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Wednesday, 24 September 2014 09:10

Soldier Reflects on Hispanic Heritage

Army Sgt. Maj. Jose Velazquez joined the Army as a way to get out of his hometown and fight the possibility of becoming a “statistic.” U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kimberly NagleJOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va.– Army Sgt. Maj. Jose Velazquez, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command public affairs sergeant major, is one of the more than 158,000 Hispanic Americans serving in the military today. Reflecting on National Hispanic Heritage Month, which began Sept. 15 and runs through Oct. 15, he recalled what joining the Army meant to him and how it changed his life.

PHOTO: Army Sgt. Maj. Jose Velazquez joined the Army as a way to get out of his hometown and fight the possibility of becoming a “statistic.” U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kimberly Nagle 
 
Velazquez said he grew up in the lawless Essex Street Projects of Lawrence, Massachusetts, with his mother, who had moved from Puerto Rico to the United States.

“My mother worked in factories to help provide and raise me,” he said. “Her hopes for me were to not become another statistic of the city, with working in a factory or ending up dead on a street corner.”

After graduating from high school, Velazquez said, he tried his hand at community college, but fell short. “At the time, I was [still] struggling to not be a statistic, but in many ways I already was,” he explained. “By 1990, I had already failed out of college and had been hired by a clothing factory, working in what was known as the ‘sweat shop.’”

Velazquez said he knew this was not the life he wanted to live, but was not sure about how to survive otherwise.

‘I knew I couldn’t stay there’

“I still remember like it was yesterday,” he said. “What I remember the most is the blank stares of the good, decent men and women who worked there. It felt like their hopes and dreams had died amongst those mill walls. I knew I couldn’t stay there. I knew I had to find a way out.”

Velazquez said he knew it would be hard to change this part of his life, because where he grew up, people tended to stay in the same area. Luckily for him, his opportunity came in the form of an Army recruiter who stopped him on the street and began explaining benefits of the military lifestyle.

“At first, I wasn’t sure,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about the military, but the recruiter piqued my interest.”

Velazquez said what stood out the most during that conversation was that the recruiter spoke to him like a person and in a professional manner, which Velazquez said he hadn’t experienced much before. He was so impressed, he said, he went back for a second meeting.

That day, Velazquez said, he decided the Army was the life for him -- a way out of the factories and the town that never let people go.

One big hurdle

But first, he had to face one big hurdle: telling his mother.

“In June of 1990, my mother looked me in the eyes, and in her most loving voice asked, ‘Vas a hacer que? Tu estas loco mijo?’ That means, ‘You’re going to do what? Are you crazy son?’” Velazquez explained. “That was the reaction I got when I told her I was joining the Army.”

Initially, he said, his mother thought he would be sleeping in a tent on the ground somewhere, but that after he explained more of the Army lifestyle, she realized it was his ticket out of the world they lived in.

“She kissed me on the cheek, gave me a hug and told me, ‘Si lo vas a hacer, entonces llega a lo mas alto,’ which means, ‘If you’re going to do it, then make it to the very top,’” he recalled. “She wanted me to be the best soldier I could be.”

Velazquez set out to do just that.

‘The Army saved my life’

“[The Army] gave me opportunities I couldn’t have even dreamed of,” he said. “The Army saved my life, and I am forever grateful for the opportunities it provided me.”

Velazquez said Hispanic Americans and the importance of his own heritage have inspired him throughout his career.

“Until recent decades, the Hispanic population of the United States had been quite small,” he said. “Nevertheless, from the American Revolution to our present conflicts around the world, Hispanic Americans have risked their lives to defend the United States and the principles upon which it stands. One thing everyone should remember is that Hispanic Americans are still Americans first.”
 
Written Sept. 24, 2014 By:
Air Force Airman 1st Class Kimberly Nagle
633rd Air Base Wing

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Friday, 19 September 2014 13:24

Soldier Translates During U.S.-Japan Exercise

Army Spc. Joshua Williams translates between a U.S. soldier and Japanese troops during an impromptu lunch-break lesson on special artillery during Operation Rising Thunder 2014 at Yakima Training Center, Wash., Sept. 8, 2014. Williams, a linguist in the Washington National Guard, worked as an interpreter for U.S. and Japanese forces during the operation, which began Sept. 2 and runs to Sept. 24. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Deja Borden YAKIMA TRAINING CENTER, Wash. – The ability to speak more than one language is a difficult skill to master, and learning a new language in adulthood is not something many people accomplish.

PHOTO: Army Spc. Joshua Williams translates between a U.S. soldier and Japanese troops during an impromptu lunch-break lesson on special artillery during Operation Rising Thunder 2014 at Yakima Training Center, Wash., Sept. 8, 2014. Williams, a linguist in the Washington National Guard, worked as an interpreter for U.S. and Japanese forces during the operation, which began Sept. 2 and runs to Sept. 24. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Deja Borden 
 
Army Spc. Joshua Williams, a Washington National Guardsman with Company A, 341st Military Intelligence Battalion, learned two languages at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center at the Presidio of Monterey in California.

In 2005, Williams decided to join the Army National Guard and become a linguist. Coming from a family of service members and always having an interest in other languages, he said, it seemed only natural to choose that career path.

Before enlisting into the National Guard, Williams said, he studied several languages, including French, Spanish and German. He was introduced to the idea of becoming a linguist in the military by one his high school teachers, he added.

When he first attended DLI, he learned Mandarin Chinese. Though completing the training was no easy task, Williams said, he used his love of languages to finish successfully.

“It’s very fast-paced and very demanding,” he said. “I really enjoyed the language itself. Getting acclimated to the pace, it’s certainly no cakewalk.”

Two-month immersion tour

After graduating from DLI, he traveled to China for a two-month immersion tour with fellow students studying Chinese, where he was able to put his new skills to the test. “I found the language skills to be invaluable there,” he said. “I did a lot of the translation.”

Williams said he was one of the few individuals on the tour able to conduct full-length conversations.

“I find language learning personally enriching,” he said. “I think it’s a great way to make sure that I’m developing and growing my mind. It’s not fun all the time, but it’s something that, for me, is measurable. I can say I’m not just letting myself waste away.”

Williams works as the command language program manager for his battalion. When he’s not conducting missions, he maintains linguist records, sets up testing for the Defense Language Proficiency Test and assists in hosting language immersion courses. When he is not working as a linguist for the Army, he spends his spare time tending to his grandmother’s 10 acres of land and playing video games on his computer.

Building confidence

Learning these new languages was a way to break out of his shell and feel more confident, Williams said. “In English, I’m not very talkative,” he added. “As soon as we start getting into Chinese or Japanese, I become much more talkative.”

Williams attended DLI a second time this year to learn Japanese, and soon after completing the course, he was able to use his new skills for Operation Rising Thunder 2014, an annual training exercise conducted here with U.S. and Japanese forces, working for the 7th Infantry Division and the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force as an interpreter.

“When it comes to giving pointers and constructive criticism between each of our forces we’ve got to tread water lightly,” said Army Spc. Kyle Clark, an infantryman with 7th ID. “We don’t want to offend each other.”

Overcoming cultural differences

Overcoming cultural differences was difficult for both groups, Clark said, and Williams has played a major role in the training exercise.

“One of the things I really like about having these language skills is when there’s a need for communication, I can come in and bridge that gap, and I think that’s worthwhile,” Williams said.

Being located in the Pacific region makes knowing Japanese all the more important, Williams said, adding that he believes it’s necessary to communicate and build positive relationships with the Asian nations throughout the Pacific.

Military training in languages provides an advantage over other methods of learning, Williams said.

“The amount of one-on-one time and exposure in a high school or college course really doesn’t compare,” he explained. “You have to really want to be fluent and have an idea of what attaining fluency is like to be able to get there at a college level.”

Williams said he can’t imagine himself doing anything else, and that when his military career ends, he hopes he can find a profession that uses his language abilities.

Written Sept. 19, 2014 By:
Army Sgt. Deja Borden
5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

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Thursday, 18 September 2014 12:15

Amputee Airman Returns to Duty

Air Force Staff Sgt. Rey Edenfield poses with his wife, Amy, and their two sons, Grayson, left, and Dawson on the front porch of their home, Aug. 28, 2014. The picture was taken almost a year after Edenfield was involved in a motorcycle accident that resulted in his left leg being amputated six inches below the knee. Edenfield is an air traffic controller at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Erica Picariello MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala., Sept. 18, 2014 – His sons say he has a robot leg. The doctors and nurses call it a prosthetic. But to Air Force Staff Sgt. Rey Edenfield, it's what has allowed him to overcome the odds and continue doing what he loves.

PHOTO: Air Force Staff Sgt. Rey Edenfield poses with his wife, Amy, and their two sons, Grayson, left, and Dawson on the front porch of their home, Aug. 28, 2014. The picture was taken almost a year after Edenfield was involved in a motorcycle accident that resulted in his left leg being amputated six inches below the knee. Edenfield is an air traffic controller at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Erica Picariello 
 
Edenfield was enjoying a typical day off in October when a fateful decision took his leg and threatened the course of his career.

The air traffic controller decided earlier that morning to spend his day relaxing outside while slow-cooking dinner for his wife and two elementary school-aged boys at their off-base home. But he underestimated how much charcoal he'd need to finish cooking the meat the way he preferred.

"I ran out of charcoal," Edenfield said. "I needed that and a couple of things. I live about a half a mile from [the store], so I hopped on my motorcycle and went to get the things that I needed."

The crisp fall air and blue skies made for a suitable day for Edenfield’s ride to the store. He was wearing his motorcycle helmet.

"There was a truck turning into the neighborhood," Edenfield said. "I looked behind him and didn't see any traffic. I started creeping out of my neighborhood, and as soon as I got into the center lane, I realized a car was kind of catty-corner to that truck. I had just gotten into that center lane enough to where that left bumper clipped me and smashed my left foot into my motorcycle."

The impact shot him into the air and sent his bike skidding on its side across the pavement.

"I sat straight up, took my helmet off and threw it out of anger,” he recalled. “I went to get up and looked down and realized that something was wrong."

The impact severed the heel from his foot.

A lot of adrenaline

"There was a lot of adrenaline, and in that moment I was more worried about my Air Force career because I take pride in what I do," Edenfield said. "Realizing that [my career] could possibly come to an end was really getting to me in that moment. After seeing my foot, I was freaking out. … It was between ‘My career is over’ and ‘They're going to cut my leg off.’ I didn't want to accept any of that."

At the hospital, the doctor quelled any fear that his career as an air traffic controller was in jeopardy by suggesting surgery that would involve inserting a few pins and a few months of follow-up visits.

"The doctors and nurses at a local hospital said it looked OK and they'd be able to put it back together," Edenfield said. "They said it was just a fracture. My Achilles tendon was fully intact, and they said everything was good. It was just the force that split my heel. They did the surgery that night, and three days later they sent me home to heal."

Something wasn’t quite right

It wasn't more than a week later that Edenfield noticed something wasn't quite right with his heel.

"After the first few days, I had a small black spot on the back of my heel that was about the size of a nickel," he said. "The doctor told me that spot was dead because it wasn't getting proper blood flow and circulation to my foot. He said he'd keep an eye on it, re-casted my leg and sent me home. This went on for a couple of weeks; it felt like a lot longer than that. On one of my last visits to him, I went there and my foot was almost completely black. It was dead."

Doctors referred Edenfield to a specialist in Birmingham, Alabama, who scheduled a skin graft to replace the dead skin on his foot. Edenfield went into the hospital in late November for the surgery.

When the doctor came in while he was in the pre-operation area, Edenfield said, he asked him if he had any questions or concerns. "I just want to wake up and still have a leg," was his reply.

Edenfield did wake up with his leg, and the same dead foot. The surgery never happened, and he had a decision to make.

"Once they removed all the dead skin and tissue from my foot, it was down to the bone," Edenfield said. "From what [the surgeon] said, the heel padding is so dense that it's hard to replicate it. So, at this point the only other option was to do a muscle transplant.

“Similar to a skin graft,” he continued, “they were going to take muscle from somewhere else in my body and cover up my heel, and then put skin over that. I told the doctors, 'Whatever my best chances of staying in the military is what I want to do.' They brought an active-duty Air Force surgeon into the hospital to consult with me. After a small discussion with him, and prayer and discussions with my family, we decided that amputation would be the best option."

A family decision

Joining the military was a family decision, so the decision to amputate would have to be a family decision, too, Edenfield said.

"We asked our sons what they would prefer," he said. "We told them that they could either have daddy able to play baseball with them, still be physically active in their church and run around the yard with a metal leg, or they could have a less mobile daddy with his leg real still. They chose the 'robot leg' and mobile daddy."

Edenfield's leg was amputated six inches below the knee Nov. 25. He received his prosthetic Feb. 10, and he walked unassisted three days later.

"I had a slight limp, but I didn't need a cane," he said. "I had a lot of pain after that -- not normal pain, unbearable pain. I found a local prosthetic leg company that was able to adjust my prosthetic leg, and I walked out of that clinic unassisted."

Though learning to walk again had to be done of his own strength and will, Edenfield said he doesn't believe he would have had the mental fortitude to recover so fast if not for his wife, Amy.

"My wife helped me so much; she was by my side through the entire process," he said. "She's helped out in so many ways, and basically, for the first four months, she was a single mom -- what she's done before, with me deploying and [serving on] remote tours. She's prepared."

A positive effect

This process has had a positive effect on the family, Amy said.

"He has inspired us in countless ways," she explained. "He seemingly has a 'right' to mope and have people feel sorry for him. According to 'normal' people, he has the right to be waited on and have waivers, etc. [But] his mindset is, 'Now I'm going to show them that I don't need those things. … I can be just as normal if not better than normal, even with one-quarter less leg.'

“It's crazy inspiring for the kids and me,” she continued. “Why would we complain about being 'Too tired to exercise' or 'Too tired to play outside' or things like that? The man lost almost half of a leg, and he doesn't aim to just get by. He aims for the best. I strive to have the same motivation."

Edenfield said his resolve to do more with less isn't just a personal goal -- he has something to prove.

"I work harder now more than I ever did before, because I don't want to use my accident as an excuse for subpar work ethic or fitness standards,” Edenfield said. “I want to prove to myself and to everyone else that I am still capable of doing everything I did before with an equal or better outcome. I feel that my accident has had a positive impact on my entire life, including my dedication to the Air Force, my family and my faith."

On Aug. 29, Edenfield was notified that he was cleared to stay on active duty.

“I love what I do for the United States Air Force and what I get to do for it every day,” he said. “I'm overjoyed and humbled to have this opportunity to continue to serve my country in this capacity.”

Written Sept. 18, 2014 By:
Air Force Staff Sgt. Erica Picariello
42nd Air Base Wing

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Friday, 12 September 2014 11:51

Soldier Gets Honor for Car Crash Heroics

Army Staff Sgt. Jose Garcia helped stabilize an injured man’s neck after he witnessed a fiery car crash Dec. 16, 2013, on Interstate 5 near Joint Base Lewis-McChord in the state of Washington. Garcia, an infantryman, attributes his quick reaction during the accident to this combat training. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Justin A. NaylorJOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash., Sept. 12, 2014 – The memory of the fiery accident that occurred near here on Interstate 5 last December is still fresh for Army Staff Sgt. Jose Garcia. His actions that day -- disregarding his own well-being as he rushed into the crash zone to help rescue the injured -- are hard to forget.

PHOTO: Army Staff Sgt. Jose Garcia helped stabilize an injured man’s neck after he witnessed a fiery car crash Dec. 16, 2013, on Interstate 5 near Joint Base Lewis-McChord in the state of Washington. Garcia, an infantryman, attributes his quick reaction during the accident to this combat training. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Justin A. Naylor 
 
For his heroic conduct, Garcia was honored Sept. 10 at the American Red Cross Heroes Breakfast held in Tacoma, along with other community heroes.

Garcia was driving home from a 24-hour shift on Dec. 16, 2013, when he saw a truck towing a trailer heading northbound suddenly cross the center meridian and hit a box truck, both of which burst into flames.

Without thought, Garcia pulled his car over and rushed into the flaming crash where he started to help the injured. Before long, he found himself in the back seat of a truck stabilizing the neck of a man suffering from a concussion. He stayed in the truck with the injured man until the fire department arrived and removed the roof of the vehicle.

Now, almost a year later and in the midst of a busy training schedule, Garcia, who hails from New York City, was surprised to learn that he was receiving an award for his actions.

“Actually, I never even thought about it,” said Garcia, an infantryman assigned to 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team here.

“Once I got contacted the first time it was a shock,” Garcia said. “I didn’t know people even saw the crash. It means the world to think that someone out there put me in for this award.”

For those who honored Garcia and the other community heroes during the breakfast, the awards were a chance to give back.

“When Staff Sgt. Jose Garcia came upon an accident situation, he knew what to do and he didn’t hesitate to act,” said Barbara Hostetler, the director of regional clinical services for UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans, formerly known as the TRICARE West Region. “Even though he had just finished a 24-hour shift, he went above and beyond to save the lives of those people involved in this accident.”

Although Garcia is grateful for the award, he is modest about his actions during the accident, especially after meeting the other heroes who were recognized.

“By far, I think that what I did was nowhere near what they did,” said Garcia, whose three deployments have given him opportunities to practice lifesaving skills. “I train and do this for a living. They are just everyday people putting their lives at risk. Those guys deserve it way more than I do.”

Garcia also maintains that anyone would have done what he did if they saw the accident.

“It’s just one of those things -- I still believe that everyone has it in them to do the right thing,” he said. “I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.”
 
Written Sept. 12, 2014 By:
Army Staff Sgt. Justin A. Naylor
3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division

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Friday, 05 September 2014 11:15

Soldier Makes History in Graduate Program

Army Sgt. Julie Bytnar is the first enlisted service member to be accepted into a graduate education program at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. DoD photo by Thomas Balfour  BETHESDA, Md. – Five years ago, Army Sgt. Julie Bytnar was leading a very different life. She was a homemaker living in the Chicago suburbs while her husband, Bill, earned most of the family’s income.

PHOTO: Army Sgt. Julie Bytnar is the first enlisted service member to be accepted into a graduate education program at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. DoD photo by Thomas Balfour 
 
Then, without warning, Bill became very ill after a rare blood-clotting disorder ravaged his body. Over time, his condition deteriorated, and he could no longer work. Their bills began piling up, with no reprieve in sight.

Desperate to keep hope alive, Bytnar enlisted in the military so she could take care of her husband and young children.

“Although I was eligible for a commission based on my education and work experience, the lead time would have been much longer, and I needed a career right away,” she said. “So I enlisted in 2009 at 38 years old and have been learning about the Army from the bottom up ever since.”

Swift indoctrination

Although her uniformed career has been short, Bytnar’s military indoctrination was the swift, no-holds-barred kind. After proving herself at garrison duty assignments as a lead health care specialist, Julie deployed to Afghanistan in 2011.

“It was an intense experience,” she said. “I provided a lot of hands-on care to wounded service members and local Afghans, treating everything from minor to life threatening injuries.”

Bytnar said her experience in Afghanistan also changed her career focus. Instead of simply providing care, she said, she began thinking about the bigger picture and wondering how she could prevent injuries from happening in the first place. Her curiosity eventually led her to the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences here, where she broke ground as the first enlisted service member to be accepted into a graduate-level program.

“Even though I was hopeful, I was still very surprised when I got my acceptance letter from USU,” she said. “Now I’m working toward a Master of Public Health [degree]. I already have a few classes under my belt. They were challenging, but I feel confident I’ll survive the program. I want to prove to myself and everyone else that I can do this.”

Looking to the future

Although she is still uncertain about her future after graduation, she said, she has a science background and a fondness for research that’s pulling her toward a specialization in epidemiology.

It’s a difficult track in a rigorous program on a campus full of military officers. Still, her determination is tenacious.

“The past few years have been tough, but I’m more confident now than ever before,” Bytnar said. “I made it through basic training with a bunch of soldiers in their late teens and early 20s. I’ve gone on dismounted patrols in a war zone and treated some pretty grievous injuries. Now I’m at USU. I feel like there isn’t a whole lot I can’t do.”

Written Sept. 5, 2014: By Christine Creenan-Jones
Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

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Thursday, 04 September 2014 11:05

Airman’s Service Helps to Unite His Family

Air Force Airman 1st Class Nana Sefa is deployed to Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. Following this deployment, Sefa, a native of Ghana, will see his wife after two years apart. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Being away from family is nothing new to Air Force Airman 1st Class Nana Sefa.

PHOTO: Air Force Airman 1st Class Nana Sefa is deployed to Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. Following this deployment, Sefa, a native of Ghana, will see his wife after two years apart. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez 
 
The 455th Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle management analysis craftsman deployed here for six months from Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, said he understands that being away from family is difficult, as he has experienced separation his entire life.

Sefa grew up in Ghana. When he was 4 years old, his father left to go to America. After his father was gone, Sefa said, he constantly moved around Ghana, taking turns living with his mother and his grandparents and at boarding schools.

“It was tough not having my mom around sometimes, especially when I was a kid,” he said. “I remember wanting to leave with her when I lived with my grandparents. I would not want to fall asleep, afraid that she would leave when I did. The next day when I woke up, I would always ask my grandparents for her.”

Although it was difficult moving around, Sefa said, he learned to overcome being away from his mother, sister and father. At 19, after graduating from boarding school, he learned that his father was hoping Sefa and his sister would come to live with him in California.

Back with family

“After boarding school, I was finally able to be home with my mom,” Sefa said. “We were having the opportunity to get to know each other more. Then, after graduation, my father filed for my sister and me to move with him to the U.S. I was excited, because I hadn’t seen him for a while, but at the same time, I was sad because I was leaving my mom and girlfriend.”

In 2010, Sefa and his sister made the journey to be with their father. Immediately after arriving, he started working to pay for his college education. He learned to play American football and quickly adapted to a new way of life. After a few months in his new home, Sefa said, he had saved enough money to return to Ghana to visit his mother and girlfriend.

During his short stay in Ghana, Sefa and his girlfriend, who would later become his wife, made the decision to attempt a long-distance relationship. Sefa wouldn’t see his girlfriend until two years later.

“We kept in touch, either on Facebook or phone calls,” said Sefa. “We had a lot of trust in our relationship, and because [of] what I had gone through with my mom, I understood how to deal with being apart.”

Citizenship through service

Eventually, Sefa said, he decided to join the Air Force to help the process of becoming a U.S. citizen and because he’d always been interested in the military, having been part of the cadet program in his boarding school. After signing the enlistment paperwork, he said, he again made the journey to Ghana to tell his future wife of his plans.

“When I visited home in 2012, my family was very excited to see me after two years of being away,” Sefa said. “I knew I was joining the Air Force and that I would be able to take care of my girlfriend, so I went ahead and asked her to marry me. I proposed and married her during my visit.”

Sefa returned to America for Air Force basic training and technical school, and his wife remained in Ghana. Not long after he arrived at Holloman, his first duty station, he was tasked for deployment.

“A few months after I arrived to Holloman, I was able to finally get my citizenship,” Sefa said. “Then, shortly after, I was told I was going to deploy. While I was deployed, my wife finally was able to get her green card and travel to New Mexico this past July.”

Seeing his wife only twice over the last four years was a long struggle, the airman acknowledged, but he said trust and understanding made his relationship strong. “Sometimes it was hard being away from my wife,” he said, “but she was very understanding. All she needed from me was reassurance that I was thinking about her.”

Service before self

Though being away from his wife is difficult, Sefa declined the opportunity to curtail his deployment to finish his mission and time in Afghanistan.

“Airman Sefa exemplifies our core value of service before self,” said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jeffery Brown, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing command chief. “Despite the potential to return home early, he expressed his desire to stay and finish the mission. Sefa also demonstrated our core value of excellence in all we do.” On his own accord, the chief said, Sefa has taken on a role and responsibility normally reserved for a noncommissioned officer.

“He has proven his work ethic and warrior ethos,” Brown added.

Joining the military almost guarantees periods of separation from family. But Sefa noted that his service is the best thing he has done to help unite his newly formed family, because it allowed him to become a citizen and to bring his wife to America.

As he approaches the end of his deployment, Sefa said, he will finally have a place to call home.

“When I get back, we will celebrate our two-year anniversary,” he said. “We might have a wedding, since we didn’t have a big celebration. I am also trying to get my mom to move out here, and then our family will all be together.”

Written Sept. 4, 2014 By:
Air Force Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez
455th Air Expeditionary Wing

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Army Sgt. 1st Class Jose Flores leads the rifle team from the Army Reserve’s 99th Regional Support Command during the Memorial Day commemoration at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York, May 27, 2013. Volunteering to go the extra mile in his military career is something Flores credits to his background as a Hispanic-American and combat-arms soldier. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn MorrisJOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J., Oct. 14, 2014 – Army Sgt. 1st Class Jose Flores locked his rifle’s bolt to the rear, placed the butt of the weapon firmly against his shoulder, took aim and fired over the bow of an aircraft carrier in New York Harbor.

PHOTO: Army Sgt. 1st Class Jose Flores leads the rifle team from the Army Reserve’s 99th Regional Support Command during the Memorial Day commemoration at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York, May 27, 2013. Volunteering to go the extra mile in his military career is something Flores credits to his background as a Hispanic-American and combat-arms soldier. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn Morris 
 
It was Memorial Day at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in Manhattan, and Flores and his fellow honor guard soldiers were firing the first volley of blank rounds in a 21-gun salute to their fallen brethren.

Going the extra mile

This wasn’t the first time Flores -- a native of Nicaragua and a 16-year Army veteran -- participated in such a ceremony. Volunteering to go that extra mile is something he credits to his background as a Hispanic-American and as a combat-arms soldier.

“With a Spanish upbringing, especially if you’re coming from another country, you’ve got to be able to go above and beyond, such as learning the culture, learning the language,” said Flores, who came to the United States when he was 4 years old. “Once you do that, you also have to remember your roots.”

Each year from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens with ancestors from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

The theme of this year’s observance is, “Hispanics: A Legacy of History, a Present of Action and a Future of Success.”

Striving to do better

“‘You must try to be better’ is drilled down in our culture,” Flores said, recounting a bit of his own history. “Growing up, they always tried to push you, push you, push you to try to be better.

“The biggest thing in Hispanic culture is family, and I do everything for my family,” he continued. “And with the military being a big part of my life, I consider the military a kind of family also.”

Flores serves as a finance noncommissioned officer with additional duties as the physical security and voting officer for the Army Reserve’s 99th Regional Support Command, headquartered here. He also works for the 99th RSC in his civilian career.

“Being in the military gives you a sense of place, especially if you had the proper mentorship when you first came in,” Flores said. “I was lucky enough to have key leadership when I first joined the military. I went straight to a combat unit, and the leadership developed me into who I am now.”

Military mentorship

That leadership “mentored me; they showed me how a good leader leads,”said Flores, a husband of 10 years to his wife, Ki, with whom he has two children, Raymond and Sofia.

Today, Flores continues to mentor and lead those with whom he serves, sharing the sense of duty instilled within him by both his cultural and military upbringing.

“If there’s a mission, and you’re an NCO, figure out how to do it,” he explained. “We have personnel who are always doing the mission, because it needs to be done.”

Written Oct. 14, 2014 By:
Army Staff Sgt. Shawn Morris
99th Regional Support Command

Republished and redistributed by permission of DoD.

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Thursday, 09 October 2014 13:03

Brothers Serve and Prepare to Deploy Together

Air Force Senior Airman Edward Lomelin and Air Force Airman 1st Class Chris Lomelin play video games at the home they share in Bitburg, Germany, Sept. 27, 2014. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kyle Gese SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany – A pair of brothers serving together with the 606th Air Control Squadron here is preparing to deploy together.

PHOTO: Air Force Senior Airman Edward Lomelin and Air Force Airman 1st Class Chris Lomelin play video games at the home they share in Bitburg, Germany, Sept. 27, 2014. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kyle Gese 
 
Air Force Senior Airman Edward Lomelin and Air Force Airman 1st Class Chris Lomelin grew up in Austin, Texas, and struggled early in their childhood after their parents’ divorce. The children moved in with their mother, and Edward stepped in as the role model for his younger siblings. This new responsibility forced him to grow up quickly to help his family through their struggles, he said.

Years later, Edward enlisted in the Air Force, and he serves as a radio frequencies transmissions systems technician with the 606th ACS. His mother said she was honored he made the decision to serve his country, and that she knew he would excel in his career.

Chris said he began to consider following in Edward’s footsteps after hearing stories of deployments and descriptions of military life from his brother, who encouraged him to join.

Hoping to be stationed together

Being stationed at the same base as Edward seemed unlikely when he was in training, Chris said, but he never gave up hope.

“I heard stories about my brother being in Germany, and I have been there once before,” he said. “I was taking a big chance by having Spangdahlem as my only preference for a station.” The Air Force takes stated preferences into consideration when determining airmen's assignments, but offers no guarantees.

But as it turned out, Chris -- a power production technician -- not only was stationed here with Edward, but also serves in the same squadron.

“This is great!” said their mother, Maritza Lozano. “Big brother will get to take care of little brother, little brother gets to look up to big brother, and we get to visit both of them.”

The 606th ACS is a self-contained mobile combat unit with airmen serving in more than 21 specialties maintaining more than $170 million worth of equipment.

Edward and Chris are preparing for a deployment to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. This will be Edward’s fourth deployment and Chris’ first.

“Not only are we stationed at the same base, … we are deploying together,” Edward said. “This is slim to none that this ever happens to anybody, and it’s completely boggling my mind how this all came together.”

Written Oct. 9, 2014 By:
Air Force Airman 1st Class Kyle Gese
52nd Fighter Wing

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Monday, 06 October 2014 11:28

Palau Native Marine Returns to Island Home

PalauNativeMarineIRAI, Palau– Bedtime stories can have an impact on children’s imaginations. For many young people, hearing tales of fictitious characters like “Peter Pan” or “Jack and the Beanstalk” can create the desire to experience Peter’s or Jack’s extraordinary adventures.

PHOTO: Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Milton Donatus, second from right, instructs Palau national law enforcement officers on the operations of the M9A1 9 mm service pistol in Irai, Palau, Sept. 16, 2014. Donatus is a native of Ngaraard, Palau. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Drew Tech  
 
For one boy from Ngaraard, Palau, bedtime stories were not about fighting pirates or giants. This boy was told stories of combat and the U.S. Marines at the Battle of Peleliu during World War II.

That boy was Milton Donatus, and the stories his grandmother told him as a child spawned a lifelong dream to become a U.S. Marine.

“Every time my grandmother would talk about war, the Marines came up,” said Donatus, the training chief with Combat Logistics Detachment 379, Combat Logistics Regiment 37, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force.

Idolized Marines

“The Marines were always talked about as the saviors and the best [warriors] ever, so growing up, I didn’t know about any other military,” he added. “I only knew about the Marines, and that I wanted to be one.”

Shortly after graduating from high school in 1995, Donatus moved to Guam to pursue his dream, and in May 2000, he enlisted in the Marine Corps.

His career has seen him rise to the rank of staff sergeant and has brought him aboard the USNS Sacagawea as part of exercise T-AKE 14-2, a maritime pre-positioned force, multinational theater security cooperation event that deploys from the Japanese island of Okinawa to conduct training exercises.

Teaching pistol marksmanship

Palau national law enforcement officers and Combat Logistics Detachment 379 Marines completed live-fire training with the M9A1 9 mm service pistol here Sept. 16. The training, led by Donatus, taught the Palauan law enforcement officers the fundamentals of combat marksmanship with the weapon, such as loading, clearing and firing procedures.

“The training went according to plan,” Donatus said. “The national police showed up eager to learn. They left with a good image of what the Marines stood for and a knowledge that they will carry on with them throughout their careers as police officers.”

For the law enforcement officers of Palau, the opportunity to train with the U.S. Marines and receive instruction from a native of their island nation was special, said Fave Ngiramengior of Koror, Palau.

Great opportunity

“It was a great opportunity to get to train with the U.S. Marines,” said Ngiramengior, a police officer with Palau’s patrol division. “The last time we were able to shoot was two years ago, so getting to learn from the Marines, and especially a local in the Marines, was very nice.”

Donatus’s positive effect on the Palauan police officers was evident, said Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Barr from Woonsocket, Rhode Island.

“One thing I noticed during the training was how the police officers gravitated to him,” said Barr, the company gunnery sergeant for the detachment. “Whenever he was instructing them, they paid close attention and really took in what he said.”

Meaningful experience

The chance to come home and participate in this training was a very meaningful experience, Donatus said.

“It feels good, and it means a lot to me to come back in this situation,” he added. “I was not a wealthy kid growing up, so people kind of always looked at me thinking that I wouldn’t amount to anything. Being able to come back with a different life is just awesome, because it gives me a chance to show everyone who grew up where I did that there is hope.”

Written Oct. 6, 2014 By:

Marine Corps Cpl. Drew Tech
3rd Marine Expeditionary Force

Republished and redistributed by permission of DoD.

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2012-07-11SOCCENT
Photo: Women in Nosir Bobo, Tajikistan fill containers with clean water which is now available for the first time. Civil Affairs Soldiers from the SOCCENT Civil Military Support Element facilitated the completion of the new water system for the people of Sari-Chashma. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kenneth)

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla.- Soldiers from the Special Operations Command Central Civil Military Support Element, in coordination with the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe, officially transferred responsibility for  a new water distribution system to the people of Sari-Chashma, Tajikistan this week.

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