By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo., March 30, 2011 - Former Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Tyrone Allen is part of a growing legion within the Veterans Affairs Department striving to make good on VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki's pledge to "break the back of the claims backlog."
The VA claims process took far too long, Allen said, noting that he's still awaiting adjustments as his back condition worsens.
But today, Allen is part of VA's fix -– he's a VA claims assistant working at the Huntington VA Medical Center in West Virginia. He's among a legion of more than 3,500 new employees VA has hired to expedite claims processing as it introduces other systemic improvements.
"It is really unacceptable that the backlog is as big as it is and it takes as long as it does for veterans to receive their claims," Deputy VA Secretary W. Scott Gould said during an interview here with American Forces Press Service.
VA's goal by 2015, he said, is for veterans to wait no more than 125 days for a decision on a claim, with a 98 percent accuracy rate.
Gould spoke about the claims process while participating in the 25th National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, an annual event that this year brought together more than 350 disabled veterans, including Allen.
VA completed 977,000 claims in 2009, but took in, for the first time, more than a million new ones. In 2010, VA completed 1 million claims, but received 1.2 million new ones. By the end of 2011, officials expect to receive 1.45 million claims –- a double-digit increase over the number of claims received in 2000.
Gould attributed many of the new claims to the new wave of combat veterans with complex medical issues just entering the VA system. However, he acknowledged, 65 percent were resubmissions from veterans already in it.
"We have been experiencing a growth in new claims, even as our overall production has been increasing," he said.
So to reach its goal, VA has attacked the challenge on three fronts, Gould explained.
The first involves people: hiring new claims processors and improving the way the VA trains them.
But "merely hiring more people to handle claims won't let us get ahead of the incoming surge, let alone cleave the size of the backlog," Shinseki has often said.
So VA is working to improve its systems and automate as quickly as possible. Its second major focus in reducing the backlog involves "reinvesting and re-engineering the business process we use to complete the claims," Gould said. This includes accepting online applications for initial disability benefits, initiating an innovation competition and launching more than 30 pilot programs and initiatives to identify best practices.
Finally, VA is investing in new technology to support these efforts. Gould said he's particularly excited about one recent accomplishment, the result of a pilot program for the paperless Veterans Benefits Management System that VA plans to deploy in fiscal 2012.
"We completed our first all-electronic claim in just 47 days," Gould said of the pilot that's being conducted in Rhode Island. And although the claim involved was relatively simple and straightforward, Gould called entirely automated processing capability it proved a major step toward VA's goals.
VA's fiscal 2012 budget request includes $2 billion to support these claims-processing initiatives, up 19.5 percent over fiscal 2010.
"So we are very optimistic that we can achieve our goal of no claim taking longer than 125 days with 98 percent quality," he said. "And right now, we are just not meeting either of those standards."
Gould said he's confident VA is on the right track in reaching Shinseki's goals to end the claims backlog by 2014. "We think we can get there," he said. "It is something we have got to fix together."
Allen said he's proud of the role he's personally playing in helping to reach these goals -- scheduling hearings, contacting veterans and helping to process their applications.
"I'm helping to make sure veterans get what they need, and that when they apply for something, everything goes through without delay," he said. "I have been where they are, so I understand the importance of trying to make things happen as speedy as possible."
W. Scott Gould
National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic
Department of Veterans Affairs
Thursday, March 31, 2011
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell
Task Force Bastogne
KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan, March 30, 2011 - "I can say that I've led this platoon into more ambushes than any other point man here on this deployment," Army Sgt. Nathaniel S. Gray said with a toothy grin and a slow, southern accent.
Gray, assigned to the 101st Airborne Division's Company B, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, Task Force No Slack, now is a squad leader and has an uncanny knack for getting himself and his team out of tight spots. Even before joining the Army, Gray found ways out of potentially hairy situations.
He grew up in Tupelo, Miss., a town about the same size as Asadabad, the capital of Afghanistan's Kunar province, where he now patrols. As a teenager, he watched war movies and idolized the men in those action roles who wore Screaming Eagle patches on their shoulders.
"If you see TV or movies, who wouldn't choose the 101st?" Gray said. "If you see 'Hamburger Hill,' with those dudes charging up the side of a mountain, who wouldn't want to do that?"
After returning from his first combat tour in Iraq, he quickly joined the 101st Airborne Division and deployed again to Iraq with the division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team for 15 months.
Now, 10 months into a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, Gray stares out of his makeshift fighting position into the Shigal Valley.
"You see something?" another soldier asked. "Ah, it's just dead trees."
"Make sure you know where it's coming from before you shoot, know what I mean?" Gray said to the soldier. "I expect a rocket-propelled grenade to come from that ridgeline over there."
It was quiet for a few minutes as the soldiers scanned the ridges with their weapons.
Then Gray said, "Actually, it's my sons' birthdays today."
Jacob and Joseph, twins, turned 5 years old March 16. Gray said he sent home a bow and arrow set for their presents. He started laughing.
"Last time I was home, one of them was walking around the gas station we were at singing the Pledge of Allegiance," Gray said. "I thought that was pretty cool."
Gray said his sons are one of the main reasons he has stayed in the Army. He is able to care for them, he added, but they also look up to and admire him for being a soldier.
"They want camouflage stuff -- you know, they're 5," he said with a smile. "They want the GI Joe backpack, and I think that's pretty cool."
Then he explained the difference between being a squad leader and a father.
"Over here, a squad leader is more difficult than taking care of kids," Gray explained. "Here, you have to check to make sure their magazines are full, their [combat optics] are tied down -- you have to check everything. Small things have bigger consequences over here."
Since joining the Army, Gray said, he has learned it's the little things that count.
"The Army changed my life a lot," he said. "It kind of distilled something in me. I started doing the right thing. I respect myself more, and I respect others more."
After dodging as many more ambushes as he can in his three years left in the military, Gray said, he plans on going to college and walking into one more ambush: being swarmed by children.
"I want to be a kindergarten teacher," he said.
The fighting position on the mountain was quiet for a moment, and then erupted with muffled laughter from his troops.
"Everybody laughs, but that's what I want to do," Gray said. "I love kids."
A few days later, back home in Mississippi, Jacob and Joseph got a phone call. Their dad was on the line, far away from them, but reassuring them that he found a safe route off the mountain.
Gray has a certain knack for that.
NATO International Security Assistance Force
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo., March 29, 2011 - Camaraderie and the opportunity to challenge themselves are proving to be some of the best therapy possible for wounded warriors attending the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic here as it celebrates its 25th anniversary.
Retired Army Sgt. John Barnes suffered a severe traumatic brain injury during a mortar attack in 2006 while he was deployed to southwestern Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division. His injury sent him into a downward spiral as he struggled with TBI, post-traumatic stress and substance abuse.
Attending his first winter sports clinic last year, Barnes was ready to call it quits from the start. His luggage was lost in transit, and the high altitude made him feel miserable.
"My son was convinced that this was going to be a horrible week and said we should just go home," Barnes' mother, Valerie Wallace, recalled. "He was irritable, negative and just kept saying he wanted to go home. He said he would never come back here again."
But snowboarding the first morning of the clinic changed everything. "When he left the snow, he was excited, happy and exhilarated," Wallace said. "He was excitedly telling everyone who would listen how he was going to get back on the mountain ... and 'tear it up.'"
By the week's end, Barnes was singled out to receive the Disabled American Veterans Freedom Award for Outstanding Courage and Achievement. The award recognizes the first-time participant at the clinic who best exemplifies courage and achievement while taking a giant step forward in rehabilitation.
This year, Barnes enthusiastically returned to the clinic, recognizing the changes it helped him make in his life. "This gave me a lot more self-confidence," he said. "It shows you that you can do things you didn't think you could because you limit yourself. This helps take away those limits."
Barnes is among about 100 veterans of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan participating in this year's winter sports clinic.
Many, like former Army Spc. Barbara Newstrom, say they've grown through their experiences on Snowmass Mountain and are passing those lessons on to first-timers to the clinic, many of whom still are learning to live with their disabilities.
Newstrom was a medic and truck driver deployed to Iraq with the Army Reserve's Las Vegas-based 257th Transportation Company in October 2003 when an enemy attack left her with a traumatic brain injury. The winter sports clinic, she said, has made a huge difference in her rehabilitation and given her a sense of belonging that's hard to find elsewhere.
"This is an environment where you don't feel different," she said. "If you can't find a word, you get lost in the hotel or you have anxiety issues, people here understand. You feel acceptance and understanding. It's what makes this place so special, because it feels like family."
Newstrom said she strives to welcome first-time participants at the clinic into the fold.
"We try to reach out to the new veteran coming in and teach them the little things we've learned along the way," she said. "We try to pass it on to them so they can benefit from it, too."
Former Army Sgt. Kevin Pannell, also a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, said he took so much away from his first clinic last year that he, too, anxiously returned for its silver anniversary celebration.
"The snow is cool, but that's not really what brought me back," Pannell said. "It's the people here. They're what make this place really something."
Pannell was deployed to eastern Baghdad with the 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, in June 2004 when two grenades lobbed during an ambush tore off both his legs -– one below the knee and one just above. As he recovered from his wounds, Pannell took up snowboarding and with it, a whole new outlook on life.
"I'm a happier person now," he said. "I realized that I hadn't been getting the most out of what life is until I almost had the rug pulled out from me. Some people think it sounds strange, but I am actually a better, happier person since this happened to me."
Some participants in the winter sports clinic, like former Army Sgt. Robert Schuler, suffered their injuries after returning from combat. Schuler was back just six months from his deployment with the Hawaii-based 25th Special Troops Battalion when a freak boogie-boarding accident in May 2008 broke his neck and put him into a wheelchair. Less than two years after his injury, Schuler jumped at the chance to attend his first winter sports clinic last year.
"I just had a blast on the mountain," he said. "But it went beyond that. What's really neat here is the chance to talk to other veterans. You learn about yourself. And when you see people with less function than you have, it opens your eyes to new possibilities about what you are able to do."
The winter sports clinic, jointly sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Disabled American Veterans, uses recreation as a rehabilitative tool for veterans with disabilities ranging from spinal cord injuries and orthopedic amputations to visual impairment and neurological conditions.
As veterans learn adaptive Alpine and Nordic skiing and get introduced to rock climbing, scuba diving, trapshooting, curling, snowmobiling and sled hockey during a five-day program, program officials strive to open their eyes to a new world of opportunity.
National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic
Department of Veterans Affairs
Disabled American Veterans
Biden Encourages Winter Sports Clinic Participants
Disabled Veterans Inspire All Americans, Biden Says
Disabled Veterans Sports Clinic Opens in Colorado
|Vice President Joe Biden greets a participant at the opening ceremonies for the 25th National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, Colo., March 27, 2011. |
VA photo by Robert Turtil
|Vice President Joe Biden addresses more than 350 disabled veterans, as well as family members, staff and volunteers, at opening ceremonies for the 25th National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, Colo., March 27, 2011. |
VA photo by Jeff Bowen
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo., March 28, 2011 - Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary W. Scott Gould called on more than 350 disabled veterans last night to strive for new heights as they participate here this week in the 25th National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.
"Those of you who have been here before know why," he told this year's participants, many of whom have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Those of you who are new to the clinic will soon know. There is something here for everyone."
The clinic, jointly sponsored by the Veterans Affairs Department and DAV, uses recreation as a rehabilitative tool for veterans with disabilities ranging from spinal cord injuries and orthopedic amputations to visual impairment and neurological conditions.
As they learn adaptive alpine and Nordic skiing and get introduced to rock climbing, scuba diving, trapshooting, curling, snowmobiling and sled hockey during a five-day program, the veterans' eyes get opened to a whole new world of opportunity.
"It is all about redefining possibilities in the life of a seriously wounded veteran," Gould told American Forces Press Service. "This set of events here is all about creating that moment where a veteran looks up at the hill and feels in the pit of their stomach, 'I don't know if I can do this," whether because it's a whole new experience or a first return to the mountain with a disability.
"It is all about the camaraderie and the teamwork and the coaxing and the safety and the training and coaching that leads that person to get in the chairlift for the first time and go to the top of the hill," Gould said.
"And that moment is very important. It is an experiential kind of learning," he added. "And it moves the veteran from a clinic environment ... to one in which they are guiding their own recovery."
Those lessons, he said, will remain with the participants long after they leave Snowmass Mountain and the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.
"They figure out what they can do next -- the next move, the next challenge," Gould said. "And maybe they take a look at Aspen and say, 'Life has some beautiful qualities to it. My life is changed, but not over.'"
Tyson relayed his own experience participating in the clinic and its power in helping disabled veterans focus on their abilities rather than their disabilities.
"You will face challenges," he told the group, warning that they're likely to come away from the experience tired, sore, and perhaps even with a few bruises.
"But you will come out of it stronger in every possible way," Tyson said.
Biden made a surprise appearance at last night's opening ceremony. The previous day he'd thanked the hundreds of volunteers and staff members that work to make the sports clinic a success.
Snowmass Village rolled out the red carpet to the participants, hosting the annual "Taste of Aspen" as the event kicked off.
W. Scott Gould
National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic
Department of Veterans Affairs
Disabled American Veterans
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Monday, March 28, 2011
Ludhiana: Annual Convocation of Christian Medical College, Christian Dental College, College of Nursing and College of Physiotherapy, Ludhiana was held on 28.03.2011 with traditional grandeur today in the College Campus, Shri Tikshan Sud, Hon’ble Minister Parliamentary Affairs, Medical Education & Research, Forest and Labour, Govt. of Punjab was the Chief Guest. He said, “At the outset, let me thank the Institute for inviting me here to participate in this memorable occasion and to distribute the Convocation credentials to merit holders. Your profession is prestigious, with ample scope for growth. You are part of the educated class that society looks up to, for guidance and awareness. On this convocation day, I wish all the young Doctors the very best in life and a wonderful future with achievements and I wish they should also treat the poor people.
It is always a pleasure to visit CMC & Hospital and I am delighted to be here with the younger generation of doctors and nurses today. Christian Medical College has a long tradition of pursuing excellence in teaching and research in science. He also appreciated the Christian Medical College & Hospital for its exceptional services in the field of Medical. Your profession is prestigious, with ample scope for growth. You are part of the educated class that society looks up to, for guidance and awareness. On this convocation day, I wish all the young Doctors the very best in life and a wonderful future with achievements.
Dr. Abraham G. Thomas, Director welcomed the gathering, Dr. S. M. Bhatti, Principal administered the Hippocratic Oath to the Graduates and Postgraduates. Fourty Six Medical Graduates were awarded the degrees. Students excelling in various academic activities were awarded Prizes and Medals by the Chief Guest. Alisha Sharma, Midhila Baby, Nina Philip, Sebastian Marker, Geetika Gera, Devki Verma Amrit Kaur, Samson Charan, Jenni Mariam George were the prominent prize winners. Jensi Achamma George won the gold medal for being the best intern while Chepsy C Philip was awarded Jaswant Kaur Memorial award for best Medical Resident. Faculty Award for the best outgoing Orthopaedics Resident went to Dr. Suhash Masilamani. Overview of faculty achievements was presented by Principal, Dr. S.M. Bhatti.
64 B.Sc. Nursing graduates and 24 M.Sc. Nursing post-graduates awarded the degree. Damanpreet Kaur B.Sc. Nursing 1st year, Harpreet Kaur B.Sc. Nursing 2nd year, Gigi M. George B.Sc. Nursing 3rd year, Harpreet Kaur B.Sc. Nursing 4th year secured 1st position in the college. Sarabjit Kaur secured first position in B.Sc. Nursing Aggregate. Poonam Sharma M.Sc.Nursing 1st year and Mamta M.Sc.Nursing 2nd year stood first in the University. Preety Alagh ranked first in M.Sc. Nursing Aggregate. Special prizes were awarded to Sanchi Gureja for Best Community Health Nurse, Jaspreet Kaur H.S. for Best Bed Side nurse and Renny Grace Paul awarded Anna Vohra memorial award for the All Round Best Student Nurse.
Dr. Abi M. Thomas, Principal, Christian Dental College presented the college report. There were 40 BDS and 4 MDS graduates to receive their degrees. 8 students received gold medals. In the report he highlighted the achievements of the faculty and students in the last year. Ms. Navraj was topper in the final Professional BDS examination. The overall percentage of students in BDS examination was 95%. 4 students got distinctions. As part of the goal oriented education, all our students are committed to serve an area of need after their graduation. At present 55 graduates of Christian Dental College are working in different parts of the country and one at Liberia, West Africa. The dental students council actively supported the administration in coordinating different programmes. The Principal highlighted that there were 12 scientific paper presentations, 11 poster presentation and 10 scientific publications in National and International journals. The Association of Medical Alumni awarded Life Time Achievement award to Dr. Sybil Singh. Dr. V. K. Satija Award for best Clinical Teacher went to Dr. Shekhar Upadhyay while batch of 1976 Excellence in Teaching Award went to Mrs. Madhumita Mukerjee. Ajay Alex Varughese and Simi Samuel were awarded Alumni Prize for best alrounder.
Dr.Kim MamMrs. Triza Jiwan, Principal, College Nursing proposed the vote of thanks.
By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON : The military mission in Libya is succeeding and preventing further atrocities against the Libyan people by Moammar Gadhafi and his forces, President Barack Obama said today in his weekly radio address.
Obama said that "because we acted quickly, a humanitarian catastrophe has been avoided and the lives of countless civilians -- innocent men, women and children -- have been saved."
The commander in chief credited the part played by U.S. troops in "Operation Odyssey Dawn," which was launched March 19 by coalition forces to enforce a U.N. Security Council resolution to protect the Libyan people from Gadhafi's forces.
"Thanks to our brave men and women in uniform, we've made important progress," Obama said, noting that he faces "no greater decision" than sending U.S. forces into harm's way. He also said the U.S. "should not -- and cannot -- intervene every time there's a crisis somewhere in the world."
Gadhafi's brutality against innocent Libyan people, however, made the military action necessary, he said.
"When someone like Gadhafi threatens a bloodbath that could destabilize an entire region, and when the international community is prepared to come together to save many thousands of lives, then it's in our national interest to act. It's our responsibility," he said. "This is one of those times."
Over the past week, Obama said that U.S. and coalition forces took out Gadhafi's air defenses and stopped his forces' advancement across the country. Libyan forces also were pushed back in Benghazi, a city of about 700,000 people, where Gadhafi threatened to show "no mercy" to the country's opposition.
"Our message is clear and unwavering," he said. "Gadhafi's attacks against civilians must stop. His forces must pull back. Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach those in need. Those responsible for violence must be held accountable."
The president said that "Moammar Gadhafi has lost the confidence of his people and the legitimacy to rule, and the aspirations of the Libyan people must be realized."
Obama explained that the role of American forces has been limited, and the U.S. is acting in concert with a multinational coalition.
"We are not putting any ground forces into Libya. Our military has provided unique capabilities at the beginning, but this is now a broad, international effort," he said. "Our allies and partners are enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya and the arms embargo at sea."
The president noted that "key Arab partners," such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, have contributed aircraft to the effort.
Obama said this is "how the international community should work, with more nations, not just the United States, bearing the responsibility and cost of upholding peace and security.
"This military effort is part of our larger strategy to support the Libyan people and hold the Gadhafi regime accountable," he said. "Together with the international community, we?re delivering urgent humanitarian assistance. We?re offering support to the Libyan opposition."
By freezing tens of billions of dollars of Gadhafi's assets, the needs and aspirations of the Libyan people can be better met, he said, "and every day, the pressure on Gadhafi and his regime is increasing."
Obama said that Libyans have begun expressing their gratitude for the mission.
"Every American can be proud of the lives we've saved in Libya and of the service of our men and women in uniform who once again have stood up for our interests and our ideals," he said. "And people in Libya and around the world are seeing that the United States of America stands with those who hope for a future where they can determine their own destiny." (Issued on : March 26, 2011)
Special Report: Operation Odyssey Dawn
President's Weekly Address
Saturday, March 26, 2011
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
HAMPTON, Va., March 25, 2011 - Ensuring that Afghanistan's security forces are trained and equipped to assume increased security responsibility is a keystone of the U.S. and coalition strategy there.
Mangham spent a year in Afghanistan helping to stand up preventive medicine programs he said will have a long-term impact, not just on the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police, but also on the country's civilian population.
For his efforts, Mangham became the first enlisted U.S. service member to receive the prestigious Hunter-Strickland Excellence Award for Deployment Preventive Medicine.
This year's award, presented yesterday at the Armed Forces Public Health Conference here, is named for Army Col. George W. Hunter III and Army Capt. G. Strickland, pioneers in advancing tropical disease prevention during the 1940s.
Mangham was singled out this year as the service member who best exemplified their work in a deployed setting -– in his case, as assistant chief of preventive medicine for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force training mission in Afghanistan from February 2009 to February 2010.
Currently assigned to the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, Mangham knew he could serve as a corpsman supporting U.S. Marines fighting enemy forces alongside their Afghan counterparts. But instead, he volunteered to help the Afghan security forces confront a less-recognized but equally insidious enemy: illness and disease spread through poor hygiene, improper food storage and handling, and unsanitary living and sleeping arrangements.
"I volunteered for this," Mangham said of his first deployment with the Afghan army. "I wanted to go and assist at the ground level in rebuilding Afghanistan as a nation."
Once on the ground in the Afghan capital of Kabul, Mangham said, he began building on groundwork already laid as a mentor to the Afghan National Army's surgeon general's public health chief. He led teams that inspected the way the Afghans were shipping, storing, preparing and handling food for the army and police forces. Two of the big gaps he found were lack of refrigeration and specific guidelines regarding food.
So, working through the U.S. Agency for International Development and other organizations, Mangham helped to secure funding needed to buy refrigerators and food-storage units. He also initiated training for food-service personnel.
Mangham also began looking into living conditions for Afghan security forces. One problem, he said, was that Afghan troops often shared the same bunk –- an accepted cultural norm in Afghanistan, but one Mangham said makes it too easy for illness and disease to spread.
He helped to introduce a new ban on bunk-sharing, instituting a rule that bunks must be three feet apart, with troops positioned in alternating head-to-toe arrangements.
"That way, if one soldier sneezed, the germs wouldn't immediately go to the next soldier," he said. "That decreases the passing of viral diseases."
Those efforts resulted in a 40-percent decrease in disease transmission among the Afghan forces, he said.
Operating in the southern Kandahar and Helmand provinces, Mangham also served as senior noncommissioned officer of a six-person team that initiated medical screening and vaccination programs at Afghan National Police recruiting stations.
In addition to providing personal hygiene training, the team members isolated police candidates with contagious illnesses, treating them before allowing them to rejoin the ranks.
Other initiatives Mangham helped to introduce are just now starting to bear fruit. He helped in standing up an Afghan public health officer program, and its first class graduated three weeks ago.
"It was a very, very successful mission," he said of his deployment. "We got a lot accomplished in the year I was there and left a lot of initiatives in place. The mission is successful and thriving. I think we are going to see the state of public health in Afghanistan thrive in the next two to three years."
Mangham called these efforts an important contribution toward a more independent Afghanistan with a military more capable of providing security. The impact, he said, will remain long after the U.S. and coalition mission in Afghanistan ends.
"This goes way beyond the military," he said, noting that the preventive medicine lessons being learned will extend to Afghanistan's civilian population.
"I can train an Afghan doctor in public-health issues," he added, "but he's the one who is going to be most effective in getting that message across to the Afghan people."
Mangham said he is honored to receive this year's Hunter-Strickland Excellence Award for Deployment Preventive Medicine.
"But this is not something I did as an individual," he said. "There were a lot of key players in this effort. I am just one of them."
NATO International Security Assistance Force
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 24, 2011 - In a recent speech at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the Army has changed the most of all the services.
Gen. Martin E. Dempsey will relieve Casey as Army chief of staff next month, when Casey ends four decades of service. During an interview in his Pentagon office, the outgoing chief of staff spoke about the changes that have happened in the Army since he became the service's highest-ranking officer in 2007.
"We will have done in seven years what normally would take us 20 years to do," the general said. "We've done it in the middle of a war, and we are a fundamentally different force and a more versatile and experienced force than we were seven years ago. I'm very pleased with the way that turned out."
In the months before Casey took over, stories about the Army and its future were common in the media, centering on concern about the pace of operations and its effect on the service.
It was the height of the U.S. surge into Iraq, and soldiers were deployed for 15-month tours and often spending less than a year at their homes before deploying again. Worries surfaced that departures of mid-level officers and noncommissioned officers would "hollow out" the service, and that families weary of the repeated deployments would get their soldiers to vote with their feet and leave the Army.
When he first took office, the general and his wife traveled all over the Army to get their own sense of what was going on. "When we got back we thought our way through it, and it was clear to us that the families were the most brittle part of the force," Casey said. "We needed to do something immediately to demonstrate to the families that we were going to take a load off."
An immediate move was to hire and pay family readiness advisers. The service put in place the Family Covenant Program, and doubled funding for family readiness programs.
Dealing with deployments was another priority, Casey said.
"The 15-month tours – on top of everything they had already done – that was choking people," Casey said. "We had to show them that there was daylight, and that daylight was going to come sooner, rather than later."
Then-President George W. Bush had authorized an increase in the size of the Army by 2012. Casey told about going into auditoriums full of troops in 2007 and telling them relief would come in 2012. "And they would look at me like, "C'mon, General, get real,'" he said.
He met with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and told him that the Army growth had to be sped up to 2010, "and he agreed," the general said. The Army met its growth goals in 2009.
Casey also was worried about a hollow force, and instinctively concentrated on the mid-level officers and NCOs. "They were the ones carrying the heaviest loads," he said.
Casey looked to the Army's Center of Military History for historical research, and the data showed it really was all about the midlevel leaders. "When the people it takes you a decade to grow leave, it takes you a decade to get [that capability] back," he said.
The service put in place selective retention bonuses for captains and increased the selective re-enlistment bonuses for mid-level NCOs. "I believe it gave a lot of those captains the ability to look at their spouses and say, 'We're going to be OK," he said.
But people were saying the Army already was hollow because of the readiness level of "next-to-deploy" forces. The service had to strip these forces of soldiers for units already in the combat theater. "We started thinking about generating readiness differently and enhancing the Army force-generating model that we had come up with in 2005 to make it more realistic," Casey said. Follow-on forces now are fully manned and fully trained as a unit before deploying.
Dwell time – the time troops spend at home between deployments – became an important measurement. The goal is for soldiers to spend twice as much time at home as deployed. Casey said the differences are visible in the soldiers themselves.
"I went out with a unit that was home for 18 months," he said, "and you could see the difference that time at home meant in their faces, and in the preparation they could do."
The Army also is changing to meet the demands of 21st century operations. Casey continued the process of changing to a modular brigade system. During World War II, the division was the basic unit for the Army. Today, it is the brigade combat team.
"With everything we had going on, if I had made hard turns, it would have derailed the progress," he said. "I came in and said, 'Let's finish it,' and we kept on going."
By the end of the year, the Army will have converted all but a handful of the 300-plus brigades to these modular organizations, "and we will have rebalanced 300,000-plus soldiers out of Cold War skills to those more necessary today," Casey said. "Together, it's the largest transformation of the Army since World War II."
The personal costs and effects of combat also pushed Casey.
"I'd been in Iraq," he said. "I'd seen the effects of combat on folks and what it did to folks, and I recognized that no matter who you are, everyone is affected by combat in one way or another. I set out to try to reduce the stigma associated with getting treatment for behavioral health issues."
Post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries are the signature wounds of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there may be no outwardly visible signs of the injuries.
"I started getting the word out then to everyone we could that combat is hard, everyone is affected by it -- we're human beings," Casey said. "If you've got a problem, get some help."
The general said he wanted to encourage openness, and knew it was going to be a hard slog.
"We went from where 90 percent of the people wouldn't get help to now, where about half of the people won't get help," he said. "That's still a lot of people, but it's a start. We still have to crack the company and platoon levels. It's gradually getting more traction."
Concurrently, the Army's suicide rate began rising.
"It struck me how futile it is to be sitting around a company orderly room – like we've all done – with the first sergeant saying, 'Gosh, Smith was a wonderful guy. I should have seen something, I should have known something, I should have done something.' And you never can," Casey said. "It occurred to me that maybe we ought to come up with something that gives them skills on the front end before they get to that dark place that would lead them to suicide to begin with."
The Army introduced Comprehensive Soldier Fitness to unit operations to avoid some of the stigma that some people associate with a medical program.
"The whole idea was to bring mental fitness up to the same plane as physical fitness," the general said. "The thrust behind it is [that] part of being a good soldier is knowing when you need a break and when you need to get some help. That doesn't mean you're a wimp."
All this is having results. Army surveys show that family satisfaction with the service has increased steadily since 2007, and this continues to trend upward.
But the Army is not out of the woods yet, Casey said. For the next several years, the United States will continue to send 50,000 to 100,000 soldiers to combat. They are going to have to maintain their edge, but so will the thousands of soldiers who won't be going to combat. At the same time, the Army has to reconstitute after a decade at war.
"What I worry about is you get these guys back in garrison and you go back to the same bull I went through in the 1970s, and these young guys are going to say, 'I'm outta here,'" Casey said.
The service also has to concentrate on building resilience in soldiers and their families, Casey said. "We've just got to keep at it," he added.
The Army has learned from Iraq and Afghanistan that the next conflict probably won't look like anything it is fighting today. "We changed our doctrine in 2008 and said that full-spectrum operations are offense, defense and stability operations," Casey said. "It's done simultaneously and in different proportions, depending where you are in the spectrum of conflict."
He said that when he commanded the 1st Armored Division in 2000 and 2001, he believed that if a unit could do conventional war, it could do anything.
"But after 32 months in Iraq, I don't believe that any more," he said. "What we realized was its not going to be either conventional or counterinsurgency. The wars in the 21st century are going to be different than the wars I grew up trying to fight. We're not going to be fighting corps-on-corps operations, except maybe [in] Korea.
"So we're working scenarios where we have hybrid threats that are a mix of conventional, irregular, criminal [and] terrorist, and we've set up the training centers with these types of [opposing forces]. The 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, went through such a hybrid threat scenario.
"We're training them for full-spectrum operations, and that includes having to deal with uniformed militaries," he said.
More work needs to be done, Casey said.
"While we've talked about this and thought about it," he added, "until we start putting brigades out there on the ground and have them do it, we're not going to crack it."
Casey said he is worried about the Army's budget. He wants a balanced force in which the manning, training and equipping is in the right proportion. "The kicker is the wheels are falling off the budget," he said. The Army will remain its current size through at least 2015.
"People are motivated and focused and trying to do the right thing," the general said.
Casey commanded his first platoon in April 1971 in Mainz, West Germany. He had nine soldiers in a 36-man mortar platoon, and five of them were pending discharge from the Army. Each company had a duty officer, he said, and that officer had to be armed.
"Drugs were pretty bad, and there were tensions," he said. "I remember ... the first time we went to the field it struck me like a ton of bricks that these guys depended on me, and I resolved at that point to never let my subordinates down. I always tried to make the unit I was in as good as it could be."
It was just the scale that changed.
Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr.
Friday, March 25, 2011
Amnesty International Condemns Attack on Mosque Amid Wave of Detentions in SyriaWashington, D.C.: Amnesty International has condemned last night’s deadly attack on a mosque by Syrian security forces, amid a sweep of detentions of suspected dissidents across the country.
At least seven people are reported to have been killed in a night-time raid on the ‘Omari mosque in the southern town of Dera’a, where scores of protesters were staging a sit-in. The lethal attack came as security forces rounded up scores of students, activists, journalists and intellectuals around the country following a week of protests, amid similar demonstrations across the Middle East and North Africa.
Dera’a is now under curfew with government announcements telling residents they will be shot if they leave their houses.
“The Syrian authorities must cease the use of excessive force to crush protests and immediately release all of those detained for the peaceful expression of their beliefs,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Those held are at risk of torture or other ill-treatment and we are deeply concerned for their safety.”
Shortly after midnight, scores of soldiers and plain-clothed security agents arrived at the ‘Omari mosque and some opened fire on protesters.. .
A Syrian human rights activist told Amnesty International that local residents said at least two of the seven people killed were shot inside the mosque. If confirmed, the seven deaths bring the number killed during six days of protests in the town to 13.
The activist said security forces were shooting from the tops of buildings at protesters, ambulances and nearby houses. Videos sent by human rights activists appear to show armed forces shooting in the mosque area while civilians plead for them to stop.
Local sources say those killed are ‘Omar ‘Abd al-Wali, Muhammad Abu al-Eyoun, Hamid Abu Nabbout, Dr Ghassan ‘Ali al-Mahameed, Ashraf Masalma, Ibtisam Masalma and Tahir Masalma. They said scores more were injured. There are no credible reports suggesting the protesters were armed.
The Syrian authorities have accused “armed gangs” of being behind some of the protests in Dera’a and issued a statement saying Dr al-Mahameed was killed when the ambulance he had travelled in was “assaulted by an armed gang, which caused his martyrdom”. They provided on further details to support the claim.
Roads to the town have been closed by the authorities, while security forces are said to be going from house to house detaining people and taking them to unknown locations.
Among those detained in Dera’a in the last two days is community leader Nizar al-Harek, who had been appointed to negotiate with the authorities.
Based on reports from Syrian human rights organizations and relatives, Amnesty International has compiled the names of 93 people who were arrested between March 8 to 23 in Damascus, Aleppo, Banias, Dera’a, Douma, Hama, Homs, Latakia, Ma’aratan Nu’man and al-Malkiyah and remain detained in unknown locations. The 93 people are believed to be aged between 14 and 45 and include five women. Some are members of the same family.
The real number of those arrested is likely to be considerably higher. According to one Syrian human rights organization, around 300 people had been arrested in Dera’a in the five days before last night’s attack.
The detained include students, intellectuals, journalists and activists. Not all took part in the demonstrations; some seem to have been arrested for their activities on the internet. Issued on :(
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Amnesty International Reacts to Release of Activists in Cuba
Washington, D.C.: In response to news that the Cuban authorities will release the last remaining activists from the group of 75 detained in March 2003, Amnesty International’s expert on Cuba, Gerardo Ducos, said:
“It is a step in the right direction for human rights in Cuba to see the release of all prisoners of conscience from the March 2003 crackdown and an activist detained last December, particularly considering they should have never been imprisoned in the first place.
"What we want to see now is for the Cuban authorities not to force activists into exile as a condition for their release and to ensure all human rights activists are able to carry out their legitimate work without fear of threats, harassment, further arrests or unfair trials in their own country.”
Seventy-five people were jailed in a massive crackdown against the dissident movement around 18 March 2003 for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression.
Most of them were charged with crimes including “acts against the independence of the state” because they allegedly received funds and/or materials from US-based NGOs financed by the US government.
They were sentenced to between six and 28 years in prison after speedy and unfair trials for engaging in activities the authorities perceived as subversive and damaging to Cuba. (Issued on :Wednesday, March 23, 2011)
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Thursday, March 24, 2011
Ludhiana, 24th March, 2011 :It was time of Pardah. Women used to prefer Burqa or Pardah. In that tough time.Dame Edith Mary Brown (24 March 1864 – 6 December 1956) was the founder of The Christian Medical College Ludhiana, the first medical training facility for woman in Asia.
Her motto was: "My work is for a King"
She retired as principal of the College in 1942.
The Annual Founder’s Day celebrations of Christian Medical College, Ludhiana were held on March 24, 2011.
This day is celebrated in the loving memory of CMC’s founder, Dame Edith Brown, who realized the need for training the nurses and doctors to serve the community. Her initiative over 100 years ago now stands as one of the premier medical institutions in India. Nearly 50 alumni from the reunion batches visited their alma mater, some of them decades after having left the portals of Christian Medical College!
There was a Continuing Medical Education programme in which eminent speakers from the reunion batches of 1961 and 1980 delivered scientific talks. Visiting alumni, alumni from the city and nearby towns and CMC faculty and students attended the scientific session with great interest. After the CME, the Alumni shared their experiences since graduation and also narrated anecdotes about their time spent in CMC many years ago.
Dr. Abraham G. Thomas, Director, CMC & Hospital and Dr. S. M. Bhatti, Principal, CMC welcomed the visiting alumni. Dr. Sybil Singh gave away the mementoes. The alumni also visited the hostels, college and hospital premises to relive old memories and to see the newer developments. The day culminated with a gala banquet hosted in the campus lawns along with a colorful cultural program. Report Compiled & presented by Shalu Arora & Rector Kathuria