War on Terrorism

Thursday, March 31, 2011

NATO Assumes Command of Libya Operations

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2011 – NATO has taken sole command of international air operations over Libya, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced in Stockholm today.

NATO has all the assets in place for Operation Unified Protector, including forces for the arms embargo and no-fly zone and actions to protect civilians and civilian centers, Rasmussen said.

The operations are taking place under the auspices of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973.

Adm. Giampaolo Di Paola of the Italian navy, chairman of the NATO Military Committee, said the alliance has gradually taken over command of these operations from U.S. Africa Command.

“This decision followed a constructive debate among NATO political and military authorities, and has been taken by the alliance in a remarkable short lap of time,” he said.

NATO officials have directed U.S. Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe, “to launch the operation without any gaps while the transfer of assets is ongoing,” Di Paola said. The operation is under the command of Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard of the Canadian Forces.

The NATO mission also has contributions from partner nations, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

“We consider regional support as fundamental, in line with the principles and core tasks highlighted in NATO’s new Strategic Concept,” Di Paola said. “I want to be clear. The focus of our mission is to protect the civilian population. We know that this is a challenging endeavor and the situation on the ground is complex. We are also aware that there is no purely military solution to the crisis.”

Alliance officials stressed that the alliance will adhere strictly to the mission delineated by the U.N. resolution.

“NATO is not engaged in Libya to decide the future of the Libyan people,” Di Paola said. “That is up to Libyans themselves. We are helping enforce the will of the international community to protect them from attacks so that they can start shaping and deciding of their future.”

Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Pvt. Jeremy P. Faulkner, 23, of Griffin, Ga., died March 29 of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire in Konar province, Afghanistan.  He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.

For more information, media should contact the Fort Campbell public affairs office at 931-561-0131 or 270-798-9966.

Militant Driver Injures Troops in Afghanistan

Compiled from International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Releases

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2011 – At least three International National Security Assistance Force troops were injured today when their foot patrol was hit by a car in the Kandahar district of Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, military officials reported.

The uninjured troops determined that the incident was intentional and opened fire on the vehicle, which lost control and crashed into a ditch, officials said.

Along with the injured ISAF troops, the vehicle passenger and a pedestrian bystander were killed. The driver and two other pedestrians were injured and were taken to a nearby medical facility.

In operations yesterday throughout Afghanistan:

-- A coalition airstrike killed numerous insurgents after ground forces saw a large number of enemy fighters maneuvering near their patrol in Kunar province’s Sar Kani district.

-- Afghan and coalition forces detained several suspected insurgents while searching for a Hezb-E Islami Gulbuddin terrorist who leads at least 50 insurgent fighters in Khost province’s Terayzai district.

-- In Zabul province’s Shah Joy district, a combined patrol detained several suspected insurgents linked to Taliban safe havens throughout the district.

-- Security forces captured three Taliban weapons traffickers in Kandahar province’s Zharay district. Troops also found 1,000 pounds of marijuana and 500 pounds of marijuana seeds during the operation.

-- Forces captured a Haqqani network terrorist in Khost province’s Terayzai district. He reportedly was trafficking weapons and explosives in preparation for attacks on security forces.

-- In Logar province’s Baraki Barak district, troops detained two suspected insurgents while searching for a Taliban weapons trafficker.

-- Security forces found several weapons and drug stockpiles throughout Afghanistan. Operations resulted in seizure of 5,250 assault-rifle rounds, 5,000 .50-caliber machine-gun rounds, 1,650 pounds of explosives, 200 hand grenades, 150 pounds of homemade explosives, 21 rocket-propelled grenades, 15 Afghan army uniforms, 13 mortar rounds, 12 land mines, eight anti-tank mines, four rocket-propelled grenade boosters, four .50-caliber sniper rifles, three explosive devices, two assault rifles and assorted bomb-making materials. Troops also found 1,200 pounds of cannabis resin and 800 pounds of hashish.

Central America Remains a Hotspot of Instability

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2011Central America remains a hotspot of instability caused by violent criminal organizations that use drug money to undermine legitimate governments, the commander of U.S. Southern Command said here yesterday.

Air Force Gen. Douglas M. Fraser said the northern triangle formed by Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras is possibly the most violent place on Earth today. Criminal organizations involved in illegal activities in the area –- including drug trafficking -- realize a global profit of $300 billion to $400 billion, he said.

Fraser used United Nations figures to back up his point at a Pentagon news conference.

“If we look at Iraq in 2010, the violent deaths per 100,000, according to U.N. numbers, was 14 per 100,000,” he said. “In Honduras last year, it was 77 per 100,000. In El Salvador, it was 71 per 100,000.”

The region has some very capable militaries, the general said, noting that El Salvador sent troops to Iraq that American partners rated among the best in that battle. But the governments of the region are overmatched, he added.

“If you look at the transnational criminal organizations, it’s a well-financed, capable capacity -- an enterprise, if you will,” he said. “Our estimates are anywhere from, on an annual basis, on a global basis, the transnational criminal organizations bring in 300 billion [dollars] to $400 billion a year. That’s a significant number when you put it against the capacities of the governments that we're talking about.”

One example of the technology these criminal organizations use is self-propelled, fully submersible vessels. These subs typically are 100 feet long, manned by a crew of four, and they can carry 10 tons of cocaine. They do not dive far below the surface and can transit between the northern parts of South America to the northern parts of Central America and into Mexico.

Militaries are not built to handle law enforcement activities, but many have been called upon to aid police in the effort, and U.S. Southern Command helps this effort, Fraser said.

“Because of the concern from a law enforcement standpoint -- and I'll use El Salvador as an example, the president, to address this issue, has asked and brought the military in to support law enforcement, very much in the same manner that we talk about within the United States,” the general said. “Within their authorities, they work with the law enforcement to address the issue. But almost half of the military of El Salvador is working to address the violence. And we're seeing the same things -- not to the same level -- happen within other parts of the region.”

Southern Command is working hand in hand with the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. law enforcement agencies and others to address this issue, Fraser said. Southcom personnel are part of the solution, but not the entire solution, he added.

“It’s much more complex than that,” Fraser said. “And we have to address it, in my mind, on a regional basis, and not just on a country-by-country basis.” Toward that end, he said, the Central American Regional Security Initiative and the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative are aimed at improving the ways countries work together, helping to empower the law enforcement and judicial systems.

“It’s a multi-pronged effort,” Fraser added.

But the foundation for these initiatives is building and sustaining military-to-military relations with partner militaries in the region, the general said.

“We engage with our partners … to build that security capacity,” Fraser said. “Our efforts include military-to-military engagements, exercises, training [and] subject-matter expert exchanges wherever we can, to help build capacity within our military partners.”

Another important Southcom mission is to be prepared to respond in the event of natural or man-made catastrophes. The earthquake in Haiti in January 2010 was one example, and a magnitude 8.8 earthquake struck Chile last year, Fraser noted. Hurricanes probably are the most predictable natural disaster that can strike the area, he added, but the command has to be ready for everything from volcanoes to forest fires.

Southern Command works with the U.S. Northern Command to combat transnational criminal organizations. Fraser said the smuggling of drugs, guns, people and money is a regional problem, and it must be treated as such.

“Our boundaries from a U.S. forces standpoint is the southern border of Mexico with Guatemala and Belize,” he said. “But from our standpoint, that’s a very, very fuzzy boundary,” because of the close cooperation between the two American combatant commands.

Southern Command’s Joint Interagency Task Force South, which coordinates the interagency capacity to detect and monitor traffic in the maritime environment, has boundaries that go beyond those between the Northcom and Southcom areas of responsibility, Fraser said, and it reaches into parts of U.S. European Command and U.S. Pacific Command’s areas as well.

Mullen Credits International Urgency for Libya Success

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2011 – Coalition forces raced the clock in Libya this month as Moammar Gadhafi sent his forces marching on Benghazi, “intent on brutalizing the people there,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.

“I cannot remember a time when so many nations mobilized so many forces so fast,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told the House Armed Services Committee.

“But we were ready,” the chairman added. “Before the ink was even dry on that U.N. resolution, there were planes and ships, pilots and sailors, moving into position, ready to act.”

NATO assumed command of the entire military mission over Libya early this morning, Mullen said, noting that 20 nations now are participating in the mission, renamed Operation Unified Protector.

“Contributions range across the board, from active participation in strike operations to financial aid and assistance for humanitarian efforts,” Mullen said. Several Arab countries are involved in the operation, the chairman added, despite domestic challenges of their own.

“The United States and the international community remain grateful for their experience and their leadership,” he said.

Strong military partnerships led to the speedy international response beginning March 19, when in less than a day coalition airstrikes paved the way for establishing a no-fly zone to protect Libyan citizens, Mullen said.

“We -- and I mean the collective we, not just the United States -- have invested in close relationships with one another, facilitated by nearby air and naval basing and improved over time through annual exercises, personnel exchanges, actual combat experience and mutual dialogue,” the chairman said.

U.S. forces remain committed to the mission, though their contributions will diminish as NATO takes the lead, Mullen said.

“I can assure you that your men and women in uniform will execute that mission, now in support of NATO, with the same professionalism with which they have led that mission until today,” he said.

Face of Defense: Doctor Leaves Business for Front Lines

By Army Sgt. Breanne Pye
1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, March 31, 2011 – Flip through history's pages and you will find countless stories of men and women who have taken incredible journeys and become celebrated heroes.

If you're looking for a modern-day hero, you won't have to look any farther than a 49-year-old combat surgeon here who’s known as “Doc” throughout Task Force Raider.

A former business executive for Burton Snowboards, Army Capt. (Dr.) Douglas Powell is the brigade surgeon for the 4th Infantry Division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 1st Brigade Combat Team. His mission here is quite different from that of the design team he’d led with Burton, as he serves on the front lines of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Powell, a native of Middlebury, Vt., said his journey to becoming an Army surgeon began when he enlisted as a medic in the Vermont National Guard after graduating from college. He competed as part of the Vermont Guard’s winter biathlon team for five years, and was hired by Burton Snowboards as a project manager.

"Doug was an asset to our company," said Jake Burton, the company’s founder. "He was a hard worker who always gave me everything he had, never quit, and always led by example."

Though he thoroughly enjoyed his work at Burton Snowboards and the environment that kind of work provided, Powell said, he continued to feel as if something important was missing from his life.

"After eight years at Burton, I started feeling a strong desire to get away from business and start doing something that would have an impact on people's lives," he said. "At that point, I began volunteering at a hospital in Burlington, Vt."

Within a month of working in the hospital's cancer ward, Powell determined that he needed to have some form of medical service in his career.

When Powell told Burton he was leaving to pursue a career in medicine, Burton said it seemed late to be trying something so ambitious. Even so, he said, Powell’s great intentions and drive, coupled with a little stubbornness, are aspects of his personality that make him the kind of man who is capable of extraordinary things.

"Doug was never a guy to act impulsively," Burton said. "Clearly, his decision was well thought out, so as much as I hated to see him go, I never considered talking him out of his decision."

Powell said after working in a business environment for so long, his volunteer work in the cancer ward was one of the most trying, yet rewarding, experiences of his life. Throughout his time there, he said, he felt the call to practice medicine become stronger and more important in his life.

"While working full-time and volunteering at the hospital, I signed up for night classes to begin knocking out the pre-med classes I needed to complete before applying to medical school," he said.

The process was arduous, he recalled, as his earlier education was in English and history, so he had to take multiple classes to qualify as a medical school applicant.

"I had a lot of ground to make up if I wanted to make it into medical school, so I set a goal for myself," Powell said. "I would take one class, [such as] biology, and if I got an 'A,' I would continue taking classes." He maintained that standard throughout the pre-med program.

After pre-med, Powell said, he knew he had a long way to go before he could practice medicine, so he continued to work for Burton and spent all of his free time volunteering in the cancer ward.

"There were a lot of patients and experiences that began to weave the fabric of the epiphany of my wanting to practice medicine," he said. "But there was one patient in particular who made it all happen."

During his time as a volunteer, Powell explained, he worked with a woman who had terminal breast cancer. Every day, the woman would bring her husband and young daughter to sit with her as she went through chemotherapy.

Powell said the woman never focused on the treatment she knew would not work. Instead, he said, she focused on interacting with her family and giving them memories and joy that would last a lifetime.

"There was something about the woman's drive and passion for life that both inspired and humbled me," Powell said. "She had the most positive attitude as she interacted with her family and doctors in the ward. Even after she died, I never stopped being affected by her enthusiasm."

Though his first application to medical school was denied, he said, the memory of the woman and her family convinced him to continue his efforts to become a medical practitioner.

"Throughout my career, one of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from a medical colleague of mine," Powell said. "That colleague told me, 'Whenever you have doubt about the path you are on, go and spend time with the patients. They will always pull you through. They will always inspire you, and they will always remove doubt.'"

Powell said that advice has proven true in every stage of his medical career, and is as meaningful now as it was in the beginning. He said it wasn't just about spending physical time with the patients, but also reflecting on his experiences with them that gave him inspiration along his journey.

But the denial of his first medical school application did plant some doubt in his mind, Powell said.

"I went out to California to work for a friend of mine in the snowboard industry,” he said, “and really thought I would be continuing in the business."

But on his way back to the East Coast for a final interview for a position in the private sector, he recalled, he ran into a woman in the airport who had a cast on her arm. He stopped to help her with her bags, and in their conversation he learned the woman was on her way to say goodbye to her best friend, who was dying of breast cancer.

On his flight, Powell said, he began reflecting on his own experience with his favorite cancer patient and her family.

"I began writing an essay about my experiences in working with and eventually [having] to say goodbye to that incredible woman," he said. "I wrote her whole story in one take. It was one of those rare times you get the whole story out perfectly, on the very first draft."

Powell said when he re-read the essay as he got off the plane, he knew without a doubt he would apply to medical school again.

"I used that essay as my entrance essay on the medical school application," he said. "After an anxious wait, I was accepted into 10 different medical schools across the country."

Powell chose to attend Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. At the time of his post-graduate enrollment, Powell was 40 years old.

Walk through the halls of any American university and you expect to see the bright, young faces of eager students, fresh out of high school, ready to write the first solo chapter in their personal "book of life." But as those young students prepared for their first lecture, they found themselves sitting next to a jovial, white-haired, former business executive they may have mistaken for the professor.

As he started this new stage of his journey, Powell found himself with a much different set of challenges from those his bright-eyed counterparts faced.

"What was tough, very tough, was to be thrown into medical school with young, smart students fresh out of science-based majors," he said. "As a liberal arts major in my undergraduate degree, learning science was something new that I had to undertake to enter medicine."

With only two years of medical classes, taken at night while volunteering and working a full-time, high-level, private-sector job, it was incredibly challenging to become comfortable with the new subject matter he was studying, Powell said.

The challenge for Powell came in trying to keep up with his classmates academically after years of navigating the twists and turns of business. Many of his classmates were fresh out of four-year programs and had a significant amount of lab research experience.

"There were many times during my first and second year when I doubted I was smart or resilient enough to get through the next exam," he said. "I wondered whether I should have chosen another medical school, a less arduous profession, or even if I should have continued my career in business."

But the discrepancy leveled off when his classes transitioned from class work to working with patients.

"It was much easier to apply science to the care of patients than it was to get good grades on standardized exams," Powell said. "But as I got better and better with the former, I continued to struggle with the latter."

It was a battle, Powell said, but he made it through one test and then another, one class and then another, one year and then another, and finally walked across the stage at the end of his four-year program to receive his diploma as a medical doctor. He had finally made it.

"I attribute a lot of my ability to endure those trying times to my background as an aerobic athlete," Powell said. "No matter how busy or overwhelmed I felt, I got out for a run or a long bike ride to recharge my batteries enough to face the next challenge head-on."

The next challenge was medical residency -- practicing medicine under the supervision of a fully licensed physician in a hospital or clinic. Powell chose to complete his residency in internal medicine at Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

During his residency, Powell competed on the Army 10-miler running team made up of combat arms officers and noncommissioned officers, most who’d served on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Spending time with teammates from my 10-miler team really inspired me to want to practice medicine in a line unit," Powell said. "Hearing their stories and experiences reignited my original passion to engage in public service. I absolutely knew, without a doubt, that I had to serve in a combat arms unit."

Shortly after completing his residency at Madigan, Powell accepted his first assignment as a medical professional as brigade surgeon for the 4th Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team “Raiders.”

Army Lt. Col. David Meyer, the brigade’s executive officer, said Powell is an inspiration.

"I can't imagine having the guts and determination to change careers at 40," he said. "I wouldn't even know where to start."

But Powell always knows exactly where to start, Meyer added. Whether it's turning one career in for another or figuring out how to train hundreds of Afghan soldiers and police who can't read to how to administer advanced medical aid on the battlefield, Powell always figures out a way to get the job done, he said.

Figuring out how to overcome seemingly impossible odds is exactly the sort of challenge that inspires Powell to continue his journey as a medical professional in the Army.

"Being a doctor on the front lines gives me an opportunity to effect the care, well-being and medical readiness of a more diverse population of people," he said. "It's an incredibly rewarding, interesting and challenging job." The brigade has established a medical footprint throughout Afghanistan that extends across some of the most dangerous and geographically challenging terrain in the country, he added.

"To be able to deliver health care in an area that didn't previously have an effective health care system in place gives me an incredible feeling of hope and accomplishment," Powell said.

During his deployment, Powell has done a lot more than that. He had helped to design and implement a comprehensive medical training program for the Afghan security forces that will be saving lives long after the last American boots leave Afghan soil.

When he deployed, Powell said, he realized the Afghan forces never would have access to the medical equipment U.S. forces routinely carry with them. He and his team began to put together a training manual that uses common items the Afghan forces would find on the battlefield. Because a large percentage of the Afghan population is illiterate, Powell and his team used step-by-step pictures so Afghan forces would understand it and be able to pass the training on without the help of U.S. forces.

The manual now is a standard for medical training for Afghan forces across Afghanistan.

After all the success Powell has helped bring to 'Raider' Brigade during his time in Afghanistan, It's hard to imagine how he could possibly find a way to challenge himself further as he transitions to the next step of his incredible journey.

In June, Powell begin a fellowship program in critical care medicine at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

"This fellowship is an opportunity for me to learn from, and work with, some of the best trauma and burn physicians in the world," he said. "It's also an opportunity for me to teach new resident doctors and medical students critical care medicine."

Meyer said Powell has an exceptional ability to teach. "He easily identifies how people learn, and without passing judgment, is able to create an environment of knowledge for them," he said.

In the meantime, Powell said, he doesn't plan on slowing down his efforts to continue expanding his brigade's medical footprint in Afghanistan any time soon.

"My goal right now is to continue to make sure 'Raider' Brigade is prepared for any medical contingency that might come up," he said. "Experiencing success with the programs we've already implemented here only makes the last few months of this deployment vital to creating even more progress."

Reflecting on the end of his time as a brigade surgeon and the steps it took to get there, Powell said he is just as inspired to continue his work in public service as he was when he first volunteered at the cancer ward in Vermont in 1999.

"Twelve years after I began my journey, I am still discovering, still experiencing rewards that are indescribable," he said. "This calling is as strong and motivating to me now, as it was the day I began my work in the medical field."

But the doctor won't tell you his story is special or unique.

"I think when people consider taking a long journey like I have done, they see the beginning and the end," he said. "They don't realize there is a great amount of life experience collected along the way.

"Each place I traveled throughout this journey has brought great friends and experiences with it," he continued. "When I reached my destination, I looked up and I had less hair and it was all white, but I knew I had done it, without giving up life to get it done."

Still, he added, it's not possible to start an epic journey like this and get to the end without help.

"You make it to the first fork in the road, then up the pass and through the mountains, then down into the valley,” he said. “Ultimately, it's about linking all the little sections together to get to the end."

Gates Outlines U.S. Role as NATO Takes Libya Mission

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2011 – As NATO assumed command of coalition operations in Libya this morning, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told the House Armed Services Committee that U.S. forces will “significantly ramp down” their commitment in the operation.

Gates said U.S. efforts in Libya will provide the capabilities other nations don’t have in kind and scale.

During the first phase of Operation Odyssey Dawn, U.S. forces provided the bulk of military assets and firepower, logistical support and overall command and control, Gates told the lawmakers. The U.S. focus as the operation continues will be electronic attack, aerial refueling, lift, search and rescue, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support, he said.

“There will be no American boots on the ground in Libya,” the secretary added.

Gates stressed that coalition military operations in Libya are not aimed at ending the regime of Moammar Gadhafi. “In my view,” he said, “the removal of Colonel Gadhafi will likely be achieved over time through political and economic measures and by his own people.”

What the NATO-led mission, now called Operation Unified Protector, can do is “degrade Gadhafi’s military capacity to the point where he –- and those around him –- will be forced into a very different set of choices and behaviors in the future,” Gates said.

The secretary said Libya’s possible destabilizing effect in the Middle East represents a strong national interest for the United States.

“In the space of about two months, the world has watched an extraordinary story unfold in the Middle East,” he said. “The turbulence being experienced by virtually every country in the region presents both perils and promise for the United States.”

President Barack Obama in February articulated a core set of principles -- opposing violence, standing for universal values, and speaking out on the need for political change and reform -- in response to widespread protests sweeping the region, Gates said.

“In the case of Libya, our government, our allies, and our partners in the region, watched with alarm as the regime of Moammar Gadhafi responded to legitimate protests with brutal suppression and a military campaign against his own people,” he said.

Gadhafi’s use of force against the Libyan people created the prospect of significant civilian casualties and hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to Egypt, Gates said, potentially destabilizing that country in the midst of its own difficult transition.

“Once the Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council called on Gadhafi to cease his attacks, and our European allies expressed a willingness to commit real military resources, it became apparent that the time and conditions were right for international military action,” he said.

“The security and prosperity of the United States is linked to the security and prosperity of the broader Middle East,” the secretary said. “It continues to be in our national interest to prevent Gadhafi from visiting further depredations on his own people, destabilizing his neighbors, and setting back the progress the people of the Middle East have made in recent weeks.”

Army Casualties

The Department of Defense announced today the deaths of three soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.  They died March 29 of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their unit with small arms fire in Konar province, Afghanistan.

Killed were:

Sgt. 1st Class Ofren Arrechaga, 28, of Hialeah, Fla.;

Staff Sgt. Frank E. Adamski III, 26, of Moosup, Conn.; and

Spc. Jameson L. Lindskog, 23, of Pleasanton, Calif.

They were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.

For more information, media should contact the Fort Campbell public affairs office at 931-561-0131 or 270-798-9966.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Florida National Guard assists with finance issues in Iraq

By Army Sgt. Jennifer Sardam,
Maryland National Guard

BAGHDAD (3/30/11) -- Guard members from the Florida Army National Guard's 1153rd Financial Management Detachment have been working hard to resolve military pay issues for Soldiers at Victory Base Complex and Forward Operating Base Union III.

Many of these Guard members feel proud of the responsibilities they have to their fellow service members in Iraq.

"I feel like I'm a part of history," said Army Staff Sgt. Kimberly Stevenson, chief of military pay for the 1153rd FMD at the Camp Liberty Finance Office on VBC. "We're National Guard, and so there's something very deep in your heart that you feel privileged to be a part of something like this."

As Guard members who share the same deployed environment and personal concerns as their customers, 1153rd FMD personnel are well aware of the stress that financial difficulties can create.

"You almost take it personally when they're having a pay problem, because you really do want to help," Stevenson said.

This understanding is evident to many who visit the finance office here, where pay personnel strive for timely responses to their customers.

"From the time a Soldier comes in with a pay issue, we make every attempt to resolve that within 72 hours," she said. "However, the goal is to try to answer pay questions immediately, when possible."

For some military pay staff, that means occasionally sacrificing down time to get the job done.

"We do get stressed out when we don't know how to help a Soldier or resolve it quickly enough," Stevenson said. "But, I know every one of my Soldiers feels the same way. At at night you don't want to talk about work because you just want to relax for a few minutes, but you go back and work it till , trying to fix it."

To better assist with finance issues, Guard members are encouraged to address pay concerns as soon as they surface.

"You can put it off so much, but it adds up," she said. "Pay, to me, is the most important thing. That keeps the mortgage going and the family happy."

Many of the major finance issues that bring Soldiers in for assistance come from them not properly addressing problems early on, she said.

"We see a lot of that here, such as, people not getting [their basic allowance for housing], that's due to them, because they didn't turn in the appropriate paperwork," she said. "Some of these are taking a long time to resolve, but it does feel good once you complete that for the Soldier."

Stevenson recommends that Soldiers stay informed of their basic pay by reviewing their leaves and earnings statements by logging on regularly to MyPay, the online self-service tool from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service.

"I had one Soldier come in [and] he hadn't looked on MyPay for a couple of months ... one day he looked, and he hadn't been paid for two months," Stevenson said. "What he thought was a simple problem, was a really big problem because his expiration term of service hadn't been put into the system."

Even with the convenience of direct deposit, Soldiers are advised to still check their pay regularly to ensure it is accurate.

"We always tell people [to] look at your LES's," said Army Spc. Cayce Hickey, the customer service noncommissioned officer in charge for military pay. "I go into my bank account twice a month and make sure that pay is there. I know what [the amount] should be. If it's not that, then that's when I go and I start asking questions."

If there is a pay issue, resolving it means tracking down paperwork and contacting various unit personnel offices. That keeps the military pay staff of the 1153rd FMD the busiest, Stevenson said.

Being personally prepared at the beginning of a deployment helps streamline the process of addressing issues later, should they arise.

During pre-deployment, Soldiers should have their affairs in order by reviewing any associated paperwork and bringing copies of important documents, said Army Sgt. Jason Johnson, a certifier in the disbursing section in the finance office.

"[Before deployment] a lot of units are really distracted with pay issues and also other personnel stuff," Johnson said. "We're finding out they don't have their stuff together, and [some] Soldiers have had issues since 2008."

Ongoing communication with the finance office helps servicemembers avoid many pay issues altogether.

"If you have a child, come let us know," Hickey said. "If you move duty stations, come let us know. If you have any significant life changes, come in and let finance know, even if we just tell you that we don't need to know that, at least you're not putting yourself in debt or missing out on money that you're eligible to get."

Many of the finance Soldiers are aware of the impact of their daily duties on deployed servicemembers.

"It's very important because no one [works] for free," Johnson said. "If we're taking care of their needs, or they have a problem, and they perceive that we are working hard to resolve it and get them some answers, they're going to be more focused on their mission."

Women's Day

Women from the Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team and Iowa National Guard's 734th Agribusiness Development Team gather alongside Afghan women to celebrate International Women's Day at the Ministry of Culture and Information March 8. More than 100 Afghan women from the surrounding areas attended the event. (Photo by: U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Nicholas Mercurio)

Army Casualties

The Department of Defense announced today the deaths of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.  They died March 29 at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their unit with small arms fire in Konar province.

Killed were:

Staff Sgt. Bryan A. Burgess, 29, of Cleburne, Texas.

Pfc. Dustin J. Feldhaus, 20, of Glendale, Ariz.

They were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.

For more information media should contact the Fort Campbell public affairs office at 931-561-0131 or 270-798-9966.

CTF 52 Conducts Mine Countermeasure Exercise with NATO

By U.S. Naval Forces Central Command Public Affairs

MANAMA, Bahrain (NNS) -- Commander, Task Force 52 ships participated in a mine countermeasures exercise with Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group (SNMCMG) 2 and French forces in the Arabian Gulf March 20-24.

Mine countermeasures ships USS Ardent (MCM 12) and USS Scout (MCM 8), Royal Navy's Fleet auxiliary landing dock ship RFA Lyme Bay and mine countermeasures ships HMS Pembroke and HMS Middleton, all assigned to CTF 52, participated alongside French Ships Croix de Sud and Var as well as the ships of SNMCMG 2 -- Greek frigate HS Spetsai, and minehunters FGS Herten (Germany), HS Kallisto (Greece) ITS Viareggio (Italy) and ESPS Tajo (Spain).

The five-day long exercise gave all forces an opportunity to increase tactical and technical proficiency in a variety of disciplines and emphasized operating as part of a multi-national effort.

In addition to mine detection and neutralization events, the ships conducted gunnery exercises, a group formation photo exercise, underway replenishments and operations with helicopters from Spetsai and Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron (HM) 15 Det 2, assigned to CTF 52.

"The NATO PASSEX [passing exercise] provided great opportunities to not only practice our core mine warfare competencies, but to do so with our NATO partners. Together, we were able to become a better prepared, more unified force," said Lt. Cmdr. Curtis Sparling, Scout's commanding officer.

At the conclusion of the event, a reception was held aboard Greek frigate HS Spetsai, serving as the flagship for SNMCMG 2. It provided a chance for the crews to meet one another in person.

U.S. Fifth Fleet Commander, Vice Adm. Mark Fox attended the event.

"We have a unique set of challenges in this region," Fox said. "We rely on cooperation and partnerships with other coalitions and independent navies to help achieve our goals of maritime stability and security throughout the region."

CTF 52 is the mine countermeasures force of the Coalition Forces Maritime Component Command overseen by the U.S. 5th Fleet. It operates regularly to ensure free and unfettered use of the sea lanes in the central Arabian Gulf, one of the world's critical stretches of sea for international commerce.

Stavridis Praises Allies’ Afghanistan Efforts

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 30, 2011 – The fight in Afghanistan has become a global effort, with committed partners from nations that include Mongolia, Bulgaria, Tonga and El Salvador, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe said here today.

“In addition to the 49 countries with troops there, well over 80 countries are contributing financially to develop Afghanistan,” Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis told the House Armed Services Committee.

In addition to contributing resources and capabilities, Stavridis said, allied nations “are in the fight.”

Although U.S. forces in Afghanistan outnumber those of other nations by a 2-to-1 margin, the admiral said, allied nations have had 900 service members killed in action, compared to the U.S. total of about 1,400.

“So they are suffering casualties at a higher rate per capita than we are here in the United States in many instances,” he said.

One of the allies’ specific skills is training.

“If you think about how we're going to succeed in Afghanistan, I believe we will train our way to success,” Stavridis said. “We're beginning a transition this summer that will run through 2014, and I believe the ability to make that transition is dependent on effective Afghan security forces.”

Some 275,000 Afghan security forces are being trained by U.S. forces and by coalition partners who bring discrete skill sets at everything from orienteering to aircraft maintenance, Stavridis said. The training effort, he added, “is an area in which we are encouraging our allies to bring additional forces.” Canada and the Netherlands recently increased the numbers of troops they are committing to the training mission, he said.

Coalition partners also are at work in a command-and-control sense, Stavridis said, noting that Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, has a British deputy commander and a French chief of staff.

“As you look around Afghanistan to the leaders in each regional command area, Kabul is commanded by a Turk,” Stavridis said. “In the far west, we see an Italian in command. In the north we see a German in command, in addition to U.S. commanders in the south and the east.

“The contributions of the allies are noteworthy and part of my cautious optimism for success in Afghanistan,” he added.

Despite economic challenges, European allies have great resources, Stavridis said.

“The [gross domestic product] of Europe is about $14 trillion, very similar to that of the United States, so if you put the United States' GDP and Europe's GDP together, about $28 [trillion] to $30 trillion, which is roughly half of the global GDP.

“We're lucky that our close allies in Europe live in prosperous societies that can contribute to defense,” he added. However, he acknowledged, many allies are not meeting the NATO standard of spending of at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense.

A handful, including the United Kingdom, France, Turkey and Greece and others, are meeting the standard, he said.

But the majority of NATO partners are not meeting the GDP defense-spending standard,” the admiral added.

“So I am worried,” he said.

Because the United States pays a much-higher percentage of GDP for its defense, Stavridis said.

“We need to be emphatic with our European allies that they should spend at least the minimum NATO 2 percent,” he said.

The admiral said he stresses that point with NATO allies.

“I carry that message often, emphatically and very directly, frankly, not only to military counterparts but also to political actors in each of the nations in the alliance,” he said.

A minimum defense spending goal of 2 percent of gross domestic product is very reasonable, Stavridis said, and one that the alliance should be able to support, noting that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates also raise the issue with NATO members.

“We are all leaning forward to make sure our allies do the right thing in this regard,” the admiral said.

The coalition also is dealing with other problems in Afghanistan, which produces 80 to 90 percent of the world's poppy. This is turned into opium, and ultimately into heroin, Stavridis said.

Taliban financing comes from the poppy trade, he added, which provides a funding stream of $100 million to $200 million annually for enemy activity.

The route is marked by corruption and crime as the drugs move from Afghanistan through central Asia, through the the Balkans, and to users in Russia, Europe and, ultimately, the United States, Stavridis said.

A multiagency countertrafficking effort is being established to support the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency as it takes the lead, he said, and the military command contributes surveillance, connectivity and an analytic capability.

“It's a significant challenge, but we're starting to see some impact,” Stavridis said. “In Afghanistan, where we start this supply chain and we see Afghans in the lead but NATO supporting, we have seen a reduction in the production of poppy and, therefore, of opium and heroin, by about 20 percent over the last two years. We're starting down the path.”

In the end, however, gains are necessary on the demand side as well as the supply side and the transit zone.

“There's no silver bullet,” the admiral said. “You kind of have to go at all three of those. We're attacking all three in an interagency way.”

Forces Detain Insurgents in Afghanistan

Compiled from International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Releases

WASHINGTON, March 30, 2011 – Afghan and coalition forces detained several suspected insurgents yesterday in the Mohammad Aghah district of Afghanistan’s Logar province, military officials reported.

Troops were searching for a Taliban leader responsible for planning, coordinating and carrying out attacks against security forces.

In other operations yesterday throughout Afghanistan:

-- Security forces detained two suspected Taliban insurgents while targeting a Taliban safe haven for facilitating homemade explosives and explosive devices in Logar province’s Baraki Barak district.

-- Afghan and coalition forces in Khost province’s Sabari district captured a Haqqani network terrorist leader who has conducted artillery and bombing attacks on security forces in the district.

-- Forces captured a Hezb-E Islami Gulbuddin terrorist weapons trafficker in Khost province’s Sabari district.

In March 29 operations:

-- A coalition air weapons team in Helmand province killed numerous insurgents after responding to requests for air support from ground troops under attack in the province’s Musa Qalah and Nahr-e Saraj districts.

-- Security forces killed numerous insurgents in Kapisa province’s Alah Say district using air weapons support after a group of insurgents attacked patrolling ground troops.

-- Afghanistan and coalition forces killed two armed insurgents and detained several others during a combined patrol when two insurgents demonstrated hostile intent toward the troops in Uruzgan province’s Tarin Kot district.

-- In northern Helmand province, troops killed two explosive device and weapons traffickers when the men tried to engage the troops, officials said. Security forces also detained a suspected insurgent for further questioning.

-- Security forces found several weapons and drug stockpiles in operations throughout Afghanistan. The operations resulted in seizure of more than 11,000 assorted assault-rifle rounds, 3,900 pounds of hashish, 350 pounds of homemade explosives, 300 blocks of plastic explosives, eight pressure plates, four hand grenades, two rocket-propelled grenades and assorted bomb-making materials.

Face of Defense: Point Man Steers Team From Danger

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell
Task Force Bastogne

KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan, March 30, 2011 – "I can say that I've led this platoon into more ambushes than any other point man here on this deployment," Army Sgt. Nathaniel S. Gray said with a toothy grin and a slow, southern accent.

"I was point man for the first six, seven months here," he continued. "I walked us into a lot. I can smell it, but I don't know where it's at. I know it's going to happen. Every time we were walking, I was looking for my next covered and concealed position. You know, I'd look at this rock, then that rock. ‘Oh, there's another rock, that's where I'm going.’ I just never knew when it was going to happen."

Gray, assigned to the 101st Airborne Division’s Company B, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, Task Force No Slack, now is a squad leader and has an uncanny knack for getting himself and his team out of tight spots. Even before joining the Army, Gray found ways out of potentially hairy situations.

He grew up in Tupelo, Miss., a town about the same size as Asadabad, the capital of Afghanistan’s Kunar province, where he now patrols. As a teenager, he watched war movies and idolized the men in those action roles who wore Screaming Eagle patches on their shoulders.

"If you see TV or movies, who wouldn't choose the 101st?" Gray said. "If you see 'Hamburger Hill,' with those dudes charging up the side of a mountain, who wouldn't want to do that?"

After returning from his first combat tour in Iraq, he quickly joined the 101st Airborne Division and deployed again to Iraq with the division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team for 15 months.

Now, 10 months into a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, Gray stares out of his makeshift fighting position into the Shigal Valley.

"You see something?" another soldier asked. "Ah, it's just dead trees."

"Make sure you know where it's coming from before you shoot, know what I mean?" Gray said to the soldier. "I expect a rocket-propelled grenade to come from that ridgeline over there."

It was quiet for a few minutes as the soldiers scanned the ridges with their weapons.

Then Gray said, "Actually, it's my sons' birthdays today."
Jacob and Joseph, twins, turned 5 years old March 16. Gray said he sent home a bow and arrow set for their presents. He started laughing.

"Last time I was home, one of them was walking around the gas station we were at singing the Pledge of Allegiance," Gray said. "I thought that was pretty cool."

Gray said his sons are one of the main reasons he has stayed in the Army. He is able to care for them, he added, but they also look up to and admire him for being a soldier.

"They want camouflage stuff -- you know, they're 5," he said with a smile. "They want the GI Joe backpack, and I think that's pretty cool."

Then he explained the difference between being a squad leader and a father.

"Over here, a squad leader is more difficult than taking care of kids," Gray explained. "Here, you have to check to make sure their magazines are full, their [combat optics] are tied down -- you have to check everything. Small things have bigger consequences over here."

Since joining the Army, Gray said, he has learned it's the little things that count.

"The Army changed my life a lot," he said. "It kind of distilled something in me. I started doing the right thing. I respect myself more, and I respect others more."

After dodging as many more ambushes as he can in his three years left in the military, Gray said, he plans on going to college and walking into one more ambush: being swarmed by children.

"I want to be a kindergarten teacher," he said.

The fighting position on the mountain was quiet for a moment, and then erupted with muffled laughter from his troops.

"Everybody laughs, but that's what I want to do," Gray said. "I love kids."

A few days later, back home in Mississippi, Jacob and Joseph got a phone call. Their dad was on the line, far away from them, but reassuring them that he found a safe route off the mountain.

Gray has a certain knack for that.

Female Wisconsin Guard Soldiers to be part of Special Ops mission

Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs Office

Four Wisconsin Army National Guard female Soldiers have learned that they will be part of an all-female team supporting Army Special Combat forces by interacting with local women in combat zones.

Sgt. Kristen Elegeert of De Pere, a member of the 457th Chemical Company in Burlington, said the demanding five-day assessment and selection process at Fort Bragg, N.C., was unlike anything she had ever experienced. This was not a training environment, but an evaluation of physical, mental and intellectual capabilities required to maintain composure, apply logic, communicate clearly and solve problems in demanding situations.

"It took a lot of resilience, solid work ethic and teamwork," she explained, adding that these same principles will be needed to prepare for the upcoming mission. "Gaining maximum mental awareness and physical strength is a must."

Master Sgt. Karen Dumke of Waupun, a member of the 64th Troop Command in Madison, agreed.

"It was the most difficult and challenging thing I have done in my entire 25-plus years in the military," Dumke said. "I believe it was basically an abbreviated version of what the males must go through in order to be selected to enter the Special Forces."
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Sgt. Sonia Buchanan of Cottage Grove, a member of the Madison-based Joint Force Headquarters, said there was no feedback during the assessment process until the final day.
"At that moment, as I was face to face with the assessor, all I wanted to hear was four words - 'You have been selected,'" Buchanan said. "It was all worth it - all the pain, all the hard work."

1st Lt. April Kane of Viroqua, a member of the Wisconsin Medical Command at Camp Williams was the final Wisconsin National Guard Soldier selected for the Female Engagement Team. A total of seven Wisconsin Guard members volunteered for the assessment and selection process.

Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, said he was very proud of all seven volunteers.

"This was an extremely demanding selection process for a very demanding and important mission," he said. "They chose the best of the best, and it says a lot to me that they chose four Soldiers from Wisconsin."

The four who were selected will undergo several weeks of specialized training, beginning in May with a week at Fort Benning, Ga., followed by culture and language training at Fort Bragg, N.C. The training will include cross-cultural communication skills for Afghan and Islamic cultures. They will also learn negotiation and mediation skills, proper use of interpreters and key leader engagement techniques.

Upon completion of training, the four will deploy with either a Ranger platoon or a Special Forces team in Afghanistan as members of a cultural support team working with area villages. Their primary mission will be to interact with women and children to build rapport, foster relationships and establish trust. In this role they will support medical missions, searches and seizures, humanitarian assistance and civil-military operations.

As Special Forces have very few trained female Soldiers available to interact with Afghan women and children, the cultural support team will fill a vital role in Afghanistan. A total of 50 female Soldiers are sought for the cultural support team. Deployments are expected to last up to eight months.

"I am extremely appreciative to be accepted," Elegeert said. "I am very eager to get to work."

Dumke plans to begin a challenging physical training regimen prior to arrival at Fort Bragg.

"I will also be studying up on Afghan culture and language," she said.