Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial - We Are The Mighty
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Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial

The World War One Centennial Commission was created in January 2013 and is responsible for planning, developing, and executing programs to commemorate the centennial of World War I, including a national memorial to the soldiers who fought the war.


Unfortunately, none of the veterans of the Great War are alive today to see their honor, but despite bad weather, the Centennial Commission will formally announce the winning design team for the national World War I Memorial design competition on January 26, 2016.

Below are the five finalists for the memorial competition. Just click on the photo to get a closer look of the full-size proposal. The designs are open to public comment. Contact the World War I Centennial Commission here.

Concept 1: Plaza to the Forgotten War

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
Submitted by the design team of Brian Johnsen, AIA; Sebastian Schmaling, AIA, LEEP AP; and Andrew Cesarz, at Johnsen Schmaling Architects, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Situated on a seam between the National Mall and the dense urbanity of downtown DC, the Plaza to the Forgotten War commemorates the service of World War I American Forces by creating a place that devotedly holds onto the memory of the tragic losses endured by the United States. The concept is simple, elegant and open with a strong and integrated form and meaning that reveals itself in layers. The memorial message is clear and there is great potential for the creation of an outstanding park. The field of lights presents a technological challenge that will need to be resolved and the Pershing Statue and walls will need to be integrated into the evolving design.

Concept 2: Grotto of Remembrance

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
Submitted by Devin Kimmel, Principal at Kimmel Studio, LLC in Annapolis, Maryland

The style of the monument is inspired by the time of the Great War. It is neoclassical in form and concept, the space and elements combine to create a narrative about the current condition and the historic precedent of monuments. The plan develops a strong park concept and includes a number of elements that add interest and focus. The challenge in evolving the design will be creating a sense of openness balanced against the enclosure of the central space, a continued evaluation of the scale of the elements, and relationships of non-traditional elements (like the grotto) with memorable historic forms.

Concept 3: The Weight of Sacrifice

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
Submitted Joseph Weishaar of Chicago, Illinois

A simple intervention of a platform into the existing landscape of Pershing Park provides a quietly elegant place within the park. Relocation of the walls and statue of the Pershing complex give new meaning to the individual elements. The result is an integral expression of park and memorial. The subtleness and art of the sculpted relief walls will enhance the narrative of the place—utilizing art as architecture. To execute a memorial and park that maintains the inherent elegance of the concept, a strong collaboration between designer and artist will be the key.

Concept 4: An American Family Portrait

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
Submitted by STL Architects in Chicago, Illinois

The design concept is founded on paying tribute to the American men and women who participated in World War I through a memorial collage of photographs integrated into the park design. By seamlessly blending framed memories into the landscape, it provides an experience that is both park and memorial, open and inviting exploration. The park is organized by a northwest-southeast axis visually connecting it to the Capitol. While this concept has the potential of a truly unique park, the thematic, technical, and curatorial issues of the story boxes will require resolution. The statuary design, scale, and execution will need to be an integral part of the interpretive and memorial experience.

Concept 5: Heroes’ Green

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
Submitted by Maria Counts of Counts Studio in Brooklyn, New York

The concept seamlessly blends memorial, park and garden into a new type of public space. There is a strong sense of movement through the space, balancing park-like qualities with memorial episodes and providing opportunities for integration of art as an integral part of the memorial experience. The sculptural landscape in itself is symbolic and will provide a welcome respite to the visitor. The inherent potential of “inventing” a new typology of civic space that works well as a memorial is the challenge.

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Veterans find new career paths with Easterseals Bob Hope Veteran Support Program

When Matthew Garcia, a sergeant with nine years of honorable service, left the Marine Corps in December he felt pretty invincible. His transition back to civilian life and new career would be easy, he thought.


Garcia had three combat tours under his belt and had just ended a successful tour as a Marine drill instructor, a demanding, intense but revered job at the San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot. For two weeks, attending the service’s Transition Readiness Seminar, he listened to speakers and counselors and took notes about resuming life as a civilian after his time in the military.

It was, he said, “like a water hose” of information and advice.

His broad plan was to find work in the San Diego area in a safety-related job. Before he left uniform, he had earned a key OSHA certificate. He felt confident but also felt nervous when he began his transition earlier this year.

“I didn’t know if I would succeed or not. The military life becomes the blanket that you understand,” said Garcia, 29, who served as a field wireman — the Marine Corps’ equivalent of a civilian lineman or network data specialist. “Would I fit in? Would I be successful? How will they receive me?”

As the months ticked off, the job offers eluded him. He hadn’t realized that his appearance, demeanor and daily routine had changed little from his time as a drill instructor, the epitome of the ramrod, Smokey-hat wearing, poster image of a Marine.

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
Photo: Courtesy of Matthew Garcia

“I got out but looked like I was still in” the military, he said.

That realization came in the help Garcia received from Cynthia, an Easterseals Southern California Bob Hope Veterans Support Program employment specialist he met through a referral from a friend pursuing similar work. She coached him through writing his resume and practicing for job interviews. She reminded him to prepare for those interviews just as he did for promotion boards during his military career. And before he interviewed for his first job prospect, he sent her a photo of the clothing he planned to wear — just to be sure.

“I felt a lot more competent,” he said.

Garcia said that the one-on-one support he received from Cynthia and Easterseals Bob Hope Veterans Support Program was pivotal to bolster his confidence and ability to transition from the military and ultimately find meaningful civilian employment.

“She gave me some basic things that people don’t think about when leaving the military,” he said, like being mindful of differences in terminology he used and understanding how his military job experience translates to a civilian workplace.

He credits the personalized services with helping him settle into civilian work and life perhaps sooner and smoother than if he had tried it on his own. “Just the fact that she sat down with me and went over my individual resume made the difference,” he said. “She took the time to understand the field that I was going in.”

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
Photo: Courtesy of Matthew Garcia

It paid off: In June, just six months after hanging up his military uniform, Garcia started work as a safety, health and environmental manager with Balfour Beatty Construction, a San Diego-based firm.

“I try to make sure I set a good example,” he said. “I get a lot of praise from a lot of my coworkers.” His boss, he said, is an Air Force veteran.

Garcia’s success story is one of scores of military service members transitioning from active or reserve duty with help from Easterseals Bob Hope Veterans Support Program, which aims to help veterans and their families return to a productive and healthy civilian life. The program provides tailored, one-on-one employment services and assists veterans who want to start their own small business.

Easterseals Southern California launched the employment services program in early 2014 for transitioning veterans, many who choose to remain in Southern California, and reservists leaving active-duty tours, with a three-year, $1.1 million grant from the Bob and Dolores Hope Charitable Foundation.

The Bob Hope Veterans Support Program is free and open to veterans, whether they are separating from the service after completing their contracts or are resuming their civilian life as a drilling reservist or member of the National Guard. They must be a post-Sept. 11, 2001, veteran leaving active or reserve duty who intends to work in the San Diego or Orange county areas and who has an honorable, general or other-than-honorable discharge.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, as of 2014, there were 2.6 million post-9/11 veterans, and that community is projected to grow to nearly 3.5 million by 2019 as more service members exit the service and reservists complete active duty.

Santiago Leon is one of those reservists who sought out help as he resumed life as a civilian after an extended period serving full time in the Army Reserve.

The Army sergeant first class — he holds a leadership position and rank as a noncommissioned officer — has spent 16 years in the Army Reserve and said he’s “still going strong.” He is a senior instructor with the Army Noncommissioned Officer Academy, a reserve job he fulfills during his two-week annual training period and monthly drilling weekends.

Leon has tallied about four and a half years of active duty time so far, much of that coming from three combat tours with activated Army Reserve transportation companies. He deployed to Iraq in 2003 and in 2005 and to Afghanistan during a 2009-2010 assignment, and as a platoon sergeant was in charge of 34 soldiers and millions of dollars worth of equipment and vehicles.

When he returned home, he focused on completing a Bachelor’s degree with his Montgomery G.I. Bill benefits and finding a job to support his wife and three children. Like many reservists, he attended two days of classes on transitioning home and returning to reserve status, but “when you’re coming back from a 13, 14-month deployment, the last thing you’re thinking about is paying attention,” he said.

Still, he thought it would be an easy transition.

But “it was another rude awakening,” recalled Leon, 34. “I was cocky. I thought, with me being a  senior enlisted soldier, I had a leg up… and would make $70,000 to $80,000 a year and job offers would be coming my way.”

But after interviewing for a part-time job that paid $9.90 an hour, “I didn’t even get called in for an interview,” he said. “My confidence, my ego, was gone. I was thoroughly depressed.”

It was a humbling experience. Leon, who wanted to find a job where he could help other veterans, one day walked into the Chula Vista Vet Center in south San Diego County and met a manager who referred him to the South County Career Center.

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
Photo: Courtesy of Santiago Leon

“That’s when my life changed,” he said. After about two years without work, within three weeks “I found my first job” as a workshop facilitator for transitioning veterans. Through  VetWORKS, a training, certification, and employment program for unemployed veterans in San Diego County, he came across Easterseals Southern California and met John Funk, director of veterans programs and a retired Navy veteran.

Leon got advice about his resume and assistance sorting through job leads through Easterseals Southern California’s employment services. John Funk “gave me a huge reality check,” which helped temper his passion but focus on his goals, he said. “To say you want a job does no one any good. What we want is a career. So if you start building your skill sets, little by little, you can be competitive.”

Today, he is a business services manager with Able-Disabled Advocacy in San Diego, thanks to a VetWORKS grant.

“The ES program, working one-on-one with John, it was instrumental,” Leon said. “It can become very disheartening applying for a job and not getting anything.”

Leon keeps that in mind as he speaks with potential employers, teaches classes on resume writing and mentors some vets through the process, reminding them that jobs don’t come automatically to them. he said. Easterseals’ employment specialists and counselors “challenge the veteran,” he said. “We work for the betterment of the veteran.”

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Wells Fargo illegally repossessed hundreds of US troops’ cars

While Army National Guardsman Dennis Singleton was getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan, Wells Fargo suddenly repossessed his car. Now Singleton is getting some retribution.


The Justice Department says the repossession was illegal under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which requires Wells Fargo to get a court order before repossessing a military member’s vehicle. DOJ also says the bank didn’t stop there. According to the Los Angeles Times‘ Jim Puzzanghera, Wells Fargo charged Singleton and his family a $10,000 balance and then reported the repossession to credit agencies.

Wells Fargo allegedly did the same thing 413 times, according to the Justice Department — more in a series of misdeeds and misuses of customer information that now has the bank and its CEO in hot water, especially with the U.S. Congress.

CNN’s Jackie Wattles reports the bank will pay $10,000 to each service member, with interest. They will also pay for the lost equity on the cars and repair their credit for a total of $4.1 million.

Wattles’ report says the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency also fined Wells Fargo $20 million for denying federally mandated protections for active duty military members, which includes capping interest rates at 6 percent.

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
This is Wells Fargo making off with your credit rating.

“In those instances where some service members did not receive the appropriate benefits and protections, we did not live up to our commitment and we apologize,” the company said in a statement. “We have been notifying and fully compensating customers and will complete this work in 60 days.”

Aside from its infractions against military members, Wells Fargo is also accused of creating millions of fake bank and credit card accounts over five years. The bank allegedly set up an incentive system for its employees who falsified customer accounts to reach sales targets.

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial

In its largest fine to date, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau fined Wells Fargo $185 million for opening 1.5 million fraudulent deposit accounts and more than 560,000 credit card accounts in its customers’ names. The bank repaid $5 million to its affected customers.

Since the story broke, Wells Fargo fired 5,300 of its employees, withheld $41 million of CEO John Stumpf’s unvested stock awards, and denied him an annual bonus as well as a chunk of his $2.8 million salary.

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf testifies before the House Financial Services Committee. (Photo: CSPAN)

The New York Times reports that in recent years, the bank has paid $10 billion in fines for violations like subprime loan abuses, discrimination against African-American and Latino mortgage borrowers, and various home foreclosure violations.

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Suddenly The Navy Has A Bill Cosby Problem (Updated)

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial


The Naval History and Heritage Command – the U.S. Navy’s official historical arm – has a loving biography – hagiographic even — of Bill Cosby on its website.  The article highlights his upbringing, stating that Cosby “had a naturally good image of himself, one that had been carefully instilled by his mother, Anna Pearl Cosby, a domestic worker who read Mark Twain and the Bible to her three sons at night.”

The article also highlights Cosby’s Navy career:

At the U.S. Marine Corps base at Quantico, Virginia, his high IQ scores earned him training as a physical therapist, followed by assignment to the Bethesda Naval Hospital, Maryland. There he worked as a corpsman, helping to rehabilitate mostly Korean War veterans, a duty that he liked and at which he excelled. He was also sent briefly on board ship, from Newfoundland to Guantanamo Bay. Finally he was assigned to the Philadelphia Naval Hospital.

With the track team, he traveled around the country and improved his skills, getting his time in the hundred-yard dash down to 10.2 seconds; clearing six feet, five inches in the high jump; and reaching forty-six feet, eight inches in the hop-step jump. He also had a more-than-passing interest in three other sports (football, basketball, and baseball), playing with the Quantico Marine football team in 1956 and playing guard and forward on the National Naval Medical Center varsity basketball team. In 1954 he had tried out for the Baltimore Orioles. During his Navy years, the popular, jocular Cosby made a lot of friends, meeting people who were working hard to better their prospects through the courses offered in the service. Realizing that many of them were applying themselves more than he had ever done–it had never taken much effort for him to do minimally well, thanks to his mental prowess–Cosby came to appreciate the gift he had been born with and resolved to put it to work. He began by earning his high-school diploma while still in the Navy.

Cosby left the Navy with an honorable discharge in 1960, and the rest is wholesome humor history – until a few weeks ago when Cosby posted a request to his Facebook followers to comment on their favorite expressions of his.  One poster wrote “Jello Pudding and rape,” and that went viral and caused upwards of 16 sexual harassment and assault allegations to resurface against the comedian.  As a result of these allegations venues have cancelled dates on Cosby’s current tour and networks have killed projects or stopped airing episodes of “The Cosby Show.”  Seems the court of public opinion has ruled on Mr. Cosby in a hurry and organizations that care at all about the fair treatment of women are unflinchingly cutting any ties to him.

Which brings the topic back to the U.S. Navy. On February 17, 2011 then Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus made Cosby an honorary chief petty officer in a ceremony held at the U.S. Navy Memorial and Naval Heritage Center.

“Bill Cosby is not just a comedian and an actor, although he’s pretty good at both, he’s also been a tireless advocate for social responsibility and education – and a constant friend to the Navy,” Mabus said during the ceremony.

And it gets worse (or better depending on your appetite for these sort of scandals). In 2010 the U.S. Navy Memorial Association gave Cosby their vaunted Lone Sailor Award.

So now what? WATM asked the Navy what action the sea service intended to take as a result of the growing number of women coming out with rape charges against Cosby. The public affairs duty officer who answered had no statement, and at press time officials were still researching the matter.

With the military’s crackdown on sexual harassment as a result of the pressure applied by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and others last year, will the Navy allow Cosby to retain his honorary chief status?  And in an ever-competitive fundraising and membership environment, will the Navy Memorial Association yank his Lone Sailor Award?

UPDATE (Dec. 4, 2014, 2:30 PM EST):  The U.S. Navy has announced that they have revoked Bill Cosby’s honorary chief petty officer status.  No word yet from the Navy Memorial Association on the Lone Sailor Award.

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This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas

U.S. troops and their playing cards have a long history. A large chunk of deployment is spent killing time until the action starts – and card games have long been the weapon of choice for that mission.


Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
Troops in WWI playing cards.

Also read: 7 things you actually miss from deployment

After more than a century, the U.S. Playing Card Company, manufacturer of playing card brands like Bee, Aviator, and Hoyle, is still the world’s leading card company. In that time, the company has been very good to U.S. troops. Its original brands were decks of Army and Navy cards, later merged to one “Army Navy” brand, featuring military imagery.

The USPCC even made a cheap deck so soldiers in World War I could easily purchase one for the battlefields.

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
An Army Navy deck (World of Playing Cards)

It was the company’s signature brand, Bicycle, that did the most for troops in the field. During World War II, Bicycle teamed up with British and American intelligence agencies to create a deck of cards that peeled apart when wet. The cards then revealed secret escape maps so downed pilots and captured soldiers could navigate their way back to Allied lines.

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
(Bicycle Playing Card Co.)

Once the map pieces were revealed, all it took was to assemble the cards in the right order to get the full map layout.

The decks were given to POWs in Europe through the Red Cross’ special Christmas parcels, which contained (among other things) a deck of playing cards. Cards were a common occurrence among troops, so they aroused no suspicion from the Nazi camp guards.

Decks of these cards are said to have helped at least 32 people escape from Colditz Castle and prompted some 316 escape attempts. No one knows for sure how many decks were produced, but the only two known surviving decks are in the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
(Bicycle Playing Card Co.)

To commemorate its history, Bicycle recently created a special “Escape Map” throwback deck, complete with map artwork – no water necessary.

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How The Screenwriter Behind ‘American Sniper’ Got It Right

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial


The first time screenwriter Jason Hall met Chris Kyle and his posse – Hall’s first-ever visit to Texas – he was the only one in the room wearing tennis shoes instead of cowboy boots.

“I could feel the war on him when I shook his hand,” Hall recounted. “It was a visceral reaction.”

Also Read: ‘American Sniper’ Just Got Nominated For 6 Oscars — Here’s Why It’s A Must-See War Film 

Hall had heard about the legendary sniper – the man with a record number of kills and a 2,100-yard shot to his name – from another SEAL friend based on the west coast. He read Kyle’s autobiography and found it written in the “blustery, chippy voice of a guy just back from the war.”

But once the screenwriter met the SEAL in person he knew that a straight reading of the autobiography would result in a movie that didn’t tell the whole story. There was a lot more to the man than a guy who knew his way around a rifle.

“He was 37, but he looked 57,” Hall said. “The war had taken a toll.” Hall noted how Kyle had trouble crawling around with his kids because his knees were shot.

Kyle’s wife Taya – who’d weathered four war deployments on the home front – added another dimension. Hall studied her reactions to her husband, her concerns when his mood went south and how her face lit up when he was with their children.

“It was the idea of war at home and a marriage reeling in the wake of prolonged war,” Hall said. “In that I saw a film.”

So Hall came up with a proposal that he pitched to a few studios. In time he landed a deal with Warner Brothers that included Bradley Cooper in the lead role. Upon their first meeting, Kyle said to Cooper, “I need to drag you behind my truck and knock the pretty off of you.”

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
Bradley Cooper with Jason Hall. (Photo: Jason Hall)

For his part Cooper said he was willing to do whatever it took to get it right. The actor started working on his Texas drawl, learning the weapons of a SEAL sniper, and gaining weight, ultimately putting on 44 pounds for the movie.

Hall worked on the screenplay for over two years, closely communicating with Kyle as he honed the various elements. Over that time the two developed a close friendship.

“I’d call him on his cell phone, but being the special operator he was he’d never answer the first time,” Hall said. “He’d text back: ‘What’s up?’ and then we’d talk for hours.”

Hall discovered an Iraqi sniper named “Mustafa” while reading The Sheriff of Ramadi, and after a series of discussions with Kyle he added the enemy shooter to the plot. “Mustafa was Chris’ doppelganger,” Hall said. “He’s an integral part of the story.”

Kyle’s state of mind was also an integral part of the story, but Hall was very guarded about falling into the trap that Hollywood’s clichéd portrayal of post traumatic stress over the last 10 years or so has become.

“Chris saw a lot of combat and took a lot lives and lost brothers,” Hall said. “He felt strongly that he should still be over there, even after his fourth tour. It haunted him.”

Eventually Hall had a script Kyle and he were happy with. The day after he delivered it to the studio he received a phone call from one of Kyle’s teammates, a fellow SEAL. The teammate’s words will forever be burned into Hall’s memory: “Chris was just murdered by another vet.”

Hall attended Kyle’s funeral unsure of the future of “American Sniper,” the film. He felt out of place. The SEALs in attendance treated him as an interloper. He described his presence at the reception following the memorial as “showing up to a ‘Sons of Anarchy’ party in a white Izod.”

Later Hall found himself sitting around a pool with a group of SEALs. None of them seemed interested in talking to him, so he kept his distance, fearing that whatever trust he’d built over the previous two years with Kyle was gone. Finally one of them looked over and said, “Why don’t you get the hell out of here.”

But Hall didn’t leave, sensing he was at a crossroads of sorts. Instead he challenged the guy who’d told him to leave to a wrestling match. The SEAL took him up on it, and the two grappled on the concrete pool deck, drawing blood on knees and elbows in the process. Hall, who’d wrestled in college, wound up winning the scrap.

The ice was broken; trust was reestablished. “I realized the guys were hurting,” Hall said. “They’d lost a brother.”

During those sad days Hall also got an ultimatum from Taya Kyle, who knew that a major motion picture would play a big part in how her children remembered their father: “If you’re going to do this you need to get it right.”

The widow and the screenwriter established a line of communication much like he had maintained with the her husband during the writing of the screenplay, which proved to be invaluable in actress Sienna Miller’s performance in the film and how the couple’s relationship is portrayed.

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
Actress Sienna Miller plays Taya Kyle, the sniper’s wife. (Photo: Warner Brothers)

Taya Kyle’s input also informs how Bradley Cooper plays Chris Kyle. “If you want to know a man ask his wife,” Hall said.

The last element in “getting in right” in Hall’s opinion was having Clint Eastwood as the director of “American Sniper.” After he signed on Taya related that Chris had said that if he had his pick, Eastwood was the guy he wanted to direct the movie.

“Clint is a jazz musician who brings musicality to the imagery as he tells stories,” Hall said. “And he also has the western mythology down. He’s part of it in America.”

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial

That sensibility was important in bringing art out of the otherwise barren and unpopular landscape of the Iraq War, according to Hall.  “Iraq wasn’t a pretty war,” he said. “It’s ass-hot; you’re thirsty and dirty. Clint found beauty in the truth of that.”

The movie crew also underwrote the movie’s realism by involving veterans in the production, most notably Navy SEAL vet Kevin Lace who started out as a stuntman and wound up playing himself and the wounded vets who appear in the target practice scene toward the end.

“American Sniper” had a limited run in theaters during the holidays, and the box office results were very encouraging and quelled studio execs’ fears surrounding the track record of movies about the Iraq War. (Even the Oscar-winning “The Hurt Locker” didn’t do that well, money-wise.)

But Hall feels that the journey he’s been on with “American Sniper” – shaped by having to deal with the loss of his friend Chris Kyle – created something distinct and more universal than others have managed on the topic.

“‘American Sniper’ started as a war movie,” he said. “But it wound up being a movie about war.”

Watch WATM’s exclusive one-on-one interview with “American Sniper” screenwriter Jason Hall:

More on this topic: ‘American Sniper’ Is A Must-See Film That Brilliantly Honors The Memory Of Chris Kyle

And this: Can You Name The Weapons Used In ‘American Sniper’?

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NASA astronauts train with Air Force survival school instructors

Four NASA astronauts trained with U.S. Air Force Survival School instructors in water survival and recovery at the fitness center pool [at Fairchild AFB, Washington].


Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
Four NASA astronauts sit in with a class of survival school students being briefed on life raft procedures at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., Feb. 10, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ryan Lackey)

Four NASA astronauts sit in with a class of survival school students being briefed on life raft procedures at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., Feb. 10, 2017. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ryan Lackey

The astronauts underwent the training in preparation for anticipated test flights of the new commercially made American rockets, the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and the SpaceX Dragon.

Also read: This is what it’s like to feel zero G aboard NASA’s ‘Vomit Comet’

“It’s a different space program now,” said astronaut Sunita Williams. “We’re flying in capsules instead of shuttles, and they can land anywhere. You never know when an emergency situation may happen, so we’re grateful to get this training.”

The astronauts were put through the paces of bailing out from a simulated crash landing in water. They learned to deploy and secure a life raft, rescue endangered crew members, avoid hostile forces and experience being hoisted into a rescue vehicle.

“This is the first time we’ve gotten a complete environmental training experience — lots of wind, waves and rain,” said astronaut Doug Hurley. “This is a great way to experience how bad it can get and how important it is to be prepared.”

Trained With Course’s Students

The astronauts opted to join in with more than 20 water survival course students, despite being given the option to train alone.

“They didn’t want to train on their own,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Chas Tacheny, the chief of NASA human space flight support in Houston. “They wanted to train with the group, because some of these people may one day be preforming search and rescue for them.”

Other NASA astronauts visited the survival school last year in an effort to research and test the viability of its training course and facilities. The astronauts liked what they experienced, and NASA has since developed its training partnership with the schoolhouse.

“The [survival, evasion, resistance and escape] instructors are advising us in water recovery,” Behnken said. “These experts are the most experienced I’ve ever seen. They are able to spot holes in our training and fill the gaps.”

NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston has a large water training facility built to simulate weightless conditions during space walks, but it’s not properly equipped to simulate water surface conditions for recovery training.

This training is vital for future mission recovery operations, Behnken said, noting that NASA officials are working with the experts here to replicate the survival school water survival training equipment at the Houston facility.

Impressive Facilities

“I’m impressed by the use of the facilities here,” Williams said. “It’s a small space, but they really manage to simulate all kinds of weather conditions and situations we might experience during a water landing.”

The survival school originally had a separate detachment at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, where it conducted water survival training in open ocean waters. The training was brought to Fairchild in August 2015 in an effort to save time and money by consolidating training at one location.

“It was a good decision for the Air Force to streamline our training efforts by moving all portions of water survival training here,” said Air Force Col. John Groves, the 336th Training Group commander. “However, the fitness center pool was designed for recreational use and isn’t suited to the ever-increasing demands placed on it by our training programs. Bottom line, we owe it to our airmen and mission partners such as NASA, who rely on our unique training capabilities, to have a purpose-built water survival training facility.”

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US Air Force pilots donned Santa hats during Christmas Day airstrike on ISIS

The US-led coalition air campaign against ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria has dragged on for months, but the US airmen mounting the raids haven’t lost track of time.


During Christmas Day airstrikes against the terrorist group, some US pilot donned Santa hats, photos of which were shared by the US Air Force, as first spotted by international monitoring group Airwars.

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
A US F-16 pilot over Iraq wears a Santa hat during strikes against ISIS on Christmas Day, December 25, 2016. US Defense Department photo.

Coalition air forces mounted 18 strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq in Syria on December 25.

Near Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital city in Syria, 11 strikes were directed at ISIS tactical units, fighting positions, vehicles, and weapons, including ISIS’ apparent go-to of late: A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device.

Near Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq and the terror group’s last stronghold in that country, two strikes were directed at ISIS tactical units, fighting positions, vehicles, weapons, and infrastructure.

According to a release from Operation Inherent Resolve, all aircraft involved in Christmas Day strikes returned to base safely.

The US-led coalition has mounted hundreds of strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, targeting the terror group’s vehicles, weapons, buildings, fighting positions, resources, and tunnel networks.

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
An F-16 pilot over Iraq can been seen wearing a Santa hat during a Christmas Day operation, December 25, 2016. US Defense Department photo.

Progress against ISIS in Syria appears to have been set back by the Syrian and Russian governments’ concentration on Aleppo, which fell earlier this month after years of resistance.

Moscow and Damascus’ focus on the city reportedly allowed the terrorist group to make progress elsewhere in the country, while a campaign against Raqqa in the east is still in its early stages.

The six-week-old offensive against Mosul, led by Iraqi government forces, appears to have been paused, holding in what one US official called an “operational refit” period earlier this month.

Progress against ISIS in Mosul has been slow, as the confines of the city and the immense number of civilians still in it make military advances hard to come by.

Iraq forces have only retaken about one-quarter of the city since launching their offensive in mid-October.

US forces on the ground in Iraq appear to be stepping up their involvement in the fight for Mosul.

As a recent Reuters report quotes the commander of the main US unit on the ground in Iraq:

“We have always had opportunities to work side-by-side, but we have never been embedded to this degree … That was always a smaller niche mission. Well, this is our mission now and it is big and we are embedded inside their formations.”

Many civilians have found themselves in the cross-fire, especially in Iraq, where they have been caught between ISIS and Iraqi fighters on the ground as well as in the path of ongoing airstrikes.

In the 10 days before Christmas, Airwars documented reports — some of them contested — indicating that more than 50 civilians were killed by air and ground fire from coalition and Iraqi forces.

ISIS continues to menace civilians as well.

The terrorist group has fired on civilian areas of Mosul, including liberated sections of the city, and a Human Rights Watch report issued on Tuesday states that the terror group executed at least 13 people — including two boys — in villages south of Mosul where locals mounted an effort to expel the group’s fighters.

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This Marine Pearl Harbor survivor can crush the pullup bar

CLEMSON, S.C. — Expect to be impressed when you meet a Marine, but when that Marine is a 96 year-old Pearl Harbor survivor who challenges you to a pull-up contest, prepare to be blown away.This is one of many things Clemson University student Will Hines of Spartanburg has learned in conducting the Veterans Project, an ongoing undergraduate research project to collect and preserve the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations can hear those stories directly from the men and women who lived them.


Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial

Former Marine Staff Sgt. Robert A. Henderson’s story begins in Hawaii on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, as a plane with a perplexing paint job thunders overhead “close enough that I could have thrown a rock and hit it” toward a row of U.S. Naval ships docked in the harbor, he said.

He thought it was part of a drill until the plane dipped and released a torpedo. The violent chaos in the two hours that followed would define much of the 20th century.

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial

Henderson, relaxed in a comfortable chair in his Spartanburg living room, describes in gripping detail the 51 months of combat he experienced, culminating in the Battle of Okinawa.

“I was in the first and last battles of the war,” he said.

Hines videotapes every word. One copy will go to Henderson and his family, and one copy will go to the Library of Congress to be preserved forever.

When asked how he stays so healthy at 96. Henderson takes Hines out to his garage to show off his home gym, where he exercises three times a week. He demonstrates by doing 12 pull-ups without breaking a sweat, and dares Hines to match him.

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial

Interactions with truly amazing veterans like this are just some of the fringe benefits students who participate in the project enjoy. The Veterans Project is an example of community-engaged learning at Clemson, which has a military history dating back to its founding in 1889.

Hines, a junior business management major from Spartanburg, became involved in the project because of his life-long fascination with history.

“I’ve been interested in veterans since I was little. I met my great uncle when I was about 7 years old. I found out he landed on five islands in the Pacific, and I asked him a ton of questions,” he explained. “I was able to interview him in high school — for fun, not for anything specific — which helped me become closer to him. He was wounded twice — once on Okinawa from a grenade rolled down a mountain. Meeting him really influenced how I became interested in studying the history of America’ s conflicts.”

 

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Air Force drone pilots are about to make bank if they agree to re-up

If you fly a killer drone and you’re thinking of pulling chocks when your commitment ends, the Air Force has some cold hard cash to entice you to stay.


Top Air Force officials announced Aug. 10 that Remotely Piloted Aircraft operators who re-up for another five-year contract would receive $35,000 per year in bonus cash. That nets out to a whopping $175,000 when all is said and done and is $10,000 more than previous bonuses.

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
Maj. Bishane, a 432nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron MQ-9 Reaper pilot, controls an aircraft from Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. RPA personnel deal with the stressors of deployed service members while maintaining the normalcy of their day-to-day lives through programs designed to enhance communication skills, family and spiritual growth. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)

“The Air Force recognizes the important contribution RPA pilots make every day, and retaining these valued aviators to execute our current operations and shape the future is critical,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein. “While we applaud this effort, we recognize we have similar challenges across our entire pilot force, and we’d like the opportunity to offer higher retention bonuses for all our pilots.”

Drones are some of the most sought-after air assets for ground commanders worldwide, from launching missiles at bad guy convoys to snooping around insurgent bases and scooping up radio chatter, the RPAs can go deep behind enemy lines without risking the lives of American pilots and crew.

But as the demand increases, so does the pace of pilot operations and both the drones and their crew are burning out fast, Air Force officials say.

“What we are doing in the world of our RPAs [is] to try to lessen some of the strain and improve quality of life,” said Air Force Sec. Deborah James. “With respect to our ‘get well plan,’ is that it is proceeding at pace. It is not all done yet, but there is a lot going on – a lot in process.”

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
An MQ-9 Reaper performs a low pass during a first-ever air show demonstration May 29, 2016, at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. The 2016 Cannon Air Show highlights the unique capabilities and qualities of Cannon’s Air Commandos and also celebrates the long-standing relationship between the 27th Special Operations Wing and the High Plains community. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Dennis J. Henry Jr.)

To relieve the stress, the Air Force plans to establish a new MQ-9 Reaper aircraft wing and is in the midst of surveying potential bases to host it. Officials say the service is also supplementing drone crews with Air National Guard pilots and has hired on contractors to fly some surveillance missions.

The service has also doubled the number of drone pilots in the force since 2015.

“Producing more pilots of course means a better quality of life for all of our RPA airmen, because it will give them more family time and more opportunities to pursue developmental opportunities,” James said.

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6 last-minute holiday items you’re better off buying at the exchange

With no sales tax and some name-brand discounts, the Exchange is a military benefit designed to help troops and their families save money. But, as most military shoppers know, some items don’t end up being cheaper at the Exchange, especially things that regularly get marked down. Sunglasses, Keurigs, and a lot of other items can be bought for less at Amazon or big box stores.


But many essential or high-demand items are cheaper at the a local exchange or at shopmyexchange.com. Here are 6 last-minute gifts that fit in that category:

1. Fitness trackers

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
Photo: Wikipedia/Desmondma

Whether your gift recipients want to track their sleep, their runs, or both, the market is filled with awesome new options. Most trackers, including the popular Fitbits, are available at the Exchange for the same price they would be anywhere else, minus sales tax.

2. Video game consoles

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ash Severe

The tax savings on video game consoles at the exchange are typically $20 or more, so it’s a great place to pick up Playstations or XBoxes, if they have the bundle you’re looking for.

Both the Xbox One and the Playstation 4 are primarily sold with a game included in a bundle. While getting a bundle like Gears of War will cost less at the exchange, the LEGO Movie Videogame Bundle isn’t available there. And the cost saving at the exchange aren’t enough to justify buying a game you won’t play.

3. Fragrances

While the Exchanges’ selection of perfumes and colognes is small, what it does have is cheaper than a lot of other outlets and there are a number of “stocking stuffer” sized bottles for $5 or less.

Those looking for a specific scent may have to pick up their bottles somewhere else.

4. Tactical gear

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Christopher S. Muncy

Getting military gear from a random website can be risky since badly sewn pouches won’t fit properly on a military vest and many items at tactical stores aren’t authorized for wear.

The items at the Exchange are more likely to appear on approved gear lists. But, remember that anything that can be bought used will likely cost less at a military surplus store.

5. Macs

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
Photo: Wikipedia/Intel Free Press

Macs usually sell for $10 less than at the military exchange than from the Apple Store. On the more costly models, the tax savings of shopping the Exchange can save over $100.

But, in the Apple store customers can buy upgraded memory or processors that come pre-installed in the computer. These options aren’t available at the Exchange.

6. PCs

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
Photo: US Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jeremy L. Wood

Dell and Office Depot both run online storefronts with special pricing on computers through the military Exchange. Before making the final purchase though, do an internet search of the model number. Some still end up being cheaper at civilian stores.

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NASA nerds made a Franken-bomber, but they weren’t the first to do it

Recently, NASA made the news when its engineers managed to cobble together a new WB-57 Canberra out of parts from multiple other planes. This is a particularly notable achievement as one of the airframes had spent roughly 40 years at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.


These NASA nerds set a record for how quickly a plane was returned to flight status after being sent to AMARC. They did an impressive job of grafting together parts from the WB-57 Canberra from the boneyard with parts from a second Canberra near Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, as well as F-15 parts for the main wheels, the ejection seats from the F-16, and the tires from an A-4 for the nose wheel.

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial

But some Army Air Force mechanics in Australia pulled off something similar in World War II, and did such a good job that their Franken-bomber is still around today. That plane is currently at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio.

She’s called “Swoose,” and she is not only the only B-17D to survive, she is the oldest surviving B-17.

Swoose started out being assigned to the Philippines in 1941, flying in combat from Dec. 7, 1941, to Jan. 11, 1942. The plane suffered serious damage, but the mechanics used a tail from another damaged B-17 and replaced the engines. The plane then served as an armed transport for the rest of the war, including as a personal transport for Lt. Gen. George Brett (no relation to the star baseball player from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s).

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
DAYTON, Ohio – The B-17D The Swoose rests next to the B-17F Memphis Belle in the restoration area of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

After the war, the Swoose narrowly avoided the scrapyard. According to a 2007 Washington Post article, the plane was stored in various locations before the Smithsonian handed it over to the Air Force. The plane is currently being restored for eventual display alongside the famous Memphis Belle.

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The craziest small-arms maneuvers by South Korean SWAT

With a multitude of potential threats radiating over the border from North Korea, South Korea cannot be lax when it comes to security.


As such, Seoul places a premium on the training and capabilities of its military and police forces. This is clearly illustrated through the paramilitary capabilities of the South Korean National Police (KNP) SWAT teams.

Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial
Members of South Korean SWAT team approach mock terrorists during an anti-terrorism exercise at a venue for the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea.

A 2014 video from LiveLeak shows the incredible training in small-arms maneuvers that these SWAT members go through.

The KNP is responsible for most security operations within the country, including counterterrorism measures, riot control, and hostage negotiations. The KNP also, on occasion, carries out joint exercises with the Korean Coast Guard and Army.

The highlights of the KNP training video are in the following GIFs:

A trainee practices strafing while alternating fire between a pistol and a submachine gun.

Trainees practice disarming, and counter-disarming, techniques.

Two prospective SWAT members work in a pair, coordinating movement and cover fire.

A trainee practices a faux surrender.

SWAT team members must be ready to respond to all manner of threats, including the sudden appearance of a combatant from behind.

Here, a trainee practices handling the recoil from a shotgun, before transitioning to his pistol

In possible crowd situations, accuracy is of critical importance, and marksmanship is given plenty of practice.

While in the field, SWAT members must be ready to continue an operation even after a potential injury. Here, a trainee is practicing shooting and reloading with one hand.

Of course, being able to function while distracted and under stress is one of the most important factors for success in the KNP. Here, instructors attempt to distract a trainee during an accuracy drill

All GIFs via GIPHY
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