Thousands of troops overseas won't know if their votes were counted on election day - We Are The Mighty
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Thousands of troops overseas won’t know if their votes were counted on election day

Thousands of troops overseas won’t know if their votes were counted on election day
Service member fills out an absentee ballot during the 2008 presidential race. (Photo: DVIDS)


One of the presidential candidates has been on the campaign trail making claims about how the election is “a rigged deal.” And while Donald Trump tries to make a linkage between perceived media bias against him and his declining poll numbers as evidence of this so-called “rigging,” history shows that the American voting process is not as much rigged as it is flawed in some ways.

And nowhere is this truer than with military absentee ballots.

Absentee ballots started during the Civil War when Union soldiers complained that they couldn’t exercise their right to vote because they were stationed along battle lines far away from their home states. President Lincoln, knowing it was going to be a close election and sensing he enjoyed the support of the troops because he was commander-in-chief, pushed to make absentee voting possible. States responded along party lines; Republicans passed laws allowing soldiers to mail ballots home from the war, and Democrats resisted such laws.

The idea died after the war but came back to the attention of lawmakers some 85 years later during World War II. Both Democrats and Republicans figured GIs would support President Roosevelt, which is why Democrats liked the idea and Republicans did not. Most states passed a law allowing absentee ballots, and as a result, nearly 2.6 million service members voted during the 1944 election, according to Donald S. Inbody of The Washington Post.

Demand grew in the decades that followed and processes for absentee ballots, including those used by the military, varied from state to state. Finally, Congress passed overarching guidance in the form of the Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986.

That guidance was imperfect, however. States often mailed ballots out too close to the election to be returned from overseas in time to be counted. As a result, service members grew disenfranchised and often chose not to participate fearing that to do so would be a waste of time.

This sense came to a head during the controversial presidential election of 2000 between Bush and Gore. Gore, the Democratic candidate, conceded only to take it back after discovering that he was actually winning the popular vote and the count in the crucial state of Florida was only separated by several hundred votes. The Democrats demanded a recount, and lawyers sprang into action across polling places statewide. Suddenly words like “hanging chads” (referring to stuck cut-outs on punch cards used to tally votes on antiquated machines) were part of the national lexicon.

Several thousand military absentee ballots came into play in this winner-take-all scenario. Once again lawmakers came down along party lines. Democrats — fearing the military voters were mostly Republican — tried to have the ballots thrown out because they had arrived past the deadline or weren’t postmarked. The Bush campaign ultimately got the ballots counted, which allowed W. to win the election and become the 43rd president.

Because of that chaos, Congress created the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to better provide information about elections and passed the Military and Overseas Voting Empowerment Act of 2009, which forced states to overhaul election laws to allow troops to request ballots and register to vote electronically. States were also required to have ballots ready to mail 45 days before an election to ensure enough time for the service member to get it back to be counted.

But these actions have far from fixed the problem. As Eric Eversole wrote in The Washington Times, during the 2010 election cycle many local officials missed the 45-day-prior deadline by more than two weeks. The result was upwards of 40,000 military absentee ballots sent only 25 days before election day, not enough time to make it out to ships at sea or forward operating bases and then back to the U.S.

And that’s not the only problem. Military absentee ballots are supposed to be tallied by home states and sent to the EAC, which is charged with reporting the results to Congress, but an independent study of EAC data conducted by the Walter Cronkite School’s News21 national reporting project found that 1 in 8 jurisdictions reported receiving more ballots than they sent, counting more ballots than they received, or rejecting more ballots than they received.

According to News21, some local voting officials think the EAC’s forms for recording military overseas participation are confusing.

“How am I supposed to account for ballots that are sent to domestic addresses but are returned from overseas?” asked Paul Lux, the supervisor of elections in a Florida county with a large population of active duty Air Force personnel. “There are just too many potential anomalies in the way we have to provide service to these voters.”

The process is also complicated on the service member’s side, mostly because of the inherent challenges of the mail systems at the far reaches of America’s military presence around the world but also because the availability of voting information varies between commands.

Matt Boehmer, the director of DoD’s Federal Voting Assistance Program, told News21 that service member confusion “is exacerbated by the fact that military voters never receive confirmation that their ballots were counted.” FVAP has recommended that state election officials notify troops when their ballots are counted.

But in spite of all of the issues challenging the military absentee ballot process, military leaders urge their subordinates to participate in the voting process.

“It’s what you raise your hand to do, support and defend the Constitution,” Capt. Yikalo Gebrehiwet, a company commander at Ft. Bragg, told News21. “The best way to do that is by voting.”

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Collective impact is the key to social change that counts

Thousands of troops overseas won’t know if their votes were counted on election day
Bill Rausch, Got Your 6 executive director, on a panel at SXSW. (Photo: GY6)


Recently, Starbucks, the Schultz Family Foundation and JP Morgan convened in Washington, D.C., to explore impactful ways to empower veterans. This meeting at its core was centered on finding a solution to corporate philanthropy – how can organizations work to produce social change in a chosen area, while still ensuring a return on investment? Across sectors, collective impact has emerged as the answer.

As it relates to the world of nonprofits, collective impact is a framework by which organizations can accomplish more through partnerships with others with shared values, than they can by going alone. Ten years ago this month, I deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, and in the military, I learned the phrase “one team, one fight,” which perfectly summarizes this concept. Pair this idea of cooperation, not competition, with the generous financial backing of corporate donors, and you have the foundation for real change.

Here is a real world example: To raise awareness for breast cancer research and domestic violence, the Avon Foundation gives grants to nonprofits to strengthen the work they do on the ground. Corporate partnerships are a key component of amplifying the work of nonprofits, but for companies looking to invest in social change, how do you find the right home for your dollars? For those looking to empower veterans and military families, the Got Your 6 campaign has perfected the solution.

Over the last three years, Macy’s has raised $6.7 million dollars for the national veteran campaign Got Your 6 through its annual American Icons campaign. These funds have gone to national programs and events as well as to Got Your 6’s coalition of nonprofit partners in the form of grants, in efforts to advance the veteran empowerment movement.

By vetting each nonprofit partner within its larger coalition, Got Your 6 ensures that corporate funding will go to organizations creating real change in communities across America. From the great work of Macy’s through American Icons, and the generosity of the American people, Got Your 6 was able to give 35 grants over three years to nonprofit partners such as The 6th Branch, a veteran-run nonprofit that utilizes the leadership and operational skills of military veterans to accomplish community service initiatives. Last year, Got Your 6 granted The 6th Branch $93,000, supporting a year’s worth of service to transform abandoned lots in Baltimore into urban farms and safe spaces for youth recreation. Last month, members from team Got Your 6 participated in an urban greening event with The 6th Branch at the Oliver Community Farm in Baltimore; a veteran-created community resource designed to provide fresh produce in response to a lack of healthy food options in the area.

From my time as a cadet at West Point to the 17 months I spent in Baghdad during the height of the surge, I’ve seen first-hand the power of collective impact and how critical it is to success, regardless of the mission. To continue supporting a resurgence of community in America, Macy’s is again working with Got Your 6 on this year’s iteration of American Icons. Veterans will directly benefit the more people know about this: Americans can shop at Macy’s for Got Your 6 Weekend on Friday, May 13 through Sunday, May 15 to donate $3 at the register or online at Macys.com to receive a special savings pass, with 100% of all donations going directly to Got Your 6 and its coalition of nonprofit partners.

I have been leading teams my entire life, in and out of the Army, and I couldn’t be more proud of Got Your 6 as we lead the veteran empowerment movement, leveraging a “one team, one fight” approach. Companies looking to support social change should seriously consider the collective impact mindset. As exemplified by Macy’s and Got Your 6, measurable impact can occur when all parties work together.

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How this Navy jet ended up 3,000 feet under the Atlantic

The US Coast Guard rescued a Navy pilot whose jet crashed in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida Keys.


Lt. Russ Chilcoat said in a news release the pilot ejected and was rescued in early August with no apparent injuries. The crash happened some 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Key West. The pilot, whose name wasn’t released, was the only person on board.

Thousands of troops overseas won’t know if their votes were counted on election day
A US Navy Northrop F-5N Tiger II  assigned to Fighter Squadron Composite 111 “Sun Downers” launches from Boca Chica Field of Naval Air Station Key West, Florida. (US Navy photo)

Chilcoat says parts of the F-5N were recovered but the rest is under about 3,000 feet (900 meters) of water. He says the Navy has no immediate plans to recover the aircraft.

The pilot is attached to Fighter Composite Squadron 111, the “Sun Downers,” based at Naval Air Station Key West. Officials say the jet was conducting training operations and the cause of the crash wasn’t immediately known.

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Today in military history: Berlin Airlift begins

On June 26, 1948, the U.S. began the Berlin Airlift, one of the largest humanitarian relief missions in history.

After WWII, the German capital was divided with Soviet Russia controlling East Berlin and British, French and American Allies responsible for the west. The city was located more than 100 miles inside the Russian controlled portion of Germany. On June 24, 1948, the Russians implemented a blockade of West Berlin to prevent food and supplies, such as coal, from entering the town. The effort attempted to break the spirit of the West Berlin people to reject democracy and embrace communism. 

From 1945 to 1948, rising tensions between the Soviet Union and other Allied powers led to problems in governing post-war Germany.

A plan created by the U.S., British, and French to introduce a new unit of currency ran into stiff Communist opposition, and the Soviets initiated a land blockade of West Berlin on June 24, 1948.

On June 26, a massive airlift was approved to fly over the blockade and land supplies at Tempelhof Airport. Initially, high costs and Soviet demonstrations in the city led some Americans to question the tactic, but pro-democracy demonstrations convinced America to continue. The U.S.-U.K. led operations landed over 270,000 flights carrying over 2 million tons of supplies during an 11-month period.

On May 12, 1949, the Soviets gave in and lifted the blockade, allowing the U.S. to claim victory.

Featured Image: A C-54 Skymaster piloted by retired Col. Gail Halvorsen drops candy with attached parachutes to children during the Berlin Airlift. Halvorsen earned the nickname “Candy Bomber” for his operation Little Vittles candy drops. Note the parachutes below the tail of the C-54. (U.S. Air Force photo)

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Marines temporarily ground planes in wake of Hornet crash

The Marine Corps has ordered all non-deployed aircraft squadrons to observe a 24-hour “operational pause” after a Miramar-based squadron suffered a third F/A-18C Hornet crash in 12 months — two within the span of a week, one fatal.


Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Sarah Burns told Military.com there would be an operational pause for all Marine Aircraft Wings, exempting deployed units.

“This operational pause is to happen within the next seven business days,” she said in an email. “Operational pauses are routine and are a time to align, discuss best practices and look at ways to continue to improve.”

Thousands of troops overseas won’t know if their votes were counted on election day
US Marine Corps photo

The news of this grounding throughout Marine Corps aviation was first reported by Marine Corps Times.

Burns said the timing of the pause was at the discretion of the wing commanders. Investigations into the most recent crashes are still ongoing, she said.

Pilot Maj. Richard Norton of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232 was killed July 28 when his F/A-18C Hornet went down during training near Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California.

A second pilot attached to the squadron, who has not been identified, is being treated after ejecting from his F/A-18C Hornet on Aug. 2 over Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada, during a training flight.

That aircraft had been temporarily assigned to Fallon’s Strike Fighter Wing Pacific Detachment, officials said.

In October 2015, a Marine pilot also attached to VMFA-232, Maj. Taj Sareen, was killed when his Hornet crashed near Royal Air Force Airfield Lakenheath in England during a flight from Bahrain to Miramar at the completion of a six-month deployment to the Middle East.

No cause has been publicly released for any of these three crashes.

Officials said recently they have wrapped up an investigation into a deadly Navy F/A-18C crash that happened earlier this summer. Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss, a soloist with the Blue Angels demonstration team, was killed June 3 when his aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff in what was supposed to be a rehearsal flight ahead of an airshow in Smyrna, Tennessee. The results of that investigation have yet to be released.

In a discussion at a think tank in Washington, D.C., on July 29, the Marines’ head of aviation, Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, said he did not believe diminished flight hours for Hornet pilots had contributed to the tragic July 28 crash.

“I track [flight hours] each week. This particular unit was doing OK,” he said.

Davis added he did not believe that reduced flight hours, a function of limited resources and available aircraft, were making Marine Corps squadrons less safe, but added the Corps was “not as proficient as we should be.”

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5 bad luck military events that happened on Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th is more than just a classic movie series. It’s estimated that 17-21 million people are affected by Paraskevidekatriaphobia, the fear of Friday the 13th. This fear has its roots in biblical history, referencing the thirteen people present at Jesus’ last supper on the 13th day on the night before his death on Good Friday. Another legend links the superstition to the liquidation of the Knights Templar by French king Philip IV.


Thousands of troops overseas won’t know if their votes were counted on election day
They were stoked about it.

No matter its origin, in Western culture, the 13th day of the month falling on a Friday has been an unlucky day for at least 200 years. Around the Western world, businesses take an estimated $800-900 million hit on Friday the 13th. A 1993 study in the British Medical Journal even revealed “a significant level of traffic-related incidences on Friday the 13th as opposed to a random day.” Maybe it’s just superstition, maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy, maybe it’s not a bad idea to stay in bed. Warfighters aren’t exempt. These five events added more than a few warriors to the ranks of the paraskevidekatriaphobic:

1. The Aztecs get pwned by Cortes

Stubbing your toe on Friday the 13th is bad luck. Losing your entire empire is literally the end of the world. At least, YOUR world. Losing your empire despite outnumbering a bunch of foreigners 200 to 1 is almost tragic.

Thousands of troops overseas won’t know if their votes were counted on election day
Why is that woman the only one who sees the giant fire snake? Maybe she should have been Emperor.

On Friday the 13th, 1521, Conquistador Hernán Cortés captured Tenochtitlán with 1,500 Spaniards against 300,000 Aztecs after a two month siege. They chained the Emperor of the Aztec Empire and then tortured the city’s aristocracy, looking for hidden treasure.  They held him as a slave for four years before executing him. Bad luck.

2. Robert E. Lee accidentally loses the Civil War

One of the famed general’s officers wrapped a copy of Lee’s Special Order 191, the secret instructions for the invasion of Maryland, around three cigars in his camp.  The order was a detailed, ten-part instruction for units involved in the rebel invasion. Somehow, the paper was dropped in an abandoned campsite and spotted by a Union scout, who picked it up on Friday, September 13, 1862 and sent it up the chain. It would affect every Confederate invasion of the North for the rest of the war.

Thousands of troops overseas won’t know if their votes were counted on election day
Did you even notice that’s not Robert E. Lee? Stay thirsty, my friends.

Knowing the entire set of instructions, Union forces were able to beat the Confederates at the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single battle of the entire war, and the bloodiest day in American military history. It ended Lee’s first invasion of Union territory. It allowed President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which would be instrumental in keeping foreign powers out of the war, and set the stage for Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg.

3. The King of England gets a up-close view of WWII

Nazi Germany was relentlessly bombing London during the Blitz, a period of intense aerial attacks on Britain where the Nazis dropped 100 tons of high explosives on the city. Just a week after the Blitz began, King George VI and Elizabeth the Queen Mother (not the current Queen Elizabeth, but rather her mom) were having tea when the Luftwaffe dropped bombs on Buckingham Palace. Elizabeth recalled “battling” to remove an eyelash from the King’s eye, when they heard the “unmistakable whirr-whirr of a German plane” and then the “scream of a bomb”.

Thousands of troops overseas won’t know if their votes were counted on election day
The King would thumb his nose at the Nazis by making himself as shiny as possible, wearing the biggest hat in all the land.

The King and Elizabeth only had time to look foolishly at each other before the bombs exploded nearby. The King and his wife were as stiff-lipped as the rest of the British people, refusing to flee London, which won them the respect of the British people. The bomb destroyed a glass ceiling and the palace chapel.

4. Japanese admiral decides to have an actual “Battle of Friday the 13th”

Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto led a 39-ship task force against the small American presence around Guadalcanal on Friday, November 13th, 1942. The idea was to land 7,000 Japanese troops on the island and retake the strategically-located Henderson Field (though that’s probably not what the Japanese called it).

Thousands of troops overseas won’t know if their votes were counted on election day
Next time, maybe wait a day.

Yamamoto lost two battleships, three destroyers, a heavy cruiser, and seven fully-loaded troop transports sunk and four destroyed on the beach. The Japanese also lost 64 aircraft and nearly 2,000 killed. The Americans lost seven destroyers, two light cruisers, 36 aircraft and more than 1,700 men, including Admirals Daniel Callaghan and Norman Scott, the highest ranking officers to die in combat during the war. The American win cemented the Guadalcanal campaign in U.S. favor.

5. The Cold War in the Baltic teeters on becoming ballistic

Soviet Fighter planes shot down a Swedish military C-47 Dakota cargo plane over international waters on Friday, June 13, 1952. The plane was unarmed and all eight crewmen died in the attack. The Swedes send out two PBY Catalina aircraft to search for the missing plane. One of those is intercepted and shot down as well. The crew of the rescue plane survived, but Moscow denied the incident until 1991.

Thousands of troops overseas won’t know if their votes were counted on election day
Looks like an accident to me.

After the incident, Swedish authorities discovered a life raft with remnants of a Soviet shell. The Swedes would later admit the first plane was conducting signals intelligence. The name of the rescue plane lent itself to color the name of the event, which became known as the “Catalina Affair.” In 2003, both aircraft were located in the Baltic Sea and when the first plane was raised from the ocean, the bullet holes showed the it was shot down by a MiG15. The clock in the cockpit read the exact time the plane went down and all eight crewmen’s remains were recovered.

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Cocaine bust highlights growing Air Force role in Southern hemisphere

Thousands of troops overseas won’t know if their votes were counted on election day
U.S. Air Force E-3 Sentry AWACS, an RC-135, and KC-135s sit at the CURACAO/ARUBA Cooperative Security Location. | Photo via SOUTHCOM.


The line of cocaine the Air Force and Joint Interagency Task Force-South seized last month in the Caribbean would stretch “from the Pentagon to the center of Philadelphia.”

The Air Force’s top civilian shared that detail with reporters Wednesday when describing how the service is working harder to train pilots in the Southern hemisphere while aiding the global anti-drug war.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the service is looking for ways to use more assets in the Southern Command region that would be “of training benefit to our forces, but also contributing to counter drug and counter transnational crime commission.”

“The idea of all of this was to see if we could get more of a double ‘bang for your buck,’ ” James said at a Pentagon briefing.

And during a five-day training operation, they did.

Led by Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Nowland, commander of the 12th Air Force and Air Forces Southern, the service and the Key West, Florida-based task force seized 6,100 kilograms (13,448 pounds) of cocaine between Aug. 22-26, James said.

The large-scale air operation in the Caribbean included a number of U.S. aircraft, including HC-130s, DH-8s, B-1Bs, B-52s, AWACS, JSTARS, Global Hawks, KC-135s and KC-10s, James said. Space and cyber assets “were also brought into the mix,” she said, but didn’t elaborate.

The use of airpower as well as the other partners in the interagency effort led to the seizure of as much as $500 million worth of the cocaine and the arrest of 17 drug traffickers by appropriate authorities, James said.

In March, a B-1B Lancer flew a low pass over a drug smuggling boat in the Caribbean Sea, prompting those onboard to dump 500 kilos of cocaine into the deep blue.

The secretary visited command units in April to discuss the potential for more training operations in Latin America.

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These 3 soldiers fought their way back to the front lines after losing legs

Typically, an amputation ends a military career. For a long time, most any level of amputation was considered to make a service member unfit for combat. As of last summer, only 57 amputees had returned to conflict zones and most of those stayed at a desk.


These three men wanted to get back into the fight.

1. The Ranger who swore he’d still be a squad leader

Thousands of troops overseas won’t know if their votes were counted on election day
Photo: US Army Special Operations Command

Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Kapacziewski was in an armored vehicle when insurgents threw a grenade into it. Kapacziewski survived the blast with serious injuries. After months of surgeries and casts, he attempted to walk on his right leg again and heard the pins holding it together snap. Soon after, he asked doctors to remove it.

Also, watch: Bryan Anderson’s Amazing Story Showcased in ‘American Sniper’ 

Over the months and years that followed, Kapacziewski (a.k.a. “Joe Kap”) relearned how to do the basic tasks required of Rangers . He ran, rucked, parachuted, and completed Army drills with his prosthetic leg. Since his amputation, he has conducted four combat deployments and even earned an Army Commendation Medal for pulling an injured soldier 75 yards during a firefight.

2. The paratrooper who led an airborne platoon with a prosthetic

Thousands of troops overseas won’t know if their votes were counted on election day
Photo: US Navy Lt. j.g. Bryan Mitchell

1st Lt. Josh Pitcher finished relieving himself on the side of the road, closed his fly, and heard the loud pop of a small roadside bomb. Two days later, he was in a hospital in Germany, promising to return to combat despite losing his left leg beneath the knee. Before he could even try and return to active duty, Pitcher had to kick a pill and drinking habit he got trying to deal with the pain after his surgeries. But, he learned how to do his old job with his new leg. Less than two years after his injury, he returned with his unit, the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, to Afghanistan. A few months later, he took over a 21-man platoon and led them for the rest of the deployment, most of it trudging through the mountains in the northern regions of the country .

3. The captain who calmly reported his own double amputation

Thousands of troops overseas won’t know if their votes were counted on election day
Photo: US Army SGT Joe Padula

When then-1st Lt. Daniel Luckett’s vehicle was hit by an IED in Iraq in 2008, a squad leader called up to ask if everything was all right. Luckett calmly responded, “Negative. My feet are gone.” Two years later, Capt. Luckett was with the 101st Airborne Division again; this time in Afghanistan. He uses a small prosthetic to assist what remains of his right leg. A much larger one serves as his left. His second day with his first prosthetic, he attempted to walk away with the leg. Doctors tried to get it back, but Luckett convinced them to let him keep it. He would go on to earn the Expert Infantry Badge during his efforts to prove he was still an asset. After successfully earning the award, the soldier was promoted to captain and allowed to deploy with his unit as part of the Afghan surge.

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This is how agile ‘Lightning carriers’ could rule the South China Sea

The US Marine Corps just set forth its vision of a battle plan to take on growing threats around the world — and it calls for small “Lightning carriers” armed to the teeth with F-35s.


The 2017 Marine Aviation Plan acknowledges the burgeoning “missile gap” between the US and adversaries like China, who have a number of “carrier killers” — long-range precision weapons specifically designed to hit land bases and aircraft carriers before they can hit back.

While the US Navy is working on the MQ-25A Stingray as an unmanned refueling system to extend the range of its carrier aircraft, the Marines seem ready to press ahead with a similar concept in “Lightning carriers.”

Basically, the Marines will already have enough F-35Bs to equip several of their smaller amphibious assault ships, sometimes known as helicopter carriers, while the Navy waits on their F-35Cs to sort out carrier-launch issues for its larger, Nimitz-class carriers.

Related: Here’s when the F-35 will use stealth mode vs. ‘beast mode’

“While the amphibious assault ship will never replace the aircraft carrier, it can be complementary, if employed in imaginative ways,” reads the plan. The Marines refer to one such creative use of the smaller carriers as a “Lightning carrier,” or an amphibious assault ship with 20 F-35Bs and an “embarked, organic aerial refueling capability” to extend their range.

The Marines plan to further reduce reliance on land and sea bases with “mobile forward arming and refueling points” that employ decoys and deception to confuse the enemy and keep US aircraft spread out and unpredictable.

The F-35B with its stealth, unparalleled intelligence gathering, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities, plus extended range, can match the long range missiles fielded by Russia and China and help the Marines secure land and sea bases by allowing them to see first, and if need be, shoot first.

Thousands of troops overseas won’t know if their votes were counted on election day
Four F-35B Lightning II aircraft perform a flyover above the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) during the Lightning Carrier Proof of Concept Demonstration. | US Navy photo by Andy Wolfe

In December, an F-35 pilot aboard the USS America, a new type of amphibious assault ship built specifically for the F-35, called the “Lightning carrier” concept “the most powerful concentration of combat power ever put to sea in the history of the world.”

Additionally, the F-35 won’t just increase capabilities, but if acquired faster to replace the aging F-18s and Harriers in the Marines’ fleet, it could save $1 billion, according to the US Naval Institute.

But the Marines aren’t just waiting on the F-35B to save them. The service has big plans to network every single platform into a “sensor, shooter, electronic warfare node and sharer – able to move information throughout the spectrum and across the battlefield at light speed.”

Thousands of troops overseas won’t know if their votes were counted on election day
From boots on the ground to satellites in the sky, this complicated graphic details how the Marine Corps plans to integrate every bit of data from any platform, anywhere. | USMC Graphic

With upgraded data sharing and command and control abilities, every asset from boots on the ground to satellites in the sky will work together to provide decision-quality information to war fighters, whether they’re on carriers, land bases, or taking a beach.

While China cements its land and sea grab with militarized islands in the South China Sea, the Marines’ aviation plan takes on a new urgency. The plan details how the first F-35B squadrons will deploy to Japan and the US’s West Coast.

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This Marine Corporal is helping his fellow vets “cowboy up”

Thousands of troops overseas won’t know if their votes were counted on election day
Photos courtesy Semper Fi Fund


For Marine Corporal Alex Monaghan, who retired from the Corps in 2009 after four years as a rifleman during which he deployed twice (once to Iraq and once to Afghanistan), the phrase “boots on the ground” has taken on a far different meaning than those words typically suggest.

That’s because Alex is the first graduate of a brand-new Semper Fi Fund program: Semper Fi Fund Apprenticeship Program, which helps service members learn valuable skills that they could one day leverage to start a business.

In Alex’s case, that skill is making high-quality cowboy boots.

It all began when Alex was considering going on “one of these horse stints,” as he describes it, as part of the Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program. While filling out the paperwork, there was a question at the bottom asking, “Are you interested in learning any of these skills?” Among the skills listed were knife-making, silver-engraving, roping … and making cowboy boots.

“It was weird that it was on there,” Alex recalls. “I always wanted to design my own boots. It’s a two-week program in St. Jo, Texas. The days are long—12 hours a day, six days a week—and there’s a lot to learn in a short amount of time. You get a pair of customized boots when you’re done.”

The time may have been short, but Alex was learning from the best: The boot-making program is run by Carlton T. Chappell, a third-generation award-winning bootmaker who started in leathercraft in 1964 and has been recognized as one of the very best bootmakers in the world.

Thousands of troops overseas won’t know if their votes were counted on election day
“It’s pretty neat,” Alex says. “You can’t learn everything in two weeks—Carl is in his 70s or 80s now, and he’s still learning new techniques every day–but it’s interesting. There’s always something new to learn, a new skill to master.”

While making a quality pair of cowboy boots is intricate and artistic work, Alex felt he had something of a head start over his half-dozen or so classmates.

“I did tattoo work for a couple of years,” he explains. “As far as working with machines and stuff, you have this huge thing on the table—you still have to draw out your sketch pattern and sew it up. I felt as if I had some advantage, because I’d been doing something similar to it.”

After finishing the two-week seminar, Alex went on to serve a month-long apprenticeship in Vernon, Texas, with award-winning bootmaker Dew Westover. Dew spent 20 years as a working cowboy, attended Carl’s seminar in 2002 and opened his own boot shop in 2004.

Alex made two pair of boots during his apprenticeship, and now he’s studying business at Texas AM as part of an entrepreneurship for veterans program.

Looking back over the years since he’s left active duty, Alex has seen a number of ups and downs in his own life, but he credits the Semper Fi Fund with helping him get out and get active—and he encourages his fellow veterans to do the same.

“If there are vets who are thinking about these sorts of programs, and they’re itchy or worried about it, I say just give it a try.”

“A lot of vets create a bubble and don’t go out in public,” Alex continues. “I think it’s a great experience—you have buddies to hang out with, you’re pushing yourself to do things that your anxiety or PTSD is preventing you from doing. I do these things, it pushes me to get out and go on the road and deal with people.”

“I would encourage more vets to get out there and find something they enjoy. Whether it’s bike riding or horseback riding or whatever—I’m sure the Semper Fi Fund has something for them.”

To learn more about Alex, the Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program and how these types of programs assist our nation’s veterans visit Semper Fi Fund Apprenticeship Program.

 Special thanks to the incredible generosity of one very special family for helping to provide funding for this important program in memory of their brother who wished to remember whose who serve.

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Watch this crazy video of an unconscious pilot saved by his plane’s computer

If you’ve ever been driving on a long road trip, you might know the horrifying feeling of being drowsy and nodding off behind the wheel — even for a moment.


Your heart drops into your stomach when you realize what happened. Now imagine waking up in an F-16 flying straight to the ground while approaching supersonic speed.

A trainee pilot conducting basic fighter maneuver training with the Arizona Air National Guard suffered G-LOC, or gravity-induced loss of consciousness, while in a roll. The student hit 8.3 Gs and passed out.

Related: Watch as flight students gut out high G training

The Air Force released this newly declassified video from the aircraft’s heads-up display on September 13th, which shows the plane’s Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System kick on to save the pilot, who was still unconscious after 22 seconds.

The video is harrowing as the worried instructor repeatedly yells at the pilot, almost begging him to recover.

According to Aviation Week’s Guy Norris, this is the fourth save from the Auto-GCAS since it was introduced to the Air Force in 2014. The computer uses pre-programmed terrain info against a prediction of the plane’s trajectory. The GCAS autopilot takes over when the prediction touches the ground.

In this case, the GCAS took over at just 8,760 feet. The student then wakes back up and retakes control at 4,370 feet.

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The 7 most important military decisions the next president will make in 2017

With ISIS continuing to fight, Russia and China throwing their weight around, and budget shortfalls becoming bigger and bigger problems, the Department of Defense will definitely need strong leadership in the form of a commander-in-chief and his political appointees in the months immediately following the inauguration next year.


Here are 7 important decisions he or she will have to tackle:

1. Will the U.S. pressure China to get off of contested islands, force them off with war, or let China have its way?

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The Littoral Combat Ship USS Fort Worth conducts a patrol through international waters near the Spratly Islands. (Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Conor Minto)

America has a vested interest in navigational freedoms in the South China Sea. Many allies transport their oil, other energy supplies, and manufactured goods through the South China Sea and the U.S. Navy uses routes there to get between the Pacific and Indian oceans.

Currently, a few sets of islands in the area are contested, most importantly the Spratly Islands. In addition to controlling important sea routes, the area may hold vast supplies of oil and natural gas. The most optimistic estimates put it second to only Saudi Arabia in terms of total oil reserves

China is deep in a campaign to control the South China Sea by claiming historical precedent and by building new bases and infrastructure on them. An international tribunal ruling on the issue will likely side against China shortly, but China probably won’t accept the decision.

That leaves a big decision for the next president. Does America recognize Chinese claims, back up U.S. allies in the area through diplomatic pressure, or begin a military confrontation that could trigger a major war?

2. How dedicated is the U.S. to the NATO alliance and deterring Russian aggression?

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173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team soldiers conduct exercises in partnership with NATO forces. (Photo: US Army Pfc. Randy Wren)

For decades, America’s presence in NATO was unquestionable. Candidates might argue about specific NATO policies, but membership was a given. Now, a debate exists about whether NATO might need to be adjusted or a new, anti-terror coalition built in its place.

America pays more than its fair share for the alliance. Every member is supposed to spend 2 percent or more of its GDP on defense, but only America and four other countries did so in 2015. Even among the five who hit their spending goals, America outspends everyone else both in terms of GDP and real expenses. The U.S. is responsible for about 75 percent of NATO spending.

And NATO was designed to defeat Russia expansion. Though members assisted in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they’ve struggled with what the alliance’s responsibilities are when addressing ISIS. For those who think ISIS should be the top priority, there’s a question about why the U.S. is spending so much time and energy on a European alliance.

So the question before the next president is, should America continue to dedicate diplomatic and military resources to a Europe-focused alliance when ISIS continues to inspire attacks in America and Europe while threatening governments in the Middle East?

3. What part of the world is the real priority?

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(Photo: US Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Christopher S. Muncy)

To use the cliche, “If everything is a priority, nothing is.” The American military does not have the necessary size and resources to contain both Russia and China while fighting ISIS and other terrorist organizations. The next U.S. president will have to decide what is and isn’t most important.

Alliances can help the U.S. overcome some of the shortfalls, but each “priority” requires sacrifices somewhere else. The next president will have to decide if protecting Ukranian sovereignty is worth the damage to negotiations in Syria. They’ll have to decide if the best use of military equipment is to park it in eastern Europe to deter Rusia or to send it to exercises in Asia to deter China.

Obama spent most of his administration trying to pivot to Asia while Middle Eastern and European crises kept forcing America back into those regions. Where the next president decides to focus will decide whether Russia is contained, China is pushed off the manmade islands, and/or if ISIS and its affiliates are smothered.

4. What is America’s role in the ongoing fight against ISIS and is there a need for more ground troops?

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U.S. Marines fire artillery to break up ISIS fighters attacking Kurdish and Peshmerga forces. (Photo: US Marine Corps Cpl. Andre Dakis)

On the note of transferring forces, those vehicles that could be redirected from supporting NATO or conducting exercises could be set to Iraq, Syria, and other countries to fight ISIS, but is that America’s job?

Though America’s invasion destabilized the region, Iraq’s rulers asked U.S. troops to leave before putting up a half-hearted and strategically insufficient response to ISIS. So the next president will have to decide whether America owes a moral debt to prop up the Iraqi government and Syrian rebels and whether it is in America’s best interest to do so.

The answer to those two questions will fuel the biggest one, should America deploy additional ground forces (something generals are asking for), risking becoming mired in another long war, to stop the rise of ISIS and other terrorist groups in the region?

5. How long will the Air Force keep the A-10?

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(Photo: US Air Force Senior Airman Chris Drzazgowski)

The struggle between A-10 supporters and detractors continues to rage. Air Force officials and A-10 detractors say the plane has to be retired due to budget constraints and the limited ability to use the plane in a contested environment. Proponents of the A-10 insist that it’s the cheapest and most effective close-air support platform.

The battle has nearly come to a head a few times. The Air Force was forced by Congress to keep the A-10 flying and finally agreed to a showdown between the A-10 and F-35 for some time in 2016. The critical analysis of the results will almost certainly come while Obama is still in office, but the A-10 decision will likely wait until the next president takes office.

The decision will officially be made by the Air Force, but the president can appoint senior officers sympathetic to one camp or the other. Also, the president’s role as the head of their political party will give them some control when Congress decides which platforms to dedicate money to supporting.

So the new president will have to decide in 2017 what close air support looks like for the next few years. Will it be the low, slow, cheap, and effective A-10 beloved by ground troops? Or the fast-flying, expensive, but technologically advanced and survivable F-35?

6. How much is readiness worth and where does the money come from?

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US Marines conduct underwater training. (Photo: US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jered T. Stone)

Sequestration, the mandatory reduction of military and domestic budgets under the Budget Control Act of 2011, puts a cap on U.S. military spending. The service chiefs sound the alarm bell every year that mandatory budget cuts hurt readiness and force the branches into limbo every year.

The next president, along with the next Congress, will have to decide how much military readiness they want to buy and where the money comes from. To increase the percentage of the force that is deployed or ready to deploy at any one time without sacrificing new weapons and technology programs, money would need to be raised by cutting other parts of the federal budget or raising taxes.

So, what size conflict should the military always be ready for? And where does the money for training, equipment, and logistics come from to keep that force ready?

7. How many generals and admirals should the U.S. have?

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Generals and admirals are on the chopping block, though service chiefs like Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller, seen here speaking to a group of Marines, are likely too valuable to cut. (Photo: US Marine Corps Cpl. Shawn Valosin)

As the number of U.S. troops has decreased in the past 30 years, the number of U.S. general officers has rarely dropped and was actually raised by over 100 since Sep. 11, 2001, causing a 65 percent increase in the number of four-star officers to total number of service members. This has led to questions about whether it’s time to ax some generals and admirals.

Former Secretaries of Defense Chuck Hagel and Robert Gates both proposed serious cuts, and the Senate Armed Services Committee has recently floated a 25 percent reduction in the total number of general officers.

Not only would this significantly cut personnel costs since each general and their staff costs over an estimated $1 million per year, but it would reduce the bureaucracy that field commanders have to go through when getting decisions and requests approved.

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This veteran A-10 pilot has three Super Bowl rings

Thousands of troops overseas won’t know if their votes were counted on election day
Chad Hennings played for the Dallas Cowboys and was part of three Super Bowl winning teams. Before his NFL career, he flew an A-10 Thunderbolt II in 45 combat sorties over northern Iraq during two deployments in 1991 and early 1992. (Courtesy photo/Dallas Cowboys)


Chad Hennings won three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys during the 1990s, and his first appearance was within a year’s time of flying his A-10 Thunderbolt II in a combat sortie in northern Iraq.

Hennings, a 1988 Academy graduate, led the nation with 24 sacks and was awarded the Outland Trophy during the 1987 season — an award that recognizes the nation’s best interior lineman.

Committed to serve

Following graduation, Hennings — now a member of the College Football Hall of Fame — was drafted by the Cowboys in the 11th round of the 1988 draft. Before he could even suit up in the NFL, Hennings had to first fulfill his military commitment, a move that was initially hard to accept.

“I wouldn’t say there were regrets, (but) it was an emotional struggle because I wanted to be able to compete,” Hennings said.

From a character perspective, he knew without a doubt what he needed to do because he made a commitment and he was going to stick to it. The drive to compete, however, made his transition from school to pilot training and then into his active-duty squadron a difficult one. That void would eventually be filled with friendly competition as an A-10 pilot.

“We did compete on the range; we competed for performance,” he said. “There (was) always competition and it was a healthy competition.”

After pilot school, Hennings was stationed in the U.K. and deployed twice to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, in 1991 and 1992. While deployed, he flew 45 combat sorties in northern Iraq in support of Operation Provide Comfort, an international relief effort after the Gulf War.

After getting settled into the Air Force, Hennings said he contemplated making a career out of it.

“Football was a distant memory and something in the past that I never really thought about until the Air Force went through the reduction in force and they started the waivers in the spring of ’92,” he said.

Pro player

Hennings separated from active-duty Air Force in April 1992 and transitioned to the Air Force Reserve. He continued to serve in the Reserve individual mobilization augmentee program for almost 10 years.

The next month, Hennings found himself in Dallas working out for the Cowboys.

“It was extremely stressful, initially transitioning in ’92, because I’m leaving one career for another,” he said. “I’m moving from one continent to another, taking on a whole new different position. There were a lot of just stress factors there, and it wasn’t assured that I would make the team.”

Hennings said it was tough coming into the league and competing at a level of competition that was much higher than he experienced before.

But all the downtime spent in the weight room and working out when he wasn’t flying during his deployments and TDYs paid off. He would go on to secure a spot on the team, and kick off what would eventually be a nine-year career with the Cowboys, playing in 119 games and recording 27.5 sacks.

In his first season, Hennings and the Cowboys would go on to beat the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl 27.

“It was pretty surreal,” he said. “I essentially flew a combat mission and then played in the Super Bowl all within a year’s time.”

He compared that Super Bowl experience to his first combat mission. He said he knew he had a job to do, and being around a set of guys who were experienced made it easier to navigate and process all of his emotions.

During his next three seasons, Hennings would go onto win two more Super Bowls with the Cowboys.

“You got to a point in our culture of being a Dallas Cowboy, that that’s what was expected. We knew we were the best team out there,”

Hennings said. “I kind of compare that analogy to being a fighter pilot. It’s kind of that confident arrogance, where you know you’re good, you know your abilities; you walk out there, you don’t flaunt it, but you walk with an extreme amount of confidence.”

It wasn’t until the latter part of Hennings’ career that he fully appreciated winning three Super Bowls, he said.

Two decades after he appeared in his last Super Bowl, beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl 30, Hennings has a sincere admiration for those moments in time and truly appreciates how special those teams really were.

“As a kid growing up, all your heroes, the role models that you looked up to on the gridiron — you know those guys — they were able to hold that trophy up,” Hennings said. “I was a Minnesota Vikings fan, so they went there four years and they never won one, and that’s where I realized too how difficult it is, not only to just get to the Super Bowl, but to win one — how truly special that is.”

Hennings said one of the best memories is from Super Bowl 30, where he recorded two sacks — a Super Bowl record that he shared with several other players before it was broken the next year.

Humble beginnings

Being a solid performer on the gridiron and in his jet, Hennings has always tried to strive for excellence.

Growing up in Elberon, Iowa, Hennings would sometimes put in 12-plus-hour days helping his father and grandfather on their farm, where they predominately raised corn and a feedlot operation for cattle. He’d help wherever needed, whether feeding the cattle, bailing hay, driving tractors, or performing maintenance.

“The work ethic came from watching my father, my grandfather, but a lot of it I can attribute it to my older brother, who really pushed me to workout with him,” he said.

Hennings’ older brother, Todd, was a couple years older and was the quarterback for their high school football team. Hennings said he was a tight end, and he recalled his brother dragging him off to run routes and lift weights.

“When I started to see the success of all the hard work that I put in, then it became more of a self-driving motivation than having somebody externally motivate me,” he said.

That motivation to be a better player and better person carried over when it was time to attend college. Hennings had several scholarships, but said he wanted a “holistic experience.” He yearned to be challenged academically and wanted to have the experiences a typical college graduate wouldn’t have.

Looking back, the leadership skills gained, the experience of flying jets, and the camaraderie within his fighter squadron are things that gave him skills he used on the gridiron and in his everyday life.

Thousands of troops overseas won’t know if their votes were counted on election day
Chad Hennings graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1988 and went on to fly 45 combat sorties over northern Iraq in an A-10 Thunderbolt II in support of Operation Provide Comfort. Hennings received a waiver in 1992 to be released from active duty as part of the Air Force’s Reduction in Force. He would go on to serve almost 10 more years in the Air Force Reserve Individual Mobilization Augmentee program. During his time as a reservist he also played for the Dallas Cowboys for nine seasons. He was part of three Super Bowl winning teams and played in 119 games, recording 27.5 sacks. (Courtesy photo)

“You know, it all worked out great,” Hennings said. “I had an experience flying that I would never trade. If I had to do it all over again, I would do it exactly the same.”

Where he is now

Today, Hennings lives outside of Dallas, where he’s a partner in a commercial real estate company and does a lot of public speaking, which he said is his way of giving back.

“That’s my passion now in this last half of my life, is to be an evangelist, in essence, for that aspect of a need of character in our community and for us as individuals,” Hennings said.

An author of three books, he’s also married with two children, who are both in college.

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