WASHINGTON — For many American service members, the holidays are just another work day.
In a news conference last week, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey reminded Americans that their military is deployed worldwide, performing missions that keep their fellow citizens safe.
In his last news conference of 2013, Dempsey pointed out that, in addition to service members in combat zones, about 250,000 men and women in uniform are deployed overseas during this holiday period.
“I wish their families a peaceful and calm and happy holiday season, as their loved ones are forward-deployed all over the world, doing what the nation asks them to do,” Dempsey said.
And where are they based this holiday season?
There are roughly 39,500 U.S. service members in Afghanistan, down from 66,000 at the beginning of 2013. The mission in Afghanistan has changed this past year, with Afghan security forces taking the lead throughout the country. American, NATO and partner forces are training and mentoring Afghan units. They are also providing logistics and air support, maintenance and intelligence assets. This does not mean the job is safe. The International Security Assistance Force announced a service member in Regional Command-East was killed over the weekend.
In South Sudan, 45 Americans are deployed to provide security for the embassy in the capital city of Juba.
There are about 28,000 American service members in South Korea standing watch on the demilitarized zone — often called the last Cold War frontier. Another 39,000 Americans are based in Japan, providing security for that critical ally.
There are roughly 43,000 Americans in Germany, 11,000 in Great Britain, 11,000 in Italy and 1,000 in Belgium. The number of American service members in Europe has dropped significantly from the mid-1980s, when 350,000 U.S. troops were based in West Germany alone.
Thousands of sailors and Marines are afloat this holiday season, patrolling the sea lanes to ensure they are open and safe. They represent the U.S. commitment to global security.
In Africa, about 2,500 Americans are based in Djibouti, while others are performing training missions in other nations of the world’s second largest continent.
In the U.S. Southern Command area of operations, about 5,500 U.S. service members are working with allies and partners throughout Central and South America.
But it is not just those service members deployed overseas who work on the holiday. Thousands of airmen will man the consoles in the missile fields of the American West. Others will watch the skies for threats, while still others will be ready to respond to these threats.
Thousands of service members will care for brothers and sisters who are wounded or sick this holiday season. Others will provide services for the families of those deployed.
And wherever there are military personnel, there are DOD civilians and civilian contractors working right alongside them. Thousands of civilians will spend their holidays manning their duty stations to provide needed support for America’s best.
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — The Rulon brothers are no strangers to constantly being around each other, considering they are twins who both live in the Kansas City, Mo., area.
So nothing changed when Adam and Jonathan deployed to Afghanistan.
The Rulons, both staff sergeants serving as squad leaders in the 1438th Multi Role Bridging Company, Missouri National Guard, deployed back in late August. They are in charge of soldiers whose mission deals with the transition of bridge parts throughout Afghanistan.
“Being a twin, we constantly have people confusing us; even people in our own squads will come up to us with issues, and they totally don’t even know it,” Adam said, laughingly. “We have a little fun here and like to confuse people sometimes, but it’s all in good nature.”
Both soldiers are based out of Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, but Adam works with his squad up in Bagram, while Adam works down south at Camp Leatherneck.
Although they have spent only a couple of weeks actually together, even during the holiday season, having family overseas has been nothing but positive.
“Being here together is great,” Adam said. “We constantly are pushing each other and holding each other accountable. It is just nice to have family here, having your brother watch out for you.”
Jonathan couldn’t have agreed more.
“It’s nice to come ‘home’ to that feeling of family. It’s a big relief,” he added.
The twins primarily work on shipping bridge parts out of Afghanistan, as the force size reduces.
Their work, although sometimes “exhausting,” is a different experience for both.
“I enjoy what we are doing out here; I know we are doing something for the bigger picture,” Jonathan said.
Adam went on to talk about seeing the culture and being able to view “another world” while being overseas.
“Seeing the culture out here and being able to see how other people live is a unique opportunity,” he said.
“We have loved every minute of it,” Jonathan added.
Their hard work ethic and competitive nature has rubbed off on their soldiers, as well as their own leadership.
First Sgt. Richard Burns, who oversees the Rulon twins, praised their competitiveness and their ability to lead soldiers.
“Adam and Jonathan really are outstanding noncommissioned officers. They like to compete with each other, and really push their guys,” Burns said. “I know the soldiers look up to them because of that.”
Back home, the two are as close as ever, spending a lot of time at each other’s houses and enjoying family time.
“My wife has been great working at home with our Family Readiness Group, and keeping our own family informed of everything we are doing over here,” Adam said. “We have a great support system back home.”
Jonathan agreed, and summed everything up in one statement.
“Family means everything to us,” he said.
That bond keeps the Rulon brothers close, even during the holidays.
“We didn’t really get each other gifts this year,” Adam said. “But honestly, being here together is enough for both of us.”
Army Emergency Relief announced that, beginning Jan. 1, all sergeants and above can submit requests for financial assistance directly to their installation AER office.
Until now, staff sergeants and below were required to have the recommendation of their company commander or first sergeant before requesting AER assistance. Now sergeants and staff sergeants can apply for assistance directly.
“Based on feedback we received from senior Army leaders, including the sergeant major of the Army, we decided that this is the right thing to do,” said AER’s director, retired Lt. Gen. Robert F. Foley. “Over the last decade, these leaders have been entrusted with increasing levels of responsibility and have demonstrated the required trust and confidence to warrant this change.”
A policy change which became effective Sept. 30 enabled sergeants first class to go directly to AER for assistance. Prior to that, AER policy allowed only master sergeants and above direct access to AER assistance. Now all noncommissioned officers, officers and warrant officers can apply directly to their local AER office.
Soldiers E-1 thru E-4 are still required to complete the AER application and submit it to their company commander or first sergeant for their recommendation, officials pointed out.
In addition to providing no-interest loans and grants for emergency travel, initial rent deposits and vehicle repairs, AER continues to be the organization of choice for Soldiers’ unique financial needs such as household and appliance repair, dependent dental care and initial home furnishings.
Army Emergency Relief is a private non-profit organization dedicated to providing financial assistance to Soldiers, active and retired, and their families. Since its incorporation in 1942, AER has provided more than $1.5 billion to more than 3.5 million Soldiers, families and retirees.
By ROBERT DOZIER
Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Programs
Sgt. Christiana Ball, a drill sergeant from Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., has been voted Army Entertainment’s 2013 Rising Star.
Ball was chosen from a field of 12 vocalists from Army garrisons around the world. She edged out family members Joyce Severino, from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and Sarah Hopkins, from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., in the final round of the American Idol-style competition, held at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas.
“I want to thank everybody who voted for me,” Ball said. “I’ve had just untold amounts of support from my family, people at my installation, my unit, the combat veterans motorcycle association, the VFW — just tons of people. That is what is overwhelming me: the amount of support and love I’ve received. And the judges, you all are great. Thank you.”
Ball was one of seven finalists from garrisons in the continental U.S. The other six included Hopkins and Severino; as well as family member Charrie Mae Riggs from Fort Campbell, Ky.; 2nd Lt. Derrick Bishop from Fort Irwin, Calif.; Sgt. Scott Harris from the Presidio of Monterey, Calif.; and Pvt. 1st Class Kiari Mhoon from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
Finalists from overseas garrisons included Sgt. Oscar Bugarin from Camp Lomonnier, Djibouti; Spc. Ikilya Davenport from Camp Humphreys, South Korea; 1st Lt. Matthew Gabriel from Wiesbaden, Germany; and family members Christina Lewis from Kaiserslautern, Germany, and Raquel Sargent from Stuttgart, Germany.
“I am so happy and excited and I appreciate the votes I received from everyone,” Severino said. “The advice we received from the judges about proper breathing, how to perform and connect with the audience was priceless.”
Operation Rising Star gives performers a unique opportunity to entertain their comrades around the world and fulfill their own personal musical ambitions.
The 12 finalists competed against each other in three elimination rounds, first narrowing the field to six finalists: Harris, Ball, Lewis, Severino, Hopkins and Sargent; then the top three: Ball, Severino and Hopkins.
“I’ve been the front man in cover bands, but I’ve never been with a more talented group of performers,” Harris said. “I can’t believe the sprint to the finish line.”
The competitors were mentored and judged by professionals in the industry. Returning this year to Operation Rising Star were vocalist and vocal coach Debra Byrd (from television’s The Voice), vocalist and recording country artist Michael Peterson, and retired Sgt. Maj. of the Army Jack Tilley. The judge’s scores were combined with online votes from fans from around the world to determine who moved ahead in the competition.
“It feels incredible. We are the top 12 singers in the Army,” Harris said. “And the experience to get expert advice from these industry leaders, this is just great.”
“I feel honored and humbled,” Ball said. “Right now, my husband and I are going to celebrate a little. But soon, it will be time to get back to the drill. My team back home needs me.”
Many Soldiers in the competition are hoping their performance at Operation Rising Star will help them secure a position in the 2014 Soldier Show, also sponsored by Army Entertainment, a Morale, Welfare and Recreation program run by the U.S. Army Installation Management Command.
“My new year’s resolution is to join the Army Soldier Show,” said Harris. “I want to live out my dream as a Soldier and a performer.”
Tim Higdon, the Soldier Show executive producer, explained that they’re already one step closer.
“The six Soldiers in the top 12 already have a ‘bye’ straight to the live auditions [for the Soldier Show] in February,” Higdon said. “The encouraging thing is that talent and success of Season 9 is a direct result of the ongoing continuation of the program and highlights the difference MWR makes in the whole community.”
Thirty garrisons participated in preliminary rounds leading to the top 12 live competition. The 18 not represented in the finals have been contacted to encourage their active-duty, Guard and Reserve performers to submit audition packages for the Soldier Show.
Operation Rising Star similar to, but not affiliated with the popular television show American Idol, and is one of many programs designed to bolster morale among troops and deliver positive reinforcement to Soldiers, military civilians and family members.
By TECH. SGT. DAVID WHITECAR, 17th Training Wing Public Affairs &
SGT. 1ST CLASS TYRONE C. MARSHALL JR., American Forces Press Service
The National Defense University Press today released the inaugural edition of The Noncommissioned Officer and Petty Officer: Backbone of the Armed Forces.
Written by a team of active, reserve and retired senior enlisted officers from all service branches, this book is a multi-service reference for NCOs and POs that defines how they fit into their organization, centers them in the Profession of Arms, exposes their international engagement and explains their dual roles of complementing the officer and enabling the force.
Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, hosted the inaugural release in the Pentagon Auditorium, where the first book was autographed and then delivered to the Library of Congress, where it will reside for historical preservation.
The keynote speaker at the event was Gen. Martin Dempsey, the 18th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who wrote in his foreword to the book, “We know the noncommissioned officers and petty officers to have exceptional competence, professional character and soldierly grit — they are exemplars of our Profession of Arms.”
This forward compliments the book itself which strives to prepare young men and women to become NCOs and POs, re-inspires serving enlisted leaders and simulates reflection by those who have retired from or left active service.
The collaborative effort to create the first book of its kind may not have been possible without the cooperative efforts of a unique team of senior enlisted service members, two of the book’s leading contributors said.
Dr. Albert C. Pierce, professor of ethics and national security at the National Defense University at Ft. McNair, D.C., and retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Curtis L. Brownhill both served as co-leads to guide and coordinate the writing team for the book.
“I knew Sgt. Maj. Battaglia when he was at Joint Forces Command,” Pierce said. “He and I had worked on a couple of projects together. He knew that I had been part of the team that produced the book The Armed Forces Officer, which was published by NDU Press in 2007.”
Pierce said Battaglia liked the book and asked him if there was such a book written for noncommissioned officers. “I said not that I’m aware of,” Pierce said. “He [asked], ‘Do you think there should be such a book?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely. What do you think?’ And he said, ‘You bet.’”
Once Battaglia became the chairman’s senior advisor, Pierce said, he was able to bring his idea to fruition.
From the beginning, the book was to be of, by and for NCOs and petty officers, “and that’s what it is,” he said, noting he’s the only person involved who has not been a noncommissioned officer or a petty officer.
Pierce said the group received advice from Battaglia that proved essential to its successful completion.
“I think at our very first meeting, Sgt. Maj. Battaglia said, ‘Check your egos at the front door, because it’s going to be a team effort,’” Pierce recalled.
In addition to the co-leads and group of writers from each service component, including the reserves and National Guard, Battaglia reached out to service senior enlisted advisors for suggestions.
“The team, overwhelmingly, was cooperative, collegial, rolled with the punches, accepted comments, criticism and suggestions,” Pierce said. “Everybody was focused on the mission.”
Writing a book for all the armed forces
Brownhill, who served as senior enlisted advisor for U.S. Central Command from 2004 to 2007 and retired after 34 years of military service, explained the book’s writing process.
“What it really kind of took was a team of writers representing each of the services — all senior NCOs and senior petty officers — with a broad spectrum of experiences, both conventional and Special Forces,” he said. “There’s just a whole broad range of talent that was brought to that grouping. The book has gone through countless reviews and revisions by the team and by the co-leads.”
Brownhill described the group contributors as “unique” and explained why the process went so smoothly.
“Sometimes, you just get lucky,” he said. “We were very fortunate to have a very incredible team that was very open-minded [and] very non-egotistical in a sense that there’s always a pride of ownership, and nobody hung onto that. That’s probably the beauty of the book.”
Another unique aspect of the book, Brownhill said, is it’s the first time a book for NCOs and petty officers has been written from a U.S. armed forces perspective.
“I think it’s the first time it was ever approached, through Sgt. Maj. Battaglia’s vision, to try to do this from an armed services perspective and not a service-centric perspective,” he said. “We didn’t use this book as a how-to or an instruction manual to teach you to be a good NCO.”
This book, he said, was written in such a way that it will appeal to multiple audiences. The team wanted to holistically characterize and define what it is to be a noncommissioned officer and a petty officer in the United States armed forces, he added.
“We defined them organizationally in the armed forces — how they relate to officers, how they relate to the force, how they relate to mission accomplishment,” Brownhill said. “Then we started to characterize them in terms of their consistently applied traits, qualities, competencies and those kinds of things.”
The book should appeal to any past, present, or future NCO or petty officer, Brownhill said, adding that international militaries might also gain from this book. And parents of aspiring service members might also be interested in it, he said.
“If … you have a grown child that’s thinking about joining the military,” he said, “I think Mom and Dad would be very interested in who’s going to be leading, caring, developing and otherwise taking care of their son or daughter.”
Both co-leads reflected on their participation in the project.
“We didn’t make any of this up,” Pierce noted. “All we did was look back at [NCOs and petty officers], who they are and describe them and characterize them. Had there not been a couple of centuries of stellar service by noncommissioned officers and petty officers, we wouldn’t have been able to write this book.”
Brownhill said the team accomplished a tough task.
“Defining and characterizing a grouping of servants to the nation — that’s a complex notion,” he said. “It’s easy to get lost in the loftiness of that notion, but to the team’s credit, they got it [right].”