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Last week I published an article about how proud I was to be the father of a U.S. Marine. And out of the hundreds of comments the article generated, 95% of them were positive.
However, there were a few who asked “Aren’t you afraid of making a target of yourself?”

My answer to that question is a resounding HELL NO!!!!

First of all, why in the hell do you think I end almost every article by asking people to send me a FRIEND request?


There is force in numbers, and perhaps if more of us thought that way,these towel-headed jackasses may think twice.

And for those of you who said I shouldn’t make a target of myself, do me a favor.

Take your candy-ass off of my Friends list!

If you love this country and all that she stands for, send me a Friend request.

If, on the other hand, you are afraid to speak your mind, get the hell away from me.

The following article has some great info, things that make a lot of sense.

TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. – The emergence of the Internet and social media as the new information highways has made finding facts easier and faster than ever.

Google “operational security” and you’ll find pages of official and unofficial references, tips for bloggers and people’s opinions on what exactly counts as a violation.

What you won’t find is an official, in-black-and-white, Department of Defense list of absolute do’s and don’ts. It’s simply a guidance, and it implies using common sense.

So how do we identify OPSEC violations? If it all boils down to common sense, who can make that final decision? And who can decide what information is releasable to the public? With all the risks, why do we need to release any information to the public?

Why release any information at all to the public?

That’s a simple answer. The accepted public affairs philosophy is “maximum disclosure, minimum delay.”

“It is Department of Defense policy to make available timely and accurate information so that the public, the Congress and the news media may assess and understand the facts about national security and defense strategy,” as stated in the Principles of Information, which is an enclosure within DOD Directive 5122.5.

This directive outlines the responsibilities of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.

Those who share information about the military or military personnel and their families have to balance the public’s right to know with protecting mission accomplishment, personal safety and an individual’s right to privacy.

What is an OPSEC violation?

Operational security is compromised when the enemy knows more than we want it to. To keep this from happening, everyone is responsible for making sure critical information is not leaked.
Critical information is “information an adversary seeks in order to gain a military, political, diplomatic, economic or technological advantage,” according to DOD Manual 5205.02-M, which outlines the DOD Operational Security Program.

What is critical information?

There is no one answer. Critical information varies by organization and unit, depending on their roles within the DOD. It is up to the commanders who plan and execute a unit’s mission to determine what information is critical.

The best way to decide what may be critical is to think like the enemy. What are some of the questions an adversary might ask? What sort of information would impact the organization’s success or contribute to the likelihood of an enemy meeting their goal?
What kind of information should I never release?

Although what is critical changes mission-by-mission, here are a few examples of things that are always better left unsaid.

Operations: Exact flight information of movements in and out of country or planned attacks. Details on troop size and capabilities. Details on “best practices” and “lessons learned” for a specific type of mission. Why? Losing that element of surprise can lead to significant casualties.

Equipment: Details on new weapons systems still in developmental phases. Details on new force protection equipment being sent to help protect troops, like new armor.

Why? The enemy can change tactics or modify their own weaponry to render our new equipment useless.

Personal information: Social security numbers, home addresses, email addresses, birthdays, phone numbers, driver’s license numbers. Posting this about others violates the Privacy Act of 1974. Why? This type of information can be used to commit identity theft.

Never release documentation labeled “Classified,” “Controlled Unclassified Information,” “Sensitive But Unclassified,” “For Official Use Only,” “Law Enforcement Sensitive,” “Sensitive Homeland Security Information,” “Security Sensitive Information” or “Critical Infrastructure Information.” Other things not approved for public release are inter-office memos, troop rosters, e-mails, meeting notes, message traffic, white papers, public affairs guidance, pre-decisional materials, investigatory information and proprietary information.

Who has the final say on what is publicly releasable information?

Information released needs to be first cleared to determine it is “consistent with established national, Department of Defense and Department of Navy policies and programs,” according to Marine Corps Order 5230.18, the Clearance of DOD Information for Public Release.

Release authority for each base or unit belongs to the organization’s public affairs officer.

When in doubt about a certain piece of information, contact your base’s public affairs office, unit operations officer, security manager, intelligence officer or foreign disclosure officer for some expert advice.

Sgt. Heather Golden

(One of the better pieces of advice I’ve ever heard on this subject came from an instructor when Sue and I attended a L.I.N.K.S, seminar at MCB Quantico:


Here is the picture that started it all:

Azilum 025

15th MEU Welcomes New Commanding Officer

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Lieutenant Col. John O’Neal assumed command of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Col. Scott D. Campbell during a change of command ceremony aboard the Camp Del Mar parade deck, June 27.

In attendance of the ceremony was Lieutenant Gen. John A. Toolan, commanding general, I Marine Expeditionary Force.

During the ceremony, Toolan spoke on the importance of Marine Expeditionary Units.

“For many years the Marine Expeditionary Unit has been sort of the crown jewel of the Marine Corps,” Toolan said. “They’re the ones out there representing the forward pointy edge of the spear.”

Campbell, who had been with the MEU since March of 2011, addressed his Marines and imparted on them words of gratitude and wisdom.

“I get a lot of credit for the work I do,” said Campbell. “But none of it could be accomplished without you Marines and sailors putting in the hours to make it happen.”

Campbell also credited the officers and the staff non-commissioned officers on a safe return home from their Western Pacific 12-2 deployment.

“Anytime you deploy with 2,400 Marines and bring 2,400 Marines home, take 31 aircraft and bring 31 aircraft back, that is a win,” Campbell said.

With his final parting words Campbell turned to his replacement and gave his gratitude for his past service.

“He’s a tremendous [executive officer], a warrior of the highest caliber and he’s one of my best friends,” Campbell said.

Campbell is leaving the MEU for his new assignment at the Council on Foreign Relations as the Commandant of the Marine Corps Fellow.

O’Neal, who served as the unit’s executive officer since June of 2011, has extensive knowledge on how the 15th MEU operates, and expressed what an absolute honor it is to continue to uphold the prestigious honor of this unit.

“Standing out here is more than I ever thought I would ever achieve when I came to the MEU,” O’Neal said. “This is a great opportunity to take the helm of the 15th MEU. When the call comes we’ll be ready.”
O’Neal took a moment to thank his long time mentor for all the guidance he’s given over the years.

“I am supremely confident in my abilities to deal with the task at hand by and large because of your leadership and mentorship,” O’Neal said.

O’Neal started his Marine Corps Career in 1990 following his graduation from Eastern Michigan University and his commissioning through the Platoon Leaders Course program.

After completing The Basic School, he attended flight school and was designated a Naval Aviator. As a CH-46 pilot, O’Neal’s flying tours include service with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 165, HMM-262, HMM-265 and HMM-162.

During his squadron tours, he held various billets to include ground safety officer, administrative officer, logistics officer, assistant operations officer and aircraft maintenance officer.
The 15th MEU recently returned from conducting operations around the globe during their eight month Western Pacific 12-2 deployment.

Cpl. Emmanuel Ramos
Combat Correspondent

New Dining Facility Dedicated At The Basic School

(Sue and I were aboard MCB Quantico when General Amos was there.
We were attending a L.I.N.K.S seminar a short distance away.

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. – Patriotic music wafted from the Quantico Marine Corps Band. The Basic School was bustling with activity as its newest servant sat, ready to begin its post on June 27, 2013.

As various officers recognized the accomplishments of the late 1st Lt. Baldomero Lopez, a new dining facility, named in his honor, was dedicated at TBS aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico.

Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, greets family members of late 1st Lt. Baldomero Lopez, during a dedication of Lopez Hall at The Basic School aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico on June 27, 2013. The new dining facility was dedicated in honor of Lopez who was killed at Inchon, South Korea on September 15, 1950. Read more: http://www.dvidshub.net/news/109577/new-dining-facility-dedicated-basic-school#.UdMqwZyrE1s#ixzz2Xv4JQCMD

“This is holy ground,” said Amos. “Lieutenants will walk by plaques, read the inscriptions and hope to be like Lt. Lopez.”

In September 1950, after scaling a South Korean seawall at Inchon, Lopez was hit by gunfire while attempting to throw a grenade. He dropped the grenade and fell to the ground. Due to his injuries, Lopez couldn’t grasp the grenade to throw it again. Instead, Lopez chose to absorb the blast himself, protecting his men.

“What caused him to lead those Marines,” asked Amos. “It began in his character and growing up at his house, but I would suspect he got those things that caused him to be such a great leader right here at The Basic School.”

The school that trains Marine officers to lead in combat situations welcomed its modern addition, filled with artifacts honoring Lopez’s memory and replacing a building that has served meals since 1958.

“We transfer the traditions found at O’Bannon Hall to this hall,” said Col. Todd Desgrosseilliers, commanding officer of The Basic School. “Lopez Hall is adorned with items of personal and historical significance to Lt. Lopez.”

Naming buildings after Marines is not a light task, according to Amos, but dedicating buildings to Marines like the Medal of Honor recipient, Baldomero Lopez, is an honor.

“Why do we hang on to the stories [of past Marines] and keep them fresh in our minds,” wrote Ray Walker, former Marine who served with Lopez, in a letter. “Keeping stories alive will set the standard for new officers.”

Pfc. Samuel Ellis

Budget Cuts Mean 8,000 Fewer Marines, Commandant Says

WASHINGTON, June 26, 2013 – If sequestration’s annual spending cuts continue past this year, the Marine Corps will lose 8,000 in troop strength, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos said today.

“I don’t want this to happen,” the nation’s senior Marine told the Defense Writers Group here. Ongoing sequester cuts will lead to readiness risks, he said, but Corps leaders are working to ensure America will have “the best Marine Corps it can afford.”

Amos said he’s already done the unpleasant work of planning for sequester-related spending cuts beyond fiscal year 2013. Before this fiscal year’s sequester cuts took effect March 1, he said, a “very, very small group” of Marine Corps leaders took a look at what would happen to the force if that provision of the 2011 Budget Control Act did become law.

Amos said the Marines’ active-duty force is now at about 194,000, and originally was planned to decrease to 184,000 by the end of fiscal 2017. Sequester dropped that to 182,000, he said, and future across-the-board sequestration spending cuts of $500 billion over 10 years ultimately would lead to an active-duty end strength of 176,000 Marines. The current 27 Marine Corps active-duty infantry battalions are set now to reduce to 23, but would drop further with more troop cuts, Amos said.

“I know exactly how many battalion that’ll be, but I’m not going to reveal it this morning, because the secretary of defense hasn’t made his decisions on any of this yet. … There will be battalions in there, and there will be squadrons, there will be logistics battalions, and there’ll be some headquarters,” Amos said.

As budget pressures continue, the general said, cost will drive whether Marine Corps plans for new amphibious and ground tactical vehicles go forward. The commandant said he’s looking for practicality in an amphibious combat vehicle designed to get Marines from ship to shore.

“What I really need is a Ford F-150,” he added. “I don’t need a Cadillac Escalade.” Of the joint light tactical vehicle, he added similarly that developers must get the cost down, “or I’m not going to buy it.”

Amos noted Pentagon leaders have spent recent weeks studying the strategic choices and management review Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered earlier this year. Amos said while no decisions have been made yet, the review tees up a range of strategic choices the department will have to make based on a $500 billion “bill” levied over the next decade.

The Marine Corps will spend its dollars to preserve its quick-reaction capability and support national strategic priorities such as the Asia-Pacific region, Amos said, but priorities come with a price. If Marine Corps strength drops to 176,000, he said, the force will lose its rotational combat capability.

“If we go to war, some major war somewhere, we’re going to go and we’re going to come home when it’s over. … There’s no elasticity to rotate forces if we go below 182,000,” he said.

Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

Marine Nominated To Represent MCAS Iwakuni For Air Traffic Controller Of The Year

Among the air traffic controllers stationed here, only one is chosen to represent Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni for the Marine Corps’ Air Traffic Controller of the Year.

Staff Sgt. Richard Saenz, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron air traffic controller, was selected by his chain of command to represent MCAS Iwakuni for Air Traffic Controller of the Year, Jan. 16, 2013.

Staff Sgt. Richard Saenz, a Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron air traffic controller, and Bill Banakos, air traffic controller, monitor ongoing operations on the air field as well as waiting for an incoming flight at the air traffic control tower here, Jan. 16, 2013. Saenz supervises other traffic controllers to ensure operations run smoothly. Saenz has been stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni since Jan. 9, 2011.

“They talked about it and today they told me that I was selected,” said Saenz. “This was one of those things where I didn’t think that I would get picked.”

Saenz is currently a tower supervisor, where he ensures organization of everything on the airfield and within the station’s airspace. He has been an air traffic controller for seven years.

“We have numerous publications that we abide by,” said Saenz. “Everything from the Federal Aviation Administration down to facility manuals requires us to do things a certain way to make sure everything is safe and orderly.”

In 2007, Saenz was a corporal stationed at MCAS Miramar, Calif. He won Air Traffic Controller of the Quarter twice and named Miramar’s Air Traffic Controller of the Year. Since Saenz was stationed here Jan. 9, 2011, this was his first selection to represent Iwakuni.

“The facility in itself is a great place to train,” said Saenz. “We work with Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force aircraft, so we get to implement that with our planning process when it comes to air traffic control.”

Saenz also said MCAS Iwakuni is the only Marine Corps installation which conducts sea-lane operations, and the other Marines who stepped up to that challenge have done a great job.

“Out of all the Marines that are here, and there are so many good controllers, I can’t accept anything without (recognizing) all the Marines at MCAS Iwakuni,” said Saenz. “They are the ones that helped me to become who I am and put me in a place where I can train them to be great controllers.”

Lance Cpl. James Smith

Marine Corps News: Flexed-Arm Hang Out, Pull-Ups In

The Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos announced Nov. 27 that all female Marines will perform pull-ups as a part of their physical fitness tests beginning Jan. 1, 2014.

A transition period will begin Jan. 1, 2013 to allow female Marines an adjustment period for the new requirement.

The flexed-arm hang will remain in place for initial testing for female Marine recruits and officer candidates until January 2014 when they will have to perform pull-ups to graduate.

The battalion commander and sergeant major of Headquarters and Service Battalion, Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Marine Corps Installations Pacific, held an initial pull-up assessment for all female Marines with the battalion.

The goal was to educate female Marines and their leaders on the 2013 training plan targeting pull-up development, according to Col Katherine J. Estes, the battalion’s commanding officer.

“I have had to adapt to many changes in the Marine Corps,” said Estes. “As Marines we have to continuously work every day to earn our eagle, globe and anchor, and this is another opportunity for us to do that.”

The commandant also directed the commanding general of Training and Education Command to create a website with workout routines specifically for female Marines to adjust to the changes.

“I think this is a great implementation that will make things fairer between male and female Marines across the board,” said LCpl Katelyn M. Hunter, a combat photographer with combat camera, G-3/5, operations and training, MCB Camp Butler, MCIPAC. “Females have to stray away from the ‘I can’t’ mindset when it comes to pull-ups. With consistency and the ability to push yourself, the new implementation should be a good challenge that females can conquer.”

To pass this portion of the PFT, female Marines will need to complete a minimum of three dead-hang pull-ups or maximum of eight for a perfect score. Currently males must also do a minimum of three pull-ups, but are required to complete 20 repetitions for a perfect score.

“Females need to realize we all have to start somewhere, and we have more than enough time to prepare for this,” said Cpl Ada P. Canizaleztejada, an administrative specialist with the battalion.

“About a year ago, I was only doing two pull-ups. I began weightlifting and targeting specific muscles beneficial for doing pull-ups, and now I can do nine.”

The point system for the new changes will be three pull-ups for 40 points, four pull-ups for 65, five pull-ups for 75, six pull-ups for 85, seven pull-ups for 95 and eight pull-ups for 100.

“As Marines, we rise to any occasion,” said 1stLt Ericka A. Hansen, the installation law attorney, MCIPAC. “I have complete confidence that the female Marines will do exactly that.”

PFC Kasey Peacock

Faculty Advisors Make Impact Throughout Marine Corps

In eight weeks, sergeants are molded, taught and influenced by faculty advisors from the Staff Non-commissioned Officer Academy at Marine Corps Base Quantico during one of six yearly Sergeants Courses.

Sergeants attending the course have graded assignments, attend roughly 30 classes and participate in physical fitness. The platoon of sergeants is divided into squads, each with it’s own faculty advisors to help lead small group discussions and to allow the Marines to open up and discuss their concerns.

“Our goal is for the sergeants to gain as much knowledge as possible,” said Gunnery Sgt. Alex Brown, faculty advisor, Sergeants Course, Staff Non-Commissioned Officer Academy. Knowledge is what makes a person better and makes a better Marine, he said.

Gunnery Sgt. Weinburg Allen, staff non-commissioned officer in charge, Sergeants Course, Staff Non-Commissioned Officer Academy, leads his platoon of sergeants during physical training at Sergeants Course

The course focuses on a broader learning method than Marines are given during Boot Camp, Marine Combat Training and Military Occupational School.

“They are adults, so they get treated and taught that way,” said Gunnery Sgt. Weinburg Allen, staff non-commissioned officer in charge, Sergeants Course, Staff Non-Commissioned Officer Academy. “The environment is supposed to make them feel relaxed and comfortable so they ask the questions they want answered.”

Each faculty advisor teaches five to six classes each cycle and are able to take their own approach to their designated topic.

“The idea is to have the sergeants learn from their advisors’ experiences, as well as, their peers in their classroom,” said Allen.

“They completely eliminate stress from the situation,” said Sgt. Mitchell Pirtle, motor vehicle operator, Fort Leonard Wood. “Eliminating the stress means more participation and group discussions.”

Sergeants Course also gives the sergeants a chance to interact with leadership other than their own.

“We are providing them with another outlook to things,” said Allen. “This course is designed for sergeants who have only been in their rank for about two years, so we are helping them to develop their Marine Corps knowledge, as well as, how to help their Marines make better life choices.”

Ethics is one of the main topics of the course.

“Your personal ethics might be different than the Marine Corps ethics,” said Brown. “But as a leader you have to learn how to make decisions based on the Marine Corps ethics and teach those under you how to do the same. They come here to make the next generation of Marines better but, in doing that, they are also bettering themselves.”

The faculty advisors also gain from each course.

“I don’t do this for the class gifts at the end of the course,” said Brown. “The biggest reward I receive is later on in a Marine’s career, when they make a point to send me an email or give me a call to tell me about the good things that are happening in their career.

“The fact that I made a big enough impact to have them contact me means more than anything else.”

Armory Ensures Combat Ready Weapons

My rifle, without me, is useless.
Without my rifle, I am useless.

The rifleman’s creed is not at all a stranger to Marines and with yearly qualifications the retention of marksmanship skills is upheld within our Corps; but what happens to rifles when not in use?

Inside Fightertown’s armory are Marines who ensure and hold accountability for most firearms aboard the Air Station including but not limited to M-249s, M-240s, M-16s and M-9s.

“One of the worst sounds a Marine can hear is a click as they try to fire their weapon,” said Sgt. George Woodley, VMFA-312 small-arms repair technician. “It is our responsibility to make sure the weapons we distribute are reliable whether the Marine is going to the [rifle range] or deploying.”

Marine Aircraft Group 31 alone has more than 200 pistols, which is just one type of firearm the armory holds accountability for. Ranging from M-249 to bayonets, the small-arms repair technicians must ensure all gear is present, maintained and accounted for. (Photo by Cpl. Rubin J. Tan)

Preventative Maintenance Checks and Services are performed at the armory to ensure firearms are rust free and mechanical items function properly. Checks can be required to be done daily, weekly or even yearly depending on the part.

Aside from required PMCSs, the documentation of weapons issued to Marines are kept and updated. The small-arms repair technicians also prepare rosters for ranges using the retained records.

“When we are issuing weapons for ranges one of the most important things Marines tend to forget is safety while passing weapons through our window,” said Woodley. “For our safety and the Marines safety it is important the weapon is on safe, the bolt is locked to the rear and butt stocks are inserted first when returning rifles.”

Personal firearms can also be stored at the stations armory, which is not required but is available to all Marines who live in town or on base. However, Marines who live in the barracks are required to store their weapons in the armory.

“Just because we are not Marines of an ‘03’ field does not mean we shouldn’t have weapons or be familiar with the weapons we use in the Marine Corps,” said Staff Sgt. Steve Bancroft, Headquarters and Headquarters Support Squadron armory chief and native of St. Johns, Mich.

By Lance Cpl. John Wilkes
Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort

U.S. Marine Corps Replacing Squad Automatic Weapons

The next evolution in firepower has arrived.

For 27 years the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon has served as the Corps automatic rifle standard. In December 2010 initial fielding of the M249 SAW’s replacement, the Heckler and Koch M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle, was fielded and is now set for implementation throughout the Corps.

The M27 IAR is less than half the weight of the M249 and allows the automatic rifleman to carry fewer rounds because of its improved accuracy. With a lighter load to carry, enemy combatants will now face a more lethal and mobile Marine with better firepower to boot, allowing the Marine to move faster and engage his enemy in record time.

The Corps plans to purchase more than four thousand M27s – replacing nearly all the existing Squad Automatic Weapons. By the end of 2013, the Marine Corps intends to supply M27s to every infantry and light armored reconnaissance battalion in the Corps.

Marine in Afghanistan Dedicates Flag To Baby Boy

First Lt. Phillip M. Downey has a unique gift from Afghanistan for his soon-to-be-born son at home.

He is sending his upcoming baby boy the Stars and Stripes, which flew 50 feet above the Task Force Leatherneck compound here, April 28.

Downey is currently serving a year deployment to Helmand province with 1st Marine Division (Forward) and said he doesn’t think he’ll be able to make it home in time to see his son born, so he dedicated a flag to him.

“One day I want him to understand that there was a reason why I wasn’t there,” said Downey, a 25-year-old St. Louis native.

Downey is combat engineer officer by trade, but serves as a fragmentation order manager working in the combat operations center at the Task Force Leatherneck compound – the ground combat element command and control cell for Marine operations here.

He deployed to Afghanistan in February, a few weeks after his girlfriend, Megan Black, broke the news that she was pregnant. Although he said it was exciting news, the days leading up to the deployment was “interesting” to say the least. Quickly, the two planned for the best way to care for Black during her pregnancy, as Downey’s deployment date wasn’t budging.

“Those were some pretty crazy times,” Downey said. “A lot of phone calls; a lot of getting stuff ready and situated. I didn’t want her on her own with the baby coming.”

Black moved in with her parents, who didn’t live too far from Downey’s home station at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. Downey said he’s glad it worked out well.

His demanding job involves tracking and coordinating mission orders from the command element of the Marine air ground task force in Afghanistan. From there, orders continue through the operations center, tasking subordinate units with specific orders directly impacting the mission of coalition forces a part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Downey said his hours are very dependent on the daily plans of Regional Command (Southwest), a coalition headquarters element here manned by I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), and Task Force Leatherneck, manned by 1st MarDiv (Fwd). With his odd working hours at the combat operations center, he said he rarely finds time to call home and communicates mostly online.

“We chat and exchange emails almost every night,” Downey said. “She emails me pictures and things of the doctor visits and ultrasounds.”

Downey said one of the biggest problems he faces at home is the time difference. On a typical day, when Downey’s shift ends at 9 p.m., it’s 9:30 a.m., in California. So, as one wake’s up to start her day, the other is just going to bed from an exhausting one.

“She only answers my emails late at night or early in the morning,” he said. “I try not to call during the day because she will wake up in the middle of the night, get herself up and together, and I don’t want to drag her out of bed in the middle of the night like that.”

As thoughtful as he is to Black, and as dedicated he is to the mission in Afghanistan, he saves room for enthusiasm about becoming a father. His son is due in September, the seven-month mark of Downey’s scheduled one-year deployment.

He said the flag he dedicated to his son will serve as a chapter in his family history.

“A lot of Marines dedicate their flags to their parents or family members who were former Marines,” said Staff Sgt. Anthony B. Triplett, the administration chief for the commanding staff of Task Force Leatherneck and manager of the flag program. “To receive a flag that has flown over a Marine base in Afghanistan for a day means a lot to those people.”

Downey’s lineage includes two grandfathers who served with the army in World War II, and two uncles who served with the army in Vietnam. He said he hopes his wartime souvenir to his son will be passed on for generations to come.

He plans to frame the folded flag in shadow box and hang it in his son’s room after he’s born.

Downey said he has a hunch that questions will evolve from his future curious 2- or 3-year-old of what’s hanging up on his wall, to 14 years later when his son is in high school and truly understands what the flag means.

Triplett, a native of Milwaukee, said flying an American flag for a day is a program available to all service members here. He encourages Marines to dedicate flags to loved ones at home who’ll value the flag as much as the Marine serving underneath their colors in Afghanistan.

The mission Downey serves may not compare to being at home during his girlfriend’s pregnancy, but he said an American flag that was flown from sunup to sundown in Afghanistan should be a priceless gift at Black’s upcoming baby shower.

Sgt. Michael S. Cifuentes

2nd Marine Division Welcomes New Sergeant Major

Sergeant Maj. Bryan K. Zickefoose, of Omaha, Neb., replaced Clinton, N.C., native Sgt. Maj. Michael F. Jones as the 2nd Marine Division sergeant major during the 2nd Marine Division Relief and Appointment ceremony April 27.

Jones will now move on to Marine Forces Command, after serving as the division sergeant major since March 28, 2008, while Zickefoose joins the unit from the West Coast after a recent deployment to Helmand province, Afghanistan, with 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

Jones said he is very proud of the division’s Marines and sailors for the way they have conducted themselves throughout the past four years.

“There are about 24,000 Marines and sailors in the 2nd Marine Division. To get out and watch them learn and grow and develop in to fighting men, fighting women, and to execute the mission across the spectrum of (Marine Air-Ground Task Force) operations has probably been the most exciting thing,” said Jones. “(I have) a sense of pride to see the legacy that’s coming behind us as Marines and watching them grow.”

Jones leaves the responsibilities as division sergeant major in good hands with Zickefoose, who comes from 1st Marine Regiment.

“I couldn’t be happier (about Zickefoose coming in). He is a fantastic sergeant major,” said Jones. “He’s going to continue all the great things about the 2nd Marine Division – all the great things that I had a hand in, he is going to carry forward and exceed.”

Major General John A. Toolan Jr., the 2nd Marine Division commanding general and a Brooklyn, N.Y., native, presented Jones the Legion of Merit during the ceremony, awarded to those who have distinguished themselves through exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service.

Zickefoose said he looks to continue the division’s outstanding leadership. He assured the Marines and sailors at the ceremony he would do everything he could to support them and keep them sharp.

“In everything I do, I will support you – guaranteed,” said Zickefoose. “I’m here for you. I want you to remember one thing: iron sharpens iron as one man sharpens another. You keep me sharp, and I’ll definitely keep you sharp.”

Jones encourages the Marines and sailors to continue upholding the legacy and reputation of 2nd Marine Division under their new enlisted leader.

“Just carry our legacy forward,” said Jones. “Understand people are watching; they’re listening, and the individual Marine, the individual sailor is the ‘Follow Me’ division.”

Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde

Marines Expand Communication Range With Combat SkySat

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Marines strained their necks as they looked up toward the sky at what could only be described as a giant balloon flying above Camp Delmar, March 29. Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit trained with a new communications system that expands the capabilities of the Marine Air Ground Task Force.

The system is called Combat SkySat and is used to retransmit information to extend the range of ultra high frequency communications.

The SkySat uses a helium balloon with a hanging antenna to relay UHF signals. Flying at an altitude between 55,000 and 85,000 feet in the Earth’s stratosphere, the balloon increases the range of communication to 600 miles in diameter.

The system is built by Space Data Corporation and is billed as a ‘float and forget’ retransmission system. The balloon has a communications payload attached to it containing a global positioning system, radios and antennas. Two separate radios, one that controls the height and one that allows communication between personnel, are the lifeline of this high-tech equipment.

The main benefit of using the SkySat is that it uses UHF line of sight instead of UHF satellite communications, which the military helicopters cannot receive. This allows Marines on the ground to speak directly with pilots during operations and exercises without having to retransmit through a middle man.

The launch control station allows the operator to ‘drive’ the balloon. Using helium or hydrogen to inflate the balloon and an internal ballast system (about five pounds of sand), the operator can make elevation adjustments as necessary. If the balloon needs to be higher, the operator can unload some of the sand to make the system lighter. If elevation needs to be lower, the operator can release some of the gas through the venting system, which drops the balloon. There are no fans to assist in directional change, that’s up to the wind currents.

“The 15th MEU is adopting the system in response to the 26th MEU’s successful use of it in Libya, Afghanistan and Pakistan,” said Capt. Michael E. Ginn, assistant communications officer, Command Element, 15th MEU.

The battery life for the system is about eight to 10 hours and the system can be launched in winds up to 45 knots, said Ginn. Depending on wind speed, the system can easily cover hundreds of miles before it dies.

“The communications Marines have launched three balloons this week,” said Ginn. “One landed at Twentynine Palms.”

Additionally, the MEU uses a tactical satellite system that requires a middleman on solid ground to deploy an antenna and relay UHF signals via satellite. Because of the unit’s expeditionary nature, the new SkySat system will match the capabilities required to communicate between all elements of the MAGTF and eliminate the need for a middleman, explained Ginn.

With the SkySat, Bullrush will be more capable than ever as it continues training for its upcoming deployment.

Lance Cpl. Timothy Childers, 15th MEU


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