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WASHINGTON, Dec. 28, 2014 – President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel each issued statements today marking the end of the combat mission in Afghanistan.
After 13 years of combat operations, Operation Enduring Freedom drew to a close today in a ceremony at the International Security and Assistance Force headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan.
“Today’s ceremony in Kabul marks a milestone for our country,” Obama said. “For more than 13 years, ever since nearly 3,000 innocent lives were taken from us on 9/11, our nation has been at war in Afghanistan. Now, thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.”
“At the end of this year,” Hagel said, “as our Afghan partners assume responsibility for the security of their country, the United States officially concludes Operation Enduring Freedom. … In 2015, we begin our follow-on mission — Operation Freedom’s Sentinel — to help secure and build upon the hard-fought gains of the last 13 years.”
Today, though, “we give thanks to our troops and intelligence personnel who have been relentless against the terrorists responsible for 9/11 — devastating the core al-Qaida leadership, delivering justice to Osama bin Laden, disrupting terrorist plots and saving countless American lives,” the president said.
“We are safer, and our nation is more secure, because of their service,” he said. “At the same time, our courageous military and diplomatic personnel in Afghanistan — along with our NATO allies and coalition partners–have helped the Afghan people reclaim their communities, take the lead for their own security, hold historic elections and complete the first democratic transfer of power in their country’s history.”
“I want to express my deep gratitude to all U.S. personnel, both military and civilian, who have served in Afghanistan since 2001, many on multiple deployments,” Hagel said. “I also thank the thousands more who were a part of the mission at home and around the world. In fighting America’s longest war, our people and their families have borne a heavy burden, and some paid the ultimate price.”
“We honor the profound sacrifices that have made this progress possible,” the president said. “We salute every American — military and civilian, including our dedicated diplomats and development workers — who have served in Afghanistan, many on multiple tours, just as their families have sacrificed at home.
“We pledge to give our many wounded warriors, with wounds seen and unseen, the world-class care and treatment they have earned. Most of all, we remember the more than 2,200 American patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, and we pledge to stand with their Gold Star families who need the everlasting love and support of a grateful nation.”
“Afghanistan remains a dangerous place, and the Afghan people and their security forces continue to make tremendous sacrifices in defense of their country,” Obama said. “At the invitation of the Afghan government, and to preserve the gains we have made together, the United States — along with our allies and partners — will maintain a limited military presence in Afghanistan.”
The United States will pursue two missions in Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, Hagel said. “We will work with our allies and partners as part of NATO’s Resolute Support mission to continue training, advising and assisting Afghan security forces. And we will continue our counterterrorism mission against the remnants of Al-Qaeda to ensure that Afghanistan is never again used to stage attacks against our homeland.”
“Our personnel will continue to face risks, but this reflects the enduring commitment of the United States to the Afghan people and to a united, secure and sovereign Afghanistan that is never again used as a source of attacks against our nation,” Obama said.
“These past 13 years have tested our nation and our military,” the president said. “But compared to the nearly 180,000 American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan when I took office, we now have fewer than 15,000 in those countries. Some 90 percent of our troops are home.
“Our military remains the finest in the world, and we will remain vigilant against terrorist attacks and in defense of the freedoms and values we hold dear. And with growing prosperity here at home, we enter a new year with new confidence, indebted to our fellow Americans in uniform who keep us safe and free.”
By Sgt. 1st Class Abram Pinnington
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 24, 2014 – For deployed service members, Christmas can be a time of loneliness and missed opportunity. However, many people and organizations unite to prevent those who are deployed from feeling left out during this time of the year.
Christmas 2014 in Baghdad is a prime example of what can happen when many gather in a common goal, bringing the holidays to everyone.
The 1st Infantry Division, the United States Department of State, the United Service Organizations, the New York Yankees and many other organizations gathered more than 7,000 presents to show their support for service members in Iraq.
Presents for the Troops
“The donations come from people who want to let our military members know they support them,” said Priya Butler, director of operations, USO Southwest Asia. “We’re very fortunate to have a large number of Americans who love to contribute to these events and they do it every year.”
One of the many gifts service members received were bags filled with items gathered, sorted and compiled by the players and families of the New York Yankees.
“The team stuffed care packages for us in Yankee Stadium around Veterans Day,” Butler said. “This year they put together 6,000 packages and shipped them over to us. It is a great tradition we have with the Yankees and we’re very thankful for their support.”
The Major League Baseball powerhouse wasn’t the only well-known organization wanting to give to those supporting Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq.
“Sony donated a lot of PlayStation 4s and the military appreciation bundle packs,” Butler said. “The Xbox came from the NFL, which is a huge supporter of the USO and our troops.”
Other donated items included Beats by Dre headphones, Apple iPads and iPods, Samsung Galaxy tablets, Christmas stockings filled with treats and many more items.
Planning Pays Off
“It took a lot of effort from the 1st Infantry Division,” Butler said. “This was a month’s worth of planning.”
Partnered with the division and other American agencies, the USO hosted the Dec. 21 event where the gifts were distributed. More than 200 service members participated.
“With the help of the American Employees of Baghdad Association and the USO, we were able to put this all together,” said Staff Sgt. Dianne Hoffmann, human resources administrator, 1st Inf. Div., who is deployed as part of the Combined Forces Land Component Command-Iraq.
Hoffmann, along with several other soldiers, teamed up with Butler to help bring Christmas to Baghdad.
“This is a joy,” Hoffman said. “I enjoy it immensely because it’s about giving back to the community we all work with, to pay it forward to the troops who don’t have the support from home.”
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 2014 – While the combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, the U.S. commitment to the nation will continue, President Barack Obama told U.S. troops today during a visit to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.
“In just two weeks, the transition that we’re making in Afghanistan will be complete,” he said. “Afghans will take full responsibility for their security.”
“This month,” he said, “after more than 13 years, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over. This month America’s war will come to a responsible end.”
Still a Dangerous Place
However, Obama cautioned that Afghanistan is still a “very dangerous place.”
“But I want you, and every American who has served in Afghanistan, to be proud of what you’ve accomplished there,” he said, “because your generation — the 9/11 generation — has met every mission that’s been given to you.”
“You helped decimate the core al-Qaida leadership and deliver justice to Osama bin Laden,” Obama said. “He will not be attacking here anymore.”
The president listed a range of U.S. military accomplishments, including pushing back the Taliban, training Afghan forces to take the lead and making possible a historic election this year along with the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history.
“Despite all of their challenges,” Obama said, “Afghans are now looking to the future, and that’s because of you. That makes us safer; it gives them a chance for a better future.”
Obama said when he took office there were nearly 180,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but by month’s end, there will be fewer than 15,000 remaining.
“We’ve now brought home about 90 percent of our troops,” he said. The time of deploying large ground forces with large military footprints to engage in overseas nation-building is coming to an end, Obama added.
And despite the military becoming leaner, Obama said, he will ensure it remains “the best-trained, the best-led, the best-equipped military in the history of the world, because the world will still be calling.”
Commitment to Afghanistan Endures
Obama said even as the combat mission ends, the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan will endure through a limited U.S. military presence there and the training and advising of Afghan forces.
“And we’ve got to conduct counterterrorism missions,” Obama said, “because there’s still remnants of al-Qaida there. After all the sacrifices you’ve made, we want to preserve the gains you’ve made.”
The president said in addition to a “stable and secure” Afghanistan, American leaders want to make sure that country is never again used to launch attacks against the U.S.
More broadly, Obama said there are still challenges to U.S. security around the globe and in times of crisis, people around the world — even America’s critics — look to one nation to lead and that is the United States.
“When the world calls on America,” he said, “we call on you, our men and women in uniform, because nobody can do what you can do.”
Obama said “nobody in history has been able to do what you’ve done.” He noted the U.S. military has led a global coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Iraq and Syria.
“Because of you,” he said, “we have blunted their momentum, and we have put them on the defensive.”
“These terrorists are learning the same thing that the leaders of al-Qaida have learned the hard way. They may think that they can chalk up some quick victories, but our reach is long. We do not give up.”
“You threaten America, you will have no safe haven,” he said. “We will find you, and like petty tyrants and terrorists before you, the world is going to leave you behind and keep moving on without you, because we will get you. That’s thanks to you [service members].”
Life-saving Work in West Africa
Obama also noted the U.S. military has saved lives through its efforts in leading the fight against Ebola in West Africa.
“None of that would be possible without you,” he said. “That’s American leadership. That’s the difference you make.”
“Other countries are now willing to come in, because you laid the foundation,” Obama said.
“Ultimately,” he said, “we will have saved thousands of lives because of you. That’s the difference you’re making. There are people who are alive today because of what you guys are doing.”
Obama, “on behalf of more than 300 million Americans,” thanked all U.S. service members for their “extraordinary service” and “send me” attitude.
“What makes us the best is all of you,” he said. “It’s your character and your willingness to say, ‘send me’; your dedication to duty and your courage, and your readiness to defend our values and our ideals of freedom and liberty, not just for us, but for people all around the world.”
“You are the backbone of the greatest nation on earth and you will always be that,” Obama said.
“For that, America is eternally grateful,” he said, “and I am incredibly proud to serve as your commander-in-chief.”
(Follow Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter:@MarshallDoDNews)
DoD Identifies Army Casualties
The Department of Defense announced today the deaths of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
They died Dec. 12, in Parwan Province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when the enemy attacked their vehicle with an improvised explosive device. These soldiers were assigned to 3rd Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.
By Amaani Lyle
WASHINGTON, Dec. 11, 2014 – The Defense Department released the quarterly suicide report for April through June of 2014, and the numbers, officials said, indicate a drop from first-quarter statistics for all services and components.
The second-quarter report summary showed 70 suicides among active duty service members, 14 suicides among Reserve component service members and 20 suicides among National Guardsmen.
In an off-camera briefing, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren reported comparison first quarter statistics of 74 active duty members, 24 Reservists and 22 National Guardsmen.
Possible Reasons for Decline in Suicides
Jacqueline Garrick, acting director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, said the decline could be attributable to the Defense Department’s vigilant efforts to better understand and identify at-risk service members and veterans, greater collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and increased peer-to-peer, online and telephone counseling resources.
“We’ve brought on qualified responders from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, many who have served in the military themselves and who understand that way of life,” Garrick said, “and we’re evaluating training to develop core competencies for peer, command, clinical and pastoral requirements.”
Still, Garrick noted fear of career damage remains one of the major obstacles between veterans in crisis and the path to treatment and counseling.
“The goal is to eliminate the stigma of getting help,” she said. “So there’s been an increase in first-level, peer-to-peer groups, which have made a difference in enabling people who fear they may be jeopardizing their career to reach out for care.”
Other resources, Garrick said, include a 24-hour, 365-day-a-year crisis line, online chat, and text-messaging service for veterans and service members of all statuses.
“This is free, confidential support for people who are having trouble, but also for people who want to help someone they see struggling,” she said.
Garrick noted that DoD and VA recognize the need to help transitioning service members, as some 250,000 separate or medically retire from the military each year.
“We’re developing a resiliency module for veterans training,” Garrick said. “We want to make sure when you see resources such as Military Crisis Line, Veterans Crisis Line and all that branding is the same, you begin to recognize that’s for you no matter what status you’re in.”
Suicide Factors, Overall Statistics
As the drawdown continues in Afghanistan, Garrick noted that while post-traumatic stress disorder is a common reaction to the rigors of deployments, recent wars are less relevant to current statistics than many realize.
“Just over half of service members who’ve attempted or died as a result of suicide have been deployed and less than 15 percent of that number had been in actual combat,” she said. “Far more common reasons for suicide are financial problems, relationship issues, depression or abuse.”
In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control listed suicide as the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. That year, there were 38,364 suicides — an average of 105 each day.
Garrick asserts that seeking help is a sign of strength, treatment works, and myriad resources remain available to current and former service members and their families.
“The problems that go unresolved only get worse and we know those have greater impacts on your life, your career, on your family,” she said. “So we would encourage anybody to intervene and act early – that’s the notion behind the power of one: everybody has the power to save a life.”
(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDODNews)
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 4, 2014 – The Defense Department’s aggressive efforts to prevent sexual assault in the military are having an impact, but there’s much more work to be done, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Pentagon reporters today.
“We believe that our efforts to prevent sexual assault are beginning to have an impact,” he said. “Compared to 2012, the DoD-wide survey we are releasing today shows that the prevalence of sexual assault in the military over the past year has decreased by about 25 percent,” Hagel said in announcing the findings from the department’s comprehensive report on sexual assault and the actions it is taking to prevent it.
Eradicating Sexual Assault in the Military
“Sexual assault threatens the lives and well-being of both the women and the men who serve our country in uniform,” Hagel said. “It destroys the bonds of trust and confidence which is at the heart of our military.”
“Eradicating sexual assault from our ranks is not only essential to the long-term health and readiness of the force,” Hagel said, “it is also about honoring our highest commitments to protect our fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.”
Aggressive Actions Taken
The defense secretary said stopping sexual assault has been one of his highest priorities, and over the past 18 months the department has taken aggressive action.
“I’ve directed over 28 new initiatives over the last year to strengthen how we prevent and respond to sexual assault in the military,” Hagel said.
This includes, he said, how the military supports the survivors of this “despicable” crime, how it screens, educates and trains its people, and how the military holds accountable not only offenders, but also the department as an institution, and all of its leaders.
“We recommended significant military justice systems reforms that have since been codified into law,” Hagel said, “with the help of Congress, with the help of the White House, and outside groups that have given us much counsel on this and support and help.”
The defense secretary said victims’ rights and privacy have been improved, and they now have a voice in the military justice process through the implementation of a “groundbreaking” special victims’ council program across DoD.
DoD Efforts Having an Impact
Hagel said most service members highly rated their commander’s efforts to promote a healthy climate of dignity and respect and discourage inappropriate behavior.
“Nearly 90 percent reported taking action to prevent an assault when they saw the risk of one occurring,” he said. Hagel said he also believes that survivors are becoming more confident in the military’s response to sexual assault. Compared to 2010, he said, more survivors have participated in the justice system than ever before, and the military has been able to hold more perpetrators accountable.
“We now have over 1,000 full-time certified response coordinators and victim advocates and over 17,000 volunteer personnel ready to assist survivors,” Hagel said.
Rise in Reporting of Sexual Assaults
Following last year’s “unprecedented” 50 percent increase in reporting, Hagel said, the rate has continued to go up which is “actually good news.”
“Two years ago, we estimated about one in 10 sexual assaults were being reported,” he said. “Today, it’s one in four.”
However, Hagel said, these crimes are still heavily underreported, both nationally and in the military, so the military must maintain its focus throughout the ranks and continue to earn the confidence of survivors.
That confidence, he said, will be earned by reducing retaliation against people who report the crime.
Stopping Retaliation for Reporting
“This is a challenge we are very aware of and have been addressing,” Hagel said. “We now have better data to help us to keep working to be more effective in stopping this retaliation.”
With over 60 percent of women who reported sexual assault in 2014 experiencing some perceived kind of retaliation — often in the form of social retaliation by co-workers or peers — Hagel said the department must “tackle this difficult problem head-on.”
“When someone reports a sexual assault,” he said, “they need to be embraced and helped, not ostracized or punished with retribution.”
Four New Directives
Hagel said he issued four new directives to help close the gaps and build on what has already done.
New procedures are being developed, he said, to engage commanders to prevent professional and social retaliation, and the department is undertaking a wide-ranging study of prevention efforts at military installations.
Additionally, Hagel said there will be revamped training for junior officers as well as enlisted and civilian supervisors so that they are better prepared to both prevent and respond to sexual assault within their units and also to reduce the potential for retaliation.
“While these initiatives will take time to have an impact,” he said, “they are critical for lasting change.”
Gathering Statistical Data
Hagel said the report, organized and directed by the DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office and supported by the Defense Manpower Data Center, used feedback and recommendations from service members.
The review, he said, employed both qualitative and quantitative measures, which the department used to “evaluate our progress here.”
“We asked the RAND Corporation to independently administer a department-wide survey,” Hagel said, “which was the largest ever of its kind.”
“It received over 145,000 voluntary responses, which is the highest response rate we’ve ever seen,” he said.
Hagel also noted that “for the first time ever,” the department talked to survivors of sexual assault in the military to learn where they have seen progress and areas that needed improvement.
“Overall,” he said, “the data shows that while there have been indications of real progress, measurable progress over the last two years, with improvement in 10 of the 12 specific measures, including reduced prevalence and increased reporting, we still have a long way to go.”
More Progress to be Made
In addition to fighting “cultural stigmas” which discourage men from reporting, Hagel said he is also concerned with the “increasing” use of social media for sexual harassment.
“If you want to wear the uniform, understanding our core values is not enough,” he said. “On-duty or off-duty, we must live these ideals and enforce our values every day.”
(Follow Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter:@MarshallDoDNews)
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