Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90 - We Are The Mighty
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Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90

American hero Michael Collins passed away on April 28, 2021 at the age of 90 after a battle with cancer. Along with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, Collins was one of the Apollo 11 astronauts who made the legendary trip to the moon in 1969. He also served as an Air Force test pilot and reached the rank of Major General in the Air Force Reserves.

Collins was born on October 31, 1930 in Rome, Italy. He was the son of a U.S. Army officer serving as the U.S. military attaché. As a military child, Collins spent his youth in a number of locations including New York, Texas and Puerto Rico. It was in Puerto Rico that Collins first flew a plane. During a flight aboard a Grumman Widgeon, the pilot allowed Collins to take the controls. Though this ignited Collins’ passion for flight, the start of WWII prevented him from pursuing it.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
West Point Cadet Michael Collins (U.S. Army)

When the U.S. entered WWII, Collins’ family moved to Washington, D.C. where he attended St. Albans School and graduated in 1948. He decided to follow his father and older brother into the service and received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. His father and brother were also West Point graduates. Collins graduated in 1952. In his graduating class was fellow future astronaut Ed White who tragically perished in the Apollo 1 disaster.

Collins’ family was famous in the Army. His older brother was already a Colonel, his father had reached the rank of Major General, and his uncle was the Chief of Staff of the Army. To avoid accusations of nepotism, he opted to commission into the newly formed Air Force instead.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
Michael Collins as an Air Force pilot (U.S. Air Force)

Collins received flight training in Mississippi and Texas and learned to fly jets. He was a natural pilot with little fear of failure. After earning his wings in 1953, he was selected for day-fighter training at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada where he learned to fly the F-86 Sabre. Although 11 pilots were killed in accidents during the 22-week course, Collins was unfazed.

After training, Collins was stationed at George Air Force Base, California until 1954. He moved to Chambley-Bussières Air Base in France where he won first place in a 1956 gunnery competition. He met his future wife, Patricia Mary Finnegan, in an officer’s club. A trained social worker, Finnegan joined the Air Force service club to see more of the world. Their wedding was delayed by Collins’ redeployment to West Germany during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. However, they were married the next year in 1957. Their first daughter, future All My Children actress Kate Collins, was born in 1959. The Collins’ had a second daughter, Ann, in 1961 and a son, Michael, in 1963.

In 1957, Collins returned to the states to attend the aircraft maintenance officer course at Chanute Air Force Base, Illinois. In his autobiography, Collins described the course as “dismal” and boring. He preferred to fly planes rather than maintain them. Afterward, he commanded a Mobile Training Detachment and a Field Training Detachment training mechanics on servicing new aircraft and teaching students to fly them.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
ARPS Class III graduates (L-R) Front row: Ed Givens, Tommie Benefield, Charlie Bassett, Greg Neubeck & Mike Collins. Back row: Al Atwell, Neil Garland, Jim Roman, Al Uhalt and Joe Engle. Missing: Ernst Volgenau (U.S. Air Force)

Eager to get back into the cockpit, Collins applied to the Air Force Experimental Flight Test Pilot School. He was accepted to Class 60C in 1960. His classmates included fellow future Apollo astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Irwinn and Tom Stafford. The test pilot school put Collins at the controls of the T-28 Trojan, F-86 Sabre, B-57 Canberra, T-33 Shooting Star and F-104 Starfighter. Notably, Collins quit smoking in 1962 after a suffering bad hangover. The next day, he flew four hours as the co-pilot of a B-52 Stratofortess. Going through the initial stages of nicotine withdrawal, Collins described the flight as the worst four hours of his life.

Following the historic Mercury Atlas 6 flight of John Glenn in 1962, Collins was inspired to become an astronaut. However, NASA rejected his first application. Undeterred, Collins flew for the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School. He later applied and was accepted to the Air Force’s postgraduate course on the basics of spaceflight. He was joined by future astronauts Charles Bassett, Edward Givens, and Joe Engle.

In June 1963, Collins applied to the astronaut program again and was accepted. After basic training, Collins received his first choice in specialization: pressure suits and extravehicular activities. In June 1965, he was received his first crew assignment as the backup pilot on Gemini 7. Following the system of NASA crew rotation, this slated Collins as the primary pilot for Gemini 10.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
Gemini 10 prime crew portrait (NASA)

Along with John Young, Collins lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 0520 on July 18, 1966. Gemini 10 took them to a new altitude record of 475 miles above the Earth. Collins later said that he felt like a Roman god riding the skies in his chariot. On Gemini 10, Collins also became the first person to perform two spacewalks on the same mission. At 0406 on July 21, Young and Collins splashed into the Atlantic and were safely recovered by the USS Guadalcanal.

After Gemini 10, Collins was reassigned to the Apollo program. He was slated as the backup pilot on Apollo 2 along with Frank Borman and Tom Stafford. However, Collins’ future in Apollo was put on hold when he began experiencing leg problems in 1968. He was diagnosed with cervical disc herniation and had to have two vertebrae surgically fused. Originally slotted as the primary pilot for Apollo 9, Collins was replaced by Jim Lovell while he recovered.

Following the success of Apollo 8, Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins were announced as the crew of Apollo 11. While training for the mission, Collins compiled a book of different scenarios and schemes during the lunar module rendezvous. The book ended up being 117 pages.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
Collins goes through the checklist in the command module simulator (NASA)

Collins also created the mission patch for Apollo 11. Backup commander Jim Lovell mentioned the idea of eagles which inspired Collins. He found a painting in a National Geographic book, traced it, and added the lunar surface and the Earth. The idea of the olive branch was pitched by a computer expert at the simulators.

At 0932 on July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 lifted off. Collins docked the Command Module Columbia with the Lunar Module Eagle without issue and the combined spacecraft continued on to the Moon. Apollo 11 orbited the Moon thirty times before Aldrin and Armstrong entered the Eagle and prepared for their descent to the lunar surface. At 1744 UTC, Eagle separated from Columbia, leaving Collins alone in the command module.

While Aldrin and Armstrong performed their mission on the Moon, Collins orbited solo. During each orbit, he was out of radio contact with the Earth for 48 minutes. During that time, he became the most solitary human being alive. Despite that, Collins did not feel scared or alone. He later recalled that he felt, “awareness, anticipation, satisfaction, confidence, almost exultation.”

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
The Apollo 11 mission patch designed by Collins (NASA)

Collins orbited the Moon a further 30 times in the command module. After spending so much time in the spacecraft, he decided to leave his mark in the lower equipment bay. There, he wrote, “Spacecraft 107 – alias Apollo 11 – alias Columbia. The best ship to come down the line. God Bless Her. Michael Collins, CMP.”

At 1754 UTC on July 21, Eagle lifted off from the Moon and rejoined Columbia for the trip back to Earth. Columbia splashed into the Pacific at 1650 UTC on July 24. The crew was safely recovered by USS Hornet. As the first humans to go to the Moon, Collins, Aldrin, and Armstrong became worldwide celebrities. They embarked on a 38-day world tour of 22 foreign countries.

Satisfied with his legendary space flight, Collins retired from NASA after Apollo 11. He was urged by President Nixon to serve as the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. However, the Vietnam War, the invasion of Cambodia, and the Kent State shootings, sent waves of protests and unrest across the country. Collins did not enjoy the job and requested to become the Director of the National Air and Space Museum. Nixon approved and Collins changed jobs in 1971.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
The Apollo 11 crew (L-R) Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin (NASA)

Along with Senator and former Air Force Major General Barry Goldwater, Collins lobbied Congress to fund the building of the National Air and Space Museum. In 1972, Congress approved a budget of $40 million. With a smaller budget than what Collins had hoped for, he also had a short suspense to meet. The museum was scheduled to open on July 4, 1976 for the country’s bicentennial. Not one to back away from a challenge, Collins got to work hiring staff, overseeing the creation of exhibits, and monitoring construction. Not only was the museum completed under budget, but it opened three days ahead of schedule on July 1, 1976.

Still a member of the Air Force Reserve, Collins reached the rank of Major General in 1976 and retired in 1982. He served as the museum’s director until 1978 when he became undersecretary of the Smithsonian Institution. In 1985, he started his own consulting firm. He has also wrote books on spaceflight, including a children’s book on his experiences. Collins enjoyed painting watercolors of the Florida Evergreens or aircraft that he flew. He lived with his wife in Marco Island, Florida and Avon, North Carolina until her death in April 2014.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
Collins’ Command Module Columbia at the National Air and Space Museum (Smithsonian Institute)

Following Collins’ passing, NASA released a statement. “NASA mourns the loss of this accomplished pilot and astronaut, a friend of all who seek to push the envelope of human potential,” the release said. “Whether his work was behind the scenes or on full view, his legacy will always be as one of the leaders who took America’s first steps into the cosmos. And his spirit will go with us as we venture toward farther horizons.” Michael Collins will forever be remembered as an American hero and a champion for humanity on its quest into space.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
Collins meets with President Trump in 2019 for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing (The White House)
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Sixty years ago the world got its first look at an AK-47

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
The dapper young Hungarian revolutionary named József Tibor Fejes holding a captured AK-47 in what is believed to be the first widely distributed photo of the weapon. (Public domain photo.)


Sixty years ago the weapon that became a symbol of Cold War guerrillas and current day insurgents made its debut in a most unlikely way.

The AK-47, arguably the most widely used assault rifle in the world, first appeared in the hands of both Communist troops and Hungarian revolutionaries during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The revolution against the nation’s communist government began on October 23 but was ruthlessly crushed by Hungarian secret police and Soviet troops by Nov. 10.

In particular, one photo from the revolution gained worldwide attention – and it is arguably the first time the Kalashnikov entered the public consciousness.

C.J. Chivers, former Marine Corps infantry captain and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, wrote in his book The Gun that nobody knows which Hungarian revolutionary first picked up a captured AK-47.

But a LIFE Magazine photographer snapped a picture of József Tibor Fejes – “22-years-old, fresh-faced, sharp-eyed, purposeful, and seemingly unafraid” – whose costume as an insurgent always included a bowler hat. “The Man in the Bowler Hat” was also hefting an AK-47, making Fejes the first known revolutionary carrying what became widely known as a revolutionary’s weapon.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
Fejes with other revolutionaries, still wearing his bowler and carrying a captured AK-47. (Public domain photo.)

“The AK-47 was destined to become a symbol of resistance fighters almost everywhere, a weapon with innumerable spokesmen,” Chivers wrote. “Fejes had nonchalantly assumed the requisite pose and begun to flesh out this historical role. He did so before Fidel Castro, before Yasir Arafat, before Idi Amin. He was years ahead of the flag of Zimbabwe, which would expropriate the AK-47 as a symbol. He was ahead of Shamil Basayev and Osama bin Laden, who would convert the product of an atheist state into a sign of unsparing jihad. József Tibor Fejes was the first of the world’s Kalashnikov-toting characters, a member of a pantheon’s inaugural class.”

Although the Soviet Union had first publically acknowledged the rifle’s existence in 1949, firearms experts and military intelligence analysts in the West knew little about the weapon.

In fact, it was not until 1956 that the Army’s Technical Intelligence Office issued a classified report about the AK-47 – a report that mistakenly labeled the rifle a submachine gun and led to Pentagon brass dismissing the effectiveness of the weapon.

Eventually, the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and a host of Soviet satellites and licensees manufactured more than 100 million AK-47s. First encountered by U.S. fighting men during the Vietnam War, the robust construction of the weapon and its reliability soon made believers out of Americans who faced it in the hands of their enemies.

To this day, U.S. soldiers and Marines continue to face adversaries armed with some version of the Kalashnikov.

As for József Tibor Fejes, his fate was sealed. Charged with the execution of a State Security Forces officer by gunning him down in the streets of Budapest, a Hungarian court found Fejes guilty and sentenced him to death.

Despite an appeal, authorities hanged Fejes on April 9, 1959, his punishment for what the court said was an attempt to overthrow the Hungarian people’s republic, the murder of a police officer, and the theft of state property – namely an AK-47 assault rifle.

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This group has launched a fellowship program to put more veterans in Congress

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90


HillVets has announced a new Congressional Fellowship program exclusively for veterans seeking to begin careers in Washington, called HillVets House. Phase I of the program will feature six Congressional Fellows to be hosted and placed in staff positions on Capitol Hill and is set to begin with the first cohort in July 2016.

HillVets is a bipartisan group of veterans, service members, and supporters focused on empowerment through networking, community involvement, and education. HillVets strives to increase veterans involvement in government and advocacy. This is the first time the effort is being made to get more veterans onto Capitol Hill.

The program is the result of a survey taken by the organization in 2014 in an effort to connect vets on Capitol Hill. The surveyors found that not many veterans were active in Congress. The veterans organization says if they were to rank agencies by number of veterans, the Federal legislative body would be dead last. They are making this effort to change that with the help of the Atlantic Council and the Bob Woodruff Foundation.

Capitol Hill experience is largely considered a key component and invaluable experience for a long-term career in government and politics. Currently, less than three percent of staff members working for the United States Congress are military veterans. As hundreds of veterans continue to come to the Washington, D.C. area, they are often frustrated by an inability to quickly build an adequate network and open the initial doors necessary for long-term success.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90

HillVets House is designed to help veterans overcome the many challenges they face beginning second careers by providing a comprehensive introduction to government, politics, and advocacy. HillVets says this program will provide the first premiere access point for veterans wishing to continue their service in unique roles across all government agencies and branches.

Veterans with honorable discharges, Bachelor’s degrees, or who will be in their final semester at the time of the fellowship, and are ready and able to take permanent employment will receive preference. HillVets will focus on recently-separated vets or those who just completed school.

The HillVets Fellowships will start twice a year, with the first class to start in July 2016 and the second in January 2017. Fellows will have a mandatory commitment to their host offices for a period of three months, the second three month period is to focus on finding a permanent, paid position on Capitol Hill, while continuing to work in the Congressional Host office. The placement will be sensitive to the individual’s political party affiliation.

In addition to full-time placement, Fellows will receive housing and/or a living stipend, educational and career development programs, and extensive networking opportunities.

Look for the program application on the HillVets House website by November 17, 2015. All applications are due by March 25, 2016 and should be sent to contact@hillvets.org.

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Marines avoided killing officers because of this symbol

The Marine Corps hosts countless customs and courtesies that dates back hundreds of years that are reflected in the way they conduct business today.


Their uniform is intended to display courage (their prideful history), commitment (years of service), and self-achievements (medals and ribbons).

To the untrained eye, it’s difficult to pick out a particular individual from a sea of Marines — especially amidst the chaos of war.

Related: This is why some Marines wear the ‘French Fourragere,’ and some don’t

Can you spot the Marine officer in the image below? If so, could you identify them from above with one-eye closed?

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
These Marines prepare to get into the sh*t after exiting an Osprey helicopter.

Back in the 1800s, it was a common practice for Marines and sailors to patrol up to an enemy vessel and forcefully board the ship while under heavy fire.

The Marine and Navy sharpshooters would position themselves high up in the ship’s riggings, providing overwatch as their brother-in-arms moved in.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
A replica of a U.S. Marine officer’s uniform during the mid-1850s. (Source: Pinterest)

During the confusion of war, the sharpshooters would occasionally fire their weapons and kill friendly forces, including officers, as they fought the enemy in clusters.

Also Read: This is why sailors have 13 buttons on their trousers

According to popular legend, in 1859, “the quatrefoil” design was added and stitched onto the top of Marine officer’s cover to help identify them from the rest of the personnel.

The quatrefoil — adapted from the French — is a cross-shaped braid with many different symbolic interpretations. Some think of it as representing the four cardinal directions, while in architecture it is an icon of design (and it’s fancy).

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
The Marine quatrefoil

Whether or not this origin story is true remains ambiguous, but the quatrefoil nonetheless remains part of the officer uniform today.

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This is what happens to the personal effects of fallen warriors

The months following the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, would forever shape the way the military does business.


In an effort to provide some sense of comfort to the families of those who perished that September day, the US Army Human Resources Command established the Joint Personal Effects Depot at present day Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, in Arlington, Virginia.

Its close proximity to the Pentagon made Arlington the perfect area to account for and process personal items of fallen warriors, return them to the families, and help provide closure.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
Staff Sgt. Luis Quinones speaks to the media about inventory process April 14, 2011, at the new Joint Personal Effects Depot at Dover Air Force Base, Del. USAF photo by Roland Balik.

But as America’s resolve strengthened, the young men and women of this country took up arms to defend the freedoms of its citizens against an unconventional new enemy in a war against terror thousands of miles away.

With the possibility of a rising number of casualties stemming from this new war, America’s military was faced with a new challenge — how to care for its fallen?

The History

As the war on terror intensified, the need for an expanded personal effects facility soon became evident and the JPED was relocated from Arlington to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

Working out of old and sometimes dilapidated World War II era warehouses, workers at the JPED ran an assembly line operation without heat in the winter or air conditioning in the summer until 2005, when the decision was made to consolidate the Joint Personal Effects Depot, along with the services’ mortuary, to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
Nelson Delgado, operations management specialist (right) and 1st Lt. Marcus Hull, summary court martial officer, both with the Joint Personal Effects Depot, review personal effects inventory paperwork in processing line number 3 June 29, 2012, at Dover Air Force Base. USAF photo by Roland Balik.

“I was assigned to the depot in Aberdeen as a mortuary affairs specialist with the Army Reserve and I can say it was less than ideal conditions to work in,” said Nelson Delgado, JPED operations management specialist and retired Army Reserve master sergeant.

“Back then, everything was moved from station to station,” he said. “It was cramped and there was too much room for mistakes. One day, General Schoomaker (retired Gen. Peter Schoomaker, 35th Chief of Staff of the US Army) showed up and asked us what we needed.

“That’s how we got to Dover.”

In March 2011, construction of the current 58,000 square-foot state-of-the art facility was finally completed by the Philadelphia District Corps of Engineers at a cost of $17.5 million. A few months later in May, the first personal effects processed there.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
The JPED building on Dover Air Force Base, Del. Army photo by Tim Boyle.

Staffed by a mix of active and Reserve component Soldiers, Airmen, and Marines, as well as a handful of Department of the Army Civilians and contractors, the JPED, along with the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations facility provides dignity, honor, and respect for the families left behind.

The Process

When Soldiers make the ultimate sacrifice in theater, their personal effects are inventoried, packed, and rushed to the JPED, usually within five days.

“If it comes through the front door, it has to be accounted for by us and sent to the family,” said Delgado. “We don’t throw anything away.”

“Sometimes, what might seem insignificant to you and me may, in fact, be very important to the families. We’ve actually had instances where families have called back asking for something like a gum wrapper that was given to the service member by a child,” he said.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
Nelson Delgado, Joint Personal Effects Depot operations management specialist, demonstrates operating one of two x-ray machines at the JPED located at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Oct. 24, 2017. Army photo by Master Sgt. Brian Hamilton.

As items arrive at the depot, they are carefully x-rayed and screened for unexploded ordnance in a blast-proof corridor before they are ever brought into the main facility.

From there, items are brought into an individual cage where they are inventoried and packed for shipment to the service member’s primary next of kin.

“All the preparations are done, from start to finish, in one single room,” Delgado said.

Also Read: How Marines honor their fallen heroes — on the battlefield and at home

“We ensure there are two Soldiers present in the cage at all times in addition to a summary court martial officer. This gives us a system of checks and balances and also reduces the risk of cross contamination of items,” he added.

Each cage is equipped with photographic equipment, washers and dryers, and cleaning materials. As items are inventoried, they are carefully inspected and then individually photographed. Soldiers go through great pains to ensure each item is soil-free and presentable for the family members.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
At the two-year anniversary of the creation of the Joint Personal Effects Depot at Dover Air Force Base, Del., the command continues to process fallen service members’ personal belongings with unparalleled dignity and respect. Pictured here, personnel from the JPED process the personal effects of someone who was killed in support of overseas contingency operations. Army photo by Tim Boyle.

“We want to make sure everything that the individual service member had with them in theater is returned to the family,” Delgado said. “What we don’t want to do is make a difficult situation worse.”

“If an item is soiled or bloodstained, we will stay here as long as it takes to get it clean so it can be returned. Besides memories, this is all the families have of their loved ones,” he said.

The Presentation

After items are cleaned and inventoried, they are carefully packaged into individual plastic foot-lockers.

Each item is pressed and folded. They are placed neatly in the containers, and wrapped tightly with several layers of packaging paper and bubble wrap. Smaller items, such as rings, watches or identification tags, are placed into small decorative pouches, inscribed with the service member’s individual branch of service.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
The entire process, from start to finish is done in one location to help eliminate items from becoming misplaced or cross contaminated with other service member’s personal items. Army photo by Master Sgt. Brian Hamilton.

Items such as Bibles, flags, or family photos are placed at the top of the first box, so that they are the first things the families see upon opening it.

“We emphasize box one, because that is usually the box the families will open first. But that doesn’t mean we neglect box two, or box six, or even box 10,” Delgado said. “We treat each box the same way because we really want the families to know we care about their loved one.”

“That’s why we take our time and make sure items are neat and presentable, not just stuff thrown in a box.”

After the items are finally packaged and sent to the transit room, Soldiers scour the cage one last time and sweep the floor before exiting. Great attention to detail is given to make sure everything is accounted for and nothing is overlooked.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
Items that move through the JPED are carefully cleaned, packaged, and sent to the families who have lost a loved one. Army photo by Master Sgt. Brian Hamilton.

The Connection

Soldiers at the JPED are meticulously screened for duty fitness by HRC’s Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operations Division before they are ever assigned there.

Assignments at the JPED can be emotionally taxing on the Soldiers working there.

Soldiers regularly attend resiliency training to help them cope with the tasks they are asked to perform. The JPED chaplain is as much there for them as he or she is for the grieving families attending dignified transfers.

“This is a job that not a lot of people want, or can do, but at the same time, this can be the most rewarding job you will ever do,” Delgado said.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
Nelson Delgado, Joint Personal Effects Depot operations management specialist, stands in cage one at the JPED located at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Oct. 24, 2017. Army photo by Master Sgt. Brian Hamilton.

“Taking care of the personal effects is the last part of the process. This is what helps bring some sense of closure to the families. The families don’t see what goes on here, but we get to know the service members and their loved ones by working here. We develop a closeness and connection with them,” he added.

For Delgado and others working at the JPED, that connection sometimes hits close to home.

“Sometimes you see kids as young as 19 years of age coming through here,” he said. “I have a 19-year-old kid at home. Sometimes it hits a little too close to home. I don’t know anyone working here that hasn’t cried at one time or another.

“I spent 23 of my 25-year Army Reserve career as mortuary affairs and I was blessed to get assigned to the JPED. This is our way of giving back to the families of the fallen. It’s an honor to do this.”

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The SR-71 Blackbird was almost the most versatile fighter plane ever

Have you ever looked at the old SR-71 Blackbird and wondered how awesome it would be as a fighter jet? So did the United States Air Force (for the most part). The SR-71 is based on the super-secret CIA’s A-12 reconnaissance plane. When the Air Force got a glimpse of the A-12 and its capabilities, their minds got to work. 

The first idea to come from the A-12 design was the YF-12, a single-seat interceptor aircraft that closely resembled the A-12 but came packing with guns and missiles instead of photographic and signals intelligence monitoring equipment. 

Lockheed’s YF-12 first took off in August 1963 and unlike its predecessor, the A-12, or its successor, the SR-71, there was nothing really secret about it. The President of the United States first revealed its existence but that might have been a strategic move. It covered up the CIA’s super-secret aircraft and provided enemies a window into the advancements Air Force fighters were making.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
“Hey, you guys know that whole strapping some guys to some giant rockets and shooting them into space? What if we did that, but a fighter jet?” (U.S. Air Force photo by Don Popp)

The YF-12 was every bit as great as expected, and every bit as great as both the A-12 and the SR-71. It could fly at supersonic speeds of more than 2,000 miles per hour and at altitudes of more than 80,000 feet. It is still the largest and fastest interceptor aircraft ever built. 

It also had an advanced fire control radar system to operate the AIM-47 missiles that could be mounted under its wings. Unlike other missile systems at the time, the AIM-47 was much more accurate and reliable in air-to-air combat. This would have made the YF-12 the deadliest aircraft in the world at the time. 

The Air Force was understandably excited at the prospect of integrating such a fighter aircraft into its air defense network. After successfully testing the AIM-47 missile integration, the USAF placed an order for more than 90 of these flying behemoths, ready to implement them into the defense of the United States. It was a little war brewing in Vietnam that would be the program’s demise. 

As the intensity of the fighting in Southeast Asia increased, so did the American commitment to South Vietnam. Spending on the war increased along with it. Concerned about the cost of the YF-12 program, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara declined to support the interceptor program and it was ultimately cancelled in 1968. 

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
Buzzkill…
(Defense Intelligence Agency)

All was not lost for the unique airframe, however. Though there was no need for a supersonic, high-altitude interceptor for airspace defense in the U.S., there was a need for an ultra-fast, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft to fly over places other aircraft wouldn’t dare. The SR-71 Blackbird was born from this need. 

The Blackbird looks exactly like its predecessors but outperforms both of them. It has a greater operational range than the YF-12 and is still the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft ever built, a record set in 1976. 

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
U.S. Air Force

SR-71s were a brief view of what the YF-12 could have been: a fighter aircraft so accurate, it could hit a target on the ground while flying at three times the speed of sound. If another fighter or a surface-to-air missile came up at it, all the pilots had to do was hit the throttle and outrun it. The A-12s, YF-12s and SR-71s were titanium masterpieces of Cold War technology.

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Mattis warns that Syria still has chemical weapons

Syria still possesses chemical weapons, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in Israel on April 21, warning against the banned munitions being used again.


At a news conference in Tel Aviv, Mattis also said that in recent days the Syrian Air Force has dispersed its combat aircraft. The implication is that Syria may be concerned about additional U.S. strikes following the cruise missile attack earlier in April in retaliation for alleged Syrian use of sarin gas.

Mattis spoke alongside Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. “There can be no doubt in the international community’s mind that Syria has retained chemical weapons in violation of its agreement and its statement that it had removed them all,” said Mattis.

He said he didn’t want to elaborate on the amounts Syria has in order to avoid revealing sources of intelligence.

“I can say authoritatively they have retained some, it’s a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions and it’s going to have to be taken up diplomatically and they would be ill advised to try to use any again, we made that very clear with our strike,” he said.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
Shayrat Airfield in Syria (Photo from DVIDSHub.net)

Israeli defense officials said this week that Syria still has up to three tons of chemical weapons in its possession. It was the first specific intelligence assessment of President Bashar Assad’s weapons capabilities since a deadly chemical attack earlier this month.

Lieberman also refused to go into detail but said “We have 100 percent information that Assad regime used chemical weapons against rebels.”

Assad has strongly denied he was behind the attack in the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria’s northern Idlib province, and has accused the opposition of trying to frame his government. Top Assad ally, Russia, has asserted a Syrian government airstrike hit a rebel chemical weapons factory, causing the disaster.

In response to the April 4 attack, the United States fired 59 missiles at a Syrian air base it said was the launching pad for the attack.

Before meeting with Mattis in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters that Israel is encouraged by the change of administrations in Washington.

“We sense a great change in the direction of American policy,” Netanyahu said. He referred to the U.S. cruise missile strike in Syria as an important example of the new administration’s “forthright deeds” against the use of chemical weapons.

Related: US Ambassador to UN calls Syrian president a ‘War Criminal’

The Syrian government has been locked in a six-year civil war against an array of opposition forces. The fighting has killed an estimated 400,000 people and displaced half of Syria’s population.

Israel has largely stayed out of the fighting, though it has carried out a number of airstrikes on suspected Iranian weapons shipments it believed were bound for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Iran and Hezbollah, both bitter enemies of Israel, along with Russia have sent forces to support Assad.

Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons arsenal to avert U.S. strikes following a chemical weapons attack in opposition-held suburbs of Damascus in August 2013 that killed hundreds of people and sparked worldwide outrage.

Ahead of that disarmament, Assad’s government disclosed it had some 1,300 tons of chemical weapons, including sarin, VX nerve agent and mustard gas.

The entire stockpile was said to have been dismantled and shipped out under international supervision in 2014 and destroyed. But doubts began to emerge soon afterward that not all such armaments or production facilities were declared and destroyed. There also is evidence that the Islamic State group and other insurgents have acquired chemical weapons.

Associated Press writer Ian Deitch in Jerusalem contributed to this story.

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Afghan Army-piloted A-29s will soon attack the Taliban

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
Photo by Embraer


Afghan pilots will soon be attacking Taliban forces with machine guns and 20mm cannons firing from airplanes in Afghanistan — flying U.S.-provided A-29 Super Tucano aircraft, Air Force officials said.

Loaded with weapons to attack Taliban forces and engineered for “close air support,” the A-29s are turboprop planes armed with one 20mm cannon below the fuselage able to shoot 650 rounds per minute, one 12.7mm machine gun (FN Herstal) under each wing and up to four 7.62mm Dillion Aero M134 Miniguns able to shoot up to 3,000 rounds per minute.

Super Tucanos are also equipped with 70mm rockets, air-to-air missiles such as the AIM-9L Sidewinder, air-to-ground weapons such as the AGM-65 Maverick and precision-guided bombs. It can also use a laser rangefinder and laser-guided weapons.

Four A-29s have been delivered so far as part of an effort to equip the Afghan Army with up to 20 aircraft, Heidi Grant, Under Secretary of the Air Force, International Affairs, told Scout Warrior in an interview.

“Afghan pilots have been training here and learning English in the U.S. A class of eight pilots recently graduated a class at Moody AFB. They are back in Afghanistan. My hope is that in the next month or so you are going to see them doing some close air support for their Army,” Grant added.

Close air support will enable the Afghan Army to better target and destroy groups of Taliban fighters in close-proximity to their forces, giving them a decisive lethal advantage from the air.

The Super Tucano is a highly maneuverable light attack aircraft able to operate in high temperatures and rugged terrain. It is 11.38 meters long and has a wingspan of 11.14 meters; its maximum take-off weight is 5,400 kilograms. The aircraft has a combat radius of 300 nautical miles, can reach speeds up to 367 mph and hits ranges up to 720 nautical miles.

The U.S. is buying them for the Afghans through a special Afghan Security Forces fund that Congress has appropriated, she explained. They are being built by Sierra Nevada out of Jacksonville, Fla. – an effort which brings jobs to the U.S., she added.

“They are right now doing top off tactics training. They trained here in the U.S. but they needed to get into country to do the top-off tactics training,” Grant said.

The presence of armed “close air support” aircraft for the Afghan Army could have a substantial combat impact upon ongoing war with the Taliban – who have no aircraft.

Also, the arrival of the air support comes at a time when some observers, military leaders and lawmakers are concerned about combat progress in Afghanistan, openly questioning President Obama’s plan to reduce U.S. forces from 9,800 to 5,500 by 2017.  Outgoing CentCom Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin III and Sen. John McCain have been among those expressing concern.

At the same time, the presence of combat-changing air-attack ability for Afghan forces could engender a circumstance wherein the U.S. could reduce its presence without compromising ongoing progress in the war against the Taliban.

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5 military perks that will help you win at service life


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We did not join the military for the fabulous pay — if money were the only motivator, we’d all go somewhere else.

Related: Dale Dye wants to make this epic World War II movie with veterans

Most vets will have you believe that he or she joined because it’s their patriotic duty. While that may be part of the reason, Blake Stilwell’s alcohol-fueled honest answer sums it up for a lot of the troops:

“At 18, and with my only experience being a sea food cook, I don’t know where I was going to go,” Stilwell said. “It was either the Air Force or ‘Deadliest Catch,'” he claimed, referring to the popular Discovery show about king crab fishing off the coast of Alaska.

Luckily, there are tons of benefits that service members receive. From cash bonuses to the G.I. Bill, the military takes care of its own. And then there are the little-known advantages of service life — the perks.

In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Blake, Chase, Tim, and O.V. discuss their favorite perks of service life.

Hosted By:

Blake Stilwell: Air Force veteran and managing editor

Tim Kirkpatrick: Navy veteran and Editorial Coordinator

Orvelin Valle (AKA O.V.): Navy veteran and Podcast Producer

Chase Millsap: Army and Marine Corps infantry veteran turned Director of Impact Strategy at We Are The Mighty

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A US paratrooper escaped a Nazi prison to join the Red Army and liberate fellow POWs

The World War II story of “Jumpin'” Joseph Beyrle gives a whole new meaning to the saying: “Oh yeah? You and what army?”


Actually, the Red Army, to be exact.

Beyrle was a paratrooper with the legendary 101st Airborne, 506th Infantry Regiment. A demolitions expert, he performed missions in Nazi-occupied France with the resistance there before flying into Normandy on D-Day.

Beyrle had mixed luck during the war, but he would end it as a legend.

When his C-47 came under intense enemy fire during the D-Day invasion, Beyrle had to jump at the ultra-low altitude of 120 meters. He made the drop successfully but lost contact with his unit. Not one to be deterred by being alone in Fortress Europe, he still performed sabotage missions to support the D-Day landings.

He even managed to destroy a power station but was captured by the Wehrmacht shortly after.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
Beyrle’s POW ID photo.

Over the next seven months, Sgt. Beyrle was moved around quite a bit. He managed to escape twice, but, unlucky for him, he was recaptured both times. One time, he and other fugitives tried to hop onto a train bound for Poland but ended up on the way to Berlin instead.

He was beaten and nearly shot as a spy when he was handed over to the Gestapo, but the Wehrmacht took him back after military officials stepped in, saying the Gestapo had no authority over POWs.

Once back in the hands of the German military, they sent him to Stalag III-C, a prisoner of war camp in Brandenberg. The camp was notorious for the number of Russian prisoners who were starved or otherwise killed there.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
Beyrle’s POW ID.

In January 1945, he escaped Stalag III-C and moved east, where he linked up with a Soviet tank brigade. He convinced them he was an American by waving a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes and persuaded the battalion’s commander (the Red Army’s only female tank officer of that rank) to let him join her unit. He spent a month in the Red Army tank corps, assisting in the liberation of his old POW camp, Stalag III-C.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
Aleksandra Samusenko, Beyrle’s Red Army commander.

Beyrle was wounded by a German Stuka dive bomber attack and evacuated to a Red Army hospital in Poland. When Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov learned there was a non-Soviet in the hospital, he visited Joseph Beyrle.

Amazed by his story, Zhukov gave Beyrle the papers he needed to rejoin U.S. forces in Europe.

The now-recuperating former POW headed to Moscow on a Soviet military convoy in February 1945. When he arrived at the U.S. embassy, he discovered he was listed as killed in action four days after the D-Day landings. His hometown of Muskegon, Michigan, held a funeral mass for him.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
Scan of original War Dept. telegram received by Joe Beyrle’s parents in Sept. 1944 informing them (erroneously) that he was KIA

Beyrle was hailed as a hero in both the U.S. and Russia. In 1994, Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin presented him with medals in honor of his service to the countries. His son even served as Ambassador to Russia between 2008 and 2012.

The famed war hero died at 81 while visiting the area in Georgia where he trained to be a paratrooper in 1942.

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Orlando Police credit Kevlar helmet with saving officer’s life

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
(Photo: Orlando Police Department)


The Orlando Police Department is crediting a Kevlar helmet with saving the life of an officer who responded to the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

The department on Sunday posted a picture of the officer’s helmet showing damage from being struck by a bullet during the incident. The green paint is chipped, parts of the fabric is torn and there appears to be a small hole.

“Pulse shooting: In hail of gunfire in which suspect was killed, OPD officer was hit. Kevlar helmet saved his life,” the department tweeted on its Twitter account. The make and model of the helmet weren’t immediately known.

The officer, who wasn’t identified but was presumably a member of the department’s SWAT team, suffered an eye injury, Danny Banks, special agent in charge of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Orlando bureau, told CNN.

The incident was the deadliest mass shooting in American history, with at least 50 individuals confirmed dead and another 53 injured. The shooting began around 2 a.m. Sunday at a packed Orlando nightclub called Pulse, which caters to the LBGT community.

The gunman, who was shot and killed in a shootout with police, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, during a 911 call, CNN reported. He was identified as Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old U.S. citizen and Muslim who lived in Port St. Lucie, Florida, and whose parents were of Afghan origin, Fox News reported.

“This was an act of terror and an act of hate,” President Barack Obama said during a press conference at the White House.

Obama credited first responders with preventing an even deadlier attack by quickly responding to the scene and rescuing hostages. Mateen reportedly held dozens of people hostage until about 5 a.m., at which point the Orlando Police Department’s SWAT team raided the building using an armored vehicle and stun grenades, and killed him, The New York Times reported.

“Their courage and professionalism saved lives and kept the carnage from being worse,” Obama said. “It’s the kind of sacrifice our law enforcement professionals make every day.”

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Star Wars tech we could really use in Iraq and Afghanistan

The new Star Wars movies are pretty exciting. It freaked out the entire media landscape in a way unseen since the days before cable TV ensured we all didn’t watch the same episode of Friends on Thursday night. As each trailer brings the new, Jar-Jar free reality of an impending new saga upon us, the inner child of someone who once read the Star Wars Encyclopedia cover to cover bubbles to the surface, realizing some of the tech seen in the new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens would have been really useful on some real-world deployments.


Rey’s Visor

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90

Rey (played by Daisy Ridley) is a human scavenger on the desert planet of Jakku (that’s not the desert world of Luke Skywalker’s Tattooine). Jakku is home to thieves and other criminals and someone like Rey must survive by salvaging old parts and reselling them. Having protection from the elements in the harsh, dry, dusty environment (sound familiar?) of Jakku is a real plus.

Rey’s eyepro is stripped from an old Stormtrooper helmet, giving her the same tactical advantage Imperial Stormtroopers had on the battlefield. Though it limits her field of vision, it does help her see in the dark, and through smoke, sand, and glare.

BB-8 “Roller Ball” Droid

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90

As an Astromech droid in the line of R2-d2, the BB-8 droid can deftly work with electronic devices, which would do efficient work with deactivating explosive devices. The new droid comes with a number of improvements on the R2 unit’s original design, including a head which appears to float on a 360-degree base, giving the robot vastly improved maneuverability for the rocky slopes of Afghan terrain.

Luke Skywalker’s Cybernetic Hand

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90

Although in some sci-fi epics, cybernetic hands are more of a problem, in the Star Wars universe, cybernetic limb replacements allow for full range of motion, full use, and full sensitivity. These prosthetic replacements connect mechanical parts directly to the user’s brain via a neural net interface, covered by synthskin, to where no one would know the difference to look at it. This would be an excellent way to care for troops injured in Afghanistan, considering more than 1,000 lost limbs there. Good thing science already figured this one out. Thanks, DARPA.

Deflector Shields

What military unit wouldn’t want an invisible force field to protect them from harm while they destroyed their enemies. It may not be necessary in Afghanistan, but it sure would be nice to have. It’s much more necessary in the Star Wars Universe, where not having deflector shields looks like this:

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90

Honorable Mention: Rey’s Staff

It may not actually help in combat in Afghanistan, but if you want to see how Rey’s skills with that staff weapon might look onscreen, check out this video of Daisy Ridley’s stunt double, Chloe Bruce, working with one like it:

Close enough for government work, either with the U.S. or the New Republic.

And finally, we want lightsabers. Please, please make it happen, DoD.

NOW: Meet Adam Driver, Marine Vet and Star Wars’ Next Villain

OR: The U.S. Military wants to build Star Wars hover bikes

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Here’s how DARPA’s Gremlins are going to change strike warfare forever

DARPA wants “gremlins” to fly out of the bellies of C-130s or other large planes, assist jets in bombing missions, and then return to their motherships for the flight home in order to be ready for another mission within 24 hours.


Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
Illustration: Defense Advanced Research Project Agency

The gremlins are semi-autonomous drones that would hunt targets and find air defenses ahead of an attack by a piloted fighter or bomber. In some cases, the gremlins could even find and identify targets that their motherships would engage with low-cost cruise missiles.

Some of the drones could be configured as electronic warfare platforms, hiding themselves and the other aircraft from enemy air defenses or jamming the enemy radar altogether.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
GIF: YouTube/DARPAtv

A typical mission would play out like this: A stealth jet would approach unfriendly airspace ahead of the gremlins’ mothership. The drones would launch and proceed ahead of the jet into hostile territory, seeking out enemy air defenses and mission objectives on the ground.

The jet pilots would then use the intelligence from the gremlins to decide how to engage the target, either with weapons on the jet or with cruise missiles from the mission truck that is still flying just outside of the enemy air defenses. Once the bombs or missiles take out the radar, other aircraft can now force their way into the country while the drones fly back into the mothership.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90
GIF: YouTube/DARPAtv

Four companies were recently awarded phase 1 contracts for the project and are tasked with designing launch and retrieval systems for the gremlins. Phase 2 involves the creation of a preliminary design of the drone itself and phase 3 will requires that manufacturers create a functioning prototype.

The drones would be “limited-life” aircraft and fly approximately 20 missions each before being retired. Their downtime between missions would need to be 24 hours or less.

If everything comes together, the gremlins will be part of DARPA’s “System of Systems” project. The idea is a new weapons system that would work with different aircraft as time went on. So, the gremlins could fly from C-130s in support of F-22s and F-35s now, then support new aircraft as they’re added to the U.S. military arsenal.

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