Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Discussions Continue on Post-2014 Troop Strength in Afghanistan

By Nick Simeone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 22, 2014 – Discussions are continuing within the Obama administration on how many U.S. troops could remain as a residual force in Afghanistan next year after the current U.S.-led NATO mission ends, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said today.

In a briefing for reporters, Kirby was asked about a report that the administration might be considering reducing the U.S. presence in Afghanistan next year to fewer than 5,000 troops on the assumption that Afghan security forces are now capable of repelling threats by the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

“There’s an ongoing discussion now about what the force posture in Afghanistan would or could look like post-2014, and I’m not going to get ahead of that discussion,” he said.

Last month, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the top commander in Afghanistan, said the United States and its allies were planning a post-2014 force of 8,000 to 12,000 troops, most of them American, to continue training and advising Afghan security forces, with several thousand more deployed to conduct counterterrorism operations.

Those deployments would be possible only if the Afghan government first agrees to sign a bilateral security agreement negotiated with the United States, something President Hamid Karzai is refusing to do. However, the two leading candidates emerging from the country’s elections earlier this month have said they will sign the accord once the winner takes office later this year.

At today’s briefing, Kirby praised the Afghans for conducting a well-run first round of voting April 5.

“That’s not insignificant, all by itself,” he said. “Democracy is hard stuff. And they’re proving their mettle at it.”

Friday, April 18, 2014

Face of Defense: Sense of Duty Inspires Marine to Serve

By Marine Corps Cpl. Joseph Scanlan
Marine Expeditionary Brigade Afghanistan

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SABIT QADAM, Afghanistan, April 18, 2014 – The prestige of the Marine Corps especially appealed to a rifleman and mine sweeper deployed here when he enlisted at the age of 17.

“There are a lot of people who have given their lives for this country,” said Lance Cpl. Kyler Nielson, who serves with Charley Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. “I feel like it is my duty to serve my country as an able and physically fit individual.”

Nielson, a native of Las Vegas, said he made a bold decision to fight as a Marine infantryman immediately after graduating from high school.

“I initially thought about becoming a Marine during my sophomore year in high school,” he said. “My best friend’s brother was a Marine. He told me about how he provided security for President George W. Bush, and after hearing about the other cool things he had done, it had a big influence on me wanting to become a Marine.”

Nielson said he grew up with a competitive attitude in several sports such as baseball, football, basketball, wrestling and mixed martial arts fighting. A daunting competition awaited him at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif. He departed for recruit training a month after graduating from high school, then he trained at the School of Infantry West. Midway through his training, he was given the option whether to become a rifleman, a machine gunner, a mortarman, an assaultman or an anti-tank missileman. He chose to become a rifleman, the jack of all trades.

During his time at the infantry school, Nielson was told combat deployments were ending and that he would not get the opportunity to deploy to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. It was disappointing news, he said, because one of his main reasons for enlisting was to fight terrorism. After graduating, he received orders to his unit, where he learned the information he had been given was not entirely true.

He began a rigorous pre-deployment training schedule shortly after arriving to the battalion. Nielson trained at Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz., in support of the Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course, and he completed a mission rehearsal exercise and integrated training exercise at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif.

He set himself above his peers during the training evolutions, and became the bearer of the “Suicide” Charley guidon, a relic that has been passed down in the company since the Guadalcanal campaign during World War II. Charley Company is the sole company in the Marine Corps that is allowed to display and carry a second guidon.

“Nielson is a Marine who doesn’t take any shortcuts,” said Marine Corps Cpl. Jared Swiggard, Nielson’s fire team leader and a native of Manchester, N.H. “His performance exceeds what is expected of him, and it’s been that way since he arrived at Charley Company. Even during his own time, he goes out of his way to learn infantry tactics. If something were to happen to me, he would be the one to take control of the fire team.”

Since arriving here, Nielson has been manning security posts and is assigned to a quick-reaction force as the company prepares to turn over full security responsibilities of the base to the Afghan army.

While he’s assigned here, Nielson does not get to experience many of the luxuries Marines have at larger bases throughout Afghanistan. Sleeping on a mattress, indoor plumbing, hot showers and three hot meals a day are nonexistent, but that does not hinder his motivation.

“I love being here in Sangin,” Nielson said. “I don’t need all of the nice things Marines have on Camp Leatherneck. It’s more of a brotherhood out here.”

Following his current deployment, Nielson said, he aspires to become a fire team leader and, ultimately, a squad leader. He is unsure whether or not he is going to make a career out of the Marine Corps, he added, but his eventual goal is to earn a college degree in political science.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Spc. Kerry M. G. Danyluk, 27, of Cuero, Texas, died April 15 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, of injuries sustained April 12 when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire in Pul-e-Alam, Logar province, Afghanistan.

He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.

For more information, media may contact the Fort Drum public affairs office at 315-772-8286.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Airman Recalls Support After Brother’s Marathon Bombing Injuries

By Air Force 2nd Lt. Brooks Payette
157th Air Refueling Wing

PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.H., April 15, 2014 – A year ago today on the morning of the 2013 Boston Marathon, Alan Bauman and Colin Bellavance woke up at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, ready to tackle the final two weeks of basic training.

By the day's end, the two flightmates began to learn the significance of the Airmen's Creed and its call to "never leave an airman behind."

More than 2,000 miles away, Bauman's brother, Jeff, was critically injured when the first of two bombs exploded near the marathon’s finish line. The attack left Jeff a double amputee and one of 264 injured. A photograph of him being wheeled to an ambulance by the cowboy-hat-wearing Carlos Arredondo became one of the most iconic images of that tragic day.

As news of the bombing spread across the country, Bauman made a phone call home required by all trainees with family in the Boston area. His father answered the call and told Alan that Jeff was injured while watching Jeff's girlfriend run the race. The following day, in a phone call with his father, he learned the tragic news that Jeff would lose both of his legs.

"I didn't know how to react," said Alan, now an airman first class assigned to the structures shop in the 157th Civil Engineer Squadron here. "I broke down and started asking all kinds of questions about what happened. After that, I kind of blacked out."

Bellavance, who forged a friendship with Alan beginning on their flight to basic training, saw Alan's reaction following the phone call and knew it wasn't good news. Despite his dorm chief responsibilities, Bellavance worked to be by Alan's side as often as possible.

"That was an event to me that drastically in an instant changed how close our friendship became," said Bellavance, an airman first class firefighter with the 157th CES. "It was an emotional time to step back and realize the magnitude of what had happened at home. The significance of why we were [in military training] changed a lot right before graduation."

At Lackland, the 324th Training Squadron showed the same concern toward Alan. He alerted his military training instructor, Air Force Staff Sgt. Christopher Florida, about the injuries and then was escorted to the commander.

"That's when they told me there was a time and place to be a trainer," Alan said in a February interview. "Given the situation I was in, they took the MTI hats off. They really took care of me."

Squadron leadership continued to meet with Alan and allowed him ample time to call home. He also was offered emergency leave, but chose to remain in training at Jeff’s request to finish with his fellow Air Force "brothers."

"It was a tremendous display of leadership and character," Bellavance said. "It was remarkable he remained as focused as he did, knowing an immediate member of his family suffered life-threatening injuries."

Though Alan did not see his brother until after graduation, local support from the Air National Guard came much sooner. Just two days after the bombing, 157th Air Refueling Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Brenda Blonigen and his first sergeant, Master Sgt. Jeremy Hutchinson, visited Jeff in a Boston hospital.

"When Jeff saw them there, he knew I was in an organization that took care of its people," Alan recalled. "That really helped [my family] tremendously."

Blonigen marveled at Jeff in the early stages of recovery and the concern his family had for Alan while dealing with a serious emergency at home. Blonigen and Hutchinson ensured the family that Alan was in good hands.

"Jeremy and I tried to put their minds at ease," Blonigen said. "I wanted to let them know the Air Force cares about its airmen. [The Lackland staff] really wrapped their arms around him."

The gesture from Blonigen and Hutchinson also resonated with Bellavance, who said it spoke volumes to the effort the 157th ARW makes to take care of its airmen.

"When you hear that, you know you are coming back to a good place," Bellavance said. "It was so reassuring to know that I made the right choice to enlist in the military, and now you belong to an organization that cares about your well-being."

Alan was granted a two-week break in training between basic training and technical training to spend time with his brother. The reunion was an emotional one for the brothers, who spent most of their time together during Alan's break. Alan said he was impressed with his brother's resilience and quick recovery time. Witnessing it forged a sense of determination and resilience Alan brought with him during his next phase in Air Force training.

"I kept thinking Jeff would want me to do my best at everything," Alan said. "That was my focus."

His focus paid dividends during technical training at the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport, Miss. Alan was selected to the airman leadership program, where he served as the highest-ranking student leader and was an honor graduate. Alan said the low point of his journey was finding out his brother was injured. Since then, he added, he and Jeff have remained positive in moving forward.

"Things happen, and life goes on," said Alan, whose brother released his book "Stronger" April 8. "My brother showed me that as long as your heart is beating, you still can do something."

Military Commission Judge Mulls Probe of Defense Claim

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

FORT MEADE, Md., April 15, 2014 – The judge in the military commission proceedings for five suspects in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States called for a recess today to prepare an order allowing defense attorneys time to determine whether current or past defense team members were contacted by a government agency.

The proceedings began yesterday at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and a satellite feed here allows reporters unable to travel to Cuba to cover the case.

Court recessed today at about 11 a.m. when the judge, Army Col. James Pohl, said he will issue the order later today.

The order follows the defense team’s request this morning for an investigation after one of the defense attorneys disclosed yesterday that the FBI questioned a member of his team about the suspects.

Pohl told defense attorneys they have until 5 p.m. tomorrow to submit a request if they want the court to subpoena witnesses from agencies that have contacted past or existing defense members. Any information the defense teams find will be disclosed only to the lead defense counsel for each team, Pohl ordered.

“The lead counsel will use his or her professional judgment in bringing the issue to the judge,” explained Army Lt. Col. J. Todd Breasseale, a Defense Department spokesman.

The court order is to avoid a conflict with any nondisclosure agreement an agency might have required a member of the defense team to file, Breasseale said.

Pohl is considering a court investigation on agencies that contacted defense team members, based on requests from defense team members in today’s proceedings. Because of those requests, the judge told the defense teams to determine which witnesses they believe they need. As yet, there is no indication the judge will proceed with an investigation.

James Harrington, attorney for defendant Ramzi Binalshibh, told the court at the start of yesterday’s hearing that the FBI contacted one of his team members for information. He did not say why FBI agents recently questioned his defense team member, but said the individual handled classified evidence.

The four-day hearing was set to examine whether Binalshibh is mentally capable to stand trial. Court proceedings will resume April 17, Pohl said.