectives regarding nuclear weapons, while focusing on current and future threats, Hyten said. Providing nuclear deterrence is the lead priority for Stratcom, the general added.

“The bedrock of our nation’s deterrence continues to be our safe, secure, ready, and reliable nuclear triad,” he said. “We started the NPR with an assessment of the threat … and based our approach on what our adversaries are doing today and the increasing challenges of the future. The surest way to prevent war is to be prepared for it. While the current [nuclear] triad continues to provide the backbone of our national security, we will eventually consume the last remaining margin from our investments made in the Cold War.”

Hyten said the nuclear triad is critical to current and future success. This includes modernization programs, such as the B-21 bomber, the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine, the ground-based strategic deterrent, the long-range standoff cruise missile, nuclear command and control, and life-extended nuclear warheads. He said these capabilities will undoubtedly meet the nuclear deterrent needs now and well into the future.
“We have to remember that the strategic environment is dynamic,” the general said. “It changes constantly and our approach to deterrence must be equally dynamic to address these evolving threats. Sustained Congressional support will ensure we remain ready, agile, and effective at deterring strategic attack, ensuring our allies and partners today and into the future.”

Arctic Conditions Provide Valuable Lessons in Alaska Exercise

By From an Alaskan NORAD Region/Alaskan/Command/11th Air Force News Release

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska, March 20, 2018 — Alaskan Command, a subordinate unified command under U.S. Northern Command, has proven that summer soldiers or sunshine patriots do not exist in the U.S. military.

More than 1,500 U.S. military personnel braved snowy and icy conditions and temperatures that dipped well below zero to participate in the multiservice exercise Arctic Edge last week, primarily in the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex and Long-Range Radar System sites in Alaska. Navy and Coast Guard experts also discussed maritime scenarios during a tabletop exercise in Alaska’s capital of Juneau.

The exercise was the first of its kind in more than three decades, and it was the largest joint exercise scheduled in Alaska this year, said Army Lt. Col. Joshua Gaspard, Joint Training and Readiness chief at Alaskan Command. Arctic Edge 18 focused on defending the homeland in extreme cold weather conditions found in Arctic environments, he said, noting that previous Arctic Edge exercises focused on defense support to civil authorities following a natural disaster.

“Alaska provides a great opportunity to conduct this exercise over a great swath of land,” Gaspard said. “The Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex is a great venue for this exercise.”

Vast Exercise Area

The exercise covered 1.5 million acres on the ground and 65,000 square miles of inland air space. Also, 42,000 square nautical miles of sea in the Gulf of Alaska was taken into consideration for a maritime tabletop exercise in Juneau. Service members from multiple forces were spread throughout a 1,100-mile area, Gaspard said, which is the equivalent distance from New York City to Miami.

Some of those training included service members from U.S. Special Operations Command North. The command’s director of operations, who for security reasons cannot be identified by name, said it was a great opportunity to train in the extreme weather conditions and do so jointly with conventional forces.

“Alaska is really the only access to above the Arctic Circle and that kind of extreme-environment training,” he said. “It’s just an absolutely great opportunity for us to get up here and work our mission sets.”

A New Understanding

The operations director said his team walked away with a new understanding of what it takes to operate effectively and efficiently in the extreme cold, and how to integrate with other forces at a tactical level.

“We’re used to doing that around the globe, but it’s an interesting challenge to do it up here in an arctic environment, in March, in Alaska,” he said. “Obviously, the extreme weather, extreme temperature and visibility conditions make a lot of those operations a lot more difficult than they’d normally be, but we’re working out some additional processes that make sure that we’re doing these operations safely and effectively so we don’t have to worry about integrating in other parts of the world.”

The exercise comprised a series of isolated vignettes that included a joint Army and Marine Corps live-fire exercise on snow- and ice-covered ranges, and several elements that focused on defense capabilities, Gaspard said.

Army Lt. Col. Josh Davis, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, said Arctic Edge was the second time his battalion has worked in a joint mission with the Marine Corps since he became commander.

He added the live-fire exercise with the Marine infantry and a Marine air defense unit provided meaningful training.

“We’re always stronger together, and there’s no power like joint power,” Davis said. “If we practice jointly, we’re going to be that much more capable if we go do this for real anywhere in the world.”

Davis said environments are never completely predictable, and Alaska provides a unique environment with some of the toughest conditions on the planet. “If we perform here, then there’s virtually nowhere else we can’t perform,” he added.

Gaspard said the climate and rugged terrain also provided a unique and valuable area for testing new equipment. “This has also given us a chance to relook at our training progression to operate up here,” he said, “so that’s revolutionizing how we would prepare our forces to come and operate in an environment like this and what that progression would look like.”

Preparation for forces coming from the Lower 48 included extreme cold-weather training, he said.

“You’re not going to go from zero to Alaska in a week,” Gaspard said. “There’s going to be a training progression to validate what a good progression model looks like.”

Field training for Arctic Edge 18 ran March 12-16, and a tabletop exercise will continue through March 23. The exercise was conducted by Alaskan Command under Northcom’s authority, and participants included U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, from active duty, Reserve and National Guard units, as well as Defense Department civilian employees and contractors.
“The goal of Arctic Edge 18 is to train military forces to fight and win in the Arctic,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. Kenneth S. Wilsbach, Alaskan Command’s commander. “The exercise is a great opportunity to develop teams and relationships across services, which allows us to protect and defend the United States.”