The base community here immediately began supporting the civilian community, fellow airman and sailors and their families after the devastating tornado that struck nearby Moore, Okla., yesterday.
Twelve base firefighters and a safety officer were immediately dispatched to assist with rescue activities near 19th Street and Interstate 35 in Moore, and a surgeon was dispatched to the University of Oklahoma Medical Center. More help was provided overnight with lights, vehicles and water trucks, and volunteer airmen prepared to assist with crowd control and recovery efforts.
Air Force Col. Steven Bleymaier, 72nd Air Base Wing commander, directed Tinker’s airman and family readiness center to stand up its 24/7 emergency family assistance center to ensure base personnel and their families received effective support. Base personnel who need immediate assistance with food, clothing or emergency financial assistance can contact the center at 405-739-2747.
The emergency family assistance center also is seeking volunteers to "adopt" Tinker families who have been directly affected by the tornadoes by offering temporary shelter in their home.
As dozens of fresh-faced recruits stood at attention here today and waited to raise their right hands, the U.S. military’s senior noncommissioned officer administered the oath of enlistment and commended them on their new journey.
Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, imparted advice to the recruits during his tour of the New York Military Entrance Processing Station, the second-largest processing site in the nation.
“You have a little work to do before you earn that title of airman, Marine, Coast Guardsman, sailor or soldier,” Battaglia said to the enlistees. “But it’s certainly not a task that’s unachievable. It’ll take a lot of determination, a lot of grit, a lot of focus. … And never give up.”
Battaglia, a 33-year veteran of the Marine Corps, also thanked family members and friends who witnessed their loved ones enlist.
“We know that we are taking your sons and daughters and sisters and brothers away from you temporarily,” he said. “We’re going to do some great things with them. We’ll make them bigger and better, and they’re serving their nation.”
The MEPS mission is to evaluate applicants by applying established DOD standards during processing to determine eligibility for military service.
“Our vision is to be America’s elite source for military and federal employment screening,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Neal, medical noncommissioned officer in charge at the center.
The New York MEPS is part of a network of 65 centers located nationwide and in Puerto Rico.
Look for big changes in special operations forces as they shape for what’s ahead after a dozen years of intensive, high-operational-tempo missions focused predominantly on Afghanistan and Iraq.
Commanders of the special operations components laid out their plans for the future to members of the special operations community and the defense industry last week during the 2013 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference here.
The Navy SEALs will undergo “an amphibious evolution in reverse,” returning to their maritime roots, Navy Rear Adm. Sean A. Pybus, commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, told the assembly.
Army Special Forces will concentrate on rebuilding their regional expertise and relationships in parts of the world, Army Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland, commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, reported.
Air Force Special Operations Command will strive to to rebalance its portfolio to provide broader support to geographic and theater special operations commanders, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Eric E. Fiel, the AFSOC commander.
And Marine Corps Special Forces Command, the newest of special operations components, will work to institute a cultural shift that maximizes the myriad technologies developed during the past decade-plus of conflict, Marine Corps Col. Mike Sweeney, the deputy MARSOC commander, told the group.
Navy Adm. William H. McRaven, U.S. Special Operations Command commander, opened the conference telling participants to think of a future that extends beyond the high-profile missions heralded in best-sellers and across the big screen.
“The fact of the matter is that [counterterrorism] piece that we do better than anybody in the world … is a small part of our portfolio,” he said. “The broader part of our portfolio is about how we build partner capacity [and] how we link with our allies and partners overseas so that we can help them take care of their problems so that we don’t end up having to do [counterterrorism].”
U.S. special operators “will continue to take care of the bad guys and rescue the good guys better than anybody in the world,” McRaven emphasized. But by helping partner nations build their own capacity, he said, “they can take care of their own security problems …[and] do the things that we now don’t have to put U.S. forces against.
“That is the value of U.S. special operations forces as we go forth in the future,” he added.
That concept, encapsulated in McRaven’s “Special Operations Forces 2020” vision, requires transition across the special operations service components.
Those changes are well underway in the SEALs, which Pybus said are expected to reduce the number of theater platoons in Afghanistan by at least half by the year’s end.
“Our SEALs have been fighting two land wars for the last decade, and there is plenty of work back in the maritime environment,” he said. “That is playing out before our eyes.”
The drawdown in Afghanistan will free up forces to better support the U.S. strategic pivot toward Asia or demands in other parts of the world, he said, citing examples of the Mediterranean Sea, the Gulf of Guinea or the Persian Gulf. “There are plenty of things to do in support of our theater [special operations commanders] and all their requirements,” he said.
The timing is right for most of the SEALs’ return to the water, Pybus said, noting that by the end of the decade, 90 percent of the world’s population will live in megacities on or near the coast. “So it is the right time for one of the two maritime components of U.S. Socom to make sure that we are covering down on our obligation as a maritime special operations force.”
For the Green Berets, Cleveland emphasized the importance of shoring up gaps in regional expertise due to the command’s heavy focus on combat operations in the Middle East. “We have these regionally expert forces, but we surged to Iraq and Afghanistan, and by necessity, we sacrificed over the past 12 years a knowledge and expertise that we need of the rest of the world,” he said.
“That’s not to say we don’t have it,” Cleveland added. “But we don’t have it in the density that we need. And that is the gap we are going to work to fix.”
Meanwhile, Army Special Operations Command, like its sister special operations component commands, is striving to preserve strides made in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We cannot lose what we have developed over the last 12 years,” Cleveland said. “I think we are taking steps to not do that.”
Sustained combat operations served as a “forcing function” for special operators to work in synchronization with not only conventional forces, but also interagency and non-governmental organization partners, he said.
The challenge, once combat operations are over, is to maintain those bonds for the future, Cleveland said. He shared an observation by a State Department official who suggested forming a “league of extraordinary operators” who maintain a connection, rather than forming one when a crisis erupts.
“We ought not wait until we have to descend on a problem to create this connection, and are starting to work on that,” Cleveland said.
Regardless of where on the globe Army Special Forces operate, Cleveland said, “two exquisite capabilities” will remain paramount: surgical strike and special warfare. “The country needs both of these capabilities,” he said, emphasizing the need to continually evolve for complex challenges that will test the mettle of the future force.
Fiel, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, said he expects little letup in the years ahead for the command’s highest-demand capabilities: mobility, strike and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
Tasked by McRaven “to generate and sustain as much combat power as possible,” Fiel said, he is working to rebalance the command’s portfolio to better serve all theater special operations commanders.
Despite flying tactical missions every day in support of every geographic combatant commander and theater special operations commander, all want “more, more, more” capability, Fiel said.
New hardware entering the inventory is a step in the right direction, he said. Another big advance is the new Air Force Special Operations Warfare Center, stood up in February. Its mission includes executing special operations test, evaluation and lessons learned programs and developing doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures for AFSOC.
Fiel shared Cleveland’s assessment of progress made in building more cohesive and interconnected teams across the special operations force community.
“Socom and [special operations forces] is a team sport. It really is the only joint force in the Department of Defense. Sometimes you are on offensive, sometimes you are on defense, and sometimes you are on special teams,” he said. “But we are the only force in the DOD that grows up together.”
Since its activation in 2006, Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command has hit the ground running with no pause in the pace of its operational missions. But looking ahead to a post-Afghanistan future, the command is preparing to transition from landlocked operations to future maritime missions around the world, Sweeney told the audience.
In another change to come, Marsoc plans to make its battalions regionally focused to better support theater requirements.
In posturing for that future, Sweeney said, the Marines hope to find better ways to integrate the kinds of technologies integrated into the battlefield in Afghanistan. If anything, Marine special operators are “too heavy on technology,” he said.
“When I see our teams and our Marines out there, and they have to have five or six sets of equipment to access five or six networks, that is problematic,” he explained. “We are now increasing the burden on the force from a load perspective.”
Ideally, Sweeney said, he would like to see one multitiered network that integrates these capabilities.
Another challenge, he said, is to change the culture to take full advantage of what technologies deliver. Sweeney likened the process of compiling multiple data streams to form one operational picture to the broadcast of a “Monday Night Football” game.
“I, as a consumer, see one picture, and that is the picture I want to see,” he said. He recognized, however, that someone behind the scenes has made decisions, selecting views from 40 or more screens to deliver what the viewer sees.
“That type of talent is extremely difficult to build in the military,” he said, emphasizing that it’s not a job that should be relegated to a junior officer or a mid-level noncommissioned officer.
“That is somebody who is well-educated, understands the warfighting functions, can quickly assimilate information, turn it into knowledge and present it to the commander,” he said. “It is very, very challenging to do.”
The problem, Sweeney said, is that the military – or at least the Marines – don’t put emphasis into developing those capabilities or rewarding those who have them.
“From the Marine Corps perspective, if you are an innovator, if you are a visionary, if you are a science-and-technology guy, you are probably not going to do well at the promotion board,” he said. “I think what we owe you [in industry] and we owe ourselves is a culture and a mindset shift about how we go after capitalizing on the technology you provide and using that to our advantage to bring power to bear where it counts most.”
During the busy season of military transfers, adjusting to new communities and registering children for school, more than 2,000 museums across the nation will open their doors, free of charge, to service members and their families as a break from the summer challenges, a Defense Department official said today.
From Memorial Day, May 27, through Labor Day, Sept. 2, all active duty service members, National Guardsmen and reservists and their families can take advantage of this cultural and educational opportunity in all 50 states.
“It’s an exciting, inspiring, educational and economical activity for our families to enjoy this summer,” said Navy Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde, a Pentagon spokeswoman.
Launching its fourth year in a news conference today at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the 2013 Blue Star Museums Program is a collaboration among the Defense Department, Blue Star Families, the National Endowment for the Arts and the museums to give service members and their families a way to spend time together in their local museums.
“After long deployments, rigorous training schedules and very long hours, our time with our families is very limited and extremely precious to us,” Hull-Ryde said. “We are so grateful [to have] these programs. This program is an investment in our families.”
Arecord number of museums are participating this year. The program began in 2010 with free access to about 600 museums, while this year’s 2,000 is a figure that’s still growing, Blue Star Families and NEA officials said.
“This program is helping us make memories -- memories for our families,” Hull-Ryde said. “But it’s more than that. It is making a difference not only in the force of today, but in the force of the future.”
Some 250 Oklahoma National Guard members are helping with recovery efforts after a massive tornado pounded an Oklahoma City suburb yesterday, killing at least 24 people and leaving neighborhoods, homes and businesses flattened or twisted, a senior Army National Guard leader said today.
Brig. Gen. Emery Fountain is an Army National Guard member from Oklahoma, who normally makes his home a few miles from Moore, where the tornado struck. Fountain currently works in the national capital region as support special assistant to Army National Guard Director Lt. Gen. William E. Ingram Jr., but has been in close contact with his counterparts at home.
“They’ve established a perimeter around the location … that was most affected, [and] they’re managing traffic in and out of that area where the destruction was most significant,” he said. “They’re also providing clean, potable water to the first responders and the folks that are involved in the response.”
Fountain noted that as a longtime Guard member in his home state, he has responded to previous disasters, including the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. He also responded to previous tornados, he noted, so when yesterday’s monster storm hit, he knew his fellow Guard troops would kick into gear.
“You know it’s a rapidly evolving situation,” he said. “And you also know that there are first responders -- local, state, and federal in many cases -- that are immediately responding.” In such circumstances, National Guard members act as enablers to help those first responders do what they do, Fountain said.
He noted state emergency management offices have the lead in initial response, and National Guard forces are one of the resources they can call on.
Right now, Fountain said, about 250 Guard members are helping in disaster relief efforts, from a total of 6,384 in the state and a regional Guard force of 45,272, made up of members from Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas along with Oklahoma’s citizen-soldiers.
“All the states are very well postured, based on their demographics, to support their population,” he noted.
The Guard has a very robust reporting system, the general said.
“So you allow the leadership there, within the Oklahoma National Guard, [to] push information to us, rather than us to be part of their challenge, and clogging their networks with requests for information,” Fountain said. “Because of our standard operating procedures, they know how frequently we need information. … We pretty much are on the receiving end.”
Typically as disaster response efforts evolve, he said, “the National Guard Bureau has a team that we send forward -- and that team is, in fact, en route [to Oklahoma] -- that is there to offer them liaison to the entire ‘Guard Nation,’” or the Army and Air National Guards of all U.S. states and territories and the District of Columbia.
Fountain said he contacted Oklahoma Guard leaders yesterday to send his thoughts and prayers and offer any resources needed.
“We don’t want to inundate them with manpower and resources that would just get in the way,” he noted. “We right now are very much just in a posture to respond to their needs, and thankfully, we have a balanced force across the Army and the Air National Guard … and they have a great deal of capacity.”
Fountain explained that while tornados are common in Oklahoma and several other states, the disaster response efforts soldiers train and units plan for are more general in nature.
“We have contingency plans for all types of events,” he noted. “But I found in my time as the operations officer for the Oklahoma Guard that it is best to have very general contingency plans.
“For example,” Fountain continued, “whether you’re reacting to a hurricane, a tornado, an earthquake or a high-yield explosive, you’re dealing with failed infrastructure, collapsed structures, you’re dealing with the requirement to secure a specific area -- and so we simply leverage that capability and capacity of those formations within that particular state.”
The National Guard offers states the resource of a force trained and equipped for national defense but able to respond to natural disasters at home, Fountain said.
“And we do it quite well,” he noted. “In this particular case, they immediately went in with … a quick-reaction force, and that initial force is to get there very rapidly -- I wouldn’t say minutes, but hours -- so that we’re there with the first responders. And we normally will establish a perimeter around the incident site.”
Such a perimeter can be large, with multiple traffic control points, but the presence of a National Guard member at such a place and such a time can be calming for local populations and help keep people from putting themselves at risk, he said.
“Our initial focus is always in saving lives and executing a rescue,” he said. “What closely follows that is getting infrastructure back up -- whether it’s broken natural gas lines, power lines that are loose and hot -- and we partner with the local utilities to help them.”
Fountain said National Guard forces bring a particular comfort in disaster settings, because they’re helping family, friends and neighbors.
“The National Guard -- and the country -- has never let down a community,” he said. “So we’re always there. I think they know that. As soon as the public sees uniforms, it’s a calming factor. And their Guardsmen are their brothers and sisters. They get a call … and they report to duty, and they suit up, and they take on citizen-soldier mode and get after it, and stay on the mission until it’s done.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith met for a working lunch at the Pentagon this afternoon, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said.
In a statement summarizing the meeting, Little said the two defense leaders discussed the progress and cooperation between the United States and Australia on a number of fronts, including the rotation of U.S. forces to Australia, cooperation in space and cyberspace, and their nations’ shared commitment to investing in critical defense capabilities.
“Secretary Hagel commended the progress to date of the rotation of U.S. Marines to Australia, noting that the second company-sized rotation of Marines arrived in Darwin recently and will train with their Australian counterparts over the next six months,” the press secretary said.
Hagel also thanked Smith for Australia's significant commitment to the International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan, Little added, and emphasized the enduring importance the United States places on the Asia-Pacific region.
“[He] assured Minister Smith of the American commitment to the Asia-Pacific and to the security of our allies and partners,” Little said. “The two leaders plan to meet again on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore next month."
The press secretary added that Hagel thanked Smith for his condolences in the wake of yesterday’s deadly tornado in Moore, Okla.
The Joint Information Environment isn’t a program, it’s an end state, the Defense Department’s deputy chief information officer for information enterprise said at an industry conference here today.
The term “Joint Information Environment” simply describes the ability to deliver data to the Defense Department’s military and civilian personnel wherever and whenever they need it, David L. DeVries explained.
“The bottom line is that the warfighter needs to have the mission accomplished, and to be successful, he needs to have the information there,” he said.
The department is working to define the final requirements for the capabilities that it wants for the Joint Information Environment, DeVries said, adding that the process should wrap up before mid-August.
This end state can’t be achieved without streamlining data delivery processes and eliminating excess capacity, DeVries said. Nor will it happen overnight, he added. “Replacing of legacy networks and putting in the right stuff takes time,” he said, adding that the way those networks are operated may change before they’re replaced.
The Defense Department now has about 1,850 data centers -- facilities used to house computer systems and associated components. In some instances, those data centers manage duplicate, parallel networks, DeVries said. For example, an Air Force unit housed at an Army base might have its own data center rather than using the one at the Army base. This leads to slower, less-efficient networks. But by fiscal year 2017, the number of data centers should be down to somewhere between 50 and 100, he said.
DeVries said he expects to develop a list of core data centers and their characteristics by the end of the summer.
The result will be a smaller physical network footprint that will move data much more quickly and efficiently and be easier to secure because it’s easier to oversee, DeVries said. “You have to know what you’ve got in order to secure it,” he said. “There is a need to know where your boundaries are, invest the money into the protection of those boundary lines where things cross, and to continuously monitor and sample the things in between.”
The streamlining process will carry over to acquisitions and personnel, he said, as enterprise-wide contracting becomes the standard and information technology staffs are consolidated.
With 3.5 million users on the unclassified side alone, DeVries said, “I can’t allow everyone to create their own network, to run it their own way, because then, truly, it’s too costly to secure.”
Ultimately, everyone will benefit, he said, because as the network becomes easier to secure, it will become more flexible -- something that takes on added importance as the department embraces mobile platforms.
“We're recognizing the fact that we can't just tether somebody to their desk,” DeVries said. “They've got to be mobile, whether they work from home or from work.”
These are paradigm shifts for the Defense Department and the military departments, DeVries said, but the Joint Information Environment will drive mission effectiveness.
One of the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan was that both technological and policy issues made data-sharing between partner nations difficult, he said. Policy problems can be worked through, DeVries noted, but the technological framework has to be in place for policy solutions to work.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Disabled American Veterans and the American Legion today announced a new partnership to help in reducing the compensation claims backlog for veterans.
The effort -- called the Fully Developed Claims Community of Practice -- is a key part of VA’s overall transformation plan to end the backlog in 2015 and process claims within 125 days at 98 percent accuracy, VA officials said.
VA can process fully developed claims in half the time it takes for a traditionally filed claim, officials noted.
“VA prides itself on our ongoing partnership with organizations that represent veterans throughout the claims process,” said Undersecretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey. “A fully developed claim is the most effective way to ensure a veteran’s claim never reaches the backlog and is the basis for this new initiative between VA and what we expect will be an ever-increasing number of veteran service organizations and others who represent veterans at various points of the claims process.”
The new initiative “takes a common-sense approach to working smarter to better serve injured and ill veterans,” said Barry Jesinoski, Washington Headquarters executive director for Disabled American Veterans.
“DAV is pleased to be working with the VA to help improve the disability compensation system,” Jesinoski added.
The American Legion has been working with VA since December on its fully developed claims process, said James E. Koutz, the American Legion’s national commander.
“Teams of our experts have already gone to VA regional offices in Denver, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and other cities to help identify best practices for [fully developed claims], and to further train our own service officers,” Koutz said.
Claims are considered to be “fully developed” when veterans submit all available supporting evidence, such as private treatment records and notice of federal treatment records, to VA at the time they first file a formal claim and certify they have no more evidence to submit. This is the information that VA needs to make a determination on a disability claim, VA officials said.
The fully developed claims program supports the sharing of best practices across veteran service organizations that help thousands of veterans each year with their compensation claims, to identify up front all evidence necessary to support a veteran’s claim, officials explained. Veterans then certify that they have no additional evidence to submit, and VA can process the claim in half the time it takes for a traditionally filed claim, they added.
Veteran service organizations have long played an integral role in submitting veterans’ claims -- often with representatives working within VA regional offices. VA has consulted with them throughout the development and implementation of its plan to end the backlog in 2015 to ensure best practices and their unique insights were incorporated, officials said.
The American Legion and DAV are the first to step forward to work with VA on the program, officials added, and that program has led to a much more efficient process.
This is the latest effort in support of the plan to reduce the backlog. Last month, VA announced an initiative to expedite compensation claims decisions for veterans who have waited one year or longer.
On April 19, VA began prioritizing claims decisions for veterans who have been waiting the longest by providing provisional decisions that allow eligible veterans to begin collecting compensation benefits quickly. With a provisional decision, a veteran has a year to submit additional information to support a claim before the decision becomes final.
On May 15, VA officials announced that the department is mandating overtime for claims processors in its 56 regional benefits offices through the end of fiscal year 2013 to help eliminate the backlog, with continued emphasis on high-priority claims for homeless veterans and those claiming financial hardship, the terminally ill, former prisoners of war, Medal of Honor recipients, and veterans filing fully developed claims.
As of May 17, the paperless claims processing system known as the Veterans Benefits Management System, or VBMS, has been deployed to 46 out of 56 regional office locations, and about 18 percent of VA’s current claim inventory is in an electronic format, officials said.
Claims for Wounded Warriors separating from the military for medical reasons will continue to be handled separately and on a priority basis with the Defense Department through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System, officials said. On average, they noted, wounded warriors separating through IDES currently receive VA compensation benefits in two months following their separation from service.
A board of military and civilian leaders has chosen 30 employers of National Guard and Reserve service members as finalists for the 2013 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award.
Officials of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a Defense Department office, announced the selections today.
The Freedom Award is the department's highest recognition given to employers for exceptional support of employees serving in the National Guard and Reserve. The board selected the top 30 employers from a pool of 2,899 nominations submitted earlier this year by National Guard and Reserve service members.
Freedom Award finalists distinguish themselves by implementing formal policies and informal initiatives that go above and beyond in assisting and encouraging National Guard and Reserve service, ESGR officials said. The 2013 finalists offered such support as creating veteran mentoring programs for service members transitioning to civilian life, offering flexible scheduling to allow guardsmen and reservists to attend to military tasks during business hours, and hosting an internal website accessible to deployed employees and their families so they could more easily keep in touch and see messages of support from their co-workers, they added.
"The 2013 Freedom Award finalists demonstrate the type of outstanding support our National Guard and Reserve service members count on when answering the nation's call to serve," said ESGR National Chair James G. Rebholz. "These employers recognize the valuable role they play in the lives of our citizen-warriors, and in supporting these men and women, the finalists have made a critical contribution to our national security. On behalf of ESGR and the DOD, I want to thank each of the 2013 finalists for their extraordinary support."
A national selection board of senior Defense Department officials, business leaders and prior awardees will select 15 Freedom Award recipients, which will be announced early this summer.
The 2013 recipients will be honored at the 18th annual Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award ceremony in Washington, D.C., Sept. 26. Past recipients of the Freedom Award have met privately with the president and vice president, the secretary of defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The finalists for the 2013 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award are:
-- Albuquerque Fire Department, Albuquerque, N.M.;
-- ASAS/Tysol, Inc., Woodbury, Minn.;
-- Bank of America, Charlotte, N.C.;
-- C.W. Driver, Pasadena, Calif.;
-- Cardinal Health, Dublin, Ohio;
-- Centerline Mechanical LLC, Cave Creek, Ariz.;
-- Charles Crafts, Attorney At Law, Boise, Idaho;
-- City of Columbus, Ohio;
-- City of Prescott, Ariz.;
-- City of Shawnee, Kan.;
-- Colorado Springs Utilities, Colorado Springs, Colo.;
-- Compuware Corp., Detroit;
-- Cranston Public Schools, Cranston, R.I.;
-- DaVita, Inc., Denver;
-- Eastman Chemical, Kingsport, Tenn.;
-- Express Scripts, St. Louis;
-- Family Allergy & Asthma, Louisville, Ky.;
-- Hubcap Express, Fort Wayne, Ind.;
-- Humana, Louisville, Ky.;
-- JG Management Systems, Inc., Grand Junction, Colo.;
-- Los Angeles Fire Department;
-- Pape-Dawson Engineers, San Antonio;
-- Prairie Grove Consolidated School District 46, Crystal Lake, Ill.;
-- Richland County Sheriff's Department, Columbia, S.C.;
-- Safeway, Inc., Pleasanton, Calif.;
-- Steel Plate Fabricators, Knoxville, Tenn.;
-- U.S. Bank, Minneapolis;
-- U.S. Marshals Service, Eastern District of Louisiana, New Orleans;
-- Waste Management, Houston; and
-- Zions Bank, Salt Lake City.
The Freedom Award was instituted in 1996 to recognize exceptional support from the employer community. In the years since, 175 employers have received the award.
ESGR develops and maintains employer support for Guard and Reserve service, advocating relevant initiatives, recognizing outstanding support, increasing awareness of applicable laws, and resolving conflict between service members and employers.
The American people will stand with their fellow citizens in Oklahoma, President Barack Obama said today from the White House.
At least 24 people were killed by a tornado that struck Moore, Okla., yesterday, nine of them children who sheltered in an elementary school.
“As a nation, our full focus right now is on the urgent work of rescue, and the hard work of recovery and rebuilding that lies ahead,” the president said.
Federal, state and local resources have been mobilized to help those in need. The president has issued a disaster declaration to expedite resources to support the immediate response, “and to offer direct assistance to folks who have suffered loss,” he said.
The president said he met with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Advisor Lisa Monaco to underscore the point that Oklahoma needs to get everything that it needs right away. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate is on his way to Oklahoma to speed and coordinate federal relief. FEMA deployed to Oklahoma’s Emergency Operations Center on May 19, as the state already was facing down the first wave of deadly tornadoes.
“FEMA activated urban search and rescue teams from Texas, Nebraska and Tennessee to assist in the ongoing search and rescue efforts, and a mobile response unit to boost communications and logistical support,” Obama said.
“The people of Moore should know that their country will remain on the ground, there for them, beside them as long as it takes,” the president said. “For there are homes and schools to rebuild, businesses and hospitals to reopen, there are parents to console, first responders to comfort, and, of course, frightened children who will need our continued love and attention.”
Americans will help their neighbors in Oklahoma, the president said, because in times of crisis, Americans pull together. “We’ve seen that spirit in Joplin, in Tuscaloosa. We saw that spirit in Boston and Breezy Point,” he said. “And that’s what the people of Oklahoma are going to need from us right now.”
The president prepared the nation for a long adverse weather season. Tornadoes threaten four states today, and next week is the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season, he noted.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin activated the National Guard yesterday, and as of this morning, nearly 250 Guard soldiers and airmen were assisting with security and the search for victims.
Nearly 250 members of the Oklahoma National Guard are assisting with victim search and security today in Moore, Okla., where a monster tornado left at least 24 dead, including nine children, authorities said.
The twister hit yesterday about 3:15 p.m. CDT, when children were still in two elementary schools in the Oklahoma City suburb.
The tornado, packing winds of up to 200 mph, tore off the roof of Plaza Towers Elementary School and pulverized walls. Volunteers joined first responders to help in rescuing children and staff from the devastation, the Associated Press reported.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin activated the airmen and soldiers yesterday. Among those responding was the 146th Air Support Operations Squadron from nearby Will Rogers Air National Guard Base in Oklahoma City. In a video interview, Air Force 2nd Lt. Gabriel Bird said the unit members carried thermal imaging gear to help locate those buried in rubble.
"Hopefully, we’ll find survivors," Bird said.
Members also carried basic medical supplies and multiband radios to communicate with ground and aircraft crews, Bird said.
"We're a pretty new unit, so we haven’t supported any state emergencies," Bird said. But he noted that many squadron members are veterans who have supported other disaster-recovery operations when assigned to other units.
A “DOD Live” blog post compiled by Ian Phillips of Defense Media Activity social media operations here provides a wide range of resources for people affected directly or indirectly by the deadly tornado that struck Moore, Okla., yesterday.
Links in the blog post include information or help related to:
-- Tips from Military OneSource on helping children cope with natural disasters;
-- How to administer psychological first aid after a disaster or traumatic event;
-- The PFA Mobile app, containing material adapted from the Psychological First Aid Operations Guide for responders who provide psychological first aid to adults, families and children;
-- The Red Cross database that for people to list themselves as “safe and well” or for loved ones to find people missing after a disaster; and
-- A Veterans Affairs Department list of resources for people needing help with post-traumatic stress.
The blog post also includes links to the Air Force Aid Society, Army Emergency Relief, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society and Coast Guard Mutual Assistance for service members who need financial assistance.
The United States continues to call on North Korean leaders to exercise restraint and abide by their international obligations, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said here today.
North Korea fired five short-range missiles in the past three days, and reporters asked Little if this is a North Korean return to the provocative behavior earlier this year.
“We have noticed broadly that North Korea has ratcheted back its provocative actions in recent weeks, and its bellicose rhetoric,” Little said. “We hope that that is a trend they hope to follow.”
The missile launches “could be construed” as provocative, Little said, although “these short-range missile launches do not necessarily violate their international obligations.”
Still, the past few months have been bumpy. North Korean leaders conducted an underground nuclear test, fired a ballistic missile and threatened South Korea and the United States with nuclear destruction.
The North Korean rhetoric became a bit less inflammatory this month, but a period of tensions remains, albeit on a smaller scale than before, Little said.
“But anything that can be construed to be provocative continues to concern us,” he added, “and the North Koreans have been known to shift tactics and behavior on short notice. And we’re mindful of their behavior in the past.”
The United States and its allies remain watchful and will continue to monitor what happens on the Korean Peninsula, Little told reporters.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today announced the 2013 recipients of the Commander in Chief's Annual Award for Installation Excellence.
The award recognizes the outstanding and innovative efforts of the people who operate and maintain U.S. military installations, Pentagon officials said, and the five recipients were selected for their exemplary support of Defense Department missions.
The five installations are:
-- U.S. Army Garrison Fort Rucker, Ala.;
-- Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif.;
-- Naval Support Activity Panama City, Panama City Beach, Fla.;
-- Keesler Air Force Base, Biloxi, Miss.; and
-- Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime, Columbus, Ohio.
Installation excellence enables better mission performance and enhances the quality of life for service members and their families, officials said in a statement announcing the selections. Each winning installation succeeded in providing excellent working, housing and recreational conditions, officials added.
Each winning installation will still receive a commemorative commander in chief's award trophy and flag, along with a congratulatory letter from the president.
Defense Department officials have submitted two funding-related requests to Congress, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said here today.
Officials are seeking $79.4 billion in overseas contingency operations funding for fiscal year 2014 and are asking Congress to allow Pentagon officials to reprogram $9.6 billion in fiscal 2013 funding, Little said.
The reprogramming actions “are not meant to offset the effects of sequestration,” he added.
The $9.6 billion request looks to fix large shortfalls in overseas contingency operations funding and larger than expected fuel bills, Little explained in a meeting with reporters.
“There are some wartime bills inside that reprogramming request,” he said. “The main goal we’re trying to achieve is limit the impact of sequestration on military readiness, particularly operations, training and maintenance accounts.”
Little stressed the department is “trying to scrape for every penny, dime and nickel so we can achieve an additional $37 billion in cuts by the end of September.” The reprogrammed money comes from some investment accounts and some military personnel accounts. They would shift to operations and maintenance accounts. DOD would like to see Congress act on the reprogramming request in the next three weeks, Little said.
The overseas contingency operations request usually is submitted at the same time the base budget is delivered to Congress. This year -- due to the fiscal uncertainty -- the base budget went to Congress in early April, and the overseas contingency funding request went to Congress on May 17.
Fiscal 2013’s overseas contingency operations funding was $86.5 billion. This year’s $79.4 billion reflects that the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan went from 68,000 to 34,000, and there has been a drop in the amount needed, Little said. Still, he added, “this is not about cost per troop.”
Funding for troops in Afghanistan will continue, the press secretary said, and training the Afghan army and police remain a priority. The retrograde movement of materiel, supplies and equipment out of Afghanistan as U.S. forces draw down also costs money, he noted.
To mark Armed Forces Day, the services’ senior enlisted advisors joined the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in an inaugural wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery here.
On a gray afternoon between spells of light rain, Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia and his fellow enlisted advisors hung the logos of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard on a wreath wrapped with purple ribbon just steps away from the gravesite.
Joining Battaglia in the ceremony were Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III, Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Michael P. Barrett, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Michael D. Stevens, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Michael P. Leavitt.
Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Denise Jelinski-Hall represented the National Guard Bureau.
Battaglia found the ceremony bittersweet, he told American Forces Press Service, “as it should be for everyone.”
On Armed Forces Day “we recognize and celebrate the service and sacrifice of all of our serving men and women past and present, and to have an event here at Arlington National Cemetery means that, on a sadder note, we also honor those who went before us,” he said. “They celebrate the day with us in spirit only.”
He added, “We’re hoping this will be an annual event and this is the right place to do it.”
Battaglia said he and the other enlisted advisors have the full cooperation from Arlington National Cemetery officials to hold the ceremony every year and display the wreath representing the armed forces and all five service branches for everyone who visits the Tomb of the Unknowns on Armed Forces Day.
Yesterday, President Barack Obama issued a proclamation that continues the precedent set by his predecessors in declaring the third Saturday of each May as Armed Forces Day.
“Whenever our nation has come under attack, courageous men and women in uniform have risen to her defense. Whenever our liberties have come under assault, our service members have responded with resolve,” the president said in his proclamation.
“Time and again these heroes have sacrificed to sustain that powerful promise that we hold so dear -- life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And on Armed Forces Day, we honor those who serve bravely and sacrifice selflessly in our name,” he said.
On that Saturday, the commander in chief added, the nation thanks those in uniform and the families who serve alongside them.
“We are bound by a sacred obligation to ensure our service members and their loved ones have the resources and benefits they have earned and deserve,” Obama said, “and only when we uphold this trust do we truly show our appreciation for our armed forces.”
In his own statement to the men and women in uniform, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called Armed Forces Day an opportunity for all Americans to express their gratitude to service members, military families and veterans who keep the nation strong and safe.
“In 2013 we mark the 12th consecutive Armed Forces Day with our nation at war –- the longest period of sustained combat in our history, fought entirely by volunteers who made the courageous choice to answer the nation’s call,” the secretary said, and quoted President Harry S. Truman, who, in proclaiming first Armed Forces Day, said, “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”
Such courage, imagination and determination come from ordinary citizens who step forward to do extraordinary things throughout the nation’s history, Hagel said.
“To all our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen: take pride -– not only on Armed Forces Day, but every day –- in the uniform that you wear and the patriotic duty you perform. You are striving to make a difference and leading purposeful lives. You are part of a force that is admired and respected both at home and abroad. Remember that there is no challenge that cannot be met through the shared determination of the world’s greatest military.
“To the husbands, wives, sons, daughters and loved ones of our service members: Armed Forces Day is also a day to recognize the considerable sacrifices you make every day, and for this nation to reaffirm its commitments to you. You, too, have made our nation stronger and safer.
“To our nation’s veterans,” Hagel concluded, “thank you for the service you gave to this country and for the support that you give our men and women carrying on your legacy today.”
As the ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns came to a close, Battaglia recalled those who rest in all veterans’ cemeteries across the nation.
“They still serve,” he said, “and we use them as inspiration. They’re still part of the team. Recognizing and celebrating Armed Forces Day is not just for those who witness it in person, but for those who have fallen.”
Federal Agencies must make government information open and machine readable, according to an executive order issued by the president last week.
Promoting openness and interoperability in government “promotes the delivery of efficient and effective services to the public, and contributes to economic growth,” the order stated. Under the new Open Data Policy, agencies will manage government information as an asset throughout its life cycle and “ensure that data are released to the public in ways that make the data easy to find, accessible, and usable.”
Under the executive order, within 90 days the Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy, the Controller of the Office of Federal Financial Management, the Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO), and the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) will identify measures necessary to support integrating the Open Data Policy into the federal acquisition and grant processes.
Also within 90 days, the Chief Performance Officer (CPO) will establish a Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) Goal to tack policy implementation. The CPO will help agencies set performance goals with metrics and milestones to monitor progress. Within 180 days, agencies will have to report their progress on implementation of CAP goals.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) sent a memorandum to agency heads establishing guidance for implementing the Open Data Policy. The guidance identifies the policy requirements to collect or create information, build information systems that support interoperability and accessibility, manage data and release practices, and identify related privacy and confidentiality measures.
The memo defines “open data” as publicly available data that is “structured in a way that enables the data to be fully discoverable and usable by end users.” Under the guidance, open data is: public; assessable in open formats; fully described with documentation; reusable (available under open license); complete, with as much detail allowed by law; timely; and supportable after release.
The executive order directs OMB, within 30 days, to publish an “open online repository of tools, best practices, and schemes” to help agencies implement the Open Data Policy. The OMB guidance describes “Project Open Data” to meet this requirement. The data repository established through Project Open Data will include definitions, codes, checklists, case studies, and other information and tools that enable “collaboration across the Federal Government, in partnership with public developers, as applicable.”
Other actions announced by the administration related to the principles of the Open Data Policy can be found on the CIO website.
The United States has an ethical responsibility to assure the health and well-being of detainees at the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where some have been on a hunger strike for several months, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said today .
“We have a responsibility, an ethical responsibility, to assure the health and well-being of every detainee and certainly we’re doing everything we can to do that,” Hagel said in response to a question during a Pentagon news conference. He added that President Barack Obama said last month he intends to renew efforts to try to close the facility. “We’re doing everything we can to protect those detainees and we do need a resolution to this,” Hagel said. “The president has said that, and he’s working toward it.”
Dempsey echoed Hagel’s thoughts, noting the importance of the military role at the site.
“The United States military guards Guantanamo and our responsibility is clear: … the well-being of the prisoners, the safety of both them and the guards,” Dempsey said.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has marked Armed Forces Day by expressing gratitude to service members, military families, and veterans who keep this nation strong and safe.
Here is the text of his proclamation:
Armed Forces Day is an opportunity for all Americans to express their gratitude to service members, military families, and veterans who keep this nation strong and safe. In 2013, we mark the twelfth consecutive Armed Forces Day with our nation at war – the longest period of sustained combat in our history, fought entirely by volunteers who made the courageous choice to answer the nation’s call.
President Harry Truman, who proclaimed the nation’s first Armed Forces Day, once said: “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”
That courage, imagination, and determination comes from ordinary citizens like you who have stepped forward to do extraordinary things throughout our nation’s history.
To all our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen: take pride – not only on Armed Forces Day but every day – in the uniform that you wear and the patriotic duty you perform. You are striving to make a difference and leading purposeful lives. You are part of a force that is admired and respected both at home and abroad. Remember that there is no challenge that cannot be met through the shared determination of the world’s greatest military.
To the husbands, wives, sons, daughters and loved ones of our service members: Armed Forces Day is also a day to recognize the considerable sacrifices you make every day, and for this nation to reaffirm its commitments to you. You too have made our nation stronger and safer.
To our nation’s veterans: thank you for the service you gave to this country and for the support that you give our men and women carrying on your legacy today. As Americans take this Armed Forces Day to reflect on what the military has meant for this country, I hope they also find new ways to show their admiration and respect for all those in our military family. Words of thanks and support will never be enough to repay the debt that this nation owes its patriots.
Sexual assault in the military is a crime and a problem that all military members at all levels will have to fight together, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said today.
“This is going to take all of us,” Hagel said during a joint Pentagon news conference with Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Hagel noted he and Dempsey, along with the service secretaries and chiefs of staff, attended an, “important, productive” White House meeting yesterday with President Barack Obama to address the situation, which Dempsey has termed a “crisis.”
The meeting was important, Hagel said, because “It gave the president an opportunity to ask questions directly, and get the sense of this huge problem, serious problem in our military.”
It also allowed those military leaders to share their views with the commander in chief, Hagel said. He added all the meeting’s participants are committed to solving sexual assaults, noting, “There's not one of these people in leadership today that wants this to be their legacy.”
The secretary said he spoke by phone today with the Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel, a nine-member body mandated by Congress, four selected by members of Congress and five by Hagel, that is charged with conducting a detailed review of factors surrounding sexual assault cases in the military.
“They're all highly respected, highly regarded, experienced men and women who understand cultures, society, command, and I think it's an exceptionally well-balanced group of men and women who we look to, to help us,” Hagel said. He noted that there are a number of pieces of legislation pending in Congress designed to address sexual assault issues, but asked for time for the panel to do its work.
“I would hope that we would have some time here, everyone would have some time, to listen to what the panel comes back with,” he said, “ … and give them some time here to go in and really assess the problem. Why do we have the problem? How can we prevent the problem? What should we be doing better?”
Hagel noted sexual assault is a complex crime with many potential contributing factors, including popular culture, accountability and alcohol use. “There are so many dimensions to this that I don't think you can come at it in one simple way,” he said. “I get a lot of advice on this, and I listen to everybody.”
The secretary particularly emphasized listening to sexual assault victims who “didn't feel their commanders were accountable enough [for victims] to be able to come forward and register a complaint, file a complaint, because they thought they would be subject to many things, … and then also having no confidence that anything would be done about their complaint.”
The secretary noted he issued guidance today on mandatory recertification and retraining for recruiters and sexual assault responders across the force. He is receiving weekly briefings on progress achieved, he said.
Hagel concluded, “We continue to look at every option, and we will. We have to. Every option is on the table.”
Dempsey said the risks inherent to military service must not include the risk of sexual assault.
“It betrays the trust on which our profession is founded. It's a crime that demands accountability and consequences,” the general said. He noted the Joint Chiefs have spent the better part of a year implementing a campaign focused on prevention, investigation, accountability, advocacy and assessment.
“The emphasis on prevention is especially important,” Dempsey added. “As the president made clear to us yesterday, we can and must do more to change a culture that has become too complacent. Now's the time for us to recommit ourselves to our profession. Now's the time for character to be valued as much, if not more, than competence. Now's the time for moral courage at every level. There can be no bystanders.”
Dempsey said during his early years in service, “The Army was broken.” Racial tension and drug abuse “tore at the fabric of our service,” he added.
Today’s joint service is not broken -- it is in fact remarkably resilient, he said.
“But we have a serious problem that we must solve: aggressive sexual behavior that rips at the bond of trust that binds us together,” the chairman said.
He concluded, “Every single member of the joint force in every unit at every level must be alert to the problem and be part of the solution. Working together, we can and will restore faith in ourselves, and the trust and faith of the American people.”