This year, NORAD — the North American Aerospace Defense Command — celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of tracking Santa’s progress as he delivers presents to the good boys and girls of the world. Every year on Christmas Eve, NORAD purports to track Santa Claus as he leaves the North Pole and delivers presents to children around the world. This year, starting at 12:01 am on December 24, interested folks can track Santa via NORAD’s Santa Tracker Website, mobile phone apps, and through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google+ via the handle @NORADSanta.
The program started somewhat by chance on December 24, 1955 when a Sears department store placed an ad in a Colorado Springs newspaper telling children they could telephone Santa Claus. However, the telephone number printed was erroneously that of the Crew Commander on duty at the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center (CONAD), NORAD’s predecessor.
Santa visited Peterson AFB in 2014 for his NORAD mission brief in preparation for Christmas Eve. (Photo by: MC2 (AW) Bansil, Jhomil)
Air Force Colonel Harry Shoup was on duty that night and told his staff to give all children who called in a “current location” for Santa Claus — and a Christmas Eve tradition was born, now known as the “NORAD Tracks Santa” program.
OnStar subscribers can press the button in their vehicles and ask for Santa’s location, Windows Phone users can ask Cortana, and starting at 6 a.m. Eastern Time, the kids can just dial toll-free number 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NORAD’s Santa operation has come a long way. Today it seems as complex as the hunt for Osama bin Laden but when it first started it was just a number children could call.
Terri remembers her dad had two phones on his desk, including a red one. “Only a four-star general at the Pentagon and my dad had the number,” she says.“The red phone rang one day in December 1955, and Shoup answered it, Pam says. “And then there was a small voice that just asked, ‘Is this Santa Claus?’ “
His children remember Shoup as straight-laced and disciplined, and he was annoyed and upset by the call and thought it was a joke — but then, Terri says, the little voice started crying.
“And Dad realized that it wasn’t a joke,” her sister says. “So he talked to him, ho-ho-ho’d and asked if he had been a good boy and, ‘May I talk to your mother?’
Ever see those signs on the highway that read “speed limit enforced by aircraft”?
Well, if you’re in South Africa, you might just start seeing similar signage declaring anti-poaching laws are being enforced by the country’s Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets.
Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that illegal hunting could be dealt with using a JDAM strike, or even a gun run with the Gripen’s 27 mm Mauser cannon. However, it definitely does herald a new mission for the South African Air Force, and brings to the forefront the struggles the country has had over the years with curbing rampant poaching across its outback.
The SAAF aims to use the Litening III pod to track poachers at night near the South Africa-Zimbabwe border. Built by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems of Israel, the Litening is widely used as to designate targets for guided munitions, enhancing their effectiveness in combat situations.
Instead of designating poachers for an airstrike, the SAAF will use Litening’s reconnaissance capabilities, allowing them to see activity on the ground clearly, even while flying at night. The pod can be slung underneath the aircraft on its wings, or beneath its fuselage on a “belly pylon.”
Litening has already more than proven its worth in night operations in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past 15 years.
Using a datalink developed in South Africa known as “Link ZA,” information on the location of poachers as well images of them in action can be shared with other aircraft in the area, or even controllers on the ground. This would presumably be used to vector rangers on the ground to the general location of the poachers.
Poaching has been a widespread and seemingly unstoppable issue in South Africa for decades, causing an alarming decrease in the country’s rhino population. Combat veterans, hired by private security companies and smaller organizations such as Vetpaw have been deployed to the area to combat poaching in recent years.
The Gripen is a multirole fighter with air-to-ground and air-to-air capabilities, serving with a number of countries across the world. Designed and manufactured in Sweden, it was built as a versatile competitor to the likes of the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale and other similar fighters of the current era.
The single-engine fighter currently flies in Thailand, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Sweden, in addition to South Africa, and will soon enter service with the Brazilian Air Force. Saab is still aggressively courting a next-generation version of the Gripen, called the Gripen NG – slightly more on par with Boeing’s Advanced Super Hornet.
South Africa began taking delivery of its Gripens in 2008, purchasing a total of 26 planes — a mix of single and two-seaters. In 2013, less than half of these aircraft were operational at any given time. Slashes made to the country’s defense budget forced the SAAF to limit flight operations while placing a group of its brand new fighters in storage as they could not be flown.
It was reported last year that the SAAF began rotating its Gripens in and out of storage, activating some of the mothballed fighters to return to service, while storing others to be reactivated later on. Since South Africa does not face any military threats, none of these Gripens have ever been involved in combat situations.
It’s possible that using fighters in such a role might prove to be too expensive for the South African government, though, necessitating the SAAF to explore utilizing a different aircraft for its anti-poaching operations. However, this in itself could be problematic as the Litening pod can only be equipped to fighter and attack jets.
Using Gripens, orbiting high above poaching target zones, will likely turn out to be a decent interim solution while the South African government comes up with a cheaper and more cost-effective solution. Until then, poachers beware, you’re being watched by state-of-the-art fighter jets in night skies above.
If you’ve ever served in the Army, you know chain of command is everything. Orders flow down from the Commander, and the success of the mission is a direct reflection of the rigor and discipline with which his or her subordinates execute.
If you’ve ever worked in a gourmet kitchen, you know that chain of command is everything. Orders flow down from the Chef, and the success of the meal service is a direct reflection of the rigor and discipline with which his or her subordinates execute.
Cute, right? Yeah, it’s true though. The parallels between a deployed military force and a busy professional kitchen are abundant and revealing. Discipline, hierarchy, preparation, trust in team — it’s all there. And no one gets this more clearly than Army veteran Will Marquardt, who now serves as Chef de Cuisine (second in command) to celeb Chef Ludo Lefebvre in his five-star Hollywood hole-in-the-wall, Petit Trois.
Meals Ready To Eat host August Dannehl took the 405 to the 10 to drop in on Petit Trois, where he found a young lieutenant at the top of his game, executing dish after perfect dish with precision, exemplary leadership, and an added dash of creativity.
Vandenberg Air Force Base said the operational test occurred at 2:10 a.m. PDT.
“The seamless partnership of Team V and our Air Force Global Strike Command mission partners has resulted in another safe Minuteman III operational test launch,” U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Hough, the commander of the 30th Space Wing who made the decision to launch, said in a statement. “This combined team of the 90th Missile Wing, 576th Flight Test Squadron and 30th Space Wing is simply outstanding. Their efforts over the past few months show why they are among the most skilled operators in the Air Force.”
The Air Force released a video of the test launch.
The US launch comes after North Korea launched an improved ballistic missile with intercontinental range late last week — Pyongyang’s second missile launch in less than a month.
Last month, North Korea threatened a nuclear strike against the United States.
“Should the U.S. dare to show even the slightest sign of attempt to remove our supreme leadership, we will strike a merciless blow at the heart of the U.S. with our powerful nuclear hammer, honed and hardened over time,” North Korea’s foreign ministry said. “The likes of [CIA Director Mike] Pompeo will bitterly experience the catastrophic and miserable consequences caused by having dared to shake their little fists at the supreme leadership.”
In a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan March 16, President Donald J. Trump asked for a defense budget increase of $30 billion for the Defense Department in this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, to rebuild the armed forces and accelerate the campaign to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
The fiscal 2017 budget amendment provides $24.9 billion in base funds for urgent warfighting readiness needs and to begin a sustained effort to rebuild the armed forces, according to the president’s letter.
“The request seeks to address critical budget shortfalls in personnel, training, maintenance, equipment, munitions, modernization and infrastructure investment. It represents a critical first step in investing in a larger, more ready and more capable military force,” Trump wrote.
The request includes $5.1 billion in overseas contingency operations funds so the department can accelerate the campaign to defeat ISIS and support Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan, he said, noting that the request would enable DoD to pursue a comprehensive strategy to end the threat ISIS poses to the United States.
At the Pentagon this afternoon, senior defense officials briefed reporters on the on the fiscal 2017 budget amendment. The speakers were John P. Roth, performing the duties of undersecretary of defense-comptroller, and Army Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Ierardi, director of force structure, resources and assessment on the Joint Staff.
“Our request to Congress is that they pass a full-year defense appropriations bill,” and that the bill includes the additional $30 billion, Roth said.
“We are now approaching the end of our sixth month under a continuing resolution,” he added, “one of the longest periods that we have ever been under a continuing resolution.”
The continuing resolution run for the rest of the fiscal year, Pentagon officials “would find that extremely harmful to the defense program,” Roth said.
“We are essentially kind of muddling along right now in terms of … borrowing resources against third- and fourth-quarter kinds of finances in order to keep things going,” he said. “But that game gets to be increasingly difficult as we go deeper into the fiscal year.”
Under a continuing resolution, the department has to operate under a fiscal 2016 mandate, creating a large mismatch between operations funds and procurement funds, Roth explained. The department can’t spend procurement dollars because there’s a restriction on new starts and on increasing production, he said, “but we have crying needs in terms of training, readiness, maintenance … and in the operation and maintenance account.”
The continuing resolution expires April 28, “so before then, we would want a full appropriation and, of course, a full appropriation with this additional $30 billion,” he said.
Roth said much of the money in the fiscal 2017 request is funding for operations and maintenance.
“We’re asking for additional equipment maintenance funding, additional facilities maintenance, spare parts, additional training events, peacetime flying hours, ship operations, munitions and those kinds of things,” he told reporters. “This is the essence of what keeps this department running on a day-to-day basis. It keeps us up and allows us to get ready for whatever the next challenge is.”
The officials said full support from Congress is key to improving warfighter readiness, providing the most capable modern force, and increasing the 2011 Budget Control Act funding cap for defense.
The Army is likely catching a lot of grief lately, after a news story reported that Pentagon data showed Joes are fatter than their brethren in other services.
But are they really?
According to the head of the new Defense Health Agency, the way the military measures obesity using the so-called Body Mass Index might be a bit behind the times.
“I know that Navy has looked at this in terms of modifying what they say is a healthy weight and a healthy body mass and I think that’s appropriate,” said Vice Adm. Raquel Bono, Director of the Defense Health Agency told WATM during a breakfast meeting with reporters Oct. 20.
“Do I have any indication that [obesity] is hurting readiness? No,” Bono added. “But I would actually say that is one of the hallmarks of being in the military is that we’re always ready.”
According to the services, a Body Mass Index of 25 or over is considered unsat (the BMI is determined by a simple calculation of height and weight). The National Institutes of Health define obesity as a BMI of 30 or over.
A 44 year-old male who weights 215 pounds and is 74-inches tall has a BMI of 27.6, for example. That’d be considered “clinically obese” to the DoD.
Some in the services argue measuring weight standards using the BMI is a blunt instrument, putting perfectly fit and healthy servicemembers on notice for not being up to snuff.
And while she’s all in favor of modifying how the level of fitness to serve is calculated, Bono is concerned about the overall trend on obesity, with the Pentagon reporting nearly 10 percent of its troops are overweight. And Bono recommended healthier choices in chow halls, regular exercise (not just for the PFT), and stopping smoking.
“My job is to make sure I’m enabling the department to have the healthiest troops possible,” Bono said. “I struggle with encouraging troops to make healthier choices — even when we activate servicemembers with health data or scary pictures of what smoking can do to you they still persist in those behaviors. I don’t know what the right answer is.”
The Pentagon office in charge of outfitting America’s secret warriors is asking industry for new technologies that will allow commandos to target and track bad guys through goggles or a head’s up display in their weapon sights, see colors at night and fly small surveillance drones that are nearly undetectable.
The new technologies sound like something from science fiction, but the spec ops gear buyers want to see what industry has in the works that could get to troops behind enemy lines in places like Syria, Iraq and Libya.
According to an official industry solicitation, U.S. Special Operations Command will hold a so-called “Military Utility Assessment” at Camp Blanding, Florida, in mid-November to see what capabilities are out there to enhance special operators’ ability to see the enemy in adverse conditions, surveil bad guy positions at great distances and tag and track targets without detection.
Current night vision equipment either enhances available light like stars or the moon or uses thermal imaging to see heat. Both technologies can be digitally modified to present the images in limited color, but the detail is usually poor.
The special operations community wants to see if there are options out there that help commandos identify objects and people in the dark with better resolution.
The command is looking for night optics “that aid in target discrimination, mobility, combat identification, identify friend or foe, or situational awareness via a natural appearing manner.”
“The need is from clear sky no moon to daylight conditions,” USSOCOM says. “A capability that allows true color at higher illumination and switch or transition to black and white at the lowest illumination is of interest.”
The special operators will consider systems that either attach to existing goggles, scopes or optics or entire new night vision equipment that can replace them. The key is keeping down the weight and increasing battery life, the command says.
SOCOM also wants to see if there are options out there for passive targeting scopes that will allow commandos to move a cursor to their target and share that data with other assaulters and snipers. They even want to be able to call in air strikes using the embedded targeting capability.
Clearly, unmanned aerial vehicles have become an important part of warfighting these days, and SOCOM wants to see how it can take advantage of the bleeding edge of technology for unmanned systems. The command has asked industry if it can field drones that are unseen and unheard above a target and can see details like vehicle license plates or the types of bombs loaded on a parked plane.
The special operators want “technologies that can be programmed to orbit or perch and stare at an area or object of interest,” it said. “Technology should be visually and acoustically undetectable by persons or systems resident at an observed area or object of interest, while providing users VNIIRS 9 or better video quality in real time.”
SOCOM is asking for technology proposals that are either on the drawing board or have prototypes ready for field testing.
Ninety-four-year-old Melvin Rector had one last item on his bucket list: He wanted to return to England where he’d served as a B-17 crewman. So earlier this month he hopped on an airliner and flew across the Atlantic to a place where he’d come of age 71 years earlier.
As reported by Florida Today, Rector was scheduled to visit his former base RAF Snetterton Heath in Norfolk but started the tour at the Battle of Britain Bunker in the Uxbridge area of London that first day.
“He walked out of that bunker like his tour was done,” said Susan Jowers, 60, who first met Rector when she served as his guardian during a 2011 Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C.
As he walked out, Rector told Jowers that he felt dizzy, according to Florida Today. Jowers took hold of one of Rector’s arms while a stranger grasped the other.
Rector died quietly there just outside the bunker. When the locals found out about it, they made sure his memory was honored appropriately.
“They just wanted something simple, and when I found out a little background about Melvin, there is just no way that we were just going to give him a simple service,” funeral director Neil Sherry told British ITV Network. “We wanted it to be as special as possible.”
Though no one knew him, the Royal Air Force, U.S. Air Force and historians in London attended and participated in the funeral with military honors.
“He certainly got a beautiful send-off,” Jowers said. “People everywhere, from Cambridge to London heard his story.”
U.S. Army Maj. Leif Purcell told ITV he thought he and a few other U.S. military personnel would be the only ones to attend the funeral, but was surprised.
“The representation from the Royal Air Force and the British Army that I saw here was phenomenal,” he said.
A funeral service for Rector, a father of six, is set for 11 a.m. June 9 at First Baptist Church of Barefoot Bay, Florida. Jowers told Florida Today that his remains were being repatriated on May 31.
Jowers, who said Rector became like a father to her after their first meeting in 2011, summed up his passing with this thought: “He completed his final mission.”
When Poto Liefi awoke on September 11, 2001 he wasn’t thinking about being a soldier or going to war. He was a 38-year-old commercial artist working in Los Angeles, and he had just helped launch a new Sketchers shoe campaign for Target.
Poto was good at what he did and enjoyed the work.
After Poto pivoted from fine arts to commercial arts – a few years out of art school – he went from working on clothing and backpack lines to designing shoes.
“I learned how to create a product line,” he said. “And I also learned where my work fit relative to the entire product line.”
He followed his work for Sketchers with a line of hiking boots that, in turn, turned into Taos footwear, a women’s shoe company.
Then the World Trade Center towers fell, and the Pentagon was hit.
He decided to join the Army. Most of his colleagues in the designer world thought he was crazy. Even his recruiter – after visiting his expansive glass office – asked why he was leaving a comfortable world behind.
“I wasn’t satisfied with work anymore,” Poto said. “I had the news going all the time, and I felt a sense of responsibility to do something.”
The maximum age for recruits had just been upped from 34 to 42 when Poto showed up to Fort Jackson for basic training as a 38 year-old recruit. “I lucked out big time,” he said.
After boot camp he was given a 25M Multimedia Illustrator designation. “At first I thought it was stupid to get paid peanuts for the same job I was doing on the outside,” he said. “But after I did the research I saw there was a lot more to it.”
Poto was assigned to 304th Psychological Operations Company, and in 2008 he deployed to Fallujah, Iraq. He immediately put his skills to work on posters, billboards, and web content.
“I was surprised at what we were able to do with the proper messaging,” he said. “We actually had campaigns, branding the Iraqi Security Forces. We were getting a good, consistent message on the streets, and getting locals to rally around an ideology.”
He returned to the U.S. at the end of 2008. Less than a year and a half later he was deployed again, this time to Afghanistan with the 344th Psychological Operations Company.
“Just as I’d sold Iraq to the Iraqis I had to sell Afghanistan to Afghans.”
Part of the time Poto worked with the Australian Army based in Uruzgan, and there he realized they needed to deviate from the standard Army playbook to be effective.
“We had to take our military goggles off,” he said. “We weren’t the only media outlet the locals were exposed to.”
But in spite of the challenges Poto believes they accomplished their mission. He sums up his experience at war with a simple thought: “Pride shows.”
He returned home in March of 2011, a 43-year-old corporal ready to transition back to the civilian workforce. But it was anything but a smooth process. Reintegration was tough in spite of his pre-military work experience, a circumstance he blames on his age and the stigma of post traumatic stress. It took him three years to find a full-time job.
He finally landed a job as a supply chain manager at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Corona, California.
Poto’s transition advice to veterans following him back to the civilian side is straightforward: “Never feel entitled,” he said. “Be thankful, be respectful, and be real still.”
At the same time he held fast to his creative side. One day he took the image of a soldier who’d fallen in Iraq – PFC Corrina Lau – and superimposed it into a classic war poster. The result was powerful and immediate.
“I got very emotional reactions from the first people I showed the artwork to,” Poto said. “They said things like, ‘This is alive.'”
Poto did similar artwork for the families of other fallen warriors, and the response compelled him to brand the effort “Freedom’s On Me.”
“Freedom’s On Me is a way to keep the legacies of these service members alive,” Poto explains. “These are people that were in the military, not a bunch of robots.”
Several American servicemen have been killed and injured June 10 after coming under fire in a ‘green-on-blue’ attack in eastern Afghanistan, the Pentagon has announced.
“Three US soldiers were killed in eastern Afghanistan today,” the Pentagon said in a statement, adding, that another serviceman was wounded and is now receiving medical treatment.
The three serviceman were identified as Sgt. Eric M. Houck, 25, of Baltimore, Maryland; Sgt. William M. Bays, 29 of Barstow, California; and Corporal Dillon C. Baldridge, 22 of Youngsville, North Carolina. The soldiers were assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Company D, 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, KY.
Earlier on June 10, Attahullah Khogyani, a provincial spokesman in Nangarhar province, said that two other soldiers were also injured in the attack, which was carried out by an Afghan soldier in the Achin district, where US and Afghan forces are carrying out joint operations against Taliban and Islamic State militants.
“Today at around noon an Afghan commando opened fire on US troops in Achin district, killing two American soldiers. The soldier was also killed in the return fire,” Khogyani told AFP.
A Taliban spokesman claimed the shooter was a part of the militant group and had killed four Americans and injured several more, but this has yet to be confirmed by government sources. The Achin district in eastern Nangarhar province, where the attack took place, is also thought to be a stronghold of IS.
“The cause of the shooting is not clear. An investigation has already begun,” Khogyani said, according to Reuters.
This type of incident, known as a ‘green-on-blue’ attack, is not uncommon in Afghanistan. In March, three American soldiers were wounded by an Afghan soldier at a base in Helmand province.
Members of the Afghan security forces, including the army and police, are often undisciplined, corrupt and/or have conflicting loyalties, which leaves these institutions vulnerable to infiltration by the Taliban and other militant groups. In the past, the Afghan government has been heavily criticized for its poor vetting process to weed out unsuitable or dangerous candidates.
The attack comes soon after a case of friendly fire against Afghan forces. On June 10, Afghan officials also confirmed that three policemen had been killed and two others wounded when a US aircraft opened fire during an operation in Helmand Province.
“We would like to express our deepest condolences to the families of the ABP [ Afghan Border Police] members affected by this unfortunate incident,” read a statement from the US military, as quoted by Reuters.
Afghan and American officials are investigating the incident.
On Dec. 8, 2012, Byers was part of a SEAL Team Six unit deep in the Taliban-controlled mountains of Afghanistan on a mission to rescue Dr. Dilip Josheph when all hell broke loose. According to the MoH citation, Byers distinguished himself that night by showing extreme courage and disregard for his life when he shielded the hostage with his body while simultaneously taking out two insurgents.
In this Navy video, Byers shares the story of that evening, as well as his reaction to the news that he would be receiving the Medal of Honor.
Your average civilian may look at the military and think it’s like the movies, with highly-motivated soldiers doing their job without complaint, saluting smartly, and marching around a lot.
But of course, that’s not really the case. Just like with any other job, military members have good days and bad days, and often air those grievances with each other. Sometimes, they let it slip in public, and tell everyone how they really feel.
Here are 9 of those times.
1. When a soldier tells you how he really feels about his post, through Wikipedia edits.
2. This soldier on Yelp doesn’t really like the “Great Place” of Fort Hood, either.
3. A Marine writing a review on Amazon challenges your manhood if you don’t want to wear ultra-short “silkie” shorts.
4. The British Marine who makes a hilarious video poking fun at his officers.
5. When a sailor on Glassdoor compares Navy life to drinking sour milk.
6. This anonymous service member using Whisper to confess his or her love for marijuana.
7. The Marine who tells you over Yelp that Marine Corps Base 29 Palms will definitely steal your soul.
8. The British soldiers in World War I who printed a mock newspaper filled with gallows humor satirizing life in the trenches.
9. When real-life Armed Force Radio DJ Adrian Cronauer (portrayed by Robin Williams in “Good Morning Vietnam”) gives the troop version of a weather report in Vietnam.