Thursday, July 31, 2014

Daily Life in Afghanistan: Air Force Security Forces; Getting Some Long Overdue Appreciation!

Commentary by Senior Master Sgt. Mike Hammond
NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan/438th Air Expeditionary Wing

7/29/2014 - KABUL, Afghanistan -- (The following piece is a commentary; as such, all the viewpoints, opinions, and characterizations are my own as the author. And they are from the heart!)

Having just arrived in Kabul this past week, I will say it has been an eventful and busy time already! This phase of my deployment started as I sat in a plane on the runway at Bagram Air Base last Thursday morning. We were just about to take off when the pilots got some news that there was action up at Kabul and the airport was shut down for at least a while. Back in the terminal, my fellow passengers and I looked online to get the news and saw there was an attack here. Besides hoping everyone was ok, my distant second place thought was, "Great! Another night in the transient tent at Bagram!" Don't judge me -- we all know how awesome that experience is, right??

Fast forward a day and I arrived here in Kabul. Obviously, I knew I was going to hit the ground running by helping tell the story of what happened here and how this base was attacked and yet suffered no casualties. What I didn't know was that, within just a few days of my arrival, I would have the honor and privilege of hearing some of the most inspiring and satisfying stories I've heard during a long career in public affairs in which I've conducted thousands of interviews.

Simply put, and to the point: the U.S. Air Force Security Forces Defenders, who are here to advise and train with our Afghan hosts while also defending the rest of us who advise and train, are AMAZING. Yes, AMAZING!

You may or may not already know the story. If not, in a nutshell, it goes like this. On July 17, a small group of Defenders, just a few dozen that morning, were the first to notice and respond to a pre-dawn surprise attack by an as-yet undetermined number of militants -- probably in the range of 5-12 men. These attackers came well armed. They brought along many rocket propelled grenades, plenty of ammunition for small arms fire, suicide vests, and even a vehicle-borne IED. You get the picture; they weren't coming out to the base to deliver donuts and coffee to the troops. They set up in, and on top of, a nearby building and opened fire!

What they may not have counted on was being noticed almost immediately by this group of Air Force Defenders, who were guarding the tiny FOB OQAB on the grounds of Kabul International Airport. So as the bad guys set up and began their attack, they appeared to focus mainly on the Afghan military base nearby and the airfield itself. Imagine their surprise and "delight," when they began getting lit up from the flank. Security Forces Airmen at FOB OQAB reacted extremely quickly after the bad guys' opening volley. Some were standing watch already. Others were in bed asleep. One of them was just beginning to chat with his wife back home here on Facebook! But when they all heard the indirect fire and then the small arms fire, every one of them -- no matter what they HAD been doing -- geared up and headed to the fight. Most of the off duty ones ended up fighting in shorts and t-shirts under their protective gear.

We're talking gym shorts, T-shirts, A-shirts, shoes but no socks, shoes with one sock -- even a pair of cowboy boots and blue jeans. Whatever they'd been wearing in bed or in their rooms was what they came out to fight in. Because every second counts when the lead is flying. Suppressive fire, they all knew, could save lives.

Fast forward a whopping 4-plus hours later, the first two of which were full of blistering exchanges of lead and explosives, and there was no one left in, on, or around that building to continue the fight. Those bad guys have fought their last fight. Between the Air Force Security Forces, their friends that spit hot lead, and their friends from the Afghan security forces (who performed the final clearing of that attack position to effectively end the battle), the bad guys didn't stand a chance. Add in the fact that operations center controllers were watching their every move, helping request close air support, and keeping everyone on the same page? Forget about it! Game over. And best of all, back on our side of the fenceline there were no serious injuries whatsoever. In a 4-hour battle where more than 20 incoming RPGs were fired. Wow!

Now that you have the cliff notes version of what happened, I'll get to my main point (finally!). It is simply this. After just two days of interviewing approximately half (at this point) of the Defenders who participated in the battle, I am prouder to be in the Air Force than I ever have been in over 19 years of service! And I hope by sharing a little of what I learned from them, that you might be too. And if you're not in uniform, maybe you'll be that much prouder of the folks here who are.

What I learned was the way they value their training. I heard stories of many individuals from several bases who performed smoothly as one team when it counted -- and became family. Most of all, I learned that from the youngest or newest Airman to the more battle hardened and seasoned NCOs and officers, there was a treasure trove of intriguing and impressive perspective within each.

I met an Airman who had a choice, while responding, to go to a tower that was safely out of range OR one of the two towers closest to the enemy. His mind told him to stay safe. Self preservation is a heck of a great instinct, usually. But he went, in a split second decision, to where the action was hottest. He thought there was no way he should try to stay safe, when his job was to fight and protect. And so he did!

I also met a guy who "got stuck" going to that tower that was further away and was upset about it momentarily. But he quickly found a way to help through spotting and communicating to the ones doing the shooting.

I met an NCO who really didn't much want to talk to me about his role, not only because he wanted the focus to be on his troops -- but because, to him, it's just about doing the job. The first time I spoke to him, he simply said, "I was there." Trust me, he was a whole lot more than just there. But here's a guy who's been there before, done that, and earned the T-shirt. Nothing special. (He and I disagree on that last part, but he can keep the shirt!)

Another Airman couldn't believe the audacity of the enemy to try and attack us directly, since they have in the past usually "just" lob mortars from a distance. And rather than being scared (well, just a little, she later admitted) she said (and I quote!) "I actually was happy. I knew I was going to get to do what I came into the Air Force to do!" Now, that may be true. And all of us in uniform signed up on a contract that included everything up to and including the last full measure. But running to the sound of the guns, actually HAPPY to fulfill one's promise to the nation... just two years into her service... OUT-freakin-STANDING!

Oh, there are more. Trust me. More than I have time or room to write in this particular note for Talk About It Tuesday. But I will most certainly be getting the stories out there about the numerous brave and squared away defenders young (and not so young) who were tested in a fire usually reserved for special forces, Marines, and Soldiers. They came out squeaky clean, having proved themselves and validated their training when it mattered the most. What a story... but more importantly, what AMAZING folks!

If Security Forces has been underappreciated by some folks in the past (slow gate entry, a ticket on base, the pass and ID line, etc.!), I assure you, these Defenders, at this tiny FOB, are Rock Stars right about now!

And with that, I close this Talk About It Tuesday -- my first -- by saying that I look forward to continuing to serve and sleep, as a well-known Colonel in a great movie once said, "under the very blanket of freedom (they) provide!"

Shields talks antiterrorism

Commentary by Army Maj. Gen. Michael Shields
U.S. Army Alaska commanding general

7/31/2014 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- The protection of our Soldiers, civilian and family members is my greatest concern. The Department of the Army designated August as Antiterrorism Awareness Month.

During this time, the Army promotes its antiterrorism awareness program, iWATCH, which is designed to educate Soldiers, family members and civilians throughout the community about the importance of reporting suspicious activity or behavior to military police or local law enforcement.

I am directing USARAK to focus efforts on the following themes for this year's antiterrorism awareness. This focus will guide commanders and managers on high pay-off tasks that directly support the Army's Antiterrorism Awareness Program:
  • Recognize and report suspicious activities - including implementation of Army iWATCH and eGuardian threat reporting.
  • Antiterrorism exercises.
  • Antiterrorism measures in contracting.
  • Reinforce our communities to practice positive operations security.
I also want to emphasize the importance of maintaining our vigilance and situational awareness to guard against a multitude of ongoing threats. Terrorism remains an enduring, persistent, and worldwide threat throughout the Pacific region and our homeland. Terrorism comes in many forms and can happen at any time. Remember, a vigilant effort of detection and prevention is our greatest weapon in the fight against terrorism, high risk behavior and accidents.

"If you see something, say something."

To report suspicious activity on JBER, call the Military Police desk at 907 384-0823.

People, training and equipment are the most basic ingredients of mission success. Our people are our most precious resource. I also believe the glue that bonds people, training and equipment together consists of leadership, teamwork and discipline.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

U.S. Continues to Help Iraq in Face of Extremist Threat

By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, July 29, 2014 – While Pentagon officials continue reviewing assessments of the situation in Iraq, operations to aid the Iraqi government against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant continue, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said today.

“This notion that we've done nothing is just false,” Kirby said during a Pentagon news conference.

The United States has 715 American troops in Iraq defending U.S. property and citizens and providing security assistance and some advice through the joint operations centers in Erbil and Baghdad, the admiral noted. “And, oh, by the way,” he added, we’re still flying an intensified program of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance flights, manned and unmanned, over the country, information from which is being shared with Iraqi security forces as appropriate.”

And Iraq is the benefactor of one of the highest foreign military sales programs the United States has with any country, Kirby said.

“I take deep issue with this notion that the United States, and the United States military in particular, is not moving fast enough or doing enough,” he said.

That said, Kirby told reporters, this is an issue the Iraqi government must handle. He said the government missed an opportunity in 2011 to build an inclusive, multi-ethnic government in which all Iraqis feel included.

The military mirrors these failings, he said. In 2011, the Iraqi military was ready to handle the threats facing it, but the way the government organized, manned, trained and equipped its army lessened its effectiveness, the press secretary said.

“We’ve seen some of those units fold under pressure because of either lack of will or lack of leadership --not all of them -- and we’re seeing them … continue to stiffen themselves around Baghdad,” he noted.

Iraqi security forces are retaking some territory, and maintain control, Kirby said. “But ultimately, this is an Iraqi issue to deal with,” the admiral said. “This is a fight the Iraqi security forces have got to make. It’s their country. It’s a threat to their people. And we’ve made it clear that we're willing to work towards helping them, but ultimately, this is … their fight.”

Monday, July 28, 2014

DoD Official: Global, National Efforts Tackle WMD Threat

By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, July 28, 2014 – A panel of experts discussed the specter of terrorists armed with nuclear, biological, chemical or other weapons of mass destruction, or WMD, during a July 25 panel discussion at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, examining perhaps one of the world’s most dreaded national-security threat scenarios.

Among the panelists was Andrew C. Weber, assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs, who noted that materials for bioweapons are widely dispersed.

“We focus in our office on the scene between the traditional counterproliferation community that looks at five or six countries around the world with state nuclear, chemical or biological weapons programs, and the counterterrorism community, which looks at people and networks and is very effective at that,” Weber explained.

“Then there's this thing in the middle … called WMD terrorism,” he added. “This is when nonstate actors acquire a WMD capability and use it, and we know they have intent to use it.”

The materials -- what Weber called the supply side for WMD terrorism around the world -- are available in every country, he said.

Such pathogens are available “not just in those few state biological weapons laboratories or biodefense laboratories, but in public health labs and animal health laboratories,” Weber said, adding that the technologies for turning the materials into weapons of mass destruction are increasingly available and the information about how to do it also is “out there.”

With the advent of industrial microbiology, he said, the ways to turn pathogens into even more dangerous materials is becoming more accessible and cheaper over time.

“This is why we have to get ahead of it,” Weber added, and that can be done “by preventing access to the starter cultures.”

In the U.S. experience with anthrax attacks, the assistant secretary said, the FBI said a defense scientist working alone grew and weaponized the anthrax. Twenty-two people were infected, and five of them died. Many more were exposed to the spores.

“He … intentionally chose a primitive delivery means and wrote a letter saying, ‘You've been exposed to anthrax. Take penicillin.’ And we put over 10,000 people on antibiotics and saved a lot of lives,” Weber said.

In a 1995 case in Japan, the Aum Shinrikyo cult carried out two sarin attacks in the Tokyo metro system, one in 1994 and one in 1995. But the same cult launched multiple anthrax attacks, Weber said.

“Those failed because they had obtained a virulent strain from a veterinary department of a university in Japan,” he added. “Had they obtained the right strain, it would have been successful and we would have known about the attack, because people would have been killed.”

When allied troops when into Afghanistan, the assistant secretary said, “we found that al-Qaida had an anthrax facility in Kandahar, but they had not yet obtained the starter culture, so we were able to intervene in time in that case.”

And over the past several months at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, employees have been exposed to pathogens through mishandling of and then exposure to highly pathogenic avian flu, and last month, live anthrax bacteria.

Also this month, at the National Institutes of Health, Food and Drug Administration, technicians discovered old vials of pathogens that included smallpox and flu virus.

“On the issue of biosecurity and the recent lapses, nobody was harmed, so in a sense, it was a good wake-up call,” Weber said. “But I agree with [CDC Director Dr.] Tom Frieden that we must reduce the number of laboratories that have these dangerous pathogens.”

The assistant secretary said he’s been in many such laboratories worldwide where scientists work on agents that cause anthrax, plague and other dangerous diseases. “They're public health labs, they're veterinary labs, and security is not always high on their minds,” he said. “So we as a global community need to do better.”

Several programs address such biosecurity issues globally, Weber added.

The Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program consolidates and secures dangerous pathogens around the world, he said, “and recently I visited the Lugar Center for Public Health in Tblisi, Georgia, that was built by the Department of Defense in partnership with Georgia.”

In that center, all of the dangerous pathogen collections from throughout the country had been consolidated into one safe, secure laboratory in Georgia, “and I think that’s a good model,” Weber said.

But, the assistant secretary added, “we're only as safe and secure as the weakest link around the world in this area, so we have to build awareness [and] work across governments. We can't leave this only to health ministries or agriculture ministries. We have to involve security and law enforcement institutions.”

To eliminate the need in public and animal health laboratories to store and use dangerous pathogens and cultures for diagnostic purposes, Weber explained, “we can replace that with better, faster molecular diagnostics, like the [polymerase chain reaction] that don’t require culturing. They can get a good rapid diagnosis without having to culture virus or bacteria.”

Another important effort is the Global Health Security Agenda, an international effort to help boost the global capacity to prevent, detect and respond to disease outbreaks, he said. The program has grown to more than 40 countries and includes participation by the World Health Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health.

“The Global Health Security Agenda is a shot in the arm for this global effort and it will improve the global system for keeping these most dangerous pathogens out of the hands of terrorists,” Weber said, “because that's the best way we can prevent bioterrorism from happening.”

In the meantime, there’s work to be done at home, he said.

“The counterterrorism community is very tactical, very focused on going after terrorists today. The traditional counter-WMD community is very focused on countries like Iran, Syria and other countries with programs,” he explained. “In the intel community, we have the National Counterterrorism Center and the National Counterproliferation Center.”

NCTC has increased the staffing for WMD terrorism, he added, “but I worry about the connecting-the-dot issue between these two communities, and we're developing new methods.”

Weber said what’s needed is to map what he calls the WMD terrorism supply network.

“These are legitimate people, but when a known bad guy from [the clan-based Somali insurgent and terrorist group] al-Shabaab shows up at a lab in Entebbe looking for anthrax,” Weber said, “we need a red flag go up. We're doing a lot to fuse these communities to map the network.”

The assistant secretary took time to applaud the work of U.S. Special Operations Command in this area.

“They’re taking capabilities developed over the past 12-plus years of a global counterterrorism effort and applying them to this problem of weapons of mass destruction,” he said. “And with just a little tweaking, there's a lot of capability we can bring to this fight.”

Such an effort must be a sustained one, Weber added.

“It really is the national security challenge of the 21st century,” he said. “And we need to make sure that we never have a situation like the one where the 911 Commission determined that there was a failure of imagination -- that we didn't connect the dots -- because the stakes are too high.”

Navy Casualty

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

Boatswain’s Mate Seaman Yeshabel Villotcarrasco, 23, of Parma, Ohio, died as a result of a non-hostile incident June 19 aboard USS James E. Williams (DDG-95) while the ship was underway in the Red Sea.

For further information related to this release, contact U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa public affairs office at 011-39-081-568-3223 or after-hours at 011-39-349-009-4773.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Army Casualty

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

Pfc. Donnell A. Hamilton, Jr., 20, of Kenosha, Wisconsin, died July 24, at Brooke Army Medical Center, Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, from an illness sustained in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan.

He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

For more information, media may contact Fort Hood public affairs office at 254-287-9993 or 254-449-4023.

Army Casualties

The Department of Defense announced today the death of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

They died July 24, in Mirugol Kalay, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when the enemy attacked their vehicle with an improvised explosive device. These soldiers were assigned 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo.

Killed were:

Staff Sgt. Benjamin G. Prange, 30, of Hickman, Neb.; and

Pfc. Keith M. Williams, 19, of Visalia, Calif.

For more information the media may contact the Fort Carson public affairs office during duty hours at 719-526-4143/7525 or after duty hours at 719-526-5500.