Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner

2:20 p.m. on February 20, 2020, is not a time Nikki James Zellner will soon forget.


Zellner received an emergency notification from the daycare her two sons, Ronan and Owen, attend in Virginia Beach, where the Navy family is stationed. The facility alerted parents to come pick up their children due to a carbon monoxide leak.

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner

“When we arrived, the children and staff had been evacuated and I was starting to hear stories related to what was going on behind the scenes,” she said. “The one that gave me the biggest pause was that a teacher’s husband had to bring in a detector because the teachers and students were getting sick after hours of symptoms, and there was no detector on site, because there was no Virginia law requiring them to be.”

At that moment, the narrative for Zellner went from “this happened to my child” to “I’m not going to let this happen to anyone else’s child.”

She started by communicating directly with the daycare, asking direct questions, and refusing to jump to conclusions.

“While waiting for their feedback, I got busy researching,” Zellner explained. “I learned that carbon monoxide (CO) detectors weren’t required in Virginia schools, regardless of if they had a source for CO on-site (common sources are fuel-fired sources like furnaces, HVAC systems, kitchen appliances), if the school was built prior to 2015. It wasn’t part of the state code – and in Virginia, it wouldn’t be retrofitted to existing unless legislation was passed to make it apply.”

But Zellner’s research also uncovered a scary reality nationwide.

“Only five states require CO detectors in educational facilities like daycares, public schools, private schools and any place where children are taken care of,” she said. “How many kids and educators aren’t being protected because people just assume carbon monoxide detectors are on site?”

Zellner’s first points of contact were Senators, Representatives and Delegates that represent Virginia and her district. Then, she spoke to the Director of State Building Codes at the Department of Housing and Community Development to make sure she had a firm understanding exactly of the law and when it applied.

“I also started a petition making folks aware of the situation,” she shared. “Within three days, we had 1,000 signatures. Within the week, we had a breaking news story and a commitment from one of the Delegates to work with us on possibly introducing legislation in the 2021 session.”

To date, Zellner’s petition has more than 1,200 signatures, and her determination landed her on the front page of the Sunday edition of Virginia’s leading newspaper.
Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner

“There’s this strange feeling that comes over you when you know that you’re the person that’s supposed to do something,” Zellner emphasized. “That you have the means to do something, and you have the unique perspective to tell the story on why something needs to change. I have a background in media relations and content development, I know how to investigate and ask direct questions, I know how to navigate the political landscape after working in a nonprofit and I’m not afraid to put myself in the line of fire and make a ruckus about it. These are our children. These are our educators. It’s too big of a risk. I feel compelled to raise awareness about it – I can’t explain it any other way. All stakeholders are accountable for solving this – hopefully before it upgrades from close call to tragedy.”

What inspires you about the military community?

The most inspiring thing to me about the military community is their ability to problem solve any situation. What’s today’s mission? How can we help each other? What’s our end goal? This isn’t just the service members – these are the wives, the mil-kids, the support givers – it truly is a community of givers. And it’s up to each member of the community to give more than they take – and I think that really sets the military community apart.

What piece of advice would you give to fellow military spouses?

The biggest piece of advice I have for military spouses is to share your stories. Get comfortable talking about the uncomfortable. Humanize your experiences and make those connections. If we as a group want people to understand our lives, we have to share our lives not just inside but outside of the military community.

What is your life motto?

“What’s the point of having a voice if you’re going to stay silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”

If you could pick one song as the theme song of your life, what would it be and why?

‘No Hard Feelings’ by The Avett Brothers. The Avett Brothers have some of the most honest music out there – and this one just really hits home for me. For me, it’s really about forgiving and being forgiven – and just being able to distinguish what’s important and what’s not so you can live a meaningful life. I think it’s my theme song because even after some really impossible hardships, I’m still able to take gifts from those moments instead of just pain.

What’s your superpower?

I have a fierce love for my people. I will turn superhuman when it comes to their needs – regardless of how much time I have or what’s going on in my life. If you’re someone I trust and love, I will spring into action for you in the biggest way possible.

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VP welcomes Honor Flight vets to the White House

Veterans of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars gathered at the White House May 8, honored for their selfless service and the freedoms that endure to this day because of their brave actions.


The veterans at the White House ceremony were part of an Honor Flight from northern Colorado. Honor Flights are conducted at no cost to the veterans and enable them to see the national memorials of the wars in which they fought.

The men and women who have served and fought for freedom are the nation’s most cherished citizens, and are owed a debt of gratitude that will never be fully repaid, Vice President Mike Pence said.

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner
Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Pence and his wife Karen Pence, and the secretary of Veterans Affairs, David J. Shulkin, hosted the approximately 200 guests today at the White House’s Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

“Today it is my great honor, on behalf of the first family, here on National Military Appreciation Month, to welcome so many heroes to this special place,” he said.

The veterans are “patriots of the highest order” who stepped forward and served with courage to “protect our nation and the values that we hold dear,” Pence said.

The vice president said it is especially humbling to welcome the veterans since he had not served in the military himself.

Pence noted the event comes on the 72nd anniversary of Victory in Europe Day.

“It’s an honor and privilege more than I can say to be here with so many who fought in the greatest conflict of the 20th century, and who won freedom in World War II,” he said.

Debt of Honor and Gratitude

The Honor Flight trips to Washington are deeply meaningful, Pence explained.

“All the people that make these honor flights possible know that this is just about paying a debt of honor and a debt of gratitude that our nation will never be able to fully repay to all of you,” Pence said. “But we hope this experience fills your hearts with the absolute assurance that we’ll never forget what you’ve done for us.”

Because of the service and sacrifice of those in the room, freedom endures to this day, the vice president said. They fought on the front lines of freedom.

“You are among the rest of us, but make no mistake about it, you are the best of us,” he said. “On behalf of your commander in chief, I’m here to say thanks and to salute your service.”

Articles

2500 more US troops will deploy to fight ISIS

The U.S. is sending 2,500 additional forces to Kuwait to serve in a reserve capacity in the fight against the Islamic State, Army Times reports.


Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Branden Quintana, left, and Sgt. Cory Ballentine pull security with an M4 carbines on the roof of an Iraqi police station in Habaniyah, Anbar province, Iraq, July 13, 2011. Ballentine is a forward observer and Quintana is a platoon leader, both with Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Kissta Feldner/Released)

The forces will largely be drawn from the 82nd Airborne division and will be used at the discretion of ground commanders in the ISIS fight. The announcement is the latest in a series of escalations by the Trump administration in the war against ISIS which could signal a prolonged U.S. presence in Syria and Iraq.

A spokesman for U.S. Central Command would not comment to The Daily Caller News Foundation on the role these forces may play in Syria. The additional personnel will be “postured there to do all things Mosul, Raqqa, all in between,” Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson told Congress Wednesday.

U.S. conventional forces could be used in stabilization operations in Syria after the initial local force assault on ISIS’s capital of Raqqa, Army Gen. Joseph Votel intimated to Congress Thursday. The Trump administration is also significantly increasing the number of U.S. personnel inside Syria to support the assault.

The Pentagon confirmed Wednesday it deployed nearly 400 additional troops to Syria to serve in a support capacity for the Syrian Democratic Force’s assault. The troops include U.S. marines to provide artillery support who will set up a firing base just 20 miles away from the terrorist group’s headquarters.

The additional personnel to Syria and Kuwait, are likely part of a larger facet of a new Pentagon plan to “eradicate” ISIS. Trump campaigned heavily on a promise to defeat the terrorist group and ordered Secretary of Defense James Mattis to deliver a series of options to the White House to get rid of the group.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford told a think tank audience in late February it would be “a political-military plan.”

“The grievances of the [Syrian] civil war have to be addressed, the safety and humanitarian assistance that needs to be provided to people have to be addressed, and the multiple divergent stakeholders’ views need to be addressed,” Dunford continued.

Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The UK’s massive new aircraft carrier already has a leak

The British navy’s newest and most expensive aircraft carrier needs repairs after a faulty shaft seal was identified during sea trials.


Officials say the HMS Queen Elizabeth, which cost roughly 3 billion pounds ($4 billion) to build, will be “scheduled for repair” at Portsmouth.

Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said Dec. 19 the repairs wouldn’t be paid for by taxpayers because contractors who built the ship would be responsible.

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner
Her Majesty The Queen takes the salute at the commissioning of HMS Queen Elizabeth. The Queen spoke at a ceremony in Portsmouth’s Naval base this morning, attended by Her Royal Highness Princess Anne, Prime Minister Theresa May, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, military chiefs and former Prime Ministers (Ministry of Defense Photo)

A Royal Navy statement says the problem won’t prevent the ship from sailing or interfere with the extensive sea trials program underway.

Queen Elizabeth II earlier this month attended the commissioning ceremony of the carrier, which is named after the monarch.

Articles

7 extreme civilian jobs custom-made for vets

Transitioning to a civilian career doesn’t have to be boring. Here are 7 ways to join the civilian workforce while preserving the adrenaline rush that made the military rewarding (and, dare we say, fun):


1. Wilderness guides

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner
Photo: Wikipedia/Josh Lewis

Wilderness guides help campers, hunters, and adventurers navigate the backcountry safely while teaching them survival techniques. Vets who excelled in survival training and loved patrolling through the woods will excel here. Most guides hold a certificate or degree that can be paid for with the G.I. Bill, but a degree isn’t required. Avg. Salary: $42,000

2. Firefighting

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner
Photo: US Department of Agriculture Lance Cheung

Vets who want to keep working in small teams under challenging conditions might enjoy firefighting. Candidates need to maintain their fitness and can get a toehold by volunteering for a fire company, getting a fire science degree, or preferably both. And you can really ramp up the energy as a smoke jumper. These elite firefighters parachute ahead of  the path of a wildfire, laying down the first line of defense against it spreading. Avg. Salary: $39,000

3. Diver

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pKQZJFhGKh0feature=youtu.bet=19s

Diving demands attention to detail and the ability to work under pressure, especially when something goes wrong. All diving work includes the inherent danger of working underwater, of course, but those who want to up the ante can work in shark tanks, underwater caves, or even nuclear reactors. Avg. Salary: $41,000

4. Law enforcement

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner
Photo: Oregon Department of Transportation – SWAT Team

There are many parallels between the military and law enforcement. Both require teamwork.  Both wear uniforms.  Both demand comfort around weapons. And both require a lot of discipline. Many police departments (like Oakland PD, for instance) have programs to recruit veterans. Also, vets can collect the G.I. Bill at many police academies on top of their academy pay from the police department. Avg. Salary: $41,000

5. Pilot

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner
Photo: Wikipedia/FreebirdBiker

It may not be as exciting as carrier operations, but civilian pilots are needed to fly everything from jetliners to air ambulances to news choppers. Military pilots with lots of flight hours and a good safety record can easily transition to a civilian career. Those without any experience will need to stop off at a civilian flight school first — an expensive and time-consuming proposition, but ultimately worth the effort for those who want to take to the skies.  Avg. Salary: $61,000

6. Helicopter lineman

Vets who loved hanging out of helicopters while on active duty might be interested in working for utility repair companies that need people to work on remote high-voltage power lines. Aerial lineman walk along the wires or ride in a hovering helicopter. Many companies require that applicants have lineman experience before working in the air, so vets entering the field will likely start in a ground position before moving up to helo ops. Avg. Salary: $56,000

7. Videographer or photographer

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner
Photo: flickr/Christian Frei Switzerland

Media agencies need footage and pictures from extreme weather events, war zones, and disaster areas. Media specialists and combat camera vets are ready-on-arrival for these sorts of assignments. And like the military, the job requires a lot of travel and can be dangerous. Avg. Salary: $52,000

MIGHTY TRENDING

This hero horse of the Marine Corps got her own statue

Staff Sgt. Reckless, a Marine Corps horse who resupplied her fellow troops during some of the hottest fighting in the Korean War, was honored with a monument in Camp Pendleton, California.


 

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner
Camp Pendleton hosts a ceremony in honor of Staff Sgt. Reckless at the Pacific Views Event Center here, Oct. 26. Staff Sgt. Reckless was a Korean War era pack horse known for her heroics in the war that saved many Marines’ lives. (Photo and cutline: Marine Corps Pfc. Dylan Overbay)

Reckless retired at Camp Pendleton and was buried at the Stepp Stables there after her death.

During the five-day Battle for Outpost Vegas in 1953, then-Pvt. Reckless spent three days transporting recoilless rifle rounds to embattled Marines under heavy fire. On the worst day of the battle, she ferried 386 rounds that weighed 24 pounds each and traveled a total of 35 miles while suffering two wounds from shrapnel. One of the cuts was a bad wound just above her eye.

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner
Then Pvt. Reckless operating under fire in Korea. (Photo: US Marine Corps)

After her heroics on the front lines of the Korean War, Lt. Gen. Randolph Pate promoted Reckless to sergeant. Reckless was transported to the U.S. where she became a Marine Corps celebrity, gave birth to four children, and was promoted to staff sergeant before retiring to Camp Pendleton.

Over the course of her career, Reckless received two Purple Hearts, a Good Conduct Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation with star, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Service Medal, and the United Nations Service Medal.

Since her death, Reckless has been honored with a memorial at the Camp Pendleton stables, a Dickin Medal for animal bravery, and now a statue at Camp Pendleton.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Bank restores funds stolen from the oldest living veteran

Bank of America restored funds to America’s oldest living veteran’s bank account after a mystery thief stole all of his savings.

Richard Overton’s relatives discovered that someone had accessed the 112-year-old’s account using his social security and personal checking account numbers, The Dallas Morning News reported.

His cousin, Volma Overton Jr., said the family was shocked when the bank said it would credit Overton’s account.


“Man, I teared up,” he said, according to The Dallas Morning News. “I couldn’t believe it. They made it happen. The executive of the company said he’d take care of this, and he took care of it.”

Bank of America, Austin police, and federal authorities are investigating the incident.

One of the World War II veteran’s cousins was making a deposit into his account when he noticed a series of illicit withdrawals.

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner
Richard Overton with Volma Overton Jr.
(Richard Overton’s Go Fund Me)

“I looked at it — what the hell are these debits?” Overton’s cousin, Volma Overton Jr., told CNN affiliate KXAN.

The thief or thieves used the funds to purchase savings bonds from Treasury Direct, leaving nothing in the account.

“It’s a shock, it hurts, it hurts tremendously,” Overton Jr. said when he became aware of the theft.

The family hasn’t identified the culprit, and hopes it isn’t someone close to Overton.

It’s unclear how much money was drained from the account. Relatives described it as a “considerable amount.”

Overton, an Austin, Texas resident, volunteered for service in 1942, serving as a member of the Army‘s 188th Aviation Engineer Battalion — an all-black unit that served on various islands in the Pacific, according to the report.

He was honored by Obama at a Veterans Day ceremony in 2013.

He is also the oldest man in America, according to the Gerontology Research Group.

Overton’s family set up a GoFundMe account to help cover the costly, around-the-clock care he requires. The account saw a spike in donations after the theft was reported.

“It’s been a true blessing in disguise for us,” his cousin said.

“Everything’s back just like it was.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

What it’s like to be strapped into the U-2 Dragon Lady

The Air Force needs new spy pilots, especially for the Cold War-era U-2 Dragon Lady that has flown since 1955, but piloting the U-2 is different from nearly any other aircraft in the world right now. Pilots are strapped into the plane by a dedicated crew and then fly at the edge of space, capturing photographs and signals intelligence.

Here are 13 photos that show what that’s like:


Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Reynato Acncheta, 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, and Senior Airman Willy Campos help Maj. Sean Gallagher don his helmet before a mission in a U-2 Dragon Lady at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, November 23, 2010.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)

First, it really is a team effort to get pilots suited up. Flying at the edge of space exposes pilots to all sorts of hazards, from extreme cold to solar radiation. The extensive gear required would be nearly impossible for the pilot to put entirely on themselves, so enlisted airmen help them get in gear.

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Willy Campos, 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, helps Maj. Sean Gallagher don his flight suit before a mission in a U-2 Dragon Lady at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)

The pilot’s entire body is covered by the suit, and it helps regulate their blood pressure, even at high altitudes. The pilots also have to breathe in pure oxygen for a while before the flight to get the nitrogen out of their blood. Otherwise, they would develop decompression sickness, similar to when divers get the bends.

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner

U.S. Air Force Maj. Sean Gallagher, 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, gets in a vehicle to take him to his aircraft before a mission in a U-2 Dragon Lady.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)

The pilots leave the prep room and ride to the plane in trucks converted for the purpose. The airmen bring the pilot’s gear along, including the hoses and pumps that feed air to the pilot. The pilot will also receive liquid food, water, Gatorade, and caffeine through hoses as missions can be very long.

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner

U.S. Air Force Maj. Sean Gallagher, 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, greets his ground support crew before a mission in a U-2 Dragon Lady.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)

The U-2 is an ungainly beast on the ground, necessitating a ground crew. But once pilot and plane are together, the possibilities are great.

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Willy Campos, 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, ensures that Maj. Sean Gallagher’s flight suit is properly connected before a mission in a U-2 Dragon Lady.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)

The crew straps the pilot into the bird and plugs them into the systems in preparation for taxiing and takeoff.

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Colin Cortez, a U-2 Dragon Lady crewchief assigned to the 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, signals a U-2 aircraft as it taxis to a parking spot after flying a mission while deployed to an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia on November 23, 2010.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Andy Kin)

The jet taxis on permanent gear that sits under the fuselage as well as two sets of wheels that are placed under the plane’s wings.

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A U-2 Dragon Lady flies over the Golden Gate Bridge near San Francisco, California, March 23, 2016.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo)

Once they’re in the air, though, they’re graceful and sleek with large wings supporting a thin fuselage. They can zip through the air at low altitudes, but they specialize at high-level flight, taking photos and collecting signal intelligence from up to 70,000 feet in the air or higher.

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner

A U-2 Dragon Lady flies above the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, California, March 23, 2016.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo)

When flying at high altitudes, the plane’s lightweight construction and powerful engines allow it to continue even when the air gets thin and oxygen is scarce. This was vital in the 1950s when satellites didn’t yet exist. The Air Force thought they could retire the plane in 1969, but the date has been continuously pushed off or canceled. Most recently, the Air Force decided to cancel a 2019 retirement.

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner

Ice forms around the canopy glass of a U-2 Dragon Lady flying over California, March 23, 2016.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo)

This allows the U-2 to fly above the range of many air defenses and even the engagement altitudes of many jets. During the Cold War, some U-2s were caught in Soviet airspace and escaped simply because MiGs and Sukhois of the time couldn’t reach them. This isn’t quite immunity, though. As the war dragged on, the Soviets developed weapons that were quite capable of reaching near space, and China and Russia can both reach U-2s in flight.

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner

U-2 Dragon Lady pilot lands on the runway at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, Nov. 16, 2017.

(U.S. Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott)

When U-2s land, the pilots have a very limited visibility, so the Air Force assigns chase cars to follow the planes and radio guidance to the pilot. Sometimes the pilots can make do with very little guidance, but the chase cars are needed in case anything goes wrong. This is especially true after long missions where the pilots may be exhausted form 12 hours or more in the air.

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner

A U.S. Air Force maintainer from the 380th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron runs to the wing of a U-2 Dragon Lady from the 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron to install a pogo support at an undisclosed location.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)

Once its back on the ground, the U-2 is again limited by its paltry two sets of wheels which are lined up like a bicycle’s. So maintainers are sent out with “pogos,” the small sets of wheels that prop up the wings and keep the plane stable on the ground.

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner

A U-2, flying from the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, approaches the maintenance hangar after the final sortie for one of its mission systems, December 15, 2016.

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Christopher Carwile)

If the plane is landing at a new base or has flown through possible contamination, the pilot may have to take it through a wash down. This is also traditionally done when an airframe or a mission module has flown its final mission.

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner

U.S. Air Force Major Sean Gallagher, 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, explains the U-2 Dragon Lady’s mission after landing at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, November 23, 2010.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)

Pilots then climb down from the high-flying bird, exhausted. But their missions ensure American safety and security by collecting intelligence that might otherwise be impossible to garner. Its sensors have collected data of enemy air defenses, troop deployments, and technology.

Articles

This Air Force special operator will receive a Silver Star for valor in Afghanistan

An Air Force combat controller who risked his life during a battle to retake the northern Afghanistan city of Kunduz in 2015 will receive the Silver Star in a ceremony on Fort Bragg early April.


Tech. Sgt. Brian C. Claughsey, part of the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, will be honored with the medal, the third-highest award for valor offered by the U.S. military, in a ceremony slated for April 7.

According to officials, he provided important support during operations to liberate Kunduz from Taliban control, protecting U.S. and Afghan forces while directing 17 close air support strikes from AC-130U and F-16 aircraft.

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner
The F-16 continues to grow as a close air support airframe. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook/Released)

The Silver Star will be the latest in a lengthy history of valor from the 21st Special Tactics Squadron since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The unit, based at Fort Bragg’s Pope Field, is the most decorated in modern Air Force history, with four of the nine Air Force Crosses awarded since 2001 and 11 Silver Stars earned by the squadron’s airmen.

The medals have come not because the unit seeks them, but because its members often serve their country in the most dangerous of positions, officials said.

“Airmen like Brian honor the Air Force’s incredible legacy of valor,” said Lt. Col. Stewart Parker, commander of the 21st Special Tactics Squadron. “Like those who’ve gone before him, he serves our nation with no expectation of recognition.”

According to the squadron’s higher command, the 24th Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Florida, Claughsey recently completed Special Tactics Officer assessment and has been selected to become an officer. He will soon attend Officer Training School before commissioning as a second lieutenant.

Col. Michael E. Martin, commander of the 24th Special Operations Wing, praised the airman after officials confirmed the coming award on Friday.

“Brian is an exemplary airman and leader — he is a prime example of the professionalism, courage, and tactical know-how of the Special Tactics operator force,” he said. “In a violent, complex operating environment, Brian decisively integrated airpower with ground operations to eliminate the enemy, and save lives.”

An official description of Claughsey’s actions said he was part of a force that deployed to Kunduz on Sept. 28, 2015, after the city had fallen to an estimated 500 Taliban insurgents.

He volunteered to ride in the lead convoy vehicle to assume close air support duties during the movement into Kunduz and immediately took control of a AC-130U when the troops were ambushed upon entering the city.

Claughsey directed precision fires on an enemy strongpoint to protect the convoy. During a second ambush, he coordinated friendly force locations with an overhead AC-130U while directing “danger close” strikes.

When a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device forced the convoy to stop in the middle of a four-way intersection, Claughsey suppressed the machine gun fire of six insurgents with his own rifle while still coordinating with the AC-130U.

He directed the crew on the plane to destroy the enemy fighters and helped shield the convoy from follow-on attacks as it made its way to the compound of the Kunduz provincial chief of police.

There, the American special operators and Afghan forces came under attack by Taliban mortar fire. According to the narrative of the battle, Claughsey maneuvered as close to the mortars’ origin as possible to pinpoint the location to an overhead F-16.

He then controlled numerous strafing runs on the mortar position to eliminate the threat.

After helping to destroy the enemy mortar position, Claughsey moved to suppress enemy fire to allow another airman to direct another F-16 strike on the other side of the compound. He then stood exposed to enemy fire to hold a laser marker in position on an enemy building, directing two “danger close” strikes on the building from the F-16.

Those strikes killed an unspecified number of enemy attackers, effectively ending the attack on the Kunduz police compound.

Claughsey, from Connecticut, enlisted in May 2008 and became a combat controller in February 2014, after two years of rigorous training, according to officials.

He has deployed twice, once to Afghanistan and once to Kuwait as part of a global access special tactics team to survey and establish airfield operations.

He has previously been awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster, and Air Force Combat Action Medal.

Articles

The Coast Guard is using this drone to nab drug smugglers

ABOARD THE COAST GUARD CUTTER STRATTON, in the eastern Pacific Ocean — The drone is loaded onto a catapult on the flight deck. From a control room, a technician revs the motor until the go-ahead is given to press the red button. Then the ScanEagle lifts off with a whoosh and, true to its lofty name, soars majestically over the wide blue sea.


The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Stratton is steaming more than 500 miles south of the Guatemala-El Salvador border, along the biggest narcotics smuggling corridor in the world.

Its mission: intercept vessels hauling cocaine bound for America’s cities.

It is a monumental task that has grown even larger in the past few years because of a boom in coca production in Colombia. But the Coast Guard is bringing more intelligence and technology to bear.

Deep within the 418-foot Stratton, which is based in Alameda, California, specialists crunch data from radar, infrared video, helicopter sorties and now the Boeing-made ScanEagle, which was deployed aboard the Coast Guard cutter for the first time during this three-month mission.

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PACIFIC OCEAN — Petty Officer 3rd Class John Cartwright, a Coast Guard Cutter Stratton crewmember, releases the Unmanned Aerial Surveillance aircraft Scan Eagle during a demonstration approximately 150 miles off the Pacific Coast, Aug. 12, 2012. The Scan Eagle is being tested for capabilities that will create a reliable reconnaissance system for all 11 Coast Guard missions. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Luke Clayton.

“In the earlier days, when you wouldn’t see or catch anything, we used to pat ourselves on our back and say we must’ve deterred them,” said Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard, with more than four decades at sea. “Now rarely 72 hours go by when you don’t have an event or we send a ship down there that doesn’t come back with multiple interdictions.”

The Associated Press spent two weeks in February and March aboard the Stratton, the most advanced ship in the Coast Guard fleet, as 100-plus crew members patrolled the eastern Pacific, through which about 70 percent of the cocaine consumed in the U.S. passes.

With three to five Coast Guard cutters covering 6 million square miles — from the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico to the eastern Pacific Ocean — it’s like having a few police cars watch over the entire lower 48 states.

Just after lunch on the second day of deployment, the Stratton’s PA system starts piping out acronyms. A TOI, or target of interest, has been detected by the ScanEagle with the support of aircraft radar, and a go-fast boat slides down a rear ramp into the blue waters to begin the chase.

In just a few minutes it catches up with a fishing boat, called a panga, with two outboard motors.

Sometimes smugglers frantically dump their cargo over the side or try to make a run for it, forcing their pursuers to fire warning shots or shoot out their engines. But this time, the boat’s crewmen, some of them barefoot, offer no resistance.

The four suspected smugglers sit handcuffed as a Coast Guardsman takes out some vials to conduct a chemical test. The results come back positive for cocaine, and the two Colombians and two Ecuadoreans are put aboard the cutter.

Hidden in the bales of cocaine is a GPS tracking device in a condom, a sure sign the drug bosses behind the shipment knew right away it didn’t reach its destination.

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PACIFIC OCEAN — The Unmanned Aerial Surveillance aircraft Scan Eagle watches the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton from afar during a demonstration approximately 150 miles off the Pacific Coast, Aug. 12, 2012. The Scan Eagle is being tested for capabilities that will create a reliable reconnaissance system for all 11 Coast Guard missions. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

At sunset, the Stratton’s crew proudly poses for a picture with the haul while a black plume rises above the sea where the boat was set ablaze by the Coast Guard. A few hours later, the Stratton fires its cannon and sinks the vessel.

The next morning the ever-rising Narcometer in the on-board newsletter reflects the size of the bust: 700 kilograms (over 1,500 pounds) of pure cocaine with a wholesale value of $21 million. On the streets in the U.S., it could be worth more than five times that.

The Stratton’s biggest bust — a Coast Guard record — came in 2015, when it found more than 16,000 pounds of cocaine worth $225 million before the smuggling craft, a hard-to-detect semi-submersible vessel, sank with some of its cargo still aboard.

As good as the Coast Guard gets, its victories seem doomed to be short-lived. That’s because hundreds of miles to the south, in the jungles of Colombia, there’s a bumper harvest taking place. And Colombia is virtually the only source of cocaine smuggled by sea in small vessels.

That, along with better technology, may help explain why the Coast Guard has been coming back with ever-larger hauls. It set a record in 2016, seizing more than 240 tons of cocaine with a wholesale value of $5.9 billion and arresting 585 smugglers.

Last year, the amount of land devoted to coca cultivation in Colombia climbed 18 percent to an estimated 188,000 hectares (465,000 acres), according to a White House report. That is more coca production than at any time since the U.S. in 1999 began investing billions in an anti-narcotics strategy known as Plan Colombia.

“What we know here out at sea is that the business has been really good in the last couple of years,” said Capt. Nathan Moore, the Stratton’s skipper.

The surge is being driven in part by Colombia’s decision in 2015 to suspend aerial spraying of crop-destroying herbicides because of health concerns.

At the same time, there was a rush among peasant farmers to start growing coca so they could take advantage of generous payments to switch to legal crops being offered as part of a peace deal between the government and Colombia’s rebels.

Thus far, 55,000 families have signed pledges to rip up 48,000 hectares of coca in exchange for as much as $12,000 over two years. The government is also expanding manual eradication of coca, a slower and far more dangerous task, with the goal of destroying 50,000 hectares this year alone.

But many experts are skeptical that poor farmers will renounce coca growing, especially as criminal gangs fill the void left by the retreating rebels. Also, a successful drug run can net each smuggler a small fortune that makes it well worth the risk of a long prison sentence for many.

Such dynamics help explain why, despite the Coast Guard’s technological superiority, four drug-running boats are thought to get through for every one caught, Zukunft said.

Those taken into custody for smuggling are put in white hazmat suits, given health exams and then led into a converted helicopter hangar aboard the Stratton, where they are shackled to the floor and issued a wool blanket, toiletries and a cot or a foam mat. Eventually they are flown to the U.S. and prosecuted at American expense.

The alternative would be to seek prosecution in Central American countries such as Honduras, where the vast majority of crimes go unpunished.

More than a dozen nations in Central and South America have essentially outsourced their drug-interdiction efforts to the U.S.

“Imagine you’re out at Ocean City, Maryland, and then out of nowhere comes this foreign helicopter and it starts peppering a U.S. recreational boat with automatic machine gun fire and sniper fire. We would say it’s an act of war,” Zukunft said.

“But that’s the faith and confidence these countries have in the U.S. and our Coast Guard.”

Articles

A US paratrooper escaped a Nazi prison to join the Red Army and liberate fellow POWs

The World War II story of “Jumpin'” Joseph Beyrle gives a whole new meaning to the saying: “Oh yeah? You and what army?”


Actually, the Red Army, to be exact.

Beyrle was a paratrooper with the legendary 101st Airborne, 506th Infantry Regiment. A demolitions expert, he performed missions in Nazi-occupied France with the resistance there before flying into Normandy on D-Day.

Beyrle had mixed luck during the war, but he would end it as a legend.

When his C-47 came under intense enemy fire during the D-Day invasion, Beyrle had to jump at the ultra-low altitude of 120 meters. He made the drop successfully but lost contact with his unit. Not one to be deterred by being alone in Fortress Europe, he still performed sabotage missions to support the D-Day landings.

He even managed to destroy a power station but was captured by the Wehrmacht shortly after.

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Beyrle’s POW ID photo.

Over the next seven months, Sgt. Beyrle was moved around quite a bit. He managed to escape twice, but, unlucky for him, he was recaptured both times. One time, he and other fugitives tried to hop onto a train bound for Poland but ended up on the way to Berlin instead.

He was beaten and nearly shot as a spy when he was handed over to the Gestapo, but the Wehrmacht took him back after military officials stepped in, saying the Gestapo had no authority over POWs.

Once back in the hands of the German military, they sent him to Stalag III-C, a prisoner of war camp in Brandenberg. The camp was notorious for the number of Russian prisoners who were starved or otherwise killed there.

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Beyrle’s POW ID.

In January 1945, he escaped Stalag III-C and moved east, where he linked up with a Soviet tank brigade. He convinced them he was an American by waving a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes and persuaded the battalion’s commander (the Red Army’s only female tank officer of that rank) to let him join her unit. He spent a month in the Red Army tank corps, assisting in the liberation of his old POW camp, Stalag III-C.

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Aleksandra Samusenko, Beyrle’s Red Army commander.

Beyrle was wounded by a German Stuka dive bomber attack and evacuated to a Red Army hospital in Poland. When Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov learned there was a non-Soviet in the hospital, he visited Joseph Beyrle.

Amazed by his story, Zhukov gave Beyrle the papers he needed to rejoin U.S. forces in Europe.

The now-recuperating former POW headed to Moscow on a Soviet military convoy in February 1945. When he arrived at the U.S. embassy, he discovered he was listed as killed in action four days after the D-Day landings. His hometown of Muskegon, Michigan, held a funeral mass for him.

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Scan of original War Dept. telegram received by Joe Beyrle’s parents in Sept. 1944 informing them (erroneously) that he was KIA

Beyrle was hailed as a hero in both the U.S. and Russia. In 1994, Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin presented him with medals in honor of his service to the countries. His son even served as Ambassador to Russia between 2008 and 2012.

The famed war hero died at 81 while visiting the area in Georgia where he trained to be a paratrooper in 1942.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

New acting SecDef reportedly thinks F-35 was huge mistake

The new defense chief, a former Boeing employee, has reportedly been extremely critical of Lockheed Martin’s embattled F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter in private meetings, raising questions about whether he is biased in overseeing the largest weapons program in history.

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who took over when Jim Mattis resigned, spent over 30 years at Boeing before joining the Department of Defense in 2017 as the deputy secretary of defense.


Though he signed an ethics agreement recusing himself from matters involving Boeing, Shanahan has continuously bashed the F-35, a key program for one of Boeing’s top competitors, in high-level meetings at the Pentagon and at other private gatherings, Politico reported on Jan. 9, 2019, citing former government officials who heard Shanahan make the comments.

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US Air Force F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter crew chief Tech. Sgt. Brian West watches his aircraft approach for the first time at Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base in 2011.

(US Air Force Photo)

A former senior Defense Department official told Politico that Shanahan described the F-35 stealth fighter as “f—ed up” and said its maker, Lockheed Martin, “doesn’t know how to run a program.”

“If it had gone to Boeing, it would be done much better,” the former official recalled Shanahan saying, Politico reported.

Lockheed beat out Boeing in the Joint Strike Fighter competition, with the Department of Defense ultimately picking Lockheed’s X-35 — which became the F-35 — over Boeing’s X-32 in 2001. Had Boeing been awarded the contract, the military’s JSF might look very different.

A former Trump administration official told Politico that Shanahan “dumped” on the aircraft regularly and “went off” on the program in 2018.

“He would complain about Lockheed’s timing and their inability to deliver, and from a Boeing point of view, say things like, ‘We would never do that,'” the former official said.

In other private meetings, the former official added, Shanahan has called the program “unsustainable,” complaining about the cost of the stealth fighters, with separate versions built for the Navy, the Marines, and the Air Force. The F-35 is expected to cost more than id=”listicle-2625627238″ trillion over the life of the program, making it the most expensive weapon in US military history.

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Maintainers from the 388th Maintenance Group preparing an F-35A for its mission.

(United States Air Force photo by Todd Cromar)

Current administration officials, however, told Politico that Shanahan’s comments were being taken out of context, stressing that he was not advocating for Boeing.

“I don’t believe that’s the case at all. I think he’s agnostic toward Boeing at best,” one official said, adding, “I don’t think there’s any intent to have Boeing favored in the building.”

It’s not the first time Shanahan’s loyalties have been called into question. The Pentagon is said to be planning a request for id=”listicle-2625627238″.2 billion for 12 Boeing F-15X fighter jets, a decision that was made at Shanahan’s urging, Bloomberg reported.

Air Force leaders had previously said there was no reason to buy these advanced fourth-generation fighters because they lack the necessary stealth capabilities provided by fifth-generation planes like the F-35, according to Defense News.

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Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan.

Shanahan’s office told Politico he remained committed to his recusal. In public, he has spoken highly of the F-35 program.

“The F-35 is our future,” he said in September 2018 at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space Cyber Conference.

“I think we can all agree that it is a remarkable aircraft, with eye-watering capabilities critical to the high-end fight,” he added. “I tip my hat to its broad team of government, industry, and international partners. Having worked on programs of similar size and complexity, I have enormous respect for your talent and commitment.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

The Invisible War On The Brain

The cover story of National Geographic magazine’s February issue, “The Invisible War on the Brain,” takes a close look at a signature injury of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars—traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) caused by the shock waves from explosions. TBIs have left hundreds of thousands of U.S. veterans with life-altering and sometimes debilitating conditions, the treatment of which can be extremely complicated. At Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, soldiers paint masks that help them cope with their daily struggles and help them reveal their inner feelings. We invite you to see the service members’ masks and read the full story here.


Impeccable in his Marine uniform and outwardly composed, McNair sits on the porch of his parents’ home in Virginia, anonymous behind a mask he made in an art therapy session. “I was just going through pictures, and I saw the mask of Hannibal Lecter, and I thought, ‘That’s who I am’ … He’s probably dangerous, and that’s who I felt I was. I had this muzzle on with all these wounds, and I couldn’t tell anyone about them. I couldn’t express my feelings.”

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Marine Cpl. Chris McNair (Ret.), Afghanistan 2011-12. (Photo by © Lynn Johnson/National Geographic)

Wearing his mask—half patriotic, half death’s-head—Hopman confronts the battery of medications he takes daily for blast-force injuries he sustained while treating soldiers as a flight medic. “I know my name, but I don’t know the man who used to back up that name … I never thought I would have to set a reminder to take a shower, you know. I’m 39 years old. I’ve got to set a reminder to take medicine, set a reminder to do anything… My daughter, she’s only four, so this is the only dad she’s ever known, whereas my son knew me before.”

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Army Staff Sgt. Perry Hopman, Iraq 2006-08. (Photo by © Lynn Johnson/National Geographic)

“Detonation happened, and I was right there in the blast seat. I got blown up. And all this medical study—nobody ever thought that they [blast events] were very harmful, and so we didn’t log them, which we should because all blast forces are cumulative to the body. On a grade number for me, it would probably be 300-plus explosions … I’m not going to not play with my children. I’m not going to let my injuries stop them from having a good life.”

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Marine Gunnery Sgt. Aaron Tam (Ret.), Iraq 2004-05, 2007-08, (with wife Angela and their two children). (Photo by © Lynn Johnson/National Geographic)

Tiffany H., as she prefers to be known, was “blown up” while helping women in a remote Afghan village earn additional income for their families. Memory loss, balance difficulties, and anxiety are among her many symptoms. The blinded eye and sealed lips on her mask.

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Marine Gunnery Sgt. Tiffany H., Iraq 2007-08, Afghanistan 2010-11. (Photo by © Lynn Johnson/National Geographic)

Suiting up before attempting ordnance disposal “is the last line. There’s no one else to call … It’s the person and the IED … and if a mistake is made at that point, then death is almost certain. They call it the long walk because once you get that bomb suit on, number one, everything is harder when you’re wearing that 100 pounds … Two, the stress of knowing what you’re about to do. And three, it’s quiet, and it seems like it takes an hour to walk.”

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Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert “Bo” Wester (Ret.), Iraq 2007, 2008-09, Afghanistan 2010. (Photo by © Lynn Johnson/National Geographic)

Brain injuries caused by blast events change soldiers in ways many can’t articulate. Some use art therapy, creating painted masks to express how they feel. (Photos by © Rebecca Hale /National Geographic)

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner

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