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It looks like there’s going to be a GWOT memorial after all

President Donald Trump signed a bill August 18 authorizing the construction of a privately funded Global War on Terrorism Memorial in Washington, DC.


In signing the “Global War on Terrorism War Memorial Act” passed by the House and Senate, Trump did not designate a site but authorized a memorial somewhere on “federal land in the District of Columbia,” the White House said.

Trump also authorized the non-profit Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation to raise funds and oversee the project.

Pfc. Erik Park from San Mateo, Calif., fires his M777 155 mm howitzer at Forward Operating Base Orgun-E Sept. 3, 2011. Photo by Spc. Ken Scar.

The bill to establish the memorial was sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, an Army veteran of the Iraq War, and Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia.

On the House side, the bill’s sponsors were Reps. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisconsin, and Seth Moulton, D-Massachusetts; both are Marine Corps veterans of the Iraq War.

In a statement, Ernst said “I am thrilled the President has signed into law this important legislation authorizing the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation to begin creating a place of remembrance for those who served, their loved ones, and all impacted by this war.”

Manchin said “I’m proud of the work done by my colleagues in approving the first step towards building a memorial that commemorates our sons and daughters who answered the call to fight.”

Washington, DC National Mall. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Both Manchin and Ernst said the likely site for the memorial would be the National Mall. “This authorization is the first step in a process that will culminate with the design and construction of a Global War on Terror[ism] Memorial on the National Mall without using any federal funds,” they said.

The Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation has on its advisory board retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, the former commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, and retired Army Capt. Florent Groberg, a Medal of Honor recipient for valor in Afghanistan.

In a statement following Trump’s signing, the foundation said the bill exempted the memorial from the 10-year waiting period under the Commemorative Works Act of 1986, and authorized the foundation to oversee the fundraising, design, and construction of the memorial.

A member of Company B, Task Force 2-28, 172nd Infantry Brigade, braces against the prop wash from a UH-60 Black Hawk while securing the landing zone in a stream bed by the small village of Derka near Combat Outpost Zerok, Sept. 20, 2011. DoD Photo by Spc. Ken Scar

“Today’s historic signing is dedicated to our three million brothers and sisters who have deployed in the Global War on Terror, especially to the ones we have lost, and those who face great obstacles since their return home,” said Andrew J. Brennan, a West Point graduate and Afghanistan veteran who started the foundation and serves as executive director.

“We’re looking forward to building a sacred place of healing and remembrance for our veterans and their families, and want to thank our partners and advocates who worked tirelessly on Capitol Hill to pass this bipartisan legislation,” he said.

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6 military veterans who played in the Super Bowl

The Super Bowl is where the stakes are highest in the world of professional football.


But for some who have played in that big game, they have staked far more than whether or not they help hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy — they’ve served in the military, signing “a blank check to the United States of America for an amount of up to and including my life,” to paraphrase a popular quote.

Here are some of the more famous names (and not-so-famous) names who served in the military and played in the Super Bowl:

1. Hall of Fame OLB Kevin Greene

Former NFL linebacker Kevin Greene is greeted by Senior Master Sgt. Damian Orslene, 506th Air Expeditionary Group Personnel In Support of Contingency Operations superintendent, in the dining facility Feb. 2. Mr. Greene is traveling to military bases in Iraq to show support and increase the morale for U.S. service members. Throughout his career, he played for the Las Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers. (USAF Photo)

While Greene is not well known, he is one of the NFL’s all-time great pass rushers, and played in Super Bowl XXX with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He also served in the Alabama Army National Guard, according to a 1986 article in the Poughkeepsie Journal, getting paratrooper wings and also at times commanding a tank platoon.

In the 2017 season, he will coach linebackers for the New York Jets.

According to NFL.com, Greene totaled 160 sacks and five interceptions over 15 seasons.

2. New England Patriots LS Joe Cardona

New England Patriots long snapper and Navy officer Joe Cardona. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Cardona will be playing in Super Bowl LI with the New England Patriots, serving as a long snapper. He did the same with the U.S. Naval Academy’s football team – starting as a freshman and for all four years.

A 2015 DoD feature on military-NFL ties reports he serves on active duty, and has assignments with the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport and with the destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000).

3. Hall of Fame QB Roger Staubach

Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach, who threw for 153 TDs in a career that came after service in the United States Navy that included a tour in Vietnam. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Prior to Pat Tillman, Roger Staubach was probably the most famous person who had his feet in both the military and National Football League. He played 11 years in the NFL, all with the Dallas Cowboys, throwing 153 TD passes according to NFL.com. He played in four Super Bowls, winning Super Bowls VI and XII.

He served four years in the Navy, including a tour in Vietnam.

4. Retired WR Phil McConkey

(YouTube screenshot)

Perhaps best known for his Super Bowl XXI heroics as a member of the New York Giants, including a 6-yard TD catch, McConkey wasn’t drafted by an NFL team when he graduated from the Naval Academy.

His naval service included time as a helicopter pilot, but he decided to go for his dream of playing pro football. A 2013 Buffalo News article revealed that it was a family connection to New England Patriots coach Bill Belicheck (whose father was an assistant coach at the Naval Academy) that launched McConkey’s NFL career.

A 4.4-second time in the 40-yard dash didn’t hurt, either. Over his six-season professional football career, NFL.com notes that McConkey had 67 receptions for 1,113 yards and two TDs for the Giants, Chargers, Cardinals, and one other team.

5. Retired DT Chad Hennings

Chad Hennings, a 1988 graduate of the Air Force Academy, was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame on May 16, 2006. He was considered one of college football’s great defensive linemen of his era, a unanimous first-team All-America selection in 1987 who received the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top interior lineman. As a pro, he embarked on a nine-year NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys that brought him three Super Bowl titles. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Though Hennings won three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys, he also was very well known as an Air Force pilot flying the A-10 Thunderbolt II close-air support plane, according to GoAirForceFalcons.com. According to NFL.com, Hennings had 27.5 sacks over his nine-season NFL career.

6. Retired RB Rocky Bleier

Vietnam Veteran and former Pittsburgh Steeler Rocky Bleier poses with Capt. Doug Larsen who tries on Bleier’s four Super Bowl rings at the North Dakota National Guard’s 2009 Safety Conference in Bismarck Jan 24. (US Army photo)

Rocky Bleier was overshadowed in the Steelers’ backfield that won four Super Bowls by NFL Hall of Fame legends Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris.

One reason may have been the fact that in December, 1968, he was drafted by the Army and volunteered to serve in Vietnam. According to a 1969 AP report printed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bleier was wounded on Aug. 20 of that year — shot in the thigh and hit by grenade fragments, losing part of his right foot.

According to NFL.com, Bleier only played six games in 1971 after missing all of 1970. He would rush for 3,865 yards and 23 TDs, while catching 136 passes for 1,294 yards and two more TDs.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Inside Mattis’ $2.5 billion plan to make the military more lethal

Retired Marine infantry officer Joe L’Etoile remembers when training money for his unit was so short “every man got four blanks; then we made butta-butta-bang noises” and “threw dirt clods for grenades.”

Now, L’Etoile is director of the Defense Department’s Close Combat Lethality Task Force and leading an effort to manage $2.5 billion worth of DoD investments into weapons, unmanned systems, body armor, training, and promising new technology for a group that has typically ranked the lowest on the U.S. military’s priority list: the grunts.


(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Orrin G. Farmer)

But the task force’s mission isn’t just about funding high-tech new equipment for Army, Marine, and special operations close-combat forces. It is also digging into deeply entrenched policies and making changes to improve unit cohesion, leadership, and even the methods used for selecting individuals who serve in close-combat formations.

Launched in February, the new joint task force is a top priority of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a retired Marine Corps infantry officer himself. With this level of potent support, L’Etoile is able to navigate through the bureaucratic strongholds of the Pentagon that traditionally favor large weapons programs, such as Air Force fighters and Navy ships.

“This is a mechanism that resides at the OSD level, so it’s fairly quick; we are fairly nimble,” L’Etoile told Military.com on July 25. “And because this is the secretary’s priority … the bureaucracies respond well because the message is the secretary’s.”

Before he’s done, L’Etoile said, the task force will “reinvent the way the squad is perceived within the department.”

“I would like to see the squad viewed as a weapons platform and treated as such that its constituent parts matter,” he said. “We would never put an aircraft onto the flight line that didn’t have all of its parts, but a [Marine] squad that only has 10 out of 13? Yeah. Deploy it. Put it into combat. We need to take a look at what that costs us. And fundamentally, I believe down at my molecular level, we can do better.”

United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jess Lewis)

​Improving the Squad

Mattis’ Feb. 8 memo to the service secretaries, Joint Chiefs of Staff and all combatant commands announcing the task force sent a shockwave through the force, stating “personnel policies, advances in training methods, and equipment have not kept pace with changes in available technology, human factors, science, and talent management best practices.”

To L’Etoile, the task force is not out to fix what he describes as the U.S. military’s “phenomenal” infantry and direct-action forces.

“Our charter is really just to take it to the next level,” he said. “In terms of priorities, the material solution is not my number-one concern.”

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Staci Miller)

​Gifted Grunts

For starters, the task force is looking at ways to identify Marines and soldiers who possess the characteristics and qualities that will make an infantry squad more efficient in the deadly art of close combat.

The concept is murky, but “we are investing in some leading-edge science to get at the question of what are the attributes to be successful in close combat and how do you screen for those attributes?” L’Etoile said. “How do you incentivize individuals with those attributes to come on board to the close-combat team, to stick their hand in the air for an infantry MOS?”

Col. Joey Polanco, the Army service lead at the task force, said it is evaluating several screening programs, some that rely on “big data and analytics to see if this individual would be a better fit for, say, infantry or close-combat formations.”

Polanco, an infantry officer who has served in the 82nd Airborne and 10th Mountain divisions, said the task force is also looking at ways to incentivize these individuals to “want to continue to stay infantry.”

L’Etoile said the task force is committed to changing policy to help fix a “wicked problem” in the Marine Corps of relying too heavily on corporals instead of sergeants to lead infantry squads.

“In the Marine Corps, there are plenty of squads that are being led by corporals instead of sergeants, and there are plenty of squads being led by lance corporals instead of corporals,” he said. “I led infantry units in combat. There is a difference when a squad is led by a lance corporal — no matter how stout his heart and back — and a sergeant leading them.”

Every Marine must be ready to take on leadership roles, but filling key leader jobs with junior enlisted personnel instead of sergeants degrades unit cohesion, L’Etoile said.

“When four guys are best buddies and they went to boot camp together and they go drinking beer together on the weekends … and then one day the squad leader rotates and it’s ‘Hey Johnson, you are now the squad leader,’ the human dynamics of that person becoming an effective leader with folks that were his peers is difficult to overcome,” he said.

It’s equally important to stabilize the squad’s leadership so that “the squad leader doesn’t show up three months before a deployment but is there in enough time to get that cohesion with his unit, his fire team leaders and his squad members,” L’Etoile said. “Having the appropriate grade, age-experience level and training is really, really important.”

The Army is compiling data to see if that issue is a persistent problem in its squads.

“When we get the data back, we will have a better idea of how do we increase the cohesion of an Army squad, and I think what you are going to find is, it needs its own solution, if there in fact is a problem,” L’Etoile said.

(U.S. Marine Corps photos by Cpl. Demetrius Morgan)

​No Budget, But Deep Pockets

Just weeks after the first U.S. combat forces went into Afghanistan in late 2001, the Army, Marine Corps and U.S. Special Operations Command began modernizing and upgrading individual and squad weapons and gear.

Since then, equipment officials have labored to field lighter body armor, more efficient load-bearing gear and new weapons to make infantry and special operations forces more lethal.

But the reality is, there is only so much money budgeted toward individual kit and weapons when other service priorities, such as armored vehicles and rotary-wing aircraft, need modernizing as well.

The task force has the freedom to look at where the DoD is “investing its research dollars and render an opinion on whether those dollars are being well spent,” L’Etoile said. “I have no money; I don’t want money. I don’t want to spend the next two years managing a budget. That takes a lot of time and energy.”

“But I am very interested in where money goes. So, for instance, if there is a particular close-combat capability that I believe represents a substantive increase in survivability, lethality — you name it — for a close-combat formation, and I see that is not being funded at a meaningful level, step one is to ask why,” he continued. “Let’s get informed on the issue … and then if it makes sense, go advocate for additional funding for that capability.”

The task force currently has reprogramming or new funding requests worth up to .5 billion for high-tech equipment and training efforts that L’Etoile would not describe in detail.

“I have a number of things that are teed up … it’s premature for me to say,” he said. “In broad categories, we have active requests for additional funding in sensing; think robots and [unmanned aerial systems]. We have requests for additional funding of munitions for training and additional tactical capabilities [and] additional funding for training adversaries, so you get a sparring partner as well as a heavy bag.”

The task force is requesting additional money for advanced night-vision equipment and synthetic-training technologies. L’Etoile also confirmed that it helped fund the Army’s 0 million effort to train and equip the majority of its active brigade combat teams to fight in large, subterranean complexeslike those that exist in North Korea.

“We can go to the department and say, ‘This is of such importance that I think the department should shine a light on it and invest in it,’ ” he said.

(US Army)

​Endorsing Futuristic Kit

One example of this is the task force’s interest in an Army program to equip its infantry units with a heads-up display designed to provide soldiers with a digital weapon-sight reticle, as well as tactical data about the immediate battlefield environment.

“The big thing is the Heads-Up Display 3.0. I would tell you that is one of the biggest things we are pushing,” Polanco said. “It’s focused primarily on helping us improve lethality, situational awareness, as well as our mobility.”

The Army is currently working on HUD 1.0, which involves a thermal weapon sight mounted on the soldier’s weapon that can wirelessly transmit the sight reticle into the new dual-tubed Enhanced Night Vision Goggle III B.

The system can also display waypoints and share information with other soldiers in the field, Army officials said.

The HUD 3.0 will draw on the synthetic training environment — one of the Army’s key priorities for modernizing training — and allow soldiers to train and rehearse in a virtual training environment, as well as take into combat.

The service has already had soldiers test the HUD 1.0 version and provide feedback.

“If you look at the increased lethality just by taking that thermal reticle off of the weapon and putting it up into their eye, the testing has been off the chart,” Brig. Gen. Christopher Donahue, director of the Army’s Soldier Lethality Cross Functional Team, said at the Association of the United States Army’s Global Force Symposium earlier this year.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. John Tran)

The Army tried for years in the 1990s to accomplish this with its Land Warrior program, but it could be done only by running bulky cables from the weapon sight to the helmet-mounted display eyepiece. Soldiers found it too awkward and a snag hazard, so the effort was eventually shelved.

“Whatever we want to project up into that reticle — that tube — it’s pretty easy,” Donahue said. “It’s just a matter of how you get it and how much data. We don’t want too much information in there either … we’ve got to figure that out.”

The initial prototypes of the HUD 3.0 are scheduled to be ready in 18 months, he added.

“It is really a state-of-the art capability that allows you to train as you fight from a synthetic training environment standpoint to a live environment,” Polanco said, adding that the task force has submitted a request to the DoD to find funding for the HUD 3.0.

“One of the things we have been able to do as a task force is we have endorsed and advocated strongly for this capability. … It’s going forward as a separate item that we are looking for funding on,” he said.

Perhaps the biggest challenge before the task force is how to ensure all these efforts to make the squad more lethal will not be undone when Mattis is no longer in office.

“We ask ourselves every time we step up to the plate to take on one of these challenges, how do we make it enduring?” L’Etoile said.

“How do we ensure that the progress we make is not unwound when the priorities shift? So it’s important when you take these things on that you are mindful that there ought to be an accompanying policy because … they can’t just get unwound overnight,” he said.

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

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The World War II commander who helped John Wayne make an iconic war film

John Wayne never served a day in the military, but he certainly was one very vocal supporter of the troops.


During World War II he tried to enter the military, but between a series of old injuries from his acting career and a bodysurfing incident, his family situation, and the maneuverings of a studio head, his efforts were thwarted, according to the Museum of Military Memorabilia.

John Wayne in Operation Pacific, a 1951 film centering on the submarine service during World War II. (Youtube Screenshot)

Wayne did make USO tours in the South Pacific in 1943 and 1944, well after the fighting there had ended. But he made a number of iconic World War II films, including “They Were Expendable” in 1945, “The Sands of Iwo Jima” in 1949 (where he was nominated for an Oscar), “The Longest Day” in 1960, and “The Green Berets” in 1968. In “They Were Expendable,” the producers of the film worked with Medal of Honor recipient John Bulkeley.

One film that doesn’t get the attention of these other classics is “Operation Pacific,” released in 1951, which featured retired Adm. Charles Lockwood, the former commander of the Pacific Fleet’s submarines during World War II. Wayne played the executive officer, then the commanding officer, of the fictional submarine USS Thunderfish in this film.

VADM Charles A. Lockwood, who served as technical advisor for Operation Pacific. (US Navy photo)

Given Lockwood’s involvement, it’s no surprise that the film features some of the notable submarine exploits of World War II, compressed into one story — including Howard C. Gilmore’s famous “Take her down” orders, and the effort to fix the badly flawed torpedoes that dogged the U.S. Navy’s submarines for the first portion of the war.

The film’s climax featured an incident that composited the attacks on Japanese carriers during the Battle of the Philippine Sea with the actions of the submarines USS Darter (SS 227) and USS Dace (SS 247). The film is notable for showing the many missions the subs of World War II carried out, from evacuating civilians to rescuing pilots to, of course, sinking enemy ships (the Thunderfish’s on-screen kill total included a carrier, destroyer, a Q-ship, and a submarine).

You can see the trailer below. The film is available for sale on Youtube.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDAlgrBKmxA
Articles

The 8 most famous manhunts in military history

War is generally about two sides engaging with thousands of troops, but occasionally that power is directed against one guy instead of an entire army. Here are the eight most noteworthy times that the American military went after an individual:


1. Francisco Pancho Villa

Photo: Wikipedia

In perhaps the most famous manhunt in U.S. military history, Gen. John “Blackjack” Pershing led the “Punitive Expedition” to capture Francisco Pancho Villa and his men after they raided Columbus, New Mexico and killed 18 Americans.

The expedition pushed 300 miles into Mexico and pursued Villa from Mar. 15, 1916 to Jan. 12, 1917. They successfully broke up Villa’s gang but failed to capture Villa.

2. Osama Bin Laden

Photo: Wikipedia/Hamid Mir

The most recent and perhaps most satisfying entry on this list, Osama Bin Laden was the elusive mastermind behind al-Qaeda and the September 11 terrorist attacks. An initial operation to kill him in the Tora Bora mountains failed, but he was eventually found in Pakistan and killed by Navy SEAL Team Six in Operation Neptune Spear.

3. Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto

Photo: Wikipedia

On April 14, 1943, U.S. Navy code breakers learned that the architect of Pearl Harbor, Adm. Isokuru Yamamoto, would be inspecting bases in Solomon Islands and would follow a flight path that would place it just within reach of Air Corps P-38Gs deployed to Guadalcanal.

On orders from President Franklin Roosevelt, 18 planes took off on April 18 and successfully engaged the flight. The Americans shot down two bombers modified to carry the admiral, but his fighter escort made it out alive. Yamamoto’s body was found the next day by a Japanese rescue party.

4. Geronimo

Geronimo is on the far right, pictured here with family members. Photo: Wikipedia/Arizona Historical Society

Geronimo was one of the most feared Native American leaders when he was finally forced to live on a reservation in Arizona in 1877. But Geronimo was not decisively beaten and lived there on his own terms.

He broke out multiple times, but his departure in May 1885 was quickly followed by a series of raids on nearby farms. The Army committed 5,000 troops to the search for three months but couldn’t find him. Eventually, Geronimo surrendered to the Americans for a chance to see his family again in Florida.

5. Ernesto “Che” Guevara

Photo: Wikipedia/Oficina de Asuntos Históricos de Cuba

The famous Argentinian revolutionary and college freshman T-shirt icon was a major thorn in the side of the America as he tried to create “two, three, or many Vietnams” in Latin America, according to “Hunting Che” author Mitch Weiss. U.S. Special Forces soldiers trained Bolivian conscripts to hunt Che, and they successfully killed him Oct. 9, 1967.

6. Saddam Hussein

Photo: US Army

The hunt for the notorious dictator of Iraq kicked off before the fall of Baghdad on April 9, 2003, but Saddam Hussein remained a ghost for months. When he was finally found by U.S. Army soldiers, it wasn’t in a hidden palace or even a well-appointed bunker. Hussein surrendered in a tiny spider-hole near Tikrit where he had squirreled away $750,000, an Kalashnikov, and some chocolate.

7. Manuel Antonio Noriega

Photo: US Air Force

The manhunt for Panamanian Gen. Manuel Noriega and many of his subordinates was Operation Just Cause. The initial invasion force on Dec. 20, 1989 crippled the Panamanian Defense Forces and blocked Noriega’s main means of escape but failed to capture the dictator.

The manhunt lasted until Christmas Eve when the dictator sought asylum in the Vatican Embassy in Panama. Under guidance from the Pope, the head of the embassy told Noriega that the Vatican would not grant political asylum or guarantee his safety against demonstrators rallying around the embassy. Noriega surrendered to the U.S. on January 2, 1970 (p. 54).

8. Mohammed Farrah Aideed

Explosive Ordnance Disposal Marines examine a tank belonging to Warlord Mohammad Aideed’s army in 1992. Photo: US Navy Master Chief Photographer’s Mate Terry Mitchell

If you don’t remember the name, think “Black Hawk Down.” Mohammed Aideed was the warlord in control of Somalia’s strongest militia during the U.N. Operation Restore Hope. A U.S. task force supported the nation-building mission which quickly turned violent. The capture of Aideed became necessary for mission security.

The first mission to capture Aideed failed on Jun. 17, 1993. The U.S. sent Task Force Ranger to assist Aug. 28, 1993. A series of raids, including the Oct. 3 raid and subsequent rescue effort depicted in “Black Hawk Down,” netted many of Aideed’s lieutenants, but American casualties made the manhunt too bloody for the U.S. A Nov. 16 U.N. resolution and ceasefire left Aideed in power.

Now: The 11 ways people dodged the Vietnam draft

 

MIGHTY CULTURE

VA cures 100,000 vets from Hepatitis C

VA will soon mark 100,000 veterans cured of hepatitis C. This is exciting news and puts VA on track to eliminate hepatitis C in all eligible veterans enrolled in VA care who are willing and able to be treated.

Building on this success, VA takes on another important issue during Hepatitis Awareness Month: making sure all veterans experiencing homelessness are vaccinated for hepatitis A.

Recently, there have been multiple large outbreaks of hepatitis A among people who are homeless and people who use injection drugs across the U.S. Currently, there is a large outbreak in Tennessee and Kentucky that has affected well over 5,000 people across the two states with 60 deaths reported thus far.


Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, advising that all individuals experiencing homelessness be vaccinated against hepatitis A.

Given that individuals experiencing homelessness may also be at increased risk of exposure to hepatitis B, VA recommends vaccination for those with risk factors against both hepatitis A and B, as appropriate.

3D illustration of the Liver.

During Hepatitis Awareness Month, the HIV, Hepatitis, and Related Conditions Programs, the Homeless Programs, and the National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention are collaborating to raise awareness on this issue.

We are collaborating with leadership and frontline providers to ensure all identified veterans who are homeless, non-immune and unvaccinated for hepatitis A and those at risk of HBV exposure are offered vaccination, as appropriate, at their next VA appointment.

Veterans who are interested in either hepatitis A or B vaccination may ask their VA provider for more information.

Hepatitis Testing Day (May 19) is a great reminder to check in with your provider about hepatitis C testing and treatment as well.

Learn more about hepatitis on the VA’s Viral Hepatitis website.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

10 details you should know about the Bergdahl case

On Oct. 16, 2017, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl pleaded guilty to Desertion and Misbehavior Before the Enemy.


Following the plea, a military judge has heard testimony from numerous witnesses who either knew Bergdahl or were involved in the search to find him. Soon the military judge is expected to issue Bergdahl’s sentence based on his actions, his time in captivity and the impact on the soldiers who spent weeks searching across Afghanistan. We are the Mighty has been in the courtroom since the plea and has heard many details that haven’t been released before.

Here’s a list of ten things you should know before the Judge issues his sentence.

10. Bergdahl was a waiver Soldier

Bowe Bergdahl.

Bergdahl entered the Army in 2008 with a waiver after being discharged from the Coast Guard nearly two years earlier. The Army has yet to confirm if his waiver was related to mental health issues, but upon his release from captivity, Bergdahl was diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder. Some symptoms of this disorder include difficulty adjusting to social situations and a distrust of others. During the pre-trial hearings, the Army did rule that despite his diagnosis, Bergdahl did understand his actions when he walked away from his post in 2009.

9. He was described as “Squared Away”

During the trial testimony, some fellow soldiers — including his former leaders — have described Bergdahl as “squared away.” Numerous witnesses have said Bergdahl was always in the designated uniform, on time and in the right place. During his free time, he even read field manuals and philosophy books. This is one of the most interesting turns in the case and begs the question: “How did Bergdahl go from a squared away soldier to a deserter?”

Also read: This is why Bowe Bergdahl says he pleaded guilty

8. He deployed late

While the rest of Bergdahl’s unit, 4th Brigade 25th ID, deployed to Afghanistan in early 2009, he stayed behind with a staph infection. After recovering, Bergdahl finally deployed as an individual augment and was with his Platoon in Afghanistan for less than two months before he walked off.  When asked by the military judge during the trial if he knew that his service in Afghanistan was important, Bergdahl responded, “At the time, it was hard for me to understand.”

7. There were some red flags

Bowe Bergdahl in a photo after his capture by Taliban insurgents. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In the days and weeks before he walked off, Bergdahl displayed some behavior that might have seemed normal until strung together by investigators, revealing that he may have planned his desertion in advance.

First, he sent his computer home, which to many other soldiers would been weird since writing emails and watching movies is a great way to pass the down time of deployment.

Second, he went to finance and asked for a cash advance before he rotated back to his outpost and subsequently walked off.

Lastly, he left all his serialized gear (weapon, night vision, etc.) at his outpost. One soldier testified that when he found the gear in a neat pile he knew Bergdahl had left on his own.

6. His outpost was “Hell on Earth”

Observation post Mest-Malak, where Bergdahl was stationed before leaving his post. (Photo from Reddit user OnlyBoweKnows.)

Bergdahl’s platoon was assigned to OP Mest, a small checkpoint in Paktika province close to the Pakistani border. OP Mest guarded a road intersection and was located literally right next to the village of Mest. The outpost was built in a dry river bed that often flooded during the spring rains. As a result of the poor weather and living conditions, many soldiers in the Platoon suffered from bad cases of dysentery. Additionally, the outpost was built over an Afghan cemetery; some soldiers even found bones as they were digging their fighting positions.

5. His platoon searched for 10 days straight

After Bergdahl was found missing, the other soldiers in his platoon took it upon themselves to find him.

In the first few hours and days, the platoon conducted a nearly constant rotation of patrols in the area to try and find Bergdahl. At one point, they stretched themselves so thin that only a Fire Team of three was left at the outpost to man the radio. Many of the soldiers describe the initial days of searching as a “complete hell.”

After 10 days, the platoon was allowed to rest and refit. Many soldiers had to buy new socks and uniforms that had literally rotted of their bodies. According to the Army lawyers, the official search for Bergdahl would last another 45 days.

4. SEAL Team 6 went after Bergdahl and the enemy killed their dog

During the first week of the search, SEAL Team 6 was ordered to find Bergdahl given their unique and specialized training in hostage recovery missions. When one of the SEALs testified at the trial, he remembered saying that “someone is going to get hurt or killed looking for this kid.” A few nights later, the SEALs raided a house where they suspected Bergdahl was being held. During the mission one of the SEALs was shot 7 times and his military working dog was killed by the enemy.

Related: Bowe Bergdahl just apologized to those hurt searching for him

3. The Afghan elections ended the search

The summer of 2009 was a critical point in the war in Afghanistan. The Afghan elections were scheduled for August and a major mission of U.S. forces was to protect the polling sites from attack and corruption. When Bergdahl walked off in late June, the timing couldn’t have been worse.

For weeks, thousands of soldiers across Afghanistan were ordered to shift their focus from counterinsurgency missions to search recovery operations to find Bergdahl. So many soldiers were flooded into the area where Bergdahl went missing that the Commanders on the ground created a second unit to coordinate the search effort.

By August, the focus shifted away from Bergdahl to the elections and the future of Afghanistan.

2. He’s been an Intel source since his return

A clip from a video released during Bergdahl’s captivity.

When Bergdahl returned to U.S. forces in 2014, he was immediately questioned about his time in captivity. During the trial, some of intelligence officers testified that Bergdahl was a “gold mine” of information.

Bergdahl’s intelligence value has been defined in two ways. First, a DOD representative of the group that runs Survival, Evasion, Resistance Escape (SERE) school stated that Bergdahl’s detailed description of his captivity will help “prepare forces in the future.” Secondly, the lead intelligence analyst who follows the Haqqani Network, the group that held Bergdahl for nearly 5 years, told the military judge that the information from the debrief helped “build [an understanding] of the capture network like it’s never been done before.”

1. His charges were reduced before he pleaded guilty

The Army initially charged Bergdahl with Desertion and Misbehavior Before the Enemy during Combat Operations in Afghanistan. However, after months of arguments by the lawyers on both sides, Bergdahl finally pleaded guilty to Desertion and Misbehavior Before the Enemy during guard duty at OP Mest and a possible convoy patrol scheduled for the following day.

While this change may seem minor, the distinction is critical during the sentencing phase of the trial. The military judge will now only consider Bergdahl’s actions for the first few hours before he was captured by the enemy instead of the nearly five years Bergdahl was missing.

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The ‘most hated units’ in the Army are some of the best

They’re the units that everyone wants to beat, that every commander wants to squash under their heel, and that most average Joes accuse of cheating at least once — the “Opposing Forces” units at military training centers.


The OPFOR units are comprised of active duty soldiers stationed at major training centers and are tasked with playing enemy combatants in training exercises for the units that rotate into their center. They spend years acting as the adversary in every modern training exercise their base can come up with.

American Army Pfc. Sean P. Stieren, a rifleman with A Company, 1st Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment (Airborne), fires a mock Stinger missile launcher at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, La., April 19, 2014. Paratroopers with 1st Bn., 509th Inf. Reg. (A), act as insurgent and conventional opposing forces during decisive action training environment exercises at JRTC. (Photo: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Klutts)

So while most units do a rotation at a major training center every couple of years, soldiers assigned to OPFOR units often conduct major training rotations every month. This results in their practicing the deployed lifestyle for weeks at a time about a dozen times per year.

Through all this training, they get good. Really good.

And since they typically conduct their missions at a single installation or, in rare cases, at a few training areas in a single region, they’re experts in their assigned battlespace.

A U.S. Army soldier with 1st Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment (Airborne) fires blank rounds at soldiers from a rotational training unit during an exercise at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, La., April 22, 2014. Paratroopers with 1st Bn., 509th Inf. Reg. (A) role-play as multiple enemy forces including a near-peer military, insurgent cells and a crime family. (Photo: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Klutts)

All this adds up to units with lots of experience against the best units the military has to deploy — units that are at the cutting edge of new tactics, techniques, and procedures; units that have the home field advantage.

“The first time you fight against the OpFor is a daunting experience,” Maj. Jared Nichols, a battalion executive officer that rotated through the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, said during a 2016 training iteration. “You’re fighting an enemy that knows the terrain and knows how American forces fight, so they know how to fight against us and they do it very well.”

So yeah, despite typically fighting at a 2-to-1 or even a 3-to-1 disadvantage, OPFOR units often decimate their opponents.

An OPFOR Surrogate Vehicle from Coldsteel Troop, 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, travels through the city of Dezashah en route to the objective, during NTC rotation 17-01, at the National Training Center, Oct. 7, 2016. The purpose of this phase of the rotation was to challenge the Greywolf Brigade’s ability to conduct a deliberate defense of an area while being engaged by conventional and hybrid threats. (Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. David Edge)

For the military, this arrangement is a win-win. First, rotational units cut their teeth against realistic, experienced, and determined opponents before they deploy. This tests and stresses deploying units — usually brigades — and allows them to see where their weak points are. Do their soldiers need a tool they don’t have? Are there leaders being over or under utilized? Does all the equipment work together as expected?

But the training units aren’t expected to get everything right.

“One of the largest challenges I face as the OPFOR battalion commander is conveying the message to the other nations that it’s OK to make a mistake,” Lt. Col. Mathew Archambault said during a 2016 training rotation. “When they come here it’s a training exercise, and I want them to take risks and try new things. I want them to maximize their training experience; it helps them learn and grow.”

A UH-72 Lakota helicopter from the OPFOR Platoon, NTC Aviation Company provides air support to 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment ground forces during an engagement during rotation 16-08 at the National Training Center, Aug. 3, 2016. The Lakota aircraft participated in an exercise that challenged the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division’s ability to conduct a deliberate defense. (Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. David Edge)

But the military also gets a group of soldiers that, over a two or three-year tour of duty at a training center as opposing forces, have seen dozens of ways to conduct different missions. They’ve seen different tactics for resupplying maneuver forces in the field, different ways of hiding communications, different ways of feinting attacks. And, they know which tactics are successful and which don’t work in the field.

When it’s time for these soldiers to rotate to another unit, they take these lessons with them and share them with their new units.

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The US Air Force has an absurd plan for replacing the A-10 Warthog

The US Air Force has presented several plans for replacing the beloved A-10 Warthog close air support attack plane over the years, but their latest plan takes the cake as the most absurd.


As it stands, the Air Force wants to purchase or develop not one, but two new airframes to eventually phase out the A-10.

U.S. A-10s and F-16s take part in an Elephant Walk in South Korea | US Air Force photo

First, they’d pick out a plane, likely an existing one, called the OA-X, (Observation, Attack, Experimental), which would likely be an existing plane with a low operating cost. Propeller-driven planes like the Beechcraft AT-6, already in use as a training plane for the Air Force, or Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, which the US recently gave to Afghanistan for counter-insurgency missions, are possible options.

Related: Here’s a friendly reminder of how big the A-10 Warthog’s gun is

The OA-X would fly with A-10s in low-threat air spaces to support the tank-buster, however this option appears to make little sense.

A sub-sonic, propeller-driven plane can perform essential close air support duties in much the same way a World War II era platform could, but it’s a sitting duck for the kind of man-portable, shoulder-launched air defense systems becoming increasingly prominent in today’s battle spaces.

Mobile air defenses are already widespread, and only gaining ground. | YouTube screenshot

Next, the Air Force would look to field an A-X2 to finally replace the Warthog. The idea behind this jet would be to preserve the A-10’s CAS capabilities while increasing survivability in medium-threat level environments.

So while an update on the 40-year-old A-10 seems to make sense, the funding for it doesn’t.

The Air Force expects a “bow-wave” of costs in the mid-2020s, when modernization costs are looming and can’t be put off any further. This includes procuring F-35s, developing the B-21, procuring KC-46 tankers, and even possibly embarking on the quest to build a sixth-generation air dominance platform.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James seemed puzzled by the proposed plan to replace the A-10, saying in an interview with Defense News, “everything has a price tag … If something goes in, something else has to fall out.”

Air Combat Command chief Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, noted to Defense News his doubts that the proposed replacements would be a good use of limited public funds.

“If you look at the things within the combat Air Force portfolio that I’m responsible for in modernization and taking care of those systems, I don’t know where the money would come from,” Carlisle said. “And if we got extra money, in my opinion, there’s other things that I would do first to increase our combat capability before we go to that platform.”

The US Air Force has a shortage of planes, where perhaps money could be better spent. | U.S. Air Force photo by Andrew Breese

Also, Carlisle doubted the need for a plane to operate in low-threat or “permissive” airspaces, as they are fast disappearing.

“Given the evolving threat environment, I sometimes wonder what permissive in the future is going to look like and if there’s going to be any such thing, with the proliferation of potential adversaries out there,” he said.

“The idea of a low-end CAS platform, I’m working my way through whether that’s a viable plan or not given what I think the threat is going to continue to evolve to, to include terrorists and their ability to get their hands on, potentially, weapons from a variety of sources.”

Furthermore, the Air Force’s proposal seems to run contrary to other proposals to replace the A-10 in the past. For a while, Air Force officials said that the F-35 would take over for the A-10, and though the F-35 just reached operational capability, it was not mentioned as part of the newest proposal.

US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Corey Hook

Air Force General Mark Welsh told the Senate Armed Services Committee that other legacy fighters, the F-16 and F-15 could fly the A-10’s missions in Iraq and Syria until the F-35 was available, but that idea was also mysteriously absent from the Air Force’s two-new-plane proposal.

The Air Force, expecting huge costs in the near future, is wise to try to slash costs, and retiring an airplane and all the associated infrastructure makes an attractive target, but the A-10 represents just 2 percent of the Air Force’s budget, and has unique capabilities that no other aircraft in the fleet can hope to match.

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Here are the best military photos of the week

The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:


AIR FORCE:

Senior Airman Daniel Lasal, a 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, performs a post-flight inspection on an F-16 Fighting Falcon Nov. 15, 2016, at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Aircraft maintainers perform six hours or more of post-flight inspections after each sortie.

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa

Tech. Sgt. Alan Greene, a 70th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, lowers the boom to an F-16 Fighting Falcon during an aerial refueling mission out of Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., Nov. 16, 2016. F-16 pilots train on refueling operations to be prepared for longer mission requirements.

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman James Hensley

ARMY:

U.S. Army paratroopers paratroopers leave Malemute drop zone after conducting an airborne insertion and M119 howitzer live fire at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Nov. 22, 2016.

U.S. Air Force photo by Alejandro Pena

173rd Airborne Brigade paratroopers clear the floor of a building at an urban operations training facility in Wedrzyn, Poland, during bi-lateral training with the Polish Army’s 6th Airborne Battalion, 16th Airborne Brigade, Nov. 21, 2016.

The training closes out the unit’s rotation in Poland and their continued support of Operation Atlantic Resolve and our NATO Allies.

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. William A. Tanner

NAVY:

ATLANTIC OCEAN (Nov. 26, 2016) Sailors fire the first of three volleys to honor the deceased during a burial at sea ceremony aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan. The ship is in the U.S. 6th fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe.

U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Tim Comerford

Petty Officer 2nd Class Mickey Waldron, assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), stands near the safe shot line as an F/A-18C Hornet, from the Death Rattlers of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 323, launches from the ship’s flight deck. Nimitz is currently underway conducting Tailored Ship’s Training Availability and Final Evaluation Problem (TSTA/FEP), which evaluates the crew on their performance during training drills and real-world scenarios. Once Nimitz completes TSTA/FEP they will begin Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) and Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) in preparation for an upcoming 2017 deployment.

U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Siobhana R. McEwen

MARINE CORPS:

Marines suppress simulated objectives at Range 410A Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center Twenty-nine Palms, California, Oct. 21, 2016. The exercise is part of a qualification for deployment in which Marines with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment are slated to integrate as a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force.

U.S Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Juan A. Soto-Delgado

Marines with Maritime Raid Force, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, fire their M4A1 rifles at targets during a live-fire deck shoot aboard the USS Makin Island (LHD 8) while afloat in the Pacific Ocean, November 2, 2016. During the range, the MRF Marines conducted shooting drills, such as maneuvering while firing, and engaging multiple targets. The 11th MEU, part of the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group, is operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility in support security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Devan K. Gowans

COAST GUARD:

Members of Coast Guard Sector and Base Los Angeles-Long Beach joined together for the observance of Colors in honor of Senior Chief Terrell E. Horne III Friday, December 2, 2016. Horne was killed in the line of duty while intercepting smugglers on December 2, 2012.

U.S. Coast Guard photos by Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrea Anderson

A Coast Guard crew members aboard an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Air Station Clearwater, Florida, arrive at the air station with three people rescued from a sunken fishing vessel approximately 35 miles southwest of Cape San Blas, Florida, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016. The fishermen were flown to Air Station Clearwater and met with EMS; no injuries to report.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Borne the Battle: Army veteran Benjamin Breckheimer

Benjamin Breckheimer was a teenager when he watched 9/11 unfold. Like many other young Americans, the images spurred him into action. Right after high school, he enlisted in the Army as an operating room specialist.

The operating room is where Breckheimer served his comrades and met his closest mentor. As fate would have it, Breckheimer would end up on the operating table himself. Breckheimer received serious damages to his body after an improvised explosive device went off under the Stryker he was driving.


The road to recovery was a long one. Hopeless and angry at the world, Breckheimer’s life spiraled out of control to the point of suicidal thoughts. However, with the help of his family, mentor, and a strong support network, Breckheimer was able to get back on his feet.

To get better physically and also to challenge himself and others, Breckheimer started climbing. As time went on, his ascents grew to higher altitudes. To free himself from weight of the past , Breckheimer threw his problems off some of the highest peaks in the world. He is currently on track to be the first ever wounded combat veteran to climb the Seven Summits.

Local Purple Heart recipient earns new honor

www.youtube.com

Breckheimer is now partnered with American300. American300 subject matter resiliency experts spend quality time with service members, offering not only their personal stories, but a knowing ear and shoulder heavy in experience. Working with military leadership, American300 tours place mentors in areas of operation repeatedly over the span of several years. Each return visit features different mentors who shed a light on making the impossible… possible.

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

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These 17 photos show why artillery is king of the battlefield

While infantry carries the title of “Queen of the Battle,” it’s the artillery that’s king. It strikes over vast distances, hits with a lot of force, and remains mobile and accurate. Here are 18 photos of these awesome weapons and their crews:


1. Artillery belches smoke and fire every time it shoots a round.

Photo: US Marine Corps Cpl. Ali Azimi

2. When crews emplace the weapons, they anchor them to the ground and set up aiming aids to ensure rounds go exactly where they should.

Photo: US Army Spc. Nathaniel Mercado

3. While the gun crews are emplacing the cannons, other artillerymen move the rounds to the firing point and prepare them for action.

Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Love

4. Different guns have different muzzle velocities, but most can fire rounds at over 1,500 feet per second.

Photo: US Marine Corps Cpl. Matthew Manning

5. Between shots, crew members quickly remove the spent casing and load a new round.

Photo: US Army 1st Lt. Zachary Kohl

6. Between shots on 155mm howitzers, the gun is swabbed out. (The white-tipped rod in the left of the photo is the swab.)

Photo: US Marine Corps Cpl. Ali Azimi

7. The guns are often towed around the battlefield behind vehicles, but can also be flown to firing points.

U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Freeman

8. Even UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters can fly the guns around.

Photo: US Army 1st Lt. Travis Mueller

9. When they need to travel long distances, the artillerymen can throw their guns out of the backs of planes (with parachutes).

Photo: US Army Capt. Joe Bush

10. Some artillery units have self-propelled guns with light armor.

Photo: Capt. Alex Aquino

11. They’re highly mobile, but still put on an awesome light show.

Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp

12. Back in the day, the Navy’s artillery moved quickly as well, provided there was plenty of water.

Photo: US Navy

13. Night fires light up the darkness.

Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Annette B. Andrews

14. Maneuver units can request illumination rounds from artillery, giving them plenty of light with which to see.

Photo: US Army National Guard Sgt. Joshua S. Edwards

15. Modern artillery carries a lot more than just cannons. Multiple-Launch Rocket Systems can fire a dozen rockets each.

Photo: US Air Force Senior Airman Duane Duimstra

16. MLRS can put on its own amazing light show.

Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Carlos R. Davis

17. Also back in the day, the U.S. Army fielded atomic artillery that could launch rounds with .5 to 15-kiloton yields.

Photo: US Federal Archives

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The first Marine F-35 squadron is gearing up for a Pacific deployment

Since relocating from Yuma, Arizona, to Iwakuni, Japan, in January, the Marine Corps’ first squadron of F-35B Joint Strike Fighters has been hard at work ironing out the basics of operations in the Pacific, from streamlining supply chains to practicing “hot reloads” and rapid ground refueling from a KC-130.


In fall 2017, the unit — Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 — will deploy aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.

And the squadron is well aware that a sea deployment in the tense Pacific could well entail responding to a regional crisis or a combat contingency, Lt. Col. Richard Rusnok, the squadron’s commanding officer, told Military.com in an interview this month.

DOD Photo by Levingston M Lewis

“When I was a young guy in [AV-8B] Harrier land in 2003, several MEUs … were in a normal deployment and something happened, and they ended up in a bigger picture,” Rusnok said, referring to MEU-based combat units dispatched to Iraq to assist with ground operations during the invasion. “That’s something that could really happen. Given the small numbers of F-35s that are out there, I think [combatant commanders] are going to look at that and say, ‘I’ve got six airplanes out on the MEU. I could do something with them.’ ”

VFMA-121 has hit milestones not just for the Marine Corps, but for the entire Defense Department since late 2012, when it became the first squadron to activate with the 5th-generation fighter.

The unit’s reception in the Iwakuni community has been warm, Rusnok said. Iwakuni Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda attended the March change-of-command ceremony for the unit, and an aviation day at the air station drew a crowd of 210,000, with locals surrounding a displayed F-35B “six or seven deep,” he said.

Photo by USMC

While the squadron has not begun shipboard training, set to happen later this summer, it’s already preparing for the upcoming MEU deployment in practical ways, standing up and proving out logistics capabilities and supply chains for the F-35 in the Pacific.

Working Out Supply Chains

Rusnok noted that, in the space of months, the Joint Strike Fighter program went from being based almost solely in the continental United States to having aircraft in Israel, Italy, and Japan, among other locations.

“That’s such an incredibly complicated, such an exponential growth in geography that it’s almost hard to fathom, if you rewind back several years, to see we’re this far along,” he said. “What we’ve done, I think, at Iwakuni is to break down some of these barriers and find out how that airplane is supportable in the Asia-Pacific region.”

The squadron has worked with the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office and aircraft maker Lockheed Martin to find faster ways to ship gear and replacement parts, and to send broken parts back to the United States to repair. With a global supply chain and a relatively small number of active aircraft, sometimes a plane in need of a part at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona must get it shipped from Iwakuni, and vice versa.

DOD Photo by Lance Cpl. Emmanuel Necoechea

“Iwakuni is distinctly different from CONUS-based units, not only because of the tyranny of distance in the Pacific region, but we also have a wide variety of places we could potentially go,” Rusnok said. “Expeditionary maintenance logistics are incredibly important to what we do.”

Fighting Skills

The squadron got to hone its fighting skills earlier this month at Northern Edge, a 12-day training exercise at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.

The exercise included the Air Force’s 5th-generation F-22 Raptor, as well as numerous fourth-generation fighters, including the F/A-18 Super Hornet, the F-15 Eagle and the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

In the exercise, the largest VFMA-121 has participated in since moving forward to Iwakuni, the F-35s were able to drill on joint operations in the Western Pacific, focusing on aerial interdiction, strike warfare, air-to-air, and offensive counter-air missions.

Rusnok said the F-35’s kill ratio from the exercise was not immediately available, though one of the missions he flew racked up eight kills and zero losses, he said, a fairly indicative statistic.

But he doesn’t particularly like to talk about those stats.

DOD Photo by Ryan Kierkegaard

“Everyone likes to focus on that air-to-air piece. It robs that statistic out of a bigger scenario,” he said. “You never hear about the surface-to-air kills we got, the enemy systems degraded. There’s a bigger picture.”

The exercise, Rusnok said, also tested the F-35’s ability to create a “God’s-eye view” of the battlespace, with its ability to network and transmit information. Northern Edge showed, he said, that the capability remained strong, even in a dense radio frequency environment that hindered transmissions.

“Where other air systems have problems, we’re able to cut through that so easily,” he said. “Our ability to resist that kind of attack on the electromagnetic spectrum is huge.”

Testing Maintenance Software

The squadron also brought with it a deployable version of its Autonomic Logistics Information System, a software designed to revolutionize F-35 maintenance that has been hampered by production and upgrade delays. A 2016 Government Accountability Office report questioned whether ALIS was truly able to deploy in practice, citing a lack of redundancy in the system.

“Every time we deploy this airplane, we make a decision whether to deploy ALIS or leave it home,” Rusnok said.

In this case, he said, the squadron worked with the Air Force to make necessary modifications to host the ALIS deployable operating unit, hardware that travels with the squadron when connectivity is an issue. Overall, Rusnok said, the system worked well during the exercise, and preparing to use it offered insights on its future use.

“Let’s say we’re going to an Air Force base in Country X — we know those facilities are now compatible with ALIS,” he said. “Maybe we can take advantage of this and put it in our playbook as something we can do, optimize to really cut down on that logistics footprint.”

Now back in Japan, the squadron has already begun early preparations for its upcoming deployment, conducting rapid ground refueling tests using the KC-130 Hercules and practicing “hot reloads” in which the aircraft receives new ordnance while the pilot remains in the cockpit.

KC-130 Hercules. DOD Photo by Senior Airman Tyler Woodward.

The unit’s pre-deployment preparations will likely provide insights for units that come after. The next F-35B deployment, aboard the amphibious assault ship Essex, will come months after VFMA-121 deploys to the Pacific and is expected to take the Corps’ second F-35 squadron, VFMA-211, to the Middle East.

“Come the fall, we’re going to have all the pieces in place so we can effectively deploy the squadron,” Rusnok said.