Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Army Casualty

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

Sgt. Terry J. Lynch, 22, of Shepherd, Mont., died June 29 in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle. He was assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Fort Drum, N.Y.

For more information media may contact the Fort Drum public affairs office at (315) 772-8286.

Army Casualty

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

Sgt. Timothy A. David, 28, of Gladwin, Mich., died June 28 in Baghdad, Iraq, of wounds suffered earlier in Sadr City, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

For more information the media may contact the Fort Hood public affairs office at (254) 287-9993; after hours (254) 291-2591.

Withdrawal Marks Historic Day for Future of Iraq, General Says

By Army Staff Sgt. Dave Lankford
Special to American Forces Press Service

June 30, 2009 - In accordance with Article 5 of the security agreement between the U.S. and Iraqi governments, Iraqi security forces now have full ownership of security in their cities, towns and villages. "As of today, U.S. combat forces will turn over the security of cities to Iraqi security forces, and begin a period where our primary security role is one of training, mentoring and advising the ISF," said Army Maj. Gen. Rick Nash, Multinational Division South commander. "Today's ISF is capable, ready and dedicated to keeping the people of Iraq safe."

Nash praised the dedication of the Iraqi security forces as well as the proficiency of U.S. and coalition forces, and attributed the successful implementation of the security agreement to their actions.

"Iraq's successes and significantly improved security are a testament of the ISF's progress and its dedication to Iraq's sovereignty," Nash said. "The Iraqis have made strides in their ability to protect their citizens, and our brave soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are doing a great job in helping them build both their security forces and their civil capacity."

Though U.S. and coalition forces no longer will inhabit Iraqi cities, they will continue to support the Iraqi security forces within the parameters of the security agreement, Nash said.

"Leaving the cities does not mean that we are backing off," he said. "Instead, it indicates our confidence in the Iraqis to safeguard their own citizens. Likewise, the security agreement is a tangible, positive sign of a mature relationship between two sovereign nations."

In accordance with agreement, U.S. forces will withdraw from all Iraqi territory by Dec. 31, 2011. Today will be remembered as a significant step toward the realization of that objective, Nash noted.

"So, on this important day of transition in Iraq, our two nations move forward together as friends, with the shared goal of the safety and security of the Iraqi people," he said. "I am very encouraged about the future success of Iraq."

(Army Staff Sgt. Dave Lankford serves with Multinational Division South.)

U.S. Soldiers Help to Preserve Babylon Ruins

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

June 30, 2009 - Soldiers with the 172nd Infantry Brigade are helping documentarians, historians and preservationists as they work to ensure that ancient Iraqi history is preserved and documented in Babil province. The brigade provides these experts transportation and security as part of their ongoing mission in support of the Babil Provincial Reconstruction Team.

The Babil team hosted the World Monuments Fund to conduct site surveys of Babylon, an ancient city near here. The surveys were conducted to determine the possibility of making the Babylon ruins a sustainable historic and tourism site while protecting the ruins.

The World Monuments Fund is a New York-based nonprofit group dedicated to preserving historic architecture and cultural heritage sites worldwide through field work, education and training. The fund is launching a project with Iraq to preserve the ancient city of Babylon, where King Nebuchadnezzar II -- whose life spanned 630-562 B.C. -- built his hanging gardens, known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

"We are involving the local populace in the solutions to create a sustainable situation," said Jeff Allen, the project team leader. "What you don't want to do is develop something that outsiders are just going to profit from. You want something where the local populace benefits from it."

"Future tourism will be one of the tools for economic development in Iraq, and we fear that Babylon could be eaten up by unmanaged development like the paving of roads," World Monuments President Bonnie Burnham said at the beginning of the project. "The city has never been mapped, and there have been very dramatic changes to it."

Soldiers with 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 172nd Infantry Brigade, make it possible for civilians working with the team and the U.S. State Department to go to sites throughout Babil province and do their work safely.

Gwendolen Cates, an independent filmmaker, is making a documentary called "Mourning in the Garden of Eden" to illustrate Babylon's historical significance.

"I am making a documentary of the cultural heritage of Iraq and connecting the past to the present and how that relates to us," said Cates, of New York, who started the project in 2003 when she served as an embedded photojournalist with U.S. Army military intelligence in Iraq. "Iraq has a lot of diversity and many Americans do not know about Babylon and where it is. Bringing tourism back to Iraq is one of the main purposes of this project."

Samir Sumaidaie, Iraq's ambassador to the United States, said Iraqis welcome outside help in preserving their history.

"Iraqi heritage belongs to all humanity,", he said in a statement. "In the immense task of caring for its world heritage, Iraq welcomes help from and collaborations with the international preservation community."

(Army Capt. Stephen C. Short serves with the 172nd Infantry Brigade's public affairs office.)

Forces in Iraq Detain Suspected Terrorists

American Forces Press Service

June 30, 2009 - Iraqi forces, aided by coalition advisors, arrested suspected terrorists June 28 in operations in Iraq, military officials reported. Iraqi special operations forces and coalition advisors arrested a suspected terrorist in Baghdad. The suspect is believed to be the low-level commander of an insurgent group responsible for coordinating a local resident's murder and an attack against Iraqi army forces.

Elsewhere, Iraq's 7th Regional Commando Battalion, assisted by coalition advisors, arrested two suspected terrorists in Ninevah province. One of the men is suspected of being a financier for a terrorist cell, and the other is believed to be a cell operator. The cell is responsible for emplacing roadside bombs in the province, officials said.

(Compiled from Multinational Corps Iraq news releases.)

Gates Buoyed by al-Qaida's Failure to Stoke Sectarian Violence

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

June 30, 2009 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today he's heartened that al-Qaida hasn't been able to reignite sectarian violence in Iraq despite its acts of violence leading up to today's deadline for U.S. troops to leave Iraqi cities. Commanders on the ground anticipated for weeks that al-Qaida and other extremists would take advantage of the U.S. troops' compliance with the U.S.-Iraq status of forces agreement to launch attacks, Gates told reporters returning to Washington with him after a change-of-command ceremony at U.S. European Command headquarters in Germany. While capitalizing on what they perceive as a security void, al-Qaida operatives likely want to increase violence to make it appear that they were the ones driving U.S. combat troops out of the cities, Gates said.

Another likely objective, he said, is to "try and demonstrate deficiencies of the Iraqi security forces."

Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, also expected that al-Qaida and other extremists would try to take advantage of the situation to fuel division among Iraq's sects, the secretary said.

Gates expressed relief that Odierno's prediction never materialized. "Even after these high-profile bombings that took a lot of casualties, sectarian violence has not reignited," he said. "And I think his view is that most Iraqis are sick and tired of violence."

The security situation varies widely in Iraq as U.S. combat troops turn security responsibility within the cities over to Iraqi security forces, Gates said. Fallujah, Ramadi, Basra and Kirkuk have been "pretty quiet," while "Mosul was in a middle of a fight when the deadline came," he said. Meanwhile, Baghdad has suffered high-profile suicide attacks.

Gates said he expects sporadic fighting to continue in Iraq. But overall, he said, he's "struck by General Odierno's overall positive view of the way things have developed and the way forward."

Some U.S. combat troops remain in urban areas, embedded with Iraqi security forces or providing other support. Most others posted outside the cities are providing support to Iraqis now taking the security lead, "continuing the partnership that has been developing," Gates said.

As U.S. Meets Withdrawal Deadline, Baghdad Declares Holiday

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

June 30, 2009 - As the United States completed its withdrawal of combat forces from Iraqi cities in accordance with today's deadline, Baghdad commemorated the milestone with a national holiday. The departing American brigades and battalions leave behind a significantly smaller contingent of U.S. trainers and advisors in the cities, where Iraqi forces now have primary authority, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said. The move comes as part of the status of forces agreement between the United States and Iraq.

"A small number of U.S. forces will remain in cities to train, advise, coordinate with Iraqi security forces, as well as enable them to move forward," Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno told reporters at the Pentagon today. The general declined to provide the number of troops to remain, saying that the figure will fluctuate on a daily basis.

Meanwhile, news reports from Baghdad describe Iraqis marking the day with a military parade attended by Iraqi reporters and dignitaries in the international area known as the "Green Zone" at the official monument to an unknown soldier.

Similar celebrations took place around the country in recent days as the American drawdown from cities neared completion. A U.S. military video shot yesterday in Baqubah, a city north of the Iraqi capital in Diyala province, shows a parade in which Iraqi police march through a city scene marked by a distinct absence of American boots on the ground.

Since October, the United States has closed or returned to Iraqi authority 150 bases and facilities, including 30 this month. Odierno noted that U.S. troops have been out of most Iraqi cities for the last eight months, with drawdowns over the last few weeks focusing mainly on Mosul and Baghdad.

But today's transfer of responsibility to Iraqi security forces represents a "significant milestone," Odierno said.

"It is a day when Iraqis celebrate as they continue to move towards exercising their full sovereignty," he said. "The Iraqi people should be very proud of the dedication, progress and sacrifice of the Iraqi security forces and the government of Iraq. Their accomplishments in preparing for this day are commendable."

As Iraqis secure the cities, Odierno said, U.S. forces are establishing a layer of defense outside the urban areas, conducting full-spectrum and stability operations alongside Iraqis to eliminate safe havens, crack down on insurgents and stem the flow of foreign fighters. U.S. forces also will support civil efforts led by the U.S. Embassy, the Iraqi government, and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq, he said.

"Our combat forces, partnering with the Iraqi security forces, will secure the belts and borders in an attempt to eliminate safe havens and sanctuaries and to limit freedom of movement of insurgents and prevent the facilitation of foreign fighters through the borders," he said.

The United States is committed to full, transparent and continued implementation of the security agreement in a spirit of partnership with the sovereign nation of Iraq, Odierno said. President Barack Obama has announced plans to commence a phased drawdown of U.S. combat brigades from Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010.

As Iraqis celebrate a nationwide holiday highlighting their added responsibility, Americans also can be proud of the efforts by U.S. forces to stabilize Iraq, which last month had the lowest levels of violence since the war began six years ago, the general noted.

"The American people can also be very proud, as well, of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, as well as our civilians, who have worked so hard over the past years -- and tirelessly -- and sacrificed so much in helping the people of Iraq progress towards a peaceful and democratic society," Odierno said.

Forces Target Terrorist Networks in Afghanistan

American Forces Press Service

June 30, 2009 - Afghan and coalition forces disrupted Taliban and Haqqani terrorist activities in recent operations in Afghanistan, military officials reported. Coalition forces launched precision air strikes overnight against senior Haqqani commanders and command posts in the remote mountains of western Khost province.

The militants are believed to have aided in the movement of foreign fighters through the Khost-Gardez Pass and throughout Afghanistan.

Coalition aircraft destroyed a pair of command bunkers, killing more than a dozen militants.

Elsewhere, Afghan forces, assisted by coalition forces, conducted multiple operations in Khost, Ghazni and Kandahar provinces June 28. The operations were intended to disrupt the flow of foreign fighters, weapons and explosives in the country.

In the Sabari district, north of Khost city in Khost province, the force searched a compound where intelligence sources indicated militant activity and detained 10 suspected Haqqani militants.

In the southern province of Ghazni, southeast of the city of Gilan, the force pursued suspected militants who were wearing suicide vests. When they engaged the force, the militants were killed. The force recovered several grenades, an AK-47 assault rifle and a Kalashnikov automatic weapon.

In Kandahar, the combined force assaulted a hideout believed to be the safe haven of a Taliban commander responsible for several roadside-bomb and small-arms attacks against Afghan and coalition forces in the region.

The force was engaged by hostile fire during their search of the area and immediately eliminated the threat. The force recovered two AK-47 assault rifles, a Kalashnikov automatic weapon, military load-bearing equipment with magazines, two fragmentation grenades and two radios.

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

Stavridis to Urge More Allied Contribution in Afghanistan

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

June 30, 2009 - The new commander of U.S. European Command told reporters today he's "very interested in finding additional and alternative ways for allies to contribute" to coalition efforts in Afghanistan. Navy Adm. James Stavridis said shortly after change-of-command ceremonies at Eucom's Patch Barracks here that he'll explore additional ways of broadening the coalition in Afghanistan.

Stavridis will be put on a second hat as supreme allied commander in Europe, to replace the retiring Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock as commander of NATO forces, including the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, during July 2 ceremonies.

A big emphasis, Stavridis told reporters today, will be putting an Afghan face on the operations there.

"We need to pursue policies in Afghanistan that put the defense and the security of the Afghan people at the center of our efforts -- all of our efforts, our allied efforts, our U.S. efforts, and so forth, because that is the key to dealing with an insurgency," he said.

Success will be measured by concrete progress that improves the lives of the Afghan people, he said, reducing the extremists' appeal.

"The metrics are not body counts," Stavridis said. "The metrics are everything from road building to agricultural improvements to improvements on counternarcotics to schools. All of those are the metrics that are most important here."

NATO faces new challenges and new stresses and strains that will, as in the past, test its credibility and resolve, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates noted during today's ceremonies.

"Our nations are again engaged in a war whose outcome and duration is uncertain," Gates said. "But I am confident that we will summon the will and the courage to do what we must in Afghanistan."

Face of Defense: Army Couple Survives Cancer, Continues to Serve

By Army Sgt. Brandon LeFlore
Special to American Forces Press Service

June 30, 2009 - Army 1st Sgt. Jane Baldwin and her husband, Army Maj. Page Baldwin, beat the odds of cancer, and at the same time, grew closer as a couple, expanding their family and resolving to continue their military service. "You really find out who your friends are when you're faced with a life-threatening illness," Sergeant Baldwin said. "I am so very thankful for all of their help with meals, cleaning, giving me hope, helping with my children and everything else."

Six years ago, the first sergeant, who was Jane Payeur at the time, competed in the Mrs. Florida America pageant, which sparked her interest in plastic surgery. A meeting with a plastic surgeon about possible augmentation surgery required a mammogram. Within hours of having the procedure, her doctor's office notified her that her surgery was cancelled. Her mammogram had shown calcium deposits in her mammary gland – a warning sign of cancer.

Follow-up procedures confirmed breast cancer. She had surgery right away, followed by several months of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. More than six years after her doctor diagnosed breast cancer and gave her a poor prognosis, Baldwin still is serving her country, she recently gave birth to a son.

"I believe the Mrs. Florida America pageant experience helped save my life," she said, explaining that because she was not yet 40 and had no symptoms, she otherwise wouldn't have had the mammogram. According to the American Cancer Society, fewer than 5 percent of breast cancer cases occur in women under 40.

"If I had not gone to the pageant and then decided to get implants, which required the mammogram, 2003 would have been my last year," she said.

Major Baldwin, command information officer in charge of the 343rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment deployed here, is no stranger to cancer. He was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare and malignant tumor found in the bone or soft tissue. He, too, received a poor prognosis. "I had a mass the size of a softball in my chest," he said.

What followed began with a trip to the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, followed by three months of chemotherapy, the removal of three ribs, and then another three months of chemo.

Both of the Baldwins have made significant career changes and have participated in the American Cancer Society's "Relay for Life." They've also both been deployed to Iraq since recovering from cancer. The major is serving his second tour.

"Having that shared experience with Jane is an amazing thing," he said. "It helps bring us together."

Positivity, he said, was a key to his recovery. "You have to accept the diagnosis, but you don't have to accept the prognosis," he said. "A positive attitude and strong faith can pull you through just about anything."

Monday, June 29, 2009

Wounded Warriors Return to Iraq

American Forces Press Service

June 29, 2009 - Six wounded soldiers, all amputees, returned here last week hoping to close the door on the combat that changed them forever. The last time Sgt. Christopher A. Burrell was in Iraq, he was pulled from a burning vehicle in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood. A tourniquet applied by another soldier saved his life, but a nurse here at the Air Force Theater Hospital had to break the tragic news—his left leg was gone, taken by an explosively formed projectile.

Now, almost a year and a half later, and after months of rehabilitation and physical therapy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Burrell returned to Iraq with five other amputee combat veterans as part of Operation Proper Exit.

"I don't remember much, but I remember my nurse," Burrell said. "Shelly. She was an angel, there to comfort me when I was in a difficult spot."

Operation Proper Exit, a United Service Organizations pilot program sponsored by the Army and the Troops First Foundation, allows soldiers wounded in combat to return to Iraq. The goal of the program is to give the soldiers an opportunity for closure, and to see the progress made in securing and stabilizing the country, Burrell said.

"It kind of helps you heal mentally and emotionally, to close that chapter in your life so you can move on," he said. "The progress that's been made—it shows that we made a sacrifice but it was for a reason."

The six veterans, who were accompanied by civilians with the Troops First Foundation, toured the Air Force theater hospital here, speaking with medical personnel. Most of the soldiers received some kind of treatment at the hospital before they moved to Germany for further medical care.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Jamal Hogan, a nurse here, said he remembers providing medical care for two of the soldiers during a previous deployment in 2007.

"It's awesome," he said, hugging one of his former patients, "to know that people made it—he's alive, walking around. That means a lot to me."

Following the hospital tour, the veterans participated in a town hall-style meeting, which began with a standing ovation by about 200 soldiers at a Morale, Welfare, and Recreation facility here.

After telling the audience their personal war stories, the veterans fielded questions ranging from how they dealt with physical recovery to post traumatic stress disorder to their long-term goals.

Sgt. Robert Brown, who lost his right leg to sniper fire in September 2006 in Ramadi, Iraq, said he is training to qualify for the U.S. rowing team at the 2012 Paralympic games in London.

Near the end of the meeting, a young soldier stood up and asked them, with everything they've experienced, if they would be willing to return for another tour in Afghanistan or Iraq.

All six nodded.

"Sure, we'd go back," one said. "We're here with you right now, aren't we?"

(From a 3rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) public affairs news release.)

CBR Weapons and WMD Terrorism News- June 29, 2009

Honeywell purchases EcaFlo [bioterrorism defense] equipment [Little River, SC]
"Honeywell [Technology Solutions] has purchased equipment from Integrated Environmental Technologies [IET] to support a biological remediation project. [IET] announced Honeywell […] has purchased its EcaFlo Excelyte equipment as the purchasing agent engaged by the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency. Honeywell made the purchase of EcaFlo Excelyte equipment as part of an effort to support the Interagency Biological Remediation Demonstration project. The EcaFlo equipment is designed to produce a 'powerful, environmentally friendly disease control agent,' a news release said. 'We are dedicated to making certain that the threat of bioterrorism to our nation is greatly reduced by offering Defense Threat Reduction Agency and other federal agencies EcaFlo equipment,' William Prince, [IET] president and chief executive officer, said." (United Press International; 26Jun09)

[Advanced] Diamond [Technologies] targets biological threats [Romeoville, IL]
"A firm in the US is drawing up plans for a badge-sized, wearable sensor that can detect in real time the presence of E. coli, anthrax [spores], salmonella [bacteria] and other biological threats. The sensor, which contains tiny diamond cantilevers, is being developed by Advanced Diamond Technologies (ADT) in Illinois. The company is currently six months into a three-year research programme and hopes to have prototype devices available by the end of 2011. Diamond […] has […] properties that make it useful as a biosensor. In particular, the surface of diamond is covered with strong hydrogen-carbon bonds. […] The hydrogen atoms can be stripped off and replaced with antibody molecules that can bond […] with a target biomolecule. […] The new device consists of diving-board-shaped cantilevers […] mounted on a semiconductor chip. […] Any biomolecule landing on the surface of the cantilever changes the device's vibrational frequency, which can be converted into an electrical signal through the […] cantilever. […] One challenge will be to concentrate the pathogenic agents so that even tiny amounts can be detected - the initial target is to detect 100 cells in 100 ul of fluid. […] 'We want to miniaturize the sensor so that it can be worn as a badge or around the neck,' says lead investigator John Carlisle. The final device will also […] communicate its signal wirelessly. […] The sensor could have non-military applications such as determining whether […] water is safe to drink. Carlisle even wants to adapt the sensor so that it can detect not just water-based biomolecules but those that are air-borne." (Physics World; 29Jun09; Matin Durrani)

DCGI [Drugs Controller General of India] nod for marketing biothrax in India to prevent anthrax infection
"Biological E Ltd announced that the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) has issued a registration certificate for BioThrax (Anthrax Vaccine Adsorbed), which enables the marketing and sale of the vaccine in India to help prevent anthrax infection. Emergent BioSolutions has signed a marketing agreement with Biological E. Limited for the marketing of BioThrax in India. BioThrax is the only vaccine for the prevention of anthrax infection licensed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The BioThrax market authorization for India follows the publication in July 2008 of the National Disaster Management Guidelines on Biological Disaster by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), which is the government body that oversees disaster management. In that document, the government of India provided guidance with respect to the management of biological disasters and stated that there is a need to have a supply of readily available anthrax vaccines to be administered rapidly in the event of an outbreak. […] [BioThrax] is licensed by the FDA as a pre-exposure prophylaxis for use in adults who are at high risk of exposure to anthrax spores." (PharmaBiz; 29Jun09) http://www.pharmabiz.com/article/detnews.asp?articleid=50452&sectionid=

Rocky mountain arsenal gets $7.4M wildlife center [Commerce City, CO]
"Once a Superfund site that was the U.S. military's biggest chemical weapons factory, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge is getting a 'green' visitor's center that will be an urban showpiece for the American West's wildlife system. […] Arsenal construction began in 1942 as the U.S. Army scrambled to match a chemical weapons threat from the Axis powers during World War II. It produced mustard gas, lewisite, chlorine gas and more than 100,000 tons of incendiary bombs. […] The Army produced incendiary cluster bombs, nerve gas and rocket propellant at the facility. Production stopped in 1982, and the arsenal was declared a priority under the federal Superfund hazardous waste cleanup program." (Vail Daily; 18Jun09; Source: Judith Kohler, AP)

Marketing new chemical weapons [Op-Ed]
"Penn State University won a $250,000 contract to conduct further research into new incapacitating chemical weapons […] for police use in the [U.S.]. […] To market these weapons as somehow separate from the chemical and biological weapons that are banned by international treaties, they are being given new, obfuscating names. In this intentional narrative, chemical weapons become 'calmatives' or 'advanced riot control agents.' And they are promoted as part of a group of so-called 'nonlethal' weapons. […] These weapons aren't really weapons at all but 'capabilities,' 'technologies,' and 'techniques.' […] These semantic strategies are intimately and dangerously linked to efforts to push the legal boundaries of what is acceptable under the CWC. Not only have weapon developers and promoters sought to squeeze incapacitating agents into the riot control agent category, but they have sought to widen the use of riot control agents to warfare, which is clearly prohibited by the CWC. U.S. military officials have gone so far as to say that research and development of incapacitating chemical weapons will continue. […] Furthermore, these officials suggest that if there are technologies that the Defense Department is banned from pursuing, they will subcontract the work to the Justice or Energy departments. Meanwhile, Defense is busy working on a variety of chemical delivery systems, including airburst munitions and long-range 155-millimeter mortar rounds, but no one will say what they're going to put in them." (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; 29Jun09; Neil Davison)

Iran urges punishment of 1987 chemical attack elements
"Iran's Foreign Ministry called for the international community to help prosecution and punishment of the elements involved in chemical bombardment of Iranian western border cities during the 8-year Iran-Iraq war. In a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry to mark the 22nd anniversary […] the organization said violent attacks of the former Iraqi regime against Iran claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people and left a large number with physical and mental difficulties. Bombardment of these towns as well as Halabcheh city in northern Iraq were outcomes of hostile policies adopted by the US and other super-powers which provided Iraq with these destructive weapons. Iran actively attended the [CWC] disarmament conference to help prevent such hostile chemical attacks in the world. The conference sought preparing a convention to prevent development, production and stockpile of chemical weapons. […] Iran also named June 29 the national day to fight against chemical and bacterial weapons." (Iranian Students News Agency; 29Jun09) http://www.isna.ir/ISNA/NewsView.aspx?ID=News-1363123&Lang=E

Russia boosts security at chemical weapons sites
"Russia has placed additional security personnel at its chemical weapons storage and destruction sites, Interfax reported Friday. 'Military guards and paramilitary security units with special gear and guard dogs will be in charge of our facilities,' said Russian chemical weapons official Nikolai Khlebnikov. 'Antiterror[ist] forces, armed with automatic weapons, grenade launchers and sniper rifles, have been formed to tighten the defense in line with the General Staff's instruction.' The sites are also to be placed under continuous watch through use of security technology. […] The nation holds its remaining chemical arsenal in six facilities across its Bryansk, Kirov, Kurgan, Penza and Udmurtia regions. […] Russia plans to destroy 6,054 metric tons of chemical warfare material this year, according to the announcement. […] Russia has already destroyed 12,000 metric tons of the deadly chemicals in its stockpile, and it is obligated to increase that total to 18,000 tons […] by the end of the year." (Global Security Newswire; 29Jun09) http://www.globalsecuritynewswire.org/gsn/nw_20090629_1572.php

Emergency services treat 'explosion casualties' [Dover, England]
"A mock-up exercise [was] used to test how emergency services would respond to a radiological explosion. More than 1,000 members of the emergency services and partner agencies from Kent and Essex [England] took part in the live training scenario at a fictional college near Dover Castle on Friday and Saturday. Police, fire and ambulance teams had to deal with a number of 'casualties' who required decontamination and other treatment. Members of the public volunteered to act as the injured people. […] The exercise […] involved Kent Police, Essex Police, fire and ambulance services in both counties, as well as the Home Office, Cabinet Office, Department of Health and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Kent County Council and Dover District Council were also involved. The Health Protection Agency delivered the […] exercise to test the NHS at all relevant levels on behalf of the Department of Health and in conjunction with the Strategic Health Authority. Deputy Chief Constable Adrian Leppard
said: 'Every agency has the opportunity to test themselves […] but it is only when you bring all the agencies together that you can really develop the learning necessary about how we would all respond to a real incident on the ground.' (Kent Online; 29Jun09) http://www.kentonline.co.uk/kentonline/news/2009/june/29/mock_explosion.aspx

Retired national guard officer takes charge of New York guard unit
"George DeSimone, an Astoria, Queens resident and retired New York Army National Guard officer, has assumed command of the 88th Brigade of the New York Guard, the state force which augments the National Guard. […] The 88th Brigade of the New York Guard, which is headquartered in the historic Harlem Armory on Fifth Avenue, assists the National Guard with training, administrating, legal and medical assistance. The brigade also provides volunteers trained in hazardous materials remediation who augment National Guard team assigned to rescue victims from buildings destroyed by chemical, radiological, or biological weapons. [sic] […] DeSimone is also a former firefighter who retired from the Fire Department New York in 2003 as a Lieutenant and is currently an Adjutant Professor at New York University, specializing in teaching of emergency management, terrorism and homeland security related areas." (Read Media Newswire; 28Jun09;
Source: New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs)

Study on keeping nuclear bombs away from U.S. shows misplaced fear over cost of 100% overseas cargo scanning
"A two-tiered scanning-protocol for inspecting all containers at international ports could be the most affordable approach to ensuring containers moving through the global transportation system are not carrying nuclear bombs, according to a paper [Estimating the Operational Impact of Container Inspections at International Ports] being presented at a services special interest group meeting of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences [INFORMS]. The authors [Nitin Bakshi, Stephen E. Flynn, and Noah Gans] challenge the federal scheme now in place that relies on targeting only a small number of containers that U.S.
authorities identify as 'high-risk' for inspection. Based on detailed data […] they found that there is a serious risk of large bottlenecks in international shipping should a raised security alert or actual terrorist incident require that the current inspection protocol be ramped up. 'We find that the current inspection regime being advanced by the U.S.
Department of Homeland Security and widely supported by the international community can only handle a small percentage of the total load,' the authors maintain. 'An alternate inspection protocol that emphasizes screening (a rapid primary scan of all containers, followed by a more careful secondary scan of only a few containers that fail the primary
test) holds promise as a feasible solution for meeting the 100% scanning requirement.'" (Institute For Operations Research and the Management Sciences; 24Jun09)

Uncertain future awaits man [Rafid Ahmed Alwan] whose lies backed war [Baghdad, Iraq]
"When the Iraqi who could be considered more responsible than any other for the US invasion six years ago quietly returned in March to the land his lies helped shape, Iraq was entering one of its most stable and promising phases in six years of turmoil. Rafid Ahmed Alwan - otherwise known as Curveball - slipped back into Baghdad after 10 years of exile in Germany. Before the invasion, Curveball had become the CIA's most valuable source on Iraq's fictitious chemical and biological weapons program. […] Curveball was a trained chemical engineer, who had been taken straight from university to work in a division of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's intelligence services. […] Two months after Baghdad fell, [he] was approached by his boss who told him a group of Americans wanted to meet him. At the time, the US military was scanning Iraq intensively, looking for proof of a chemical and biological weapons program. They were building their case on the word of Iraqi collaborators. […] 'They were expecting to find information about fermentation projects for bacterial weapons. I was the chief of the fermentation section of the company at the time,' he said." (Taipei Times; 30Jun09; Source: The Guardian, Baghdad) http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/world/archives/2009/06/30/2003447449/print

Afghan Police to Grow by 10,000 for Elections

Special to American Forces Press Service

June 29, 2009 - The Afghan National Police force will grow by 10,000 members to meet security needs for the country's upcoming national elections, military officials here reported. The international security forces approved the growth at a recent meeting of the Afghan-led International Police Coordination Board, they said.

The additional police will provide site security to polling stations throughout 14 selected provinces. With about 10 police to each station, the force will be able to secure nearly 1,000 additional polling stations in Afghanistan, Col. Bradley K. Nelson, the national police force integration officer with Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, said.

The training for the additional police will be divided into two phases, much like the training for the additional 4,800 police that are being trained for duty in Kabul, Nelson said. The officers will attend three weeks of training prior to the elections and will receive an additional five weeks of training after the elections.

"This is a critical component in election security," he said, "as we continue to build police forces throughout Afghanistan."

The training of the 10,000 is the second phase of the plan to train 15,000 new police and will take place after the 4,800 new Kabul police are trained.

"There is a lot of hard work going on all across Afghanistan, from the Ministry of Interior to the coalition forces, to enable the Afghan National Police to perform their duties and ensure a safe election," Nelson said.

(From a Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan news release.)

Afghan Air Corps Returns Mi-35 Helicopters to Flight

American Forces Press Service

June 29, 2009 - After an absence of nearly a decade, the Afghan Mi-35 is again flying the skies of Afghanistan, thanks to pilots from the Afghan National Army Air Corps and the Czech Republic, military officials here said. On May 27, Afghan Mi-35 attack helicopters fired 12.7 mm rounds and 57 mm rockets near Bagram Air Base. Each partnered Afghan and Czech Republic crew fired 200 rounds of ball ammunition and 16 rockets while practicing gunnery on the East River Range Complex. The practice session was the culmination of more than a year's work to rebuild the Mi-35 program, which gives the Afghan National Army dedicated, armed aircraft for the first time in eight years.

The seven-hour training was supported by personnel and equipment from the ANAAC, the Czech Republic Operational Mentor and Liaison Team, Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan mentors and personnel from Task Force Thunder at Bagram Air Base. After the completion of the live-fire training, the lead pilot from the Czech team, Major Juracka, commented, "The Afghan shooting was perfect."

The Czech team began ground training and limited flight training for Afghan Mi-35 crewmembers last summer. In January, Afghan Mi-35 training increased greatly with the arrival of six refurbished helicopters. Since then, the Czech team has completed assessments on nine pilots and added a more aggressive training program.

To date, the Afghan pilots have received training on pre-mission planning, contact maneuvers, emergency procedures, navigation, and presidential escort operations. After the completion of their gunnery tables, the Afghan pilots will receive training on pre-planned and close air support combat missions.

Future Mi-35 initiatives will put even more emphasis on independent Afghan training operations. The Afghan air corps is building its own arming points and is working on an initiative to complete all its Mi-35 live-fire training at Afghan facilities, while the Kabul Military Training Center is developing standardized Mi-35 live-fire training procedures. The air corps also is researching live-fire training locations throughout Afghanistan to better integrate the Mi-35 with the army. All of the efforts are aimed at decreasing the time for an Mi-35 training flight from seven to three hours, effectively doubling the amount of live-fire sorties that can be accomplished in a day.

The Mi-35's combat radius permits it to conduct combat operations anywhere in the country. The aircraft's unique design allows it to be used in attack, air assault or medical evacuation roles. It can be configured with a 12.7 mm Gatling type machine gun, 57 mm rocket pods, and the AT-6 Spiral Anti-tank guided missile. The helicopters typically fly with 1,470 rounds of ball ammunition, 128 rockets and two anti-tank missiles.

"The new capability is good for the Afghan National Army and for the country of Afghanistan," Afghan Maj. Gen. Dawran, the air corps commander, said.

(From a Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan news release.)

Army Casualty

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

Pvt. Steven T. Drees, 19, of Peshtigo, Wis., died June 28 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, in Landstuhl, Germany, of injuries sustained June 24 in Konar Province, Afghanistan, when insurgents attacked his unit using small arms fire and a rocket-propelled-grenade launcher. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo.

For more information media may contact the Fort Carson public affairs office at (719) 526-4143; after hours (719) 526-5500.

Army Casualty

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

Pfc. Peter K. Cross, 20, of Saginaw, Texas, died June 26 at Combat Outpost Carwile, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained during a vehicle roll-over. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Fort Drum, N.Y.

The circumstances surrounding the incident are under investigation.

For more information media may contact the Fort Drum public affairs office at (315) 772-8286.

Troops in Afghanistan Detain Suspects, Seize Weapons, Drugs

American Forces Press Service

June 29, 2009 - Coalition and Afghan forces detained more than a dozen suspected militants and seized weapons and drugs in recent operations in Afghanistan, military officials said. During two June 27 operations in the Musa Khel district of Khost province, Afghan and coalition forces targeted a key commander in one operation and searched a compound in another.

Coalition forces used precision air strikes in a remote area of the district, targeting a key Haqqani commander responsible for planning militant attacks against coalition forces, officials said.

Intelligence sources indicated his location in the mountainous district, about 30 miles northwest of the city of Khost. Coalition forces observed and identified suspected militants gathering at this location and called for precision air strikes to eliminate the target.

A coalition patrol conducted a battle damage assessment of the area and confirmed there were no non-combatant casualties, officials said. The patrol recovered multiple weapons consisting of small arms, heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition, grenades, radios and military load-bearing equipment. All of the items were destroyed at the site.

In a separate engagement in the same area, Afghan and coalition forces patrolled a compound near the village of Wech Paray. Intelligence sources indicated militant activity at the compound.

The forces searched the compound without incident and detained six men suspected of being part of the Haqqani terrorist network, military officials said.

No Afghan or coalition forces or non-combatants were injured in either operation.

In a June 26 operation, Afghan and coalition forces detained three suspected militants in a raid to disrupt the flow of foreign fighters and weapons into Nangarhar province.

In the province's Achin district, a combined force assaulted a compound near the Pakistan border where intelligence sources reported a key Taliban commander was staying. This commander has conducted several car bomb attacks, officials said.

During the operation, suspected militants departed the compound and engaged the force. The force pursued the militants, detaining two. Another man at the compound was wounded after failing to respond to escalation of force measures. He was immediately transported by air for additional medical care.

The force secured the compound without further incident, detaining a total of three suspected militants.

In a June 25 operation, Afghan and coalition forces detained several suspected Taliban militants in the Nad Ali district of Helmand province.

The force encountered a threat while clearing compounds where intelligence sources reported a known Taliban commander to be located. "After performing several escalation of force measures to no avail, the threat was eliminated," military officials said in a statement.

The force completed the search without further incident, detained a handful of suspected militants, uncovered about 350 pounds of black tar heroin bundled in 20-pound bags and confiscated one AK-47 assault rifle. The black tar heroin was destroyed in place.

Coalition, Iraqi Forces Detain Terrorist Suspects in Iraq

American Forces Press Service

June 29, 2009 - Coalition and Iraq forces detained nearly two dozen suspected militants during recent operations in Iraq, military officials said. During June 27 operations:

-- Combined forces arrested seven suspected terrorists with warrants during an operation in the Ninewa province. They are suspected of operating in a terrorist cell, which conducts attacks against Iraqi civilians and security forces in the area.

-- Coalition and Iraqi troops arrested five suspected terrorists with warrants during an intelligence-driven raid in Baghdad. The suspects are allegedly responsible for conducting improvised explosive device attacks, kidnapping Iraqi citizens and murder.

-- In a separate raid in the Iraqi capital, combined troops arrested two alleged terrorists with warrants. Military reports indicate the suspects are allegedly responsible for kidnapping and killing Iraqi citizens and are linked to an insurgent network that has launched attacks against Iraqi security forces.

-- Combined forces arrested a suspected terrorist during an operation in the Diyala province. The suspect is linked to a terrorist cell responsible for kidnapping and rocket attacks against the people of Diyala.

In June 26 operations:

-- Combined forces detained three alleged terrorists during an intelligence-driven mission in the Iraqi capital. The suspects are believed responsible for attacks against Iraqi security forces in the Baghdad area.

-- Iraqi and coalition forces arrested two suspected terrorists near Latafiyah. The suspects were apprehended for their alleged involvement with violent extremists operating in and around the southern belt of the capital.

-- Combined forces arrested a suspected terrorist during an operation in the Diyala province. The man is suspected of conducting various terrorist attacks against Iraqi citizens and security forces in Diyala.

-- Iraqi and coalition forces arrested a suspected terrorist leader during an operation in the Ninewa province. The man is suspected of leading a group of terrorists in killings, armed attacks and terrorist operations against the Iraqi people and Iraqi security forces in Ninewa.

-- Combined forces arrested a suspected terrorist in the southern Iraqi town of Basra during an Iraqi-led operation. Military officials said the man's capture degrades the ability of terrorists to conduct attacks against the Iraqi government, Iraqi security forces and coalition forces in Basra.

(Compiled from Multinational Corps Iraq news releases.)

Iraqi Troops Ready for Added Responsibility, Pentagon Spokesman Says

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

June 29, 2009 - The withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from all Iraqi cities and towns was completed over the weekend and ahead of tomorrow's deadline, a Pentagon spokesman said on a cable TV news show today. "Overall, the security situation is stable enough for Iraqi security forces to take on this added responsibility," Geoff Morrell said on CNN's "Newsroom." "It's one that they want, and it's one that the commanders on the ground feel they are capable of taking on.

"It has to be OK because there's a legal agreement, which forces us to abide by these timelines," he added.

The Bush administration signed the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement, which calls for a complete withdrawal of combat troops from Iraqi cities and towns by tomorrow, late last year. The Obama administration must honor it, Morrell said.

Currently, the only U.S. forces remaining in the cities are advisors, trainers, and support staff, which are embedded with Iraqi units throughout the country. Since October, the United States has closed or returned to Iraqi authority 150 bases and facilities, including 30 this month, said Bryan G. Whitman, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs.

U.S. troops in Iraq, who up until this weekend were securing Iraq's cities and towns, are now forming layers of defense outside the country's major cities and focusing on Iraq's external borders, Morrell said. This is not to say, however, that the 131,000 ground forces will never set foot in an Iraqi city in a combat capacity, he added.

If the Iraqi government were to ask for assistance, U.S. forces are prepared to help, Morrell said.

Though the transfer of security operations to the Iraqis went relatively smoothly, it was met with a slight uptick in violence, which was expected, he said.

"Sadly, last week we saw two very high-profile attacks, one just south of Kirkuk [and] one in Sadr City, resulting in about 400 innocent civilians being killed," Morrell said. "That is certainly unfortunate, but overall, violence levels are down to 2003 levels, the lowest in the history of this conflict."

While the Pentagon is satisfied with the overall security situation in Iraq, the country still has some issues to work through, Morrell said. The Arab-Kurd tensions in the north, remaining al-Qaida in Mosul and Iranian meddling through the use of surrogates, to name a few.

With Iraq's security stable, and the U.S.-Iraq agreement decreeing all U.S. troops leave the country by 2011, some of the troops currently serving in Iraq will move to Afghanistan, where 57,000 U.S. troops are serving. The U.S. presence in Iraq will remain large enough to respond to any incident with which the Iraqis may request assistance, Morrell said.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Iraqi Army and Coalition Soldiers Conduct Combined Strike Training

Story by Spc. Anthony Jones

Even in the face of adverse weather Soldiers of the Iraqi army trained alongside coalition Soldiers in combined strike training on the flight line of Forward Operating Base Normandy, April 8. The training, conducted by the IA's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 20th Battalion, 5th Division and 1st Platoon, Company C, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, was performed to keep the Soldiers prepared for their aerial quick reaction force mission, said Capt. Morgan Maier, platoon leader, 1st Platoon.

Due to the adverse weather, heavy clouds, sand and partial rain, a helicopter could not be provided for the static training portion, forcing Soldiers to improvise and use cots to simulate the inside of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.

The training included how to safely enter and exit a helicopter while maintaining security. Coalition Soldiers demonstrated how to properly conduct the movement then had the IA Soldiers join in and practice conducting combined entering and exiting.

"This training is important," said Staff Sgt. Caleb Mellette, a squad leader with 1st Platoon. "It builds [the IA's] confidence and allows them to establish their own tactics, training and procedures."

Mellette added that the static training is productive for coalition Soldiers as well, pointing out the language barrier in coordinating movement to and from the helicopter.

As a way to bypass the language barrier the coalition Soldiers taught hand and arm signals to the IA; this allowed for information about movement and security to be passed between Soldiers of both Iraqi and coalition forces easily and quickly.

After completing the static load training, there was another mandatory task: the completion of the house-borne improvised explosive devise lane, operated by a Navy explosive ordinance demolition team.

The IA Soldiers, lead by an Iraqi non-commissioned officer navigated through several stages of the HBIED training complex, finding several hidden IEDs and booby traps.

Once inside the final area of the HBIED trainer the IA Soldiers collected several intelligence items and weapons placed by Navy EOD personnel.

Following the IA's completion of the HBIED training lane, Maier had his Soldiers navigate the lane in order to keep their edge and reinforce previous IED awareness training.

The day of training was completed after a brief demonstration by both IA and coalition Soldiers on room clearing. Both sides were impressed with the others ability to quickly enter and dominate a room.

Army Casualty

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

Spc. Joshua L. Hazlewood, 22, of Manvel, Texas, died June 25 in Arifjan, Kuwait, of injuries sustained from a non-combat related incident. He was assigned to the 614th Automated Cargo Documentation Detachment.

The circumstances surrounding the incident are under investigation.

For more information the media may contact the Office of the Chief Army Reserve public affairs office at (703) 601-0846.

Soldiers Get Driver's Training on Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles

Story by Spc. Daniel Nelson

A group of approximately nine Soldiers stationed in Mosul, Iraq, at both Forward Operating Base Marez and FOB Diamondback, attended a driver's training course on mine resistant armor protected vehicles between April 7 and April 10. Since the start of the war in Iraq back in March 2003, the military has faced many environmental and tactical differences from the previous wars fought by the U.S.

Therefore, the need arose to develop a vehicle that can provide adequate safety to the service members serving in war zones.

Developed to withstand an improvised explosive device, the U.S. has employed the mine resistant ambush protected vehicle. There are different variations of MRAP vehicles, but the concept remains the same for all; to greater the odds of surviving an explosion and engage the enemy with fire superiority.

Every Soldier must attend a driver's training course for any vehicle that they have not operated before. This is to familiarize them with how the vehicle drives and ensure each of them can conduct a thorough preventive maintenance checks and service.

The driver's training course was given in blocks of instruction and taught by knowledgeable civilian instructors who are employed by DynCorp, the company that co-developed the MRAP vehicles.

Operating in unusual conditions, proper vehicle maintenance, use of the driver's vision enhancement, and self-recovery were the areas of focus for the course. The aim was to help prevent possible mechanical issues from occurring during operations outside the wire, and effectively and efficiently use the vehicles winch or tow capabilities, if ever the situation were to arise.

Each Soldier had to drive an MRAP vehicle on a course that forced them to react to different terrain and obstacles while an instructor was guiding them through from the truck commander seat of the vehicle. In addition, the Soldiers drove a night course, which was used to get them comfortable with maneuvering such a large vehicle safely throughout different obstacles.

Upon completion of the course, the Soldiers had received training required to operate both the MaxxPro and MaxxPro Plus series MRAP vehicles. The knowledge and training will better equip them to handle their missions and any unexpected occurrences on the battlefield.

CBR Weapons and WMD Terrorism News, June 26, 2009

Revealed: WWII's secret sewing needle bomb
"During World War II, British scientists developed a new and extremely lethal secret weapon: a bomb which released a cloud of sewing needles, tipped with deadly poison. The weapon is disclosed in the latest release of declassified documents from the UK's National Archive. It was developed at Porton Down, which is now home to Defence Science and Technology Laboratory - but remains notorious for testing chemical and biological weapons on unsuspecting troops during the Cold War. Work on the darts was carried out with the assistance of Canadian and American researchers. Each dart consisted of a hollow steel needle with a paper tail. The tip of the needle was filled with toxin and a dense 'inertia pellet' above it. When the needle struck a target, the pellet kept going and forced the toxin out of the needle. Breaking the skin was enough to inject a lethal dose. […] Researchers concluded that if a needle 'penetrat[ed] into the flesh, it will cause death if not plucked out within thirty seconds.' […] Media reports […] claim that the chemical agent was mustard gas; this is extremely unlikely as the dose required would be much too high. Realistically, it would be one of the new nerve agents that were first fielded during WWII. […] The program called for the production of thirty million darts. […] The head of the British project contacted […] the Singer Sewing Machine Company. […] The reply from Singer was helpful, if baffled: 'From your remarks it would seem the needles are required for some purpose other than sewing machines. In any case, we should like to help you.' […] the weapon never went into production." (Wired; 26Jun09; David Hambling) http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2009/06/revealed-britains-wwii-poison-sewing-needle-bomb/

Washington U[niversity] biodefense center gets $37 m[illion] from NIH [National Institutes of Health]
"The National Institutes of Health has awarded a five-year, $37 million grant to the Midwest Regional Center for Excellence [MRCE] in Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases money will continue to support research in biodefense and emerging infectious diseases throughout the Midwest. The MRCE […] is one of 11 centers dedicated to developing new or improved ways to treat, diagnose or prevent diseases that could be use for bioterrorism [sic], such as anthrax, or infectious diseases, like West Nile fever, plague and dengue fever." (St. Louis Business Journal; 25Jun09) http://stlouis.bizjournals.com/stlouis/stories/2009/06/22/daily54.html

FAU [Florida Atlantic University] trains medical reserve corps volunteers [Boca Raton, FL]
"Florida Atlantic University's Charles E. Schmidt College of Biomedical Science will host a seminar program designed to train Medical Reserve Corps volunteers for real-world events that could lead to their deployment. The training session will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday at FAU's Disaster and Emergency Healthcare Simulation Center. […] The volunteer training seminars, which are being held in conjunction with Bioterrorism/Disaster Education and Awareness Month, are geared to prepare retired and unaffiliated health-care professionals in how to assist the community in the event of major disasters or emergencies in South Florida." (Treasure Coast Palm; 25Jun09) http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2009/jun/25/boca-raton-fau-trains-medical-reserve-corps/

Anthrax [outbreak] drill tests efficiency [PA]
"Bucks County [Pennsylvania] health and emergency officials conducted the second annual anthrax drill at William Tennent High School in Warminster, using 491 volunteers to determine how efficiently they could mass distribute drugs among county residents during an emergency. The health department distributed 1,680 doses of antibiotics in one hour. […] Thursday's test used the head-of-household model, where one person from each household would report to a designated distribution point to receive pills for their families. The method is used to quickly distribute oral medications, reducing volume and traffic at each distribution point. […] In a real anthrax emergency, the county health department would distribute Cipro, amoxicillin and doxycycline. […] First responders and other critical personnel and their families would receive antibiotic doses first, which would allow them to work at the distribution points without risk of exposure." (Philly Burbs; 26Jun09; Jo Ciavaglia; Source: The Intelligencer)

Device to detect anthrax [spores] with accuracy & reliability [New Zealand]
"Scientists have developed a handheld device that can detect anthrax [spores]. The device, called Ceeker (pronounced 'seeker'), was made by scientists at Veritide L[imited]. […] It can discriminate between anthrax spores and similar-looking hoax substances. The data show that in over two weeks of testing at the Midwest Research Institute in Florida, the company's Ceeker scanner accurately identified 100 percent of the anthrax [spore] samples used and was correct in 95 percent of tests involving hoax substances. […] 'These […] results were generated by a small portable handheld system that requires no special skills or training to operate and that can produce a result within minutes,' said [Andrew Rudge, Chief Executive Officer of Veritide]. […] It uses ultraviolet light and special algorithms to detect bacterial spores and provides test results within minutes. […] The Ceeker has also been […] validated by forensic laboratory ESR [Institute of Environmental Science and Research, New Zealand] which conducted multiple rounds of testing using anthrax [spore] simulants and hoax substances." (Times of India; 26Jun09) http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Health--Science/Science/Device-to-detect-anthrax-with-accuracy--reliability-/articleshow/4706032.cms

OPCW [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] director-general visits Bosnia and Herzegovina and opens international seminar on non-proliferation obligations
"On 22 June 2009 the OPCW Director-General, Ambassador Rogelio Pfirter, paid an official visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina where he met with […] Dr Haris Silajdzic, Member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and […] Mr Sven Alkalaj, Minister of Foreign Affairs. In his meetings, […] Pfirter provided an overview on the global implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The discussions focused inter alia on effective national implementation. Dr Silajdzic and Foreign Minister Alkalaj reaffirmed Bosnia and Herzegovina's strong commitment to the objectives of the CWC and expressed their Government's firm support for the work of the OPCW in implementing the global chemical weapons ban. […] Pfirter commended Bosnia and Herzegovina for its unwavering commitment to the CWC and work of the Organisation." (OPCW; 25Jun09) http://www.opcw.org/news/news/article/opcw-director-general-visits-bosnia-and-herzegovina-and-opens-international-seminar-on-non-prolifera/

Hospital staff train to respond to dirty bomb [Louisville, KY]
"Since 9-11 the U.S. has taken many steps to avoid terrorist attacks. […] On Thursday, a group of health care professionals from University Hospital tested their skills at responding to a 'dirty bomb.' The emphasis was on decontaminating patients while keeping themselves and the hospital clean. As part of the realistic drill, participants painted on fake wounds and acted as patients, while nurses and techs learned to use equipment to detect radiation. The Department of Veteran Affairs ran the exercise, also teaching them how and when to shower the wound and what needed to be scrubbed further. 'If you don't do the decon[tamination] in the field and re-evaluate at the emergency department, you run the risk of contamination of the personnel and you're facility,' said Bill Smock, UofL [University of Louisville] Professor of Emergency Medicine. 'The last thing you want to do is to have to close the hospital because of radiological contamination.' Hospital staff followed the same procedures they would follow in case of a nuclear power plant explosion." (Wave 3; 25Jun09; Elizabeth Donatelli)

Device with radioactive material stolen; police warn of risk [Bakersfield, CA]
"A device with a small amount of radioactive material inside it has been stolen, and Bakersfield police are warning people of the potential health risk. A density tester was reportedly stolen Thursday night or Friday morning from a vehicle parked on the 700 block of Deseret Way. The vehicle is owned by site development firm Krazan & Associates Inc., according to a police news release. The radioactive material inside the density tester is sealed and doesn't pose a health risk if the device stays intact. If broken, the radioactive material could leak out." (Bakersfield Now; 26Jun09)

Defending the city: NYPD's [New York City Police Department] counterterrorism operations
"The NYPD has a highly developed counterterrorism program, due in large part to the strong support of city and department leaders […] who are both committed to having a strong counterterrorism program that effectively complements federal efforts. […] The NYPD counterterrorism bureau comprises several main elements. […] The second element is the counterterrorism division, a collection of specialized programs that includes a section to counter weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which involves radiation detection and the BioWatch program. […] The fourth major element, the counterterrorism coordinator, sets aside one radio car and two police officers from each precinct […] that can be immediately mobilized in the event of an attack or disaster. […] A doctor on staff, an expert in infectious diseases, provides support for bioterrorism events, such as anthrax [spore] attacks and other similar incidents. […] Although the likelihood of a WMD attack is low, the acquisition of WMDs has become easier over the past decade. […] Illustrating the NYPD's concern, the department monitors the city's air, as well as the air in the subway system, and has the most sophisticated radiation detection system in the world." (Washington Institute; 25Jun09; Lauren Cohen) http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/templateC05.php?CID=3080

A visit to North Korea's arms factories
"Burm[a's] Gen[eral] Thura Shwe Mann, made a secret, seven day visit to North Korea last November, apparently with a shopping list for arms and sophisticated weapons systems. Shwe Mann, chief of staff of the army, navy and air force, and the coordinator of Special Operations, was shown by his North Korean hosts around arms industry factories and defense installations. He and his […] delegation were also taken to Myohyang, where secret tunnels have been built into the mountains to store and shield jet aircraft, missiles, tanks and nuclear and chemical weapons. Photographs of the visit have meanwhile reached The Irrawaddy [journal] and give rarely seen evidence of the range of North Korea's armaments industry." (The Irrawaddy, Thailand; 26Jun09)

'Chaplains' Closet' Helps Landstuhl's Wounded Warriors

By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
Special to American Forces Press Service

June 26, 2009 - The boxes arrive daily from the United States, 15 to 20 each day, along with $8,000 to $12,000 in cash every week from Americans and U.S. nonprofit groups. The boxes and the money are meant for the wounded warriors who pass through here, most coming from Afghanistan or Iraq. More than 54,000 wounded warriors have passed through Landstuhl Regional Medical Center's doors since Operation Enduring Freedom began in October 2001, according to a hospital spokesman.

Lined with shelves organized in a manner that would make even the most obsessive-compulsive supply sergeant proud is the "Chaplains' Closet." The name is a misnomer; it is about the size of an average neighborhood convenience store and its official name is the Wounded Warrior Ministry Center.

The Chaplains' Closet shelves are stacked with clothing, toiletries and shoes. A box of shoes marked "single shoes, left" is for servicemembers who are amputees. Their spirit shows in their humor. Recently, one soldier took a left shoe and another soldier took a right from the same pair. They looked at each other. "We're brothers," one quipped.

The servicemembers who receive the donations didn't expect to be here -- they arrive suddenly, with nothing, because they required treatment for wounds suffered on the battlefield. The medical center is a jointly staffed, Army-commanded, 138-bed hospital near Ramstein Air Base, Germany. It is the largest American hospital outside the United States.

"We have Conex boxes full of stuff," said Air Force Lt. Col. Curtis Wagner, a Protestant chaplain from the Ohio Air National Guard's 179th Airlift Wing, serving a 120-day rotation here. "We have a whole warehouse at Ramstein that's filled with these donations. We just get so much in, and then we distribute it to the soldiers."

About 1,200 servicemembers visit the Chaplains' Closet each month. If they are bed-ridden, a liaison officer gets their supplies for them. On average, servicemembers spend three to five days here before they are sent to the United States or back into theater.

A team of volunteers -- family members and the local community -- donates 500 to 600 hours each month to help the chaplains accomplish their mission.

"We have distributed over $2 million of financial support in these last seven or eight years," Wagner said.

Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, the chaplains take wounded warriors on trips in the local area to help them relax and sightsee. The chaplains use some of the donated money to pay for transportation and meals. "That helps break up their time here," Wagner said.

Air Force Lt. Col. Robert Barry of the Illinois Air National Guard's 183rd Airlift Wing, a Roman Catholic chaplain and teacher from Chicago, is serving his sixth tour at the hospital in five years. "It's the best ministry I've ever done," he said.

Until Sept. 11, 2001, the medial center had two chaplains and two assistants. Since then, that staff has grown to seven chaplains and six assistants. The chaplain staff mirrors the jointness increasingly found throughout the Defense Department. Two chaplains and two assistants are active-duty Army; two each are Navy; two each are National Guard; and one is from the Canadian armed forces.

Servicemembers at the medical center can talk with chaplains from a variety of religious backgrounds, including Buddhist. When they do not want to talk to a chaplain, the chaplains encourage servicemembers to talk with someone, because they believe talking helps with stress.

"One of the things we try to do is to get the guys to talk about what they've been through," Wagner said. "It's a privilege to me. I get a front seat to these incredible, heroic things that they've done."

(Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill serves with the National Guard Bureau.)

Army Casualty

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

1st Lt. Brian N. Bradshaw, 24, of Steilacoom, Wash., died June 25 in Kheyl, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Fort Richardson, Alaska.

For more information the media may contact the U.S. Army, Alaska, public affairs office at (907) 384-1542.

Army Casualty

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

Spc. Casey L. Hills, 23, of Salem, Illinois, died June 24 in Iraq of injuries sustained during a vehicle roll-over. He was assigned to the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry Regiment, Pago Pago, American Samoa.

The circumstances surrounding the incident are under investigation.

For more information on this soldier media may contact the Brian Melanephy, 9th Mission Support Command, at (808) 438-1600, ext. 3114.

Coordination Cell to Provide Focus, Expertise for Afghanistan Mission

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

June 26, 2009 - The new Pakistan Afghanistan Coordination Cell being stood up at the Pentagon is working to ensure expertise developed during deployments to Afghanistan gets channeled directly back into supporting warfighters on the ground. About 30 officers who recently returned from deployments in Afghanistan make up the core of the cell, which is expected to grow to 50 or 60 members in the coming months. Their sole focus will be on issues related to Afghanistan and Pakistan, a senior military official told reporters earlier this week.

The staff was selected based on members' expertise in areas ranging from intelligence to policy, plans and operations to logistics and communications, and works side by side within the newly renamed National Joint Operations and Intelligence Center.

"What's different at the PACC is that we have people from every functionality throughout the military in one place and in one flat organization," said a cell member who led reporters through a workspace dominated by low-walled cubicles designed to promote easy, close coordination.

"So when an issue related to Afghanistan or Pakistan comes up, we're all right here, able to deal with it a lot faster," he said. "We can sit down and look at it, and everybody brings their expertise so we can address the problem."

To ensure this expertise doesn't get lost through the standard assignments process, PACC members will alternate exclusively between deployments to Afghanistan and duty at the coordination cell.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, said maintaining a dedicated team with a long-term focus on Afghanistan keeps those with the latest battlefield experience and expertise in the fight after they redeploy.

"Even when they're back in the states, they're staying in this, and then they rotate back out there," he told the Center for a New American Society during its June 11 conference here.

"We're a group of people who will be constantly focused" on Afghanistan and Pakistan, said an official at the cell. "We're looking for continuity. We're looking for focus. We're looking for expertise. And we don't want to do it one year at a time."

Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal came up with the PACC concept, based on a similar model that's proven successful in Iraq, while he was director of the Joint Staff.

Now, as the top military commander in Afghanistan, McChrystal will benefit directly from the PACC's talent pool, committed to breaking through obstacles to get him and his forces what they need -- as quickly as possible.

"We can't wait a weekend to get something they need forward," said an official at the cell. "This is about speed and precision. We have to move at the speed of war."

Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee this week the new cell's focused support for McChrystal's effort will have a big impact on advancing the administration's Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy.

"Through the PACC, which will have liaison officers from other relevant [U.S. government] departments and agencies, real-time information on all aspects of U.S. operations and programs in the region will be shared, integrated and de-conflicted," she said in written testimony submitted at the June 24 hearing.

Flournoy called the cell an important step toward developing more efficient and effective coordination -- within the military, and among U.S. agencies and coalition partners.

"We know that to succeed, we have to break down the stovepipes and artificial barriers that have, in the past, sometimes led to uncoordinated and ineffective action," she told the House panel. "So we're making sure that we are sharing expertise and cross-checking information all the time, at every level. That way, when we identify problems, we can quickly sort them out and move ahead."

Three weeks after the PACC began standing up within the bowels of the Pentagon, cell members say they're already seeing evidence that it's making a difference.

Afghanistan experts are no longer tucked behind different doors requiring special classifications and authorities to enter. Now they're able to lean across their desks to confer on issues face to face.

Staffing decisions are being cut dramatically. "What might take two to three weeks, we can solve in an hour-long conversation when we're put in the same room," an official said.

"We can be the catalyst. We can be the accelerant," he said. "The PACC might not be able to solve all the problems, but we can find all the people who can."

U.S. forces conducting a clearing operation in Kandahar Province

U.S. forces conducting a clearing operation in Kandahar Province.

Forward Operating Base Gardez

This edition features a story on the history of Forward Operating Base Gardez and how it is helping secure and improve the life. Hosted by Sgt. Ashleigh Bryant.

Face of Defense: Soldier Connects to Iraqis With National Anthem

By Army Sgt. Frank Vaughn
Special to American Forces Press Service

June 26, 2009 - With towering vocals that defy her small stature, Army Sgt. Brenda Bushera, a member of the 34th Red Bull Infantry Band, has made a connection with the people of Iraq. The Wausaukee, Wisc., native has sung the Iraqi national anthem at a number of events since deploying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, including transfer of authority ceremonies here and at Contingency Operating Base Adder.

Singing the Iraqi anthem is the easy part, Bushera said. Learning it, however, was a daunting process that required extensive work with interpreters to learn the pronunciation and diction of the Arabic words in the song.

"I worked with a British interpreter and an Iraqi interpreter to learn the anthem," Bushera said. "The interpreters wrote the words out phonetically for me and I had to work extensively with them to get the diction right."

Bushera, who plays saxophone in the Red Bull Band, approached Army Chief Warrant Officer Trygve Skaar, the band leader, five days before the transfer ceremony and told him she was ready to sing the Iraqi national anthem.

"That was a goal we had," Skaar said. "We wanted to connect with the Iraqi public in a meaningful way. What better way to do that than through their national anthem?"

Bushera, who has a master's degree in vocal performance from Northwestern University in Chicago, said she worked as hard as she did to learn the anthem because she believes the Iraqi people should hear their anthem and take pride in it.

"Their anthem is relatively new," Bushera said. "Many of them don't even know it. I felt it was extremely important for the Iraqi people to hear their anthem and have pride in it. This was a good way for them to have pride in their freedom."

"It builds nationalism," Skaar added. "You can see the emotion on their faces when they hear the song. When we did it at the Romanian ceremony at Adder, some of them actually broke into applause when it was finished!"

Skaar gives a lot of credit to Bushera for the hard work she put into making this goal a reality.

"She is one of the Army's best, both on the saxophone and vocally," Skaar said. "She's an amazing talent, and we are fortunate to have her."

(Army Sgt. Frank Vaughn serves with Multinational Division South public affairs office.)

Forces in Afghanistan Find Heroin, Destroy Bomb Near School

American Forces Press Service

June 26, 2009 - Afghan and coalition forces detained several suspected Taliban militants overnight during an operation designed to disrupt Taliban bombing and rocket attacks against Afghan and coalition forces in Afghanistan's Helmand province. In the province's Nad Ali district, a combined force patrolled near the village of Marjeh, to compounds where intelligence sources reported a known Taliban commander was located.

While clearing the compounds, the force encountered a threat. Officials did not provide details of the threat, but said it was "eliminated" after several escalation-of-force measures.

The force completed the search without further incident, detained a handful of suspected militants, uncovered about 350 pounds of black-tar heroin and confiscated an AK-47 rifle. The heroin was destroyed.

No Afghan or coalition forces or noncombatants were injured in the operation, officials said.

In other news from Afghanistan, Afghan National Police and coalition forces found and eliminated six insurgent bombs near a village school in the Khayr Kot district of Paktika province June 24.

A coalition forces route-clearance patrol and explosive ordnance disposal team conducted a controlled detonation to eliminate the threat.

This was the fifth incident in the last week involving insurgent bombs being placed near schools and educational facilities in eastern Afghanistan, officials said.

National police and coalition forces recently responded to and eliminated the threat from a bomb found near a teachers center and public hospital in the Behsood district of Nangarhar province, and insurgent bombs caused extensive damage to educational facilities in three other locations in the region, officials said.

No one was injured in the school explosions.

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

Insurgents Make Afghans Focus of Attacks

By Army Pfc. Andrya Hill
Special to American Forces Press Service

June 26, 2009 - Insurgents operating in eastern Afghanistan increasingly are focusing their attacks away from coalition forces and on local residents, military officials here said. The rate of civilians killed by improvised explosive devices in eastern Afghanistan has risen 117 percent in the last year, while coalition forces deaths from IEDs have decreased by 70 percent, they said.

Army Col. Michael Howard, commander of the 25th Infantry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), which controls the battle space of Paktika, Paktia and Khost provinces, explained that anyone who possesses the courage to speak out against the Taliban becomes a target.

Contractors who work with the coalition, Afghan government officials, police, Afghan troops, moderate mullahs, elders and innocent civilians who support their government are all receiving threats and becoming targets, he said.

According to Howard, the insurgents emplace command wire IEDs to attempt to maim or kill selected residents, but through the use of pressure-plate IEDs, they devastate the first innocent person to drive down the road.

"They are targeting civilians," he said. "IEDs that go off with a command wire are not an accident. Someone pulled a trigger.

"They also are using force in an indiscriminate and irresponsible way," he continued. "When they put a pressure-plate IED in the road, when there is 10 times more civilian traffic than military traffic, it puts all civilians at risk. This happens all the time."

Naimatullah Haqmal, a Khost City resident and doctor at the Salerno Hospital, said there has been such an increase in civilian attacks that he is relocating his family to a safer area in Afghanistan, as many other residents are doing.

"The enemy targets civilian people now," Haqmal said. "They kill all those people who have knowledge, who are educated. They want to hold the people in the dark. They think if the people have knowledge, they will terminate the fighting. Anyone that has sympathy with the government, they will kill."

The rise in civilian attacks is alarming, but more detrimental is the effect the attacks have on their livelihood.

"When civilians here get injured, it is much more devastating. Things that are not fatal in the U.S. are fatal here," said Air Force Col. (Dr.) Scott Russi, the trauma chief and lead general surgeon at the Salerno Hospital. "A local national with a 50 percent body surface burn is fatal, where in the U.S. they have an 80-plus percent survival rate.

"Even if they survive here, they become a burden to their family and the majority do not return to functional lives."

Nazifullah Karimi, from Khost province, said Afghans are angry, and that everyone has been affected by the attacks. At least one member of each extended family has been targeted, threatened or intimidated by the insurgents, he said.

"They don't march in the streets, but that doesn't mean that they are not furious," Howard concurred. "There is such intimidation from the Taliban that they cannot vocalize how disgusted they are. The Afghans that we work with, that we become friends with, tell us there is outrage."

A resident of the Mandozai district of Gharanai told of his brother, a journalist at a radio station in Khost City, who was targeted by insurgents and killed with an IED.

"We are all being affected by the [insurgent] activities, as I lost my brother. I do not know why they must kill my brother. The IEDs kill or injure too many innocent people," he said.

Every Afghan here has a story to tell, just like Gharanai's, said Karimi, and through vehicle-borne IEDs, many people share the same story from a single event.

This spring, two separate vehicle explosions killed 14 Afghans and seriously injured 61.

The attacks create intense fear that runs rampant through the villages. Residents who cannot send their families to a safer place have taken refuge in their own houses, keeping their children home from school and travelling as little as possible, said Rasool Habibi, a local surgeon and scholar who works at the Salerno Hospital and teaches at Khost University.

"It doesn't matter who -- children, teachers, doctors -- they kill everyone. Everybody is scared," Habibi said. "I see my family once a week because from here to there, there is no security, and there is great possibility of assassination."

The terror that has become prominent in the daily lives of Afghans has evolved into revulsion, as well as a foundation in an adamant quest for answers, and solutions.

"This is an insurgency, so it's a very weak military organization that has decided to take on a very strong military organization," Howard said. "They can't do that going nose to nose, so they have to use insurgent tactics. One tactic is intimidation.

"We hope to show the population that the Afghanistan government is the way of the future: they will provide security, they will provide elected leadership, they will provide roads, hospitals and education," he said. "The Taliban can't do any of that, so they have to control the population in another way: through intimidation."

While the insurgents attempt to send a message of intimidation, Howard illustrated how their ultimate motive goes beyond that message.

"An insurgent beats a counterinsurgent by fighting the war to a stalemate. They make it last 15 years," he explained. "That's the insurgent's strategy. They want to take over Afghanistan, and they want to take over by making us quit. I don't think they are just making a statement, they actually want political power."

The Afghanistan National Security Forces are determined to protect their country from the insurgents rising to power. They work diligently to inform the population of preventive measures, as well as providing avenues to report enemy activity anonymously, military officials said.

"The governor responded immediately to an attack this morning," Howard said. "He condemned it, he sent medical care to the wounded, and he sent his soldiers to chase after the bad guys. They got them."

Afghan and coalition forces encourage the locals to evaluate the activities of both the insurgents and their government, to arrive at an educated conclusion in order to gather the courage to unite and defend their families, communities and country.

"Look around and see," Howard said. "Every time there is a fight between your army and the Taliban, who wins and who loses? How many schools and roads and mosques have been built by the army, and then compare that to the Taliban. Look at your government: is it progressing, is it getting bigger, is it getting stronger? Are resources flowing from it? Are they providing some basic services like health care and education? Then look at the Taliban, and see how much of that they are doing.

"You will see that one side has done a lot of good, and one has done a lot of evil," he said. "You will see an imbalance. Look, and then decide for yourselves how many of these things came from the government and how many came from the Taliban."

More and more villages are banding together and taking a stand, turning the insurgents' intimidation into newfound strength and determination.

"The [insurgents] try to control our country. They want to impose their will on us. They want us to live under their harsh rules, but we do not want that to happen," Gharanai said. "Our village will be safe, because we are uniting."

(Army Pfc. Andrya Hill serves with the 25th Infantry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)

USO Opens 'Oasis' in Basra Desert

By Army Sgt. Frank Vaughn
Special to American Forces Press Service

June 26, 2009 - The familiar refrain of "There's nothing to do around here after work" will hopefully be a thing of the past here with the opening of a new center for rest and relaxation. The local United Service Organizations office and the Morale, Welfare and Recreation coordinator for 34th Red Bull Infantry Division are teaming up to create an oasis in the middle of the Basra desert for servicemembers and civilians to escape the pressure of operations.

Sarah McConnell, USO director here, said the center, housed in a former dining hall, already has undergone a "soft opening," meaning there are some services already available.

"We have 13 Internet stations set up already, along with 18 phone lines for people to call home," McConnell said. "Both services are free of charge to anyone who uses them.

"We wanted to get something started for the troops here right away," she continued. "We're not fully functional yet, but we got the computers and phones set up so we could at least offer some services."

The USO center is designed from the same template as a similar facility that opened recently at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, according to Army Col. Ronald Albrecht, deputy chief of staff for the 34th Infantry Division.

The USO will share the space with MWR, Albrecht said.

The fitness center is under construction now and has a target opening of July 1, said Army Sgt. 1st Class Deborah Allen, MWR and event coordinator for the 34th Infantry Division.

In addition to cardiovascular machines already in place, the fitness center will feature Nautilus equipment, free weights and ample space for aerobic training and various self-defense classes, including Modern Army Combatives, she added.

"We will be putting padding on the floors and walls in one of the large rooms for combatives training," Allen said. "We will still have a large amount of space on the other side of the room for additional fitness machines."

Albrecht said the fitness center will be an important part of the division's emphasis on physical fitness.

"We wanted to create a clean environment for soldiers to work out," Albrecht said. "We'll have all new machines in place for them to train."

Though the USO and MWR areas will be separated by a wall, extensive cooperation between the two has marked a positive beginning for the cohabitants.

"Cooperation with [the USO] has been splendid," Allen said. "I really look forward to working with them in this building."

McConnell added that she is appreciative of the help she has received from the military in making the USO presence a possibility here.

"I am very grateful to the military leadership here for the generous space allotted to the USO," she said. "Thanks to them, their soldiers will have a place to escape when they are able."

Soldiers who are interested in volunteering with the USO may sign up at the center, McConnell said.

"The USO thrives on volunteers," she said. "They are the backbone of everything we do."

(Army Sgt. Frank Vaughn serves with Multinational Division South public affairs office.)