All posts by paulf.bove

Reflecting on Seven Weeks with Marines

This is the fourth blog entry for Master Sgt. David Wolfe, a security forces Airman from Scott Air Force Base, Ill., who trained at the Marine Corps Staff NCO Academy at Camp Pendleton in southern California. He volunteered for it after learning slots were available for Air Force senior NCOs.

“I knew this would be a challenge and the opportunity to work with the Marine Corps for seven weeks sounded like an awesome chance to grow personally and professionally,” said Sergeant Wolfe, who enlisted in the Air Force in 1992 and has served all over the world, to include the Middle East, Germany, Italy, Alaska and Wyoming. “My wife did three years in the Marine Corps and my oldest son enlisted last summer just after I left for Iraq, and is currently in tech school, so we have some family connection to the Corps as well.”

Check out his previous posts: Week 1, Week 2 and Week 3.

I recently had the distinct professional privilege of spending seven weeks at the US Marine Corps Staff NCO Academy Advanced Course. Seeing how another service conducts enlisted PME was a serious eye opener. Here are some of my thoughts after this incredible experience.

First and foremost, if you get the opportunity to volunteer to train with another service, jump all over it! Spending time with the Marines was one of the best experiences of my career and cannot be duplicated with a joint PME computer based training class. I learned that it’s never too early to get your haircut, and that calling your peers by their full rank and name instead of just first name is not hazardous to your health. The level of professionalism, or “moto” the Marines display both on and off-duty is tremendous.

Second, I learned that PT is a team sport. While your score on the test is yours and yours alone, preparation should be done as a unit, with some motivational tools woven into the fabric of every session. Developing an all-around fitness program rather than solely working on exercises required for any particular game of physical fitness testing is paramount. We are training for the possibility of carrying our wingman on our shoulders and out of harm’s way, not for a 1.5 mile run.

Lastly, I learned that no matter what task you are completing, the clock ticks at the same rate. Your ability to mentally block out uncomfortable physical situations will directly lead to an increase in your stamina. This will lead to Airmen who can sustain more physical demands in any environment. Running the hills of Camp Pendleton taught me that whatever your think you can endure physically, you can do more. Push yourself in PT, run through discomfort, and you will see an increase you did not think possible.

Thanks to the Staff NCO Academy at Pendleton for an awesome experience this Airman won’t forget.

Visit to the 917th Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base–Passion for the Job

Maja Checks out B-52 Cockpit

Rarely do people find a job that they’re passionate about. We frequently hear from our Airmen that they love their jobs and that serving their country is the best thing they ever did. Yet, the Air Force also employees thousands of civilians and contractors to help support the mission. One of those civilian employees is Maja Stevanovich, who I’ve known for a couple years through Twitter and other social media sites. We only met in person this for the first time at this year’s Milblog Conference.  Maja currently works for Air Force Global Strike Command Public Affairs. She started there a few months ago, but has been a longtime supporter of the Air Force, and the military, through her participation as a milblogger. She has written about the Air Force numerous times on her blog, Not Your Average Brooklynette.

For her to have the opportunity to move from passionate blogger to being employed by the service branch she loves was a great opportunity. And so, after writing about the Air Force for years, Maja sent me the link to a post for Air Force Live (as shared from her blog). Maja recently had the opportunity to spend the day with the 917th Wing of the Air Force Reserve Command “and got to learn about their remarkable mission and the part they take in national security.” The 917th Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base, is home to both A-10 and B-52 aircraft. The A-10 schoolhouse mission is to train A/O A-10 pilots in initial qualification, forward air control and night vision goggles. The B-52 combat mission is to employ the bomber in support of Air Force worldwide conventional commitments. In addition to writing about their mission, she has some great photos of her day there.

B-52 Stratofortress at Barksdale AFB

Take the opportunity to visit Maja’s blog, and please be sure to check out Milblogging.com for links to thousands of other milblogs. The milblog community is an important part of the Department of Defense. The people who write these blogs are active duty, retired military, spouses, friends, families, or simply military enthusiasts. They support our mission and write about aspects of the military that public affairs or the news may not cover. And you never know, your passion may turn into a career just like Maja’s did.

Paul F. Bove, Air Force Public Affairs Agency

Money is waiting for Airmen to claim it

There’s money out there and it’s waiting for eligible Airmen to claim it.

The 2009 War Supplemental Appropriations Act established Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay, providing $500 for each month/partial month served in stop loss status. Service members, veterans and beneficiaries of servicemembers whose service was involuntarily extended under Stop Loss between Sept. 11, 2001 and Sept. 30, 2009 are eligible for RSLSP.

To receive the benefit, those who served under stop loss must submit a claim for the special pay. There is still money left to be claimed. The average benefit is about $3,700.

Recently, Lernes J. Hebert, acting director, Officer and Enlisted Personnel Management, for the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, and U.S. Army Major Roy Whitley, project manager for the Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay, participated in a group interview with the DoD Bloggers Roundtable to discuss this program. Here are some excerpts from that conversation.

Moderator: Mr. Hebert, if you’d like to start with an opening statement, and then we’ll go to questions. And, of course, Major Whitley, if you want to add anything too, be my guest. So, sir, the floor is yours. Please go ahead.
MR. HEBERT:
Thank you very much. Well, first, I want to thank all of you for joining us today. This is a very important program for the department. We’ve been advertising the availability of this retroactive stop-loss pay for military members who served between September 11th, 2001 and September 30th, 2009 for a number of months now.But as we approach the October 21st deadline for getting applications in, the department is going on a full-court press to try and make sure we can get the word out. And to the extent that you find this is a worthy effort, we’ll ask you to ask your followers to tweet, buzz, e-mail or post on this topic to get the word out to anyone who is affiliated with the department. You know, as you may well know, many individuals were asked to stay beyond their initial separation date or retirement date. And in recognition of that service, Congress and the department have in place a statute which authorizes them $500 a month for every month or partial month that they served on active duty in this status. That being said, the department is not treating this as a marathon as we approach the October 21st date. It’s more of a sprint, and — but it’s — in traditional military fashion, it’s a unit sprint. And that means that we’re not successful until we get every member across that line. Every member who wants — who is eligible and wants to apply for this should have that opportunity to do so. But they can only do that if they know about it. And our efforts today and throughout this entire period have been to get the word out through every means possible to those military members, veterans and their families.
In closing, I’d like to let you know that we have all of the information that we’re going to talk about today posted out on www.defense.gov/stoploss, a special website. It has all the links to the service websites. I went and checked it again today. There is a plethora of information out there about how to apply and when to apply, whether or not you’re eligible. But the key point that we’d like you to communicate to your — to your readers is that if there’s any question in their mind as to whether or not they’re eligible, go ahead and apply. Most of the individuals who have gone through the process tell us that it takes no more than about half an hour to complete, and that’s — with many of the average payouts being between $3(,000) and 4,000, that’s a pretty good return on investment.
So that being said, Roy?
MAJ. WHITLEY:
Yeah, I just had a few words, because I know the most important part is the — are the questions for you folks. This is for the Army our third Blogger(s) Roundtable, and I’m thrilled to death that we’re here, you know, in the fourth quarter. And the Army is very aware that we’re in the fourth quarter; we know what that means. So we kicked off a lot of initiatives. I’m sure you want to ask about them. A lot of your folks are hearing about them — posters and our quick-claim process.
And just thrilled to death to give you the update. Thanks for having me again.

Q: About how many service members do you believe are eligible for this? And other than getting the word out to all of them, what is the biggest challenge that the program is facing?
MR. HEBERT: Well, the — to answer your last question first, the biggest challenge is just, as you indicated, getting the word out. We find that many people, once they’re aware of the program, see the inherent value in filling out a simple form and receiving a check fairly shortly afterwards. You know, most of these applications are, on average, taking between two and four weeks to process. That’s a pretty quick turnaround for most organizations, and we’re striving to drive that down towards the two-week part As far as in — the number of eligibles, we don’t have specific numbers, because each service — populations varied over time, and so — and also, Congress passed a law that further restricted that eligibility last year to those individuals who had subsequently voluntarily extended their enlistment and received a bonus. So to answer your question directly, we believe that there’s roughly 145,000 eligible members, but again, that’s a rough estimate, and it really depends on each individual case. What we want to reassure individuals is that they don’t have to make the decision whether or not they’re eligible; they just need to go to the website, fill out the form and apply, and we’ll get them in touch with the right experts to ensure that if they’re entitled to this money, that they receive it as quickly as possible.

Q: How many service members are you still trying to reach? For example, I know the Army estimated that there were 120,000 people eligible for this pay. Service-wide, how many do you still need to reach? And can you provide us a breakdown by service?
MR. HEBERT:
Well, as I indicated, the exact breakdown wouldn’t be possible. But I will tell you we’re trying to reach every eligible member who hasn’t applied. Thus far, we’ve processed over 30,000 applications, and so we’re still in a sprint, as I said, to try and reach the rest of the population.
Q
Thank you. In the past, OSD has been able to say how many people were eligible. And even after the language was added about the bonus, they said, well, that affects about 10 percent. So 30,000, and you have at least 120,000 for the — for the Army, that means you’ve got three-quarters of the people you’re still trying to reach with three months left. What has been the — you know, what is the biggest challenge? And how are you going to meet that?
MAJ. WHITLEY:
I knew this question was coming, so I’m ready for it. The answer is, you knew about the 120,000; that was the folks on the Army’s list going back a number of years. What we had done and we tracked quarterly in our reviews was who was applying from that known list. That’s what we called it: The known list.
Mid-year review, I knew what that status was, and we identified 80,000 folks that we had to contact. So in the third quarter, we did an address hunt and location exercise, and we are finalizing it. In about four days, the last of 36,000 mailers will go out. We’ve already got 50,000 out there now, and we’ve heard back from 40 percent of all the folks we sent out, and we know it’s arriving at 97 percent of the addresses, based on the returns.
So when the Army’s finished with this, which is actually going to be in about 10 days, we will make an attempt to identify, locate and contact the better part of 120,000 folks.

Q: I have two questions, if you don’t mind. First, as a former Guard spouse — we were Minnesota Guard, so there were a lot of people who were extended during that — the surge. Is there a special provision for Guard members? I’m on your website right now, and I’m seeing that the Air Force has e-mail active and e-mail Guard reserve. Should Guard people be going straight to the regular e-mail if they’re Army? Or should they be going to someone there at their armory? Or should they strictly go through this website?
MAJ. WHITLEY:
Actually, they need to go to our website. We have component representatives in my office. We have a (superior ?) officer; that’s me. We have a company-grade officer, which is for the Guard. We have a CW5, chief warrant five. For the reserve component, right out of HRC, human resource command. And we have a sergeant major that helps with the active component, and she is also — she has reserve experience.
Q Great. Great. Because I know a lot of them are, you know — after the last deployment just sort of — they got out, and might be harder to find.
MAJ. WHITLEY
:
Oh, not the Guard, though. The Guard is very particular — one-year enlistments, extensions, six-plus-twos, six-by- twos — they’re very unique. And that’s why we insisted on having a compo rep in our office from the very beginning.
Q Great.
MAJ. WHITLEY:
And I know there’s a lot of phone calls that our captain has been making directly to Guardsmen and to units. We even track it by state, and we contact the states that we think are under- represented based on the number of Guard soldiers of — in that population. We know that certain states are doing very novel things. One state has done a — in six months, they put out a postcard to every Guardsman; another state they put a team together — it was Wisconsin, actually — that are vetting all packets before they come to us. So they’re having a lot of success in some of the states.
Q
That’s great to hear. My second question is, as a spouse, if you think your spouse may be eligible, I know that your website says “beneficiaries”; I’m assuming that is for the lost. Is there anything a spouse can do besides nag? (Laughs.)
MR. HEBERT:
Well, you bring up a good point. I don’t know if other spouses are like mine, but she has a “honey do” list for me that’s quite extensive. And, you know, you just simply push it to the top of the list. And the key is reminding them that that October 21st date is creeping up on us, and so the sooner they can get their application in, the sooner they get the money back in their pockets. Q Okay. I’ll send out the nag alert. Thank you very much.

Q: Question is — again, refers to spouses. Is there any way for a spouse of a soldier, airman, sailor, whatever — who was stop-lossed who has since died to apply for this money?
MAJ. WHITLEY:
Yes. On all the services’ websites, I believe — I certainly know mine — we have an entry that is — has the — you know, what condition. And we have many. We know that going into the program there were just around a few that HRC took care of and we had no visibility of. Every week, we get claims in from surviving family members. And we take care of those one-on-one, and we do as much as the record says we can, and they go to the top of the list.
So if you want priority, it’s first in, first out, unless it’s a surviving family member. And I have a casefinder assigned just for the deceased cases. And that goes for the folks that passed away after they exit the service. We treat them all the same. If you’re a family member — because you’re at a disadvantage. You don’t understand the records. You don’t understand the process. You don’t know what the (ALIRAD ?) is. You don’t know the regs. That’s really our job. So there is no surviving family member that does not get taken care of immediately.

Q: Could you talk about the difficulty in reaching some of these folks, particularly since many of them are now out of the service? Sorry, you detailed some of your efforts in trying to go to Guard bureaus and so forth. But what about the folks who’ve moved or moved from their last home of record that the service knew of? What’s — talk about the challenges trying to get ahold of those people. And what steps have you taken to try to overcome that difficulty?
MR. HEBERT:
Sure. Naturally, the items like the Bloggers Roundtable, the PA announcement, Twitter, Facebook, direct mailings, Federal Register. We’ve — using DFAS notifying. We’re working with the VA, with the various service associations and component associations. We’ve put the word out to recruiting stations.
Bottom line is, we have a very extended military family, as you — as you well know from personal experience.
And so getting the word out through this extended military family to tell a friend is our means of getting to those individuals who are even remotely as — located, and not normally contacting the military installations or organizations.
Q
Okay. And I wanted to ask you also, you mentioned earlier the step that Congress took to restrict this program somewhat last year. Could you please detail that?
MR. HEBERT
:
Sure. Basically, it was to — it restricted it to those individuals who voluntarily reenlisted or withdrew their retirement and subsequently received a bonus, so that they wouldn’t — you’re not eligible if you received the bonus and you’re drawing — in other words, you took a voluntary action. You’re no longer serving involuntary. However, there may be an — a portion of that time that you did serve involuntarily. And under this program, we simply want individuals to apply so that the experts can pore through their records and determine exactly what they’re entitled to.

Moderator: At this time what I’m going to do is I’m going to turn it back over to Mr. Hebert and Major Whitley for any final thoughts. We’re going to be drawing close to today’s roundtable, but I know a number of you are probably going to have follow-on questions, so at that time, if you want to forward them to me and I’ll make sure I send them to both — (inaudible). So, Mr. Hebert, if you’d like to start first, and then I’ll turn it over to Major Whitley.
MR. HEBERT
:
Sure. Thank you very much. Well, first and foremost, again, thank you all for joining us today. As I indicated, this is very important to us. We are trying through whatever means possible to get the word out to the eligible population. We want every eligible member who — or even members who
simply believe they might be eligible — to submit their application. Again, they just have to have it postmarked by October 21st. It’s a fairly straightforward process, about a half an hour of their time. And that being said, we’re going to continue to do everything we can on this end to get the word out. Again, it’s www.defense.gov/stoploss. And if you don’t mind including that link in your post, we’d greatly appreciate it, and asking your followers to tell a friend.
Major Whitley.
MAJ. WHITLEY:
Yeah. Thanks for having me also. I always look forward to these sessions, because I know it’s complicated and it’s hard reaching all the folks.
We want you guys to help us remind folks. I know we have a survey in our quick-claims process, that we ask three questions: Did you know about us before? Was it easy? And did you tell a friend? And the answer we’re getting back is they’re all telling friends, they’re getting the word out. And it’s important that they get their claim in. So pass the word.

Combat Camera — Overhead Imagery

As part of their airborne mission, the 55th Signal Combat Camera Company has started training with aviation units.  The Combat Camera Company operates and maintains combat camera imagery systems in support of strategic, operational and tactical theater objectives of military operations.  Lieutenant Colonel Kjäll Gopaul, Deputy Director of the Joint and Air Staff Liaison Office, highlights a recent airborne training event and its Total Force integration. 

It was hot – brutally so — and the Marshalling Area Control Officer (MACO) for the paradrop exercise was starting his pre-jump mantra. 

“I am Sergeant First Class Rodrick Jackson, and I will now provide your MACO brief….” 

The blistering 102° heat was oppressive and made it hard to focus on anything for very long.

“Drop altitude will be 1500 feet AGL….six  drops per pass…”

The combined weight of the combat gear with the main and reserve parachutes made it increasingly difficult to stand.

“Direction of flight is northwest … first jumper — we want you to make it to the ‘X’ on the drop zone…”

Drinking water helped, but it required extra effort to concentrate on everything being said. 

“Any questions?…Line up in chalk order!”

As the temperature rose to record highs at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, on 7 July, 34 Soldiers soared closer to a blazing sun on wings of silk to reach new heights of their own.  In an airborne exercise that played out like a textbook Total Force success story, the 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera) from Fort Meade led a team of Reserve and National Guard units in the groundbreaking paradrop of personnel from a helicopter onto the sun-scorched Bowling Green Drop Zone.   The ambitious event had been weeks in the making, and was flawlessly executed in just a matter of hours by the air-ground cooperative.  With each pass over the drop zone, a short staccato of six streamers burst downward from the Black Hawk helicopter, softly blossoming into parachutes in the aircraft’s wake and gracefully alighting on the rolling greenway.

Captain Rock Stevens, the Executive Officer for the 55th  Signal Company (Combat Camera), highlighted the significance of the training.  “Today’s exercise was a historic moment for the 55th, since it was the first Combat Camera-led airborne operation.  This was a huge step forward – a proof of concept demonstrating that our unit can lead air operations involving rotary or fixed wing aircraft.  Now we can step it up with slingloads or follow-on missions.  In combat, we support all combat arms — providing commanders with a battlefield perspective of the front line.  While we’re sometimes considered an after-thought, now we’ve shown that we can be part of the main effort – defeating enemy propaganda and running air operations.”  

Lieutenant Colonel John Harris, commander, 114th Signal Battalion, noted the almost symbiotic nature of the exercise’s planning and execution.  “There are actually a lot of small units in the area that have an airborne mission and need this training.  But since no one unit is large enough, it takes our informal ‘Mid-Atlantic Airborne Coalition’ to get organized and pull something like this off.  And by working together, we all maintain proficiency on our airborne mission essential tasks.” 

Lieutenant Colonel Harris underscored the value of proficiency training saying, “The 55th Combat Camera has a real need to keep their skills current — we had 24 Soldiers jump today.  Our combat camera teams support the Rangers, the 82nd Airborne Division, and special operations units; and as more of our missions involve integrating with these types of forces, training like today’s jump ensures that we can support them.  This exercise fostered team building; the same units we jumped with today — Operational Detachment Alpha Special Operations Forces, riggers, Civil Affairs, and aviation — are the types that we’ll work with in the future:  Definitely, this was the beginning of embedded training with units that we’ll support.” 

Specialist Christopher Baker, a combat photographer for the 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera), also emphasized the credibility this training provides when embedded with other organizations.   “We deploy with multiple units, and sometimes they don’t think we do a lot because we a carry a camera.  But if you have jump wings or an Air Assault badge, they look at you like you have more to offer to the mission.  They put more stock in you. This builds up a rapport and camaraderie with the guys that you’re going out with.” 

And the 55th Signal Company is “going out” a lot!  Major Tyler Shelbert, the company commander, described the unit’s high operational tempo.  “About a third of the company is deployed at any time for Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and various other contingency operations.  In fact, we just had 22 Soldiers return from Iraq, and another 20 are getting ready to go Afghanistan right now.  Increasingly more of our Soldiers are being embedded with front line units, which places a pretty heavy demand on the limited airborne authorized billets in the company.” 

One of the unit’s high-demand paratroopers, Specialist Derrick Tolliver, an all-wheel mechanic, described the experience of parachuting from a helicopter rather than a C-130 cargo plane.  “I last jumped about 3 weeks ago out of a C-130, and it’s totally different.  On a C-130, you sit on a bench seat inside a cramped, closed aircraft, push your way to the door to jump out, and then get snapped around by the shock of the opening parachute.  With a Black Hawk, you sit in the open doorway the whole time, with your legs just flying in the breeze and simply push yourself off the edge.  And you don’t have that initial shock; instead, it’s a very smooth opening.  I think it’s better because it’s simpler.” 

Specialist Baker echoed similar sentiments about the heliborne jump.  “This is my first time out of a Black Hawk.  It was eye-opening… it’s different.  In a C-130, you never see out the door until you jump out; you just follow everyone else in a line to exit the aircraft —there’s no thought process.  But in a Black Hawk, you sit there on the edge and watch the landscape and drop zone develop in front of you.  So this was my first time actually seeing what I was jumping into.  It makes you think more about the jump.” 

Providing that new perspective was a UH-60 Black Hawk aircrew from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, of the Virginia Army National Guard’s Army Aviation Support Facility at Sandston.  Major W. Keith Nunnally, the battalion operations officer and one of the mission’s pilots, remarked on how smoothly the exercise was executed. “It was a typical summer day with a low breeze — a little hot perhaps — and the drops happened effortlessly.  Training also went very well for the aircrew.   This was our first time training with these units, since we usually support jumps at Fort Bragg or the Rigger School at Fort Lee.   Since tactical jumps are normally conducted by the Air Force, you’ll find that this is not a typical task for most Army aviation units.  That said, paradrops are part of our Commander’s Task List for selected members of our unit to maintain proficiency, and this exercise provided a good training opportunity for us.”  

In addition, some Soldiers of the 55th Signal Company who are going to Air Assault School soon received slingload instruction on the DZ to have a leg up before arriving at the course.  Sergeant Jason Bushong, multi-media team leader, 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera), thought the hands-on preparation was useful.  “This was our second prep class today.  Last month we learned about aircraft capabilities, mission planning, and rigged a HMMWV slingload.   This time we practiced the hand-and-arm signals that guide a helicopter, set up a tactical landing zone incorporating glide-slope ratios, and rehearsed how the ground crew and aircrew work together to accomplish the slingload.  You can read the manual, but that can be pretty dry.  Getting hands-on training is beneficial since it fills in some of the gaps you hadn’t thought of.” 

Major Shelbert summed up the reason for the exercise’s success with one word, “Flexibility… We had a solid plan and were able to adjust to some minor, last-minute changes.  To coordinate the execution of 5 diverse organizations and pull all of this together is quite an experience.  It was good working with the other units and learning from each other about improving our airborne operations.”

Photo caption, upper left: SFC Roderick Jackson of the 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera), 114th Signal Battalion, performs a jump master personnel inspection on a soldier during an airborne operation at Fort A.P. Hill Va. on July 7, 2010. This was the 55th’s first time hosting their own Airborne Operation in the history of the unit. (U.S. Army photo by PFC Brian Kohl) 

Photo caption, middle right: Soldiers of the 55th Signal Company (Combat Combat) take off in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from HHC/2-224 Aviation for an airborne operation at Fort A.P. Hill Va. on July 7, 2010. (U.S. Army photo by CPL Benjamin Boren) 

Photo caption, middle left: Soldiers of the 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera) prepare to board a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from HHC/2-224 Aviation for an airborne operation at Fort A.P. Hill Va. on July 7, 2010. (U.S. Army photo by CPL Benjamin Boren)

Photo caption, bottom right: Soldiers of the 55th Signal Company (Combat Combat) take off in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from HHC/2-224 Aviation for an airborne operation at Fort A.P. Hill Va. on July 7, 2010.  (U.S. Army photo by CPL Benjamin Boren)

Efforts in Developing ANSF Health Care System

In a Wednesday, June 23 DoDLive Bloggers Roundtable, U.S. Air Force Col. Schuyler K. Gellar provided information about the Afghan National Security Forces health care system and his team’s role in helping to develop their medical capabilities to a self-sustaining level.

A major component of developing the health care system is increased recruiting. Doctors, nurses, and allied health professionals are needed. “The single largest obstacle to the development of the Afghan National Security Forces health care sector is lack of physicians,” Col. Geller, command surgeon and commander of the Medical Training Advisory Group, said.

For more information, see the transcript and audio recording of this bloggers roundtable, visit “DoDLive Bloggers Roundtable: Development of ANSF Health Care Capability.”