Contractor mechanics failed to follow proper maintenance procedures leading to the contamination of the oxygen system on an Air Force VC-25A aircraft undergoing regular heavy maintenance, according to an Accident Investigation Board report compiled by Air Force Materiel Command.
The contamination occurred in April 2016 while the plane was at Boeing’s Port San Antonio facility in Texas. The mishap resulted in approximately $4 million in damage, which Boeing repaired at its own expense.
The VC-25A, one of two specially configured Boeing 747-200B aircraft, is flown by the 89th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, and is used to transport the President. When the President is on board, the plane is referred to as Air Force One.
According to the report, three Boeing mechanics contaminated the aircraft’s oxygen system by using tools, parts, and components that did not comply with cleanliness standards while checking oxygen lines for leaks. The contamination was discovered after an unapproved regulator was found connected to the passenger oxygen system.
The report also identified other contributing factors to the mishap, including the failure of a Boeing maintenance technician to observe explicit cautions and warnings when working on oxygen systems, Boeing’s failure to exercise adequate oversight of the quality of maintenance being performed on the VC-25, and the failure of mechanics to “absorb and retain” training received on oxygen systems.
Gen. Ellen M. Pawlikowski, Air Force Materiel Command commander, convened the AIB. Brig. Gen. Carl Buhler was the AIB president. The primary purpose of the board was to investigate the cause and substantially contributing factors of the mishap and provide a publicly releasable report of the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident.
John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, a former US senator, and former Marine aviator who saw combat in World War II and Korea, has died at 95.
Glenn is known for a number of accolades throughout his life of service, from the military to the astronaut program and eventually, into politics. So it’s worth looking back on his entry into politics, when he first ran for office against an incumbent named Howard Metzenbaum.
In 1974, Glenn’s military record offered an opening for criticism by his opponent, who was mindful of Americans’ anti-war fervor during the Vietnam War. Metzenbaum began calling him “Col. Glenn” to highlight his time in the Marine Corps, and later told him that he “had never met a payroll,” which Glenn perceived as being told that his military record and service with NASA didn’t qualify as “having held a job.”
His response during the debate was remarkable, and at the end of it, he received more than 20 seconds of sustained applause, according to PBS. Here’s what he said:
“I spent 23 years in the United States Marine Corps. I lived through two wars. I flew 149 missions. I was in the space program. It wasn’t my checkbook, it was my life that was on the line.
You go with me as I did out to a veterans’ hospital and look those men with their mangled bodies in the eye and tell them that they didn’t hold a job. You go with me to any Gold Star mother and you look her in the eye and you tell her that her son did not hold a job. You go to Arlington National Cemetery — where I have more friends than I’d like to remember — and you think about this nation, and you tell me that those people didn’t have a job.
I tell you, Howard Metzenbaum, you should be on your knees every day of your life thanking God that there were some men, some men, who held a job. And they required a dedication to purpose, a love of country, and a dedication to duty that was more important than life itself.
And their self-sacrifice is what has made this nation possible.
I have held a job, Howard.”
Glenn went on to defeat Metzenbaum in the primary and win the general election. He served in the Senate from 1974 to 1999. His speech was also used to motivate a group of US Marines before they went into combat in Marjah, Afghanistan in 2010.
“The key is accuracy, rate of fire, and programmable ammunition,” said BAE Systems representative Scott Thompson in the YouTube video below.
While the Mk 110’s predecessors—the Mark 1 and Mark 2—are highly effective against large heavily armored targets, they are inefficient against today’s fast-moving threats, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, anti-ship missiles, and speedboats.
The Mk 110 on the other hand, can fire 220 rounds per minute at targets nine miles away with an intelligent and highly destructive 6-mode programmable 57-mm Mk 295 munition. The munition is a pre-fragmented, programmable, proximity-fuzed round that can explode on contact or deliver a shotgun effect with more than 8,000 pre-formed tungsten fragments. The gun’s digital fire control system responds to precise pointing orders and selects the munition fuze in fractions of a second upon firing.
The Mk 110 naval gun fires up to 220 rounds per minute.
Each round accelerates to 3,500 miles per hour.
In air burst mode, the round detonates in mid-air above the target.
The proximity mode uses a miniature radar system to trigger the fuse when the round gets close to the target.
The impact mode explodes the round on contact.
The Mk 110’s flexibility makes it the deck gun of choice for the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter and offshore patrol cutter ships, as well as for the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). This American Heroes Channel video perfectly shows the Mk 110’s efficiency and power.
The film Black Hawk Down has left an indelible mark in the minds of United States military members and gun enthusiasts alike. The movie recounts the story of Operation Gothic Serpent, involving the Task Force Ranger mission on Oct. 3 and 4, 1993. Released mere months after Sept. 11, it was one of the first film depictions of urban combat in a post-Operation Desert Storm world.
Firearms for the film were provided by lead armorer Simon Atherton (whose film credits include The Killing Fields, Aliens, and Saving Private Ryan) with the assistance of U.S. Navy S.E.A.L. veteran and military film advisor Harry Humphries.
When discussing film props, the term “hero” is used to describe the main prop weapons used by the lead characters in the film. Hero props are frequently used in close-ups and often garner the most screen time, becoming publicly recognizable or sometimes iconic.
Ironically, many of the M16s and CAR-15s used on screen were actually built as an export variation of the Colt M16. Simon Atherton, Black Hawk Down lead armorer and owner of Zorg Limited, provided examples of M16s and CAR-15s used in the movie. The CAR-15, notably, was configured with components used on the backup Gary Gordon hero prop rifle.
The blank-firing M16A2 (top) was an export M16A2 from Guatemala manufactured by Colt and redressed for The Green Zone. The rubber dummy prop (bottom) was used in the production of Black Hawk Down and carries the distinctive green duct tape used to recreate the Rangers’ weapons.
The blank-firing M16A2 in these photos was, in our best estimate, used as a Third Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment rifle. It’s nearly identical to the rifle carried by real-life Ranger Matt Eversmann, played on screen by Josh Hartnett. The Ranger M16s were ex-Guatemalan military M16A2s fitted with slings secured with green duct tape. The blank-firing M16 has been photographed, for comparison, with one of the rubber dummy rifles, still configured as used on set for Black Hawk Down.
The Guatemalan export M16A2 was configured with the M16A1 style lower emblazoned with Colt M16A2 roll marks as pictured. The fire control group markings were stamped on both sides of the lower (which is the common configurations for M16A2s) but with a BURST marking replacing the more common AUTO marking.
The rubber dummy prop M16 shows the on-screen configuration for Ranger M16s. Although the dummy’s M16A1 “slab side” lower is slightly different than the blank-firing prop — cast from a civilian Colt HBAR Sporter — it’s similar enough to pass unnoticed to most viewers.
Most CAR-15 rifles were modified M16A2 rifles. This barrel was cut to approximately 10 inches and the front sight post was moved back to accommodate the modified handguards, while retaining the traditional triangular M16A2 handguard cap.
(Photo by Jon Davey)
After receiving the M16s, Atherton’s team converted many of the ex-Guatemalan Colt M16A2s into CAR-15s. The Gordon CAR-15 blank-firing prop is the most iconic weapon in the film. Chris Atherton, Simon Atherton’s son and Zorg employee, was able to immediately locate the last known surviving Gary Gordon hero blank-firing prop CAR-15.
Master Sergeant Gary Gordon’s Colt Model 723 was represented in the film by a Guatemalan export Colt M16A2 modified into a carbine configuration similar to a Colt Model 727. The most significant visual difference between the Colt 723 and Colt 727 is in the rear sights. The Colt 723 uses an M16A1 sight, while the Colt 727 is fitted with a blockier “movable” sight.
To produce the prop, the M16’s 20-inch barrel was cut to approximately 10 inches and the front sight post was moved back. A commercial two-position buffer tube and stock were also added. A 5-inch section of the center of the M16A2 handguard was removed to construct improvised carbine handguards. As a result, the handguards have eight holes (instead of the six- or seven-hole handguards found on production 723 and 727 carbines). This rifle, and many other of Atherton’s CAR-15s, retained the triangular M16A2 handguard cap instead of the circular handguard cap found on Colt-produced carbines.
The Gordon blank-firing prop (top) is fitted with a commercial stock and fake suppressor that carry the original paint scheme used during production. The rifle was subsequently used as the on-screen hero prop in Blood Diamond. The live-fire replica, manufactured by Enhanced Tactical Arms, (bottom) features a fully functional OPS Inc suppressor. The image of the semi-auto replica has been Photoshopped with BURST fire control markings and a full auto sear.
Analysis failed to confirm that the specific stock and dummy suppressor in the photos appeared on screen, but the paint scheme on those components leaves no doubt that those parts were used on an authentic Gordon hero prop. Although it’s impossible to confirm that the CAR-15 pictured was one of the Gordon hero rifles, it has been confirmed that this weapon was later used by Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond. The Zorg staff indicated that the rifle may have been repainted in the current tan paint scheme for the film The Green Zone.
The 8-hole CAR-15 handguards were manufactured from full-length M16A2 handguards when many of the M16A2s were configured into the CAR-15 configuration.
This CAR-15, manufactured by Enhanced Tactical Arms in Las Vegas, Nevada, is a replica of the on-screen prop representing Master Sergeant Gary Gordon’s CAR-15 — a replica of a replica, as it were. These images were Photoshopped to represent the rifle in its Class III configuration. The replica is fitted with an Aimpoint CompM red dot optic.
The ETAC Arms live-fire replica is equipped with an 8-hole carbine handguard constructed from an M16A2 full-length handguard and a Surefire tactical light. The duct tape and zip tie matches the configuration shown in the film.
Although Aimpoint 3000 and 5000 optics were used during the real-life operation, they were out of production by 2001. Filmmakers selected the CompM, fitted on a B-Square Mount with a 30mm Weaver split ring mount, as a substitute. The dummy suppressor used on the hero prop wasn’t available, so an OPS Inc. suppressor was used in its place. Although Zorg provided access to the Gordon CAR-15 prop, they indicated that the props used to represent Sergeant First Class Randall Shughart’s M14 were rented from Gibbons Limited and returned after filming.
Gibbons sold the eight MDL.M1As to Independent Studio Services in 2008 or 2009. The ISS armory staff indicated that it was likely that the two tan weapons were used as the hero props in filming. Photo analysis by William DeMolee indicates that it is likely that the top MDL.M1A, which is equipped with a Leatherwood scope, was the hero prop used in close-ups. The live-fire replica was painted to match onset production photos and screenshots by Augee Kim.
Mike Gibbons, owner of Gibbons Limited Entertainment Armory provided eight Federal Ordinance MDL.M1A rifles to the production. Mike revealed that the weapons used to represent Shughart’s M14 were sold to Independent Studio Services between 2008 and 2009. Kate Atherton from Zorg provided specific serial numbers for the eight weapons used in the production. Travis Pierce, Enhanced Tactical Arms M14 Subject Matter Expert, then used these serial numbers to determine that most of the rifles were produced in the ’90s.
The fire control selector switch cutouts on the tan Federal Ordinance MDL.M1A have been filled in and the external surfaces refinished. Almost all traces of spray paint had been removed.
The reproduction Shughart M14 film prop is an M1A built on an LBR Arms receiver with primarily USGI Winchester parts. It was originally assembled by M14 enthusiast Cody Vaughan and then reconfigured to match the film prop by Enhanced Tactical Arms with an ARMS 18 scope mount, Aimpoint CompM red dot optic, M1907 sling, and given a screen-matching camouflage pattern by Enhanced Tactical Arms retro firearms expert Augee Kim.
The Norm “Hoot” Gibson CAR-15 rubber dummy prop, built as a rubber stand-in for Eric Bana’s blank-firing carbine, is an iconic prop worthy of special attention. The rubber dummy, cast from a semi-auto Colt AR-15A2 Carbine with a removable carry handle, was used on-screen in the close-up of the “This is my safety” scene. The prop was weathered with water-soluble aging spray and is fitted with a sling constructed from a piece of strap taken from a parachute lowering line assembly, looped through 550 cord and secured with black polycloth laminate tape.
These include the type of handguard, delta ring, castle nut, stock, lower, and carry handle configuration. The lighting and camera angle make the differences difficult to detect as the story unfolds.
The live-firing prop replica, constructed by Enhanced Tactical Arms, was created using screenshots from the film, production photos, and the Hoot rubber dummy carbine as references. Although the Colt Gray lower on the Hoot CAR-15 appears to be an export M16A2, the black upper is distinctive. The Hoot blank-firing CAR-15 is configured with a 14.5-inch barrel, six-hole handguard, circular handguard cap, flat delta ring, and M16A1 birdcage flash hider.
The Hoot replica, which is similar in general configuration to a Colt 727, weighs in at slightly over 6 pounds and is as reliable and accurate as a modern M4. The helmet, goggles, and American flag were props used during production in 2001.
When we asked Mr. Atherton if the rifles used in the film were painted using an airbrush he laughed, indicating that the rifles were painted quickly, using techniques recommended by military advisor Harry Humphries.
The Hoot character is reported to be a composite of several Special Forces veterans involved in Operation Gothic Serpent.
Black Hawk Down is one of the first films to capture post-Vietnam warfare in a realistic manner and set the standard for how modern warfare (and weapons) would be represented in film. When discussing the long-term impact of the film in a 2013 interview, First Sergeant Matt Eversmann (U.S. Army, retired) stated, “…what I’ve found over the last decade is that, there are a lot of folks that really aren’t touched by the war on terror … watch Black Hawk Down and you have a really fair, accurate, and pretty authentic view of what urban combat is like … it is the reference point, both the book and the movie, that people are going to look at when they talk about getting involved in these type of conflicts in these countries we’ve never heard of …”
This endorsement, in conjunction with the pair of Academy Awards earned in 2002, illustrates why the film continues to receive praise from many film aficionados and military veterans nearly two decades after its release.
This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.
World War II and the Cold War brought out the worst in everyone. So it should be a surprise to no one to find out the Soviet Union developed biological warfare agents almost as soon as the dust from the October Revolution settled.
Despite being a signatory to the Geneva Convention of 1925 – which outlawed chemical and biological weapons – and the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, the Soviets had dozens of sites to develop eleven agents for use on any potential enemy.
The Russian Bioweapons program would be the most capable, deadliest program in the world. It was complete with viruses and pathogens that were genetically-altered and antibiotic resistant, with sophisticated delivery systems.
Category A agents are easily weaponized, extremely virulent, hard to fight and contain, and/or have high mortality rates. They have the added bonus of being an agent that would cause a panic among the enemy population.
For most of us post-9/11 veterans, Anthrax was the one that could have been all too real. In the days following 9/11, letters containing Anthrax spores were sent to members of Congress and the media. Subsequently, troops deploying overseas to countries like Afghanistan and Iraq were given a course of Anthrax vaccines.
Anthrax can present in four ways: skin, inhalation, injection, and intestinal. All are caused by the Bacillus anthracis bacteria. Before antibiotics, Anthrax killed hundreds of thousands of people, but now there are only 2,000 or so worldwide cases a year.
The mortality rate is anywhere from 24 to 80 percent, depending on which type you get.
Ah, plague. The biblical weapon. This one makes a little bit of sense. Since the Soviet Union would most likely go to war with Western Europe, the best weapon to use would be something that regularly wiped out more Europeans than the Catholic Church.
Plague works fast, incubating in two to six days, with a sudden headache and chills at the end of the incubation period. Gangrene and buboes (swollen lymph nodes in the armpit and groin) are the best indicator of plague.
There are other symptoms too, but after two weeks, it won’t matter. Because you’ll be dead.
Never hear of Tularemia? Good for you. Tularemia is one of the many reasons you shouldn’t touch dead animals. It’s a nasty bug that can survive for long periods outside of a host.
Tularemia can enter the body through lungs, skin, or eyes. It can present as a skin ulcer, but the most dangerous form is when it’s inhaled. Pneumoic tularemia will quickly spread into the bloodstream, killing 30-60 percent of those infected.
This is deadly neurotoxin, the deadliest substance known. It was used as a biological agent by Japan in WWII and was subsequently produced by almost every biological warfare program – for a good reason. Botulism is easy to produce and presents in 12-36 hours once in the body.
In an aerosol infection (like a bioweapon attack), even detecting botulism could be difficult. Treatment is mainly supportive, there is little that can be done once symptoms start to present. The only known antitoxin even produces anaphylaxis, which means it can only be administered in a hospital setting.
Smallpox is the disease that won the new world for the Europeans, more than guns, horses, or booze. It killed off 90 percent of the indigenous population of the Americas, whose immune systems were unprepared for it.
The Marburg Virus is a hemorrhagic fever, in the same family as the Ebola virus, the deadliest of hemorrhagic viruses. In an unprepared population, the mortality rate can be as high as 90-100 percent. So if you’re unfamiliar with Marburg Virus, imagine someone making Ebola airborne and killing you with it.
Category B agents are also easy to transmit and/or virulent among a population, but is less likely to kill or cause panic. Still, they should be taken seriously. Some, like Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis can have lasting effects.
Glanders can enter the body through the skin and eyes, but also via the nose and lungs. The symptoms are similar to the flu or common cold, but once it’s in the bloodstream, it can be fatal within seven to ten days.
I’m not going to include a photo, because it’s really gross to look at.
The bacteria is at the top of the list for potential bioterrorism agents and was even believed to be intentionally spread to the Russian Army by the Germans in WWI. The Russians allegedly used it in Afghanistan during their ten-year occupation.
This is usually caused by drinking raw milk or imbibing other raw dairy products. If an animal has brucellosis, they’re transmitting it to you. It’s also an inhalation hazard that can affect hunters dressing wild game. Symptoms are flu-like when inhaled and soon inflame the organs, especially the liver and spleen. Symptoms can last anywhere from a matter of weeks to years.
Brucellosis was once called both “Bang’s Disease” and “Malta Fever.” It has been weaponized since the 50s, with a lethality estimate of one to two percent. Just kill me with fire if I have the flu for two years.
Like most of the agents on the list, Q-fever is also spread via inhalation or contacts with infected domestic animals – unless the Russians bombed your town with it. The agent can survive for up to 60 days on some surfaces.
When the American Biological Weapons arsenal was destroyed in the early 1970s, the U.S. had just under 5,100 gallons of Q-fever.
10. Viral Encephalitis
The worst part about this agent is that there is no effective drug treatment for it, and that any treatment is merely supportive – meaning that there is no way to treat the cause of the disease, only to manage the symptoms.
The incubation period is fast, one to six days, and causes flu-like symptoms. It can incapacitate the infected for up to two weeks and cause swelling of the brain. Up to 30 percent of infected persons have permanent neurological conditions, like seizures and paralysis.
11. Staphylococcal Enterotoxin
Staph infections are pretty common but as a biological agent, it’s stable to store and weaponize as an aerosol agent. At low doses, it can incapacitate and it can kill at higher doses. The biggest concern is that a mass infection of a population is extremely difficult to treat effectively.
This agent can infect food and water but is deadliest when inhaled. High doses of inhaled Staph can lead to shock and multi-organ failure. Symptoms of any dosage appear within 1-8 hours.
Category C Agents
Category C consists mostly of potential agents, but the Soviet program didn’t use any of the C category as we know it today. This category includes virulent but untested (for biowarfare) agents like SARS, Rabies, or Yellow Fever.
It was for many years considered the gold standard in after-market tactical gear. Packs, pouches and carriers developed by a SEAL for SEALs — or anyone else who needed gear that stood up to the abuse of America’s commandos.
For Mike Noell, what started as a small business sewing together specialized tactical equipment for his fellow frogmen out of his Virginia Beach garage, blossomed into the multi-million dollar, internationally-known Blackhawk! (yes, with the exclamation point). From plate carriers to Halligan tools, Blackhawk! became the one-stop-shop for special operators, police SWAT teams and even weekend warriors who wanted to look the part.
When he sold Blackhawk! to ATK — which later established the outdoor and shooting sports product conglomerate Vista Outdoors — for an untold sum in 2010, it seemed Noell was on the top of the world, using his newfound financial influence to work with upstart companies and take a little break from a lifetime of kicking in doors and running big businesses.
But that all changed when he dropped another flash bang on the industry at this year’s SHOT Show in Las Vegas, announcing his new company, Sentry.
“It’s a new Blackhawk!,” Noell told WATM during a visit to his company’s booth at this year’s SHOT Show. “This time we’re going with a higher-end set of products.”
Like the earlier Blackhawk!, Sentry is a combination of several smaller companies, including optic and firearm covers from ScopeCoat, gun cleaning products from Sentry Solutions and a new line of high-end bags and packs under the new Sentry brand.
While ScopeCoat and SlideCoat products have been around for a while, the wow factor comes from the new Sentry packs. Each features a waterproof ripstop nylon construction with rugged, rubberized zippers to keep the contents dry. And Noell’s team has added new, lightweight MOLLE-style webbing dubbed “1080” that allows the user to attach pouches at various angles.
“We basically made these packs for the type of activities we like to do,” said Sentry’s Nick Ferros. “I’m a fisherman, so I just design what I need.”
Noell said he’s resurrected the old Uncle Mike’s (which was part of the Blackhawk! family of brands) manufacturing facility in Boise, Idaho, and is reaching out to old employees there to get band back together. He’s also teamed with longtime Blackhawk! exec Terry Naughton, who’s serving as Sentry’s president.
With a building roster of products and a focus on the technology of today, it’ll be interesting to see whether Sentry becomes the tactical colossus that Blackhawk! once was.
The leaders of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence battle group in Poland honored Polish firefighters on Monday for their response when a US Army Stryker armored vehicle caught fire at the end of January.
The Stryker burst into flames on the side of a road outside the village of Gorzekaly, in northeast Poland near the Lithuanian border, on January 28. Its crew was able to pull over but unable to put out the fire and instead called local emergency responders.
Firefighters from the nearby town Pisz arrived and extinguished the fire quickly enough to prevent the vehicle’s total loss, according to an Army release, which said there were no injuries and damage was limited to the engine compartment.
US Army Lt. Col. Andrew Gallo, commander of NATO Battle Group Poland, and Command Sgt. Maj. Marcus Brister, the group’s senior enlisted adviser, presented certificates of appreciation to the firefighters on February 10.
“We sincerely appreciate the fire chief’s professionalism and dedication to duty,” Gallo said. “We are excited to continue to build relationships like this one with the local community during our deployment to Poland.”
“On public roads, we have never had to deal with vehicle fires, of course some kind of accidents but never fires,” said Lt. Col. Pawel Pienkosz of the fire brigade. “We were just doing our jobs; we will do it for you every time.”
The NATO battle group replaced the Stryker with a new one from Vilseck, Germany, where the 2nd Calvary Regiment, to which the Stryker was assigned, is headquartered.
NATO set up the enhanced forward presence battle groups after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea to show the “strength of the transatlantic bond” and provide training opportunities.
The Stryker fire isn’t the 2nd Calvary Regiment’s first incident during a NATO operation. During a June 2018 exercise, four of the regiment’s Strykers collided during a road march in Lithuania, injuring 15 US soldiers.
For Veterans Day, the Call of Duty Endowment held the Race to Prestige. Five gamer personalities – GoldGloveTV, TmarTn, Jeriicho, Hutch, and VernNotice – played Call of Duty: Black Ops III for 96 hours straight in a live stream marathon. The goal? To help veterans get high quality jobs.
The Call of Duty Endowment helps veterans find high quality careers by supporting groups that prepare them for the job market and by raising awareness of the value vets ring to the workplace.
Activision matched the donations raised by gamers from all over the Internet. The event collected $450,000 for the endowment. Navy veteran and Executive Director of the Call of Duty Endowment Dan Goldenberg lauded the goal-breaking fundraising, “Our goal initially was to raise $25,000 and they blew that away in the first two hours… basically, every $600 puts a vet in a job.”
By that math, the event raised enough money to help 750 veterans find great, long-term employment.
On an especially cold winter afternoon in 2016, in the dark depths of the Syrian war, Yazen was quietly playing in Al-Bab, Syria, when a bomb ripped through his family home.
More than 80% of his tiny body caught flame and melted, including his lungs, propelling the child into a coma, from which he did not awake for six months. Yazen lost his ability to speak and requires a machine to help with his breathing.
But it was the traumatic plane ride from Istanbul to Los Angeles several years ago that gave Yazen and his mother, Kawthar — a schoolteacher from the Syrian city of Homs — their first glimpse into the generosity of America’s front-line medical workers.
The breathing machine voltage was not compatible with the aircraft. Thus, very quickly, Yazen’s tracheotomy filled up with fluid and he could not breathe. The airline staff made an emergency announcement appealing to any doctors on board. An American anesthesiologist came forward, and a Jordanian nurse volunteered to translate to the petrified mother. The doctor requested that the deeply distraught Kawthar move to a different part of the plane so she could not see the horrors that soon unfolded.
The doctor put a tube in Yazen’s trach hole and sucked all the saliva himself and spat it out continuously so that the boy’s airway would not be blocked. He did this for the entire 13-hour flight, as the passengers prayed and cheered for the child in his fragile fight for life.
“The way we were supported, immediately I knew that we were in the right place,” Kawthar said softly. “People are kind to us when we walk in the streets. Nobody stares at my son like he is different.”
Like many Syrian war survivors, Kawthar requested that only her first name be published due to security concerns.
As Yazen was immediately whisked away to a hospital upon landing, the heroic doctor remained anonymous. Social media posts by the Burnt Children Relief Foundation (BCRF), which brought Yazen and many others to the US for emergency surgery, have fallen on deaf ears.
Yet this doctor remains akin to an angel. He saved Yazen’s life. Dozens of surgeries later, the 10-year-old boy — doll-like with his delicate features and wide ebony eyes — is full of light and wisdom. Without a voice, he makes a heart shape when asked about his experience so far in the US.
Then there is Hamama, who came to the US for a second lease on life in 2016.
The first thing you jarringly notice is her face — roasted raw, unrecognizable. A gaping hole where her nose used to be; prosthetic eyes that cannot weep when emotions engulf her. But what you remember most is the softness of her hands — a glimpse of the innocent girl that existed before a bomb descended on her family’s home in the Homs countryside around five years ago.
In an instant, Hamama’s entire family, her memories, her eyesight, and her face were gone. But since coming to the US several years ago, the former shell of a human being has learned to put back together the pieces of a broken existence — one shard at a time.
Under the guidance of US-based, all-volunteer advocacy group the Burnt Children Relief Foundation, or BCRF — with the support of the US State Department to maneuver the visa complexities — more than a dozen Syrian children have had the opportunity to come to the US for lifesaving surgical care. Some live in Texas where they are treated at Shriners Children’s Hospital in Galveston, and others reside on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Each child is a window into a world of front-line medical workers and a kind of generosity that they never knew was possible.
BCRF was formed in 2014 as the war in Syria escalated to unfathomable levels. Hospitals became the target of the bombing campaign led by the Bashar al-Assad regime and his Russian counterparts. According to the nongovernmental organization Physicians for Human Rights, there have been at least 595 attacks on more than 350 separate medical facilities. Some 930 medical personnel have also been confirmed killed in the brutality. And the bloodletting continues inside the once beautiful country — the so-called “Cradle of Civilization.”
This March marked 10 years since pro-democracy protests filled the streets of the southern Syrian city of Daraa. Those initially peaceful demonstrations, and their demands for democratic reforms, rapidly led to a harsh and violent crackdown by the regime. Outside agendas also swarmed into the theater of war, igniting one of the modern world’s worst humanitarian crises: a dire situation further exacerbated by the international community’s inability, or unwillingness, to act.
The past decade has been characterized by cruelty, death, destruction, displacement, and poverty. Chemical weapons have crushed medical facilities and civilians. Sexual violence, torture, and war crimes have permeated almost every inch of the wracked land.
But as so often with wars, it is civilians — especially children — who are most tragically caught in the crossfire. Indeed, terrible burns have become analogous with Syria’s conflict as bombs indiscriminately target schools and homes.
According to the UN, the war has either killed or wounded hundreds of thousands of Syrian children. UNICEF reported that the number of children showing manifestations of psychosocial anguish doubled last year as they continue to endure the shock and horror of combat, and living amid tangled buildings and the tattered tents they now call home.
For most Syrians, who were merely trying to get by and feed their families when adversity struck, there is a painful sense that they will never see justice or accountability for what was done to them. International tribunals are notoriously arduous, bloated bureaucracies that seldom prosecute. Yet coming to America for critical surgery marks a small victory against the tyrants that tore their lives apart.
Manal, now 14 and undergoing a multitude of surgeries in California, views herself as one of the lucky ones.
“I didn’t feel anything until I woke up,” she recalled. “And then everyone told me I was burned.”
But if given a choice to turn back the clock and not be caught in the hail of bombings that ravaged her homeland, Manal said she wouldn’t do it.
“I’ve learned a lot. It is making me more brave and made me feel other people’s pain, a feeling only people in this situation would know. I feel their pain and I want to help them,” she said politely, her body stoic and erect. “This has made me more determined to achieve my goals in life. I want to be the voice for other people. I want to be a doctor to help the society.”
But it is when she starts to reflect on the calamity that is Syria that Manal’s resilient face gives way to a plethora of deep-rooted angst. She weeps for the children left behind who can’t get the help she has enjoyed; the burned stumps where her hands used to be scoop up tissues as the weeps turn to guttural sobs.
“There are so many children like me,” Manal continued, grief catching in her throat. “And no one is helping them; please help them because they deserve a better life.”
Her mother, Nisreen, cries for what this war has become.
“I used to want to stay in my country,” she whispers between silent whimpers, her body trembling. “But I don’t want to be there anymore. I am so happy to be here. No one could help us in Syria. But whatever I can say now about my country, it means nothing. It is a drop. The situation is a disaster and no one can help with that.”
While unfathomable numbers of children have been horribly seared in Syria, BCRF can only accommodate the most relentless burn cases. And of the severe, the file is large — more than 1,650 linger on the list. Not a single day passes in which BCRF chairwoman Susan Baaj isn’t flooded with new cases, desperate pleas, and requests.
“I used to watch all the videos and images of the bombs falling and hospitals decimated,” recalled Baaj, a Syrian American businesswoman and philanthropist in Southern California. “I just started to feel helpless, and I am a results person. I need to see results, and I wanted to see something happening here.”
And Musa, whose charred face is wrapped in a plastic shield and his skin sheathed in a suit and gloves, appears far too tiny for his 8 years. He speaks in a tempered staccato, the elastic moment of silence in between sentences punctured by the haunting sound of this small child’s heavy breathing.
“I like America better,” he said. “There are more toys here.”
Musa was just 4 when he was hit from the skies in the Syrian city of Raqqa; his skin cooked in such a way that doctors have since questioned if the bomb was laced with some form of phosphorus or a similar chemical. Musa’s baby sister was immediately killed. According to Musa’s mother, Sabrine, the boy’s injuries were a result of an old diesel heater exploding as the bomb landed.
“The situation for children in Syria is very dire,” Sabrine said, her eyes darting to the heavens as she speaks. “We’re all just very tired of this.”
Still, Musa wants to go home someday. He wants to go back to school, which was reverted to online learning at the outset of the global pandemic more than a year ago. And he already knows what he wants to be when he grows up.
“A policeman,” Musa enthused, a smile contorting his flushed face.
Similarly, Anwar — who is also 8 — wants to be a police officer. He highlights that he met some men in blue in Texas. Anwar, who hails from the once ISIS-ridden parcel of De-Azor, was just 3 when his body was blistered into oblivion. He has no memories of Syria or the beloved siblings he left behind in the throes of conflict.
“I am a burn victim,” he uttered when asked what he wants to share about himself. “And thank you to the American people.”
Baaj also views BCRF’s visa policies as an important model, especially during a time of large-scale debates over immigration, refugee numbers, and Americans’ needs.
Contrary to most other resettlement programs, the foundation permits only one family member — which must be a woman — to travel with the burned child. The US government does not grant them permanent residency, only a visa for the needed treatment period — which usually ranges from six months to two years. After the visa expires, the child must be repatriated with their surviving family abroad, most often to Turkey or Syria.
Yet for the mothers who accompany their children for treatment, the journey still comes at a high personal cost — leaving behind their loved ones and the rest of their children for months, sometimes years.
In the case of Anwar’s mother, Khatoon, she has seven other children with whom she has had to part for an unknown period. But she vividly remembers the morning her baby boy was burned. She remembers leaving the house on a frosty morning to attend a funeral, only to return to find the house a mere pile of smoldering ruins.
Her husband had already rushed the injured Anwar to the Turkish border, and for three months she wandered the war-wracked streets until they were reunited.
“He used to cry a lot, and he wasn’t able to look at himself in the mirror. Sometimes he still gets sad, but he never complains,” Khatoon said, her eyes wet. “I miss my other children, but I had to come here for Anwar. I would tell any parent in this situation, don’t give up on your children.”
The mothers leaned in, quietly confessing that culturally there is still a lot of stigma surrounding severely wounded children in their homeland. Sometimes they are deemed too costly for struggling families, and abandoned. Then there is the fear of ostracizing due to their appearances — which many of them shared when coming to the US. But they experienced the exact opposite.
“I thought it was going to be weird and scary. At first, I was scared with everyone looking at me,” noted Ayesha, who just turned 9 and was scorched when she was just 4 in Idlib. “But I learned here, never judge a book by a cover. Be kind and don’t judge.”
Ayesha’s memories of Syria are fractured. She relives a feeling of constant exhaustion, of feeling unsafe, and then those moments before the injury. Her thoughts shift to the aftermath, the vision of displaced persons flooding over Turkey’s border and back into Syria, even while the conflict peaked.
“Never give up,” she added while scrolling through her toddler photographs — evidence of the life “before.”
“Even when you think hope is lost, it is going to be back in you.”
Heather Hayes was an Air Force mechanic who deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan and has tattoos that tell the story of her time in uniform.
To Hayes, “tattoos are a journey.”
One of them is a Banksy graffiti piece called “Suicide Butterflies” that depicts a woman shooting herself and the resulting damage morphing into butterflies.
“It’s kind of intense I suppose,” Hayes said. “Basically it’s a symbol of something really tragic turning into something really beautiful.”
Hayes’s story is part of a series presented by We Are The Mighty. War Ink: 11 for 11 features 11 combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan using tattoos to tell their stories on and off the battlefield. Each week for the next 11 weeks, a different tattoo’d veteran will share his or her story.
Do you have a tattoo that tells the story of your war experiences? Post a photo of it at We Are The Mighty’s Facebook page withthe hashtag #WeAreTheMightyInk. WATM will be teeing up the coolest and most intense ones through Veteran’s Day.
Veterans of the United States Armed Forces have always played an important role at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Take CIA’s predecessor organization, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), for instance. Founded by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the outset of World War II — and in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on U.S. naval forces at Pearl Harbor — the OSS began its life as a wartime body tasked with mandates to collect and analyze strategic information and to conduct unconventional and paramilitary operations.
At its peak, OSS employed almost 13,000 people: Two-thirds of the workforce was U.S. Army and U.S. Army Air Forces personnel. Civilians made up another quarter, and the rest were from the U.S. Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. At the helm of OSS was World War I hero, General William “Wild Bill” Donovan. The story of CIA begins — and continues — alongside those of the U.S. military and its veterans.
Today, veterans comprise nearly 15% of CIA’s workforce, and we continue to serve alongside our military partners across the globe. CIA, the broader Intelligence Community, and the American people benefit tremendously from the insight and impact of veterans who bring to their work a wealth of experience and knowledge. They are mission-focused from day one and equipped with the skills CIA is looking for in its officers. Veterans often come into the building with the overseas experiences, clearances, and foreign languages that allow them to dive right into the action. A rich history of close collaboration between the military and CIA makes for a smooth transition from military to civilian service. While CIA is not a military body, its officers share that same commitment to mission and service. Veterans will find a familiar enthusiasm in the air at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
World War I hero, General William “Wild Bill” Donovan, helmed the pre-CIA OSS.
CIA is committed to the continued to developing relationships with veterans, and in May of 2013, it chartered the American Veterans Employee Resource Group (AVERG) to serve as a link between the veteran workforce and Agency leaders. The group is committed to goals that include the hiring and retention of veterans, education and engagement on veteran matters, continued career development and frequent community networking opportunities. AVERG offers veterans an important link to Agency leadership — one that ensures CIA’s continued investment in veterans and the unique perspectives they bring to an important mission.
Every day, but especially this week when we celebrate Veterans Day, CIA honors the commitment of its veterans who continue to serve and continue the fight in defense of freedom.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
About 60,000 US soldiers will have their monthly Basic Allowance for Housing payments revoked if they don’t update their personnel files with documents proving they qualify for the benefit.
The mandate to update the documents, first reported Aug. 30 by the site US Army WTF Moments, will be released in an official message “soon,” Army officials said.
That message will direct soldiers to update their documentation in the interactive Personnel Electronic Records Management System, service officials told Military.com on Aug. 31.
“An ALARACT addressing the required documentation that should be loaded into iPERMS for BAH and the timeline for required actions is being drafted,” Army Lt. Col. Randy Taylor, an Army manpower and reserve affairs spokesman, said in an email to Military.com.
“Currently, we have around 60,000 soldiers who are missing documentation in iPERMS,” he added.
Whether a service member qualifies for BAH is based on paygrade and if he or she has dependents.
For those who qualify to live outside the barracks, the allowance amount is based on paygrade, dependents, and duty station zip code.
Dual military couples are both given a BAH payment at the “without dependents rate,” unless they have children. In that case, one of the members receives the “with dependents rate,” while the other does not.
Documents that show eligibility and should be in iPERMS can include birth, adoption, and marriage certificates.
Soldiers will be given 60 days from the release of the ALARACT message to upload their missing documentation, Taylor said.
After the 60 days, their with-dependents rate BAH payments will be reduced or, in the case of soldiers who do not otherwise qualify for BAH, eliminated.
They will be notified of the need to update by both email and by their unit, he said.
If soldiers still have not updated their documents within 90 days of the initial deadline, they will be referred to the Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) under suspicion of BAH fraud, USAWTFM reported.
Taylor, whose initial response didn’t mention such a referral, said the iPERMS document requirement has been in place since 2013.
“Since 2013, there has been a Secretary of the Army directive mandating that key supporting documents are to be stored in the interactive Personnel Electronic Records Management System (iPERMS),” he said in the email.
“Loading KSD in iPERMS allows the Army to improve on its business processes and ensure all Soldiers are receiving the correct payments for their entitlements to include BAH,” he wrote.
The Pentagon is preparing for its first-ever full financial audit, which is to begin this fall. White House officials hope to have the audit completed by mid-2019.
Meanwhile, BAH payments and rates remain a point of contention on Capitol Hill as some lawmakers look to find cost savings by changing who can qualify for the higher with-dependents rates.
Lawmakers ultimately scrapped a 2016 proposal that would have severely limited the amount of housing allowance available to dual-military married couples and service members sharing off-base housing with other troops.
A proposal in the 2018 authorization bill, which is still under negotiation between the House and Senate, would focus reductions only on dual-military couples, bumping both members down to a “without dependent” housing rate regardless of whether the couple has children.