Archive for November 2010

National Guard (Federal Status) and Reserve Mobilized

November 23, 2010

National Guard (in Federal Status) and Reserve
Activated as of March 6, 2012

At any given time, services may activate some units and individuals while deactivating others, making it possible for these figures to either increase or decrease. The total number currently on active duty from the Army National Guard and Army Reserve is 52,587; Navy Reserve, 4,763; Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve, 9,633; Marine Corps Reserve, 4,834, and the Coast Guard Reserve, 745. This brings the total National Guard and Reserve personnel who have been activated to 75,562, including both units and individual augmentees.

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Mullen Outlines Progress, Shortfalls in Veteran Support

November 20, 2010

American Forces Press Service – By Karen Parrish

WASHINGTON, Nov. 20, 2010 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff yesterday outlined the Defense Department’s efforts to strengthen families, bolster education opportunities and ensure a good future for its veterans — and he asked for help.

Speaking before the World Congress on Disabilities in Dallas, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen recounted his experiences during his ‘Conversation with the Country’ tour to cities throughout America, where he seeks local answers to meet the challenges of health care, education and employment for veterans returning from America’s wars.

“I talk to community leaders about veterans who are returning home from these wars, who offer such great potential, and who are members of the best military the United States of America has ever had,” he said.

Those veterans have sacrificed tremendously, and are on average 20 to 25 years old, Mullen said, asserting “they are wired to serve.” If they can make a successful transition from the military to civilian life, he added, they will be an asset to the nation and the world for decades to come.

The current, robust GI Bill, improved military medical care and family support programs are working to help veterans, he said, but the challenges are not short-term.

The old system of sending a former servicemember home and saying, “thank you very much, have a nice life” is not an acceptable model, the chairman said.

“We have got to stay in touch with them. We’ve got to be responsible enough to know that their needs are being met, and the only way we can scale this is through communities throughout the country,” he said. “I’ve got 40,000 physically wounded, I’ve got hundreds of thousands with [post-traumatic stress] … and that model is the same model that generated a homeless level, post-Vietnam … that we’re still dealing with 50, 60 years later.”

The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments and city and community leaders must work together to figure out the best system to meet veteran challenges, Mullen said.

Local leaders and communities are in the best position to provide the sustained approach that’s required, he said, but “you may live in a community and not have a clue who’s there, as they return.”

Across the country there is tremendous support for veterans, Mullen said, and he works to focus that support and connect it to the veterans who can benefit from it.

America’s current wars are different from previous conflicts, and veterans today often have different challenges than their counterparts in the past faced, he said.

“We live in an extraordinary time of change,” he said. “The wounds of these wars are different, and they have caused [the military] in many cases to look at things differently. We’ve changed – in medicine, we’ve changed how we handle people on the battlefield. Now, if you are brought to the right medical facility within an hour, almost … without discrimination about the kind of wound, you have a 95 percent chance to survive.”

Military medicine also has made great strides in treating servicemembers with amputations, Mullen noted.

“We lead the world now in that,” he said. “We’ve linked up with organizations all over the country … to develop the best prosthetics in the world. And we keep advancing.”

The military medical system also has gotten better at helping servicemembers rehabilitate and in treating brain injuries, the chairman said.

“What we are struggling with is the diagnosis and treatment of — as rapidly as possible — the mild to moderate brain injuries,” he said. “It turns out they are unique in one sense because of the kinds of blasts that cause them.”

The chairman said two or three years ago he and his wife, Deborah, had lunch with a soldier who had lost hissight in one eye.

“I asked him what happened, and he said ‘The thirtieth one got me,'” Mullen said.

“Thirty blasts, at any level, is far too many,” the chairman said. “We’ve since shifted dramatically on the battlefield, to pull people out of the fight in the case of any blast, and to evaluate them immediately.”

The chairman said the military has learned that immediate treatment of brain injuries can significantly lessen their long-term consequences.

“We’re moving now, literally in our tenth year [of war], for better treatment of those kinds of injuries on the battlefield, to then transition to long-term treatment here,” he said.

The chairman said the injury he worries about most is post-traumatic stress, and its spread throughout the services and within the families of those who serve.

“PTS isn’t new, and there are world experts in this room. But PTS is also part of a huge challenge that we have, which is the stigma … they want to get back in the fight,” he said. “And getting (servicemembers) to raise their hand and ask for help is truly difficult.”

When his wife visits military spouses, he said, she often finds people who recognize the symptoms of post-traumatic stress in their husband or wife, but are afraid to ask for help because of the possible effect on the servicemember’s career.

“We’re starting to break through on that … but in addition to members who have PTS, there are spouses who have PTS-like symptoms,” he said.

With major combat units facing their fourth or fifth deployment in 10 years, military children also are displaying symptoms of post-traumatic stress, the chairman said.

“You can imagine the load our families are bearing while the members are deployed,” he said. “We’ve never been more blessed by family support, in my 40-plus years of wearing the uniform, than we have in these wars.”

Family readiness is directly tied to military readiness and “our ability to carry out the mission,” he said.

“But we also see spouses talk about their own challenges with PTS, and their children’s challenges,” Mullen said. “If I am an 11- or 12-year-old right now, I have only known war, and I have seen my father or my mother less than half my life.”

Military family members who are now college-aged, he said, spent their teenage years not getting to know a parent — usually a father — in uniform.

“Those are long-term challenges,” the chairman said. Things we’ll be dealing with for a long time.”

The military is starting to learn how to help servicemembers and military families build resilience, he said.

“Initially, it was deploy. Then it was get ready for the return from deployment, how do we prepare for that. Then it was get ready for the next deployment,” Mullensaid. “And what we’ve found out is we have to start building resilience in every single one of us, from the first day of basic training.”

The military is still working to develop a preventive rather than reactive approach to stress issues, he said, noting, “We’re better than we were, but we’ve got a lot of resilience that we’ve got to build in.”

One approach Mullen said he thinks the Defense Department will adopt is reducing the number of moves military families make.

“What has brought to my attention more than once by the woman that I live with, who has been a Navy wife for 42 years, is the criticality of the readiness of our families to handle this pace,” he said. “We’re in a time when we’re just not going to be able to move people like we did … it’s education, it’s kids in school, it’s spouse careers. We’re going to have to be based, I think, in places longer than we have in the past.”

The military also is working with schools, teachers, and state and local administrations to ensure schools serving military family members with parents in a combat zone can help them cope with the challenges of a military lifestyle, the chairman said.

“Particularly guardsmen and women, and [reservists], who live in every single corner of this country,” he said. “They live in rural areas where medical care is not that great. They live in small communities where schools are small – and my ability to reach out to those teachers and touch them, and educate them about what a young boy or girl is going through, is still a challenge.”

All of that, he said, is “part of making this war visible, having leaders understand this, and then try to figure out local solutions.”

The other challenge embedded in today’s veteran issues is suicide, he said.

“This is something we’re almost desperate on,” the chairman said. “It turns out the country doesn’t know a lot about suicide: 32,000 suicides a year, and it is as if it is taboo. We just put it in a closet, nobody talks about it, and then we move on. That is not acceptable.”

The military is at record suicide levels, he said.

“We don’t know exactly why, though I think numerous combat deployments have a lot to do with it, although a significant portion of those that are killing themselves have not deployed,” Mullen said.

The military has put a lot of effort into preventing suicide, he said, but it needs help.

Mullen told his audience that ensuring veterans have the best possible opportunities for their future lives is a debt the entire nation owes its men and women in uniform.

He read aloud a letter that one wounded lieutenant, a Navy Seal, — married and the father of three — posted on his hospital room door while he was recovering from seven bullet wounds to the face that he received in Iraq in 2007.

“If you’re coming into this room with sorrow, or to feel sorry for my wounds, go elsewhere. The wounds I received I got in a job I love, doing it for people I love, supporting the freedom of a country I deeply love.

“I’m incredibly tough and will make a full recovery. What is full? That is the absolute utmost physically my body has the ability to recover. Then I will push that about 20 percent further through sheer mental tenacity. This room you are about to enter is a room full of fun, optimism, and intense rapid regrowth. If you are not prepared for that, go elsewhere,” the chairman read.

“He is perfectly representative of our young men and women today, and he represents the potential that’s there, as so many transition from service in the military to their future lives,” Mullen said.

Afghanistan ‘Surge’ Troops Appreciate Support from Home

November 19, 2010

American Forces Press Service – By Donna Miles

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., Nov. 19, 2010 – Already operating in some of the toughest conditions imaginable, and with winter setting in, the 101st Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team soldiers in Paktika province, Afghanistan, are keeping motivated and focused on their mission — thanks, their commanders say, to their “Currahee spirit” and support from the home front. Many of the brigade’s soldiers are based at combat outposts so isolated they’re reachable only by air. They patrol at altitudes beginning at 7,400 feet and make regular contact with the enemy. Just two months into their deployment, the brigade has lost seven soldiers.

The brigade, the last of the 30,000-troop combat “surge” force to deploy to Afghanistan to support President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, has weathered some difficult times, its commanders agreed during a videoconference conducted here from their brigade headquarters at Forward Operating Base Sharana.

“It’s tough here in many ways,” said Army Lt. Col. Dave Womack, commander of the 506th Infantry Regiment’s 1st Battalion “Red Currahees.”

“It ain’t Shangri-la,” he continued. “The soldiers of Task Force Red Currahee live in austere environments. They are close to the enemy. They are partnered with their Afghan brothers and they are going out daily, conducting combat missions.”

To date, those missions have left seven brigade soldiers dead and more wounded. Just two days ago, the soldiers of Troop C, 1st Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, paid last respects to two of their fallen soldiers during a memorial ceremony at Forward Operating Base Connolly in Nangarhar province.

Army Spc. Anthony Vargas and Army Spc. David C. Lutes both died from injuries suffered when an improvised explosive device exploded during a Nov. 8 patrol in the village of Wazir.

Understanding the toll these losses take on his brigade, Army Col. Sean Jenkins, the brigade commander, said the Currahees draw strength from each other, their families, the Fort Campbell community, and the nation as a whole as they continue their mission.

“We can’t have bad days here as leaders,” he said. “We can have tough days, and there are tough days. But you can feel the support from back home –- the phone calls, the emails. They lift you up early in the morning.”

Womack said he’s amazed by the support his soldiers receive from all corners, and its positive impact on morale.

“Every day, the support we get is unbelievable,” he said. “An aircraft will land [or] a convoy will drop in with a package from a loved one. And that package will mean everything. In some cases, it means extra ‘lickeys and chewies’ and chow, and sometimes it’s just a letter from home that connects you.”

The commanders said they’re indebted to their families and everyone else who has reached out to them, and offered assurances that they’re coping with the challenges as they concentrate on the mission.

“It’s really easy to focus around here, because the mission is important,” Womack said. “We know why we are here and why we do it, and of course, we fight for one another and the mission at hand.”

As the soldiers perform “incredible” work, Womack urged those back home not to worry about troop morale. “It’s great,” he said. “But keep up the support because it makes a difference. We appreciate it on this end.”

Army Lt. Col. Dave Preston, with the 801st Brigade Support Battalion, knows the importance of letters and care packages from home. Each day, his soldiers deliver 3,000 pounds of mail to the brigade’s myriad operating sites, including remote combat outposts.

No combat outpost “goes more than five days without getting mail,” he said.

Mail deliveries are expected to climb dramatically as the holidays approach. Back at Fort Campbell, rear detachment leaders, family readiness group volunteers, and community members are assembling holiday packages to ship off to the brigade, ensuring no Currahee soldier gets overlooked.

Next to mail, Preston’s maintainers know that the next best way to a soldier’s heart is through the stomach. So about once a month, they treat troops at outlying combat outposts to the “Steak and Ice Cream Express.” Preston and a couple of his cooks set up a grill and prepare and serve up steaks, potatoes, corn on the cob, and heaping bowls of ice cream.

It’s a big hit with the troops, but Preston said it’s just as meaningful for his own soldiers who enjoy taking care of their brothers in arms.

“Despite the separations from their families and the schedule, morale remains high,” he reported. “They love doing their job and taking care of soldiers.”

“This is a very challenging environment,” said Army Lt. Col. Ivan Beckman, commander of the Special Troops Battalion Apaches. “But morale is very high for us over here. We are focused on the mission, and focused on taking care of each other.”

Children of Deployed More Likely to Seek Mental Health Care

November 16, 2010

American Forces Press Service – By Elaine Wilson

WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 2010 – Young children from military families are more likely to seek mental and behavioral health care when a parent is deployed than when a parent is at home, a military study has concluded.

Findings also show that children of married couples — with the father as the servicemember — are more likely to seek care than children with a married military mother or with a single servicemember parent, said lead researcher Navy Cmdr. (Dr.) Gregory H. Gorman, a staff pediatrician with the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

The study, which included more than a half million children from active-duty families, will be published in the December issue of the journal “Pediatrics” and was posted on the journal’s website Nov. 8.

From fiscal 2006 to 2007, a team of researchers examined the records of more than 642,000 military beneficiaries ages 3 to 8. They looked at all outpatient visits –- whether to military or civilian facilities — billed to Tricare, the military’s health care system. They then matched those records up with parents’ deployment records.

Compared to a baseline of care established prior to deployment, researchers found that military children are 11 percent more likely to seek care for behavioral and mental health issues during deployments than when the parent is at home, Gorman said.

Gorman said he broke issues down into three categories: anxiety disorders; pediatric behavioral disorders, such as attention deficit disorder; and stress disorders, which include post-traumatic stress disorder and other types of stress reactions. The study indicated an overall rate increase of 15 to 19 percent within these categories, with rates of anxiety and stress disorders showing the highest increases.

The findings substantiate what the military community has anecdotally known for a long time: deployments affect children. However, Gorman said, “It’s the first time … we’ve quantified how it really affects children and how it affects the military community as a whole.”

The findings are particularly significant when set against the backdrop of an overall decrease in medical visits for issues such as colds or routine care, Gorman said. The study indicated a 10 to 11 percent drop in visits for physical ailments while a parent was deployed, he explained.

The drop in medical treatment makes sense, Gorman said, since the spouse is acting as a single parent.

“They’re juggling a lot more responsibility, so perhaps the threshold for bringing a child in for a doctor’s visit may change,” he said. They may defer on routine visits, for example, until the parent returns from deployment, he said.

Researchers also found distinctions based on a child’s age and a parent’s gender, and they noted a gradual increase in care-seeking rates as children increased in age.

Gorman attributes this to older children’s wider array of emotional and behavioral responses. However, children’s gender didn’t seem to play a significant role, he said, with girls and boys experiencing the same impacts.

However, gender did play a role among parents. Researchers found that when the caregiver back home was the mother, the mental health visit rates increased. However, if the caregiver was the father, less of an increase was seen, Gorman said. He also noted an increase in care for children of married servicemembers, as opposed to those of single servicemembers.

Gorman chalked up these distinctions to recognition. Mothers typically are the primary caregivers, and may be more in tune with a child’s behavioral and mental health needs than the father, he explained. And, during a deployment, a child of a single servicemember may go to live with an extended family member or close family friend, who may not be as aware of the child’s behavioral norms, so is less likely to recognize variations, he added.

“We probably underestimated [the increase] in those populations,” Gorman said.

Gorman said he hopes the study will go a long way in helping to identify issues among military children and how to better address them, particularly among civilian providers.

The study examined 6.5 million outpatient visits, of which two-thirds were with civilian doctors, he said. Many civilian providers may not be aware of the unique stressors military children face or the resources available to help them, he added.

“Hopefully, this will help to inform civilian pediatric providers,” he said. “They also need to be aware of the resources that they can call on for these families.”

Gorman also said he sees a positive application among military providers. While the military has made great progress in addressing military children’s issues with deployment-cycle training and resources such as Military OneSource, the study can help in targeting training efforts for providers, specifically in the areas of recognition and prevention efforts for children, he said.

He’d also like to see targeted interventions in the future, such as for children of female servicemembers, he said, as well as studies specifically aimed at children of the Guard and Reserve and teenagers. He also called for a closer look at individual diagnoses, such as attention deficit disorder.

Overall, studies like this one add to the discussion of how the nation wages war, Gorman said.

“It’s very important to take care of military beneficiaries,” he said. “It adds as much to preserving the fighting force as providing bullets and beans to the front lines.”

It’s also the right thing to do, he said.

“These are people we are sworn to take care of,” he said, “and we need to find exactly what they need.”