Sunday, May 31, 2009

Gates Calls on Asian Partners for Help in Afghanistan

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

May 30, 2009 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today called on U.S. allies in Asia to render more aid to bolster the fight in Afghanistan. In his opening remarks at the "Shangri-La Dialogue" Asia security summit here, Gates said terrorist groups rooted in training camps along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border have international reach, even to the Asia-Pacific region.

"I know some in Asia have concluded that Afghanistan does not represent a strategic threat to their countries, owing in part to Afghanistan's geographic location," he said. "But the threat from failed or failing states is international in scope, whether in the security, economic or ideological realm."

The secretary cited examples of terrorist attacks in Southeast Asia, and said some are inspired and supported by terrorist groups operating along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

"Failure in a place like Afghanistan would have international reverberations, and, undoubtedly, many of them would be felt in this part of the world," Gates said.

Gates cited the U.S. administration's strategy to surge troops and civilian aid into Afghanistan and to take on the threat on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in a unified effort. But, he said, Afghanistan needs more aid to build needed infrastructure, funding to expand the Afghan security forces, and experts to help rebuild the country's health care, agricultural and education systems.

"The challenge in Afghanistan is so complex, and so untraditional, that it can only be met by all of us working in concert," Gates said. "All must contribute what they can to a cause that demands the full attention of the international community."

Afghanistan is no longer is a safe haven for terrorist groups, the secretary said, and it has a democratically elected government in place. The United States will spend billions of dollars over the next several years to help fund the country's expanded security force, because Afghanistan cannot currently afford a security force of the size it needs, Gates said. Countries that cannot send troops could donate likewise, he added.

Also, even if the U.S.-led surge in troops helps to stabilize the country's security, much more civilian expertise is needed for its rebuilding.

"It is one thing for us to be able to surge a number of security forces, but our civilian capacity is limited," Gates said. The United States will send hundreds of civilian experts and diplomats into the country in the next few months, he said, but the need still is greater than the commitments that have been made.

Friday, May 29, 2009

High-intensity Training Helps Soldiers Improve Strength, Endurance

By Army Spc. Ruth McClary
Special to American Forces Press Service

May 29, 2009 - Seven soldiers of Company A, 120th Combined Arms Battalion, 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, grunt and moan as they lift Humvee shock springs and tires to build strength and endurance for upcoming missions. The 20-minute, high-intensity workout is called the Tabata, a variation of the fitness training the platoon performs three days a week.

The workout, established in 1996, is named for its creator, Dr. Izumi Tabata of Tokyo. It incorporates timed, maximum-intensity exercise in short bursts, followed by a resting period.

"This is good combat training," Army Sgt. Gavin Hutchins, a 2nd Platoon squad leader, said. "We are building up our bodies to carry ammunition cans and heavy supplies when we go out on missions."

In this workout, the soldiers perform an exercise rotation for 20 seconds, and then rest for 20 seconds. They complete a five-exercise rotation at eight sets each.

The regimen not only prepares troops for the rigors of combat, as it mimics the movements of knocking down doors and removing debris during a mission, but also is helping one soldier become healthier.

"I came into this unit with high blood pressure," Army Spc. Ronald Gardner, an infantry driver, said. "It was 154, [and] now it's 115 over 70, so this workout is saving my life." Gardner has lost 40 pounds using this workout.

The rotation exercises include carrying the springs, lifting and holding the larger springs, hitting a Humvee tire with a sledgehammer, pulling the tire with straps and variations of push-ups.

The soldiers said the Humvee shock springs range from 30 to 45 pounds, and the tires weigh about 300 pounds each. "The tires were given to us by the supply sergeant, and the rest of the stuff we got from the dump," Hutchins said.

While the soldiers were in Kuwait before moving into Iraq, they began cross-fitness training. A certified instructor there told them about the Tabata program and trained them to push it to the limit.

"If you got anything left after this workout, you are wrong," Army Spc. Daniel Beck, the platoon sergeant's radio operator, said.

The soldiers exercise on the basketball court at 3 p.m. The temperature is more than 100 degrees, with no covering or shade to help block the sun. A hint of a breeze blows, but not enough to dry the sweat that drenches all of them. The dirt from the springs migrates to the soldiers' hands, arms, and clothing. Yet, they keep holding on.

Hutchins said the platoon has lost 100 pounds as a group since the soldiers began working out in Kuwait about a month ago. "These guys are going to be strong in a short period of time," he added.

Then, as the sweat pours down his face, he shouts, "Cross-fit or die!"

(Army Spc. Ruth McClary serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)

Experiment to Examine Joint Operations Concept

By Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Nikki Carter
Special to American Forces Press Service

May 29, 2009 - More than 180 representatives from the U.S. military and other government agencies, as well as from foreign militaries, will gather in McLean, Va., from May 31 to June 5 for a war game to test the Defense Department's recently revised Capstone Concept for Joint Operations, or CCJO. U.S. Joint Forces Command is leading the war game, the culminating event of an overall experiment that has included two previous workshops.

The CCJO, a document approved by Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, envisions how the joint force will respond to an array of future national security challenges in the 2016 to 2028 time frame. The CCJO is a companion piece to the Joint Operating Environment, which describes future operational environments and challenges the joint force may encounter.
The CCJO describes how the joint force will operate to address those challenges, which include winning the nation's wars, deterring potential adversaries, developing cooperative security, defending the homeland, and responding to civil crises.

"The Capstone Concept for Joint Operations describes how the joint force will operate in an uncertain, complex and changing future characterized by persistent conflict," Mullen wrote in the document's introduction. "While the concept focuses on the future, many of its underlying concepts are timeless."

The war game is designed to explore the ideas in the CCJO using three different scenarios, each replicating possible key security challenges, organizers said.

"We have some very significant participation at the three- and four-star level, policy makers, former National Security Council members, former assistants to the president for homeland security, political and interagency participation -- very august crowd for a week-long war game," Navy Vice Adm. Robert S. Harward, Joint Forces Command's deputy commander, said.

The classified scenarios feature a state competitor, a fragile state and a globally networked terrorist organization. Joint Forces Command will use these scenarios to examine issues such as homeland defense, weapons of mass destruction, adversary use of advanced conventional weapons, cyber operations, and contested access to an area or within a region.

A joint force, represented by select senior leaders and experts from the services, combatant commands, U.S. government agencies and multinational partners, will be assigned to each scenario. Each force will face a robust, dynamic and free-thinking enemy who will challenge their CCJO-based assumptions and solutions, officials said.

"The key is to get the right people with the right backgrounds together to challenge the concept and evaluate the implications," said Navy Rear Adm. Dan W. Davenport, Joint Forces Command's director of joint concept development and experimentation. The experiment will determine if the CCJO's description of how the future force should operate needs to be adjusted, and will help to identify the capabilities the joint force will need to be successful, including those capabilities currently not planned, he added.

It also will determine changes that could improve the joint force's ability to better operate in the future environments, he said.

"The ultimate goal of the CCJO experiment," Davenport said, is to provide useful information to those who make force development decisions and to those who think about future joint force issues."

The results from the war game will be available at the end of July.

(Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Nikki Carter serves in the U.S. Joint Forces Command public affairs office.)

Army Casualty

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

Spc. Chad A. Edmundson, 20, of Williamsburg, Pa., died May 27 in Baghdad of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his unit while on a dismounted patrol. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 112th Infantry, 56th Stryker Brigade, Pennsylvania Army National Guard.

For more information the media may contact Lt. Col. Christopher Cleaver at (717) 861-8468.

Face of Defense: Fallen Sailor Oversaw Iraq Reconstruction

American Forces Press Service

May 29, 2009 - He spent his deployment helping to rebuild Iraq, but a Navy Reserve officer who served as chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division's office in Iraq's Anbar province fell victim to a roadside bomb this week. Navy Cmdr. Duane G. Wolfe and two other servicemembers were killed, and two others were injured in the May 25 attack near Fallujah.

Wolfe was from Los Osos, Calif. His home Navy Reserve unit is Navy Operational Support Center, Port Hueneme, Calif. He worked at Vandenberg Air Force Base as the civilian deputy commander of the 30th Space Wing Mission Support Group.

Wolfe served in the Navy Reserve from 1978 until his death.

"Commander Wolfe was an outstanding warrior, patriot, loving husband, and father of three," said Army Maj. Gen. Michael Eyre, commander of the Gulf Region Division. "Monday's attack has been a devastating loss, and the entire GRD team is deeply saddened by this tragedy. We honor Commander Wolfe's life and service to our country, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and colleagues. Our thoughts and prayers are also with all of those impacted by this attack, the families of the two others killed and the two who were wounded."

As the officer in charge of the Gulf Region Central district's Anbar Area Office, Wolfe was responsible for 59 personnel, including military members, government civilians and Iraqis who work at the area office and three geographically dispersed subordinate resident offices. His staff is responsible for overseeing nearly $300 million in planned and ongoing construction projects, many of which are providing essential services to the Iraqi people.

The projects include the first waste-water treatment facility for Fallujah, a location command for the Iraqi army, a judicial complex and a 132-kilovolt substation in Ramadi.

Wolfe will posthumously receive the Bronze Star with "V" device for valor, the Purple Heart, the Combat Action Ribbon, the National Defense Service Medal with service star, the Iraqi Campaign Medal, the Armed Forces Reserve Medal with "M" device for mobilization, the Overseas Service Ribbon and the Combat Action Badge.

(From a Gulf Region Division news release.)

NATO, Afghan, Pakistani Troops Share Workspace to Coordinate Security

By Army Sgt. Matthew C. Moeller
Special to American Forces Press Service

May 29, 2009 - An Afghan National Army military liaison officer at the Khyber Border Coordination Center receives a phone call; violent extremists are fleeing from Nangarhar province across the border into Pakistan's Peshawar region. The Afghans have to inform the Pakistanis fast if they want to catch them in the act. What used to take hours now takes seconds, as the ANA liaison walks a few feet to the desks of representatives from the Pakistani military and the Afghan National Border Police.

Located just a few miles from the Afghan-Pakistani border, the KBCC here has brought Pakistani, Afghan and NATO International Security Assistance Force servicemembers together to remove the fog of war and to allow instant communication and coordination among all working to secure the border.

"Basically, it removes a lot of links from the chain," said U.S. Army Capt. David Gray, officer in charge of the KBCC's ISAF personnel. "Now, you have that face-to-face interaction between the different groups, so it tends to make things run a lot quicker."

Historically important, the Khyber Pass is home to Torkham Gate, Afghanistan's largest official entrance into the country. More than 40,000 people can cross through the gate each day, taking advantage of the direct route between Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, and Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.

Afghan military members based at the KBCC say the difficult terrain along the border had allowed extremists to cross back and forth with little detection, often attacking from one side then fleeing to the other before the second country could be informed of the intrusion.

Now, with the KBCC fully operational, the two nations and ISAF are able to coordinate a response together almost instantly.

"We're working closely with the Pakistani and [ISAF personnel]," said Afghan Maj. Mohammad Shinwar, Afghan Border Police liaison officer. "If something were to happen at the border, we are going to share with these two parties, ... and if we have any kind of problem, we will share with them, and the decision will be made by Pakistan, Afghanistan and [ISAF]."

These three-party decisions are seeing results. Several months ago, officials said, extremists attacked Afghan forces in the country's volatile Kunar province. After receiving reports that the men planned to flee through Torkham Gate into Pakistan, KBCC personnel coordinated with Afghan and Pakistani military forces, and the men were apprehended at the gate.

"Our successful coordination here led to their capture," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Craig Snow, the center's public affairs officer.

The KBCC is the first of several planned coordination centers to be placed along the border.

(Army Sgt. Matthew C. Moeller serves with the 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

Iraqi Police Take Operations to New Level in Mosul

American Forces Press Service

May 29, 2009 - Local police officers gathered with their counterparts from the Iraqi National Police and the Iraqi army at the 3rd Iraqi Police Division's new operations center here for a situational update briefing May 26. "[The local police] recognize that they need to work together with the Iraqi army and the Iraqi National Police," said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Gene Harding, intelligence team leader for the 3rd Iraqi Police Division National Police Transition Team. "To do that, they needed a functional operations center from which they could conduct operations."

The operations center is outfitted with work areas for liaisons from the army and national police, as well as personnel for key functional areas such as intelligence and communications. This has given Iraqi security forces a unified front for security in Mosul, Harding said.

"Now that they have a place where they can come together, they are coming together," he said. "They are able to plan and coordinate with each other, because they are all right there together."

After reviewing a coalition forces operations center, Maj. Gen. Muhamad Lateaf, commander of the 3rd Iraqi Police Division, decided it was time to create the same type of atmosphere and further unite the security forces in Mosul. Construction on the center began April 20, and 30 days later, the project became a reality.

"We are relieved to have such an area to conduct operations and work hand in hand with our ... counterparts," Lateaf said. "We were able to build the operations center through our joint efforts with the coalition forces."

Since the center began full-scale operations May 20, mission coordination has reaped rewards. In the past week, one mission resulted in the capture of a suspected insurgent, and another uncovered a large weapons cache, Harding said.

The Iraqi police designed, coordinated key pieces, and built the operations center to their specifications.

"They've taken ownership of this since inception," Harding said. "This is 100 percent their operations center. They took ideas from one of our operations centers and made it their own."

Lateaf said the operations center will become pivotal for the Iraqi security forces as coalition forces reposition in accordance with the U.S.-Iraq security agreement. Now that he has a base of operations, he added, he continually is looking for ways to improve the operations center and the resources it provides.

"[The operations center] is not perfect yet, but we are
developing it every day," he said. "Each day, we will continue to improve on our operations and be more successful. This is just the beginning."

(From a Multinational Corps Iraq news release.)

Afghan, Coalition Forces Kill 35 Militants, Wound 13 Others

American Forces Press Service

May 29, 2009 - Afghan soldiers, advised by coalition forces, killed 35 militants and wounded 13 others in the Deh Chopan district of Afghanistan's Zabul province yesterday, military officials reported. The Afghan-led force was conducting an early morning combat reconnaissance patrol when the convoy came under heavy fire from militants using small arms and mortars. The combined forces returned fire and requested air support, killing 35 and wounding 13. The remaining militants retreated, and medical personnel treated the wounded enemy fighters, who were taken into Afghan National Army custody.

No Afghan security forces, coalition forces or civilian casualties were reported.

(From a U.S. Forces Afghanistan news release.)

Petraeus: Video Shows Air Strikes Aimed at Taliban Targets

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

May 29, 2009 - Footage of a controversial U.S. aerial bombing in Afghanistan this month shows the strike targeted Taliban militants, the commander of U.S. Central Command said today. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus told National Public Radio that he recently watched a video recorded by an aerial bomber involved in the May 4 firefight in Farah province between a joint U.S.-Afghan force and Taliban insurgents. The battle resulted in the death of Afghan civilians -- with U.S. estimates ranging from 20 to 30, but the Afghan government's as high as 140.

"I was in Kabul the other night [and was] briefed by the brigadier general who I appointed to carry out an investigation of this particular incident, and there is indeed video from a B-1 bomber that very clearly shows bombs hitting individuals who are the Taliban who are reacting to the movements of the Afghan and coalition forces on the ground," he said.

Petraeus said the video, which likely will be shown to the media at a later date, does not disprove that civilians were killed, nor did he dispute that they were. But the footage proves that the targets of the strikes were Taliban insurgents waging an ambush against the combined U.S.-Afghan force, he said.

"I think we agree, actually, that there were civilians killed in this incident along -- again -- with a substantial number of Taliban," he said. "This is a very tough case, because this was a very significant ambush of an Afghan force that had our advisers with it, and it was in response to that force -- literally rescuing that force at the request of Afghan political leaders as well as Afghan police and military leaders -- that our forces then moved in a very tough fight and these bombs were dropped."

Following the reports of high civilian casualties, Petraeus assigned a brigadier general to join Afghan counterparts in investigating the Farah province battle. Petraeus said he received a nearly three-hour briefing from the brigadier general and said the United States will apply "lessons learned" from the incident once they are fully understood.

Petraeus expressed concern about civilian causalities and described the tension between the need to protect the Afghan population but also to allow for coalition forces to use the capabilities – including air strikes – at their disposal.

"We are there to secure the people, to serve them; it's a big challenge," he said. "Indeed, we don't want our forces going into combat with one hand tied behind their back, but we also cannot take actions that might produce tactical victories but undermine the efforts strategically.

"And that's this tension, if you will, between, again, employing all the assets that we have, but making sure that we do it in a way that doesn't undermine the overall effort -- which is the result if, indeed there, [are] significant civilian casualties," he added.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, speaking about the Farah battle earlier this month, expressed the need to continue reducing civilian casualties in Afghanistan. In a May 11 news conference at the Pentagon, he cited one measure of progress -- a 40 percent drop since in the first few months of 2009 compared to a year earlier.

"There is a tremendous effort going on on our part to try and avoid civilian casualties," he said.

Global Conditions, Trends Indicate Years of Conflict, Army Chief Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

May 29, 2009 - As the Army continues to battle radical extremists in Iraq and Afghanistan, global trends and conditions portend the likelihood that "persistent conflict" will occur around the world for some years to come, the Army's top military officer said here yesterday. The war against terrorism "is a long-term, ideological struggle," Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. told an audience at the Atlantic Council of the United States. The council promotes constructive U.S. leadership and engagement in international affairs.

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, Casey said, the negative effects of globalization precipitated by the world economic crisis, combined with growing urbanization and an increased competition for resources, are among early 21st-century trends that indicate the potential for additional conflicts in the near future.

"Against that backdrop, we look out at trends that we see around the globe," Casey said. "And the trends that we see, I believe, are more likely to exacerbate the conditions that we see now than they are to ameliorate them."

Casey then ticked off some of those trends:

-- Up until the world economic crisis, Casey said, globalization "was generating prosperity around the world, but it was generating it unevenly and creating 'have' and 'have-not' conditions." The have-not regions, he said, are mostly concentrated in the southern hemisphere and contain people who "are much more susceptible to recruiting" by terrorist and extremist organizations.

-- Technology, like globalization, has become "another double-edged sword," Casey said. Computer technology that's used to connect people and businesses across the world also is employed by terrorists to export their ideology and expedite their plans.

-- Populations of some developing countries are expected to double over the next decade, the general said, putting more pressure on already harried governments to provide adequate services for their people. Meanwhile, he said, the world's people "are increasingly moving to cities," a trend that makes for tough urban fighting during times of conflict.

-- Another demographic-related world trend involves an "increased competition for resources" among developed and newly developing nations, Casey said.

However, the two most worrisome scenarios, Casey said, involve "weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorist organizations and safe havens – countries or parts of countries where the local governments can't or won't deny their countries as safe havens for terrorists to plan operations."

All of these trends and conditions indicate "that we will operate in an era of what I call persistent conflict," Casey said. He defined such conflict as "protracted confrontation among state, nonstate and individual actors who are increasingly willing to use violence to accomplish their political objectives."

Such conflicts, Casey said, could persist up to "a decade or so ahead of us."

The fighting that occurred in southern Lebanon in the summer of 2006 that pitted Israeli troops against Hezbollah terrorists, Casey said, is an example of the type of warfare that's likely to be experienced in the years ahead. In 2006, Hezbollah guerrillas "used improvised explosive devices to channelize well-equipped attacking Israeli forces into ambushes, where they fired at them with state-of-the-art anti-tank guided missiles," Casey said. The terrorists, he said, also shot down an Israeli helicopter with a surface-to-air missile.

Hezbollah's use of hybrid warfare -- a mix of irregular and conventional tactics and weaponry – represents "a fundamentally more complex and difficult challenge than the challenges of fighting large tank armies on the plains of Europe," Casey pointed out.
Casey predicted that future U.S. foes are likely to employ irregular and hybrid tactics in the years ahead. Meanwhile, he added, the U.S. Army is engaged in adapting itself to confront the new strategic environment of the 21st century.

First, he said, the Army is working to master irregular warfare "to prevail in counterinsurgency campaigns."

Second, the U.S. military needs "to continue to engage with other countries' security forces," Casey said, "when we're asked to help them build the capabilities they need to deny their countries to terrorists."

Third, he said, U.S. forces need to continue to work with civil authorities in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"And you have all heard people say time and time again that we will not win this conflict by military means alone," Casey said, noting that securing success in Afghanistan and Iraq is predicated on the effective integration of all elements of national power, including diplomacy, reconstruction, governance, rule of law and other types of assistance.

Lastly, and no less important, Casey said, "we have to be able to deter and defeat hybrid threats and hostile state actors."

CBR Weapons and WMD Terrorism News- May 29, 2009

EPA green lights first antimicrobial pesticide against anthrax [bacteria]
"The Environmental Protection Agency has approved the first registration, or license, of an antimicrobial pesticide product to deactivate anthrax spores on hard surfaces. 'Peridox with the Electrostatic Decontamination System' can decontaminate buildings, structures, vehicles, ships, aircraft, personal protective equipment, and other items infected with anthrax spores. Its use is limited to dry, precleaned, hard, nonporous surfaces. [...] The use of anthrax-related products will be limited to federal on-scene coordinators, the U.S. military, and persons trained and certified competent by the manufacturer. Peridox is the first pesticide registered to deactivate anthrax spores. EPA previously issued crisis exemptions allowing use of unregistered antimicrobial chemicals to clean buildings and any contents contaminated with anthrax spores." (Environmental Protection Agency; 28May09)

[Japanese] Court rejects appeal by chemical victims
Japan's top court rejected two appeals for compensation for Chinese people killed or injured by chemical weapons abandoned by Japanese soldiers at the end of World War II, reports said. A total of 22 Chinese plaintiffs had filed appeals with the Supreme Court in two separate suits seeking damages from the Japanese government for their sufferings caused by the poisonous gas munitions left behind by the Imperial Japanese Army in China. But the top court ruled against the Chinese victims of chemical weapons and their family members, denying the responsibilities of the Japanese government, Kyodo News reported on Tuesday." (Macau Daily Times; 28May09)

VN plea for more aid for Agent Orange victims
"The Viet Nam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/dioxin (VAVA) has called on all people with a conscience to support a lawsuit demanding justice for Vietnamese victims of the toxic chemical. Speaking at a press conference in Ha Noi yesterday, VAVA President Nguyen Van Rinh urged stronger spiritual and material support for the victims. He praised the results of the International Peoples' Tribunal of Conscience, held in Paris on May 15-16, which found that the US government and chemical companies should take responsibility for the chemical warfare that destroyed a part of the natural environment and vegetation in Viet Nam and affected 4.8 million people. [...] Viet Nam veteran and US Congressman Eni F H Faleomavaega has admitted that Agent Orange was a dark mark that needed much more focused efforts to solve its impact. Faleomavaega expressed his viewpoint in an interview with the Vietnam News Agency on the threshold of a hearing on efforts being made to address the continuing impacts of AO/dioxin in Viet Nam. The event is scheduled to be held in Washington DC on June 4 by the Subcommittee on the Asia, Pacific and Global Environment of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, of which Faleomavaega is Chairman." (Viet Nam News; 28May09)

Making progress at the Blue Grass Army Depot [KY]
"Kentuckians got some good news recently regarding the deadly chemical weapons stored by the Department of Defense at the Blue Grass Army Depot. A recent report from the department announced progress toward their disposal and a path forward for complete elimination. [...] After many years, the department has finally acknowledged the priority of this project to safely dispose of these weapons. Proof of this is seen in its latest budget request to complete this important project. Due to the 2017 deadline Congress enacted, the department has finally agreed to a long-term, five-year budget plan that is robustly funded. [...] While the Blue Grass Army Depot project is still in its construction phase, the Obama administration requested $545 million for the Blue Grass Army Depot and Pueblo Depot [CO] to dispose of these weapons in its 2010 budget. This is the highest request for this project in history. Just five years ago, the request was for only $33 million." (Courier-Journal; 29May09; Mitch McConnell and Ben Chandler)

Pine Bluff Arsenal [AK] looks to end of chemical weapons disposal, decommissioning of incinerator
"The Pine Bluff Arsenal is in the final years of disposing of chemical weapons stored at the site. Incineration of mustard gas [is] scheduled to be complete in November 2011. Once the chemical weapons are gone, the arsenal will need another 2 1/2 years to decommission the incinerator and related facilities. [...] Project General Manager David Reber says he's having talks with arsenal officials about how the disposal facility can be used when the chemical weapons mission is complete. One suggestion is to convert the site to an oil refinery." (WREG, Memphis; 29May09; Source: AP),0,426161.story

Exercise tests post's readiness, interagency coordination [Fort Leavenworth, KS]
"Fort Leavenworth emergency responders joined forces with civilian emergency services to test their readiness and interagency coordination during the 2009 Antiterrorism/Force Protection/Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosive Exercise May 27 at Riverside Apartments. In the exercise scenario, a terrorist armed with a chemical agent took several hostages at Riverside Apartments, and responders had to secure the site and treat and decontaminate casualties. [...] According to the Directorate of Plans, Training and Mobilization, the purpose of the exercise was to evaluate the fort's AT/FP/CBRNE program and ability to prepare, mitigate, respond and recover from an incident." (Fort Leavenworth Lamp; 28May09; Will King)

Copter to buzz region during radiation test [Albany, NY]
"A low-flying helicopter equipped to test for radiation will zoom over the Capital Region in early June as part of a disaster preparedness exercise. [...] 'Empire 09' is a three-day exercise to test the abilities of more than 500 local, state and federal first responders in the event that a 'dirty bomb,' [...] is used in the Albany area. A silver and black Bell 412 helicopter will fly out of Albany International Airport over downtown Albany, the Hudson River, and western Rensselaer County from June 1-5 as part of the routine." (Times-Union; 29May09; Humberto Martinez)

White powder Bayer Aspirin samples sent through mail concern officials
"Health officials are concerned that a mass mailing from Bayer Aspirin Company might prompt concern from people about suspicious white powder. Bayer sent 178,000 envelopes to households across the United States between May 20 and today containing a sample of its new product, called Bayer Aspirin Crystals. The aspirin is in a white crystalline form. The mailing has prompted federal agencies to warn local emergency management agencies of the possibility of calls from people worried about white powder spilling from their mail." (Erie Times-News; 29May09; Kara Murphy)

Powder prompts building evacuation [Parole, MD]
"Four state employees had to be decontaminated yesterday morning after a letter containing a white powder was opened inside an administrative court office in Parole, authorities said. State police investigators eventually determined the substance was baking powder, but only after officers evacuated several businesses on Commerce Drive, and firefighters escorted the four workers into a special decontamination vehicle to strip down to their underwear and wash themselves. [...] Fire department officials determined that four of the 10 employees assigned to the office may have been exposed to the powder. [...] State police said they do not believe this incident was related to another suspicious letter opened Tuesday in Hagerstown. [...] Hagerstown Police Sgt. Paul J. Kifer told The Associated Press that it appears that Tuesday's letter also came from a prison." (Capital Gazette; 28May09; Scott Daugherty and Lisa Beisel)

Crawley man pleads guilty to 34 Gatwick bomb hoaxes and threats
"A noise protester is today facing years in jail after pleading guilty to sending a series of bomb hoaxes and threats to Gatwick Airport. Gary John Collins, 57, committed the offences during a five-year period from October 2003 to October last year. He pleaded guilty to 34 counts of communicating false information when he appeared at Lewes Crown Court. [...] Prosecutor Amy Packham said: 'All the charges relate to Gatwick Airport either as bomb hoaxes or sending substances marked as anthrax or bio-material.' Full details of the case were not opened by the prosecution, but Sussex Police said later that Collins sent more than 80 letters during his terror campaign." (The Argus; 29May09)

CNS ChemBio-WMD Terrorism News is prepared by the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Program of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in order to bring timely and focused information to researchers and policymakers interested in the fields of chemical, biological, and radiological weapons nonproliferation and WMD terrorism.

Cash Bonus to Replace 'Stop Loss' for Deploying Guard Soldiers

By Army Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy
Special to American Forces Press Service

May 29, 2009 - A new program that provides special pay for soldiers deploying past their end-of-service dates is set to take affect Sept. 1 for the National Guard. The Deployment Extension Stabilization Pay program replaces the "Stop Loss" involuntary extension program and pays a cash bonus of up to $6,000 to soldiers in units set to deploy who elect to stay in past their end-of-service date to deploy, said Col. Marianne Watson, Army National Guard personnel officer.

The bonus is not a lump sum payment, and the amount of the incentive depends upon when the soldier decides to extend his or her enlistment contract, Watson said.

The Army's Stop Loss program has been used since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to extend soldiers in critical jobs past the end of their enlistment contract to deploy.

"If you agree to extend from 180 days to 365 days [prior to the mobilization date] we're going to offer you $500 a month for each month that you're in a Title 10 [active duty] status," Watson said. For those who extend between 179 days and 90 days before the mobilization date, that rate drops to $350 for each month on active duty.

Soldiers who elect to take advantage of this program would have their enlistment contracts extended for the length of the deployment plus 90 days, Watson said. However, to qualify for the incentive pay, soldiers must make it through the Soldiers Readiness Processing at the mobilization station.

Soldiers who have an enlistment contract that expires during the deployment and choose not to extend it still may have to deploy.

"We would take a soldier who could serve a minimum of six months boots-on-ground, plus still keep or maintain 90 days of reintegration," Watson said. "So a Guard soldier would go to mobilization station for two to three months, they would go to the deployment theater and they would do a minimum of six months boots-on-ground. Then they could come back, up to three months early. "

To put it another way, Watson said, "anybody with a [contract expiration date] of mobilization day plus one year, we're taking to theater." But soldiers may rotate out of theater up to three months early, if need be, to have them take part in the 30-, 60- and 90-day reintegration programs prior to the end of their term of service.

"We said as a reserve component we still need to maintain that 30-, 60-, 90-day reintegration period," Watson said.

For unit commanders, the new policy provides a way to establish early-on their units' manpower needs for the deployment, Watson noted.

"The Guard program provides stabilization for units in the deployment window," she said. "Our goal is to stabilize the organization and lock in the formations for the commander as far out as we can, up to 365 days prior to the mobilization date."

For soldiers who extend their contracts past the mobilization plus the 90-day reintegration window, standard retention bonuses would apply.

Stop Loss affects just 1 percent of the Guard, and only for limited time periods, Guard officials said. The Army still retains the authority for future use of Stop Loss under extraordinary circumstances.

State personnel offices have more information.

(Army Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy serves at the National Guard Bureau.)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Wounded Warrior Diaries: Marine Uses 'Real Warriors' to Help Others

By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service

May 28, 2009 - A Marine who returned home from his second deployment from Iraq knew that "something was definitely wrong" with him. "It really didn't start setting in on me until I was back three or four months," said Marine Corps Sgt. Josh Hopper, assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115 at Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station, N.C. "It probably took me about nine months after I returned from Iraq to get help, [which] is why I ended up being a chronic case of [post-traumatic stress disorder], because I let it go too long."

Hopper is part of the Defense Department's new "Real Warriors" campaign. The campaign highlights stories of warriors who admitted they needed help, and after receiving treatment, are pursuing their military careers. Hopper -- a Purple Heart recipient who's married and the father of two -- sought help, found help, and now is helping others.

The sergeant served a brief three-month tour in Djibouti, Africa, and two tours in Iraq in 2005 and 2006. He was awarded the Purple Heart Medal after a roadside-bomb strike in Iraq's Anbar province, and he participated in numerous firefights. The accumulated stresses of Hopper's time in Iraq led to PTSD.

"If you think something is wrong [when] you get home from deployment, [it] doesn't matter if it is a month or nine months later, like it was for myself," Hopper said. "A lot of people think if you get help for PTSD or any psychological issue, they think it is almost a weakness."

Hopper enlisted into the Marines on Nov. 2, 2003, and recalled his first injury in November 2006, when a double-stacked mine was detonated near his Humvee. Hopper's Humvee was the lead vehicle in a six-vehicle convoy. After the mine detonated, Hopper recalled, he slipped in and out of consciousnesses many times. He was taken to Balad, Iraq, for follow-on treatment.

"I stayed in Balad for almost two weeks," he said. "I finally got out and started walking around, and got my senses back. They flew me back to Habinea, where the rest of my company was. I stayed on [for] two weeks on mandatory light duty, and after the two weeks was up, I went right back out to mobile security patrols, and on my [first] day back we were hit by another IED."

Hopper recalled enduring the second blast and many more to follow. When was back home, he said, he noticed his short-term memory was gone. He couldn't remember phone numbers or birthdays. Afull nuero-psyche evaluation led to a diagniosis of traumatic brain injury.

Hopper said his TBI treatment included hand-eye coordination exercises to help him relearn some of the basic skills most of us take for granted. "It is almost like the effects from [the] IED blasts are gone," he said.

But when Hopper first returned from Iraq, he said, it took him several months to realize something was wrong. Nearly nine months after returning home, he realized that he was suffering from more than TBI. His PTSD not only was starting to affect his job, but also was causing problems at home.

While the causes and effects of PTSD may vary for each servicemember, Hopper said, he believes many events led to his PTSD from enduring countless IED blasts and losing close friends for the first time.

"You just see things, and do things and be around certain situations you only see in movies, and you don't think exist in life," said Hopper.

Back home, the surreal scenes were gone, he said, but that didn't mean everfything was OK. "I would find myself in situations that I didn't know how to deal with," he said. Many servicemembers who suffer from PTSD might not recognize it, he added.

While others wake up and put their clothes on in the morning, he explained, people with PTSD wake up and put a mask on. "We can fool everybody throughout the day, eight to 12 hours, however long we work," he said. "[And], you go home and you have to take it out on someone -- your wife, your kids, your mom or dad, those closest to you."

Hopper said family members usually are the first to notice something isn't quite right. His wife recognized the subtle differences, Hopper said, and his commander and sergeant major also noticed his range of emotions, temper and bad attitude.

Hopper said at first he would deny his commanding officer and sergeant major's questions about whether he thought he might be suffering from PTSD. It took him another two or three weeks to go back to his commander to seek help, he said, and when he did, his commander immediately called around to seek help for him.

"I had a hard time trying to go get help first," Hopper said. "I thought of every way I could go and get help and not let anyone know about it. But you really can't do that in the military these days.

"At first I was kind of hesitant," he continued, "and didn't want to be labeled. I wanted everyone to think I was good to go, nothing is wrong with me, but basically it got to the point I didn't have to say a word about it and my CO, my sergeant major was one of the first to notice it."

Hopper said that after recognizing that he needed help, he wouldn't let anything get in his way. He said people he knows chose to use destructive means, such as alcohol, to self-medicate their PTSD instead of seeking help. "If they get pulled over, it can be a career ender," he said.

With strong support from his command and family, Hopper participated in a three-month in-patient program at the Martinsburg, W.Va., Veterans Affairs hospital. Hopper said they "pushed me to get help." When he returned from the program, he said, he was a new man and wanted to thank his commanding officer for saving his life.

"I walked in my CO's office and shook his hand and thanked him," said Hopper, who asked his CO what he could do for him. His commanding officer replied, "You don't owe me a thing; the way you can repay me is by paying it forward. There will be a lot of people coming home from these wars in the same boots as you, and they will need help. If you see them, help them get the help they need."

Hopper said that he has taken an active role in "Real Warriors" to help other servicemembers who were like him.

"Well, we're human beings still, and [PTSD] will bother some of us," he said. "A lot of people think it makes you weak. I went and got help with PTSD. I can still run just as fast or faster, I can still lift, I can still climb rope, I picked up rank. ... I have done nothing but advance after I got help for PTSD."

(This is the ninth installment of the Wounded Warrior Diaries series. Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg serves in the Defense Media Activity's emerging media directorate. Jim Garamone of AFPS contributed to this article.)

Troops in Afghanistan Kill More Than 30 Insurgents

American Forces Press Service

May 28, 2009 - Afghan and coalition forces killed more than 30 militants in two separate operations in Afghanistan today, military officials said. Coalition and Afghan forces killed at least 29 militants during a fierce firefight at a suspected foreign fighter camp in Paktika province, military officials said.

In the mountainous region near the Pakistan border, combined forces raided the enemy encampment, where intelligence sources indicated a senior Haqqani network leader was plotting future attacks in the area.

Dozens of well-armed militants began firing on the combined force to repel the assault. Afghan and coalition forces returned fire, engaging enemies located both in heavily fortified positions and inside the compound. Military officials underscored that the combined ground force was under fire when it called for air strikes against the enemy.

At least six militants detonated suicide vests, slaying only themselves during the fight, and military officials said multiple enemies killed in the firefight were found with grenades that had been rigged to detonate upon disruption. Troops also discovered stockpiles of weapons after the raid.

During one blast, a coalition member suffered minor wounds. No civilians were injured in the operation, military officials said.

In a separate operation in Farah province in western Afghanistan, Afghan commandos and coalition forces killed two militants.

As the Afghan-led force conducted a combat reconnaissance patrol, it encountered militants armed with an assault rifle, machine gun and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher riding on a motorcycle.

The patrol engaged the militants with small-arms fire, killing both, military officials said.

(Compiled from U.S. Forces Afghanistan news releases.)

U.S. Grows 'Increasingly Safer' Under New Leadership, Jones Says

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

May 28, 2009 - President Barack Obama's decisions to grow the military, broaden the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and focus on 21st century threats are making America "increasingly safer," the president's national security advisor said yesterday. "I firmly believe that the United States is not only safe, but it will be more secure, and the American people are increasingly safer because of the president's leadership that he's displayed consistently over the last four months, both at home and abroad," James L. Jones Jr. said in a speech at an Atlantic Council event here.

Jones, a former Marine Corps commandant and NATO commander, praised the president's choice to increase the Defense Department budget, grow the Army and Marine Corps and delay planned reductions of the Air Force and Navy. In the meantime, the United States is working to bring the war in Iraq to a close while taking a more comprehensive approach to Afghanistan, he said.

"We are doing everything we can to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end, and we are pursuing a comprehensive strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including a new commitment of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida and its allies," he said.

Jones noted the importance of including Pakistan in a more broad approach to the region, and praised recent Pakistani military action against Taliban strongholds in the country's Northwest Frontier province.

In parts of the Pakistan-Afghan border region, the Taliban had been welcomed by residents who saw the militants as being capable of providing justice and order where the government in Islamabad had failed. Clashes between the Pakistani army and Taliban fighters escalated last week in the Swat Valley area on the heels of fighting in the Buner and Dir districts.

"We're also happy to see in Pakistan a new and comprehensive, and so far impressively successful, effort by the Pakistani army to react to its challenge by its extremists," Jones said, adding that Pakistan is handling with great skill the refugee problem caused by the fighting.

The United States under Obama's leadership, Jones said, is making new investments in the capabilities necessary for confronting 21st century challenges -- both conventional and unconventional.

"We need to be able to anticipate the kind of operations that we should be thinking about six months to a year ahead of time in different parts of the world to bring the necessary elements of national and international power to bear to prevent future Iraqs and future Afghanistans," he said.

Focusing more resources on recognizing developing problems abroad and assisting foreign governments through nonmilitary means sometimes is referred to as "Phase Zero" operations, which Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said is emerging as one of the department's "big themes," the national security advisor said.

Jones said 21st century challenges differ from the previous century in that current threats "come in waves" that often are asymmetric, which can be characterized by tactics ranging from anti-satellite or anti-air capabilities to weapons of mass destruction or cyber attacks.

"It is not just about a war on terror," he said. "It has components relating to proliferation, to climate and energy, economic security, cybersecurity, the illegal trafficking of humans, narcoterrorism, any number of things," he said.

Visitation Searchers Balance Efficiency, Safety, Humane Treatment in Iraq

American Forces Press Service

May 28, 2009 - Air Force Airman 1st Class Alberto Lopez knew the guy was hiding something. He could feel it. The detainee was giving off "the vibe" that three months of working the visitation center at the theater internment facility here had taught the airman to detect. The Altus, Okla., native continued to search in the efficient, humane and dignified way he was taught, waiting for the "tell" that would give away what the man was hiding and where.

The detainee glanced down at just the wrong moment, and Lopez had him. The find: a rolled up piece of paper with contact information. Contacts for whom, Lopez didn't know, but they weren't getting outside the gate that day.

The find was one of nearly 40 instances when Lopez discovered contraband in the course of a standard search of detainees going to see their families.

"It makes me feel like I'm really doing something," Lopez said. "Finding information, numbers, names, addresses, ... you name it."

Finding contraband, an almost daily occurrence, is one goal of airmen with the 887th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron strive for as they process more than 750 detainees a week during visitation hours. The airmen on visitation duty must walk a fine line, conducting their searches as efficiently as possible while respecting the dignity of those they search and protecting other detainees, visiting families, and their fellow airmen, soldiers and Iraqi correctional officials.

"I think everyone on our team has an efficient way of searching," said Airman Randal Landers, an 887th ESFS guard. "So they're not going to try slipping anything by anyone here. If they do, it gets found."

Contraband -- anything not issued to the detainees -- can encompass a wide variety of items from the seemingly benign, such as letters, to the downright frightening, such as improvised weapons. The security forces airmen must constantly be on their toes and remain alert.

Despite the danger to the airmen or the risk of information getting into enemy hands, the visitation program is an important piece of the ongoing counterinsurgency operation as well as a right under the Geneva Convention.

"We give [the detainees] the opportunity to meet their families," said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Tobin, 887th ESFS Visitation Flight chief. "It puts them at ease, shows them we hold true to what we said by treating them with dignity and respect."

Originally from Norristown, Pa., but deployed from Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., Tobin said the security forces airmen are held to strict standards that allow them to search efficiently without risk of violating a detainee's dignity and respect.

"The rules and guidelines are already set forth," he said. "It's not open to interpretation. As long as the guard force understands that, understands their role in it, there should be no issue in conducting the fair treatment that's expected of us. It's not a limiting factor to finding contraband. The contraband is there. We're doing what we're told, and the contraband is presenting itself rather easily."

For the security teams, whether or not there should be visitation is obvious; it is a basic human right and legal obligation. And, the airmen note, it is a matter of human decency.

"I know if I were detained, I'd want the right to visit my family and just see them for a couple of hours," Landers said. "It's just basic human treatment."

Air Force Col. Alan Metzler, 586th Air Expeditionary Group commander, under which the 887th falls, highlighted the power of human decency in performing this mission.

"Through these thousands of contacts with detainees and their families, we've learned one powerful, irrefutable fact: that our most important weapon in gaining their support for our strategic objectives in Iraq is our values as airmen and our values as Americans," Metzler said.

As powerful as the weapon is, it doesn't remove the constant threats the airmen face or eliminate another dangerous enemy - complacency. It's an enemy they must face themselves.

"It's not a physically demanding job, but it's a mentally demanding job in the sense that it's repetitious," Tobin said. "You have to stay motivated and understand what the goal is and the strategy behind all this."

The best tools against complacency are motivation and teamwork, Tobin said. The airmen have to look out for one another and keep each other sharp.

"They have to maintain their focus and their teamwork," he said. "Their best critics are their own peers."

Air Force Airman 1st Class Raymond Garcia, an 887th ESFS guard, said the thought of the possible consequences and of harm that could befall their wingmen if they don't remain sharp keeps complacency at bay.

"There's been times when everybody gets the thought that, 'Hey, it's hot outside; I really don't want to complete the whole search,' and be lenient with them,'" Garcia said. "But then you have to remember that, what if that one time this individual happens to have a small, one-by-four inch shank hidden in his pants, and he comes out with it, and one of your friends gets hurt ... because you wanted to hurry and get in the building where the air was?

"Everybody has thoughts of getting complacent," he continued, "but me, personally, I get in there, and I do the mission the way I was taught to do it and make sure I do it right every time. That way, everybody can go home in one piece and get back safe."

Lopez agreed. "I can't get complacent, because I can't let something get by," he said. "We have to remind each other. Some of these detainees, we don't know exactly what they've done, but we know they had to do something pretty bad to be in here. You can't be all friendly or turn your back on them, because they can flip on us any second. I can't get complacent."

The risks don't come without the promise of reward. Already, the efforts of the 887th are paying long-term dividends outside the visitation center and beyond Camp Bucca's gates.

"The long-term aspect is that we're influencing family members from all over Iraq," Metzler said. "They can go back into their family units and say, 'We trust the Americans. We have seen them and how they operate, and they treat us with respect.' Because we treat everyone with dignity and respect, we have earned their respect as a result."

It's an effect every member of the visitation unit is aware of, said Air Force Staff Sgt. Keri Embry of Cross Plains, Tenn. The 887th ESFS member works with the visiting family members, processing them and even coordinating medical attention for those visitors who need it.

"It's a good thing to maintain that humanity to show the people here that we're not bad people, that we're trying to help them as much as possible," she said. "The Iraqis, as a whole, see that we do care what happens to them, that we're not just here to find the bad guys. We're trying to help the whole country get back on its feet."

The impressions the guards make on detainees and family members can be lasting ones. Garcia said he sees signs of that trust every day.

"We have a really important mission here," he said. "Not only are we working with the detainees, but we're working with the kids too. So these kids grow up, and they remember how the airmen gave them snacks and interacted with them. A lot of the visitors will let them hold their kid when they cry, so it's almost like we're getting in there on a personal level. A lot of visitors will hopefully remember what we're doing here and keep that in mind that a lot of us are really good."

Metzler said each of his airmen is teaching these families what being an American means.

"They learn from our airmen," he said. "Through the dignity and respect that we pay them, they learn about Americans. And the immediate effect is that they feel safety, security and trust. They tell us that. We see that."

(Air Force Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher serves in the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing public affairs office.)

Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a Department of the Army civilian employee who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Maged M. Hussein, 43, of Cairo, Egypt, died May 25 in Al Taqaddum, Iraq, of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his convoy vehicle in Fallujah, Iraq. He was employed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, Jacksonville, Fla.

For more information the media may contact the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers public affairs office at (202) 761-4715 or (202) 761-0011.

Face of Defense: Sailor Earns 'Strongest Man' Title at Iraq Air Base

By Marine Corps Cpl. Triah Pendracki
Special to American Forces Press Service

May 28, 2009 - The U.S. military holds its servicemembers to high physical standards, and some take those standards to the next level, pushing themselves above and beyond what's expected of them. Seven such servicemembers rose to the challenge for the Strongest Man competition here May 16, a monthly event sponsored by the base's Morale, Welfare and Recreation office.

"The last seven months I've been on deployment, I have been lifting weights at least six days a week," said Navy Seaman Chris Spencer, a coxswain with Riverine Squadron 1, whose efforts paid off with a victory in this month's competition.

In a contest separating the strongest from the strong, participants completed six challenges.

The first test of strength was the overhead press, which required the competitors to lift 135 pounds above their head as many times as possible. The next event was a dead lift, and each strongman competitor lugged 225 pounds off the gym floor for as many repetitions as their body could handle in a two-minute period.

The third event was a test of endurance. The competitors held two 20-pound dumbbells straight out to their side and parallel to the floor. Though already dripping sweat and having lifted hundreds of pounds, the strongmen were then challenged to max out their weightlifting potential.

The last indoor event was the only part of the competition that allowed competitors to choose their load. For the dumbbell power press, each strongman had three attempts to lift the heaviest dumbbell he thought he could handle over his head. The servicemember who lifted the most weight claimed first for the challenge.

The strongmen then moved out into the blazing Iraqi sun for the final two events of the competition: the timed flipping of a 600-pound tire and a series of carrying events.

Finally, it was time for the last and most anticipated segment of the competition that tested the servicemembers' strength and endurance. Much like the final relay in the popular "World's Strongest Man" competition, the strongmen raced to complete a farmer's walk, chain drag and Atlas stone carry – events requiring the participants to pick up and carry items weighing hundreds of pounds.

After almost two hours of grueling physical challenges, Spencer came out on top by winning every event in the competition.

Although Spencer said he was more than prepared for this competition, he already has a strategy for next month's competition.

"I'm going to take my time and not rush as much," he said. "I think it's best to go last, because then you know where the bar is set, and you can see their techniques before you go."

Event organizers are planning a few new challenges for future strongman competitions, but welcome outside ideas from the competitors.

"I would love to see a Humvee or a 7-ton truck pull," said Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Andrew Grundel, a machine gunner with Combat Logistics Battalion 7 and a participant in the competition. "Something big and something heavy would just be really cool to try."

(Marine Corps Cpl. Triah Pendracki serves with Multinational Force West.)

Control Center Staff Seeks to Defeat Combat Stress in Iraq

By Army Capt. Stephen C. Short
Special to American Forces Press Service

May 28, 2009 - Fighting a war can be stressful, no matter what job you do in the military. Staff members at combat stress control centers throughout Iraq work to fight stress — or at least to teach people how to manage it. Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Alicia L. Tschirhart, a psychiatrist, commands the Kalsu Combat Stress Control Center. The center is one of three throughout Iraq, each of which serves a number of provinces.

"We are able to see any servicemember that is stationed at Forward Operating Base Kalsu and anyone who needs assistance is sent here to this location," Tschirhart said. "I have two enlisted personnel here as well that do individual counseling, screen patients and do outreach to the community."

The Kalsu Combat Stress Control Center staff sees 25 to 30 patients a week with issues ranging from anxiety and depression to marital problems.

"Relationship and sleep issues are the most predominant cases I see," Tschirhart said. "Problems that arose during deployment or were occurring back in garrison can be related to issues that we work on."

Confidentiality is important to patients, and coming to the center is voluntary unless a soldier is sent for a command-directed evaluation. Some soldiers worry about a lengthy evaluation or treatment that could cause them problems at work or bring out their personal life to the command, but Tschirhart said they shouldn't allow these fears to keep them from seeking assistance.

"For the most part, a soldier is treated right here at Kalsu with little interruption to their work schedule," she said. "We try to protect the patient's confidentiality as much as possible."

Air Force Master Sgt. Dolores Ross, 733rd Expeditionary Support Squadron, is available to work with servicemembers on anger management issues and holds scheduled sessions. Tobacco cessation assistance also is available at the center.

Tschirhart said people shouldn't hesitate to seek help. "For the most part, thoughts of harming themselves or others passes with time," she said. "Most people just need assistance in managing their thoughts, and we do offer therapy as well as prescription medicine treatments."

(Army Capt. Stephen C. Short serves with the 172nd Infantry Brigade.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

CBR Weapons and WMD Terrorism News- May 27, 2009

Disaster drill rescheduled for June 27 [Seguin, TX]
"The pandemic disaster exercise postponed by last month's swine flu outbreak has been reset for late next month, and county emergency management officials are looking for volunteers who can help make it happen. Guadalupe County Emergency Management Coordinator Dan Kinsey said the test, in which county officials would do a dry run of dispensing inoculations against a flu-type illness from the federal Strategic National Stockpile, would be conducted on Saturday, June 27 at the Navarro Independent School District. The drill will run from 8 a.m. to noon, Kinsey said. [...] In all, Kinsey said, about 100 volunteers are needed. Kinsey said he hoped the county's recent local experience with swine flu - in which area schools were closed for a week or more - shows the need to be prepared for the eventuality of a flu pandemic or other, maybe man-made disaster." (Seguin Gazette-Enterprise; 27May09; Ron Maloney)

The anthrax vaccine: a dilemma for Homeland Security
"[...] a review of past oversight efforts reveals regulatory problems, ethical controversies and dubious threat assessments underlying use of the vaccine. Based on the historic controversy, and studies suggesting the majority of U.S. service members continue to object to the vaccine's use, the government should resurvey the vaccine's suitability for American citizens. [...] This article explores the Department of Defense's experience with the anthrax vaccine, and the troubling possibility that the 2001 anthrax letter attacks were a deliberate and successful effort to sustain a program that federal investigators determined was on the verge of failing. [...] In light of uncertain threat assessments, relying on the letter attacks as rationalization for continued use of a product with well-known problems fails the litmus test of good government and sound public health policy." (Homeland Security Affairs; May09; Thomas L. Rempfer)

La Jolla Institute [San Diego, CA] unlocks mystery of potentially fatal reaction to smallpox vaccine
"Researchers from the La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology have pinpointed the cellular defect that increases the likelihood, among eczema sufferers, of developing eczema vaccinatum, a severe and potentially fatal reaction to the smallpox vaccine. [...] The La Jolla Institute's Toshiaki and Yuko Kawakami, M.D.s, Ph.D.s., a husband and wife scientific team, led the research group which found that activity levels of Natural Killer (NK) cells played a pivotal role in the development of eczema vaccinatum in the mice. The activity of the NK cells, which are disease fighting cells of the immune system, was significantly lower in the mice that developed eczema vaccinatum than in normal mice that also received the smallpox vaccine. This knowledge opens the door to one day developing therapies that could potentially boost NK cell activity in eczema sufferers." (Animal Lab News; 26May09; Source: Eureka Alert)

County and city leaders coordinate to just be ready [Los Angeles, CA]
"The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health today hosted a workshop, titled 'Managing a Public Health Crisis at your Doorstep,' designed to educate elected officials and city managers to effectively respond to public health emergencies. More than one hundred participants attended the workshop from cities throughout the county. [...] The workshop covered valuable tools available to cities from Public Health such as the development of continuity of operations plans in case of a pandemic; chemical, biological, or bioterrorism incident; or the aftermath of a natural disaster that may have public health consequences." (Red Orbit; 26May09; Source: PR Newswire)

Two chemical leaks detected at the [Bluegrass Chemical] depot [KY]
"Army officials reported Tuesday that a mobile laboratory detected low levels of mustard agent vapor inside a chemical weapons igloo located at the Blue Grass Army Depot. The igloo contains several thousand mustard-filled projectiles. Just a few hours later, a separate mobile monitoring laboratory detected nerve agent GB vapor in the interior atmosphere of another igloo. That igloo contains M55 rockets. [...] In both cases, the agent was confined to the interior of the igloo. Toxic chemical workers have connected 1,000 cubic-feet-per-minute (CFM) filters to the rear vent of both igloos. Outside air is drawn in the front vents of the igloo, passes through the length of the igloo and exits out rear vents into the filters which capture all agent particles. This process prevents any agent from escaping into the outside atmosphere, said Dick [Sloan], spokesperson for Blue Grass Chemical Activity." (Richmond Register; 27May09)

Army preparing for chemical disposal at Utah desert site
"The U.S. Army is preparing to dispose of nerve agent and a blister agent at Deseret Chemical Depot. The Army is putting up a temporary facility where the chemicals will be sampled before they can be destroyed. [...] The Army is also evaluating a proposed small-scale liquid incinerator system to destroy the remaining stockpiles [...]." (Salt Lake Tribune; 22May09; Source: AP)

Russia to open chemical weapons destruction plant
"The bland buildings in western Siberia contain shelf after shelf of nerve-gas shells - some 2 million in all. Each could kill tens of thousands of people, if exploded in a tightly packed area. Many are small enough to be spirited away in a briefcase. Since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union left Russia's military underfunded and disorganized, the arsenal in Shchuchye (SHOO-cheh), about 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) east of Moscow, has been a top security concern. After years of delays and disputes, a vast facility to destroy the weapons is to formally open there on Friday. [...] Moscow already has destroyed about 30 percent of its stockpile, according to the Russian Munitions Agency. But the Shchuchye facility significantly boosts destruction capacity. Russian officials claim it will allow the country to meet its treaty obligations of destroying all chemical weapons by 2012, although [U.S. Senator Richard] Lugar [R-IN] said that goal probably won't be met. Nonetheless, the opening - which follows preliminary destruction work that began in March - is significant because of the dangers posed by the weapons." (Associated Press; 27May09; Jim Heintz)

Emergency services learn how to cope with chemical warfare in Barrow
"People entering the hospital were issued with special suits and had to go through a shower to get in. But what looked like a mass decontamination at the Barrow hospital was an exercise as emergency staff were shown how to cope with chemical warfare. Cumbria Fire and Rescue led the exercise yesterday, demonstrating to medical staff how patients would be decontaminated before entering the hospital. [...] Ulverston-based Paul Turner, who is Chemical, Biological and Nuclear Trainer for Cumbria police, said: 'In the event of this kind of incident, the police would cordon off the hot zone, or the incident area, and prevent any public order or disorder with regard to assisting the fire brigade and people coming into the mass decontamination unit.' The yearly exercise was led by Barrow fire station manager, Roger Exley, who was assisted by watch manager Steve Wright." (North-West Evening Mail; 27May09)

Dirty bomb' exercise today [Moncks Corner, SC]
"Areas around town today will be flooded with rescue personnel during a 12-hour drill responding to a 'dirty bomb.' As many as 2,000 people from agencies across the Lowcountry will be taking part in the exercise from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event is being called the Lowcountry Weapons of Mass Destruction Full-Scale Exercise." (Post & Courier; 27May09)

Cheney's assertions of lives saved is hard to prove
"In the bitter debate over the nation's counter-terrorism policies, former Vice President Dick Cheney has introduced an assertion that substantially raises the stakes. Twice in the last two weeks -- including during his speaking duel with President Obama on Thursday -- Cheney has said that the Bush administration's approach may have saved 'hundreds of thousands' of lives. [...] Cheney's assertion is plausible if he is referring to concerns that Al Qaeda had ambitions of acquiring a nuclear, biological or chemical weapon, said Gary J. Schmitt, an intelligence expert at the American Enterprise Institute, where Cheney delivered his speech Thursday. [...] Obama has also made assertions in the counter-terrorism debate that are difficult to assess. In making the case Thursday for closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, he said that the island prison had 'likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.'" (Chicago Tribune; 23May09; Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times),0,3639118.story

For 2nd time, suspicious substance found in ex-judge's law office [Hagerstown, Maryland]
"For the second time in five months, a letter containing a suspicious powdery substance was delivered Tuesday morning to former Washington County Circuit Judge John P. Corderman at his Hagerstown law office. 'He called police and left a message on voice mail,' said Sgt. Paul J. Kifer. When the message was received, uniformed officers were immediately sent to the law office at 5 Public Square. Also sent were personnel from the hazardous materials response team, Kifer said. That unit would package the letter so it can be sent away and tested. 'It looks like it came from a prison again,' Kifer said." (Herald-Mail; 26May09; Marlo Barnhart)

The MIT Professional Institute will be offering the following course this
summer: Pandemics and bioterrorism: from realistic threats to effective policies [17.60s] July 27-29, 2009 Swine flu is only the most recent of the challenges posed by threats of bioterrorism and global pandemics. Yet public health and security agencies evaluate these risks through their own professional norms and organizational cultures. MIT experts and affiliates explore the obstacles to policy implementation and strategies to overcome them.

For further information please contact Lynne Levine at llevine@MIT.EDU

CNS ChemBio-WMD Terrorism News is prepared by the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Program of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in order to bring timely and focused information to researchers and policymakers interested in the fields of chemical, biological, and radiological weapons nonproliferation and WMD terrorism.

Petraeus: Detainee Reforms Help, But Insurgent Financing, Meddling Problematic

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

May 27, 2009 - Closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and abandoning so-called enhanced interrogations helps U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq that continue to be vexed by insurgents, the commander of U.S. Central Command said. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus told Radio Free Europe in a wide-ranging interview May 24 that the moves would advance American-led military operations abroad. But he acknowledged that terrorist financing in Afghanistan, internal strife within Pakistan's borders and isolated, yet "spectacular," attacks in Iraq still pose problems.

"I think, on balance, that those moves help it," he said. "[Closing Guantanamo] in a responsible manner, I think, sends an important message to the world, as does the commitment of the United States to observe the Geneva Convention when it comes to the treatment of detainees."

Petraeus said he has a long history of endorsing interrogation policies that are in line with 1949's Third Geneva Convention, which resulted from prisoner-of-war abuses in World War II.

"As a division commander in Iraq in the early days, we put out guidance very early on to make sure that our soldiers, in fact, knew that we needed to stay within those guidelines," said Petraeus, who commanded the 101st Airborne Division in the first year of operations in Iraq, and subsequently led the effort to train Iraqi forces. He later commanded all coalition forces in Iraq before taking Centcom's reins.

In addition to weighing in on the domestic debate over detainee treatment, the general described conditions that hamper U.S. efforts to secure and stabilize the Afghan-Pakistan region and Iraq.

The Taliban in Afghanistan, Petraeus said, have diverse financial coffers and are difficult to rein in. The group receives funding from its "illegal narcotics industry," a variety of mafia-like extortion schemes, from neighboring countries and perhaps from Persian Gulf states, the general said.

Finances travel through a back-channel system of grassroots loans and debt transfers in many Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries, Petraeus explained. Saudi Arabia and other countries have tried to crack down on such disbursement practices, he added, though oversight of the shadowy transfers is inherently difficult.

"It is not computerized, needless to say. It is relatively clandestine in nature," the general said. "And it is somewhat impervious to the kinds of financial forensics that we can use with transfers that work through actual banking systems."

Petreaus cited the need for the Afghan government in Kabul to institute its own reforms if it is to be seen by Afghans as legitimate.

"Certainly, there's no question that the Afghan government needs to do a better job in terms of achieving the support of its own people to be seen as legitimate and serving those people," he said. "Some of the predatory practices by some elements or individuals of the greater Afghan government indeed need to be curtailed and stopped. It is hugely important that they carry out those actions."

Also on Afghanistan, Petraeus acknowledged that civilian casualties are an ongoing problem that the United States continues to address. He cited a May 4 battle between coalition troops and Taliban insurgents in which a significant number of civilians died – with U.S. estimates ranging from 20 to 30, but the Afghan government's as high as 140.

The United States sent a brigadier general to join Afghan counterparts in investigating the Farah province battle.

"We won't debate the numbers," Petraeus said. "What we need to do is figure out how to move forward and how to avoid such cases and to keep them to an absolute minimum in the future."

Speaking about recent Pakistani military action against Taliban strongholds in the country's Northwest Frontier province, Petraeus expressed optimism in the ability of the government in Islamabad and the Pakistani population to confront the insurgent group.

In parts of the Pakistan-Afghan border region, the Taliban had been welcomed by residents as who saw the militants as being capable of providing justice and order where Islamabad had failed. Clashes between the Pakistani army and Taliban escalated last week in the Swat Valley area on the heels of fighting in the Buner and Dir districts.

"There was some hope, I think, at one time, that perhaps the Taliban could provide something that the government was not providing: speedy justice, swift justice, as they say, in the Northwest Frontier province," Petraeus said. "That now has been shown to be a myth and, in fact, the oppressive practices that the Taliban brought into Swat and then into Buner and Lower Dir, for example, showed what the rest of Pakistan would have if, in fact, the Taliban was allowed to expand its oppressive practices further."

Speaking about Iraq, Petraeus said violence remains at historic lows despite "sensational attacks" involving suicide bombers and other militant tactics. He also expressed hope that Iraq's national forces would be prepared to handle security as U.S. combat forces depart from the country's major cities in June.

"We believe that the Iraqi forces, indeed, can take this forward. They are in considerably better shape, much more capable and certainly more numerous than they were at the beginning of the surge," the general said, referring to the increase of some 33,000 U.S. troops in 2007 who since have departed.

"There are over 600,000 Iraqi soldiers [and] Iraq police who are helping to take on the security burdens of their country, and we believe that they can do that," he said.

Face of Defense: Soldier Fills Gap With Civilian Skills

By Army Pfc. Elisebet Freeburg
Special to American Forces Press Service

May 27, 2009 - As thousands of additional troops arrive in Afghanistan, one concern has been having enough civilian experts to fill an increasing shortage in support roles. Last month, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he may ask reservists skilled in certain areas to deploy and fill those roles until replacements arrive. Months earlier, Joint Sustainment Command Afghanistan already was putting soldiers' civilian skills to use.

Army engineer 1st Lt. Alex R. Chester III originally filled an environmental science officer role with the 143rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command here.

Chester, who holds master's degrees in structural engineering, civil engineering and electrical engineering, has worked in the engineering field for 22 years and owns his own company, TAK Environmental Services.

"Before we moved out here, they found out that I had some engineering degrees and backgrounds," he said. "They asked me to be part of the torch party and come out here and fill that position and start the [building] of the 143rd compound." The torch party deployed before the main body of the 143rd ESC and ensured that living and work spaces were ready for the main body.

Chester said his current Army job is almost identical to his civilian job. "The only difference is that I don't have hazardous material to work with here," he said.

About 60 percent of Chester's civilian job is engineering, he explained, removing hazardous materials, performing demolitions and rebuilding structures. Now that he works in an engineering role for the Army, Chester will continue in that role for the rest of his deployment.

Chester said he believes his civilian education and background benefit the Army.

"It helps a lot," he said. "In the Army, you're basically training with a single [military occupational specialty], whereas with my civilian background, I've had 22 years of work. I've been trained in a multitude of skills, and I can use those skills here."

As hundreds of soldiers arrive here weekly, Chester's expertise in engineering is an integral part of the build-up of forces as he designs and builds for Joint Sustainment Command Afghanistan. He designed the compound for the 143rd ESC and will build it as well. The 143d ESC leads the command in controlling movement of supplies and personnel into and throughout Afghanistan.

"One of our issues at the 143rd is power issues with the generators," Chester said. "I'm up night and day fixing the power, keeping it running, which is exactly the kind of stuff I like to do. I love electrical stuff."

Besides working for the sustainment command, Chester -- the only licensed engineer on base -- volunteered his services to the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program, a U.S. enterprise that uses civilian contractors to support U.S. servicemembers.

"I work a lot with LOGCAP," he said. "I do a lot with electricity. They come to me for advice on what to do."

Army Master Sgt. Albert O. Ouellette, the 143rd ESC engineer noncommissioned officer in charge, works with Chester in building the 143rd ESC compound. The two soldiers have worked together since February. Besides building desks, walls, floors and chairs, they have worked on generators and electrical wiring.

"He's willing to help pretty much anybody," Ouellette said of Chester.

For example, Ouellette said, people will see Chester and stop to ask him for advice or bring by sketches to review or supply lists to check.

Chester helps contractors by rewiring buildings and planning structures. His skills have resulted in more bathrooms and showers for soldiers' living quarters. He also built the briefing and training office and the personnel and reception center for soldiers arriving here as part of the build-up. Because of Chester, buildings and tents get built faster.

Chester enjoys using his civilian proficiencies to support the troops arriving in Afghanistan.

"I think it's great, because I'm not sitting around a desk doing slideshows," he said. "I'm out doing hands-on work, which I like to do. It's helping the troops and helping the efforts out here that we're here to do."

Other soldiers have noticed his work ethic and skill.

"He's willing to put out as much time necessary," Ouellette said. "He's relentless. It'll be pouring rain, or they'll call him at 3 in the morning to work on the generator, and he'll come on down."

After finishing the 143rd ESC compound, Chester plans to visit forward operating bases, using his expertise to further support the additional troops. "I'll be going out primarily to do some inspections and some rewiring and build-out," he said.

(Army Pfc. Elisebet Freeburg serves with Joint Sustainment Command Afghanistan.)

Treasury Targets Hizballah Network in Africa

The U.S. Department of the Treasury today designated Kassim Tajideen and Abd Al Menhem Qubaysi, two Africa-based supporters of the Hizballah terrorist organization, under E.O. 13224. E.O. 13224 targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism by freezing any assets the designees have under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibiting U.S. persons from engaging in any transactions with them.

"We will continue to take steps to protect the financial system from the threat posed by Hizballah and those who support it," said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey. "Not only is Hizballah itself a terrorist organization with global reach, it also recently acknowledged publicly that it provides support to Hamas."

Kassim Tajideen is an important financial contributor to Hizballah who operates a network of businesses in Lebanon and Africa. He has contributed tens of millions of dollars to Hizballah and has sent funds to Hizballah through his brother, a Hizballah commander in Lebanon. In addition, Kassim Tajideen and his brothers run cover companies for Hizballah in Africa. In 2003, Tajideen was arrested in Belgium in connection with fraud, money laundering, and diamond smuggling.

Abd Al Menhem Qubaysi is a Cote d'Ivoire-based Hizballah supporter and is the personal representative of Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah. Qubaysi communicates with Hizballah leaders and has hosted senior Hizballah officials traveling to Cote d'Ivoire and other parts of Africa to raise money for Hizballah. Qubaysi plays a visible ro! le in Hi zballah activities in Cote d'Ivoire, including speaking at Hizballah fundraising events and sponsoring meetings with high-ranking members of the terrorist organization.

Qubaysi also helped establish an official Hizballah foundation in Cote d'Ivoire which has been used to recruit new members for Hizballah's military ranks in Lebanon.

Engineers Get Route-clearance Vehicle Training in Afghanistan

By Army Pfc. Elisebet Freeburg
Special to American Forces Press Service

May 27, 2009 - The upgraded Mk3 Husky -- the premier route-clearance vehicle in the Army's Interim Vehicle Mounted Mine Detection Program -- is being fielded in Afghanistan after protecting soldiers in Iraq since 2003. The vehicles provide protection against roadside bombs.

Soldiers of the 4th Engineer Battalion here are fielding the vehicles. Defense Department contractor CSI has been training and supporting combat engineers in Iraq and Afghanistan since the beginning of the war on terrorism.

"We've currently got about four or five operational systems, which are two Huskies and one Redpack, in [Afghanistan] for the United States Army, as well
as other Huskies assigned to the United States Marine Corps down south," said Richard L. Lowdon, a CSI field service representative.

The Redpack, towed behind the Husky, carries spare parts, such as extra pulse-detection panels, and tools for assembly and repair. As a route-clearance vehicle, the Husky drives in front of convoys using pulse induction to detect metallic content buried underground. The system is extremely accurate in identifying the size of objects.

"We can actually track it down to where they can count nails in a board if they need to," Lowdon said.

Lowdon trained and supervised 4th Battalion combat engineers here as they assembled two Huskies at KAF. After an assembly process that began May 3 and took several days, he conducted driver training.

Because the Husky carries a single occupant, the driver is chosen carefully.

"You don't have the chatter you would have in a regular vehicle with a few or more soldiers in it," Army Staff
Sgt. Timothy Brown, a 4th Battalion squad leader, said. "They're up front. They lead the way, so definitely they have to be mentally strong."

The Husky is designed to protect the driver in case of explosion. If the vehicles encounter a mine blast, Lowdon said, "the majority of injuries occur due to rollover, as well as stuff and personnel flying around inside the vehicle."

A four-point safety harness holds the driver in place, and the seat places the driver's spine in an optimal position to minimize back injuries. The driver's rifle can be secured into a special mount.

"I've driven in this vehicle for quite a long time," said Army Pfc. Steven Warren, a combat engineer and Husky driver in 4th Battalion. "It's extremely safe. It's well put-together. I feel totally confident in this vehicle that it will protect me and safeguard my life."

(Army Pfc. Elisebet Freeburg serves with the Joint Sustainment Command Afghanistan public affairs office.)

Brigade to Leave Southern Iraq 'A Much Better Place'

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

May 27, 2009 - Southern Iraq is "a much better place to live and raise a family than it was a year ago," thanks to tremendous strides in security, governance, job opportunity and essential services, the commander of the 1st Cavalry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team said today. Army Col. Philip Battaglia described two major lines of progress he's seen since his "Long Knife Brigade" arrived at Multinational Division South last year: one focused on security and the other, on local government.

"The Iraqi security forces have developed into a professional, lethal force, capable of independently securing their citizens and its sovereign borders," he said.

Battaglia noted the role these forces played during Iraq's recent provincial elections, for which they took the security lead at a time of "increased vulnerability." In addition, the Iraqis took security responsibility for the 5,000-year-old Ziggurat of Ur, an ancient national treasure that previously had been protected by coalition forces. Battaglia called the transfer a high point for him and his solders and a highlight of their deployment.

"I am extremely proud to personally witness this special event in honor of a site that is one of the oldest structures in the history of the world," he said at last week's ceremony marking the transfer. "We will always look back on our time here as a very special moment in the history of this great nation."

The colonel said he knows the site is in good hands. "I have the utmost confidence in the leaders and the capabilities of the army, police and the border police agencies within my area of operation," he said. "It has been my brigade's pleasure to partner with these forces this past year, and I truly believe that they will continue to have tremendous success."

Meanwhile, the Long Knife Brigade has worked hand in hand with the Iraqis to improve governance. This, he said, has improved local government's capability to provide essential services and economic opportunities to their people.

Battalgia outlined projects the provincial reconstruction teams and his brigade civil affairs soldiers have helped the Iraqis advance to improve infrastructure, deliver services and create jobs.

"We have had an amazing year, and we are proud to have been part of all these recent successes," he said.

With about one-third of the brigade returned to Fort Hood, Texas, and the remainder to redeploy next month, Battaglia said he feels "extremely optimistic about the future of Iraq."

"Due to the tremendous efforts of the Iraqi people, the Iraqi security forces, ... the provincial reconstruction teams and the coalition forces, the three provinces of southern Iraqi are much better and safer places," he said.

Battaglia praised his soldiers for their hard work and dedication and thanked the families and friends at home who supported them during their deployment.

"It has truly been a team effort this past year," he said. "Our families' sacrifices have allowed us to focus on our mission and to return back to Fort Hood next month with pride in a job well done."