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7 things the military learned from Trump’s first week

Many have acknowledged that this has been one of the fastest-moving presidencies in recent memory, as President Donald Trump made moves on many of his campaign promises this week. From international relations, to military administration nominations and exploring ways to shake up long-held views on how things are done, Trump made the most of his first seven days.


1. He will defer to defense secretary and CIA director on torture

Despite firmly believing that interrogation tactics—such as waterboarding, which has been banned in the U.S.—work, he will follow the lead of new Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who has said in the past he does not find the practice of torture to be effective.

2. He values a stronger military over a balanced budget

During the campaign, Trump talked repeatedly about the need for a balanced budget, while also advocating for a stronger military. This week, he acknowledged it might not be possible to achieve both at the same time. In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Trump said, “Our military is more important to me than a balanced budget. Because we’ll get there with a balanced budget.”

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania head to the Inaugural Parade reviewing stand from the White House in Washingtion, D.C., Jan. 20, 2017. Trump was sworn-in as the 45th president of the United States earlier in the day. | U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

3. His federal hiring freeze could heavily impact veterans

During his first week, Trump instituted a federal hiring freeze, similar to the ones both former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush implemented during their terms. Many veteran groups rushed to point out the move would have a ripple effect for veterans separating from military life and looking to gain employment at a government position, as well as for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

4. He announced his choices for the USAF and Navy secretary positions

With many positions in his administration left to fill, Trump announced his picks for two of the military secretary positions—both veterans themselves. Former congresswoman and U.S. Air Force Academy graduate Heather Wilson will seek confirmation for the Secretary of the Air Force position, while Army Reserves veteran and career businessman Philip Bilden was nominated to be the Navy secretary.

5. His choice to lead the White House budget office has opposed military increases in the past

Republican Mick Mulvaney took heat from Sen. John McCain during his hearing in front of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. McCain pointed out Mulvaney’s past votes in favor of withdrawing the troops from Afghanistan and against military funding increase. “It’s clear from your record you’ve been an impediment to that,” McCain said during the hearing, referencing Mulvaney’s support of the military.

6. He has plans to establish refugee camps in Syria

As mentioned during his campaign, Trump announced this week wanting to explore setting up ‘safe zones’ in Syria to house refugees, as an alternative to accepting them into the country, which he plans to ban. The safe zones would require an increase in military presence on the ground in Syria, something former President Barack Obama tried to avoid during his time in office.

7. He plans to double down on China in South China Sea

During Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comments during his confirmation he said, “We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.” The China state media responded by saying the U.S. would need to “wage war” to prevent them from the islands in the South China Sea.

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The Air Force’s search to find a new ground attack plane is getting intense

The Air Force is 10 days into its “light attack experiment” at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, where four aircraft — AirTractor and L3’s AT-802L Longsword; Sierra Nevada and Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano; and Textron and AirLand LLC’s Scorpion, as well as their AT-6B Wolverine — have been strutting their stuff.


Air Force pilots already have flown basic surface attack missions in the A-29 and AT-6, according to the service, and conducted “familiarization flights” in the Scorpion and AT-802L as part of the month-long event.

The live-fly exercises will move into combat maneuver scenarios and weapons drops, some of which have already happened.

“This experiment is about looking at new ways to improve readiness and lethality,” Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said in a statement August 9. Goldfein, along with Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, stopped by the event, which the service has been putting together for months.

A Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano A-29 experimental aircraft flies over White Sands Missile Range. Photo by Ethan D Wagner

How service leaders plan to evaluate the performance of four very different aircraft — from jet to turboprop plane to an armored cropduster — is still to be determined.

The aircraft were on static display for leaders, including Air Combat Command commander Gen. Mike Holmes and Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, the Air Force’s military deputy for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Acquisition at the Pentagon, to check out.

Goldfein even flew in the AT-6 and the A-29, according to reports.

“We’re experimenting and innovating, and we’re doing it in new and faster ways,” Wilson said of the experiment, dubbed OA-X. “Experiments like these help drive innovation and play a key role in enhancing the lethality of our force.”

A Beechcraft AT-6 experimental aircraft flies over White Sands Missile Range. Photo by Ethan D Wagner.

Goldfein added, “We are determining whether a commercial, off-the-shelf aircraft and sensor package can contribute to the coalition fight against violent extremism. I appreciate industry’s willingness to show us what they have to offer.”

The service has said the prolonged conflict in the Middle East, with the Islamic State and other extremist groups extending their influence in the region, is the impetus for buying another plane — just one that won’t cost taxpayers a fortune.

“We want to look at a concept so we could have a lower operating cost, a lower unit cost, for something to be able to operate in a permissive … environment than what I would require a fourth- or a fifth-gen aircraft to be able to operate in,” Bunch said in March.

But no matter what the outcome, some in Washington, DC are already pleasantly surprised the Air Force has become more hands-on in potential future weapons and aircraft buying strategies.

Maj. Glenn Meleen, a test pilot for the 40th Flight Test Squadron out of Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, prepares to taxi prior to flight in the Textron Scorpion experimental aircraft. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher Okula

“The light attack experiment at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, provides an example for how rapid acquisition and experimentation can help our military procure the needed capabilities more quickly, more efficiently, and more affordably than we have in the past,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain said.

“Our adversaries are modernizing to deploy future capabilities aimed at eroding the US military advantage — and reversing that trend will require a new, innovative approach to acquisition and procurement,” he said in a statement August 9.

The Arizona Republican in January released his white paper assessment on how the Defense Department should move forward in military spending.

The former Navy pilot stressed that, while the Air Force should sustain its A-10 Thunderbolt II fighter fleet for close-air support, “the Air Force should procure 300 low-cost, light-attack fighters that would require minimal work to develop.”

A Textron Scorpion experimental aircraft sits at Holloman AFB. USAF photo by Christopher Okula

McCain on August 9 stressed his committee has been supportive of the action, and “included $1.2 billion in authorized spending for the program in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018.”

“I am encouraged to see the Air Force using the rapid acquisition authorities that Congress has given the Department of Defense in recent defense authorization bills,” he said. “The light attack aircraft will be an integral part of building our military capacity to combat current threats, and this experiment is a new model for quickly getting our warfighters the capabilities they need to bring the fight to the enemy.”

The event is scheduled to run through August 31.

Articles

These photos show Marines fighting ISIS from their new base in Iraq

U.S. troops put “boots on the ground” in Iraq in mid-March, part of the plan to combat the threat of ISIS militants in the country. The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina is there with Task Force Spartan to assist the Iraqi government’s effort against ISIS. These new photos from DoD show them in action.


U.S. Marines with Task Force Spartan, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), offload from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter during their insert into Kara Soar, while conducting their mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, in Kara Soar, Iraq, March 17, 2016. Operation Inherent Resolve is an international U.S. led coalition military operation created as part of a comprehensive strategy to degrade and defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Andre Dakis/Released)

Once in country, the Marines established Fire Base Bell in the early hours of March 17. The base was a Pentagon secret until March 21 when Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin was killed in an ISIS rocket attack.

U.S. Marines with Task Force Spartan, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), board a CH-47 Chinook helicopter in Taji, Iraq, before heading to Kara Soar for their mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve on March 17, 2016. Operation Inherent Resolve is an international U.S. led coalition military operation created as part of a comprehensive strategy to degrade and defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Andre Dakis/Released)

The base features four 155mm M777A2 Howitzer cannons, and is a few hundred yards from a larger Iraqi base near Makhmour where U.S. military advisers train Iraqi troops. The Howitzers were up and running, attacking ISIS positions by the next day.

U.S. Army AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters escort two CH-47 Chinook helicopters carrying U.S. Marines with Task Force Spartan, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), over Taji, Iraq, as they head to Kara Soar for their mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve on March 17, 2016. Operation Inherent Resolve is an international U.S. led coalition military operation created as part of a comprehensive strategy to degrade and defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Andre Dakis/Released)

 

U.S. Marines with Task Force Spartan, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), on Fire Base Bell, Iraq, fire an M777A2 Howitzer at an ISIS infiltration route March 18, 2016. The Marines fired upon the enemy infiltration routes in order to disrupt their freedom of movement and ability to attack Kurdish and Peshmerga forces. Operation Inherent Resolve is an international U.S. led coalition military operation created as part of a comprehensive strategy to degrade and defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Andre Dakis/Released)

 

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Jordan Crupper, an artilleryman, and Sgt. Onesimos Utey, an artillery section chief, both with Task Force Spartan, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), prepare an Excalibur 155 mm round on Fire Base Bell, Iraq, while conducting fire missions against an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) infiltration route March 18, 2016. Operation Inherent Resolve is an international U.S. led coalition military operation created as part of a comprehensive strategy to degrade and defeat ISIL. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Andre Dakis/Released)

Fire Base Bell is supporting the Iraqi offensive to recapture Mosul, some 60 miles away from Makhmour. The Howitzers have a 22-mile range, which means they can’t hit Mosul, but they can hit ISIS positions along the way

U.S. Marines with Task Force Spartan, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), on Fire Base Bell, Iraq, fire an M777A2 Howitzer at an ISIS infiltration route March 18, 2016. The Marines fired upon the enemy infiltration routes in order to disrupt their freedom of movement and ability to attack Kurdish and Peshmerga forces. Operation Inherent Resolve is an international U.S. led coalition military operation created as part of a comprehensive strategy to degrade and defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Andre Dakis/Released)

MIGHTY CULTURE

These vets hunt down paranormal forces on Army posts

Logically speaking, there’s almost always a valid explanation for those bumps in the night — but there’s a sense of adventure that comes along with investigating the unexplained. The thrill of finding an explanation for the unexplainable (even if that explanation is otherworldly) is what brings together paranormal enthusiasts in the hunt for answers.

Veterans tend to be strong-willed people who have long immersed themselves in a culture in which death is never far from the mind. From battlefields to bases, many locales in the military world are home to the world’s most ghostly tales — and if you’ve ever been on an installation at night, you know there’s something undeniably eerie at work.

These veterans banded together over their love of the paranormal and have decided to look into the many oft-ignored (and never explained) supernatural military mysteries.


Yep. Still looks exactly like pretty much every S-6 shop in the Army.

(Courtesy of Military Veterans Paranormal)

The Military Veterans Paranormal (or MVP) are based out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The group came together over a shared love for all things spooky and, today, have a legitimate operation going on. They catch word of possible paranormal activity, plan an investigation as if it were a conventional military operation, and then head out to find answers.

But to them, it’s far more than just the pursuit of ghosts — it’s also about the camaraderie that comes with operating as a unit. Founding member of the Military Veterans Paranormal, Mellanie Ramsey, told We Are The Mighty,

“We hope to show other veterans that there are other ways we can deal with PTSD and that just because you’re no longer in the military, it doesn’t mean you’re alone. Find a hobby, the more unique the better. We found a hobby that enables us to use the tools and skills we learned in the military and apply it to paranormal investigation. You can still have a mission, though it may no longer be combat related. We still matter and as long as we stick together to support one another, we can work to reduce the number of veteran suicides while still helping others and having fun. We’re proof the mission doesn’t have to be over just because you get out of service. It just changed.”

(Courtesy of Military Veterans Paranormal)

One of their recent investigations brought them to “The Birdcage” at Fort Campbell. It’s a part of the base that’s been abandoned since the Cold War — and if you believe the rumors, it’s the Army’s equivalent to Area 51. Of course, they don’t do anything without getting proper permission from the authorities and they do plenty of historical research ahead of time.

On record, The Birdcage was where the Army stored nuclear warheads — but countless paranormal sightings have been reported in the area. Everything from ghosts to aliens to magical forces have been attributed to this site. Naturally, the paranormal investigators had to check it out.

While there, they spotted a something in OD Green running. The description of their sighting exactly matches reports from a member of 5th Special Forces Group, who saw that very same something while running through the area. After a little more digging, MVP learned that a convicted soldier had died there while trying to escape the brig. During his escape, he accidentally crossed into The Birdcage, where a highly-electrified barricade ended his attempt — and his life.

Could the spirit of this convict still be roaming the area, long after his death? It’s hard to say for sure.

The group is very serious about their hobby, but they don’t pocket any of the money they raise through the investigations. To date, they’ve raised over ,000 for the Wounded Warrior Foundation.

If you’re interested in joining a paranormal investigation group — or if there’s something you think warrants checking out, visit Military Veterans Paranormal’s website.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Did the Pentagon just drone the top ISIS drone makers?

The US military says it has killed three men who played key roles in developing, building, and modifying Islamic State drones.


Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the US-led military coalition in Baghdad, told reporters at the Pentagon Sept. 28 that the three were killed in a series of US airstrikes in Syria in mid-September.

Wikipedia

Dillon says two of the men were responsible for manufacturing and modifying commercially produced drones. The other man was described as a drone developer, who was killed when his research workshop near Mayadin, Syria, was hit by two airstrikes.

The Islamic State group has used drones for surveillance and to fire small weapons, in both Syria and Iraq.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

U.S. F-16s from Aviano take part in exercise “Agile Buzzard”

U.S. Air Force F-16s belonging to the 31st Fighter Wing rapidly deployed to Decimomannu Air Base, Italy as part of an exercise incorporating elements from the developing operational concept known as Agile Combat Employment.

Several F-16s belonging to the 510th Fighter Squadron from Aviano Air Base, northeastern Italy, deployed to “Deci”, Sardinia, between Jan. 13-16, for Agile Buzzard, a bilateral training exercise with the Italian Air Force.


One of the F-16s involved in Agile Buzzard exercise takes off from Decimomannu Air Base. (Image credit: Alessandro Caglieri).

Agile Buzzard was one of the first exercises to incorporate elements from the developing operational concept known as Agile Combat Employment, or ACE.

According to the U.S. Air Force, this new ACE concept calls for forces to operate more fluidly in locations with varying levels of capacity and support. “This ensures U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa are ready for any potential contingencies.” In short, within ACE, combat aircraft take off from their bases and deploy to airfileds where they can’t count on all the “accomodations” they can find at their home station. Over there, they must prove their ability to service aircraft and make them ready for combat.

“Training exercises like Agile Buzzard enhance the wing’s ability to take command and control of a region, as well as deliver lethal airpower more effectively and efficiently anywhere in the world. Additionally they are designed to enhance partner interoperability, maintain joint readiness, and assure U.S. regional allies,” says an official USAF release.

Agile Buzzard was a low intensity exercise: each day a wave made of 3-4 aircraft launched from Aviano, landed in Decimomannu, where they were hot-refueled and armed with Mk-82/BDU-50 500-pound inert dumb bombs, then took off again to engage the Capo Frasca firing range for air-to-ground training before returning to Aviano.

For their mission, the Aviano Vipers carried two AIM-120 AMRAAM, one AIM-9X Sidewinder, an AN/ASQ-T50(V)1 AIS pod, a SNIPER ATP (Advanced Targeting Pod) along with the BDU-50 and two fuel tanks.

This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.

Articles

2 American special operators killed in latest Afghan clash

Two U.S. special operators were killed during a joint raid Wednesday with Afghan forces in the Achin District of Nangarhar province, according to the Pentagon.


Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said the purpose of the raid was an anti-Islamic State operation in the Achin District, which is ISIS’ main base of operations in Afghanistan.

During the raid, an extra soldier suffered injuries, but made it out alive, reports ABC News. The wounds are not life-threatening.

Rangers provide security during an operation in the Khugyani district, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Elliott N. Banks)

No further information is available at this time.

Nangarhar has seen a lot of action lately. It’s the same province where the U.S. military dropped the MOAB on ISIS, killing 94 militants in the process and cracking buildings in neighboring Pakistan.

It’s also the same province where in early April, Army Staff Sgt. Mark De Alencar, a Green Beret, died from small arms fire after conducting an operation against ISIS forces.

Army Gen. John Nicholson, top commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, has pledged to eliminate ISIS in Afghanistan by the end of the year.

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

What you need to know about the soldier receiving the Medal of Honor

A 10th Mountain Division squad leader credited with saving the lives of three of his soldiers by throwing himself atop a suicide bomber in Iraq will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the White House announced March 12, 2019.

Staff Sgt. Travis W. Atkins went above and beyond the call of duty on June 1, 2007, while his unit — Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team — conducted route clearance southwest of Baghdad.

During the mission, Atkins, 31, of Bozeman, Montana, heard a report over the radio of suspected insurgents crossing an intersection in the Iraqi town of Abu Samak.


As the truck commander in his Humvee, Atkins ordered the driver to pull the vehicle up to the intersection so they could interdict the suspected insurgents. Once stopped, Atkins exited the vehicle and approached one of the men to check him for weapons while another soldier covered him.

When Atkins attempted to search him, the man resisted. Atkins then engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the insurgent, who was reaching for an explosive vest under his clothing, according to an award citation.

Staff Sgt. Travis Atkins: Final Mission

www.youtube.com

Atkins then grabbed the suicide bomber from behind with a bear hug and slammed him onto the ground, away from his soldiers. As he pinned the insurgent to the ground, the bomb detonated.

Atkins was mortally wounded by the blast. With complete disregard for his own safety, he had used his own body as a shield to protect his fellow soldiers from injury. They were only feet away.

Soon after, another insurgent was fatally shot by one of Atkins’ soldiers before he could detonate another suicide vest.

For his actions, Atkins was initially given the Army’s second-highest award, the Distinguished Service Cross. Now that award has been upgraded to a Medal of Honor.

President Donald J. Trump will present the medal to Atkins’ family on March 27, 2019.

Before he joined the Army, Atkins worked for concrete and painting contractors and as an engine mechanic in Montana. He enlisted into the infantry in 2000 and less than three years later he deployed to participate in the invasion of Iraq.

Then-Sgt. Travis Atkins poses with battle buddies in Iraq, 2007.

Atkins left the Army in late 2003, but rejoined two years later and was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division.

He deployed to Iraq again with the division in the summer of 2006 and became a staff sergeant in May 2007, a month before his death.

At Fort Drum, New York, the division honored Atkins by naming a fitness center after him in 2013.

During the dedication ceremony, then-Sgt. Aaron Hall, who was Atkins’ battle buddy, described the staff sergeant as a “quiet professional” who always had the respect of others.

“When my 4-year-old son Travis tells me his favorite superhero is Captain America and asks me who my favorite superhero is, my reply always has and will be Staff Sgt. Travis W. Atkins,” Hall said.

According to his obituary, Atkins was also known to hunt, fish, camp, and ride snowmobiles. His first love, though, was his son, Trevor Oliver, who was 11 years old at the time of his father’s death.

Atkins was buried June 12, 2007, in his hometown of Bozeman in south-central Montana. He is also survived by his parents, Jack and Elaine Atkins.

Articles

Brits warn of potential ISIS attacks on Antarctica travelers

The UK Foreign Office has issued a bizarre terrorism warning for citizens wishing to travel to its territory in Antarctica – a security chief has criticized the move as “pointless back covering”.


The message on the department’s foreign travel advice section reads: “Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in the British Antarctic Territory, attacks can’t be ruled out.

“There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.”

The British Antarctic Territory is a 660,000 square mile stretch of the icy continent that includes the South Pole. It is uninhabited, except for two scientific research stations – and several species of penguin.

Colonel Richard Kemp, who led the British Army into Afghanistan in 2003, told The Sun: “MI5’s then-director-general once said there was a terror threat almost everywhere except Antarctica. Now they’ve put Antarctica on the list.

“We expect guidance based on intelligence, not a pointless exercise in back-covering – unless I’ve missed the Islamic State Polar Brigade.”

The British Antarctic Territory is the largest of the 14 British Overseas Territories, which include the tiny Carribbean islands of Bermuda and The Bahamas.

Similar advice concerning terrorist attacks has also been issued for these paradise holiday destinations.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Swiss Air Force accidentally makes commemorative flight over yodeling festival

In an embarrassing moment for the Swiss Air Force’s demo team, the Patrouille Suisse squadron made a low-altitude pass over a yodeling festival when it was supposed to be making a commemorative flight honoring a local aviator a few miles away.

The Swiss aerial display team was expected to fly over an event marking the 100th anniversary of the death of aviation pioneer Oskar Bider in Langenbruck, but the team missed their mark by about four miles, flying over the nearby Muemliswil instead, The Aviationist first reported.


The obsolete F-5E Tiger II fighters flown by the demo team are not equipped with GPS, and the team did not have a man on the ground, as is often the case for these types of events. As the team was approaching the intended destination, the team leader spotted a festival area with tents and incorrectly assumed they were in the right place for the show.

The Patrouille Suisse.

Spokesman for the Swiss military Daniel Reist, local media reported, explained that the instruments in the aircraft flown by the display team are over four decades old. “Navigation is done with a map, a feeling and sight,” he said in a statement, adding that these aircraft are no longer suitable for combat and would never be used in a crisis.

“Unfortunate circumstances led to the mistake” the spokesman said. Switzerland’s Ministry of Defense said that the demonstration team had not had a chance to practice the maneuver prior to the event, explaining that the team was distracted, The Associated Press reported.

The commander of the Swiss demo team has apologized for the error.

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

Articles

Here’s what this Tuskegee Airman has to say about his time in service

“I’ve come a long way from picking cotton in the fields with my grandfather,” said retired Master Sgt. Leroy Mazell Smith, who has lived a life few could probably imagine.


He was born on an Arkansas bridge during the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927; son of a logger and farmer, Smith grew up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. His mother, who cared for him and his two siblings, left school at the age of 13.

Also read: 6 tips to live the best life ever from USAF vet Bob Ross

He credits his upbringing to his grandfather who Smith picked cotton with. He said his grandfather taught him the value of hard work and perseverance.

Retired Master Sgt. Leroy Smith became a Tuskegee Airman at the age of 16 in 1943. Smith said getting to know the Tuskegee aircrew was one of his best memories. | U.S. Air Force image by Staff. Sgt. Regina Edwards

Smith graduated from high school in Fordyce, Arkansas, at the age of 16. While there, he attended preflight aeronautical classes, changing the course of his future.

“I wanted to be a doctor,” he said, “but the military said they needed black mechanics, so I was inducted into the U.S. Army Air Corps at 16. Looking back now, they did me a favor I’d say.”

Smith said he vividly remembered being a scared boy from the country in 1943, riding a bus from Camp Robinson to Sheppard Field, Texas, for basic military training, and then later to Chinook, Arkansas, for aircraft and engine training.

“Everything was segregated,” he said. “The ride to training, the barracks we lived in, even the hours we had to shop at the base exchange and eat at the mess hall were separate.

“I remember (white) people asking us, ‘What are you doing here?’ and assuming we blacks were the cooks and bottle washers,” Smith said.

However, segregation did not break his zeal. Smith charged forward and met every obstacle with faith and optimism. He said he leaned on his Baptist upbringing and grandfather’s lessons about having strength — especially during the harder days.

“I never retaliated,” Smith said. “I just believed those people were ignorant and someday it would be better. My grandfather always said, ‘There’s only one race of people: the human race.'”

Tuskegee Airman in an undated photo. | U.S. Air Force

And so, while the human race was focused on World War II and which side would prevail, Smith set course for the European theater. He was assigned to the Tuskegee unit, where all barriers fell away. He was no longer a black mechanic. He was simply an Airman.

“I was scared and proud when I arrived in Italy,” Smith said. “I was with an all-black crew that I could identify with. I could actually communicate with the pilots; the officers respected us as the younger members. I didn’t have to just do my job and shut my mouth. We all had a good relationship; it was one of my best memories.”

The Tuskegee Airmen are typically known as an all-black fighter and bomber pilot aircrew who fought in WWII. However, that name, Tuskegee Airmen, also encompassed navigators, mechanics, instructors, crew chiefs, nurses, cooks and other support personnel for the aircrews.

“I loved being called a Tuskegee Airman,” he said. “I didn’t know that name would be what it is today, but we sure had a lot of unit pride, and there was reason for it.”

The crew was assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group and flew heavy bomber escort missions with P-47 Thunderbolts and later the P-51 Mustangs. To distinguish themselves, they painted the tails of their aircraft red, coining themselves the Red Tails.

“We never lost a bomber,” Smith said. “Nope, we never lost a plane. It did me proud to say I was a part of this. We were good, and we were finally recognized for it. I’m a low profile guy, but the recognition was nice.”

In 1947, Smith’s tour with the Tuskegee Airmen ended, but the Red Tails’ legend influenced the integration of races in the armed forces. Smith soldiered on as he transitioned from the Army Air Corps to the Air Force.

He continued serving throughout the Korean War and Vietnam War, fulfilling 25 years in the Air Force and retiring in 1968 as a master sergeant.

MIGHTY TRENDING

95-year-old grandmother makes masks for Veterans with hearing loss

When Meredith Willcox learned some Veterans had issues with comprehension because of COVID-19 masking policies, she did something about it.

Willcox, of Kirksville, Missouri, is the 95-year-old grandmother of a health provider at Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital. She used the internet and her sewing skills to make specialized masks to help Veterans with significant hearing loss.


“Hearing aids are wonderful tools,” said Laura Jacobs, an audiologist at Truman VA and Willcox’s granddaughter. “We use them to treat hearing loss in our Veteran patient population.

“The VA offers our Veterans state-of-the-art hearing devices that utilize Bluetooth technology. Our devices are the best of the best in hearing aids. However, even with extremely high-quality aids, some of our Veterans have such significant hearing loss that this technology isn’t enough for them to comprehend speech.”

Meredith Willcox, a 95-year-old grandmother from Kirksville, Missouri, displays some of the specialty hand-sewn masks she donated to Truman VA’s Audiology team.

Reading lips impossible with standard mask

Jacobs said that in extreme cases, some Veterans must rely on a combination of hearing aids and visually reading a speaker’s lips to understand conversations. This is extremely important during clinic visits with their providers. However, because clinicians must wear a mask, reading lips has been impossible ― that is, until now.

“After mentioning this issue to my grandmother, she went online and learned how to make masks that incorporate a clear mouth covering,” Jacobs said. “So far, she has made 40 specialized face masks for our clinic. I’ve always known that she was an amazing person. However, for her to take the ball and run with it as she’s done with these masks. Well, let’s just say I’m extremely proud of her!”

In the photo above, Jacobs wears one of her grandmother’s handmade masks while caring for a Veteran with profound hearing loss.

Generous support

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Truman VA has received an outpouring of support from the mid-Missouri community.

“I can’t put into words what it means to have this level of support,” said Patricia Hall, medical center director of Truman VA. “So many have come forward at a time of extreme uncertainty. I believe without a doubt that their generosity and support helped our team get through these dark times.”

“We truly appreciate everyone’s generosity,” said Ron Graves, Chief of Voluntary Services at Truman VA. “I especially want to thank Veterans United Home Loans. They provided daily meals for our front line staff for almost three straight months. They also made sure to use area businesses to help stimulate our local economy. I thought that was an amazing gesture.”

“There are too many individuals to name who have made reusable cloth face masks for our Veterans, visitors and staff,” Graves said. “But just to show you the level of support we’ve received in this area, Quilts of Valor, Central Missouri Mask Makers and Hanes Brands, Inc., together provided us with more than 3,000 donated cloth masks.”

Heather Black, LPN, Truman VA’s own Betsy Ross, displays just a few of the 623 masks she’s sewn for Truman VA Veterans, visitors and staff.

Nurse sewed over 600 masks…on her breaks!

Graves said Truman VA staff also should be recognized. Housekeepers, warehouse employees, frontline staff and other support personnel ― all have been important in the fight against COVID-19. However, he acknowledged one individual for going above and beyond in support of her colleagues and the Veterans that receive care at Truman VA.

“Heather Black, a nurse in Specialty Care Clinic, donated 623 hand-sewn masks,” Graves said. “She works full time on-site. She brought her sewing machine to work and makes masks before and after her shifts. Also, during her breaks. How can you not be awed by such dedication?”

“For those individuals who have made masks for us, provided meals or in any other way supported us throughout this global pandemic, we truly appreciate your efforts,” Hall said. “Each one of you has made such a positive impact on our team, and we thank you!”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.


MIGHTY TRENDING

The Russian military is flexing its missile muscles in massive war exercise

The Russian military is conducting sweeping drills that involve dozens of intercontinental ballistic missile launchers.


The Defense Ministry said Oct. 3 in a statement carried by the Interfax news agency that the maneuvers involve over 60 Topol, Topol-M, and Yars missile launchers.

All those types of nuclear-tipped ICBMs are mounted on heavy trucks, making it more difficult for an enemy to spot and destroy them. The ministry said the drills are spread across vast area from the Tver region northwest of Moscow to the Irkutsk region in eastern Siberia.

A Russian Topol-M mobile nuclear missile. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The maneuvers follow massive war games conducted last month by Russia and Belarus that caused jitters in some NATO countries, including Poland and the Baltics.

The Russian military has intensified its combat training amid tensions with NATO over Ukraine.