Inside the Department of Defense's Fire School - We Are The Mighty
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Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr./Airman Online


Staring at the fire blazing in front of him, the airman basic began to sweat — a reaction that could only partly be blamed on nerves and adrenaline. It was an oven inside of the aircraft, and Daniel Brum knew the temperature was only going to rise when the fire hose turned on.  His studies had taught him that water expands to 1,700 times its original volume when it turns to steam, and sure enough, as he shot water at the base of the fire, the air around him turned into an instant sauna.

For a brief moment, Brum freed one hand to wipe at his face shield. It had fogged up with mist. Once he could see again, he redoubled his efforts to calm the intense flames lighting up the cargo hold.

Though the aircraft interior fire was staged – a scenario intended to aid with training – Brum treated it like it was the real thing.  The training was indicative of a possible situation the apprentice firefighter might come across in the future and he needed the experience.

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr./Airman Online

“There’s a big painting on the wall out there that says, ‘Train as if someone’s life depends on it, because it does,” Brum said.  “So when it’s training, it’s all serious.  You have to learn what you’re doing, so that way … when you’re in a fire situation and someone’s life depends on you, you will be able to help that person out.”

The phrase Brum recited is prominently displayed above one of the Louis F. Garland Department of Defense Fire Academy building’s main entryways.  The words state a responsibility accepted by the men and women who walk those halls.  Within the academy at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, are firefighters from every branch of the military, as well as those training in hopes of one day joining their ranks.

The academy provides entry-level fire protection instruction for all DOD firefighters, and it’s also a location for advanced training courses within the career field.  Each year, the school accepts nearly 2,500 students, 1,400 of which are initial entry, or apprentice, firefighters, said Lt. Col. Mathew Welling, the 312th Training Squadron commander. The training accomplished here is predicated on standards set by the National Fire Protection Association but is also tailored to fit the military mission.

“We have unique aircraft, munitions, and other special requirements that really (make it necessary for) us to provide a different level of training than your civilian firefighter would be used to,” Welling said, indicating an additional emphasis on airport firefighting applications and a joint effort between all DOD firefighters.

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr./Airman Online

Students may come from the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps, but in class they are all integrated together. During deployments, military firefighters work as joint service teams, and therefore the academy reinforces that concept throughout their instruction with a lack of service specific courses and a strong emphasis on teamwork.

Tech. Sgt. Jeff Trueman, an emergency medical response course instructor, is able to impart to his students the importance of the joint training via his own experiences. During his first deployment he worked hand in hand with the Navy to provide crash fire rescue for aircraft assigned to a drug interdiction mission.  Trueman has been embedded with the Army as well.

“It’s interesting to be able to combine both of those worlds, and to see the differences and nuances between the services,” he said. “It’s definitely career broadening.  Until you actually have that opportunity to work with other services, I don’t think you fully develop within your profession.

“That’s why I like being here,” Trueman said of the technical school. “We have instructors from so many different services and they bring a lot of different information.”

With a “train as you do” philosophy, the academy students are given an education that sets them up for success in most situations they might face while serving at their home stations and abroad. To ensure apprentice firefighters are prepared to do their jobs upon graduation, the entry-level course is split into three blocks, with each gradually addressing a more advanced set of skills.

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr./Airman Online

According to Welling, block one introduces the students to firefighting basics, such as ropes, knots and ladders, how to put on personal protective equipment, and how to create ventilation. Block two continues with more in-depth firefighting principles like water supplies, fire hoses, vehicle extraction, fire department communications, interior fires, wildfires, etc. By block three, the students begin EMR certification.

The trainees learn to race into situations others would run from when everything in their bodies is telling them to go in the other direction.

“I think it takes a lot of courage, especially for 18-19 year olds coming out of high school,” said Marine Corps Staff Sgt. George Preen, a hazmat instructor and supervisor within block three of the training course. “We’re teaching them to do something that’s basically the opposite of their normal instinct, which is (to flee from danger). We’re essentially trying to reprogram them to go in and do the right thing.”

The firefighting instruction begins in-classroom and through hands-on exercises at the academy’s outdoor training pad.  The area resembles a flightline, but instead of expanses of hangars and rows of aircraft lining the concrete strip, there are towers with zip lines and ladders, buildings made to fill up with smoke, and charred aircraft frames simulating possible crash and recovery scenarios.

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr./Airman Online

The profession is well known for combatting blazes; however, firefighters constantly delve into another area of expertise.

“It’s a big misconception,” Trueman said. “Out there, people think firefighters just put the wet stuff on the hot stuff, when in fact, about 70 percent of our calls as firefighters in the Department of Defense are actually medical.”

Though unusual, Trueman first fell in love with the EMR aspect of the fireman’s job before that of fighting fires. As a child he’d won a coloring contest hosted by his local fire station, and, as a reward, he was given a tour of the fire house.  When a call came in requesting a response to a medical situation, the assistant fire chief let him jump in the car and ride along to the incident.  From that moment on, he was inspired, and now he instructs on the subject that first captured his attention.

Being a firefighter is anything but easy, and after serving 12 years in the career field, Trueman knows that while on call his students will be exposed to many traumatic situations that will test their ability to bounce back.

“The most difficult response that I went on involved an individual who’d attempted suicide,” he said. “It was a young lady, and being a father myself, I put myself in her parent’s shoes, and you know it’s just something that I hadn’t experienced.  I’d trained for it, I had the skills to handle it, but emotionally … it’s one of those things where I had to talk to my mentors to kind of get me over that hump, because it definitely affects you the next day.”

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr./Airman Online

Dealing with the emotions and trauma firefighters experience individually can be overwhelming, so that’s why they learn to look to each other for support.

In just about any type of training or military situation teamwork is critical, but Brum believes that his fellow classmates have gone beyond simply helping one another, they’ve become like family.

“All I hear is that when you’re at a base, at a fire station, it’s like a second family to you,” Brum said.

Even though he wasn’t actively working at a fire station yet, the young Airman had already found support through a team of fellow apprentice firefighters. At the academy and faced with stressors ranging from academics to physical fitness requirements, the students learned to lean on each other.

Though it is a strenuous course, the most difficult part for Brums was being away from family for nearly six months during the combination of basic training and technical school. Though he could Skype them or call, the separation sometimes tested his resolve. His teammates, however, were able to make the separation more bearable.

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr./Airman Online

“If you’re serious all the time you’re just going to go crazy, so we like to have fun with each other, lighten the mood,” Brum said.  “Having my friends in class, (when) I’m having a bad day … they know how to cheer me up to keep me going.

Even with his classmates’ support, Brum says life without his family can be stressful. But with a bit of technology and a dose of imagination and patience, he says he will be able to see it through.

“My wife and daughter, they are the reason I’m here,” he added. “After a hard day of training … my first thought is, ‘Oh, I have to wake up at 3:30 tomorrow morning and start it all over again. But then going to the dorm and being able to sit at a computer to Skype with my family – just seeing them and knowing how proud I’m making them, it gives me the motivation to get up that next morning and give my all.”

Trueman believes that despite the long hours, stress of learning new things and separation from family and friends, his students end up with a set of skills and values they will carry with them throughout their careers. He added that the aspect of his job he values the most is the difference he can make through each new student he teaches.

“Now I’m influencing the future of our career field and I really get to shape it by sending out quality (DOD firefighters),” he added. “The folks we send out there aren’t going to falter the first time they see a real world incident. They’ll be able to fall back on their training, and use that framework to push them over that hump.”

But Trueman made clear that this technical training is really only the beginning. He said a combination of advance courses, on-the-job training and experience in the field will be key to their successful future as firefighters.

“We produce a lot of graduates every year for the entire DOD,” Welling said. “One of the things we try to impress upon them as they graduate is ‘your training’s not done.’ You may be able to wear the firefighter badge, but you need to continue to train and prepare, because you never know what … situation you’re going to be responding to.  When the bell goes off and you’re asked to go do your job, you need to be ready, because someone’s life does depend on it.

Articles

How Bob Hope continues to serve the troops


Bob Hope was among the brightest stars during his era. He was known for his comedic one-liners and performances over a long career in entertainment.

He passed away in 2003 at the age of 100 but left a legacy of humor and humanitarianism having traveled the world for more than half his life to deliver laughter and entertainment to American troops. His legacy of service to the troops lives on through the Bob Dolores Hope Foundation, thanks to his granddaughter Miranda Hope and Easterseals.

Join us for an informative episode of the We Are The Mighty podcast with Miranda Hope and discover why Bob Hope continues to be beloved by our troops.

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You can help support veterans with Easterseals Southern California. Shop at any Vons or Pavilions in Southern California and donate at the register!

Hosted by: Blake Stilwell: Air Force veteran and Senior Contributor

Guest: Miranda Hope

Miranda Hope serves as a Member, Director, and Vice President of the Bob and Dolores Hope Foundation, which is dedicated to serving those in need and those who serve to protect our nation. She has worked as a public school teacher, a counselor, and a performer. She holds degrees from Columbia University (MFA) and Stanford University (BA) and offers trauma-informed yoga and meditation to civilian, military, and incarcerated populations.

Selected links and show notes:

  • [01:15] Bob Hope’s history with American troops.
  • [04:45] How Miranda Hope became involved with the troops.
  • [06:50] How today’s veterans respond to Bob Hope.
  • [09:10] The mission of the Bob Dolores Hope Foundation.
  • [13:35] How the foundation benefits veterans.
  • [14:50] Who can apply to this program.
  • [15:15] Why the Bob Dolores Hope Foundation teamed up with Easterseals.
  • [17:00] Issues that plague today’s veterans.
  • [21:00] Future plans and expansion of the program.

Music license by Jingle Punks

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Articles

‘House of Cards’ is looking for veterans

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School


If you’re a veteran living in the Washington, DC area, the hit Netflix series House of Cards wants you. Filming on the fourth season starts this July and they’re looking for extras. The show wants to cast men and women who actually served.

There’s always a chance they’ll give someone a line which would get you into the actors union which could lead to a huge action movie career. Or you could at least be visible in a couple of shots, allowing you to show the episodes to your friends and family and talk about what it was like to work with Kevin Spacey.

Check out the details from Project Casting below. They’re very concerned that applicant follow instructions to the letter, but that should be easy for anyone who served and got an honorable discharge, right?

Also, when showbiz folks say “play either right before or right after the July 4th weekend,” they mean “film either right before or right after the July 4th weekend.”

How to apply:

MILITARY VETERAN (age 28–40, male AND female) – Preferably someone who actually toured overseas in Iraq or Afghanistan. This will play either right before or right after the July 4th weekend. Please have a flexible schedule.

TO APPLY please email: mhc.drama@gmail.com WITH

1. Height

2. Weight

3. Age

4. Waist and Jacket/dress sizes

5. Three (3) Selfies. Selfies, not headshots. Must be recent!

6. What military experience you have

Paid-Up SAG members, please email sag.mhc@gmail.com.

Subject Line: VETERAN

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The Ranger the Taliban called ‘the giant’

Alejandro Villanueva is a former West Point lineman and Army Ranger who got his first start at tackle on Sunday as the Pittsburgh Steelers faced the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. He took on the high-pressure role of protecting the “blind side” of backup quarterback Landry Jones, who’s in due to starter Ben Roethlisberger’s injury.


But Villanueva knows a thing or two about pressure, like, the life-or-death kind that soldiers face during wartime on a daily basis. And for him one night in particular stands out among many pressure-filled missions he carried out over the course of four tours in Afghanistan.

As reported by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Villanueva was serving as a 2nd lieutenant in Afghanistan. Stationed in the Kandahar Province, he was the rifle platoon leader of the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team. A firefight had broken out between the Taliban and Afghan civilians, and, in trying to protect them, Lt. Villanueva had unknowingly led his troops into an ambush. The Taliban was waiting in the dark for Villanueva, the 6-foot-9 man known as “The Giant,” and opened fire, wounding three soldiers. Two of them survived, but Pfc. Dietrich, 20, bled out through the hole in his back moments after Lt. Villanueva had carried him from the fray and loaded him onto a helicopter.

Less than a month after Pfc. Dietrich died, Staff Sgt. Simon was shot three times, and Lt. Villanueva’s was the last face he remembered as he was loaded onto the helicopter. Staff Sgt. Simon nearly died twice, and Lt. Villanueva was given his dog tags and asked to prepare a memorial speech for his parents. But Staff Sgt. Simon lived, and he planned to watch his friend play against the Chiefs, his favorite team, from the stands of Arrowhead Stadium.

“It’s going to be crazy,” said Mr. Simon, now retired from the military.

And, along with knowing pressure, these war veterans know crazy.

Related: This why the national anthem is played before sporting events

Articles

The Invisible War On The Brain

The cover story of National Geographic magazine’s February issue, “The Invisible War on the Brain,” takes a close look at a signature injury of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars—traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) caused by the shock waves from explosions. TBIs have left hundreds of thousands of U.S. veterans with life-altering and sometimes debilitating conditions, the treatment of which can be extremely complicated. At Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, soldiers paint masks that help them cope with their daily struggles and help them reveal their inner feelings. We invite you to see the service members’ masks and read the full story here.


Impeccable in his Marine uniform and outwardly composed, McNair sits on the porch of his parents’ home in Virginia, anonymous behind a mask he made in an art therapy session. “I was just going through pictures, and I saw the mask of Hannibal Lecter, and I thought, ‘That’s who I am’ … He’s probably dangerous, and that’s who I felt I was. I had this muzzle on with all these wounds, and I couldn’t tell anyone about them. I couldn’t express my feelings.”

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
Marine Cpl. Chris McNair (Ret.), Afghanistan 2011-12. (Photo by © Lynn Johnson/National Geographic)

Wearing his mask—half patriotic, half death’s-head—Hopman confronts the battery of medications he takes daily for blast-force injuries he sustained while treating soldiers as a flight medic. “I know my name, but I don’t know the man who used to back up that name … I never thought I would have to set a reminder to take a shower, you know. I’m 39 years old. I’ve got to set a reminder to take medicine, set a reminder to do anything… My daughter, she’s only four, so this is the only dad she’s ever known, whereas my son knew me before.”

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
Army Staff Sgt. Perry Hopman, Iraq 2006-08. (Photo by © Lynn Johnson/National Geographic)

“Detonation happened, and I was right there in the blast seat. I got blown up. And all this medical study—nobody ever thought that they [blast events] were very harmful, and so we didn’t log them, which we should because all blast forces are cumulative to the body. On a grade number for me, it would probably be 300-plus explosions … I’m not going to not play with my children. I’m not going to let my injuries stop them from having a good life.”

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
Marine Gunnery Sgt. Aaron Tam (Ret.), Iraq 2004-05, 2007-08, (with wife Angela and their two children). (Photo by © Lynn Johnson/National Geographic)

Tiffany H., as she prefers to be known, was “blown up” while helping women in a remote Afghan village earn additional income for their families. Memory loss, balance difficulties, and anxiety are among her many symptoms. The blinded eye and sealed lips on her mask.

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
Marine Gunnery Sgt. Tiffany H., Iraq 2007-08, Afghanistan 2010-11. (Photo by © Lynn Johnson/National Geographic)

Suiting up before attempting ordnance disposal “is the last line. There’s no one else to call … It’s the person and the IED … and if a mistake is made at that point, then death is almost certain. They call it the long walk because once you get that bomb suit on, number one, everything is harder when you’re wearing that 100 pounds … Two, the stress of knowing what you’re about to do. And three, it’s quiet, and it seems like it takes an hour to walk.”

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert “Bo” Wester (Ret.), Iraq 2007, 2008-09, Afghanistan 2010. (Photo by © Lynn Johnson/National Geographic)

Brain injuries caused by blast events change soldiers in ways many can’t articulate. Some use art therapy, creating painted masks to express how they feel. (Photos by © Rebecca Hale /National Geographic)

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School

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It looks like Washington just rescued the VA’s private-sector care program — for now

Congressional Republicans and Democrats have reached agreement on a $3.9 billion emergency spending package to fill a shortfall in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ program of private-sector care, seeking to avert a disruption to medical care for thousands of veterans.


The deal includes additional money for core VA health programs, as well. Veterans’ groups insisted this money be included.

The compromise plan sets aside $2.1 billion over six months to continue funding the Choice program, which provides federally paid medical care outside the VA and is a priority of President Donald Trump. VA Secretary David Shulkin has warned that without legislative action, Choice would run out of money by mid-August, causing delays in health care.

The proposal also would devote $1.8 billion to authorize 28 leases for new VA medical facilities and establish programs to make it easier to hire health specialists. That cost would be paid for by trimming pensions for some Medicaid-eligible veterans and collecting fees for housing loans.

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
VA Secretary David Shulkin. Photo courtesy of VA.

A House vote was planned July 28, before members were to begin a five-week recess. The Senate is finishing up business for two more weeks and would also need to approve the measure.

Major veterans’ groups had opposed the original House plan as an unacceptable step toward privatization, leading Democrats to block that bill on July 24. That plan would have trimmed VA benefits to pay for Choice without additional investments in VA infrastructure.

Put in place after a 2014 wait-time scandal at the Phoenix VA hospital, the Choice program allows veterans to receive care from outside doctors if they must wait 30 days or more for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a VA facility.

Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, told a hearing on July 27 that the six-month funding plan was urgently needed and would give Congress more time to debate broader issues over the future of the VA. He was joined by Rep. Tim Walz, the panel’s top Democrat.

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School Sens. Johnny Isakson, R- Ga., (left) and Jon Tester, D-Mont (right)

“We are glad that veterans will continue to have access to care without interruption and that the VA will be able to improve the delivery of care by addressing critical infrastructure and medical staffing needs,” Sens. Johnny Isakson, R- Ga., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., said in a statement.

Shulkin praised the agreement and urged the House to act swiftly. The legislation “will greatly benefit veterans,” he said.

Still, while the agreement may avert a shutdown to Choice, the early disputes over funding may signal bigger political fights to come.

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
Photo by Michael Vadon

During the 2016 campaign, Trump had criticized the VA for long wait times and mismanagement, saying he would give veterans more options in seeing outside providers. At an event July 25 in Ohio, Trump said he would triple the number of veterans “seeing the doctor of their choice” as part of an upcoming VA overhaul.

His comments followed a warning by the leader of the Veterans of Foreign Wars against any Trump administration effort to “privatize” the VA. Speaking July 24 at its national convention in New Orleans, outgoing VFW National Commander Brian Duffy criticized the initial House plan as violating Trump’s campaign promise to VFW that it “would remain a public system, because it is a public trust.”

Shulkin announced the budget shortfall last month, citing unexpected demand from veterans for private care and poor budget planning. To slow spending, the department last month instructed VA medical centers to limit the number of veterans it sent to private doctors.

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean Furey

“This situation underscores exactly why Congress needs to pass broader and more permanent Choice reforms. Even after they finish scrambling to fund this flawed program, too many veterans will still be trapped in a failing system and will be unable to seek care outside the VA when they want to or need to,” said Dan Caldwell, policy director of the conservative Concerned Veterans for America.

Currently, more than 30 percent of VA appointments are in the private sector, up from fewer than 20 percent in 2014, as the VA’s more than 1,200 health facilities struggle to meet growing demands for medical care.

The VA has an annual budget of nearly $167 billion.

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These US soldiers spent Christmas Eve raining hell on ISIS

On Christmas Eve, Soldiers in Staff Sgt. Johnathan Walker’s section shiver as freezing rain falls upon their position.


U.S Army Soldiers with Battery C, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, Task Force Strike, load a round into M777 artillery piece to support the Iraqi security forces during the Mosul counter offensive, Dec. 24, 2016, in northern Iraq. Battery C is supporting the ISF with indirect fires in their fight against ISIL. (Photo Credit: 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson) U.S Army Soldiers with Battery C, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, Task Force Strike, load a round into M777 artillery piece to support the Iraqi security forces during the Mosul counter offensive, Dec. 24, 2016, in northern Iraq. Battery C is supporting the ISF with indirect fires in their fight against ISIL. (Photo Credit: 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson)

“Fire!” yells Walker as he makes a cutting motion through the rain with his hand. A round leaves the tube of the M777 artillery piece with its trademark boom and smoke, and the artillerymen begin to move again. The sounds of their boots impacting the mud and gravel echo through the gun pit.

It may be the holiday season, but the mission for the Soldiers of Battery C, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, Task Force Strike, continues. The Iraqi Security Forces are battling ISIL in Mosul, and the artillerymen are supporting them with indirect fires.

U.S Army Soldiers with Battery C, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, Task Force Strike, execute a fire mission to support the Iraqi security forces during the Mosul counter-offensive, Dec. 24, 2016, in northern Iraq. Battery C is supporting the ISF with indirect fires in their fight against the ISIL. (Photo Credit: 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson) U.S Army Soldiers with Battery C, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, Task Force Strike, execute a fire mission to support the Iraqi security forces during the Mosul counter-offensive, Dec. 24, 2016, in northern Iraq. Battery C is supporting the ISF with indirect fires in their fight against the ISIL. (Photo Credit: 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson)

“We provide overmatch capability to the maneuver commander,” explained Sgt. 1st Class Scott Young, the platoon sergeant of 2nd Platoon, Battery C, during his rounds of the gun line. “When air support isn’t available, either due to weather or not having the assets in the area, we can bring effects onto targets. As long as there is an observer out there, we can shoot.”

“Task Force Top Guns” has provided fire support for the Iraqi Security Forces ever since arriving in early May. The battery has fired more than 4,000 rounds in support of their maneuvers.

They’re also credited with conducting the first conventional air assault mission during Operation Inherent Resolve, during which they rapidly moved artillery pieces by air to establish a new firing position. At the completion of the fires, the guns were moved back to their starting location.

“We’ve denied territory so the enemy can’t maneuver, obscured friendly movements, and we have precision capability, which is critical in this fight,” Young said, pointing in the direction of Mosul to emphasize his point.

“If there is a target in a built-up area, we can hit it while minimizing damage to the surrounding area. We pride ourselves on our accuracy.”

U.S. Army Sgt. Scott Martineau, Battery C, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, Task Force Strike, moves towards his position on an M777 howitzer during a fire mission to support the security forces during the Mosul counteroffensive, Dec. 25, 2016, in northern Iraq. Battery C is supporting the ISF with indirect fires in their fight against ISIL. (Photo Credit: 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson) U.S. Army Sgt. Scott Martineau, Battery C, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, Task Force Strike, moves towards his position on an M777 howitzer during a fire mission to support the security forces during the Mosul counteroffensive, Dec. 25, 2016, in northern Iraq. Battery C is supporting the ISF with indirect fires in their fight against ISIL. (Photo Credit: 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson)

The rain picks up and a slight fog takes shape in the distance as Walker’s crew awaits their next command. The weather has changed in Iraq, and the Soldiers have switched from their summer lightweight combat shirts to multiple layers in an attempt to stave off the wind-chill.

“Fire mission at my command,” comes the transmission over the radio, and the artillerymen spring into action, beginning the crew drill to load the artillery piece, just as they have done for the past eight months. The Soldiers move quickly through their tasks, and Walker gives the signal once more. Another boom reverberates in the pit.

“It feels good to know that we’re being called on to support the fight and we’re having an effect,” Walker said in between missions. During each crew drill, he encourages his men to keep up the effort. “That’s the reason why we’re out here. We do everything with a sense of urgency and there’s no room for mistakes.”

Battery C has received multiple calls for fires as the Iraqi Security Forces have moved deeper and deeper into Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq and the site of a major operation with the goal of liberating the city. ISIL has been dug into the city for two years.

“There’s a lot more variables in weather like this,” said Walker. “People move a little slower, the rounds are slippery, and morale may drop. It’s the job of crew chiefs on the line to keep on pushing the sections to complete the mission. Rain or shine, when we get the call, we have to react.”

The radio sounds soon after, and the artillerymen are once again called to action.

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North Korea claims they have a hydrogen bomb and the world shrugs

Through the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Kim Jong-Un, North Korea’s supreme leader, announced his country is “ready to detonate a self-reliant A-bomb and H-bomb to reliably defend its sovereignty and the dignity of the nation.” American and South Korean officials are dismissing the claim.


Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
Confirmed North Korean Technologies: Potato Guns

“The information that we have access to calls into serious question those claims, but we take very seriously the risk and the threat that is posed by the North Korean regime in their ambitions to develop a nuclear weapon,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
Confirmed North Korean Technologies: Binoculars

Kim made the announcement while inspecting an historical military site in Pyongyang. The regime first became a confirmed nuclear power in 2006 under Kim’s predecessor and father Kim Jong-Il when North Korea detonated the first of three nuclear bombs.

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
Confirmed North Korean Technologies: Flash Mobs

North Korea’s regime detonates nukes at “secret” underground nuclear tests sites. The announcement comes on the heels of the discovery of new nuclear testing tunnels, uncovered by satellite photos, at Punggye-ri in the northeast area of the country.

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
Confirmed North Korean Technologies: Phones

This is the first time the Kim regime claimed to have hydrogen bomb technology and the announcement may be a response to the recent U.S. sanctions targeting North Korea’s Strategic Rocket Force and banks involved in North Korean arms proliferation.

North Korea has a history of acting out in response to Western actions it sees as provocative. When the U.S. and South Korea performed its yearly joint Foal Eagle exercise in 2015, the North launched two scud missiles into the sea outside of South Korea. When the South conducted a combined arms exercise near Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong Islands near the maritime border with the North, North Korean artillery batteries shelled the island for an hour.

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
Confirmed North Korean Technologies: Gloop

The North is not yet able to put a nuclear weapon on one of its rockets, but its nuclear capabilities do threaten U.S. allies in the region.

“We don’t have any information that North Korea has developed an H-bomb,” a South Korean intelligence official told the South’s Yonhap News Agency. “We do not believe that North Korea, which has not succeeded in miniaturizing nuclear bombs, has the technology to produce an H-bomb.”

North Korea claimed in 2010 that it had successfully developed fusion technology.

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Here’s what’s wrong with the world’s most lethal combat plane

The US Air Force’s F-22 Raptor’s combination of stealth and performance makes it arguably the most lethal combat plane in the world, but it’s not without its weaknesses.


As War Is Boring’s David Archibald notes, the F-22 sorely lacks infrared-search-and-track (IRST) sensors, as well as cheek-mounted, side-looking radars.

Related: How China’s stealthy new J-20 fighter jet compares to the US’s F-22 and F-35

Archibald credits these shortcomings to the plane’s design period, when the US Air Force placed a budget cap on developing the avionics for the Raptor.

This means that the Raptor is blind to the infrared spectrum, which has extreme value to fighter jets as all planes and missiles emit heat. The lack of side-looking radars limits how the plane can guide missiles flying at more than 90 degrees away from the plane’s nose.

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
An F-22 deploys flares. | US Air Force photo

Meanwhile, Russia’s best competition for the F-22, the  Su-35 Flanker, does have IRST and cheek-mounted radars.

For the Flanker, the IRST provides a vital but limited tool against the ultra-stealthy F-22. As the Flanker has almost no hope of detecting the F-22 by conventional radar, it must rely on finding the F-22’s heat signature; but, as combat aviation expert Justin Bronk previously told Business Insider, looking for fifth-generation aircraft in the open skies with IRST is like “looking through a drinking straw.”

The lack of side-looking radars may prove to be a more enduring difficulty for the Raptor, however. Former F-22 Raptor pilot Lt. Col. David Berke told Business Insider that he’d avoid a close-in, turning fight if possible.

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
Sukhoi Su-35S (Su-35BM) multirole fighter at MAKS-2011 airshow. | Wikimedia Commons photo

“Just because I knew I could outmaneuver an enemy, my objective wouldn’t be to get in a turning fight and kill him,” Berke said.

However, cheek-mounted radars have utility beyond dogfights, and by requiring the pilot to point his nose at a target to guide a missile, the plane has essentially handcuffed the pilot who could be doing other tasks.

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How Navy Special Ops Survive Training Missions In Freezing Water

During Navy Special Ops training, candidates complete exhaustive missions under extreme stress, limited sleep, and in freezing water conditions.


For the last 25 years, the US military has used an ingestible thermometer pill to monitor the core body temperature of service members during physically demanding missions.

CorTemp pill (HQ, Inc.) was developed in the mid-1980’s by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and the Goddard Space Flight Center. The sensor technology was first used on astronauts to detect hypothermia and hyperthermic conditions during space flight.

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
Courtesy of HQ,Inc.

Here is how the pill works:  Soldiers swallow a 3/4-inch silicone-coated capsule which contains a microbattery and a quartz crystal temperature sensor. Within two hours, the quartz crystal sensor vibrates at a frequency relative to the body’s temperature and transmits a harmless, low-frequency signal through the body.

Team personnel can wirelessly monitor the core body temperature of multiple subjects in real time. There are several options and configurations for tracking temperatures, including the most simple method of holding the data recorder near the small of the back. The pill safely passes through the digestive system after 18 to 30 hours.

The $50 pill is used at Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC) training facility in Coronado, Calif. where candidates swim in open sea ranging from frigid 48 degrees Fahrenheit to 72 degrees Farenheit.

“For SWCC personnel, the pill is used to monitor body core temperature and is used only in training. Its use ensures candidates can understand the impact of cold water and allows medical and training cadre staff to ensure safety parameters for training are observed,” wrote Navy Lt. Ben Tisdale via email.

The ingestible capsules are also used by the NFL, various European militaries, and fire departments in the United States and in Australia, according to Director of Sales Marketing, Lee Carbonelli.

More from Business Insider:

This article originally appeared at Business Insider Military Defense. Copyright 2014. Follow BI Defense on Twitter.

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Chinese military official warns that war with US under Trump is becoming a ‘practical reality’

A Chinese military official has warned that war between the US and China is becoming “a practical reality” following the inauguration of President Donald Trump.


On January 20, an official from the People’s Liberation Army wrote on its official website that the US’s “rebalance” in Asia, its deployments to the region, and its push to arm South Korea with the THAAD missile-defense system were provocative “hot spots getting closer to ignition,” The South China Morning Post reported Friday.

Related: China tests missile that could muscle US out of the South China Sea

Before his inauguration, Trump sparked controversy in China when he took a phone call from the president of Taiwan, going against the US’s decades-long protocol to respect a “One China” policy. At the time, Chinese officials lodged a complaint with the White House but referred to the call as a “shenanigan by the Taiwan side.”

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
Soldiers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army 1st Amphibious Mechanized Infantry Division prepare to provide Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen with a demonstration of their capablities during a visit to the unit in China on July 12, 2011. | DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

But that hasn’t put to rest all of China’s concerns. “The Taiwan question” is a core interest to the country, which, two PLA authors wrote in December, could push a more aggressive response as the US supports independence for Taiwan and more exports of weaponry.

“We hope that the US will rein in at the brink of the precipice and avoid going farther and farther down the wrong path,” the authors wrote on the Chinese military’s official website.

For now, China seems to be trying to get a read on what a Trump administration might do, especially in the contested South China Sea. But it is continuing to build up military preparedness and overhaul its ranks,according to SCMP.

“As it’s highly unlikely that China will compromise its sovereignty claims in the face of US pressure, we can be sure that the dispute will increasingly become a risky point of contention between Beijing and Washington,” Ian Storey, a senior fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, told the paper.

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Meet the F-16 pilots who turned their wartime experiences into hilarious songs

Some vets with a tendency toward showmanship like to take their talents to YouTube or Hollywood when they hit the post-service world.


Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
These guys sang a couple songs that pissed their CO off (bravo!). (Photo: Amazon.com)

But the former F-16 fighter pilots behind Operation Encore took the old-school approach and are working to shatter some of the caricatures of veterans through music. The result is a blend of music genres from a variety of military-affiliated artists that range from folksy bluegrass to present-day pop rock — all of it relating to experiences of war that poke fun at life in the service and lament the tragedy of war.

Chris Kurek is the co-founder and partner with Viper Driver Productions. He’s better known as “Snooze,” one of the two founding members of the band Dos Gringos, a pair of F-16 pilots who released four satirical albums full of songs with titles like “I Wish I Had a Gun Just Like the A-10” to the NSFW drinking song “Jeremiah Weed” to the Willie Nelson-esque “TDY Again.”

The band kicked off when Kurek and his fellow jet jock Robert “Trip” Raymond were deployed to Kuwait for Operation Southern Watch and later Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“We were out there for six months, there was nothing else to do,” Kurek said. He and Raymond wrote some songs and performed for the rest of their squadron.

Their songs drew what Kurek described as “wonky eyes” from some, but their squadron commander was very supportive, encouraging them to record the songs on CD, even offering to put up the money.

“We were kind of writing on stuff that pointed out things that drive you crazy in the military,” he said.

After the band’s return stateside, they went to Texas to record their first CD, “Live at the Sand Trap.”

Turns out Dos Gringos’ wing commander was less than pleased with their extracurricular enterprise and barred them from performing at the Cannon Air Force Base Officer’s Club.

But the band went viral in a 2003 sorta way via the enlisted maintenance personnel who particularly dug the song, “I’m a Pilot,” Kurek said. The semi-satirical ditty about a self-centered fighter jock — which evokes a sound similar to some songs from the 80s band Warrant — was passed around the flightline.

Eventually, Dos Gringos would put out three more albums —”2,” “Live at Tommy Rockers,” and “El Cuatro” — before the band had to go on hiatus due to pressure from higher ups as Raymond rose through the ranks.

They were not done with music, though. Both felt some frustration with how some caricatured vets and with what they perceived as an effort by Nashville to cash in on the veteran experience.

Kurek recounted that the war wasn’t always patriotism or sadness, pointing out there was a lot of “goofing off and laughter” because of “boredom.”

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
Stephen Covell, a former Army medic who contributes to Operation Encore. (From OperationEncoreMusic.com)

“Vets can write about anything,” Kurek said. Eventually, in a conversation with Erik Brine, a C-17 pilot who was a later addition to Dos Gringos, Kurek recounted someone asking, “I wonder if there are any other people who did what we did on deployment – bring a guitar and write songs.”

They began a search, and it was a pair of submissions from Stephen Covell, an Army medic who served with the 82nd Airborne Division, that prompted them to create Operation Encore.

“Those two alone were the best I ever heard,” Kurek said. “They conveyed a combat vet’s experience.”

Covell’s submissions pushed Kurek and Raymond to launch a Kickstarter campaign to pay for airfare, studio time, mixing and mastering.

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
Rachel Harvey Hill, a military spouse who has contributed to Operation Encore. (From OperationEncoreMusic.com)

While two albums, “Volume 1” and “Monuments,” have so far been released, Kurek notes the process has been a challenge, largely due to the way the music industry has changed. Kurek recounted that when the first Dos Gringos album came out, CDs were still king. The rise of iTunes and digital downloads were one shift which evened out – the volume increased, even as they got less per song.

With Operation Encore, though, the big challenge has been the fact that the music industry has shifted once again to streaming services, and it takes hundreds of thousands of streams to get real money. Furthermore, Kurek pointed out that Dos Gringos was a niche market, and their audience knew what they would get.

Operation Encore is different.

“Operation Encore is a compilation, not one band, sound, or genre,” he explained, pointing out some of the songs were pop rock, others country or bluegrass. Furthermore, the singers who appear are scattered all over the world. Just getting the performers together for a concert would entail airfare, hotel rooms, and equipment rental. Not to mention all the stuff that is in the riders for the artists.

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School

Kurek, though, is still hot on his Iraq War-era band.

“I wish we could do one more Dos Gringos album,” he said.

Operation Encore’s CDs can be purchased at CDBaby.com, or bought as digital downloads from iTunes, Amazon.com, and Google Play. Dos Gringos CDs are also available at CDBaby.com, and can be purchased from iTunes, Amazon.com, and Google Play.

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The US can survive a nuclear North Korea — but a first strike could start World War III

Despite President Donald Trump’s bold proclamation that a North Korean nuclear missile capable of hitting the US “won’t happen,” Kim Jong Un appears to be on his way — faster than many had thought — to an intercontinental ballistic missile that could flatten Washington.


But a nuclear-armed North Korea wouldn’t be the end of the world, according to some senior military officials.

“We can deter them,” retired Adm. Dennis Blair, the former head of US Pacific Command, said of North Korea at a National Committee for US-China Relations event. “They may be developing 10 to 15 nuclear weapons. We have 2,000. They can do a lot of damage to the U.S., but there won’t be any North Korea left in the event of a nuclear exchange. That’s not a good regime survival strategy, and even Kim Jong Un would understand that.”

The U.S. has to live with the fact that Russia, the world’s second-greatest nuclear power, openly opposes Washington’s foreign policy in nearly every dimension, and that Pakistan, a country rife with corruption and Islamist groups gaining traction within and around its borders, has nuclear weapons.

A senior Defense Department official with expertise in nuclear strategy told Business Insider that while the US has said it cannot and will not accept a North Korea armed with a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile, that amounted more to an opening position in an ongoing negotiation than an intention to use military force to stop it.

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornets from the USS Carl Vinson’s Carrier Air Wing fly over the carrier strike group flanked by two South Korean destroyers on May 3. US Navy video by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matt Brown.

“You never undermine your official position going in,” the official told Business Insider. “You’re never going to voluntarily back away from that. You’re going to actively work to make sure they don’t get” an ICBM.

“The North Koreans having nukes is a bad thing, and we don’t want it,” the official said. “But if we lose that one, we survive it.”

Despite bluster on both sides — whether posturing that the US may attack to cripple North Korea’s nuclear program or that North Korea would use its nuclear weapons on the US or allies — the defense official and other experts Business Insider contacted said they found both cases extremely unlikely and undesirable.

“It’s always in the US’s favor to be somewhat ambiguous about what they will or won’t do,” said Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate in the East Asia Nonproliferation Program. “That’s because there’s no good thing to do. They have to convince South Korean allies and North Korean adversaries that they’ll do anything to protect Seoul, even all-out nuclear war.

 

Inside the Department of Defense’s Fire School
There’s a real risk that, even without nuclear weapons, Seoul would fall in a conflict with North Korea. Photo from Stratfor

“But those experienced military leaders know. They’ve run the models. They’ve run the numbers,” Hanham said. There’s just no way to fight North Korea “without chaos and enormous death and damage to the world.”

Because US nuclear weapons would have to fly over China or Russia and most likely would spread deadly fallout in South Korea or as far as Japan, nuclear conflict with North Korea would be likely to bring about World War III — a great power war between nuclear states that the world has developed nuclear weapons to avoid.

To an extent, the US already lives with and deters a nuclear North Korea daily. Hanham said that although it hadn’t been verified, North Korea most likely had a deliverable nuclear weapon that could hit the 10 million civilians in Seoul or the 25,000 permanent US troops stationed in South Korea.

So North Korea will continue on its path toward a nuclear weapon that could hit anywhere in the US — but like Russia, China, and Pakistan, it probably wouldn’t use it.

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