VA launches 'Step Forward' campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month - We Are The Mighty
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VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month


If your spouse has the flu, you make soup. If your friend breaks an arm, you offer to help with their chores or errands. When a loved one needs surgery, friends and family send Get Well cards and flowers. The same cannot always be said when someone is in emotional pain and takes the important step forward to improve their mental health.


Unfortunately, many people in this country don’t recognize the signs and symptoms or realize that effective mental health treatments are available. One of the challenges driving these false perceptions is the stigma surrounding mental health issues. Additionally, fear of how they may be perceived by their loved ones, friends, or colleagues can keep someone from seeking effective treatment.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and it provides us with an important opportunity to continue the national dialogue about mental health and wellness and reduce the negative perceptions associated with seeking treatment.

We Are The Mighty wants to help you play a vital role in connecting the veterans you serve with resources for leading a healthier life. Visit MakeTheConnection.net/Step4ward to discover simple ways to participate in Mental Health Awareness Month and show your support for veterans by sharing the Step Forward materials.

MakeTheConnection.net is a free, confidential resource where veterans, their family members, and friends, can privately explore such topics as health, wellness, and everyday life events and experiences.

The success of our efforts during Mental Health Awareness Month depends on your support. Visit the Mental Health Awareness Month hub on the site to watch personal stories of veterans, find resources, share social media content or find other actions that will help raise awareness and broaden this important conversation.

Make the Connection encourages veterans to seek support and mental health services when needed. If you or a veteran you are working with are in immediate crisis or having thoughts of suicide, trained responders at the Veterans Crisis Line are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year with confidential support and guidance. Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net, or send a text message to 838255.

Now watch this really powerful short Public Service Announcement from the Veterans Crisis Line, titled “I’m Good”:

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China’s army looks like it’s getting ready for something big to go down in North Korea

China’s military has been increasing the strength and number of its forces along its 880-mile border with North Korea as Pyongyang’s military provocations cause the US and its allies to think long and hard about military action against the rogue regime.


report from The Wall Street Journal says that China has established a new border-defense brigade, implemented 24-hour video surveillance of the border, and constructed bunkers to protect from possible nuclear or chemical attacks.

China conducted a live-fire drill in June and July with helicopter gunships and armored infantry units, including a simulated battle with artillery, tanks, and helicopters, according to The Journal. The nature of these military exercises goes beyond securing a border, and they mimic fighting a nuclear-armed adversary.

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
The crew of a Chinese navy patrol plane. (Photo from People’s Liberation Army)

While China and North Korea exist on paper as allies, Sim Tack, an expert on North Korea at Stratfor, a geopolitical-analysis firm, previously told Business Insider that China would not likely defend Pyongyang from a US-led attack and instead try to prevent or dissuade the US from taking such a step.

Still, a US-led attack on North Korea remains unlikely. South Korea’s new liberal government has sought to pursue engagement with its neighbor, and the US would ultimately need its support for such a campaign. From a purely military point of view, North Korea’s artillery and nuclear arms hold too many civilians in Seoul at risk.

In June, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis described possible conflict with North Korea as “a serious, a catastrophic war, especially for innocent people in some of our allied countries, to include Japan most likely.”

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
The THAAD missile system. Lockheed Martin photo.

Even short of war, China now has reason to view North Korea as a liability.

In response to North Korea’s missile tests and military provocations, the US based its powerful THAAD missile-defense battery in South Korea, frightening Chinese military analysts who think the Thaad’s powerful radar could one day effectively neuter China’s ability to engage in a nuclear exchange with the US.

Beijing, which could play a role in handling a refugee crisis, should the North Korean regime collapse, has now assembled forces sufficient to shape the outcome of any conflict between the West and Pyongyang.

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PACOM commander puts China on blast over ‘preposterous’ reaction to THAAD

Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of United States Pacific Command, called Chinese criticism of the deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system “preposterous” during testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.


The blunt talk comes in the wake of reports that China has unleashed hackers against South Korean government and business interests after the South Korean decision to allow deployment of a THAAD battery. According to Defense News, a battery has six launchers, and a Missile Defense Agency fact sheet notes each launcher has eight missiles. So, this battery has 48 missiles ready for launch.

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
AiirSource Military | YouTube

While the United States has other missile-defense options to protect allies in the region like South Korea and Japan, THAAD is one of the more capable options according to ArmyRecognition.com, with a range of about 600 miles and the ability to hit targets almost 500,000 feet above ground level. The system is also highly mobile.

The MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile, which proved itself capable of intercepting ballistic missiles during Operation Desert Storm, is already operated in the region by the United States, Japan, and South Korea, according to ArmyRecognition.com. The Patriot has a range of 43.5 miles and is capable of also targeting aircraft in addition to ballistic missiles.

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
A Patriot Air and Missile Defense launcher fires an interceptor during a previous test at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The latest configuration of the system, called PDB-8, has passed four flight tests and is now with the U.S. Army for a final evaluation. | Raytheon

Adm. Harris also declared support for a study into the feasibility of deploying Ground-Based Interceptors to Hawaii. This system currently is based in Alaska and California, with 30 interceptors split between Fort Greely and Vandenberg Air Force Base. The GBI has shown a success rate of almost 53 percent in tests, per the Missile Defense Agency.

A Hawaii basing option for the GBI would add another tier of defenses to that state, which along with Alaska are potentially in range of North Korean ICBMs like the Taepodong 2 and KN-08.

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This Marine helicopter pilot says a wingsuit is the best way to fly

He’s piloted an AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter gunship in combat, but Marine Capt. Kyle Lobpries is still chasing that next adrenaline rush.


On Memorial Day, wearing a high-performance Jedei II wingsuit, Lobpries stepped off an airplane at 36,215 feet over northern California. For more than eight minutes, he flew like a bird.

He floated to Earth before his parachute deployed at 3,003 feet and carried him onto a field nearly 19 miles away and nearly set a distance record for wingsuit flight.

Thrilling enough? Yes and no.

Next month, Lobpries will compete in speed skydiving. Goal? Maximum velocity.

Don’t people, like objects, descend at 120 mph?

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
Photo courtesy Kyle Lobpries Facebook

Generally, yes, but freefall speed increases by reducing friction. Tuck yourself in from the belly or spread-eagle position and fall head-first, for example, and a skydiver could reach 180 mph, according to the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, the World Air Sports Federation. Get into a tight, lean position – think slender torpedo – and a skydiver could hit 300 mph or more.

That’s Lobpries’ goal.

So far, he’s hit 297 mph in training. At such speeds, the 33-year-old is flying nearly twice that of his own helicopter. Straight down.

“It’s pretty scary,” he admitted. “When you go that fast, everything is vibrating and shaking and kind of blurry.”

Next month, he’ll compete in speed skydiving at the FAI World Parachuting Championship in Chicago, Sept. 10-21. Speed diving is the newest recognized discipline by FAI, which will crown champion whoever tallies the “fastest speed possible over a given distance.”

Last year, the top speed over a 1-kilometer descent was 317.5 mph, according to SkyDive magazine.

(Speed skydiving shouldn’t be confused with the recent jump by skydiver Luke Aikins, who leapt from 25,000 sans parachute into a big net and the Guinness Book of World Records for highest skydive without a parachute. And it’s not the same speed record adventure-skydiver Felix Baumgartner got when he reached 833.9 mph and broke the speed of sound falling 127,000 feet to Earth in 2012, still the highest skydive.)

As a kid in Texas, Lobpries saw wingsuiters on TV and thought, that’s cool. He made his first jump, a tandem ride, as a 19-year-old college freshman and since has amassed various parachute ratings and qualifications and some medals, even as his military flight career took off. He got the requisite 200 jumps before jumping with his first wingsuit, in 2010.

“I remember my heart beating very fast. I was very nervous,” he recalled of that jump from 12,500 feet.

It’s been his great passion ever since and between overseas deployments. “I think this is the more truer way to fly, to actually use your arms to support yourself in the air,” he said.

Wingsuiting to a layperson seems like a complex feat of science and physics. With his grounding in aviation and aeronautics, Lobpries pores over jump and flight data and calculations. He’s working on designing the most efficient and fast wingsuit design.

Lobpries lives near San Diego and is the Marine Corps liaison officer with Tactical Air Control Squadron 12 at San Diego Naval Base. It’s a non-flying billet. Outside of work, chances are good he’s in the air or somewhere maybe riding his Ducati 1199 Panigale S.

Every one of his jumps requires a lot of thought and study to ensure safety and solid performance. Lobpries spent months planning and preparing for the May wingsuit flight near Davis, California. He slimmed down to 172 pounds, building strength and stamina through a clean diet and strength conditioning that include core exercises and yoga, despite nagging lower-body injuries from a 2014 bad landing. His May 28 training jump, at 30,000 feet, went well.

Two days later, Lobpries and several skydivers boarded the Cessna, sucking on oxygen before they parachuted from 30,000 feet. Lobpries stayed behind when they jumped. “My plan was to go as high as possible,” he said.

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
Courtesy Kyle Lobpries Facebook

Lobpries had FAA clearance, a GoPro camera, three GPS devices and a potential world record in mind as the Cessna climbed to 36,215 feet. (That’s cruising altitude for a commercial jet.) Frost covered the windows as the Cessna pushed beyond its ceiling limits. “It was definitely rocking and rolling up there,” he said.

With heaters tucked into his gloves and breathing apparatus on his face, Lobpries stepped off into thin, -62 degrees Fahrenheit air. “I had trouble breathing. I couldn’t exhale,” he recalled, but he managed to clear a frozen exhale valve. He listened to audible altimeter readings and focused on his micro movements. “I just continuously thought about body positioning,” he said.

Lobpries jumped with no specific landing zone in mind. “I asked the pilot to drop me off 18 miles north of the drop zone, and I would fly south as far as I could,” he said. A straight path gave him the best shot to maintain the proper glide slope. A slight tailwind took him over farmland, a small town and “one guy that waved” as he flew over. An FAI judge tracked the 8:27 flight and took the GPS devices for verification.

If FAI-verified, Lobpries thinks it’s the longest distance and highest duration wingsuit jump to date. “I want to set a bar,” Lobpries said, “and if someone breaks it, that’s fine.”

“The draw is just the goal. Just like somebody wanting to run a marathon … or become a lawyer,” he said.

He hopes his record “will inspire people to accomplish” their goal. He’s recently taken up BASE jumping. But for now, he’s focused on Chicago and reaching 300 mph and, perhaps eventually, a speed skydiving record.

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Meet the most decorated working dog of World War II

Chips, a German shepherd, collie, husky mix, was the most famous and decorated sentry dog in World War II, one of 10,425 dogs that saw service in the Quartermaster Corps’ new “K-9 Corps.” Prior to the K-9 Corps, dogs such as Admiral Wags on the carrier Lexington and World War I canine hero Sergeant Stubby were mascots without any official function.


The K-9 Corps was the culmination of a program begun by the Dogs for Defense, a civilian organization created in January 1942 by a group of notable dog experts and the American Kennel Club. Concerned about the vulnerability of America’s long coastline to infiltration by enemy saboteurs, it offered to provide the Army and Coast Guard with trained sentry dogs. After some initial resistance, the Army authorized an experimental program using 200 dogs. The success of that program caused the Quartermaster General to authorize the acquisition of 125,000 dogs (later reduced). Of the 10,425 dogs that served in the military during the war, most conducted sentry duty along America’s coastline and at military installations. But roughly 1,000 dogs were trained as scout dogs. Chips was one of those dogs.

Also read: A brief history of dogs in warfare

Chips’ owner was Edward J. Wren of Pleasantville, New York, who enlisted Chips in the Army in August 1942. After training at the War Dog Training Center in Front Royal, Va., he was assigned to Pvt. Rowell. Chips participated in Operation Torch, and was one of three dogs assigned guard duty for the Roosevelt/Churchill Casablanca Conference.

In the predawn hours of July 10, 1943, the 3rd Infantry Division under the command of Maj. Gen. Lucian Truscott landed on the shore of southern Sicily near Licata in Operation Husky. Among the troops that hit the beach was the 3rd Military Police Platoon, 30th Infantry Regiment, containing Pvt. John R. Rowell of Arkansas and his sentry dog, Chips. As dawn broke, the platoon was working its way inland when a machine gun nest hidden in what appeared to be a nearby peasant hut opened fire. Rowell and the rest of the platoon immediately hit the ground. But Chips broke free from his handler and, snarling, raced into the hut. Pvt. Rowell later said, “Then there was an awful lot of noise and the firing stopped.” The soldiers heard someone inside the hut fire a pistol. Roswell said he then “saw one Italian soldier come out with Chips at his throat. I called him off before he could kill the man. Three others followed, holding their hands above their heads.”

Chips suffered powder burns and a scalp wound from the pistol fired at close range. Medics treated Chips and released him to Rowell later that day. That night, while on guard duty Chips alerted Rowell of an infiltration attempt by ten Italian soldiers. Together they captured all ten.

Within days the story of Chips’ heroics had swept through the division. Chips was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star. More was to come. The platoon’s commander, Capt. Edward G. Parr put in a recommendation that Chips receive the Distinguished Service Cross for “courageous action in single-handedly eliminating a dangerous machine gun nest and causing surrender of its crew.”

War Department regulations prohibited the awarding of decorations to animals. But in the case of Chips, Truscott’s attitude was “regulations be damned.” He waived them and on November 19 in Italy he personally awarded Chips the Distinguished Service Cross.

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
U.S. National Archives

The people back home learned of Chips’ heroism in newspaper stories published on July 14, 1944. While most people were thrilled, acclaim was not universal. The next day the War Department released a statement that it was conducting an investigation, noting the War Department regulations. In addition, William Thomas, the national commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, angrily wrote letters to the president, secretary of war, and adjutant general of the U.S. Army protesting that the Purple Heart was a decoration for humans, not animals. Then Congress got into the act. After a debate lasting three months, it decided no more decorations were to be awarded to non-humans adding “appropriate citations may be published in unit general orders.” This meant that at least they would receive honorable discharges.

Though they took away his medals, that didn’t make Chips any less a hero. Among those who honored Chips was Supreme Commander Gen. Dwight Eisenhower. But, when Eisenhower leaned down to pet him, Chips, only knowing that Eisenhower was a stranger and possibly stressed from the attention he had been receiving, nipped the general’s hand.

Chips remained with the 3rd Infantry Division throughout the war. Shortly before he was honorably discharged, the men in his platoon unofficially awarded him a Theater Ribbon with arrowhead for an assault landing and eight battle stars. He returned home to the Wren family in December 1945.

Chips died seven months after coming home from complications of his war injuries at the age of 6. He is buried in the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in Westchester County, United States of America.

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7 reasons why R. Lee Ermey should voice act every video game

R. Lee Ermey is perhaps the most iconic Marine turned actor, notably for his vile-mouthed, brutal-yet-realistic portrayal of Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket.”


If his Drill Instructor stare doesn’t whip you into a hardened killing machine in his live action roles, his voice alone will make you unf-ck yourself and stand at the “Gaht-Dayum” position of attention.

The raw power of his voice has been featured on everything from “The Simpsons” and “SpongeBob” to “Call of Duty” and “Crash Bandicoot.” Nearly everything The Gunny puts his talents into turns to gold.

His voice acting would elevate your gaming experience and make playing them so much better. Here is why.

1. You will get things done

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
Hey! Listen here, scumbag! (Via Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D)

There’s hardly any video game character more annoying than Legend of Zelda’s Navi.

The Great Deku Tree senses evil approaching Hyrule. Instead of waking up to the annoying sound of: “The Great Deku Tree asked me to be your partner from now on. Nice to meet you,” imagine if you heard banging on a trash can and The Gunny shouting “On your feet, maggot! Reveille!”

Hyrule would be saved faster than you can say “Ooorah.”

2. You will try much harder

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
Do you even praise the Corps? (Via Dark Souls III)

One of the most critically acclaimed video games of recent history is Dark Souls III; and it’s praised for intense level of difficulty.

You rest beside the bonfire before making your way back to fight the Lords of Cinder. You think you’ve finally gotten good enough to make it to the next bonfire. But then you stupidly roll off the cliff.

The sting of hearing “Any f-cking time, sweetheart” would hurt far more than reading “You Died.”

3. You will be over-powered in multiplayer

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
You will not die without permission (Via Overwatch)

It’s been proven that psychology can have an effect in online play. If the rumors of Terry Crews voice acting Overwatch’s Doomfist holds weight, the only way you can balance that out would be to make Gunny a playable character.

His ultimate ability would have to be his knife-hands.

4. You will be far more terrified

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
You listen to me and you listen to me good. I want that weapon. And I want it now. (Via Resident Evil 7)

What’s more terrifying than realizing that no amount of bullets will work on Resident Evil 7‘s Jack when you fight in the garage? That moment you realize that the Drill Instructor is in your face for something, you know you did wrong.

May God have mercy on your soul, for he will not.

5. You will not make the same mistake twice

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
Your princess is in another castle, numbnuts! (Via Super Mario Bros.)

His voice would have worked in classic gaming with Super Mario Bros. as well. You fight your way through until you reach World 1-4. You think you’ve got this. You’ve beaten Goombas, Koopas, and even stopped Bowser.

Guess what? you just wasted everyone’s time by going to the wrong castle! Now get out there and get the right d-mn one!

6. You will learn every aspect of the game

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
Outstanding, Private FidgetSwagger420. We finally found something you do well. (Via Counter Strike: Global Offensive)

If you expect to play online, it isn’t your weapon but a hard heart and your skill that kills. If your killer instinct is not clean and strong, you will lag at the moment of truth. You will learn from Gunny. Gunny will teach you to hone your skills and be a true killing machine.

7. Best of all, it will be authentic.

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month

In all seriousness though, the level of authenticity would rise with the inclusion of R. Lee Ermey into any game that has anything to do with war. Think of how real “Full Metal Jacket was because he took over the role of Gunnery Sgt. Hartman. This will happen to any game he’s included in.

Watch the video below of R. Lee Ermey getting into the booth for “Call of Duty: Ghosts.” 

(Call of Duty, YouTube)
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6 times America went to war since 9/11

The Trump administration opened a new military front April 6 when it ordered dozens of cruise missiles against a Syrian air base, adding to a growing list of recent U.S. military forays.


A look at where the United States has fought in the 21st century:

1. Afghanistan

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
U.S. Special Operations personnel take cover to avoid flying debris as they prepare to board a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during a mission in Kunar province, Afghanistan, on Feb. 25, 2012. (Dept. of Defense photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Clayton Weiss, U.S. Navy)

After al-Qaida attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. led an invasion of Afghanistan that ousted the Taliban. Though the U.S. and NATO formally ended their combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2014, the war — now in its 16th year — drags on.

Some 8,400 American troops are deployed in Afghanistan, where they train the country’s military and perform counterterrorism operations.

2. Iraq

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
An M2A2 Bradley in action during a mission in Iraq. (U.S. Air Force)

Under President George W. Bush, the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 and toppled Saddam Hussein. Bush’s successor, President Barack Obama, pulled U.S. troops out of Iraq in 2011 after failing to reach an agreement with Baghdad to leave a residual U.S. force behind.

But the U.S. sent troops back three years later after the Islamic State group, a successor to al-Qaida in Iraq, seized Iraqi territory and sought to declare an Islamic caliphate.

3. Drone Wars

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
Predator drone strike.

Under Obama, the U.S. dramatically increased the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, to launch counterterrorism strikes without the need for a large U.S. military presence on the ground. The CIA and Defense Department have launched strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, some of them covert.

Intense criticism from civil liberties advocates led Obama to create legal parameters for drone use that he hoped future presidents would respect. At least 117 civilians were killed from 2009 to 2016 by drone strikes outside of traditional warzones, the U.S. intelligence community has said. Other estimates place the toll higher.

4. Libya

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
A quick reaction force with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response prepares to depart Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, in support of a military assisted departure from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, Saturday, July 26, 2014. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by 1st Lt. Maida Kalic)

The U.S. and European allies launched an air campaign in Libya in 2011, aiming to prevent atrocities by strongman Moammar Gadhafi against Arab Spring-inspired opponents. The bombing campaign toppled Gadhafi, but Libya slid into chaos and infighting. The Islamic State group later gained a foothold.

The U.S. has continued to carry out airstrikes in Libya that Washington says has diminished the number of IS extremists operating there.

5. Islamic State Group in Iraq and Syria

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
U.S. Marines with Task Force Spartan, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), on Fire Base Bell, Iraq, fire an M777A2 Howitzer at an ISIS infiltration route March 18, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Andre Dakis)

After IS captured a wide swath of Iraq and Syria in 2014, Obama announced the U.S. could target the group “wherever they are.”

The U.S. started sending small numbers of military advisers to help Iraq’s weakened military fight IS. The number has crept up to around 7,500 U.S. troops. IS has lost much of its former territory.

In Syria, the U.S. has conducted airstrikes against IS since 2014. More recently, the U.S. has dispatched growing numbers of special operations forces to assist Kurdish and Arab forces fighting IS. Roughly 500 U.S. fighters are in Syria, plus additional, “temporary” forces that rotate through.

6. Syria

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) is one of the two warships to fire 59 BGM-109 Tomahawks at the Syrian airfield on April 6, 2017. (U.S. Navy photo)

Even while fighting IS in Syria, the U.S. has avoided wading into Syria’s civil war by directly confronting Syrian President Bashar Assad — until now. On April 6, U.S. warships in the Mediterranean Sea launched some 60 Tomahawk missiles at an air base in response to a chemical weapons attack blamed on Assad’s forces.

The strikes mark the first direct U.S. attack on Syria’s government, which has waged a six-year civil war against opposition groups. It also puts the U.S. into a de facto proxy battle with Russia’s military, which is on the ground in Syria and has propped up Assad.

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VP welcomes Honor Flight vets to the White House

Veterans of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars gathered at the White House May 8, honored for their selfless service and the freedoms that endure to this day because of their brave actions.


The veterans at the White House ceremony were part of an Honor Flight from northern Colorado. Honor Flights are conducted at no cost to the veterans and enable them to see the national memorials of the wars in which they fought.

The men and women who have served and fought for freedom are the nation’s most cherished citizens, and are owed a debt of gratitude that will never be fully repaid, Vice President Mike Pence said.

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Pence and his wife Karen Pence, and the secretary of Veterans Affairs, David J. Shulkin, hosted the approximately 200 guests today at the White House’s Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

“Today it is my great honor, on behalf of the first family, here on National Military Appreciation Month, to welcome so many heroes to this special place,” he said.

The veterans are “patriots of the highest order” who stepped forward and served with courage to “protect our nation and the values that we hold dear,” Pence said.

The vice president said it is especially humbling to welcome the veterans since he had not served in the military himself.

Pence noted the event comes on the 72nd anniversary of Victory in Europe Day.

“It’s an honor and privilege more than I can say to be here with so many who fought in the greatest conflict of the 20th century, and who won freedom in World War II,” he said.

Debt of Honor and Gratitude

The Honor Flight trips to Washington are deeply meaningful, Pence explained.

“All the people that make these honor flights possible know that this is just about paying a debt of honor and a debt of gratitude that our nation will never be able to fully repay to all of you,” Pence said. “But we hope this experience fills your hearts with the absolute assurance that we’ll never forget what you’ve done for us.”

Because of the service and sacrifice of those in the room, freedom endures to this day, the vice president said. They fought on the front lines of freedom.

“You are among the rest of us, but make no mistake about it, you are the best of us,” he said. “On behalf of your commander in chief, I’m here to say thanks and to salute your service.”

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Vietnamese farmers have been using US fuel tanks as boats for 50 years

Poor farmers and fishermen the world over need all the help they can get. Sometimes, buying a boat is just too costly, no matter how critical it is to their livelihood. So when the raw materials necessary to create exactly what is needed start raining from the sky, no one would think twice about using them. 

That’s exactly what the people of Vietnam began doing during the Vietnam War and the decades that followed. 

On Jan. 2, 1967, Col. Robin Olds was leading a flight of F-4 Phantom II fighters in a surprise raid over North Vietnam. The raid itself wasn’t a surprise; Olds wanted the enemy to see him coming and take off to intercept. The surprise was what the North Vietnamese would find once they were airborne. “Operation Bolo” was a go.

F-4 Phantom on display in Maryland. Wikimedia Commons.

Olds and his Phantoms were outfitted with special gear that would make the enemy air base believe they would engage slower, less dangerous F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers. By the time the communists realized they were going up against waves of nimble, faster F-4 Phantom fighters, it would be too late.

And it was. As soon as the North Vietnamese MiG-21s cleared the cloud cover, the Air Force another flight of Phantoms, led by Col. Daniel “Chappie” James were already in the area. Olds, like many other fighter pilots of his day, jettisoned his external fuel tanks and engaged the enemy MiGs. 

Air combat isn’t the only reason for pilots to jettison external tanks. Once they began to run empty, tanks were often dumped to lower the weight of the aircraft and extend the life of what fuel was remaining. Once dropped from the plane, the tanks simply fell into the countryside, landing wherever they landed.

The U.S. Air Force alone flew some 5.25 million sorties over North and South Vietnam during the American involvement there. While not all of those were fighter missions and not all of those required pilots to dump their external fuel tanks, a lot of tanks were dumped into Vietnam. 

In Vietnam, however, the tanks weren’t simply taken to some waste dump or discarded out of hand. In the 1960s, Vietnam’s rural population was comprised of mostly farmers and fishermen, many of which lived in the coastal areas of the South China Sea or near the Mekong River. When the F-4s dropped fuel tanks, they were dropping materials that could be repurposed.

F-4 Phantoms carried three external fuel tanks, a large 600-gallon tank in the center under the fuselage, along with two 370-gallon tanks under its wings. This means tens of thousands of drop tanks were potentially dropped into Vietnam’s jungles and farmlands throughout the war. 

While dropping empty aluminum from thousands of feet in the air would likely cause a lot of damage to them, enough survived to where Vietnam’s population was able to upcycle them for a new purpose: river canoes. 

Today, visitors to Vietnam’s rural areas along the rivers can see potentially dozens of  repurposed Air Force drop tanks being used as canoes by the locals. Many are cut in half, others have been refitted to look more like canoes, carry an onboard motor, or hold fish and other supplies.

Featured image: Guns.com

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6 things the US stole from the Germans during WWII

The Germans in WWII were at the forefront of industrialized warfare. They produced the first jet-powered bomber, developed the first tilt-rotor plane, and discovered fission. In most cases, Allied scientists and planners struggled to, through long hours of research and experimentation, close the technological gaps exposed by German advances. When possible though, they just stole everything they could find and called it a day.


1. Airborne Operations

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
Photo: US Army

The first airborne operations in combat were all executed by Germans during invasions of European countries. Normandy, Denmark, France, and the Netherlands all fell quickly while small units of German paratroopers seized key infrastructure or destroyed enemy defenses ahead of the main army. In the Battle of Crete, British intelligence operatives were able to determine the exact locations that German paratroopers would land and inflicted heavy losses. Adolf Hitler banned future large-scale airborne operations, but Britain and America were impressed by the ability of the airborne to complete their mission despite the losses. The Allies drastically stepped up their training and organizing of airborne units. The paratroopers they trained contributed decisively to the successful invasions of Sicily and Normandy.

2. Synchropters

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGfpa6Y8pPA

Synchropter is a specific class of helicopter, one that uses intermeshing blades that turn in opposite directions. An unmanned version is being evaluated for medical evacuation missions by the Marine Corps. The HH-43 was a Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force synchropter used from the 1950s-1970s as a rescue and firefighting helicopter. Designs for both helicopters borrow heavily from a Fleittner Fl 282 recovered during Operation Lusty. Allied aviators didn’t just benefit from recovering the helicopter though. They also got the designer, Anton Flettner through Operation Paperclip.

3. Jet-powered aircraft

The Messerschmitt Me 262 was the first jet airplane used in combat and it was very effective against Allied bomber formations. Both the U.S. and the Soviet Union seized Me 262s  as they captured German territory and reverse engineered the German planes. While neither country would finish building jet aircraft during the war, when American F-86 Sabres later faced off against Soviet MiG-15s in MiG Alley over Korea, it was a fight between Me 262 descendants. Similarly, the U.S. captured the Arado Ar 234 jet-powered bomber. Technology from the Arado would go on to be found in the U.S. Army Air Force’s B-45s and B-47s.

4. Cruise missiles

In June 1944, V-1 flying bombs started raining down on London. The V-1, “the buzz bomb”, was inaccurate but took a psychological toll on the British. The U.S. wanted its own version in preparation for the invasion of mainland Japan, and so recovered pieces of crashed and detonated V-1s. By September, it had successfully tested the JB-2 Loon, a virtual copy of the V-1. The JB-2 was never fired in combat since nuclear weapons were dropped first and Japan surrendered. Technology from the V-1 would later appear in the MGM-1 Matador, though the Matador would use a turbojet instead of the pulse jet that gave the V-1 its signature buzzing sound.

5. Methamphetamines

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Psychonaut

Meth was invented in 1893 by a Japanese chemist, but it was first used in war by WWII Germany. News of a wonder drug that kept tankers and pilots awake crossed to the Allies who wanted to find a way to save their crews as well. Tests on the Allied side went badly though, and the Allies stopped giving the drug to pilots. Ground soldiers still used it to overcome fatigue.

6. Rockets

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
Photo: NASA

Rocket science was one of the key areas of interest during Operation Paperclip. Famously, the scientists who pioneered the U.S. and Soviet space programs were taken from Germany in the final months and years immediately after the war. At first, both the U.S. and Soviets constructed their own V-2 bombs before kicking off the space race in earnest. The stolen V-2s and their creators paved the way for U.S. rocket programs from the Redstone rockets to the Saturn and Apollo missions. The Saturn rocket, used in the Apollo program, is the only rocket that has carried a man outside of low earth orbit.

MORE: 12 rare and amazing photos from the ‘War to End All Wars’

AND: 8 genius military uses for civilian products

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US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS

President Barack Obama announced that 250 more special forces troops would be sent to Syria to bolster U.S. efforts in the fight against ISIS. Their specific mission is not clear, but in neighboring Iraq, ground forces have provided fire support to Iraqi troops fighting to retake Mosul and have acted as advisors to Iraqi and Kurdish forces.


VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month

Meanwhile, the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command has conducted raids against ISIS in Syria, killing or capturing leaders of the terror group. In recent days, U.S. special operators were captured on video by France’s media outlet France24, as U.S. troops directed A-10 Thunderbolt strikes in support of Syrian Democratic Forces fighting to take the village of Shadadi from ISIS.

Shadadi is a border town that once served as the crossing point for ISIS fighter heading into neighboring Iraq. It was captured recently by Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units and Syrian Democratic Forces. The recapture took less than a week.

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month

The video keep the men’s identities secret, but shows the gear used against ISIS in the battle for the town. The small group of operators are seen carrying Remington’s Modular Sniper Rifle, an M-32 semiautomatic grenade launcher, and equipment that allows for them to call in airstrikes, acording to Twitter’s Abraxas Spa, who describes their feed as an “all-source analyst.”

 

One operator is using the Mk. 4 scope on a tripod while another is marking objects with the LA-16 laser marker. The LA-16 will guide bombs to targets on the ground using the handheld laser.

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month

The operators are also using a ROVER, Remote Operations Video Enhanced Receiver, which allows for troops on the ground to see a video feed of what aircraft overhead see. The Tactical ROVER-p can provide real-time imagery to a tablet.

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month

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Here’s how the Cactus Air Force made all the difference at Guadalcanal

The fight for Guadalcanal was a brutal first step in driving back the Japanese in the Pacific. The main objective for the campaign was to deny them use of the Solomon Islands. They threatened U.S. supply lines to Australia and the U.S. wanted to use the islands as a starting point for the larger war in the Pacific. The battle was fought on land, at sea, and in the air and involved every branch of the U.S. military. The aerial battle was fought mostly by the “Cactus Air Force” flying out of Henderson Field.


VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
Cactus Air Force Aircrew Roster Meeting

The Cactus Air Force was a conglomeration of Marine, Navy, and Army Air Corps assets operating in some of the worst conditions imaginable. Although the Marines jokingly referred to the campaign as ‘Operation Shoestring’ because of the lack of the supplies, the Cactus Air Force was actually named after the codename for Guadalcanal.

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month
Henderson Field getting hit by Japanese aerial attacks.

The 1st Marine Division attacked the Solomon Islands on the night of August 6th and morning of August 7, 1942 with the bulk of the division landing unopposed on Guadalcanal. The Marines captured the airfield on August 8th and immediately set to work completing the airstrip. The airfield was ready for use by August 18, and the first two Marine squadrons, one of F4F Hellcats and one of SBD Dauntless dive bombers, arrived on the 20th to begin combat operations the next day.

Two days later the Marine aviators were joined by five U.S. Army Air Force P-39 Airacobras. On August 24, eleven more Dauntless dive bombers landed at Henderson Field after being unable to return to the USS Enterprise due to damage it received during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. By the end of August, another Marine fighter squadron and another dive bomber squadron had also arrived on the island.

This assortment of men and planes were the beginning of the Cactus Air Force, and they were in for a hell of a time.

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month

At the time of the Guadalcanal campaign, the Japanese Empire was at its peak and, aside from being denied at the Battles of Coral Sea and Midway, had yet to lose any territory they gained and were loath to do so. As such, the American airfield and its inhabitants were under near constant bombardment and attack. The Imperial Japanese Navy would shell Henderson Field from the sea while the Japanese Air Force sent daily bombing missions against the Americans. The constant bombardment continually damaged the runway, destroyed valuable aircraft, and inflicted numerous casualties.

To make matters worse, the island was not yet secure and the Japanese were continually attacking the perimeter attempting to dislodge the Americans from Guadalcanal. The 1st Marine Division reinforced by the 164th Infantry Regiment of the newly formed Americal Division held the line against Japanese assaults. During the Battle of Henderson Field, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines held out against some of the worst attacks, and it was during this action John Basilone earned the Medal of Honor and Lt. Col. Chesty Puller earned his third Navy Cross.

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month

If the constant attacks on Henderson Field wasn’t bad enough, the living conditions were terrible as well. When the Americans captured the airfield it was far from complete and had no permanent living quarters. The pilots and mechanics were housed in mud-floored tents in a flooded coconut grove they referred to as “Mosquito Grove.” The squalid living conditions led to many diseases, including malaria, dysentery, dengue fever, and fungal infections.

The local climate contributed to the misery too. In the heat, black volcanic dust covered everything and when it rained the ground turned into a quagmire. Major Marion Carl, a Marine aviator stationed at Henderson Field, commented that it was “the only place on Earth where you could stand up to your knees in mud and still get dust in your eyes.”

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month

Just surviving at Henderson Field was difficult enough, but the Marines, sailors, and soldiers still had to fly and fight. The dust fouled the engines of the planes, the mud kept them from moving, and the Japanese bombardment destroyed the planes and the runway. The runway was in such poor condition in the early stages of the battle that nearly as many Cactus Air Force planes were damaged just using it as they were in fighting against the Japanese. There were also no facilities for the aircraft: no hangers, no fuel trucks, and no bomb hoists. Damaged aircraft were cannibalized where they stood for their spare parts. Bombs had to be loaded by hand as did the fuel. Without fuel trucks the only way to fuel the planes was to hand pump it out of 55 gallon drums.

VA launches ‘Step Forward’ campaign to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month

Despite all of these challenges, the Cactus Air Force fought tenaciously and was successful in helping the U.S. achieve victory. Six different airmen were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions while serving with the Cactus Air Force. An even greater number of pilots became aces during the campaign. Though total victories for the Cactus Air Force cannot be confirmed for the six months they were involved in combat, they claimed over 250 aerial victories. The dive and torpedo bombers from Henderson Field sank seventeen large Japanese naval vessels and damaged another eighteen. Most importantly, they sank transport ships that were attempting to deliver supplies and reinforcements to the Japanese on the island. These victories came at the price of 94 pilots killed or missing and a further 177 wounded or evacuated due to illness plus numerous ground crew killed or wounded. After the Guadalcanal campaign, the Cactus Air Force was consolidated with other allied air units under Aircraft, Solomons (or AirSols) which continued to support Allied operations in the Solomon Islands and Southern Pacific.

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This is the best Navy life at sea video you’ll see today

A new YouTube channel dubbed “White Scope Media” shows what life is like for sailors in an EA-18G Growler squadron.


But it’s not like your typical Discovery Channel documentary or MTV “Cribs” special.

These Navy videos don’t have voice over narration. With only music and footage, they paint an intimate, true-to-form sailor experience.

Related: 37 Awesome photos of life on a US Navy carrier

While this is everyday life for active-duty sailors, veterans will get a prideful sense of nostalgia — especially after watching the second one, “Chapter 2: Meet the Patriots.”

It’s the type of intimate footage you’d expect from a family gathering. It’s why some veterans consider their shipmates their second family.

Like family, these sailors do everything together, from washing the birds, to relaxing, to preparing for war. But unlike family, this is every day, not just during a family picnic or reunion.

Life on a carrier is not the same as life on a cruise liner. Sailors don’t get the awesome hotel-style living quarters. Instead, they live in berthings with up to 100 other sailors — sometimes even more. But that’s okay because the friendships forged on deployment are way deeper than any cruise liner could ever deliver.

Watch:

White Scope Media, YouTube
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