Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Marines on Tinian 2012

NMI Fund renews insurance plan with Aetna

Northern Marianas governor says floating POB's is not feasible

CNMI Governor: Pension obligation fund not feasible
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor
Variety News Staff

TINIAN — Floating a pension obligation bond at this time is not the solution to pension agency’s underfunding crisis, according to Gov. Benigno R. Fitial

“It’s expensive and will require public debt,” he told Variety on Saturday.

“Public debt at this time is not feasible. We should not be looking at POB. We should be looking at new investments,” he said.

For the governor, the only way to obtain economic recovery is to allow new investments to come to the CNMI.

He mentioned to Variety the efforts of the E-Land Group to expand hotel facilities in the islands, including the plan to acquire Aqua Resort Club hotel in San Roque.

Such new investments, the governor said, will bring the needed revenues to shore up the government’s dwindling resources and to help sustain the Fund.

“That is why we need to bring in new revenue. We cannot rely on old revenues. We know that the old revenues are not enough to sustain the life span of the Fund,” he said.

Asked if he believes that the Fund assets will be depleted by next year as predicted by experts, the governor said, “The assets Retirement Fund will never be depleted because if they implement P.L. 17-82 allowing those current government employees to withdraw their portion of the contributions to the Retirement Fund, that will extend the life span of the Fund.”

He said that based on his figures, “if they start allowing the current government workers to withdraw their contributions, their portion not incuding the employer contributions, that will extend the life span of the Fund.”

“I don’t understand why they are saying things that are not accurate,” he said referring to the projections made by the experts on the Fund’s depletion date set for March 1, 2014 next year.

During the Jan. 15 hearing for the trustee ad litem’s report and the motion to dismiss plaintiff Betty Johnson’s second amended complaint, the government counsel Assistant Attorney General Reena Patel insisted that the depletion date as reported by the Fund actuary Dylan Porter are “speculations.”

Porter predicted using the Governmental Accounting Standards Board 67-68 that the Fund would either be depleted by March 1, 2014 or Nov. 1, 2016 depending on whether or not refunds to the active employees would be allowed.

As of Jan. 2013, the Fund’s assets totaled about $200 million. If the Fund disburses $113 million sequestered by the court for the active employees, the Fund would be left with only $87 million.

For fiscal year 2013, the Fund is expected to pay $73 million in pension payouts.

Fund investment consultant Maggie Ralbovsky also reported in court that basically floating pension obligation bond is not a bad thing; however, she indicated that it would be difficult to sell CNMI bonds given the low rating — junk bond — and given the CNMI’s “creditworthiness.”

She suggested that rather than incur a $300 million debt and pay $36 million in interest, why not the government pay in this amount to the Fund and leave the investment corpus untouched to give it time to recover and lengthen the investment horizon.

The $36 million in interest payments a year if it were to issue bonds is three times the amount the government contributes to the pension agency a year.

The governor is pinning his hopes on the new investments coming to the CNMI that will save the Fund.

He said that he recently met with Korean investors interested in raising lambs in the CNMI.

“They are interested to bring in 1,500 lambs. They have a market but they need a sizeable piece of land to grow that type of livestock,” he told Variety.

“If this people are serious about economic recovery, they have to work together with me as I promised I am going to work together with them.”

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

USAF submits proposal to NMI ports authority

Pilots relax from the surge operations of USMC's Operation Geiger Fury in May 2012. PHOTO BY Alexie Villegas Zotomayor / M.Variety

USAF submits proposal to NMI ports authority
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor
Variety News Staff
THE U.S. Air Force has turned in its proposal to the Commonwealth Ports Authority with regard to its planned exercise on Tinian next month.

CPA Tinian Resident Director Joseph M. Mendiola told Variety yesterday, “Yes they confirmed. They submitted their scope of work which is being reviewed now by CPA executive director and FAA.”

He also said that the scope of work will also go through the CPA board for approval.
Variety earlier reported that the U.S. Air Force had indicated interest in holding an exercise on Tinian but on a smaller scale compared to the recently concluded U.S. Marine Marine Aircraft Group-12, Marine Wing Support Squadron – 171 expeditionary exercise Forager Fury 2012.

Mendiola said that based on the submitted scope, the U.S. Air Force exercise Cope North slated for Feb. 5-7 “is mostly loading and unloading of cargoes.”

“There will be an average of 10 flights a day,” said Mendiola for the three-day exercise.
Asked how many U.S. Air Force personnel will be on the ground, Mendiola said, “It comprises of 8-12 individuals who will be stationed at the staging area.”

He said the activities will be mostly airlift and offloading involving C-130 aircraft.

He also said that the Air Force personnel will be conducting the exercise in the same area where Forager Fury 2012 was held last month.

“They will be stationed at the hot refueling area at the west end of Taxiway A,” said Mendiola.

He also confirmed that based on the scope of work submitted, there will be no refueling of aircraft on Tinian.

Last month, the Marines issued about 87,000 gallons of fuel to about 27 aircraft.

Meanwhile, in release, the U.S. Air Force has confirmed the staging of Cope North 2013 exercise at Andersen Air Force Base that will involve the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, Japan Self-Defense Force and the Royal Australian Air Force.

Variety learned that the exercise is set for Feb. 14-15.

“Cope North is the latest in a long-standing, multilateral exercise designed to enhance each countries' air operations. Additionally, the exercise includes humanitarian assistance and disaster relief training objectives for the USAF, JASDF and RAAF,” said the release.

Close to 2,000 military personnel will be participating in the said exercise.

“The U.S. will have approximately 1,000 participants, the JASDF approximately 450 participants, and the RAAF approximately 300 participants,” the USAF release stated.

It added that the first week will consist of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief training, along with air combat training and air-to-ground weapons training. During the second part of the exercise, the focus will shift to dissimilar air combat tactics, strike mission training, and large force employment training.

The release also mentioned that the JASDF squadrons will conduct surface attack training on the Farallon de Medinilla Range. “Since the first Cope North exercise in 1978 at Misawa Air Base, Japan, thousands of American and Japanese airmen have honed skills that are vital to maintaining a high level of readiness.”

According to the U.S. Air Force, this will be the second time that the Royal Australian Air Force will be joining the multilateral exercise that “will further strengthen regional partner interoperability.”

They also confirmed that the Republic of Korea Air Force will be sending representatives for the first time to observe the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief portion of the training.

Now on its 84th year, Exercise Cope North is held annually.

Monday, January 7, 2013

From the archives: Forager Fury 2012 photos

Tinian, Guam to see more Ospreys

Tinian, Guam to see more Ospreys
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor
Variety News Staff

THE deployment of the MV-22 Osprey will be integral to the next iteration of the Marines expeditionary exercise on Tinian and Guam.

In an interview Thursday [Dec. 13] with Variety, Marine Wing Support Squadron – 171 Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Howard C. Eyth III said, “We are looking to train with the Osprey each time that we would come back for an exercise on Tinian and Guam.”

Eyth succeeded Lt. Col. Michael Taylor as MWSS-171 commanding officer. Taylor was on Tinian in May for Operation Geiger Fury.

Tinian received its historic visit of an MV-22 Osprey last Monday.

Online sources claim that an MV-22 Osprey has the speed and range of a turboprop, the maneuverability of a helicopter and the ability to carry 24 Marine combat troops twice as fast and five times farther than previous helicopters.

The said aircraft, which takes off like a helicopter and flies like a plane, was first tested in Japan last September.

Eyth told Variety, “On Tinian, we’ve had very few issues with accommodating the Osprey here at this airfield.”

He said that from refueling it to any minor maintenance repairs that may have been required, they quickly “were able to bring the mechanics and the parts to fix a minor issue earlier today and to get it back on its way.”

He clarified that the aircraft had to go through routine checks.

He said “there was absolutely no problem with the Osprey itself. The minor repairs required in one the planes were pretty routine in nature.”

At the airfield last Thursday, Variety witnessed the refueling and the takeoff of two MV-22 Osprey aircraft.

“We just saw MV-22 Ospreys get fuel at our FARP [Forward Arming and Refueling Point] and then taxi out to the runway and do a helicopter mode takeoff and conversion to airplane mode for follow-on,” said Eyth.

Surge operations were still ongoing on Thursday.

Variety asked Eyth how long would the surge operations continue, he said, “We are looking at a couple more days.”

He said they anticipate to remain at the airfield about a week’s timeframe and continue to operate.

He said they would still continue to receive KC-130J Hercules, FA-18D Hornets and CH-60 helicopters.

He said the KC-130J — a cargo aircraft — is the “main workhorse of the Marine Corps.”

Asked how many Ospreys have they had on Tinian so far, Eyth said, “We’ve had quite a number. All together, I’ll have to say by the day anywhere from six to 10 per day that showed up at various types.”

To the question whether MV-22 Osprey is replacing their CH-46 helicopters, Eyth replied, “I think we’re well on our way to that. We are phasing out our CH-46s. We are phasing in our MV-22 Ospreys.”

He said the squadrons that are operating on Tinian as part of the Operation Forager Fury “are fully operational.”

Eyth said that MV-22 Ospreys “offer a lot to the Marines that are participating in this exercise in terms of operational capability.”
Ospreys are designed for expeditionary assault support, raid operations, cargo lift and special warfare.

The arrival of the Ospreys last Monday highlighted the surge operations for Forager Fury.

Master Sgt. Roy L. Clayton Jr., the noncommissioned officer in charge of Marine forces on Tinian with Marine Wing Support Squadron 171, Marine Aircraft Group 12, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force, said "Surge are Marine Aircraft Group 12 showing in force how, in a simulated hostile environment, they can do continuous flight operations. The pilots are trying to get the most number of flights and we are training to provide the best aviation ground support."

Forager Fury Public Affairs Officer 2nd Lt. Clayton Groover said, “Everything we are doing out here is training us for a potential real world scenario, should one arise. Everyone is training during the surge: from the pilots conducting air operations to the logistics Marines figuring out how to get everyone fed, the surge is a great opportunity for the Marines and sailors to do their jobs under a simulated, continuous operational tempo."
[This story was published in on Dec. 18)


No spill on Tinian: Marines

refuel2 by aleksea
refuel2, a photo by aleksea on Flickr.

Marines: No fuel spill
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor
Variety News Staff
EMPLOYING the newest technologies on Tinian during their Forager Fury exercise last month, the Marine Aircraft Group-12 Marines managed to conduct refueling with no spill.

In an earlier interview with Variety, Marine Wing Support Squadron-171 Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Howard Eyth III said, “We haven’t encountered a spill, not even the small ones, since we have been here.”

He said, “We have some of the newest technologies in terms of expeditionary berms to contain and isolate any potential spill no matter how remote that possibility truly is.”

He assured that they are fully prepared to respond to quickly counter any such possibility.

For Eyth, the Marines constantly try “to be good neighbors and responsible stewards of the land that we have been granted temporary use of for the conduct of the exercise.”

He added, “We pay particular close attention to the fuel that we bring and any hazardous material that is needed for the support of our operations.”

During the successful conduct of their Forager Fury exercise last month, the Marines refueled about 27 aircraft, according to bulk fuel specialist Staff Sergeant Colter Plumhoff.

He said, “We issued about 87,000 gallons of fuel and refueled two aircraft at a time.”

Asked how long it takes to refuel an FA-18D Hornet, Plumhoff said it takes about 20 minutes to refuel it.

As for MH-60 helicopters, it takes about 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, Embarkations Chief SSgt. Daniel Heavner had recorded 47 aircraft arrivals and departures.

Meanwhile, looking back to the successful completion of their Forager Fury exercise, Forager Fury 2012 public affairs officer
2nd Lt. Clayton Groover said, “Forager Fury was one of the most enjoyable exercises that I've been on. This was the first exercises that I've done with MWSS-171 and MAG-12 and I was blown away by how hard they train and how efficient they are at their jobs. Conducting training somewhere other than your home station can present a challenge simply because it's a new place and you're away from the comfort of your own office or shop. The Marines with MAG-12 made the transition seamless and with a high amount of professionalism."

He added, “MAG-12 and MWSS-171 seem to set or break records every time they come here. Geiger Fury it was a KC-130J landing on North Field for the first time and 10 arrested landings within an hour. This exercise it was the Boeing 747 and MV-22B Osprey landing on West Field and 13 arrestments within an hour. These Marines have a lot to be proud of."

Groover also extended his appreciation to the Tinian leadership and to the people of Tinian. “The people of Tinian were what made this exercise so enjoyable for me. Everyone was so nice and helpful. I'd like to thank everyone on Tinian that made this exercise possible. They were such a good host."

The Marines are planning to hold another expeditionary exercise on Tinian this year.
In an earlier interview with MAG-12 executive officer Lt. Col. Thomas Frederick, he confirmed that they are in the planning stages of the next exercise which they may conduct on Tinian sometime in May.

An FA-18D Hornet takes off

F18Dflight by aleksea
F18Dflight, a photo by aleksea on Flickr.

A USMC MAG-12 MWSS-171 FA-18D Hornet takes off from Tinian West Field runway during Operation Forager Fury 2012. Photo by Alexie Villegas Zotomayor / M.Variety

A Marine refuels an FA-18D aircraft

refuel2 by aleksea
refuel2, a photo by aleksea on Flickr.

Refueling on Tinian

Refueling on Tinian a video by aleksea on Flickr.

An FA-18D aircraft gets refueled on Tinian during Forager Fury exercise last month.