Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Airman Recalls Support After Brother’s Marathon Bombing Injuries

By Air Force 2nd Lt. Brooks Payette
157th Air Refueling Wing

PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.H., April 15, 2014 – A year ago today on the morning of the 2013 Boston Marathon, Alan Bauman and Colin Bellavance woke up at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, ready to tackle the final two weeks of basic training.

By the day's end, the two flightmates began to learn the significance of the Airmen's Creed and its call to "never leave an airman behind."

More than 2,000 miles away, Bauman's brother, Jeff, was critically injured when the first of two bombs exploded near the marathon’s finish line. The attack left Jeff a double amputee and one of 264 injured. A photograph of him being wheeled to an ambulance by the cowboy-hat-wearing Carlos Arredondo became one of the most iconic images of that tragic day.

As news of the bombing spread across the country, Bauman made a phone call home required by all trainees with family in the Boston area. His father answered the call and told Alan that Jeff was injured while watching Jeff's girlfriend run the race. The following day, in a phone call with his father, he learned the tragic news that Jeff would lose both of his legs.

"I didn't know how to react," said Alan, now an airman first class assigned to the structures shop in the 157th Civil Engineer Squadron here. "I broke down and started asking all kinds of questions about what happened. After that, I kind of blacked out."

Bellavance, who forged a friendship with Alan beginning on their flight to basic training, saw Alan's reaction following the phone call and knew it wasn't good news. Despite his dorm chief responsibilities, Bellavance worked to be by Alan's side as often as possible.

"That was an event to me that drastically in an instant changed how close our friendship became," said Bellavance, an airman first class firefighter with the 157th CES. "It was an emotional time to step back and realize the magnitude of what had happened at home. The significance of why we were [in military training] changed a lot right before graduation."

At Lackland, the 324th Training Squadron showed the same concern toward Alan. He alerted his military training instructor, Air Force Staff Sgt. Christopher Florida, about the injuries and then was escorted to the commander.

"That's when they told me there was a time and place to be a trainer," Alan said in a February interview. "Given the situation I was in, they took the MTI hats off. They really took care of me."

Squadron leadership continued to meet with Alan and allowed him ample time to call home. He also was offered emergency leave, but chose to remain in training at Jeff’s request to finish with his fellow Air Force "brothers."

"It was a tremendous display of leadership and character," Bellavance said. "It was remarkable he remained as focused as he did, knowing an immediate member of his family suffered life-threatening injuries."

Though Alan did not see his brother until after graduation, local support from the Air National Guard came much sooner. Just two days after the bombing, 157th Air Refueling Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Brenda Blonigen and his first sergeant, Master Sgt. Jeremy Hutchinson, visited Jeff in a Boston hospital.

"When Jeff saw them there, he knew I was in an organization that took care of its people," Alan recalled. "That really helped [my family] tremendously."

Blonigen marveled at Jeff in the early stages of recovery and the concern his family had for Alan while dealing with a serious emergency at home. Blonigen and Hutchinson ensured the family that Alan was in good hands.

"Jeremy and I tried to put their minds at ease," Blonigen said. "I wanted to let them know the Air Force cares about its airmen. [The Lackland staff] really wrapped their arms around him."

The gesture from Blonigen and Hutchinson also resonated with Bellavance, who said it spoke volumes to the effort the 157th ARW makes to take care of its airmen.

"When you hear that, you know you are coming back to a good place," Bellavance said. "It was so reassuring to know that I made the right choice to enlist in the military, and now you belong to an organization that cares about your well-being."

Alan was granted a two-week break in training between basic training and technical training to spend time with his brother. The reunion was an emotional one for the brothers, who spent most of their time together during Alan's break. Alan said he was impressed with his brother's resilience and quick recovery time. Witnessing it forged a sense of determination and resilience Alan brought with him during his next phase in Air Force training.

"I kept thinking Jeff would want me to do my best at everything," Alan said. "That was my focus."

His focus paid dividends during technical training at the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport, Miss. Alan was selected to the airman leadership program, where he served as the highest-ranking student leader and was an honor graduate. Alan said the low point of his journey was finding out his brother was injured. Since then, he added, he and Jeff have remained positive in moving forward.

"Things happen, and life goes on," said Alan, whose brother released his book "Stronger" April 8. "My brother showed me that as long as your heart is beating, you still can do something."

Military Commission Judge Mulls Probe of Defense Claim

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

FORT MEADE, Md., April 15, 2014 – The judge in the military commission proceedings for five suspects in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States called for a recess today to prepare an order allowing defense attorneys time to determine whether current or past defense team members were contacted by a government agency.

The proceedings began yesterday at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and a satellite feed here allows reporters unable to travel to Cuba to cover the case.

Court recessed today at about 11 a.m. when the judge, Army Col. James Pohl, said he will issue the order later today.

The order follows the defense team’s request this morning for an investigation after one of the defense attorneys disclosed yesterday that the FBI questioned a member of his team about the suspects.

Pohl told defense attorneys they have until 5 p.m. tomorrow to submit a request if they want the court to subpoena witnesses from agencies that have contacted past or existing defense members. Any information the defense teams find will be disclosed only to the lead defense counsel for each team, Pohl ordered.

“The lead counsel will use his or her professional judgment in bringing the issue to the judge,” explained Army Lt. Col. J. Todd Breasseale, a Defense Department spokesman.

The court order is to avoid a conflict with any nondisclosure agreement an agency might have required a member of the defense team to file, Breasseale said.

Pohl is considering a court investigation on agencies that contacted defense team members, based on requests from defense team members in today’s proceedings. Because of those requests, the judge told the defense teams to determine which witnesses they believe they need. As yet, there is no indication the judge will proceed with an investigation.

James Harrington, attorney for defendant Ramzi Binalshibh, told the court at the start of yesterday’s hearing that the FBI contacted one of his team members for information. He did not say why FBI agents recently questioned his defense team member, but said the individual handled classified evidence.

The four-day hearing was set to examine whether Binalshibh is mentally capable to stand trial. Court proceedings will resume April 17, Pohl said.

Following Mass Shooting Incidents, Attorney General Holder Urges Congress to Approve $15 Million to Train Law Enforcement Officers for 'Active Shooter' Situations

Following the recent tragedies at a Jewish Community Center outside of Kansas City and at Ft. Hood, Attorney General Eric Holder urged Congress Tuesday to approve $15 million in funding for active shooter training for law enforcement officers to ensure they have the tools they need to effectively respond to threats, protect themselves, and save innocent lives.

“In the face of this urgent and growing threat – when the lives of innocent people are at stake – those who stand on the front lines need our full and unwavering support," Holder said in a video message posted on the Justice Department's website. "This critical funding would help the Justice Department ensure that America’s police officers have the tools and guidance they need to effectively respond to active shooter incidents whenever and wherever they arise."

“Over the last decade, the Justice Department and the FBI have helped provide cutting-edge active shooter training to 50,000 front-line officers.  In the video message, Holder said continuing this training is critical since the patrol officers who arrive first on the scene are increasingly being relied on to respond directly to active shooters rather than wait for SWAT teams.”

The complete text of the Attorney General’s video message is below:

“Between 2000 and 2008, the United States experienced an average of approximately five active shooter incidents every year.  Since 2009, this annual average has roughly tripled.  Earlier this month, Fort Hood suffered the second mass shooting that community has experienced in just five years.  And in a separate incident over the weekend, a gunman opened fire at a Jewish Community Center just outside of Kansas City.

“The Justice Department has concluded that federal hate crimes charges are appropriate in this case, and in the months ahead, we will do everything in our power to ensure that justice is served for every victim.

“But each of these tragic events is a heartbreaking reminder that mass shootings are all too common.  And they have become increasingly deadly.

“As a nation, we must confront this alarming rise and all of its underlying causes – honestly, factually, and without regard for political consequence.  We must deal with these incidents whenever they happen – but, just as importantly, we must prevent them whenever we can.

“Today’s Department of Justice committed to doing just that.  We’re more determined than ever to prevent mass shootings.  The FBI’s Behavioral Threat Assessment Center, which supports state, local and campus safety stakeholders, has worked diligently to respond to a nearly 200 percent increase in requests for assistance in the last year, and to help detect and mitigate potential active shooter situations.

“But we must also be prepared to respond quickly and effectively to active shooter incidents if and when they do occur.  And in today’s world, the first response must often be led not by SWAT teams or specialized police units – but by the very first patrol officers to arrive on the scene.
“That’s why all law enforcement officers must have the best equipment and most up-to-date training to confront these situations – to stop active shooters in their tracks, to protect themselves, and to save innocent lives.

“Over the last decade, the Justice Department and the FBI have helped provide cutting-edge active shooter training to 50,000 front-line officers, more than 7,000 on-scene commanders, and over 3,000 local, state, and federal agency heads.  This vital work must continue – but to provide training, we need adequate funding.

“Today, I am urging Congress to approve President Obama’s request for $15 million for active shooter training and other officer safety initiatives.  This critical funding would help the Justice Department ensure that America’s police officers have the tools and guidance they need to effectively respond to active shooter incidents whenever and wherever they arise.

“Every day, America’s federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement officials perform their duties with integrity, courage, and extraordinary valor.  In the face of this urgent and growing threat – when the lives of innocent people are at stake – those who stand on the front lines need our full and unwavering support.  The safety of the American people demands it.  And the men, women, and children whose lives are impacted by active shooters every year deserve nothing less.”

Monday, April 14, 2014

9/11 Proceedings Go Into Recess Before Competency Hearing

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

FORT MEADE, Md., April 14, 2014 – Military commission proceedings for five suspects in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States went into recess this morning after a defense attorney said the FBI questioned a member of his team about the suspects.

The proceedings began today at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and a video feed here allows reporters unable to travel to Guantanamo Bay to cover the commission.

James Harrington, attorney for defendant Ramzi Binalshibh, introduced the FBI investigation at the start of this morning’s four-day hearing. He did not indicate why FBI agents recently questioned his defense team member, but said the individual handled classified evidence. The hearing was set to examine whether Binalshibh is mentally capable to stand trial.

“Some inquiry needs to be made,” Harrington told Judge James Pohl. “Until that’s done, I can’t see how anything can go forward.” Pohl allowed the defense motion to recess for the day to discuss potential legal consequences of the FBI questioning before proceeding with the hearing.

"It's worth noting that we are unaware of any investigation, and any such assumptions involve speculation," Army Lt. Col. J. Todd Breasseale, a Defense Department spokesman, told reporters.

The proceedings are expected to resume tomorrow.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Army Secretary Notes Challenges of Detecting Insider Threats

By David Vergun
Army News Service

WASHINGTON, April 4, 2014 – The Army has done a great deal since the tragedies at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009 to track the insider threat, “but something happened, something went wrong, and we need to know what that was," Army Secretary John M. McHugh told lawmakers yesterday.

McHugh was responding to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee regarding the April 2 shootings at Fort Hood that left four dead, including the alleged gunman, Army Spc. Ivan Antonio Lopez.

After Lopez killed three fellow soldiers, he committed suicide. Sixteen other soldiers were injured, three critically.

Fort Hood was the scene of another mass shooting in November 2009, when then-Army Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 people and injured others.

Behavioral health screenings done at least annually and more often when soldiers deploy are among the proactive measures the Army uses to detect possible insider threats. Those screenings could point to tendencies towards violence, McHugh said.

McHugh explained to lawmakers that there are several types of behavioral health assessment "touch points." Assessments are conducted for soldiers 180 days prior to deployment, within 90 days when they get to the deployment theater, 30 days after redeployment, and then 90 days after redeployment. All soldiers also get an annual screening, irrespective of their deployment status.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, who also testified at the hearing, added that the number of behavior health counselors and screenings has increased by about 150 percent over the last five years. "We've made some really good progress here," he added.

McHugh pledged that Army officials will examine the latest tragedy and learn from it. "If we failed in some way against our current policies, we need to be honest with ourselves and with you and hold ourselves accountable,” he told the Senate panel. “But if we identify new challenges, new threats we hadn't recognized before, we have to put into place programs to respond to them."

Odierno agreed that finding insider threats is challenging, and he pointed out what he called "the biggest problem we have."

That problem, he said, is balancing the need to share information with commanders and the chain of command, while also protecting an individual's right to privacy. "It's a real dilemma," the general said.

Without knowing about insider threats, commanders and others in the chain of command don't know when a problem exists, Odierno added.

"So the secretary and I are really doing the best we can to come up with processes that allow us to share information," he said, "because in a lot of cases, that's the problem. There is some limitation to what we can do. And we're trying to do the best we can."

Soldiers might not come forward with mental health problems if they know their privacy concerns are not going to be addressed. This attaches a stigma to the notion of seeking care.

"We are doing everything we can to de-stigmatize seeking help," McHugh said.

Odierno held out a solution, suggesting that the Army, along with members of Congress, can work together on creating ways for better information sharing to have "the ability to really understand when soldiers are having problems," while also addressing the need for confidentiality. He pointed out that the alleged shooter was screened and was receiving counseling.

"So in a lot of ways, the system worked,” the general said. “But obviously, it didn't work completely, because in the end, he made some decisions that obviously cost other people's lives."

McHugh added: "We've really increased our behavioral health encounters in the Army and we view that as positive. Folks are reaching out more. They're asking for help more voluntarily. But then, sometimes things happen, like happened [April 2], that we fail to understand.

"So we're trying to keep as close a watch on our soldiers as we can," he continued, "but clearly, we believe there are more things we can do to identify problems in the earliest stages of their development."

Odierno added that the Army has recently put behavioral specialists into brigades, something not done before. However, he noted, some soldiers would rather get behavioral health treatment off-post to avoid the possibility of being identified by their unit as someone with a mental health issue.

Funding off-post behavioral health could be something the Army will look into, he added.

Behavioral health issues are "something we're going to have to deal with for a very long time, and that's a consequence of 13 years of war,” Odierno said. “And so, we're going to have to make sure that we have the systems in place to do this."

Hagel Commends Afghans, ISAF for Presidential Election

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 5, 2014 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued a statement praising the millions of Afghans who voted today for their next president.

"I want to commend the millions of Afghans who went to the polls today to vote for their next president,” Hagel said in the statement. “The open and responsible debate among the candidates over the past two months, and the turnout for these elections, demonstrates to the world that the Afghan people want to determine their own future.”

Hagel also commended the Afghan National Security Forces “for providing the security which enabled these elections to take place.”

And, the secretary thanked U.S. forces and International Security Assistance Force personnel for supporting Afghanistan’s security forces.

Hagel said he greatly appreciated Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the ISAF commander, for his “steady leadership throughout this process.”

Much has been achieved in Afghanistan, the secretary said.

"As Afghanistan begins a peaceful transfer of power, and we look ahead to the end of our combat mission later this year, we should not lose sight of how much we have accomplished,” Hagel said. “The progress we have seen in Afghanistan is a testament to the tireless efforts and sacrifices of American, ISAF, and Afghan personnel.

“But above all,” he continued, “it shows the strength and resilience of the Afghan people, and of the partnership the United States has built with them.

“It is a partnership that will endure," the secretary said.