Two Fort Lewis Soldiers Receive Silver Stars

January 31, 2008

We don’t often hear about the things that our Soldiers encounter, in their daily fight against evil in Iraq and Afghanistan. We don’t often hear about their bravery and their disregard for their personal safety to ensure that their fellow Soldiers are safe. So, each time that I hear about the courage and bravery of our Troops, I remember once again, about the selflessness, courage, bravery and sacrifice that these men and women make on a daily basis. They don’t do this for accolades, but instead because they believe in their mission and want to ensure that the Soldier standing beside them comes home. Once again, we’re reminded of the fact that these men and women are the best examples of the type of people our country produces.

The Silver Star is this country’s third highest military award for Valor. Yesterday, in a ceremony at Fort Lewis, Washington, two Soldiers were awarded the prestigious honor. SFC Ismael Iban and SSG Jon Hillard, who returned from Iraq in September, are both members of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. At the ceremony, held at 1:30pm Pacific Time at the Sheridan Gym at Fort Lewis, both Soldiers were honored for their valorious actions in combat.

SFC Iban, a platoon sergeant with 3rd Platoon, C Company, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment was recognized for actions that he took on February 19, 2007. That day, a suicide car bomber destroyed the Tarmiya Joint Security Station, located near Taji, Iraq. Iban and his platoon were conducting a patrol about 6 miles from the station, when they were called to provide assistance.

Iban ordered his platoon to respond. As they entered the outskirts of Tarmiya, they were attacked by small-arms fire and rocket propelled grenades, coming from alleys nearby, as well as rooftops. The Soldiers returned fire and continued on to the badly damaged Joint Security Station. As they approached, they saw that it was engulfed in flames and smoke, with a huge pile of debris from the explosion blocking the road. It was then that Iban and 4 of his Soldiers got out of their Stryker vehicle and moved on foot the 250 feet it took to get to the JSS, under constant enemy fire.

When they arrived, Iban established a command and control point, and he and his men began to prepare for medical evacuation of 21 wounded US Soldiers. The rest of the platoon, meanwhile worked diligently, while under enemy fire, to clear a path on the roadway, so that a defensive perimeter could be created.

Iban loaded the more seriously wounded Soldiers into his Stryker vehicle and began moving them to the nearest helicopter landing zone. As they arrived, they were hit by an attack, with the enemy firing 7 RPGs and multiple machine guns from the nearby woods and buildings. Iban ordered his Soldiers to set up a perimeter and engage the enemy. He meanwhile dismounted and provided additional suppressive fire, to enable 4 medivac helicopters to land. The team moved while receiving intense fire, to load 9 critically wounded Soldiers into the helicopters. These actions were repeated by Iban and his men until all 21 wounded Soldiers were safely aboard the helicopters.

“SFC Iban’s steadfast leadership and dauntless presence was instrumental in leading his 12-man platoon to overcome incredible odds presented by the enemy,” according to the narrative. “With absolute decisiveness, calmness under pressure and personal courage, SFC Iban’s performance on 19 February 2007 directly contributed to saving his fellow soldiers’ lives in Tarmiya, Iraq.”

SSG Hilliard’s actions were also valorious. On March 24, 2007, while conducting clearance operations in a Baqubah neighborhood, Hilliard and his Soldiers from 3rd Platoon, B Company, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, were hit by a buried IED. The explosion was massive enough to catch the rear of their Stryker vehicle on fire and disable it. 7 Soldiers on board were injured.

When the explosion occurred, Hilliard, who was riding in the rear right air guard hatch, was ejected onto the top of the Stryker vehicle. He suffered multiple injuries to his left leg. Despire his injuries, Hilliard, who is a squad leader, immediately focused his attention on his Soldiers. He saw that the ramp door has been blown off in the explosion and smoke had filled the Troop compartment. The explosion that ejected him from the vehicle, also caused him to lose his weapon. As other Soldiers arrived to provide support, they came under a sustained volley of accurate and deadly machine gun fire. Hilliard saw a M204B Machine Gun that was tangled in a sniper camouflage netting nearby. He used his knife to cut the weapon free and grabbed a box of ammunition.

“Single handedly, he exposed himself on top of the burning Stryker while under accurate machine gun fire for approximately three minutes while the platoon maneuvered to establish a defensive position for the [casualty evacuation],” according to the narrative.

As the other wounded Soldiers were evacuated, Hilliard suppressed multiple enemy machine gun positions. After a defensive perimeter was established, Hilliard got off of the Stryker vheicle and gained control of the remaining men in his squad, as well as grabbing his weapon which had been blown off the vehicle during the explosion. He then realized that the M204B he had been using was now with 1st Platoon.

He then raced across 165 feet of open terrain to retrieve the weapon, under small arms fire and and RPG. He retrieved his weapon and then turned to rejoin his platoon, when he collapsed from his injuries and was no longer able to walk. He was then medically evacuated to FOB Warhorse to receive treatment for his injuries.

“SSG Hilliard’s bravery in the face of fire, tireless efforts and selfless service were instrumental in the successful recovery and evacuation of men, weapons and equipment, as well as the destruction of numerous [anti-Iraqi forces],” according to the narrative. “His actions and his demeanor were truly inspirational to those present throughout these actions.”

Army Times

Reaching Out To Help Children Of Fallen Warriors

January 30, 2008

When a parent dies, their death often leaves the family that is left behind, with financial difficulties. Often, money that has been set aside for college funds has to be used to pay funeral expenses, as well as other bills that might crop up, or even just to meet day to day living expenses. The surving spouse may be a stay at home mom, suddenly faced with having to go into the workforce to provide for her children, often without much training, thus causing her to have to work minimum wage jobs.

The families of Fallen Warriors are no different. Often, the surviving spouse is very young, staying at home to care for their young children, to avoid the cost of childcare, which can be tremendously expensive. Even if the children are older, the spouse has often not worked outside the home and has no formal job training. College is often out of the question, as it’s an added expense that just can’t be afforded.

In Illinois, a new scholarship program has been created to ease that burden and enable the children of Fallen Warriors, to attend college. The scholarship program, called the Fallen Heroes Scholarships program, is a new initiative that was announced last Sunday by Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and Veterans Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth.

The program was created to honor the children who have lost a parent in the military to the war on terror. It is designed to assist them in dealing with the sometimes devastating financial implications that can come with the death of a parent.

“We can never repay the family members, but we can never forget the sacrifice the service members made for us,” Duckworth said.

The program is designed, where the state will deposit $2,500 for each elgible child into a tax free Bright Start College Savings account. The children can then use the money to pay school costs, once they reach college age. The scholarship program is paid for by Oppenheimer Funds, which manages the state operated Bright Start program. According to Giannoulias, Oppenheimer Funds has agreed to set aside $500,000 each year for the program, as part os it’s contract with the state of Illinois.

According to State officials, approximately 150 service members from Illinois have died since 2001 in the war on terror, leaving behind an estimated 65 children. According to state officials, federal benefits for surviving children range from $160 to $881 per month, but they often fail to cover the entire cost of education.

As of Sunday, when announcement of the program was made, only 15 children had applied for the scholarship program. According to Ms. Duckworth, finding eligible recipients has not been an easy task. Military families move often. By working with the Department of Defense, the state of Illinois has mailed out information on the program to eligible families. According to Duckworth, many of the letters were returned undelivered.

“We believe there are dozens of children in Illinois and in other states that are eligible for these scholarships that we cannot find or who have not enrolled,” Giannoulias said. “If you know a child who has lost a parent during the war on terror, please help us reach out to their families so these scholarships do not go to waste.”

One recepient of the program, Charon Farmer was unsure how she was going to complete her education. Funding had run short and she’d had to drop out of school last semester. This semester, however, she’s back in school at College of Lake County in Grayslake, working on a medical imaging degree.

“Hopefully I will graduate in the next two years,” said Farmer, who added that the scholarship is a help, “especially for children whose parents can’t afford tuition.”

I think this is a great way to honor the children of our Fallen Warriors and commend the state of Illinois for creating this scholarship program. Hopefully with some publicity, other children from Illinois, who are eligible for the scholarship will be able to learn about it and put the money to good use on their education. Hopefully other states will follow the lead of Illinois and create similar scholarship programs for the children of Fallen Warriors from their states.

Chicago Tribune

Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Gears Up To Serve Wounded Warriors

January 29, 2008

For the past month, the new chief of the Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury has been bouncing across the Capital Beltway and areas beyond, in an effort to increase the quality of care for Wounded Warriors and their families. Army Col. Loree Sutton isn’t new to the military healthcare system, having Sutton deployed to combat in the Gulf War as a division psychiatrist with 1st Armored Division and later served as division surgeon for 4th Infantry Division. Sutton commanded DeWitt Army Community Hospital, at Fort Belvoir, Va., and most recently commanded the U.S. Army Medical Department Activity, at Fort Hood, Texas. She’s passionate about her job and is working non-stop to create a network of providers that can partner with the military to ensure that Wounded Warriors receive the best phychological care and treatment for TBI.

(Army Col. (Dr.) Loree Sutton, chief of the newly created Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, sits in her temporary Rosslyn, Va., office suite. The Defense Department created the center in its effort to step up the quality of care for wounded warriors and their families. Photo by Fred W. Baker III)

“I drink bad coffee all over this town and all over this country … to make sure that I am reaching out. I’m linking up with folks. I’m talking with them. I’m letting them know what we’re about, finding out how we can partner,” Sutton said in an interview from her temporary Rosslyn, Va., office suite.

“No two days are the same, that’s for sure,” she said.

The Defense Department created the center in it’s continued effort to improve the quality of care for wounded warriors. The center officially opened on November 30th and is still in the process of hiring staff and leaders. Currently the center is housed in temporary offices, a short distance from the Pentagon. The temporary offices doesn’t stop Col. Sutton from being vocal about the mission on the center with a passion that borders on evangelical. The goal is to ensure that the center is what is planned to be a worldwide web of clinicians, researchers, educators and leaders, from the military system, private practice and academia. The hopes are that the center becomes the leading international resource for all psychological health and brain injury education, training, research, treatment and prevention. Having met Col. Sutton when she served at Fort Hood, I can say without a doubt that she’s the right person for the job and will give her position 150%. That’s just her way.

On any day, Col. Sutton can be found rushing to attend meetings, and make presentations and networks at the Pentagon, Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, the National Naval Medical Center or Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., and similar places around the country. This year, she said, she plans to expand her trips to outside of the United States, with the goal of making the Center into the premier facility, the expert on psychological health and traumatic brain injuries. With her drive, Col. Sutton will no doubt achieve that goal.

“Right now that’s our task, to build the team and grow the function of the office,” she said. “For us to fully reach our potential, we’ve got to be connected to that national and international network of experts who can bring the best to bear for our troops and family members.”

20 years ago, the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. It currently serves as the foundation for the center. It has also served as the Defense Departments main hub for traumatic brain injury experts. The Defense Department’s Center for Deployment Psychology was began in 2006 and is currently housed at the Uniformed Serivces University of Health Sciences. They’ll be bringing their training and educational functions to the center as well.

The plans are that this summer the staffs of both Departments will merge into new office space located in Silver Spring, Maryland. Plans are in the works to construct a new building adjacent to the future site of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda in October 2009. That will enable the Center to manage the clinical treatment for Traumatic Brain Injuries as well.

The position that Col. Sutton holds as the chief of the Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury is created for a 1 star General. Currently Col. Sutton has been nominated for promition and she’s awaiting Senate confirmation. Sutton reports directly to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. S. Ward Casscells, who also directs Tricare Management Activity.

The idea for the Center came as a result of the military and health care commissions that were tasked with looking for solutions to military and veteran’s health care issues after the Walter Reed Scandal. One of the themes that continued to repeat itself, as the task forces talked with leaders, wounded warriors and family members, was that the department should bring together best practices in treatment, research, education and training.

For now, the center will not directly manage health care, policy or enforcement. Sutton said it will work with policy-making offices, and the best practices it collects from agencies worldwide will be incorporated into policy.

The center also will set standards and assess, survey and validate DoD programs, and decide, in part, how resources are directed, Sutton said.

Center officials are reviewing hundreds of research project proposals that hope to claim a piece of the $300 million set aside by Congress last year for brain injury research. The office also will work with the military services to see which of the many programs funded with another $600 million from Congress are working and how to direct those funds to programs most beneficial to servicemembers and families, Sutton said.

But Sutton emphasized that the office’s efforts don’t center on command and control of programs and funds, but rather more on forming a network of partnerships and working together to agree on best practices for treatment.

“It’s a team of teams in a network,” she said.

“None of us have all the answers, but together we will absolutely do the right thing and provide the best possible care for our troops and their families,” Sutton said.

Plans are that the center will move beyond the medical model of practice to reach out to family members and partner with community programs along with education and training. In one of it’s first initiatives, the Center will work with other agencies and departments, such as such as the departments of Veterans Affairs, Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services on a program to help reintegrate servicemembers and their families into the community after a deployment.

“For us to make sure that this center of excellence lives fully up to its potential, we’ve got to reach out way beyond services, way beyond the Department of Defense … (and) reach out to the civilian world, both in this country and abroad. And we’re doing that,” she said.

With the drive and determination of Col. (Dr) Loree Sutton, I foresee great things coming out of the Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. Col. Sutton is a determined and dedicated practitioner. She’s a great choice for the position and do everything in her power to ensure that our Wounded Warriors will receive the best care possible. As much as we hated to see her leave Fort Hood, we were also well aware that her expertise will enable her to provide even more for Soldiers in need.


World War II Veteran Celebrates 100th Birthday

January 28, 2008

She drove herself around town until just last year and she’s just as sharp and quick-witted as ever. She’s full of witty good humor and wisdom and doesn’t hesitate to say what she thinks, whether you want to hear it or not. She’s well known in her community and one of their best known and active senior citizens. Meet US Army Veteran, Irene Davey.

On Friday, US Army Veteran Irene Davey was thrown a surprise birthday party to help her celebrate her 100th birthday. The party was attended by over 100 friends, family members and government officials and was highlighted by a video biography of her life. Irene was truly the star of the day, as she fired off one-liners and shared memories of her job in the Army during World War II. Irene Davey joined the Army in 1942 when her late husband Harold joined the Air Force. With a smile on her face, she recalled their discussion about each of thems choice to join the military.

“He said, ‘Do you think you’ll like it?’ and I said, ‘Do you think you will.?’” Davey recalled fondly.

Davey served for two years in the Women’s Army Auxillary Corps. Initially she served as a truck driver at Fort Devens and later as a recruiter in Dayton, Ohio. By the time she was honorably discharged, she had achieved the rank of technician third grade, which is today’s Army is the equivalent of Staff Sergeant. She says that she chose not to serve overseas, because her husband Harold, an Air Force crew chief was stationed in Wyoming. She remembered the pain and devastation she saw as she drove wounded Soldiers from Boston to the hospital at Fort Devens. About her time as a recruiter, saying that she often used the force of her bluntly honest personality to recruit new Soldiers. Her stories and antedotes kept the people attending the party laughing. With a twinkle in her eye, she told how she convinced reluctant recruits to join.

“If they didn’t want to go into the service, I made them,” she said.

Irene’s husband Harold died 35 years ago. She lives by herself in her home in Attleboro, Massachusetts. She cooks her own meals and her family members stop by frequently to bring her groceries and have a taste of her famous chicken soup. She spends her day working crossword puzzles and when she has visitors, they are often found playing Scrabble and cribbage.

“I have the best family in the world,” Davey said. “And friends are special. It’s been a lonely road, but having friends like you make me feel so good.”

After her husband died 35 years ago, Irene never remarried. She notes though, that family and friends have made the lonely times better and eased the void that his passing left in her life. She says that she wouldn’t hesitate to live her life over again.

“Life is best lived in the present,” Davey said. “We only have this moment, let’s make the most of it. Right now, I have the best of it.”

I can only hope, that if I reach the age of 100, that I will be as healthy and vibrant as Irene and not afraid to speak my mind, as she is. Happy 100th Birthday Irene Davey and Thank You For Your Service to our Country.
The Boston Globe

The Sun Chronicle

Preparing For The Future With Education

January 27, 2008

We’ve often said that the future of both Afghanistan as well as Iraq, is the children of those countries. One way to ensure that the children are able to make a better country for themselves and their children to live in, is through education. Task Force Saber Patatroopers in Kunar Province, Afghanistan work tirelessly to ensure that happens by acting as a liaison for a school partnership between American and Afghan schools.

Through this partnership, they’re able to link children and schools in Afghanistan with schools in the US, Italy and Germany, to provide the Afghan children with essential supplies, such as pens, pencils, paper, chalk, notebooks, as well as linking them with pen-pals in these countries. The 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment Paratroopers also ensure that the partner schools receive updates on the progress of the Afghan children, by sending them pictures and letters.

“Being in the US, it is hard to visualize the lack of resources they have here,” said Army Captain Jay S. VanDenbos. “Ninety percent of the schools are open-air schools, which are sometimes a tarp and a dirt floor. They’ll have a rock that they use as a chalk board, and kids sit underneath the tarp and learn.”

“Most of the kids want to learn. They yearn for knowledge,” said VanDenbos. “Anytime anyone goes on patrols, the kids are screaming to them, ‘give me pen, give me pen.’ They don’t have anything they can use to learn.”

The partnership is a great opportunity for the children in Afghanistan to get some of the supplies that children here tend to take for granted. It also enables the Americna children to learn about other cultures in the world. So the partnership goes both ways. By being able to pen-pal with each other, the children are also afforded the opportunity to forge friendships that they might never otherwise be able to have. The teachers in Afghanistan, are firmly behind the project, having seen their schools destroyed over the years and they greatly appreciate what is being done for them and their students.

“Coalition forces are always giving school supplies to the students and I support the Coalition forces for helping the children,” said Pacha Gul Aulfat, 36, an Afghan school teacher. “It makes me really angry that we do not have school buildings, but Coalition forces are building schools for us.”

“Most of the past generations are uneducated, but my plan for the future is to teach. I will provide the students of the next generation with an education,” said Aulfat. “Now is a time for education, and all of our attention must be given to education.”

The troops love the opportunity to be able to put forth effort to help the children … the future of Afghanistan. This allows the children to have an opportunity to be able to advance their educations and perhaps go on to further their educatio and become doctors, attorneys, or other professionals who can make a difference in their country and it’s future. For all the bad press we see in the media about our Troops and the jobs they’re doing in both Iraq and Afghanistan, things such as this are happening without much fanfare, or mention in the major media outlets. This is truly the work that counts, enabling the future of these countries to become whatever they dream of being in order to become a part of making their country once again whole.


Iraqi Security Forces Stepping Up To The Plate Against al-Qaeda

January 26, 2008

It’s been often said that one of the things that will show that Iraq is ready to retake their country from terrorists, is for them to be responsible for the safety and security of their people, instead of relying so strongly on US and coalition forces. In an announcement on Friday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said that Iraq is sending troops for a “decisive” battle with al-Qaeda militants in Mosul, one of the places where al-Qaeda fighters continue to have a major stronghold. According to al-Malaki, extra Soldiers and Police are being deployed to the city in Northern Iraq to push al-Qaeda and militants out of their last major stronghold in the northern part of Iraq.

On Wednesday, a massive blast in Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province, which is blamed on al-Qaeda, killed 40 people and wounded around 220. The following day, when the province’s police chief was touring the area, inspecting the damage, the police chief was assassinated. According to al-Maliki, that assassination is what prompted him to order the crackdown.

“This heinous crime, committed against our people and sons in Nineveh hurt us but also gave us a push to expedidte the activation of the operations command,” he said in a press conference in Karbala.

Major General Abdul Karim Khalaf of the Interior Ministry told reporters that around 3,000 additional police would be added to the police force in Mosul. While he and al-Maliki both admit that the job will be a big one, they claim that their intelligence has infiltrated al-Qaeda.

“We have set up an operations room in Nineveh to complete the final battle with al-Qaeda along with guerrillas and members of the previous regime,” Maliki said, referring to other Sunni militants the Shi’ite led government says remain loyal to former leader Saddam Hussein.

Nineveh is one of four provinces in northern Iraq, where Iraqi forces are teaming up with US forces to try to room out insurgents. The other provinces are Diyala, Tameem and Salaheddin. Al-Qaedas operations in areas such as the Diyala River Valley have been lessened, due to US and Iraqi security forces working together to rid these areas of the problem, and the fact that many citizens, having become fed up with the constant threats to their safety from al-Qaeda and other terrorists, have caused them to begin cooperating and working with security forces.

“Today, our forces started moving to Mosul. What we are planning in Nineveh will be decisive,” Maliki continued during a ceremony for the victims of violence in the city of Karbala, that was broadcast on state television.

It’s great to see the Iraqi’s stepping up to the plate and addressing the problems that continue to threaten the lives of their citizens. I’ll be watching this situation closely, as Iraqi forces take the offensive and the lead, against the insurgents. This is yet another step in the right direction… that of Iraqi security forces being able to ensure the safety and security of their people.


Yahoo News

Distinguished Flying Cross Awarded To Kansas Guardsman

January 25, 2008

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Robert N. Hammon wears the Distinguished Flying Cross after Gov. Kathleen Sebelius presented him with the medal during a ceremony at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan., on Jan. 22.

On Tuesday, when Chief Warrant Officer 2 Nathan Hammon was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross from Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, he recalled the events that earned him the award. He didn’t think as the bullets sprayed around his Black Hawk helicopter from the shores of the Tigris River in Iraq. Instead, his training, which began with flight school when he was a teenager growing up in Gardner, Kansas and the months of military training, coupled wih the 600 flight hours he’d already clocked in Iraq, allowed his actions to be automatic, like second nature.

“It was so …” he snapped his fingers in rapid succession. “The basics of flying the helicopter were automatic.”

The Distinguished Flying Cross is one of the Army’s highest honors for pilots, something which according to Hammon, that any pilot in his situation would have received. The events of that day, June 2, 2007 occurred when Hammon left Baghdad on a flight to Balad air base, which is located about 42 miles North of Baghdad. He and his four crew members, along with 6 Soldiers were on board as they flew through the night sky. As they crossed a palm grove on the Tigris River everything seemed to be going smoothly, until suddenly tracers began zipping by from all directions. Bullets from 3 different gun systems on the ground tore through one of the most vulnerable parts of the Black Hawk - it’s tail. With no tail rotor, steering became difficult and they were going down.

That’s when the endless hours of training kicked in and he took appropriate action. It’s when the hours spent listening to commanders screaming at you during training, to prepare you for stressful situations, began to make sense. He knew that while the helicopter was going down, that he needed to ensure it went down far enough away from the enemy below. He and his co-pilot spotted a waterway and aimed towards the other side.

“We needed a barrier between us and them to slow their tracking of us,” Hammon said.

He gripped the shuddering controls and brought the helicopter down. Other crew members quickly went to work getting rid of sensitive materials - radio frequencies, maps, etc. Hammon had ensured that himself and the 10 people he was responsible for, were safe. When presenting Hammon with his Distinguished Flying Cross, Governor Sebelious recognized him as a hero. He in turn, recognized his wife Jodi.

“I like to fly, I like to be challenged,” he said. “She gets stuck at home raising two kids by herself, grabbing groceries, mowing the yard. And then worrying. They have it worse than we do.”

I’m always amazed at the risks our pilots take, to ensure not only their own safety, but the safety of their passengers. CW2 Hammon is truly a Hero who deserves to be recognized for the actions he took in June, that saved the lives of himself and 10 other people.

Army Times

Eliminating The Gaps In Medical Care

January 24, 2008

When a servicemember is injured, whether that injury occurs on the battlefield, during a training exercise or just in their everyday work, they always receive the best medical care that is available. The Defense Department is working to ensure that the gaps that often occur, as a patient moves from the DoD system of care, to the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare system or even to private hospitals and closed and the transition is much smoother. The gaps that have been experienced in moving between the medical systems is one of the focuses of the Dole/Shalala group and their recommendations that followed.

The Defense Department and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs are working closely to ensure that those gaps are breached and that there is more transparency between the two healthcare systems. One way that can be done, is to ensure that the sharing of medical records between the two entities.

“We have been working to ensure we have secure, global reach of electronic health records,” explained Dr. Stephen L. Jones, principal deputy assistant secretary for health affairs. “The DoD and VA records would be integrated so when you saw that health provider in the VA, he would have access to the records from when the patient first entered the system.”

“All of the task forces and commissions said we needed more integration and cooperation between the DoD and VA, and we’ve made tremendous strides,” he said. “Are we where we need to be? No, because health records are a bit more complicated than financial institutions or airlines and such. Many more components have to be included – radiology, nutrition, provider nodes – all of the various aspects that touch you when you are in the health care field.”

Record-sharing is only one avenue that will ensure a more seamless transition between the two medical systems. Exploration is also being done as to whether one in-patient healthcare system would be feasible between the VA and the Defense Department. There is a study currently underway regarding that issue, which should have recommendations in March.

Besides the gaps between the Defense Department and VA medical systems, there are also gaps between the government and private-sector healthcare systems. According to Jones, the private-sector is not as far advanced in the electronic patient records. If they receive services from a private healthcare provider, information about that visit may or may not make it into their military medical file.

“We need to build a system that will allow the folks working with patients and military families access to the records – whether it be DoD, VA, the state or a private institution,” Jones said. Private-sector health care providers and the government are working to set information technology standards for health care records, he added.

As military medicine focuses on the two signature injuries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, PTSD and TBI, the military is focusing more on those and other aspects of pshychological health. They’re working hard to erase the stigma that has been in place in the military for many years, the belief that it was not okay to seek mental health help. While things are moving in the right direction, more work has yet to be done.

The Military now has specialists much closer to the frontline, in places such as combat stress clinics in battlefield settings. This allows Soldiers to receive help much sooner than they would, if they had to be evacuated back to the United States, due to experiencing some type of psychological trauma.

“Let’s erase the stigma associated with psychological wounds,” he said. “Whether it’s a wound to your body or a wound to your mind, it’s the same thing. You need to get assistance.”

After the black-eye received after the scandal at Walter Reed last year, the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs are hard at work to correct those problems, which weren’t related to the care of the particular injuries, but instead mostly in follow-up care and the administrative process. Tremendous strides have been made, since that time, to ensure that our Wounded Warriors continue to receive the best medical care possible.

At the Military Health Services annual conference here next week, Jones will host a discussion on the future of military health care. This year’s conference theme is “Caring for America’s Heroes.” More than 3,000 attendees are expected.

The conference is an attempt to communicate ideas throughout the force, and also provides an opportunity for DoD leaders to get input from the field, Jones said.

But it all begins with people, Jones said, and the nation’s wounded warriors are in the best possible hands. From the medics and corpsmen on the ground to the doctors at the combat support hospitals to the specialists at Walter Reed and the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md., all are providing the best trauma care in the world, he said.

I’m looking forward to continuing to follow the military medical care issues as things change and progress. We’re already seeing many changes that have had a positive impact on our Wounded Warriors and I’m sure that there will be many more in the months to come.


Revival Of Farms Is Key To Economic Recovery In Anbar Province

January 23, 2008

In the United States, agriculture is one of the mainstays of the American economy, especially in certain parts of the country, such as the midwest. Much of this nations wheat, corn and other grains are grown in the region. For many families, agriculture is what keeps the roof over their heads and many families have been farmers for generations. Others rely on beef, pork, and poultry production.

John Jeans, of the Inma Agribusiness Program, and Navy Cmdr. Kevin Anderson inspect a lettuce field in Ramadi, Iraq, as part of the effort to revive agribusiness in Anbar province. Photo courtesy of Inma Agribusiness Program

Certain regions of Iraq, that once were dependant on agriculture, have not been able to rely on that industry, for many years, due to years of sanctions, conflict and neglect. Many people in the country also relied on the products from the farmers, to put food on the tables of their families. One of the things that the area sheiks wished to do, when meeting with the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, was to receive help in re-establishing the country’s fading agriculture business, and that’s being accomplished.

I’ve seen several (poultry) growers who have returned to production during my seven months here, and more will return as things continue to improve,” said Marine Maj. Daryl F. Remick, an agricultural planner with the Fallujah-area provincial reconstruction teams. “We have to evaluate the entire agricultural value chain for al Anbar,” he said.

Major Remick, himself the son of a poultry farmer, is very aware that this is only a beginning, but one that brings hope to the region. One of the pieces of the agricultural chain. According to Major Remick, in order to assess a value chain, one must consider not only what is taking place on the farm, but also looking at how farmers receive inputs, such as seed, fertilizer or poultry feed, and how they market the products they produce at the markets. They must be able to identify the weak links in the chain and take measures to correct those weak links, in order to ensure that the agricultural process is a profitable one.

Experts embedded with the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, interact with the local population in the communities in order to identify where in the chain the process might need upgrading or revamping, in order to restore the agricultural business in the region. When several enterprises fitting this description were identified by the Ramadi PRT’s embedded personnel, Navy Cmdr. Kevin Anderson, detailed to the State Department, and Marine Maj. Lee Suttee, a Marine Corps civil affairs specialist, requested members of the Inma Agribusiness Program visit the area. Inma is an Arabic word meaning “growth.”

The program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, is working to restore Iraqi agribusiness, a sector estimated to support 27 percent of the population. During a recent two-day tour in and around Ramadi, the Anbar provincial capital, Anderson and Suttee escorted USAID’s Ron Curtis and David Smale and Inma party chief Herschel Weeks to several private-sector agribusiness investment opportunities.

Speaking with local farmers about the poultry business recently, several identified the same problem - day-old chicks are expensive and often require costly shipping. Farmers must use costly imported feed of unknown quality. Immunizations and veterinary care are expensive, and disease-testing labs are unavailable.

Inma wants to make sure that the feed and other needs are in place for the farmer to make money,” Weeks said, “and that there is a market for the products.”

Working with local sheiks, the first step in correcting the poultry problems, was the availability of affordable feed from a local source. Inma’s maize-growing demonstration project introduced hybrid seeds and precision planting to local farmers. Iraq’s traditional maize yield tripled, and by planting between the annual wheat crops, farmers used their fields off season and produced much-needed animal feed, Inma officials said.

The availability of having locally grown feed in Ramadi, strengthens the poultry business in the region. As the poultry production increases, the demand for more locally grown feed with also increase. Other links in the chain that can be improved are the increase of local feed-mill production, providing storage and facilities that can produce the chicken feed from the grain that is grown.

Herschel Weeks, of the Inma Agribusiness Program; Navy Cmdr. Kevin Anderson; and a sheikh discuss a fish pond as part of the effort to revive agribusiness in Iraq’s Anbar province. Photo courtesy of Inma Agribusiness Program

The commitment that Anderson and Suttee’s team have to revitalizing Anbar’s economy was evident in the two-day assessment tour of Ramadi’s Zangora and Jazeera districts. In addition to all the poultry interests, they also had identified a potentially profitable fish pond and a mushroom farm that in 2003 employed 80 workers. At one local market, Iranian mushrooms sell for $2.50 a pound.

“Private industry can flourish,” Weeks said. “Agriculture can become profitable and provide food for the Iraqi people.”

“Our goal,” Anderson added, “is to see Iraqi-grown produce in not only the local markets, but also in markets of Jordan and Syria.”

As grain production increases to meet the demand of the poultry farmers, more jobs are created and thus the economics of the region are stabalized. This is yet another way that our Troops are working together with the Iraqi government, to create jobs and allow the Iraqis the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families. Something, that in many cases, hasn’t happened in certain regions, since before the war began in 2003.


Iraqi NCOs Attend Leaders’ Course

January 22, 2008

When US Soldiers become NCOs, part of the training that they must attend is leadership courses. They’re taught basic leadership skills, combat tactics and their abilities to be able to train, teach, coach and mentor the Soldiers in their charge, are honed. NCOs first and foremost, take care of the Soldiers underneath them and ensure that they become the best Soldier possible. NCOs are the eyes and ears of the commanders, the backbone of the military.

NCOs in the Iraqi Army recently were given the opportunity to attend a leadership course of their own. Starting on January 15th at FOB Kalsu, Iraq, 56 Iraqi Soldiers and 18 US NCOs stood side by side at the welcoming ceremony that was held to commemorate the first group to begin training at the new Task Force Marne NCO Academy.

“The two-week course that we have designed will teach you, the students, the basics in leadership and combat tactics, and enhance your procedural abilities to be able to train, teach, coach and mentor Soldiers in your units,” Multi-National Division Center Command Sergeant Major Jesse L. Andrews Jr. told the Soldiers during the welcoming ceremony. “For years our NCO Corps has been called the ‘backbone of the Army.’ We want NCOs and leaders of the Iraqi Security Forces to gain this same distinction - to become the backbone of the ISF.”

An interpreter relayed what CSM Andrews had to say. Afterwards, his words were met with enthusiastic applause from the Iraqis. All of them appeared to be eager to begin the course as soon as possible.

“I’m very happy to be here,” said Iraqi platoon leader Gessam Gafel Shanan, a member of 3rd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 6th Army Division. “All this training is going to make our NCOs stronger and more able to learn from our US partners.”

The aim of the academy is to provide the NCOs the opportunity to build competence, which in turn will build their confidence. Their training will emcompass everything from first aid to combatives, in order to make them as well-rounded and highly skilled as possible.

“They’re going to be armed with the right tools, the right skill sets, to go out there to be able to make sound and timed decisions in this ever-changing combat environment that we’re operating in right now,” Andrews said.

The Iraqi NCOs appear eager to learn new skills. Shanan, who has been a member of the Iraqi Army for almost 3 years is hoping that terrorism in Iraq will be completely irradicated during this generation and says that he feels strongly that the NCO Academy is a stepping stone in the right direction.

“I think — no, I’m sure that after this experience, our NCOs will be ready to stand in the Iraqi streets and follow their training to protect the people. Then we can have a normal life,” Shanan said as he marched his Soldiers off to their first class.

While Marty was deployed with 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division in Diyala province, they operated a joint US and Iraqi Soldiers Leadership Course in their province, with great sucess. At their Academy as well, US Soldiers and Iraqi Soldiers trained side-by-side, learning the same skills.

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