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VA and PGA bring golf to disabled Veterans

You don’t have to play like Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus to appreciate a round of golf. Veterans of all ages with many types of disabilities can enjoy playing the game. That was certainly true of Veteran graduates who completed a six-week program through their local VA Recreational Therapy service in October.

With the help of the VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System in Reno, Nevada, the Professional Golf Association’s “Helping Our Patriots Everywhere” (HOPE) program introduced, and in some cases reintroduced, the game of golf to 14 Veterans with disabilities to enhance their physical, mental, social and emotional well-being.

Seven professional golfers donated their time to share their love of the game. “Golf is a game that can be played for life. There are so many benefits for Veterans who want to learn,” said Mike “Mazz” Mazzaferri, PGA golf pro at Sierra Sage Golf Course.

“What other game do you know where four family generations can play together?”

Mazz remembered the day when he, his father, his grandfather and his son played a round of golf together.

OIF combat Army Veteran Daniel and his family.

PGA helping to prevent Veteran suicides

“This program is all about Veteran suicide prevention. If a Veteran suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome or a traumatic brain injury, is blind, or even an amputee, we can make adaptions to still enjoy playing golf. PGA wanted to join VA to eliminate Veteran suicide,” said Bob Epperly, PGA HOPE lead instructor.

The HOPE Program is free to Veterans who participate.

Three of the 14 Veterans who participated are blind. Dennis, a Vietnam Veteran, can see very little in one eye and is completely blind in the other. But his limitation never bothered him on the golf course. “I just love being outside with other Veterans,” he said, laughing.

“I know I need practice, but it feels good to be active. To do something different than sit at home and listen to the news.” After graduation, Dennis was presented with a new set of golf clubs. He was surprised and grateful to VA and PGA for making this day possible.

Blind Vietnam Veteran Dennis receives a gift of new golf clubs.

Veterans from the Cold War to Iraqi Freedom

The camaraderie between the Veteran golfers was evident by the smiles and banter. Their military service spanned from the Cold War in the late 1950s to serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2010, and represented most military branches of service.

One OIF combat Army Veteran, Daniel, brought his family. Daniel suffered severe injuries due to an IED blast that ultimately led to the amputation of his left lower leg. The HOPE Program has put on smile on Daniel’s face and now he is aspiring to go pro. That’s him in the top photo, teeing off, and with his family in the golf cart

For more information of how to bring the HOPE program to your community, contact your local VA Medical Center or reach out to the PGA Foundation.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

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This is what Game of Thrones can teach you about situational awareness

I think this should go without saying, but, here’s your obligatory Spoiler Warning.


If you saw Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 6 (or you don’t really care about spoilers) then read on. If you haven’t watched the episode but you’re reading articles about the show…here’s an article we did about cats.

Still around? Cool. Let’s get into it.

For last week’s episode, check out – This is what Game of Thrones can teach you about squad composition

Situational awareness isn’t a skill a warfighter picks up overnight. It’s the concept of living your life with your head on a swivel. It’s why so many veterans and active duty troops keep their back to a wall and an eye on the door like they’re Jason Bourne.

This is what Jeff Cooper described in his book “Principles of Personal Defense” as “living in Condition: Yellow.”

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(Scale by Jeff Cooper via Principles of Personal Defense)

White is being blissfully ignorant and Orange being hyper-vigilant to the point of paranoia. Yellow is the perfect middle ground of quietly observing. It’s also referred to as “relaxed alert.”

Red, Gray, and Black are the states of action with varying degrees of how one reacts in confrontation to a threat. Red or “primed for action” is the desired state when sh*t hits the fan. Grey is a state of chaos and Black is total panic, both causing the war fighter to ignore or forget their surroundings.

We can break down the reactions of how the team of Westeros’ greatest fighters devised a strategy to capture and extract a wight (the reanimated skeletons that fight for the Night King.)

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Deep in conversation, they’re still watch their surroundings (Photo via Army.mil Screen grab via HBO Go)

As the team of badasses move through the frozen north, they generally maintain Condition: Yellow. Tormund may be joking about his three best ways to keep warm, but he’s still eyeing his surroundings.

It’s only Gendry, the fighter with the least experience, who is in Orange. He’s uneasy about his “squad mates.” He’s never been beyond the wall, or even acclimated to the snow. He’s nervous and it shows.

When the group comes to the open field shrouded in snowfall, the group loses their control of situational awareness. And this is common in every battle.

The Prussian military analyst Carl von Clausewitz said of this: “War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty. A sensitive and discriminating judgment is called for; a skilled intelligence to scent out the truth.”

This has since been called the “fog of war.” Same concept as in video games, but our heroes also have to contend with a literal fog that hide their enemies as well as allies. With the probable threat nearby, they form up and prepare to engage.

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Note the 360° Perimeter (Photo via Wikimedia Screen grab via HBO Go)

The squad isn’t able to spot the zombie bear in time and after it caught on fire, Sandor Clegane is terrified. He is a prime example of how even the greatest of war fighters can still lose their composure. He’s in Condition: Gray.

They find their stray wight with a white walker and his soldiers. The rest of the steps in maintaining situational awareness are further explained in fighter pilot and military strategist John Boyd’s OODA Loop, which is the constant cycle of Observing, Orienting, Deciding, and Acting.

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(Chart via Wikicommons)

Through the OODA Loop, they observe the valley and have a count how many enemies there are. They orient themselves to position themselves to push through with the exit to their front. They decide who is attacking whom, with John (the only one with a Valerian Steel sword) attacking the leader.

And in action, it works flawlessly. They capture and bind the enemy. But not before it calls for reinforcements.

They send Gendry as a runner to get the message back to Daenerys. Keeping higher command aware of what’s going on in the field is paramount for operation success. But Gendry has another critical mission: to call in air support.

As the undead horde swarms the squad, they come across a lake with thin ice and an island with a high observation point. They use this perfectly to their advantage. The ice shatters, creating a moat-like barrier around their island. They can hold the island long enough for extraction.

If it looks stupid but works — it ain’t stupid.

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A good fighting position makes all the world. (Photo via Army.mil Screen grab via HBO Go)

Operationally, everything has been relatively smooth. Only one character with a name has died so far. It’s cold, but they have eyes on every target, including the enemy leaders — who’s elimination would end their magically undead army. You can point out everything thus far as prime examples of things you should do before and after first contact.

Now comes the example of what happens when you march into battle with no situational awareness, no understanding of your enemy, very little experience, and way too much confidence.

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If everyone is waiting on you…move. (Photo via Defense.mil Screen grab via HBO Go)

Air Extraction has touched down on the landing zone and air support is (literally) lighting up the enemy. Daenerys and her dragons have arrived. Minutes before, she didn’t believe the enemy existed and now she’s fighting the massive army of the dead.

Her dragons have been injured before; Drogon has taken spears from Sons of the Harpy and the Lannister’s Scorpion and he survived. And in battle, we all think we are invincible…until we’re not.

Viserion, the golden dragon of Daenerys, is slain after the Night King impales him with an ice spear.

It was the lack of situational awareness that kept the group from identifying not one but two ice spears. Jon Snow, with all of his experience in combat, really is a slow-learner as far as battle tactics go. He spots the second spear in time to send off a warning, but is left stranded on the battlefield with plan.

Sure, he’s alright and thanks to plot armor he makes it out of there alive, but really Jon, it’s time to start studying combat strategy. It’s almost as if he forgot everything he had learned about situational awareness up until this point…

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This is the real Sgt. Pepper from the Beatles album cover

Long story short, the 20th Century’s most widely-known British non-commissioned officer was real. Only his name wasn’t Pepper, it was Babington. And he was a Lieutenant General.


Paul McCartney chose the image of Gen. Sir James Melville Babington as the real-life visage of the fictional Sgt. Pepper for the Beatles 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. For most people, being on a Beatles album would be the highlight of their life. Not so for one of the British Empire’s decorated officers.

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Ringo was just happy to be there.

The Scottish-born Babington came up in the ranks of the British Imperial military through the Boer War of the 19th century, spending decades fighting insurgencies against the Dutch descended residents of the southern tip of Africa. He scored a number of decisive wins there, becoming a feared opponent of the rebels. He left just before the end of the war, which went just about as well as you think it might when a bunch of farmers take on the largest empire on earth.

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Sorry, fellas. There’s only one America.

After laying the smack down on the Boers in South Africa, he did a brief stint in England before being transferred to take command of the New Zealand Defence Force in 1902. After five years, he was sent back to London, where he stayed until World War I broke out.

From there, he took command of the British 23rd Division under the New Army. Described as “elderly but fearless” he spent a lot of effort and Crown funds on outfitting his men, unlike many other commanders. As a result, his men loved him and fought so hard at legendary WWI battles like the Somme and Ypres. He also led men along the fronts that aren’t as talked about in history books, like Italy and the Asiago Plateau.

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Just Sgt. Pepper, doing Sgt. Pepper things.

When he retired, he was Lieutenant General Sir James Melville Babington KCB, KCMG, commander of British Forces in Italy. He died in 1936, and would never know that his face finally achieved worldwide fame, probably even in South Africa.

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The Army has just declassified how the PT belt works (and it’s amazing)

In a stunning reversal after years of tight-lipped silence, Army officials have revealed the capabilities of the “physical training belt,” a reflective band soldiers wear around themselves to ward off everything from bullets to badgers to STDs.


“The Department of Defense has previously hidden the details of this lifesaving technology for fear of it falling into the wrong hands,” an Army spokesman said in a conference. “But our NATO allies and the American people deserve to know the simple fact: PT belts save lives.”

PT Belt

The PT Belt, also known as the “glow” or “reflective” belt, is worn around the chest or waist. According to newly released documents, it bends gravity. Here’s what it can do:

1. Fatigue

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Photo: US Army Visual Information Specialist Markus Rauchenberger

The PT Belt’s ability to manipulate gravity allows it to reduce the weight of any item it is wrapped around. This means that soldiers carrying a 100-pound ruck and 40-pounds of armor can reduce that load to about 50 “effective pounds” if they use two reflective belts.

2. Bullets

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The gravity reduction from the combat load can be redirected into an extremely small black hole that guides the bullet away from the soldier. An incoming round headed for center mass won’t be pulled away, but can be guided to hit an extremity. A shot originally headed for an extremity will usually miss.

3. Healing

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This man is basically Wolverine at this point.

The reflective layer in a PT belt is actually a mesh of microscopic crystals that provide constant holistic healing and realign the service members’ chakras. Different PT belts align the chakra in different ways to allow for different benefits:

Yellow PT belts reduce upper brain function, allowing junior troops to act without question.

Green PT belts prevent the buildup of certain pathogens and parasites.

Blue PT belts increase muscular strength but reduce cardiovascular endurance.

4. Animal attacks

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PT Belts can reach into the primal part of animal brains to allow the wearer limited control of the creature. Typically this is just enough for troops to more effectively “shoo” animals away, but those with innate beastmaster powers may be able to command the forces of nature. They are typically recruited into the previously top-secret “Camel Spider Corps.”

5. Lasers

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The microscopic crystals in a PT belt reflect the laser beam and break it up, rendering it useless.

6. Vehicles

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Pretty straight forward, the belt increases the visibility of the soldier, allowing vehicles to avoid hitting troops.

7. STDs

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Does anything in this photo look attractive? Exactly. PT Belts! Photo: US Army

It’s a simple fact that military uniforms increase the chances that a citizen or fellow service member will approach an individual for sexual relations. Like the classic BCG eyewear, the PT Belt not only wipes out the increase afforded by the uniform but also erodes the original appeal of the soldier. Basically, it’s anti-sexy.

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Russia is designing a transformer to sucker punch the US

After having success with unmarked trailer trucks in Ukraine, Russia is looking to exploit its incognito strategy even further. The Russians have come up with a weapons concept reminiscent of Optimus Prime from Transformers.


It’s designed to surprise the U.S. military by sneaking up under the cover of an inconspicuous semi-trailer truck. When the weapon is close enough to strike, the trailer disconnects from the truck and transforms into a nasty helicopter drone with missiles and a Gatling gun.

In keeping with Hollywood’s depiction of Russian bad guys, the trailer also includes two get-away motorcycles. Seriously, it looks like something you’d expect to see in a ‘Die Hard’ flick.

Here’s how it works:

The trailer pulls up within striking distance of its target.

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YouTube: ArmedForcesUpdate

One soldier in civilian clothes scopes out the area while another soldier stays behind to monitor the transformation.

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YouTube: ArmedForcesUpdate

Most of the transformation is self automated.

VA and PGA bring golf to disabled Veterans
YouTube: ArmedForcesUpdate

A final weapons check is done with an iPad before the nasty payload is deployed.

VA and PGA bring golf to disabled Veterans
YouTube: ArmedForcesUpdate

The drone surprises the target by rising from the tree line.

VA and PGA bring golf to disabled Veterans
YouTube: ArmedForcesUpdate

It is designed to attack targets on land …

VA and PGA bring golf to disabled Veterans
YouTube: ArmedForcesUpdate

… or at sea.

VA and PGA bring golf to disabled Veterans
YouTube: ArmedForcesUpdate

Watch:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXWJrpA8FnE

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Trump’s Marine general picks all served together during the Iraq War

Just before the 1st Marine Division advanced on the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah on March 23, 2003, Maj. Gen. James Mattis pinned a star onto each collar of his assistant division commander, Col. John F. Kelly. He was now a brigadier general, and the first to be promoted on the battlefield since the Korean War.


Not far from there, another colonel in the unit named Joe Dunford was leading his regimental combat team.

Also read: 6 new changes to expect at the Pentagon with Mattis as SECDEF

By the end of the campaign, they had fought together in places like Nasiriyah, Al Kut, and eventually Baghdad. The division they were in — along with the US Army and UK armored elements — carried out one of the most aggressive, high-speed attacks in history, and 1st Marine Division’s ground march was the longest in the history of the Marine Corps, for which it earned the Presidential Unit Citation.

Those three officers went on to become four-star generals. Mattis retired in 2013 as the commander of Central Command, while Kelly retired as commander of US Southern Command in 2016. Dunford became commandant of the Marine Corps, and eventually chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he remains.

All three remain good friends. And if President-elect Donald Trump’s picks for his Cabinet are all confirmed, they’ll once again be serving together — only this time, it’ll be in the White House.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis

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DoD photo

Mattis has often been praised by senior leaders at the Pentagon as both a strategic thinker with an encyclopedic knowledge of history and an incredible leader. His legendary status among Marines mainly originated from his command of 1st Marine Division, where he popularized its motto, “No better friend, no worse enemy.”

The 66-year-old retired general is the only pick that has a legal roadblock in front of him. A 1947 law, updated in 2008, requires military officers to be out of uniform for at least seven years before leading the Pentagon. Mattis would need a waiver, which Republicans have already signaled support for.

When asked recently if he was concerned by Mattis as Trump’s pick, Gen. Joe Dunford just said, “No.”

If confirmed, Mattis would replace Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who supports Mattis and called him “extremely capable.”

Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly

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DoD photo

John Kelly just accepted Trump’s request for him to serve as the head of the Department of Homeland Security, according to CBS News.

Like Mattis, he is a blunt speaker who opposes the closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

“What tends to bother them is the fact that we’re holding them there indefinitely without trial. … It’s not the point that it’s Gitmo,” he told Defense One earlier this year. “If we send them, say, to a facility in the US, we’re still holding them without trial.”

Kelly is also the most senior-ranking military official to lose a child in combat since 9/11. His son, Lt. Robert Kelly, was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2010.

If confirmed, Kelly would replace Jeh Johnson.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joe Dunford

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US Marine Corps photo

Joe Dunford is the last of the three generals who is still in uniform. He served briefly as commandant of the Marine Corps before President Barack Obama nominated him as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs in May 2015. He earned the nickname “Fighting Joe” during his time with 1st Marine Division.

Dunford has been in the Marine Corps for 39 years, less than Mattis’ 44 years and Kelly’s 45. His chairmanship term is scheduled to run through 2017. Though the Joint Chiefs are not part of the president’s Cabinet, they are appointed by — and serve as the top military advisers to — the president.

Trump is likely to replace many of Obama’s appointees, but Dunford may not be one of them.

Typically, Joint Chiefs chairmen serve two terms, and having comrades like Mattis and Kelly in Dunford’s corner would make it much harder for Trump to replace him.

Trump has floated other generals and admirals for his Cabinet, including Gen. David Petraeus for secretary of state and Adm. Michael Rogers for director of national intelligence. Michael Flynn, his controversial choice for national security adviser, is a retired lieutenant general who headed the Defense Intelligence Agency.

These choices don’t come without pushback. Some, like Phillip Carter, a former Army officer with the Center for a New American Security, have argued that Trump’s reliance on retired military brass for traditionally civilian-led organizations could jeopardize civil-military relations.

MIGHTY TRENDING

9 important things you realize when dating a veteran

Dating a service member or veteran can be challenging for a civilian unfamiliar with the world of military life. And it can even throw veterans dating other veterans into unfamiliar ground.


Whatever your background, here are nine things you’re going to have to get used to if you decide to date a servicemember or veteran.

 

1. Understanding dark humor

Learning a new sense of humor is something that has to happen when you date a veteran. They cope with things with a dark sense of humor, and this can be a little off-putting.

Thing is, you just have to learn to laugh when he takes his leg off at dinner, sets it on a chair and asks the waiter for another menu.

2. The things they carry

When you’re dating a civilian, they might sometimes leave a shirt or socks behind after a late-night visit. But if you’re dating a veteran, you may have to deal with a forgotten piece of their prosthetic, a utility knife, or something else you might not expect.

3. Bobby pins are everywhere

Just like dating a civilian woman, military women will leave bobby pins behind. To keep the crisp, clean bun many women in uniform rely on, it can take 15 or more bobby pins to make it work. Occasionally, they get left behind on night stands and kitchen sinks as an accidental territory marker.

 

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All women missile crews from Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., gather for a pre-departure briefing before heading in the 13,800 square mile missile complex to complete their 24-hour alert on March 22, 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Collin Schmidt)

 

4. Opening up takes a little longer

Any relationship is built on trust and understanding – a relationship with a vet is no different. Special importance has to be put on trust, though. When someone’s ready to open up, you have to be ready to listen and try to understand things you may have never experienced and couldn’t begin to comprehend. Many veterans are used to losing the people who are closest to them, whether from failed relationships, in combat, or to suicide. They may not want to get attached for fear of losing you, but you have to work to build their trust.

5. Inter-service rivalry is all in good fun

 

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U.S. Naval Academy quarterback Kriss Proctor runs the ball during the 112th Army-Navy Football game at FEDEX Field in Landover, Md. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad Runge)

 

If you’re a veteran dating a veteran of another branch, you have to get used to the good-natured teasing of your service coming into all aspects of your life. Whether you forget something at home on a trip and hear “man, that’s why you can’t trust an Airman!” or if you’re late to a date and get a “sailors, always on their own time,” you have to learn to dish it back with a smile.

6. You learn to love listening to stories

Any veteran, young or old, loves to tell stories from their service. Whether they fought the Nazis in 10 feet of snow with an ax handle and a pocket knife, or they battled al-Qaeda as a member of Delta Team Six, the stories are always an interesting look into the way the military works. Whether they’re 100 percent true or a little embellished, you’ll learn to revel in the stories of your veteran significant other — especially over a few drinks.

7. You learn to give your all and try new things

 

VA and PGA bring golf to disabled Veterans
Then-1st Lt. Richard Page with his new bride, Janet, stands inside an M113 armored personnel carrier after their wedding ceremony at the Soldier’s Chapel, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, on Oct. 23, 1965. Guidons of the 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, surround the newlywed couple. (Photo courtesy of Richard and Janet Page)

Veterans can be intense people. They’re used to giving a mission their all and take that passion into the things they love most. Learning new things may include backpacking or kayaking or it could be a sport like football or basketball. No matter what, you have to learn to give 100 percent to anything you try.

8. Not every vet has post-traumatic stress, but some do

Life isn’t always sunshine and roses. While visible wounds may make people stare, the invisible wounds can be harder to deal with in a relationship. Traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress are big hurdles modern veterans face, and they can affect their closest relationships dramatically. Patience is key in a time where your significant other is facing something they may not want to – or be able to – talk about.

9. Commitment is more than a ten-letter word

 

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Navy veteran Andrew Johnson kisses Marine Corps veteran Rose Jessica Hammack after she accepted his marriage proposal during the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, June 16, 2016. (DoD photo by Roger Wollenberg)

Each branch of the military focuses on commitment, duty, honor, sacrifice, and service and others before self. This bleeds into their life outside of the military – dating and marrying a veteran can be one of the most rewarding things someone can do. It isn’t for everyone, but if you meet and fall in love with a veteran, you can be assured their service will be an asset in your life together.

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These are the differences between Airborne and Air Assault

Short answer: One is still used as a tactically viable way of getting troops into the fray and the other is more ceremonial.


Benjamin Franklin once said “Where is the prince who can afford to cover his country with troops for its defense, so that ten thousand men descending from the clouds might not, in many places, do an infinite deal of mischief before a force could be brought together to repel them?”

Both of these troops fit that bill over two hundred years later.

Out of all of the current military rivalries, this one still ranks pretty high on the list. As someone who’s Air Assault and let his personal rivalry simmer a bit, there’s no reason to keep it up. The differences between the two just keeps growing with each conflict.

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(U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Sean McCollum, 29th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

By World War II, many forces developed their own form of Airborne infantry that soared into combat. Allied forces captivated folks back home with the tales of jumping into the European theater. Over the years, airborne operations can be performed in essentially two ways: static jumps (think of the age-old cadence “Stand up, Hook up, Shuffle to the door! Jump right out on the count of Four!”) and HALO/HAHO, or High Altitude, Low Opening and High Opening (free-falling).

Air Assault rose in the Cold War and became more prominent in the Vietnam War. There are usually two means for getting troops into combat, FRIES, or Fast Rope Insertion/Extraction, where you grab a piece of rope and slide out of a hovering helicopter and just Air Insertion, where the helicopter lands on the ground and troops hop out. Technically, there’s also Sling Load operations, where you attach things underneath a helicopter, but that’s more of a special task that’s assigned to Air Assault qualified troops.

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There’s several more ways of leaving a helicopter. Like SPIES and Helocasting, as seen above (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Codie Mendenhall)

But in the wars since 9/11, you can count on one hand the number of combat jumps performed by US troops. They were done twice in Iraq and once in Afghanistan — and all three to command and control airfields.

Making a combat jump authorizes you to wear a Combat Jump Device. It’s a gold star that adorns the Parachutist Badge and is often referred to as a “mustard stain.” Finding one of these bad asses outside of Jump School is like finding a CW5 — you know they have to exist somewhere because you’ve seen the badges at the PX, but it still sounds as plausible as any other barracks rumor.

There isn’t as comprehensive list on total Air Assault missions because it’s far more common. It’s just another way to get around.

Many combat arms guys can tell you that they never went to Air Assault school, but still do Air Assault operations in country. The only Air Assault task restricted to someone who actually went to the school is the previously mentioned sling load operations. Even that has its “volun-told” feel to it. Sling loading has a risk to it that could be deadly if not done properly. Only Airborne school qualified personnel are allowed to complete airborne jumps (because of the weeks they spend just learning how to fall properly).

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(U.S. Army photo by Visual Information Specialist Jason Johnston)

Sure. We have our disagreements and will probably flame each other in the comment section. They’re both ways to get men out of a perfectly good aircraft.

We both deal with a heavy amount of prop / rotor wash that training can never prepare you for. And both of our badges are still highly sought after by badge-hunters — usually a staff lieutenant or junior NCO. And they both will probably correct you by saying “well actually, according to Army regulation…”

Wear your blood wings proud, my brothers and sisters.

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‘107 feet of fire-breathing titanium’: A US Air Force major describes flying the fastest plane in history

In the 1960s, when a single military incident had the potential to spark a nuclear war, the US government needed a surveillance plane that absolutely could not be detected, intercepted, or shot down.


The answer was the SR-71.

The Lockheed Martin SR-71, or the “Blackbird” as it is commonly known, flew at the upper 1% of earth’s atmosphere at altitudes of 80,000 feet and speeds of over 2,000 mph — much faster and higher than any plane before it.

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Photo: YouTube screengrab

And every inch of the aircraft was meticulously designed to baffle radar detection.

The SR-71 was a marvel of engineering that flew in the US Air Force for more than 30 years. The plane holds records for speed and distance that stand to this day. It was so fast that the plane’s common protocol for avoiding missiles was to simply outrun them.

Former US Air Force Major Brian Shul describes his career as a pilot of iconic Blackbird in his book “Sled Driver.” He describes one incident in particular that he would never forget — something that reveals just how intense and difficult piloting the SR-71 could be.

As a Blackbird pilot, Shul is often asked about the plane’s top speed.

“Each SR-71 pilot had his own individual ‘high’ speed that he saw at some point on some mission,” Shul explains in the book.

Because the planes are so precisely engineered, and so costly, no pilot ever wanted to push the Blackbird to its absolute operating limits of temperature and speed. But you could fall short of those limits and still be going astonishingly fast: “It was common to see 35 miles a minute,” says Shul.

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As far as his personal high speed goes, Shul says, “I saw mine over Libya when Ghaddafi fired two missiles my way, and max power was in order. Let’s just say that the plane truly loved speed and effortlessly took us to Mach numbers we hadn’t previously seen.”

Tales of the Blackbird’s speed and achievements in espionage are unsurpassed, but Shul’s most amazing anecdote in “Sled Driver” is the story of his slowest-ever run, which started off as a simple flyby to show off for friendly troops. It ended up the stuff of military legend.

While returning from a mission over Europe, Shul received a call from his home base in Mildenhall, England, requesting that he do a flyby of a small RAF base. An air cadet commander in that base was himself a former Blackbird pilot. Knowing what a spectacular sight the plane could be, he thought that a low-altitude flyby might give his troops a morale boost.

The Blackbird made its way to the RAF base, ripping through the skies over Denmark in just three minutes, and slowing down only to refuel midair.

Using the sophisticated navigation equipment aboard the Blackbird, Shul’s navigator, Walter, led him toward the airfield. He slowed the lightning-fast ship to sub sonic speeds and began to search for the airfield, which like many World War II-era British airbases had only one tower and very little identifiable infrastructure around it.

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As the two got close, they were having trouble finding the small airfield. Shul describes the moments leading up to the flyby: “We got a little lower, and I pulled the throttles back from 325 knots we were at. With the gear up, anything under 275 was just uncomfortable. Walt (the navigator) said we were practically over the field — yet there was nothing in my windscreen.”

As the airfield cadets assembled outside in anticipation of catching a glimpse of the Blackbird, Shul and his navigator eased off the accelerator and began circling the forest looking for any sign of the base.

During the search, the Blackbird’s speed had fallen well below advisable or even safe levels.

“At this point we weren’t really flying, but were falling in a slight bank,” recalls Shul.

With the engines silent on the low-flying Blackbird, the cadets on the ground couldn’t see or hear anything. There was simply no way they could have expected what would happen next: “As I noticed the airspeed indicator slide below 160 knots, my heart stopped and my adrenalin-filled left hand pushed two throttles full forward.”

Shul describes what happened next as a “thunderous roar of flame … a joyous feeling.”

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The cadets must have seen “107 feet of fire-breathing titanium in their face as the plane leveled and accelerated, in full burner, on the tower side of the infield, closer than expected, maintaining what could only be described as some sort of ultimate knife-edge pass.”

Shul and his navigator returned to base in silence. They were both shocked by the momentary lapse in speed that nearly saw their Blackbird plummeting towards the hard ground. They had come close to a full-on catastrophe — much too close for comfort.

The pair felt sure that their commander would have had a panic attack, and would be furiously waiting at base to ream the pilots and take their wings.

Instead, they were greeted by a smiling commander who told them that the RAF had reported “the greatest SR-71 fly-past he had ever seen.”

The spectators had taken their near-fatal mistake as an especially brave and well-executed stunt carried out by erudite professionals. The commander heard about the “breathtaking” flyby, and heartily shook both Shul and Walter’s hands.

Apparently, some of the cadets watching had their hats blown off from the extremely close passage of the Blackbird in full thrust. The cadets were shocked, but only the two pilots knew just how close a call the flyby had been.

As the pilots retired to the equipment room, they still looked at each other in a dazed silence. Finally, they broached the subject of the perilously low speeds.

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“One hundred fifty-six knots (180 mph). What did you see?” The co-pilot Walter asked Shul, “One hundred fifty-two (175 mph),” he responded. These speeds are fast for a car, but in an aircraft designed to travel in excess of 2,000 mph, they are disturbingly slow and unsafe.

A year later, as Shul and Walter ate in a mess hall, he overheard some officers talking about the incident, which by then had become exaggerated to the point where cadets were being knocked over and having their eyebrows singed from the Blackbird’s raging thrusters.

When the younger officers noticed the patches on Shul’s uniform, indicating that he flew the SR-71, they asked him to verify that the flyby had occurred. Shul replied, “It was probably just a routine low approach; they’re pretty impressive in that plane.”

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This article originally appeared at Business Insider Defense. Copyright 2015. Follow BI Defense on Twitter.

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Our 8 most shared articles of 2016

Now that 2016 is coming to a close, we wanted to recap the year with the most shared articles. From the deaths of notable veterans to the weapon that shoots 1 million rounds per minute, here are the posts that flew around your social media feeds:


1. Marine who raised first flag on Iwo Jima dies at 94

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Raising the First Flag on Iwo Jima by SSgt. Louis R. Lowery, USMC, is the most widely circulated photograph of the first flag flown on Mt. Suribachi.Marine Corps Maj. John Keith Wells, who as a first lieutenant led the platoon that helped take Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima and which raised the first American flag from the mountain’s summit, died in February.

He was awarded the Navy Cross and the Purple Heart for his actions on Iwo Jima after he continued leading his men up the mountain despite grievous wounds.

2. That day a lone Gurkha took out 30 Taliban using every weapon within reach

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British Royal Gurkha Rifle Sgt. Dipprasad Pun was pulling guard on top of a two-story outpost in Afghanistan when he investigated a noise and found two insurgents burying an IED.

As he went to engage them, the Taliban triggered a complex attack that Pun beat off by expending all of his ammo, throwing some grenades and mines, and hurling a machine gun tripod at the enemy.

3. 11 things a military buddy would do that a civilian BFF probably won’t

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Workout with a buddy, but don’t actually carry them unless you are taking turns. (Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michelle Kapica)

A funny look at the differences between military buddies, who would check out your rash or save you in a firefight, and your civilian buddies, who might help you put together furniture or something.

4. How long the US military would last in a war against the rest of the world

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(Photo: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago)

What would happen if the militaries of the entire rest of the world attacked the U.S. all at once? Not just our enemies, but our traditional allies like France and Britain as well? We’d stomp them. Here’s how.

5. Oldest American WWII veteran dies at 110

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Photo: www.Facebook.com/MrOvertonDoc

Frank Levingston was 110, making him the oldest American and the oldest World War II veteran, when he died in May. He was known for his colorful commentary.

6. The Metal Storm gun can fire at 1 million rounds per minute

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(Photo: YouTube)

This weapon features rounds stacked inside dozens of barrels and electric charges can fire all the rounds stored in the weapon at once or in multiple volleys. At its maximum fire rate, this equates to 1 million rounds per minute.

7. Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

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Lizzy Yaggy greets Gen. Dempsey during TAPS Good Grief Camp. (Photo: Erin Yaggy)

Most general officers struggle with the deaths caused by their decisions in war, but all that came home like it never had before for Army Gen. Martin Dempsey when he met the then-four-year-old Lizzy Yaggy, the daughter of a Marine aviator lost in a plane crash.

The two became close friends and Dempsey even asked Yaggy to introduce him at his retirement ceremony.

8. CENTCOM dusts off Vietnam-era aircraft to fight ISIS

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Image: NASA Lewis Research Center Hangar and OV-10 Airplane

As the world struggled with the rapid and surprising rise of the Islamic State, an old airplane was quietly pressed back into combat service, the OV-10 Bronco.

These small planes served in combat from Vietnam to Desert Storm with the U.S. Marines before they were retired in 1995. But the plane flew over 100 sorties against ISIS, including 120 combat missions.

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Head of US Marine Corps aviation: The F-35B is ready to go to war right now

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Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for aviation, discusses the future of Marine aviation at AEI in Washington, DC, on July 29. | AEI.org


When asked on Friday if the F-35B could fly combat missions to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the US Marine Corps’ head of aviation said, “We’re ready to do that.”

Noting that the decision to deploy the fifth-generation jet into combat would come from higher command, Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for aviation said that the F-35B is “ready to go right now.”

“We got a jewel in our hands and we’ve just started to exploit that capability, and we’re very excited about it,” Davis said during a discussion at the American Enterprise Institute on the readiness and future trajectory of Marine aviation.

Davis, who has flown copilot in every type of model series of tilt-rotor, rotary-winged, and tanker aircraft in the Marine inventory, said that the F-35 is an airplane he’s excited about.

“The bottom line is everybody who flies a pointy-nose airplane in the Marine Corps wants to fly this jet,” Davis said.

Last summer, then Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford declared initial operational capability (IOC) for 10 F-35B jets, the first of the sister-service branches.

“There were a lot of people out here in the press that said, ‘Hey, the Marines are just going to declare IOC because it would be politically untenable not to do that,'” Davis said.

“IOC in the Marine Corps means we will deploy that airplane in combat. That’s not a decision I was gonna take lightly, nor Gen. Dunford,” he said.

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An F-35B flies near its base at MCAS Beaufort in South Carolina. | Lockheed Martin

Ahead of IOC, Davis said that the Marine Corps “stacked the deck with the F-35 early on” by assigning Top Gun school graduates and weapons-tactics instructors to test the plane.

“The guys that flew that airplane and maintained that airplane were very, very, hard graders,” he said.

Davis added that the jet proved to be “phenomenally successful” during testing: “It does best when it’s out front, doing the killing.”

The Marine Corps’ first F-35B squadron is scheduled to go to sea in spring 2018.

Meanwhile, the US Air Force could declare its first F-35 squadron combat-ready as early as next week.

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The United States may release the most damaging spy in recent history

Almost 30 years after being convicted for espionage, Jonathan Jay Pollard will be eligible for parole in November 2015 — and the U.S. may release him. In 1987, Pollard became the first American ever convicted for passing intelligence to a U.S. ally. In espionage acts the U.S. says were unnecessary, Pollard was personally adamant Israel was not getting the full intelligence picture due to a U.S. ally and so took it on himself — as a civilian member of U.S. Navy intelligence — to provide that information.


Pollard didn’t go to trial because he pled out to get leniency for himself and his wife. He was handed a life sentence, with eligibility for parole after 30 years.

He has become a cause célèbre in some Jewish and Israeli circles. Yet both sides of the American political aisles argue against his release: the conservative publication National Review and the liberal Slate both published pieces against it, and many former Department of Defense officials are against his release. Some prominent Jewish-American figures are against it. Even once-ardent supporters of Pollard disagree with the timing. Ron Olive, the NCIS investigator who caught Pollard after he handed more than a million documents to Israeli agents over 18 months, believes the spy should stay in jail. So does Vice-President Joe Biden. Then-CIA director George Tenet threatened his resignation if President Clinton released Pollard in the late 1990s.

Pollard’s disclosures to Israel have never been fully revealed to the public. A 46-page memo viewable by Pollard and his defense attorneys was provided to the court at his sentence hearing by then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who said Pollard gave information that caused grave damage to the national security of the United States.

This included the 10-volume Radio and Signal Intelligence [RASIN] manual, aka “the Bible,” detailing the entire U.S. global listening profile, “frequency by frequency, source by source, geographic slice by geographic slice. RASIN was in effect, a complete roadmap to American signal intelligence.” The manual revealed which communications channels of which powers, in which regions, the NSA was intercepting and in what order of priority, providing insight on where and what actions the U.S. military might take next. It was this specific disclosure which led the sentencing judge to send Pollard away for life.

The full disclosure of secrets Pollard passed to Israel are so damaging the memo detailing the gravest of them is itself Top Secret; he essentially revealed the “sources and methods” of all American intelligence gathering. Secretary Weinberger asserted Pollard had a photographic memory and the ability to go on disclosing secrets into the foreseeable future (a summary is available here).

“It is difficult for me, even in the so-called ‘year of the spy,'” wrote Weinberger, “to conceive of a greater harm to national security than that caused by the defendant in view of the breadth, the critical importance to the U.S., and the high sensitivity of the information he sold to Israel. That information was intentionally reserved by the United States for its own use, because to disclose it, to anyone or any nation, would cause the greatest harm to our national security.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itIwrWPQ00E

In his defense trial, Pollard claimed he was motivated by altruism for Israel’s security and not greed, but was still paid $11,000 (almost $24,000 adjusted for inflation) and a diamond and sapphire ring he used to propose to his girlfriend. He would eventually receive $2,500 (more than $5,700 in 2015) each month for his work for Israel, as well as cash for hotels, meals, and other luxuries. Pollard admitted to taking the money. The government alleged he was a habitual drug user who burned through cash as fast as he could get it. In the above video, Marion Bowman called him a very “venal person.”

The government’s case against Pollard included unsuccessful attempts to broker arms deals with South Africa, Argentina, Taiwan, Pakistan, and Iran. When the Israelis were asked to return the material, they returned only low-level classified documents, but the U.S. was aware of more than 10,000 documents Pollard passed, at times by loads in suitcases, copied by Israeli agents with two high-speed copiers in a DC apartment. Ron Olive, the NCIS investigator handling the Pollard case, later detailed more than a million documents.

“By his own admission, he gave enough information to fill a space six feet by six feet by ten feet.”

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Security video frame of Pollard stealing documents

A Texas native, Pollard attended Stanford University and graduated in 1976. After a few failed attempts at graduate school, he also failed to get a job at the CIA, being unable to pass the polygraph test necessary for the CIA’s Top Secret clearance. He was able to get a job at the Naval Intelligence Support Center, Surface Ships Division. While there, his boss tried to fire him, but he was instead reassigned to a Naval Intelligence Task Force.

Along the way he had a meeting with Adm. Sumner Shapiro, the Commander of Naval Intelligence Command, which led to the admiral ordering his security clearances revoked. Shapiro, who insists Pollard was too low ranking to know what the U.S. was sharing with Israel, described Pollard as a “kook,” saying “I wish the hell I’d fired him.” His clearance somehow wasn’t revoked but was downgraded, only to be returned after Pollard filed a lawsuit to get it back.

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Pollard’s Navy ID Photo

In college, Pollard made a lot of outrageous claims; he was an agent of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service (who have an active policy of not spying on the U.S.), he claimed to have killed an Arab while guarding a kibbutz in Israel, and that he was a Colonel in the Israeli Defense Forces. None of this was true, but in June 1984, while working at Task Force 168, he met an actual Colonel in the Israeli Air Force, Aviem Sella. Pollard volunteered to spy for Israel, telling Sella his belief there were secrets the U.S. was not sharing with Israel that were vital to Israeli interests.

In an exhaustive 1987 report, NCIS investigator Ron Olive alleged Pollard passed material on to South Africa and tried to pass it on to Pakistan. He took intelligence documents about China which his wife used to advance her business interests. He passed No Foreign Access (NOFORN) information on to an Australian Navy officer.

He was caught when a coworker noticed he was removing classified material from the work center, but didn’t seem to be taking it anywhere relevant. He was put under surveillance and the FBI caught him moving classified documents. He told the FBI he was taking them to another agency for a consultation, but that turned out to be false. During the voluntary interview, Pollard asked to call his wife, using a code word (“cactus”) which meant the game was up and that she should destroy all the classified material in their home.

Pollard agreed to a search of his house, which turned up documents his wife missed. Since there was no proof of passing the documents on, the case was given to his supervisors. When they asked him to submit to a polygraph, he admitted to passing the documents on but didn’t mention Israel. Meanwhile, Pollard’s neighbor — himself a naval officer — began to cooperate with the FBI, handing over a 70-pound suitcase full of classified material Mrs. Pollard gave him for safekeeping. Pollard and his wife were again put under surveillance by the FBI.

This time, Pollard and his wife tried to seek asylum at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. but were turned away. They tried invoking the Israeli Law of Return, but were still rebuffed. As soon as he left the embassy, he was taken down by FBI agents. His wife evaded capture for a few more days, alerting Sella and allowing all the Israelis involved to escape via New York.

When U.S. investigators traveled to Israel, the Israelis were uncooperative, forcing every question and answer to go through Hebrew-English translation (everyone spoke English), purposely creating a schedule designed to tire the investigators, denying them sleep, stealing items from their luggage and withholding Sella’s identity. Most of the documents taken by Israel were not returned.

Pollard pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to deliver national defense information to a foreign government. The terms of agreement included the caveat that neither Pollard nor his wife could speak publicly about his crimes or the kind of information that was passed on. Pollard and his wife immediately broke that plea in an interview with the Jerusalem Post and then 60 Minutes where he told them the kind of information he passed.

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Among the information Pollard admits giving to Israel:

  • Detailed information about a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) HQ in Tunisia
  • Iraqi and Syrian chemical warfare factory locations and production capabilities
  • Regular PLO operations plans
  • Soviet arms shipments to Arab states unfriendly to Israel
  • Soviet fighter jet information
  • Information about Pakistani nuclear weapons programs

The Israelis first insisted Pollard was part of a rogue operation but later admitted their complicity in 1998. Pollard’s supporters argue his intelligence leaks weren’t pertaining to the United States but they fail to mention the problems surrounding Israeli use of the information, such as the possible outing of CIA sources abroad. The same supporters also argue against the severity of his life sentence, saying prosecutors didn’t seek it, but the judge gave it to him anyway after receiving the full details of the damage Pollard caused via the Weinberger memo, and that may other spies were given far more lenient treatment.

Pollard’s detractors counter this with the accusation that Israel may have turned over the same information to the Soviet Union in order to get the Soviets to allow more Jewish emigres to leave the Soviet Union for Israel — including the ways the U.S. Navy tracked Soviet submarines worldwide. Israel is also believed to have traded Pollard’s intelligence to other nations.

He gave Israel information about VQ-2 electronic surveillance plans, which allowed the U.S. to monitor the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 1982-83 evacuation of Beirut, and American bombing of Libya in April 1986. This revealed American “time and place acquisition methods,” allowing Israel to track America’s own intelligence capability in the Mediterranean and even over Israel itself.

In a 1998 Washington Post Op-Ed, three former Navy Intelligence Chiefs argue that Pollard has a nest egg hidden away in foreign banks, and that with the “sheer volume of sensitive information betrayed, Pollard rivals any of the traitors who have plagued this nation in recent times.” They added that the movement to release Pollard is a “clever public relations campaign.”

NOW: 11 Spies Who Did The Most Damage to the U.S. Military

OR: 6 Of The Wildest Top Secret Missions of WWII

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Russia plans to build 100 of its most advanced Armata tanks

The Russian deputy defense minister said Aug. 24 at a military technical forum that Moscow plans to build 100 T-14 Armata battle tanks.


“The designed models are currently undergoing operational testing,” Defense Minister Yuri Borisov said, according to TASS, a Russian state-owned media outlet. “We have a contract for 100 units that will be supplied before 2020.”

TASS also acknowledged that Moscow previously said it would make 2,300 T-14s by 2020, which The National Interest and other analysts dismissed as “ridiculous,” given the high cost of the tank.

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Wikimedia Commons photo by Vitaly Kuzmin.

Since it was unveiled in 2015, the T-14 has received a lot of hype and has worried many westerners — some of which is deserved.

The T-14 is part of the Armata Universal Combat Platform, which is is based on a single chassis that that can be used for a variety of Armata armored vehicles — not just the T-14 tank.

This interchangeable platform, according to Globalsecurity.org, includes “standard engine-transmission installation, chassis controls, driver interface, unified set of onboard electronics, [and] life-support systems.”

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Wikimedia Commons photo by Vitaly Kuzmin.

The T-14 comes with a high velocity 125mm cannon that also fires laser-guided missiles up to 7.4 miles away, while the US’ M1A2 SEP V3 Abrams’ main gun only has a range of about 2.4 miles.

It’s equipped with a revolutionary unmanned turret and armored hull for the crew, The National Interest said, and it’s even one step away from becoming a completely unmanned tank, able to be operated by crews at a distance, Sim Tack, a Stratfor analyst, previously told Business Insider.

The T-14 also sports the new Afghanit active protection system, which has a radar and electronic system that disrupts incoming guided missiles, The National Interest said.

The APS can also jam laser guided systems and even has interceptors that can take out RPGs, missiles, and possibly kinetic rounds — although the latter has been questioned by many analysts, The National Interest said.

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A Russian T-72B3. Wikimedia Commons photo from user Vitaly Kuzmin.

While the T-14 has strong layers of defense and reactive armor, “no tank is invincible, it is only more survivable,” Michael Kofman, a CNA analyst, told Newsweek. “It’s somewhat unclear how effective these defensive systems are against top-down attack missiles like the FGM-148 Javelin, which is expensive but effective.”

“It’s important to remember that the Armata platform is still a prototype undergoing field trials and not a completed system …  There is still a debate in Russia on what its capabilities should be and the initial serial production run of 80-100 tanks is doubtfully going to be the final variant, so we should reserve judgment,” Kofman told Newsweek.

While the T-14 is impressive in many respects, Russia’s main tank for years to come, given the high cost of the T-14 and even the T-90A, will probably still be the T-72B3, Kofman told The National Interest.

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