Friday, December 16, 2011

Obama Praises U.S.Troops' Efforts as Iraq Winds Down

Nearly 4,500 Americans made the ultimate sacrifice
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 14, 2011 - When the last U.S. troops in Iraq case their colors and move to Kuwait, they can leave with their heads held high, secure in the knowledge they did what was right for America and peace in the region, President Barack Obama told service members at Fort Bragg, N.C., today.
Obama noted the end of the war in Iraq during his speech to thousands of service members -- many of whom served multiple tours in Iraq since 2003.
The most important lesson from the war in Iraq is about America's national character, Obama said.
"For all of the challenges that our nation faces, you remind us that there's nothing we Americans can't do when we stick together," he said. "For all the disagreements that we face, you remind us there's something bigger than our differences, something that makes us one nation and one people. Regardless of color, regardless of creed, regardless of what part of the country we come from, regardless of what backgrounds we come out of, you remind us we're one nation."
That fact is why the American military is the most respected institution in the country, the president said.
The young men and women at Fort Bragg represent more than 1.5 million Americans who have served in Iraq. More than 30,000 Americans have physical wounds from the conflict with tens of thousands afflicted by unseen wounds like traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress.
"Nearly 4,500 Americans made the ultimate sacrifice, including 202 fallen heroes from here at Fort Bragg -- 202," Obama said. "So today we pause to say a prayer for all those families who've lost their loved ones, for they are part of our broader American family."
This 9/11 generation has earned its place in history, the president said.
"Because of you, because you sacrificed so much for a people that you had never met, Iraqis have a chance to forge their own destiny," he said. "That's part of what makes us special as Americans. Unlike the old empires, we don't make these sacrifices for territory or for resources; we do it because it's right.
"There can be no fuller expression of America's support for self-determination than our leaving Iraq to its people," he added. "That says something about who we are."
And U.S. service members in Afghanistan are taking on the Taliban and breaking the back of al-Qaida, the president said.
"Because of you, we've begun a transition to ... the Afghans that will allow us to bring our troops home from there," Obama said. "And around the globe, as we draw down in Iraq, we have gone after al-Qaida so that terrorists who threaten America will have no safe haven, and Osama bin Laden will never again walk the face of this Earth."
Soon the last soldiers will leave Iraq, and the achievements of Americans who fought there will belong to history, the president said. He compared them to the men and women who fought for independence from Great Britain and who defeated fascism and communism. He also recalled the Civil War saying this generation, like the one that fought for union, has been "touched by fire."
"All of you here today have lived through the fires of war," Obama said. "You will be remembered for it. You will be honored for it, always. You have done something profound with your lives."
Today's service members enlisted during a time of war knowing that they'd be the ones who went into harm's way, Obama said.
"When times were tough, you kept fighting. When there was no end in sight, you found light in the darkness," the president said. "And years from now, your legacy will endure in the names of your fallen comrades etched on headstones at Arlington, and the quiet memorials across our country, in the whispered words of admiration as you march in parades, and in the freedom of our children and our grandchildren."
And they will remember that they were touched by fire, and can be proud they answered the call, the president said.
"You served a cause greater than yourselves, you helped forge a just and lasting peace with Iraq and among all nations," he said. "I could not be prouder of you, and America could not be prouder of you."

Panetta, Karzai Salute Progress in Afghanistan

Panetta here for his second visit as defense secretary 
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

KABUL, Afghanistan, Dec. 14, 2011 - Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta joined Afghan President Hamid Karzai here today to laud the progress that's been made in Afghanistan as they conducted what Panetta called "very productive discussions" about ways to build on it.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta enters a press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, Afghanistan, Dec. 14, 2011. Panetta said the United States was committed to working with the Afghan government to promote a free and independent country. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo 
Panetta, here for his second visit as defense secretary, said he believes 2011 will prove to be "a very important turning point in the war.""We have not won," he said. "We have not completed this mission. But I do believe we are in the process of making significant progress here."
Panetta noted the lowest levels of violence in five years, with the Taliban insurgency weakened to the point that it has not been able to conduct successful attacks or regain lost territory.
"There is no doubt that over the last two years, Afghan and international forces have been able to seize the momentum ... from the Taliban insurgency and establish security in critical areas, including Taliban heartland in the south," the secretary said.
Panetta noted that he visited U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan -- an area he said will continue to be a focus of efforts in the coming years -- earlier today to get a firsthand assessment of the situation from commanders and troops on the ground.
"I come away convinced that as we continue making important progress and building security, that we are moving closer to our goals of denying al-Qaida [and its affiliates] safe haven in this area to conduct attacks on the homeland," he said.
Panetta also recognized the increasingly capable Afghan national security forces that
"are absolutely essential to the ultimate success of our efforts here."

These forces, who Panetta said have sacrificed alongside their American and international counterparts, have set the stage for security transition in Afghanistan.
Panetta noted that based on Karzai's transition plans announcement last month, half of the Afghan population will soon live under Afghan governance and security control.
This transition "represents the fact that we have now made important gains during the campaign," Panetta said. "We are moving toward a strong Afghanistan that can govern and secure itself for the future."
Particularly promising, he said, is the fact that these gains continue even as the United States begins the process of drawing down the first 10,000 of its surge forces.
"When we look at these achievements, clearly we are going in the right direction," the secretary said.
Karzai said Afghanistan now is more stable and moving toward a better future. What's left to be done, he said, is to extend individual security to protect the Afghan people from attacks.
Panetta agreed that despite the progress made, much work remains to be done.
"Are there challenges? Of course there are. Does the Taliban remain dangerous? Of course it is. Does this mean that we are going to continue to see high-profile attacks in the future? Yes we will," the secretary said.
"But are we going in the right direction?" he continued. "Are we making significant progress here in Afghanistan? Yes we are."
Looking to the future, Panetta offered assurance that the United States is committed to forging a long-term relationship with Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has the support of the United States, he said, and it also "has the backing of the region and the international community as it seeks to build a stronger and more stable country for the future."
Expressing regret for Afghan as well as American lives lost in pursuit of this future, Panetta pledged that their sacrifices "will not be in vain."
"Ultimately, we will achieve the goal of a sovereign and independent Afghanistan," he said, "that can secure and govern itself -- one that will never allow al-Qaida and the Taliban to be able to establish a safe haven here from which to conduct attacks on America."
Leon E. Panetta

Restoring Pakistan Relationship Critical

Panetta quoted Afghanistan success
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Dec. 12, 2011 - Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta expressed confidence today that the United States and Pakistan can patch up their differences, emphasizing that "ultimately, we can't win the war in Afghanistan without being able to win in our relationship with Pakistan as well."

The secretary said restoring the strained relationship with the United States critical to long-term progress in Afghanistan. "I think it is going to be important, as we are able to move and progress in our efforts in Afghanistan, that we continue to do outreach in Pakistan," he said.

"It is essential to stability in that region that we not only achieve a peaceful resolution with regards to Afghanistan, but that we are able to develop a more stable relationship with Pakistan as well," he said. "If that region is ever going to find peace, it is going to happen not only by achieving stability in Afghanistan, but also by achieving some degree of stability in Pakistan as well."

The U.S. relationship with Pakistan has been "difficult and complicated," Panetta conceded. "But it is an important relationship, and it is one we have to continue to work at."

The secretary noted that Pakistan has provided important cooperation to the United States. "At the same time, we have had some serious difficulties with regards to some of the operations that involve groups in the FATA [federally administered tribal areas] and groups along the border," he said.

Strain between the two countries increased after the May 2 raid that took down Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, and intensified after a Nov. 26 engagement near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

U.S. Central Command is conducting a full investigation of the incident, under the leadership of Air Force Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Clark from Air Force Special Operations Command.

"A number of interviews have been conducted," to determine factors involved in the incident, Panetta said. He expressed hope that the investigation will shed light on "exactly what happened," but said he has not yet received an update on any findings.

Meanwhile, Panetta said Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, commander of U.S. and ISAF forces in Afghanistan, reports that operations are continuing to secure the border areas.

Even before the border incident, Allen reached out to Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Gen.Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to develop a relationship that would allow the United States and Pakistan to better coordinate and control border-area operations to prevent incidents, he said.

"Obviously what took place has complicated that relationship," Panetta said. "But I think the effort now is to try to see if we can restore that kind of communication with regards to those border incidents."

The United States also is working to get Pakistan to reopen ground supply routes into Afghanistan it closed after the border incident. "I am confident that will happen," Panetta said. "I remain confident that at one point, we are going to be able to restore our normal supply routes."

For now, Panetta said he's satisfied that troops have the supplies they need to continue their operations in Afghanistan. "Our command structure has done an incredible job ensuring that one way or another, we are able to get those supplies in," he said.

Ultimately, restoring a solid relationship goes well beyond supply routes and border operations, the secretary said.

And if there's one thing he said he's learned, both at CIA and at the Defense Department, it's the need to continue working at the relationship, even through "bumps in the road" and crises.

"The most important thing is to keep lines of communication open and make sure we do everything we can to restore some degree of a relationship that will allow us to be able to fulfill our mission," he said.

Panetta emphasized that the mission of confronting terrorism supports both the United States' and Pakistan's interests.

"The terrorism that threatens us also threatens them," he said. "And if we can recognize that, despite our differences, there are some common areas that we share in terms of our security, then I think we can ultimately find a way to resolve our differences and improve our relationship," he said.�

The secretary also spoke about President Barack Obama's request that Iran return a recovered U.S. RQ-170 drone aircraft to the U.S., saying the request was "appropriate." However, the secretary admitted that he didn't "expect that will happen."

Panetta said it's difficult to know how much engineering know-how the Iranians will be able to obtain from parts of the downed drone in its possession. "I don't know the condition of those parts. I don't know exactly what state they are in," he said. "So it will be a little difficult to tell exactly what they are going to be able to derive from what they have been able to get."
Leon E. Panetta

Scaparrotti: ISAF Border Operations Continue

But With Care
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
KABUL, Afghanistan, Dec. 14, 2011 - International Security Assistance Force operations continue in Afghanistan along the Pakistan border, but are conducted with special care to avoid escalating current tensions, a senior commander said here today.
Army Lt. Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, commander of the ISAF Joint Command and deputy commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, told reporters during a roundtable discussion that success in Afghanistan requires close communication with Pakistan.

Relations between ISAF and Pakistan have been tense since the cross-border incident Nov. 26 that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead. Pakistani authorities have closed ground supply routes through their country and ended American use of the Shamsi airbase.
Scaparrotti declined to discuss the border incident in light of the ongoing investigation but, acknowledging his professional and personal association with Pakistani military leaders, expressed condolences about the lives lost.
"What happened is a tragedy," he said.
Scaparrotti said ISAF continues to communicate regularly with the Pakistani military as before the incident, but coordination is not as close as it has been in the past.
"We are being a little more careful," he acknowledged. "But we are still running interdiction. We are still working with the Afghans right on the border posts. We are still running reconnaissance and doing the things ... that we need to do. And as I said, we are still pressing the Pak military so that we can continue communication."
Scaparrotti said he believes "over time, we will [regain] that coordination, that communication that we had in the past."
The November incident has caused ISAF leaders to consider ways to bolster the coordination and communication along the border, where insurgent provocation can have a deadly effect.
"There are certainly incidents where insurgents along the border have instigated a fight [using] direct fires or indirect fires, and they have done so in proximity to [Pakistani] military border locations," the general said. "We think it was to draw our attention, or perhaps, in some instances, to draw conflict here between Afghan, coalition or Pakistan forces."
Such provocations are one reason "we are working very hard, as we have in the past, to develop better communications with the [Pakistani] military on the other side of the border," the general said. "That has been one of our priorities."
A working relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan is critical for both nations, he said.
"It is important for the region," he said. "And it is important for us to move forward. It is important to Afghanistan because they have neighbors that they have to have a cooperative relationship [with] on their borders as well."
As the transition from ISAF to Afghan security lead gains steam, the general said, the capabilities of Afghanistan's forces are another crucial focus of ISAF efforts.
Scaparrotti previously commanded the 82nd Airborne Division and deployed as commander of Joint Task Force-82 with responsibility for Regional Command East in 2009. He returned to Afghanistan in July 2011 after a year away, and said he's impressed by the gains achieved in the interim.
"It is clear that today ... we have the initiative in this fight," he said. "I see it in the terrain we hold and the terrain that the [Afghan national security forces] hold compared to a year ago."
Afghan security forces also have developed better leaders throughout their command structure, he said.
"We are producing a better leader that goes into their army," Scaparrotti said, with Afghan corps and brigade commanders now also more experienced than a year ago.
Still, as more operational responsibility passes to Afghan forces, their command-and-control, supply and maintenance, and counter-bomb capabilities must increase, he noted.
Afghan forces are struggling to establish and strengthen their logistics, supply and maintenance abilities, he said, adding that aiding those efforts is an ISAF focus point.
"They [also] have to develop the capacity to deal with [roadside bombs] as we are capable of dealing with them. And that capacity is coming along as well," he added.
The general noted ISAF forces are close to achieving the 10,000-troop drawdown set for this year, and will reduce by another 23,000 by the end of summer 2012, leaving 68,000 service members where there are now roughly 91,000.
"As we look at the drawdown of forces, we are looking carefully at the environment that develops and then the balance -- I call it the posture of the force that we need," Scaparrotti said.
As its forces dwindle, ISAF must maintain its ability to muster joint fires, allocate intelligence assets, and deploy lift and route-clearance teams, he noted.
"It is those things that as we draw down the number of maneuver forces here down to 68,000 after next September, that we will look at very closely," he added.
"I am confident at this point, although we are still working the strategy, that we are going to be able to continue to [68,000] as we come down through this fighting season to that objective here in the fall," Scaparrotti said.
Civilian government and administrative capability likewise remains a key focus, he said.
"The governance within Afghanistan has steadily made progress in terms of their ability to deliver both representation and basic services for the people," Scaparrotti added.
(Editor's note: Karen Parrish contributed to this article.)
Army Lt. Gen. Curtis Michael Scaparrotti 
Related Sites:
NATO International Security Assistance Force

Related Articles:
Panetta, Karzai Salute Progress in Afghanistan 
Panetta Arrives in Afghanistan to Assess Progress 

Biden Spotlights Military Support at Kids' Holiday Party

Biden spotlighted the importance of military family support

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2011 - Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, invited about 25 elementary school students, a few teachers -- and one special guest in Afghanistan -- to a military-themed holiday party in their home at the U.S. Naval Observatory here today.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, poses for a picture with students from White Oaks Elementary School in Burke, Va., at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., Dec. 12, 2011. Biden hosted a holiday party for the students to raise awareness of military families and the challenges they faceDOD photo by Elaine Sanchez 
Throughout the party, Biden spotlighted the importance of military family support for the children -- a fourth-grade class from nearby White Oaks Elementary School in Burke, Va.After greeting each of the children -- all dressed in their holiday best -- at the door, she invited them to join her around the Christmas tree in her living room for a discussion about her own experiences as a military mom.
Biden held up a framed picture of her son, Army Maj. Beau Biden of the Delaware National Guard, with his young son, Hunter, in his arms. The picture, she told the children, was taken the day he returned from a yearlong deployment in Iraq. "I know what it's like to have someone in your family who is deployed," she said.
She then asked Army Col. Rebecca Porter, a clinical psychologist from the Army Surgeon General's Office, to talk to the children -- mostly from nonmilitary families -- about the impact deployment has on kids, especially during the holidays, and how students can support military families in their community.
Biden then kicked off her heels and joined the children on the floor in front of the tree to make holiday cards for deployed troops. The card-making event was sponsored by the American Red Cross' Holiday Mail for Heroes program, which collects and distributes holiday cards to service members, veterans and their families around the world.
But the event's highlight, especially for one of the students, was the holiday book reading in the next room.
Army Maj. James Blain, deployed in Afghanistan since June, appeared on screen to read the book "Mickey's Christmas Carol" to his 9-year-old son, Jimmy, and his classmates. Blain earlier recorded the book-reading through United Through Reading, an organization that enables deployed service members to video-record themselves reading books to their children. Deployed troops can read from more than 270 recording stations around the globe, according to an organization fact sheet.
Jimmy listened intently. He's been in touch with his dad, but mostly over the phone. There's nothing like seeing him face to face, he said after his dad finished the book.
His mom, Tina Blain, who attended the party with all four of her children, agreed. "Having the DVDs has been a huge bonus for us because we can see Daddy whenever we want."
Approaching the holidays without Dad is tough on the children, she added. "To see him so positive and so up going into the holidays is good for them," she said.
Biden also noted the importance of programs such as United Through Reading, which recently pledged to double its commitment to Army and National Guard families in the next two years. Since the program began in 1989, more than 1 million beneficiaries have been served, a news release said.
"It means a lot to children and helps them stay connected with their moms or their dads" while they're deployed, Biden told American Forces Press Service. "I know in my own family, my son read books to our grandchildren and they loved just hearing their dad's voice."
Biden noted that Jimmy's parents were worried that their 2-year-old son, Matthew, would forget what his dad looked like. This program, however, has set their minds at ease, she said, citing Matthew's reaction when his father appeared on screen at the party. As soon as he saw his father, Matthew, perched on his mom's lap, called out, "Daddy, Daddy!"
Biden said the party was intended to raise awareness of military families and the need to support them, which also is the aim of the Joining Forces campaign, a military-support initiative First Lady Michelle Obama and Biden started earlier this year. It's important for people without a loved one in the military to understand the military experience, she noted.
Particularly around the holidays, "it's important we remember and commit to an act of kindness," she said, whether it's taking cookies to a military family, bringing them dinner, or packing care packages. Biden said she and her family recently packed Christmas stockings for deployed service members together.
"We are ending the war in Iraq ... but we still have many, many [service members] deployed in Afghanistan," Biden said. "We have to remember them and be thankful for their service and what they've done for us and this country."
Related Sites:
Special Report: Joining Forces 
Joining Forces Campaign 
United Through Reading 
Holiday Mail for Heroes 

Obama: U.S., Iraq Forge New Relationship

we are building a comprehensive partnership
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2011 - With the last U.S. troops leaving Iraq, a new relationship between Iraq and the United States will stand front and center, President Barack Obama said at the White House today.
Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki spoke at a news conference as the last 5,500 U.S. troops in Iraq prepare to leave. When Obama took office there were 150,000 American forces in the country.
"This is a season of homecomings, and military families across America are being reunited for the holidays," Obama said. "In the coming days, the last American soldiers will cross the border out of Iraq, with honor and with their heads held high."
The president and the prime minister discussed the continuing U.S.-Iraqi relationship, and plans to "normalize" relations between the two countries. Obama called for "an equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect."
Iraq has made tremendous progress since the coalition toppled Saddam Hussein from power in 2003. There have been free and fair elections, Iraq's economy is growing faster even than that of China, and Iraqi security forces "have been in the lead for the better part of three years, patrolling the streets, dismantling militias, conducting counterterrorism operations," Obama said.
"Today, despite continued attacks by those who seek to derail Iraq's progress, violence remains at record lows," Obama said. "And Mr. Prime Minister, that's a tribute to your leadership, and to the skill and the sacrifices of Iraqi forces."
As the war ends, Iraq will not stand alone, the president said.
"Today, the prime minister and I are reaffirming our common vision of a long-term partnership between our nations that is in keeping with our Strategic Framework Agreement, and it will be like the close relationships we have with other sovereign nations," Obama said. "Simply put, we are building a comprehensive partnership."
Obama and Maliki discussed how the United States could help Iraq train and equip its forces the same way America helps other nations around the world. "Given the challenges we face in a rapidly changing region, we also agreed to establish a new, formal channel of communication between our national security advisors," the president said.
The U.S.-Iraq relationship, he said, will boost regional security.
"Just as Iraq has pledged not to interfere in other nations, other nations must not interfere in Iraq," Obama said. "Iraq's sovereignty must be respected."
The drawdown in Iraq has allowed America to refocus resources and achieve progress in Afghanistan, put al-Qaida on the path to defeat and to better prepare for the full range of challenges that lie ahead, the president said.
Maliki thanked Obama for America's commitment to his country.
"Anyone who observes the nature of the relationship between the two countries will say that the relationship will not end with the departure of the last American soldier," Maliki said through a translator.
The United States and Iraq worked together to defeat terrorism and al-Qaida in Iraq, the prime minister said. Now the two countries can work together in peace to put in place the Strategic Framework Agreement "in the economic sphere, as well as in educational and commercial and cultural and judicial and security cooperation fields," Maliki said.
Iraq still needs U.S. help to bulk up its security forces -- especially in areas of training and equipping. Iraq has ordered 18 F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft and plans to order another 18.
Obama saluted the sacrifices of U.S. and Iraqi service members, noting the two countries will continue to work together toward a promising new future.
"A war is ending, a new day is upon us," the president said. "And let us never forget those who gave us this chance, the untold number of Iraqis who have given their lives, more than 1 million Americans -- military and civilian -- who have served in Iraq, nearly 4,500 fallen Americans who gave their last full measure of devotion, tens of thousands of wounded warriors and so many inspiring military families.
"They are the reason we stand here today," Obama continued. "And we owe it to every single one of them -- we have a moral obligation to all of them to build a future worthy of their sacrifices."
After the news conference, Obama and Maliki travelled to Arlington National Ceremony, Va., to pay respects to the fallen. Maliki placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Related Articles:
U.S. Forces Have Met All Obligations in Iraq, General Says

Pentagon's Top Policy Chief to Step Down

I will personally miss her valued counsel-Panetta
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2011 - The Defense Department's third most senior official and top female leader has resigned, but will remain in position until February to ensure a smooth transition, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta announced today.

Mich�le Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, today announced her intention to step down and return to private life, Panetta said.

"In her discussions with me, Mich�le made clear that her decision to leave is motivated by personal and family considerations," he said. "I am very pleased that she has agreed to stay on until early next year to enable a smooth transition."

Confirmed by the Senate on Feb. 9, 2009, Flournoy is responsible for all matters on formulating national security and defense policy, the integration and oversight of DOD policy, and plans to achieve national security objectives.

Panetta praised Flournoy for her dedicated service to the department, and her impact on national security interests.

"Mich�le has been an invaluable advisor to me during my six months as secretary of defense, and has been an outstanding departmental leader for nearly three years at a time of great consequence for our nation's defense," he said.

"From guiding our strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq, to helping set the department's priorities and global posture through the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review as well as the strategy review that has been underway this year, Mich�le has made a strong and lasting positive imprint on this department and on our nation's security," he said.

Flournoy is married to W. Scott Gould, deputy secretary of the Department of Veteran Affairs, and they have three children.

Panetta lauded Flourney for her work within the department and expressed regret for her departure.

"Mich�le is a treasured colleague, and the entire Department of Defense will be sad to see her go, but she has built an incredible team that is a testament to her leadership," he said.
"I will personally miss her valued counsel, but I understand the stresses and strains that holding senior administration positions can have on families," Panetta noted.

"I look forward to having the opportunity to paying full tribute to Mich�le and wish her and her family all the best in the next stage of their lives," he said. "I'm confident that she will have many years of service in her future."

Leon E. Panetta
Mich�le Flournoy

DOD to Honor Blood Donors for Saving Lives

People can donate whole blood every 56 days
National Blood Donor Month
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTONDec. 12, 2011 - The Defense Department plans to recognize blood donors early next year for their critical contributions to saving lives by giving blood to the Armed Forces Blood Program, the program's director said today.
"National Blood Donor Month, which is usually January of every year, is an attempt to recognize those blood donors and everyone involved in blood donation for their sacrifices and rolling up their sleeves in 2011," Army Col. Frank Rentas, director of the Armed Forces Blood Program, said during a Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service interview here.
"Next month ... we will be recognizing those donors that have supported our mission," he said. "Our mission is to provide blood and blood supplies whenever and wherever they're needed."
The joint program plays a key role in providing quality blood products for service members and their families in both peacetime and war, according to its website.
Rentas noted the demand for blood -- which only lasts 42 days in storage before perishing -- and shared different needs for blood donation which are based on the needs of the war fighter.
"Most people, when you say 'blood,' they refer to red blood cells," he said. "With red blood cells, O-negative is the most sought-after blood type because you can transfuse it to anyone out there.
"If you are looking at plasma, it's completely opposite," Rentas continued. "AB plasma is what we need because AB plasma is universal. So depending on our needs, we may target specific donors or specific blood types depending on what we need for a specific week."
The program director detailed the importance of receiving donations since one donor can potentially save three lives.
If they're donating whole blood ... we split that unit into plasma and red cells," he explained. "One donation can actually save three different lives because we can make platelets out of some of those units as well.
"So the platelets can actually go to one recipient, the plasma can go to another, and the red cells can go to another," Rentas added. "So that would be three different recipients that you can save with one donation."
People can donate whole blood every 56 days, Rentas said, but some aren't eligible to donate. "Overseas, depending on where you are, you may or may not be able to donate," he explained.
An example, Rentas said, is people who were based in Europe in areas afflicted with what is known as Mad Cow Disease. "Even though I'm an O-negative blood donor, and donated many, many times in the [1980's], I was assigned to Germany from 1987 to 1990," Rentas continued, "and I have not been able to donate since because of Mad Cow Disease. Even though I feel perfectly fine, I'm not allowed to donate."
The colonel cited the Federal Drug Administration as the authority which dictates policies and guidelines to both civilian and DOD blood donor facilities.
"We're licensed to collect because we do have an FDA license," he said. "So we need to follow their policies ... one of their policies is if you have been in specific places where Mad Cow Disease has been a concern, you're not allowed to donate."
People can donate blood at more than 20 sites worldwide. Those who cannot donate blood, can still contribute by passing on the word, Rentas said.
"The best place for [service members] to get information is our website,," he said. "[It has] anything that they need to know about locations, they can make appointments [and] reasons about why they may not be able to donate."
Rentas expressed his gratitude to donors for "rolling up their sleeves" to give blood and he encouraged them to continue to support the program.
"If you come to a DOD blood donor facility in January, we're going to be holding recognition ceremonies to express our gratitude for what you have done in 2011," he said.

Related Sites:
Armed Forces Blood Program