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Airstrikes Hit ISIL in Syria, Iraq

Sun, 2015-03-29 00:00

U.S. and coalition military forces have continued to attack Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria and Iraq, Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve officials reported today.

Officials reported details of the latest strikes, which took place between 8 a.m. yesterday and 8 a.m. today, local time, noting that assessments of results are based on initial reports.

Airstrikes in Syria

Fighter aircraft conducted an airstrike near Kobani, Syria, which struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL vehicle.

Airstrikes in Iraq

Attack, fighter, bomber and remotely piloted aircraft conducted 14 airstrikes against ISIL terrorists in Iraq, approved by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense:

-- Near Bayji, an airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL fighting position.

-- Near Fallujah, an airstrike destroyed an ISIL excavator.

-- Near Mosul, three airstrikes struck two ISIL tactical units and destroyed two ISIL fighting positions, two ISIL vehicles, two ISIL heavy machine guns and an ISIL building.

-- Near Tal Afar, three airstrikes struck an ISIL large tactical unit, an ISIL storage facility, an ISIL fighting position and destroyed an ISIL building and an ISIL heavy machine gun; and

-- Near Tikrit, six airstrikes struck six ISIL tactical units and destroyed an ISIL fighting position and an ISIL anti-aircraft artillery weapon.

All aircraft returned to base safely.

Part of Operation Inherent Resolve

The strikes were conducted as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to eliminate the ISIL terrorist group and the threat they pose to Iraq, Syria, the region, and the wider international community. The destruction of ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq further limits the terrorist group's ability to project terror and conduct operations.

Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Iraq include the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Jordan, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Syria include the United States, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
 

NBA’s Houston Rockets Visit Arlington Cemetery, Pentagon

Sat, 2015-03-28 00:00

Crisp winds snapped across the sprawling grounds here today as members of the National Basketball Association’s Houston Rockets visited gravesites of fallen service members, met with an Army widow, and laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Rockets face off against the Washington Wizards tomorrow. But the Houston team members opted to tour the cemetery and Pentagon today as part of “Commitment to Service,” the Defense Department’s partnership with the NBA.

Jane Horton, whose husband, Army National Guard sniper Spc. Chris Horton, was killed in action in Afghanistan Sept. 9, 2011, led Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale and his team throughout Arlington’s grounds, including her husband’s gravesite and the Memorial Amphitheater.

Widow Recalls Husband’s Service, Sacrifice

Horton, 28, told the team her husband was only 26 when he succumbed to enemy fire in Paktia province while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

“Even though my husband died at such a young age, he still had eight more years than so many buried here who died at age 18,” she said. “There was nothing more that Chris wanted to do than serve his country during wartime and unfortunately he was one of 2,215 that were killed in Afghanistan.”

The significance of the setting seemed to resonate with the basketball team members who read gravestones belonging to service members close in age to the athletes.

Former Boston Celtic McHale joined Rockets shooting guard James Harden and center Dwight Howard in the wreath-laying ceremony.

“I think we’re all here because of the sacrifices people made not only over in the Middle East, but starting with World War I and World War II,” McHale said. “My father fought in World War II and so did my uncle so I’m very proud of their service.”

‘It’s a Great Honor and a Blessing to be Here’

Harden described his participation in the ceremony as “an amazing experience.”

“I got to do something that the President does every year,” he said. “It’s a great honor and a blessing to be here.”

Howard shared Harden’s sentiment, calling his visit an honor and humbling.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this,” Howard said. “To be in the presence of these great people is amazing and it’s something I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.”

Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, commanding general, Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region/U.S. Army Military District of Washington, noted the precision and significance of the changing of the guard ritual that ensures the tomb is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in any weather.

Tomb Guard sentinels, all volunteers, are elite members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) headquartered at Fort Myer, Virginia.

(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDoDNews)
 

U.S. Added Speed, Scale to West Africa Ebola Fight

Fri, 2015-02-27 00:00

Since Sept. 2014, when U.S. Army Africa leadership arrived in Liberia to help contain the historic outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa, the United States is transitioning its contributions to civilian and nongovernmental organizations there as the World Health Organization reports a drop in confirmed cases.

Last month, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby described how the whole-of-government approach led by the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, and the Defense Department had mobilized and adapted its resources in an austere environment while supporting a critical mission.

“Our rapid deployment of personnel, from engineers to logisticians, provided for the international civilian response by NGOs, USAID and the United Nations to grow their capability and capacity on the ground,” Kirby said.

The United States has backed more than 10,000 civilian responders on the ground in Ebola-affected areas, Kirby added, providing direct and indirect health care support and other functions handled by the military Operation United Assistance in Liberia.

DoD Critical Support

The Defense Department has critically supported the U.S. government Ebola response, he added, “bringing our unique capabilities, specifically speed and scale, to support the civilian-led response in West Africa.”

For the first time since the week ending June 29, 2014, fewer than 100 new confirmed cases have been reported in a week in the three most-affected countries, WHO officials wrote in an Ebola Situation Report.

“Together with our international partners, and the people of the three nations themselves, we have bent the curve of the epidemic and placed it on a much improved trajectory,” White House officials said in a Feb. 11 fact sheet.

DoD Accomplishments in West Africa

Accomplishments in West Africa are many –- the work performed by U.S. service members, DoD civilians, scientists from the U.S. Army Military Research Institute on Infectious Diseases, the Navy and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, with partners from USAID, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the Public Health Service and many others.

For DoD, according to the White House fact sheet, $112 million will be allocated for Ebola vaccines and diagnostics.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will receive $33 million for phase I clinical trials of experimental vaccines and therapeutics. Diagnostic efforts will receive $12 million.

The Chemical and Biological Defense Program will receive $50 million to continue work on vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostic systems for mitigating the spread of Ebola. And $17 million will go to procure detection and diagnostic systems, mortuary supplies, and isolation transport units.

Adding Capability and Infrastructure in Liberia

In Liberia, U.S. civilian and military personnel trained more than 1,500 health care workers, helping them provide safe and direct medical care to Ebola patients.

In the region, the United States helped facilitate the building of 15 Ebola treatment units in the region, 10 of them built by DoD personnel. The facilities have made possible the testing and isolation of hundreds of patients.

DoD also provided to the region 1.4 million sets of personal protective equipment.

DoD personnel built the Monrovia Medical Unit to treat Ebola-infected health care workers, with staffing by members of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. DoD is now transitioning nonclinical management to USAID.

DoD Medical Contributions

DoD also provided seven mobile laboratories to the region, reducing the time to diagnosis from days to hours. The labs have tested more than 4,000 samples since September.

The Defense Department also has made significant contributions to vaccine and drug development for Ebola virus disease.

USAMRIID and DTRA made medical countermeasure, funding and other major contributions to two vaccine candidates -- ChAd3 and VSV-ZEBOV –- that have completed phase 1 human clinical trials.

The First Ebola Therapeutics

USAMRIID and DTRA also have contributed to developing and funding several candidate drugs -– including ZMapp and TKM Ebola -- to treat patients infected with the disease. Some already have been used in patients under compassionate use in the United States, Western Europe and Africa.

TKM-Ebola was tested in nonhuman primates and has shown evidence of activity against Ebola. This candidate drug is produced by the Canadian company Tekmira Inc. under a contract from the DoD Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense.

Transitioning Operation United Assistance

On Jan. 25, President Barack Obama approved a plan formulated by USAID, the U.S. government lead in West Africa, and the Defense Department to transition the Liberia-based Operation United Assistance to civilians and international organizations working there.

The plan includes follow-on activities and supporting staffs for a modified headquarters in Liberia and augmentation for Operation Onward Liberty, a State Department-funded U.S. Africa Command program aimed at building partnership capacity with the Armed Forces of Liberia.

The plan also outlines a defense preparedness program and other security-cooperation activities.

“DoD personnel are coming home but the United States is not leaving West Africa,” defense officials said. “The U.S. government civilian-led response will grow in size and number in the weeks ahead, and continue the fight against Ebola.”

Of the 2,800 troops deployed, about 1,500 are already back in the United States, and nearly all of those remaining will return home by April 30.

U.S.-Liberia Partnership

After April 30, a transition element of approximately 100 DoD personnel will remain in Liberia to respond to Ebola-related contingences and expand security cooperation efforts.

On March 2, military personnel will make the Operation United Assistance intermediate staging base in Dakar, Senegal, a cooperative security location, where it will be available to support a range of missions.

The Cooperative Threat Reduction, or CTR, Program plans to increase its biosurveillance capacity, including related biosecurity and biosafety capabilities in West Africa. Over time the program will expand its capacity, augmenting partner-country capability to detect and report outbreaks of dangerous infectious diseases.

As DoD draws down its presence in Liberia, the United States will continue to support the regional governments alongside the international humanitarian and public health community, defense officials said.

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)
 

Army Approves Purple Hearts for Fort Hood Shooting Victims

Fri, 2015-02-06 00:00

Army Secretary John M. McHugh announced today that he has approved awarding the Purple Heart and its civilian counterpart, the Secretary of Defense Medal for the Defense of Freedom, to victims of a 2009 shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, following a change in the medals' eligibility criteria mandated by Congress.

Thirteen people were killed and more than 30 were wounded in the attack by Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, who was convicted in August 2013, of 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder.

"The Purple Heart's strict eligibility criteria had prevented us from awarding it to victims of the horrific attack at Fort Hood," McHugh explained. "Now that Congress has changed the criteria, we believe there is sufficient reason to allow these men and women to be awarded and recognized with either the Purple Heart or, in the case of civilians, the Defense of Freedom Medal. It's an appropriate recognition of their service and sacrifice."

Law Expanded Eligibility

Under a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015, Congress expanded the eligibility for the Purple Heart by redefining what should be considered an attack by a "foreign terrorist organization" for purposes of determining eligibility for the Purple Heart. The legislation states that an event should now be considered an attack by a foreign terrorist organization if the perpetrator of the attack "was in communication with the foreign terrorist organization before the attack" and "the attack was inspired or motivated by the foreign terrorist organization."

In a review of the Fort Hood incident and the new provisions of law, the Army determined that there was sufficient evidence to conclude Hasan "was in communication with the foreign terrorist organization before the attack," and that his radicalization and subsequent acts could reasonably be considered to have been "inspired or motivated by the foreign terrorist organization."

Previous criteria required a finding that Hasan had been acting at the direction of a foreign terrorist organization.

Identifying and Notifying Those Now Eligible

McHugh directed Army officials to identify soldiers and civilians now eligible for the awards as soon as possible, and to contact them about presentation of the awards. Soldiers receiving the Purple Heart automatically qualify for combat-related special compensation upon retirement. Recipients also are eligible for burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Following his 2013 conviction, Hasan was sentenced to death by a general court-martial. He is incarcerated at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, while post-trial and appellate processes continue.
 

DoD Launches Child Care Website to Ease Moving Transitions

Wed, 2015-01-28 00:00

As military families move frequently and face a host of concerns, finding child care can be one of the greatest challenges, Barbara Thompson, director of military community and policy’s office of family policy/children and youth/special needs, said yesterday.

To streamline and standardize what can be a daunting search, the Defense Department unveiled MilitaryChildCare.com, an online resource to help military, DoD civilian and contractor families find an array of military-operated and military-subsidized child care options for children between the ages of 4 weeks and 12 years, Thompson said.

Child Care Affects the Force

“Child care is a workforce issue that impacts the readiness and retention of the force,” Thompson said. “As families relocate to other areas, it’s really challenging to make sure your child care needs are being met, and this tool gives parents an opportunity in advance to find those child care spots that will work for the family.”

MilitaryChildCare.com is a “single gateway” for families to enter as they request child care, she noted.

Of the 200,000 children DoD serves in child care, more than 50 percent are younger than age 3, Thompson said.

“It’s very difficult to find infant and toddler care in the civilian community,” she said. “[DoD has] young families with young children and we really feel that we’re providing a high-quality environment for those babies and toddlers [with the website].”

Families can customize their search, put their children on waiting lists and monitor requests for placement, Thompson said.

“The idea is that you have choices, and you see the array pictorially of what’s available at those locations,” she noted.

A help desk online and at 1-855-696-2934, toll-free, is also available to help personalize families’ searches, she added.

Pilot Program Expanding

The website initiative used focus groups comprising child care staff and parents, with a goal of making the website functional and intuitive to make sure families can easily navigate the system, Thompson said.

A pilot program was also conducted in the study at numerous installations over the past 18 months at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, for the Air Force, Hawaii for the Army, Hawaii and San Diego for the Marine Corps, and Hawaii, San Diego, Key West, Bahrain, Meridian and Singapore for the Navy, she said.

Recently, 13 more installations were added to the website in addition to the pilots.

They are Naval Air Facility El Centro, California; Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada; Naval Air Station Joint Readiness Base Fort Worth, Texas; Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas; Naval Air Station Joint Readiness Base, New Orleans, Louisiana; Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California; Naval Air Station Lemoore, California; Naval Support Activity Monterey, California; Naval Base Ventura County, California; Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas; Naval Station Everett, Washington; Naval Base Kitsap, Washington; and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington.

The child care website is expected to be fully functional worldwide in September 2016, Thompson said, adding that it will remain a work in progress as it takes in feedback from parents for improvements.

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter:@MoonCronkDoD) 

DoD Officials Announce European Infrastructure Consolidation

Thu, 2015-01-08 00:00

Defense Department officials today announced plans to consolidate some military infrastructure in Europe to save the U.S. government more than $500 million annually while maintaining capability and commitments.

The plans represent the culmination of the European Infrastructure Consolidation process, a two-year effort that was designed to ensure long-term efficiency and effectiveness of the U.S. presence in Europe, officials said.

The consolidation incorporates the return of 15 sites to their host nations, part of U.S. European Command’s continued effort to remove nonenduring sites from its real-property inventory and allow more resources to be focused on other Eucom mission requirements.

Not Affecting Capability

“In the end, this transformation of our infrastructure will help maximize our military capabilities in Europe and help strengthen our important European partnerships so that we can best support our NATO allies and partners in the region,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said. Hagel discussed the decisions yesterday with his counterparts in the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Portugal -- the four countries affected most by the actions.

Derek Chollet, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs told reporters at the Pentagon today that European and trans-Atlantic security is more important than ever.

“We are not affecting our operational capability,” Chollet said. “The EIC adjustments do not diminish our ability to meet our commitments to allies and partners. In fact, these decisions will produce savings that will enable us to maintain a robust force presence in Europe.”

Throughout the process, Chollet said, the department maintained a close and consistent engagement with Congress, the State Department, the Joint Staff, the individual services, Eucom and European partners.

Personnel Impacts

Divestiture of the Royal Air Force Mildenhall facility represents the largest reduction in U.S. personnel among all the actions. That base’s closure will pave the way for the stationing of two squadrons of F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter jets at RAF Lakenheath starting in 2020, defense officials said.

The basing decisions will result in a net decrease of roughly 2,000 U.S. service members and civilians in the United Kingdom over the next several years. About 3,200 U.S. personnel will relocate from RAF Mildenhall, and that will be offset by the addition of about 1,200 people who will be permanently assigned to the two F-35 squadrons slated to open at RAF Lakenheath.

Pentagon officials anticipate several hundred additional U.S. military personnel being assigned to Germany in the coming years, and about 200 more in Italy. Roughly 500 will be reassigned from Lajes Field in the Azores, Portugal, as part of streamlining efforts approved and announced in 2012.

John Conger, acting assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment, managed the EIC effort for DoD. He said the bottom line was that the department wanted to preserve its operational capability while reducing the cost of supporting it.

Reduced Need for Support Infrastructure

“As a result, we will not need as many support personnel to maintain a reduced infrastructure, in terms of both U.S. military and civilian personnel and host-nation employees,” Conger said. “Approximately 1,200 U.S. military and civilian support positions will be eliminated, and about 6,000 more U.S. personnel will be relocated within Europe.

“Up to 1,100 host-nation positions could also be eliminated,” he continued, “and approximately 1,500 additional Europeans working for the U.S. could end up being impacted over the next several years, as many of their positions are relocated to areas we need to maintain for the long term.”

(Follow Tech. Sgt. Jake Richmond on Twitter: @RichmondDoDNews)
 

U.S., Partner Nations Continue Airstrikes Against ISIL

Thu, 2015-01-08 00:00

U.S. and partner-nation military forces have continued to attack Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria and Iraq, Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve officials reported today.

Officials provided details on the following strikes, which took place between 8 a.m. yesterday and 8 a.m. today, local time, noting that assessments of results are based on initial reports:

Airstrikes in Syria

Fighter and bomber aircraft conducted six airstrikes in Syria:

-- Near Kobani, five airstrikes struck two ISIL fighting positions and an ISIL staging area and destroyed four ISIL fighting positions.

-- Near Hasakah, an airstrike struck four ISIL crude oil pumps and five ISIL crude oil well heads.

Airstrikes in Iraq

Bomber and fighter aircraft conducted seven airstrikes in Iraq:

-- Near Rutbah, an airstrike destroyed an ISIL vehicle.

-- Near Tal Afar, two airstrikes struck two ISIL tactical units and destroyed an ISIL vehicle-borne bomb and an ISIL vehicle.

-- Near Kirkuk, an airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL checkpoint.

-- Near Fallujah, an airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit.

-- Near Asad, an airstrike struck a large ISIL unit.

-- Near Sinjar, an airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit.

Part of Operation Inherent Resolve

The strikes were conducted as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to eliminate the ISIL terrorist group and the threat they pose to Iraq, the region and the wider international community.

Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Iraq include the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Syria include the United States, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
 

USS Fort Worth Joins Sampson in Search Efforts

Sun, 2015-01-04 00:00

The littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth has joined the guided missile destroyer USS Sampson in the Java Sea to assist in the Indonesian-led international search-and-recovery effort for downed AirAsia Flight 8501, according to a U.S. 7th Fleet news release issued yesterday.

This morning the Sampson’s commander, Navy Cmdr. Steven M. Foley, discussed current search efforts with ABC’s “This Week” weekend news program host Martha Raddatz.

“We've been searching using lookouts, using optical search equipment and scanning the horizon and using our helicopters in tandem to search a wide area,” Foley told Raddatz today.

Rough Weather

“The weather has been a little rough with scattered thunderstorms,” the commander said. “The seas have been about two to four feet, increasing to about four to six feet when the rain swells come in. And we've been operating in three specified areas that the Indonesian authorities have assigned to us.

“And you have to remember,” Foley added, “this is their search effort and we're here to assist.”

Ships are being employed to search for the downed aircraft’s black box and the helicopters are looking for debris, Foley told Raddatz. Rigid-hull inflatable boats are also participating in the search effort, he added.

The Indonesian government requested U.S. assistance to help in the search for Air Asia Flight 8501, which disappeared Dec. 28 during its route from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore with 162 passengers and crew aboard.

The San Diego-based USS Sampson, an Arleigh Burke-class Aegis guided missile destroyer, was deployed Dec. 29 to assist in the search efforts for the Airbus A320-216 aircraft, according to a U.S. Navy news release. Since then, searchers have found debris and passenger remains from the aircraft, which apparently crashed during its flight during bad weather.

Remains, Debris Found

The Sampson arrived in the Java Sea search area on Dec. 30, according to a U.S. Navy release. Later that day, the Sampson’s helicopters and Indonesian navy assets discovered aircraft debris.

The Sampson’s crew also removed six remains from the sea Jan. 1 and six others Jan. 2, according to a U.S. Navy release.

“We find great gratification in being able to assist the Indonesian government in this ongoing effort and to bring closure to the family and friends of the passengers of AirAsia Flight 8501,” Foley told Raddatz.
 

Airstrikes Continue Against ISIL in Syria and Iraq

Sun, 2015-01-04 00:00

U.S. and partner-nation fighter and bomber aircraft conducted six airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria yesterday, Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve officials reported.

Separately, U.S. and partner-nation fighter aircraft conducted one airstrike against ISIL terrorists in Iraq yesterday, officials said.

Airstrikes in Syria

-- Near Kobani, six airstrikes struck an ISIL tactical unit and an ISIL fighting position and destroyed three ISIL vehicles, four ISIL buildings, three ISIL fighting positions, and two ISIL staging areas.

Airstrike in Iraq

-- Near Mosul, one airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit.

The strikes were conducted as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to eliminate the ISIL terrorist group and the threat they pose to Iraq, the region and the wider international community. The destruction of ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq further limits the terrorist group's ability to project terror and conduct operations.

Coalition-nation Participation

Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Iraq include the U.S., Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Syria include the U.S., Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
 

Thousands Gather to Honor Fallen Veterans for Wreaths Across America Day

Sat, 2014-12-13 00:00

Amid crisp air and the aroma of pine needles, thousands gathered to lay remembrance wreaths on veterans’ headstones here to mark National Wreaths Across America Day, and in doing so drew one of the annual event’s largest turnouts in its 23 year history.

“We’re grateful for the sacrifice, bravery, courage and tenacity of members of our armed forces who currently serve in harms way; we’re grateful for the freedoms that we have as Americans,” Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia, the senior enlisted advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told those gathered on a sun drenched but cold day in the shadow of the Pentagon.

How wreaths began

He said he’s particularly grateful to one couple, Morrill and Karen Worcester, who he said seek no fanfare as they continue to make a difference in society through Wreaths Across America, the non-profit organization they founded in 2007.

“Because of the great efforts of Morrill and Karen Worcester, we’re able to cover every eligible gravesite with a holiday wreath, symbolic because it’s a circle that never ends – so their service still continues as well.”

A Maine businessman, Morrill Worcester donated 5,000 wreaths in 1992 and arranged for trucks to carry them during their pilgrimage from his home state to Arlington National Cemetery. In 2005, Air Force photographer Jim Varhegyi snapped the iconic photo of wreaths in snow, bringing WAA unprecedented attention and acclaim.

Later, Congress proclaimed Dec. 13th as “Wreaths Across America Day” and at this year’s event, Morill Worcester placed the two-millionth wreath laid nationwide to honor U.S. Army Pvt. William Christman, the first soldier to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

The organization has since expanded to include more than 1,000 fundraising groups in all 50 states representing more than 900 cemeteries, military memorials and other sites.  More than 80 volunteer trucking companies have stepped up to help deliver the wreaths.

Thanks from the Chairman

“Throughout our country’s history, the men and women of the U.S. forces have served with the utmost patriotism and allegiance,” Battaglia read to the Worcesters in a personal letter from Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “The hundreds of thousands of wreaths that volunteers across America place at the gravesites of our veterans were shining testimonies that freedom is not free.”

Battaglia explained what the diverse and robust turnout means to the military and the nation.

“It means the world; we are so fortunate to have not just a great community – but a great society that would come out here in droves to honor our veterans,” Battaglia said. “
As for the new generation, Battaglia said the event’s 2014 theme “Remember, Honor, Teach” personifies that message.

“Our youth are learning some valuable lessons about how great our country really is and how we as an armed forces respect and honor both our wounded and our killed in action. When these kids are grown up, they too will be bringing their children and grandchildren our here as well – it’s a tradition the Worcesters started, and it’s long-lasting.”

(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDODNews)