The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment - We Are The Mighty
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The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment

Technical Sergeant Aaron Allmon is a decorated combat photographer. He is one of the Air Force’s best, having served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and was named 2008 Military Photographer of the Year. He documented all branches of the United States military, regular forces and special operations alike, during his tenure in the Air Force’s 1st Combat Camera Squadron. After his combat tours, he went to Hawaii to recover remains of the U.S. war dead in Asia.


The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment

As he fought post-traumatic stress and debilitating back pain, the Air Force sent him to Minot, North Dakota in 2012 to train airmen there on the skills he mastered so well. He struggles to this day. After 19 years in service, the Air Force wants to send him up the river. He faces 130 years in prison in an ongoing court martial trial.

His crimes are not theft, rape, murder, arson, or anything close to violence. The Washington Times found his trespasses against fellow airmen in the Minot public affairs office amount to “three kisses and six touches, plus a series of reported inappropriate comments of a sexual nature.”  All are unwelcome personal contact. The report also alleges Allmon touched knees and a woman’s back, kissed someone’s forehead and shoulders, and made the aforementioned inappropriate remarks.

If Allmon did what the Air Force alleges, he should certainly face punishment for it. No one is questioning the women who came forward to accuse the Minot NCO. What is in question is the severity of the punishment he faces if convicted.

Allmon’s sister Lisa Roper is a San Antonio business executive. She is mounting her brother’s defense to the tune of what she believes will be $200,000. The court martial is a felony court, which came as a surprise to one of the accused’s legal defense attorneys, Jeffrey Addicott, a former Army judge advocate and now law professor at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio.

“Even assuming all the charges are true, which they are not, this conduct as charged would warrant nonjudicial punishment, not the highest level of action at a general court-martial where Aaron could lose all his retirement benefits and go to jail,” Addicott told the Washington Times.

The presiding officer at Allmon’s Article 32 pretrial hearing in December 2014 was Lt. Col. Bendon Tukey. He questioned the prosecution’s stacking of charges and sentences during a post-trial recommendation.

“In many of the individual specifications,” Tukey wrote, “it could be argued that the accused was not so much motivated by sex or a desire to humiliate or degrade as simply being socially maladroit and crass.”

How did the sentencing get so far out of hand? How did a case like this even come so far? An experienced former agent of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) told WATM a few important things to remember to clarify Allmon’s situation. Agents are not identified because of the nature of their work.

The first thing to remember is Allmon is not charged with any Article 120 offenses (rape, sexual assault, other sexual misconduct). The only physical contact violation is an Article 128 violation for Simple Assault. When OSI opens an investigation of this type, it is usually because the victim or victims contacted the base Sexual Assault Response Coordinator or Special Victims Counsel.

On the sentence of 130 years, the agent told us initial allegations can differ greatly from what is actually charged for the court martial. OSI consistently disproves allegations or finds additional misconduct in the course of these cases. OSI has to investigate any other potential victims. The standard procedure in a sexual assault case to identify behavioral indicators that the subject may be a serial sex offender. They will talk to anyone who may possibly have been victimized. They certainly would have talked to anyone with whom Allmon worked.

What is charged in the docket is what he will be tried on. However, the docket doesn’t list all of the specifications. You could have one charge of assault, but four specifications of different actions that all count as assault. When lawyers continue to add up the specifications, then that can be called “piling on.” There could have been a rape allegation that was disproved, but other issues could still justify the preferral of charges. No one ever gets the maximum sentence, but there is certainly some strategy in piling on the charges. It allows for negotiation for a pre-trial agreement, the military version of a plea deal.

If the Air Force  couldn’t get a court martial, they wouldn’t offer him an Article 15 for demotion. The Air Force would keep reprimanding Allmon until he was forced to get out as a Technical Sergeant (E-6). The agent believes this case is going to be about a few months to maybe a year in jail, but definitely a bad conduct discharge or possible a dishonorable.

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First female Marines apply to MARSOC

The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment
Maricela Veliz | U.S. Marine Corps


Just weeks after previously closed military ground combat and special operations jobs were declared open to women, the Marine Corps’ special operations command has had its first female applicants.

Maj. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commanding general of MARSOC, told Military.com the command has already received several requests from female Marines to enter the assessment and selection pipeline to become a critical skills operator. While Osterman could not specify how many women had applied, he said the first female applicant surfaced only days after the Jan. 4 deadline Defense Secretary Ash Carter set for new jobs to open.

“The very first week of January … we had one female applicant on the West Coast,” Osterman said. “Unfortunately, there was something in the prerequisite stuff she didn’t have, a [general technical] score or something. It was, ‘get re-tested and come on back,’ that kind of thing.”

Osterman said MARSOC is actively soliciting and recruiting qualified female Marines to join the command’s ranks. The command does not have, as Osterman put it, a “street to fleet” recruiting program; rather, it recruits from within the ranks of the Marine Corps.

To qualify for MARSOC critical skills operator assessment and selection, a Marine must be a seasoned corporal or a sergeant, or a first lieutenant or captain. The Marine must also have a minimum GT score of 105 and a minimum physical fitness test score of 225 out of 300, and be able to pass a command swim assessment and meet medical screening criteria.

“We’ve actively identified all the females in the Marine Corps writ large who meet all the prerequisites just like with our normal screening teams,” Osterman said. “We’ve notified or contacted every one of them and let them know, ‘it’s open, you’re eligible.'”

MARSOC submitted its broad implementation plan to the Secretary of Defense at the beginning of January after receiving input from the Marine Corps and U.S. Special Operations Command, Osterman said. In terms of training and job skills, he said, the command does have an advantage over the Marine Corps in that there were already clear gender-neutral physical standards in place for critical skills operators, while the Corps has only recently created such standards for infantry jobs.

MARSOC’s training pipeline is notoriously grueling. After a three-week initial assessment and selection period that tests physical fitness and a range of other aptitudes, Marines enter a second, 19-day assessment and selection training phase. Applicants who make it through both AS phases can then begin a nine-month individual training course that covers survival, evasion, resistance and escape [SERE], special reconnaissance, close urban combat, irregular warfare and many other skill sets.

Osterman said Wednesday that 40 percent of Marines who enter the MARSOC pipeline go on to become critical skills operators.

“When [Marines] go into assessment and screening, it’s a very holistic psychological profile. It’s swim, it’s physical fitness, but we don’t even count the PFT as part of the evaluation. It’s much more comprehensive than that,” Osterman said. “It’s a pretty sophisticated standardization system which is nice in that, again, we already had this and it’s gender-neutral already.”

MARSOC is also making plans to prepare its leadership for the advent of female trainees and operators, Osterman said.

A December study by the Rand Corporation found that 85 percent of 7,600 surveyed operators within all of SOCOM opposed the idea of serving alongside female counterparts. Many cited fears that female operators would harm combat effectiveness and provide a distraction down range.

Acknowledging the study, Osterman said he planned to hold a town hall meeting for MARSOC leadership to discuss the implementation of Carter’s gender integration mandate and to discuss thoughts and concerns.

“The tone and tenor from my perspective is, the concern was mostly about standards,” Osterman said of the Rand report. “Our standards are as they’ve always been and we’re not changing them.”

On a personal note, Osterman said he could see benefits to having female operators downrange.

“There are things that women can do, as I’ve seen many times in Afghanistan and Iraq, where there’s a lot of value added in the combined arms kind of approach,” he said.

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Why tech execs want to ban robot weapons

Artificial intelligence experts shook up the tech world this month when they called for the United Nations to regulate and even consider banning autonomous weapons.


Attention quickly gravitated to the biggest celebrity in the group, Elon Musk, who set the Internet ablaze when he tweeted: “If you’re not concerned about AI safety, you should be. Vastly more risk than North Korea.”

 

The group of 116 AI experts warned in an open letter to the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons that “lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare.” Speaking on behalf of companies that make artificial intelligence and robotic systems that may be repurposed to develop autonomous weapons, they wrote, “We feel especially responsible in raising this alarm.”

The blunt talk by leaders of the AI world has raised eyebrows. Musk has put AI in the category of existential threat and is demanding decisive and immediate regulation. But even some of the signatories of the letter now say Musk took the fear mongering too far.

What this means for the Pentagon and its massive efforts to merge intelligent machines into weapon systems is still unclear. The military sees a future of high-tech weapon systems powered by artificial intelligence and ubiquitous autonomous weapons in the air, at sea, on the ground, as well as in cyberspace.

The United Nations has scheduled a November meeting to discuss the implications of autonomous weapons. It has created a group of governmental experts on “lethal autonomous weapon systems.” The letter asked the group to “work hard at finding means to prevent an arms race in these weapons, to protect civilians from their misuse, and to avoid the destabilizing effects of these technologies.”

The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment
United Nations General Assembly hall in New York, NY. Wikimedia Commons photo by user Avala.

Founder and CEO of the artificial intelligence company SparkCognition, Amir Husain, signed the letter but insists that he is against any ban or restrictions that would stifle progress and innovation. He pointed out that the campaign was organized by professor Toby Walsh of the University of New South Wales in Australia, and was meant to highlight the “potential dangers of autonomous weapons absent an international debate on these issues.”

The industry wants a healthy debate on the benefits and risks of AI and autonomy, Amir told RealClearDefense in a statement. But a blanket ban is “unworkable and unenforceable.” Scientific progress is inevitable, “and for me that is not frightening,” he added. “I believe the solution — as much as one exists at this stage — is to redouble our investment in the development of safe, explainable, and transparent AI technologies.”

Wendy Anderson, general manager of SparkCognition’s defense business, said that to suggest a ban or even tight restrictions on the development of any technology is a “slippery slope” and would put the United States at a competitive disadvantage, as other countries will continue to pursue the technology. “We cannot afford to fall behind,” said Anderson. “Banning or restricting its development is not the answer. Having honest, in-depth discussions about how we create, develop, and deploy the technology is.”

The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment
USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson

August Cole, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and writer at the consulting firm Avascent, said the concerns raised by tech leaders on autonomous weapons are valid, but a ban is unrealistic. “Given the proliferation of civilian machine learning and autonomy advances in everything from cars to finance to social media, a prohibition won’t work,” he said.

Setting limits on technology ultimately would hurt the military, which depends on commercial innovations, said Cole. “What needs to develop is an international legal, moral, and ethical framework. … But given the unrelenting speed of commercial breakthroughs in AI, robotics, and machine learning, this may be a taller order than asking for an outright ban on autonomous weapons.”

But while advances in commercial technology have benefited the military, analysts fear that the Pentagon has not fully grasped the risks of unfettered AI and the possibility that machines could become uncontrollable.

“AI is not just another technology,” said Andy Ilachinski, principal research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses. He authored a recent CNA study, “AI, Robots, and Swarms: Issues, Questions, and Recommended Studies.”

The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment
USMC photo by Sgt. Lucas Hopkins

Defense has to be concerned about the implications of this debate, he said in an interview. AI is transforming the world “to the level of a Guttenberg press, to the level of the Internet,” he said. “This is a culture-shifting technology. And DoD is just a small part of that.”

Another troubling reality is that the Pentagon has yet to settle on the definition of autonomous weapons. In 2012, the Department of Defense published an instruction manual on the use of autonomous weapons. That 5-year-old document is the only existing policy on the books on how the US military uses these systems, Ilachinski said. According to that manual, a weapon is autonomous if “once activated, it can select and engage targets without further intervention by a human.”

Policies and directives are long overdue for an update, he said. “We need to know what AI is capable of, how to test it, evaluate it.”

He noted that the Defense Science Board, a Pentagon advisory panel, published two studies on the subject in 2012 and 2016 but provided “no good definition of autonomy or AI in either of them.” These are the Pentagon’s top experts and “they can’t even get it straight.”

The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment
USAF photo by Master Sgt. Dennis J. Henry Jr.

Something about Musk’s warning strikes a chord with scientists that truly understand AI, Ilachinski observed. When Google’s Deepmind created a computer program in 2015 that beat the world’s Go champion, it was a landmark achievement for AI but also brought the realization that these algorithms truly have minds of their own. “This is an issue of great concern for DoD.”

There are areas within AI that scientists are still trying to wrap their heads around. In advanced systems like Deepmind’s AlphaGo, “you can’t reverse engineer why a certain behavior occurred,” Ilachinski said. “It is important for DoD to recognize that they may not able to understand completely why the system is doing what it’s doing.”

One reason to take Musk’s warning seriously is that much is still unknown about what happens within the brains of these AI systems once they are trained, said Ilachinski. “You may not be able to predict the overall behavior of the system,” he said. “So in that sense I share the angst that people like Elon Musk feel.”

On the other hand, it is too late to put the genie back in the bottle, Ilachinski added. The United States can’t let up because countries like China already are working to become the dominant power in AI. Further, the Pentagon has to worry that enemies will exploit AI in ways that can’t yet be imagined. Anyone can buy a couple of drones for less than a thousand dollars, go to the MIT or Harvard website, learn about AI, download snippets of code and implant them in the drones, he said. A swarm of smart drones is something “would have a hard time countering because we are not expecting it. It’s very cheap and easy to do.”

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How the military uses video games to get better at killing

Troops go through seemingly endless amounts of training that can be expensive, boring, and even dangerous. In an effort to make training cheaper, safer, and more effective, the service branches have turned increasingly to video games and simulators.


Possibly the most immersive system in use today, the VIRTSIM system from Raytheon allows users to operate in an open area the size of a basketball court. Trainees wear a set of sensors and feedback gear that records their every action and feeds it into the simulator. Virtual reality goggles show them a simulated world that they move through as a team.

The system doesn’t use wires or tethers to power the suits or transmit data, so participants can move like they would in the real world.

Similarly, the Army’s Dismounted Soldier Training System allows troops to train as a squad in virtual reality. The system allows for customizable missions and incorporates all of a trainee’s movements except for actually walking. Because of the high cost of treadmills, each soldier stands on a rubber pad and moves through the environment with a controller mounted on their weapon, meaning they can’t train the muscle memory of leaping to cover or learn as well to operate with muscle fatigue.

The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment
The Dismounted Solder Training System allows soldiers to train as a squad. Photo: US Army Maj. Penny Zamora

Still, the DSTS provides the chance for soldiers to respond to a mortar attack, react to a near ambush, or any number of dangerous situations that are impossible to train on in the real world.

One of the older simulators, the Engagement Skills Trainer 2000, has even more limitations. Troops are confined to a room and can’t move their character through the simulation at all. Instead of looking through goggles to see the virtual world, a projection of the simulated battle is displayed on one or more walls and trainees engage targets in it.

The EST 2000 does have weapons that closely simulate actual M4s, M9s, and other commons systems. The weapons keep track of how the soldier aims and fires, catching even small actions like trigger squeeze. This allows marksmanship trainers to collect detailed information about what a service member is doing right or wrong.

The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment
Soldiers train in the Engagement Skills Trainer 2000 April 6, 2015 in before heading to live-fire training at Saber Junction 15. Photo: US Army Sgt. 1st Class Caleb Barrieau

The military branches use simulators similar to the ESTS 2000 to train pilots and vehicle crew members. While not being able to walk limits training opportunities for ground troops, people in vehicles don’t have to worry about that. Warrior Hall at Fort Rucker allows new Army pilots to train on different helicopter airframes. The Navy and Air Force have similar programs for jet pilots.

While the simulators are great, the goal isn’t to replace the standard training but to augment. Troops can use the simulator to practice rifle fundamentals before heading to the range, experience hitting a building with their squad before their first visit to a shoot house.

And the military still has even more ambitious plans for simulations. The Future Holistic Training Environment Live Synthetic program would tie together different simulations and allow players to participate in massive exercises. Pilots training in New Mexico could fly support for infantrymen training in California while battle staff commanded from North Carolina.

Until then, there’s always video games.

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The USS England was a Japanese sub’s worst nightmare during World War II

Sometimes there can be total domination by an individual or a team.


In sports, we could see it in something like Gayle Sayers scoring six touchdowns in a game, or Randy Johnson pitching a perfect game. In war, it can be racking up a lot of kills in quick succession, like Chuck Yeager’s becoming an “ace in a day.”

So here is the rarely-told story of how one destroyer escort, the USS England (DE 635), pulled off utter dominance in anti-submarine warfare – six kills in less than two weeks. The famed Second Support Group lead by Frederick J. Walker of HMS Starling in its best stretch took 19 days to get six kills (31 January, 1944 to 19 February, 1944).

USS England was a Buckley-class destroyer escort, displacing 1,400 tons with a top speed of 23 knots, and was armed with three 3-inch guns; a quad 1.1-inch gun; some small anti-aircraft guns; three 21-inch torpedo tubes; a “Hedgehog” anti-submarine mortar; and a number of depth charge launchers. This was a potent arsenal against aircraft, surface vessels and submarines.

Kill One – 18 May, 1944

The USS England was operating with two sister ships, the USS George (DE-697) and the USS Raby (DE-698) when she was ordered to intercept the Japanese submarine I-16. Navy codebreakers had cracked a message that I-16 was delivering supplies to Japanese troops. The England made five attacks using the Hedgehog and scored the kill.

Kill Two – 22 May, 1944

Again, Navy codebreakers provided information on Japanese intentions. This time, they sent a line of subs to sit astride a route that Adm. Bill Halsey had used to move the Third Fleet on two previous occasions. The USS George first detected the Japanese submarine RO-106 at 3:50 AM local time on May 22, but missed. Less than an hour later, the USS England fired the first salvo of Hedgehogs and missed. But at 5:01, the England’s second salvo scored hits that triggered an explosion.

USS England
Navy codebreakers (US Navy photo)

Kill Three – 23 May, 1944

After scoring that kill, the three destroyer escorts began scouting for the rest of the line. The next day, the American vessels found the Japanese RO-104. The USS Raby and USS George missed with eight Hedgehog attacks over two hours, starting at 6:17 in the morning. The USS England then took over, scoring on her second attack at 8:34 AM.

Kill Four – 24 May, 1944

The American destroyer escorts continued their sweep up the Japanese submarine picket line. A half-hour later, the England made sonar contact, and after 24 minutes, launched a Hedgehog attack, putting the Japanese sub RO-116 on the bottom.

Kill Five – 26 May, 1944

Eventually a hunter-killer group consisting of the Casablanca-class escort carrier USS Hoggatt Bay (CVE 75) and the Fletcher-class destroyers USS Hazelwood (DD 531), USS Heerman (DD 532), USS Hoel (DD 533), and USS McCord (DD 534) relieved the three destroyer escorts. The escorts maintained their search formation, and came across the RO-108. USS England picked up the target at 11:04 PM, then launched an attack with Hedgehogs, scoring direct hits on her first salvo.

Kill Six – 31 May, 1944

After re-supplying, the three destroyer escorts were joined by the USS Spangler (DE-696), another Buckley-class destroyer escort. They re-joined the Hoggatt Bay hunter-killer group, and continued their mission. On May 30, the hunt began when USS Hazelwood picked up the RO-105 on radar at 1:56 AM. Commander Hamilton Hains, the escort commander, ordered England to hold back. A depth-charge attack failed, leading to a lethal 25-hour game of cat and mouse during which over 20 hedgehog attacks missed. Finally, Hains sent the England in. One salvo of hedgehog later, RO-105 was on the bottom of the Pacific.

“Hedgehogs” being loaded (US Navy photo)

Rear Adm. Samuel Eliot Morison wrote that Hains later sent a message to USS England, asking “God damn it, how do you do it?”

The response from Cmdr. C.A. Thorwall, the CO of Destroyer Escort Division 40, who has his flag on board USS England, was both witty and politically incorrect.

“Personnel and equipment worked with the smoothness of well-oiled clockwork. As a result of our efforts, Recording Angel working overtime checking in [Japanese] submariners joining Honorable Ancestors,” Morrison was quoted as saying in Volume VIII of his History of United States Naval Operations of World War II.

Admiral Ernest J. King vowed, “There will always be an England in the United States Navy.”

After her exploits, the USS England carried out escort missions. She would not see much more action until May 9, 1945, when she was attacked by three dive bombers. England shot one down, but the plane crashed into her, forcing the ship to return to the United States for repairs.

The end of World War II lead to the ship’s decommissioning the month after Japan surrendered. And she was sold for scrap in 1946.

In 1963, a Leahy-class destroyer leader was named USS England (DLG 22). Later re-designated a cruiser, this ship served in the Navy until being decommissioned in 1994, and sold for scrap 10 years later.

To date, there are no ships currently in service or under construction with the name USS England.


-Feature image: US Navy photo

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This is why the Air Force wants a stealthy new cruise missile

The Air Force is buying a new bomber, dubbed the B-21 Raider, which has generated a lot of headlines and is considered one of the biggest priorities for the service. However, another program may be just as important – even if it doesn’t get the press.


According to an interview that TheCipherBrief.com had with retired Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula, who was one of the primary planners of the Desert Storm air campaign, that program is the Long-Range Stand-Off weapon, or LRSO. In plain terms, it is a new cruise missile.

The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment
David Deptula during his service with the United States Air Force. (USAF photo)

While the BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile is perhaps the most famous – and perhaps the most widely-used cruise missile since Operation Desert Storm – the Air Force has had a pair of cruise missiles it launched from its bombers for about four decades. They were the AGM-86 Air-Launched Cruise Missile and the AGM-129 Advanced Cruise Missile.

While some might argue that the B-2 and B-21 stealth bombers make cruise missiles unnecessary, Deptula said that was not the case. In fact, they make the stealth bombers more potent.

“The LRSO, when carried by B-21s, will enable simultaneous target attacks against several targets from one aircraft, with multiple cruise missiles making defense against this combination highly problematical,” he said. “This combination strengthens deterrence by presenting an adversary an intractable challenge.”

The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment
Artist rendering of B-21 Raider bomber. (Photo from U.S. Air Force)

One of the biggest factors in making that challenge intractable is that the bombers are able to attack from just about any point on the compass. In essence, the cruise missiles would enable a B-21 to hit multiple targets from unexpected directions.

Older bombers like the B-52 and B-1B will also be able to use LRSO as well, with Deptula explaining that they would thus “add mass to an attack” against an adversary. The missile is planned to enter service in 2030 according to FlightGlobal.com, and will feature both nuclear and conventional warheads.

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This Air Force officer and his son bonded on Civil War battlefields

The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment
Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee | Airman Online


Music from a fife and drums rang in the ears of a father and son as they sat around the campfire. Brian E. Withrow and his 14-year-old son, Josh, talked with fellow re-enactors, also clad in Union blue, the night before their first re-enactment at the Battle of Cedar Creek in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

Now and then, the discussion turned to times on the battlefield when the re-enactor could almost feel as if he was actually walking in the boots of a Civil War Soldier.

Fifteen years later, the Withrow duo are back in camp at the same Virginia battlefield, except the son is now a 29-year-old re-enactment veteran, and the father plays a commanding general’s assistant chief of staff . What hasn’t changed is their shared love of history, and the one thing that has kept them returning to re-enactment battlefields is the search for those special times when they feel almost transported back in time. They call those times “Civil War moments.”

The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment
Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee | Airman Online

“An example was at the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, and we were doing the battle through the cornfield,” said Brian, a retired lieutenant colonel and munitions officer. “It was early morning, still dark, with just the glimpses of light coming up. There was a mist over the field. The artillery was firing, and I could see the blasts from their muzzles.

“In front of me, the very first wave of federal soldiers was given the command to go into the cornfield. For that brief moment, there were no telephone poles, no vehicles. There was just the cannon fire and musketry fire with one of the just-right conditions and glimpses that give you that moment of, ‘Wow! That must have been what it was like.'”

The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment
Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee | Airman Online

An interest in U.S. history from his youth led Brian to consider the re-enactment hobby when he was stationed at the Pentagon in 1997, with the numerous Civil War battlefields in Maryland and Virginia. Josh shared the love of history, so the two attended re-enactments together as spectators until his father asked him if he would like to try the hobby with him. They watched the 136th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia in 1999, and after talking to re-enactors in the 3rd U.S. Infantry, Company B, they decided to join the unit.

Josh was still two years away from his 16th birthday, so he wasn’t able to carry a weapon at their first re-enactment at Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park later that year, but as it turned out, he was right where the action was. In the Battle of Cedar Creek in the fall of 1864, forces led by Gen. Jubal Early over-ran federal forces, although Union Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan later made his famous ride to lead a rout of the Confederates, which helped the Union crush the resistance in the Shenandoah.

“I was too young to carry a gun, and I didn’t have any shoes that would fit me, so I had to stay in the tent while my dad went to take the field,” Josh said. “But, of course, the battle came to me. I was sitting there inside the tent, while there were two rows of infantry firing at each other around me, and it’s lighting up with the gunpowder. It was so dark outside, and all you could see were the flashes of the muzzles of the guns. It was just one of the coolest things I’d ever seen, and we were thinking, ‘We are going to keep on doing this.'”

The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment
Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee | Airman Online

Brian’s interest in re-enacting began with a question about his ancestors’ role in the Civil War. Through his research and participation in re-enactments, he was able to correct what the family believed about an ancestor who fought and died in the war. For years, the family’s oral history showed that George Dugan, a private in the 10th Illinois Infantry, died in a Confederate prison in Andersonville, Georgia. By the time he’d participated in the 150th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina, Brian had learned he actually died in action there, a fact he didn’t know when he attended the same battle as a private 10 years earlier.

“I now have a personal connection,” Brian said. “Not only had he died there, but fortunately for my family line, he had a son who ended up being my great great-grandfather.”

A glance at the uniforms in a closet in the family home in Stafford, Virginia, shows the variety of ranks Brian portrays in his hobby. He plays the role of Union Soldiers, as well as those from the Revolutionary War, from the ranks of private all the way up to the commanding general of the Union Army. After he retired from the Air Force, Brian let his beard grow, which coupled with the cigar he often has in his mouth in camp, gives him a resemblance to a U.S. history legend, Gen. (and former President) Ulysses S. Grant.

The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment
Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee | Airman Online

While on the board of directors that created the Stafford Civil War Park, Brian portrayed a colonel in the 55th Ohio Infantry at the grand opening in 2013, and spectators saw the beard and cigar and mistook him for Grant. The mistaken identity kept happening at subsequent reenactments and historical events, even to the point where Confederate re-enactment forces “captured” him, thinking they’d caught the overall Union commander. He was eventually asked to portray Grant for the 150th anniversary re-enactments in 2011 and 2012.  Brian impersonates the famous general for the Civil War Impressionists Association in annual events at the National Mall in Washington and at numerous Civil War historic sites.

“I’m still a private in Company K of the 3rd U.S. Infantry, so I still go out and do events as an infantry private,” Brian said. “Then again, I can put on three stars, and I can be the commanding general. I can play a private or the general-in-chief with equal enthusiasm.”

When he began the hobby, Brian had no interest in portraying an officer. He was still on active duty, and he wanted to experience a taste of a Union private’s daily life. However, after his Air Force retirement six years ago, he had an opportunity to join the Army of the Potomac headquarters staff as a guidon bearer for the command officer, which was appealing to him because of his love for horses, and in the past year he’s served as the commander’s assistant chief of staff.

The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment
Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee | Airman Online

The night before the re-enactment at Cedar Creek, Brian was also promoted to brigadier general and will transition into the role of the staff’s commanding officer.

Serving as an officer in a Civil War re-enactment unit is obviously completely different from an active-duty career. For example, there is no Uniform Code of Military Justice to keep them bound to the unit or to commander’s orders. Still, Brian has found common ground between the two. Safety, self-aid and buddy care, and survival training, as well as his logistics knowledge from a career in munitions, have all come into play at different times in the field. Also, Soldiers in the 19th century operated on a code that wasn’t too different from the Air Force Core Values.

“From my research, I can’t say that they had what they called core values,” he said. “But clearly, in particular, the Soldiers who had been trained formally through the military academies during that time period, had a value system based on personal honor and morality. I think those attributes defined what it meant ideally to be a good Soldier then, and those traditions from our early American military experience are what evolved into what we call our core values now.”

The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment
Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee | Airman Online

For just a few days, re-enactors like the Withrows not only try to help re-create historic battles, but also get a taste of the living experiences Soldiers on both sides endured in the Civil War. Along with the bonding experiences when they swap war stories and glimpses of their lives with fellow re-enactors, they also sometimes experience some harsh conditions. They faced below freezing weather at the Battle of Sailor’s Creek in April, and there was the other extreme, where they faced temperatures above 100 degrees with elevated humidity at the 150th Battle of First Manassas in July 2011.

“We got just a little taste of some of the environmental conditions these Soldiers went through,” Brian said. “The difference was we came out and may experience some of those conditions for a weekend. That gives you an appreciation for the fact that these guys did this week on end, month on end, on forced marches of 10 to 15 miles, summertime and wintertime. Again, we get this little glimpse, just a little taste of what they may have experienced.”

These days, it is difficult for both father and son to make every battle as they were able to do when Josh was younger. He’s not able to attend most re-enactments because of his schedule as a legislative affairs manager for Freedom Works in Washington. Since his father retired, his schedule as a government employee at Fort Belvoir also keeps him busy. But their love of the hobby remains as strong as it was around that campfire 15 years ago. Hearing the fife and drums still sounds sweet to their ears.

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Latest missile test shows US can knock Kim’s missiles from the sky

The US military shot an incoming missile out of the sky in a successful intercept test Aug. 30.


The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones launched an SM-6 interceptor to bring down a medium-range ballistic missile off the coast of Hawaii, according to the Missile Defense Agency.

The missile was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii. Using the on-board AN/SPY-1 radar, the destroyer detected and tracked the missile.

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The USS John Paul Jones. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Benjamin Crossley.

“We are working closely with the fleet to develop this important new capability, and this was a key milestone in giving our Aegis BMD ships an enhanced capability to defeat ballistic missiles in their terminal phase,” MDA Director Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves said in a statement. “We will continue developing ballistic missile defense technologies to stay ahead of the threat as it evolves.”

The Aug. 30 test marked the second time an SM-6 interceptor has been used to intercept an MRBM. The military has conducted three tests in total, but during a test in June, the interceptor failed as a result of human error. A sailor on the USS John Paul Jones triggered a self-destruct sequence by mistake.

The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment
The Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones launches a Standard Missile 6 during a live-fire test of the ship’s aegis weapons system. Photo from US Navy.

The US military’s latest intercept test comes just two days after North Korea launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan in an unusually-provocative missile test. The North warned that it will continue firing missiles into the Pacific Ocean, adding that the recent test was a “prelude” to possible strikes on or around Guam.

The US has lost a few Aegis destroyers in recent months, hindering missile defense in a volatile region. Both the USS Fitzgerald and USS John McCain were damaged severely after collisions with merchant vessels in June and August. The two accidents killed seventeen American sailors. The US military still has numerous missile defense assets — from Patriot interceptors to Terminal High Altitude Area Defense systems — in the area though.

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Army Soldier reflects on Black History Month: ‘Black history is American history’

CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo — On Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, U.S. Army Reserve Capt. Cassian Nuñez delivered a speech to a small room of Soldiers at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, in honor of the U.S. civil rights leader. The attending group held ranks ranging from junior enlisted all the way colonel.

During his speech, Nuñez told the story of a lesser-known man named Walter Reuther. Reuther was white, and a powerful civil rights ally who, among many other feats, helped organize the March on Washington and stood by King as he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.

He wanted the Soldiers listening to remember that progress for African American rights was and is still accomplished by working together.

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Long before Nuñez found himself deployed to support a NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo and giving this speech, he was spending time at the beach or the mall in southern California, where he grew up. He was raised in Rancho Cucamonga, a foothill suburb of Los Angeles, and attended Los Osos High School. It was here that Nuñez became involved in several extracurriculars, including student government, Model United Nations and Future Business Leaders of America.

The FBLA helped spark his passion for financial literacy and later motivated him to become a budget program analyst with the 3rd Medical Command (Deployment Support) based out of Atlanta, Georgia.

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“A majority of my friends were in the FBLA,” said Nuñez. “We talked about the stock market all the time. From 13 years old to now, I was surrounded by people who non-stop talked about finance.”

Racial issues and economic hardship often compound each other and overlap. When Nuñez moved to Savannah, Georgia, to attend college, he observed this firsthand. Compared to his hometown, which he described as racially diverse and generally inclusive, Savannah’s racial atmosphere was totally different.

“In California, you have disparities based on income,” said Nuñez. “Rich people, regardless of their race, live in one area and poor people live in another area. But in Savannah, I saw poor white people live over here and poor Black people live over there. That was very different to see people who don’t have anything couldn’t even live together.”

At a young age, it was shocking for him to see this segregation, and at times, he was the target of racist behavior. But as he got older, Nuñez came to accept that people are shaped by their environments.

His younger sisters’ school textbooks in Georgia, for example, look completely different than the textbooks he used in California. He believes many racial and financial issues that persist in the U.S. can be tied to differences in K-12 education curriculum across the country.

“It’s just a totally different education campaign,” said Nuñez. “So instead of victimizing myself, I took it as an opportunity to educate people. In the K-12 system, we’re not taught what money is or how to use it properly. You have very smart people who can perform brain surgery but can’t balance their checkbook. Why is that?”

One way Nuñez helps educate others is by passing on his knowledge of financial responsibility to friends, family and his fellow Soldiers. His biggest inspiration is Robert Kiyasaki, an American businessman and author.

On a previous 2018 deployment to Kuwait, Nuñez would often swap investing and real estate advice with his boss and read Kiyosaki’s financial philosophies. That consistent exchange of ideas and strong mentorship, followed by his ability to use that information after deployment, has helped Nuñez build a profitable real estate business.

“I was able to do a lot more because of the decisions I made in those nine months,” said Nuñez. “That’s one of the things I’m most proud of. Not just the ability to take in information, but to act on it and enjoy the fruits of that labor.”

The mentorship Nuñez has received from his senior leaders is something he encourages all Soldiers to seek out during their military careers. As we celebrate Black History Month, coming together to talk about life experiences is one way the Army can continue working toward a diverse, inclusive environment that’s representative of the Soldiers who serve in it.

“While people can’t do a potluck or a play to celebrate because of COVID-19,” said Nuñez, “they can reflect on the fact that Black history is really American history.”

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Here’s how Navy SEALs take down a hostile ship

Command of the seas sometimes means taking control of a non-complaint ship by forceful means, and, as they’ve demonstrated a number of times in recent years while dealing with pirates off the coast of Somalia, U.S. Navy SEALs possess a specific set of skills required to get the job done. This mission is known as “vessel boarding search and seizure” or “VBSS.”


Here’s how VBSS missions generally go down:

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(Photo: U.S. Navy)

Mission planning begins between all the players in the intelligence center aboard the strike group’s aircraft carrier. Elements beyond the SEALs are members of the ship’s crew who need to know where to position their vessels and aviators from the air wing. HH-60 pilots will carry the SEALs to the target ship, and Super Hornet pilots will fly high cover in case things get sporty and more firepower is required.

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Super Hornet launches off of Cat 4. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The Super Hornets launch first, armed with precision guided bombs and a nose cannon. They’ll establish a combat air patrol station high overhead in order not to tip off the bad guys.

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(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young)

HH-60s — the special ops configured variant of the Seahawk — launch with the SEAL team aboard.

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(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young/Released)

Generally a pair of HH-60s is enough for the average VBSS. The helos transit a very low altitude and approach the target ship from off of the stern.

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(Photo: U.S. Navy)

At the last second, the HH-60s pop over the target ship’s fantail . . .

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(Photo: U.S. Navy)

. . . and deliver the SEALs by fast rope.

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(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Corwin Colbert)

On deck, the SEALs make best speed for the superstructure.

The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment
(Photo: U.S. Navy)

Out of the open area, the team consolidates for the assault on the control points, usually the bridge of the ship.

The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment
(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl Kelsey J. Green)

The trick is maintain the element of surprise and to get to the bridge undetected. If that happens, neutralizing the bad guys is an easier proposition. If it doesn’t happen then the SEALs are ready to deal, armed with M-4s, 9mm pistols, concussion grenades, and knives.

The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment
(Photo: U.S. Navy)

Once maintaining the element of surprise is no longer a factor, the H-60s can close in . . .

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(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young/Released)

. . . and provide cover in the event the SEALs missed something that was hiding on the way to the bridge.

The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment
(U.S. Navy photo by Photographers Mate 1st Class Tim Turner)

After any threat is neutralized, the SEALs can inspect the ship to see if there’s any contraband aboard.

The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Corwin Colbert)

With tasking complete, the SEAL team gathers on the bridge for a quick “hot wash up” of the mission and to call for pickup back to the carrier.

Now: The most famous Navy SEALs

OR: This crazy first-person footage shows Korean Navy SEALs taking down Somali pirates

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Russia denies funding the Taliban

The Russian embassy in Kabul on May 23 rejected allegations that Moscow was funding Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, stating the claims were unsubstantiated.


This comes after Kandahar police chief general Abdul Raziq said the week before that certain countries in the region were keeping the Taliban’s war machine operational as they believe conflict in Afghanistan protects their interests.

He said countries such as Pakistan, Russia, and Iran are funding and equipping the Taliban and other insurgent groups in order to fuel the war machine and pursue their own objectives.

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An Afghan and coalition security force conduct room searches in which they detained eight suspected insurgents during an operation to arrest a Taliban leader in Nahr-e Saraj district, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Aug. 14, 2012. (Photo by U.S. Army Spc Justin Young)

Raziq said some countries in the region have a vested interest in the conflict in Afghanistan.

He claimed that there is sufficient evidence to show that Pakistan, Russia, and Iran are funding the Taliban and other militant groups in the country.

“The Russians have been in contact with the Taliban militants since 2004 or 2005. It is not correct to say that they (Russians) engaged in ties with the Taliban in recent times (only), but now these relations have been clarified. Pakistanis, Iranians and the Russians are jointly supporting the terrorists, however the Russians do their work through Iran, for instance sending the Taliban weapons and money,” said Raziq.

U.S director of defense intelligence Lieutenant General Vincent R. Stewart said in Congress that despite signs of Russia’s support for the Taliban, U.S officials have not found physical evidence to back these claims.

Also read: US general again accuses Russia of supplying the Taliban

On May 24, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also said the alliance had heard reports to this effect but they too did not have proof.

The Afghan government has also said on a number of occasions in the past that they do not have evidence to back these claims.

The Air Force wants to sentence an airman to 130 years for sexual harassment
U.S. Marines with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment patrol the fields in Marjeh, Afghanistan to seure the city of Marjeh from the Taliban. (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl Andres J. Lugo)

The Russian embassy’s statement further said that Moscow once again declares that allegations of its support to the Taliban “does not match the reality (of the situation) and are merely unsubstantiated claims.”

This coincides with the Afghan National Security Adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar’s meeting with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval on the sidelines of a summit in Moscow, the national security council said in a statement.

The NSC said the two sides held talks on further expanding bilateral, political, and security relations.

The statement added that the two sides also held talks on the establishment of a comprehensive plan to support and strengthen the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.

Atmar arrived in Moscow on May 23, heading a delegation of high-ranking Afghan officials.

Officials from 25 countries are meeting at the Russia Security Conference, which will focus on countering terrorism in the region.

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North Korea says new missile can carry heavy nuke

North Korea has boasted of a successful weekend launch of a new type of “medium long-range” ballistic rocket that can carry a heavy nuclear warhead.


Outsiders also see a significant technological jump, with Sunday’s test-fire apparently flying higher and for a longer time period than any other such previous missile.

Amid condemnation in Seoul, Tokyo and Washington, a jubilant leader Kim Jong Un promised more nuclear and missile tests and warned that North Korean weapons could strike the U.S. mainland and Pacific holdings.

North Korean propaganda must be considered with wariness, but Monday’s claim, if confirmed, would mark another big advance toward the North’s goal of fielding a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

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