Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones - We Are The Mighty
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Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones

The Air Force has narrowed down hundreds of airmen in the running to become enlisted drone pilots to enter the next phase of the program.


The Air Force Personnel Center on Wednesday said 305 active-duty enlisted airmen were identified for an upcoming selection board tasked with picking the next enlisted group to attend remotely piloted aircraft training.

Also read: 5th generation fighters prove that tech is king

Officials didn’t disclose how many of those airmen will then be selected for formal training, set to begin in 2017. But they’re seeing a surge of interest.

The center received more than 800 applicants during this cycle. For comparison, the program normally gets around 200 applicants. Because of the boost, the center is processing potential candidates in groups.

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones
RQ-4 Global Hawk | Northrop Grumman photo via AF.mil

The Air Force last year announced it would begin training enlisted airmen to operate the unarmedRQ-4 Global Hawk remotely piloted aircraft. Officials in September touted that the Enlisted Pilot Initial Class, or EPIC, would begin on Oct. 12 with four of 12 total students training alongside 20 recently commissioned officers.

The formal training process spans an entire year.

“We have an incredibly talented pool of enlisted Airmen, and we’re confident that this rigorous selection process will yield excellent enlisted aircrew who will continue to provide combatant commanders with the ISR they need to win today’s fight,” Senior Master Sgt. Rebecca Guthrie, career enlisted aviator assignments manager at AFPC said in a release.

Candidates selected in Phase 2 “will need to get the required medical screening and commander’s recommendation and submit completed application packages to AFPC no later than Dec. 16,” the release said. If warranted, medical waivers will be due by Jan. 27, 2017.

The enlisted RPA pilot selection board will meet Feb. 6 – 9, with results expected by the end of that month, officials said.

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This is why Bunker Buster bombs are made from spent howitzer barrels

It was a common sight during Desert Storm: grainy black-and-white footage of an Iraqi bunker or hanger slowly getting closer and closer to the screen.


Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones

Munitions with cameras fed the footage of new, precision-guided “smart bombs” to Americans watching the war at home.

Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army used underground facilities beneath layers of sand and reinforced concrete to protect his command and control centers, research labs, and ammo dumps. The U.S. military tasked its defense apparatus to come up with a way to penetrate and destroy these shelters.

Thus, the GBU-28 Bunker Buster bomb was born.

The GBU-28 is a 4,400-pound monster of hardened steel and tritonal explosives, a mixture of TNT and aluminum powder. Once the target is marked with a laser, that laser guides the bomb to its target and the rest (like the target) is history.

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones

That hardened steel is what protects the bombs for their initial penetration through concrete. Barrels of artillery guns are designed to hold up to repeated artillery blasts, which is why the U.S. Army Watervliet Arsenal used barrels from 8-inch self-propelled howitzers as casings for the design.

That protection the spent barrels provide is perfect to give the bunker buster bomb time to penetrate a target while its time-delay fuse waits to unleash the real payload.

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones
An 8

Engineering changes to the initial casing were made via telephone, even as the original barrels were being stripped and reconfigured by machinists on the assembly line. Watch the whole story of the birth of the bunker buster bomb in the video below.

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This space plane is still on its secret mission in orbit

A classified unmanned space plane has been in orbit for over 500 days, but no one is telling the public what it’s doing.


Drones are in the news nearly every day. Tiny toys snapping exciting photos for our Instagram accounts. Commercial drones working for farmers and municipal agencies. Missile-armed drones performing strikes on enemy locations. Unmanned craft, in the air, on the ground, and in the sea, are conducting more missions for more people all the time.

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones
So what was this space drone actually doing on its secret missions up there in outer space? (Photo U.S. Air Force)

Operated by the United States Air Force, the X-37B is at the top of the drone pyramid and is pushing the outside edge of the envelope as you read this.

The X-37B, sometimes called the Orbital Test Vehicle, is a small unmanned reusable spacecraft built by Boeing that looks a lot like a small space shuttle. It’s 29 feet-long with stubby wings and angled tail fins. Unlike the famous shuttle orbiters that it resembles, however, it lacks a vertical stabilizer. It launches atop an Atlas V 501 launch vehicle inside the booster’s payload fairing and, at the end of its mission, returns to earth and lands on a runway like the 80s-era space shuttle.

What the space plane does while it’s up there, though, is mostly a mystery.

The first X-37B mission, OTV-1, flew in 2010 and lasted for 224 days — close to the X-37B’s designed 270-day endurance. The second mission, flown by a second X-37B, flew in 2011 and lasted 468 days. The third mission, performed by the first spacecraft, lasted an astounding 674 days. The current mission, dubbed “OTV-4,” was launched on May 20, 2015, and recently passed 500 days in orbit.

The Air Force is tight-lipped about how long OTV-4 will last, though it must last until at least March 25, 2017, if it’s going to break OTV-3’s record.

The X-37B program began as a NASA project. One of the X-37’s primary missions was to have been satellite rendezvous for refueling and repair, and the small space plane would have been carried to orbit inside a space shuttle’s cargo bay.

As the program progressed, however, the plan shifted to launching atop an expendable booster and, in 2004, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency took over the program. DARPA continued development of the X-37, resulting in the current X-37B for the US Air Force.

Once the project transferred to the military, it became classified.

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones
Doesn’t exactly look like a friendly little space drone does it? (Photo U.S. Air Force)

The spacecraft itself is not terribly secret. For the past six years, numerous news stories have been run about the “secret” space plane and many photographs have been published.

What the X-37B does while it’s up there on missions lasting well over a year, though, is the source of much conjecture. The fact sheet for the X-37B on the official Air Force web site describes the mission as “an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force. The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.”

That’s an explanation that doesn’t explain much, however, and doesn’t seem to justify the enormous expense of building, launching, and operating the spacecraft.

Of course, theories on the internet abound. Some have claimed that the X-37B is an advanced spy satellite. Some wonder if the X-37B could be an experimental space bomber. Others believe that the original mission of satellite rendezvous for maintenance could easily have been adapted to more nefarious purposes, such as interfering with or destroying satellites operated by nations such as Russia or China.

Ground observers have watched what they believe to be the X-37B make significant changes to its orbit, a maneuver in line with the space saboteur theory.

In 2012, during the OTV-2 mission, the editor of Spaceflight magazine claimed that the X-37B was probably spying on the Chinese space station Tiangong-1. Other experts, however, publicly doubted and dismissed the idea as improbable at best.

If you spend enough time online, you’re certain to find any number of wild ideas. One of the most outlandish theories about the X-37B is that it’s not unmanned at all. The idea is that a hibernating astronaut is onboard the space plane and that experiments are being conducted to prepare for long-duration manned missions to Mars or, perhaps, to station a quick-reaction force of soldiers in orbit for secret missions anywhere on the globe. Or above it.

Whatever the X-37B is up to, it seems to be doing a good job of it. Work is being done to make it possible for the drone to land at Kennedy Space Center on the space shuttle landing strip. Part of the shuttle Orbiter Processing Facility, without a mission since the shuttle program ended, is being modified to process X-37Bs.

A recent NASA presentation discussed the potential to develop a space ambulance which could service the ISS from the X-37B. An X-37C proposal, more than 50 percent larger than the current model, would possibly be able to carry astronauts.

The classified little space plane is a bit of a mystery but certainly one of the most exciting drones in use today. Even if we aren’t sure what’s it doing.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is what happens when a troll runs the obstacle course


If you’re author, internet marketing troll, and self professed “media manipulator” Ryan Holiday, you see an obstacle in your path and recognize that — far from being a barrier to progress or a warning to “TURN BAAAAACK!” — the thing obstructing you is actually an opportunity for you to succeed!

You think, woah dude, the obstacle is actually, like, totally the way! And then you clean that up a bit and make it the title of your new self-help book.

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones
The Timeless Art of Polishing a Turd for Fun and Profit!

Should it matter that your silly, central platitude is a C minus Freshman English interpretation of Stoic philosophy which loses its credibility simply by being associated with your name, the name you made for yourself as American Apparel’s amoral PR con man-in-Chief? Of course not! You’ve read a few “notes to self” written by famous ancient Romans like Marcus Aurelius and Seneca the Younger espousing this easy-to-package philosophy and so, hitching your wagon to their Stoic chariot, you’ve decided you’re more than happy to burden their horses all the way to modern fame and fortune!

Because it’s the 2nd Decade of the Digital Age and thanks to geniuses like you, facts, standards, and reality are all now fully negotiable.

You know what isn’t negotiable?

Max.

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones
Max is a fact. (Go90 Max Your Body screenshot)

Max’s apparel is all-American, his carriage is Greco-Roman, and his philosophy? Army special issue. For Max, the Obstacle is the First of Many Which Make Up: The Course.

And that miraculous revelation you just had? That the hardships one might encounter during the running of said course are actually opportunities for one to succeed? Well, whoopti-sh*t, Private Holiday, congratulations on drawing your first observationally-validated, sweat-confirmed human conclusion.

But actually, shut up and get moving.

In this episode, Max tunes you up for the obstacle course by putting you through an obstacle course. Maybe the obstacle really is the way.

Watch as Max trolls your weakness memes, in the video embedded at the top.

Watch more Max Your Body:

This is what happens when you swap your workout for PT

Our trainer will make you a leopard

This is how you train for brotherhood

One session with this trainer will make you assume the fetal position

This is how you fight when the waters are rising

MIGHTY CULTURE

The world’s most beloved veteran superhero is dead at 95

The Marvel Cinematic Universe was the start of superhero fandom for millions. For many, many others, it was just the latest iteration of graphic works of art – this time, come to life on the big screen. And inside each of those was a small cameo, a little role to play for the man who started it all, Stan Lee.


For the veteran community, Stan Lee was a fantastic example of life after serving. In the Pinks and Greens of his World War II enlistment, the young Lee might be unrecognizable to many of us today. But in true superhero form, he saw the world needed his help and he donned his superhero uniform in 1942 (which just happened to be one of the Army’s signal corps) and enlisted after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones

Lee during his WWII-era enlistment.

(U.S. Army)

It’s probably more difficult to imagine Stan Lee in his early years, merely filling inkwells as an assistant at a pulp comics publisher. It was there that Lee created his first comic stories, including the exploits of Captain America. Eventually, he worked his way up to editor-in-chief of that same publication.

Lee’s time in the Army came just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Army installed the young Stanley Martin Lieber (Lee’s birth name, he changed it to his pen name later) as a telephone pole lineman. After realizing it made a mistake, he was moved to the training film division to create posters and worked as a writer of films, shorts, and comics for the duration of the war.

Throughout his life, Lee would use his experiences to influence his characters and his later works – and the Army was a small but significant part of it.

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones

After leaving the Army, Lieber went back to his work in publishing, destined to become the great Stan Lee we know today. Throughout the 50s and 60s, he and artist Jack Kirby created some of the most enduring characters in American literature, thanks in no small part to Lee’s perspective on what makes characters relatable. Where rival DC Comics and other publishers at the time created heroic, idealistic archetypical characters, Lee created complex characters with deep flaws who also happened to be imbued with tremendous power and the will to do what was right.

Save for the superpowers, these were people we could all relate. They were to be the kinds of hero many aspired to be. The publisher who gave Stan Lee his start as an assistant and later his role as chief soon changed its name to Marvel Comics. Stan Lee began creating the characters we all grew to love in our early years, the same one the Marvel Cinematic Universe is gifting to our children.

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones

Lee collaborated with artist-writer Jack Kirby on stories, like The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Silver Surfer, and X-Men. With artist-writer Steve Ditko, he created Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, and with artist Bill Everett came Daredevil. Lee created or co-created many of the world’s now-beloved favorites.

“I’ve tried to write stories that anybody would enjoy,” Lee once said. “I’ve tried to make them understandable enough, and exciting or suspenseful or interesting enough for youngsters… to hold their interest. And I’ve tried to make them hopefully intelligent enough for older people.”
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8 gadgets that make life in the field more bearable

Roughing it in the field can be tough. The first few days might seem kind of fun and cool, but after a week of limited internet and electricity, no showers, and sleeping in the dirt, everyone starts itching for a few creature comforts.


But, there are a few gadgets and tools that can make life easier (without weighing down your ruck). Here are 8 of them:

1. Portable solar chargers

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones
(Photo: Mcjones2003 CC BY-SA 4.0)

One of the best things for keeping a modern, connected life going in the field is solar power. Grunts at a small base or outpost aren’t going to get much access to generator power, but small solar panels can let them power a couple of devices.

The big concern on these is balancing weight to power. No one is willing to add too many pounds on just for a chance to play Pokemon Go in the field.

2. Rugged cell phones

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones
(Photo: OutdoorMen CC BY-SA 4.0)

Some manufacturers make special “military grade” phones, but troops can usually get away with a solid, mainstream phone in a great case.

The phone should have a solid state hard drive and either be waterproof or have a waterproof case. In a pinch, a standard case and an MRE beverage pouch make all phones waterproof.

3. E-readers

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones
The Navy created their own e-reader and named it the NeRD. Photo: US Navy Ensign Sandra Niedzwiecki

A quality e-reader is standard kit for avid bibliophiles in the field and can keep a soldier or Marine in the field occupied during whatever off-duty time he or she is afforded. The best models are rugged, have low power requirements, and can hold plenty of books.

Avoid anything that is more tablet than e-reader. With only a limited amount of solar power, fancy readers with color graphics and other power hungry features can end up spending most of their time in a line for a charger.

4. Pop up bed net

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones
Yes, she is in a pop-up shelter inside of a larger tent. She was also in Liberia during the Ebola epidemic and didn’t want to catch malaria which was the more common threat. (Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. V. Michelle Woods)

These quick shelters keep out all the annoying bugs that bite and crawl over troops in the field. In areas at high risk for West Nile and other diseases, the military branches sometimes issue them. Everyone else has to buy them with personal funds.

Like everything else on this list, keep a firm eye on weight and make sure to pick a camouflaged or subdued color. The first sergeant won’t let you use a bright orange shelter in a tactical situation.

5. Chemical heating pads

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones
It doesn’t take a big warmer to take the edge off in the field. Little things will do the trick. (Photo: Public Domain)

Look, it gets cold in the field and hour six on overnight guard in a hasty machine gun position is much more comfortable with a small heating pad in your pockets or taped to your chest. The problem is most of them can only be used once.

That’s all right, though. Pick a small, long-lasting version rather than a big back pad or something that’ll give a short burst of heat. A single hand warmer on a patch of skin with high blood flow—try the hands, near the armpits, or anywhere with a major artery—can take the edge off the cold and last for an entire guard shift. It’ll usually even have enough juice left to help you get to sleep when you rack out afterward.

6. Small flashlights and headlamps

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones
An Army EOD technician attempts to remove a simulated explosive device from a hostage during a training exercise. When you’re removing bombs from hostages, you want your hands free. (Photo: US Army Sgt. Ashley Marble)

Headlamps with red lenses are a necessity for the field. No one wants to wear that big, D-battery flashlight the military often includes on packing lists. Opt for a smaller LED flashlight that can be carried in the pocket for directional lighting, and get a headlamp for map reading, walking around and general use.

7. Field stool

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones
Yes, it’s a boring photo. Camp stools are boring objects until you have to ruck out to the field, set up tents and build defensive positions and then look for somewhere to finally sit. (Photo: Amazon.com)

This isn’t complicated. There’s not always a hill or fallen log to sit on, so a nice field chair is a great asset. The best of these are small stools that only weigh a few ounces.

8. Steel spoon

Trying to cut through a beef patty with an MRE spoon can get dicey at times. You can hedge against broken utensils by always carrying an extra plastic spoon from an old MRE, or you can purchase a steel spoon like your grandfather carried and cut with confidence.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Preserving the legacy of Veterans buried in unmarked graves

Toni Craig, Larisa Roderick and Paul LaRue. These are the names of people who cared enough to preserve the legacy of Veterans interred in unmarked graves by obtaining headstones or markers from VA’s National Cemetery Administration (NCA).

An unmarked gravesite has no permanent headstone or any way to identify the decedent buried in the grave.


Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones

Toni Craig visits her cousin Harry Martin’s grave.

For Craig, a special education world history teacher in Martinsville, Va., her quest was to obtain a marker for her cousin, Pfc. Harry Pemberton Martin, a Marine and Purple Heart recipient from the Vietnam War. He laid in an unmarked grave for 52-years.

Craig started her research in November 2019 with an obituary that her mother gave her. That search included working the Virginia Department of Veterans Affairs in Danville, which allowed her to obtain all the necessary documentation to receive a flat marker. Martin now lays at Meadow Christian Church Cemetery in Martinsville.

“Harry is a hero to my family because he did not have to go to Vietnam. He served his time in the Navy, but decided to join the Marines after,” she said. He was awarded a Purple Heart for his service, but to us his heart was and still is golden.”

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones

LaRue’s students laying a headstone.

This action (of preserving the legacy of Veterans who lay in unmarked gravesites) happens all across the country. A June 2019 story on clickorlando.com shows how concerned resident Larisa Roderick secured 61 headstones for Union Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II Veterans buried at Mt. Peace Cemetery in St. Cloud, Fla.

Retired Ohio high school teacher, Paul LaRue, involved his students to secure and install more than 70 headstones in five cemeteries since 2002. More than half were for African American Civil War Veterans. Those include Beach Grove, the historic African American cemetery, in Cincinnati, for World War I Veterans. The other is Washington City Cemetery in Washington Court House, Ohio, where African American Civil War Veterans lay.

“This unique preservation project began in our local city cemetery after a student asked, ‘Don’t these men deserve better?'” LaRue said.

The researchers only needed proper documentation to prove a Veteran’s service in order to obtain a headstone or marker through NCA. Each of them worked with local officials, the National Archives and Records Administration, and state and federal Veterans departments.

Requesting a headstone or marker

Anyone can request a burial headstone or marker if the service of the Veteran ended prior to April 6, 1917. Veterans who died prior to November 1, 1990, and whose graves are marked with a privately purchased headstone or marker in a private cemetery are not eligible to receive a second headstone or marker from NCA. However, a medallion is available to all decedents in this category who served on or after April 6, 1917. The medallion can be affixed to the existing headstone to show the Veteran’s branch of service.

In 2019, NCA furnished 161,939 headstones and markers, and 13,168 medallions, to Veterans interred in private cemeteries worldwide. For more information about the NCA headstone, marker and medallion program, visit https://www.va.gov/burials-memorials/memorial-items/headstones-markers-medallions/.

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


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Iconic World War II ‘nurse’ Greta Friedman dies at 92

The woman behind one of the most iconic photographs of World War II has died.


Greta Friedman, a woman dressed as a nurse pictured kissing a sailor in New York City as America announced its victory over Japan, passed away Sept. 1. She was 92.

It’s one of the most famous photos of the 20th Century and shows a sailor who celebrates by hugging a nurse (actually a dental assistant, who just happened to be walking by) and giving her a long celebratory kiss.

Good thing a world-famous Life Magazine photographer happened to be standing there.

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones

Photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt called the photo “V-J Day in Times Square” and captioned it “In New York’s Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers.”

Friedman is widely believed to be the woman in the photo.

“I did not see him approaching, and before I know it I was in this tight grip,” Friedman told CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller in 2012.

A U.S. Navy photojournalist happened to be standing there as well and took a photo of his own from a different angle. He called it “Kissing the War Goodbye.”

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones
Navy photographer Victor Jorgenson’s photo.

Call it what you like, the photo came to be the symbol of American sentiment as World War II ended. It has since been replicated in American pop culture from The Simpsons to Katy Perry.

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones
Lance Cpl. Thomas Smith seizes the opportunity to kiss singer, Katy Perry on stage during the opening night block party for Fleet Week New York. (Official Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jeffrey Drew)

The sailor is widely believed to be George Mendonsa, who was reunited with Friedman in Times Square by CBS News.

“The excitement of the war bein’ over, plus I had a few drinks,” Mendonsa said, “so when I saw the nurse I grabbed her, and I kissed her.”

Then-Petty Officer 1st Class Mendosa is now 93 years old and lives in Rhode Island.

Articles

The Pentagon paid 14 NFL teams $5.4 million to ‘salute troops’

 


Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones
Photo: Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret/US Army

The NFL reportedly accepted millions of dollars from the defense department over the course of three years in exchange for honoring troops and veterans before games, the New Jersey Star Ledger reports.

The Pentagon reportedly signed contracts with 14 NFL teams — including the New York Jets, the Indianapolis Colts and the Baltimore Ravens — between 2011-2012 stipulating that teams would be paid sums ranging from $60,000-$1 million each (in federal taxpayer money) to pause before the start of games and salute the city’s “hometown heroes,” according to nj.com. 

Agreements also include advertising on stadium screens and sideline ‘Coaches Club’ seats for soldiers.

Congress and the President recently imposed strict caps on military spending as part of an austere new budget.

The military has defended the funding it provides to the NFL, stating that it is an effective recruitment tool for soldiers.

“Promoting and increasing the public’s understanding and appreciation of military service in the New Jersey Army National Guard increases the propensity for service in our ranks,” National Guard spokesman Patrick Daugherty told nj.com, referring to the $377,000 the Jets received from the Jersey Guard between 2011-2014.

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones
Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joseph M. Buliavac/USN

Other teams that received taxpayer funds include the Cincinnati Bengals ($138,960) Cleveland Browns ($22,500), the Green Bay Packers ($600,000), Pittsburgh Steelers, ($36,000) Minnesota Vikings ($605,000), Atlanta Falcons ($1,049,500), Buffalo Bills ($679,000), Dallas Cowboys ($62,500), Miami Dolphins ($20,000), and St. Louis Rams ($60,000), according to a nj.com breakdown.

New Jersey senator Joe Pennachhio has since called for the teams to donate the money to charity.

“If these teams want to really honor our veterans and service members they should be making these patriotic overtures out of gratitude for free,” Pennachhio told nj.com. “And the millions of dollars that have already been billed to taxpayers should be donated to veterans’ organizations.”

The payments are being criticized by some who say that the practice is not only unethical, but also hypocritical — citing a renewed focus on integrity and transparency, the NFL fined the New England Patriots $1 million and suspended Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for the team’s alleged role in deflating footballs before games.

Many fans are aware that the NFL is a leading recruitment tool for the military — the National Guard advertisements displayed on stadium screens are clearly sponsored content.

But few fans know that the defense department is funneling taxpayer money into the NFL in exchange for veteran tributes.

“The public believes they’re doing it as a public service or a sense of patriotism,” U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told the Star Ledger. “It leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”

More from Business Insider:

This article originally appeared at Business Insider Defense Copyright 2015. Follow BI Defense on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US special operations forces may be stretched to the limit

The US military’s growing reliance on special-operations units from its service branches may be straining those forces to a breaking point.


The US currently has around 200,000 troops deployed abroad. Roughly 8,600 of them — about 4% — are special-forces operators. They are deployed on missions ranging from training and advising to assaults and raids against enemy positions.

As of the beginning of 2017, US operators were deployed to 70% of the worlds countries, according to US Special Operations Command, or SOCOM.

The large number of deployments have officials in the Pentagon and Congress worried that members of the special-forces community may lose their edge on the battlefield.

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones
A U.S Naval Special Warfare Operator observes a Ukrainian SOF Operator during a weapons range in Ochakiv, Ukraine during exercise Sea Breeze 17, July 18, 2017.

Members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees voiced their concerns at the Special Operations Policy Forum November 15th in Washington, DC.

“I do worry about overuse of SOF,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, referring to special-operations forces. “They are increasingly an organization of choice because SOF is very effective.”

“How many missions can you send them on? How many times can they do this? I think that’s what we don’t know,” added Rep. Adam Smith, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.

“The operational tempo is so incredible,” said Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The idea that you would have within six years, multiple deployments, some people every six months to deploy, that in and of itself causes lots of consequences,” he added. “And we haven’t seen a break in those deployments.”

Also Read: US special forces struggle to keep up this pace

Lawmakers have proposed a number of solutions. Among them are providing operators with more resources to deal with potential physical and mental-health issues; giving the train, advise, assist roles to more conventional units; and trying to delegate some of the diplomatic aspects of special-operations missions to diplomatic professionals, like those in the State Department.

The most obvious fix — increasing the amount of operators in the military — faces two problems. First, the US military is having difficulty bringing in new recruits, and second, simply adding more soldiers into the ranks of elite units may require lowering standards, which that could decrease their lethality.

“We cannot sacrifice quality for quantity,” said Reed. Nonetheless, lawmakers from both parties agree that increasing operator numbers is a good first step.

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones
Photo by Staff Sgt. Craig Cantrell

Some branches of the military are looking for ways to bring in more personnel as well. Last month, the Army announced it would be increasing bonuses for soldiers, and the force is likely to maintain some flexibility in its recruiting standards. (A report earlier this month cited an Army memo saying the force would offer waivers for some mental-health conditions; the Army disputed the report, saying the change was only administrative, and rescinded the memo.)

SOCOM is also reportedly investigating the possibility of using nutritional supplements, and perhaps even performance-enhancing drugs, to push the abilities and endurance of its forces beyond current human limits.

SOCOM leaders have emphasized that their units are still capable of conducting current operations and handling threats around the world. However, the fear of wear and tear is increasing, and most officials seem to agree that it is never to early to address the issue.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why an award for military dogs is long overdue

Military working animals are just as much troops in the formation as their bipedal handlers. They go through rigorous training, like the Joes. They get weeded out through selection, like the Joes. And they even hold rank, like the Joes. Military working animals, especially the military dogs, are trained in a wide array of specializations, from drug sniffing and explosives detection to locating survivors in wreckage and providing emotional support to our wounded service members at countless hospitals.

These dogs give just as much as everyone else in the formation — yet, unlike the Joes, they didn’t have official recognition by the United States Armed Forces for their their gallant deeds. That could change with the recently proposed “Guardians of America’s Freedom Medal.”


Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones

Fun fact: The first organization to care for military working animals was called “Our Dumb Friends League” — which is still a less agitating way to refer to an animal than when people call their Pomeranian their “fur baby.”

(Imperial War Museum)​

Currently, the Dickin Medal is given to military working dogs of all allied nations — but this is not an American award nor is it even officially from the military. It’s from the UK’s People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. Despite that, the current Dickin Medal means a great deal to the handler because it doesn’t just mean a printed certificate and a tiny medallion for a creature that’d much rather play with a tennis ball — the medal also comes with benefits and care for the dog.

Physical proof that a military working dog is, in fact, a very good boy gives handlers the evidence they need to back up their requests for help. Handlers currently have little support from Uncle Sam when it comes to ordering new supplies, like harnesses, training aids, etc. With recognition, which, to this point, has meant the Dickin Medal exclusively, the animal is pampered with all of the dignity and respect it earned.

The Dickin Medal also allows the animal to be buried, with full military honors, at the Ilford Animal Cemetery in London. Non-decorated working animals don’t have that right, but the Department of Defense has been taking steps in the right direction. Now, military working animals are allowed to be buried next to their handler at certain national cemeteries. Additionally, the DoD decided (finally) that it was a terrible idea to just leave working dogs on the battlefield or euthanize them when their service isn’t required anymore.

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones

Military working dogs have proven time and time again that they’re patriots.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Aaron S. Patterson)

The Guardians of America’s Freedom Medal would give nearly all of those same benefits — along with official recognition by the United States Government — to the animals that have bravely served their country.

This medal, which costs nothing more than a few bucks and a commander’s recommendation, will help showcase the heroism of our military working animals and give them more than just a pat on the head and an extra treat.

As of December 31st, 2013, 92 military working animals have lost their lives in support of the Global War on Terrorism. 29 of those dogs suffered gunshot wounds, and another 31 were killed by explosions. The other 32 have fallen due to illness. Another 1,350 dogs have suffered non-combat-related injuries or illnesses.

The award will probably mean little to an animal that doesn’t comprehend why everyone’s applauding, but it’s a step in the right direction — and it will give the handlers that extra push they need to get the care our military working animals deserve.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how NATO’s budget really works

Since taking office, President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized NATO over how the alliance is funded and pressured other member states to increase defense spending.

In the process, he has made a number of misleading claims about NATO, distorting how it works and why it exists in the first place.

On July 12, 2018, Trump reiterated his criticism of NATO in a tweet, stating, “Presidents have been trying unsuccessfully for years to get Germany and other rich NATO Nations to pay more toward their protection from Russia. They pay only a fraction of their cost. The U.S. pays tens of Billions of Dollars too much to subsidize Europe, and loses Big on Trade!”


Trump added, “All NATO Nations must meet their 2% commitment, and that must ultimately go to 4%!”

The president is correct that his predecessors also pressured other NATO member states to increase defense spending, but his claim that member states must pay the US for “protection” misrepresents how NATO works.

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones

The North Atlantic Treaty was signed by US President Harry S. Truman in Washington, on April 4, 1949, and was ratified by the United States in August 1949.

NATO’s roots

NATO is an alliance that was formed in the wake of World War II as the US and its allies sought to counter the Soviet Union’s growing influence in Europe and beyond.

The alliance was founded upon the notion of collective defense, meaning an attack on one member state is considered an attack on all of them. This is precisely why NATO, for example, rallied behind the US in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks and has sent many troops to fight and die in places like Afghanistan over the years.

Collective defense requires collective spending

Accordingly, every NATO member state contributes to a relatively modest direct budget: a roughly id=”listicle-2586418750″.4 billion military budget and a 0 million civilian budget.

Overall, the US provides about 22% of this budget based off a formula that accounts for the national income of member states.

Beyond the direct budget, NATO came to an agreement in 2014 that each member state will increase their own defense spending to 2% of their respective gross domestic product by 2024.

At present, NATO has 29 members and few have reached this goal — only five NATO members are expected to meet the 2% target by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the US spends roughly 3.6% of its GDP on defense, as its military budget in 2017 was approximately 8 billion.

There is no penalty for not reaching the 2% goal; it’s simply a guideline, and most member states have increased defense spending even if they haven’t reached that goal quite yet.

Moreover, NATO estimates collective defense spending among all member states will total more that 6 billion in 2018. US defense spending accounts for roughly 67% of this, but it’s also true the US has the highest defense budget in the world by far and this is linked to both its strong economy and internal politics.

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones

President Donald Trump and NATO Secretary General Jens Stolenberg participate in a joint press conference, Wednesday, April 12, 2017.

(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Here’s Trump’s big issue with NATO

Trump wants other NATO member states to increase defense spending — and soon.

On July 11, 2018, he tweeted, “What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy? Why are there only 5 out of 29 countries that have met their commitment? The U.S. is paying for Europe’s protection, then loses billions on Trade. Must pay 2% of GDP IMMEDIATELY, not by 2025.”

There is an underlying truth to Trump’s criticism of NATO that the US spends a significant amount of money and provides an extraordinary amount of resources and manpower to the protection of Europe and Asia. But the US benefits a great deal from this, and US involvement in NATO has long helped it solidify its role as one of the globe’s leading powers, if not the most powerful country in the world.

Moreover, Trump’s remarks on NATO seem to suggest that Europe must pay the US for protection from Russia, when this is not how the alliance is meant to function. Not to mention, Trump already has a dubious relationship with Russia at a time when much of the world, especially Europe, is concerned about its aggressive military activities.

In this context, Trump’s criticism of NATO has been condemned by politicians on both sides of the aisle in the US as well as by other world leaders and foreign policy experts.

Trump caused a crisis at the NATO summit over the issue of defense spending

Trump reportedly broke diplomatic protocol on July 12, 2018, by referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel by her first name, and his intense demands regarding defense spending saw NATO leaders enter a special emergency session.

After the session, Trump said NATO member states had agreed to quickly increase spending.

“We’re very happy and have a very, very powerful, very, very strong NATO. Much stronger than it was two days ago,” Trump said in an unscheduled statement.

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

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