Friday, January 30, 2009

Oregon Guard continues mission of protecting homeland while serving abroad

At a ceremony yesterday, close to a thousand Oregonians bade farewell to soldiers from Charlie Company, 7/158 Aviation of the Oregon Army National Guard.

Several representatives from city and state government, and Oregon National Guard command, including Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski, and Major General Raymond F. Rees, the Adjutant General, Oregon National Guard, were in attendance.

The soldiers are planning to depart tomorrow with their UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. The unit's pilots and flight crews will train at Fort Sill, Okla., for about two months before departing for a deployment of about one year in Iraq.

The mission also includes two detachment units, which brings the total number to about 120 men and women from the Oregon Army National Guard.

While Oregonians were wishing these brave men and women farewell, a local television station in Portland called the Public Affairs Office. The question they posed to us (and a very valid concern at that), is probably something many Oregonians are pondering, which is the impetus for this post...

"If you guys are sending your helicopters and crews to Iraq, what's going to happen during fire-fighting season, and who is going to help with search and rescues?"

The answer is very much like the signature motto of the National Guard: 'Always ready, Always there.'

Oregon National Guard leadership foresaw the concern created by deploying these resources. So an agreement was struck with the Idaho and Indiana to provide aircraft which our crews could utilize if necessary.

The helicopter from Idaho will be in Oregon through mid-March. Two helicopters from Indiana will then be available for the duration of the deployment. In addition, there are four Oregon National Guard CH-47 helicopters stationed in Pendleton.

The Oregon National Guard will still be able to serve the people of Oregon while serving the people of the United States and helping abroad. The way in which we provide that service has changed, but Oregonians can rest assured we’ve got their backs.

Posted by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
New & Emerging Media Manager, Oregon National Guard

Maj. Mike Braibish, Oregon National Guard Public Affairs Officer, contributed to this post.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Oregon looks at military suicide numbers on local, national level

The U.S. Army recently released numbers that show a sharp spike in suicides among their ranks.

Army officials recently quoted by major news outlets today say at least 125 soldiers took their lives last year, and are investigating the deaths of an additional 17 soldiers, which may have been possible suicides. These numbers are up from 115 in 2007, and 102 in 2006.

This is the highest number since the Army began keeping records—and also the highest jump from one year to the next. Not all the services are immune, however. Suicides for 2008 were on the rise across all the services, but the Army showed the most dramatic rise, according to the report.

The Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs recently launched a six-week campaign to raise awareness of veteran suicides.

“There’s a huge number of Guard losses,” said ODVA Public Information Manager, Tom Mann. “We know they’re high.”

The public service announcements began airing Dec. 17, 2008 on two radio stations in Portland. They have also been broadcast in Comcast cable markets from Portland to Eugene and Coos Bay to Astoria. Radio stations in Astoria, Bend, Hood River, The Dalles and Klamath Falls are also airing them. According to Mann, their PSA (below) was released about a month before the national VA video PSA featuring actor Gary Sinise.

According to ODVA spokesperson, Mike Allegre, four of the 10 largest newspapers in the state—The Oregonian, Salem Statesman Journal, The Bend Bulletin, Eugene Register-Guard and the Albany Democrat Herald—are giving, or have already given, editorial space devoted to articles and opinion pieces about suicide awareness.

A study done by the National Institute of Mental Health found more than 90-percent of suicides throughout the general population stem from mood disorder or psychiatric illness. Furthermore, suicide is the third leading cause of death among 10 to 24 year olds. Experts attribute higher numbers among veterans, caused by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

Unfortunately, many of these veterans don’t have enough time to deal with these issues upon returning home, said ODVA’s Mann. Many of them are expected to immediately return to work, he added.

“We know that just doesn’t work,” he said.

“The guys come home from [their deployment] and find themselves back in civilian clothes within a week,” said one Oregon soldier who requested anonymity. “That’s not enough time to figure out if you need help or not.”

Military members who are away for a year only want to get back to their families, he added. They don’t want to get bogged down at the demobilization station because they admitted to having psychiatric issues.

Furthermore, the military as an institution stigmatizes mental illness, with those who admit to having problems being labeled as weak, or inadequate.

“That stigma is changing,” the soldier said. “Up till recently, it was, ‘suck it up’, or ‘if you can’t handle this, then go join the Girl Scouts.’”

But because so many people have deployed, soldiers are starting to ‘get it’, he added.

“I think it’s a strength of character issue,” the soldier said. When someone asks for help and his buddies give him grief, I guarantee you they all have issues too, but are afraid to say anything,” he said.

Indeed, the winds of change are blowing from top levels of the Army.

According to the commanding general for the Army’s Division West and Fort Carson in Colorado, Maj. Gen. Mark Graham, the Army can overcome the stigma attached to soldiers who ask for help.

“Who is that person who has wounds that you can’t see? Should they be ashamed?” Graham asks.

“I can think of few subjects more important than this one,” Graham continues. He added that more people need to talk about the challenges and stigma associated with mental health and thoughts of suicide.

“Leaders, be compassionate. Soldiers, it’s okay to get help,” Graham said during a speech at the 2009 DoD/VA Annual Suicide Prevention Conference held in San Antonio, Texas, Jan. 12. “Untreated depression, PTSD or TBI deserve attention. Encourage those who are affected to seek help without embarrassment,” he added.

To help ease returning military members back into their lives and society, the ODVA recently introduced a bill known as House Joint Memorial-4 into the state legislature. It provides for a “soft landing” for returning veterans, to allow for thoughtful reintegration back into society, Mann said.

HJM-4 will request funding to cover a minimum of 90 days for returning soldiers to “decompress” he said. During this time, soldiers will receive information and referrals to their educational and employment benefits, and medical assessments. The bill will also allow for servicemember’s families to be with them throughout the extended reintegration process—something not provided in the existing demobilization plan.

One interesting question which may require further in-depth study to answer is this: Is there a correlation between suicide rates in states which have active duty military installations, versus those which don’t?

Indeed, states which have active duty bases already have a support network in place to assist soldiers who need help. States like Oregon, which only has National Guard armories and air bases, may lack an established network of military professionals available for advice or counseling by military members and their families who need such services.

Like many other efforts in Oregon, helping servicemembers has turned into a grassroots effort.
Several Oregon mental health experts have volunteered their services and time to assist Oregon’s servicemembers who need help. Known as the Returning Veterans Project, the nonprofit comprised of politically unaffiliated and independent health care practitioners offer free and confidential services to veterans and their families.

The program is currently based in Portland, Ore., but they do have providers in Ashland, Salem and Vancouver, Wash. The goal is to expand to every community in Oregon, says Carol Levine, a licensed clinical social worker who provides mental health counseling in her own practice in downtown Portland.

“People don’t want to deal with the war, think about the war or veterans,” Levine explained in an interview with the ODVA. “It’s our war whether we like it or not, it’s our veterans. This is our responsibility as a society to [help them].”

Mental health practitioners like Levine are working with the VA Medical Center in Portland. The unique aspect of the program is to work with the families. Unfortunately, federal VA laws are very limited in terms of providing mental health care to veterans’ family members, but Levine and her colleagues welcome family members who want to seek help they may need from the project’s mental health providers.

The breadth of services offered goes well beyond psychiatric help, according to officials. Veterans and their families can take advantage of alternative medicine including naturopathy and acupuncture. The team also provides alternative as well as mainstream treatments for PTSD.

“There are lots of providers who want to participate,” Levine said. But she added that finding the one person to take the lead in a community is difficult.

For those who are close to the affected person, Graham’s advice is simple.

“Don’t be afraid to intervene to save a life,” he said. “Just being with someone can make a difference.”

To find out more about the Returning Veterans Project, visit their website at:

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

To download or share the Department of Veterans Administration suicide awareness video featuring actor Gary Sinise from YouTube, visit the Oregon National Guard's YouTube page at:

The Army has distributed a pamphlet called “ACE program for Soldiers”. The acronym is created by the main sections of, “Ask your buddy”, “Care for your buddy”, and “Escort your buddy”. It contains several important suicide warning signs:

• Talk of suicide or killing someone else
• Giving away property or disregard for what happens to one's property
• Withdrawal from friends and activities
• Problems with girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse
• Acting bizarre or unusual (based on your knowledge of the person)
• In trouble for misconduct
• Soldiers experiencing financial problems
• Soldiers who have lost their job at home (such as Reservists or Guardsmen)
• Soldiers leaving the service

To obtain copies of the “ACE program for Soldiers”, visit the virtual armory online, or go here.

Posted by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
Oregon Military Department Emerging Media Manager

Information for this article were taken from articles posted to,,, The Portland Tribune, and, as well as interviews with personnel at the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Army officials name 2009 "Year of the NCO"

During a recent presentation at the Pentagon, the Sgt. Maj. of the Army, Kenneth O. Preston, discussed the contributions of the NCO to the Army mission and why the service has named 2009 the year of the NCO.

The noncommissioned officer is the glue that has held the Army together over the last eight years, said the Army’s senior enlisted advisor.

Indeed, since 1775, the Army has set apart its NCOs from other enlisted Soldiers by distinctive insignia of grade.

With more than 200 years of service, the U.S. Army’s Noncommissioned Officer Corps has distinguished itself as the world’s most accomplished group of military professionals.

Historical and daily accounts of “life as an NCO” are exemplified by acts of courage, and a dedication and a willingness to do “whatever it takes” to complete the mission.

NCOs have been celebrated for decorated service in military events ranging from Valley Forge to Gettysburg, to charges on Omaha Beach and battles along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, to current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
There approximately 6,400 men and women in the Oregon Army National Guard are members of a ready, relevant force, which is; "Always Ready, Always There.'

To view the leadership of the United States Army, go here. To read the entire story upon which this post was based, go to the story on the website.
To see the official website for the Oregon Army National Guard, visit

Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
Oregon National Guard Emerging Media Manager

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Oregon Guardsmen take part in historic Presidential inauguration: A pictorial essay

Last week, the Oregon National Guard sent a team of six Guardsmen--two Airmen and four Soldiers--to assist with the 56th Presidential inauguration.

In addition to assisting Guardsmen from across the country with security and medical and logistical support, the team from Oregon shot hundreds of photos and hours of videotape. Here is a brief preview of their work.

All photos posted here taken by Sgt. Eric A. Rutherford, Oregon Military Department Public Affairs.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. John Hughel autographs a flag stick for a passerby at the Capitol Mall in Washington D.C., Jan. 20. Hughel, a public affairs specialist with the 142nd Fighter Wing in Portland, Ore., was part of a six-member team from the Oregon National Guard, which traveled to the Nation’s Capitol to support the 56th Presidential Inauguration.

U.S. Army Sgt. Brandon Marshall leans to talk to a young spectator who was injured in a large crowd at a barricade in the Capitol Mall in Washington D.C., Jan. 20. Marshall, an infantryman with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 175th Infantry Regiment of the Maryland National Guard, helped the spectator over the barricade and took him to seek medical attention during the 56th Presidential Inauguration.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Mike Odle gives Nathan a piggyback ride to a Red Cross tent at the Capitol Mall in Washington D.C., Jan. 20. The 11 year-old boy from Ohio approached Odle, who is the Public Affairs Officer for 173rd Fighter Wing in Klamath Falls, Ore., after he became separated from his class, which was attending the 56th Presidential Inauguration.

More than a million people crowd the Capitol Mall in Washington D.C. as they wait for the arrival of President-elect Barack Obama before his swearing in ceremony during the 56th Presidential Inauguration, Jan. 20.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Oregon Guardsmen join Soldiers, Airmen from across the country to help with inaugural festivities, ceremony

Above photo: Oregon Army National Guard Master Sgt. Thomas Hovie, (center, right) of Salem, Ore., videotapes Guardsmen practicing for the inaugural parade set for President-Elect Barack Obama's presidential inauguration. Hovie is one of six Oregon Guardsmen to travel to the nation's capital to assist with the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Eric Rutherford, Oregon Military Department Public Affairs Office
Four Soldiers and two Airmen from the Oregon National Guard traveled to Washington, D.C. to assist with President-Elect Barack Obama's inauguration activities on Jan. 20.

The six public affairs specialists are already documenting this historic event on video and still pictures, as well as telling the story of how National Guard members from across the country are providing security and logistical support for what may be the largest inauguration ceremony in the history of our country.

More than 9,000 men and women from National Guard units across the country are providing support during the 56th Presidential Inauguration--the largest contribution to an inauguration in the Guard's history.

"The National Guard will help to ensure a safe and secure environment for all attendees," said Manny Pacheco, spokesperson for the National Guard Bureau.

National Guard members from several different states and the District of Columbia are working for Joint Task Force-District of Columbia. Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen are providing communications, transport, traffic control and medical and logistical support - as well as playing music and marching in the inaugural parade.

"[The] National Guard personnel will help quite a bit," Cathy Lanier, the District of Columbia's police chief, said last week. "[They] help us... keep law enforcement focused on law enforcement."

The Guard's support to civilian authorities works well because relationships are already well-established through previous events and shared training exercises.

"They know that we will be there and that we will perform professionally, no matter what the situation," Brig. Gen. Barbaranette Bolden, commander, Joint Task Force-District of Columbia said.

The National Guard Bureau participates in Armed Forces Inaugural Committee efforts while coordinating the support provided by theNational Guard with federal and state civil authorities. A joint operations center is being staffed around the clock through the inauguration.

The National Guard has a long history of supporting presidential inaugurations. Local militia units marched with George Washington as he proceeded to his first inauguration on April 30, 1789, according to Guard historians.

"The National Guard is proud to continue this tradition of supporting and defending both the President of the United States, our constitutional form of government, and our American way of life," Pacheco said.

Guardmembers are proud of their role helping ensure a safe and secureenvironment for the event, Bolden added.

"Every Soldier and Airman that comes here will be sharing this historic event with their families for many years to come," she said.

The troops from the Oregon National Guard include:

- Capt. Mike Odle from the 173rd Fighter Wing in Klamath Falls, a resident of Montana.

- Master Sgt. Tom Hovie from the Joint Force Headquarters in Salem, a resident of Salem.

- Sgt. Patrick Lair from the 115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment inSalem, a resident of Sweet Home.

- Sgt. Eric Rutherford from JFHQ in Salem, a resident of Turner.

- Staff Sgt. John Hughel of the 142nd Fighter Wing in Portland, resident of Portland.
- Spc. Matthew Mikolas, a broadcast journalist with the 115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, a resident of Portland, Ore.
This post was adapted from a story composed by Maj. Michael Braibish, Oregon Military Department Public Affairs Officer.

Friday, January 16, 2009

US Airways pilot, ferry employees lauded as heros: could you do what they did?

Yesterday, when US Airways pilot, Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger III, backed flight #1529 away from the terminal at New York's Laguardia Airport, he had no idea the day would end with people calling him a hero.

The flight, which was bound for Charlotte, NC, was believed to have suffered a "double bird strike" moments after takeoff. Sullenberger deftly guided the stricken airliner over the George Washington Bridge, and set the plane down in the Hudson River.

New York ferries and other commercial boats in the river at the time became impromptu first-responders. Law enforcement officers and rescuers were also quickly on the scene, rescuing all 155 passengers on board. Witnesses said Sullenberger walked the aisle of the quickly sinking plane twice to make sure everyone was evacuated safely.

The pilot's calm, cool demeanor in the moments leading up to the crash-landing, in addition to how federal investigators are describing the water landing as an "astronomical feat" for any pilot, indeed nominates him for hero status.

Perhaps his background has something to do with it. Sullenberger is a retired fighter pilot, who flew F-4 Phantoms for the United States Air Force. He is also part-owner of an independent safety company, and a certified glider pilot/instructor.

"Sully" is described by his friends and family as friendly and calm. No doubt this played into his cool-headed approach to a dire situation yesterday. But his technical skills, training and knowledge came in handy when he most needed it.

Moreover, the New York ferry employees who assisted the passengers of the jet undergo water rescue training every two weeks. Their quick, yet calm reaction helped save many of the lives that day on the frigid Hudson River. Many of those same employees credited their regular water safety training as a reason they were able to save so many, so quickly.

As much as they may try to discount the title, Sullenberger and the others are indeed heroes. But their training and skill sets are what gave them the knowledge and confidence to rise to the occasion, despite the circumstances.

There's a lesson to be learned here for everyone, regardless of being in the military or not. The next time one of your supervisors puts you in for what seems like innocuous training, or a "boring class" you think you don't need, don't pooh-pooh the opportunity.

Indeed, you never know when a future challenge may test your knowledge, skills and fortitude, and ask you to step into the shoes of a hero.

Posted by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
Oregon Military Department New Media Manager

Thursday, January 15, 2009

National Guardsmen combat skills challenged by civilian gamers in national Xbox competition

All Oregon Guardsmen are invited to pit their finely-tuned combat skills against civilian gamers in a national Xbox competition of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare tournaments.

The action escalates online following the local Play N Trade rounds, as winners from each local event advance to the regional, and finally the national online competitions.

Local in-store rounds at Play N Trade locations begins Jan. 17. Regional online competition begins Jan. 24, and national online competition begins Jan. 25. The tournament is open to all.

Winners will battle it out for cash prizes, gaming gear and bragging rights.

Grand prize includes a $3,000 Play N Trade store credit, an HDTV, and a limited edition National Guard Xbox 360 Digital Camo Edition.

2nd Prize: An Xbox 360, plus a gaming chair. 3rd Prize: $200 Play N Trade store credit.

For more information, or to register for the competition, visit

To find a Play-N-Trade store location near you, go to:

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Freindships developed in Iraq turns into life's mission for Oregon Guardsman

For Soldier Jason Faler, the Iraq War isn't over.

The Oregon Army National Guard captain, who served a year in Iraq in 2005, has turned his friendships with Iraqi interpreters into a life's mission.

The American military has relied heavily on Iraqi workers to help with everything from interpreting to construction since entering the country in 2003. Because of their alliance with the U.S. troops, these workers have been the target of insurgents. Over 300 Iraqis have been killed, with many of them fleeing to neighboring countries.

While working as a liaison with the Iraqi Ministry of Defense during his deployment, Faler befreinded several interpreters. Aware of the persecution facing the Iraqis, he set about finding a way to help find them safe haven in America. His efforts resulted in the Checkpoint One Foundation.

The non-profit is chartered with bringing Iraqi and Afghanistani interpreters who have served with U.S. Armed Forces to safety in the United States. The 501(c)(3) was created with the help of Salem attorney, Scott McGraw, who was approached by Faler in 2007.

"A great deal of thought and effort went into the foundation," McGraw said during a May 2008 interview with the Oregon National Guard Public Affairs Office.

The effort has garnered the support of fellow Soldiers, Oregon Guard leaders, and officials in Washington, D.C.

"We have bipartisan support from both the U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer and U.S. Senator Gordon Smith," Faler said in a May 2008 interview with the Oregon Sentinel.

The benefit has been several-fold for all parties involved. The handful of interpreters who have relocated to the United States as a result of Checkpoint One's efforts were able to assist Oregon Guardsmen who are training for their own deployments to the Middle East.
In April 2008, several Iraqi interpreters assisted members of the Oregon Army National Guard's 41st Brigade Combat Team's Bravo Company during a training exercise held at the Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue training facility in Tualatin, Ore. There, the Iraqis served as interpreters for the realistic traning scenarios organized by Brigade leadership.

"Using local nationals is not brand new to the Army," Faler said. "But these guys are not actors. They're the real deal."

Aside from real-world training afforded Oregon's Soldiers, the relationships have bridged the cultural gaps between Iraqis and Oregonians.

"Understanding culture is extremely important for these Soldiers," Said one Soldier who helped organize the 2008 training exercise.
For Faler and the Checkpoint One Foundation, helping Iraqis and Afghanistanis goes beyond saving his friends.
"I'm repaying a debt," Faler said. "These interpreters risk everything for us. I'll do anything to help them."

If you are interested in more information from Checkpoint One, or to become involved in the effort to help Iraqi or Afghanistani citizens, please visit, or contact the foundation at 503-871-3238.

To read the Jan. 10, 2009 article by Anna King of American Public Media's Weekend America website, go here.

Posted by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
Oregon Military Department New Media Manager

Monday, January 12, 2009

Federal report concludes Gulf War Illness real issue for one-in-four U.S. veterans, study says

A federal report released in November 2008 confirmed the existence of health issues as a result of participation in the Gulf War.

Two chemicals caused illnesses which came to be known as the "Gulf War Syndrome" or "Gulf War Illness", says scientists who participated in the study. They include the drug pyridostigmine bromide (PB pills), which protect against nerve agents, and pesticides that were widely used during the 1991 Middle East conflict in Iraq.

The 452-page report compiled by a panel of scientific experts and veterans serving on the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses confirmed that "scientific evidence leaves no question that Gulf War illness is real, and is affecting 697,000 U.S. veterans who served during the Gulf War.

According to 38 United States Code 1117, Persian Gulf War veterans may experience signs or symptoms of undiagnosed illness or chronic multi-symptom illnesses that include; fatigue, headaches, muscle or joint pain, neurological issues, upper or lower respiratory issues, sleep disturbances, unexplained stomach ailments, abnormal weight loss, menstrual disorders or unexplained rashes or skin issues.

"This is a bitter-sweet victory," said Committee member Anthony Hardie. "Because this is what Gulf War veterans have been saying all along, and years were squandered by the federal government trying to disprove that anything could be wrong with (them)."

The Committee's report, entitled "Gulf War Illness and Health of Gulf War Veterans" was officially presented to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Dr. James Peake. The report goes on to say that the illnesses effecting veterans come as a result of multiple "biological alterations" which affect the brain and nervous system.

The report does not rule out other contributing factors, but notes there are no clear links between Gulf War Syndrome and oil well fires, depleted uranium or the anthrax vaccine. The nerve agent pill PB and the pesticides are no longer used by the U.S. military.

To see the entire report, go here.

To see more information from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs on Gulf War Illnesses, go here.

To read more on Gulf War Illnesses, the effects thereof, and possible benefits available to veterans, go here.

To read the full story from, go here.

Story by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
Oregon Military Department New Media Manager

Editorial note: Information for this blog post was taken from the story "Gulf War Illness is real, federal report concludes" by Tom Mann, which appeared in the January/February 2009 issue of Vets News, and from the article by Alan Silverlieb.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

U.S. Air Force to monitor bloggers, blog topics

With the rise in popularity of blogs, and their acceptance by mainstream media as a viable source of information, it's no surprise that the United States Air Force is taking them seriously.

According to a recent article by The Inquisitr, the U.S. Air Force Public Affairs Agency, headquartered in Washington, D.C., is empowering every Airman as a communicator, says Emerging Technology Team head, Capt. Dave Faggard.

The U.S. military appears to be open to communication through Web 2.0 technologies, including blogs and messaging services like Twitter. This is a world which has been old-hat for the tech-savvy, and the military's core target audience of 18-29 year-olds.

For the complete story, or for a closer look at the Air Force's blog communications flowchart, go to:

For an even more in-depth look at this new initiative, see the complete article by Noah Shachtman at

Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
New Media Manager, Oregon National Guard Public Affairs