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House set to consider defense bills next week

ASMC National News - 4 hours 57 min ago

Defense appropriations and authorizations bills will take center stage in the House of Representatives when Congress returns recess next week.

Before leaving for the spring recess, the House Appropriations Committee marked the beginning of the FY2015 appropriations season by approving the FY2015 Military Construction/VA Appropriations bill and the FY2015 Legislative Branch Appropriations bill. At that time, HAC chairman Rep. Harold Rogers said he would move aggressively to complete action on all 12 FY2015 appropriations bill in his committee by July 4.

With two bills ready for floor action, the full House could begin consideration of the FY2015 Military Construction/VA bill as early as next week, pending allocation of floor time by the House Republican leadership. If the House completed action on the MilCon/VA bill in the next few weeks it would underscore the House leadership commitment to an accelerated schedule this year. Last year, in part because the president did not submit the budget request to congress until early April, the House did not pass its first appropriations bill (the FY2014 Military Construction/VA appropriations bill) until June 4.

The House is also poised to begin action on the FY2015 Defense Authorization bill next week. In announcing the bill’s markup schedule, House Armed Services Committee (HASC) chairman Rep Buck McKeon said “this will be the fifty-third year in which the Congress has come together in a bi-partisan way to pass this vital national security authorization.”

Four HASC Subcommittees will markup their portions of the bill on Wednesday, April 30: Subcommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities; Subcommittee on Strategic Forces; Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces; and the Subcommittee on Military Personnel. On Thursday, May 1, the Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces and the Subcommittee on Readiness will mark up their parts of the bill. The full HASC is scheduled to take up the entire bill on Wednesday, May 7.  

Obama: U.S. Treaty Commitment to Japan is 'Absolute'

Defense News - 17 hours 28 min ago

President Barack Obama, making the first state visit by an American president to Japan in nearly two decades, made clear today the United States would be obligated to come to Japan’s defense in any confrontation with China over islands both nations claim in the East China Sea.

During a joint press conference in Tokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Obama said treaty obligations to defend Japan would apply if hostilities broke out between Japan and China over the disputed islands known in Japan as the Senkaku and as the Diaoyu in China.

“Let me reiterate that our treaty commitment to Japan’s security is absolute, and Article 5 covers all territories under Japan’s administration, including the Senkaku islands,” said Obama, while making clear that the United States does not take sides in the dispute.

“We share a commitment to fundamental principles such as freedom of navigation and respect for international law,” he added.

Obama told reporters the status of the islands should be resolved through negotiation, a message he said he has delivered directly to China.

“Historically, they have been administered by Japan and we do not believe that they should be subject to change unilaterally,” Obama said, adding that he told Abe directly that it would be a “profound mistake” if the situation escalates.

Tensions have been growing between China and Japan over the remote, uninhabited islands located northeast of Taiwan, the fate of which has aroused passions in both countries. Last year, China unilaterally imposed an air defense identification zone over the islands, threatening to take military action against any aircraft that failed to identify itself or cooperate, while also stepping up sea patrols.

The disputed islands were just one of several regional security issues discussed by Obama and Abe at their meeting today. On North Korea, Obama said the United States and Japan are determined to stand firm in the face of provocations by Pyongyang. North Korea has conducted three underground nuclear tests since 2006 as well as multiple tests of short- and long-range missiles. Despite the North being subject to more international sanctions than any other country in the world, Obama said he was not hopeful Pyongyang would change its behavior any time soon.

“But what I am confident about is that working with Japan, working with the Republic of Korea and working with China and other interested parties in the region,” Obama said, “that we can continue to apply more and more pressure on North Korea so that at some juncture they end up taking a different course.”

(Follow Nick Simeone on Twitter: @simeoneAFPS)
 

DOD Continues Efforts to Bring Captured Soldier Home

Defense News - 17 hours 28 min ago

Claims of a lack of coordination inside the Defense Department made by anonymous officials in media reports regarding the handling of a recent proof-of-life video of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl are “completely false,” Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said today.

“They mischaracterize the ongoing close coordination and teamwork within this department and with other U.S. government agencies,” Warren said.

Bergdahl has been missing for too long, the colonel added. There should be “no doubt” that the department is using all the military, intelligence and diplomatic tools at its disposal to bring him home safely.

Bergdahl, now 28, was found missing from his duty station in eastern Afghanistan June 30, 2009, and was declared missing/captured three days later. He is believed to be held by members of the Haqqani network.

“I can tell you, across the spectrum, diplomatically, militarily, even from an intelligence perspective, we’ve never lost focus on Bowe Bergdahl … and on trying to get him home,” Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said during a January 16 news conference, held the day after the proof-of-life video was released.

“It is important to underscore that the reason Sgt. Bergdahl remains a captive is because he's being held by terrorists, not because of a lack of effort or coordination by the United States government,” Warren said.

“Anyone who does leak this level of detail, in my opinion, does not have the interests or safety of Bowe Bergdahl in mind,” he added.

(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @rouloafps)
 

DOD Support to Find Missing Plane Continues

Defense News - 17 hours 28 min ago

The Defense Department is continuing to support the international search mission for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said today.

The total cost of the search to date is $11.4 million, Warren said. This figure includes $4,200 per flight hour for the two P-8 Poseidon aircraft involved in the search, he added. The plane and its 239 passengers disappeared March 8 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The costs break down as follows, Warren said:

-- $4.6 million in operations and maintenance funds;

-- $3.2 million in overseas humanitarian disaster and civic aid funds; and

-- $3.6 million for underwater search equipment and support.

The P-8s continue conducting aerial search operations, and the Bluefin-21 autonomous underwater vehicle completed its twelfth search mission, the colonel said.

“Bluefin-21 has now completed more than 90 percent of a focused underwater search ... . Unfortunately, no contacts of interest have been found,” he said.

The department has received no requests for additional underwater search assets, Warren said.

The Military Sealift Command dry cargo ship USNS Cesar Chavez joined the task force April 10 to provide logistical support.

Chavez is the Navy's newest combat logistics force ship, and is operated by a crew of 125 civil service mariners. The ship also has a complement of 11 U.S. Navy personnel, who provide operational support and supply coordination, a Navy news release said.

(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @rouloafps)
 

Military Research Continues Fight Against Malaria

Defense News - 17 hours 28 min ago

World Malaria Day 2014 will be observed tomorrow around the world with activities that highlight advances in the field of malaria research.

Malaria has been with us for most of recorded history. Chinese writing on malaria goes back to 2700 B.C., and Eber’s papyrus describes it in 1550 B.C. Despite many progress in diseases prevention and treatment over the last several decades, malaria continues to threaten the lives of millions of children and adults and hamper economic development.

For the U.S. military, as far back as 1775, George Washington had to expend his very limited monetary resources to purchase quinine for the treatment of malaria in the Continental Army. During the Civil War, 50 percent of Caucasian troops and a staggering 80 percent of African-American troops contracted malaria each year.

Conflicts within the last century continue to highlight the threat of malaria to our troops with World War II, Vietnam, and even recently in Afghanistan. Malaria can have a significant operational impact: in 2003 a military peacekeeping operation in Liberia failed due to 80 cases of malaria in 220 Marines within the first few weeks of the mission.

The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research has been engaged in the battle against malaria since its establishment. Assigned to the newly opened Army Medical School in 1893, Maj. Walter Reed was instrumental in defining the concept of mosquitoes and disease transmission. In Reed’s case, it was the disease yellow fever, but this idea allowed William C. Gorgas to abate the transmission of yellow fever and malaria in the construction of the Panama Canal.

The first synthetic antimalarial, Atabrine, was developed through the coordinated activities of the Allied medical forces, and this set the stage for WRAIR’s later involvement in antimalarial drug development. The Experimental Therapeutics branch of WRAIR remains the only sustained drug development program in the Department of Defense, and this group has the distinct honor of initiating or being involved in virtually every antimalarial drug available for fighting malaria since World War II.

The Malaria Vaccine branch of WRAIR in collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline developed what is currently the world’s leading malaria vaccine, RTS,S, the first candidate malaria vaccine to demonstrate that protection is possible. The entomology branch of WRAIR has worked quietly and diligently on personal protective measures to prevent not only malaria, but other insect-borne diseases as well.

Despite these successful research efforts there is much to be done. Conservative estimates suggest that over 3.3 billion people remain at risk for malaria worldwide, with more than 200 million cases every year and with over 650,000 deaths [of which over 85 percent are children]. Resistance threatens the use of all current drugs used to treat malaria --the parasite will likely continue to find ways to defeat any new drugs discovered for malaria treatment.

While vaccines show promise, it will likely be years before we have a licensed vaccine that can protect both the military and public health. As new pesticides to control mosquitoes often suffer from the same resistance problems seen in drugs to control the parasite, we need to continue working on the next generation of personal protective measures. And, like most tropical diseases, malaria is a disease that is tied to poverty and social disruption, which will continue to remain a pervasive problem globally.

As this World Malaria Day is celebrated, we have many reasons to be proud. Military medicine has made significant advances in malaria prevention, control, diagnosis, and treatment, and over the last 100 years the U.S. military has been a global leader in this fight. However, this is a fight that must be sustained.

On this World Malaria Day 2014, we are reminded of the long road ahead of us, and remain steadfast in our resolve to overcome this global health threat.

(Editor’s Note: Paris is the director of the U.S. Military Malaria Research Program at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research at Silver Spring, Md.)
 

White to Accept Medal of Honor in Memory of Comrades

Defense News - 17 hours 28 min ago

Former Army Sgt. Kyle J. White said that when he accepts the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama at the White House on May 13, he will do so in honor of the five soldiers and one Marine "who gave their lives in the defense of freedom and the American way of life."

White spoke at a press conference yesterday at the National Guard Center in Charlotte, N.C., near where he now lives. White was just 20 when he was deployed to Afghanistan. On Nov. 9, 2007, his 14-man unit and squad of Afghan soldiers were brutally ambushed on three sides by Taliban fighters on a path descending from the village of Aranas into a valley.

"On May 13th when I'm awarded the Medal of Honor, I will tell their stories and preserve their memories… they will not be forgotten," the now-27-year-old Seattle native told the press and bloggers. "Their sacrifice and the sacrifices of so many others are what motivate me to wake up each and every day to be the best I can. Everything I do in my life is done to make them proud."

White was asked how strong the memory of the battle is now, after almost seven years, during which time he attained a bachelor's degree and became an investment analyst for a major bank.

"I would say for the first couple of years, memories were more vivid than today. As time goes on certain things you think about less and less, but at any given moment I can close my eyes and hear the sounds and smell the gunpowder in the air; but six and a half years later, I don't think about it as much as I used to," he said.

He did share that there were two things he can always visualize as if it were yesterday -- when he looked up from applying a tourniquet to wounded Marine Sgt. Phillip Bocks to see then-Spc. Kain Schilling take an enemy round to his left leg. White rushed to his buddy and for the second time that day applied a second tourniquet to Schilling, the only one he had left, his own belt.

White will receive the Medal of Honor for his disregard of his own life while trying to save the lives of a Marine and two fellow soldiers after his team of 14 U.S. soldiers and squad of Afghan National Army soldiers were set up and ambushed by a much larger and more heavily armed Taliban force, who engaged in a three-prong attack from elevated ground.

He will become the seventh living recipient of the nation's highest military decoration for conspicuous gallantry and valor during actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.
 

Hagel Looks to Strengthen Ties With Canada, Mexico

Defense News - 17 hours 28 min ago

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met here last night with Canadian Defense Minister Rob Nicholson, ahead of today’s North American Defense Ministerial conference, which brings together the defense leaders from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The conference is the second since 2012, when Canada hosted the first North American defense ministers meeting, and on the flight here, Hagel told reporters traveling with him that it’s important to keep the momentum going.

“Every time we meet,” he said, “we add muscle and sinew --substance -- to what we’re doing and what we could be doing.”

Hagel said the defense ministerial arose from President Barack Obama’s attendance in February in Toluca, Mexico, with Mexican President Pena Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the North American Leaders Summit. There, the leaders discussed their vision for a prosperous and secure future for North American citizens and a shared commitment to work together to realize that vision. The leaders announced initiatives by the three countries to enhance competitiveness in the global economy, expand opportunities for North American citizens, and promote peace, security and development through multilateral action.

The secretary said his visit here would focus on the importance of the region and specific relationships within the region -- in particular, the trilateral relationship among the United States, Mexico and Canada.

“I don't think over the years we've done enough to reach out to our Latin American partners, partly because we suffer from a pretty good relationship,” Hagel said. “The places that get most of the attention around the world are the trouble spots.”

A senior defense official traveling with the secretary said the focus on the North American trilateral relationship “is the defense component of what we're trying to do in the [Western] Hemisphere -- drawing the United States, Mexico and Canada closer together as three partners.”

“We've always had very strong bilateral relationships with both countries, and it's not meant to supplant those … relationships, but we're trying to leverage the capabilities of all three countries,” the official added.

And because the three nations share threat perceptions and interests in so many places in the region and increasingly around the world, the defense official said, the focus on the trilateral partnership is an effort to build on those shared interests.

The official said the defense ministers would meet in several different kinds of meetings, large and small. Though the trilateral conference involves three countries, four ministers will attend the meetings, because in Mexico, two government ministries are directly responsible for national defense: the Mexican National Defense Secretariat, shortened as SEDENA in its Spanish acronym, and the Navy Secretariat, SEMAR.

Hagel’s counterparts in Mexico are Secretary of National Defense Gen. Salvador Zepeda Cienfuegos and Naval Secretary Adm. Vidal Francisco Soberon Sanz, and the secretary will meet with them for the first time today.

These military officers hold Cabinet rank and have regular and direct access to the Mexican president, who also is supreme commander of the armed forces.

Hagel has met with his Canadian counterpart several times, the defense official said, most recently in February during a NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels.

When the two leaders met here today, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said, they discussed a range of issues of mutual concern, including the situation in Ukraine, recent developments in the Asia-Pacific region, and common security challenges in the Western Hemisphere.

During the 30-minute meeting, Kirby added, both Hagel and Nicholson “expressed eagerness to discuss in more detail ways in which all three nations can work more closely together to deal with the threats posed by criminal networks, cyberattacks and natural disasters.”

Hagel also thanked Nicholson for his leadership and for Canada's strong contributions to the NATO alliance, the press secretary said, including the International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan.

The senior defense official characterized Hagel’s visit here as a great opportunity to establish relationships with partners in the Western Hemisphere and to continue to work with Mexico on the bilateral relationship with the United States.

“The Mexicans are our regional partners, regional leaders, and increasingly, in the world they're becoming more of a global player,” the defense official said.

“The relatively new president of Mexico made quite a splash on the world scene, and he's got big challenges at home with the economy,” he added, “but he's an impressive leader, and President Obama had a good meeting with him a couple of months ago.”

As indicated by the potential sale of 18 Black Hawk helicopters by the United States to Mexico, as announced this week by the State Department, the Mexicans are interested in acquiring a range of U.S. capabilities, the official said.

The potential Black Hawk sale is a high-visibility request by Mexico, he added, “but we are talking to them about a range of capabilities that they are interested in, … like our assistance in their own security.”

“There are partnership things we can do and things we can do together,” he added, “but they also want to acquire their own capabilities, and we're interested in helping.”

When Hagel leaves Mexico, he’ll travel to Guatemala to meet with defense and government leaders.

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinAFPS)

White House Launches One-stop Shopping for Vets Seeking Jobs

Defense News - Wed, 2014-04-23 00:00

First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, today launched the Veterans Employment Center, the first online one-stop shopping tool for veterans, transitioning service members and spouses in search of employment.

The announcement was made at a third-anniversary celebration for their “Joining Forces” initiative at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Joining Forces mobilizes all sectors of American society to support service members, veterans and their families.

The Veterans Employment Center is designed to connect veterans and transitioning service members with employers and help translate military skills into the public- and private-sector civilian workforce.

“Our service members haven’t always had the time or information they needed to prepare their resumes, to plot their career goals, to meet with employers and get the jobs they deserve. And that’s simply not acceptable,” the first lady said. “As my husband has said, when you’ve fought for this country around the world, you shouldn’t have to fight for a job when you return home.

“Starting today,” she continued, “every single service member, every veteran, and every military family will have access to a new online tool that will revolutionize how you find jobs in both the public and private sectors.”

The online tool is available at http://ebenefits.va.gov.

"Our service members transitioning to civilian life, as well as their spouses, deserve the resources they need to be successful," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a White House news release. "Through this effort, they are getting that help. Our troops and their spouses are proven leaders, highly skilled and hard working. Employers hiring them are getting the best this nation has to offer."

The center is the result of an interagency effort to improve, simplify and consolidate the existing array of employment resources for veterans, officials said. It also will provide a single, comprehensive database of resumes for employers who seek to leverage the skills and talents of veterans, service members and their spouses.

The new online resource is the first interagency tool to bring together a wealth of public and private job opportunities, a resume-builder, military skills translator and detailed career and training resources.

In connection with Joining Forces, DOD and the departments of Veterans Affairs, Labor and Education and the Office of Personnel Management worked with employers to design and develop the site and incorporate features of existing online employment tools within government.

“Veterans deserve an authoritative source for connecting with employers,” said VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki. “The online Veterans Employment Center is the single, federal source for veterans looking for new career opportunities, service members transitioning to the civilian workforce, and spouses and beneficiaries looking to connect with job opportunities.”

With this tool, employers will be able to search and view veteran, service member and spouse resumes in one location.

Resumes are visible to all employers with an active LinkedIn or Google profile. To prevent spam, applicants’ names and email addresses are redacted, and are visible only to employers verified by VA as registered companies with the IRS. The site also is built using open data and an open application programming interface to attract private-sector innovation.

“Improving veterans’ employment is an all-hands-on-deck enterprise,” Labor Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said. More than 1 million service members projected to leave the military in the coming years.

“OPM’s USAJobs program is excited to be partnering with the VA on making this a robust tool for our nation's veterans and transitioning service members seeking federal employment,” said Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta.

“It has been more than four years since President Obama established the Veterans Employment Initiative, and in that time, the executive branch hired the highest percentage of military veterans in more than 20 years –- of the 195,000 new employees hired in [fiscal year] 2012, approximately 56,000 were veterans, equaling 28.9 percent of total hires,” she added.

“We can continue to honor and show our appreciation for the dedicated and heroic service of America’s veterans by ensuring that they have every opportunity to continue their service to this great nation as federal civilian employees, Archuleta said. “The Veterans Employment Center helps us honor these men and women by making employment opportunities available when our servicemen and women lay down their uniforms.”

At today’s Fort Campbell event, Biden noted the success of the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, which began in June 2011 with fewer than 60 companies. Today, she said, the partnership has 228 partner employers, more than 1.8 million jobs posted on the MSEP Career Portal, and more than 60,000 military spouse hires to its credit.
 

Pacific Naval Leaders Agree to Adopt Sea Guidelines

Defense News - Wed, 2014-04-23 00:00

Nearly two dozen Asia-Pacific nations agreed to sea guidelines adopted by naval leaders at the Western Pacific Naval Symposium yesterday in China, Defense Department spokesman Army Col. Steven Warren said here today.

“The Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea -- we call them CUES -- offers guidelines for maritime encounters at sea,” he said. “It offers safety procedures, basic [communications] plans and basic maneuvering instructions for naval ships and naval aircraft during unplanned encounters at sea.”

Warren said DOD supports a shared understanding of procedures during encounters, which he said can reduce the potential of an unintended incident at sea.

“We fully support efforts to standardize maritime conduct and improve operational safety at sea,” he said. “These guidelines provide steps to potentially avoid encounters such at the [USS] Cowpens incident last year. These initiatives have been in development since 1999, and they were developed multilaterally.”

In December, the USS Cowpens, a guided-missile ship, took evasive action to avoid colliding with Chinese navy ship Liaoning in the South China Sea.

“This is a great step towards improving operational safety at sea,” Warren said. “It’s a positive development that should help reduce the risk of misunderstandings between navy vessels and aircraft operating in a region.”

The guidelines demonstrate the effectiveness of dialogue, transparency and multilateral approaches to dealing with 21st-century challenges, he added.

(Follow Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallAFPS)
 

DOD Announces Military Equipment Moves with Australia, Egypt

Defense News - Wed, 2014-04-23 00:00

Australia has agreed to purchase F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft, and the Defense Department will deliver Apache helicopters to Egypt, a Pentagon spokesman announced today.

“Our partners in Australia announced that they decided to buy 58 F-35 aircraft,” Army Col. Steven Warren said. “The first two F-35s for Australia are already in production and are on track for delivery later this year. Today’s announcement for additional aircraft will help fulfill their country’s national security needs, strengthen our long-standing relationship and solidify the strategic role F-35s will have in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Warren noted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke yesterday with his Egyptian counterpart, Defense Minister Col. Gen. Sedki Sobhy, to inform him of the delivery of 10 Apache helicopters to support Egypt’s counterterrorism operations.

“I think what’s important here is to note that we believe these
Apache helicopters are very useful and powerful tools for the Egyptians to fight terrorism particularly in the Sinai,” Warren said. “The purpose behind this is we have identified a very significant, mutual national security interest.

It is in America’s national security interests, he added, for Egypt to continue battling terrorism in the Sinai Peninsula.

Warren said that due to uncertainty over Egypt’s democratic transition, other equipment and supplies are being withheld for now. For example, F-16 fighter jets, M-1 tanks and Harpoon missiles have not been released, he said.

The Pentagon spokesman noted that DOD officials took a “holistic look” at its entire program with Egypt.

“Now that we’ve completed this look and we know that Egypt has been continuing the fight against terrorism in the Sinai, we believe that they need this additional equipment to continue that fight,” Warren said. “We continue to have very close dialogue with Egypt focused on counterterrorism.”

(Follow Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallAFPS)
 

Pentagon Program Succeeds in Matching Military Spouses With Jobs

Defense News - Wed, 2014-04-23 00:00

Despite a national unemployment rate hovering at just under 7 percent, a Pentagon program intended to help unemployed military spouses find jobs -- including positions with Fortune 500 companies -- is surpassing its goals, connecting more than 60,000 military spouses with 220 private- and public-sector partners since the program began three years ago.

The Military Spouse Employment Partnership is designed to help military spouses -- whom Defense Department research shows are, on average, better educated than their civilian counterparts -- reach their career goals, said Meg O’Grady, a senior program analyst in the Pentagon’s Office of Family Policy and Children and Youth.

This can be especially challenging for people married to active duty service members because of frequent relocations and other obligations that fall to military spouses, O’Grady noted.

“Eighty-five percent of military spouses actually have some college, 25 percent of them have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and 10 percent have an advanced degree,” she said. The problem, she said in an interview with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel, is that it’s often difficult for large employers who want to hire military spouses to find them.

“We know that military spouses make great employees and businesses recognize that,” O’Grady said. “Through the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, we provide a variety of ways for businesses to actually connect with military spouses.” Companies such as Walmart, the nation’s largest employer, as well as other big names in corporate America such as Verizon, AT&T and JP Morgan Chase are marquee brands that O’Grady said also have their eye on service members and their job-seeking spouses.

“When they get a military spouse as an employee, they’re very likely to get that veteran service member once that service member decides to transition, and that actually creates security for that military family,” she said.

The Defense Department has designated May as Military Spouse Appreciation Month to recognize the service and sacrifices made by the nation’s more than 1 million military spouses, a group that O’Grady described as skilled, diverse and motivated by a strong work ethic.

Officials say the inability of a spouse to find employment can affect the well-being of military communities, thereby affecting readiness and retention, which is why the department has been reaching out to corporations, small businesses and organizations to expand the network of potential spousal employers.

“We bring the military spouse the availability of resources and tools for them to find a job whatever the economy might be, because we know that there are employers out there who really value what they bring to the table,” O’Grady said. This is true, she added, regardless of whether those spouses are living on base or off or in the United States or abroad, where it can be more difficult for an American expatriate to find employment because of strict labor laws.

Resources available through the program include education and training, career guidance and mentoring programs. In addition, more than 1.8 million jobs have been posted on the Military Spouse Employment Partnership’s career portal.

“We’ve really made a lot of progress,” O’Grady said. “The White House had given us a goal of 50,000 military spouse hires by 2015, and I’m happy to say today that in 2014, we’re at more than 60,000.”

(Follow Nick Simeone on Twitter: @SimeoneAFPS)

Commitment to Helping Sexual Assault Victims Earns Honors

Defense News - Wed, 2014-04-23 00:00

The Defense Department has honored six exceptional sexual assault response coordinators as part of April’s observance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

These service members and Defense Department civilians are being recognized for their outstanding efforts in assisting victims of sexual assault and for their commitment to preventing this crime, officials said.

“The 2014 exceptional SARCs deserve recognition for their professional abilities and service on the front lines and for the quality care they provide for victims of sexual assault,” said Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Snow, director of the DOD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. “I am privileged to work with such dedicated individuals who continue to strengthen the department’s prevention and response efforts.”

More than 20,000 sexual assault response coordinators throughout the Defense Department and the Coast Guard, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, have received professional training and certification through the DOD Sexual Assault Advocate Certification Program.

They serve as the single point of contact for integrating and coordinating sexual assault victim care, from the initial report of sexual assault through disposition and resolution of issues related to the victim's health and well-being. The SARC is responsible for ensuring a victim support system is in place that provides around-the-clock sexual assault response capabilities for all victims within their designated area of responsibility.

This year’s Exceptional SARC awardees are:

-- Army Master Sgt. Richard V. Fry, 21st Theater Sustainment Command, Germany;

-- Shannon M. Moyer, Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif.;

-- Midge M. Scott, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C.;

-- Cindy W. Graver, Robins Air Force Base, Ga.

-- Air Force Maj. Katherine Maines, Joint Force Headquarters, Connecticut; and

-- Christopher Hooper, 8th Coast Guard District, Mo.

Since 2009, the Defense Department has annually recognized exceptional sexual assault response coordinators for providing noteworthy care and support in prevention and response efforts to military victims of sexual assault.

The awards are presented to the winners by their respective commands in conjunction with April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Nominees were submitted by each of the four services, the Coast Guard, and the National Guard Bureau from within their ranks.
  

Airmen Excel in ‘Invisible Mission,’ Chief of Staff Says

Defense News - Wed, 2014-04-23 00:00

The biggest frustration for airmen is that most people don't know what they do, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said today.

"Your airmen are very proud of who they are. They're incredibly proud of what they do, and they're incredibly good at doing it," Welsh said during a speech at the National Press Club.

The day-to-day work of the Air Force is largely invisible, he said. "But we have, for example, 600 strategic airlift sorties flying every single day around the world. That's one every two and a half minutes, every hour of every day of the year. We have almost 130,000 airmen who make that happen -- moving people and equipment around the world."

Welsh said that while conducting planning in the nation’s capital, the question of "Can we get it there?" never comes up.

"Never even heard it whispered," the general said, noting that this was a compliment to the reliability of the work of U.S. airmen.

"They're just kind of in the background, making things happen every single day," he said.

But, Welsh said, budget cuts mean that while the demand for Air Force capabilities is on the rise, the supply is in decline.

"It's taking capability or capacity away from combatant commanders -- things that they believe they need, and things that we would like to provide, but just won't be able to in the future, because we have to be part of the solution for the nation to the budget deficit. We got that."

The Air Force is reducing capability in all of its core mission areas and cutting modernization programs by 50 percent, he said.

"We're protecting a couple of key programs that we think we have to recapitalize -- the KC-46 [Pegasus] tanker, the F-35 [Lighting II joint strike fighter] and the long-range strike bomber, … so that we have a viable Air Force 10 years from now," Welsh said.

The service is doing everything it can to balance today's readiness with tomorrow's capability, he added.

Three years ago, the projected budget for the Air Force was $20 billion a year more than it will be under sequestration, the general said. Even with the relief provided by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, the Air Force must still make "significant" adjustments to its planning, he said.

"Trimming around the edges as we put together a budget proposal just wasn't going to work," Welsh said.

After considering a variety of money-saving options throughout the fleet, the general said, the Air Force determined cutting the A-10 Thunderbolt II would save $4.2 billion and would have the least impact on operations.

"That pays for half our flying hours each year," Welsh said.

Divesting the A-10 fleet makes sense from a military perspective, "if you have to make these kinds of [budget] cuts,” he explained.

"Nobody likes it," Welsh said. "This is not about the A-10 not being a great airplane [or] not doing great work. It's about where can we take operational risk going forward, where can we create savings and how can we start transitioning the Air Force into thinking about the threat in the environment we will have to operate in 10 years from now. The A-10 will not be part of that solution in a high-threat environment."

The cuts are painful, the general added, but "the balance is pretty delicate. The cuts are real. The issues are serious. And they deserve serious consideration."

The Air Force has to change the way it does everything, he said. "What the budget is doing to us -- I mentioned we're cutting capability in every mission area -- it's eliminating our ability to have airplanes, systems, people who only operate in a single environment."

(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter @rouloafps)

Air Force Announces Bases to House New Tanker Refueling Aircraft

Defense News - Wed, 2014-04-23 00:00

Air Force officials today announced two bases selected to house and operate the KC-46A Pegasus aircraft, which will replace the KC-135 refueling tanker.

Altus Air Force Base, Okla., has been selected as the KC-46A’s formal training unit, and McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., is the first active duty-led Pegasus main operating base.

The KC-46A provides improved capability, worldwide navigation and communication, airlift capability on the entire main deck floor, receiver air refueling, improved force protection and survivability, and multipoint air refueling capability.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the KC-46A remains one of the service’s top three acquisition priorities.

“Making a final basing decision is an important step in recapitalizing the tanker fleet,” she said. “We will begin to replace our aging tanker fleet in 2016, but even when the program is complete in 2028, we will have replaced less than half of the current tanker fleet and will still be flying over 200 half-century-old KC-135s.”

Air Force officials noted they analyzed operational considerations, installation attributes, and economic and environmental factors for each location before making a final basing decision.

“The Air Force chose these bases using operational analysis, results of site surveys, and military judgment factors,” said Timothy Bridges, Air Force deputy assistant secretary for installations.

Altus was selected as the formal training unit because it provides great training opportunities, and there is significant benefit of locating KC-46A trainers with both tanker and heavy receiver aircraft for training purposes, he said.

Bridges also explained that Altus was chosen due to better infrastructure capacity and considerably fewer new construction requirements. Since a formal training wing already is based there, he added, less active-duty manpower will be required to stand up the KC-46A training operation.

A final basing decision for the first Air National Guard main operating base is expected this summer, with the first aircraft scheduled to arrive in fiscal year 2018.

“The Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve are vital to accomplishing our air refueling mission,” Bridges said.
“Therefore, the Air Force will also build on the existing classic association with the Air Force Reserve.

Air Force officials noted that McConnell was selected as the first active duty-led operating base for the KC-46A because it has the lowest military construction costs and is located in a region of high air refueling receiver demand. Additionally, officials said, McConnell already has 44 KC-135 refueling aircraft assigned, and replacing those aircraft with 36 KC-46A aircraft will require the lowest manpower adjustments of the candidate installations.

McConnell also is an ideal central location for the new KC-46A Regional Maintenance Training Center, officials added.

“Tankers are the lifeblood of our joint force’s ability to respond to crisis and contingencies,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. “The Pegasus will be capable of day and night operations and enable a rapid, global capability that will support U.S., joint, allied and coalition forces. The aircraft will also underpin our humanitarian missions.”

Welsh said he is committed to ensuring continued support of combatant commander tanker requirements during a tanker recapitalization effort that will last decades by continuing to fully fund upgrades and improvements to the KC-135 fleet.
 

DARPA Officials Show Hagel Technologies Under Development

Defense News - Wed, 2014-04-23 00:00

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program personnel demonstrated five technologies under development to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in the secretary's conference room yesterday.

DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar provided the secretary with a demonstration of the agency's latest prosthetics technology.

The wounded warrior demonstrating the device was Fred Downs Jr., an old friend of Hagel's who lost an arm in a landmine explosion while fighting in Vietnam. Hagel hugged him and shook his mechanical hand, with Downs joking, "I don't want to hurt you."

"He and I worked together many years ago," said Hagel, who earned two Purple Hearts during his service as an enlisted soldier in Vietnam. "How you doing, Fred? How's your family?"

Downs demonstrated how he controls movements of the arm, which appeared to be partly covered in translucent white plastic, with two accelerometers strapped to his feet. Through a combination of foot movements, he's able to control the elbow, wrist and fingers in a variety of movements, including the “thumbs-up” sign he gave Hagel.

It took only a few hours to learn to control the arm, Downs said.

"It's the first time in 45 years, since Vietnam, I'm able to use my left hand, which was a very emotional time," he said.

Dr. Justin Sanchez, a medical doctor and program manager at DARPA who works with prosthetics and brain-related technology, told Hagel that DARPA's arm is designed to mimic the shape, size and weight of a human arm. It's modular too, so it can replace a lost hand, lower arm or a complete arm.

Hagel said such technology would have a major impact on the lives of injured troops.

"This is transformational," he said. "We've never seen anything like this before."

Next, Sanchez showed Hagel a video of a patient whose brain had been implanted with a sensor at the University of Pittsburgh, allowing her to control an arm with her thoughts.

Matt Johannes, an engineer from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, showed Hagel a shiny black hand and arm that responds to brain impulses. The next step is to put sensors in the fingers that can send sensations back to the brain.

"If you don't have line of sight on something you're trying to grab onto, you can use that sensory information to assist with that task," Johannes said.

The tactile feedback system should be operational within a few months, he said.

"People said it would be 50 years before we saw this technology in humans," Sanchez said. "We did it in a few years."

Next, officials gave Hagel an overview of the DARPA Robotic Challenge, a competition to develop a robot for rescue and disaster response that was inspired by the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear incident in Japan.

Virginia Tech University's entrant in the contest, the hulking 6-foot-2-inch Atlas robot developed by Boston Dynamics, stood in the background as Hagel was shown a video of robots walking over uneven ground and carrying things.

Brad Tousley, head of DARPA's Tactical Technology Office, explained to Hagel that Hollywood creates unrealistic expectations of robotic capability. In fact, he said, building human-like robots capable of autonomously doing things such as climbing ladders, opening doors and carrying things requires major feats of engineering and computer science.

Journalists were escorted out before the remaining three technologies could be demonstrated because of classified concerns. A defense official speaking on background told reporters that Hagel was brought up to date on the progress of three other DARPA programs:

-- Plan X, a foundational cyberwarfare program to develop platforms for the Defense Department to plan for, conduct and assess cyberwarfare in a manner similar to kinetic warfare;

-- Persistent close air support, a system to, among other things, link up joint tactical air controllers with close air support aircraft using commercially available tablets; and

-- A long-range anti-ship missile, planned to reduce dependence on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, network links and GPS navigation in electronic warfare environments. Autonomous guidance algorithms should allow the LRASM to use less-precise target cueing data to pinpoint specific targets in the contested domain, the official said. The program also focuses on innovative terminal survivability approaches and precision lethality in the face of advanced countermeasures.

(From a pool report.)
 

Hagel Notifies Egypt of Upcoming U.S. Certification

Defense News - Wed, 2014-04-23 00:00

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel informed his Egyptian counterpart yesterday that Secretary of State John F. Kerry soon will certify to Congress that Egypt is sustaining the strategic relationship with the United States and is meeting its obligations under the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.

In a statement summarizing Hagel’S phone call to Egyptian Defense Minister Col. Gen. Sedki Sobhy, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said these certifications are required to obligate fiscal year 2014 funds for assistance to the Egyptian government.

“Secretary Hagel told General Sobhy that we are not yet able to certify that Egypt is taking steps to support a democratic transition,” Kirby said, “and he urged the Egyptian government to demonstrate progress on a more inclusive transition that respects the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Egyptians.”

Hagel also informed Sobhy of President Barack Obama's decision to deliver 10 Apache helicopters in support of Egypt’s counterterrorism operations in the Sinai, Kirby said.

“The secretary noted that we believe these new helicopters will help the Egyptian government counter extremists who threaten U.S., Egyptian, and Israeli security,” he added. “This is one element of the president’s broader efforts to work with partners across the region to build their capacity to counter terrorist threats, and is in the United States’ national security interest.”
 

DoD reports slight decline in the total cost of major acquisition programs

ASMC National News - Tue, 2014-04-22 14:53

The total cost of 77 selected Department of Defense (DoD) major acquisition programs decreased by $4.4 billion (- .3 percent) in 2013, according to a report issued by DoD last week.  Total costs for these programs stood at $1.619 trillion as of December 31, 2013.

This small decrease reflects reduced planned quantities (-$14.9 billion), lower escalation rates (-$3.6 billion), and a drop in support costs (-$2.5 billion). Offsetting these declines for the most part were cost increases due to program schedule stretch-outs (+$6.8 billion), net increases in program cost estimates (+$5.5 billion), and higher costs due to engineering changes (+$4.4 billion).

The DoD report also identified two programs that experienced critical Nunn-McCurdy unit cost breaches—unit cost increases of 25 percent or more to the current Acquisition Program Baseline (APB) or 50 percent or more to the original APB: The Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS) due to the elimination of 10 shore-based training systems and an extension of the development program; and Vertical Takeoff and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV) resulting from increased warfighting capabilities and a reduction in total quantities.

Two programs experienced significant Nunn-McCurdy breaches—unit cost increases of 15 percent, but less than 25 percent of the current APB or 30 percent, but less than 50 percent of the original APB: Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) Block 40/45 Upgrade due to a cut in quantities and a stretch-out in the planned buy schedule; and Joint Tactical Radio System, Hand Held, Manpack, and Small Form Fit Radios (JTRS HMS) resulting from an acquisition strategy revision for full-rate production, added requirements, and a revised fielding strategy (fewer radios per year).

The cost estimates for selected programs are reported in the congressionally-required Selected Acquisition Reports (SAR).  SAR estimates of total program costs include actual costs to date and estimated future costs.  Program costs include research and development, procurement, military construction, and operations and maintenance costs that are acquisition-related. 

DoD prepares these congressionally-required reports annually (with submission of the budget).  Quarterly reports are prepared for programs that experience cost increases of 15 percent or more, and schedule delays of at least six months.  DoD also submits quarterly reports for a program’s initial and final report, or for programs that are rebaselined during major milestone reviews.

Programs submitting their initial SAR reports are not represented in the total cost growth estimates for a particular year. For this reporting period, initial reports were submitted for the Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) and Littoral Combat Ship Mission Modules (LCS MM) programs.

Hagel to Visit Mexico, Guatemala to Affirm U.S. Commitment

Defense News - Tue, 2014-04-22 00:00

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel begins a three-day trip to Mexico and Guatemala tomorrow to meet with allies and partners in the Western Hemisphere and affirm America's commitment to the region, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said here today.

Because an important part of U.S. strategy there is building partner capacity through military-to-military engagement, Kirby told reporters during a briefing, Hagel will start the trip at Fort Bragg, N.C., to meet with special operations personnel who lead such missions and to receive a briefing on these capabilities.

Hagel then will travel to Mexico City to attend the second U.S.-Canada-Mexico North American Defense Ministerial conference.

“This ministerial, which first met [in Canada] in 2012,” Kirby said, “provides an opportunity to expand our bilateral defense ties with Canada and with Mexico to a trilateral framework for increased defense cooperation and coordination as we confront shared security challenges.”

The Mexican government has asked to buy 18 Black Hawk helicopters and associated support equipment from the United States, the press secretary said, adding that the State Department has approved the potential sale and the sale notice, as required by law.

Congress was notified of the sale request April 17, Kirby said, and the process will continue from there.

“We believe this proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy national security of the United States by helping improve the security of a strong, strategic partner in Mexico, both in terms of combating organized crime and drug trafficking,” he added.

Also in Mexico, Hagel will lay a wreath at the monument for the 201st Mexican Air Force Squadron, which fought alongside the United States as part of the allied forces in the Pacific campaign during World War II -- specifically, the fight over the Philippines, the press secretary said.

About 250,000 Mexican citizens served in the U.S. armed forces during World War II, he added. More than 1,000 Mexicans received Purple Hearts, and three received the Medal of Honor.

Afterward, Kirby said, Hagel will travel to Guatemala to convey U.S. support for a key partner in the region challenged by narcotics trafficking and transnational crime.

Hagel’s visit will be the first visit to Guatemala by a U.S. defense secretary since 2005, Kirby said. “The secretary looks forward to meeting with the country's leadership,” he added.

While in Guatemala, Hagel also will visit with U.S. troops who are engaged in medical training and civil affairs exercises alongside members of the Guatemalan military.

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinAFPS)
 

U.S. Troops to Arrive in Baltic Region for Exercises

Defense News - Tue, 2014-04-22 00:00

A company-sized element of the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team -- about 150 soldiers -- will arrive in Poland tomorrow to begin a bilateral infantry exercise with Polish troops, the Pentagon press secretary said today.

In the coming days, about 450 additional soldiers from the Vicenza, Italy-based 173rd ABCT will arrive for similar exercises in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said.

The exercises are the first in a series of expanded U.S. land force training activities in the Baltic region scheduled to take place this year and possibly into next year, he said.

“Russia's aggression in Ukraine has renewed our resolve to strengthening NATO's defense plans and capabilities, and to demonstrate our continued commitment to collective defense in reinforcing our NATO allies in Central and Eastern Europe,” Kirby said.

The troops will be in place in all four countries by April 28, he said, noting that the exercises will last about a month. “But then we will rotate fresh troops in for more exercises,” the admiral added.

The intent is to develop a persistent rotational presence through the exercises, Kirby explained.

Discussions are ongoing about expanding the bilateral exercises into other countries in the region, he said. Discussions regarding the establishment of combined exercises involving other NATO member and partner countries also are taking place, Kirby said.

“It doesn't have to be either/or,” he said. “I think we're looking for a broad swath of ways that we can help reassure our allies and partners, and it doesn't all have to be through the alliance.”

Since Russia's aggression in Ukraine began, the admiral said, the United States has been constantly looking for ways to reassure its allies and partners of the nation’s commitment to the collective defense principles in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.

These bilateral exercises were conceived in part to do just that, Kirby said.

The message to the people of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, is that “the United States takes seriously our obligations under Article 5 of the NATO alliance, even though these aren't NATO exercises,” he said.

“It's a very tangible representation of our commitment to our security obligations in Europe, … and we encourage our NATO partners to likewise look for opportunities of their own to do this same kind of thing for one another,” the admiral continued.

If there’s any message to Moscow, Kirby said, it’s the same as that being sent to the people of the Baltic region: “We take our obligations very, very seriously on the continent of Europe.”

The exercises are more than symbolic, the admiral said. The commitment to putting troops on the ground for an extended period and conducting exercises is “not insignificant,” he noted.

“These are countries that we routinely operate with,” Kirby said. “These are units that the 173rd have worked with before, in all four countries. So they know each other. This isn't the first time that the 173rd has done exercises with these countries. So there's a relationship there.”

The situation remains tense along Ukraine’s eastern border, he said. “Nothing we've seen out of Moscow, nothing we've seen out of Russia or their armed forces is de-escalating the tension [or] is making things any more stable in Ukraine or on the continent of Europe,” the admiral said.

“What would be very helpful is if they removed their forces off that border and took concrete actions to respect the sovereignty of Ukraine,” he said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said that the events in Ukraine have had the effect of consolidating the alliance and giving it a sharper view of itself and its future, Kirby said.

“NATO is a very strong alliance, more relevant now than it's ever been. … Secretary Hagel was pretty clear with the military leadership that he wanted to look for a wide range of opportunities through which we could continue to reassure our partners in Europe,” the admiral said.

Elsewhere in the region, the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook is wrapping up its rotation in the Black Sea, Kirby said.

The Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Taylor returned to the Black Sea today after completing repairs in Naval Support Activity Souda Bay, Greece, and will assume the reassurance mission from the Donald Cook, Navy officials said.

(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @rouloafps)
 

Discussions Continue on Post-2014 Troop Strength in Afghanistan

Defense News - Tue, 2014-04-22 00:00

Discussions are continuing within the Obama administration on how many U.S. troops could remain as a residual force in Afghanistan next year after the current U.S.-led NATO mission ends, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said today.

In a briefing for reporters, Kirby was asked about a report that the administration might be considering reducing the U.S. presence in Afghanistan next year to fewer than 5,000 troops on the assumption that Afghan security forces are now capable of repelling threats by the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

“There’s an ongoing discussion now about what the force posture in Afghanistan would or could look like post-2014, and I’m not going to get ahead of that discussion,” he said.

Last month, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the top commander in Afghanistan, said the United States and its allies were planning a post-2014 force of 8,000 to 12,000 troops, most of them American, to continue training and advising Afghan security forces, with several thousand more deployed to conduct counterterrorism operations.

Those deployments would be possible only if the Afghan government first agrees to sign a bilateral security agreement negotiated with the United States, something President Hamid Karzai is refusing to do. However, the two leading candidates emerging from the country’s elections earlier this month have said they will sign the accord once the winner takes office later this year.

At today’s briefing, Kirby praised the Afghans for conducting a well-run first round of voting April 5.

“That’s not insignificant, all by itself,” he said. “Democracy is hard stuff. And they’re proving their mettle at it.”

(Follow Nick Simeone on Twitter: @simeoneAFPS)
 

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