The Mapuche Tribes of what is today Chile and Argentina banded together to fight the Spanish colonizers of South America. During the Arauco War in 1557, the natives were fighting the forces of governor García Hurtado de Mendoza but were ultimately unsuccessful. That did not end the fighting.
But at the Battle of Lagunillas, the Spanish captured more than 150 warriors. As a punishment for their uprising, the governor ordered that some of the warriors should lose their right hand and nose, while leaders like one young man named Galvarino would lose both hands. The amputee POWs were then released as a warning to other natives. That’s not what happened.
Galvarino let the Spaniards take both of his hands without flinching or saying a word. He even asked the Spanish to kill him but they would not. When he was released, he returned to his army and urged the the Mapuche general Caupolicán to continue to fight the good fight.
Once back in camp, he raised his handless arms in the air and warned his fellow warriors this was the fate that awaited them if they didn’t win the war. Caupolicán appointed Galvarino to command a new unit, but the warrior could no longer carry a weapon.
No problem: Galvarino attached knives to both his cauterized wrists, knives which historians describe as being as big as lances.
Less than a month after his initial capture, Galvarino was back in combat, this time at the Battle of Millarapue. The plan was to surprise a Spanish encampment and destroy the army before its superior firepower could be brought to bear. The natives didn’t knock out the Spanish cannons, however, the ambush failed, and the colonizers would kill 3,000 native fighters.
In a Spanish account of the Arauco Wars titled Crónica, Galvarino is said to have waved his men forward with his knife hands, saying “Nobody is allowed to flee but to die, because you die defending your mother country!”
Galvarino was captured during the battle and subsequently hanged, but not before he was able to kill the opposing army’s vice-commander. The Arauco War lasted a total of 300 years and the Mapuche still resist governments to this day.
Trying to emerge from scandals that shook the agency to its core, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is attempting to overhaul what officials admit was sometimes pretty bad customer service.
Quietly, since 2015, the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs has built a national Veterans Experience Office.
The office’s first steps have been rolling out over 100 community veterans committees nationwide and retraining employees to be less rigid and more customer-focused.
The VA even hired professional writers to redraft the language of 1,200 official letter templates to make them more reader friendly.
“(We) had somehow gotten away from the primary mission of organizing the enterprise through the eyes of the customer,” said Joy White, who leads the office’s Pacific district, which includes California and the West Coast.
“(We did) things that made sense to us, made it easy for us as the VA,” White said. “But, in all of that, we lost the voice of the customer.”
The task at hand: How to change the culture of a massive federal agency that provides everything from medical care to monthly disability checks to funerals.
Some might wonder if — with what’s a famously dense bureaucracy — it can be done. Even new VA Secretary David Shulkin has said it’s a struggle to fire bad apples, including employees who watch porn on the job.
The new Veterans Experience Office’s budget this fiscal year is $55.4 million, up from $49 million last year, “to lead the My VA transformation,” according to a budget document. About 150 jobs now fall under this office’s umbrella.
Two years in, the nation’s veterans organizations are still taking a wait-and-see position.
“We’re not sure how much the VEO has improved the VA to date, but we are encouraged by this initiative and hope to see it succeed,” said Joe Plenzler, American Legion spokesman. “Any effort to improve dialogue between veterans and VA employees and administrators is time and money well spent.”
One vocal critic of the VA said the office has potential but not if it tries to just “paper over” structural issues facing the veterans agency.
“Doing things that are more feel-good measures, but actually don’t address some of the core problems of the VA, could distract from what’s needed to be done,” said Dan Caldwell, policy director at Concerned Veterans for America.
“That’s the danger I see, potentially, with this office. But I want to say there’s a lot of opportunity here. If this office is managed well and insists that they are here to improve the outcomes for veterans — and not just ‘the experience’ — they could be successful.”
The “veterans experience” campaign started under former VA Secretary Bob McDonald, the retired Proctor Gamble chief executive brought in by President Barack Obama in mid-2014 following a national scandal over wait times for VA medical care.
McDonald installed a “chief veterans experience officer” in early 2015.
The office reports directly to the VA secretary — now Shulkin, a doctor and health-care executive who is the first non-veteran to lead the agency.
Whether he will continue the “experience” campaign is an open question.
However, in April he named Lynda Davis, a former Army officer and Pentagon civilian executive with experience in personnel and suicide prevention, to head the office. She replaces a former McDonald’s executive, Tom Allin, who held the job for about two years.
Some of the hiring was for “human-centered design” teams. These teams, which include people from Stanford’s prestigious D School, are supposed to re-engineer VA routines that aren’t working.
They produced a “journey map” showing what VA patients experience.
It identifies “pain points” along the way, such as cancelled appointments. It also calls out “moments that matter,” such as the check-in process and whether it’s hard or easy to park.
Two early goals were to establish one consumer-oriented website and one toll-free telephone number for all VA divisions. The result was vets.gov and 1 (844) My-VA311.
The VA is now looking for inspiration from national brands famous for good service. Starbucks, Marriott, and Walgreens are on the list.
“We get the experience that we design. Historically, we haven’t put an emphasis as an organization on customer service. There was no program of record that said ‘this how we do customer service,'” White told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
One change the Veterans Experience Office has led: hiring for customer-service skills, instead of just looking for people qualified for a position.
“We weren’t hiring for attitude,” said White, who said her office identified questions to insert in the VA’s interview process to draw out whether an applicant had customer service aptitude.
In a changing health-care industry, this is a bandwagon that the VA is belatedly jumping on.
Other hospital organizations have rebooted their customer experience in the past decade in response to a shift in Medicare reimbursement policy that now rewards for patient satisfaction, experts said. The power of social media is also a factor.
The Cleveland Clinic was the first major academic medical center to appoint a chief experience officer in 2007. Across the country, hospitals have built grand entrances, opened restaurants intended to draw non-patients and put flowers by bedsides.
“My sense of it is that we live in the age of the empowered consumer,” said John Romley, an economist at the University of Southern California’s Schaeffer center for health policy.
“VA customers maybe have less choice in the matter, but at the same time, there’s a great deal of sensitivity in the broader population about how we treat these people in the VA system.”
The VA’s new customer service motto — Own the Moment — sounds a bit like a commercial TV jingle.
Training is rolling out across the country, including at the La Jolla VA hospital.
The premise: Each VA employee should “own” their time with a customer, the veteran, and do their best to ensure the person gets the help he or she needs.
That contrasts to the like-it-or-lump-it experience that veterans have sometimes complained about in the past.
“We’re moving away from a rules-based organization to a more of what we call a values, principle-based organization,” said Allan Castellanos, the VA employee teaching the La Jolla seminar.
“I call it more like integrated ethics, like doing the right thing for the right reason,” he said.
The employees were shown a video of VA workers going the extra mile to welcome an uncertain new veteran into a clinic.
In another, VA workers allowed the family of a dying veteran to bring his horse onto hospital grounds.
The VA is trying to emerge from bunker mentality after back-to-back national embarrassments.
First, in 2013, the backlog of disability claims rose to mountainous proportions, bringing down the wrath of Congress and the public.
Then, in 2014, news reports revealed that VA medical workers were keeping secret lists of patients waiting for appointments to make wait-time data appear satisfactory.
All of this occurred as the VA struggled to handle a flood of new veterans coming home from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
A few of the ideas being pursued by the Veterans Experience Office have origins in San Diego.
Officials acknowledge that what they are calling Community Veterans Experience Boards — the 152 community boards they eventually want to create nationally — came from San Diego’s longstanding example.
San Diego veterans leaders meet monthly with VA officials here in both closed-door and public sessions.
Additionally, the tragic suicide of 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran Jeremy Sears appears to have helped spur a campaign to redraft VA correspondence to make it more user friendly.
Sears shot himself at an Oceanside gun range in 2014 after being rejected for VA disability benefits despite the cumulative effects of several combat tours.
Veterans advocates suggested that the VA rejection letter could have offered advice on where to go for counseling and other assistance, instead of just a “no.”
“That was one of the ‘pain points’ that was identified,” White said, referring to the veteran’s “journey mapping” that her office did. “There was a lot of legalese, when in fact we just want it to be simple and clean.”
They started with the Veterans Benefit Administration’s correspondence and are working their way toward the Veterans Health Administration’s appointment cards.
Veterans Experience Office officials first told the Union-Tribune that they could provide examples of the rewritten letter formats, but later said they weren’t ready yet.
The Veterans Experience Office, headquartered in Washington, now has split the country into five districts and dispatched “relationship managers” to each.
The Veterans Experience Office is now trying to finesse those moments that matter to veterans. In 2017, officials expect to roll out a veterans real-time feedback tool in 10 locations. They also plan to release a patient experience “program of record.”
“Our goal is to build trust with veterans, their family members, and survivors,” White said. “How do we do that? By bringing their voices to everything we do.”
Although no one knows for sure what happened to the sub, a conspiracy has emerged painting the captain as a hero for sacrificing his ship and crew to divert the apocalyptic scenario.
According to Sewell, Soviet sub K-129 was hijacked by a band of rogue KGB commandos to provoke a war between America and China by making it appear like China attacked Hawaii á la Pearl Harbor.
“They did that to weaken the United States, to strengthen the Soviet Union. Get your two enemies to fight and you pick up the pieces,” Sewell said.
But when the captain realized the mutiny wasn’t authorized by the Soviet government, he gave the KGB operatives the wrong launch codes to his missiles, Sewell alleges.
“When you had an attempted launch with the wrong code it would detonate the warhead, which would cause the missile to explode, which sank the submarine,” Sewell said. “We owe him a really big debt of gratitude. He’s one of these unsung heroes of history that will never really get credit.”
Josh Anchondo started his adult life in the Navy, specifically Kings Bay, Georgia. Now, he’s self-styled luxury-events emcee known as DJ Supreme1 and his work takes him to the party hotspots of South Florida and Las Vegas. But he loves to give back to groups like Toys For Tots, Susan G. Komen, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
This time, he’s playing for his second family: the U.S. military.
The Palm Beach Gardens-based DJ is headlining the next BaseFEST Powered by USAA on June 2, 2018, at Naval Station Mayport, near Jacksonville, Fla. He’s come a long way from the days of being in the silent service.
“We would be deployed 90 days at a time,” says the former sailor Anchondo. “No sunlight, no newspaper… So my escape being submerged for that amount of time was music.”
He says it’s like living a dream to be able to provide a temporary escape to those going through similarly rough situations. He did five years in the Navy as a sonar technician and the last 20 as a DJ — yes, there’s a little overlap there.
“I know for a fact the military got me to where I am today in my career, to being a great man, a great father, and to living up to the core values that I learned in the military,” he says. “Honor, courage, and commitment. Those core values will always be with me.”
In the Navy, he spent all his spare time training to be a DJ — eating, breathing, and sleeping music. His favorite records were primarily old-school (even for the late 1990s) hip-hop. But his sounds also extend to the unexpected, like jazz and pop standards, doing live mash-ups of pop songs along the way.
“I kind of let the crowd take me wherever they want,” he says. “Take us wherever the night takes us.”
Anchondo, aka DJ Supreme1, is not just a DJ who does music festivals and tours like Dayglow. Like many veterans, he’s an entrepreneur with a heart. He runs his own event productions company and wants to start his own tour — the DoGood FeelGood Fest, focused on doing great work in the community. His company, Supreme Events, even prioritizes charity work.
He acknowledges that DJs have a bad reputation, given what happens in the nightlife around them, but he wants you to know they can have a positive influence as well — and that influence can be amazing. BaseFEST is a huge show for him. He wants his fellow vets and their families to come see and feel his positive vibes at the coming BaseFEST at NS Mayport.
It’s an all-day event that brings the music, food, activities, and more that you might get from other touring festivals — but BaseFEST is an experience for the whole family, with a mission of providing a platform for giving back to family programs on base, boosting morale for troops and their families.
BaseFEST Powered by USAA kicked off in 2017 with two huge festival dates at Camp Lejune and NAS Pensacola, gathering over 20,000 fans for each and creating a fun atmosphere of appreciation and support for service members and their families and friends. The 2018 tour kicked off at Fort Bliss, Texas and runs through Sept. 22 with a stop at Twentynine Palms, Calif.
The F-14A Tomcat was a hard airplane to land aboard an aircraft carrier. Engine response was slow. A wingtip-to-wingtip distance of nearly 70 feet meant there wasn’t much room to deviate away from the centerline of the landing area on the flight deck. Any lateral stick input caused the airplane to yaw in the opposite direction, which forced the pilot to simultaneously feed in rudder to counter. The velocity vector on the heads-up display wasn’t accurate enough to be used as a flight path marker. The tail hook-to-eye distance was more than any other airplane in the wing, which made any vertical corrections very precarious in the endgame.
And for her crime of doing well in flight school, then-Ensign Carey Lohrenz was selected to fly Tomcats, the first female naval aviator to get orders to that community. And by accepting those orders, Lohrenz embarked on a pioneer’s journey, one that had more ups and downs than anyone could have predicted, and one that would have crushed the spirit of the average American woman.
But Carey Lohrenz isn’t an average American woman.
Lohrenz developed a love of sports while growing up in Green Bay, Wisconsin. While she claims she wasn’t a tomboy, she played little league hockey on boy’s teams until high school. (“I quit when they started taking a little too long to get off of me after a check,” she jokes.) After that she took advantage of her six-foot-tall stature and joined the volleyball and basketball teams.
At the same time another love was growing inside of her: aviation. Her father was an airline pilot who’d flown C-130s in the Marine Corps, and her mother was a flight attendant. Both she and her older brother were determined to fly, and they often discussed the best routes to make a career out of flying.
But Lohrenz didn’t discuss her dream with anyone else. “I didn’t want their doubts about what females could do at that time to taint my dream,” she said.
So as soon as she had her Psychology degree from the University of Wisconsin in hand, she followed her brother’s lead and applied for the Navy’s Aviation Officer Candidate School. Months later she reported to Pensacola, Florida for flight training.
Her brother was just over a year ahead of her in the training pipeline, and in spite of the fact he selected the transport community (and ultimately wound up flying E-6s) she wanted to fly tactical jets. And because her performance was at the top of her class, she got what she wanted.
But her selection for jet training came with some inherent tension. The combat exclusion law that prevented females from being assigned to carrier-based squadrons was still very much in place in the early 1990s. The only jets that females were piloting were shore-based EA-6s that flew missile profiles against surface ships for training.
“I got a lot of ‘why are you here?’ questions from instructors and fellow flight students,” Lohrenz said.
But she was undeterred and pressed on with an eye on what she hoped might happen. “If combat billets opened up I wanted to be in a position so that nobody could say I got a slot simply because I was a girl but because I was qualified,” she said.
But in spite of her hope and planning, it wasn’t looking good as she neared the end of her flight training.
“I got a call six weeks before I was supposed to get my wings that the combat exclusion clause hadn’t been lifted and there was no place for me to go,” Lohrenz said. “I could get out of the Navy or go to a non-flying job.”
She hung up the phone and went back to her scheduled flight brief and fought the instinct to cry.
The next day she went to her commanding officer and asked him to find “a third way.”
“I wasn’t taking no for an answer,” she said. And because she’d done well her CO went to bat for her.
But he didn’t have to try too hard because about that same time the combat exclusion law went away. Lohrenz pinned on her Naval Aviator’s Wings of Gold and got orders to VF-124, the F-14 training squadron at NAS (now MCAS) Miramar in southern California, the first female to go right from winging to Tomcats. (The other females were transferred from the EA-6 community.)
But the challenges for Lohrenz didn’t end there.
“I got to Miramar as the trifecta of bad things were happening,” she said.
There was the fallout from the Tailhook scandal that resulted in careers ending for several high-ranking and popular fighter crews. There was a Navy-wide reduction in force happening that was forcing people out of the service against their will. And there was disappointment in the Tomcat community about the fact that the F-14 wasn’t getting upgraded.
One of the instructors posted two articles on the main bulletin board in the ready room: One about how the upgraded F-14 was being cancelled, and one that highlighted that the cost to retrograde ships for females was $200 million.
“There was a lot of animosity that had nothing to do with me but merely my presence,” Lohrenz said. “It wasn’t an easy environment. It took an unwavering belief that I had the ability to do the job.”
She had the first hiccup in her flight training toward the end of the VF-124 syllabus, failing to qualify the first time she tried landing the Tomcat on the carrier. But she wasn’t alone. About 75 percent of her class failed the first time, primarily due to the weather conditions that resulted in rough seas that made an already difficult task of landing a beast of an airplane on the ship for the first time even harder.
Lohrenz focused on her additional training and qualified without any issues the second time through.
She joined her first fleet squadron – VF-213 “Blacklions” – at the most rigorous phase of pre-deployment training, one of two female pilots in the squadron.
The other female pilot was Lt. Kara Hultgreen. Hultgreen was senior to Lohrenz and had come to the Blacklions by way of the EA-6 community.
“Because she had a lot of flight hours people assumed she was experienced,” Lohrenz said.
Two months into Lohrenz’ tour tragedy struck. Hultgreen’s Tomcat had an engine stall in the landing pattern behind the carrier, and she lost control and crashed. While the backseater managed to initiate ejection in time to save his own life, Hultgreen was killed.
The mishap became a lightning rod of emotions and political agendas. Experienced pilots believed Hultgreen had mishandled a basic inflight emergency and that her death was her own fault. Others resented the level of effort that was put into recovering the Tomcat from the bottom of the ocean.
“Nobody addressed the details of the situation and it caused a lot of people to feel less valuable and hurt morale,” Lohrenz said. “And there was a bit of a leadership vacuum that could have nipped the whole thing in the bud.”
Lohrenz was now the sole female carrier-based fighter pilot.
“If I thought the spotlight was bad before it was now nuclear fusion level,” she said.
She was caught in a lose-lose matrix of sorts. “If I was stoic people thought I didn’t care,” she explained. “And if I showed emotion people thought I was a bitch.”
The atmosphere on the carrier was increasingly uncomfortable, even insulting, as the deployment wore on. Female crew were made to take pregnancy tests after every in-port period. The admiral in charge stated in a very public forum that the reason he supported women aboard ships was “because they made the carrier smell better.”
She tried to simply do her job, to fly the airplane and perform as a normal first-tour junior officer should, but that ultimately wasn’t enough to overcome the forces around her.
“To be cryptic about it, the rug was yanked out from under me by a cadre of people who didn’t want women in the military . . . period,” Lohrenz said.
She saw a shift in her commanding officer’s attitude. Her previous landing grade performance that had characterized her as a normal first tour pilot dealing with an airplane that was just plain hard to control now had her listed as “unsafe and unpredictable.”
“I was set up,” she said.
Lohrenz was given an evaluation board that pulled her out of the Tomcat community and assigned her to fly small propeller-driven transports from a shore base. She left the Navy shortly after that.
But in spite of the challenges and the emotional turmoil, Lohrenz has used the experience as a pivot point. “I went from Mach 2 to mom to entrepreneur,” she said.
During the course of being a homemaker, which included being a wife to a FEDEX pilot and raising four kids, she found herself increasingly being sought after for business advice, especially that pertaining to organizational change.
Lohrenz connected the dots and – after a short and semi-chaotic stint with a consulting firm run by military aviation alums – she launched Carey Lohrenz Enterprises. She is now in high demand as a consultant and keynote speaker.
Her efforts are anchored by her book Fearless Leadership that outlines her approaches to both business and life. The book is organized around the three fundamentals of “real fearlessness” — courage, tenacity, and integrity — and offers Lohrenz’ take on how to stay resilient through hard times.
And Lohrenz’ life would suggest that staying resilient is something about which she knows a thing or two.
After losing the American revolutionary capital at Philadelphia to British forces lead by Gen. William Howe in September 1777, Washington tried to knock out part of the Red Coat force camped at nearby Germantown. The attack launched Oct. 4 collapsed under its own complexity and the Continental troops were driven from the field by Howe’s forces.
General Howe beat the pants off of Washington, but he lived the rest of his life fighting criticism of his conduct of the war in America. (Photo Wikimedia Commons)
The Continentals lost an estimated 1,000 men to Britain’s 500 and it was the second defeat of the American army under Washington’s leadership.
But it turns out the rebels captured an important asset of the British general who just dealt them a crushing blow.
“A dog … which by collar appears to belong to [Howe] accidentally fell into the hands” of Washington’s army.
Washington was well known as a dog lover, with a host of precarious pooches kenneled on his estate at Mount Vernon in Virginia. And though his men were inclined to keep Howe’s dog in retribution, Washington would have none of it.
He ordered a courier to take the dog through British lines and deliver him to Howe with a note written by his aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton.
“General Washington’s compliments to General Howe, does himself the pleasure to return [to] him a Dog, which accidentally fell into his hands, and by the inscription on the Collar appears to belong to General Howe,” the note reads.
It turned out Washington’s good karma paid off, as Howe resigned as Britain’s top general of the Colonial Army not long after his victory at Germantown and spent the rest of his life fighting off criticism of his conduct of the war in America.
North Korea’s awful record of human rights violations may place it as the worst regime in the world in how it treats its people, but first-hand tales of the abuses rarely slip the secretive country’s borders.
In the video, women defectors who formerly served in North Korea’s military sit down with a South Korean host in a military-themed restaurant famous for its chicken. The cultural divide between the two Korean women becomes palpable when the North Korean points to mock ammunition decorating the restaurant, and the South Korean says she recognizes them from comics.
“Aww, you’re so adorable,” the North Korean replied.
(Digitalsoju TV | YouTube)The defector explained that all North Korean women must serve in the military for six years, and all men must serve for 11. During that time, she said she was fed three spoonfuls of rice at mealtimes.
Unsurprisingly, malnutrition is widespread across all sectors of North Korea. And despite North Korea being a communist country, the defector still said that even within the military, people badly want money and withhold or steal each other’s state-issued goods, like military uniforms.
The defector said that in North Korea, women are taught that they’re not as smart, important, or as strong as men.
A second defector said that the officers in charge of uniform and ration distribution would often leverage their position to coerce sex from female soldiers. “Higher-ranked officers sleeping around is quite common,” said the second woman.
But the first defector had a much more personal story.
“I was in the early stages of malnutrition… I weighed just around 81 pounds and was about 5’2,” said the defector. Her Body Mass Index, though not a perfect indicator of health, works out to about 15, where a healthy body is considered to have a BMI of about 19-25.
“The major general was this man who was around 45 years old and I was only 18 years old at the time,” she said. “But he tried to force himself on me.”
“So one day he tells everyone else to leave except for me. Then he abruptly tells me to take off all my clothes,” she said. The officer told her he was inspecting her for malnutrition, possibly to send her off to a hospital where undernourished soldiers are treated.
“So since I didn’t have much of a choice, I thought, well, it’s the Major General. Surely there’s a good reason for this. I never could have imagined he’d try something,” she said. But the Major General asks her to remove her underwear and “then out of nowhere, he comes at me,” she said.
The Major General then proceeded to beat her while she loudly screamed, so he covered her mouth. She said he hit her so hard in the left ear, that blood came out of her right ear. She said the beating was so severe her teeth were loose afterwards.
“How do you think this is going to make me look?” the Major General asked her after the beating. He then instructs her to get dressed and tell no one what happened or he would “make [her] life a living hell.”
“There wasn’t really anyone I could tell or report this too,” she said. “Many other women have gone through something similar.
“I don’t know whether he’s dead or alive, but if Korea ever gets reunified, I’m going to find him and even if I can’t make him feel ten times the pain I felt, I want to at least smack him on the right side of his face the same way he did to me,” she said.
Peter Oakley was a British pensioner and widower from Bakewell, Derbyshire, England.
On the Internet, he was known as geriatric1927, or “the Internet Grandad,” a YouTube personality whose long-running show Telling It All consisted of five to ten minute autobiographical videos, including his service as an 18-year old Royal Navy radar mechanic during World War II.
“It’s a fascinating place to go to see all the wonderful videos that you young people have produced so I thought I would have a go at doing one myself,” he told the Guardian in 2006. “What I hope I will be able to do is to just bitch and grumble about life in general from the perspective of an old person … and hopefully you will respond in some way by your comments.”
While that may not seem like a lot by todays standards (Jenna Marbles, one of YouTube’s current top channels, has more than 15 million subscribers), in the early days of social media, Oakley’s stories were beating YouTubers signed by large networks and other brands. People were interested in watching Oakley muse on how the world had changed. His first video, called “First Try” now has almost 3 million views.
Oakley’s discussions on life, war, motorcycles, and more led to a YouTube stardom which allowed the widower to avoid the lonely life of a traditional aging pensioner, traveling all over the world, earning extra income. He was even asked to weigh in on other YouTube phenomena.
Oakley would be diagnosed with untreatable cancer in 2012. By that time, he had made more than 350 videos. His final video, the 434th on the page, was posted on February 12, 2014 and he died on March 23 that year.
His final words to his audience: “In conclusion, I would say my possibly final goodbye. So goodbye.”
Secretary of Defense James Mattis goes by many badass nicknames, including “Mad Dog,” “Warrior Monk,” and “Chaos.”
So it’s only fitting that the aircraft he usually flies on while functioning his official capacity is known by an equally badass name — “Nightwatch.” Its name hints at its original mission — a doomsday plane, equipped to provide the president and high-ranking members of the military with the ability to retain control of America’s offensive forces in the event of an all-out nuclear war or cataclysmic event.
Nightwatch now serves as an airborne command post for the SECDEF, allowing him to remain in touch with the U.S. military he oversees while traveling anywhere in the world, especially useful should the unthinkable occur.
The Air Force possesses four Nightwatch aircraft — converted Boeing 747-200 jumbo jet airliners. Like their civilian counterparts, these airplanes come with a considerable operating range and internal carriage capacity. However, that, and a passing external resemblance, is where all similarities end. Underneath the hood, these are completely different aircraft with unique systems and sensors that allow it to do what no other aircraft in the Air Force can.
Unlike a commercial Boeing 747, these aircraft, officially designated E-4B Advanced Airborne Command Posts, lack the rows of plush seats, fold-out meal trays and entertainment screens. Instead, each E-4B is divided up into compartments for its Battle Staff, a joint services team of controllers and coordinators ready to interface with various military units should they be called into action.
Nightwatch crew quite literally have the ability to call virtually connect to any phone number in the world, thanks to a complex satellite communications suite aboard the aircraft. It’s this suite that allows them to also relay commands and orders to America’s nuclear arsenal, forward-deployed submarines and Navy battle groups operating around the globe, or even to speak directly with the President at secured locations.
Because Nightwatch was designed during the Cold War, where nuclear war was still a distinct possibility, it was built to fly with incredible endurance. Defense analysts estimate that each E-4B could spend up to seven days flying continuously with the help of aerial refueling, though the Air Force has only actually flown its E-4Bs up to 35 hours in testing thus far.
The cockpit of the aircraft looks just as it would in the 1980s, with a few modifications. Instead of LCD screens and touch-pads, the Air Force has kept the original analog gauge-type flight instruments, as they’re less susceptible to failing after experiencing an electromagnetic pulse blast from a nuclear explosion.
That’s right… the E-4B is built to be able to fly through the immediate aftermath of a nuclear detonation without sustaining any damage to its systems. The entire aircraft is sealed off and pressurized with special “scrubbers” in its air conditioning system constantly filtering out harmful particles that may find their way inside the cabin. Should an E-4B actually fly through nuclear radiation, its crew inside will be completely safe and sound. The aircraft also carries a considerable amount of rations and potable water for its crew, as well as sleeping berths and its own troubleshooting staff, ready to assist with technical malfunctions and glitches as needed.
However, flying theses monsters isn’t very cheap at all – each Nightwatch costs an average of around $159,529 per hour to fly. Sourcing parts for the fleet isn’t easy either, especially considering that Boeing ceased production of the 747-200 platform decades ago.
It’s estimated that by 2039, all four E-4Bs will have served out their entire useful lifespans, and will have to be replaced, this time with an even more capable long-range aircraft that will assume the mantle of being America’s doomsday plane. Until that day comes, Nightwatch still serves at the Secretary of Defense’s pleasure, ferrying him around on official trips and visits as a visible sign of American military power.
Another bullet slammed into the rocky slope beside journalist Mike Boettcher. The Taliban sniper fired again, sending another large-caliber bullet whizzing between the Americans who were scattered among the boulders. Boettcher kept his camera rolling but worried his son Carlos might have been hit. The father-and-son team was embedded with soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division, but getting good footage was now the last thing on his mind.
Eventually the paratroopers forced the sniper to displace, and Mike and Carlos Boettcher were reunited, both unscathed.
“I told you don’t leave my side! This is a damn war zone, Carlos,” Mike can be heard screaming off-camera.
When it comes to documentaries about the war in Afghanistan, Restrepo still reigns supreme. But while the award-winning documentary from Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington is the most acclaimed film of its kind, The Hornet’s Nest is a must-watch for anyone seeking a closer look into America’s longest war.
Mike Boettcher describes the documentary as a “real-life narrative feature.” The feeling that his film is more than a documentary comes from the added drama of Mike and Carlos’ strained relationship. Their final attempt to bond amid the war that surrounds them provides an additional storyline that unfolds like a scripted feature film.
Between 2010 and 2011, the duo embedded with three Army brigades and one Marine battalion on their deployments to Afghanistan. While the filmmakers survived their extended stay in Afghanistan, 44 members of the units they embedded with did not. The combat footage they recorded is as intense as any existing documentary, but the audio surpasses them all. The sounds of bullets snapping and whizzing overhead are so clear it’s hard to believe they weren’t created in a studio and added during editing.
While the combat footage is jarring and the Boettchers’ relationship is compelling, it’s the documentary’s ending that transforms The Hornet’s Nest from an average film to a must-watch. The Boettchers were present at the Battle of Barawala Kalay Valley: a two-day mission that devolved into nine days of heavy fighting. Before the Americans prevailed, six US soldiers were killed in action.
The entire battle unfolds in the film’s final act, concluding with an emotionally devastating battlefield memorial service. The final scene provides a rare glimpse into one of the most sacred military traditions. As the final roll call is read and the surviving soldiers fight to keep their bearings, it becomes difficult to watch. The heart-wrenching conclusion serves as an uncomfortable reminder of the steep cost of the war in Afghanistan.
Phantom Phanatics have loved the F-4, even though the legendary fighter has been out of United States service for two decades. But that may not be an accurate way to think of it. Because theF-4 actually has still been serving – and still has about two months of life left with the United States Air Force.
According to an Air Force release, these Phantoms that have been serving just haven’t been manned – for the most part. QF-4 Phantoms (the Q standing for “drone”) have been providing “live” targets for the testing of air-to-air missiles (like the AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAM), usually by simulating an enemy aircraft during those tests. Any number of pilots who have used air-to-air missiles in combat can thank those target drones for helping make sure those missiles worked.
How did the Phantom provide two decades’ worth of target drones? Well, it’s not hard when you realize that almost 5,200 were built by McDonnell-Douglas. Now, that includes those that were exported, but even with combat losses in Vietnam (73 for the Navy, 75 for the Marine Corps, and 528 for the Air Force). The Air Force arranged for 324 airframes to become QF-4s. The Navy also used the QF-4 after retiring its last F-4 from USMC service in 1992 – getting another 12 years of service from the “Double Ugly” until the last airframe retired in 2004.
The QF-4s were not the first planes to serve as target drones. The QF-86 Sabre, QF-80 Shooting Star, QF-100 Super Sabre, and the QF-106 Delta Dart have been among former fighters that provided additional service beyond their “official” retirement date by serving as target drones. Even the legendary B-17 had a version that served as a target drone. In fact, just as the F-4 Phantom was replaced in active service by the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the QF-4 Phantom will be replaced by QF-16 Fighting Falcons.
The surviving QF-4 Phantoms at White Sands Missile Range will get one more round of maintenance, mostly to remove hazardous materials, and then they will serve as ground targets.
Here’s a video of QF-4s taking a few for the team:
On June 1, 1990, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Chemical Weapons Accord, where both nations agreed to begin the destruction of their sizable reserves of chemical weapons.
Under the leadership of President George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the historic treaty called for an 80 percent reduction of their chemical weapon stockpiles under the oversight of inspectors from both countries. The agreement was intended to be the first step towards a global ban and by 1993, 150 other nations joined the superpowers to sign a comprehensive treaty banning chemical weapons.
“The modern use of chemical weapons began with World War I, when both sides to the conflict used poisonous gas to inflict agonizing suffering and to cause significant battlefield casualties. Such weapons basically consisted of well known commercial chemicals put into standard munitions such as grenades and artillery shells. Chlorine, phosgene (a choking agent) and mustard gas (which inflicts painful burns on the skin) were among the chemicals used. The results were indiscriminate and often devastating. Nearly 100,000 deaths resulted. Since World War I, chemical weapons have caused more than one million casualties globally.” — United Nations
In response to the devastating casualties, global entities signed the Geneva Protocol, which prohibited the use of chemical weapons in warfare but did not prohibit countries from creating chemical weapons or building their stockpiles of them. The Chemical Weapons Accord of 1990 was meant to begin to change that fact.
In 1993, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) was opened for signature, banning chemical weapons and requiring their destruction within a specified period of time after entering into force on April 29, 1997. The CWC prohibits developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling, or retaining chemical weapons; the direct or indirect transfer of chemical weapons; chemical weapons use or military preparation for use; assisting, encouraging, or inducing other states to engage in CWC-prohibited activity; and the use of riot control agents “as a method of warfare.”
The CWC is open to all nations and currently has 193 states-parties. Israel has signed but has yet to ratify the convention. Three states have neither signed nor ratified the convention (Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan).
Featured Image: Presidents George H. W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev sign United States/Soviet Union agreements in the East Room of the White House. June 1, 1990. (Photo Credit: George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)