Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe - We Are The Mighty
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Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe

Last year, the world began waging a war against a new enemy: COVID-19. As the threat emerged and casualties mounted, the year 2020 brought changes in the way people conduct business, accomplish personal tasks, pursue education, and celebrate milestones. The pandemic also highlighted the mandate for a different type of leader: one who shares information transparently while taking appropriate measures to mitigate risk and – crucially – recognizing the importance of a more personal and human approach to communication. 

Captain David Baird, USN, Commanding Officer of Naval Station (NAVSTA) Rota, Spain, has been that leader. Baird and his leadership team developed and executed a plan to keep members of the NAVSTA Rota community safe, healthy and mission-ready. A central tenet of that plan was, in Baird’s words, “calm, compassionate, clear and factual communication.” 

His strategy has been successful. 

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe
Rear Adm. Scott Gray, commander, Navy Region Europe, Africa, Central, greets Capt. David Baird, commanding officer of Naval Station (NAVSTA) Rota, Spain, during his tour of the installation, Dec. 9, 2020. NAVSTA Rota sustains the fleet, enables the fighter and supports the family by conducting air operations, port operations, ensuring security and safety, assuring quality of life and providing the core services of power, water, fuel and information technology. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eduardo Otero)

Since the start of the pandemic, the number of COVID-19 cases within the NAVSTA Rota community has remained low and relatively isolated. Meanwhile, the atmosphere on the base has been calm, and compliance with recommended public health measures has been high. Baird’s success navigating a public health crisis while fighting this new enemy, Covid-19, is a case study in effective leadership.

Preparing to Battle a New Kind of Threat

As COVID-19 ravaged Spain in Spring 2020, the NAVSTA Rota community remained focused on its mission. With cases rising sharply throughout the country, Baird and his leadership team were closely monitoring the spread of the virus and had taken measures to prepare for what might come.

By the end of March 2020, Spain was under a state of emergency, with all non-essential businesses closed and non-essential workers under a stay-at-home order. NAVSTA Rota had switched to a “minimum manning posture,” many base facilities were closed, and base schools had transitioned to remote learning. By early April, face coverings were required in all buildings.

Implementing these drastic operational changes was a massive undertaking, but an equally difficult challenge was less straightforward: successfully leading the NAVSTA Rota community through the pandemic. It was a tall order at a time when uncertainty about the virus warranted panic and fear, and face-to-face interaction had suddenly become extremely limited. Fortunately, Baird was able to draw on his combat and risk management experience to devise a strategy that all would embrace and that would keep everyone safe and informed, while also allowing his command to accomplish its mission.

Developing a Communication Strategy

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe
Rafael Posadas Palomo, a reporter for Spain’s First National Television’s show, España Directo, interviews Capt. David Baird, commanding officer of Naval Station (NAVSTA) Rota, Spain, during a press visit to the installation. Naval Station Rota sustains the fleet, enables the fighter and supports the family by conducting air operations, port operations, ensuring security and safety, assuring quality of life and providing the core services of power, water, fuel and information technology. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Benjamin Lewis)

Early in the pandemic, one of Baird’s first orders of business was figuring out how to communicate with the entire NAVSTA Rota community to keep everyone informed and avoid panic. With limited information, people were understandably anxious and feared for the safety of loved ones, both locally and back in the US. 

Baird harkened back to advice a mentor once gave him: Rather than treating others the way you want to be treated, “treat them the way you want your children or your parents to be treated.” Baird added, “The parent part was so important, because many of us were worried about elderly parents, [who are] at a higher risk.” Baird summarized the advice another way: “View others in the way you view the people you care about the most.”

With that axiom as a backdrop to his communication philosophy, Baird was keenly aware of the importance of transparently sharing credible, accurate information. However, he recognized that “there is no such thing as perfect communication.” Rather, it’s an ongoing process of constant improvement and an effort to “connect with [people] in a meaningful way.” 

All of this was the foundation for the communication plan that he and his leadership team devised. With in-person gatherings not an option, they had to find alternate ways to reach members of the NAVSTA Rota community. Baird and his public affairs officer (PAO) decided they would “use every other means available,” including social media and AFN Rota radio to share information, answer questions, and keep the community informed in real time.

Communication without face-to-face interaction

In developing the communication strategy, Baird recalled his conversation, many years earlier, with the PAO at Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Japan regarding the 2011 Fukushima disaster and how the command had communicated about the evacuation of dependents. Answering questions and sharing information ‘round the clock via Facebook proved to be the most effective communication tactic. 

Baird explains, “people crave every piece of information they can get. If information is not provided by an official source, they’re going to find an unofficial source that probably isn’t as credible.” He and his team determined that communication via Facebook would work well in the face of this new crisis, and he began publishing frequent updates on the Naval Station Rota Facebook page.

Initially, the updates consisted primarily of data on the spread of COVID in the Andalusia region of Spain, but in late March 2020, Baird began taking a new approach. As members of the Rota community were suddenly confined to their homes and severely restricted from daily activities, sharing numbers wasn’t enough. He wanted to put the information into perspective and help them truly understand what it all meant.

He explained, “I started telling stories using some of my life experiences to help figure out: How can we frame our current situation, and what does the future look like?” 

Baird talked about everything from personal courage, to fear, to his experiences training for an Ironman triathlon and as a member of the rowing team at the United States Naval Academy. Each update was focused on helping the NAVSTA Rota community understand the current situation and where it was all headed, while keeping everyone motivated. The updates were honest, personal, and empathetic, and they quickly resonated with the community. Readers commented on the posts, thanking Baird for his candor, positivity, and leadership.

In response to one of Baird’s early “story-telling” updates, a member of the Rota community commented, “NAVSTA Rota is exemplifying true leadership right now. Capt. Baird, you are setting the standard for military leadership through this experience and I hope other commanders follow your example.”

A hallmark of Baird’s updates is transparency. He has been careful to share what his leadership team knew – and what they didn’t know – at all times: “Acknowledging  there are a lot of things that we don’t know is important to establish credibility and maintain credibility about the things that [we] are stating as fact.”

He also explained the “why” for each new constraint on daily activities: “Every restriction we put into place was grounded in some sort of data.” His explanations, along with his acknowledgement of how difficult and frustrating the restrictions could be, made the news more palatable to the NAVSTA Rota community.

As one Facebook follower commented, “We know this is a super challenging situation and one that none of us planned on or wanted to be in, especially while living abroad. But we truly do appreciate your transparency and communication, and we commend you for how leadership has handled this difficult time here.”

The constant COVID-related communications through Facebook, town hall meetings and on AFN Rota – more than 300 since the start of the pandemic – prompted more than 10,000 comments and questions from the NAVSTA Rota community; a clear indication that members have been engaged and paying attention. 

The global military community takes notice

Current members of the NAVSTA Rota community weren’t the only audience for Baird’s Facebook updates. Among the thousands of people following along were family and friends of service members stationed in Rota, retired service members, and those who served at NAVSTA Rota in the past. Baird’s leadership has meant a lot to them.

One parent wrote, “My daughter and son-in-law and granddaughter are currently stationed on your base during this crazy event. I’m extremely pleased with the way NSR is keeping everyone posted on the current issues in and around the base and country.” 

Another parent simply said, “Our son and family are with you. Glad you are in Command.”

In response to one of Baird’s very candid updates about the need for all members of the NAVSTA Rota community to keep their guard up, a Navy retiree had this to say:

“As a sailor who once served in Rota, ultimately retiring from the US Navy, I have seen and read many memos of consequence. Your writing and eloquence in communicating the current issues on healthcare and the pandemic are simply outstanding. I have not, as a healthcare professional, seen better than what you transmit. If more leaders did what you do, we would all be in a better place pandemic-wise.”

The path forward and lessons learned

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe
Javier Ruiz Arana, mayor of Rota, left, speaks with Capt. David Baird, commanding officer of Naval Station Rota, Spain, during a flag raising ceremony held by the city of Rota in honor of citizen efforts in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. During the ceremony, a new monument was revealed honoring the victims, those who recovered, and the citizens who contributed in the fight against the disease. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eduardo Otero)

Baird and his leadership team continue to remain vigilant and share continual communication amidst the gradual lifting of COVID-related restrictions in Spain and rollout of the vaccine. As of April 2021, Naval Hospital Rota had already administered both doses of the Moderna vaccine to thousands of members of the NAVSTA Rota community, including active duty service members and US civilian workers, along with their adult family members. TRICARE-eligible retirees and family members were also offered the vaccine. 

More than a year into the pandemic, Baird continues to refine his leadership strategy. He explains, “I’ve realized that maintaining a sense of calm is important.” He also recognizes that it is important to “meet people where they are in terms of their current level of knowledge of the COVID situation.” When imposing new COVID-related restrictions or making changes to the base routine, Baird must provide context and justification to explain why those measures are necessary.

In addition, new people are coming to the Rota community all the time, so it’s a continuous process to bring everyone up to speed on local requirements.

Baird says that one of the most important lessons learned through this pandemic is “the value of having a team that works well together and supports one another.” Indeed, Baird has been surrounded by a strong team who helped navigate all aspects of the pandemic. Long before the vaccine became available, the Naval Hospital Rota team established a very effective testing and contact tracing system. DoDEA leadership quickly transitioned base schools to remote learning. The Public Health Emergency Officer (PHEO) examined every line of operations on the base to confirm that sufficient COVID restrictions were in place. The Spanish Liaison Office translated more than 1,700 pages of legal documents to ensure Baird and his leadership team understood the current Spanish laws and policies. Baird’s PAO worked around the clock ensuring that all communication reflected the latest restrictions and guidance, some of which changed several times per week. And MWR leadership made numerous overhauls to their supply chain and other processes at base eateries to accommodate changing restrictions.

Members of the base community also came together to help and support each other. They made and distributed homemade face-coverings before masks were widely available. They purchased food and other items for those who had PCS’d to Rota and were required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. They looked out for each other’s children and pets. And they complied with base and local COVID safety measures.

Successfully navigating through the pandemic has been a group effort, but it all starts at the top. Through his leadership, Baird set the tone for an environment where members of the NAVSTA Rota community could trust and support one another. 

As COVID restrictions are gradually lifted and the future remains unknown, the wisdom Baird offered to the community last year, in the throes of the pandemic, still rings true and illustrates why he has been an effective leader for NAVSTA Rota during this crisis: “The transition process will take time. We will need to proceed slowly and methodically. It will be frustrating at times, and we may need to reverse course at times. But each transition will bring us one step closer to our new normal, and each step forward will be a sign of improvement. It will be a long road to travel, but I look forward to traveling it with all of you.”

Featured image: Capt. David Baird, commanding officer of Naval Station (NAVSTA) Rota, Spain, receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from Hospitalman Viviana Lao, assigned to U.S. Naval Hospital (USNH) Rota, Spain, at NAVSTA Rota’s movie theater on 16 January, 2021. USNH Rota has begun administering the vaccine to frontline healthcare and first responders as part of the vaccination campaign. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eduardo Otero)

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How Marines used a 3D printer and a little ‘grunt ingenuity’ to make gadgets that help them in combat

Second Lt. Ben Lacount knows that it’s never a good thing to run out of rounds during a firefight. And it’s certainly not a good thing to be surprised that you have.


That’s why he invented the “Lacounter” with help from Navy engineers and a 3D printer that allowed him to cut prototyping time down to a fraction. The device allows shooters to see how many rounds they’ve expended while pulling the trigger so that they’re not in a bind when they do.

The Lacounter even works with belt fed weapons like the M249 and M2 .50cal.

Lacount’s prototype takes advantage of a process known as “additive manufacturing,” and it’s one that could change the face of military logistics forever.

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe
U.S. Marine 2nd Lt. Ben Lacount presents his winning entry from the Marine Corps Innovation Challenge during a showcase at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, in West Bethesda, Md., Aug. 15, 2017. Lacount created an expended rounds counter for the M16 rifle in the Manufacturing, Knowledge and Education Laboratory, Carderock™s additive manufacturing collaborative space. (U.S. Navy photo by Dustin Q. Diaz/Released)

“My goal for this project was to have a simple, lightweight, low-cost and no battery solution to this issue,” Lacount said, according to a Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock release.

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe

And Lacount’s not alone.

Captain Kyle McCarley helped come up with a new way to carry the “Bangalore torpedo,” an explosive device used to blow up obstacles like barbed wire. While they are very useful, they are bulky, and take up space. But McCarley used a 3D printer to make a quiver-like pack with elastic straps for the devices that can attack to a normal assault pack.

Then there was Staff Sgt. Daniel Diep, an artilleryman. After noticing that the cable for the Chief of Section Display got damaged from debris that got stuck in the cable – something that took a week and $3,000 to fix – he designed a 3D-printed cable head that cost $10 to make.

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe
Marines with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit fire their M777 Howitzer during a fire mission in northern Syria as part of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Zachery Laning

“The neat thing about this cable cap is the cable heads themselves can be additively manufactured, and Marines like myself can take all the old cables, cut them down, and we can put new heads on them after 3-D printing,” Diep said.

But the neatest trick of all is getting the 3D printers closer to the grunts. Captain Tony Molnar and Master Sgt. Gage Conduto have worked that out – not only by bringing the printers to units at FOBs, but also a processing center to recycle plastic, like water bottles often delivered to troops on deployment. This will be a huge boon for explosive ordnance techs like Conduto.

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe
Spc. Ryan Rolf, a combat engineer from Fullerton, Nebraska, with the 402nd Engineer Company, places a field expedient bangalore packed with C-4 explosive in a barbed wire obstacle during an in-stride breach event at the 2014 Sapper Stakes competition at Fort McCoy, Wis., May 5. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret)

“I can’t walk down to the Marine Corps machinist with a stinger missile in my hand and say, ‘I need a set of tools made, can you get these back to me next week?'” he said.

But the tech could go even further, than just helping come up with new tools. In fact, it could be a huge game-changer for any forward-deployed unit.

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe
3D Printing in a laboratory setting. Now, imagine a field-deployable 3D printer set-up, along with something to harvest or recycle materials to use in the printer. (Photo by Jonathan Juursema.)

“This container will benefit the Marine expeditionary units and the Marine Corps and DOD because it can do two things: One, it enhances the expeditionary readiness of forward-deployed units by being able to print parts locally on site using recycled materials, and second, it helps those combat units forward by providing stuff that they can’t do, as well as printing stuff for the local populous during humanitarian disaster relief that we couldn’t normally do and that we’d have to pay someone to do,” Molnar told the Navy News Service.

Marine grunts getting inventive — that’s a very frightening thought … for America’s enemies.

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World’s only civilian-owned Harrier will join Syracuse Airshow to honor fallen Blue Angel pilot

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe
Joe Anderson prepares for his performance at the Cleveland National Air Show in 2014 | Photo by Skeet Shooter


The 2016 Syracuse Airshow in Western New York was originally supposed to feature the US Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron as their headlining act, but with the loss of their Opposing Solo pilot Jeff “Kooch” Kuss (Blue Angel #6), the team withdrew from shows for the time being and returned to NAS Pensacola, Florida to grieve their fallen teammate and to determine the best course of action for the remainder of this airshow season.

The show’s other acts include the US Army’s Golden Knights parachute demonstration team, as well as the F-16 Viper demo and the GEICO Skytypers, but without the Blues, the lineup feels a little empty, especially with the incredibly sad reason for their cancellation. However, the show will most certainly go on, according to Syracuse’s organizers, now dedicated to the memory of the deceased Blue Angel. Profits from the show will be going towards the Kuss family in their time of need.

Now, the world’s only civilian Sea Harrier airshow team will be pitching in after a last-minute request from Syracuse’s organizers to assist with the show. Featuring a retired US Marine, Lieutenant Colonel Art Nalls, Team SHAR as they’re more popularly known, will be bringing their gray Sea Harrier and an L-39 Albatros to New York where they’ll perform for a reduced fee, and will also donate a considerable portion to Kuss’s family.

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe
Art Nalls at the Cleveland National Air Show

“A very busy weekend for our team. At 10:30 pm on Friday, I received a phone [call] … The show wants to continue, dedicated to the memory of Capt Kuss. ALL profits are going to support the family of Capt Kuss. Can we be there to support them?” Nalls says on his personal Facebook page. “Of course we’ll be there,” he enthusiastically replies. Team SHAR, having recently completed a demonstration, was in a stand down state of their own, as they didn’t have another scheduled performance for a while. Their aircraft required maintenance, their truck was in the process of being serviced, and the support trailer was also in the middle of being worked on.

But when the organizers called, Team SHAR kicked into high gear and readied themselves to roll out to support the show. “Emails were flying all weekend to get a quorum of mechs, driver, pilots, and planes ready,” said Nalls. The former Harrier pilot flies with Major General Joe Anderson, a man instrumental in helping to successfully integrate the AV-8A Harrier into the Marine Corps’ air wings. Anderson retired in 2001, while Nalls retired in 1998… both much before Kuss earned his commission as an Officer of Marines in 2006. However, the brotherhood that links the three Marine aviators transcends time, and Team SHAR’s willingness without hesitation to help out with the Syracuse show for the benefit of Kuss’s family truly  demonstrates the spirit of “Semper Fidelis”, the Latin motto of the Marine Corps which translates to “Always Faithful”.

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe

As Art aptly puts it, “While the airshow industry is indeed a business, it’s actually much more for the performers, supporters, and promoters. It’s more like a family.” If you can be there at Syracuse this coming weekend (June 10-12), please consider making your way over to the show. Though the previous headlining act has been canceled, Nalls Aviation expressed that they want people to continue to purchase tickets for the show, knowing that even though they won’t see the Blues perform, their money will go to do good for the family. It’s for a fantastic cause, and you’re bound to see some incredible flying and airmanship from some extremely gifted aviators.

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The soldier accused of ties with ISIS thinks the Moon landing was faked

A US soldier accused of supporting the Islamic State believed that Hitler was right, the moon landings were fake, and 9/11 was an inside job.


Army Sgt. 1st Class Ikaika Erik Kang, arrested by an FBI SWAT team over the weekend after being accused of attempting to aid ISIS, was a noted conspiracy theorist, according to a soldier who knew him.

His former Army bunkmate from 2013, Dustin Lyles, told The Associated Press that he and Kang practiced martial arts together and discussed conspiracy theories, particularly the idea that the US staged the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Kang, who belongs to the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii and worked as an air traffic control operator, pledged allegiance to ISIS, and attempted to send classified and unclassified military documents to members of the terror group. He had no idea that these supposed members were actually undercover FBI agents.

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe
US District Court in Honolulu Image from Hawaii News Now.

Kang apparently told a confidential human source as recently as March that “Hitler was right, saying he believed in the mass killing of Jews,” according to court filings. He also said that America was the only terrorist organization in the world.

In addition to embracing conspiracy theories, Kang sought to provide support to ISIS in numerous ways, including wanting to provide combat training to help ISIS members.

Kang’s long history of strange statements and support for ISIS resulted in him losing his security clearance in 2012. For an unknown reason, his security clearance was reinstated in 2013 after he “complied with military requirements stemming from the investigation.” The Army finally referred Kang’s case to the FBI in 2016 for more serious investigation, which culminated in an arrest.

The Army declined to elaborate to The Daily Caller News Foundation on why Kang was permitted to regain his clearance after making pro-ISIS comments.

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Tom Brokaw talks about this effective vet program that uses fly fishing as therapy

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe
Tom Brokaw speaks at Project Healing Waters event. (Photo: Janine Stange)


Every April veterans and volunteers gather at the Rose River Farm in Madison County, Virginia for an annual 2-fly fishing tournament known as “Project Healing Waters.” This year was the 10th anniversary and the event raised over $200,000 for veterans services.

WATM sat down with keynote speaker Tom Brokaw and several veterans who have found physical and mental improvement through the program.

Listen to the interview with Tom Brokaw:

More than 7,500 vets from every war since WWII have taken part in Project Healing Waters in 2015 alone. There are hundreds of local programs in addition to the national events.

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe
Rose River Farm in Northern Virginia. (Photo: Project Healing Waters)

Along with the psychological benefits of the camaraderie and being out in nature, the technical aspects of fly-fishing help those with all sorts of injuries recover, from a physical therapy perspective. They have taken blind people and quadriplegics out to catch fish.

84 cents of every dollar raised goes to the veterans services making it one of the leanest veterans services programs.

To learn more about Project Healing Waters, visit their website.

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The US shuts down Syrian army claims

The U.S.-led coalition fighting against Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria has rejected a claim by the Syrian army that a coalition air strike hit poison gas supplies and killed hundreds of people.


A Syrian army statement shown on Syrian state TV on April 13 said that a strike late on April 12 in the eastern Deir al- Zor Province hit supplies belonging to IS, releasing a toxic substance that killed “hundreds including many civilians.”

“The Syrian claim is incorrect and likely intentional misinformation,” U.S. Air Force Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for the coalition, said in a statement. He said the coalition had carried out no air strikes in that area at that time.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on April 13 that it had no information on fatalities in a coalition air strike in Deir al-Zor and was sending drones to the area to monitor the situation.

The claim comes after more than 80 people were killed in Syria’s northwestern Idlib Province on April 4 in what the United States and other governments say was a poison gas attack carried out by President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

The United States responded on April 7 by firing dozens of missiles at the air base where it says the attack originated.

The Syrian government and Russia, its ally, have said they believe the gas was released when Syrian government air strikes hit a rebel chemical weapons facility.

Russia says and its ally Russia deny Damascus carried out any such chemical attack. Moscow has said the poison gas in that incident last week in Idlib Province belonged to rebels.

Based on reporting by Reuters and dpa

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These 11 photos show how the military is helping those caught in Hurricane Harvey’s devastation

Hurricane Harvey hit the coast of Texas as a Category 4 storm with winds of 130 miles per hour. Over four feet of rain has been dumped on the Gulf Coast of Texas, and Houston is flooded — and it may be as bad as Katrina.


Thousands are trapped in the area, prompting a massive rescue effort, including support from the “Cajun Navy.” National Guard and Coast Guard units from as far away as San Diego, California, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, are assisting.

Below are some of the photos showing the rescue efforts by the National Guard, which has been, as you might imagine, very busy.

This is what they are dealing with: An aerial view shows severe flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey near Rockport, Holiday Beach and Port Aransas, Texas, Aug. 27. (Army National Guard photo)

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe

Airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron prepare to deploy from the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Aug. 27 for Texas, where they will assist with rescue and recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. The Airmen are specialists in swift-water and confined-space rescue. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Horton)

 

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe

U.S. Air Force 41st Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawks take-off, Aug. 26 at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. The 23d Wing launched HC-130J Combat King IIs, HH-60G Pave Hawks, aircrew and other support personnel to preposition aircraft and airmen, if tasked to support Hurricane Harvey relief operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel Snider)

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe

In this aerial view, an Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter hovers over the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey near Rockport, Holiday Beach and Port Aransas, Texas, Aug. 27. (Army National Guard photo)

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe

Texas National Guardsmen drive military vehicles down flooded streets while searching for stranded residents impacted by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, Aug. 27. (Army National Guard photo by Lt. Zachary West)

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe

Texas National Guardsmen work with emergency responders in assisting residents affected by Hurricane Harvey flooding during search and rescue operations near Victoria, Texas, Aug. 27. (Army National Guard photo by Capt. Martha Nigrelle)

 

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe

Texas National Guard soldiers aid a citizen in heavily flooded areas from the storms of Hurricane Harvey. (Photo by Lt. Zachary West, 100th MPAD)

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe

A Texas National Guardsman carries a resident from her home during flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, Aug. 27. (Army National Guard photo by Lt. Zachary West)

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe

Texas National Guard soldiers assist residents affected by flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Aug. 27. (National Guard photo by Lt. Zachary West)

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe

A Texas Task Force responder helps hoist a stranded resident to a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during search and rescue near Rockport, Holiday Beach and Port Aransas, Texas, Aug. 27. (Army National Guard photo)

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe

A Texas National Guardsman shakes hands with a resident after assisting his family during Hurricane Harvey flooding in Houston, Texas, Aug. 27. (Army National Guard photo by Lt. Zachary West)

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe

 

To donate $10 to the American Red Cross, text REDCROSS to 90999. The donation will be reflected in your next cell phone bill. You can also donate by going to the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster for a list of national charities assisting those whose lives have been altered by Hurricane Harvey.

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9 ways you can show appreciation on Armed Forces Day

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe
Sailors assigned to amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) practice for the San Diego Padres’ opening day flag ceremony. | US Navy photo


On August 31, 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day which serves as a day to honor all those who serve in the sister-service branches.

The men and women of the military have made exceptional sacrifices and so on Armed Forces Day and all other military appreciation days, we can do small acts to show our gratitude to them.

Below are some ideas of how to show your appreciation:

1. Volunteer at a VA hospital or donate your time to a veterans group. There are 152 veteran medical centers in the US as well as hundreds of clinics, outpatient and nursing facilities. Call your local VA medical center or community to learn more about donating your time.

2. Talk to veterans or an active service member. Ask questions about their service, why they joined the military and listen to their stories. A little interest can go a long way.

3. Visit a memorial. All across the US, military members are honored through monuments that memorialize their service and sacrifice. Washington DC is home to 8 but monuments dedicated to members of the military can be found throughout the nation. If you’re near D.C., we suggest reflecting in Arlington National Cemetery.

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe
The Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon marches in front of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial on their way to perform for the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington April 12, 2014. | U.S. Marine Corps

4. Put together a care package. With so many USO centers sending a comforting package is easy. Check with your local center to ensure that they can send out the package. You can fill them up with snacks and non-perishable food, toiletries, stationery or purchase a pre-made package. Microsoft is matching gifts to servicemen and women during May in honor of Military Appreciation Month so send a gift to a soldier.

5. Donate to a worthy cause. Organizations such as the Wounded Warrior Project, Homes for Our Troops or Disabled American Veteransall work to assist military members, both active and vets, in rebuilding their lives. Organizations like Operation Homefront assist the families of servicemen and women with food, school supplies, finances and housing.

6. Attend a parade. Cities across the US celebrate Armed Forces Day with parades. Some of the most famous parades can be found in the cities of Torrence, California, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Washington D.C.

7. Offer to help a military spouse. While expressing gratitude to service members is encouraged, so is helping out their families. With one person at home, daily tasks can get overwhelming and a break is welcome. Offer to cook a meal, drive them somewhere or watch their children for a few hours.

8. Fly a flag, the correct way. Sometimes the simplest expressions of gratitude are the most appreciated. Make sure that if you do fly America’s Stars and Stripes you follow the code.

9. A simple thank you. Sometimes this is the most honest expression of gratitude to those who serve our country.

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The Army is offering $5K bonuses to join new training brigade

The U.S. Army is authorizing $5,000 bonuses to woo top-performing troops into a new training brigade as the service once famous for shouldering the burden of America’s wars works to meet the growing demand for advisers in places ranging from Iraq and Syria to Afghanistan and Africa.


The plan recognizes the new reality of America at war: Army soldiers are more often training and building local security forces rather than doing the fighting for them on foreign soil. It replaces what has been a hodgepodge of programs over the past dozen years with projections for five new, permanent, fully-trained brigades that can be deployed around the world as professional advisers.

“It’s a recognition that this is an enduring requirement for the conventional Army,” Gen. Robert Abrams, head of U.S. Army Forces Command, told The Associated Press in an interview.

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A Marine assigned to Task Force Taqaddum (TF TQ) advises and assists designated Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in Anbar Province to enable ISF to degrade and defeat Da’esh (an Arabic acronym fro ISIL) and support the Mosul counterattack. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ethan Hutchinson/Released)

“Most times we’re falling in on existing institutions that are probably failing, and bringing them up to a certain competency level so they can secure themselves. And we’ve got to be able to do that on a large scale.”

The new program and its signing bonuses also illustrate how the Trump administration has endorsed the Obama administration’s emphasis on working “by, with and through” local forces.

That policy emerged from the deadly and tumultuous years after the 2003 Iraq invasion, when as many as 160,000 American troops were on the ground battling insurgents while struggling to transform a rag-tag mix of often ethnically-opposed Iraqi troops into a functioning fighting force.

U.S. troops left Iraq in 2011. Less than three years later, the Iraqi security forces largely collapsed as Islamic State militants seized control of large swaths of territory. U.S. troops then returned to Iraq, training, advising and enabling the Iraqis to oust IS from the country.

Also read: Here’s how the Army is assisting Iraqi forces in the fight for Mosul

The $5,000 bonus got final authorization on May 3 and is expected to be available beginning in June. The Army has chosen a colonel to lead the first training brigade and he will travel to a number of military posts in the coming weeks to recruit soldiers for the unit. Joining is strictly voluntary.

Since it’s a new program, Abrams acknowledged some soldiers may be reluctant to shift away from current career paths by taking a chance on something they fear may fail or lose support over time.

“There is natural apprehension in the field: ‘Is this a flash in the pan?’ It’s not a flash in the pan,” Abrams said. “The chief is committed and the Army senior leadership is committed, I’m committed. This is going to be an enduring capability.”

The challenge, he said, is getting mid-grade non-commissioned officers to sign up. That’s where the bonus will help.

Of the 529 soldiers in the brigade, 360 will be officers who don’t qualify for the bonus. The rest will be enlisted soldiers and non-commissioned officers who can earn the extra money.

The objective is to fix some problems created by the current training programs. In Iraq and Afghanistan, chunks of combat brigades have been deployed to serve as trainers and advisers to local forces, often leaving the remainder of their units back at home. Right now, for example, portions of three brigades are in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe
U.S. Army and Iraqi soldiers cross an intersection during a routine security patrol in downtown Tal Afar, Iraq (U.S. Navy photo)

“It separates the leaders from those they lead, and it degrades (unit) readiness significantly,” Abrams said, adding that Army leaders have expressed frustrations over breaking units apart to staff the mission.

The plan calls for a military assistance training academy to be created at Fort Benning, Georgia. About 90 civilian and military staff members are being recruited. The first class will begin in October.

Members of what is being called the new Security Force Assistance Brigade will go through a training course of six-to-eight weeks. Almost 200 will receive 16 weeks of intensive language instruction. Others will get an eight-week language course.

More reading: SEAL Team 6 is experimenting with sensory deprivation chambers to learn languages faster

The first brigade could be ready to deploy by the end of 2018, Abrams said, but there has been no decision on where they will go. Iraq and Afghanistan are the most likely locations, he said.

As more brigades are created, they would deploy to other areas of the world. While the Army initially conceived of one base in each geographical military command around the globe, it’s more likely they’ll simply be sent where most needed.

The Army will select soldiers for the second brigade in about a year. All five brigades will be created by 2022.

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Air Force keeping the beloved A-10 around for at least a few more years

The Air Force is keeping the famed A-10 “Warthog” aircraft around for at least a few more years, Defense News is reporting.


The close air support aircraft beloved by ground troops won’t begin to be retired until 2021, reversing a previous decision to start mothballing them next year.

“We’re going to keep them until 2021, and then as a discussion that we’ll have with [Defense] Secretary Mattis and the department and the review over all of our budgets, that is what will determine the way ahead,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told Defense News.

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe
A U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft assigned to the 25th Fighter Squadron out of Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, takes off from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, Oct. 10, 2016. | U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Karen J. Tomasik

The A-10 is pretty well-loved by infantry troops, since the aircraft can lay waste to ground targets with its 30mm cannon and air-to-surface missiles. Its heavy armor also makes it more survivable against incoming ground fire.

The Air Force, however, has been trying to kill the aircraft for years in order to make way for the multi-role F-35 fighter. For now, at least, the service is walking back those moves and is keeping the A-10 around until a suitable ‘A-10-like’ replacement can be found.

“That starts with an understanding of how we do the business today of close air support, because the reality is it’s changed significantly, and it will change significantly in the future if we get this right, because this is something we’ve got to continue to think about,” Goldfein said.

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5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about


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Hundreds of heroes have emerged through the ranks of all service branches with remarkable stories of courage and selflessness.

And while some stories are well known, the ones we talk about in this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast are seldom told. You’d think these stories are made up, like the tale of airman “Snuffy,” or propaganda ploys to recruit more troops. Either way, every service member should know about these Air Force legends and their badassery.

Also read: 10 legendary heroes of the US Air Force

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Here’s a brief description of our heroes for reference:

1. Col. Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr., the Tuskegee airman who almost shot Muammar Qaddafi. Chappie was already a legend before calling out Qaddafi in 1968, having served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

2. Sgt. Maynard “Snuffy” Smith, the original airman Snuffy. Despite being an undisciplined slacker avoided by everyone, Snuffy rose to the challenge in the face of certain death to save his crew.

3. Douglas W. Morrell, the combat cameraman who lived the entire history of the Air Force.

5. Eddie Rickenbacker, the race car driver-turned airman who broke all of the Air Force’s records.

6. Charlie Brown, the B-17 Flying Fortress pilot who was spared by German ace fighter pilot Oberleutnant Franz Stigler. These two rivals became close friends after meeting in 1990.

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This Marine is the first combat wounded veteran to reach the summit of Mount Everest

In early April 2016, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Charlie Linville departed the U.S. with The Heroes Project founder Tim Medvetz. Their destination was Nepal and their third attempt to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the top of the world.


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Linville is an Afghanistan veteran and father of two who had his right leg amputated below the knee as a result of an IED attack. Medvetz is the founder of The Heroes Project and a former member of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club. They arrived at the Everest base camp on April 17 and reached the summit of the mountain on May 19, making Linville the first combat wounded veteran to make it to the top.

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Linville and his gear, extra leg and all.

 

Their first two attempts to summit the mountain failed. In 2014, they made it to Lobuche Peak just above Everest Base Camp when a serac, a huge ice tower, separated from the Khumbu Icefall. The resulting avalanche killed 18 sherpas. They opted not to proceed out of respect for the dead.

And in 2015, they were once again on the mountain when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal, killing thousands and devastated the region. Linville and Medvetz decided to link up with Team Rubicon’s Operation Tenzig, distributing food and first aid to villages in the Nepalese countryside that the Red Cross couldn’t access.

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe

Linville and Medvetz climbed the mountain with videographer Kazuya Hiraide and producer Ed Wardle. The team is currently descending the mountain.

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This is why Mattis isn’t losing sleep over threats from North Korea

US military strategists at the Pentagon have a military solution in place to address the growing threat emanating from North Korea, but they are holding their fire in favor of ongoing diplomatic efforts by Washington and its allies, Defense Secretary James Mattis said August 10.


The Pentagon chief remained largely mum on the details of that military solution, which theoretically would curb Pyongyang’s efforts to develop a nuclear-capable, ballistic missile arsenal, except to say any military option would be a multilateral one involving a number of regional powers in the Pacific.

“Do I have military options? Of course, I do. That’s my responsibility, to have those. And we work very closely with allies to ensure that this is not unilateral either … and of course there’s a military solution,” Mr. Mattis told reporters en route to meet with senior leaders in the technology sector in Seattle and California.

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Defense Secretary James Mattis. (DOD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

The former four-star general declined to provide any additional insight to a statement released August 9, warning that the North’s continued provocations — including alleged plans for an attack against US forces in Guam by Pyongyang — “would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.”

Instead, Mr. Mattis reiterated that the administration’s diplomatic efforts to quell tensions on the peninsula remained the top priority for the White House.

“We want to use diplomacy. That’s where we’ve been, that’s where we are right now. and that’s where we hope to remain. But at the same time, our defenses are robust” and ready to take on any threat posed by the North Korean regime, Mr. Mattis said.

US defense and national security officials have repeatedly touted the capabilities of the US missile defense shield over the last several weeks, in the wake of a pair of successful test launches by North Korea of its latest intercontinental ballistic missile in July. President Trump has made revamping US missile defense systems a top objective for the Pentagon since taking office.

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe
Photo from North Korean State Media.

That impetus has only grown among administration officials amid reports this week that Pyongyang had built a nuclear warhead small enough to fit atop one of the country’s long-range missiles.

On August 9, Mr. Trump threatened to rain down “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if North Korea did not curb its nuclear programs. In response, North Korea announced it was developing plans for a missile strike against Guam.

On August 10, Mr. Mattis declined to comment whether he was taken aback by Mr. Trump’s harsh rhetoric.

“I was not elected, the American people elected the president,” he said. “I think what he’s pointing out is simply these provocations … [and] his diplomatic effort to try and stop it,” Mr. Mattis said.

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