During the George H. W. Bush Administration, the Navy and Marine Corps were pursuing two revolutionary aircraft. One was the V-22 Osprey, a tilt-rotor intended to replace the CH-46 Sea Knight. The other was the A-12 Avenger, the planned replacement for the A-6 Intruder, the classic attack airplane made famous in the book and movie Flight of the Intruder.
Early on in the first Bush Administration, the Berlin Wall fell, thanks in no small part due to the Reagan defense build-up and more covert efforts (Peter Schweizer’s Victory tells that tale). For the world, the collapse of communism was a good thing. But for the V-22 and A-12, things started to get rough, as a “peace dividend” was eyed by politicians inside the Beltway. Then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney soon put both aircraft projects on the chopping block — the V-22 because of developmental test failures that resulted in several high-profile mishaps, and the A-12 for massive cost overruns well before a single airframe was ready to launch.
Congress acted to save the V-22 (over Cheney’s objections). The Marines then stuck with the plane during a lengthy RD effort. What the Marines got as a result of that decision was a game-changer, particularly when compared to the CH-46 Sea Knight, as the included graphic from the Government Accountability Office shows. The V-22 can carry half of a Marine infantry platoon almost 400 miles from its base at speeds of up to 275 knots. Compare that to the CH-46E’s 184-mile combat radius, and top speed of 166 miles per hour, and the fact it could carry only a third of a Marine infantry platoon.
Marines found the V-22 to be effective in Iraq and Afghanistan, while Air Force Special Operations Command proved their version’s mettle in a raid against ISIS in Syria. To put it bluntly, the V-22 proved Cheney wrong, while the Marines and AFSOC were rewarded for their perseverance and faith in the new technology. In fact, the V-22 could even add a new mission not planned for in the initial specs: Aerial refueling.
As we know from history, the A-12 Avenger was not so lucky. Trying to make a point with his budgeteers about fiscal responsibility, Cheney made that cut stick.
So what did the Navy lose out on? For starters, let’s look at the plane the A-12 was supposed to replace.
The A-6 Intruder was an all-weather attack plane that was designed to carry a large bomb load (up to 18,000 pounds). At the time it was designed, stealth technology and smart bombs weren’t in the picture. But the plane gave valuable service, both during the Vietnam War and Desert Storm, as well as also seeing action in smaller conflicts like the 1986 clashes with Libya and Operation Preying Mantis in 1988.
While the Avenger’s actual performance will not be known, some estimates are available, including a range of just over 900 miles, a top speed of 578 knots, and a bomb load of 5,000 pounds. Notable in this is that the plane was also slated to carry two AIM-120 AMRAAMs and two AGM-88 HARMs for self-protection in addition to its bombload.
But the real game-changer was its stealth technology. The A-12, like the F-117, B-2, and F-22, would be able to evade detection by most radars, and deliver precision-guided weapons on to targets. Would it, like the V-22, have been able to do more? Again, we will never know.
These days, developing a new combat aircraft takes longer than it used to, as the F-35, V-22, and F-22 have proven. Part of it is because that to survive in a modern environment, the aircraft is, in one sense, a flying computer, running as much on software as it does jet fuel. There is a major implication to this. When your laptop has a software hiccup, it’s an inconvenience. When a software hiccup happens on a modern combat plane, it means the loss of an airframe, and possibly the pilot as well. So, the required level of reliability gets higher, and reaching that level of reliability will take longer and cost more money.
In an age where both Russia and China have become more hostile to the United States, and their militaries are bringing new weapons systems on line, one has to wonder if the presence of the A-12 would have helped.
Iraqi security forces liberating Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria have made a gruesome discovery that clearly show what the coalition is fighting against.
That discovery: Two mass graves, with a total of at least 250 bodies.
According to a report by CNN.com, the graves were created by ISIS thugs near the town of Hammam al-Alil — close to where another grave was found on Nov. 7 — with roughly 100 victims of ISIS atrocities.
One of the mass graves was in a well, and contained over 200 bodies.
“Some of the victims were thrown alive by ISIS into this well and some others were left there to die from their injuries,” Ninevah Province Council member Abdulrahamn al Wagga told CNN.
Coalition spokesman Air Force Col. John Dorrian noted that ISIS was putting up fierce resistance in and around Mosul.
“This is neighborhood-to-neighborhood fighting, particularly in the east, and the Iraqi security forces have moved deliberately and exercised a laudable level of restraint … to protect civilian life,” a DoD News article quoted him as saying.
The terrorist group has been known to carry out shocking killings of hostages and prisoners, including the use of beheading in the case of at least two Americans, and burning a captured Jordanian pilot alive.
Civilians caught under ISIS occupation have also been facing horrific treatment. Yazidi women and girls have been forced into sexual slavery, while members homosexuals have been thrown off rooftops.
In other news, the headquarters of Combined Joint Task Force Inherent Resolve reported that a strike in Raqqa, Syria killed a senior leader of the terrorist group. Col. Dorrian made specific mention of this during a press briefing, saying, “His death degrades and delays ISIL’s current plots against regional targets and deprives them of a capable senior manager who provided oversight over many external attacks.”
The Combined Joint Task Force also reported carrying out 60 airstrikes over the last three days, of which 17 were around Mosul. The Mosul-area strikes destroyed or damaged a number of targets, including 11 mortar systems, nine tunnels, four watercraft, six vehicles, while also “suppressing” four tactical units, a tank, and a rocket-propelled grenade system.
On May 12, 2021, the Army announced the divestiture of all M1128 Stryker Mobile Gun Systems by fiscal year 2022. The decision follows a comprehensive analysis that highlighted obsolescence and systemic issues with the MGS’s outdated cannon and autoloader.
First produced in 2002 by General Dynamics Land Systems, the M1128 MGS is a variant of the Stryker armored fighting vehicle. The Stryker itself is based on the LAV III light-armored vehicle manufactured for the Canadian military by General Dynamics.
Equipped with a 105mm M68A1E4 rifled cannon, the MGS is capable of dealing with a wide array of threats. Although it is not designed to engage in direct combat with tanks, it is capable of destroying armored vehicles with the M900 kinetic energy penetrator round. Lighter vehicles are addressed with the M456A2 high-explosive anti-tank round. The M393A3 high explosive plastic round excels at destroying bunkers, machine gun nests, and knocking down walls in support of infantry. Finally, the M1040 canister shot is used to engage dismounted infantry. The MGS is also equipped with a coaxial M240C 7.62x51mm machine gun, an M2 .50 caliber machine gun, and two M6 smoke grenade launchers.
Crewed by a commander, a gunner, and a driver, the MGS was designed to increase the firepower of the infantry rifle company. Initially, 27 MGSs were allocated to each Stryker Brigade Combat Team. A standard SBCT rifle company organically operates one platoon of three MGSs to support the company’s three rifle platoons. As of 2017, each SBCT is equipped with three platoons of MGSs and three platoons of ATGM Strykers equipped with the TOW missile system.
The Army purchased a total of 142 Stryker MGSs. However, three have been lost in combat. One of the chief complaints of MGS crews and a major factor in the Army’s divestiture is the vehicle’s autoloader. Although the system is widely used amongst European armored vehicles, the MGS was the first U.S. Army system to be fielded with an autoloader. Since its introduction, the autoloader has been costly and difficult to maintain. Additionally, the Stryker chassis used on the MGS has a flat bottom which makes it susceptible to modern threats like IEDs and improved anti-tank mines.
The divestiture of the MGS will not leave soldiers lacking in firepower. “Decisions on when it is best to divest a system currently in the force are not taken lightly,” said LTG James F. Pasquarette, Army Deputy Chief of Staff, G-8 (Programs). “The Army has done its due diligence to ensure lethality upgrades will remain intact to provide our Stryker formations the capabilities they need in the future.” New projects like the Medium Caliber Weapons System and the Mobile Protected Firepower Light Tank program look to bring enhanced lethality to Army formations. Moreover, existing system like the Javelin and the 30mm autocannon are receiving regular updates to ensure that soldiers maintain every advantage on the battlefield. It’s worth noting that the Army is continuing to support other Stryker variants with upgrades like V-shaped hulls.
The Marine Corps‘ ground-based laser systems, which can be mounted to the tops of vehicles to take down drones, now have stronger beams to combat airborne threats.
The Corps has a new $2.5 million agreement with Boeing to service its Compact Laser Weapon System for the next five years. The system, which can be attached to combat vehicles, can be used on land or at sea.
Boeing just completed a round of updates to the service’s Compact Laser Weapon Systems, giving Marines the ability to take out bigger drones. The updates also made the laser weapon more reliable and faster, and they allow Marines to target more aircraft from greater distances, according to Boeing.
The changes come as the top U.S. general in the Middle East warned last month that cheap, off-the-shelf drones pose the most concerning tactical development in that region since terrorists began using improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan.Advertisement
“These systems are inexpensive, easy to modify and weaponize, and easy to proliferate,” Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., the head of U.S. Central Command, said last month.
Militaries are also using drones to target and surveil troops. Marines using another vehicle-mounted system in 2019 jammed at least one Iranian drone that flew within 1,000 yards of their Navy warship in the Strait of Hormuz, sending it plummeting into the sea.
The Compact Laser Weapon System doesn’t just jam drones but destroys them. Josh Roth, a spokesman for Boeing’s missile and weapon systems, said the lasers can take out what the Defense Department refers to as Group 1 and 2 unmanned aircraft, which weigh as much as 55 pounds and can operate below 3,500 feet.
Boeing’s system also has a counter-sensor capability at longer ranges for larger targets, Roth said. The system uses software to spot and track a threat. Once a drone is spotted, the weapon system focuses a high-energy laser beam on the threat until it’s disabled and defeated, he added.
Marines began testing the system, the first ground-based laser approved for military use, in 2019. The laser gives Marines a lightweight option to target drones, Roth said, since it can be carried and operated by just one person.
“It … affords the warfighter the opportunity to save more expensive air defense missiles for other threats and reduces the logistics footprint by eliminating resupply needs for conventional ammunition,” he said.
Roth declined to say how many of the laser systems have gone to the Marine Corps and what units received them, citing operational security. Marine Corps photos and videos show low-altitude air defense battalions on the East and West coasts testing the systems.
Last year, Marines tested the upgraded laser weapon in Yuma, Arizona, where they were able to take down 12 out of 12 drone threats, according to Boeing. Now, those upgraded systems have been delivered to Marine units, Roth said.
The system has also been used in real-world missions, though Roth declined to say where.
Army Apaches are using a new technology in Afghanistan which enables the attack helicopter crews to view real-time video feeds from nearby drones, control the drones’ flight path and therefore more effectively destroy enemy targets, service officials told Scout Warrior.
Manned-Unmanned Teaming, or MUM-T, gives AH-64E Apache attack helicopters an ability to control the flight path and sensor payload of Army Shadow and Gray Eagle drones. Army officials say the combination of the Apache’s lethal weapons and the drones’ sensors enable helicopter crews to find and go after dynamic or fast-moving targets from further ranges.
For instance, looking at real-time Electro-Optical/Infra-red images from drone cameras in the Apache cockpit gives crews an increased ability to, for instance, more effectively destroy groups of enemy fighters on the move in pick-up trucks or attack insurgents hiding near a known U.S. Army convoy route planning to launch an ambush.
Manned-Unmanned Teaming was recently used with great success in Afghanistan by the 1-229th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, Army officials said.
“Now before the unit even deploys out of the Forward Arming Refueling Point, or FARP, they can actually bring up the UAS (drone) feed, look through the sensors and see the target they are going to attack up to 50 or 60 miles away,” Apache Program Manager Col. Jeff Hager told Scout Warrior in an interview.
Hager also explained that maintaining drone sensors on targets which can move and change gives the Apache crew an opportunity to make adjustments while en-route to a target location.
“They have full situational awareness on that target as they fly inbound and do not lose any data on that target on the way,” Hager added. “They don’t go into a situation where they are surprised.”
Apache pilots in Afghanistan are now flying upgraded AH-64E-model helicopters which give the platform increased speed and performance. In development for many years and now part of the operational force, the AH-64E models use a stronger 701D helicopter engine, composite rotor blades and next-generation communications technology and avionics.
“The additional power and capability that the aircraft brings actually changes the face of the battlefield. Now they can close, maintain and assume contact activities with the enemy at a much faster rate. The enemy could time the amount of time it was going to take the Delta (“D” model Apache) models to get to them. We completely threw that out the window and they (the “E” model Apache crews) can get there much faster,” Hager explained.
The ‘E” model is able to transport a larger amount of ammunitions and fuel in what is described as “high-hot” conditions at altitudes of 6,000 feet and temperatures of 95-degrees or above. The innovations built into the “E” model give the helicopter all of the technological advantages of its predecessor “D” model – yet at a lighter weight making it more maneuverable and effective.
The AH-64E Apache is also 20 knots faster than the previous model and can reach speeds of 164 knots.
The current “D” model Longbow Apache is heavier than the original “A” model helicopter; it carries the Longbow radar and significantly improved targeting and sensing technologies, however it lacks the transmission-to-power ratio and hard-landing ability of the initial “A” model. The AH-64E is engineered such that an advanced, high-tech aircraft the weight of the previous “D” model can have the power, performance and landing abilities of an original “A” model with a much lighter weight.
“One of the biggest values of the aircraft (“E” model) itself is the increased performance that we put back into the airframes, specifically from the composite rotor blades. We increased the power of the engines and improved the transmission. That gives the aircraft and Alpha (“A”-model”)-like performance that we have not seen in years,” Hager explained. “The aircraft is faster and more lethal.”
In total, the Army plans to acquire 690 AH-64Es by 2025. The helicopters can carry 16 Hellfire missiles, 70 2.75mm rockets and 1,200 30mm chain gun rounds, service officials said.
“We are getting super feedback from what they were doing over in combat. MUM-T has really changed the state of the battlefield,” Hager added.
The AH-64E is highly mobile, lethal and can destroy armor, personnel and material targets in an obscured battlefield conditions at ranges out to 8-kilometers, an Army statement said.
The “E” model also keep the millimeter wave fire control, radar frequency interferometer and targeting sensors engineered into previous Apache version, the statement continued.
The AH-64E, which is manufactured by Boeing, was also praised by Boeing officials who report hearing favorable feedback from Army pilots who flew the helicopter in combat.
“Its performance in ‘high-hot’ conditions made it able to go from point to point to the target where it was going, as opposed to having to go longer and down into a valley or up into a higher peak” said Kim Smith, Vice President of Attack Helicopters, Boeing.
Smith also said that Apache crews say the composite rotor blades make for a smoother flight.
When Poto Liefi awoke on September 11, 2001 he wasn’t thinking about being a soldier or going to war. He was a 38-year-old commercial artist working in Los Angeles, and he had just helped launch a new Sketchers shoe campaign for Target.
Poto was good at what he did and enjoyed the work.
After Poto pivoted from fine arts to commercial arts – a few years out of art school – he went from working on clothing and backpack lines to designing shoes.
“I learned how to create a product line,” he said. “And I also learned where my work fit relative to the entire product line.”
He followed his work for Sketchers with a line of hiking boots that, in turn, turned into Taos footwear, a women’s shoe company.
Then the World Trade Center towers fell, and the Pentagon was hit.
He decided to join the Army. Most of his colleagues in the designer world thought he was crazy. Even his recruiter – after visiting his expansive glass office – asked why he was leaving a comfortable world behind.
“I wasn’t satisfied with work anymore,” Poto said. “I had the news going all the time, and I felt a sense of responsibility to do something.”
The maximum age for recruits had just been upped from 34 to 42 when Poto showed up to Fort Jackson for basic training as a 38 year-old recruit. “I lucked out big time,” he said.
After boot camp he was given a 25M Multimedia Illustrator designation. “At first I thought it was stupid to get paid peanuts for the same job I was doing on the outside,” he said. “But after I did the research I saw there was a lot more to it.”
Poto was assigned to 304th Psychological Operations Company, and in 2008 he deployed to Fallujah, Iraq. He immediately put his skills to work on posters, billboards, and web content.
“I was surprised at what we were able to do with the proper messaging,” he said. “We actually had campaigns, branding the Iraqi Security Forces. We were getting a good, consistent message on the streets, and getting locals to rally around an ideology.”
He returned to the U.S. at the end of 2008. Less than a year and a half later he was deployed again, this time to Afghanistan with the 344th Psychological Operations Company.
“Just as I’d sold Iraq to the Iraqis I had to sell Afghanistan to Afghans.”
Part of the time Poto worked with the Australian Army based in Uruzgan, and there he realized they needed to deviate from the standard Army playbook to be effective.
“We had to take our military goggles off,” he said. “We weren’t the only media outlet the locals were exposed to.”
But in spite of the challenges Poto believes they accomplished their mission. He sums up his experience at war with a simple thought: “Pride shows.”
He returned home in March of 2011, a 43-year-old corporal ready to transition back to the civilian workforce. But it was anything but a smooth process. Reintegration was tough in spite of his pre-military work experience, a circumstance he blames on his age and the stigma of post traumatic stress. It took him three years to find a full-time job.
He finally landed a job as a supply chain manager at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Corona, California.
Poto’s transition advice to veterans following him back to the civilian side is straightforward: “Never feel entitled,” he said. “Be thankful, be respectful, and be real still.”
At the same time he held fast to his creative side. One day he took the image of a soldier who’d fallen in Iraq – PFC Corrina Lau – and superimposed it into a classic war poster. The result was powerful and immediate.
“I got very emotional reactions from the first people I showed the artwork to,” Poto said. “They said things like, ‘This is alive.'”
Poto did similar artwork for the families of other fallen warriors, and the response compelled him to brand the effort “Freedom’s On Me.”
“Freedom’s On Me is a way to keep the legacies of these service members alive,” Poto explains. “These are people that were in the military, not a bunch of robots.”
Finland is facing the possibility that Russia will eventually come for some of its territory like it seized South Ossetia from Georgia and Crimea and sections of Donbass from Ukraine.
To prepare for their own possible conflict, the Finnish armed forces and other agencies are holding exercises to prepare for Putin’s hybrid warfare.
Russia’s forays into Ukraine and, to a lesser extent, Georgia, relied on cyber warfare, special operations forces, and an aggressive information campaign.
But Europe has gotten to see Russia’s playbook in action, and Petri Mäkelä of Medium.com reports that Finland is preparing to counter it with everything from their own special operators to firefighters and airport administrators.
In 14 photos, here’s how Finland is doing it:
1. First, by looking cool as they run through smoke. (Ok, that’s probably not the training objective, but come on, this looks cool.)
2. Finland held three major training events in March, each of which required that federal and local security forces worked together to counter specific threats.
3. For instance, response teams converged on an airport that was under simulated attack, seeking to eliminate the threat as quickly and safely as possible.
4. This allowed security forces to practice operating in the high-stress environment and also allowed administrators to see how they can best set up their operations to keep passengers safe in an attack.
5. The exercises required soldiers and police to fight everything from angry individuals to enemy sniper and machine gun teams.
6. Of course, no training exercise is complete without practicing how to treat the wounded.
7. That’s where the firefighters and paramedics got involved.
8. In field hospitals, medical professionals treated simulated injuries sustained in the fighting.
9. Police forces assisted in re-establishing order and protecting the local populace.
10. But the exercises also allowed the military to practice conventional operations.
11. Finnish forces took on enemy elements in the woods and snow.
12. Helicopters ferried troops to different areas. They also helped move reservists, police, and other first responders when necessary.
13. The conventional exercises included some pretty awesome weaponry.
14. Of course, even with increased conscription, new equipment, and tailored training, Finland would face a tough fight with Russia. The Russian military is one of the largest in the world and it has been training for this and other fights.
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Air Force’s top civilian leader didn’t mince words Sept. 20 when she doubted Moscow’s ability to make good on potential military cooperation with the United States in targeting Islamic State forces in Syria, saying Russia likely can’t be counted on to stick to the deal.
“This would be a ‘transactional’ situation, it’s not a situation where there’s a great deal of trust,” Air Force Sec. Deborah Lee James said during a briefing with reporters at the 2016 Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference here.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced a deal with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in mid-September, saying that coalition and Russian aircraft would work together to target terrorist forces in Syria after a week-long cease-fire. It is unclear whether the deal will stick after reports that an aid convoy was targeted during the lull in fighting, with both sides pointing fingers at the other for breaking the terms of the short truce.
Wading into diplomatic waters, James also warned that allying with Russia could anger U.S. partners in the ongoing operations against ISIS in Syria, hinting that countries like Turkey and Baltic state partners would balk at cooperating on strikes if Russians are in the room.
“Coalition cohesion will be important,” James said. “We have more than 60 countries participating in this — we wouldn’t want to lose coalition members.”
But James offered her starkest critique of the Russian military on an issue that has increasingly plagued American military efforts overseas in the court of public opinion. Top U.S. military officials are worried that if Russia and the U.S. are jointly running air strikes, America will share the blame for bombs that go astray.
“We are extremely precise with our weaponry, Russia is not,” James said. “So we would want to have some form of accountability for the dropping of these weapons to ensure that if there are civilian casualties, clearly it’s not us.”
Military officials have been increasingly pressed on how the U.S. and its allies would work alongside Russian forces in Syria on everything from coordinating air strikes to sharing intelligence on enemy positions. Most military leaders, particularly in the Air Force, have taken a wait and see attitude, wondering whether the diplomatic rapprochement will ever result in a military alliance.
“Once the decisions are made on how this cooperation will occur … and we see that the cease-fire holds for the time that the secretary of state has laid out, then we’re going to step very carefully to make sure that what is said in terms of the intent actually results in actions,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.
Philip Hollywood grew up in a Navy family, so when World War II started he enlisted in the Navy — at the ripe young age of 17. After his combat training, he was assigned to the USS Melvin, a destroyer homeported in the Philippines.
The Melvin fought in the Battle of Leyte Gulf in 1944, which turned out to be the largest naval battle of World War II and possibly the largest in history. Leyte Gulf was also the first time the Japanese used coordinated kamikaze attacks.
“The Kamikazes… that was scary to me. Anyone who says they weren’t scared, I don’t think they’re telling the truth,” says Hollywood. “It was a new experience trying to kill an opponent who only wanted to kill you and not survive.”
The battle was much more than fighting kamikaze attacks. Two days into the fight for Leyte, a Japanese task force of two battleships, a heavy cruiser, and four destroyers tried to steam through the narrow Surigao Strait to support the main force in the Gulf. The Japanese ran into six American battleships (five of which were sunk at Pearl Harbor, but were repaired and brought back to service), four heavy cruisers, four light cruisers, 28 destroyers, and 39 torpedo boats in Surigao’s narrows.
In a video produced by AARP, Hollywood recalls his memories of the battle, the kamikaze, and how it felt to sink the Japanese battleship Fuso.
Hollywood died shortly after this video was produced.
“Phil Hollywood was the last of a dying breed,” says TJ Cooney, one of the video producers. “I am so thankful for the time that I had with Phil to make this story, he was an amazing man and truly an American hero and treasure. He is going to be sorely missed and never forgotten.”
The moment Otto Catalan had waited almost two decades for had finally arrived. Sitting in a small office, surrounded by his doctors and other medical staff, the blind U.S. Navy Veteran could only hope for one thing: to see the face of his teenage son for the first time.
“I see a lot of flashes, and they’re getting brighter,” he said. “Wow. It’s amazing.”
He turned his head to the right and saw bright flashes of light reflecting off the white coat of Miami VA Chief of Ophthalmology Dr. Ninel Gregori. When he turned to the left to talk with his son, he paused and began to cry. Gregori hugged him.
“Thank you very much, guys,” he said. “I’ll work hard, so I can see. It’s been 19 years, and I have been able to see my son. Thank you. Thank you so much.”
Catalan is keeping true to his word and continuing to work hard to learn how to use his new Argus® II prosthesis or “bionic eye.” Even though he struggled for years to come to terms with the loss of his sight, Catalan now feels optimistic about moving forward and beginning a new life.
“I’m learning something new everyday,” he said. “This prosthetic will help me be more successful in life. It’s already helping me be more mobile at home, and it’s going to make a big difference for me at work.”
Catalan’s struggles with vision loss began in 1989, when he was serving as a ship serviceman in the U.S. Navy. While he was on guard duty aboard a ship in the middle of the Persian Gulf, everything suddenly went dark.
“It felt like I was walking in the dark,” he said. “I told my superior officer, and he sent me to a doctor, but they couldn’t find out what it was. We went back to Virginia. They did extensive tests, and that’s when they found out I had retinitis pigmentosa.”
Catalan was scared when he heard the diagnosis. He never heard of retinitis pigmentosa and didn’t know what it would mean for his future. He was immediately removed from the ship and sent to rehab, and would eventually be medically separated from the military.
What is retinitis pigmentosa?
“Retinitis pigmentosa is one of the most common inherited diseases we see in ophthalmology,” Gregori said. “For people with this condition and certainly in Mr. Catalan’s case, the retina becomes very thin, and the photoreceptors, which convert light into electrical signals, gradually die off over time. Initially, peripheral vision, or the side vision, goes away, and then finally the central vision disappears.”
Catalan’s eyesight continued to deteriorate. Still needing to make money, he took a job as a cook. As his conditioned worsened, he struggled to tell if food was cooked and even burned himself multiple times. It was at this point that Catalan knew he needed help, so he went to the Northport VA Medical Center in New York.
“My doctors told me I needed to start preparing because I was going to be permanently blind soon,” he said. “After I heard that, I remember crying all the time. I couldn’t even hear someone say the word ‘see’ because I would burst into tears.”
The Northport VAMC referred Catalan to the VA Connecticut Healthcare System to participate in its Eastern Blind Rehabilitation Service’s three-month training program. While sitting through the training sessions and listening to the instructors and other Veterans, Catalan unexpectedly learned a valuable life lesson.
“Once I met other blind Vietnam Veterans at VA Connecticut and saw how well they were dealing with their situation, I never cried about my own condition again,” he said.
Throughout the program, he also learned to perform everyday tasks, such as shave his face, eat with utensils, identify clothing and walk with a cane. He stayed an additional two months to learn to use a computer and screen-reader technology.
Moving to Florida
In 2005, Catalan heard about ophthalmology research being conducted at the Miami VA Healthcare System and the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, which serves as the ophthalmology department of the University of Miami Health System. He moved his family to Cutler Bay, Florida and transferred his care to the then Miami VA Medical Center—where he worked with Roberta Goldstein, now retired Miami VA visual impairment services team coordinator.
“Roberta was great,” he said. “She referred me to the prosthetics department at the West Palm Beach VAMC, so I could get equipment to help me go back to work. She’s the best.”
Shortly after receiving his prosthetics equipment, Catalan landed a job as a resource specialist with Marriott Hotels—where he still works today. He says Marriott has been accommodating to his condition, and he hopes to be considered for promotion one day.
In March 2015, he received a phone call that would help his chances of getting that long-awaited promotion and also change his life.
One of my hopes was to see my son’s face for the first time
When he heard about the “bionic eye,” Catalan requested an evaluation for the device at the Miami VA Eye Clinic. With the help of the low vision Miami VA team, Gregori selected him for the Argus II® screening evaluation and personally called his home to ask if he was still interested.
“He was a perfect candidate,” Gregori said. “His personality was extremely important. With artificial vision, the patient must have the patience to learn to interpret the lights and images he or she is seeing. Learning to use the Argus II is like learning a new language, so individuals with both an optimistic personality and a strong willingness to work hard are the best candidates for the technology.”
Dr. Gregori is the Miami VA chief of ophthalmology and an associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. In 2004, she was part of the surgical team that implanted the first Argus II® retinal prosthesis in a Florida patient, a non-Veteran from Tampa. She was eager to bring the new technology to the Miami VA, where she proudly serves South Florida Veterans and has lead the ophthalmology department for the past 10 years.
“Miami VA Medical Center Director Paul Russo and Chief of Surgery Dr. Seth Spector both enthusiastically welcomed the idea of making the bionic eye available to our Veterans. It would not have been possible without their support,” Gregori said.
It felt like I had just given somebody the best Christmas present
Catalan underwent surgery to implant the Argus® II, a new prosthesis approved in 2013 by the Food and Drug Administration to treat people with end-stages of retinitis pigmentosa, at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute on Nov. 24, 2015. Catalan’s bionic eye was activated Dec. 11 by the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute’s biomedical engineers, under the supervision of Miami VA’s Dr. Ninel Gregori. Even though Gregori and her team had already been through the experience of turning on the prosthesis with a previous patient, Catalan’s moment was emotional nonetheless.
“When it was turned on, Mr. Catalan started crying, and it brought tears to my eyes,” Gregori said. “It felt like I just gave somebody the best Christmas present I had ever given to anybody in my life. That’s why I went into ophthalmology.”
“After 19 years, the first thing I saw was my son’s face,” Catalan said. “I could also see Dr. Gregori, and when we walked around the hall, I was able to tell where the door and window frames were for the first time. That might not mean a lot to other people, but it meant so much to me.”
Catalan continues to work with the Miami VA Blind Rehabilitation Team, lead by optometrist Dr. Kasey Zann, to learn how to use the Argus II® in his everyday life. Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialist Linh Pham visits his home and trains him to use the device in his home environment and in public. He also works regularly with Gregori and her team at the Miami VA Eye Clinic.
“The Miami VA Healthcare System has amazing low vision and blind rehabilitation resources for Veterans. It is an ideal setting for rehabilitation after Argus II implantation,” Gregori said.
At home, Catalan now sees objects and walls, and can even see lights and motion on his television for the first time. His next goal is to learn to use his new computer at work. After his training, he will be able to see shapes, the different windows and letters on his computer screen.
During an outing with his family in early 2015, Catalan was surprised to see a sight he had not seen in years.
“On New Year’s Eve, I was able to see the fireworks outside for the first time in 19 years. My mouth stayed open for a while,” he said. “Now, when I’m walking on the grass, I can see the lines where the grass is versus where the sidewalk is. The fact that I’m walking outside and can see the lights makes it all worth it.”
About the Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System
The Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System—made by Second Sight Medical Products, Inc.—is an artificial retina, or bionic eye, that converts images into light and uses a miniature video camera that is mounted on a pair of glasses, said Gregori. Once the images are converted, they are wirelessly transmitted to a surgically implanted prosthesis located in the patient’s eye. The implant then stimulates the retina to produce an image that is sent to the brain for interpretation.
The Vietnam War’s icon was arguably the UH-1 helicopter. Officially designated the Iroquois (‘Huey’ is more of a term of endearment), this helicopter has been the most-produced in history, first flying in 1956 — that means it has just over six decades of service with the United States military!
Over 7,000 Hueys were used in Vietnam, and 2,500 were lost during the war.
According to the Naval Institute Guide to World Military Aviation, the UH-1D had the ability to carry up to 16 passengers and crew.
The chopper could also carry just under 3,900 pounds of equipment in the cabin or 5,000 pounds in an external sling. It also could serve as a potent gunship, firing 70mm rockets, M60 machine guns in 7.62mm NATO, and M134 miniguns.
The secret to the Huey’s success was a gas turbine engine that not only was able to perform at higher temperatures and in less-dense air than previous helicopters, but it was also much lighter than previous helicopter engines.
This allowed the Huey to be smaller (48-foot rotor diameter, 57 foot length) and lighter — making it fast (a top speed of 135 miles per hour) and maneuverable. It had a range of 315 miles, giving American troops the ability to strike hard and fast at a distance.
The chopper’s mobility meant that in a one-year tour, the average infantry soldier saw 240 days of combat. For some perspective, in the Pacific Theater during WWII, the average grunt saw 40 days over the nearly four years that conflict lasted.
Today, versions of the UH-1 are still in service with the Marine Corps (the UH-1Y Venom), the Air Force (UH-1N), and Navy (UH-1N). The Army’s last Huey mission was flown on Dec. 15, 2016. According to an Army release, the helicopter was handed off to the Louisiana State Police a week later.
One of America’s closest allies is preparing to put China’s claims to the test in the South China Sea.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson revealed at a high-level meeting in Sydney, Australia, that the UK will be sending its new aircraft carriers into the region to uphold freedom of navigation and the rules-based international order. Australia has been hesitant to act, fearing increased tension with Beijing.
“One of the first things we will do with the two new colossal aircraft carriers that we have just built,” Johnson explained, “is send them on a freedom-of-navigation operation to this area to vindicate our belief in the rules-based international system and in the freedom of navigation through those waterways which are absolutely vital for world trade.”
The UK’s new aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, is undergoing maiden sea trials and is expected to be commissioned into the Royal Navy later this year.
British Defense Secretary Sir Michael Fallon confirmed the deployment without providing any real details. “We haven’t mapped out the initial deployments yet but, yes, you would expect to see these carriers in the India Pacific Ocean, this part of the world because it is in this part of the world we see increasing tension, increasing challenges,” Fallon told the Australia Broadcasting Corporation.
Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne hinted that Australia might also step up its activities in the area.
“Importantly today, we also discussed developments in our region, particularly with respect to freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight which is a global issue and countries like Australia and the United Kingdom have a shared interest in those global freedoms,” Payne said, adding, “We agreed today that we would identify opportunities to conduct, where possible, cooperative activities in the region when we have assets that are in the area at the same time.”
There still appears to be a certain hesitancy to make the same commitment as the Americans and the British.
China claims the vast majority of the South China Sea, asserting its dominance through the illegal development of artificial islands, the construction of military outposts, and regular naval and bomber patrols in the area. Beijing’s claims were discredited by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague last year, but China rejected both the authority and ruling of the arbitration tribunal, declaring its sovereignty over massive swaths of the ocean to be indisputable.
The Trump administration has started putting increased pressure on China, which has so far failed to rein in North Korea, a major point of concern for the new administration. The US Navy has conducted two freedom-of-navigation operations and two bomber overflights in the South China Sea, angering Beijing.
Sure, it was against the rules for years but we all know dating, and more, happened regularly on the forward operating bases. Here are some tips for your next deployment.
1. Don’t talk about dating on the FOB
Remember, dating deployed is still highly discouraged and can affect perceptions of your professionalism. Keep a tight lid on it or expect your next evaluation report or monthly counseling to be harsh.
2. Conduct hygiene like you’re in garrison.
Yeah, the long hours of work and the limited laundry and shower facilities are going to take a toll, but you owe the person who is letting you see them naked. At least invest in extra baby wipes or something.
3. Do some favors for the motor pool.
Make out sessions, and more, in vehicles are just as much fun deployed as they were in high school. Help the mechanics out and they’ll help you out.
4. Don’t date outside your pay scale.
This is still illegal and a potential career ender. Officers with officers, enlisted with enlisted.
5. No partners from your company or your chain of command.
The chain of command thing is still illegal while dating within your company is just a bad idea. Try to find a partner in another battalion or a completely separate command.
6. Don’t make it obvious.
Googly eyes, shy smiles, shared meals, inside jokes. Secrets are hard enough to keep on a FOB without you dropping hints everywhere.
7. Practice weapons safety.
Literally and figuratively. If you get romantic, keep your literal weapon away from the bump zone and keep your figurative weapon in a case. Practice muzzle awareness with both.
8. Keep the drama discreet.
Fighting between yourselves will most likely be noticed, probably even faster than the googly eyes when you started dating were. Keep it limited to emails and texts. If you can stand at attention while getting reamed by the drill instructor, you can keep a poker face while having an email fight.
9. Don’t let it affect the mission.
This is why it was outlawed in the first place. Don’t miss a recall or show up late to duty because you were busy in a CONNEX container.
10. Be careful who you tell stories to.
While you may want to brag about your forbidden love, one of those stories may get you in trouble if word gets around. Make sure you only tell buddies who can keep a secret.