28 June 2008

Berlin Airlift Veterans Return to Germany for Anniversary

Photo: Air Force Staff Sgt. Dub Southers poses outside a Celle Air Base barracks during a break in his Berlin Airlift duties. Courtesy photo

For 50 years, Dub Southers recalled the grueling hours he worked at an air base in northern Germany at the start of the Berlin Airlift, not the historical significance of what he helped to achieve as a flight engineer and crew chief.

He remembered well the coal being shipped in from local coal fields, the 196 missions he flew over Berlin and being a 20-year-old Air Force staff sergeant keeping the C-54 Skymaster aircraft flying.

"Coal was our basic cargo," said Southers, now 81 and living in Texas. "Occasionally, we flew flour, but I can't recall anything other than coal."

It wasn't until 1998 that Southers started really thinking about the importance of the airlift mission, which lasted from June 1948 to May 1949 and provided vital resources to the German city cut in half by Soviet rule, he said.

As the anniversary approached, he asked his daughter to search online for activities happening in Berlin. Her search found the Berlin Airlift Veterans Association, and he became its secretary.

He ended up visiting Germany that year for the 50th anniversary, and he and seven other association members have returned to take part in 60th anniversary observances.

They will re-enact the first flight of the airlift, he said, and visit the memorial at Rhein-Main Air Base, get on a C-47 and fly the corridor from Frankfurt to Templehof Air Base in Berlin, where there will be another memorial service.

"I was amazed [in 1998] how much progress had been made in the Western sector of Berlin, and how little had been made in the Eastern Zone at that time," he said. "By the time I went again in 2004, it was better, though, and quite a bit more had been done."

In November 1948, Germany was much different. Southers arrived at Celle Air Base from his duty station at McChord Field, Wash., as part of the initial group of airmen sent in for the airlift mission. The Memphis, Tenn., native said he couldn't believe the amount of fog that blanketed the area.

"That was really surprising to me," he said. "It was actually a very nice area. After a few months, when we had enough people, we were allowed to go off base into the town, where there were actually some good places to eat and catch a show."

The area hadn't been bombed. "I heard that the British monarchy actually owned a castle in the area," Southers said, "and they didn't want that destroyed."

Those short trips to the city were a brief respite from the busy work hours that dominated Southers' time at Celle Air Base. The base was located near coal fields, which were connected to the base. A platform was built right onto the bays along the flightline so the coal could be stacked and supplied to the aircraft right away.
The team of airmen was very short of personnel, especially mechanics, Southers recalled.

"When I first got over there, we were working around the clock, 12 [hours] on, 12 off, seven days a week. They eventually hired local German aircraft mechanics who worked alongside us. I remember them being very good, as they were older and more experienced."

Southers returned to the United States in July 1949. He left the military after three years, earned a degree in chemical engineering and settled down with his family. He now works as part-owner of a small software company.

"I didn't even think about [the Berlin Airlift] much," he said. "I'm not even sure that my family knew I was involved in it until a few years before the 50th anniversary. Of course, the history books didn't have much about it either."

He said by observing the anniversary and remembering the 31 Americans who died in aircraft accidents during the mission, Americans learn about the importance of the Berlin Airlift.

"At this point, I'm very proud of being a part of it," he said. "I know that we affected history big-time. We call it the first victory of the Cold War. Because of the Berlin Airlift, Europe is free. All of Europe would have ended up communist if we were run out."

He said during his first return to Germany, Germans actually approached him with appreciation.

"We were wearing caps that identified us as Berlin Airlift veterans, and I don't know how many times we were stopped and thanked for what we did," he said.

He also pointed out that the Air Force today and the way it does business is shaped by the Berlin Airlift mission.

"The cargo aircraft today was designed based upon lessons we learned," he said. "At least, that's what they tell us. The technology has changed, but a lot about the airlift mission today is based upon what we learned back then."

Today's Air Force senior leaders agree the Berlin Airlift was a huge moment for the service.

"The Berlin Airlift was a seminal moment for airpower and a pivotal event in world history," said Gen. Duncan J. McNabb, the Air Force vice chief of staff, during a recent ceremony honoring another Berlin Airlift airman, retired Col. Gail Halvorsen, also known as "the Candy Bomber" for his drops of candy and chocolate for local children. "It showed the deep compassion of the American people and sent a message of hope and liberty to Berliners and to freedom-loving people around the world."

Southers said he does not feel like a hero, despite the pride he and fellow airmen share about their role in the mission.

"The real heroes were the German people in Berlin who suffered the things they put up with in the Eastern Zone," he said. "People just disappeared under the communist rule, because they were speaking out for freedom. We provided what they needed to get by. They are the ones who held out and persevered."

Author: Air Force Staff Sgt. Julie Weckerlein serves in the Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs Office.
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27 June 2008

Isakson, Chambliss Praise Passage of Bill to Fund Troops

U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., today praised the Senate’s passage of legislation to provide funds for American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I’m pleased this bill supports our men and women in uniform, who are deployed in defense of freedom, and gives them the resources they deserve and need to accomplish their mission,” Isakson said.

“Our servicemen and women make sacrifices every day so that we can live in the safest, most secure nation in the world,” said Chambliss. “I’m pleased we were able to provide this funding so that all of our soldiers have the resources and tools they need to complete their missions.”

The bill provides $161.8 billion to support ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as $4.6 billion in military construction funding. It includes $350 million for a new hospital at Fort Benning, $7.8 million for a child development center at Fort Gordon and $6 million for a soldier family assistance center at Fort Stewart. The bill also requires the Iraqi government to match State Department and USAID funds for Iraqi reconstruction on a dollar-for-dollar basis.The legislation also includes language to increase educational benefits to all members of the military who have served on active duty since September 11, 2001, including activated reservists and National Guard. To qualify for the full benefit, veterans must have served 36 months of qualified active duty, with at least 30 days being served after September 11, 2001. The educational benefit would also be transferable to spouses and dependents of military personnel, as requested by the Department of Defense.

“The Montgomery G.I. Bill can change lives. It has given countless members of our military access to the college education they otherwise would not have been able to afford,” said Isakson, a member of the Senate Veteran’s Affairs Committee. “Our nation’s military and their families have sacrificed tremendously so that our nation can live in freedom. It is important we modernize education benefits for our military to ensure that our servicemembers, veterans and members of the National Guard and Reserve receive the education benefits they deserve.”

“This legislation will greatly expand educational benefits available to servicemembers," said Chambliss. “Many servicemen and women would not be able to go to college without the G.I. bill and I’m pleased this legislation modernizes the bill to match both today’s costs of education and the current demands of military service.”

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Chambliss, Isakson Announce Four New VA Clinics for Georgia

Will Be Located in Newnan, Brunswick, Milledgeville, Hinesville

U.S. Senators Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., today announced that the Department of Veterans Affairs plans to open four new community-based outpatient clinics in Georgia. The clinics, which will enhance access to VA health care for veterans in the state, will be located in the cities of Newnan, Brunswick, Milledgeville and Hinesville.

“Our veterans deserve access to the very best medical care and services,” said Chambliss, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The announcement of these new clinics is great news for veterans in our state who have served our nation with honor.”

“This is outstanding news that Georgia will receive four new VA clinics to deliver to our veterans the level of VA care they deserve,” Isakson said. “As a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, one of my top priorities is to make sure America takes care of the veterans who have dedicated their lives to serving our country.”

The VA said it expects the facilities to become operational in the next 12 months. Local VA officials will keep communities and their veterans informed of milestones in the creation of these new community-based outpatient clinics.

These new facilities will be in addition to the 10 VA community-based outpatient clinics that already operate in Georgia.
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Fayetteville, Peachtree City, Tyrone

26 June 2008

Defense Department Celebrates 35 Years of All-Volunteer Force

On July 1, the nation will mark 35 years of an armed military made up soley of volunteers.
Until July 1973, the military operated under an involuntary draft policy to produce manpower to fight the country's wars. Draftees served during both world wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Opposition to the war in Vietnam brought extreme scrutiny to the draft, and the public's increasing dissatisfaction took its toll during President Richard Nixon's administration. Congress eventually approved the institution of the all-volunteer force, and although the framework for selective service remained in place, the armed forces stopped drafting people to serve.

For the past 35 years, volunteers manned 100 percent of the armed forces during the nation's times of need, including the Cold War as well as conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo. They filled the ranks and fought in the Persian Gulf, Panama and Grenada.

Retention flourishes among the services – in both the active duty and reserve components – as they continue to operate in Iraq and Afghanistan and conduct humanitarian missions at home and throughout the world, a senior Defense Department official said.

Bill Carr, deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel and policy, said the nation and its armed forces are stronger in many ways, thanks most notably to the aptitude and experience today's volunteers bring to the table. Carr said about 20 percent of servicemembers in the draft era were in the bottom third of the aptitude-test scoring range. Today, only 2 percent of the force is in the bottom third, and more than 66 percent are in the top half.

"One thing that characterizes today's recruits is that they're so smart relative to average," he said. "Two-thirds are in the top half in math and verbal aptitude, and they can figure out what to do in ambiguous situations. You can see it in their performance, and they're just a remarkable group of people."

Experience is evident in today's armed force's retention statistics. Nearly one out of every two servicemembers re-enlists. During the draft, only one-eighth of the force re-enlisted, leaving an average of less than 20 percent with more than a few years of service, Carr said.

"Although, the [draft-era] force was valiant, they didn't have the attributes of the all-volunteer force," he said. "Frankly, today's force is a lot more seasoned, experienced and smarter."

For the first time, the all-volunteer military has been taken to war for a protracted period of time, he said. Considering the current endeavors in Iraq and Afghanistan, Carr reflected on performance and retention concerns senior leaders had expressed.

"There were concerns about how today's fight would affect retention, and yet, retention has been as strong as any period in our history," he said. "Volunteers want to serve; their performance is strong, their behaviors are strong, and their discipline is high."

Their choice to become members of the armed forces "speaks volumes for the dedication and loyalty of our nation and its volunteers," Carr added.

By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

25 June 2008

Violence in Iraq Drops to Four-Year Low

Violence in Iraq dropped in May to its lowest level in four years, according to a Defense Department report released to Congress today (June 23, 2008).

The quarterly report, required by Congress, measured progress in the country in March through May of this year.

The report highlighted that all major violent indicators dropped during the reporting period by as much as 80 percent.

"Coalition and Iraqi forces' operations against al-Qaida in Iraq have degraded its ability to attack and terrorize the population," the report reads. The report concedes, though, that al-Qaida still remains a major threat, and that the recent progress is still "fragile, reversible and uneven."

Civilian deaths in May dropped to a two-year low. The report suggests that even the high-profile bombings that drove up civilian deaths in April are having less of an effect at inciting sectarian violence than other such attacks in the past.

The report hails the emergence of the Sons of Iraq, local security groups made up of citizens, as the most significant development in the past 18 months in Iraq. More than 100,000 Iraqi citizens now help to provide security for their towns, villages and neighborhoods, and the program has spread from primarily a Sunni initiative to Shiia and mixed communities as well.

The report also credits the Iraqi government's success at fighting illegal militias and Iranian-backed groups with contributing to lower levels of violence. The government's efforts have reinforced a greater public rejection of the militias, according to the report.

"Overall, the communal struggle for power and resources is becoming less violent," according to the report. "Many Iraqis are now settling their differences through debate and the political process, rather than open conflict."

Iraqi security forces have continued to improve, although at varying rates. The report cites Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's military drive in Basra as generating a positive response from all Iraqi communities.

"Despite some initial difficulties and the uneven performance of local police, Iraqi forces won the support of most Basrawis and a greater share of the Iraqi population," the report reads.

The report also notes that in many areas Iraqi forces are operating independently, or side-by-side with coalition forces, and that the Iraqi government is assuming a broader ownership of its security programs.

"These units consistently demonstrate a high level of proficiency in counterinsurgency operations against [al-Qaida in Iraq] and other extremist groups," the report reads.

Iran's support of extremist groups in Iraq is now the country's biggest security challenge, according to the report.

"Despite promises to Iraqi government to the contrary, Iran continues to fund, train, arm, and guide [Jaysh al-Mahdi] special groups and other Shiia extremist organizations," the report says.

Iraqi forces have uncovered "massive" weapons caches and ammunition of Iranian origin, some manufactured as recently as this year, the report notes.

Other assertions in the report include:

-- Expanded oil revenues are sufficient to support development and reconciliation programs;

-- The Iraqi economy is expected to grow by 7 percent this year;

-- Oil production is expected to increase by 10 percent this year;

-- Lower inflation has boosted Iraqi purchasing power and provided a more stable environment for private sector development. Core inflation dropped to 12 percent in 2007, down from 32 percent in 2006.

-- Capital budget execution continues to improve, but spending at all levels of government is still hampered by bureaucracy, corruption and sectarian division;

-- Iraqis have seen an increase in the delivery of essential services such as electricity, water, sanitation and health care, but overall Iraqi satisfaction with those services remains low.

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

Chairman Calls Homeless Veterans 'Hugely Important Issue'

Calling the issue "hugely important," the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today said the nation must fully integrate efforts to help homeless veterans.

"How do we reach out to them, and how do we create opportunities?" Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen asked an audience of about 200 members of various organizations that make up the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans in a speech at the Grand Hyatt Washington Hotel here.

"I consider [homeless veterans] to be a hugely important issue," Mullen said. "We need to do everything we can, as a country, to fully integrate our efforts to understand and help those – our veterans – who have given so much."

The coalition, which is holding its annual convention this week, is dedicated to strengthening and increasing funding for homeless veteran assistance programs, ranging from employment to housing issues. It provides information about program development and administration, as well as governance and funding guidance to all of the nation's homeless veteran service providers, according to the organization's Web site.

Mullen shared his appreciation for the coalition and its work.

"I am incredibly grateful for what you do and keeping [homeless veteran] issues bubbling; not just based on homeless veterans of [the war on terror], but of the entire population and past wars," he said.

Mullen spoke about his generation of servicemembers and serving during the Vietnam War era. Vietnam veterans make up a large percentage of the homeless veterans in the country, said Mullen, who received his commission in 1968.

He expressed his sympathy for the many homeless Vietnam veterans who weren't aware of post-traumatic stress syndrome and who have battled unemployment for years because of the disability. He also revealed his concern for veterans of more recent and current conflicts.

"One of the things I said when [operations in Iraq] started in 2003, 'As we go back to war and put so many people in harm's way, I would do all I can not to generate another generation of homeless veterans as we did when I was growing up with Vietnam,'" he said. "I had no clue in 2003 that I would eventually be in the position I am in now, but now that I am, I'm anxious to help."

Mullen reiterated his point that tackling the homeless veterans issue has to be a collective and integrated effort at the local and national levels among the government, society and nonprofit organizations, such as the coalition.

"The vision isn't anything without execution," Mullen said. "It has to be a team effort, and I'm truly grateful for what [the coalition] is doing."

The coalition's convention features workshops about issues such as public policy and current legislation pertaining to homeless veteran issues, reporting and regulation requirements for federal grants, and legal issues veterans may face.

The convention also will provide training groups focused on issues including employment resources for veterans, women veterans, early intervention and prevention of homelessness for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, incarcerated veterans.

By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

24 June 2008

President Nominates Woman Army General for Fourth Star

President Bush today nominated Army Lt. Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody for promotion, which, pending Senate approval, would make her the first woman to be a four-star officer in U.S. history.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced the president's nomination of Dunwoody as the commander of Army Materiel Command at Fort Belvoir, Va., in a news release published today by the Defense Department.

Dunwoody, who has served in several command positions since her Army commission in 1975, including her current role as the Army's deputy chief of staff for logistics, is one of five women now fulfilling three-star flag officer duties.

In 1970, Col. Anna Mae Hays blazed the trail when she became chief of the Army Nurse Corps, achieving the highest rank -- brigadier general -- of any woman servicemember at the time. But as Dunwoody's pending promotion underscores, the role of women in the U.S. military has expanded significantly since then.

Fifty-seven active-duty women and 47 female reservists wear stars on their shoulders in the armed forces. Moreover, roughly 194,000 women make up 14 percent of all active duty forces. Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 193,400 women have deployed in support of U.S. operations.

The casualty figures of current conflicts provide a thumbnail sketch of a force structure that increasingly depends on women in combat zones. Ninety-seven women have died in Iraq, and 585 others have suffered injuries there, according to Defense Department statistics.

If confirmed by the Senate, Dunwoody would command the teams of soldiers, civilians and contractors responsible for providing materiel readiness and development, new technology, acquisition support and logistics.

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

Attacks in Iraq Down 80 Percent Since June 2007, General Says

The number of weekly attacks in Iraq has dropped from about 1,200 a week in June 2007 to about 200 a week now, the commander of the tactical unit responsible for command and control of operations in Iraq said today.

Mirroring this reduction in violence has been a 70 percent decrease in roadside-bomb attacks and an 85 percent spike in the number of weapons caches coalition forces have found over the past year, Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, told reporters via satellite from Baghdad at a Pentagon news conference.

"I attribute most of these hard-fought gains in security to a few key factors: our coalition forces aggressively pursuing the enemy, the improving capability of the Iraqi security forces, and the Iraqi people participating in the rebuilding process of Iraq," he said.

But the general tempered his optimism, characterizing security improvements as fragile gains that coalition troops are attempting to solidify as they build the capabilities of their Iraqi counterparts.

"While the improved security is a great achievement, we clearly understand that our progress is fragile, and we continue to work to make this progress irreversible," he said.

The general praised coalition troops for having al-Qaida "on its heels," yet he identified the organization as the "primary threat" remaining in Iraq. The terrorist group yesterday launched an attack in Baqouba that killed at least 15 people, including several police officers, and wounded dozens of others.

"Even though we assess that they are on the run, they are still capable of launching spectacular attacks," Austin said, noting yesterday's bombing in the Diyala province city. "As a result, our operations in the north are focused on defeating their capability to perform these attacks."

Austin cited recent operations in Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, as examples of the increasing capabilities and effectiveness of Iraq's security forces. Combined forces in the Ninevah province city over the past four days detained 16 suspects, including four high-ranking al-Qaida operatives.

"We continue to aggressively pursue al-Qaida and to take away their safe havens and to close off all their escape routes when they try to flee," he said.

Austin, who assumed command of Multinational Corps Iraq in February, said coalition forces will continue helping to develop Iraq's national security operators under his leadership.

"I'm absolutely confident, based on the indicators from the last few months, that they'll continue to make significant improvements, and we will be with them, side by side, as they progress," he said.

Though they have made significant progress, Iraqi security forces in many instances are not yet prepared to take over day-to-day operations, thereby allowing coalition troops to assume an overwatch role, the general said.

Before Iraqi forces become autonomous, he said, they need to develop "combat enablers" with the capability of calling in and integrating fire support into formation. They also be capable of supporting themselves logistically, and begin using their own surveillance and reconnaissance to cull intelligence, then plan their own operations, the general said.

"We are working hand in hand with our coalition partners in all parts of the country," he said. "They have improved significantly, but we've been clear about saying that they're not there yet."

As Iraqi security forces mature in the midst of combating al-Qaida and Iranian-backed "special groups," they meanwhile are gaining the support and confidence of Iraqi citizens, the general said. The majority of Iraqis have rescinded allegiance to extremism, he added, praising the efforts of civilian security groups like the "Sons of Iraq."

"Now the overwhelming majority of the population has turned against the insurgents and the criminals," Austin said. "Iraqis understand that al-Qaida and outside influences are not in the best interest of their country."

Dovetailing with Iraqi security forces' rise in public status has been a reduction in the number of people being held in detention. A coalition-led detainee release program has freed roughly 4,000 people who combined forces have deemed nonthreatening.

"[It] demonstrates that the coalition is committed to the welfare of the Iraqi population and to reconciliation," he said.

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

22 June 2008

Bush Lauds House Passage of War Funding, More GI Bill Benefits

President Bush today praised the House of Representatives for passing a supplemental war spending bill that includes expanded Montgomery GI Bill benefits, and he urged the Senate to quickly do the same.

Bush said last night's approval of about $162 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will provide vital resources to servicemembers waging the war on terror.

"This legislation gives our troops the funds they need to prevail without tying the hands of our commanders in the field or imposing artificial timetables for withdrawal," he said.

The bill, as passed, also includes provisions expanding the GI Bill and allowing servicemembers to transfer unused educational benefits to their spouses and children.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates first heard the transferability issue raised during a military spouses' group meeting at Fort Hood, Texas, and pitched the idea to President Bush. The president liked the concept so much that he included it in his State of the Union address in January. Bush said in May during a Military Spouse Day celebration at the White House that he hoped to be able to sign the legislation into law quickly.

"It is the absolute right thing to do," he told the spouses. "It should send a clear message that we care for you, we respect you, and we love you."

Gates has said he believes the measure would boost both recruiting and retention.

About 97 percent of servicemembers sign up for the Montgomery GI Bill, but only about 70 percent actually use the benefit, and typically they use about half of the 36 months of benefits available to them, officials said.

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

21 June 2008

Army General Cites Challenging Recruiting Environment

The Army is now exceeding its recruiting requirements, but that force may contain more soldiers who needed waivers to sign up in the years ahead, a senior U.S. military officer said here today.

But, he added, that may not be as bad as it sounds.

Each year, the Army recruits about 80,000 new soldiers who join an all-volunteer force that also includes sailors, airmen and Marines and is universally recognized as "a national treasure," Army Lt. Gen. David P. Valcourt, deputy commanding general and chief of staff of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, told attendees at the 2008 Joint Warfighting Conference.

However, although the Army currently is exceeding its recruiting goals for active duty and reserve component soldiers, a looming recruiting crisis is on the horizon, Valcourt said.

"Today, seven out of 10 American citizens between the ages of 17 and 24 that are walking the streets of America can not quality for entry into our services without some form of a waiver, ... and that is a national crisis," the three-star general said. Prospects within that group, Valcourt said, require medical, physical or moral waivers to enter the military.

The Army has received criticism from some quarters, Valcourt said, because soldiers being enlisted today have twice as many waivers compared to soldiers who enlisted a year ago. Valcourt indicated such criticism may be misplaced, especially if someone wants to serve his or her county during wartime.

"If somebody has 'a little stain on their shirt' and they want to raise their hand and come serve their country in a time of war -- knowing not if, but when they are going to deploy in harm's way -- where would you rather them be?" Valcourt asked.

Such enlistees, he said, can benefit from Army training "under the watchful arm of one of our sergeants who is a professional at instilling values and discipline and taking care of business that hadn't been done in the last 18 years."

Another way to look at the waiver issue, Valcourt said, would be to thank the armed services "for giving those folks who may have a slight stain on their shirt an opportunity to come in our services and find their way to fulfill their call of duty and serve and protect our freedom."

Existing programs, such as the Junior ROTC, help young people to consider joining the military or to make it a career, Valcourt noted. There's also a new proposal being coordinated with the state of South Carolina, he added, to establish an Army preparatory school for young people without high school diplomas.

The bottom line, Valcourt said, is that the current recruiting environment for a volunteer force is what it is.

"And, the answer is not the draft," Valcourt emphasized, noting that his experience with a conscripted Army that ended in 1973 "was not a fun thing."

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

Rebuilding Continues in Iraq Despite Setbacks

Coalition construction worth about $2.5 billion is under way in Iraq, despite attacks that have injured workers and damaged buildings, development delays caused by land-deed disputes, and low-level corruption.

Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq, responsible for developing the infrastructure of Iraq's Defense and Interior ministries, is managing more than 300 projects in various phases of completion: 170 under construction, 85 in contract negotiation, and 60 others being handed off to Iraqis.

But as Iraq rebuilds, concerns about site security and worker safety can exact hidden costs, said Navy Capt. John D. Rice, engineering staff director for Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq, or MNSTC-I.

"We've had workers injured, we've had sites attacked, we've had things damaged," he said in a conference call this morning. "So it is an issue, it is a cost."

Security threats around construction sites can cause employee absenteeism and extend projects beyond the expected date of completion, Rice said. He added that accessing the site itself can pose a challenge.

"It does impact the timeliness of construction, because sometimes workers are reluctant to come to a site, especially if an operation is ongoing," he said. "But once they get to the site, they're safe, because the contractors do provide security for them."

When awarding contracts, MNSCT-I officials weigh a contractor's success rate in safeguarding its employees as a deciding factor. The command evaluates each bidder on a province-by-province basis, Rice said.

Once a contract is awarded and construction begins, a coalition contracting officer and an Iraqi engineer ensure that workers are performing at a quality commensurate with the purchase price.

To date, construction benchmarks total more than $3.5 billion in completed projects, employing tens of thousands of Iraqis in the process. The finished work includes 860 police stations, border forts and training facilities for the Interior Ministry, and more than 130 installations, support bases and training areas for the Defense Ministry.

One major snag Rice encounters during rebuilding, however, occurs before a single shovel is lifted. "Getting actual land deeds to build these facilities -- regardless of whether I use American money or Iraqi money -- that's been very problematic for me," he said.

A land deed is a legal instrument that ensures a building can be lawfully constructed on a piece of property. Rice characterized the procedure of obtaining a land deed from a landowner in Iraq as an often-frustrating process.

Since coalition and Iraqi partners cannot legally build permanent facilities without a right to the land, workers construct temporary facilities in the interim so the mission can continue, Rice said.

"There's no mission impact, but from a sustainment standpoint, better to get this permanent facility done, and [obtaining] land deeds is really the biggest impact to me," he said. Procuring a deed, he added, frees coalition officials from owing money to a claimant to the property.

At the local level, Rice said, he has noticed tribal leaders attempting to charge contractors permit fees for bringing workers to a site or to access locally based utilities.

"I think it's the culture of the Iraqis that that's how they've done business throughout their history," he said. "We are abiding by the federal acquisition regulations. We're not paying kickbacks. We're not paying bribes.

"But is it happening at a lower level, at a subcontractor tier-level within a contract that we have?" he said. "It probably is."

Rice said he considers it a positive indicator that this brand of corruption is limited to the lowest levels and has not spilled into the higher echelons of Iraqi government.

"If you're talking corruption at a high level of government, I haven't seen any of that," he said. "I think the Iraqi government officials I've dealt with are awesome, very patriotic and want to do the right thing for the right reason. They understand the needs for their security forces and the development of them."

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

Chairman Emphasizes Leadership as Fix to Air Force Problems

Good leadership at all levels will fix what ails the Air Force, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here yesterday (6/18/08).

"There's nothing more important ... to what we do than leadership. It covers the full spectrum of our people. It covers the full spectrum of our missions. It covers what we're doing now and how we look to the future," Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said.

On this first leg of a four-day tour of western-U.S. military bases, it was the chairman's first opportunity to talk with airmen face to face since the June 6 resignations of Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley.

Standing in a hangar, flanked by A-10 Thunderbolt II and F-22 Raptor fighter jets, the chairman set about easing the concerns of hundreds of airmen gathered to speak their minds and hear what the nation's top officer had to say about the future of their service.

It was Mullen's first visit here, and the "all-hands" meeting is a trademark of the chairman's visits as he listens and responds to concerns of servicemembers.

Mullen said he admires Wynne and Moseley for taking responsibility for the degradation of nuclear program standards reported within the service, and said it will help the Air Force move forward in fixing the problems within its nuclear mission.

Still, the chairman conceded, there is a "great deal of work to do, and it needs to be done and grasped by the entire Air Force." Mullen also emphasized that the fix does not set squarely on the shoulders of the senior leaders.

"This is not just senior leaders. You can lead from E-1 to O-10. You can lead from the front, the middle or the back," Mullen said. "Leadership is at the core of what makes us great."

Mullen also told the airmen that the military as a whole is undergoing "enormous" change. Counterinsurgency operations and irregular warfare are evolving and will remain "for the next several decades," the admiral said.

This requires the force to adjust its training, education and promotion systems, as well as its weapons and munitions development, Mullen told the airmen. And in doing so, he added, the services must balance their development and training to be ready for both conventional and irregular warfare.

Questions from the group ranged from the future of the Air Force to the challenges facing the service, to troop downsizing in Iraq. But the first question went straight to the concerns of the branch. A senior master sergeant wanted to know if there would be a gap in senior leadership during the transition to the new secretary and chief of staff.

Mullen promised continuity, saying there would be no gap. He did not say when the transition would happen, but said it likely would happen soon. Michael B. Donley and Gen. Norton A. Schwartz have been nominated to take over as Air Force secretary and chief of staff, respectively.

The second question again struck at the concern for the future of the service when a staff sergeant asked what's on the horizon in terms of leadership, manning and financial challenges.

Mullen cited recapitalization of the Air Force's aging aircraft as the biggest financial challenge the service faces. While there are some new fighters ready to come off the production line, the tanker fleet needs to be replaced as well, Mullen said.

Mullen said that how much to invest in future Air Force technology should partly be a discussion that involves the public outside the Washington beltway. He said DoD needs to be able to invest in the national security of the United States and that he encourages a discussion with the input of the American people.

Some think that the comfortable technological lead the U.S. military has enjoyed is closing and that some countries are catching up, Mullen said. "[The gap] is not as substantial as it used to be," he said. "There are those that are closing in on us. We've got to make sure we stay invested ... to keep our technological lead."

The chairman noted that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced last week he's halting the reduction of the Air Force that has been under way for years as a show of manning support for the service. He said that over the next year the Air Force will level off at about 330,000 airmen and that an overall assessment of the branch will take place before any further cuts are made.

A lieutenant colonel stepped to the microphone and said it seems that the Air Force has been taking "hits" lately over controversial procurements, perceived policy difference among senior leaders, and the recent nuclear program problems.

"It seems like the credibility of the Air Force is pretty low right now. One of the questions we're asking ourselves is, 'What aren't we doing right?" the officer said.

Mullen focused his response on the Air Force's problems within the nuclear program, citing a loss of discipline, a reduction of standards, and a lack of self-assessment by leaders. He said the reports indicated problematic trends for "at least a decade."

"The nuclear mission is the most important mission we have," Mullen said. "That standard must be renewed."

Mullen also was asked about the increase of intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance missions in combat. A technical sergeant said his unit is being asked to conduct more missions with fewer people. In response, Mullen cited nearby Creech Air Force Base and its development and training using unmanned aerial vehicles as an example of the evolution of the combat mission.

"Once a commander gets a taste of what we can do with the kinds of support with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance that it provides, they can't get enough of that," Mullen said.

He said there was an "insatiable appetite" for ISR in combat, and called the need "critical."

But, manning, equipping and training remain as stumbling blocks, he acknowledged. Also, there is a need to develop career paths for qualified pilots in the field. The problems, he said, are a result of not addressing the needs of ISR in combat earlier.

"It's because we're in a fight right now that precipitates the ... sense of urgency to solve this problem that we didn't solve years before," Mullen said. "We were going along at a fairly slow pace. We can't afford that right now, because lives are on the line."

When a major asked the chairman, "What can the Air Force do better [to support] asymmetrical warfare?" Mullen replied, "The best way to start is with the question that you asked."

He said the Air Force, as with the other services, needs to focus on becoming more lethal, precise and remote, with a smaller footprint. Speed in accomplishing the mission also is critical, he said.

"I've got to match my enemy in speed," the admiral explained. "I can't be lagging, and in many cases I am. In fact, matching it isn't even good enough. I have to get ahead of him."

Mullen said airmen should keep asking that same question and push forward capabilities that support an asymmetric, irregular war.

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

20 June 2008

Gingrey Applauds Passage of Clean Troop Funding Bill and Improvements Upon GI Bill

U.S. Congressman Phil Gingrey (R-GA), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, today (June 19, 2008) voted in support of H.R. 2642, the Iraq and Afghanistan Supplemental Appropriations Bill, which not only provides necessary funding for the Global War on Terror, but will also strengthen the educational benefit for our men and women in uniform who have so bravely served our nation.

“This bill is a true victory for our men and women in uniform,” said Gingrey. “Not only does this supplemental provide our warfighters the tools they need to continue their success in the Global War on Terror, but it also gives our soldiers returning home the access to higher education that they so richly deserve.”

“Over the last twenty years, the basic Montgomery GI Bill allowance has only increased by 193% while the average cost of a four-year public school – tuition, room and board – has increased by 278%. Given the many sacrifices that our soldiers have made defending our freedoms, it is only right that we address this discrepancy.”

“Republicans fought for the inclusion of provisions allowing the benefit to be transferred between soldiers and their immediate family members — provisions not included in the original Webb GI Bill — which members of the military cited as the most important aspect of any improved version of the GI bill. I was proud to stand with our soldiers — and their families — in supporting this much needed improvement.”

In addition to the transferability to the provisions of the GI Bill here are a few other key provisions House Republicans fought hard to include in the Iraq and Afghanistan Supplemental Appropriations Bill are listed below:

· Provides Troop Funding for FY 2008-2009. The agreement ensures that our men and women in uniform will have the resources they need well into the next Administration, rejecting demands from Democrats to stop funding our troops who continue to make significant progress in Iraq and Afghanistan.

· Eliminates ALL War Restrictions. The agreement gets our troops the funding they need for success without any politically-motivated restrictions that the Democratic Majority pushed for in order to hamstring our commanders in the field.

· Provides New Resources for American Veterans. The agreement will help our veterans (or their families) get a better education after they return from Iraq and Afghanistan.

· Cuts Wasteful Pork. The agreement cuts $8 billion in wasteful Washington spending.

· Rejects Funding for Planned Parenthood. The agreement eliminates funding for Planned Parenthood.

· Ensures SCHIP Serves Low-Income Children First. The agreement eliminates a Senate Democrat-authored provision designed to overturn Administration efforts to ensure that SCHIP serves the neediest children first.

· Includes NO Tax Increases. The agreement includes no tax increases of any kind.

19 June 2008

Face of Defense: Life of Adaptation Helps Soldier in Deployment

Being a soldier means being a master at many things and having the ability to adapt to any environment.

For one Multinational Division Baghdad soldier from the 25th Infantry Division's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, adapting to his environment has been a way of life.

Army Staff Sgt. Hiram Barbosa, a native of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, is a Stryker armored vehicle commander and is responsible for the vehicle crews for the regiment commander's personal security detail.

With his seven brothers and sisters, he grew up in poverty. Their single mother worked at a local bar and died when Barbosa was 16. He had to adapt to his new environment as he moved to Berkeley Heights, N.J., to live with his godparents.

Barbosa said his godparents had an immense impact on how he lives his life today. His godfather is a professional body builder and a police officer, and his godmother is an aerobics and fitness instructor. He credits his focus on health and fitness to their influence. He competed in a body-building contest here May 25 and earned third place.

He said he speaks to his godfather as often as he can to help him balance his daily mission tempo with his commitment to fitness. "He's a great influence in my life," Barbosa said, adding that his godfather constantly wants to help him improve himself in every aspect of his life.

"He was a happy kid," said Tony Martinez, Barbosa's godfather. "You'd tell him what to do, and he did it. He was never afraid, always positive, and he never gave up."

Barbosa's dedication for fitness carries over to his soldiers. His driver, Spc. Daniel Van Houten, a native of Pasadena, Texas, recently began working out with Barbosa and said he has seen vast improvements in both his physique and endurance.

"He pushes me," Van Houten said. "He trains me properly, and he motivates not only me but the whole section."

Barbosa said his dedication to his family drove him to join the Army immediately after graduating from Jose de Diego High School in New Jersey. He said he chose to enlist as an infantryman to fulfill his yearning to "blow things up, shoot weapons and advance quickly" in his career field.

"I was a little bit fearful, but he's a tough kid," said Martinez, admitting he initially was apprehensive about Barbosa joining the military. "I knew he could handle it."

Barbosa is serving in his fourth deployment since joining the Army. He's had two tours in Iraq and one each in Afghanistan and Bosnia.

He said he plans to make the Army his career and continues to become more tactically and technically proficient on military tasks to improve his prospects for promotion.

By Army Pfc. John Ahn
Special to American Forces Press Service

Army Pfc. John Ahn serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 25th Infantry Division's 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team.

17 June 2008

Airman Designs Custom Farm Equipment for Afghans

Provincial reconstruction teams are engaged daily in large-scale projects in Afghanistan, building roads, bridges, schools and medical facilities to help the Afghan government develop its infrastructure. They also contribute small ideas that have the potential for large-scale impact.

One such idea was to design and fabricate a hand-held seed spreader for farmers to spread fertilizer.

"Our Department of Agriculture representative came to me and said, 'I heard you could design stuff. Is there any way to design a seed spreader?'" said Air Force Staff Sgt. Tim Bayes, engineering noncommissioned officer in charge for the PRT here.

Bayes explained that Afghan farmers currently spread their fertilizer by hand. This method places more fertilizer in some areas and less in others.

"If you go out there, you can see the inconsistency in the growth patterns in the fields," Bayes said. "If they can effectively spread the fertilizer so their growth pattern is consistent, it could increase their crops by 15 to 25 percent annually."

Understanding the impact the simple idea could have, Bayes started the design, and spoke with contractors and local citizens to find out what materials the local Afghan farmers have available.

"Nuts and bolts are pretty easy to come by," he said. "Pieces of plywood or just chunks of wood, and tin cans or canvas bags were the materials we had to work with."

After a day and a half of design, Bayes met with the Department of Agriculture representative to review the blueprint and make final adjustments before building a prototype.

"It took me about half a day to build it," he said. "This is kind of different -- a little bit unique compared to what we normally do -- and it was fun to do it."

Bayes added that during a discussion with the Afghan government's Department of Agriculture representative, the idea of having prisoners build the spreader for distribution was addressed.

"They were talking about using the prisoners to possibly build these so they could do it cheap, effectively and distribute them out -- at least to get them out so the people can see what they are made out of and how they are made," Bayes said.

Once the spreader is distributed to some, he explained, the farmers could share with each other so those without a spreader could build one themselves.

"It not only helps them as far as income, but an increase in crops will also help supply and demand in the local economies," Bayes said. "If it helps 10 farmers to produce more crops to help people, then it was worth it."

By Air Force Master Sgt. James Law
Special to American Forces Press Service

Air Force Master Sgt. James Law serves with 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs.

Face of Defense: Engineer Returns to Iraq, Likes What He Sees

He was among the first helping rebuild key facilities in southern Iraq shortly after Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled.

This month, Army Lt. Col. Michael Darrow returned to Iraq on another U.S. Army Corps of Engineers mission. This time he will be the officer in charge of the Forat Area Office, overseeing 42 construction projects valued at $140 million in Babil, Karbala, Najaf, Qadisiyah and Wasit.

His staff -- 48 Iraqi engineers, 12 U.S. government civilians and 12 military personnel -- is responsible for a variety of essential service improvements in cities throughout that region including water treatment, sewers, schools, medical facilities and road paving.

He said the situation is definitely different compared to his assignment five years ago, when he came in with a six-person advance forward engineer support team.

"When we arrived, our first assignment was making assessments and immediate renovations to get key ministry facilities back up and functioning. We were responsible for projects in Iraq's four southern provinces of Basrah, Dhi Qar, Maysan and Muthanna," he explained.

"We knew we needed help, and one of our first initiatives was hiring 16 Iraqi engineers, all who originally were associated with the Ministry of Housing and Construction. Those individuals were a significant value-added asset," he said. "They had an extensive knowledge of the local market and tradesmen, their technical competence, especially in the electrical and mechanical fields, enhanced our capabilities, and they were able to visit the projects every day, even as the security requirements for coalition forces changed."

When his six-person team left in October 2003, about 170 projects worth $14.5 million "were somewhere in the process, some in the initial assessment, others being contracted out and some already completed," he said. The team was asked to renovate 49 schools, 24 ministry offices, 14 security and justice facilities, five fire stations, seven hospitals, six banks, five bridges and seven industrial complexes.

"It was an amazing amount of work, and we couldn't have gotten nearly as far as we did without those 16 Iraqi engineer associates being part of the team," he said.

What is especially gratifying to Darrow is that when he returned to Iraq this year, he learned the Iraqi engineers still are working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in essentially the same role.

"I'm very happy to see that those individuals are still part of the team, making a difference as Iraq moves forward," he said.

Darrow deployed from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Norfolk, Va., district, where he is the deputy commander. He and his wife, Dana, have three children and will be celebrating their 20th year of marriage in October.

By Norris Jones
Special to American Forces Press Service

Norris Jones serves with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Gulf Region South district.

15 June 2008

America Supports You: Silver Star Families Honor Caregivers

For the last few years, a group has fought to have wounded servicemembers recognized with a Silver Star banner for servicemembers wounded in combat, much like a Blue Star banner displayed by those with a loved one deployed on the front lines.

Now, Silver Star Families of America has extended its program to honor the medics who treat those wounded on the battlefield with a certificate of appreciation.

"This is a new program for us, but we believe that it is in keeping with our mission to remember and honor our wounded," said Janie Orman, the organization's president. "Those who place their lives on the line to make sure our wounded come home should be thanked, and this is a good start."

To qualify for the certificate, the medic must have been involved in the actual treatment or transportation of wounded servicemembers while serving in a war zone from any war. This honor extends to medics, helicopter pilots, doctors, nurses or anyone directly involved in treating the wounded in a war zone defined by the Defense Department, Orman said.

Silver Star Families of America has honored seven medics to date. Nominations for this certificate can be submitted through the organization's Web site.

The organization is a supporter of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and companies with servicemember and their families serving at home and abroad.

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

14 June 2008

Memorial Tree-Planting Honors Fallen 3rd Infantry Division Troops

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Deborah Mullen and Army Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, commanding general, 3rd Infantry Division, visit Warriors Walk, a memorial grove on Fort Stewart, Ga., June 11, 2008. The garden memorializes 3rd ID soldiers killed in Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

Three additional trees were planted here today (June 11, 2008) along Warriors Walk, bringing to 411 the number of Eastern redbud trees in the memorial honoring fallen 3rd Infantry Division soldiers who died in Iraq.

Family members and fellow 3rd Infantry Division soldiers gathered for the somber ceremony as Army Command Sgt. Maj. McArthur Dixon, the rear detachment command sergeant major, called out the fallen soldiers' names. Army Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, the 3rd Infantry Division commander, remembered the soldiers as heroes who sacrificed for the country.

Army Pvt. Kyle P. Norris, 22, died May 23 after an improvised explosive device hit his vehicle as it patrolled in Balad. Two of the soldiers died in Iraq of noncombat injuries: 25-year-old Army Pvt. Ronald Harrison died April 22 at Forward Operating Base Falcon, and Army Spc. Mary J. Jaenichen, 20, on May 9 in Iskandariyah.

The simple tree-planting ceremony took place along Cottrell Field, a parade ground that was a site of celebration recently when 3rd Infantry Division soldiers returned from their third deployment to Iraq.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrapped up a visit here yesterday strolling through the grove alongside Lynch. They walked slowly through the grounds, pausing frequently to reflect on the small granite markers at each tree bearing a soldier's name. U.S. and unit flags at the base of each tree blew in the wind, and wind chimes dangling from many of the branches sent soft tinkling sounds through the grounds.

Mementos left at each tree told the personal stories of the soldiers honored. Two miniature motorcycles and a golf ball rested under the tree for Army Staff Sgt. William J. Beardsley, who died in February 2007 when an IED detonated near his vehicle in Diwaniyah.

Two wind chimes, a pinwheel and a flower arrangement graced the tree honoring Army Spc. Adam Harting, a 21-year-old who died in Samarra in July 2005.

A plaque engraved with a photo of Army Sgt. Nathan Bouchard carried a message of inspiration: "Greater love hath no man than that a man lay down his life for his friends. RECON." Bouchard was among four 3rd Infantry Division soldiers killed Aug. 18, 2005, when an IED detonated near their Humvee following a mine-assessing mission in Samarra.

Other tokens rested at the bases of other trees: a pack of cigarettes, a bottle of beer, a religious plaque and a crystal angel among them. Each night, a miniature spotlight casts a glow on each tree.

After walking through Warriors Walk yesterday, Mullen stopped to reflect, crossing his arms across his chest as he looked down the long rows that began with 34 trees planted during the 2003 dedication ceremony.

Garrison Commander Army Col. Todd Buchs said it's fitting that the division's heroes are honored in a way that will allow future generations to read their names and know of the sacrifices they made.

When the trees bloom each April, it's a tribute to the achievements the brigade made – and losses it suffered -- in April 2003 when it led the drive into Baghdad during its first deployment to Iraq, he said.

Army 1st Lt. Oscar Blasingame, whose legal services office sits directly across the street from Warriors Walk, said he visits it frequently and attends the tree-planting ceremonies "to remind myself of why I'm here."

Blasingame is an Army reservie soldier from Florida who volunteered to serve with the 3rd Infantry Division because of his strong family ties to the storied unit. Sitting on his desk is a photo of his grandfather and the victory medal he earned serving with the division in Marne, France, during World War I when it earned the motto, "Rock of the Marne."

Warriors Walk, he said, provides a reminder of the sacrifices 3rd Division soldiers continue to make, he said.

Army Pvt. Jonathan Goad, who joined the division last month, visited Warriors Walk with a friend just back from Iraq during his first days at Fort Stewart. "He lost a couple of friends there, so it was a very emotional day," said Goad, who expects to deploy with his new unit late next year.

As he walked among the trees, Goad said, he felt a sense of brotherhood with the fallen soldiers, knowing that he is taking up the cause they fought and died for. "I felt a sense of pride and a sense of unity with them," he said.

Goad said he recognizes that he, too, will go into harm's way serving with the division. But after feeling the terrorist threat personally at a young age, he said, he feels it's his duty.

A last-minute schedule change saved Goad's mother from being at the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Okla., when it was bombed in April 2005. Goad remembers his sixth-grade class music trip into Oklahoma City getting disrupted as rescue workers rushed to the scene to search for survivors.

But the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks were the clincher, convincing Goad to join the military.

"I pretty much felt the call to serve," he said. "I've always felt that we should have a sense of pride and a willingness to make this country a better place and a safer place."

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

12 June 2008

SBA’s Patriot Express Loan Initiative Delivers $150 Million to Vets and Military Community

In just under a year’s time, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Patriot Express Pilot Loan Initiative approved more than $150 million in loan guarantees to nearly 1,500 veterans and their spouses who are using the SBA-guaranteed funds to establish and expand their small businesses.

Patriot Express, launched last June 28, builds on the more than $1 billion in loans SBA guarantees annually for veteran-owned businesses, and the counseling assistance and procurement support it provides each year to more than 100,000 veterans, service-disabled veterans and Reserve members.

So far in Georgia, 48 Patriot Express loans, valued at $4.1 million, have been approved by the agency to veterans or their spouses.

“With the patriotic remembrances of Flag Day, June 14, comes the reminder that the SBA is committed to helping America’s service men and women during the continuing War on Terror,” SBA Acting Administrator Jovita Carranza said. “We believe that Patriot Express, supported by SBA’s other services, goes directly to the needs of these American Patriots who wish to start businesses, and in the process encourages job creation and growth, an essential part of the President’s economic agenda.”

Patriot Express is a streamlined loan product based on the agency’s highly successful SBA Express Program, but with enhanced guaranty and interest rate characteristics. The Patriot Express loan is offered by SBA’s network of participating lenders nationwide and features SBA’s fastest turnaround time for loan approvals. Loans are available up to $500,000 and qualify for SBA’s maximum guaranty of up to 85 percent for loans of $150,000 or less and up to 75 percent for loans over $150,000 up to $500,000. For loans above $350,000, lenders are required to take all available collateral.

The Patriot Express loan can be used for most business purposes, including start-up, expansion, equipment purchases, working capital, inventory or business-occupied real-estate purchases.
Patriot Express loans feature SBA’s lowest interest rates for business loans, generally 2.25 percent to 4.75 percent over prime depending upon the size and maturity of the loan. Local SBA district offices will have a listing of Patriot Express lenders in their areas. Details on the initiative can be found at www.sba.gov/patriotexpress.

Interest rate maximums for Patriot Express loans are the same as those for regular 7(a) loans: a maximum of Prime + 2.25 percent for maturities under seven years; Prime + 2.75 percent for seven years or more. Interest rates can be higher by two percent for loans of $25,000 or less; and one percent for loans between $25,000 and $50,000.

Patriot Express is available to military community members including veterans, service-disabled veterans, active-duty service members participating in the military’s Transition Assistance Program, Reservists and National Guard members, current spouses of any of the above, and the widowed spouse of a service member or veteran who died during service, or of a service-connected disability.

Patriot Express loans have been approved in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam and generally range from $5,000 to $375,000 in individual loan amounts. The average loan amount is almost $103,000. Nearly 15 percent of those loans have gone to military spouses. After loan applications are approved by the bank, they are submitted to SBA for approval. Most applications are approved by SBA within 24 hours.

SBA has veterans’ business development officers in district offices in every state and territory able to provide military community members full access to the SBA’s range of programs and services. There are also five Veterans Business Outreach Centers located in: Albany, N.Y; Pittsburgh, PA; Lynn Haven, Fla.; Edinburg, Texas; and Sacramento, Calif.

In addition to district offices, SBA’s resource partners SCORE, Counselors to America’s Small Business, Small Business Development Centers, and Women’s Business Centers provide local and online assistance with: writing a business plan, financing options to start or grow your business, managing the business, expanding the business and selling goods and services to the government.

For those who are already small business owners and who expect call-up, the SBA and its resource partners have expertise to assist with preparing their businesses before deployment, managing their businesses, selling goods and services to the government, obtaining other SBA financing and financial assistance, and obtaining loans for economic injury – Military Reserve Economic Injury Disaster Loans (MREIDL) – Loans of up to $1.5 million are available for small businesses sustaining economic injury because an owner or essential employee has been called to active duty as a military reservist.

The SBA and its Office of Veterans Business Development (OVBD) provides comprehensive assistance, outreach and support to veterans. Each year the SBA assists more than 100,000 veterans, service-disabled veterans and Reserve Component members. Go to www.sba.gov/vets.

11 June 2008

Services Meet or Exceed May Recruiting Goals

All the services met or exceeded their May active-duty recruiting goals and have exceeded their target recruiting numbers for this point in the fiscal year, Defense Department officials announced today.

Among the reserve components, only the Army National Guard fell short of its May goal. But officials noted that the Army National Guard has recruited 109 percent of its fiscal 2008 target to this point and explained that the May shortfall reflects an Army decision to have National Guard manning at its authorized level.

In active-duty recruiting, the Army signed up 5,568 new soldiers in May, 101 percent of its 5,500-soldier goal. The Navy and Air Force met their May goals exactly, with 2,983 new sailors and 1,888 new airmen. The Marine Corps attracted 2,656 recruits in May, 122 percent of its 2,172-recruit goal.

Aside from the Army National Guard's 94-percent May recruiting result -- 5,311 recruits toward a goal of 5,635 -- all the reserve components met or exceeded their recruiting goals. The Air National Guard attained 131 percent of its May goal, recruiting 892 airmen against a goal of 680. The Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve and Air Force Reserve met their goals exactly, with 817, 923 and 638 recruits, respectively. The Army Reserve attained 107 percent of its May recruiting goal of 2,697, attracting 2,893 new soldiers.

American Forces Press Service

10 June 2008

Troops in Iraq Get Front-Row Seats at Children's Graduations

Micaela Cardoza beamed as she stood in her blue cap and gown at her Ansbach, Germany, high school graduation. She couldn't help but smile as a teacher read her message to her family and friends.

Army Sgt. Elias Lantigua, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Task Force 12, Camp Taji, Iraq, smiles as his daughter, Micaela, takes the stage during her graduation ceremony June 7, 2008, in Ansbach, Germany. Lantigua was one of a few soldiers in 12th Combat Aviation Brigade who had an opportunity to see the ceremonies via streaming video on the Internet. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Chris Seaton, Task Force 12, Multinational Division Baghdad

A few thousand miles away in a conference room in Iraq, Army Sgt. Elias Lantigua, Micaela's father, choked back tears.

"I got a little emotional, ... more than I thought I would," said Lantigua, who hails from Boston and serves with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Task Force 12. "Once she said my name, I couldn't help it."

Lantigua was one of a few soldiers in 12th Combat Aviation Brigade to watch their children take the stage, courtesy of the Department of Defense Dependents Schools, U.S. Army Europe and 5th Signal Command in Germany.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Irvin, a production control specialist in 2nd Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment, watched from another darkened conference room at Logistics Support Area Anaconda as his own daughter, Trista, crossed the stage.

"I'm glad I could see it," he said. "Of course, I want to be there, but it's nice to see it. I talked to her this afternoon as they were getting ready to go. I'm very proud of her."

Though watching from afar on a monitor may not be the same thing as being there in person, the soldiers said, they were happy to bear witness to such major achievements in their children's lives.

"I think it's very positive," said Army Lt. Col. Richard Crogan, deputy commander for Task Force 49 and 12th CAB soldiers stationed at LSA Anaconda. "It's a great morale boost being able to see your child go across the stage. It's the next best thing to being there."

This is the fifth year that parents of students in Germany have been able to watch the ceremonies from Iraq. The recorded ceremonies also are available online for parents to watch later if work schedules kept them from seeing it live.

Lantigua, who said he was skeptical about how he would feel watching from so far away, spent most of the ceremony waiting for glimpses of his daughter. He excitedly pointed her out to friends assembled in the room when she appeared on screen.

"I was able to participate in something that, just a few years ago, I didn't think was possible," he said. "For that short time, I actually felt like I was there and that I went through this with them."

After the 12th CAB wraps up its 15-month deployment in September, Lantigua and his family will travel to Boston, where Micaela plans to speak to a recruiter about joining the Air Force.

"I'll be with her for that," he said. "It's important to both of us. ... She wants me to be there, and I want to be there for her."

And for one important hour on a Friday night in June, he said, he was there for her.

"After seeing the picture and the big screen, the feed was so good, I felt like I was actually in the audience," he said. "I probably had a better seat than most of the people there."

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Chris Seaton
Special to American Forces Press Service

Army Sgt. 1st Class Chris Seaton serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the Task Force 12 Public Affairs Office.

Fiscal Research Center Study Reveals Georgia Veterans Fare Better Than Non-Vets

Georgia’s veteran population appears to be better educated and more affluent than veterans across the country, according to research published recently by the Fiscal Research Center at Georgia State University.

While the state’s non-vet residents 25 and older earn about $29, 654 annually, Georgia’s veterans are averaging more than $43,000 a year, 48 percent more, according to assistant professor of economics Jon Rork, who compiled the data from the 2000 Census.

Nationally, veterans make about 40 percent more than non-veterans.

“Veterans are actually better off than the average person would think,” says Rork. “They’re actually doing better across the board.”

“To me, it’s a sign the GI Bill actually works,” he said.

Rork studied Census data on veterans in the 25-35; 50-64; and 65-plus age groups, hoping to group veterans likely to have served in World War II and Korea, Vietnam and the first Gulf War. He found younger veterans moving to Georgia earn about $3,000 more annually than non-veterans moving to Georgia. While veterans accounted for an 11 percent increase in the state’s population from 1995-2000, they accounted for about 15 percent of the increase in the state income level.

Those veterans 50-64 who are moving out of Georgia, however, are making more than those in the same age group moving in. That’s not the case, though, for younger veterans moving into Georgia. Younger newcomers are earning more than those leaving.

Rork says Georgia’s moderate cost of living may be attractive to many, and the state’s number of military installations may introduce service members to Georgia from other parts of the country. He said most of those veterans moving to Georgia tend to be younger.

09 June 2008

Isakson Announces U.S. Military Academy Appointees for 2008

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., today proudly announced that 30 Georgia students whom he had nominated to the United States military academies have now received appointments to the prestigious schools.

“One of my favorite tasks each year is to nominate promising young leaders to our nation’s military academies,” Isakson said. “I know this year’s appointees will make Georgia and America proud.”

The annual nomination of young people to our nation’s military academies is the responsibility of each Member of Congress. Those nominees who are accepted into the academies are awarded full four-year scholarships, which are valued at approximately $350,000 each and include tuition, books, board, medical and dental care. Since his election to Congress in 1999, nearly 200 Isakson nominees have been accepted into U.S. military academies.

Isakson plans to host a reception for the students and their families this Sunday, June 8, at 2 p.m. in Atlanta. The reception will be held at the Georgian Club, 100 Galleria Parkway, Suite 1700, Atlanta, Ga., 30339.

The Isakson nominees who have been accepted by the Academies (listed with their current schools and hometowns) are:

U.S. Air Force Academy
David Adams - Campbell High School, Mableton
Donald Adkins - Tift County High School, Tifton
James Collins - Greater Atlanta Christian, Norcross
Jacob Fulton - Chapel Hill High School, Douglasville
James Hill - Fayette County High School, Fayetteville
Rachel Mittleman - Starr’s Mill High School, Peachtree City
Kevin Rosen – Dunwoody High School, Dunwoody

U.S. Military Academy
Thomas Carney - Woodward Academy, Peachtree City
Rachael Duval - Hebron Christian Academy, Auburn
Matthew Joiner - Collins Hill High School, Lawrenceville
Nathan Markette - Deerfield Windsor School, Albany
Jarrod Oliver - Buford High School, Buford
Colin Patrick - Norcross High School, Norcross
Timothy Schmidt - Home Schooled, Loganville
Jessica Sexauer - Adairsville High School, Cartersville
Jev Valles - Pope High School, Marietta

U.S. Merchant Marine Academy
Michael Jeffers - St. Pius X, Atlanta
Mikhail Manalo - Brookwood High School, Lawrenceville
Bernard Underwood - Balboa Academy, Martinez

U.S. Naval Academy
James Brigham - Fellowship Christian School, Roswell
Michael Carothers - Greater Atlanta Christian, Flowery Branch
Tina Estrem - Union Grove High School, McDonough
Kyle Gentry - The Walker School, Woodstock
Paul Neidhardt - Brookwood High School, Lawrenceville
Daniel Perme - Blessed Trinity High School, Alpharetta
Robert Rountree - Tucker High School, Tucker
Hayden Van Dyke - Bremen High School, Villa Rica
Eric Von Behren - Camden County High School, Kingsland
Michael White - McIntosh High School, Peachtree City
Nathan Woodason - Northwest Whitfield, Dalton

President Urges Congress to Pass Military Funding Bill

President Bush urged Congress on Saturday to immediately pass legislation that's urgently needed to fund military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and other important Defense Department programs.

"If Congress does not act, critical accounts at the Defense Department will soon run dry," Bush said during his weekly radio address to the nation. "At the beginning of next month, civilian employees may face temporary layoffs."

Also, if the legislation isn't soon approved, Bush said, the department will have to terminate "a vital program that is getting potential insurgents off the streets and into jobs."

If the required funding doesn't arrive by the end of July, "the department will no longer be able to pay our troops -- including those serving in Afghanistan and Iraq," Bush said.

In the absence of funding from Congress, the Pentagon will soon "run out of money it needs to support critical day-to-day operations that help to keep our nation safe," the president said.

Bush specified three requirements the funding bill must meet. The bill, he said, must provide troops the resources they need to defeat terrorists and extremists, that it should not tie the hands of U.S. commanders, and it must not exceed the reasonable funding levels that he requested.

The men and women in the U.S. armed forces and their families deserve the support of Congress, Bush said.

"Around the world, our troops are taking on dangerous missions with skill and determination," the president said. "In Afghanistan, they are delivering blows to the Taliban and al-Qaida."

U.S. forces serving in Iraq have "helped bring violence down to its lowest point since late March of 2004," Bush said. "Civilian deaths are down. Sectarian killings are down."

Improved security in Iraq has produced positive effects for Iraq's economy and across its political realm, Bush said.

"As security has improved, the economy has improved as well, and political reconciliation is taking place at the grassroots and national levels," Bush observed.

Concurrently, Iraq's security forces "are becoming more capable, and as they do, our troops are beginning to come home under a policy of return on success," Bush said.

Bush cited the courage and honor displayed by America's servicemembers as they perform difficult and dangerous duty in the war against terrorism.

"They've earned the respect of all Americans," Bush said of members of the armed forces. "And, they deserve the full support of Congress."

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

07 June 2008

USNS Mercy Mission Forms Partnerships, Provides Medical Help

Forming partnerships with host and partner nations while offering medical assistance are key elements provided during the Pacific Partnership 2008 deployment aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy, the ship's civil service master said yesterday.

Since deploying May 1, Mercy has visited three provinces in the Philippines and is expected to visit four other countries.

"The planning of this mission began many, many months ago, and it began by the requests of the host nations to partner with them to provide humanitarian assistance and civil assistance," Navy Capt. James P. Rice, commanding officer of the medical treatment facility aboard Mercy, said in a teleconference with online journalists and bloggers.

Rice said many host-nation health care providers operate side by side with the Mercy staff.

"We have networked with the local health care system and the ministries of health to [ensure after-care is provided] to transition those patients into their health care system," Rice added.

During the deployment, Mercy also will visit Vietnam, East Timor and Micronesia, offering medical assistance, repairing infrastructures and providing donated medical equipment for the host nation's use.

"This is a full-service hospital with everything you would expect to find in a hospital back home," Rice said. "We have lots of capability to include medicine, pediatrics and surgery, as well as the ability to put people in the host nation and provide medical and dental care ashore."

Since their stop in the Philippines, Mercy's crew has seen more than 14,000 patients through medical and dental civil action programs ashore. Aboard Mercy, some 200 surgeries have been performed and 400 patients have been seen.

Civil service master Capt. Robert T. Wiley, commanding officer of Mercy, said many miracles have taken place aboard Mercy, such as a surgery that allowed a young boy with a crippling injury to walk.

"Six years ago, he was injured in a bomb explosion and his right leg was bent at the knee," Wiley said. "They did skin grafts and orthopedic surgery, and they got the leg to straighten."

He added that yesterday, in physical therapy aboard Mercy, the 14-year old boy walked for the first time with crutches.

Other miracles are being performed, such as 53 cleft lip palate surgeries performed by Operation Smile, or the 22-pound tumor recently removed from a Filipina woman, Wiley said. "In 2006, aboard Mercy, we took out a larger tumor, which was close to 30 or 40 pounds," he added.

The crew of Mercy is thrilled to participate in the Pacific Partnership 2008 mission, the ship's civil service master said.

"People who go to medical school and decide to wear the uniform are so excited about being here," he said. "This is their mission; they are at the tip of the spear and are extremely excited about this."

Accompanying the Mercy crew are doctors and dentists from Japan, Canada and Australia, but as the deployment continues, they will be welcoming medical practitioners from Chili, Portugal, Singapore and Indonesia. Nongovernmental organizations, such as Project HOPE also are accompanying the crew of Mercy.

"This is a great value to work together on a humanitarian basis, ... to prepare us to work together in a disaster situation where we already know each other and [will] be comfortable working together," Rice said.

Rice explained other capabilities Mercy also brings to the countries it visits.

"We have brought preventive medicine and environmental health providers on board to help with sanitation inspections and other public health preventative medicine programs," Rice said.

Mercy also has veterinarians aboard, performing important work on animals, which are a defining component of some host nations' economic stability, he added.

Construction battalion engineers round out the crew. They are actively engaged in a variety of projects ranging from repairing roofs and schools to replacing windows.

"All this will have an impact on their educational ability. By having a nice structure that will allow them to educate their children, there will be a long-term benefit," Rice said.

By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service

Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg works in the New Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.

05 June 2008

Chief of Staff United States Air Force Resigns

Recent events have highlighted a loss of focus on certain critical matters within the Air Force. As the Air Force's senior uniformed leader, I take full responsibility for events which have hurt the Air Force's reputation or raised a question of every Airman's commitment to our core values. For the past 36 years I have been privileged to serve my country as an Airman in the United States Air Force in peacetime and combat. I was honored and humbled to be appointed the Air Force's 18th Chief of Staff and have been proud to serve our Airmen and their families. Upon taking office, I worked hard with Secretary Wynne to ensure the Air Force provided the right forces at the right time to help our Nation and allies win the Global War on Terror.

I think the honorable thing to do is to step aside. After consulting with my family, I intend to submit my request for retirement to Secretary Gates. The Air Force is bigger than one Airman, and I have full confidence that the Air Force will continue working with the Joint team to win today's fight, take care of its Airmen, and meet tomorrow's challenges. I love the Air Force and remain proud of America's Airmen.

T. Michael Moseley
Chief of Staff
United States Air Force

Secretary of the Air Force Resigns

Since November 3, 2005, it has been my privilege to serve this country as the 21st Secretary of the Air Force. I have relished the opportunity President Bush gave me to lead the strongest Air Force in the world during a time of war, and I have marveled at the tremendous accomplishments of our Airmen and civilians in their valiant defense of this country and its interests. It has been an honor and pleasure to serve as their Secretary while working side-by-side with General Moseley and the magnificent patriots serving in the Department of Defense and the United States Government to win today's fight, take care of our people, and prepare for tomorrow's challenges.

Recent events convince me that it is now time for a new leader to take the stick and for me to move on. Therefore I plan to tender my resignation to Secretary Gates. Even as I do, my heart, my thoughts, and prayers remain with America's Airmen who will continue to do magnificent things for this great country.

Michael W. Wynne
Secretary of the Air Force

'String of Miracles' Benefits Iraqi Children

Playing outside her Baghdad home in January 2007, 6-year-old Shams couldn't have imagined that destiny was about to drastically change her life, along with the lives of many other Iraqi children.

Mortars don't discriminate between women or men, rich or poor, adults or children. One found Shams. It was a miracle Shams' father managed to flag down a passing U.S. military Humvee; it became the first in a string of miracles that love and generosity continue to facilitate.

Shams' emergency medical needs brought her to the combat support hospital in the International Zone here, where two surgeons worked to save the child's life -- one reattaching her arm, the other removing her leg. Need for further treatment brought her to the Baghdad-based National Iraqi Assistance Center, the U.S. military's humanitarian center, which for years linked detainees with relatives, settled compensation claims, and coordinated medical care for Iraqis.

When retired Marine Dan McFerrin was contacted for assistance, he and his employer, U.S. military contractor ECC, didn't think twice about pitching in. Thousands of miles, hundreds of phone calls, and dozens of loving, caring individuals later, Shams and her mother arrived at Shriners Hospital in Sacramento, Calif. There, Shams began 16 months of intensive rehabilitation, while across the United States and the Middle East, the next act had already begun to unfold.

McFerrin's wife, Brenda, had waited in Chicago to help mother and daughter through immigration and air terminals. She also was standing by to prevent potential red tape from ensnaring her patient and a medical transfer that had thus far been miraculously successful. But Brenda became the one ensnared, leading to her becoming the driving force behind creation of Children in Need International, a foundation offering acute medical care to children from destabilized nations that lack resources or funding for such treatment.

According to World Health Organization estimates, only about half of Iraq's former 34,000 physicians continue to practice in the country. An estimated 40 percent fled, 2,000 were killed, and others simply gave up when risk outweighed the good they could possibly accomplish without medicines, supplies or functioning equipment.

Not long after working together on Shams' case, Brenda enlisted Army reservist and National Iraqi Assistance Center veteran Staff Sgt. Marikay Satryano to join the Children in Need International team. Swapping military for civilian status, Marikay continues working with NIAC to screen medical cases for the group.

"Before patients come to us, they first see an Iraqi doctor," Satryano explained. "This raises confidence in local doctors, sending a message to the Iraqi people that they have competent professionals still active."

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Cedrick Jessup is NIAC's deputy director. "It's a very rewarding job where I get to meet a lot of Iraqi children," he said.

As of last month, NIAC -- currently under the supervision of 360th Civil Affairs Brigade -- has helped 216 children. "We get to see the job through from start to finish," Jessup said.

While treating patients as fairly as possible, the dynamics of triage often can seem unkind. Screening sometimes indicates conditions can be treated in country or are not serious enough to warrant immediate intervention. It can be heartbreaking telling other parents that their child's chance of survival, even with lengthy treatment in the most modern facilities, is extremely low and that the child cannot be recommended for assistance.

Jessup reports that 554 cases are now on NIAC's list of children likely to benefit from outside medical treatment. Though CINI's charter lists NIAC as its primary referral agency, the foundation also accepts referrals from other organizations and individuals. The number of children needing assistance far exceeds the newly formed organization's resources.

"Faced with hundreds of patients and limited financial resources, you must determine which cases are operable, and then concentrate on the ones you can help," Satryano acknowledged. "You do what you can, where you are, with what you have and with whomever is willing to help."

CINI's 2008 goal is to arrange treatment for 100 children. Half of these, as in Shams' case, will receive individual attention on an emergency-need basis. The other half will receive surgical or treatment interventions in specialized groups, including cardiac, ophthalmic, prosthetic, and plastic surgery for burns.

Already this year, CINI partnered with the Gift of Life volunteer cardiac team of U.S. and Jordanian physicians for the second annual Heart Mission. A dozen Iraqi and Jordanian children had their hearts surgically repaired at Al Khalidi Hospital in the Jordanian capital of Amman. Twelve children are now being identified to receive vision-restorative surgery this fall at Amman's Eye Specialty Hospital, which participates enthusiastically with CINI's efforts.

These medical exchanges not only benefit children, but also facilitate valuable technology and skills transfer while promoting international understanding and friendship. Treating children in Middle East regional hospitals, where language and culture are familiar, reduces stress for children and parents alike. CINI sends children abroad for medical care only when specific treatment is unavailable closer to home. Shriners Hospital, for example, specializes in treating badly burned children and those needing prostheses.

"The CINI Effect," as it's been called, seems to hinge on the ability Satryano and McFerrin have to pull together myriad resources on the spur of the moment to make miracles happen. From that first miracle with Shams to their most recent effort in May to get 5-month-old Fadi urgently needed heart surgery, the CINI duo does not allow the "impossible" to enter into the assistance equation.

"The CINI group is absolutely amazing to work with," Jessup said. "Success comes when so many people pull together to help one child."

By Elaine Eliah
Special to American Forces Press Service

Elaine Eliah works for the Inma Agribusiness Program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

03 June 2008

America Supports You: Military Kids Create Flurry of New Memories

For the past two years, one troop-support organization has made sure children of fallen servicemembers have an avalanche of fun.

"Snowball Express" began in December 2006 with the mission of providing hope and new memories to military children who have lost a parent since 9/11.

"The belief is these children should never be forgotten by a grateful nation," said Roy White, the group's chairman of the board and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel. "Snowball Express accomplishes its mission by providing an all-expense paid, multi-day fun experience for eligible children [18 and younger] who are joined by the surviving parent [or] legal guardian."

Since its beginning, the Snowball Express event has been held in Orange County, Calif. This year will be no different, White said.

"This year, new and returning families will be treated to a new experience with a trip to Universal Studios and 'A Day in the Life of California,' being planned by the employees of Oakley and many other corporate partners," he said. "A return trip to Disneyland completes this unique experience, along with a few special surprises along the way for these children who pay the price of freedom for all Americans every day."

Beyond the fun, however, there is a serious purpose to the event, and that is the relationships that are forged among not only the adults who discover they're not alone, but also the children.

"The greatest benefits are the children being with other children who understand their emotions and thoughts," White said. "It's these new relationships that build hope for the future and create new memories and a network for these children."

More than 1,000 volunteers from across the country are helping to make this endeavor possible. Not included among these volunteers are the people who make donations to make the five-day event possible.

"We know Americans want to help these children, and Snowball Express has become a conduit for all Americans to help by donating frequent flyer miles, organizing local events for the families and providing financial contributions to his main event in December," said Jim Palmersheim, a Snowball Express board member and an American Airlines captain. "I'm proud that my fellow American Airline pilots and flight attendants worked for free to bring these children to Snowball Express last year, and we are honored to do it again this year."

Other corporate sponsors offer everything from lodging and transportation to meals, tickets and myriad other goodies.

Those involved with Snowball Express said the group's new affiliation with the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program will help spread the word and get other sponsors involved, as well.

America Supports You connects citizens and companies with servicemembers and their families serving at home and abroad.

"Very little money is spent on overhead costs such as advertising or fundraising," said Bill Mimiaga, Snowball Express' secretary and a trustee as well as a retired Marine major. "Being recognized by ASY will give us increased exposure to corporations and, more importantly, to families who may not know about us.

"If even one family learns of Snowball Express because of this affiliation, those children's lives and the subsequent changes in their lives because of their Snowball Express experience will make it all worthwhile," he added.

This year's Snowball Express event will be held Dec. 16-20. Plans are under way to hold Snowball Express 2009 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. More information and eligibility rules are available on the group's Web site.

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service