Officials in charge of equipping America’s top commando units are looking for some high-tech drugs to help boost the performance if their 150 “multi-purpose canines.”
According to news reports, U.S. Special Operations Command wants to find pharmaceutical products or nutritional supplements that will enhance canine hearing, eyesight and other senses.
Think of it as a “Q” for America’s four-legged special operators.
According to an official solicitation for the Performance Enhancing Drugs, SOCOM is looking for a product or combination of products that will do the following:
Improve a dog’s ability to regulate body temperature
Improve acclimatization to acute extremes in temperature, altitude, and/or time zone changes
Increase the speed of recovery from strenuous work
Decrease adverse effects due to blood loss.
SOCOM’s military working dogs have been front and center on several top commando raids — with the most famous being Cairo, a Belgian Malinois who joined SEAL Team 6 in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
SOCOM, though, is also looking to neutralize enemy K9s through what another solicitation calls “canine response inhibitors.”
Now, during the Vietnam War, the preferred “canine response inhibitor” was known as the “Hush Puppy.” But these days SOCOM is looking for some less permanent methods, including:
Inhibit barking, howling, and whining
Induce movement away from the area where the effects are deployed
Like the performance enhancers, the “canine response inhibitors” could also be used outside the military.
So, the company or companies that win the hearts and minds of SOCOM’s puppies could catch a huge break.
Alleen Cooper’s son Larry was serving in Vietnam during that war — and, like many mothers who children have served in wartime, she set him letters. Her son returned from the war, and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, but she hasn’t stopped writing.
In fact, according to WHNT.com, her son was not the first serviceman overseas to get a letter. She began writing troops during World War II.
“A lot of soldiers don’t get any mail at all,” Larry Cooper told WHNT.com, adding that Mrs. Cooper’s mission is personal.
According to WGNTV.com, since she started keeping count six years ago, Mrs. Cooper, a 98-year-old grandmother from California, has written over 7,000 letters by hand, and all of them have been unique and at least four pages long. And let’s just repeat the fact that she’s been doing this since World War II, folks.
Just prior to Memorial Day weekend, she connected with one of the servicemen she had written, Marine Staff Sgt. Chris Cantos. When Cantos deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, his unit had no internet access. Their only lifeline was what gets derisively called “snail mail.”
“She would always send us clippings and jokes. She would tell us about her day,” Cantos told WHNT.com.
One of the other troops who received a letter was a wounded soldier in the hospital. He had lost an ear, and needed to get a new one.
“All of the time I think of these people and their families at home,” Mrs. Cooper told WHNT.com.
These days, she will admit her hands are getting tired. But she will keep writing the troops for as long as she can.
Maj. Charles “Astro” Kilchrist, chief of training for the 9th Bomb Squadron and a B-1 pilot, pointed it out during Military.com’s flight in the B-1B over training ranges in New Mexico on Dec. 19, 2017.
The switch, now used in the process to release both guided and unguided conventional bombs, once could have launched nuclear weapons before the B-1 fleet was converted to a non-nuclear role.
The B-1, which has the largest payload in the bomber fleet, can be put into any theater without stirring the same concerns as nuclear-capable aircraft, Kilchrist said.
“We have the ability to have a global footprint,” he said.
Recently, the B-52 Stratofortress replaced the B-1B in the Pacific. The move marked a significant shift to bring back the B-52H – which provided a continuous bomber presence in the region from 2006 to 2016 – to put a nuclear-capable bomber in theater at a time when relations between the U.S. and North Korea are largely unpredictable.
The B-1, by comparison, is all about variety now – the missions it can perform, and the bombs it can drop, Kilchrist said.
“The list of weapons [we have now], it’s pages and pages of different options and different systems,” added Lt. Col. Christopher Wachter, director of operations for the 345th Bomb Squadron at Dyess. “The mission sets [have] grown.”
And Kilchrist has an answer for critics who say the supersonic-capable bomber should be converted back: “It’s not an easy disconnect,” he said, adding, “Why add that one more [detail] in a conventional bomber now?”
The B-1 fleet was converted as part of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
Every year, Russian officials travel to either Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, or Dyess to review whether the B-1 fleet complies with the treaty, which specifies it must remain disarmed.
“It’s fine … it’s nothing contentious,” said Col. Brandon Parker, 7th Bomb Wing commander, during a roundtable discussion Dec. 18 2017. “We fully support compliance with the treaty. It’s part of the inspection regime. We see it as a part of our mission.”
Compliance with the treaty ended the bombers’ nuclear future, so many were surprised when the fleet was realigned in 2015 from Air Combat Command to Global Strike Command, which oversees strategic nuclear deterrence.
“We liked it better that way [under ACC],” said Lt. Col. Dominic “Beaver” Ross, director of operations for the 337th Test and Evaluations Squadron. Ross still wears an ACC patch on his flight suit because the testing and evaluations portion of the mission resides with the 53rd Wing under ACC.
For the testing office, there’s been some jumble, he said.
For example, “We have noticed, when you combined us with the B-52, as far as testing and stuff goes, they almost drudge us down a little bit; it kind of diluted the pool, if you will, when you take the two and combine the program office [into one],” Ross said.
“That’s still a hurdle we’re trying to overcome, because you’re spreading what we had available to us out over more, so we get a little bit less [in both money and resources],” he said.
He added, “It’s a weird realm because we have to operate under both sets of regulations in [the Air Force Instruction]. We think of them differently too. They’re [The B-52s] more high-altitude; they’re the nuke guys. We’re two completely different animals.”
Still as an ops director, Ross knows both the B-52 and B-1 communities are proud of their work.
For the B-1s, “we try to keep it the most lethal machine there is,” he said.
Prepping for the B-21
B-1 operators are keeping in mind how they may shift again in preparation for the B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber – the Pentagon’s latest classified, multi-billion-dollar program in development by Northrop Grumman Corp. – should it come to Dyess.
Officials are weighing whether the B-21 should eventually replace a portion of the B-1 fleet, since it will have both nuclear and non-nuclear roles.
Every Marine is a rifleman — we all know this to be true. One Marine and his rifle can deliver a world of hurt unto the bad guys. But it’s been a long time since Marines have relied on rifles alone to complete the mission.
In fact, Marines often employ guns that are a heck of a lot bigger than an M16 rifle, like the
M777 howitzer. The M16 fires a 5.56mm round. The M777 fires 155mm rounds — nearly 28 times larger. If a Marine delivers a world of hurt with a rifle, then they deliver an entire galaxy of pain with a howitzer.
But, just as with rifles, learning how to use a howitzer requires practice — the sort of practice best done at large-scale war games.
U.S. Marines with Battery B, 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, fire the M777 towed 155 mm howitzer during the assault support tactics 1 exercise in support of Weapons and Tactics Instructors course 2-17 at Fire Base Burt, Calif.
(USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Clare Shaffer)
Believe it or not, it’s a lot more complicated than just pointing the howitzer at the enemy, loading it, and pulling the lanyard. The M777 weighs over 8,250 pounds and fires shells at targets up to 19 miles away with a normal HE round (other rounds have a longer range). This gun is operated by a crew of seven, each of whom play an essential role in sending rounds (very far) down range.
This howitzer has been used by American troops since 2005 and has seen plenty of action in Iraq and Afghanistan, where both soldiers and Marines have used this big gun to take out al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban. This British design has also been acquired by Australia, India, Saudi Arabia, and Canada. Funnily enough, British troops don’t use this big gun.
U.S. Marines with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit fire an M777 Howitzer during a fire mission in northern Syria during combat against ISIS forces.
(USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Zachery Laning)
One motivated Marine with his rifle is bad news for the enemy — now imagine what seven motivated Marines can do with a howitzer!
Check out the video below to watch Marines practice with the M777 howitzer during this year’s Saber Strike exercise in Latvia.
The US Air Force on Nov. 6 said it had failed to record gunman Devin Patrick Kelley’s domestic violence conviction into a federal database following his discharge from the military, which could have prevented him from buying the rifle he used to kill 26 people.
Kelley was convicted of domestic violence from a military court after he was found guilty of assaulting his spouse and child, according to several media reports. The military’s failure to note Kelley’s conviction into the National Criminal Information Center, a federal database, allowed him to pass several background checks and purchase firearms.
“The Air Force has launched a review of how the service handled the criminal records of former Airman Devin P. Kelley following his 2012 domestic violence conviction,” the Air Force said in a statement. “Federal law prohibited him from buying or possessing firearms after this conviction.”
Kelley had passed background checks when he purchased a firearm in 2016, a sporting goods retail chain said in Reuters. He had also passed a check when he purchased a second firearm in 2017, Reuters reported.
Kelley, a former Airman who received a discharge for bad conduct in 2014 and was sentenced to a year in prison, purchased four firearms between 2015 and 2017, police said. Three of them, including an assault-style rifle, were located at the scene of the shooting.
Kelley, who police said is believed to have died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound following a brief chase, killed 26 people at First Baptist Church in rural Texas on Sunday. The shooting was the deadliest in Texas history.
The Air Force said it would also examine whether other convictions had gone unreported.
“The service will also conduct a comprehensive review of Air Force databases to ensure records in other cases have been reported correctly,” the Air Force statement said.
Sgt. Kiara Perez takes aim with the SkyWall Patrol (U.S. Army)
Ok, so modern unmanned aerial vehicles aren’t nearly as much a threat as Skynet and these weapon systems really wouldn’t do anything to the T-1000. However, today’s remote-controlled drones can prove to be major security risks as surveillance or even explosive delivery platforms—it’s this threat that the 40mm net grenade and SkyWall 100 bazooka are designed to combat.
On February 5, 2019, the U.S. Army acquired a patent for a 40mm grenade designed to snare and defeat UAVs. I can already hear you typing, “Why not just shoot them out of the sky with air-burst rounds or regular bullets?” Well, the first problem is escalation of force. Depending on the ROE, live fire may not be approved as a reaction to unmanned surveillance. There’s also the fact that bullets fired into the air that don’t connect with their target will eventually fall to earth and potentially strike an unintended target. Additionally, shooting down a drone creates the danger of an uncontrolled airborne object falling from the sky, most likely over friendly forces. This danger is amplified if the drone is carrying explosives.
Enter the 40mm net grenade. Based on the standard 40mm grenade platform used in weapon systems like the Mk19 and M320 grenade launchers, the 40mm net grenade provides troops with a non-lethal standoff countermeasure to combat drones. The basic components of the grenade are the net and proximity detector. The operator aims at the drone and fires the grenade. At six to nine yards from the target, the proximity detector detonates a small charge that propels the petals and weights from the grenade and casts the net. The net ensnares the drone and neutralizes it. The Army has reported that initial tests of the grenade have been promising since it is easily operated and it is extremely effective against multiple targets—that’s right, drone swarms.
An illustration of how the net grenade works (U.S. Patent 10,197,365 B1 Figure 2)
What if the drone bigger than a standard commercial drone? Get a bigger gun. In this case, a bazooka. Built by OpenWorks Engineering, the SkyWall is a smart anti-drone shoulder-fired bazooka that assists its operator in targeting and neutralizing unmanned aerial threats. The operator identifies the target using the intelligent scope. The targeting system then calculates a firing solution based on the target’s distance, speed, and direction. Once an optimal aim is acquired, the weapon fires its round at the target. The net-carrying canister round is capable of engaging drones up to 100m away. The net round can also be equipped with a parachute which helps to bring the drone safely to the ground. This can help with identification and intelligence gathering once the aircraft is recovered. The weapon system is designed to be operated by just one person and claims a fast reload time for dealing with multiple targets. That said, it’s hard to beat the rate of fire of a Mk19.
While the net grenade is still in its testing and evaluation phase, the SkyWall has already been deployed operationally. The SkyWall Patrol model was implemented as a kinetic component of the GUARDION air defense system by German police at the Berlin Air Show. In an environment where an unregistered drone could cause serious damage to sensitive and expensive aircraft, keeping the skies safe is a serious business. The GUARDION system detects, tracks, and neutralizes drones in built-up and public spaces. This is made possible by SkyWall’s accurate and non-lethal characteristics.
The U.S. Army is also implementing SkyWall Patrol in its anti-drone system. At a demonstration in Italy, the Army provided an overview of the system, performed two engagements against a drone, and held a discussion on the recovery and exploitation of an unmanned system once it is captured. The demonstration was a major event with 55 multinational observers in attendance. Additionally, Sgt. Kiara Perez became the first female U.S. service member to operate the SkyWall Patrol during the demonstration. Sarah Conner would be proud. “The SkyWall Patrol system aligns with the U.S. Army’s modernization strategy, which focuses on making soldiers and units more lethal,” the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command said in a press release.
As technology evolves, so too does the battlefield. The implementation of new technologies in warfare also prompts further technological research and development in the pursuit of countermeasures. While this means increased capabilities for our troops, it also means more mission essential tasks to train on and more sensitive items to keep track off.
Air Force officials have been warning about the force’s dire pilot shortage, and a recent Government Accountability Office report illustrates just how bad the shortfall has gotten.
The report assesses the gaps between the actual number of fighter pilots that the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy have and the number of positions they are authorized to have.
Each service branch reported fighter-pilot shortages that have grown worse in recent years. “Service officials attributed these gaps to aircraft readiness challenges, reduced training opportunities, and increased attrition of fighter pilots due to career dissatisfaction,” the report says.
The Air Force had at least 92% of its fighter-pilot positions filled between 2006 and 2010, an 8% gap, and 104% of what it needed in 2011, a 4% surplus. But the gap has grown since 2012 and is currently the biggest of the three military branches, at 27%.
The Air Force, which has undertaken a number of training and retention initiatives, projected its shortfall to last through fiscal year 2023.
Growing shortfalls and falling retention
(U.S. Air Force photo)
Each branch has different levels at which the difference between authorized positions and actual staff levels becomes a shortage. Air Force officials told the GAO that “their established practice is that pilot communities with less than 100 percent of authorizations are considered to be insufficiently staffed.”
Changing authorization levels led to an excess in some Air Force career fields in 2011, but an increase in authorized positions in the past few years has led to a growing shortfall among fighter pilots — from 192, or 5% of authorized positions, that year to 1,005, or 27% of authorized positions, in 2017. (The Air Force said at the end of 2017 that its total shortage was “around 2,000” pilots.)
“According to briefing documents prepared by the Air Force, this gap is concentrated among fighter pilots with fewer than 8 years of experience,” the report notes.
Air Force officials told the GAO that between 2006 and 2017, “fighter pilot gaps were generally limited to non-operational positions, such as staff assignments at Air Force headquarters or combatant commands.”
But the GAO also found that the Air Force had been unable to fill all its operational positions since fiscal year 2014, with the gap between the operational positions it needed to fill and the actual staffing levels it had growing from 39 pilots, or 1% of authorizations, in 2014 to 399 pilots, or 13%, in 2017.
Several factors have contributed to these shortfalls, in particular reductions to overall active-duty military end strength.
Service officials said that personnel reductions after the 2008 drawdown in Iraq and cuts to funding stemming from the 2011 Budget Control Act both helped reduce the number of fighter pilots in the military.
The Air Force shed 206 fighter pilots in order to meet initial demand for pilots of unmanned aerial systems in 2011 and 2012 and then lost 54 more to early-retirement incentives in 2014 and 2015. That was compounded by changes to force structure — the decline in active and reserve Air Force fighter squadrons from 134 in 1989 to 55 in 2017 has reduced the opportunities newly trained pilots have to gain flying experience.
These factors have helped create a bottleneck in the Air Force’s training pipeline. The service has more pilots entering than it has resources to train. According to the GAO report, between 2006 and 2017 the Air Force trained 12% fewer new fighter pilots than its target amount.
“Fighter pilots told us that the need to prioritize the staffing of experienced pilots to deploying squadrons has limited the number of experienced personnel available to train newer pilots at home stations,” the report says.
A fighter pilot needs about five years of training to be qualified to lead flights, which costs between about $3 million to $11 million depending on the type of aircraft they’re being trained to fly, according to Air Force officials.
Those training issues are exacerbated by the reduction in aircraft, as longer maintenance times for legacy aircraft, like the F-16 or F-15, leave fewer aircraft available for training. (A shortage of maintainer crew members has also hamstrung the Air Force, though it has made progress adding more of those personnel.)
The services have also struggled to retain pilots.
The GAO found that the number of Air Force pilots signing retention contracts fell from 63% in 2013 to 35% in 2017 — despite the service increasing its maximum aviation bonus contract to $225,000 at the start of 2013, which was the highest amount offered by any of the military service branches.
Officials from the service branches told the GAO they had used various tactics to address their pilot shortfalls, including longer and more frequent deployments, putting senior pilots in junior positions, and “prioritizing staffing fighter pilots to flying positions that require fighter pilot-specific technical skills.”
The service branches has also tried to compensate for fighter-pilot shortages by drawing on pilots from other career fields.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen)
The Air Force, for example, has drawn on mobility pilots — those that fly cargo and refueling aircraft — to fill instructor roles for basic training to free up fighter pilots for duties elsewhere.
But fliers and squadron leaders told the GAO that these measures have had deleterious effects. Pilots and squadron leaders also said that some of these efforts to mitigate pilot shortages had helped drive down retention
A high operational tempo has limited the opportunities senior pilots have to train with junior pilots, which in turn limits the opportunities the service branches have to grow the number of pilots with specific qualifications. This also cuts into the services’ ability to rebuild readiness. Air Force officials said “high deployment rates … have resulted in less time for squadrons to complete their full training requirements because high deployment rates mean that there are fewer aircraft available for training at home stations.”
Moreover, increasing individual deployments undercut family stability, pilots said, affecting satisfaction with their careers.
The Air Force has taken steps to mitigate the effects the pilot shortage has had on pilots’ quality of life.
It has stood up teams dedicated to finding and implementing dozens of initiatives to reduce the fighter-pilot shortage.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez)
“For example, as the result of one initiative, 126 contractors have been placed in fighter squadrons to assist with administrative tasks and reduce workload for fighter pilots,” the GAO notes.
Air Force training squadrons have also taken steps to better apportion resources, including consolidating instructors among training units and altering the training process and syllabus, according to a February 2018 report by Aviation Week, but those shifts still put a strain on pilots and aircraft and represented “a leap into the unknown” for the units.
The GAO report also noted that the service branches had not reevaluated fighter-squadron requirements to reflect change conditions, the increased workload, and the effects of the increasing use of unmanned aircraft.
“Air Force officials told us that metrics that inform squadron requirements … have not been increased because the Air Force is instead prioritizing the effort to recapitalize its fleet of fighter aircraft,” the report said, adding that officials said they were also reassessing fighter-pilots’ nonoperational requirements, focusing on finding which ones could be reassigned to other pilots.
The report made recommendations for each branch, advising the Air Force to reevaluate those squadron requirements, “to include updating current assumptions of fighter pilot workload, and assessing the impact of future incorporation of [unmanned aerial systems] platforms into combat aviation.”
The Framers of the Constitution intended for there to be a, let’s call it, “healthy tension” between the branches of government, especially around matters pertaining to the power to commit the nation to war. The Constitution stipulates that the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. military, but that Congress has the power of the purse over military funding as well as the authority to declare war. And like what tends to happen around pieces of legislation that endure because they’re blissfully ill-defined, the rest is subject to interpretation.
And differences in interpretation around who has the power to do what when it comes to waging war led Congress to pass the War Powers Act in 1973 after it came to light that President Nixon had expanded the already unpopular Vietnam War into neighboring Cambodia. The resolution was passed in both the House and Senate before being vetoed by Nixon. That veto was overridden and the War Powers Act became law on November 7 of that year.
The War Powers Act requires that the President notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days, with a further 30-day withdrawal period, without a Congressional authorization for that use of military force or a declaration of war by the United States.
But those quantitative guidelines haven’t kept the Executive and Legislative branches from tangling over the definition of “war.” Here are 3 times the President and Congress disagreed over the use of the War Powers Act:
1. Reagan sends Multinational Force to Lebanon
In 1981 President Reagan took the lead in introducing western troops — including four U.S. Marine Amphibious Units — to Lebanon as a peacekeeping force that would, among other things, allow the Palestinians to safely leave the country. But what started as a fairly benign op erupted into chaos as the months went on. The most horrific and tragic among the violent events was the bombing of the Marine Corps Barracks on October 23, 1983 that killed 241 U.S. servicemembers and 58 French paratroopers.
That bombing caused Congress to realize the American mission as one in which American forces could not succeed because their mission was poorly defined from a military point of view. (Then as now, just being present is not a viable use of military force.) Lawmakers withdrew support for the Multinational Force presence and threatened the Reagan administration with the War Powers Act to expedite getting the troops out as fast as possible, which was ironic because they had also used the War Powers Act two years earlier to allow Reagan to insert the troops for an indefinite length of time.
2. Clinton takes military action against Kosovo
As reported by Charlie Savage in The New York Times back in 2011, “In 1999, President Clinton kept the bombing campaign in Kosovo going for more than two weeks after the 60-day deadline had passed. Even then, however, the Clinton legal team opined that its actions were consistent with the War Powers Resolution because Congress had approved a bill funding the operation, which they argued constituted implicit authorization. That theory was controversial because the War Powers Resolution specifically says that such funding does not constitute authorization.”
In 2013, The Wall Steet Journal reported that Clinton’s actions in Kosovo were challenged by a member of Congress as a violation of the War Powers Resolution in the D.C. Circuit case Campbell v. Clinton, but the court found the issue was a “non-justiciable political question.” It was also accepted that because Clinton had withdrawn from the region 12 days prior the 90-day required deadline, he had managed to comply with the act.
3. Obama conducts a campaign against Libya
In 2011, the Obama administration was waging a proxy war against the Khaddafi regime in Libya, primarily using air power to assist the rebels. (There were rumors that American special operators were acting as forward air controllers on the ground, but they were never substantiated.) We the clock ran out on the War Powers timeframe, President Obama (along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) sidestepped asking Congress for permission to keep the campaign going, claiming that no authorization was needed because the leadership of the campaign had been transferred to NATO. The administration also said that U.S. involvement was “limited,” even though American aircraft were flying 75 percent of the campaign’s sorties.
Eventually, the rebels found and killed Khaddafi, which put an end to the air campaign but led to the Benghazi debacle where four Americans were killed, including the ambassador — a cautionary tale in itself, perhaps, about bypassing the War Powers Act.
Sit across the table from Spc. Sergo Dzamashvili for just a few seconds and you’ll see a basic outline emerge fairly quickly. His manners and easy smile, the way he leans forward when he talks, and — not least of all, of course — his affection for Starbucks Doubleshot energy drinks make him the typical — almost archetypal — 30-year-old soldier; busy, eager, and always ready for the next task, the next challenge. But dig a little deeper and you will see, quite clearly, the details that color the world inside that simple sketch. To map the entire terrain, however, you’ll need to travel some 15,000 miles.
“I always wanted to be a soldier,” says Dzamashvili, sitting in the offices of the 21st Signal Brigade on a warm September morning. “When I was a kid that was always something I thought would be cool, being a soldier for the American Army.”
Those words, and indeed his affinity for the Army and America as a whole, are repeated so often and with such calm conviction that he could almost double as a motivational speaker; one specializing, perhaps, in writing simple daily mantras for busy professionals to read on their daily commutes. Instead, Dzamashvili is a board-certified medical doctor who enlisted in the Army just last year, in early 2018. It’s a commitment, he says, that doubles as a gift to the country that gave him opportunities he never would have had in his native Georgia — a tiny, still-emerging country located at the intersection of Western Asia and Eastern Europe.
U.S. Army Spc. Sergo Dzamashvili speaks with a coworker at his desk located in the offices of the 21st Signal Brigade.
(Photo by Mr. Ramin A. Khalili)
“Honestly,” says Dzamashvili, “the reason I wanted to become an American soldier is because America has given my family everything.”
The first 5,000 miles
“When I was born in Georgia,” says Dzamashvili, reaching back to the late 1980s, “it was still part of the U.S.S.R. This was just before the U.S.S.R. split up, and so there was instability and there was upheaval … there was an ongoing fight for power.”
It was that atmosphere of decline that Dzamashvili’s father, Konstantin, sought to flee when he reached out to a friend living in Chicago for help in the early 1990s. Political and cultural strife in the country of — at the time — barely more than four million people had led to the breakdown of living conditions and, in some cases, the basic application of law. And so Konstantin, a neurologist by trade, was hoping America could provide safety for his wife, son, and young twin daughters.
“My father was waiting in breadlines for hours just to feed the family,” says Dzamashvili. “So when he came here, it was for a better life.”
But that opportunity came with a catch. In order to pay for his family’s move to America, Konstantin had to travel to the U.S. alone first in order to save up enough money. He wound up bunking with that same buddy in Chicago for a year —eventually re-starting his medical career at 40-years old — before bringing the rest of the family to Illinois.
Says Dzamashvili of his father, “He was out there for a year, alone, while we were still in Georgia, until he had passed all his boards and started his residency program, which would then fund us coming over here.”
And so at age five, Sergo was finally in the place he wanted to be all along … for a little while, at least.
Return to Georgia
For Sergo, it all started with his grandfather — his father’s father. He was the catalyst, the inception point. He passed away when Konstantin was in his late teens and so Sergo never got a chance to meet him, but he did have pictures — volumes of mementos from Georgia.
“I would always hear stories about his bravery,” says Sergo, “about what kind of man he was. From early on, I was always intrigued — the way he was standing there in his [military] uniform with all these medals.”
Those pictures, coupled with Sergo’s newfound affinity for the United States, stuck with him during his formative years and carried through to his entrance into medical school — which he ultimately chose to attend at David Tvildiani Medical University back in Georgia.
U.S. Army Spc. Sergo Dzamashvili (foreground, right) conducts Army Warrior Tasks (AWT) drills during the 21st Signal Brigade Best Warrior Competition 2019.
(US Army photo by Sgt. Raul Pacheco)
The decision to both leave home (to leave again, in a manner of speaking) and reconnect with family roots was daunting to say the least, as Georgia had been rife with the same political instability from Dzamashvili’s youth up until pro-democratic forces rose to power in the mid-2000s. The tiny, burgeoning country was still — much like Sergo at the time — moving through its adolescent years.
There was contrasting comfort, however, in the medical training itself. Turns out Dzamashvili’s chosen university not only came highly recommended from family friends practicing medicine in Chicago, it was designed specifically to cater to regional students who wanted to ultimately enter U.S.-based medical professions. To that end, all university textbooks were written in English and, further, the overall cost of schooling was substantially less than a U.S.-based medical education — all perks unavailable to his father just a decade-or-so earlier. Ironically, Georgia would eventually, in 2014, become home to the U.S. Army Medical Research Directorate-Georgia, a subordinate command of the USAMRDC’s Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.
“Going back to Georgia really brought me that perspective,” says Dzamashvili. “There was a long time where my family wouldn’t go back, even though we had a chance to go back in the 90s.”
Just twelve years after touching down in America’s Heartland — and just a few years after becoming an American citizen — Sergo was back on a plane at age 17 for a new and different journey.
Homecoming, part II
When you ask him how Georgians speak — ask about the language they use, the way they talk, the casual slang terms they use, even — Dzamashvili is quick to make it clear that Georgia is a singular and unique entity; a hard-fought identity that he clearly still respects.
“Georgians have their own language,” he says quickly, almost as a sly-but-gentle rebuke to those who think the country may still be hindered by its turbulent past in any way. “They have their own alphabet, everything — and so I had to re-learn how to read and write, essentially, when I went back for school.”
Dzamashvili’s university stay would last for six years until his graduation in 2013; at which point he’d not only navigated the rigors of initial medical training, but had reached a poignant understanding of the country of his birth (“people there are very hospitable,” he says), gained a greater understanding of the government’s democratic efforts (“I see hope,” he says), and, with regards to cultural differences, had also determined that Georgia had substantial culinary shortcomings as compared to the U.S. (“I did miss burritos over there,” he says).
U.S. Army Spc. Sergo Dzamashvili assigned to HHC, 21st Signal Brigade, conducts M9 weapons qualification as part of the 21st Signal Brigade Best Warrior Competition 2019.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Raul Pacheco)
Touching back down in Illinois, Dzamashvili eventually passed his medical board examinations, shadowed professional doctors, and even performed clinical research at Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital. But when it came time for residency training, instead of waiting a year to attend either Loyola University of Chicago or the University of Illinois at Chicago, he opted for a different path: the U.S. Army.
“Screw waiting,” says Dzamashvili of his mindset at the time. “I’m going to join the Army. I was always told the fastest way to get into the Army was to just go and enlist anyways, so that didn’t bother me to go enlist for a couple of years as long as I got into the medical field.”
Desire, meet destiny
Now, after thirty years and medical training efforts on two different continents, Sergo Dzamashvili is both a medical doctor and a member of the U.S. Army; his first assignment is here at Fort Detrick. His unique qualifications have bred an understandable eagerness to move forward — a chomping at the bit, of sorts — as, indeed, he’s already started the process of entering the Army’s medical occupation; taking the steps required to become a physician. But if you think the man who’s waited nearly three decades to realize his dream is put off by a little time in the waiting room, then you don’t know Sergo.
“My ultimate goal is to practice medicine in the Army,” says Dzamashvili. “That’s what I want, to give back. I’d like to serve for at least eight years, to give back that entire time in service.”
Just how long it will take to reach that goal is yet to be seen, though it should come as no surprise that Dzamashvili has already attempted to plot the arc of his military medical career even before his training has been completed. Even now, serving as a Human Resources Specialist in the S-1 Office until his next assignment, he finds in each day’s shift what so many others would gladly welcome into their own lives: a sense of purpose, the feeling of belonging, and the satisfaction of a job that truly has meaning.
In the end — if these kinds of stories can have an end — the service career of Sergo Dzamashvili is, in reality, just beginning. It would be an exaggeration, perhaps, to say that Dzamashvili has already lived multiple lives; though it wouldn’t be such a stretch to say that’s the truth, either. In any capacity, his life’s work as currently constructed already stands as an impressive feat; a soldier coupling the desire to serve America with the talent required to make a lasting impact.
Not too bad for a typical 30-year-old.
Says Dzamashvili, “If there’s nothing else I do in my life, I can always say I was a soldier. That’s the way I look at it. If there’s nothing else that I accomplish, I will always know that I served my country.”
General Charles “CQ” Brown has officially been confirmed as the next Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, the branch’s highest military position, following a unanimous confirmation from the U.S. Senate on Tuesday. The historic vote secured Brown’s position as the 22nd Chief of Staff in Air Force history, and the first black service chief in the history of our nation.
Brown rose through the ranks as an F-16 pilot with more than 2,900 hours in the cockpit and at least 130 flight hours in combat environments. Brown’s talents in the cockpit eventually led him to serving as an F-16 pilot instructor before moving on to a variety of command positions, including his recent role as the commander of Pacific Air Forces.
Throughout his impressive career, General Brown has repeatedly stood out among his peers. First commissioned in 1984, Brown went on to earn a master’s degree in aeronautical science and was singled out at Air Command and Staff College as his class’ distinguished graduate in 1994. He has commanded Air Force Weapons School, two fighter wings, the U.S. Air Force’s Central Command, and also served as the deputy commander for U.S. Central Command.
The historic 98-0 Senate vote to confirm Brown saw Vice President Mike Pence presiding over the process–an unusual move as the Vice President historically serves as s tie-breaker in hotly contested votes. Instead, Pence said he attended to confirmation because of its historic significance.
Vice President Pence wasn’t the only leader to extend their congratulations to General Brown. Chief of Space Operations and fellow service chief, Gen. Jay Raymond also congratulated Brown on his confirmation.
“Gen. Brown is an innovative leader who clearly understands the complex and evolving strategic environment we face today as a Department,” Raymond said. “He clearly understands the importance of leading across all domains to compete, deter and win — especially in war-fighting domains like space. I am thrilled with Gen. Brown’s confirmation. I couldn’t ask for a better teammate.”
Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett took to Twitter to point to Brown’s credentials and accolades as a military leader.
Brown’s confirmation comes at a challenging time for America, as protests regarding racial injustice continue to take place in cities all around the nation, following the murder of George Floyd while in police custody.
Earlier this week, Brown released a heartfelt video in which he described the challenges of being a black man in America, and an officer in the United States Air Force–a dichotomy Brown described as having to lead two distinct lives.
“I’m thinking about having to represent by working twice as hard to prove [that my supervisors’] perceptions and expectations of African Americans were invalid,” he said in the video. “I’m thinking about the airmen who don’t have a life similar to mine, and don’t have to navigate through two worlds. I’m thinking about how these airmen see racism, where they don’t see it as a problem because it doesn’t happen to them, or whether they’re empathetic.”
The officer responsible for Floyd’s death has been charged with second degree murder and the other three officers involved in the incident have also been taken into custody–but the incident itself has served as a pivot point for many Americans who have used Floyd’s death as an impetus for positive change in their community and nation. Protests throughout the country calling for racial equality have garnered support from service leaders in the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps–but it was the Air Force that first spoke out about race in recent weeks.
On June 1, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright published an Op-Ed on his social media accounts outlining his concerns as a black man and the senior enlisted leader of America’s Air Force.
“Like you, I don’t have all of the answers, but I am committed to seeing a better future for this nation. A future where Black men must no longer suffer needlessly at the hands of White police officers, and where Black Airmen have the same chance to succeed as their White counterparts. Trust me, I understand this is a difficult topic to talk about… Difficult…not impossible… Difficult…but necessary.”
Following CMSAF Wright’s post, the current Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General David Goldfein, also released a statement and the two leaders released a number of videos and participated in town hall discussions about race within their branch.
Two Kurdish peshmerga troops were killed in the attack, and two French special operators were also seriously wounded. One is still in critical condition. Both were whisked away back to France immediately.
Due to the rapid proliferation of drone technology and the fact that component prices have dropped significantly over the past few years, militant groups are quickly adopting drones as a new weapon.
And yet, the use of drones with explosives, much less against Western forces, is uncommon. In many cases, ISIS simply uses drones for surveillance footage to use in propaganda films.
U.S. forces in Iraq now carry the equipment to bring down these kinds of drones, such as a Battelle DroneDefender, which actually doesn’t even use bullets. Rather, the technology works by disrupting the communication line between the drone and its operator.
It’s unclear if France possesses the same counter-drone technology in the field.
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CLEVELAND, Ohio — After getting a taste of wearing uniforms and drilling while attached to a JROTC unit in high school, New Orleans native Adrian Bruneau joined the Marine Corps on his eighteenth birthday.
“My father was a colonel in the Air Force and he was not very happy about that,” he recalls. “He came straight home and said, ‘Son, don’t you know people get killed in the Marine Corps? I said, ‘Dad, I’m pretty sure people get killed in the Air Force flying and whatever too.'”
Bruneau wound up spending 15 years in the Corps — 8 on active duty and 7 in the reserves — primarily working as an avionics technician. “If it had an electronic heartbeat in an aircraft I could work on it,” he says. “Whether it was nav gear, satellite gear . . . anything that was electronic — not electric, but electronic — that needed to be fixed I could fix it.”
But while Bruneau got a lot of satisfaction out of his military service, his real passion was politics, largely because his father had been in the Louisiana state legislature for 32 years. As soon as he got off of active duty, he walked into the State House and found a job as an aide to a state senator. After working as a staffer at the state level for awhile, he decided he wanted to try his hand at working on political campaigns.
“I asked Ron Forman — a candidate for mayor of New Orleans and a longtime mentor — if I could have a job on his campaign even though I was a Republican and he was a Democrat — a conservative one, but still,” Bruneau remembers. “It was an interesting race for mayor because it was right after Hurricane Katrina and there were a lot of issues to figure out for the people there. After that, things just kind of snowballed.”
He formed a corporation — “BHC” — to give him some business and legal protections. Bruneau says, “My dad told me, ‘Somebody’s going to blame you for something at some point in time, so you’d better have the legal protection to back it up.’ ”
He followed that race (that was won by high-profile figure Ray Nagin) with a pivot into judicial elections — “popularity contests for lawyers,” as he puts it. And he made it a point to work on both Republican and Democratic campaigns.
“New Orleans is a little blue dot in a sea of red,” Bruneau says as a way to justify his bi-partisan track record. But as his network and impact grew along with his desire to work beyond the border of New Orleans, a trusted friend who worked at the national level told him he had to pick a side.
Bruneau focused on the Republican Party, and his first job was working on the campaign of Ilario Pantano, another Marine Corps veteran, who was running to fill North Carolina’s Second District congressional seat. Pantano, who first came to national prominence after being accused of murdering innocent civilians in Haditha, Iraq, while serving as a platoon leader — an allegation for which he was ultimately not charged — lost the race. But that didn’t deter Bruneau from jumping right back on the campaign trail with another hopeful.
“It’s just like a military campaign, really,” Bruneau says while describing the nuts-and-bolts of running political campaigns. “You got your ground game, your air game, and your logistics. Air game is your media, your television. On the ground side, you organize people and get the fire going, which I actually enjoy better.”
He doesn’t enjoy the fundraising part of the process. “Not my space,” he says. “I just stay away from that. I’m a Marine. Go stick me in the ground and let me do my thing.”
Bruneau admits the political world can be frustrating at times. “You serve two masters,” he says. “The candidate always has a group of insiders — his ‘kitchen cabinet,’ people he’s had around him his whole life. Sometimes those people were helpful, but other times they’d get the candidate’s ear and I’d have to spend hours talking him out of a bad idea. I’ve seen good people lose because they listened to the wrong people and I’ve seen candidates who I never thought could win do so because they formed a good team and listened to them.”
This week, Bruneau is in Cleveland because he has another role in politics beyond running Gulf South Strategies, the current name of his consulting firm. He’s an RNC delegate from Louisiana.
“Back in 2012 my business partner and I reached out to the Trump campaign through the state party chairman, but soon thereafter we were told that Trump was going to endorse Mitt Romney,” he says. “This time, the Trump campaign came to us and said, ‘Hey, fellas, we think we’re going to do this again.’ ”
Bruneau advised the Trump campaign on who should be part of their team in Louisiana, and because of that effort, he was asked if he was willing to be an at-large delegate. He jumped at the opportunity.
“A lot of people have said, ‘Gee whiz, Adrian, you’re crazy supporting Trump,’ ” he admits. “I said, ‘Nope, I read his book when I was a junior in high school and I’ve been fascinated by his business every since.’ ”
Bruneau admits that his path has been unorthodox, but he thinks politics is a viable follow-on career for those leaving the military.
“I tell former servicemembers that getting into politics is a relatively easy transition to make,” Bruneau says. “Politicians naturally have an appreciation for military service and are inclined to hire vets.”
An F-16 pilot flying over ISIS-held territory in 2015 suffered a malfunction of his fuel system and would have been forced to bail out if it weren’t for a KC-135 Stratotanker crew that offered to escort the jet home, the Air Force said in a press release.
“We were in the area of responsibility and were already mated with some A-10 Thunderbolt IIs that were tasked with observing and providing close-air-support for our allies on the ground,” said Capt. Nathanial Beer, 384th Air Refueling Squadron pilot. “The lead F-16 came up first and then had a pressure disconnect after about 500 pounds of fuel. We were expecting to offload about 2,500 pounds.”
After the pilot completed his checklist, it became apparent that 80 percent of his fuel supply was trapped in the tanks and couldn’t get to the engine. The pilots would have to bail out over ISIS territory or try to make it back to allied airspace.
500 pounds of fuel is very little in an F-16, so the KC-135 flew home with the fighter and topped off its gas every 15 minutes.
“The first thought I had from reading the note from the deployed location was extreme pride for the crew in how they handled the emergency,” said Lt. Col. Eric Hallberg, 384th Air Refueling Squadron commander.
“Knowing the risks to their own safety, they put the life of the F-16 pilot first and made what could’ve been an international tragedy, a feel-good news story. I’m sure they think it was not a big deal, however, that’s because they never want the glory or fame.”
The KC-135 crew returned to their planned operation once the F-16 was safely home and were able to complete all of their scheduled missions despite the detour.