Plastic may sound like a terrible idea for stopping bullets and shrapnel, but this plastic is lightweight, modular, and affords all the same protection of current gear. The Army’s Program Executive Officer (PEO) Soldier, the office responsible for cost and scheduling in DoD acquisitions for soldiers’ equipment and protective gear, has been field testing armor weighing only 23 pounds. This new lightweight armor is known as the Torso and Extremities Protection System and is 25 percent lighter that current body armor.
The key is Polyethylene. The plastic is also replacing kevlar in soldiers’ personal protective armor and in replacing helmets. Furthermore, manufacturers of ceramic plates are also refining the process of making the plates, which will drive the weight down even more.
“The Army is constantly trying to make soldiers’ loads lighter,” Lt. Col. Kathy Brown told Stars and Stripes. Brown is a program manager for Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment at Program Executive Office Soldier. “We are looking at further developing the system,” she said. “We think we can lose more weight.”
The new armor will cost less to produce and will allow troops to wear more or less armor, depending on mission risk and requirements. The new flexibility also offers the wearer increased mobility. For missions with less risk involved, soldiers can wear a “ballistic combat shirt,” a soft armor which protects the upper back, check, neck, and arms under their jackets. Ceramic plates can be added for increased protection.
The new armor has been field tested at Army and Marine Corps units across the U.S. for the last two years and has received a 95 percent positive feedback rating from troops who tested it. In addition, the Army tried to take into account all the previous efforts to make armor more comfortable for female wearers. So this armor is designed to be unisex and all-encompassing for both male and female soldiers.
The new armor is expected to be available for Army-wide soldier use in 2019.
In honor of Russian Aerospace Force Day, the Russian Ministry of Defense has released its first official footage of the fifth-generation stealth aircraft, the PAK FA Sukhoi T-50.
The government unveiled the montage of its prized stealth fighters launching from an aircraft carrier’s ski-jump ramp, along with several other aircraft such as the MiG-29KUB naval fighter and the Su-35S.
Although the T-50s only appear for a few brief seconds, it’s enough to make out the the two camouflage patterns of the first new fighters produced after the Cold War.
However, despite the fancy paint job and Russia touting the T-50, critics say its features may fall short of it achieving the prized moniker of “fifth-generation aircraft.”
For one, the evolutionary technology onboard the T-50 doesn’t make the quantum leap that other aircraft, such as China’s Chengdu J-20 or the US’s F-35 Lightning II, incorporate. Instead, it seems to have inherited the same engine from the Su-35, an aircraft that’s considered to be 4++ generation — between fourth- and fifth-generation.
Additionally, the primary trait of fifth-generation aircraft, namely stealth, is also called into question when compared with others around the world. According to RealClearDefense, in 2010 and 2011, sources close to the program claimed that the T-50’s radar cross section, the measurement of how detectable on radar an object is, was estimated to be 0.3 to 0.5 square meters.
Although these figures may sound impressive, when compared with the US Air Force F-22 Raptor’s 0.0001-square-meter RCS or the F-35’s 0.001-square-meter RCS, it’s worth taking a second look at by engineers.
Despite the controversy, the T-50 excels where other fifth-generation aircraft have not: its cost. With each unit more than $50 million, it’s considered a bargain when comparing it with the F-22’s $339 million and the F-35’s $178 million price tags.
Army veteran Ernesto Rodriguez finished his trek from Clarksville, Tennessee, to the California coast when he walked the last few miles and onto the Santa Monica Pier.
A police motorcycle officer led the way and a crowd of supporters followed as Rodriguez strode to the end of the pier with American flags protruding from his backpack.
“I’m freaking out, I’m overwhelmed,” he told KTTV. “It’s the culmination of everything I’ve done and it’s starting to hit me. I’ve tried to stay calm pretty much up until today but I’m getting to a point where my emotions are starting to hit.”
Rodriguez, who spent 15 years in the Army, said he got the idea for the journey after hearing about a 2012 study that said there were 22 veteran suicides a day.
“I could’ve been one of those 22 back in 2011,” he told the station. “I wanted to find a way to inspire those that are having dark days like that to just keep pushing forward. So I just started walking.”
The trek began on Veterans Day 2016.
“There’s been days I’ve wanted to quit,” he said. “There’s been days that I almost died, to be quite honest. When I was out in the desert it was rough — dehydration, heat exhaustion — but there were so many people that came out. I remember something as simple as somebody driving and finding me and bringing me water or Gatorade just to make sure I wasn’t dehydrated out there.”
“I’m so grateful for the kindhearted people that helped me get through this.”
Cybersecurity firms have found clues that last weekend’s global “ransomware” attack, which infected more than 300,000 computers in 150 countries, could be linked to North Korea.
The security companies Sympantec and Kaspersky Lab said on May 15 that portions of the “WannaCry” ransomware used in the attacks have the same code as malware previously distributed by Lazarus, a group behind the 2014 Sony hack blamed on North Korea.
“This is the best clue we have seen to date as to the origins of WannaCry,” Kaspersky researchers said.
But it’s possible the code was simply copied from the Lazarus malware without any other direct connection, the companies said.
Symantec said the similarities between WannaCry and Lazarus tools “so far only represent weak connections. We are continuing to investigate for stronger connections.”
Israeli security firm Intezer Labs said it agreed that North Korea might be behind the attack.
Vital Systems Paralyzed
The WannaCry virus over the weekend paralyzed vital computer systems around the world that run factories, banks, government agencies, and transport systems in some 150 countries.
The virus mainly hit computers running older versions of Microsoft Windows software that had not been recently updated.
But by May 15, the fast-spreading extortion scheme was waning. The only new outbreaks reported were in China, where traffic police and schools said they had been targeted, but there were no major disruptions.
The link to North Korea found by the security firms will be closely followed by law-enforcement agencies around the world, including Washington.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s homeland security adviser said on May 15 that both foreign nations and cybercriminals were possible culprits.
Symantec and Kaspersky said they need to study the code more and asked for others to help with the analysis. Hackers reuse code from other operations at times, so even copied lines fall well short of proof.
U.S. and European security officials told the Reuters news agency that it was still too early to say who might be behind the attacks, but they did not rule out North Korea as a suspect.
The Lazarus hackers, acting for impoverished North Korea, have been more brazen in pursuit of financial gain than some other hackers, and have been blamed for the theft of $81 million from a Bangladesh bank.
Moreover, North Korea might have motives to launch such a large-scale, global attack as its economy is crumbling under some of the stiffest-ever UN economic sanctions imposed over its repeated testing of nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles.
The United Nations Security Council on May 15 condemned Pyongyang’s latest missile test the previous day, and vowed to take further measures, including possible new sanctions, in response to its “highly destabilizing behavior and flagrant and provocative defiance” of existing prohibitions against such tests.
Whoever is responsible, the perpetrators of the massive weekend attacks have raised very little money thus far — less than $70,000 from users looking to regain access to their computers, according to Trump’s homeland security adviser Tom Bossert.
Some private sector cybersecurity experts do not believe the motive of the attacks was primarily to make money, given the apparently meager revenues that were raised by the unprecedented large operation. They said that wreaking havoc likely was the primary goal.
The countries most affected by WannaCry were Russia, Taiwan, Ukraine, and India, according to Czech security firm Avast.
Bossert denied charges by Russian President Vladimir Putin and others that the attacks originated in the United States, and came from a hacking tool developed by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) that was later leaked online.
“This was not a tool developed by the NSA to hold ransom data. This was a tool developed by culpable parties, potentially criminals or foreign nation-states, that were put together in such a way as to deliver phishing e-mails, put it into embedded documents, and cause infection, encryption, and locking,” Bossert said.
British media were hailing as a hero a 22-year-old computer security expert who appeared to have helped stop the attack from spreading by discovering a “kill switch” — an Internet address which halted the virus when activated.
Assuming you haven’t been living under a rock for the past year or so, you probably know that a handful of female officers made history by graduating the US Army’s prestigious Ranger School and that one female Soldier tried (and failed) to join the Ranger Regiment.
You may have also noticed that there are, all of a sudden, a lot of “internet experts” on Rangers, or anything to do with Rangers. If you actually do know a thing or two about Rangers, then you know all these so-called experts are creating mass confusion and hysteria on the interwebz. So, in an effort to set the record straight, I thought I would lay out the pertinent information that anyone needs to know about this topic.
Ranger Training and Assessment Course (RTAC) – The RTAC course is a 16-day preparatory course for Ranger School. It is run by the Army National Guard Warrior Training Center, and primarily used by National Guard students, but open to students of any unit. It is located on Fort Benning, Georgia and is divided in to two phases: RAP phase and Patrolling phase. All National Guard soldiers who want to attend Ranger School must pass this course first. It should be noticed that many Army installations run a similar course to prepare their soldiers for Ranger School in a similar way.
US Army Ranger Course (Ranger School) – Ranger School is 62 days long with a 42% graduation rate, and is considered the Army’s toughest leadership course. Ranger School is a mentally and physically challenging course that teaches small unit infantry tactics and develops leadership skills under austere conditions meant to simulate the exhaustion of real combat operations. The course falls under the US Army Training and Doctrine Command, and is run by the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade, which also runs the Army’s Airborne School, Jumpmaster School, and Pathfinder School.
The course incorporates three phases (Benning, Mountain, and Swamp), which follow the crawl, walk, run training methodology. After completion of these three phases, Ranger School graduates are considered proficient in leading squad and platoon dismounted operations in a variety of climates and terrain. Upon graduation, they are awarded and authorized the black and gold “Ranger Tab” on their left shoulder.
After completion of the course, graduates return to their units and are expected to take leadership positions shortly after their return. Soldiers of any military occupational specialty (MOS), and any branch of service, as well as some allied nation service members can attend this course. There are no formal pre-requisite courses for attendance at Ranger School. Ranger School does not require students to be airborne qualified before attending. It should be noted that although soldiers are considered “Ranger Qualified,” graduation of this course does not qualify a service member for service in the 75th Ranger Regiment.
75th Ranger Regiment – The 75th Ranger Regiment is a special operations unit that falls under the US Army Special Operations Command, which falls under the US Special Operations Command – the parent organization of other SOF units such as Navy SEALs, Marine Raiders, and Army Special Forces “Green Berets.” The 75th Ranger Regiment’s mission is to plan and conduct special missions in support of US policy and objectives. They are considered the go-to direct action raid unit, and have killed or captured more high value targets in the War on Terror than any other unit. The Regiment is composed of four Ranger battalions: 1st Ranger Battalion on Hunter Army Airfield, GA, 2nd Ranger Battalion on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA, and 3rd Ranger Battalion and Regimental Special Troops Battalion on Fort Benning, GA. They are readily identified by their tan beret’s and red, white, and black “Ranger Scroll.” All soldiers assigned are graduates of either RASP 1 or 2.
Rangers assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment are expected to go to the US Army Ranger School before taking a leadership position, but are not required to attend before serving in the Regiment. It should be noted that Ranger School and the 75th Ranger Regiment are completely different entities under completely different commands with completely different missions, and one is not needed for the other.
Ranger Assessment and Selection Program 1 (RASP 1) – RASP 1 is an 8-week course ran by the 75th Ranger Regiment and boasts an approximate 33% graduation rate (that number can vary based on time of year as well as other factors). It selects and trains soldiers in the rank of Private through Sergeant for service in the 75th Ranger Regiment. Upon completion of this course, graduates have the basic capabilities to conduct operations as a junior member of a Ranger strike force or command element.
RASP 1 is divided into two phases. Phase 1 is the primary “weeding out” phase, as well as conducts initial standard testing, such as the timed road marches and PT and swim tests. Phase 1 also includes the notoriously brutal “Cole Range” week of training. Phase 2 focuses more on the special operations-peculiar skills needed for service in the Regiment, such as explosive breaching, advanced marksmanship, and advanced first-responder skills. Upon graduation of RASP 1, the new Rangers are awarded the Black, Red, and White “Ranger Scroll” as well as the Khaki (tan) Beret. At this point, they are considered full-fledged Rangers and are assigned to one of the four Ranger Battalions of the 75th Ranger Regiment. It should be noted that Ranger School is not required before attendance at RASP 1, but some students are Ranger School graduates already. Airborne School is a required pre-requisite though, as all soldiers need to be airborne-qualified for service in the 75thRanger Regiment.
Ranger Assesment and Selection Program 2 (RASP 2) –RASP 2 is a 21-day course that is ran by the 75th Ranger Regiment. It is for soldiers in the rank of Staff Sergeant and above, and all officers volunteering for assignment to the 75th Ranger Regiment. This course assesses and selects mid- and senior-grade leaders for assignment to the 75th Ranger Regiment and teaches them the operational techniques and standards needed for their time in the Regiment. Upon successful completion of this course, graduates are awarded the Black, Red, and White “Ranger Scroll” as well as the Khaki (tan) Beret and are assigned to one of the four battalions in the 75th Ranger Regiment. It should be noted that Ranger School is not required before attendances at RASP 2, but most students are already Ranger School graduates.
Small Unit Ranger Tactics (SURT) – SURT, formerly known as “Pre-Ranger Course (PRC),” is a three-week program that is run by the 75th Ranger Regiment, for Rangers already in the Regiment who will be attending the US Army Ranger School. Because the 75th Ranger Regiment and the Ranger School are so different, this course is designed to prepare Rangers for the “School” way of doing things, and ensure they have the best shot at success in Ranger School.
Hopefully this short primer explains all the nuances of anything relating to the Army Rangers, and maybe even answers a few questions that are floating around in response to the pending female graduates of Ranger School. Chief among them, “Why aren’t they going to the Ranger Regiment if they passed Ranger School?” Because Ranger School has nothing to do with the 75th Ranger Regiment and is definitely not the selection course for service in the 75th.
According to retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency and a potential vice-president pick for Donald Trump, the hard drives of ISIS fighters are largely filled with porn.
“We looked a ruthless enemy in the eye – women and children, girls and boys, raped and exploited, the beheadings stored on a laptop next to pornography,” he said in his new book. “At one point we actually had determined that the material on the laptops was up to 80 percent pornography.”
This isn’t the first time a western leader has leveled charges of a pornography epidemic at ISIS forces. Former London mayor British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson accused them of favoring adult material as well.
“If you look at all the psychological profiling about bombers, they typically will look at porn,” he said in 2015. “They are literally wankers. Severe onanists.”
A U.S. Coast Guard crew based in Astoria, Oregon, returned after a 2.5-month deployment that yielded the seizure of $11 million in cocaine and marijuana, officials said.
The Steadfast, which earned the nickname “El Tiburon Blanco,” or the white shark in English, returned April 23 after seizing 700 pounds of cocaine and 170 pounds of marijuana. The cutter’s deployment included a 69-member crew, plus helicopter personnel from the Air Station Humboldt Bay and a law enforcement team, said spokeswoman Senior Chief Rachel Polish.
The crew patrolled the eastern Pacific Ocean and seized the drugs from two smuggling incidents off the Central American coast, according to a news release. The crew unloaded the drugs April 20 during a port call in San Diego.
Polish said she could not disclose, for security reasons, the specific locations and general trajectory taken by the Steadfast for those operations. However, the crew traveled 12,000 miles that began with a training stop at a U.S. naval station in Washington before heading south, according to the news release. The crew also stopped in Mazatlan, Mexico, with $2,500 in supplies and equipment, and guardsmen helped repair and paint a classroom and exterior of a school.
Polish said the deployment was part of the broader Operation Martillo — Spanish for hammer. Since its launch in 2012, the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and other agencies have seized 693 metric tons of cocaine, $25 million in cash, and hundreds of vessels and aircraft, and they have arrested 1,863 people, according to the U.S. Southern Command website.
Drug smugglers off the Florida coast called the Steadfast “El Tiburon Blanco” when she was based in St. Petersburg, according to the news release. The vessel’s reputation for busting up smugglers made her the first cutter to be awarded the “gold marijuana leaf, indicating one million pounds of marijuana seized,” officials said.
The 49-year-old Reliance Class Cutter made her home in Astoria in 1994.
There’s no doubt the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a devastating blow to the U.S. military and its capabilities in the Pacific Ocean. It wasn’t the crippling blow it was supposed to be, but with just one more attack, it could have been.
A full 21 of the Navy’s ships were damaged or destroyed in the attack, with three battleships being taken out permanently. Most were able to be repaired, re-floated, and re-entered into service. Much of the installation’s facilities, storage and infrastructure survived, however. Japanese officers wanted a third wave of attacks (and one even called for an invasion) to destroy those parts of the bases.
The third wave never came, but if it had, it would have been much more damaging to the U.S. war effort than attacking the ships. Admiral Chester Nimitz later noted that getting the American fleet operational would have taken more than a year if it had been destroyed, and the war would have lasted two more years than it did.
Here’s why they decided not to.
1. The Americans were no longer surprised.
The first wave came early in the morning, and despite a couple of warnings that something was amiss, the Japanese caught the American troops completely by surprise. The first wave of attacks were devastating, targeting the high-value capital ships in the harbor. It contained most of the bombers carrying specially modified shallow-water torpedoes. Dive bombers also attacked targets on shore and fighters strafed parked aircraft.
Japanese losses in the first wave numbered just nine planes. By the time the second wave came in, Americans had gotten to what defenses they could muster and were putting up a fight. The second wave suffered more significant losses than the first, with 20 downed planes and 74 more damaged. A third wave might have been devastating to the Japanese carriers’ defenses and they still needed to sail home.
2. American aircraft carriers were not in Pearl Harbor.
Even though the first wave of Japanese fighters were fitted to destroy the capital ships while they lay at anchor, it was the second wave’s primary objective to hit the American aircraft carriers as much as possible. As we know now, the U.S. Navy’s carriers were not at Pearl Harbor that morning, they were all away on separate missions.
The Japanese did know that the American carriers were not at Pearl Harbor that day, but decided to proceed with the attack anyway. They believed it would be valuable to destroy all eight battleships, even if they didn’t know where the three operational carriers were. If on their way back to Japan, they had encountered the USS Saratoga, Enterprise, or Lexington with depleted aircraft, they would be risking their own carriers and airplanes.
3. They couldn’t land at night.
Even though the attacks began early in the morning, aircraft and crews had to work substantially to land, rearm, refuel, and repair aircraft during the first and second waves. A third wave would have required a lot of preparation and effort. Turnaround times for the aircraft crews would have been substantial as well.
By the time the planes were re-armed and ready, flew out to unload their third attacks, and returned to the Japanese carriers, they would have to be landing at night. In 1941, only the British Royal Navy had the ability to land aircraft at night.
4. The Japanese fleet would have been low on fuel.
Japanese Admiral Chūichi Nagumo positioned his fleet north of Pearl Harbor. The USS Enterprise sent its aircraft looking for Nagumo’s fleet south of Pearl Harbor. This was fortunate for the Japanese, because having to move too much or escape a pursuit would have left it low on fuel. Staying put would have risked his fuel situation. Actually, anything not in the plan would have.
The time it would take to mount a third wave, no matter how destructive or necessary, in his eyes meant risking the fleet’s fuel supplies. If he ran dangerously low on the way home, he would have had to abandon some ships — ships that were now necessary to the war they just started.
5. Nagumo thought he was finished.
It’s easy for armchair historians to question what the Japanese were thinking by not pressing their advantage. But the Japanese military had been wildly successful in combat up until this point. Its military doctrine said it should save its strength for the next battle after achieving its objective, rather than completely destroy an enemy force. It would come back to bite them in the coming days, all over the Pacific Theater.
Nagumo believed the U.S. Pacific Fleet had been knocked out, and knowing the Japanese were advancing all over the Pacific area that very day, he knew they would need every man and plane. He was not willing to risk those men and planes on a battle he’d already won.
The year 2020 was a good year for almost no one, especially anyone in North Korea. Despite overtures from the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, reconciliation between North and South Korea never materialized. Rapprochement with the U.S. never fully took hold, either.
Then the global COVID-19 pandemic hit. North Korea needed help, and for a country like the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, there’s only one game in town: China.
According to the Korean Central News Agency, the DPRK’s state-run and only media outlet, North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un marked the 60th Anniversary of its mutual defense treaty with a warm message.
He told Chinese Leader Xi Jinping that his government is taking a “fixed stand” to “ceaselessly develop the friendly and cooperative relations” between his government and that of China, according to KCNA.
The Chinese president responded like anyone who’s dealing with a stage-5 clinger, acknowledging that his country and North Korea have “always supported each other,” according to Chinese state-run media agency Xinhua.
“The world has recently seen accelerating changes unprecedented over the past century… I wish to lead bilateral relations to unceasingly rise to new levels to the benefit of the two countries and their peoples.”
Translation: “We have always supported North Korea for whatever reason and we like their money, so we’ll keep on until they collapse under their own weight.”
For North Korea, its relationship with China is essentially a lifeline in times of crisis. Despite claims of self-sufficiency, the DPRK relies heavily on Chinese aid and support. North Korea has been hit particularly hard in recent years by crippling U.S. sanctions.
Although the country has released no information on how hard it was hit by the coronavirus, experts believe the pandemic only exacerbated the desperation inside the world’s last Stalinist communist state.
Relations between the two communist countries date back to the 1930s and the mutual war against Japanese occupation. After World War II, the North was bisected from the South by the Soviet Union. When the People’s Republic of China was finally established in 1949, the two officially established diplomatic relations.
Western Allies occupied South Korea. During the Korean War, Chinese soldiers intervened on the side of North Korea in order to maintain the North’s presence as a buffer against western aggression on its Yalu River border. Keeping western troops from having a foothold on its doorstep is China’s primary national security concern with North Korea.
Although the United States maintains a deterrent presence in South Korea, especially along the demilitarized border with North Korea, China does not deploy troops to North Korea.
In 1961, the two countries signed the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance, promising to again go to war together in case either one was attacked from the outside. North Korea was not always the worldwide pariah state it is today. Under the protection and aid of the Soviet Union, the North flourished. When the USSR collapsed in the early 1990s, North Korea’s decline began in full.
The North has suffered from food shortages, widespread famine and crippling sanctions since 1994. With the rise of its nuclear weapons program, those sanctions have only increased and its reliance on China has become more important than ever.
A popular former SEAL and television host Richard “Mack” Machowicz passed away Jan. 2 after a two-year battle with brain cancer. He was in his early 50s.
Machowicz was a SEAL for 10 years in both Team One and Team Two and left the Navy in 1995. Shortly after that, he landed a job as the host of the hit Discovery show “Future Weapons” where he used his tough, aggressive style and gritty voice to demonstrate the technology of various small arms and military technology to a voracious post-9/11 audience.
He was reportedly moved to hospice care in late December before friend and fellow SEAL Craig “Sawman” Sawyer posted the news on his Facebook page that Machowicz had died.
Machowicz had more recently signed on with the HISTORY channel to host its “Ultimate Soldier Challenge” show, where American teams of special operations troops were pitted against commandos from other countries.
In one episode, Machowicz runs a team of former SEALs against a team of private security contractors and former Russian SPETSNAZ commandos through a series of intense challenges.
According to his Facebook page, Machowicz was married in 2011 and leaves behind two daughters.
His media credits include 30 episodes of “Future Weapons,” 10 episodes of “Deadliest Warrior” on the Spike network and six episodes of “Ultimate Soldier.” Machowicz also published a motivational book “Unleash the Warrior Within” in 2002.
If you’ve ever wanted to get an up close and personal view of fighter planes in training, but just never had the math scores to get into the cockpit, don’t lose hope. There is a magical place in Wales where the UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots conduct low-level flight training – and you can grab your camera and watch them fly on by.
The Machynlleth Loop, more popularly known as the Mach Loop, is a series of valleys in Wales between the towns of Dolgellau to the north and Machynlleth to the south. The area is well known among plane spotters and aviation enthusiasts as the place to so closely watch the RAF and its allies conduct maneuvers.
The RAF will fly Panavia Tornado fighters, as well as Eurofighter Typhoons and BAE’s Hawk Trainers through the Mach Loop, while the U.S. Air Force will fly F-15E Strike Eagles, F-22 Raptors, and even C-130J Super Hercules turboprop cargo planes.
The HD video shot from inside the cockpit of a Typhoon is also an incredible sight, especially for those of us who may never get to ride in a fighter, especially during a low-level flight exercise.The ability to fly so close to the ground is an asset to a pilot’s skill set for many reasons. Non-stealth aircraft can fly low to the ground to penetrate enemy airspace, hit a target, and return to base. Flying so close to ground level can also allow pilots to escape from dangerous situations and surprise enemy aircraft. This is especially important, given how fighters perform against helicopters in combat.
Smaller fighters can fly as low as 100 feet off the ground, while larger planes, like cargo aircraft, can bottom out at 150 feet. If there’s an aspiring photographer out there who wants to fill their portfolio with amazing military aviation photos, it’s time to hop a plane to Wales.
“It was 2006, I was working in hotel management,” Gina Elise says. “There were all these stories about the Veterans Administration struggling to treat returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. I wanted to do something to support them and to support the hospitals who treated them.”
Gina Elise is the founder of Pin-Ups for Vets, a non-profit whose mission is based on producing WWII-style pinup calendars to support hospitalized veterans and deployed troops. After four years, she quit her job at the hotel to work with veterans full time. She has produced nine annual calendars since, but her efforts don’t stop at just calendars. Elise and her unit of celebrities and women veterans are currently on a 50-state VA and military hospital tour. To date, the pinups visited 6,000 veterans at their bedside.
“Attitude is a huge part of recovery,” says Shannon Stacy, a former Marine Corps Flight Surgeon and the 2015 calendar’s Miss April. “I think its great that an organization like this can come in really make a difference in patients lives, on top of what the doctors and nurses do.” Stacy can appreciate how attitude affects recovery, as she is also currently an Emergency Medicine Physician.
“On the surface, we’re shooting a fun, artistic calendar,” Elise says. “Under that, we’re supporting a cause that should be important to all Americans: supporting our veterans.” Most importantly, Pin-Ups for Vets buys medical equipment for VA and military hospitals and sends morale-boosting care packages to deployed American troops around the world. So far, Pin-Ups for Vets donated more than $50,000 of state-of-the-art rehabilitation equipment to VA military hospitals nationwide.
“My grandfather was a World War II veteran,” Elise recalls. “They used to paint this art on the nose of planes to boost morale for the guys going into battle to remind them of what they were fighting for.”
“When you think about the fact these soldiers painted these women on the sides of aircraft, and it gave them the confidence to go fight,” says Jovane Henry, a former Marine Corps Photojournalist and 2015’s Miss July. “What’s more empowering than that? I think it’s great. It’s a continuation of service for me. Serving was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I’m happy to be able to continue that service through Pin-Ups for Vets.”
The spirit of Pin-Ups For Vets also promotes volunteerism at Veterans Hospitals, supports homeless Veterans in shelters, and boosts morale for military wives and female Veterans with makeovers and clothing.
The recent launch party for the 2015 calendar, the first to feature 12 veterans, was held at the American Legion in Hollywood (Post 43) and featured a burlesque show headlined by an all-veteran pinup revue. It was the first of its kind. Jennifer Campbell, who worked a .50 cal in a US Army transportation unit participated in the show, but saw it as a family event.
“It gave us a chance to jump into a different period of time,” Campbell recalls. “My great aunt was a WWII poster pin-up girl. It was fun seeing the transition from then to now.”
The burlesque troop, “The Dollface Dames,” performed a variety of numbers. It was a vintage burlesque show, true to its 1940’s heritage, complete with dancing, feather boas, hula-hoops, singing, even a shadow silhouette erotic dance.
“There’s no hard, fast rule that says I can’t be a hard-charging Marine and a lipstick-wearing pinup,” Henry states. “So I choose to be both.”
How does director Joss Whedon follow the success of the first Avengers movie, that $220 million budget ensemble cast epic that grossed more than $1.5 billion worldwide?
“With the smallest thing I can think of,” Whedon said at a recent gathering of the cast at the Disney Studios in Burbank, California. “What little moments are there between these characters that I haven’t gotten to do yet? What conversations have they not had? It’s never the big picture stuff – although that’s cool too – it’s how can I get inside their hearts? What’s funny about them? I write reams and reams of paper just thinking about the tiniest part.”
But “tiny” is not the first word one might use to describe the sequel, “Avengers – Age of Ultron.” It is a big movie in most ways that picks up where “Avengers” left off, taking the interpersonal and witty aspects of the team to the next level while hurtling full tilt across the screen for the duration.
“I read the script, and I said, ‘This is great; let’s go shoot it,'” said Robert Downey, Jr., who returns as Tony Stark/Iron Man. “It’s a Swiss watch to begin with, and Josh really created some great new situations for Tony to be in.”
James Spader plays Ultron – the evil robot who’s trying to use artificial intelligence to destroy the world – and the actor found the Whedon’s production process a challenge to keep up with.
“I really was just trying to hold on and stay on the train that was moving very quickly,” Spader said. “I arrived in London and within the first half hour they put on a suit and all this gear and I went through a range of motion and within 15 minutes I was watching me on a monitor move around this big room as Ultron. That pace was what it was throughout the entire project.”
Jeremy Renner returns as Hawkeye, a character who many fans felt got short shrift in terms of screen time in the first movie. But that’s not the case in “Age of Ultron.”
“I speak in this movie, which is awesome,” joked Renner. “And I become part of the team, which is awesome, and dive into some killer aspects of the character.”
As Renner’s Hawkeye role grew so too did that of Black Widow, played once again by Scarlett Johansson.
“There some sense of normal in a way at the beginning of Avengers 2,” Johansson said. “But at the end she let her guard down. . . She had this moment of false hope. She put in the work and there should be some kind of personal pay off, but she realizes her calling is a greater one. That’s not something she’s necessarily thrilled about, but that’s what’s most heroic about her.”
Johansson (who was pregnant during the shooting of the film) also allowed that her action sequences were the result of a multi-person effort. “There’s a team around me that is super supportive in helping all of Widow’s fight moves and badass motorcycle riding happen. All that work being seamless takes a lot of choreography and team spirit.”
Mark Ruffalo reprises his role as Dr. Banner who turns into The Hulk when provoked, and when asked what methods he draws on acting-wise to differentiate between the two forms, he joked, “I was helped out by the fact that I’m green and huge. That helped with the distinction between the two characters. I can’t take full credit for that except for the accent I was using, maybe.”
Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige summed up the state of the Avengers brand by reflecting on how far it’s come in the last ten years or so: “It started with the notion of making these movies ourselves and becoming Marvel Studios, and then it continued with Robert in ‘Iron Man 1’ and having Samuel L. Jackson come in in the end and say, ‘You’re part of a bigger universe, you just don’t know it yet,’ thinking that most people wouldn’t know what that meant . . . but the world got it much more quickly than I anticipated.”
Feige pointed down the table at the cast and said, “It’s the greatest ensemble ever assembled in cinematic history, and it just keeps getting better and better.”