Archive for June 2014

June 30, 2014

USS Pennsylvania Sets Patrol Record

By Navy Chief Petty Officer Ahron Arendes Commander, Submarine Group 9

BANGOR, Wash., June 30, 2014 – The Trident strategic missile submarine USS Pennsylvania manned by its “Gold” crew returned home to Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor here June 14 following a 140-day, record-breaking patrol.

Tridents are nuclear-powered, Ohio-class submarines. The Pennsylvania set a new record for the longest patrol completed by an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine.

The Ohio-class submarines have two crews, called Blue and Gold, which rotate patrols. One crew is at sea usually for 60 to 90 days, while the other trains ashore. In this way, the vessels can be employed at sea 70 percent of the time, when not undergoing scheduled maintenance in port.

The Pennsylvania’s “Gold” crew patrol, which began in January, is not only the longest for an Ohio-class submarine, but the longest since beginning of the Poseidon C3 ballistic missile program in the early 1970s, according to records maintained by the Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile Weapon System Evaluation program.

“It’s an honor. It was a challenge. The job kept calling for us to stay at sea but we were ready, willing and able. So we stayed at sea and finished the mission,” said Navy Cmdr. Tiger Pittman, the Pennsylvania’s “Gold” crew commanding officer.

“I’m incredibly proud of my crew,” Pittman added. “I’ve been amazed by their resiliency throughout the entire time, and not only the crew, but the families. We leave and we serve, but they stay home and they serve as well.”

Trident submarines — nicknamed “Boomers” — carry as many as 24 Trident II D-5 nuclear ballistic missiles. At 560 feet long and 42 feet wide, they are the largest submarines in the U.S. Navy’s inventory.

The Pennsylvania’s Navy hull classification symbol is SSBN 735. The SS denotes “Ship, Submersible.” The B denotes “ballistic missile,” and the N denotes “nuclear powered.”

As Pennsylvania emerged from an extended maintenance period in 2013, the patrol had originally been planned to be longer than is considered normal for Trident strategic missile submarine. The crew spent nearly the entire patrol underway, since unlike most other Navy vessels, Trident submarines don’t make routine port visits except when returning to home port.

“USS Pennsylvania ‘Gold’s’ patrol is an exceptional example of the flexibility and capability of the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine. We had always expected this to be a longer than normal patrol and a highly-capable crew made it happen,” said Navy Capt. Mark VanYe, chief of staff at Commander, Submarine Group 9. “When operational commitments changed, we knew the exceptional sailors serving on Pennsylvania and their families back home were up to the task.

“They have excelled across their entire mission set,” VanYe added. “We are glad now to have them home and congratulate them on a job well-done.”

Upon their return home, Pennsylvania’s “Gold” crew was greeted by Commander of Submarine Force U.S. Pacific Fleet Navy Rear Adm. Phillip Sawyer, who wanted to personally thank them and congratulate them on a job well-done.

“The SSBN strategic deterrent patrol is the most important unit mission in the submarine force and vital to the defense our nation,” Sawyer said. “The Pennsylvania ‘Gold’ crew was on the front line of deterrence, conducting critical missions from the time the ship got underway until returning home and I couldn’t be prouder of what they have accomplished.”

The USS Pennsylvania, part of the nation’s strategic deterrence forces, is one of eight Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines home-ported at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor.

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June 27, 2014

President Requests $58.6 Billion for Overseas Contingencies

By Jim Garamone American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 27, 2014 – President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget request for overseas contingency operations is significantly less than last year, but still provides the resources needed to protect the United States and its interests, Defense Department officials said.

The request calls for $58.6 billion for the Defense Department in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2014.

“This is nearly $21 billion less than last year’s OCO request, representing a 26 percent reduction in OCO funding as our nation concludes 13 years of war and our mission in Afghanistan transitions to a training, advisory, and assistance role post-2014,” Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a written statement issued yesterday.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel fully supports the request, saying it protects the broad range of U.S. national security interests.

The request funds temporary and extraordinary expenses associated with military operations in Afghanistan. It also funds counterterrorism efforts.

The request covers funding for DOD, the State Department and other government agencies not covered by the base budgets of these organizations.

The request covers some high-profile and quick-trigger initiatives.

It calls for $5 billion for the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund. The fund builds on authorities to respond to a range of terrorist threats and crisis response scenarios. It is designed to help build the counterterrorism capacity of partner states from South Asia to the Sahel.

If approved $500 million will be used to train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the moderate Syrian armed opposition. This would allow moderates in the country to defend themselves against attacks by the Assad regime and would weaken extremists groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

In light of Russian actions regarding Ukraine, the budget request calls for $1 billion for the president’s proposed European Reassurance Initiative.

“These funds will help us improve the security of our NATO allies and partner states by increasing exercises, improving European infrastructure and allowing us to enhance the prepositioning of U.S. equipment in Europe,” Kirby said in the statement.

The request does reflect the transition in Afghanistan, according to officials. The costs are dropping, but not precipitously. The department will still incur significant costs to transport personnel, supplies and equipment back to their home stations.

Funding is also needed to sustain Afghan security forces.

Officials said that funding will help the U.S. military re-set from over a decade of fighting to repair and replace equipment and munitions.

Congress must pass the OCO request.

June 23, 2014

Obama to Award Medal of Honor to Former Soldier

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 23, 2014 – President Barack Obama will award the Medal of Honor on July 21 to former Army Staff Sgt. Ryan M. Pitts for conspicuous gallantry in Afghanistan, White House officials announced today.

Pitts will receive the Medal of Honor at the White House for his courageous actions while serving as a forward observer with 2nd Platoon, Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, during combat operations at Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler, near Wanat Village in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, on July 13, 2008.

He will be the ninth living recipient to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Pitts separated from the Army on Oct. 27, 2009, from Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, where he works in business development for the computer software industry.

He enlisted in the Army in August 2003 as a fire support specialist, primarily responsible for the intelligence activities of the Army’s field artillery team. After completion of training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and follow-on parachutist training at the U.S. Army Airborne School, Fort Benning, Georgia, he was assigned to Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy, as a radio operator with the 4th Battalion, 319th Field Artillery Regiment and 173rd Airborne Brigade, where he deployed to Afghanistan.

His final assignment was with the 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment “The Rock,” 173rd Airborne Brigade, as a forward observer, which included a second combat tour to Afghanistan.

His personal awards include the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device for valor, the Purple Heart, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Commendation Medal with three bronze oak leaf clusters, the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal with bronze clasp and two loops, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two campaign stars, the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon with numeral 4, the NATO Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation, the Valorous Unit Award, the Combat Action Badge, the Pathfinder Badge and the Parachutist Badge.

Pitts will be joined by his family at the White House ceremony, officials said.

June 20, 2014

President Presents Marine Corporal With Medal of Honor

By Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Eric Keenan Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, June 19, 2014 – Retired Marine Corps Cpl. William “Kyle” Carpenter received the nation’s highest military honor from President Barack Obama at the White House today.

Carpenter received the Medal of Honor for his actions while deployed in Marjah, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in 2010. He became the third Marine and the 15th overall recipient of the medal for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“With that singular act of courage, Kyle, you not only saved your brother in arms, you displayed heroism in a blink of an eye that will inspire for generations — valor worthy of our nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor,” Obama said.

On Nov. 21, 2010, Taliban insurgents initiated an attack on Carpenter’s squad, part of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment. Carpenter, the squad automatic rifleman for his fire team, and Lance Cpl. Nicholas Eufrazio were holding a rooftop security position when a hand grenade was thrown their way.

Without hesitation, Carpenter reacted, rushing toward the grenade in an attempt to shield his brother-in-arms from the blast.

Carpenter and Eufrazio survived the attack but not without sustaining severe injuries. After two and a half years at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, Carpenter was medically retired from the Marine Corps on July 30, 2013.

“You notice Kyle doesn’t hide his scars. He’s proud of them and the service they represent,” Obama said.

Carpenter was born in Flowood, Miss., and resides in South Carolina. He is now a full-time student at the University of South Carolina.

Carpenter’s awards include the Purple Heart Medal, the Navy Marine Corps Achievement Medal, the Combat Action Ribbon, the Navy Unit Commendation Medal, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with one bronze campaign star, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon with one bronze star, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal International Security Assistance Force, and now the Medal of Honor.

Created during the American Civil War, the Medal of Honor was and is awarded for gallantry in combat. Over the years, the honor evolved. Now a much more strict and regulated selection process with a separate medal for the Army, Navy and Air Force exists. In the medal’s history, there have only been 3,469 recipients.

June 16, 2014

Army Secretary Honors Fallen at Arlington Commemoration

By Amaani Lyle American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2014 – Army Secretary John M. McHugh praised the fallen from the nation’s wars last night during a commemoration of Arlington National Cemetery’s 150th anniversary in the cemetery’s amphitheater.

McHugh conveyed gratitude and historical context during the event, “Arlington at 150,” which featured a musical performance by “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band as well as participation from the U.S. Army “Old Guard” 3rd Infantry Regiment and historical vignettes depicting how conflicts have molded the nation.

“It is clearly fitting that these hallowed grounds look out over our nation’s capital city, a symbol of all that America has achieved,” McHugh said. Each headstone, every neatly aligned row, [is] a reminder of the men and women who served and sacrificed, … who turned the ideas of the Washingtons, the Jeffersons and the Lincolns into a reality, into a birthright for generations for those to follow.”

However with such birthright, McHugh explained, comes great sacrifice.

“To stroll these grounds is truly to walk through pages of American history,” McHugh said, noting that the locale reminds visitors of the horrors of America’s bloodiest conflict, the Civil War.

He recounted that the cemetery was born of necessity, that the Arlington National Cemetery property was acquired as a spoil of war when Brig. Gen. Montgomery Meigs pressed Secretary of War Edwin Stanton on the need for a national cemetery as the war dead mounted.

On June 15, 1864, he said, Stanton authorized the conversion of the property, which had been the home of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, into America’s first national cemetery. “Throughout the Civil War, the burials averaged 40 a day here, with some 19,000 honored war dead laid to rest by century’s end,” the Army secretary said.

The first repatriated remains arrived in 1898, when the USS Maine exploded in Havana Harbor, marking the start of the Spanish-American War.

“Its lost sailors were brought to these grounds to be honored and remembered as were other Americans,” McHugh said. “Soon thereafter, a cemetery born of necessity became the military’s most pre-eminent military shrine — the resting place of veterans and heroes from all of America’s conflicts throughout our nation’s now 238-year history.”

A century ago, Arlington became a place not only of remembrance, but also one of reconciliation, McHugh said, noting that President Woodrow Wilson dedicated the monument to the Confederate dead here in 1914, declaring that chapter of U.S. history closed.

Wilson reminded all that “it is our duty and our privilege to be like the country we represent, stand shoulder to shoulder to lift the burdens of mankind in the future and show the paths of freedom to all the world,” McHugh said.

And Americans accepted the challenge, he added, with many leaving their homes and farms to take to the battlefields of Europe during World War I.

“To this day, it remains clear watching the visitors who gaze in respectful silence as the ever-present soldiers of the Old Guard mark the ceremonial 21-paces before the Tomb of the Unknown, our nation and its people continue to remember, continue to respect, the service and the sacrifice of our nation’s nameless fallen.”

But McHugh said the special setting also serves as a painful reminder that much of America’s history is still in progress. “Nowhere is that more evident … than America’s saddest acre, Section 60,” he said. McHugh explained that over the last 13 years, while the nation’s fallen from Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts have been laid to rest at Arlington, Section 60 stands apart.

“It has come to represent all those lost, all the sacrifice, all the pain, as well, all the pride,” he said, noting that the toll of burials marches on. “While the number of those lost from the current conflict mercifully recedes,” he added, “the number of veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam continue to mount at an ever-increasing rate.”

McHugh also reminded visitors that not all of the nation’s enemies have worn a uniform. He said that among the honored dead lie victims of various terrorist attacks in the United States and overseas.

“The United States Army recognizes the tremendous honor … we have been given to care for, to honor, each and every one of the fallen — whether having fought our wars or preserved the peace, every soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, Coast Guardsman answered our nation’s call to duty, and as such has earned this nation’s highest honor and our enduring respect.”

June 11, 2014

DOD to Include Red Cross Emblem on Some Common Access Cards
By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 11, 2014 – By late July, the Defense Department will issue the Geneva Conventions Common Access Card with a red cross emblem to military personnel and DOD civilian employees in certain medical, medical auxiliary or religious occupational specialties, a Pentagon official said today.

During an interview with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel, Sam Yousef, program manager for identity and benefits policy at the Defense Human Resources Activity, said the revision replaces DD Form 1934, “Geneva Conventions Identity Card for Medical and Religious Personnel Who Serve In or Accompany the Armed Forces.”

The revision, Yousef said, is one of DOD’s numerous efficiencies to reduce paperwork and issuance processes.
“We’re excited to streamline this process, not to be issuing that paper card, and we will be complying through the common access card.”

People can allow for their current paper card to expire before seeking a new one bearing the emblem on the bottom-right corner, Yousef said.

Real-time Automated Personnel Identification System ID card issuance facilities and will continue to provide the card indefinitely, and eligibility is limited to those specifically identified medical and religious occupational specialties provided to the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System by the military services and DOD agencies, he added.

June 11, 2014

DOD Spokesman: Bergdahl Needs Time, Space for Reintegration

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 10, 2014 – Bowe Bergdahl continues to recover and work through the reintegration process at Landstuhl Regional Hospital in Germany, a day before Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel briefs members of Congress on how the Army sergeant came to be freed.

Bergdahl’s health continues to improve, and “he is engaging with hospital staff more and more each day,” Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said during a Pentagon news conference today.

The sergeant’s recovery remains the top priority, and it is going to take time, the admiral said. “Nobody is going to push it any further or any faster than Sergeant Bergdahl and his caregivers are willing to take it,” he added.

Bergdahl was held captive for nearly five years in harsh conditions, Kirby noted. “He’s going to need time to re-assimilate — time to heal mentally and physically,” he said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will testify before the House Armed Services Committee tomorrow on Bergdahl’s May 31 release, made in exchange for handing over five members of the Taliban being held at Guantanamo Bay to the government in Qatar. Today, senior Pentagon officials briefed senators in a classified session about Bergdahl’s release.

In answering questions today about why members of Congress were not told in advance about the swap, Kirby reiterated that there was a small, fleeting window to retrieve the sergeant. “It’s safe to say that the … entire national security team agreed that we needed to take advantage of this fleeting opportunity,” he said.

Kirby told reporters it was a military obligation to recover Bergdahl, and he urged them not to rush to judgment on the still unknown circumstances that might have led to his capture. “There’s really only one person who knows what happened that night and specifically what led to his disappearance, and that’s Sergeant Bergdahl.”

At this point in his recovery, the sergeant is not being questioned about his disappearance five years ago. “He’s got his hands full right now,” Kirby said.

Once that is finished, the Army will get to the facts and “if there is some misconduct that needs to be addressed, then the Army will address that,” Kirby said.

“This young soldier is innocent until proven guilty. “He has not been charged with anything and was never declared a deserter by the Army.”

June 10, 2014

Obama Signs Congressional Gold Medal Bill for Puerto Rican Unit

By Jim Garamone American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 10, 2014 – President Barack Obama signed a bill today awarding the members of Puerto Rico’s 65th Infantry Regiment — the Borinqueneers — the Congressional Gold Medal.

The medal recognizes the contributions and extraordinary heroism of the men of the regiment, who served during a time of segregated units.

“Shortly after Puerto Rico became part of the United States in 1898, a regiment of Puerto Rican soldiers was formed, and they served our nation bravely ever since,” Obama said during the White House signing ceremony.

The unit served in World War I and World War II and earned everlasting glory for its service in Korea. Segregation “set them apart from their fellow soldiers — but their courage made them legendary,” the president said. “They earned thousands of medals for their service in Korea.”

The Congressional Gold Medal is one of the highest awards the United States bestows. Previous military recipients include Gen. of the Army George C. Marshall and Navy Fleet Adm. Ernest J. King.

Units recognized include the Navajo and Native American code talkers, the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots and the Tuskegee Airmen.

“Only a handful of military units have ever received this award, and only one other Hispanic-American has received this award: Roberto Clemente,” Obama said, referring to the baseball hall-of-famer who died in a plane crash during an off-season humanitarian mission. “So on behalf of the American people, we want to thank all the Borinqueneers for their extraordinary service. You’ve earned a hallowed place in our history.”

June 3, 2014

Embrace of Military Ethos Encourages Joint Chiefs Chairman

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT, June 3, 2014 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today he is encouraged by the embrace of the ethos of the U.S. military to never leave a comrade.

The recovery of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is controversial, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey acknowledged in an interview. The United States released five Taliban leaders from confinement at Guantanamo Naval Base, Cuba, to Qatar in exchange for the young sergeant.

The Haqqani network held Bergdahl for almost five years. He is now at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany undergoing treatment.

There is disagreement about the circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture in June 2009, and that needs to be clarified, Dempsey said. If there is wrongdoing, he will be held accountable, and in the meantime, he is innocent until proven guilty, the chairman said.

But Dempsey said he is encouraged by the American military’s embrace of the ethos of never leaving a fallen comrade behind. “What I find encouraging is that’s the given in this conversation,” he added.

The questions that are being asked are about whether Bergdahl’s conduct should have justified the military living up to that ethos. But what is not heard, the chairman said, is whether this is the correct ethos to follow.

“I’m encouraged by the discussions our service men and women have,” he said. “Even our very youngest understand and appreciate that ethos.”