Here's what it's like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants - We Are The Mighty
Articles

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

While the Pentagon has been very adamant with claims that none of the 4,000+ American troops in Iraq are involved in “combat,” American jets have been flying attack sorties against Islamic State (IS) militants. But what exactly goes into getting bombs on the bad guys? Here’s what a day in the life of an aircraft carrier-based crew is like:


The mission cycle begins with CENTCOM’s Joint Task Force sending the tasking order to the intelligence center on the aircraft carrier. From there, the air wing operations cell assigns sorties to the appropriate squadrons, and those squadrons in turn assign aircrews to fly the sorties. At that point aircrews get to work with intel officers and start planning every detail of the sortie.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
Mission planning in CVIC aboard the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Once the long hours of mission planning are done, crews attempt a few hours of sleep. (The regs call for 8 hours of sleep before a hop, but that seldom happens.)

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
(Photo: Flikr)

After quick showers and putting on “zoom bags” (flight suits), aviators hit the chow line before the mission brief.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
(Photo: Walter Koening)

All the crews involved with the mission gather for the “mass gaggle” brief, usually two and a half hours before launch time. After that elements break off for more detailed mission discussions.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
(Photo: U.S. Navy)

Meanwhile, on the flight deck maintainers fix gripes and make sure jets are FMC — “fully mission capable.”

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
(Photo: U.S. Navy)

At the same time ordnance crews strap bombs onto jets according to the load plan published by Strike Operations.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
Ordies (in red jerseys) load 500-pounders onto Super Hornets aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Forty-five minutes before launch, crews head to the paraloft and put on their flight gear — G-suits, survival vests, and helmets. They also strap on a 9mm pistol in case they go down in enemy territory.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
(Photo: U.S. Navy)

Aviators walk to the flight deck and conduct a thorough preflight of their jets, including verifying that their loadouts are correct.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
Super Hornet pilot checks a GBU-12 – a laser-guided 500-pounder. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Once satisfied that the jet is ready, crews climb in and wait for the Air Boss in the tower to give them the signal to start ’em up.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
Super Hornet weapons system operator climbs into the rear cockpit of an F/A-18F Super Hornet. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

While lining up with the catapult for launch, pilots verify that the weight board is accurate.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
Green shirt holds up weight board showing a Super Hornet pilot that the catapult will be set for a 43,000 pound launch. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

With the throttles pushed to full power and the controls cycled to make sure they’re moving properly, the pilot salutes the cat officer. The cat officer touches the deck, signaling the operator in the catwalk to fire the catapult.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

Zero to 160 MPH in 2.2 seconds. Airborne! (Airplanes launching on Cats 1 and 2 turn right; those on Cats 3 and 4 turn left.)

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
(Photo: U.S. Navy)

Overhead the carrier, Super Hornets top off their gas from another Super Hornet configured as a tanker.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
F/A-18F passes gas to an F/A-18E. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Wingmen join flight leads and the strike elements ingress “feet dry” over hostile territory.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
(Photo: U.S. Air Force)

The flight hits the tanker again, this time an Air Force KC-135.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
Super Hornet tanking from KC-135 (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

At that point the mission lead checks in with “Big Eye” — the AWACS — to get an updated threat status and any other late-breaking info that might be relevant.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
(Photo: U.S. Air Force)

E/F-18 Growlers — electronic warfare versions of the Super Hornet — are part of the strike package in the event of any pop-up surface-to-air missile threats.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
Growler firing flares. (Photo: Boeing)

The AWACS hands the flight off to the forward air controller in company with Iraqi forces. The FAC gives the aviators a “nine-line brief” that lays out the details of the target and any threats surrounding it and the proximity of friendlies.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
USMC Forward Air Control team in Iraq. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

The enemy has no idea what’s about to happen . . .

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
ISIS trucks driving around Mosul, Iraq. (Photo: ISIS sources on the web)

Op away!

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
F/A-18C releasing a laser-guided bomb. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Target in the cross-hairs of the Super Hornet’s forward looking infrared pod.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
(FLIR screen capture: U.S. Navy)

*Boom!*

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
(FLIR screen capture: U.S. Navy)

 

Ground view . . .

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
(Photo: U.S. Army)

Mission complete, the jets head back “feet wet,” stopping at the tanker once again along the way.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
Two Super Hornets tanking from a KC-10. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Jets hold over the carrier until it’s time to come into the break and enter the landing pattern. The aircraft from the event attempt to hit the arresting wires every 45 seconds or so.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
F/A-18F about to touch down. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Once the planes are shut down on the flight deck, aircrews head straight to CVIC with their FLIR tapes for battle damage assessment or “BDA.”

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
(Photo: U.S. Navy)

At that point everybody waits for the word to start the process all over again . . .

MIGHTY TRENDING

The memo warning about ‘bad batch’ of Anthrax vaccine is a fake

U.S. Army officials in Korea announced April 18, 2018, that an Eighth Army memo warning soldiers about potentially “bad Anthrax” vaccinations given on a large scale is “completely without merit.”

The announcement follows an explosion of activity on social media after an April 10, 2018 memo from the 2nd Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment in Korea began circulating on Facebook. The memo was intended to advise soldiers who possibly received bad Anthrax vaccinations from Fort Campbell, Kentucky and Fort Drum, New York from 2001-2007 for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom that they may qualify for Veterans Affairs benefits.


“The purpose of this tasking informs soldiers who received bad Anthrax batches from Ft. Campbell and Ft. Drum from 2001-2007 for OEF/OIF IOT notify possible 100 percent VA disabilities due to bad Anthrax batches,” the memo states.

Military.com and other media organizations reached out to the Army on April 16, 2018, to verify the memo. Eighth Army officials in Korea sent out a statement at 9:33 p.m. on April 18, 2018.

“Second Battalion, 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade recently published an internal memorandum with the intent of informing soldiers of the potential health risks associated with the anthrax vaccine based on information they believed was correct,” Christina Wright, a spokeswoman for Eighth Army said in an email statement.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Josh Ferrell, from Apache, Okla., fills a syringe with anthrax vaccine.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Leon Wong)

“Defense Health Agency representatives have verified the information is false and completely without merit. Once the brigade discovered the error, the correct information was published to their soldiers.”

The Eighth Army’s statement also stated that the “potential side effects of vaccines, including anthrax, are generally mild and temporary. While the risk of serious harm is extremely small, there is a remote chance of a vaccine causing serious injury or death.”

The author of the post — Dee Mkparu, a logistics specialist in U.S. Army Europe, said that it was not clear if the memo was authentic but thought it was important to make the information public.

“This information was gathered from other veterans through Facebook; the validity of this data has not been fully vetted but I felt it was more important to share this as a possibility that to let it go unknown,” Mkparu said.

Mkparu updated his post with 17 potentially bad batch numbers of Anthrax vaccine allegedly found at more than a dozen military installations across the United States as well as Kuwait and South Korea.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
Hospital Corpsman 1st Class David Cano, from San Antonio, Texas, administers the anthrax vaccine to a Sailor.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Justin E. Yarborough)

“Please get with your VA representative and look into it. Even if it turns out to be false perhaps the Anthrax concerns from so [many] people will bring the issue into the light.”

Francisco Urena, the secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services secretary was quick to call the memo “a fake” in a recent Tweet, advising service members not to share their personal information.

“There is a fake memo circulating social media about a bad batch of anthrax vaccination for VA Compensation,” Urena tweeted. “This is a scam. Do not share your personal information. This is not how VA Claims are filed.”

VA disability benefits are granted for health conditions incurred in or caused by military service, according to the Eighth Army statement.

“The level of disability is based on how a service-connected condition impacts daily life,” according to the statement. “In those rare cases, VA disability or death benefits may be granted.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 last-minute decisions that changed American military history

The former special operators who responded to the 2012 Benghazi attacks on the U.S. State Department in Libya didn’t hesitate, they just reacted. They aren’t alone. People in the military are famously trained to “move with a sense of purpose” at all times. This means they are taught to think fast, move fast, and act fast. It’s just good practice – who knows when you might need to have a quick reaction time. Sometimes, we just have to make a quick judgment call and accept the consequences. Those consequences can be severe. It’s the nature of the work we’re in.

For better or for worse, the following six examples illustrate the need for decisive action.


Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

The Confederates needed new shoes.

In 1863, things weren’t looking good for the Confederate Army in the Civil War. Despite their early successes, time was not on their side. The North was ramping up war production and outfitting its men with clothes, food, and, most importantly, shoes. In an effort to resupply his forces at the Union’s expense, Robert E. Lee decided to send a party north looking for railway depots that might be hoarding supplies for the Union Army. They didn’t find as much as they’d hoped, and the entire Army of Northern Virginia stopped at a town in Pennsylvania called Gettysburg.

Before the entire massive army could arrive, Confederate cavalry began skirmishing with Union troops until it turned into full-on fighting. Lee was obliged to send reinforcements piecemeal before he could use his entire force. By the time he was ready, a Union Army had already arrived. What started out as a search for shoes became the turning point of the entire war.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

Ulysses S. Grant declined a trip the the theater.

Just a few days after accepting the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House, a Union victory was all but assured. The surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia would sap the will of the Confederates to continue fighting and lead to the era of Reconstruction. There was nothing that would revive the hopes of the Confederate States… unless the entire Union leadership were to be taken out in one fell swoop – and it nearly was.

On the night President Lincoln was assassinated, Secretary of State William Seward was brutally attacked in his home by John Wilkes Booth’s co-conspirators, and Vice President Andrew Johnson was targeted but not attacked. One more person was to be targeted in the conspiracy: General Grant. Lincoln had invited the general to the theater with his wife, but too tired from years of Civil War, Grant declined. He later recounted in his memoirs having seen Booth tail him to the train station.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

One Russian officer decides not to blow up the planet.

In September 1983, the Soviet Union’s early warning system used to detect nuclear missile launches from the United States suddenly started going off. There was a very good chance the Americans had just launched a first strike against Soviet missile sites, precipitating a full-scale nuclear war. This required the officer on duty to return fire using the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal. The computer told that officer the Americans had launched five nuclear weapons, and he was obliged to return fire using the USSR’s 35,000-plus weapons.

The officer on duty that day was Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov, and he wasn’t as concerned about the nuclear exchange as some other officers might have been. Instead of launching an attack that would have turned into a U.S. counterstrike and potentially killing hundreds of millions of people. He just did nothing. For his troubles, the Russians interrogated him mercilessly.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

The U.S. and USSR decide not to blow up the planet.

Even though the entire course of events lasted some 13 days, the entire course of events could have precipitated a nuclear exchange at almost any time. When the United States discovered the Soviet Union setting up a nuclear missile site in Cuba, it was too much for the Americans. President Kennedy told the Russians to move them off and set up a total blockade around the island. The next move belonged to the Soviet Union, and their response was anyone’s guess. The United States mobilized for World War III.

It was later revealed in the documentary the Fog of War that Fidel Castro recommended a full nuclear first strike to the Soviet Union, but Nikita Khrushchev was much smarter than that, apparently. The White House received two messages from Moscow, the first was written very cordially and offered a peaceful solution. The second was written by a “bunch of hard-liners” that threatened the destruction of the United States. President Kennedy was forced to choose which message to respond to and which to ignore. Of course, he chose the diplomatic one.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

The Kaiser changed the course of the 20th Century.

It’s a well-known fact that World War I was entirely avoidable. With that goes World War II, the Cold War, nuclear arms races, communism, etc. Everything that happened in the 20th Century can be traced back to Germany’s push for war in 1914. There was one man who could have just side-stepped the whole thing: Kaiser Wilhelm II.

As German and Russian allies declared war on each other, the Kaiser and the Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, exchanged a flurry of personal telegrams aimed at stopping the tide of war just days before what would become known as “the Great War” would begin. Reading what “Nicky” wrote, the Kaiser (addressed by the Tsar as “Willy”) was flustered about whether or not to actually attack and almost called the whole thing off. Instead of that, the German General Staff convinced him their plans were already in motion and could not be stopped for any reason. With this in his ears, he allowed the attacks to go forward, and the rest is history.

MIGHTY GAMING

Why ‘Far Cry 5’ is the most veteran AF game ever

The Far Cry video game series has always gone above and beyond in placing the player in a beautiful, open world and pitting them against a cunning and well-written antagonist. The graphics in the most recent installment are as crisp as you’d expect from the series, the gameplay is phenomenal, and plenty of critics are already singing its praise, but what sets this game apart from every other shooter is the storyline.


This time around, instead of exploring some scenic island fighting against drug-running pirates or a prehistoric valley against neanderthals, Far Cry 5 pits the player against deranged cult in a fictional county of Montana.

You play as a Sheriff’s deputy tasked with arresting Joseph Seed, a cult leader who is a mix of David Koresh, Jim Jones, and a hipster douchebag. There’s a palpable eeriness as you walk through his church’s compound and Joseph is seemingly compliant at first. He lets you handcuff him before saying, “you’ll never arrest me.” As you make your way back to the helicopter, one of his followers hurls himself into the propellers, allowing Seed to escape back to his followers, kicking off the game.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
And, yes, the hipster cult leader even has a manbun.
(Ubisoft)

The player is then saved by the first of many veterans you’ll encounter in the game, Dutch. He’s a loner Vietnam veteran who has shut himself off in a bunker while the world goes to sh*t outside. Inside his bunker, you’ll find plenty of little references to real-life military units, like an homage to the 82nd Airborne patch (the “AA” has been replaced by the number “82” in the same style) and a patch that’s the shape of the 101st, but with the XVIII Corps’ dragon.

He offers to help you out and gives you something to wear something other than your uniform, which includes (and I’m not making this up) some 5.11 gear.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
No word on if the guy has his own unapologetic military apparel line yet u2014 maybe in the DLC.
(Ubisoft)

The next veteran who helps you out is Pastor Jerome Jeffries, a Gulf War veteran turned Catholic priest. He’s holed up in his church with the few citizens who haven’t been indoctrinated by the cult. While there, you set up a resistance to buy time until the National Guard can come reinforce. You must band together with the rag-tag group of remaining people to take down Seed and his followers.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
Basically how every Chaplain assistant sees themselves after ETSing.
(Ubisoft)

Which brings you to the third main veteran in the storyline, Grace Armstrong, a U.S. Army sniper who deployed to Afghanistan. She’s one of the characters that fights alongside you throughout the game, providing fire support from a good distance.

Though his veteran status remains unknown, you’ll also come across a companion named Boomer. Boomer’s a dog who, if he gets hurt, can be healed with a nice belly rub. It’s the little things in this game that make it amazing.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
He’s a very good boy.
(Ubisoft)

Articles

Air Force Pararescue Jumper reunites with girl he saved after Hurricane Katrina

When Master Sgt. Mike Maroney was a staff sergeant he rescued 3-year-old LeShay Brown a few days after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005. An Air Force Combat Photographer happened to be on the mission, and snapped a now-iconic photo.


Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

“They just happened to snap a photo of this little girl who really, for me, made the day. It was a rough day,” Maroney told the cast of The Real, a nationally syndicated daytime talk show. “It was seven days into Katrina. Earlier in July, I just got back from a deployment to Afghanistan, it was my worst deployment. To see New Orleans under water and destroyed just really took a toll on me, so when she gave me that hug I wasn’t even on the planet at that point.”

Maroney saved 140 people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina but the memory of that hug stayed with him. Maroney, now 40 years old and a 19-year Air Force Veteran kept that photo on his wall for the past decade which he says helped him through a lot of dark times stemming from his service.

He never knew that little girl’s name. One day, he decided to find her and posted the photo on Facebook, hoping it would go viral. Someone reached out to Maroney after noticing the search for the girl had not gone very far.

“I had the idea to put it on Facebook to see if anyone is looking for her,” Maroney said. “It got 42 likes. Nothing. Up ’til last year, nothing. Then a young man named Andrew [Goard] wrote me and said, ‘Hey, its my life’s goal. I’m gonna help you find this little girl.”

Goard is a high school student in Waterford, Michigan whose grandfather served in Vietnam, and he idolized Pararescue Jumpers (he even has an Instagram page devoted to them). He helped the hashtag #FindKatrinaGirl go viral. The story was eventually picked up by Air Force Times and distributed around to smaller news outlets, until it ended up in front of LeShay Brown, who is now 13 and living in Waveland, Mississippi.

“I wish I could explain to you how important your hug was,” Maroney told LeShay Brown. “Your small gesture helped me through a dark phase. You rescued me more than I rescued you.”

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

“In my line of work, it doesn’t usually turn out happily,” Maroney said. “This hug, this moment, was like – everybody I’ve ever saved, that was the thank you.”

Watch the full reunion on The Real.

 

NOW: The definitive guide to U.S. Special Ops

OR: 10 incredible post-9/11 medics who risked their lives to save others

Articles

8 photos of the terrifying knife hand in action

All military service members dread the ominous  “knife hand” when being addressed by a superior as it usually means they are being corrected or some sort of discipline is soon to follow. Below are the 8 images designed to awaken your greatest fears:


1. Recruits discover them quickly

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
Photo: Cpl. Octavia Davis/USMC

 

2. A loud verbal correction often maximizes the effect

 

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Andre N. McIntyre/Navy

3. The knife hand extends across all branches of service

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

 

4. What better way to correct a trainee’s salute?

 

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
Photo: Alan Boedeker/US Air Force

 

5. They come in handy while testifying before Congress

 

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
Photo: Sgt. Marionne T. Mangrum/USMC

 

6. A four-star version is exceptionally attention-getting

 

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
Marine Corps

 

7. Even “poolies” can get a taste of the ominous gesture

 

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
Photo: Sgt. Jose Nava/USMC

 

8. There are knife hands and then there are the Merhle from ‘The Walking Dead’ version

 

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

Articles

10 New Year’s Resolutions to help you knife hand more and talk about ‘combat’ in Kuwait less

The Recruiter

  1. Lose the decades’ long lie of promising naive 18-year-old’s that their selected occupation specialty will be the “tip of the spear” when the next war kicks off. What’s the difference between Military Police and Delta Force anyway?
  1. Resolve to stop using the poster of HALO school pictures of grunts in OIF I when explaining what being a cook in the Army is like. The naive kid will likely be none the wiser if you use polished, Army-approved images of Culinary Specialist AIT, and your quota gets filled either way.

The Drill Sergeant

  1. The kinder and gentler Army is here and Drill Sergeants aren’t supposed to yell anymore. Resolve this year to strike fear in the hearts of your trainees in other ways. Never underestimate the power of a knife-hand, dark sunglasses and blank expression in any given situation.
  1. Maybe don’t use every negative instance in your life to exert your rage onto your platoon of trainees. Maybe you’ve only slept two hours in the past two days and you got a ticket for going one mile over the speed limit on post. Take out that anger in the gym instead and turn it into gains.

Every POG Veteran on TV shows  

  1. When told, “Thank you for your service” this time, resolve not to bust into the highly suspect monologue about cooking under fire.
  1. Try to use the phrase,“I was pretty much Infantry” a little less when explaining your military service to a civilian, especially when you detail your traumatic “deployments” to Kuwait and Bahrain. Oh, the horror…

The brand-new Second Lieutenant

  1. It’s been exactly six minutes since you’ve arrived at your first unit and no one has saluted you or asked you about your vast experience at Ranger School? Maybe let it slide this year and also give up on demanding that the Command Sergeant Major stands at attention when talking to you.
  1. Speaking of Ranger School, stop talking about it. You are not the first barrel-chested freedom fighter to graduate from the course and unless you want to be punched in the throat by your Platoon Sergeant or duct taped to a tree by your entire platoon, maybe try to be humble about your first Army experience.

The Infantryman back from his first deployment

  1. Resolve to not bring up Afghanistan in every single conversation you have with civilians. Your six-month stay on tranquil Bagram Airfield where you went to the gym four times a day and left the wire exactly zero times does little to bolster your image of a stone-cold killer and the lack of a CIB on your chest isn’t fooling anyone.

10. Perhaps listen to your NCO for once and don’t marry the stripper you just met in Nashville who you suddenly feel is your soulmate regardless of how much cash you have given her in the past two hours. Remember when you bought that 2020 Ford Mustang at 26 percent interest rate? Yeah, maybe your Squad Leader was right about something.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Female Marine combat photographer paves the way

Erin Kirk-Cuomo dreamed of being a combat photographer. She interviewed with multiple companies and publications within the civilian world, but none of them were willing to hire a female photographer for that position.


So, she decided to join the military.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

She chose to go into the United States Marine Corps. When she opened the doors to the Armed Forces recruitment office in 2004, she was ready to raise her right hand and do just that. But Kirk-Cuomo was told she couldn’t be a combat photographer, because she was female.

At that point, females were not allowed to serve in combat positions. But Kirk-Cuomo knew that the job she wanted wasn’t considered an active combat position, even though she’d be in the thick of things. She knew the recruiter was wrong and told him so. Kirk-Cuomo then demanded that he call a supervisor, which he begrudgingly did. That recruiter later came back and apologized for telling her she couldn’t be a combat photographer. He then asked if she could pass a physical fitness test.

The Marine Corps has the longest boot camp out of all of the armed forces and arguably the toughest to graduate from. In 2004 when she wanted to join, only 6% of enlisted Marines were female. Kirk-Cuomo did part of the physical fitness test right then and there in front of that recruiter.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

She shipped out to boot camp on Parris Island two weeks later.

Kirk-Cuomo made it through the still gender-segregated 13 weeks to become a Marine. She vividly remembers that if the female or male platoons came anywhere near each other, the drill instructors would make the males do an about face, away from the females. She recalls a time that the drill instructor yelled at the male recruits, “Don’t you look at those dirty females!”

This wouldn’t be the last time she’d hear those words.

Despite the hardships, she graduated boot camp as a high shooter. Kirk-Cuomo had the highest rifle score, beating out all of the other platoons that graduated boot camp with her. She left for combat training following boot camp and then went on to school to learn how to be a combat photographer. She left as the number one distinguished honor graduate.

Kirk-Cuomo was now a part of combat camera, or COMCAM. “There really weren’t a whole lot of us [females] at the time. Most of the women that were in COMCAM were lithographers or graphics people,” she said.

Kirk-Cuomo reported to her new duty station shortly thereafter – Camp Pendleton, located in San Diego, Calif. A couple of years later, she began deploying. From 2006-2008 she was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, where she was the only female in her unit. She was also the only combat photographer for the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF).

Kirk-Cuomo shared that being in the field was a dream come true. She credited a male warrant officer for going against the norm. In a time where leadership was hesitant to send female combat photographers anywhere dangerous, he sent her everywhere she wanted to go. It’s because of his inclusiveness and belief in her abilities that she was able to go right into the thick of things just like her male counterparts. He never saw her as “just” a woman; he saw her as a competent Marine.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

When asked if serving as a combat photographer was everything she’d hoped for, Kirk-Cuomo smiled sadly. “I wasn’t prepared to stand up for myself as much as I should have,” she said. She recalled her experiences of continuous harassment and even a sexual assault. She feels strongly that the Marine Corp created a toxic environment by first segregating the sexes in boot camp and creating an environment that made females feel as though they were “less than.”

The Marine Corps just graduated its first co-ed company in March of 2019. If Congress has anything to say about, it will be mandatory due to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which has a provision requiring them to integrate both boot camp locations. The west coast location has never trained female recruits.

“I am horrified that I didn’t stand up for myself just to fit in and get by. We older female Marines really do carry a sense of guilt with that. How much worse did we make it for the generations that came after us because we didn’t stand up and say something?” she asked.

Kirk-Cuomo gives credit for being able to openly share her experiences with the new generation of female Marines that have refused to accept that behavior. “I am just in awe of them – seeing what they’ve done and what they continue to do,” said Kirk-Cuomo. She feels confident in the new wave of female Marines making positive changes.

When she left her last deployment, she became a photographer at Marine Corps Headquarters, assigned to the Commandant. She left the Marines in 2010 and went on to become a photographer for the Secretary of Defense.

After President Obama was elected, she remembers there being a level of high tension among male Marines and heavy discussion about whether Obama would repeal the rule that prohibited females from serving in combat positions. He did.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

Kirk-Cuomo was able to photograph the moment the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff signed the repeal. “I remember standing in the briefing room, photographing this momentous thing,” she shared. “I was taking these pictures and just sobbing behind the camera.”

These days Kirk-Cuomo is an active advocate for female Marines and one of their loudest cheerleaders and supporters. When asked if she regrets joining, she didn’t hesitate to say no. But when asked if she would advise females to pick the Marine Corps over other branches of service to enlist in – she immediately said not yet, they still have a lot of work to do.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How this heroic bomber crew saved the day after an ejection seat failure

In a stunning story of split-second decision-making under pressure, heroic, selfless action, and remarkable airmanship, the drama of what really happened in a burning B-1B bomber over Texas on May 1, 2018 has finally been revealed.

June 2018 in Washington, Secretary of the Air Force Dr. Heather Wilson finally told reporters and Air Force personnel what has been secretly talked about on back-channels since the incident occurred, Air Force Times Tara Copp reported.

A B-1B supersonic heavy bomber from the 7th Bomb Wing at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas was returning from a routine training sortie on May 1, 2018. The aircraft’s young crew of four, the senior aircraft commander — likely the instructor, the copilot, an offensive systems operator, and the defensive systems operator were on board. The names of the crew have not yet been released.


A fire warning light illuminated in the cockpit. According to credible reports, it was likely the number three engine on the aircraft’s right wing located closest to the fuselage. The number two and number three engines are the closest to the complex apparatus that moves the B-1B’s variable geometry swept wings. They are also close to the aircraft fuel tanks.

The crew initiated the emergency checklist procedures for extinguishing a fire in an engine. It was likely calm but businesslike in the cockpit.

The fire continued. The final item on the emergency checklist is: “Eject”.

The early B-1A prototypes were originally designed with a crew escape capsule that rocketed off the fuselage as one unit. The escape capsule was not engineered into production B-1B bombers when the program was renewed in 1982 by the Reagan administration. As a result, four lighter weight individual Weber Aircraft ACES II (Advanced Crew Ejection Seat II) ejection seats were installed in production B-1Bs. The ACES II is a proven and effective ejection seat with well over 600 successful crew escapes and the lowest frequency of user injuries of any ejection seat in history.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
Original test B-1As were equipped with a crew escape capsule. Individual ejection seats were used on the operational B-1B.

When the aircraft commander ordered the ejection of the crew from the burning aircraft over Texas the first crewmember to actuate their ejection seat was the right/rear seat on the aircraft, the Offensive Systems Operator.

When the crewmember pulled the ejection seat handles the hatch above the OSO’s ejection seat exploded off the aircraft. But the Offensive Systems Operator ejection seat did not fire. The Offensive Systems Operator was trapped under an open hatch on an armed ejection seat in a burning aircraft. Other than having a fire in the cockpit, this was a worse-case scenario.

Dr. Wilson told reporters that, “Within two seconds of knowing that had happened the aircraft commander says, ‘Cease ejection. We’ll try to land.”

Secretary Wilson told reporters on Monday that after the ejection sequence was initiated in the B-1B, “That did two things. First the airman who’s sitting on an ejection seat where he’s pulled the fire pins ― and sits there for the next 25 minutes. Wondering whether ― it’s like pulling out the pin on a grenade and holding it as you come in to land. And not knowing whether the next piece of turbulence is going to cause you to launch.”

Having cancelled the ejection of the crew from the burning bomber, the aircraft commander declared an emergency and diverted to Midland International Air and Space Port between Midland and Odessa, Texas, over 150 miles from their original base at Dyess AFB.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
Composite image made from FB/Time Fischer/Midland Reporter photographs that show the missing hatch.

The pilot and flight crew flew the B-1B the entire way to Midland while it was on fire with a missing hatch, had no cockpit pressurization and an armed ejection seat that could fire at any moment without warning. Even the impact of a normal landing could have triggered the ejection seat to ignite its rockets and leave the aircraft.

The crew recovered the aircraft to Midland without injury or further damage to the aircraft, saving every member on board and the 400 million-dollar B-1B.

Dr. Heather Wilson concluded her recounting of the heroic B-1B crew’s actions by acknowledging, “The courage it took and the valor represented by that aircraft commander who decided, ‘We are going to try for all of us to make it, rather than sacrifice the one guy who can’t get out.’ Those are the men and women who choose to wear the uniform of the United States Air Force.”

The B-1 incident led to a temporary stand-down of the whole B-1 fleet as all ejection seats were inspected. The grounding was lifted on Jun. 19, 2018.

Featured image: the B-1B from Dyess AFB after the May 1, 2018 emergency landing in Texas. Notice the missing hatch on top of the aircraft. (Time Fischer/Midland Reporter-Telegram)

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

The luckiest duty stations worldwide

Luck has quite a diverse meaning within the military community. It’s sarcastically used to laugh at impossible situations, it can take years to ponder why it was on your side that day or is just used to define coveted situations or duty stations a few of us fall into. With Saint Patrick’s Day fast approaching, we’re looking at some of the luckiest duty stations worldwide through the many different definitions of the word.


Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

Lucky to be a part of such a prestigious assignment

U.S. Army Garrison Benelux-Brussels-Schinnen is one post where you’ll feel you have a finger on the pulse of the world. That’s because NATO headquarters, located less than ten minutes away, is there. Special status cards, ID’s and privileges may apply to service members and their families depending upon the assignment. With Brussels being the administrative center for the European Union, it can be an exhilarating and fast-paced atmosphere.

The city boasts 14th-century architecture, and the opportunity to rub elbows with top business and government figures of today. As such a unique experience both culturally, and as an assignment within the military, lucky is exactly the feeling you’ll have if stationed here.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

Lucky to experience such a remote location

U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll‘s location requires several zooms in if you’re searching on Google Maps. Home to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, turquoise waters, and coral reefs for miles. With its ultra remote location, the cultural history of The Marshall Islands is something you’ll remember experiencing forever.

Ancient skills like “wave piloting” have been studied by anthropologists for some time now and are stories or skills families can see firsthand. Remote island life happiness hinges on acclimation. It’s important to remember you won’t be marooned forever and begin to embrace as much sailing, snorkeling or scuba diving as humanly possible between shifts.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

Lucky to stand on such historic ground

Hawaii tops many duty station lists for its beautiful location, but an assignment to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam is much more than a vacation. It’s the chance to stand at the center of one of history’s most iconic moments in time.

With the Pearl Harbor National Memorial essentially in your back yard, it’s time to take that deep dive into the pages of history. Those assigned here should feel lucky to inherit the legacy of this location and do their best to carry on the stories of those forever immortalized in her waters.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

Lucky to live in a vacation destination

The Naval Air Station Pensacola is located along the pristine shorelines of the Florida panhandle, a year-round tourist destination. What caught our eye was the opportunity to not just live in a beach town but living oceanfront is made possible via affordable condo living. Who needs a gym membership when your daily swim can be in the Gulf of Mexico?

Another appealing feature of an assignment here is the potential to dive into the military landlord market. Rental opportunities are expanded to include vacation renters in addition to the military crowd.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

Lucky to have a “home base” to experience Asia from

Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni is located on the main island of Japan, near the Yamaguchi Prefecture. If you’d have trouble pinpointing that on a map, you’re not alone. Cities like Hiroshima, Tokyo, Shanghai, and Seoul are all major metros within the geographic area. Flying from the United States to Asia is not cheap, making travel either costly, lengthy (to get it all done in one trip) or both. Being stationed halfway across the world has a major travel perk. What used to be a 12-hour plane ride is now two. Becoming conversationally fluent in the many Asian languages is also much easier while you’re completely immersed within it. We’re confident you’ll feel lucky to have such a unique and culturally rich experience in your life.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Taliban have special forces and the tech to match it

In January 2018, an Afghan National Army position near Kunduz was assaulted and knocked out during a precision night raid. The attackers were using laser targeting systems and wearing night vision. The attack came from a special Taliban fighter unit called “The Red Unit,” a team of insurgents carrying American weapons and technology, attacking the police in Kunduz in daring night raids. By 2018, The Red Unit had wiped out several police posts around Kunduz.


Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

This isn’t your grandaddy’s Mujahideen. Probably.

Raids in Kunduz saw The Red Unit killing the defenders of police outposts, occupying the fortifications while they looted it for food and weapons, destroying whatever vehicles and weapons they couldn’t take, and then leaving the scene – without taking any casualties themselves.

The special insurgent forces carry M4 rifles and Russian-made night vision, along with laser targeting systems on their rifles. The only difference is they’re also sporting traditional garb and wearing head scarfs around their faces. Rumor has it they go into combat riding in a Ford truck or armored humvee. They make these quick strikes on outposts in order to avoid air strikes.

No one knows where they’re getting this advanced gear.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

How do drones never catch these video shoots mid-production?

“Night-vision equipment is used in ambushes by the insurgents, and it is very effective,” said Maj. Gen. Dawlat Waziri, the spokesman for the Defense Ministry told the New York Times. “You can see your enemy, but they cannot see you coming.”

Videos released by the Taliban depict their fighters training with even more advanced American weapons technology, including the FN SCAR (Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle) 7.62mm rifle, AN/PEQ 5 visible lasers, and more. The SCAR is only used by the U.S. Special Operations Command, so seeing a Taliban insurgent carrying one came as a surprise to those in the know.

Articles

Warriors in their own words: Battle of the Bulge

The Battle of the Bulge was a Hail Mary pass by a führer who was quickly running out of options. Hitler desperately needed a decisive victory on either his Western or Eastern front. Remembering his series of victories after sneaking through the Ardennes forest in 1940, he went for a repeat in 1944.

On Dec. 16, 200,000 German troops and 1,000 tanks slammed into 80,000 Allied troops. Listen to troops who were there explain what it was like to turn away Hitler’s desperate gambit.


1. Over 1 million men were involved in the battle.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

The fighting started with an assault by 200,000 Germans against 80,000 Allied troops. But, as Patton’s Third Army swung north to hit the German flank and other Allied units rushed to the aid of the defenders, 600,000 Allied soldiers pushed back the German force that grew to 500,000 men.

2. The Allied troops who were attacked were primarily there to rest or train.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
Pfc. Frank Vukasin of Great Falls, Montana, stops to load a clip into his rifle at Houffalize, Belgium on Jan. 15, 1945. Photo: US Army courtesy of the Eisenhower Archives

The Ardennes was used as a training ground for green units and a recovery area for those coming off the frontline. The Americans in the area were expected to quickly fall or retreat. Hitler’s entire strategy depended on it.

Instead, rookies became veterans overnight and fatigued veterans dug deep to slow the German advance. Anti-tank teams targeted choke points in villages and mountain passes, creating flaming barricades of destroyed German armor that slowed the Blitzkrieg to a crawl.

3. The famous “NUTS!” response to a surrender request was basically bored paratroopers joking around.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants
Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe and Col. Harry Kinnard II at Bastogne after the battle. Photo: US Army courtesy of the Eisenhower Archives.

One of the most famous responses in history to a surrender request took place during the battle. Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe responded with “N U T S” centered on a typewritten piece of paper.

McAuliffe had twice said, “Nuts,” when briefed on the surrender request, first to his acting chief of staff that woke him and then to his headquarter staff. When it came time to draft the formal response, McAuliffe couldn’t think of what to write. His men, who had found the “nuts” comments funny, urged him to just respond with those four letters.

4. German soldiers illegally wore American uniforms to sneak behind enemy lines.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

A major part of Hitler’s gamble was the belief that he could sow disorder in the American lines by sneaking English-speaking Germans in and having them sabotage equipment.

Instead, American G.I.s quickly discovered some of the imposters and began asking everyone trivia questions about American life to suss out the rest.

5. One of the worst war crimes committed against Allied troops in World War II took place during the battle.

The Malmédy Massacre occurred Dec. 17, 1944, when a group of over 100 Americans, mostly artillerymen with the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, were captured by German SS troops taking part in the German attack.

While the exact details are still argued by historians, approximately 84 American soldiers being held as prisoners of war were killed when German machine gunners opened fire on them. At least 21 other prisoners escaped and reported the murders, but the ongoing battle made a proper investigation impossible.

6. Hitler’s generals cautioned strongly against the entire operation.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

Hitler began amassing the troops needed for the offensive as far back as Aug. 1944, even though his generals thought the troops could be better used in the fight against Russia. Hitler refused to listen and stayed the course.

Ultimately, the Battle of the Bulge failed and the Americans continued their advance. With the large losses of both men and material Germany suffered in the Battle of the Bulge, the Third Reich was doomed. Hitler would go on to kill himself Apr. 30, 1945 (or, maybe not) and Germany surrendered May 8.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Huge Marriott hack reportedly done by Chinese state hackers

US investigators have reportedly traced the massive data breach on Marriott customer data to Chinese hackers, a move that will likely exacerbate ongoing US-China economic tensions.

The hackers are suspected of working for the Ministry of State Security, the country’s intelligence agency, The New York Times and the Washington Post reported Dec. 11, 2018.


The Post’s sources warned against making definitive conclusions on the attack, as the investigation was still ongoing, but said the methods of the hack suggested it was state-sponsored. Private investigators also identified the techniques as those previously used in attacks attributed to Chinese hackers, Reuters reported.

Marriott, which operates more than 5,800 properties in more than 110 countries, says it is the top hotel provider to the US government and military personnel.

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

Marriott is the top hotel provider to the US government and military personnel.

The hotel chain announced in late November 2018 that about 500 million customers had their personal data breached in the attack, which began four years ago.

About 327 million of them had information like their name, phone number, and passport number taken, while an unspecified number had their credit card details taken.

The Trump administration has been planning to declassify US intelligence reports that show China’s efforts to build a database with the names of US government officials with security clearances, the Times reported.

People involved in the company’s private investigation into the breach also said the hackers may have been trying to collect information for China’s spy agencies, rather than for financial gain, Reuters reported.

Passport numbers, which are not usually collected in data breaches, may have been a particularly valuable discovery for the hackers, the Post said.

Beijing has denied responsibility for the attack.

Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the country’s foreign ministry, told reporters: “China firmly opposes all forms of cyber attack and cracks down on it in accordance with the law. If offered evidence, the relevant Chinese departments will carry out investigations according to the law. We firmly object to making groundless accusations on the issue of cyber security.”

Here’s what it’s like to fly a close air support mission against Islamic State militants

US-China tensions over trade and cyber policies are mounting. Here, Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump in 2017.

(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Reports of Beijing’s involvement in the Marriott breach comes amid mounting tensions between the US and China over trade tariffs and cyber policies.

Washington has been planning to issue a series of measures that include indictments and possible sanctions against Chinese hackers, The Times and Post both reported.

Beijing is currently reeling over the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Chinese telecom giant Huawei and the daughter of the company’s founder, over her alleged involvement in Iran sanction violations.

She was granted bail at .4 million while she awaits a hearing for extradition to the US. December 2018, Beijing summoned the US ambassador to China and warned of “grave consequences” if Meng was not released.

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

Do Not Sell My Personal Information