Two carriers whose service overlapped by about a year and a half going head to head.
In one corner, we have USS Midway (CV 41), the first of America’s post-World War II aircraft carriers, which served for 46 years and flew everything from the F4U Corsair to the F/A-18 Hornet.
The USS Midway. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
In the other corner, the Russian Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov, which just made her first combat deployment. To borrow a phrase from the Spike network’s Deadliest Warrior: “Which is deadliest?”
The Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov (the ship previously had the names Riga, Leonid Brezhnev, and Tblisi) is a 61,000-ton ship. The Kuznetsov-class carrier can carry about 45 aircraft, including Su-33 Flankers, MiG-29 Fulcrums, and Ka-27 Helix helicopters.
The usual air group is about 15 Su-33s, to grow to 20 MiG-29KR fighters. But the Kuznetsov carries an “ace in the hole” — a dozen P-700 Granit (NATO codename: SS-N-19 Shipwreck) anti-ship missiles, with a range of 388 miles and a top speed of Mach 2.5.
For self-defense the Kuznetsov carries 6 AK-630 Gatling guns, 8 Kortik close-in defense systems (with twin 30mm Gatling guns and SA-N-11 missiles), and 24 eight-round launchers for the SA-N-9 Gauntlet short-range surface-to-air missiles.
The Midway, came in originally at 45,000 tons but grew to about 64,000 tons. At the time the Kuznetsov entered service, her normal air wing consisted of three squadrons of F/A-18 Hornet multi-role fighters (12 planes each), two squadrons of A-6 Intruders (15 planes each), a squadron of E-2C Hawkeyes (four planes), a squadron of EA-6B Prowlers (four planes), and a squadron of SH-3H Sea King anti-submarine helicopters (six helicopters). Originally equipped with 18 five-inch guns, the Midway’s self-defense armament in 1990 was a pair of Mk 29 Sea Sparrow launchers and a pair of Mark 15 Close-In Weapon Systems.
In terms of reliability, the Midway takes the edge, given her 46 years of service that saw a slew of awards, including the Presidential Unit Citation, 17 awards of the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, and a combat record that included three deployments during the Vietnam War and service during Desert Storm.
The Kuznetsov, though, has an edge when it comes to on-board weapons. The SS-N-19 battery gives it an extra anti-ship punch that the Midway just doesn’t have.
The Midway, however, has a decisive advantage when it comes to her air wing. The Kuznetsov’s maximum total of 24 multi-role fighters is dwarfed by Midway’s 36 F/A-18s and 30 A-6 Intruders.
But that doesn’t begin to outline the advantages.
While the Kuznetsov’s Su-33s would probably be the best fighters in the engagement, the American Hornets would have the advantage of support from the Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft and the EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare planes. The Midway’s Intruders, though, would provide a much stronger anti-ship punch with AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles; AGM-123 Skipper laser-guided missiles; AGM-62 Walleye television-guided missile; and GBU-10 laser-guided bombs.
Then there is the situational awareness. The EA-6B electronic warfare aircraft would be jamming the sensors on the Su-33s, while the E-2s would be able to direct the Hornets to carry out their attacks.
The Kuznetsov has no such assets available. This means the Midway’s air wing now only has more raw power, it has two uncontested force multipliers.
To paraphrase Andrew Dice Clay, “Hey, Kuznetsov! Wake up and smell the toast.”
Charles R. Walgreen, Sr. was more than an innovator and business owner — he was also a veteran.
The son of Swedish immigrants, Walgreen interrupted his budding pharmacy career to enlist with the Illinois National Guard and fight in the Spanish-American War in Cuba in 1898. His primary assignment was working in a hospital dispensary, which exposed him to yellow fever, complicated by malaria, a combination that was nearly fatal to him.
In time he recovered, returned to civilian life, and spent the following years working in various Chicago drugstores, sometimes for short periods at each. Thus he gained knowledge of the practice of pharmacy and experience with business techniques that distinguished the successful drugstore from the less so. He learned a lot about the art and value of good customer service. Before long he wanted to be his own boss and, in 1901, bought the pharmacy he worked at in Chicago. Walgreens, the company, was born.
In its first few years, Walgreens became known for its “two-minute stunt.” Customers who were in the immediate vicinity of the drugstore would call to order non-prescription items, and Walgreen would slowly repeat the order and delivery address back to the customer, loud enough for an assistant to take down the details. Walgreen would then chat up the customer long enough for the assistant to make the trip to the delivery address. Sometimes, with Walgreen still on the phone, the customer would excuse him or herself from the phone to answer the door, and return in amazement at how quickly the order had arrived. It was a feat of sufficient theatricality that it earned good word-of-mouth advertising.
Eight years after the first Walgreens opened its doors, the second location in Chicago opened.
By 1916, there were nine stores and by the time of the company’s 25th anniversary of service, 92 stores were operating in the Chicago area alone, many featuring soda fountains.
During World War II, more than 2,500 Walgreens employees served in the military, 20 percent of its workforce. Forty-eight did not survive the war.
In 1943, Walgreens supported the war effort by opening a nonprofit, 6,000-square-foot store inside the Pentagon. Elsewhere, stores around the country sold $41 million in war bonds and stamps.
Walgreens continued to grow with the post war boom, and by 1975, hit $1 billion in sales. By 1984 Walgreens opened its 1,000th store.
Over the decades, the community and civic engagement for which Charles Walgreen was known evolved with the company to become a corporate-wide commitment to social responsibility. In addition to supporting numerous philanthropic causes, Walgreens has shown innovations in environmental sustainability, mirrored the diversity of America through its employment and vendor policies, and earned an international reputation as a model employer of people with disabilities.
From its humble early aspirations to make a name in Chicago, to its current aspiration to be America’s most-loved pharmacy-led health, wellbeing and beauty retailer, Walgreens in 2016 boasts a total of over 8,100 stores in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U. S. Virgin Islands.
After 115 years of service to the country, Walgreens is honored to also serve those in the military who have defended our country.
As part of the Express Scripts network of pharmacy providers, Walgreens stands ready to give Tricare members the excellent service for which it is famous. With over 8,000 in-network pharmacies from which to choose, Walgreens is well-positioned to champion every Tricare members’ right to be happy and healthy.
The most powerful weapon in the United States’ Cold War arsenal was likely not its hundreds of nuclear warheads — it was the man whose job it was to deploy them.
There are few men in Air Force history as noteworthy and controversial as Gen. Curtis LeMay. He earned the nickname “Iron Ass” for his stubbornness and shortness once his mind was made up. When he did speak, the stout, cigar-chomping, stone-faced general had a reputation for his outspoken manner. Though not always remembered fondly by history, some of his image as a shoot-first-ask-questions-later, caveman may be undeserved.
He was the youngest general to wear a fourth star. When he retired, he had served as a four-star general longer than anyone in American history; a big deal for a general who didn’t go to a service academy, instead graduating from Ohio State. At the height of his career, he was the symbol of American military might. A bit more about one of the U.S. Air Force’s most influential founding generals can be gleaned through his more noteworthy quotes.
1. “We should always avoid armed conflict. But if you get in it, get in with both feet and get out as soon as possible.”
Despite his gruff, cold image, every operational goal, in LeMay’s mind, was a means to an end. Ending a war quickly meant saving American lives. During World War II, LeMay was responsible for the firebombing of Japanese cities which completely destroyed most major Japanese cities. It was his command that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Official estimates from the United States Strategic Bombing Survey determined at least 330,000 killed, 476,000 injured, 8.5 million people made homeless, and 2.5 million buildings destroyed. Almost half of 64 Japanese mainland cities were completely destroyed. The destruction was not lost on LeMay. He acknowledged that if the Japanese had won the war, he would have been tried as a war criminal.
Later he would reveal that dropping the atomic bombs was totally unnecessary, given the level of destruction he had already waged on Japan. He said he only dropped them because of President Truman’s authority. After the war, Japan’s former Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe confirmed that the decision to surrender was based on the prolonged bombing wrought by General LeMay’s Marianas-based air forces. LeMay took command of the Marianas in January 1945. The Japanese surrendered in August of 1945.
2. “War is never cost-effective. People are killed. To them, the war is total.”
He was known as a tough commander, but a fair one. He earned a reputation for being stone-faced, uncaring about the needs of his men but LeMay actually suffered from Bell’s Palsey, which literally immobilized his face. When a Harvard study found Army pilots were aborting bombing missions over Germany out of fear, LeMay personally led every bombing sortie and ordered any crew who didn’t go over the target be court martialed.
The gruff general took combat losses to heart, knowing he’d sent men to die, but firmly believed if the death of one American could save a thousand, then it was the right decision to make. In The Fog of War, a documentary about the life of former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, McNamara quoted LeMay: “Why are we here? Why are we here? You lost your wingman. It hurts me as much as it does you. I sent him there. And I’ve been there, I know what it is. But you lost one wingman, and we destroyed Tokyo.”
3. “Successful offense brings victory. Successful defense can now only lessen defeat.”
This is an “extremely belligerent, many thought brutal” man who believed in the power, threat and use of nuclear weapons. He wanted SAC to be able to deliver every nuclear warhead in the American arsenal on the Soviet Union at once. This military rationale earned LeMay the image of a cold man who was obsessed with starting any kind of war with the Russians.
It was Gen. LeMay who inspired the character of Buck Turgidson in “Doctor Strangelove,” willing to pay for a victory over the Soviet Union with unlimited American lives. As a bomber pilot, LeMay’s point of view was one of overwhelming force. At its height, the SAC had 1600 bombers and 800 missiles in its arsenal.
4. “We can haul anything.”
As the commander of U.S. Air Forces In Europe, LeMay was asked by the Commander of all U.S. forces in Europe, Lucius D. Clay, about the feasibility of an airlift (later known as the “Berlin Airlift”) to break the Soviet blockade of West Berlin.
Gen. Clay asked LeMay “Can you haul coal?” Even though he preferred the more aggressive response of an armed convoy backed by bomber aircraft, Gen. LeMay enthusiastically began the 5,000 ton per day airlift operation within weeks. He was so instrumental in its startup, it was initially called “The LeMay Coal and Feed Delivery Service.” LeMay’s response to Clay’s hauling question represents the can-do attitude and spirit of the U.S. Air Force.
5. “If I see that the Russians are amassing their planes for an attack, I’m going to knock the shit out of them before they take off the ground.”
Robert McNamara, who served under LeMay during WWII and over him as Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy Administration, called him the finest combat commander there ever was. While he was convinced a war would happen at some point and believe the U.S. should fight it on the grounds most favorable to it, LeMay’s military upbringing taught him that true readiness required constant training and this readiness was to be in place when the civilian leaders of the military deemed it necessary to use them.
His solution was to create a force so powerful no one would dare sneak an attack. He would always advocate for a heavy military response, most notably during the thirteen-day Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, but always loyally and diligently carried out the orders and policy of his civilian superiors.
6. “To err is human, to forgive is not SAC policy”
When he took control of Strategic Air Command in 1948, most of his bomber crews couldn’t hit Ohio with a mock atomic bomb during exercises. The SAC under Gen. LeMay became one of the most effective military units in the world on the basis of relentless training.
One officer was quoted as saying: “Training in SAC is harder than war … it might be a relief to go to war.” Within two years, the procedures, checklists, and training implemented by General LeMay gave SAC one of the best safety records in U.S. military history.
7. “The price of failure might be paid with national survival.”
After retiring from the Air Force in 1965, LeMay ran with George Wallace on his segregationist party ticket. It led many to conclude that LeMay agreed with Wallace’s racial views. In truth, LeMay agreed to run with Wallace because he believed in a hard line against Communism, and an end to the War in Vietnam, and didn’t see any of the potential candidates doing these things.
LeMay was no racist. During his tenure as a commander in the Air Force, he had actually promoted the integration of units well before Truman’s executive order. Protesters would attend Wallace rallies shouting “Sieg heil” at the man who designed the bombing plans that crippled Nazi war production, even personally leading the most dangerous missions.
When it comes to weapons failure, the panjandrum, or “The Great Panjandrum,” is right near the top. Designed by the British during WWII, it was basically two wheels held together by a bomb and included rocket propulsion. The plan was to break out the panjandrum on D-Day in order to penetrate the Nazi’s coastal defense and fortifications, the Atlantic Wall.
The Panjandrum was projected to break through the concrete Atlantic Wall in order to create a gap wide enough for tanks to penetrate. The theory seemed flawless and the weapon was thought to be feasible and an effective. It would allow the British to storm the beach without sending a large numbers of soldiers to face lethal enemy fire. However, a plan and execution are two very different things in war.
However, after a few modifications, the panjandrum proved during its final test to have the reliability of a last-minute high school mouse-trap car project. The result: one dead dog and one dead project.
As the rockets continued to fire the Panjandrum spun erratically, and people (generals included) went running for cover. The cameraman was almost bowled over, and eventually the machine disintegrated. The dog of one of the army officers present chased down one of the rockets strewn on the beach and was killed by it.
Head over to War History Online to read more and check out videos of the failed test and a recreation of the prototype from 2009 on the 65th anniversary of the Normandy landings.
Brian (military callsign “Bing”) entered service in World War II as a young family dog loaned to the British government; he served for about 18 months, jumping into Normandy and leading his fellow paratroopers across Nazi-held Europe and the Rhine River before returning to his civilian family after Germany’s surrender.
But Bing actually stumbled on his combat jump. He was supposed to be the “stick pusher,” the last one out of the plane. But he refused to jump into the flak-filled clouds over Normandy and one of the onboard jumpmasters had to throw him from the plane.
Worse, Monty suffered severe wounds on D-Day that ended his involvement in the war and Ranee was lost soon after the jump. Bing stayed with the paratroopers and two captured German Shepherds (German by both breed and national service) who replaced Monty and Ranee.
Just like a pointer drawing a hunter’s attention to game, Bing would freeze up and point with his nose when he found a potential batch of Germans expected to make trouble for his paratroopers.
Other British forces, including the SAS (Special Air Service), took dogs on airborne operations — as did a small number of American troops.
After the war, Bing returned to his civilian life as Brian the family dog, but was recognized in 1947 with a Dickin Medal — an award for animal valor — bestowed by Air Chief Marshall Sir Frederick Bowhill. He lived to the age of 13 before dying in 1955.
In what sounds like a page straight from the script of a Tim Burton film, the Pentagon has issued a solicitation to industry seeking biodegradable ammo that could also plant seeds.
No, this is not a Duffleblog post.
The solicitation, posted on the Small Business Innovation Research web site, states that the plan is to eventually replace “low velocity 40mm grenades; 60mm, 81mm, and 120mm mortars; shoulder launched munitions; 120mm tank rounds; and 155mm artillery rounds” with biodegradable versions with the intention of “eliminating environmental hazards.”
“Components of current training rounds require hundreds of years or more to biodegrade [and] civilians (e.g., farmers or construction crews) encountering these rounds and components do not know if they are training or tactical rounds,” the solicitation states. “Proving grounds and battle grounds have no clear way of finding and eliminating these training projectiles, cartridge cases and sabot petals, especially those that are buried several feet in the ground. Some of these rounds might have the potential corrode and pollute the soil and nearby water.”
The Pentagon is asking for biodegradable rounds that can also plant “bioengineered seeds that can be embedded into the biodegradable composites and that will not germinate until they have been in the ground for several months.”
The intent is to use the seeds to “grow environmentally friendly plants that remove soil contaminants and consume the biodegradable components developed under this project.” Furthermore, these plants supposedly will be stuff that animals can eat safely.
It is unclear how this RD effort improves combat readiness.
Past efforts to use “green” technology have proven very expensive. According to a July 2016 report from the Daily Caller, the Navy’s “Green Fleet” used biofuel that cost $13.46 per gallon on USS Mason – and the biofuel in question was only about 5.5 percent of the total fuel taken on board. Regular fuel cost $1.60 per gallon.
This is not to say some “green” programs have been duds. The Defense Media Network reported in 2013 that the Army’s M855A1 5.56mm NATO round for the M4 carbine, M16 rifle, and M249 squad automatic weapon had turned out to be comparable to a conventional 7.62mm NATO round, like those used in the M14 rifle or M240 machine gun.
Still, the best that can be said for the “green technology” push is that the results have been very spotty.
Mark Hamill remains one of the most beloved American actors of all time, partly because he played Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars films, but also because he’s such a genuinely self-deprecating person. Hamill just took his Skywalker charm to a new level; he’s roasting one of his original screen tests from roughly 1976. The result is equal parts hilarious and heartwarming.
This week, as part of a promotion for the charity group Omaze, Hamill is offering fans a chance to have dinner with him before “The Rise of Skywalker” hits theaters. All they have to do is donate to a good cause and they’ll be entered to win. To entice his fans, Hammill shot a short video that’s essentially what having dinner with Mark Hamill would be like. It seems freaking amazing.
“Why did I call him ‘Hans’ instead of ‘Han,'” Mark Hamill laughs as he watches the audition. This anachronism is just one of many interesting tidbits Star Wars die-hards will notice in the dialogue. In fact, the exchange between Hamill and Harrison Ford doesn’t really resemble any particular scene from the finished film, though it could be an early version of the scene in which Han and Luke argue about the best way to rescue Princess Leia from the Death Star.
“When I did this scene, I thought Han Solo was the lead character and I was the sidekick; I thought Harrison Ford was Captain America and I was Bucky!” Hamill says with deadpan honesty. He also points out that George Lucas was barely helpful when it came to figuring out the right tone to strike.
But the person Hamill is the hardest on is himself. “Show a little fire, Luke,” he says as his younger self gets sassy. For those of us who grew up with Luke, and saw ourselves in that character, this video feels like a weird bit of therapy. Because if Luke can laugh at himself this much, what are the rest of us stressed out about?
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
Meet Spoiled.io — the bane of all your friends who love “Game of Thrones.”
For just $0.99 per episode, Spoiled.io will automatically and anonymously send out a text to any phone number that ruins the newest episode of the hit HBO fantasy series. The messages will be sent after each episode airs, so it’s perfect to use for those friends who watch “Game of Thrones” after it first airs on TV.
Spoiled.io charges $0.99 per spoiler, or $4.99 to send out spoilers for all of the six episodes in the upcoming season. Season 8 airs on HBO on Sundays starting April 14, 2019, and is the final season of “Game of Thrones.”
“For just .99 USD, Spoiled will anonymously and ruthlessly text spoilers to your unsuspecting friends after each new episode airs,” Spoiled.io says on its website. “Afterwards, sit back, relax, and view your friends’ responses.”
The spoiling texts service first emerged in June 2016 before the final episode of the sixth season of “Game of Thrones.” Spoiled.io published to Twitter the responses it got from unsuspecting people who had the episode spoiled for them by the texting service.
The developers of Spoiled.io, Spoiled Rotten, told Business Insider back in 2016 that the texting service was only ever supposed to be a simple side-project. But they quickly amassed “a couple hundred” users.
“I don’t think we’ll be quitting our day jobs anytime soon, but the response has far exceeded our exceptions and made us question ways we could expand,” Spoiled Rotten told Business Insider.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
For months leading up to this week’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens premiere, the universe created by George Lucas, purchased by Disney, and boosted by Sci-Fi mastermind JJ Abrams has been central in our cultural consciousness. But remember that other franchise Abrams revived from the mothballs film and television history, the one whose crew boldly goes where no one has gone before?
A trailer for the third installment of the rebooted Star Trek franchise, Star Trek Beyond, just popped up without warning, to what appears to be mixed applause from the trekkie-trekker community. Why, you might ask? The trailer clearly shows a significant reduction in lens flare over the previous two installments. No, the people either love or hate the choice of music for the trailer. Judge for yourselves.
There’s not much discussion about what’s new or even what the plot is, except that the cast of the previous two films have returned, with the notable addition of Idris Elba joining them as this guy. I think. Maybe not.
Who knows. They’ve been pretty hush-hush about this ever since production began.
This time it seems, things will be different. Where Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek immediately turned the canon of Star Trek on its head, director Justin Lin’s vision for the franchise is more to the heart of the “wild west in space” spirit of the original series (also, Lin probably watched more than just the Wrath of Khan for background research). And of course, Captain Kirk somehow gets on a motorcycle because Lin’s previous credits include three Fast Furious movies.
But he is responsible for the epic “Modern Warfare” episode of Community… so there’s hope.
Most outsiders may not know about an Air Force tradition that gives the hard-charging crew chiefs of some of the most high-tech airplanes in the world a chance to show a little personality.
You might have seen some funny videos or gifs here and there featuring Air Force maintainers directing taxiing aircraft with the flair of a funny dance or outrageous outfit, and you might have wondered how they got away with it without their commander coming down on them like a ton of bricks.
What you’re seeing is “Freestyle Friday,” a military version of “casual Fridays” where Air Force crew chiefs – the tactical aircraft maintainers who coordinate the maintenance and care of the world’s most expensive airframes — are allowed to have a little fun on the job.
Crew chiefs have one of the hardest jobs in the Air Force; one that requires a lot of training, long hours, and a lot of responsibility to make sure the planes are in tip-top shape for their dangerous missions. There’s a reason the crew chief often gets his name on the nose of a plane with the pilot’s.
Some consider Air Force crew chiefs and maintainers the “grunts” of the Air Force, and no one should be surprised when they have a little fun on the flightline during Freestyle Fridays to blow off a little steam.
Crew chiefs have to deal with exhaustion from a high operational tempo, hearing loss from the jet noise on the flightline, and may sometimes feel a little underappreciated by the rest of the maintenance group.
Like most enlisted folks with this level of responsibility, they’re known for blunt talk and a no-nonsense attitude. They take care of the planes they’re charged to maintain very seriously. So it’s no surprise they’re known to be hardasses for doing things their way.
The Department of Veteran Affairs has just released the draft master plan for how the agency intends to improve the campus of its West Los Angeles facility after years of encroachment, misuse, and neglect. The plan follows a landmark legal ruling last year following a lawsuit that alleged that VA was violating the covenant of an 1888 deed whereby the United States acquired title to the West LA Campus by misusing parts of it for commercial purposes in lieu of caring for and serving veterans.
The agreement established a nonprofit, Vets Advocacy, to serve as a partner in the West LA VA master planning process. Vets Advocacy and We Are The Mighty have joined forces in a grassroots campaign to assist the veteran community in voicing how they’d like to see VA services provided at the West LA VA campus.
“With the proper veteran input, the West LA VA redevelopment plan has the potential to serve as a 21st Century blueprint for VA campuses nationwide,” said Jonathan Sherin, a psychiatrist and veteran advocate who has been a key facilitator of the planning effort.
The new master plan for the West LA Campus will help VA determine and implement the most effective use of the campus for veterans, particularly for homeless veterans, including underserved populations such as female veterans, aging veterans, and those who are severely physically or mentally disabled. Focus areas include considerations surrounding vet housing (both temporary and permanent), vet services, and historic preservation.
The draft plan divides the campus into four zones labeled (1-4 respectively) “Healthcare Excellence,” “Coordinated Care,” “Veteran Housing,” and “Recreation.” Details of each zone can be found in the document.
“This draft master plan provides the VA with a stronger foundation to build a 21st century healthcare campus and vibrant community for veterans,” VA Secretary Robert McDonald said in a statement. “It also helps to ensure we will have the housing and healthcare resources needed to sustain the mission of ending veteran homelessness.”
Now that the draft master plan has been published, veterans have 45 days to review it and provide inputs, thereby helping to ensure the plan meets the needs of those it is designed to assist. The master plan can be viewed and downloaded and comments can be submitted at #VATHERIGHTWAY.
According to legend, Colorado’s Cheyenne Mountain is a sleeping dragon that many years ago saved the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. In the Native American story, the Great Spirit punished the people by sending a massive flood, but after they repented, it sent a dragon to drink the water away. The dragon, engorged by the massive amount of water, fell asleep, was petrified and then became the mountain.
Unlike the dragon of legend, the Cheyenne Mountain Complex has never slept during 50 years of operations. Since being declared fully operational in April 1966, the installation has played a vital role in the Department of Defense during both peacetime and wartime.
Though the complex may have changed names during the past five decades, its mission has never strayed from defending the U.S. and its allies. Today, it is known as Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, with a primary role of collecting information from satellites and ground-based sensors throughout the world and disseminating the data to North American Aerospace Defense Command, U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Strategic Command — a process Steven Rose, Cheyenne Mountain AFS deputy director, compares to the work done by the stem of the human brain.
“Those sensors are your nerves out there sensing that information,” Rose said, “but the nerves all come back to one spot in the human body, together in the brain stem, entangled in a coherent piece. We are the brain stem that’s pulling it all together, correlating it, making sense of it, and passing it up to the brain — whether it’s the commander at NORAD, NORTHCOM or STRATCOM — for someone to make a decision on what that means. That is the most critical part of the nervous system and the most vulnerable. Cheyenne Mountain provides that shield around that single place where all of that correlation and data comes into.”
In the 1950s, the DOD decided to build the installation as a command and control center defense against long-range Soviet bombers. As the “brain stem,” it would be one of the first installations on the enemy’s target list, so it was built to withstand a direct nuclear attack.
Cheyenne Mountain’s 15 buildings rest on more than 1,300 springs, 18 inches from the mountain’s rock walls, so they could move independently in the event of a nuclear blast and the inherent seismic event. In addition, an EMP, being a natural component of a nuclear blast, was already considered in Cheyenne Mountain’s original design and construction features, Rose said.
“Back then, it was just part of the effect of a nuclear blast that we were designed for at Cheyenne Mountain,” he added. “If you fast forward 50 years from our construction, the EMP threat has become more important to today’s society because of the investment that has been made into electronics. Just by sheer coincidence, since we were designed in the 50s and 60s for a nuclear blast and its EMP component, we are sitting here today as the number one rated EMP protected facility. The uniqueness of the mountain is that the entire installation is surrounded by granite, which is a natural EMP shield.”
The station, built 7,000 feet above sea level, opened as the NORAD Combat Operations Center. When NORAD and the newly stood up NORTHCOM moved their main command center to Peterson Air Force Base in 2008, many believed Cheyenne Mountain had closed. Today, Cheyenne Mountain hosts an alternate command center for NORAD and is landlord to more than a dozen DOD agencies, such as the Defense Intelligence Agency.
“When I bring official visitors up here, not only are they surprised that we’re still open,” said Colonel Gary Cornn, Cheyenne Mountain AFS Installation Commander. “Many are impressed by the original construction, the blasting of the tunnels, how the buildings are constructed inside, and some of the things we show them, such as the survivability and capability we have in the blast valves, the springs, the way we do our air in the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) filtering and the huge blast doors. It’s funny to see senior officers and civilians become sort of amazed like little kids again.”
The threats and sources have drastically changed from when the station opened at the height of the Cold War, but the station’s iconic 25-ton steel doors remain the same, ready to seal the mountain in 40 seconds to protect it from any threat. The underground city beneath 2,000 feet of granite still provides the protection to keep the station relevant as it begins its next half-century as “America’s Fortress.”
Longtime Cheyenne Mountain employees like Rose and Russell Mullins, the 721st Communications Squadron deputy director, call themselves “mountain men.” Mullins’ time in the mountain goes back to the Cold War era, about halfway through its history to 1984.
Although the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal was the main focus, today’s Airmen conduct essentially the same mission: detect and track incoming threats to the United States; however, the points of origin for those threats have multiplied and are not as clearly defined.
“The tension in here wasn’t high from what might happen,” Mullins said. “The tension was high to be sure you could always detect (a missile launch). We didn’t dwell on the fact that the Soviet Union was the big enemy. We dwelled on the fact that we could detect anything they could throw at us.
“There was a little bit of stress back then, but that hasn’t changed. I would say the stress now is just as great as during the Cold War, but the stress today is the great unknown.”
The 9/11 attacks added another mission to NORAD and the Cheyenne Mountain Directorate – the monitoring of the U.S. and Canadian interior air space. They stand ready to assist the Federal Aviation Administration and Navigation Canada to respond to threats from the air within the continental U.S. and Canada.
Airplane icons blot out most of the national map on the NORAD/NORTHCOM Battle Cab Traffic Situation Display in the alternate command center. To the right another screen shows the Washington, D.C., area, called the Special Flight Restrictions Area, which was also added after 9/11.
Whenever a crisis would affect NORAD’s vulnerability or ability to operate, the commander would move his command center and advisors to the Battle Cab, said Lt. Col. Tim Schwamb, the Cheyenne Mountain AFS branch chief for NORAD/NORTHCOM.
“I would say that on any given day, the operations center would be a center of controlled chaos; where many different things may be happening at once,” Schwamb said. “We’re all trying to ensure that we’re taking care of whatever threat may be presenting itself in as short an amount of time as possible.
“I would describe it as the nerve center of our homeland defense operations. This is where the best minds in NORAD and U.S. Northern Command are, so that we can see, predict, and counter any threats that would happen to the homeland and North American region. It’s really a room full of systems that we monitor throughout the day, 24-hours a day, seven-days a week, that give us the information to help us accomplish the mission.”
Protecting America’s Fortress is a responsibility that falls to a group of firefighters and security forces members, but fighting fires and guarding such a valuable asset in a mountain presents challenges quite different from any other Air Force base, said Matthew Backeberg, a 721st Civil Engineer Squadron supervisor firefighter. Firefighters train on high-angle rescues because of the mountain’s unique environment, but even the most common fire can be especially challenging.
“Cheyenne Mountain is unique in that we have super challenges as far as ventilation, smoke and occupancy,” Backeberg said. “In a normal building, you pull the fire alarm, and the people are able to leave. Inside the mountain, if you pull the fire alarm, the people are depending on me to tell them a safer route to get out.
“If a fire happens inside (the mountain), we pretty much have to take care of it,” Backeberg added. “We’re dependent on our counterparts in the CE world to help us ventilate the facility, keep the fire going in the direction we want it to go, and allow the occupants of the building to get to a safe location – outside the half mile long tunnel.”
Although Cheyenne Mountain, the site of movies and television series such as “WarGames,” “Interstellar,” “Stargate SG-1” and “Terminator,” attracts occasional trespassers and protesters, security forces members more often chase away photographers, said Senior Airman Ricardo Pierre Collie, a 721st Security Forces Squadron member.
“The biggest part of security forces’ day is spent responding to alarms and getting accustomed to not seeing the sun on a 12-hour shift when working inside the mountain,” Collie said.
Security forces must also be ready to respond at a moment’s notice because, when charged with protecting an installation like Cheyenne Mountain AFS, the reaction time is even more crucial. Airmen like Collie feel their responsibly to protect America’s Fortress remains as vital today as it was during the Cold War.
“The important day at Cheyenne Mountain wasn’t the day we opened in 1966,” Rose said. “The next important date isn’t in April 2016 (the installation’s 50-year anniversary), it’s about all those days in between. The Airmen who come here to Cheyenne Mountain every day will be watching your skies and shores in (the nation’s) defense.”
As Cheyenne Mountain AFS enters its next 50 years, the dragon remains awake and alert to all threats against the U.S.
Have you ever been asked whether you have ever killed anyone?
If you are a military veteran, chances are you probably have — and it’s always been awkward. Because honestly, what are you really supposed to say? It’s not a question that most troops want to answer: If it’s a yes, it was likely in combat and just part of your job. If it’s a no, should you feel bad that you weren’t one of the cool kids on your block with a confirmed kill?
From a civilian perspective, most simply don’t know it’s an inappropriate question. In their eyes, troops are taking out bad guys all day long, and they are genuinely curious about how that goes. And for veterans who end up on the receiving end of this question, it’s important to remember this ignorance — and that you were once this clueless too.
So how do vets respond? There are a few ways, ranging from the super-serious to the sarcastic as hell.
1. The super-serious: “That’s not an appropriate question to ask.”
If you want to shut it down right here, you can answer back with this. Because really, it’s hardly ever appropriate to ask that question. No one runs up to World War II vets and asks whether they killed anyone. They are just thanked for their service and left alone, not burdened with potentially rough memories.
2. The serious: “Yes/No, but that’s not something I want to talk about.”
You’ve given the answer to that morbid question, but made it clear that’s all they are going to get. If pressed, you can always revert to explaining that it’s inappropriate.
3. The uncomfortably silent: “Yes/No [pause for dramatic effect]”
If you want to flip the uncomfortableness around on the person asking the question, respond with a simple yes or no and then just look straight back at them, with unblinking eye contact. Talk about awkward.
4. Answering the awkward question with a awkward question: “Have you ever slept with your sister?”
With this one, you can effectively turn the tables and demonstrate just how awkward the question made you. The questioner will likely recoil when asked — similarly to your reaction — and you can then add, “No, huh? Ok let’s talk about something else then.”
5. The True Lies answer: “Yeah, but they were all bad.”
Take a page out of Arnold’s playbook from the film “True Lies.” If you haven’t seen it (what?!), Schwarzenegger plays an international spy but his wife has no clue. When she finds out and starts asking him questions, she gets to the killing question. He tries to soften the blow of this shocking news. I think it went ok.
6. The funny: “You mean today, or in total?”
You could always give an unexpected answer dripping with sarcasm. Go with this one, dramatically saying “not yet,” or give a ridiculous number: Like 67.
“Well my official number if 67, but that’s only confirmed. Pretty sure I’ve gotten a lot more than that.”
So how do you respond? Let us know in the comments.