Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Beach Ops

Marines stage assault amphibious vehicles during around-the-clock operations at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, May 28, 2020.

Face of Defense: Sibling-Soldiers

June 1, 2020 , DOD News

For Army Maj. Nicholas Fiore, Maj. Elyse Pierre and Capt. Carolyn "Nina" Fiore, family ties bolster their shared commitment to duty and service. 

Raised in a military family, all three siblings graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, before embarking on their Army careers. They recently talked about their upbringing and what military service means to them.

Army Maj. Nicholas Fiore, Maj. Elyse Pierre and Capt. Carolyn "Nina" Fiore
Job Titles:
Nicholas: armor officer and future operations planner
Elyse: medical officer and board-certified doctor
Nina: aviation officer and commander, Troop D, 3rd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Division Combat Aviation Brigade
Hometowns: Fairfax, Va.; Pompton Lakes, N.J.; Ringwood, N.J.
Stationed: Fort Bliss, Texas (Nicholas and Nina) and Fort Stewart, Ga. (Elyse)

Growing Up Military

Military children are more likely than their peers to join the military. About 80 percent of recent recruits come from a family where at least one close relative was in uniform.

The Fiore siblings' father, Uldric "Ric" Fiore, served in the Army for 30 years and is a retired member of the Senior Executive Service as a judge advocate general director for the Army. Their mother, Nancy Colfax, graduated from Vermont Law School and worked as a lawyer for a time.

A soldier stands smiling with her father and grandfather on either side of her.

Throughout their childhoods, the Fiore siblings saw the sacrifice and dedication of their parents as they adjusted to the challenges that face military families.

"One of the things that I think drives a lot of young families out of the Army is that they realize that they just can't manage two careers," Nicholas said. "Our mother chose to stay at home, even though I know that she missed practicing law and that she was good at it."

Rising to Challenges

Even when she transitioned out of her career, their mother didn't stop working, he said, describing her tireless efforts to help military families. 

"She would take me with her, with the little red plastic lunchbox and the Lion King VHS, when she would volunteer on post and still use her skills to help out soldier families wherever we were."

The family adapted to the challenges of military life, and made sure those challenges did not interfere with childhood excitement and opportunity.

"We moved around a lot and that tends to cause Army children to have one of two reactions, 'I don't ever want to move again' or 'Hey, it's kind of cool to travel around the world and see different places'" Ric said. "I think our children enjoyed the traveling piece, so they were not adversely influenced by all the moving and we always made sure that their schools were a priority."

A soldier stands smiling around her family as they affix decorations to her uniform.

West Point Pride

Despite the frequent moves, the Fiore family established a strong identification with West Point. 

"When my parents were growing up, West Point was the biggest college nearby, so they went to West Point football games even though they didn't have a family connection to the Army," Nicholas said. "I remember going to those tailgates as a kid and that definitely attracted me."

Each of the three siblings retained a sense of independence and individuality but ultimately, each chose West Point as the place to pursue their goals. Nicholas graduated 2007, Elyse in 2010 and Nina in 2013.

A soldier stands smiling while his two siters affix the shoulder boards on his uniform.

"When Nic was applying to colleges, he was looking at St. John's University and Johns Hopkins University but eventually decided that he wanted to go to West Point," Nina said. "Our sister Elyse decided that going to West Point to be a physician for the Army was what she wanted, to help keep soldiers healthy and not just go work in a practice somewhere tucked away in a corner of a big office building."

"I've wanted to fly helicopters since about the time they convinced me I couldn't be a bird when I grew up," she continued, "so for me that was a no-brainer."

Two soldiers pose in front of the tail end of a helicopter.

Family Within a Family

Serving as an armor officer, an aviation officer and a medical officer results in very different experiences for the siblings, but they remain close knit and supportive of one another nevertheless — a family within the Army family. 

"All of us are committed to serving other soldiers and Americans as best we can, Nina said. "We're fortunate to have the ability and the opportunity to do so." 

Adapted from an article by Army Pfc. Matthew Marcellus

Statement by Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs on Support to Civil Authorities

June 2, 2020

Attributable to Jonathan Rath Hoffman, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs:

The Department of Defense moved multiple active duty Army units into the National Capitol Region as a prudent planning measure in response to ongoing support to civil authorities operations.

The Secretary of Defense authorized the movement of an infantry battalion designated Task Force 504, assigned to the Army’s Immediate Response Force based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Additionally, at the Department’s direction, the U.S. Northern Command commander authorized the move of the 16th Military Police Brigade headquarters from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and the 91st Military Police Battalion from Fort Drum, New York.  The brigade provides a command and control element for the battalion, which primarily provides military police and engineering capability.  

Active duty elements moved to the National Capitol Region by military aircraft over the last 24 hours.

Active duty elements are postured on military bases in the National Capitol Region but are not in Washington DC. They are on heightened alert status but remain under Title X authority and are not participating in defense support to civil authority operations.  

The overall number of active duty troops recently moved from Fort Bragg and Fort Drum is approximately 1600 troops.

Air Force Secretary Gets Update on Kirtland's Mission During COVID-19

June 2, 2020 | BY Air Force Airman 1st Class Austin Prisbrey , 377th Air Base Wing

Air Force Secretary Barbara M. Barrett toured Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, to visit various mission partners and explore active mission sets to gain a better understanding of how the base has sustained national security capabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A woman and an airman, both wearing masks, talk while walking out of a headquarters building..

The secretary visited the base May 20-21.

"Team Kirtland's myriad of missions don't stop because of COVID-19." Barrett said. "Today's visit was an opportunity to personally thank and observe how service members and civilians have adapted and continue to modernize the Air and Space Forces."

Barrett began the visit at the Air Force Research Laboratory's Directed Energy and Space Vehicles Directorates, where she was briefed on several programs critical to the nation’s defense.

One of three airmen gestures while speaking with a civilian woman outdoors. All are wearing masks.

Dr. Kelly Hammett, the director , introduced Barrett to a variety of high-power microwave and high-energy laser systems in development. Hammett showcased the Raytheon PHASER and AFRL THOR high-power microwave systems for countering small unmanned aerial systems, as well as the CHIMERA high-power microwave system being tested for additional base defense capabilities.

"Combatant commanders are very interested in these transportable systems that can nonkinetically defeat multiple air base threats, while providing a deep magazine and low cost per shot," Hammett said.

Barrett received briefings on the space vehicle's small-satellite portfolio and detailed presentations on the directorate’s spacecraft now  in orbit.

"The Air Force Research Lab has an amazing pipeline of space science and technology innovations focused on increasing the resiliency of our nation's space capabilities so that we deter conflict in space," said Air Force Col. Eric Felt, the lab's director.

A man and a woman speak while standing by a sign depicting part of a military unit’s operations. Both are wearing masks.

The base visit continued to the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, where Barrett was brought up to date on critical programs and how they line up with her priorities as the Air Force secretary. The planned transfer of AFRL missions to the Space Force continues, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Barrett was briefed on the center's plans for returning to full mission capability during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Shaun Morris, the commander of AFNWC and the Air Force program executive officer for strategic systems. "Given the absolutely critical nature of our role in providing nuclear capabilities to the warfighter, we are committed to maintaining full support despite COVID-19. To date, we've kept all key efforts on track and in line with her nuclear deterrence priorities."

Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett touring Kirtland Air Force Base.

Barrett also visited the Space Rapid Capabilities Office to familiarize herself with its mission and transition to the Space Force.

"As one of the key acquisition organizations of the U.S. Space Force, the Space RCO is laser focused on meeting our mission to develop and deliver critical space capabilities at the speed of relevance," said Mike Roberts, the RCO director. "The Space RCO is honored to have the opportunity for our workforce to meet [Barrett], given the secretary's leadership has been key in empowering our ability to meet our mission."

Barrett visited the Space and Missile Systems Center Innovation and Prototyping Directorate to better understand how the center accelerates the pivot to the new space architecture.

"We were particularly excited to showcase the partnerships we share with other space organizations here at Kirtland Air Force Base and across the [Defense Department]," said Air Force Col. Timothy Sejba, the director of SMC innovation and prototyping.

A woman wearing a mask receives a briefing from an airman who has his back to the camera.

Throughout the visit, Barrett emphasized the importance of the multiple national security mission sets on Kirtland and not only how critical their capabilities are, but also how vital the workforce is for mission readiness and success. Social distancing, face coverings and "elbow" greetings were routine during the visit.

"It was an amazing opportunity for our airmen to spend time with Secretary Barrett," said Air Force Col. David S. Miller, the commander of the 377th Air Base Wing. "Her trip to Kirtland certainly underscores the importance of the work by all of the men and women on Team Kirtland, and the installation's contributions to national security."

Javits Farewell

Army Col. Kimberlee Aiello, right, commander of the 44th Medical Brigade, gives an elbow bump to Air Force Maj. Carrie Gaddy, assigned to the 64th Air Expeditionary Group, during an award and farewell ceremony at the Javits Center in New York City, May 28, 2020. Military medical providers assigned to the hospital collaborated as an integrated system to support the New York City medical system as part of the Defense Department’s COVID-19 response efforts.

Pohnpei Paint

Navy Seaman Shareine May, assigned to the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5 Detail Pohnpei, paints a mobile bathroom and shower facility designed by Navy Seabees to help prepare a COVID-19 response compound for the Pohnpei State Medical Task Force at Misco Beach in Pohnpei, Micronesia, May 20, 2020. NMCB-5 is deployed across the Indo-Pacific region conducting high-quality construction to support U.S. and partner nations to strengthen partnerships, deter aggression and enable expeditionary logistics and naval power projection.

Dual Descent

Airmen descend during airborne training at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, May 26, 2020. The training helps maintain operational readiness during the pandemic.

Department of Defense Announces Tour Length Change for the Middle East

June 2, 2020

The Department of Defense has changed the current overseas tour length for DoD military personnel under COCOM (Title 10) authority assigned to permanent duty locations in the Arabian Peninsula and Iraq.

As a byproduct of the Department's continuous reassessment of personnel policies worldwide, DoD military personnel will gradually transition to 12-month unaccompanied tours for designated duty stations in the region.

This change will not affect the number or readiness of U.S. forces in the region.

DoD military personnel currently assigned to the region will finish out their accompanied tours and cycle out gradually over the course of two years. Those who have orders to prepare to move up to 30 days from today will be allowed to PCS to their accompanied tour, though all accompanied tours must be complete by August 31, 2022.

While this change applies to a number of countries in the region, only Bahrain and Qatar currently host military families under COCOM authority.

The Department remains committed to supporting our partners in this vital region.

The policy can be found here and a corresponding fact sheet can be found here.

Marine Education

Marine Corps students with the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training Camp Pendleton conduct maintenance on a UH-1Y Venom helicopter at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., May 28, 2020. Students and staff took strict precautionary measures to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Department of Defense Accepts Korean Ministry of Defense's Proposal to Fund Korean National Employee Labor Costs

June 2, 2020

The Department of Defense has accepted the Republic of Korea’s (ROK) proposal to fund the labor costs for all U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) Korean National (KN) employees through the end of 2020.

The lapse of last year's 10th Special Measures Agreement (SMA), in which the Republic of Korea partially shared the burden of stationing U.S. Forces on the peninsula, and the continued absence of a subsequent agreement, resulted in more than 4,000 Korean National employees being furloughed.

USFK expects all KN employees to return to work no later than mid-June.

In March, prior to the partial furlough, the DoD funded critical logistics contracts and partially funded KN labor to mitigate some of the risk associated with a complete furlough. This enabled USFK to accomplish their mission to maintain a robust combined defense posture.

Since the last SMA lapsed on 31 December 2019, the United States has unilaterally shouldered the burden for all costs associated with U.S. Forces in Korea. These include KN labor costs, logistics contracts, and construction project design and oversight costs.  Today’s decision will provide over $200M in ROK funding for USFK’s entire KN workforce through the end of 2020.  Additionally, it is a direct reflection of the United States’ commitment to readiness, to our Korean employees, and to the Alliance - “the linchpin of peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.”

This decision enables a more equitable sharing of the KN employee labor burden by the ROK and the U.S. More importantly, it sustains the Alliance’s number one priority - our combined defense posture.

In regards to the lapsed SMA, the Department of Defense believes that equitable burden-sharing between the governments of the United States and the Republic of Korea is in the best interest of all parties. We strongly encourage our Ally to reach a fair agreement as quickly as possible. The United States has shown considerable flexibility in their approach to the SMA negotiations, and requests that the ROK does the same.

Without an agreed upon SMA, critical defense infrastructure projects will remain suspended, all logistics support contracts for USFK will continue to be paid completely by the U.S., and burden sharing will remain out of balance for an Alliance that values and desires parity.  USFK’s mid- and long-term force readiness remains at risk.

Food Kits

Soldiers assigned to the California Army National Guard’s 224th Sustainment Brigade assemble emergency food kits during a COVID-19 humanitarian response mission at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank in Commerce, Calif., May 29, 2020. With Cal Guard’s assistance, the food bank is building more than 10,000 kits a day and recently surpassed a milestone of 300,000 kits built since troops arrived in mid-April.

Drive-Thru Test

Delaware Army National Guard Pfc. Kelly Buterbaugh gives instructions to a motorist during a drive-thru coronavirus testing mission at the University of Delaware's Science, Technology and Advanced Research Campus in Newark, Del., May 29, 2020. About 25 soldiers and airmen with the Delaware National Guard supported the saliva-based testing of roughly 400 people at the STAR Campus location.

Oklahoma National Guard Supports Statewide COVID-19 Contact Tracing

June 2, 2020 | BY Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kasey Phipps

Members of the Oklahoma National Guard are supporting the Oklahoma State Health Department in fulfilling Gov. Kevin Stitt's continued efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 throughout the state.

In this latest push, Oklahoma guardsmen are helping with contact tracing, which is the process of tracing and monitoring the contacts of infected people.

Oklahoma guardsmen conduct contact tracing operations.

"We're minimizing the spread and helping with the community," said Army Sgt. Anna Aranda, a member of the Oklahoma National Guard who serves as the noncommissioned officer in charge of the guardsmen working at the Texas County Health Department in Guymon, Oklahoma. "We're working closely with the Oklahoma State Department of Health and making a tremendous impact with them. You know, they needed our help, and so we're here."

The tracing, which begins with a positive COVID-19 test, follows the same procedures for any other disease or contagion tracing process. An employee from the Health Department makes the initial call, and after confirming their identity, informs the individual of the positive test result. They then work with the call recipient to voluntarily build a list of contacts who could have had exposure to the infected individual. That list gets passed to a trained person who then follows up with each of the contacts.

"There's the same procedure, same protocol, same stratagems to limit exposure," said Eddie Garza, a disease intervention specialist with the Oklahoma State Health Department. "But morbidity is so high here — and actually everywhere in Oklahoma, but especially in Texas County — that we needed reinforcements. The National Guard has been a tremendous help in contact tracing, because for one person who tests positive, we've had upwards of 10 to 15, sometimes 25 contacts."

Guardsmen working in a call center setup are trained to make the calls to each of the contacts while also protecting the contact's identity and medical information. Despite the "tracing" aspect of the interactions, the initial outreach begins regular contact with potentially infected people for the duration of their contagious period. These phone calls can include education of symptoms and prevention, resources such as food and supplies for those who need to quarantine and symptom monitoring for those who contract COVID-19 or have the potential to.

Oklahoma guardsmen conduct contact tracing operations.

"We make phone calls and we inform them of their possible contact, and the response has been great," Aranda said. "Most everyone has been polite, encouraging and thanking us for following up with them. A lot of them are worried, you know, of course, and you've got to show empathy. You build a kind of trust with them."

For Aranda's region, which focuses heavily on Guymon, being bilingual provides a special skill set that goes further than their contact tracing training and is especially important. The population of Guymon speaks 37 different languages, with English and Spanish being the most prominent.

"We want to help the community to feel safe and for them to have an understanding of what we’re saying," Aranda said. "We have three service members who are bilingual, and they are a tremendous asset to our team. You want to speak the language that you're comfortable with, so that's what we do, and that gives them peace of mind when we call them."

Aranda, who is one of the three bilingual guardsmen there, says their ability to communicate with the community has really built rapport with those they have contacted.

"They're not afraid," she said. "They're not scared. So it makes me feel great that we're making such a big impact in this community. It's an amazing feeling. You can't beat that."

Aranda said the trust between the community and the guardsmen who are helping to carry out the contact tracing in their area is paramount to the success of their jobs as contact tracers.

Oklahoma guardsmen conduct contact tracing operations.

"When we do contact tracing, there is fear that people have in the community about privacy," Aranda explained. "So we're not there to worry about what they're doing. We're just worried about their symptoms and making sure that they are aware that they came in contact with somebody with COVID-19. So our goal is to make them aware so they can help [prevent] the spread, and they’re usually grateful for that."

An exponential increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Guymon demanded more contract tracing. Since their arrival in May, the guardsmen from the Oklahoma Air and Army National Guard have more than doubled the calling and testing capacity in the area.

"The guard has probably doubled my staff here in Guymon," said Terri Salisbury, the Oklahoma State Health Department regional director. "I really appreciate the National Guard coming out and being so willing [to help]. Most people don't come to Guymon, Oklahoma, and they've all been great. They've stayed and worked through the weekends and everything else. So I'm very, very thankful for them."

Teams like this one are spread throughout the state to help their communities limit their exposure to COVID-19 and fight against the pandemic together alongside other state agencies.

(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kasey Phipps is assigned to the Oklahoma Air National Guard.)

Baseball 'Legend' Abner Doubleday Also Served in the Union Army

June 2, 2020 | BY David Vergun, DOD News

Most sporting events have been postponed or cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because many service members are sports fans and the games are mostly on hold, here's a look at a purported baseball legend who also served in the Army.

For a very long time, Abner Doubleday was widely thought to have invented the game in 1839 at age 20 in his hometown of Cooperstown, New York. 

A man in a Civil War-era uniform poses for a portrait.

However, that year, Doubleday was a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, and permission to travel home was rarely granted to first-year cadets.  Doubleday never claimed to have invented the sport; nonetheless, the claims were made by others after his death.

Although variations of baseball were thought to have existed as early as the Revolutionary War, no one knows exactly who created the game.

In 1907, the Mills Commission, composed of seven prominent baseball officials and former players, investigated the matter and deemed Doubleday was baseball's inventor. But sports historians later said the commission's findings were flawed due to lack of solid evidence. 

Still, the findings were great news for the local businesses in Cooperstown and major league officials, who established the town's National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 1939, which today is a major tourist attraction.

Another myth is that Doubleday invented San Francisco's cable cars. He did co-establish the city's first cable car company, however.

Aside from baseball and the cable car, Doubleday's life and illustrious military career were fascinating.

After graduating from West Point in 1842, he became an artillery officer with the 3rd Artillery Regiment. He and the regiment were deployed to Mexico from 1846 to 1848 during the Mexican-American War.

A Civil War-era photograph of a southern fort.

He later was assigned to Florida from 1855 to 1858 where he participated in the Third Seminole War.

The following year found Doubleday at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island, South Carolina. Secessionist fervor was sweeping large areas of the South, and many officers resigned their commissions to join the rebellion.

In the face of growing hostility to Union soldiers, the garrison commander decided to move the garrison to nearby Fort Sumter, which was considered more defensible.

After a four-month standoff, the South Carolina militia attacked the fort with artillery. Doubleday is said to have aimed his battery to fire the first return shot. As a result, he and his gun crew were the Union soldiers who fired the first shot that started the Civil War on April 12, 1861. 

With supplies and munitions low, after 34 hours of bombardment, the Union soldiers — led by Army Maj. Robert Anderson and second-in-command Doubleday — surrendered.

The garrison was allowed to depart and head north, since it was so early in the war and prisoners were not yet being taken. After a promotion to major, Doubleday commanded artillery defenses around Washington, D.C.

A mid-19th century couple pose for a portrait.

Following a rapid promotion to brigadier general, he was given command of a brigade, under Army Gen. Irvin McDowell. On Aug. 29-30, 1862, he led his men into combat at the Second Battle of Bull Run, which Southerners even today call the Battle of Second Manassas.

During the ensuing battle, his men helped hold the line against Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas ''Stonewall'' Jackson's advance for a time. However, on Aug. 30, Confederate Maj. Gen. James Longstreet pushed back all the Union soldiers, including McDowell's.

Nonetheless, Doubleday is said to have conducted himself well during the battle.

Doubleday participated in many more battles, including the Battle of South Mountain, Sept. 14, 1862, near Boonsboro, Maryland. During the battle, Army Brig. Gen. John P. Hatch was wounded so Doubleday took command of I Corps and successfully blocked a Confederate assault.

At the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, Doubleday led a division assigned to I Corps. About 23,000 men on both sides were killed. He, again, did well leading men on the battlefield during the bloodiest day of battle in U.S. history. He was promoted to major general about two months later.

After leading his division again in combat during the Battle of Fredericksburg in Virginia on Dec. 11-15, 1862, Doubleday was assigned to command a new division.

From April 30 to May 6, 1863, Doubleday led this division at the Battle of Chancellorsville in Spotsylvania County, Virginia.

A photograph of a tombstone bearing Doubleday’s surname.

Perhaps Doubleday's biggest moment of glory, however, was at the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania on July 1-3, 1863.

On the first day of battle, I Corps commander, Army Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds was killed, and Doubleday took his place. His 9,500 men held back more than 16,000 Confederate attackers.

Despite his unit's extraordinary heroism, Doubleday was relieved of command on day two of the battle by Army of the Potomac commander Maj. Gen. George G. Meade. It has been said that Meade personally disliked Doubleday. After having been relieved of command from I Corps, Doubleday again became a division commander for the remaining days of the battle.

Doubleday had a number of other assignments during the Civil War, and, unlike many of his fellow officers, he remained in the Army when the war ended.

In 1871, he commanded the 24th U.S. Infantry Regiment, an all African-American regiment headquartered at Fort McKavett, Texas. Doubleday requisitioned baseballs and baseball bats for his regiment, valuing sports as a camaraderie-building activity. It is said that he did this throughout his Army career.

Two years later Doubleday retired from the Army.

Other Interesting Facts

  • The baseball field at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point was named Doubleday Field in his honor in 1939, the same year the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum opened. Many baseball fields around the U.S. are also named Doubleday Field, including in Cooperstown, which opened in 1920.
  • Doubleday’s father, Ulysses Doubleday, fought in the War of 1812 and was a U.S. congressman, representing the 24th District in New York. Doubleday’s grandfather fought in the Revolutionary War at Bunker Hill, Stoney Point and at Valley Forge.
  • Abraham Gilbert Mills, who headed the Mills Commission which was to determine the origin of baseball, also has an interesting background. He enlisted in the 5th New York Volunteers in 1862 as a private. During the war, he was commissioned a second lieutenant and served for the duration of the war.
  • During World War II, the liberty ship SS Abner Doubleday was named in his honor.
  • Doubleday, who died in 1898 at age 73, is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Section 1, Grave 61, very close to the James Tanner Amphitheater.


Monday, June 01, 2020

Continental Intercept

A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet intercepts two U.S. Strategic Command B-1B Lancers as they enter the Canadian Air Defense Identification Zone, and again as they enter the Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command Region, May 29, 2020. The intercepts were part of a U.S. Northern Command-led, large-scale homeland defense exercise.

Physical Training

Soldiers participate in a physical training session at Fort Sill, Okla., May 29, 2020.

Marine Flight

Marines operate MV-22B Ospreys during a training exercise over Oahu, Hawaii, May 28, 2020.

Honor Guard Soldiers Continue Performing Final Salutes During COVID-19

June 1, 2020 | BY Army Capt. Avery Schneider , New York Army National Guard

On a warm and cloudy morning, Army Sgt. Nikole Clark and Army Spc. Austin Dycha stepped out of their cars at Holy Cross Cemetery in Lackawanna, New York, to conduct a funeral ceremony in honor of former Army Air Force Cpl. Raymond Kegler, who served during World War II.

Honor guard soldier at a military funeral.

Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the New York Army National Guard's Military Funeral Honors Program continues to provide final salutes to Army veterans.

The two-member honor guard team surveyed the cemetery's granite-walled mausoleum and began final preparations for Kegler’s May 14 funeral.

They donned jackets and service caps, brushed off lint, and pulled on their white gloves.

Then they added the newest part of their uniforms: a black cloth mask. These masks are the primary protection against the spread of COVID-19 and are now required during funeral honors.

Honor guard soldiers at a military funeral.

Before the pandemic, the New York Army National Guard's Military Funeral Honors Program was performing an average of 850 services per month, statewide. Now, the average is down to 350..

"Although veterans are passing, some cemeteries are not allowing honors to be performed at the moment," explained Army 1st Lt. Melisa Rosario, the officer in charge of the program.

Two types of ceremonies would normally be available. The first is modified full honors for retirees with 20 or more years of service, or those who died while on active duty. The second is modified honors for Army veterans with an honorable discharge. Nine soldiers, including a firing party, perform the modified full honors, and only two soldiers perform the modified honors.

Based on National Guard Bureau guidelines, a maximum of three soldiers are currently allowed at a funeral, so New York's program is offering only modified honors. Where they are permitted, each individual ceremony is directed by a detail leader like Clark, who has the duty of presenting the burial flag to the veteran's family.

Honor guard soldier plays a trumpet at a military funeral.

"The detail leader will determine how safe they feel at the service and has the option to place the flag 6 feet from the next of kin, or on the casket," Rosario said.

New COVID-19 protection guidelines are causing a lot of uncertainty in the way the time-honored traditions of the final salute are performed. Small details such as which way a funeral procession arrives at the cemetery are normally the same each time, but with gate restrictions and casket arrival times affecting when and how the service takes place, honor guard members have to adjust quickly to each situation.

"We're trained to manage it and think on our feet," Clark said. "We make it work, whatever we've got to do."

The personnel restrictions don't just affect the honor guard. They also affect the number of family members allowed to attend.

"We've done services where it's hundreds of people there, and now it's a handful of people," Clark explained. "And once in a while you get them live-streaming, too. It's not really something you saw before."

onor guard soldiers at a military funeral.

Clark has performed more than 700 funeral honors. The steps become near-muscle memory, she said. What took the most getting used to was not kneeling in front of the next of kin to present the burial flag, she said.

"Kneeling in front of someone and looking into their eyes, and presenting them a flag is kind of a worth-a-thousand-words kind of thing, a big gesture, a more powerful gesture," Clark explained.

Clark and Dycha say that what they offer families during funerals while the COVID-19 pandemic continues is a sense of normalcy in a far-from-normal time.

"It's definitely less intimate," Clark said. "You just have to make do with it and still know that the family understands."

(Army Capt. Avery Schneider is assigned to the New York National Guard.)

New Jersey Air National Guard Helps Veterans Home Staff, Residents

June 1, 2020 | BY Air Force Master Sgt. Matt Hecht , New Jersey National Guard

When the call for volunteers was sent out, 31 airmen with the New Jersey Air National Guard's 177th Fighter Wing stepped up to help the state's most vulnerable population at the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home at Vineland.

Armed with cleaning supplies and a desire to help others, the airmen have integrated themselves with the staff at the facility.

Airmen working at a veteran home.

"Having the National Guard here has been really helpful," said Allyson Bailey, the chief executive officer of the Vineland Home. "They're supplementing our mission here, which is taking care of our residents. Some of the duties the guard has assumed have been instrumental in helping us to reduce the spread of the virus in the home."

Bailey noted that the housekeeping mission has been especially important.

"For our housekeepers, who have been working seven days a week with no days off, having that extra support has been pivotal," she said. "The guard is also helping us out with life enrichment. Residents and families have not been able to directly interact for more than a month and a half now, so virtual visits, emails and phone calls are very important to the residents' families. It has been a tremendously positive thing to have them here helping us."

An airman wearing a hairnet, face mask and gloves prepares food.

"We're supplementing where the facility really needs help," said Air Force 1st Lt. Bernard Cortes, the officer in charge of Team Vineland. "Housekeeping, food service, health screening checkpoints, facility engineering and life enrichment are some of the missions we're doing here. Airmen are getting food orders for residents, talking with them and keeping them in touch with their families. We're giving them that interaction that is a basic human need."

Cortes said that the guardsmen have developed a great relationship with Vineland's staff.

Airmen working at a veteran home.

"It means a lot for me to be a part of this," Cortes said. "I'm from New Jersey, I grew up here. I look at the veterans, and I want to give them the best care that I can. To see the residents smile and salute us, it makes it feel worthwhile."

"It's very rewarding," said Air Force Senior Airman Connor Jarvis, who is working on the housekeeping team. "It's nice to be able to help. I'm mopping floors, I'm sanitizing countertops, cleaning bathrooms and common areas eight hours straight."

Air Force Senior Airman Casey Keevill said that working with residents in life enrichment has been a meaningful experience and has made an impact on the lives of the guardsmen as well as the veterans.

An airman wearing a face mask.

"I work directly with the residents," Keevill said. "Our job is to keep residents involved and active. We start the morning by delivering newspapers and engage with them to see how they're doing and what they need. It's been great because you really get to know these people.

"It's been amazing seeing what the National Guard can do when our state needs us," Keevill continued. "You get a whole new perspective. Seeing it and being a part of it gives it so much more meaning."

DOD Supports Partner Nations With COVID-19 Mitigation Assistance

June 1, 2020 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

The Defense Department's Cooperative Threat Reduction Program has supported COVID-19 requests for assistance from 13 nations totaling about $2.9 million, said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction David Lasseter, whose office provides strategic guidance for the program to ensure mission alignment with broader National Defense Strategy objectives.

A woman places a pathogen sample into a test tube.

This recent support is part of the department's ongoing efforts to counter biological weapons of mass destruction threats. The DOD CTR Program works cooperatively with international partners to mitigate WMD-related threats to the U.S. homeland, U.S. forces abroad, and U.S. partners and allies. This includes biological, nuclear, and chemical weapons and related delivery systems. 

With regard to biological threats, the program has partnered with more than 30 countries since 2004 to improve their ability to detect, diagnose and report the spread of especially dangerous pathogens. It has accomplished this through training, information exchanges, scientific partnerships, providing equipment, and laboratory construction. It works across sectors to help partner scientists and technicians safeguard pathogen samples held in laboratory facilities against accidental or intentional release, promote research collaboration, and facilitate trainings and best practices.

Laboratory technicians work at a biosafety cabinet.

Partner nations are now leveraging these capabilities developed over the last 15-plus years as part of their COVID-19 preparedness and response efforts. Laboratory facilities that CTR previously helped partner nations construct or renovate are playing a particularly crucial role, Lasseter said. These facilities, fully owned and operated by the partner nation, are often the central facility in a country or region running diagnostic tests and research for COVID-19. For example: 

  • Georgia's National Center for Disease Control and Public Health in Tbilisi is running COVID-19 diagnostic tests and sharing COVID-19 research and procedures with other partners in the region;
  • Ukraine's Public Health Center’s Emergency Operation Center is sharing outbreak data and practices for safe and effective COVID-19 diagnosis and reporting; and
  • Armenia's Health Ministry, through its network of biological analysis laboratories, is conducting analyses of COVID-19 samples.

The DOD CTR Program also is supporting foreign partner requests for assistance to help stem the spread of COVID-19. These vary from requests for information and subject matter expertise to requests for diagnostics support and personal protective equipment. For example, between March 19 and April 7, Azerbaijan's Ministry of Health requested 400 protective goggles and masks, 51 infrared thermometers, 200 disposable coveralls, and 2.4 tons of disinfectant, all of which the DOD CTR Program provided by April 10.

Screenshot of Ukrainian COVID-19 tracking.

More generally, he explained, a unique aspect of the program involves helping a partner nation's military and civilian components improve cross-ministerial communication and capability to address biological threats that are of concern to both the host nation and the U.S.   

A long-standing principle of the DOD CTR Program is extending that spirit of cooperation across geographic borders, supporting regional biosurveillance networks to enable a coordinated and timely response to disease outbreaks. These efforts have helped stem the spread of COVID-19.

Three women and a man work at a biosafety cabinet.

For example, the Biosurveillance Network of the Silk Road, a regional network of health science experts from a range of countries, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia and Ukraine, coordinates with DOD CTR subject matter experts on best practices for safe and effective disease diagnosis and reporting.

''Given the work we have done with these countries, BNSR members have shared with one another COVID-19 outbreak data, diagnosis and reporting,'' said Dr. Robert Pope, director of the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

Laboratory technicians work at a biosafety cabinet.

The DOD CTR Program also is helping partner nations implement the Electronic Integrated Disease Support System, which facilitates the collection and analysis of infectious disease information across medical, veterinary and environmental health communities. ''Several countries are now using EIDSS to quickly report COVID-19 cases,'' Pope noted.

''DOD remains firmly committed to working with partners and allies to achieve U.S. WMD threat reduction goals, even in light of COVID-19,'' Lasseter said. ''Threats around the world have not paused, and neither will we.''

Pakistan Delivers COVID-19 Response Supplies as Gesture of Partnership


A Pakistan air force C-130 transport aircraft landed at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, with 100,000 protective masks and 25,000 coveralls donated to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for COVID-19 response efforts.

A Pakistani aircrew member collecting straps.

Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan and other Pakistan Embassy officials greeted the air crew after landing.

Khan highlighted the historic ties between the two nations and their armed forces, noting that both countries have fought together against terrorism and now stand together in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs David F. Helvey represented the Defense Department. He expressed DOD's thanks to Pakistan, underscoring that the donation of personal protective equipment was a display of generosity and goodwill from a long-standing partner. Helvey emphasized that DOD is proud to stand with Pakistan's military in the global fight against COVID-19.

U.S. airmen unload a Pakistan Air Force C-130.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Matthew C. Isler, the director of regional affairs for the deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for international affairs, thanked the Pakistani representatives for their support.

"We are grateful to Pakistan's military for its generosity and partnership," the general said. "Partners stand together as we move through challenges in these unprecedented times."

The materials were offloaded by airmen assigned to the 89th Airlift Wing.

New 'EFMP & Me' Web Tool Launched to Help Families With Special Needs

June 1, 2020

The Department of Defense Office of Special Needs and Military OneSource launched today a new digital tool to guide military families with special needs to the specific information and resources they need. The tool, called EFMP & Me, conveniently connects families anytime and anywhere with tools and information about the Exceptional Family Member Program, or EFMP. Using the tool, families can learn about support services, preparing for a move or deployment, responding to changes in education or medical needs, and adjusting to new life situations.

“The Department of Defense is committed to supporting our families with special needs, and EFMP & Me is an important enhancement to the Exceptional Family Member Program,” said Kim Joiner, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Military Community and Family Policy. “EFMP & Me provides virtual access to EFMP support services for all stages of their military lives, whether they’re just starting out in the program, navigating medical or educational systems, or preparing for retirement from the service.”

Available on computers or mobile devices, EFMP & Me gives families personalized assistance based on their specific circumstances. On the homepage, users answer a few questions then select the types of information they want, such as medical, education, EFMP enrollment, PCS, child care, accessibility or housing. The tool then creates customizable checklists, at the DOD policy level, for users to follow. These checklists include important to-dos, tips and resources that help fine-tune the individual’s experience. Users with a Military OneSource account can save their checklists to view again later.

EFMP & Me is one part of a broad system of support for military families with special needs. That support starts with EFMP Family Support on installations and includes the Military OneSource network, which provides 24/7 support to service members and families anywhere in the world. Click here to access the EFMP & Me tool. Contact Military OneSource EFMP Resources, Options and Consultations for free, around-the-clock support, tools, assistance and more. Call 800-342-9647 or live chat with a consultant. OCONUS/International? Click here for calling options.

The Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy is responsible for oversight of quality-of-life policies and programs that support the wellness and mission-readiness of Service members, their families, and survivors.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Former VA Nurse Pleads Guilty to Stealing Controlled Drugs from VA Urgent Care Clinic

ALEXANDRIA, La. – United States Attorney David C. Joseph announced today that a registered nurse formerly employed with the VA Medical Center in Pineville, Louisiana, pleaded guilty before Senior U.S. District Judge Dee D. Drell to one count of fraudulently obtaining Hydromorphone. Hydromorphone, a Schedule II controlled substance, is a powerful opioid designed to relieve pain, but can also be abused and sold on the black market.

While working as a registered nurse at the VA Medical Center Urgent Care Clinic, Jolie King, 40, of Alexandria, used her position as a registered nurse to access the clinic’s narcotics supply cabinet and retrieve vials of controlled substance medications that were intended for the treatment of patients. As a part of the plea agreement reached today, King admitted that she used the drugs for her own personal use. King also admitted that she would log into the narcotics supply cabinet, randomly select a patient’s name, and then withdraw the drugs without a physician’s orders. In one instance, in an attempt to avoid detection, she refilled two vials with saline solution and placed them back in the supply cabinet. From September 2017 to October 2018, she fraudulently acquired approximately 31 vials of Hydromorphone and two vials of Morphine.

A sentencing date has not been set. King faces up to four years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General, conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian C. Flanagan is prosecuting the case.

Army Sergeant Sentenced To Eight Months For Marriage Fraud Scheme

DENVER – United States Attorney Jason R. Dunn announced that Sergeant Galima Murry was sentenced today by Senior U.S. Circuit Judge David M. Ebel to serve 8 months in federal prison for conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and making false statements regarding that fraud to the government.  Murry was one of four defendants who were tried and convicted together in January 2020.  Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and Army Criminal Investigations Division (Army CID), joined in the announcement. 

According to facts established at trial, the purpose of the conspiracy was to obtain immigration benefits for Rajesh Ramcharan, Diann Ramcharan, and one of their minor children.  The Ramcharans, a married couple, came to the United States from Trinidad & Tobago on visitor visas in 2007.  They overstayed their visitor visas and settled in Colorado.  They then devised a scheme to defeat United States immigration laws and stay in the country illegally.

The scheme had several steps.  First, in 2010, the couple was married by Pastor Ken Harvell, who signed a marriage certificate for the Ramcharans.  The couple then filed for a divorce.  Five days after that divorce was finalized, Pastor Harvell signed a new marriage certificate for Diann Ramcharan and Sergeant Galima Murry in 2011.  Sergeant Murry is a citizen of the United States and at the time was a soldier at Fort Carson.  Diann Ramcharan and Sergeant Murry entered into this marriage for the purpose of evading immigration laws and enabling Diann Ramcharan to stay in the United States. 

Sergeant Murry’s involvement in the conspiracy spanned over six years and included participation in the filing of numerous documents with immigration authorities submitted to prove the fraudulent marriage was real.  He received a vehicle as payment for his role in the scheme.  In addition, Sergeant Murry obtained military benefits from the Army based on his fraudulent marriage to Diann Ramcharan.  The military benefits included additional money in every pay check during the time that he fraudulently reported being married.  Specifically, he got a family separation hardship allowance when deployed and received a housing allowance based on his dependents when in the United States.  He also received reimbursements for moving expenses based on his fake wife and one of her children.  He also claimed one of the Ramcharan children on his tax return.

In 2015, Rajesh Ramcharan entered into a marriage with Angelica Guevara, who also is a citizen of the United States.  Pastor Harvell, whom the jury found knowingly and voluntarily participated in the conspiracy, also signed the marriage certificate between Guevara and Rajesh Ramcharan.  During the time of both the Ramcharans’ fraudulent marriages to Murry and Guevara, the Ramcharans lived with each other and held themselves out to the public as married.

“Prison is an appropriate consequence for this defendant,” said U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn.  “Mr. Murry not only committed immigration fraud, but stole from taxpayers and the military.  Hopefully this sentence will be a deterrent to like-minded criminals.”  

Each defendant was also convicted for their involvement in the submission of at least one false statement to U.S. immigration authorities as part of the Ramcharans’ attempts to gain lawful immigration status in the United States.  Guevara pleaded guilty to the conspiracy and testified at trial about the marriage fraud scheme.

The nine-day jury trial was held before the Honorable David M. Ebel.  The jury reached their guilty verdicts on January 16, 2020.  Murry was one of four defendants that were found guilty at trial.  The other defendants are pending sentencing. 

The defendants were prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel McIntyre and Emily Treaster.  This case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and Army Criminal Investigations Division (CID), with assistance from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.

East Bay Resident Ordered To Pay Over $17,000 For Making False Statements To Gain Admittance For Military Service

Defendant also spent more than six months in jail at the time of his sentencing

SAN FRANCISCO – Ross Anthony Farca was ordered to pay $17,832 in restitution for making false statements to a government agency, announced United States Attorney David L. Anderson and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett. The sentence was handed down by the Honorable Jon S. Tigar, U.S. District Judge. 

Farca, 24, of Concord, pleaded guilty to the charge, without a plea agreement, on April 9, 2020.  As part of the proceedings for pleading guilty, Farca acknowledged he falsely certified on an electronic questionnaire that he had not consulted with a health care professional about an emotional or mental health condition when in fact he had. 

Additional facts about the case appear in other court filings, including a complaint filed November 19, 2019.  According to the complaint, on June 22, 2017, Farca traveled to a U.S. Army Recruitment Center in Mountain View, Calif., where he completed and submitted an online background check application in his bid to join the U.S. Army.  The background check application, also known as an SF-86, contains language specifically warning that falsifying or concealing a material fact on the application is a felony which may result in fines or imprisonment.  In this case, the criminal complaint alleges that Farca nevertheless knowingly made false statements about his mental health when completing the form.  Specifically, he affirmatively stated that he had not received mental health treatment when, in fact, Farca had been in regular contact with a psychiatrist since 2011.  In addition, the complaint alleges Farca had received prescriptions for various medications and had received treatments to manage his mental disorders. 

According to the complaint, Farca understood that because of his diagnosis, he needed a letter of clearance from a mental health professional before he would be qualified to enlist in the army.  The complaint alleges that Farca requested a letter of clearance from both his psychiatrist and a caseworker familiar with his condition; both mental health professionals, however, denied Farca’s request for a clearance letter.  The complaint further alleges that when Farca completed the SF-86, rather than admit he had been seeing a psychiatrist and that he was unable to obtain a letter clearing him for duty, Farca instead denied he had ever had counseling for his psychological or emotional health.  According to the complaint, Farca reported to basic training on August 28, 2017, and was discharged October 3, 2017.  The discharge paperwork cited "failed medical / physical / procurement standards" and noted, "erroneous enlistment; medical condition disqualifying for military service, with no medical waiver approved."

A federal grand jury indicted Farca on December 3, 2019, charging him with making a false statement, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a).  Farca pleaded guilty to the count. 

In addition to the restitution order, Judge Tigar also sentenced the defendant to time served in jail—a period of more than six months as defendant has been in custody since his arrest on November 21, 2019—and a 3-year period of supervised release, to include special conditions restricting his computer usage. Defendant will be released from federal custody and transferred to the custody of Contra Costa County, to face additional pending charges. 

The Office of the U.S. Attorney’s Special Prosecutions Section is prosecuting the case.  The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Concord Police Department. 

Friday, May 29, 2020

Gulf Ops

An air-cushioned landing craft operates in the Persian Gulf, May 27, 2020, after exiting the well deck of the USS Bataan.