The military has embraced openly-gay members within its ranks, and now squabbles over combat roles for women and whether to accept transgender troops, but the future may require the Pentagon to accept whomever it can get.
At the height of the Iraq War, it seemed like the standard for service was so low, even convicted felons could get into the Army and Marine Corps. But today, more than two-thirds of America’s young people wouldn’t qualify for military service because of physical, behavioral, or educational problems.
The services have long required at least a high-school education as a prerequisite for joining. The Army used to offer GED assistance for recruits who wanted to join. These days, having a felony conviction is out of the question, but so are some tattoos, gauged earlobes, and taking hyperactivity medication. The Pentagon says 71 percent of America’s 34 million 17-24 year old population would fail to qualify for enlistment.
Of those eligible for service, the Army estimates only one percent even have an interest.
The U.S. Army’s major enlistment requirements include:
Ages between 17 and 34 years old
Must be U.S. citizen or legal foreign national
Must have high school diploma or equivalent
Minimum 33 score on Armed Forces Qualification Test
No tattoos on fingers, neck or face
No ear gauges
No ADHD medication win the past 12 months
No felony convictions
No persistent illegal drug use
No insulin-dependent diabetes
Meet height weight requirements
The biggest single reason for failing to meet the requirements is obesity. Maj, Gen. Allen Batschelet, commander of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, says obesity is becoming a national security issue.
“The obesity issue is the most troubling because the trend is going in the wrong direction,” he said. “We think by 2020 it could be as high as 50%, which mean only 2 in 10 would qualify to join the Army.” He paused. “It’s a sad testament to who we are as a society right now.”
Lt. Gen. Mark Phillip Hertling, the Commanding General of US Army Europe and Seventh Army, discuseed the issues he faced while overseeing the Army’s initial training, and the economics involved with keeping soldiers fit to fight, in this TED talk:
This isn’t recent news, however. In 2009, a similar study was conducted which had similar results. It was so disturbing back in 2009, it led 550 retired admirals, generals, and other retired senior military leaders to form Mission:Readiness, a nonprofit advocacy group to urge lawmakers to expand high-quality early childhood education programs, increased access to healthier food at school, and improved quality and quantity of Physical Education.
As tensions with North Korea escalate in the wake of that country’s sixth nuclear test, the United States is also flexing its military muscle.
One of the primary systems being spun up is the B-1B Lancer.
This Cold War-era bomber is a very powerful system – it carries 84 500-pound bombs internally, and also could carry another 44 externally. Should Russia try to take the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the Lancer is very likely to take out their ground forces with weapons like the CBU-97.
That sort of deadly precision can also apply to Kim Jong Un’s massed artillery. The preferred weapon in this case would be more along the lines of the GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munition. Each B-1 can carry up to 24 of these weapons, enabling it to knock out hardened artillery bunkers. The B-1B can also use smaller GBU-38 JDAMs, based on the Mk 82 bomb, to hit other positions.
According to an Air Force fact sheet, the B-1B Lancer entered service in 1986. It has a top speed of Mach 1.2 at sea level, and “intercontinental” range. Among the other weapons it can carry are the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile. A Navy release noted that the B-1B recently tested an anti-ship version of the JASSM.
You can see the B-1B carry out one of its recent training missions over Korea in the video below. Note the heavy F-15 escort. These are valuable bombers – and only 66 are in the active Air Force inventory.
Staff Sgt. Eugene Leonard served in the Marine Corps during World War II and was wounded in action. But he never lost a love for aviation, also serving in the Air Force and as an airplane mechanic in his civilian life.
Staff Sgt. Eugene Leonard (Youtube screenshot)
So, for his 99th birthday, one friend decided to pick up the former Marine’s spirits after Leonard became a widower and moved to the Phoenix area, Fox10Phoenix.com reported.
What was selected for that task was another World War II veteran — a restored B-17 Flying Fortress bomber.
In a day and age where we lose 492 World War II veterans a day, according to the National World War II Museum, those few remaining are a link to the heroic history of that conflict.
The same can be said for the planes. In this case, one World War II vet was able to give another one a brief pick-me up.
Here is Fox10Phoenix’s report on Staff Sgt. Leonard’s flight:
The idea of using planes to destroy tanks is not a new one. Although the concept has been perfected with modern aircraft like the popular A-10 Warthog, tank-killing planes flew not long after the invention of both vehicles. In WWII, tank and plane technology advanced rapidly. As tanks became more survivable with thicker armor, planes began carrying heavier and heavier ordnance to kill them. Eventually, armies decided that the best way to kill a tank and other ground targets with a plane was with a tank cannon. Here are four of those planes. Note that planes armed with flak guns like the German BK 3,7 3.7cm gun are not included.
1. de Havilland Mosquito FB Mk XVIII — QF 6-pounder (57mm)
The DH Mosquito was one of the most capable planes of WWII. Famously made mostly of wood, the Mosquito was used as a fighter, bomber, pathfinder, and reconnaissance aircraft. It was said that the only problem with the Mosquito is that the RAF never had enough of them. The Mk XVIII fighter-bomber variant was armed with an autoloading quickfire 57mm anti-tank gun, the same gun used on the Churchill and Crusader tanks. It was designed to attack U-boats and other German ships. Despite the Air Ministry’s doubts over arming the Mosquito with a tank gun, the variant proved to be very effective. On March 10, 1944, Mk XVIIIs from 248 Squadron engaged a German convoy of one U-boat and four destroyers protected by 10 Ju 88 Schnellbombers. Though the U-boat was only damaged, three Ju 88s were shot down. Pilot Tony Phillips shot down one Ju 88 with four 57mm shells, one of which tore off the German’s engine. The Mk XVIII went on to sink at least a dozen German U-boats and surface ships. It was so successful that the British toyed with the idea of mounting a 96mm QF 32-pounder to a Mosquito.
2. Junkers Ju 88 P-1 — Bordkanone BK 7,5 7.5cm
Like the Mosquito, the Ju 88 was an extremely versatile WWII aircraft. It was used as a bomber, dive bomber, night fighter, reconnaissance aircraft, and even a flying bomb at the end of the war. In 1942, Germany began experimenting with the idea of mounting the deadly 7.5cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun on the Ju 88. Testing was successful and resulted in 40 Ju 88 P-1 variants armed with modified PaK 40s. However, the aircraft proved to be slow and vulnerable on the battlefield because of the gun’s weight. The concept was further developed with the P-2 and P-3 variants. These used the lighter BK 3,7 3.7cm autocannons developed from the 3.7cm Flak 18. Along with the 50mm autocannon-equipped P-4 variant, the higher velocity of the small-caliber guns proved deadly against Soviet armor on the Eastern Front.
3. Henschel Hs 129 B-3 — Bordkanone BK 7,5 7.5cm
Following the successful integration of the BK 7,5 on the Ju 88, the gun was further modified and mounted on the Hs 129. As a dedicated ground-attack aircraft, the Hs 129 was a more appropriate choice to carry the gun. It was also equipped with a new hydraulic-dampening system and an aerodynamic muzzle brake. Attacking from above, it was theoretically capable of destroying any tank in the world at the time. Still, the 7.5cm’s heavy weight made the plane difficult to fly. Although only 25 units were delivered to frontline squadrons before production was halted, the aircraft proved highly effective against Soviet armor.
4. North American B-25G/H/PBJ-1H Mitchell — T13E1 75mm cannon
Like the British, the U.S. needed a heavy-hitting aircraft for anti-ship operations. The answer came in the form of a tank cannon on a bomber. Like an early AC-130, the B-25 Mitchell of Doolittle Raid fame was experimentally fitted with the 75mm M4 cannon. Modified from the M3 cannon found on the M4 Sherman tank, it was the largest weapon carried on an American bomber at the time. Modified from a B-25C, the experimental XB-25G proved the flying tank gun concept and led to the development of the B-25G and later H variants. The lighter T13E1 75mm cannon was adapted from the M4 and was loaded by the plane’s navigator. After being signaled that the gun was loaded, the pilot could fire it with a button on his control wheel. An average of four rounds could be fired on a strafing run. The Marine Corps also adopted the 75mm B-25 as the PBJ-1, standing for Patrol (P) Bomber (B) built by North American Aviation (J), not “peanut butter and jelly.” One of the most heavily armed aircraft in the world, it could attack targets with eight forward-firing .50- caliber machine guns, eight 5″ rockets, 3,000 pounds of bombs and its 75mm tank cannon.
I’m sure you are sick of hearing the phrase, “There’s an app for that!” Well, the Marines how have an app for calling in fire support – part of the new suite of gear for forward observers.
According to a Marine Corps release, the service soon will be issuing the Target Handoff System Version 2, or “THS V.2.”
Now weighing in at about 20 pounds, the THS V.2 will cut that burden in half. When the combat load of troops can reach close to 100 pounds, this is a significant relief to Marines on the move.
The THS V.2 gets this light weight by using commercial smart phones to replace the more conventional radio systems in the original THS. An app on the smart phone then allows Marines to call in fire support much more easily, and that will help minimize collateral damage.
The system even comes with a pre-installed “Start Guide” with a variety of tutorials for users.
This fiscal year Marines will receive smart phones that make calling for fire support easier, quicker and more accurate. The Target Handoff System Version 2, or THS V.2, is a portable system designed for use by dismounted Marines to locate targets, pinpoint global positioning coordinates and call for close air, artillery and naval fire support using secure digital communications. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Joe Laws/Released)
“With the new version, Marines will obtain a lightweight device equipped to provide immediate situational awareness on where friendly and enemy locations are, and the ability to hand off target data to fire support to get quick effects on the battlefield,” Capt. Jesse Hume of Marine Corps Systems Command said. Hume serves as the THS V.2 project officer.
“THS V.2 provides embedded, real-time tactical information with ground combat element units down to the squad or platoon level,” Gunnery Sgt. Nicholas Tock added. “If we are on patrol and we take contact from machine guns in a tree line, a satellite that passes over once every few hours is not going to help an infantry unit kill that target. THS V.2 is for that close combat.”
The system also includes a laser-rangefinder, combat net radio, and video downlink — but there’s another benefit. In addition to cutting the weight in half, the use of off-the-shelf technology cuts the price of the system in half.
Even the bean-counters seem to win with this.
Anyone picking a firefight with Marines, though, looks to be a sure loser. And that’s a good thing.
There’s a nasty villain who’s holed himself up in a compound somewhere in BadGuyLand. Both the United States and Russia want to nab this guy – and get him bad. Then, there is a need to rescue some hostages being held at a second compound.
The United States will send elements of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta, better known as “Delta Force.” Russia will send elite spetsnaz troops. Who do you send where?
Let’s put the movies starring Chuck Norris aside (even if they were pretty awesome – and where can I get that motorcycle?). The real Delta Force is filled with very deadly operators.
Founded in 1977, and taking over for an interim unit known as Blue Light. Some Delta operators have risen to great heights: Gen. Peter Schoomaker became Army Chief of Staff, while Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin rose to command Army Special Operations Command and the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center.
Delta operators are recruited from across the military, but the 75th Ranger Regiment seems to be a primary source, according to a 2006 statement during a Congressional testimony.
Delta was primarily a counter-terrorist group, but has since evolved to carry out a variety of missions, including the capture of high-value targets.
One such operation in 1993 turned into the Battle of Mogadishu. The unit was also involved in the capture of an ISIS chemical weapons expert this year, and reportedly also helped capture the Mexican drug lord known as “El Chapo” this past Janaury.
During Operation Just Cause, Delta operatives rescued Kurt Muse from one of Noriega’s prisons. Delta also carried out a major raid on an ISIS prison in Oct. 2015 that freed seven prisoners. Sergeant 1st Class Josh Wheeler was killed in the raid.
Russia’s spetsnaz were created for a different purpose.
Founded by the Soviet Union, they worked for the Main Intelligence Directorate, known as the GRU. Their mission was to track down and destroy American tactical and theater nuclear systems like the MGR-3 Little John and the MGM-31 Pershing missile.
But their mission evolved into hunting other targets.
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, spetsznaz took out the Afghan president. Spetsnaz have also seen action in Russia’s intervention in the Ukraine, the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, and the Syrian civil war. Russia trained a lot of them – according to Viktor Suvarov, a defecting Soviet officer, there were 20 brigades and 41 companies of spetsnaz in 1978.
That number went up after the invasion of Afghanistan.
Spetsnaz and Delta each boast the usual small arms (assault rifles and pistols). The spetsznaz have some unique specialized gear, like the NRS-2 survival knife that can fire a pistol round, and the VSS Vintorez sniper rifle that is capable of select-fire. The large size of spetsnaz – 12 formations of brigade or regimental size in 2012 – means that they are not as selective as Delta.
So, who do you send where? Since the spetsnaz are almost mass-produced, it makes more sense to send them after the high-value target. If the guy lives to be turned over to people like Jose Rodriguez and James Mitchell who can… encourage him to talk, fine.
But Delta Force will be needed for the hostage rescue mission, since they have performed it very well in the past.
F-35s, F-22s and other fighter jets will soon use improved “artificial intelligence” to control nearby drone “wingmen” able to carry weapons, test enemy air defenses or perform intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance missions in high risk areas, senior Air Force officials said.
Citing ongoing progress with computer algorithms and some degree of AI (artificial intelligence) already engineered into the F-35, Air Force Chief Scientist Gregory Zacharias said that technology was progressing quickly at the Air Force Research Lab – to the point where much higher degrees of autonomy and manned-unmanned teaming is expected to emerge in the near future.
“This involves an attempt to have another platform fly alongside a human, perhaps serving as a weapons truck carrying a bunch of missiles,” Zacharias said in an interview with Scout Warrior.
An F-35 computer system, Autonomic Logistics Information System, involves early applications of artificial intelligence wherein computers make assessments, go through checklists, organize information and make some decisions by themselves – without needing human intervention.
“We are working on making platforms more autonomous with multi-int fusion systems and data from across different intel streams,” Zacharias explained.
The computer, called ALIS, makes the aircraft’s logistics tail more automated and is able to radio back information about engine health or other avionics.
A single, secure information environment provides users with up-to-date information on any of these areas using web-enabled applications on a distributed network, a statement from ALIS- builder Lockheed Martin says.
ALIS serves as the information infrastructure for the F-35, transmitting aircraft health and maintenance action information to the appropriate users on a globally-distributed network to technicians worldwide, the statement continues.
However, despite the promise of advancing computer technology and increasingly levels of autonomy, Zacharias emphasized that dynamic human cognition is, in many respects, far more capable than computers.
Computers can more quickly complete checklists and various procedures, whereas human perception abilities can more quickly process changing information in many respects.
“A computer might have to go through a big long checklist, whereas a pilot might immediately know that the engines are out without going through a checklist. He is able to make a quicker decision about where to land,” Zacharias said.
The F-35s so-called “sensor fusion” uses computer algorithms to acquire, distill, organize and present otherwise disparate pieces of intelligence into a single picture for the pilot. The technology, Zacharias said, also exhibit some early implementations of artificial intelligence.
Systems such as a 360-degree sensor suite, called the Distributed Aperture System, is linked with targeting technologies, such as the aircraft’s Electro-Optical Targeting System.
F-35 to Control Drones
As a result, F-35 pilots will be able to control a small group of drones flying nearby from the aircraft cockpit in the air, performing sensing, reconnaissance and targeting functions.
At the moment, the flight path, sensor payload and weapons disposal of airborne drones such as Air Force Predators and Reapers are coordinated from ground control stations.
“The more autonomy and intelligence you can put on these vehicles, the more useful they will become,” Zacharias said.
This development could greatly enhance mission scope, flexibility and effectiveness by enabling a fighter jet to conduct a mission with more weapons, sensors, targeting technology and cargo, Zacharias explained.
For instance, real-time video feeds from the electro-optical/infrared sensors on board an Air Force Predator, Reaper or Global Hawk drone could go directly into an F-35 cockpit, without needing to go to a ground control station. This could speed up targeting and tactical input from drones on reconnaissance missions in the vicinity of where a fighter pilot might want to attack. In fast-moving combat circumstances involving both air-to-air and air-to-ground threats, increased speed could make a large difference.
“It’s almost inevitable people will be saying – I want more missiles on board to get through defenses or I need some EW (electronic warfare) countermeasures because I don’t have the payload to carry a super big pod,” he explained. “A high powered microwave may have some potential that will require a dedicated platform. The negative side is you have to watch out that you don’t overload the pilot,” Zacharias added.
In addition, drones could be programmed to fly into heavily defended or high-risk areas ahead of manned-fighter jets in order to assess enemy air defenses and reduce risk to pilots.
“Decision aides will be in cockpit or on the ground and more platform oriented autonomous systems. A wing-man, for instance, might be carrying extra weapons, conduct ISR tasks or help to defend an area,” he said.
Advances in computer power, processing speed and areas referred to as “artificial intelligence” are rapidly changing the scope of what platforms are able to perform without needing human intervention. This is mostly developing in the form of what Zacharias referred to as “decision aide support,” meaning machines will be able to better interpret, organize, analyze and communicate information to a much greater extent – without have humans manage each individual task.
“A person comes in and does command and control while having a drone execute functions. The resource allocation will be done by humans,” Zacharias said.
Another advantage of these technological advances is that one human may have an ability to control multiple drones and perform a command and control function – while drones execute various tasks such as sensor functions, targeting, weapons transport or electronic warfare activities.
At the moment, multiple humans are often needed to control a single drone, and new algorithms increasing autonomy for drones could greatly change this ratio. Zacharias explained a potential future scenario wherein one human is able to control 10 – or even 100 – drones.
Algorithms could progress to the point where a drone, such as a Predator or a Reaper, might be able to follow a fighter aircraft by itself – without needing its flight path navigated from human direction from the ground.
Unlike ground robotics wherein autonomy algorithms have to contend with an ability to move quickly in relation to unanticipated developments and other moving objects, simple autonomous flight guidance from the air is much more manageable to accomplish.
Since there are often fewer obstacles in the air compared with the ground, drones above the ground can be programmed more easily to fly toward certain pre-determined locations, often called a “way-points.”
At the same time, unanticipated movements, objects or combat circumstances can easily occur in the skies as well, Zacharias said.
“The hardest thing is ground robotics. I think that is really tough. I think the air basically is today effectively a solved problem. The question is what happens when you have to react more to your environment and a threat is coming after you,” he said.
As a result, scientists are now working on advancing autonomy to the point where a drone can, for example, be programmed to spoof a radar system, see where threats are and more quickly identify targets independently.
“We will get beyond simple guidance and control and will get into tactics and execution,” Zacharias added.
Wargames, exercises and simulations are one of the ways the Air Force is working to advance autonomous technologies.
“Right now we are using lots of bandwidth to send our real-time video. One of the things that we have is a smarter on-board processor. These systems can learn over time and be a force multiplier. There’s plenty of opportunity to go beyond the code base of an original designer and work on a greater ability to sense your environment or sense what your teammate might be telling you as a human,” he said.
For example, with advances in computer technology, autonomy and artificial intelligence, drones will be able to stay above a certain area and identify particular identified relevant objects or targets at certain times, without needing a human operator, Zacharias added.
This is particularly relevant because the exorbitant amount of ISR video feeds collected needs organizing algorithms and technology to help process and sift through the vast volumes of gathered footage – in order to pinpoint and communicate what is tactically relevant.
“With image processing and pattern recognition, you could just send a signal instead of using up all this bandwidth saying ‘hey I just saw something 30-seconds ago you might want to look at the video feed I am sending right now,'” he explained.
The Army has advanced manned-unmanned teaming technology in its helicopter fleet –successfully engineering Apache and Kiowa air crews to control UAS flight paths and sensor payloads from the air in the cockpit. Army officials say this technology has yielded successful combat results in Afghanistan.
Senior Air Force leaders have said that the services’ new next-generation bomber program, Long Range Strike Bomber or LRS-B, will be engineered to fly manned and unmanned missions.
Also, in September of 2013, the Air Force and Boeing flew an unmanned F-16 Falcon at supersonic speeds for the first time at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The unmanned fighter was able to launch, maneuver and return to base without a pilot.
At the same time, despite the speed at which unmanned technology is progressing, many scientist and weapons’ developers are of the view that human pilots will still be needed – given the speed at which the human brain can quickly respond to unanticipated developments.
There is often a two-second long lag time before a UAS in the air can respond to or implement directions from a remote pilot in a ground station, a circumstance which underscores the need for manned pilots when it comes to fighter jets, Air Force officials said.
Therefore, while cargo planes or bombers with less of a need to maneuver in the skies might be more easily able to embrace autonomous flight – fighter jets will still greatly benefit from human piloting, Air Force scientists have said.
While computer processing speed and algorithms continue to evolve at an alarming pace, it still remains difficult to engineer a machine able to instantly respond to other moving objects or emerging circumstances, Air Force scientists have argued.
However, sensor technology is progressing quickly to the point where fighter pilots will increasingly be able to identify threats at much greater distances, therefore remove the need to dogfight. As a result, there may be room for an unmanned fighter jet in the not-too-distant future, given the pace of improving autonomous technology.
Let’s be honest – the War on Terror hasn’t seen a lot of air-to-air combat.
In fact, since the start of the millennium, the U.S. military has a grand total of two air-to-air kills — both were UAVs, and one was an Air Force MQ-9 Reaper that went rogue.
But the real air-to-air action is taking place south of the border. In Central and South America, the Air Combat Information Group noted at least five planes have been shot out of the sky. In a June, 2016 report, WarIsBoring.com claimed that Venezuela had shot down 30 drug flights in 2015 alone.
That’s right, folks – the A-37 and AT-27 have over twice the kill total that the U.S. Air Force has notched since Desert Storm. Here’s a video showing one of the shoot downs in South America.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Winder Perez was fighting in Afghanistan in January 2012 when he was shot with a rocket-propelled grenade that pierced his leg and remained stuck there without detonating.
A medical evacuation crew ignored regulations against moving unexploded ordnance, picked him up, and flew him to medical care where an explosives technician removed the RPG so a Navy medical officer could operate on him.
Specialist Mark Edens was the first member of the MEDEVAC crew to see the Marine. The flight had originally been briefed that they were receiving an injured little girl as a patient, but they arrived to find the lance corporal with a large wound and an approximately 2-foot long rocket protruding from his leg.
When Army pilot Capt. Kevin Doo was told about the embedded RPG, he asked his entire crew to vote on whether to evacuate the patient. They unanimously voted yes despite the dangers.
“There was no doubt to anyone that we were going to take this Marine and get him the medical attention needed to save his life,” Doo told Army journalists. “When dealing with this — not knowing that any moment could be your last — 18 inches from the patient’s legs was about 360 gallons of aviation fuel.”
“After Lance Cpl. Perez was loaded on the Black Hawk, it was a total of 11.2 minutes of flight time where every minute felt like an hour,” Doo added. “During that time, we were on the radio coordinating with our escorts, the Explosive Ordnance Disposal team, and medical personnel who were going to treat Perez.”
Gennari later said that the Perez’s wounds were so severe that he would’ve died without the quick MEDEVAC. Edens, Doo, and the rest of the Army MEDEVAC team then transported Perez to Camp Bastion where he began the long road to recovery.
The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:
SURABAYA, Indonesia (Aug. 5, 2015) U.S. Navy Sailors assigned to Coastal Riverine Squadron (CRS) 3 and Indonesian Kopaska naval special forces members practice patrol formations during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Indonesia 2015.
ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 4, 2015) Sailors prepare for flight operations on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3).
Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) 3rd Class I. J. Fleming helps stretch out the emergency crash barricade during drills on the flight deck aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75).
Marines and Navy Corpsmen, assigned to various units in the 1st Marine Division, conduct tactical combat casualty care training during the Combat Trauma Management Course, taught by instructors with the 1st Marine Division Navy Education and Training Office, at the Strategic Operations facility, California.
An M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank crew with Company A, 4th Tank Battalion, fires its 120 mm main gun during the company’s pre-qualification tank gunnery at Range 500, Aug. 4, 2015. The live-fire exercise tests tank crews on their ability to work together on target acquisition and accuracy.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Martin, a maritime enforcement specialist at Coast Guard Port Security Unit 313 in Everett, Wash., along with other security division members, set up security zones on the pier alongside the Coast Guard Cutter Henry Blake, while conducting an exercise at Naval Station Everett.
Petty Officer 2nd Class David Burns, a Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak aviation survival technician, walks across the flight deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley during practice hoist operations while at sea.
A security forces Airman plunges into the combat water survival test at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo.
Lt. Col. Todd Houchins, the 53rd Test Support Squadron commander, signals before the final takeoff of the last QF-4 Aerial Target on Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.
Members of the 23rd Component Maintenance Squadron Propulsion Flight perform maintenance on a TF-34 engine July 27, 2015, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. The 23rd CMS supplies the 74th and 75th Fighter Squadrons with TF-34s in support of Moody AFB’s A-10C Thunderbolt IIs.
paratroopers, assigned to 82nd Airborne Division, rig their rucksacks during a Basic Airborne Refresher course at the United States Army Advanced Airborne School, Fort Bragg, N.C.
An Army pilot, assigned to the 185th Theater Aviation Brigade, watches a MV-22 Osprey land during a personnel recovery training exercise in Southwest Asia.
All five branches of the U.S. military have earned high marks from American adults, according to a Gallup poll.
More than three in four of Americans surveyed who know something about the branches have overall favorable views of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard, according to Gallup. More than half have a strongly favorable opinion.
In Gallup’s annual Confidence in Institutions poll released May 26, at least 72 percent of participants expressed “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the military in the past eight years.
“This Memorial Day, Americans will once again have the opportunity to honor those who fought and died in service of their country,” Gallup’s Jim Norman said. “It comes at a time when the percentage of Americans who are military veterans continues to shrink, even as the nation moves through the 15th year of the Afghanistan War — the longest war in U.S. history.”
Broken down by branch, Air Force had the highest favorability rating of 81 percent — 57 percent “very favorable” and 24 percent “somewhat favorable” rating. Other branches were Navy and Marines each at 78 percent, Army at 77 percent, and Coast Guard at 76 percent.
Differences exist by political party, race, and age.
The biggest gap is among Republicans and Democrats with about a 30 percentage point difference. The largest is for the Navy with 74 percent favorability rating by Republicans and 39 percent among Democrats.
Republicans, non-Hispanic whites, and those aged 55 have more favorable views of each of the five branches than Democrats, non-whites, or those younger than 35.
Those surveys also were asked to list the most important branch. Air Force was No. 1 (27 percent) followed by the Army (21 percent), Navy and Marines (20 percent each), and 4 percent say the Coast Guard is the most important branch to national defense.
Gallup conducted telephone interviews April 24-May 2 with a random sample of 1,026 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error is 4 percentage points.
If not for a twist of fate, the 1948 VC-121A Lockheed Constellation that once transported the nation’s 34thpresident might have become a crop duster or turned into scrap metal.
The Columbine II was the first plane to fly with the call sign “Air Force One” when it carried President Dwight D. Eisenhower for the first two years of his administration. However, the aircraft would have been lost to history without the intervention of three men – one who bought the plane almost 50 years ago, the friend who helped save it from the scrap heap, and the man whose aviation company purchased it two decades later with plans to restore it to its 1950s glory.
“I didn’t want to see somebody drinking a beer and wonder if the metal from that can came from that plane,” said Karl D. Stoltzfus, whose Dynamic Aviation Company purchased the “Connie,” as Lockheed Constellations are commonly called, in 2015.
In March, Stoltzfus had the aircraft flown for the first time in 13 years, except for a brief test flight a few days earlier, to Dynamic Aviation in Bridgewater, Virginia. Lockie Christler, son of the late Mel Christler, who bought the plane from the Air Force in 1970, flew the Columbine II from Marana Regional Airport, Arizona, where it had sat since 2003, to Virginia. The almost 60-year-old plane made a stop at the Mid-America Flight Museum in Mount Pleasant, Texas, before Christler made the final four-hour flight to Bridgewater, with Stoltzfus piloting the chase plane, a Beechcraft King Air.
Christler gives most of the credit for the Columbine II’s restoration to his father, who died in 2005, Stoltzfus and Harry Oliver, who emphasized the importance of saving the plane and was the majority owner when it was sold.
“If it weren’t for men like my father, Harry and Karl, along with others, a lot of these airplanes wouldn’t be around,” Christler said. “Once we realized this was Eisenhower’s airplane, we couldn’t let it be scrapped.”
The plane was built as a C-121A at Burbank, California, and converted to a VC-121A-LO to carry VIPs in 1953. The Columbine II, named after the Colorado state flower by first lady Mamie Eisenhower, became the official presidential aircraft later that year. Over New Charlotte, North Carolina the following year, an Eastern Airlines flight had the same call numbers as the Columbine II, and confusion ensued when both planes shared the same airspace. Because of the incident, the “Air Force One” call sign became used for any plane the president was on board.
The plane, while hardly resembling the Air Force One flown by presidents from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama, included marble floors and a mahogany desk where Eisenhower wrote the “Atoms for Peace” speech he gave to the U.N. General Assembly in 1953. The Columbine II also took him to Korea, both as a president-elect and during his administration.
In 1954, the aircraft was replaced by the Columbine III, which Eisenhower used for the remainder of his presidency. The Columbine II continued in service as a VIP transport for Eisenhower’s vice president, Richard M. Nixon, and others, such as Queen Elizabeth II, before it was finally retired to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, in 1968. The Air Force stripped the aircraft and fitted it with mismatched landing gear, an error that, in an odd twist of fate, led to the aircraft being spared from destruction long enough for its historical value to be discovered by its new owners.
Up for auction
The Columbine II was sold to Christler as part of a package lot with four other Connies for $35,000 in a surplus auction at the Davis-Monthan AFB aircraft “boneyard.” He didn’t know one of the five planes had a presidential past and planned to make it part of his crop-dusting operation. Christler rebuilt the other four VC-121s for spraying operations, but didn’t convert the Columbine II because its starboard main gear had been replaced with the wrong part from a Lockheed 1049 Super Constellation. The incorrect landing gear, again, saved the Columbine II from being converted to a crop-duster. Instead, it was used for supplying the other four Connies with parts.
Mel Christler was considering cutting the aircraft up as scrap when Robert Mikesh of the Smithsonian Institution contacted him in 1980 and informed him that his Connie with the serial number 48-610 was a former presidential aircraft.
“The first time we saw it, we obviously didn’t realize whose plane it was,” Lockie Christler said, “but when you find out it was Eisenhower’s, now you’re stuck with it. You have a presidential plane you can’t melt up because people wouldn’t think very highly of you. So, for all of these years, it’s kind of been a liability, and it finally turned into an asset.”
Christler tried to find a buyer who could restore the Columbine II, but couldn’t find one. He was struggling to decide what to do with the plane when Oliver visited him at his Greybull, Wyoming, home in August 1989, and asked about his plans for the Columbine II. Oliver said Christler planned to send the plane to the smelter if he didn’t have a buyer by November.
“I just said, ‘Now we can’t do that,'” Oliver said. “‘It’s a little bit of history, and it should be saved.”
At Christler’s request, Oliver drove to Tucson, Arizona, with a friend to look at the plane and saw the damage, but thought it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be repaired. The two men completed a $150,000 functional restoration of the Columbine II in 1990 and had it flown to Abilene, Kansas for Eisenhower’s centennial celebration. Afterward, they moved the Connie to Roswell and Santa Fe, New Mexico, before it was flown to Marana, where it remained under a lease agreement until it was sold to Stoltzfus in 2015.
Stoltzfus, a self-proclaimed history buff, learned about the Columbine II from an article in an aviation magazine and wanted to see the plane restored to its 1950s condition so he asked one person what he should do – his then-8-year-old grandson. “I think we should buy it,” the boy told him.
Then Stoltzfus asked his twin brother Ken to check out the plane in Arizona. After hearing that there wasn’t any damage that couldn’t be overcome, he sent Dynamic Aviation mechanics to begin repairs. When he first saw the plane, it was in rough condition.
“Every hose, I mean every piece of rubber was bad,” Stoltzfus said. “There were a lot of things about the airplane that gave you reason to say this was going to be a lot of work. They hadn’t really run the engines, but you knew there was going to be a lot of trouble with them, and there was. But the good part was it didn’t have any corrosion. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have bought the airplane.”
Although he can’t divulge the actual price he paid, Stoltzfus said it was less than the $1.5 million listing price. Dynamic Aviation will begin a full restoration project on the Columbine II in three to six months, which Stoltzfus expects to be completed in two to three years. He has obtained drawings and documentation that he hopes will help him restore the plane to its original color codes and original manufacturer materials.
“I think the airplane can be used to educate people on the 1950s, not just about Air Force One and not just about Eisenhower,” he said. “These were generally considered to be good years in America. They weren’t perfect, but they were generally good. We got out of the Korean War, so it was a peaceful time, and it was a good time economically and was when we started to build the interstate. So it was just a good time in American history.”
When it’s fully restored, Stoltzfus hopes to take the historic aircraft to air shows and display it for the public at the company’s airport in Bridgewater. In the meantime, he’s looking for anyone who might have aircraft parts or stories to share from the Connie’s era.
Oliver is grateful that somebody was interested enough in saving the plane.
“When I started this project, I was 52 years old, and I’m 77 now,” he said. “I don’t have the energy to do it anymore, and I’m just glad that somebody does. It is a piece of history, and now it’s going to be where people can see it, smell it and touch it.”
Once the silver Connie with the purple flower on its nose is restored to its Air Force One glory, it will have three men to credit for saving this piece of American history for future generations.
Even though one of the three didn’t live to see the Columbine II’s restoration, his son thinks it would have made him proud.
“Oh, he’s got a big smile on his face right now,” Christler said. “I know he’s proud that it has a great home where it’s supposed to be. It’s within a hundred miles of Washington, D.C, where it had some important flying to do.”