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DoD Officials Discuss Housing More Unaccompanied Children

Tue, 2014-07-08 00:00

Defense Department officials are in discussions with Department of Health and Human Services officials to house more children who have entered the United States unaccompanied, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said today.

During a Pentagon news conference, Kirby said the department is processing requests right now from HHS to house more children.

“I wouldn’t put an exact number on it, because that's still in discussion,” the admiral said.

Three bases already are housing these unaccompanied children – Fort Sill, Oklahoma; Lackland Air Force Base, Texas; and Naval Base Ventura, California. Currently, DoD facilities can accommodate 2,375 of these children.

The facilities being used are excess to DoD needs, Kirby said. “We’re providing access to certain facilities that were already vacant and not being used and are, therefore, available, and in the first three cases are relatively close to the border itself,” he said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel supports the mission, the admiral said, and is assured that housing these young people will not impinge on troops. “He understands the importance of making sure that these children get the care that they need once they get inside the country,” Kirby said.

HHS owns this mission, and while DoD is providing the facilities, “we are not responsible for the children themselves,” the press secretary said.

The original agreement between DoD and HHS places a 120-day cap on the time the children can be housed on the bases. Lackland has housed the children for about two months, and Kirby would not speculate on whether that cap will be extended. “It’s certainly something that could be discussed,” he said.

HHS will reimburse DoD for the facilities, Kirby said.

Some 60,000 unaccompanied children could enter the United States this year, officials said. For many, transnational criminal networks play a role in getting them to the United States.

In addition, officials said, these transnational criminal networks create much of the instability that causes many of these children to flee from Central and South America. The networks smuggle humans, drugs and weapons for a price.

The threat these groups pose cannot be countered solely by the military, officials noted, adding that Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson are working together on the threat.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)

Hagel to Visit Submarine, Aviation Bases in South

Tue, 2014-07-08 00:00

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will depart tomorrow for a two-day trip to military bases in Georgia, Florida and Alabama, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said today.

The trip is intended to ensure that the Defense Department stays focused on the long-term concerns affecting U.S. interests and allies in Asia, Europe and around the world, he said.

“Throughout this trip, the secretary will highlight and see firsthand some of the core capabilities that he prioritized in our budget submission earlier this year to ensure that our force is ready, agile, modern and effective to confront the full range of challenges that we'll face in the future,” Kirby said.

Hagel’s first stop will be at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in southeastern Georgia. The base is home to some of the Navy’s Ohio-class ballistic and guided-missile submarines.

“The secretary has made a longstanding personal commitment to the health of our nuclear force and has made it one of his highest priorities to ensure that the United States maintains a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrence force,” the admiral said.

The visit is part of Hagel’s ongoing review of the nuclear enterprise, which included visits to several intercontinental ballistic missile sites earlier this year, Kirby said. At Kings Bay, Hagel will tour the ballistic missile submarine USS Tennessee and visit a Trident submarine refit facility, and he’ll also speak with submariners, the admiral added.

July 10, the secretary will travel to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, which is home to the Air Force’s first full squadron of F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft and is where the next generation of Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps F-35 pilots and maintainers are being trained.

“The secretary's visit, particularly at this time, sends a strong message to our international partners that the United States remains fully committed to the F-35 program,” the admiral said. The F-35 fleet was grounded July 3 following a fire that occurred in an aircraft still on the runway at Eglin. The incident remains under investigation.

Hagel is confident that the investigation will help the F-35 return to flight, Kirby said, adding that the secretary is looking forward to hearing more firsthand from the personnel at Eglin.

Hagel’s final stop is at Fort Rucker, Alabama, the home of Army aviation. The visit is a chance to highlight the Army’s aviation restructure initiative, the admiral said, and to thank Army aviators for their hard work over 13 years of demanding operations that include airlift, close air support and casualty evacuation.

July 11, the secretary will welcome Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera to the Pentagon, Kirby said.

The secretary met most recently with Onodera at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

Among the issues the two defense leaders are expected to discuss are Japan's recent announcement on collective self-defense, the current process of reviewing and revising Japan-U.S. defense guidelines, and ongoing efforts to strengthen the joint alliance -- including trilateral cooperation with South Korea and Australia -- as the region confronts an evolving range of security challenges, including threats from North Korea, Kirby said.

(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @roulododnews)

American Service Members Secure Bases on Okinawa

Mon, 2014-07-07 00:00

American personnel on the Japanese island of Okinawa are battening down the hatches and securing airfields and facilities ahead of Super Typhoon Neoguri.

Japanese forecasters say the storm already has winds over 150 mph, and it is bearing down on the Ryukyu Islands, home to about 30,000 American service members and their families.

Forecasters say the storm will hit Okinawa tomorrow with heavy rain and powerful winds.

Air Force Brig. Gen. James Hecker, the commander of the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, declared Tropical Cyclone Condition of Readiness 3, and the base began evacuating aircraft yesterday.

“I can’t stress enough how dangerous this typhoon may be when it hits Okinawa,” Hecker said in a message to the community. “This is not just another typhoon.” Neoguri is the most powerful typhoon forecast to hit the island in 15 years.

Officials are evacuating 61 U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft from Okinawa to Guam, mainland Japan, the Philippines and South Korea, said Pentagon spokesman Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jeff Pool. Aircraft moving include C-130 Hercules aircraft, P-3 Orions, P-8 Poseidons and KC-135 Stratotankers.

“The remaining helicopters and jets on Okinawa are being sheltered in protected hangars,” Pool said.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)
 

Cape Ray Begins Neutralizing Syrian Chemical Materials

Mon, 2014-07-07 00:00

Teams aboard the MV Cape Ray have begun neutralizing Syrian chemical materials, a Pentagon spokesman said here today.

U.S. military and civilian specialists aboard the ship are neutralizing the chemical materials in international waters, Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters.

The ship left Gioia Tauro, Italy, with 600 tons of chemicals.

“The Cape Ray is tasked with neutralization of specific chemical material from Syria,” Warren said, noting that the teams are following United Nations and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons guidelines.

If all goes well, he said, neutralization will take about 60 days. Weather could affect the process, he added.

The U.S. ship has two field-deployable hydrolysis systems in its holds. The systems mix the chemicals in a titanium reactor to render them inert.

“When neutralization is complete, Cape Ray will deliver the result effluent by-products to Finland and Germany for destruction ashore,” Warren said.

Italian officials loaded 78 containers of Syrian chemical materials aboard the Cape Ray on July 2. The Cape Ray teams will neutralize HD sulfur mustard gas and DF, a sarin gas precursor.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)
 

Sailors in Okinawa Brace for Super Typhoon

Mon, 2014-07-07 00:00

Sailors from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 1 are bracing and preparing for the impact of Super Typhoon Neoguri, forecasted to arrive here as a Category 5 strength storm tomorrow.

NMCB 1 sailors spent July 6 and 7 storing items, sandbagging ground-level entrances subject to flooding and staging tactical vehicles, water dispensers and packaged meals throughout Camp Shields.

“Right now, we’re finishing up securing the camp, tying up and putting away anything that is not immobile so that nothing will become a projectile hazard throughout Camp Shields,” said Navy Command Master Chief Petty Officer Dean Fischer, the battalion’s command master chief.

Although Super Typhoon Neoguri has wind gusts at more than 150 mph according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, the Seabees are adept in natural disaster preparation and the relief efforts, which may be needed in the storm’s aftermath, Fischer said.

“Typhoon season pretty much aligns with hurricane season back home in Mississippi, so Gulfport Seabees have a very long history of dealing with TCCOR [tropical storm condition of readiness] conditions,” the command master chief said. “All of the engineering assets on Okinawa will be in contact before, during and after the storm coordinating anything they would need. For us, the primary mission would be to support the Navy bases, the Marine Corps and the Air Force bases.”

Typhoon season officially runs from June through November. According to AccuWeather.com meteorologists, Neoguri will still be a super typhoon when it crosses the gap between the Ryukyu Islands of Miyako Jima and Okinawa.

NMCB 1 sailors are making the best of a stormy outlook, preparing to hunker down in their barracks until they receive an all-clear notice from their chain of command.

“I will take accountability of all of the personnel in my building continue to maintain their safety throughout the storm and make sure they have food and water,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Johnny Turner, a yeoman. “Our mustering point will be in our lounge area, where we will meet and get accountability to the command mustering point of contact, and while we ride out the storm, it will be an opportunity for us to bond [and] relax after working hard to secure the base.”

Master Chief Petty Officer Benno Lederer, Camp Shields officer in charge, said that because of NMCB 1’s diligent efforts in preparing for the typhoon, Camp Shields is braced for the storm well ahead of schedule.

“All NMCB 1 and 30th Naval Construction Regiment typhoon preparations are done, and we are prepared for the storm,” he said. The sailors will begin lockdown for Tropical Cyclone Conditions of Readiness 1 late today or early tomorrow and are expected to be in that state until July 9 or 10, he added.

Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 1 is deployed to Okinawa as part of its 2014 deployment.
 

Chinese Hospital Ship Hosts RIMPAC Medical Exchange Conference

Mon, 2014-07-07 00:00

The Chinese hospital ship Peace Ark hosted a medical exchange conference as part of the 2014 Rim of the Pacific exercise here July 3.

Chinese and U.S. naval medical officers gave presentations during the multinational conference, which opened with a video presentation about Peace Ark.

“We wanted the attendees to learn about our experiences on humanitarian assistance relief missions,” said Lt. Cmdr. Xin Du, a medical officer who serves aboard Peace Ark. “But more importantly, I wanted to learn from others’ experience helping out on humanitarian relief efforts. I like the idea of exchanging ideas with other countries. It promotes friendship and subsequent joint missions.”

Military medical personnel from Canada, Indonesia, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea and the United States attended the conference, which encouraged the exchange of medical knowledge and discussion of ways to help humanity using military resources.

“I was impressed with the sheer capacity of Peace Ark's resources in treating people in a disaster,” said Master Cpl. Katarina Vasic, a dental technician with the Canadian army.

A telemedicine presentation by Navy Cmdr. (Dr.) Gilbert Seda, a pulmonary medicine specialist aboard Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy, caught the attention of many Peace Ark personnel. Telemedicine is the electronic exchange of medical information between sites.

“Most of us are very interested in telemedicine,” said Du. “Our cardiologist, nephrologist, and other officers were very interested in his presentation.”

This year’s RIMPAC marks the first time in the exercise’s history that hospital ships have participated. Peace Ark and Mercy will continue to hold medical exchanges while in Pearl Harbor and during simulated disaster-relief operations at sea.

Twenty-two nations, more than 40 ships and submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in the RIMPAC exercise, which began June 26 and runs to Aug. 1, in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California.
 

Obama Celebrates Newest Americans During Naturalization Ceremony

Fri, 2014-07-04 00:00

President Barack Obama today helped welcome 25 service members and spouses from 15 countries at the end of a journey in which they became America’s newest citizens.

Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas administered the oath of citizenship to candidates from the U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps, as well as military spouses, proclaiming, “You are now United States citizens.”

Obama then lauded the new citizens for their “long journey” from Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Jamaica, Nigeria, Panama, the Philippines, South Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, and Ukraine to the U.S.

“Then many of you did something extraordinary,” Obama said. “You signed up to serve in the United States military. You answered the call to fight and potentially to give your life for a country that you didn’t fully belong to yet.”

“You understood what makes us American is not just circumstances of birth, or the names in our family tree,” he said. It’s the timeless belief that from many we are one and are bound together by adherence to a set of beliefs and unalienable rights, with certain obligations to serve each other, Obama said.
“Over the years, that’s exactly what you’ve done,” he added.

Obama talked about three of the ceremony’s participants, describing their motivation for joining the U.S. military.

“Rodrigo Laquian came to the United States from the Philippines,” the president said. “He joined the Navy because, he said, he ‘wanted to be a part of something big and important -- to be a part of a great cause.’”

“Stephanie Van Ausdall moved here from Canada with her mom when she was 18 years old,” Obama said. “Today, she’s 26 and a sergeant in the Army. Stephanie says she joined the military ‘to give my children someone to look up to and someone they can be proud of.’”

“Oscar Gonzalez was born in Guatemala, and became a Marine last year,” he said. “Becoming a citizen, he says, means becoming part of a ‘society that strives and stands for good all around the world -- just being a part of that makes me complete.’”

Obama also recognize military spouses who have “been serving our country as well.”

“Diana Baker is originally from Kenya and met her husband Kowaine in Germany,” he said. “Today, she’s a nurse at Frederick Memorial Hospital in Maryland, and she and her husband have four beautiful children.”

“In Diana’s words,” Obama said, “‘becoming a citizen of the United States is like joining a club of the best of the best.’”

Together, the president said, the new Americans remind the country that “America is and always has been a nation of immigrants.”

“Throughout our history, immigrants have come to our shores in wave after wave, from every corner of the globe,” he said. “Every one of us –- unless we’re Native American –- has an ancestor who was born somewhere else.”

“And even though we haven’t always looked the same or spoken the same language,” Obama said, “as Americans, we’ve done big things together. “

We’ve won this country’s freedom together, he said, built our greatest cities together, defended our way of life together and we’ve continued to perfect our union together which is what makes America special.

Obama said what makes the America strong is the basic idea of welcoming immigrants to our shores and it is central to our way of life.

We believe our diversity and differences, he said, when joined together by a common set of ideals, make the nation stronger and more creative.

“From all these different strands, we make something new here in America,” Obama said.

The president provided inspiration through a quote from a “famous” immigrant chef from Armenia named George Mardikian, who notes, Obama said, “‘You who have been born in America, I wish I could make you understand what it is like not to be an American -– not to have been an American all your life -– and then, suddenly to be one, for that moment, and forever after.’”

Today, Obama said, on this Fourth of July, all across the country -- from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello to the Alamodome in Texas -- immigrants from around the world are taking the oath of citizenship.

“Many of them have worked and sacrificed for years to get to this moment,” he said. “All of them have done it for something none of us should ever take for granted -- the right to be called an American, from this moment, and forever after.”

This fact, Obama said, should give Americans hope and make them confident about the future of the country.

As long as there are men and women willing to give so much for the right to call themselves Americans, he said, and we do our part to keep the door open to those willing to earn their citizenship, the nation’s economy will grow.

“We’ll continue to journey forward,” Obama said. “And we’ll remind the world of why the United States of America is, and always will be, the greatest nation on Earth. We’re very proud of you. Congratulations.”

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

President Honors Independence Day in Weekly Address

Fri, 2014-07-04 00:00

In his weekly address issued today, President Barack Obama saluted Independence Day, noting that generations of Americans – including service members past and present -- have worked and sacrificed to keep the nation strong.

The commander in chief had this to say to his troops: “You keep us safe, and you keep the United States of America a shining beacon of hope for the world. And for that, you and your families deserve not only the appreciation of a grateful nation, but our enduring commitment to serve you as well as you’ve served us.”

Here is the text of the president’s address:

Hi, everybody. I hope you're all having a great Fourth of July weekend.

I want to begin today by saying a special word to the U.S. Men’s Soccer Team, who represented America so well the past few weeks. We are so proud of you. You’ve got a lot of new believers. And I know there’s actually a petition on the White House website to make Tim Howard the next Secretary of Defense. Chuck Hagel’s got that spot right now, but if there is a vacancy, I’ll think about it.

It was 238 years ago that our founders came together in Philadelphia to launch our American experiment. There were farmers and businessmen, doctors and lawyers, ministers and a kite-flying scientist.

Those early patriots may have come from different backgrounds and different walks of life. But they were united by a belief in a simple truth -- that we are all created equal; that we are all endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights; and that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Over the years, that belief has sustained us through war and depression; peace and prosperity. It’s helped us build the strongest democracy, the greatest middle class, and the most powerful military the world has ever known. And today, there isn’t a nation on Earth that wouldn’t gladly trade places with the United States of America.

But our success is only possible because we have never treated those self-evident truths as self-executing. Generations of Americans have marched, organized, petitioned, fought and even died to extend those rights to others; to widen the circle of opportunity for others; and to perfect this union we love so much.

That’s why I want to say a special thanks to the men and women of our armed forces and the families who serve with them -- especially those service members who spent this most American of holidays serving your country far from home.

You keep us safe, and you keep the United States of America a shining beacon of hope for the world. And for that, you and your families deserve not only the appreciation of a grateful nation, but our enduring commitment to serve you as well as you’ve served us.

God bless you all. And have a great weekend.

Deputy Secretary in UK for Meetings, Carrier Christening

Thu, 2014-07-03 00:00

Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work arrived in London today for a series of discussions with senior U.K. defense officials.

While in England, Work met with his U.K. counterpart, Jon Thompson, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Defense.

He also had meetings with Julian Miller, the deputy national security advisor; British Army Gen. Nick Houghton, the chief of the defense staff; and Philip Dunne, the minister for defense equipment, support and technology.

A Defense Department spokesman said Work thanked the UK government for its steadfast partnership in conducting joint military operations and for its leadership role with NATO, to include hosting the upcoming NATO summit in Wales.  

Tomorrow, Work will attend the christening ceremony for the U.K.’s newest aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, in Rosyth, Scotland, near Edinburgh.

Also attending the ceremony with Work will be Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.

The ship is the largest ever built for the British Royal Navy and is specially outfitted with a bow ramp to assist short takeoffs by the F-35B Lightning II joint strike fighter. The ramp was designed by a joint British and American team of contractors and allows the F-35B to carry a 20 percent larger payload.

“Our Navy shares a great deal of common interests with the Royal Navy, even in the development of this carrier,” Greenert said. “I look forward to the day when we will see our U.S. ships sail by her side as they exercise, communicate and face tomorrow's common challenges.”

The Queen Elizabeth will be one of the most technologically advanced ships in the Royal Navy fleet. The automation of many processes means that while the new carrier is nearly three times the size of the U.K.’s existing light aircraft carriers, it will require about the same number of crew members -- around 680 sailors.

In a break from the traditional Champagne, Queen Elizabeth II will christen the ship with a bottle of whisky from Bowmore distillery in Islay, Scotland, in honor of the carrier’s Scottish builders.

As part of the ceremony, the ship will be floated for the first time. It will later be moved to a different part of the shipyard for further outfitting. Sea trials are expected to begin in August 2016, and the Royal Navy is scheduled to accept the ship in May 2017.

A second Queen Elizabeth-class carrier, the HMS Prince of Wales, is under construction in a neighboring dry-dock and is scheduled to be accepted in August 2019.

 

(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @roulododnews
 

Deputy Defense Secretary Work in London for Talks with British Counterparts

Thu, 2014-07-03 00:00

Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work is visiting the United Kingdom July 3-5 to meet with senior government and military UK leadership and attend the naming ceremony for the Royal Navy's lead ship of the Queen Elizabeth-class of aircraft carrier.

Pentagon Spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Courtney Hillson said Work met today with the Chief of Defense Staff General Sir Nicholas Houghton and other senior UK government leaders to discuss defense strategies and capabilities collaboration, including U.S.-UK cooperation on nuclear issues, procurement of the Joint Strike Fighter, and carrier operations.

Additionally, Work met with UK Deputy National Security Advisor Julian Miller and other senior UK interagency officials on a wide range of security issues of mutual concern. Deputy Secretary Work and Deputy National Security Advisor Miller shared insights on how to sustain capabilities in fiscally constrained times and increase defense cooperation within the U.S.-UK alliance.

During his meetings, Work thanked the UK government for their steadfast partnership in conducting joint military operations and for their leadership role within NATO, to include hosting the upcoming NATO Summit in Wales. He pledged to continue a regular dialogue.

Tomorrow, Work will attend the July 4 naming ceremony for the HMS Queen Elizabeth at the Rosyth dockyard in Scotland. The Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert will also attend the event, which is a significant milestone in future carrier operations and maritime power projection.
 

Hagel: U.S. to Secure Embassy, Assess Situation in Iraq

Thu, 2014-07-03 00:00

U.S. military efforts in Iraq are focusing on securing the American Embassy and personnel in Baghdad, assessing the situation in the country and advising Iraqi security forces, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said today.

Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey briefed the Pentagon press corps, focusing on the U.S. mission and role in Iraq.

Both are important components of President Barack Obama’s strategy in Iraq, the secretary said, which involves supporting Iraqi forces and helping Iraq's leaders resolve the political crisis that enabled the advance of the armed militant extremist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

“By reinforcing security at the U.S. embassy [and] its support facilities at Baghdad International Airport, we're helping provide our diplomats time and space to work with Sunni, Kurd and Shia political leaders as they attempt to form a new inclusive national unity government,” Hagel told reporters.

By better understanding conditions on the ground and the capabilities of Iraqi security forces, he added, “we'll be better able to help advise them as they combat ISIL forces inside their own country.”

About 200 U.S. military advisers are on the ground in Iraq, said Hagel, noting that the United States, with Iraqi assistance, has established a joint operations center in Baghdad.

“We have personnel on the ground in Erbil where our second joint operations center has achieved initial operating capability … [and] assessment teams are evaluating the capabilities and cohesiveness of Iraqi forces,” the secretary said.

The six U.S. assessment teams are focusing on questions such as the strength and cohesion of the Iraqi security forces, the strength and locations of ISIL, how deeply embedded they are, how each component fits into the larger sectarian dynamic at play in the country, the process of forming a new government in the country, and other material issues, Hagel added.

“Both the chairman and I are getting some assessments back, early assessments, through [U.S. Central Command Commander Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III] who is overseeing all of this,” the secretary said. “We won't have the full complement of all those assessments for a while but that is ongoing.”

The teams in Iraq today have one mission and that is assessments, he added.

“I don't know what the assessments are going to come back and say or what they would recommend. We'll wait to see what that is and what Gen. Austin and Gen. Dempsey then recommend,” the secretary said.

“None of these troops are performing combat missions. None will perform combat missions,” Hagel said.

“The situation in Iraq … is complex and fluid. But there's no exclusively military solution to the threats posed by ISIL,” he added. “Our approach is deliberate and flexible. It is designed to bolster our diplomatic efforts and support the Iraqi people. We will remain prepared to protect our people and our interests in Iraq.”

As most Americans enjoy the Fourth of July holiday weekend, service members around the world, especially in the Middle East, will stay postured and ready for any contingency in that region, the secretary told reporters.

“As we celebrate Independence Day tomorrow, I want to particularly express my gratitude to the men and women and their families who serve our nation at home and abroad, both civilian and in uniform,” Hagel said.

“I thank you all for what you do to keep our country safe every day,” he added.

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)
 

Hagel Praises Latvia’s Efforts to Boost Defense Spending

Thu, 2014-07-03 00:00

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met at the Pentagon today with Latvia’s Minister of Defense Raimonds Vējonis and congratulated him for the Baltic nation’s progress toward increasing defense spending.

A statement issued after the meeting by Pentagon Assistant Press Secretary Carl Woog said said both also discussed steps that have been taken to demonstrate U.S. and allied commitment to the Baltic region as well as ongoing efforts to provide a persistent presence in the area, ranging from augmented NATO air policing to the deployment of company-size rotational forces to the Baltic states and Poland.

Latvia joined NATO on March 29, 2004.

Woog’s statement reads as follows:

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met with Latvia’s Minister of Defense Raimonds Vējonis here today. Secretary Hagel congratulated Minister Vējonis on recent progress Latvia has made towards increasing their defense spending.

Among the topics discussed were efforts taken to date to demonstrate U.S. and allied commitment to the Baltic region as well as ongoing efforts to provide persistent presence in the area, ranging from augmented NATO air policing to the deployment of company-size rotational forces to the Baltic states and Poland. Secretary Hagel said we would continue to work with NATO to broaden support -- a focal point of efforts at the NATO Summit.

Finally, Secretary Hagel and Minister Vējonis discussed further opportunities for regional cooperation as discussed in last August’s Baltic Summit at the White House. The secretary stressed that the U.S. will continue to work with the Baltic States to support regional cooperation, interoperability with allies and long-term defense modernization.
 

Chairman Describes U.S. Interests in Iraq

Thu, 2014-07-03 00:00

The United States has sent troops back to Iraq because it is in America’s interest for the country to remain stable and to counter Sunni militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told a Pentagon news conference that Iraq’s leaders must form an inclusive government that respects the rights of all groups.  

Iraq can and should be a U.S. partner in countering terrorism, Dempsey said. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which has captured large sections of the country’s north and west over the past few weeks, is a regional threat, Dempsey said, but could become a transnational and global threat in the future. They have “made some pretty significant and rapid advances.”

Yet “they’re stretched right now,” the chairman said, “stretched to control what they have gained and stretched across their logistics lines of communication.”

There are currently nearly 800 American service members in Iraq, with some protecting the American embassy and other facilities. Other U.S. troops are assessing the situation on the ground and have now opened a second joint operations center in Erbil in northern Iraq after establishing one in Baghdad last month. President Barack Obama ordered up to 300 U.S. special forces to the country last month to provide advice on how best to assist the Iraqi military in their fight against Sunni militants.

Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces have stiffened resistance in face of the militants’ gains.

“I don’t have the assessment teams’ exact language, but some initial insights are that the ISF is stiffening, that they’re capable of defending Baghdad,” Dempsey said.

Iraqi forces would be challenged however, if they went on the offensive against the militants, he added.

Dempsey emphasized the ability of Iraq’s military to defend the country depends on political leaders in Baghdad uniting to form a government of national unity.

In addition, what role the United States will play in Iraq going forward, he said, depends on the conclusions of the U.S. military assessment teams, as well as Iraq’s political progress.

Currently, U.S. advisors in Iraq are not involved in combat operations, Dempsey said, but he did not rule that out.

“If the assessment comes back and reveals that it would be beneficial to this effort and to our national security interests to put the advisors in a different role, I will first consult with the secretary, we will consult with the president,” he said. “We’ll provide that option and we will move ahead.”

Even so, he said U.S. involvement in Iraq does not amount to “mission creep.” Choosing to characterize it instead as “mission match.”

“We will match the resources we apply with the authorities and responsibilities that go with them based on the mission we undertake, and that is to be determined,” the chairman said.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @garamoneDoDNews)
 

Terminally Ill Army Wife Gives Birth to ‘Miracle’ Baby

Thu, 2014-07-03 00:00

When doctors told Yesenia Ruiz-Rojo she was terminally ill, the pregnant 21-year-old put all thoughts of herself aside. Just save my baby, she asked.

Less than four months into her pregnancy, Ruiz-Rojo was facing aggressive liver cancer and given two to four months to live. But rather than give up, the Army wife and her team of providers at Brooke Army Medical Center here decided they were going to beat the odds.

Four months later, Ruiz-Rojo gave birth to a healthy boy named Luke.

“I love spending time with my son; he’s beautiful,” she said over the phone from a hospice center in California. “I’m so thankful for him.”

She shared a picture of her family on Easter. Her 5-year-old stepson close behind her and with her baby, in a mini suit and tie, cuddled on her lap. Luke, who turned five months old in June, has received the gift of his mom’s care for longer than anyone expected.

Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Raul Palacios, BAMC’s chief of interventional radiology, calls Ruiz-Rojo’s case “a medical miracle.”

“She told us all she wanted was for her baby to live,” Palacios said. “She was willing to do whatever it took to make that happen.”

Ruiz-Rojo arrived at BAMC in her 15th week of pregnancy. Previously healthy, she had become alarmed by a severe bout of abdominal pain and vomiting and went the emergency room at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, Fort Hood, Texas. Tests revealed a tumor covering more than 65 percent of her liver. She was transferred to BAMC two days later.

When BAMC providers heard about the case, they knew the situation was dire. Based on current literature and case reports, a pregnant woman with this type of aggressive cancer hadn’t lived very long, let alone long enough to deliver a healthy child.

“There was nothing out there we found in conventional medicine that would offer her any hope,” Palacios said. “We weren’t aware of anything in the past that had been tried successfully before.”

Unwilling to give up, experts from more than a dozen specialties met to explore every possible treatment option.

They couldn’t remove the tumor because of its size and location, and traditional cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, would cause harm or terminate the patient’s pregnancy, explained Army Col. (Dr.) Stephen Harrison, BAMC’s chief of hepatology and consultant to the surgeon general for gastrointestinal and liver diseases.

Palacios suggested they try a fairly new therapy called selective internal radiation therapy with Y-90, which places tiny radioactive particles in the patient’s artery that feeds the liver tumor which then either shrinks or dies, he explained.

BAMC is the only Defense Department facility that uses this treatment, he noted, which is FDA approved to treat primary liver and colon cancer.
“After meticulous consideration, the entire team felt there would be minimal risk to the patient and her baby,” Palacios said. “We held our breath, acknowledged Mrs. Ruiz-Rojo’s desires, and made the best educated decision with what we knew at the time.”

Interventional radiology completed her Y-90 treatment in six weeks, after which there was nothing left to do but monitor her health and pregnancy, Palacios said, noting some early encouraging signs that the tumor was responding. Ruiz-Rojo returned to the hospital at 32 weeks and delivered her baby on Jan. 9.

Her providers were thrilled at the outcome.

“The fact that at a moment’s notice everyone dropped everything to come up with a plan speaks volumes about BAMC’s dedication and commitment to care for our patients,” Palacios said.

“If the team hadn’t looked outside the box, we wouldn’t have had the chance to give her a viable baby,” added Army Col. (Dr.) Scott Kambiss, chief of OB/GYN. “Just the idea that someone would have that opportunity to bring forth life ... that was incredible for all of us. Every day is a day she didn’t have before.”

Shortly after, Ruiz-Rojo moved to California to spend time with her family and new baby while relatively symptom-free. She has lived there since mid-March creating happy memories her son can view in pictures and videos as he grows up.

“She didn’t want cancer treatments that would impair the quality of time she has left with her baby,” Palacios said.

Ruiz-Rojo’s journey may end soon, but because of a caring team of BAMC providers, her baby now has a shot at a long and happy life, Palacios said.

“I hope someone tells Luke someday how brave his mother was to allow doctors at BAMC to participate in her health,” he said.

“The fact that she is able to be with her child and experience this time with him is amazing,” Harrison added. “It’s heartwarming for all of us.”

Ruiz-Rojo’s mother, Olivia, expressed her gratitude in Spanish while at her daughter’s bedside in hospice.

“Luke is a beautiful baby -- so active, so playful,” she said over the phone. “All my daughter wanted was to have her baby and have some time with him. She was able to do that, thanks to the caring doctors at BAMC.”
 

DLA Sells Non-military Property to Afghan Buyers

Thu, 2014-07-03 00:00

Defense Logistics Agency representatives met here in late June with a commercial Afghan company to conduct the first sale of useable non-military vehicles, appliances and furniture no longer needed by the U.S. government.

DLA is responsible for the disposition of excess property received from the military services.

The sale of the items, known as “white goods,” will provide regional economic stimulus to the Afghan economy and help the U.S. government avoid property disposal costs usually associated with the scrapping process, DLA Sales Contracting Officer Ron Williams said.

Included in the sale were a variety of previously used, commercial off-the-shelf items such as pneumatic tools, air conditioning units, office furniture, tractors, water trucks, forklifts and construction machinery. Many of the basic life support equipment items available, like shower and bath trailers, are no longer needed due to changing force requirements.

“The items that are being sold, once imported into the country of Afghanistan, are items that can be resold and have economic value to the buyers. They will pick up the items and either sell them outright or will use them in their own business to gain some type of economic benefit from it,” Williams said.

In January, the sales contracts were advertised under a competitive sale bidding process on the federal government contracting website. The criteria for contract awards required that the company must be based in Afghanistan, was owned 100 percent by Afghan citizens, and submitted the highest bid as a percentage of the property’s acquisition value.

The sale saw the release of property to a local Parwan province company and included a shower and bath trailer, two water trucks, a forklift and two trenching machines. After DLA releases property, a buyer must take it to an Afghan Inland Customs Depot for assessment and valuation.

“The most important effect of the sale is the economic stimulus to the Afghan economy and the goodwill that we are fostering with the Afghan government and local businesses,” Williams said. “The sale also allows us to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars as we are able to recover more money by selling the items than we would by turning them into scrap and selling them by the pound.”

The Bagram sale is the first of several planned white goods sales at U.S. sites across Afghanistan.

(EDITORS NOTE: This release includes material provided by the Defense Logistics Agency.)
 

New School Directory Guides Parents of Special-needs Kids

Thu, 2014-07-03 00:00

A permanent-change-of-station move prompts its own challenges, but family members with special-needs children face another complexity when looking for the right schools at their new home, a Defense Department official said here yesterday.

Ed Tyner, acting deputy director of DOD’s special needs program, told DoD News that service members and their families can find a comprehensive tool in the newly updated Education Directory for Children with Special Needs, which addresses opportunities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Available on the Military OneSource website, the directory gives parents guidance to make informed decisions on new school districts, programs and services for special-needs children.

“DoD is supportive of all families with special needs,” Tyner emphasized.

The directory has been available for about four years. It initially covered 15 states with the largest military populations and certain special needs, such as autism, intellectual deficits and behavioral concerns, Tyner said.

In addition to those needs, the new directory includes “the whole gamut,” from speech and language to learning disabilities to physical impairments, he said.

The new directory, Tyner said, is “much more comprehensive.”

Tyner noted that the directory is an education resource that’s also useful to families without special-needs children.
Navigational tools provide family members with tips on transitioning between schools by providing questions to ask and offering forms to download.

“It’s organized in a way that makes it very [user-friendly]. The feedback we’ve gotten from families has been great,” Tyner said.

The directory comprises two components: one on early intervention for children up to age 2, and another for school-aged children and young adults up to age 22, and both provide a substantive guide of tools and resources to make education transitions easier during a PCS move.

While the directory on Military OneSource neither compares nor rates schools, it will walk family members through school districts near the new installation and lists what schools offer for special-needs education opportunities and services, as well as enrollment numbers, Tyner explained.

“Contacts are listed so family members know who to call for more information,” he said.

Other tools in the directory include a checklist to give family members questions to ask at the new school and tips for organizing school records and other advice to help in the transition.

A common theme is that families look for special-needs education opportunities that are comparable to the school resources from which they’re moving, Tyner said. Laws ensure that special-needs education must provide comparable services, he added.

“Parents need to be sure the individualized needs, goals and objectives for their child are being met,” he said, even though the new school might be organized differently.

“The directory has been designed to help parents make better decisions, and it gives them information and tools as they work with their family members’ special needs,” Tyner said. “It shows the commitment by DoD to really put resources where they need to be for these families.”

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)
 

Transfer of Syrian Chemicals to Cape Ray is Complete

Thu, 2014-07-03 00:00

The transfer of Syrian chemicals from the Danish container ship Ark Futura to the Motor Vessel Cape Ray has been completed, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Adm. John Kirby said in a statement issued yesterday.

After the transfer was made in the Italian port of Gioia Tauro, Kirby said in the statement, the Cape Ray departed yesterday for international waters in the Mediterranean Sea to employ its onboard system to neutralize the chemicals.

Kirby’s statement reads as follows:

The transfer of Syrian chemicals from the Danish container ship Ark Futura to the Motor Vessel Cape Ray is complete. Cape Ray departed the Italian port of Gioia Tauro this afternoon for international waters in the Mediterranean Sea, where neutralization operations will soon begin. The neutralization process should take several weeks to complete.

Secretary Hagel is grateful to Danish and Italian authorities for their support in this process and is enormously proud of everyone who helped make possible this safe and incident-free transfer. He extends a special thanks to the men and women of the Cape Ray, Naval Forces Europe, and U.S. European Command teams for their impeccable planning and execution.
 

Hagel Expresses Condolences to Israeli Defense Minister

Wed, 2014-07-02 00:00

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon today to express his condolences to both the families of three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped and killed in the West Bank and to the people of Israel, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said.

“Secretary Hagel pledged his continued support for finding the perpetrators and urged all parties to refrain from steps that could be further destabilizing,” Kirby said in a statement summarizing the call. “Minister Yaalon thanked Secretary Hagel for his call and updated him on events unfolding in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.”

The teenagers disappeared last month from a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, and their bodies were found yesterday.
 

Deputy Secretary: Iftar Serves as Reminder of DoD Diversity

Wed, 2014-07-02 00:00

In addition to honoring the Muslim faith during Ramadan, the Pentagon’s 16th annual iftar demonstrated the importance of diversity and equality within the Defense Department, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said.

Iftar is the post-sunset breaking of the fast during the Islamic holy month.

Work, who spoke at an iftar held at the Pentagon yesterday, drew attention to the 4,500 Muslim Americans in uniform and the additional 1,000 civilians and contractors who work for the department.

“Ramadan reminds us of our shared responsibility to treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves and the basic principles that bind people of different faiths together by yearning for peace, justice and equality,” Work said, citing the words of President Barack Obama.

“Tonight is an opportunity for people of different faiths to come together in the spirit of respect and tolerance to share the richness of our beliefs and to enjoy the traditions of hospitality that are such an important part of the Muslim community,” the deputy secretary said.

He also recognized Gold Star Mother Shibra Khan and guest speaker Georgetown University chaplain Imam Yahya Hendi at the event.

Work reminded attendees that they gathered not only as people of faith, but also as those who have taken the mantle of responsibility in service to the nation and fellow citizens.

“Our country’s founders understood in a visceral way [that] the best way to honor the place of faith in the lives of all Americans was to fight for justice and equality as well as liberty and freedom,” he said. “That is exactly what the men and women both in and out of uniform who serve in the Department of Defense do every single day. They are safeguarding the very ideals deemed so precious by our founding fathers.”

Work noted that religious freedom encompasses soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and civilian contractors. “The United States’ all-volunteer force is stronger because of the diversity and because of the culture of inclusion that we try to instill in every single person inside the Department of Defense,” he said.

The deputy secretary also said the U.S. military is among the finest not because of its equipment and technology, but because of its people.

“Our nation and our entire military family remain stronger because of the service and sacrifice of people of all faiths, including the thousands of patriotic Muslim Americans who have served and still serve in this long period of war,” Work said. “They continue a long and noble tradition of generations of Muslim Americans who have defended this country.”

(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDODNews)
 

Secretary of Defense Calls ‘Secretary of Defense’

Wed, 2014-07-02 00:00

Not long after U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper Tim Howard turned in a World Cup record 16-save performance yesterday during a thrilling 2-1 soccer game the American team lost to Belgium in the Round of 16, one fan was impressed enough to replace Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s picture on the “Secretary of Defense of the United States of America” Wikipedia page with a shot of Howard in action.

Today, Hagel called Howard to thank him for defending the United States at the World Cup, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said.

“Secretary Hagel congratulated Howard on his record-breaking game and a great run in Brazil,” Kirby said in a statement. “He invited Howard and the entire team to come to the Pentagon later this year. He told Howard that with some training, he could someday become the real secretary of defense.”
 

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