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Homecoming 2/6 Marines, Fox Company February 19, 2011

Posted by skywalking1 in Uncategorized.
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I’m pleased to reprint the account below by Elaine Swierszcz Gaither, recounting her son’s recent return from Afghanistan (with permission):


To understand the ending of the story, I have to begin at the beginning.  In June, our family made a marathon round-trip to Camp LeJeune, NC to bid farewell to our son Josh, a Lance Corporal with the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, who was deploying to Afghanistan.  We arrived a scant 90 minutes before departure, barely enough time to hug him one last time, tell him how proud we were of him, to reassure him (and ourselves) that he would be back before too long.  I think it was the first time I truly realized how scared he was, how terrified I was.  As hard as it was to say goodbye to him, it was almost harder to see the Marines saying goodbye to their children, their pregnant wives, the babies who would be celebrating their first Christmas without their dad.  One Marine dad sat on the ground and played one last time with his young son. The families stood in the parking lot as the buses pulled out, waving until they were out of sight. And then a new family formed…a family of those left behind. We hugged, we cried, we gave words of encouragement and strength, we exchanged names, email addresses, and phone numbers.  After a bit we were able to tear ourselves away and head home.

As the months crept by we heard infrequently from our Marines, but as soon as one of us did, the word was passed. It didn’t matter that they were in different companies, different parts of Marjah, different jobs. One of our own was heard from, and we celebrated. Facebook became a lifeline for us. Like all families, we mourned each combat loss, celebrated each new member of the 2/6 family added by birth, consoled those whose Marine was injured, shared news about travels and illness.  Life went on here in the States, and the family formed in that parking lot was there for support.

In November we were given tentative arrival dates. Each company was assigned a three to five day window; Fox Company was due January 4 – 7. Excitement began to build, a flurry of information about travel arrangements and hotels was exchanged, welcome home banners ordered, and the countdown began. The days dragged on, the holidays came and went without too much celebration. On January 2, we got our 48 hour confirmed notice; Fox Company was due to arrive onboard Camp LeJeune Tuesday, 4  January at 1930 hours.  It was time to head back to North Carolina.  It was time to welcome our Marine home.   I think that Monday was 100 hours long! The students in my classes kept asking me what was wrong…I couldn’t sit still, I couldn’t concentrate…I now have a better understanding of ADHD!

We left home at five in the morning on the fourth, seven hours later we were at the hotel in Jacksonville. We headed over to the base mid-afternoon; I had seven cases of Girl Scout Cookies and a huge carton of donated candy to deliver for the reception. We grabbed something to eat at the Commissary, found the rest of our family and friends who had made the trip, and headed over to the Field House. It was time to meet all those wonderful people I had met via the internet, and to say hello again to those I had met in June.  Welcome Home signs hung from the bleachers, and the excitement and anticipation was almost palpable.  Little ones played on the gym floor, wives clustered together, parents found each other and chatted, other Marines came in, many of them wounded, and waited with us for word that Fox Company was on the ground at Cherry Point, and enroute back to LeJeune.  Around 6, cell phones began to ring, word began to spread as more and more of the Marines were calling their wives, their dads, moms, girlfriends…they were on the ground and headed back. Except they were still a good 90 minutes away, and they would first have to go to the Armory to turn in their serialized gear and weapons. The Marines would then march from the Armory to the Field House. The excitement continued to build and the wait became more and more unbearable.

Finally, after hours of waiting, we heard they were at the Armory and then the announcement we were waiting for was made. If quite could be loud, it was. A silence fell over the Field House as the moments of waiting drew to a close.  But it was a loud silence…maybe it was all the excited breathing, maybe it was the pounding of all our hearts, maybe it was the sound of joy. The doors swung open and in single file Fox Company began to march in. The roar of the crowd, the applause, all suddenly faded as I glimpsed Joshua coming through the door. I remember saying to someone the next day that it was like giving birth as he emerged into the Field House. I remember bursting into tears. I remember jumping up and down and whispering his name.  As the Marines continued to come through the door, I again became aware of the noise, but I could not take my eyes from Josh. As the last Marine entered and stood in formation, the Company Commander (I think) made some brief remarks (I think it had something to do with the mission) and then, I swear, he dismissed the company. I bolted for Josh only to be stopped, because they had not been dismissed. Instead, all the members of Fox gathered around their leader, and they toasted the Marines who were not going to be coming home. Each of them popped open a beer they had been handed just before coming in to the Field House, and drank in memory of their fallen brothers. If there had been a dry eye in that building up until that point, there wasn’t any longer.

The Marines were then dismissed, and I took off again. I got to Josh first, followed by other members of the family, and then his friends. I could not stop touching him. After Josh checked in to his new quarters, and I realized that none of the “civvies” we brought him would fit (he said they had nothing else to do but work out), we went out to dinner…it was, by now, 11pm.  At the restaurant, following a Marine tradition, the family presented the now Corporal Gaither with his new NCO Ceremonial Sword. Eventually we found our way back to the hotel and ended what had been a very long, very emotional day.

Almost three weeks later, I find myself still moved to tears by different things. We had delayed fully enjoying the secular aspect of Christmas until Josh began leave. I ordered a Welcome Home Cake with the Marine Corps logo on it. When I went to pick it up, I placed the cake in the bottom of the cart and went about shopping. One man passed me by and said “Semper Fi”. I was too stunned to respond. Another man stopped and asked about the cake. I explained and he said “tell your son thank you. Not many are willing to make that sacrifice so I can live in this wonderful country, and enjoy what we have here. And thank you for giving your son to us.” Then, as I was leaving the store, the guy who checks your cart and receipt asked me if my son had just gotten out of the Marines. I again explained that he had just returned from Afghanistan. The man reached over, hugged me and said “tell him a Vietnam Veteran says I’m glad he made it back and thank you.” After thanking him, I left the store in tears. I hide my tears from Josh when he offers up a short recounting of what he’s been through, what he’s seen. He has talked about bullets hitting the ground near his feet, about a buddy hit in the neck, a child who was shot. He talks about how they killed an animal purchased from a local farmer so the Marines could have something fresh to eat, how they couldn’t drink the water, how the children begged for food. He mentions the school that the Marines built and opened and how the girls wouldn’t go in to it, he talks about the irrigation ditches they had to jump over, how their feet were always wet. And he pulls out of his belongings a pile of small stuffed animals that people sent, and that he kept them to remind him of what he’d done, where he’d been, and how great it was that strangers remembered them.

Our journey with the Marine Corps will probably end in June, unless Josh decides to re-enlist. For many reasons I think it would be a good thing for him to stay in, but I know that would, most likely, mean another combat deployment. I don’t know if I want to go through that again, I do know I will miss being part of a unique family. Semper Fi.

By Elaine Swierszcz  Gaither


I’m so glad that Josh and his colleagues are “watching our six”! Thank you for sharing this story, Elaine.


ASE: Defending Planet Earth at the United Nations February 15, 2011

Posted by skywalking1 in Space.
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Comet Tempel 1, as seen by NASA's Stardust/NEXT probe on 2-15-11 (NASA JPL)

Today I represented the Association of Space Explorers in presenting a status report on international efforts to deal with the Near-Earth Object impact hazard. Here are my remarks from Vienna, Austria, and the Science & Technical Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

Statement by the Association of Space Explorers

Forty-eighth Session of the United Nations COPUOS Science and Technical Subcommittee

Vienna, Austria

15 February 2011

Mr. Chairman, I thank you and the distinguished delegates and guests for this opportunity to bring you an Association of Space Explorers report on recent progress in confronting the global hazard due to Near-Earth Objects, or NEOs. The ASE is the global professional society of more than 375 space fliers, astronauts and cosmonauts, representing 35 nations.

Today I will review the proposed decision-making process submitted to the COPUOS in early 2009, summarize the results of the most recent workshop examining how one of the proposed international “functional groups” — the Mission Planning and Operations Group — dealing with hazardous NEOs might operate, and cite future opportunities for international cooperation in creating a global capability to prevent a future damaging asteroid or comet impact on Earth.

We congratulate the U.S.A’s NASA for its successful encounter with comet Tempel 1 early this morning. NASA furnished this comparison of Tempel 1 images taken by the Deep Impact spacecraft in 2005 and the Stardust-NEXT spacecraft this morning. These images and the spacecraft performance demonstrate our growing capability to explore small bodies and NEOs, and show how we might operate spacecraft around a hazardous NEO as part of a future deflection campaign.

2010 saw exciting successes in expanding our knowledge of NEOs, and we commend the respective space agencies on their progress. NASA’s Spaceguard survey found earlier this month an example of the many small asteroids which approach our Earth. Asteroid 2011 CQ11 was found by the Catalina Sky Survey just 14 hours before passing within 5500 km of Earth on Feb. 4. Although CQ11 was just a meter wide and would have been merely a spectacular fireball in our skies, it represents about a million small asteroids larger than some 30 m, capable of penetrating our atmosphere and causing damage on the ground. We have discovered only a fraction of one percent of those objects with a damage potential comparable to the 1908 Tunguska impact.

The prospect of such damaging impacts led ASE in 2007 to propose an international decision-making process for future threatening NEOs. Our Panel on Asteroid Threat Mitigation met in 2007-2008 to draft such a process, described in our ASE report, “Asteroid Threats: A Call for Global Response” (2008, see website: http://space-explorers.org/committees/NEO/neo.htm). The decision-making process is meant to be in place in advance of the discovery of a future threatening NEO. In considering a global response to the asteroid hazard, we described a set of three functional groups, to be endorsed by the United Nations, as shown in the following diagram.


(Credit ASE)

The ASE report details the work of these functional entities:

The Information, Analysis, and Warning network searches for and catalogs NEOs, then analyzes their orbits for potential threats to Earth. The network would issue a warning of those NEOs that pose a serious collision hazard with Earth, enabling a timely international response. Elements of the IAWN are already in place through the NASA Spaceguard program, its JPL, the Italian/Spanish NEODyS program, the Minor Planet Center, and through the cooperation of existing and planned ground-  and satellite-based observation systems.

The Mission Planning and Operations group would conduct detailed studies, in advance, of possible impact scenarios and planetary defense missions. Planning would include cost estimates and identification of research and technology objectives for the NEO programs of the various space agencies.

Finally, a proposed Mission Authorization and Oversight group, comprised by member states and approved by the United Nations at the Security Council level, would approve international planetary defense campaigns in response to a specific asteroid threat. This group would also work with the MPOG and IAWN to oversee the multi-year effort to successfully deflect a hazardous NEO.

The ASE report was formally submitted to COPUOS in 2009, and has formed a basis for the discussions of its NEO Working Group and its Action Team 14. Meetings of the Working Group and Action Team have as an objective the drafting of an eventual agreement on NEO decision-making for consideration and adoption by the General Assembly, assuring that the world community has in place an effective process for predicting and diverting a future asteroid collision. To further this goal, the ASE has helped co-sponsor and plan several workshops among member states’ respective space agency representatives.

Our capable partners, shown here, convened a workshop to discuss the functions of the IAWN a year ago, in Mexico City, and another to discuss the responsibilities and functions of the MPOG in Darmstadt, Germany, last October.

The Executive Summary of the Mission Planning and Operations group workshop (available at the ASE website, http://space-explorers.org/committees/neo/mpog.pdf) summarized the role of this functional group.

The workshop participants reached five major findings concerning establishment and operation of an MPOG:

1.      An MPOG-like group should be established by the world’s space agencies

2.      The MPOG should identify to space agencies the technical issues to be explored for planetary defense. This information would create synergies among international programs and activities, e.g. in planetary defense, science, and exploration

3.      The MPOG should propose NEO research objectives to guide space agencies, addressing critical questions needed for effective NEO deflection strategies

4.      The participants recognized the value of finding hazardous NEOs as early as possible:

a.       to make timely identification of possible threats

b.      to obtain precision tracking of NEO orbits to enable decision-making on possible deflection

c.       to avert the costs of future deflection missions by ruling out collisions with Earth by threatening objects

Participants noted that early identification will be possible only with more advanced ground- and space-based systems. An example of this kind of search system is the proposed space-based IR telescope, possibly in a Venus-like orbit, to enable rapid surveys of the NEO population. Such a system could identify 90% of objects 140 m and larger in a period of 7-8 years.

Addressing the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space session in Vienna on Feb. 15, 2011 (courtesy Secure World Foundation)

The MPOG workshop was an important first step toward defining the role of a Mission Planning and Operations Group, just one of those necessary to deal comprehensively with NEO threats. This body should encourage the member states, and their space agencies, working through AT14 to approve the establishment of the IAWN and MPOG. With COPUOS endorsement, both bodies should get on with the active business of identifying asteroid hazards and planning for future deflection missions, supported by the space-faring countries and interested nations.

Formation of a Mission Authorization and Oversight group should be addressed by multi-lateral discussions among the member states’ space agencies and representatives, with a view toward establishing authority for NEO decision-making and deflection efforts. These discussions should include both diplomatic and space agencies’ technical representatives. Together with the MAOG discussions, member states should voluntarily collaborate in their NEO research programs and space missions to obtain the necessary technical data to inform the decision-making process, and enable development of effective planetary defense technologies and operations techniques. An early meeting to discuss the role of an MAOG should be convened by world space agencies.

The ASE notes the encouraging efforts within space agencies to organize their resources for planetary defense. Two ASE members co-chaired in 2010 the NASA Advisory Council ad hoc Task Force on Planetary Defense. That task force delivered its recommendations in October 2010; they were endorsed by the Advisory Council and sent to NASA’s administrator, Gen. Charles Bolden.

The major recommendations stated that NASA should organize to conduct planetary defense, search for the NEO population that could threaten Earth, characterize a range of NEOs to confirm our ground-based estimates of composition and physical properties, develop the technology to respond to a threatening NEO, and exercise leadership in national and international planetary defense efforts. The full report can be found at the website shown:   http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/490945main_10-10_TFPD.pdf

The Task Force, for example, recommended that NASA fly as soon as possible a space infrared telescope in a Venus-like orbit that can rapidly survey the NEO population. It also recommended that NASA investigate small, inexpensive search systems that detect 50 m-sized asteroids just a week before they approach or impact the Earth. Although these proposed systems cannot find distant NEOs, they have greater sky coverage than existing telescopes and thus can find about 60% of the smaller objects that closely approach or impact Earth, providing a few days or weeks of warning. [see www.fallingstar.com] Such a system would routinely detect objects like 2008 TC3, which struck the atmosphere over Sudan in October 2008.

The Task Force also recommended that future NEO exploration missions and technology development should lead directly to an international deflection demonstration mission, one that would change the orbit of a non-hazardous NEO as part of a mature capability to defend Earth from a collision.

In conclusion, the ASE recognizes the substantial progress made to date in dealing with the NEO hazard. Scientific discoveries have been accompanied by useful progress in outlining an international decision-making process under U.N. auspices. There is wide agreement that the global nature of the NEO hazard calls for an international response in terms of search and warning, mission planning, deflection authorization, and actual execution of a deflection campaign.

ASE respectfully calls on the COPUOS and the international community, especially its member states’ space agencies, to approve the immediate activation of the IAWN and MPOG functional groups, getting on with the important business of NEO warning and deflection mission planning. A future damaging impact is a certainty unless we complete the process of developing, in advance, an effective decision-making strategy and mature deflection technologies. As our 2008 report states:

“We are no longer passive victims of the impact process. We cannot shirk the responsibility to prevent or mitigate impacts wherever possible.”

The Association of Space Explorers, with its global, space-tested membership, will assist future COPUOS action to meet this responsibility. We will work to educate policy makers, to communicate the seriousness of the asteroid hazard to the public, and to encourage an effective international response. The Association is tremendously excited to be involved in seizing this timely opportunity to safeguard Earth and benefit humanity.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for inviting me to address the distinguished delegates and guests today.

Thomas D. Jones, PhD

Chair, ASE Committee on Near-Earth Objects

[These remarks are available at our Association website, www.space-explorers.org]